Friday, January 3, 2014

Celebrating the Holidays- The reflections of an ex-Jehovah's Witness.

Celebrating the Holidays is usually a joyous occasion when families come together and celebrate the birth of Christ and usher in together a new year. When I was growing up as a Jehovah's Witness I dreaded the holidays. I could always hear the children bragging about the expectation and anticipation of Christmas and spending family time and just hearing about their family tradition. I was always excluded from such conversations since the majority of my peers already knew- I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and I did not celebrate Christmas. 

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years were just regular days for me, nothing special at all. In fact since I was likely off of school on those days we usually used the opportunity to go out to field service and condemn the people at the door who were spending time with their family and telling them how pagan their celebrations were. I hated the Holidays, not because I saw them as pagan or worldly, but because I envied the family centered nature of it. In my household we didn't have a Holiday replacement, there weren't specific times of the year where we would just have a big family centered celebration or gift exchanging. I've heard of some JW families who had such events throughout the year so that the kids did not feel left out, but it was never something I experienced or even saw in Witness families that I knew. 

I can remember the first time I actually celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas as a new creation in Christ Jesus. It was 2008, I had given my life to Christ September of that Year and was pretty much keeping it a secret from my family and congregation. By the end of October I began fellow-shipping with believers at a Church a town over and told them about my journey. They were overwhelmed and took me in as their own. Not even a few weeks later my family had discovered that I was attending a Christian Church and that I had begun to "apostatize". The pressure was on, I had stopped attending the Kingdom Hall meetings and my elders were trying to contact me to question me. In the midst of all the chaos I was invited by my then Youth Pastor to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family at his house. My first Thanksgiving, an event I would never forget! Years before I mocked the notion that you take one day out of the year and reflect on the many blessings of life, but here I was, counting each of my amazing blessings and reflecting on the goodness of God despite my personal trials. I discovered the meaning of Thanksgiving. 

Fast forward to December of that year, I had sent in my letter of disassociation to my congregation elders. I was officially no longer associated with the false organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. The very next day I was kicked out of my relatives home who I had been living with, I was homeless and in desperate need. This all occurred 10 days before Christmas. When my new spiritual family found out about what had happened they quickly came to meet my need and took me in. It was one of the most trialing experiences of my life, my whole world had been turned upside down! In one brief announcement everyone who I had ever known and loved in the Witness religion cut me off and the mere mention of my name was anathema. When I was broken, God used another Holiday; this time Christmas, to demonstrate his love for me. My Church Youth group had a Christmas party at our Church just days before Christmas, and at the very end we all exchanged gifts. I was poor, homeless and abandoned- I had no gifts to give and I felt once again embarrassed. Everyone had a gift in their hand and I had nothing to give or to receive. Little did I know, the gifts in everyone's hand was for me. My Church and youth group that I had only known for barely even two months came together to bless me in my greatest hour of need. I then understood what Christmas was all about, it wasn't about worshiping a false pagan deity or about Santa Claus or even about getting gifts! It was about the compassion and self-less love of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave up Heaven to humble himself by becoming a helpless baby born in a manger to poor and lowly parents, all so that he can grow up and save a fallen race. Although I was poor and broken, Jesus took on my brokenness and poorness and exchanged it for his richness. As it is written in Scripture, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9, HCSB)

This was the first year that my wife and I celebrated the Holidays since the birth of our beautiful son. As I reflect on my past and my journey to Jesus and my discovery of the true meaning of the season, I rejoice that my son will grow up with the joy of celebrating the goodness of God and the birth of Christ Jesus. It is exciting to see our own family traditions form and using the Holidays as an opportunity to bless others. I will teach my son the lessons I have learned and remind him of the reason we celebrate and come together as a family- Jesus. Celebrating during this time of the year always reminds me of my past and current struggles with my JW family, but it also gives me strength and remembrance of the cost of following Jesus. 

My Family- Christmas 2013