Seeing Beneath the Surface

In 1962, my dad bought “Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus,” an album by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The music from this album played as the background score for the household I grew up in. I learned how to play “Samba de Orpheus” on the piano as my first song on the piano. Like a family friend, Guaraldi released “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965. Most people recognize the “Linus and Lucy” theme, and we could not get through the season without hearing “Christmas Time is Here. ” Pioneer Square Xmas Tree

I always liked the song, but my dad scoffed at it as a commercial production that corrupted yet another great jazz artist. My friend, jazz pianist/composer, Brad Mersereau, pointed out to me how profoundly sad Guaraldi’s composition felt. The lyrics had a happy intention:

Christmastime is here Happiness and cheer Fun for all that children call Their favorite time of the year 

Snowflakes in the air Carols everywhere Olden times and ancient rhymes Of love and dreams to share

Yet, underneath the words, the musical reality shows that Christmastime involves brokenness and disappointment. However, in the midst of sadness, one can find peace and resolve.

This winter I have received an overwhelming amount of notes from loved ones of addicts. Parents reached out for help in desperation as their child relapsed yet again. Siblings reached out for wisdom on how to navigate another awkward celebration fueled by substance abuse. I have caused that pain and now I feel your pain.

A woman, from the LifeChange Center for Women & Their Children in Beaverton, approached me with that haunting hurt. She vented her self-loathing … how she destroyed her own home, dragged her children from abusers through drug abuse, and finally arrived at a healing home not of hers, but of God’s.

I encouraged her that she did not stand alone. Millions of neighbors feel some regret, resentment, or both this Christmas season. And the thing to do, as always, is to seek Jesus the same way the wise did. Look to the sky and follow the signs to the place where God became flesh. Find the one who, alone, has the power to not only forgive but also give new life. Let faith, hope, love be found, and inhaled letting it seep into our souls.

We still cannot trust our loved ones because of their addiction(s) but we can forgive and find peace.

Most addicts will break their New Year’s resolution to get clean and stay sober. But, day-after-day, they march toward that point I see day-after-day … the moment someone hits absolute bottom. I do not refer to the first time they think they hit bottom (a kind of wish-dream). I speak about the reality where humans come to the end of themselves. They have burned every bridge, used all resources, and have arrived at the end.

Then the new beginning happens … "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).”

Loved ones, listen to the blend and balance of the reality of brokenness and the hope of wholeness this Christmas.

Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).”


bill-russellUGM Stories of Generosity are by Executive Director at Union Gospel Mission, Bill Russell. Bill has been a leader at Union Gospel Mission for 25 years. He is the co-founder of Union Gospel Mission’s LifeChange recovery program. LifeChange helps men, women and children escape abuse, addiction and homelessness to transform their lives.

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