Embracing others at Christmas


By Sara Olding - Contributing columnist



This Advent, I wait. I watch. I hope. There are many things I have learned about the meaning of Christmas over the years, but most of all what I have learned is that Christmas is about embracing others. We are called to see others. This sounds simple, but in practice, it is much more complicated. This doesn’t mean that we are called to see people who think and believe the same things we do. This means that we are called to see all people. This includes people who have a different family experience than we do. It includes those who have had both more opportunities than us and less opportunities than us. It includes people of different ages trying to figure out their worth. It doesn’t only include the successful, the confident, and the focused. It must also include, the broken, the frustrated, and the lost. Embracing someone who has experienced life differently has taught me more about the meaning of Christmas than anything else.

This year my greatest teacher arrived in a group of vulnerable teenage girls. Two years ago, a friend asked me to become a mentor for Career Quest – a service of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In truth, I was convinced I did not have time for this, but this particular friend rarely takes no for an answer when he knows the right path. He also always knows the right path. I already had a full time teaching job, a home to manage, and three kids who played sports. I was not sure I had an hour each week. This friend worked with me to create a manageable mentoring schedule. In a matter of a few weeks I began to realize that I wasn’t giving- I was gaining. I was able to tutor my mentee, but it wasn’t about the academics. It was about the shared time. It was about the hour a week that we were able to share, work, and forge a relationship. It was about understanding a teen who had a life experience that was unlike mine. She had a family dynamic different than anything I knew. But, we had an hour a week and a common goal. She taught me about perseverance and resilience. She challenged me to look beyond my own experiences.

Several months ago the same friend approached me about mentoring a group of girls from families with roots in addiction. I immediately felt out of my element. I was convinced I had nothing to offer. Afraid that I would not be able to lead the discussion, I was relieved to find out that my role would not be giving advice, but primarily that of a listener. Each week I listened. I heard stories about lives that were shattered by addiction. I heard stories of survival that brought me to tears. I heard the voices of young girls who not only questioned their broken pasts, but who were courageously trying to piece together different futures. These girls did not want a handout. They wanted a hug. They wanted someone to see them and embrace their stories and continue to show up. They did not expect answers, but rather were grateful for the silent acceptance. It was healing for all of us. Again, I found that I gained more than I gave.

Sometimes we are reluctant to embrace people who think differently than us or who have different experiences than us. There is a toxic “us versus them” mentality that is sometimes celebrated in our culture. It almost seems that people are afraid to listen to those who might see the world differently. The older I get, the more I realize that sharing time with those who have different experiences than us is the only way for us to shift our often off base judgments into compassion and understanding.

As we are all being asked to live in a culture that is more polarizing, I trust that people in our small corner of the world will rise above it. I wait, I watch, and I hope for people to embrace their neighbors who experience the world differently. After all, thousands of years ago, the people searching for God did not find Him in a mansion on a hill. They did not find Him among the most prominent citizens in the land. They found Him as the child of those who were relegated to stay in a stable. If you were alive all those years ago, would you have lived a life that put you in circulation with Him? It is not too late to open your heart. I know from my own experience that you will not be disappointed. You might find that in embracing others and their journey, you heal your own soul. It worked for me. Merry Christmas.

Contributing Columnist

Sara Olding is a teacher, writer, and mother. She lives in Sidney with her husband Bryan and their children Grace, Genevieve, and CJ Olding. She continues to work and study with the Ohio Writing Project through Miami University.

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By Sara Olding

Contributing columnist

Sara Olding is a teacher, writer, and mother. She lives in Sidney with her husband Bryan and their children Grace, Genevieve, and CJ Olding. She continues to work and study with the Ohio Writing Project through Miami University.

Sara Olding is a teacher, writer, and mother. She lives in Sidney with her husband Bryan and their children Grace, Genevieve, and CJ Olding. She continues to work and study with the Ohio Writing Project through Miami University.