Driving up to the entrance of the condominiums where we are staying in Phoenix, iron gates decorated with a red bow open slowly. Each time we exit and re-enter, we swiftly pass the first home H and I purchased together in the same complex. On a round metal plate purchased at Restoration Hardware fifteen years ago, #36 still hangs above the garage holding remnants of our fingerprints.

When we purchased that condo, it was the lone unit finished on that side of the street. For three years, instead of neighbors, driveways and lamps, we lived next door to an empty lot of dirt and gravel.

Countless photographs in the menagerie of albums and boxes filling a storage space include the front door of that first house as the backdrop. Of friends visiting from faraway places, our first baby swaddled in hospital blankets, a Springer Spaniel jumping above the concrete wall to welcome anyone coming to visit, adults wearing Winnie-the-Pooh party hats to celebrate Murielle’s first birthday.

My kids don’t remember much from that time period. What they remember are the people who invested in them and their parents.

The friend who clipped their first locks on the back porch while sitting on phone books; the pastor’s daughter who babysat faithfully every week and still  lights up when she sees them; the secretaries who spoke to them at eye level and continue praying earnestly for them as adults.

As we revisit the places and people in Phoenix providing the foundation for our marriage and ministry, I realize that more than anything else we strive for – money, influence, security, success – a sense of belonging and being known is what our soul longs for the most.

When you are known and deeply loved, you can live with very little and feel quite rich.

How are we providing places of belonging for others who are displaced and lonely? In Christ, we are fully known.  In community, we bring a sense of true belonging with us, filling absence with the fullness of Christ.

We may not live at #36 any longer but every time I pass by, I’m reminded that we are held, we belong, we are known, we are rich.

Today I’m honored to share a story with you about how absence provides the landscape for our greatest gifts. When Christin Ditchfield — author, speaker and radio host — invited me to guest post this month, my emotions were raw with disappointment and deep loneliness. Every sentence I attempted to write down became an escaped helium balloon in the collection of my thoughts. Harnessing what God wants to write through us can sometimes prove to be a wrestling match.

Christin is an empathetic shoulder and generous heart to lean on. I’m excited for you to meet her.

What I didn’t know when she extended the invitation was how our emptiness would provide an opportunity to receive a rare gift awaiting us this Christmas. Join me?  Seeing you in the comments will put a smile on my face.