The beginning of a New Year means different things to different people.  Some seek to establish new resolutions or commitments.  Others view the calendar change as a benign transition.  Some welcome a new year with relief, others with heartache, and some with joy.

This New Year’s Day I happened to be in the town in which I spent my young years growing up, El Paso, Texas.  While disliked by a lot of people because of the dry high desert location, the poverty that is prevalent, or the fact it is a border town in which over 90 percent of the population has a Hispanic name, I love it.  It is real, authentic, and there is not a lot of room for pretense.  Of course the food, culture and people are wonderful as well.  El Paso is also a place in which two vastly different countries are completely interdependent in so many ways and this has been the case since the city was founded long ago.

But I also love El Paso because most of the old neighborhoods are full of so many childhood memories that sustain me and bring me great joy.  It was a great place to be a young boy with lots of energy.  On my recent trip, I took the opportunity, as I do each time, to reminisce with life-long friends.

Memories are so important.  They give us a sense of where we have come from, serve as the basis for life lessons learned, provide for a sense of identity and internal cohesion, and often provide the fodder for getting in touch with life’s blessings.  But memory itself can be such a poignant and painful topic especially when memory banks clear out and what a person remembers becomes more like an empty cold storage unit.

My mother who is 94, with whom I spent the New Year, lives in El Paso.  Physically she is fine, but much of who she was is fading as her memory and ability to recall the who, what, when, where and why of her life vanishes.  I know many of us go through this with our parents, but it hurts, is painful, and makes me along with many of you sad.  I get it.  That said, I have to wonder if diminishing memory is a blessing in some kind of way, especially when living in the ninth decade generally means most if not all friends are gone.

As I was hurting when 2017 began and was thinking about all of life’s memories, my faith interrupted my sadness when these words came to mind.  “Remember, God is Immanuel.  God is with us. Period.”

While the presence of Jesus does not take away heartache, it certainly frames it in a way that tells me in the end all will be well, to embrace each moment as an extraordinary gift, to cherish true wealth which has everything to do with family and friends, to live with a heart of gratitude knowing our ultimate destination is taken care of, and knowing when it is all said and done, loving God and people is all that matters.

My word for 2017 is Immanuel.  And I pray that you too will remember that Jesus is within, all around, and working through all we can remember, and all that has faded away.  Immanuel is with us and Immanuel is with those we love who look at us with a blank stare because his or her memory is gone.