Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Despite difficult relationships, unusual circumstances, and unruly emotions, the season offers a renewed sense of hope and wonder. There is a mix of mystery and whimsy that begins budding and stirring before the Thanksgiving meal ends.
I delight in remembering the time at my grandparent’s house when I stirred from my slumber on the pullout sofa and witnessed Santa placing presents under the tree. Met with a strong sense of skepticism from my siblings, I kept a firm grip on the authenticity of the vision of the round red figure stooped by the tree.
Not many years after that serendipitous Santa sighting, I woke before my sisters to discover cowgirl boots, we had pined for from K-mart, under the tree. When I shared my early discovery with them, they were not so thrilled that I ruined their surprise with my enthusiasm.
Christmas meant slowing down for a brief pause in the usual daily grind. Until I became an adult, I did not grasp the emotional toll of holidays. My perspective was always fixed on the magic of Christmas morning, and I never considered the work or sacrifice required to get there.
I remember the year my mother’s depression kept her from getting out of bed. We all dressed for Christmas Eve services, but she did not attend that year. Showing up without her pulled heavy on my heart. Christmas was not the same without mom. The emotional toll on her was felt in a way it had not been before.
That was the first year I remember sadness surrounding the season, but it would not be the last.
The first Christmas I was parenting alone offered an inarticulate sorrow. I was alone; my children would not return until December 26th. Alone carries an inarticulate longing during the holidays, so my mother flew down to help me sustain the storm and prepare for the children’s return. While we would not be able to celebrate until their return, the sadness of my own broken dreams ultimately paled in the light of presence and enthusiasm.
Years later, John planned an elaborate day of pampering and a Christmas Eve proposal. While I was not sure I was cut out for more potential heartache and loss, possibility abated fear, and I said yes.
Circumstances surrounding Christmas are often equal parts painful and magical.
Hard memories coupled with nostalgia of years gone by.
Longing paired with the surprise of presence.
Unfulfilled expectations followed by the possibility of future endeavors.
For as long as I can remember, a Christmas Eve service rounded out the tenderness of the season. Sometimes it was at midnight. Sometimes it included candles and bells. Always the focus was Jesus.
The mystery of a simple birth and an ordinary couple.
The wonder of a child born to be a Savior.
The hope for all mankind.
Don’t you know a flood of emotions surrounded that night so long ago? Fear, pain, joy, and mystery must have lingered in the hearts of the new parents. The quiet of the night intermingled with the wonder of their new reality.
I don’t know where you find yourself this season, friend, but if you find yourself vacillating between confusion and sorrow, fear and loneliness, or excitement and promise, you are free to celebrate AND be sad, ask questions, mourn every loss, and hope for all things to be made new and right.
I invite you to consider the common birth so many years ago. Jesus does not take all the difficult situations and relationships away–but knowing him clarifies the pathway through the pain. The manger is not about tying a pretty bow on life; it is about enduring the daily for the eternal.
Presence, not presents, makes the season warm and bright.
Wherever today finds you, be all there.
Honor the sorrow.
Tend to the broken pieces.
Pain does not cancel joy.
Cultivate whimsy in the middle of the mess.
May the wonder and hope of the season fill you all year.
Merry Christmas! ❤