I didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas this year.
Thanksgiving itself was hard enough. Once again we were giving thanks and celebrating amidst loss. Nothing like the loss we were suffering four Thanksgivings ago when I choked out the lines to hymns of praise and those words forming above my empty womb cut through the air like sheer miracle. But it’s a long road back from loss and stitching a husband and wife back together and breathing new life and joy into a little family. We have walked that road for three years, holding our breath for the next steps and pushing away things we felt might shatter us. And finally we felt it was time to mend one more broken piece and bring a puppy home. Instantly we loved him and his very presence felt like another shred of redemption, healing, hope
But we couldn’t breath.
Not just some sniffles or a stuffy nose. We have never before had this problem with any animal but we were full on allergic to him, breath catching in our chest, wheezing through each moment that we were near our fuzzy golden bundle of joy. And so what was supposed to be an early Christmas present to our little boys longing for a puppy, a dog to call their own and love, had to be taken back to his sweet mama after a week of us falling head over heals for him. And I just shut down. I was angry at the Christmas decorations and carols ringing out already. I didn’t know how we were going to redeem the holiday for our children this year, much more so because we asked the breeder to keep our payment for the puppy and use it to provide a good life for him. We had already talked about simplifying this Christmas and finding joy in frugality but now the month ahead felt bleak and empty. Each new day was filled with tears streaming down little faces as they cried for their Remi, days that I thought would hold little boys snuggling with their new pup. Looking through photos of my boys meeting their puppy amidst red and green decorations secretly put up a month too early, I felt Christmas had betrayed me and also maybe God had. It seemed silly to feel this way when so many are struggling through so much more. But still I nursed my bitterness . . . we have been through a lot . . . why not a puppy? why couldn’t this simple gift for our children just work? why not? I missed our wiggly little ball of fluff and rehashed everything I thought could have been but I put on a brave face for the kids . . .
and December 1st even though I didn’t want to we began Advent just as we always do – with little gifts in the calendar every morning, Christmas stories and a devotional every evening. We turned on the carols, put up the tree and taught them again of His birth into this broken world. We retold the age old story, struck even more so this year by how hard the whole thing was. I know we have all heard it, how Mary was a teenage mother ostracized by a strange story about immaculate conception before her wedding day, how they made a long journey at the end of the pregnancy and had no place to lay their head, no home or room to birth the son of God in. Maybe this season because I was bitter, regretful, feeling sorry for myself, maybe because of all that I was able to ride with her on the donkey feeling the weight of the baby pressing down painful as the animal rocked back and forth for what seemed like forever. Until she arrived not to a bed and a warm fire, but to hours of labor in a cold dark stable, surrounded by animals and no one but the one man who was standing with her in this crazy story. Maybe because I wanted to look at my life through the lense of everything that has gone wrong instead of the usual holiday merriment, maybe because of my dreary, fearful attitude I was able to flea with two young parents as they ran with a child they have been told is the key to everything, to run with them as they escape the most powerful empire that had ever been known to man so that their child’s blood would not be spilled with all the other boys slaughtered helplessly before their mother’s eyes. And somewhere in this grand and humble epic I lost myself and all my petty grievances. Faced with hardship and courage greater than any I will ever know, I was left without a complaint to voice, left only with three beautiful sets of eyes staring back at me – my boys enthralled with this Christmas story, filled with it’s magic. God had filled their tearful hearts with joy and shone it right through them to me.
We joined hands each Sunday around our simple advent dinner and our hearts drew close as each week we lit another candle and spoke quiet in it’s light of angels and new stars speaking. My questioning soul fell silent and was filled with more joy and contentment than I have ever known. I was again the little girl rejoicing just to see the tree glistening amidst our family revelry. We bought them some simple toys as did their kind grandparents and uncles, we baked cookies, ate ham and mashed potatoes and though it was less than other years it was so much more than plenty. And one of the most joyful times of all this season was the day my boys spent playing in a cardboard box and wrapping gifts they had made for each other in front of our Christmas tree, their hearts full to overflowing with kindness and generosity.
I have read a lot of articles, blog posts and such over the years about how we should handle Christmas, giving gifts to our children, how we consume, how we give etc . . . Good words, written from seeking hearts. Most of them seem to move into one of two camps – to treat yourself and those you love well so that you can be healthy and happy enough to do good for others – or – to give it all up, give it all away, get rid of the clutter of consumerism and excess, purge in order to purify spiritually and support others economically. I was hit this year with all the ways we are sucked into to what we “should” do especially around the holidays and this year I opted out. If something felt too far a stretch to do and keep the days and nights full of peaceful time together, then it just didn’t happen and not a second thought was given. Whenever I felt the slightest twinge of guilt over this I reminded myself of what I had found in the story, that the first Christmas was all about people not doing what they “should” do but instead doing all the things that are thought impossible in this world. It’s not impossible to purchase enough to make you feel better for a time, it’s completely possible to buy almost anything in this country, it’s within the realm of possibility to bake a perfect cookie, win the best Christmas card of the year award, dress your house and family to the nines. But what is always escaping is joy – peace – contentment. None of that can be bought and joining hearts together in love often feels like the biggest impossibility of all in this world. And this, no more, no less, is what He came to give us. What He longs to give us. What I found as my whirling thoughts and emotions settled into a quiet month of waiting to see His coming. I think He is far less concerned about our getting or even our giving than wether or not we receive from Him. He longs for us to receive from Him. I can not express all I undeservedly received from Him this season.
And so as our calendar rushes into a new year that we all hope will be full of good and easy on the difficulties, as everyone steps into new goals and ventures . . . I am lingering in a season I did not even want to enter this year. I am lingering in a gentle peace my family found, not striving for the next, just resting in the goodness He has given us. Humanity has pinned Christmas on the calendar during the dark, cold months where our hearts need warming but it is not a season that should come and go or be defined by dates, the waiting for and celebration of his coming is the era we live in, an ever returning loop until He brings us into the next part of the story . . .
12-23-12 . 24-70mm