the messy, salty glory: on holding my breath during the holidays.
It comes around every holiday or big event. The dread. The crackle of electricity in the air. The cough mask wearing and obsessive hand washing. The bulging eyes as someone coughs all over the apples at the grocery store. I’m never buying apples again!
Christmas is coming. And I’m holding my breath. I try not to, I really do. But every year it’s a game I play. Just let us get through Christmas. Then New Year’s. And then, her birthday rounds the corner in March. Just let us get through her birthday. I hit these turbulent pockets around every major holiday.
I picture us in the ICU on Christmas Day, or waking up with a cold a few days before Christmas. It is a luxury—to have a cold and get the sniffles and spread germs without fear of the consequences. Thank God I have amazing, cautious, caring friends and family.
This year, I’m really feeling the pressure that Christmas puts on those that are hurting, struggling and fighting for something. We all want to get through Christmas unscathed.
And so, in the Advent season, I find I’m also holding my breath for different reasons. Come Lord Jesus, come. And hurry.
Around me, friends are receiving hospice care, others are calling 9-11, and some are receiving troubling diagnosis.
It never ends.
I suppose the facade of ornamental cardboard cutouts, red velvet clad Santas and gingerbread lattes aren’t cutting it this year. Just what am I celebrating? It’s more than these things.
I’m no Debbie downer. I love to celebrate. I love the little things. The pick me ups. I love baking and sprinkles and Nat King Cole. I love stocking stuffers and Nordic reindeer socks and peppermint sticks in milk.
But I don’t love greedily swallowing these things to bury the pain. I can see right through them.
My family’s story has taught me that I can celebrate and lament all in one day.
I can make time to pray and sit with those that grieve.
I can acknowledge my own sorrow and also raise a glass of bubbly to a year of hard work at my husband’s Christmas work party.
Right before this said Christmas party, I discovered a friend I follow on Instagram lost her child. She has lost two children in the last two months to the same genetic condition. She is left with two healthy children to hold close this season and in the midst of her weeping, she sees hope and Jesus standing in the gaping places of her story. Moments later, I read that another friend came home to red and blue lights, sirens, paramedics, praying that her fragile daughter was alive.
I put my phone down and exhaled. I slipped on my boots and spritzed perfume on my wrists, barely relishing the fact that I had two sleeping babies, grandpa and a nurse to watch them, and a night out with my disarmingly handsome husband. I just wasn’t in the mood.
But he was, and life still beckons.
I’m learning to walk with sorrow and pray big in the silence of the car.
I can live life in all it’s messy, salty glory because of God’s grace, because of fellow comrades that just keep on walking through their valleys.
Last year, when I scanned the toy aisle for something appropriate for Florence, I would break down into shoulder shaking sobs, aching all the way to my fingertips, and feeling as though my heart would never mend.
This year, I’m learning that it’s okay to cry in Home Sense, to stand there and have my moment, while shoppers mill around me. I’m not embarrassed by my tears. I’m living and my life doesn’t come in a neat, bow topped package. I can mourn over the fact that my little girl can’t play with a pretend kitchen or felt veggies or baby dolls or the toys I saved from my childhood. And, when I’m done wiping my eyes and swallowing the lump, I can accept the warm embrace from Peace.
Christmas will pass and we will somehow be okay and maybe, one day, Theodore will love playing with dolls and the pretend enamel cookware set I’ve had stashed away for years.
We will take time to grieve. We will venture into the dark places where others hurt. We will tell their stories even if it feels “seasonally incorrect.” You might think this isn’t a “thing”, but it is. Not everyone wants to hear about the sadness or the full, hard stories during the holiday season. But it’s not a time to push aside these people. It’s a time to embrace them, with bigger, wider arms. It’s a time for shedding some tears around the Christmas tree and raising a toast to the ones that carry on, that share their struggles, however beaten down they feel. I want to create a safe place for those that ache and hurt, don’t you? They…we, don’t magically mend over the holidays. We often get ripped wide open.
But, we will take time to celebrate.
We will open up and tell of the damp, sad places in our hearts. And we will drink hot cocoa and have bake-offs and Keep. On. Living.
If you or a loved one are looking for a wonderful devotional specifically for those that struggle during the holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, anniversaries, etc), I suggest checking out my friend Bo Stern’s book, When Holidays Hurt: Finding Hidden Hope Amid Pain and Loss.