This Monday marked the beginning of the last week of school before Christmas break. This means there are still Advent calendars to follow, shelfy elfs to move, business parties to attend, school parties to brave, Christmas cards to send out, sugary things to bake, wintry decor to put up (it was 65 degrees outside today so inside we pretend that this season occurs during non-sweaty temps) and gifts to gather for family, friends, teachers, co-workers, pet fish, and bus drivers. And since Amazon came out with Prime, we should ALL be doing something for the poor souls that deliver all the cardboard boxes in all the world. Without a doubt, we are smack dab in the midst of the holiday season. It brings an energy that is palpable in my family and I do not take it for granted that these are precious years we will not see again.
I love this time of year. My kids love it too because their most favorite family tradition happens during the Christmas season. On the day following Thanksgiving, they start begging to go to the store for their annual ornament. A long time ago, we started a tradition where they pick an ornament representing something they love. It could be something as simple as a TV show or movie they enjoyed that year, a sport they played, or just a piece they think is extra pretty. Then we label the box with their name, year and age and add it to their collection. So when it comes time to put the tree up each year, they literally jump up and down (ok, my little two do, the middle schooler likes doing it but definitely stays calm, cool and collected at all times) when their stack of ornaments comes out and they get to relive each one they have chosen since they were around 2 years old.
We look forward to digging out ornaments like this….
Because everyone knows that cowgirl M&M’s holding guns help to make the season bright.
I remember when our tree was full of blank spaces, filler stuff, and reindeer ornaments made from glued wooden sticks adorned with twisted pipe cleaners and red pom-pom noses. I still have all of those items. But as this family ages, the tree has become a representation of a life of three little girls growing up into older little ladies. Sure, I have seen trees prettier than ours because there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that take a regular tree full of sticks and pokey needles, and transform it into a sea of garland and ribbon and ornaments in complementary colors. And then there are people like me. The kind that buy a fake tree pre-wrapped in lights that still work when you bust a few bulbs putting it up. And my version of fancy means we sprung for the $5 switch thingie that allows you to turn the lights with a tap of your foot. We slap up ornaments that have family pictures on them along with ones that document our travels. And of course M&M’s holding guns. Side note: My mom use to let us put tinsel on the tree growing up and I LOVED IT. I’d throw that stuff up there by the handful. I also remember watching her take down all the tinsel after the holidays as I would be darting out the door to play. And then when I’d be exhausted and come inside for a break, she’d STILL be pulling the silvery strands off the tree. Therefore, my mother was a saint. I will never ever be that mom. To all you mothers who allow their children to do this, I salute you.
And as much as I love this time of year, I also struggle. When I look at things logically, my brain tells me I should not feel anything but energy, smiles, and the sugar coursing through me from all the whipped cream cheese frosting inside pumpkin rolls and on top of ooey gooey cookies. Plus, we are celebrating the birth of Christ, which is a celebration of hope and joy arriving to our world. And for many, many years, I only felt the joy of the season. But starting about 8 years ago, my life went through a major transformation. I lost my mom to cancer two days after Christmas. And it was a brutal disease that took my vibrant and devoted mother and left her gasping for air at times. Watching her physical body deteriorate while her mental spirit stayed strong and wanted to desperately stay on this earth permanently scarred me. It broke a piece of my heart for my dad, my daughters who lost their grandma way too early, for myself and for the multitude of other friends and family members that loved her too. And though I truly do love the Christmas season, there’s a darker range of emotions I also experience that go from life feeling heavy, to a sadness in my soul, to an exhaustion that isn’t from a lack of sleep. Do I feel this every second of every day? Nope. Do these emotions control my mental state? Nope. But I do recognize that they creep up on me around this time of year and rather than deny that they exist, I’ve learned to live with them.
Once I experienced the death of my mom, my eyes were opened to another level of life. I know I am not alone in my grief. I have friends that have lost spouses, parents, friends and even their own precious children. And at some point, if you are continuing to live and breathe, you will also experience loss and grief.
There are a few things that I have learned to lean towards for comfort during this season. First off is my faith. And I love what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor 1:3-4) First off, we aren’t alone. Ever. God is where compassion and comfort come from and He is there during our struggles. He knows what you are going through. He isn’t surprised. Secondly, He uses our pain. He comforts us and then allows us to help others. He forms us into people who can take our own trials and provide hope to others when they go through it. Even though our lives here on earth will never be problem free, we can provide love and comfort, show compassion and give hope to each other. For me, this is living out the meaning of Christmas.
The other thing that helps me during this season is being able to look back on the traditions my mom established during my childhood. On Christmas Eve each year, she would gather all of us in the family room, pour glasses of eggnog, bring out a variety of homemade Christmas cookies on a platter, turn off all the bright overhead lights and TV and we would sit as a family with Christmas music in the background with the tree lit. She would then start a conversation and ask us purposeful questions . What was your favorite part of the past year? What is something you are looking forward to next year? I counted on having that 30 minutes every year. It felt peaceful. And let’s be honest, I loved cookies and eggnog too. My own family does not continue that same tradition, but it did show me the importance of setting aside time to just BE together. And I loved the sense of stability it gave me as a child to know that I could count on my family doing the same thing together every single year.
Along with the childhood traditions my mom established, she also left me a lasting Christmas gift. I did not even realize how precious it would be to me when she began making them. When I got married, she decided to needlepoint us our own Christmas stocking. For years, I watched her pull out her bag of yarn and work on them slowly but surely. I am certain this is where Hailey gets her love of sewing because it did NOT come from her mother. With every new grand baby, she would select a new stocking to begin so we could add it to our mantle for the following Christmas.
My sweet Landry was born about 6 weeks after my mom died. And my mom was sick my entire pregnancy with her. My mom selected her stocking and started it, but was not able to finish it on her own. Completing this piece was important to her. And so she received some earthly help. Various friends of my mom took the stocking and completed different sections of it until it was done. When I was given the stocking by my mom’s friend after my mom had died, I became overwhelmed. Landry received a stocking that was not only made for her with the hands of her grandmother that would never be able to hold her, but also with the loving supportive hands of her grandmother’s friends. These women lifted her grandmother up and comforted her when she needed it most. And that is not only a lasting gift my girls have but an ultimate lesson in friendship, compassion and loyalty.
I am not sure how the Christmas season feels to you. Oftentimes society, social media and commercials put weighty expectations solely on happiness. It is as if anything less than pure joy means failure. And I hope the season is a time of joy and celebration. But please remember the Christmas story itself was full of mixed emotions. The time leading up to the birth of Jesus being born in a manger was complicated. So much that happens in life is out of our control. I encourage you to take advantage of the abilities God has given you. Start a new tradition for your family or your friends or for others in need that blesses them. If you are suffering this season, allow others to come in and comfort you. For me, I’ll spend some time looking at all the stockings hanging on my mantel. And there’s one in particular I’ll look at a little longer. The one that represents a story of love, joy, comfort, hope, compassion and above all else, grace. And those are all the emotions I will embrace this Christmas.