Seventy-three years ago my mom was standing in the front room of her home looking out the window. Her mom, my grandma, was 6 months pregnant. She remembers seeing planes fly by close enough that she could see the Japanese pilots. My mom was too young to remember much about the day. A few things stand out to me as she tells the story that is really her mom’s story. My grandma put a long kitchen knife up on the door frame of the front door, ostensibly to protect herself and her children in case the Japanese came back. Grandma later went to her closet and pulled out all of the Christmas presents and let her three children open their presents, hoping it would distract them as she sat and waited and worried and watched the smoke from the harbor. My grandpa, although stationed at Pearl Harbor, was on Johnston Island on reconnaissance on December 7th. .
My grandma and grandpa weren’t able to contact each other for days and grandpa couldn’t get back to Oahu until the 17th.
My mom has no memories of Christmas that year. A lot of Christmas to her that year was December 7th as her toddler self got to play with her presents. All the Christmas my grandma needed was reuniting with my grandpa. They spent Christmas mourning their friends.
Some Christmases are just horrible.
With Christmas we have such high expectations. Every things around us sells the Norman Rockwell version of Christmas that includes every seat filled by a loving family member. There is plenty of food and presents and warmth and love. The mischief is darling and fun and easily cleanable. The overwhelming feeling is that Christmas can be bought or somehow acquired if we just…will it.
We know Christmas won’t be exactly like that. But we still have expectations. The gap between our expectations and reality can be brutal. Some days the business and routine of Christmas carries us along and other days it can bury you. When normal life is challenging, the added stresses, even positive stress, can be overwhelming. It can feel like everyone else is living in this parallel universe. They smile and laugh. It’s incomprehensible. How is life just going on as normal? The advent calendar is still ticking along whether we can get out of bed or not, or whether or not our heart is still in one piece. own
Depression, mourning, illness, financial difficulties and many other difficult life experiences feel magnified at Christmas.
If the holidays are particularly painful this year please know you are not alone. All around you, even quite a few of the smiling faces you see, are struggling.
I hope we can find joy when we can. It might catch us unexpectedly in little moments. Savor it. That is Christmas. Maybe the actual day will be hard. Maybe some of your normally favorite parts will be horrible, but just maybe somewhere in the season some joy will sneak up on you, even if just for a few minutes. I hope so.
I want other people to be happy, even when I can’t be. Although it can be hard, it does give me hope that while Christmas may never be the same again, it can be full of love. That hope may not always come out as my first response, or my twenty-third response.
I was wondering this morning how Christmas was for Mary. The first Christmas was scratchy hay, being far from her mother, animal sounds, lots of labor, strange men visiting, and a miraculous, overwhelmingly sacred baby. I imagine Mary had a very different first Christmas than the wise men, the shepherds, or the angels. I know Jesus was not likely born December 25th, but how was His birthday for Mary, after He died? I wonder how many joyful Christmases Mary had? I imagine even while Jesus lived, part of the anniversary of His birth must have been sober and meditative for Mary.
I pray that we will be able to receive, even if only in faith, Christ’s love. Perhaps if we can’t feel it, we can cling to the sometimes frighteningly minuscule faith that we will feel Christ’s love. Christmas is love. Love is messy and painful and so very difficult at times. It can be found in a kiss under the mistletoe just as surely as it is found cleaning up throw up or in our tears as we look at pictures instead of our loved one. Instead of joy, some Christmases are filled with a painful sort of love. Some Christmases are filled with nothing at all, as we struggle to feel much of anything.
If we can’t give as we would like, if we are missing someone, if we’d love to call our mother or father or husband, but don’t have heaven’s phone number, if we have the gifts, but the child is no longer with us. If we are dealing with a life threatening illness, or even something not as serious that is completely derailing Christmas. I’m so sorry. Maybe you are hating the whole holiday, and wishing you could just hide out until it all finally ends.
Please know someone is crying with you. Me. As I type. Perhaps we, like Mary, can have faith that despite our current circumstances that may last years or decades, or may just become our new normal…there is at the center of Christmas a miraculous baby. A baby who grew into a man who lived and died so He could love you just as you are where you are. He lived and died to love you in the midst of your pain. So even if you can’t feel it, or if you’d love to feel it far differently, maybe you’d love to rejoice with Jesus instead of cry with Him. Just know you are with Him. And that is Christmas.
Britt grew up in a family of six brothers and one sister and gained a bonus sister later. She camped in the High Sierras, canoed down the Colorado, and played volleyball at Brigham Young University. She then served a mission to South Africa. With all of her time in the gym and the mountains and South Africa, she was totally prepared to become the mother of 2 sons and soon to be 9 daughters. By totally prepared she means willing to love them and muddle through everything else in a partially sleepless state. She is mostly successful at figuring out how to keep the baby clothed, or at least diapered, though her current toddler is challenging this skill. She feels children naturally love to learn and didn’t want to disrupt childhood curiosity with worksheets and school bells. She loves to play in the dirt, read books, go on adventures, watch her children discover new things, and mentor her children. Her oldest child is currently at a community college and her oldest son is going to high school at a public school. She loves to follow her children in their unique paths and interests. She loves to write because, unlike the laundry and the dishes, writing stays done. Whenever someone asks her how she does it all she wonders what in the world they think she’s doing.