If you’re a Harry Potter fangeek (Julie raises her hand…) you know about the Marauder’s Map, a charmed map used by Harry Potter and those before him to engage in all sorts of mischief during their school years. Once a map’s user is done with their sneaking out or pranks or whatever, they simply fold up the map, tapping it with a wand and proclaiming, “Mischief Managed!” — and all evidence goes away. Just like that.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
How I wish it were so easy to manage expectations. Especially this time of year.
Expectations. Of happy families. Perfect presents. Norman Rockwell (still!) images of the way things are “supposed to be.” Happy carolers. Innocently mischievous elves. Joyful hearts. Grateful attitudes. Giving spirits. You know–Christmas happy– this is what’s expected the most wonderful time of the year. Mostly because Hallmark.
December has always been my favorite month. I love how everything in nature quiets down and softens up. There’s beauty, to me, in how simple the landscape looks with bare trees and grey skies. It’s almost like the world has paused for a moment to catch her breath. And I’ve always loved Christmas. The lights. The music. The food. The family and friends. The presents–both buying just the right one for someone I love, and receiving one that tells me I’m loved.
It was always my favorite time of the year, and, at heart, I think it still is.
But it’s not so easy now. My expectations of what this time of year brings and how it’s celebrated have been drastically changed. And I’m not quite sure, still, how to navigate December in light of that. Maybe that rings true for you, too.
Maybe this will be your first Christmas after having lost a loved one. Or maybe that loved one is still just missed so much that the thought of seeing her empty place at the table is more than you can bear.
Maybe you’ve been through a divorce, and the realities of what that means for your children and you at the holidays is more painful that you think you can stand.
Maybe money is tight and so the ads for Apple watches and Pandora bracelets and Samsung flat-screens and enormous Lego sets are things you desperately wish you could buy and so sources of shame.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Or have been deployed overseas (or love someone who is). Or are very sick. Or battle clinical depression.
Maybe…. Maybe…. Maybe….
Whatever your “maybe,” there are some things I want to say in the face of it (and, as usual, I’m saying it to myself most of all). And those are things are these:
- Grief is powerful and shows up whenever she damn well pleases. She does not give one small care about the time of year, and she is a mighty force to be reckoned with. Whatever has you grieving, whatever loss has leveled you, I simply want to say, “Me. Too.” And I can name many, many others who could join my Me. Too. chorus. Because loss is inevitable. And sometimes, it threatens to destroy us. You are NOT alone in your grief. Please hear me say that. You are NOT alone. And perhaps the most Christmas-y thing we could do this year is simply sit with one another while we face the loss together, just as God created us to do.
- I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth saying again: the dreams we have (or had) of what would be for our lives are often brought full center, straight into the spotlight, this time of year. And when those dreams have been dashed, shattered, slammed mercilessly against the backdrop of our lives…whew, y’all. It is hard. HARD. to get through a season like Christmas. When we long for what we thought would be, or secretly dare to hope might be again one day. So…be kind to yourself. Trust those around you to be with you in the heartache. And trust especially that God’s heart is hurting for yours, too.
- Best Buy and Amazon do not own Christmas. And this comes from someone who LOVES wrapped presents. And squeals like a kid, well, at Christmas! when she opens one that means an especial lot. After all, the magi did bring baby Jesus presents. And those gifts were not necessarily practical. There IS precedent for pretty things after all! Still…it isn’t the real point, and it is so difficult to remember this, especially when you see the priceless smile on your daughter’s face when Santa did manage to find an enormous stuffed giraffe in time for Christmas morning. And if you’ve ever been through a particularly lean Christmas, or had a holiday with zero cash to spare at all…gah. You know the pain of that. The shame, even, of it. And I’m so, so sorry, if you have. It’s no place to be. Still…the presents…as lovely as they can be, as much as they can be expressions of love…they are not the point.
- Happiness and joy are two very different things. As I have said before, coffee and Bon Jovi and caramel M&M’s and a finely poured bourbon make me happy. My daughter and other favorite people bring me joy. Deep, abiding joy, even when it seems sadness or fear or stress might win any given day after all. Sometimes that joy gets clouded. Sometimes I don’t express it or acknowledge it or even want to look for it. But it’s there, still…somewhere inside me, a voice that believes in such joy and trusts it to do the work of reminding me/you/us that we are loved and that all is not lost.
- Memories can be both beautiful and awful. They can lift us up and they can drag us down. And it can feel impossible to keep them at bay either way. And this time of year, remembering what once was can bring a whopping dose of pain. Y’all, I can be the sappiest, most waxing nostalgic girl on the planet, and the 42 year-old Santa ornament at the top of my tree is strong evidence of that. As is the Han Solo, given to me just last year, and a reminder of people and experiences new and amazing. But…the truth is that there are some ornaments I no longer hang on the tree. And this is evidence, too, that not all memories are helpful, and these unhelpful ones are really stubborn, as you may know, these days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Look, here’s the deal. In the end, the Christmas story, as it is told in Judeo-Christian faith, is a story of two terrified and unlikely parents, their son suddenly named as savior of the world and nothing going as they expected.
Did you get that? NOTHING going as they expected. And with even more heartache to come.
And so, in the midst of remembering the joy of the story, we have to remember, too, that in the story is fear. In the story is uncertainty. In the story is brokenness. There’s nothing Hallmark about it at all. And it was likely messy and terrifying, just as our lives often are. And this somehow gives me hope–because it tells me that not only did God come into an imperfect world, God came into that world imperfectly. Not at all like we might have planned or expected. Still, God came among us–right into our jacked up lives and said, “I am with you and you are loved and you are worth it.” (Excuse me while I loosely paraphrase the Gospels!).
Always. Without exception. In our most vulnerable moments. No matter what.
That’s Christmas. God being with us. With you. With me. In all of our good, bad and ugly. And the really tremendous joy to be known in that is that there are no expectations attached at all. Just love…pure and real and unlike anything else we really have ever known.
And my prayer for you…for me…is that the goodness of this is enough for even a glimmer of hope for what might still be possible for our lives to take firm root in our souls, so that we are able to expect, above all else, that love still wins after all…and always.