December 17, 2014

Keeping Christmas Well


Christmas is a tough season. I get it. I am an empathizer in every sense of the word. Even when my life is going just fine, I hear your words, I see your pain, and I place it in my heart. I feel your hurt. That's why I write. That's how I cope. I see the world through the eyes of a million people and I spill words onto paper to figure out some sense of normalcy. Growing up, I had family members read my poetry and ask my mom if I was okay. They read the pain, the anguish, the abandonment, the eating disorders, the scars on wrists, the death, the heartache...they read all these emotions out of my writing and called my mom. But you see, I've had a pretty easy go of it. I know I have. My parents aren't divorced and my family has very few scars etched on their DNA. My childhood was consistent, with a few bumps and scratches, but only the type that build you and don't break you. My life has been fortunate to a point that I have nothing to complain about. This could change tomorrow. It could change in the next five minutes, but for today, I am thankful. Yet, I am an empathizer. I walked closely with friends whose lives were torn apart out of no doing of their own. I saw the scars and the black eyes, I hugged friends when death had permeated their lives and a hug was the only thing I knew I could give. I have loved deeply and felt strongly. In this way, I get it. Christmas is a tough season. 

This year, I have grappled with eternity. The purpose of the here and now. The anguish of the saints and the questions of mankind. Elaborate, astounding, old as time and frustrating as ever. The questions that always seem to go unanswered. 

Why her?

Why him?
Why now?
Why cancer?
Why death?
Do you hear me, God? 

This year, I have prayed to more ceilings and felt the weight of the words press back down on me more than I have ever prayed in my life. I have cried more tears on the drive home from work and cleaned them up before I walked in the door than I have ever cried. I have harbored more anger and tried to surrender it more times than I can count. 2014 has been a year of reckoning. 

Christmas is a tough season. As we celebrate the season of Advent, the thrill of hope, the quietness of a baby born in the night, the depth of joy found in knowing that we no longer live in darkness, as we celebrate all this and's tough to see the joy through a lens of pain. Because the questions are still there. The why's, the lonely prayers, the doesn't disappear when the calendar flips to December. If anything, it is magnified. 

Every year since I began blogging in 2010, I seem to scrounge up a few words around Christmastime. Often, they revolve around the Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." This is no coincidence, as this is my favorite fiction Christmas story in all the world. Scrooge is my kindred spirit. He is my favorite, my homeboy, the BFF I've never met. Scrooge, to me, represents humanity so very well. Through Dickens' writings, we watch as grumpy, miserly Scrooge is confronted with the past, the present, and the future. We see his life; the pain, the hurt, the broken dreams and desires, we see how so many events and so many choices shaped him into the terrible old man that he is. Scrooge was given a bad lot, and after too many disappointments, he becomes something old and as good as dead. Yet, in this terrible state, he is given a second chance. In the most horrible of moments, during the most painful time of the year, Scrooge experiences an awakening. He becomes the most generous, the most kind, and the most loving man in all of London. 

Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  

This story, this parable, stirs up Christmas in my heart. It's a rough season. I feel your pain. I know the heartache behind seeing all this holly jolly Christmas decor. I know the way it feels to look at a fireplace with one less stocking. It would be easier to just skip the holiday season, skip the traditions, skip it all and jump right into a new year with new days and put the old days even further behind us. 


Life is tough sometimes, but it is still beautiful. Redemption is beautiful. Second chances are beautiful. Joy is beautiful. Scrooge gets it, eventually. And for that, I love him. I love him because I see myself in him. In his redemption. In his reckoning. 

This year, you might be in a similar place. You might be reckoning with the world, with heartache, with God. You might be yelling to the ceiling, "Why?!" You might be crying on your drive home from work just trying to get through tomorrow. I don't know where you are, right now, on the dreary December day, but I have a good feeling that like so many of us, you are tired.

I have really, really good news.

Christmas can be tough, but despite the difficulties, no, because of the difficulties, we can celebrate it more completely and more beautifully than ever before. The pain, the heartache, the hurt, the tears, the tiredness...they are the reasons why we can look at this season with the blinders taken away from our eyes. In our desperation, without rose colored glasses on or the warmth of happiness wrapped around our shoulders, we get to see Christmas for what it is. A thrill of hope in the darkness. A glorious awakening in the world. We can celebrate Christmas more completely in our trials and through the rough patches of life then we ever can through the happy and the giddy moments because Christmas is here for the broken and the tired. We celebrate Christmas, truly, because we are celebrating the birth of Christ into a world that is so desperate for him. A world caked in sin, in despair, in darkness. He came at the worst of the worst moments. When hope had all but disappeared. When humanity was at a dire point, we celebrated the birth of a baby. Christmas, in the current Christian calendar, is an event that has already happened. Now, we await for the coming of Christ, once more, as we celebrate the fact that he has already come and saved us. We await the reunion and we celebrate the introduction. Christmas, while a beautiful season for so many reasons, is essentially a time when we are desperately aware that in the coldness of winter (metaphorically), hope came alive.

You can celebrate Christmas in the joyful seasons of life. Indeed, Christmas is easiest and wonderful in these moments. But if you've had a tough year, if Christmas is tough this year, I challenge you to embrace this season with open arms. It was made for you. It won't be easy. Pain and heartache will cast their shadows still. But I have good news..."The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). Matthew 1:23. This is the season when we step back from wherever we are and recognize that God is with us, indeed. In the hardest moments of life, in the mourning of grief, in the difficult questions with no apparent answers, God is with us. Christmas was made for the tough moments. 

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