The problem with the Christmas season is, there's this amped-up expectation to be merry, automatically. The radio croons that from now on, our troubles will be far away. But they aren't. They're in our living rooms and down the street and knocking around in our empty bank accounts and broken hearts.
I used to hear that the holidays are a struggle for the hurting, but it was just another one of those thing that seemed oddly fictional to me - I knew it happened sometimes, somewhere. But it never got close enough to home. It didn't belong to me.
I get it now. I'm feeling those contact burns again, maybe more than ever. Snuggle up to the pain of other people and you can't help but walk away singed.
I eyed it from the couch with my late-night bowl of Chex and thought, What have we done? I see everyone's homes looking so festive and the only picture my mind can paint is everyone gathered together, hanging each sentiment-laden ornament with care and gaiety. (That's what happens when you start to assume the other corners of the world are more Norman Rockwell than yours - you use words like "gaiety".)
Meanwhile, we shoved our tree into a tight corner 3 days back, leaving its backside completely bald so it would fit. When we finally got around to putting on its face, it was no happy family affair. There was no hot chocolate or matching pajamas. Mommy wasn't even home and Calvin was more interested in his Matchbox cars.
This is real life - at least for us.
On second glance, I decided it makes perfect sense.
Our tree - misshapen, a misfit, a little blingy and happy but nowhere near perfect. Just like us.
I know there's room in my heart for the extra shot of joy Christmas brings. I'll get there, I always do. But right now, Advent is jacking with my heart and Jesus is begging me to do hard things - now - when it feels like the exact wrong time. Right now, my neighbors are hungry for food and Jesus and nicotine and justice. Right now, my kids are systematically cutting each other down every single day and smarting off to their parents then asking to read this book at bedtime. They're mean and impatient and so are we, but they pray things like, "Thank you for knowing just what kind of family I needed", and we all exhale.
Right now, I'm spending my evenings reading about kids in prison, turning pages while my stomach drops low then lower and I pray in the 10 seconds before I fall asleep that I'll somehow avoid nightmares. Right now, I'm waking up asking to be filled, asking if I can let myself off the hook and believe God answers the quick prayers, the ones whispered and fleeting, but every bit as desperate and holy as the other kinds.
Right now, my eyes fill with tears as I type because I want to sprint into the wide arms of grace. It's the only place I really fit in.
Are you lonely today? Missing someone you love? Did you wake up to the throbbing reminder that life is just as messy today as it was yesterday? Is your child in jail? Lost, somehow? Are you?
Look at me - you're not alone.
Emmanuel is coming for us, just as much as the rest of them. He's coming to our pain. He's coming in to our captivity. He's coming as our ransom. He's all the good news and great joy we'll ever need.
Lean with me into the weirdness and all the struggle. Celebrate if you want to or wait it out.
PS - Join me tomorrow morning for the FPFG Christmas round-up. I think it'll be good for all of us. You can link up anything Christmas. I'd especially love to see some great giving opportunities! Raising money for an adoption? Tell us about it. Have a favorite charity? We need to know. I'd also love for you to share your Etsy shop or homemade/handmade business or your book or your music. Show us your tree, wonky or otherwise. Link up to a post about how you do Christmas or your favorite party recipe. As usual, almost anything goes around here.
PPS - Do you want to take a picture of your tree with the lights all blown out like the pics on this post? It's super easy! Find the switch on your DSLR that says AF/MF and switch it to MF (manual focus) then use your hand to mal-adjust the focus. My aperture is always set low (2.8 usually) so do that, too. Voila!