When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and¬†it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed¬†what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to¬†those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever¬†the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s¬†and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that¬†caused them to write those¬†words and that¬†tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to¬†get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get¬†heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the¬†big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday¬†cheer can weigh me down faster¬†than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be¬†my happiest months. I¬†often feel rushed to get myself¬†together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be¬†light, but that we¬†don’t need to hurry it¬†or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target¬†and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and¬†flailing around in¬†snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a¬†different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that¬†can help us with the heavy weight.¬†That Light came in the middle of the night to a¬†bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies.¬†He¬†saw¬†all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.

 

 

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I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an¬†allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that¬†the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I¬†so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say,¬†the next time everything explodes and I’m a¬†wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that¬†you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and¬†you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always¬†and will always have you, and He will work it out.¬†

eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still¬†seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it.¬†But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think:¬†don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to¬†literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy¬†events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone¬†on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel.¬†Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles¬†without us¬†having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and¬†still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and¬†how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So,¬†maybe the point of this blog is to say,¬†stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you¬†find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain,¬†right in the middle of one of the happiest times¬†in your life. Sometimes you find that you still¬†feel a¬†coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of¬†what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open. ¬†Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to¬†miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Blood shot eyes, I just sat there with my face soaked in tears. Hands beneath the table, I was clenching that elegant white table cloth, praying we could just get that meal over with.

No one asked.

I think that had to be one of the most monumental moments of that year. Sitting at a table in some of the deepest pain I’ve ever known, and the people I thought were closest to me never even asked.

He was gone. Not gone on vacation, not moved away. He was really gone and at that moment being prepared to be lowered in the ground.

I could have tapped my glass, stood to give a toast, and at the end tacked on:¬†“and with this sip of water, I toast to the life of a childhood friend who isn’t simply moving away, but who no longer has breath in his body.”

I didn’t, thank God. My mother gave me the sense to know that doing¬†those kinds of things wouldn’t have changed what had already occurred. Still, sometimes I lie awake and wonder if it would have been an alarm clock to a room full of people who¬†claim to love me.

I want to be the person who asks, even when I don’t want to, even if it’s uncomfortable. I want to see brokenness and not be afraid of it. I want to love people so much that even if their arms push me away, I push harder to let them know that¬†it’s okay to not be okay.

I think sometimes we’re just all afraid to dig deeper, to ask painful questions. We’re afraid of what could occur if we light a match next the pile of dynamite pain.¬†I don’t want to be standing too close if and when this explodes.¬†

“I’ll let them come to me.” We tell ourselves, “When they’re ready to talk about it… they will.”

Sometimes that’s true, but most of the time it’s an excuse.

We sit at fancy tables with white table cloths and we just try to shield our eyes from the person dripping tears into their lap.¬†This isn’t the time or place. Can’t¬†they just get it together until the time is more appropriate?¬†I’ll ask them later, when there are less people around, when I have more time.

We give them a little side hug, buy their food, a little pat on the back, but we steer clear of words and apologies. It’s easier just to not ask, to say a little prayer and hope that God handles it and we don’t have to.

We’re always waiting for better moments to love people. We’re waiting until we’ve changed into lesser clothes before we sit down in the mud¬†with them.

I’m not sure when it became embarrassing or improper to¬†not be okay. As though it were a choice, or as if it could be controlled. We treat it as though little bandaids can hold back the blood of gaping wounds.¬†Just put this over it, put on a little smile until¬†it’s more convenient,¬†but don’t break, not here, not in public.

Sitting at that table on that Sunday afternoon where no one asked, I nearly bled out. While faces were turned and entrees were served, I felt almost everything drain out of me.

I wondered if that was how he felt. Had he been stabbed with that same feeling over and over again? Had he just sat in room after room, at table after table while no one asked? Did he feel inconvenient, weak, shameful? Is that what caused him to end his life? Did they watch him bleed out, never willing to put their hands on his wounds and call for help?

You can’t save people. Those words have been said to me over and over again, I know they are true.¬†But I can scream, I can yell, I can make a scene to say that¬†you are loved and you are not in this thing alone.¬†I may not can save them, but I must be willing to push people out of the ways of trains, away from cliffs; to bring flashlights to them on dark paths where it seems like there’s only one end.

I can’t save people, but that can never be a reason not to fight for¬†someone’s life with all the fierce love inside of me.

I want to dig my heels in and say “It’s alright if you make a scene, let it out, be angry or broken.¬†You are not an¬†embarrassment. I don’t see you as¬†a fragile or useless person when you’re not okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”

Pain is not a gentleman. He pushes himself to the front of the line, knocks displays over, and wounds others in his way. He does not wait patiently on the porch. He bangs his hands brutally against your door and barges in before you’ve even had time to fix your hair.

Pain shows up and there isn’t always a warning, a phone call to say what time he’ll arrive, he shows up with guns blazing. Pain is not proper, so Love is does not wait for convenience.

Love¬†doesn’t care if her dress is wrinkled or her eyes are bloodshot. Love doesn’t mind weeping¬†in public or knees hitting the carpet. She doesn’t really care what the onlookers at the restaurant think of her or the one she holds. She doesn’t keep a watch, doesn’t wait for quiet, isn’t afraid of words or silence. Love has no expectation, no requirement, no desire to wait for¬†a better time.¬†

Pain will surely¬†come, most times in a loud and unruly manner. When he does, may he be met with Love, who never minds a mess and isn’t¬†afraid of making a scene.