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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Cheat Sheets: 24 Ways To Be Happier

1. Learn to be confident. Not cocky, not in a I-think-everything-I-do-is-epic-and-incredible way. Be a humble sort of confident–the kind you can wear comfortably like an old worn out sweater, the kind that fits you just right.

2. Stop spending time with people who throw water on your fire. Stop pouring your dreams out to people who tell you they’re impossible and try to make you shove them out of sight. Walk next to people who are carrying their own torch and pushing you to keep running with yours.

3. Wear comfortable and reliable shoes. Really though, I know Target has super cute and affordable ones, but you need to invest more than $14 in something that you’ll be wearing to all the places you’re headed. Take it from me, it is really inconvenient to try and super glue the soles of your shoes back together in a foreign country.

4. Live with other people while you’re single. Laugh at each other when you’re standing in the kitchen with messy hair, make a quote wall of all the dumb/hilarious things your roommates say. Make each other dinner, fight about the dishes, share your bananas, know that this is sure to be one of the best seasons of your life.

5. Know that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Your feelings matter, but you’re not the only person who needs to be seen or heard. Sometimes, the person that just hurt you needs to be told that good things are ahead of them and to keep holding on.

6. Men and women, you need to know this: buy t-shirts, flannels and sweatshirts in the men’s section. They’re cheaper, they’re thicker, they’re longer and they don’t go all awkwardly short & wide after you put them in the wash.

7. Take people to coffee. Spend two or three hours hearing their stories. Ask questions. Don’t text other people, check your social media, or Instagram your mug. Listen. Curl up in that chair and memorize the lines and freckles on their face. Hear the way the words of their own stories tumble out of their mouth and be grateful for the gift it is to give a person the chance to be known.

8. Buy slippers for the colder months. It will save you the horrible task of trying to actually find socks and then having to wash socks and inevitably losing one of them into the sock-stealing-abyss that is the dryer.

9. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop wishing your hair was longer, your waist was thinner, your nose was smaller. You’re a straight up baller—don’t forget it!

10. Stop counting calories and make better choices. Get fruit instead of fries, buy wheat instead of white, drink 2% instead of whole. Little changes can have impressive results.

11. Cry. Cry when you need to. Don’t be ashamed of it or apologize for it, but set a timer. Cry it out, but when you’re done—be done.  Don’t keep playing sad songs or coming back to it. Stop giving that pain more attention than it deserves.

12. Be brave. That thing you want to do? Just do it. Even if it fails, you’ll learn from it. Risk isn’t a waste, but years spent wondering “what if” probably will be.

13. Fight for things. There’s a strength in walking away when the time is right, but until then—put them gloves on and put ’em up. Don’t so easily give up on something that has grabbed hold of your heart. Give it all you’ve got and if it doesn’t work out, leave it all in the ring with no regrets.

14. Dance. Sing at the top of your lungs. If you can mop an entire floor without busting a move and singing into the mop like it’s a microphone…you need more fun in your life.

15. Learn how to give a good wink, it makes people feel good. Yes, that will probably make you look crazy, but it usually makes at least 60% of people giggle. People need to giggle as much as possible.

16. Everything makes more sense when you write it out. Get a journal and write it out. Ask yourself hard questions and come back to them when you’ve had time to clear your head. Months later, go back and read how you’ve grown or how most of those really stressful situations always seem to work out.

17. Be the bigger person. If they don’t apologize or if they refuse to speak to you–love them anyway and move on. You’ve got big things to do and you don’t have time to get caught up in pointless and never-ending drama.

18. There are no shortcuts when it comes to your dream. Put in the blood, sweat and tears. Pour your heart into something only to throw it in the trash and start all over again. There is no substitute for time, it takes time to craft a skill, to build something beautiful. No matter how many books you read, there’s no Dummies Guide that’s going to instantly make you and your work unforgettable.

19. First impressions are rarely right. They might stick for a little while, but if you take time to get to know someone it’s likely they’re nothing like you assumed and their story is far different than you expected. Know this to be true about yourself too—you’re not doomed if you accidentally make a fool of yourself.

20. Learn how to brew a good pot of coffee. Invite people over. Stop spending $5 one or multiple times a day for a drink. If you’re just obsessed about looking cool—save the paper cup and put your own coffee in it, it’s not like anybody is going to know the difference.

21. Don’t be that girl who thinks a man holding the door for you means he wants to marry you. If a guy likes you, he will let you know. Don’t try to make your life a Taylor Swift song (even if she is the queen of jams).

22. Shaking hands is becoming a lost art–let’s bring it back. Have a firm grip and enough self respect to straighten your shoulders and look someone in the eye. It’s classy, attractive and will never go out of style.

23. Learn from others. People who are further along and/or who have lived longer. Learn from their wisdom, ask them questions, ask for help. Learn from their mistakes and avoid optional obstacles.

24. Be open. To laughter, to love, to spontaneous road trips and trying new things. Do things that will give you stories for years to come and tell those stories every chance you get.