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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If Given the Same Chance…

I feel as though I’ve lived that exact moment a hundred times.

This place I’ve been standing recently is one that tastes so familiar. If I went back to old journals, I think I’ve got hundreds of pages filled with maps of walking this pathway.

“Haven’t we been through this already?” I asked God, not expecting much of an answer. He knew I felt frustrated, thinking I would never learn whatever it is that He has apparently trying to drill through my thick head about this kind of pain.

“You know, it doesn’t mean you failed to learn the lesson last time. Sometimes, you come to the same circumstance in order for me to show you that you are not the same person you used to be.”

I took a deep breath and leaned my head back, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Because you always hope, if given the same chance, you would make better choices than you did last time.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” 

If you’ve lived long at all, you’ve probably uttered those words. But can we ever really be sure of that?

It’s hard to be sure when our hearts get so tangled in the edges and curves of faces that figure out ways to paint themselves into the lines of our days.

But sometimes, you get a chance to find out.

All over again, you get the moment of reaction, the choice of how to carry it, and to tug from grace what it takes to nod and graciously walk away.

Sometimes, you get to see that you’re a far better person than you used to be. And maybe it was that gruesome mountain you walked up last time that gave you the strength to more easily scale the one in your present.

I smiled at God, “We’ve been through a lot worse, am I right?”

I felt him smile and then we went on talking about how I have horrible coordination when it comes to vacuuming.

I told Him last year that I was finished with picking up disappointment.

I’ve given her a ride too many times in the last twenty-three years. She is a demeaning back seat driver and she will eventually push herself behind the wheel. When she does, she will take you to a place that a simple GPS could never get you out of.

When I saw her the other day, thumb taunting me from the side of the highway of my heart, I locked the doors and let my foot press harder on the gas. There’s no room for you here, I thought. You’ve taken up far too much of my time and ruined way too many of what could have been beautiful miles.

So much of what we go through really has less to do with other people and more to do with us. It’s about who we decide to be and how we keep a balance of grace and principle. About learning to be steady in the places that used to rattle our bones.

Keeping disappointment out of the car takes realizing that the only control you have is over your own choices. You can’t change or anticipate what others will do, but you can commit to a better response, one that refuses to settle for going back to the person you used to be.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, that you’ll enjoy looking at these same monsters in the eye.

But what I will tell you is that when you realize you can stare back at them without blinking, without shoving them back behind those closet doors, you will be grateful to be standing in places you prayed you’d never stand again.

Growth is the thing that keeps us moving and opens doors to bigger and better things.

It’s only by being confronted with all those fears and the battles that once bloodied your elbows and knees that you find out just how far it is you’ve really come.

And I hope each time we do, we find that we’ve actually come a lot further than we ever could have imagined.

We’ve Got Bigger Problems

My playlist landed on that song, it happened just as I was turning into my neighborhood in Georgia.

It poked at my heart, it nudged at some pain I’ve been carting around.

I turned it off and put it out of my mind.

This morning the same song came on, but its weight didn’t crush me. Today, I’ve got bigger problems. I’ve got bigger problems than sad songs that remind me of disappointing seasons and of people who didn’t turn out to be who I thought they were.

This morning he left. I lost an uncle. My family lost a father. The world lost a fighter.

Sad songs didn’t really seem like such a problem after that. The little heartbreaks didn’t really seem to matter when I thought about his life, the miracles he lived. The world seemed more gray this morning. The news felt like bricks breaking in an earthquake, I could hear the sound of crumbling clay around me.

The earth should shake when someone is no longer here. There should be breaking glass and falling objects when someone takes their last breath.

There are harder things than people who refuse to grow up and the problems they cause us.

Our lives should be defined by more than small obstacles, inconveniences, bad days and hurt feelings. These things are really not worth the time we give them.

If we’re going to value small things, let’s value the good ones. Let’s put our energy into falling in love with cups of coffee shared with old friends, long walks beneath cracking winter branches, take-out food with your family, and sweet memories of uncles who knew how to say i love you.

The rest of it, the little heartbreaks and disappointments, the days that are uneventful and the discontent seasons…let’s stop letting them keep us from playing a song we used to love.

Lovely Letters: This Burden Will Be a Blessing

They’re back! Here’s the newest Lovely Letter!

I broke up with my fiance. We’ve been together for almost 5 years and were planning to get married this coming December. I feel so empty, I’ve just tried to keep myself busy.

 

-L

Dear L,

Sometimes, choosing the hard thing can result in our biggest blessings, but before that it often feels like our heaviest burden.

You want to feel loved. You want to be respected. You want someone who fights as much for your heart as you fight for his. I think, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all really hoping for.

Your heart wanted something different and it took letting go of something you thought you could learn to be content with, in order to open your hands for what’s better.

You made a decision and it was a hard one. You decided that even though you invested so much time, energy, laughter, memories, and heart with one person, that you wanted something different than what you were holding. That’s brave, but it’s painful and heart-wrenching. It’s going to take time for that one to heal, L. You cut out a big piece of your world and the sting can stay around for quite some time.

I know you feel empty, that you’re trying to fill that with work and hobbies. My best advice, the thing I can tell you will help the most, is to fill up your time with people.

Choose to let others see your heart during this time. Yes, I realize it’s bruised and broken. You may cry, or scream, or feel completely depressed, but whatever you do, don’t let yourself believe that you are alone.

We’ve all been there, in some way or another. Your situation is different than any I’ve had, but I know the pain of walking away from something that became a part of who you are and the future you saw for yourself. I know the weight of that stone that sits on your chest when you wake up and realize that this isn’t where you thought you’d end up.

But it’s a blessing, L. Right now, it feels like you’re being torn beyond repair, but I promise that it’s better to feel this pain now than to wake up in ten years and wish you had walked away.

You already know what your life would have been if you would have married him. You spent five years learning what your world wrapped around him would turn out to be. You realized it wasn’t the world you wanted, don’t waste another second wondering if you should regret desiring something different for your life.

You know what I think? Sometimes, we willingly choose the hard things because we can’t stand the idea of things staying the way they are. And you know what? Sometimes, doing those things that scare you, that seem to leave you empty handed, lead to the best surprises.

So, you have no idea what your life is going to look like without him. I get that, L. I know that you’re not only walking through the sadness of losing something you loved, but you’re now stuck in the worry of wondering if the future before you is really going to be better than what you had.

So, are you willing to walk away from a life you thought you wanted, in order to see something amazing happen? 

You said yes to that question; now things can change and I think they will.

You knew in your heart that it wasn’t right, and you chose to follow that despite how much it hurts. That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me.

This is your life, L. This is your shot and it’s your choice who walks next to you along this crazy journey you’re living. You chose to unlace your fingers with someone who wasn’t right for you. I’m proud of you, for all the times you forgave him, for all the times you apologized, for all the times you were willing to try and work it out. But mostly, I’m just proud of you for realizing that it’s not your responsibility to change someone, and that as much as you wanted to make things work, the only choices you can make are for yourself.

Just breathe, sweet friend. Know that you are not alone, surround yourself with people who will soothe your heart during this seemingly unbearable time. Be grateful that you had the strength to take a stand and that you realized the choice is yours. What now seems like a burden, you will one day see as the biggest blessing. Take a breath of relief that you were finally able to let go of what you were gripping so tightly, and that you now know it was never really yours to hold.

Ashlin

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday (well, at least once a week)! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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