Recently, I found myself digging around in the archives of this blog. I was looking for something particular – I no longer remember what – but I stumbled on this post from last December. I wrote it for Solstice, the longest night of the year. It would be one of the last posts I would write before Shawn’s death in January.
I have lately been remembering last year’s Christmas celebration. In my memory, those were the last innocent, happy days. Days when we had not yet known sorrow. Days when we had not yet seen the almost unbearable glory of God.
I was shocked to reread this post and realize I was grieving last December, too. Smaller sorrows, perhaps, but sorrows still. The words I wrote last December do not simply remain true; they are more true.
Strangely, they are also giving me more hope. Through some trick of faulty memory, I had placed the happy days in the past. I had forgotten that the greatest happiness – the most complete joy – is still ahead of us. We have not yet arrived.
But we are nearer. And every door of grief and suffering through which we pass brings us nearer still.
The best days may be yet to come, but in December I remember how much gladness is ours today. This was true for me last December. This is still true today.
Each December I think it will be different. This will be the year I shake my winter melancholy. This will be the year my delight grows day by day. These are days of ornaments and sugar cookies and twinkling lights. Aren’t they supposed to be happy?
But this year is much like every other year. The ornaments shatter, the cookies crumble, and those new LED bulbs cast a cold-hearted glow.
More than ten years ago, I spent a few December days watching my friend’s little girl. My friend was in the hospital laboring to deliver a baby boy whose heart had already stopped beating. Over the weekend, I took care of another little girl who has no idea her parent’s hearts are broken.
All weekend, in the background, Over the Rhine was singing, “If we make it through December we’ll be fine.”
This was going to be the year I would look on the bright side, but I have just about accepted that there is no bright side in December. Only darkness and the pin-prick lights on the Christmas tree, and tonight is the longest night.
At one in the morning on the fourth Sunday of Advent, my friend’s little girl threw up. When I found her, she was crying, and her beautiful curly hair was smeared with vomit. While I bathed her and toweled her dry, I thought two things: Why is this happening tonight? and Thank you, Jesus, that I can do this for my friend.
This is what we do in December. We bake sugar cookies, and we scrub vomit from the sheets. We cry for our friends and we cry for ourselves, and we hand out bars of chocolate tied with red and green bows. We make toasts to the new year, and we wonder how we’ll ever survive another one.
We pray come, Lord Jesus, come, and we remember that he already has and that he’s seen it all before. The vomit and the death. The good food and the hunger. The love and the loss.
I don’t know if I’m angry, or tired, or simply sad, but I will keep baking cookies. I will continue hanging ornaments, and I will make my husband climb up on the barn roof to secure a lighted star.
Because somehow despite it all (or because of it?) I still believe that there is a God up there in heaven who has made us this promise:
“I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).
We live somewhere between the promise and its ultimate fulfillment. It is a land where tears drop onto festive wrapping paper. A place dusted with cookie crumbs and peppermints. It is empty stockings hung by the fire, and it is our hope, perhaps a little shaky and unsure, that one day we will wake and those stockings will be full.
But it isn’t only a one-day hope. Perhaps if we make it through December we will be fine, but I don’t want to be fine. I want more than that. I want better than that.
I want gladness.
Gladness like the taste of sugar cookies and candy canes and the cinnamon rolls I make every Christmas morning.
Gladness like the face of a child when snow finally does fall.
Gladness like every bright, sweet gift that comes to us only in December.
Oh Christie, did I ever need to read that this morning. This has been one of the hardest years I’ve had in a good long while and I’ve been struggling with Christmas and beating myself up about feeling that way all the while going through the motions of the holiday season. All I want for Christmas is to find a little hope in my heart again so thank you for your beautiful words.
Thank you, Kim. I am praying you find the hope you seek.
I’ve been so depressed, Christie. I have struggled with that since I was in my teens, so that is a long time. I’ve gone through vomit times and victory dances. I hate that word: vomit. I never say it much less write it for all the world to see, just like you did. But I’m glad you wrote it, because it is true and not sugar-cookie coated. I’m struggling, and need to know that someone else is, too, and is surviving. I love that you pictured the amaryllis. I have a fake, albeit very nice one, for a non-green-thumbed person like me on my kitchen windowsill and a print of one by a wonderful artist on the nearby wall. I wrote about an amaryllis bulb in my book. My brother gave it to me the Chrismtas that my favorite great aunt lay dying of colon cancer. It’s all he could afford, but I thought it was the dumbest, strangest gift… and one that reminded me of death, because it was buried. I have never witnessed one grow though. It ended up being one of the most glorious gifts I have ever received. And on the day of Aunt Mart’s funeral, it bloomed, trifold…a picture to me of the Trinity. What hope it gave me. I have to keep remembering, as no doubt you are, that spring follows winter, resurrection, death. May God continue to give us glimmers of hope and laughter this December, and may we cling to the promise that one day, perfectly happy days will come.
What a beautiful story, Lynn! I am so glad you took the time to share it with me. Now I’ll think of you, and say a prayer, when I look at my own blooming amaryllis. xxoo
I am so thankful that you shared this story here.
I too have fought depression and Christie’s post is such an encouragement.
Particularly was blessed by these lines:
“I had forgotten that the greatest happiness – the most complete joy – is still ahead of us. We have not yet arrived.
But we are nearer. And every door of grief and suffering through which we pass brings us nearer still.”
So GRATEFUL for you and Christie’s words which remind me Who to set my gaze upon and to put my hopes in!!
This…thank you…beautiful truth. I’m praying for you and your family. Happy Christmas.
Thank you. Happy Christmas!
Thinking of you and your family. Hugs
Thank you so much.
Beautiful this time, too. Thank you.