~From my heart to yours~
My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!
(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)
People sitting out their lives in the dark
saw a huge light;
Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up. ~ Matthew 4:16, MSG
My memories of the Christmas seasons of my childhood are as though from a black and white TV. Not because of the nostalgic beauty, but because of the depression that shrouded my home. Most of my growing up years were spent in northeastern Oklahoma. Too far south to have much snow, winters are often a cold, damp mess. Though those foothills of the Ozark Mountains are gloriously green as they roll along in spring and early summer. Winter is different. In my memory the clouds descended a day or two after Thanksgiving and didn’t lift until Easter.
The worst time of all was Christmas break.
There was nothing to celebrate.
Along with the sense of having little to look forward to while my friends chatted about their plans was the underlying hurt from a friend who told me I belonged to a cult because I didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. I couldn’t understand why she missed how deeply I loved Jesus. I recoiled from the judgment.
My parents tried to ease our holiday pain, buying us little gifts over the winter break, calling them “Lovemas” presents. But there were no bright red stockings at my house and no traditional meals. Not at Christmas.
I have at least one good Christmas season memory. When I was six or seven, my family lived in a church basement in Wichita. My mom had a list of chores for us to complete, but she made it a game. Each time we did a chore we found a little gift hidden away! It was such fun!
I still remember running to my mom when I didn’t find a gift as I vacuumed my room. Her eyes twinkled as she asked if I’d cleaned beneath my bed. Dad quickly put together the pogo stick I found there, and my brother and I spent many happy hours on bouncing on those pogo sticks on the concrete floors of the church basement’s fellowship hall.
We moved back to Oklahoma soon after that Christmas trip. It’s likely there are more happy memories, and as I write I am glad to have some good back from the darkness. But as I matured each Christmas season became more dreary, or I maybe I just remember it that way.
I learned to dread Christmas break, especially once we were a little older and living on the farm. I learned the one thing I could probably count on at Christmas was that my mom would get depressed. Very likely she and dad would have a huge fight, especially as their anniversary, which was on the 28th, drew near. Sometimes I would awaken in the night to her car pulling out of the driveway, wondering if she would come home. Our dimly lit little farm house didn’t seem cheerful with a cozy glow of the woodstove. It seemed dark and sad.
My dad’s family was Baptist, and that grandmother loved Christmas. But I never felt I really knew her. Most of what I remember about visiting my grandmother is a dusty, dimly lit home and the sense that she preferred my brother to me. But the one thing I was eager to see at her house was Christmas candy. She kept colorful ribbon candy in a dish in the living room.
When my grandmother died, Dad wept as he preached her funeral and talked about her love of Christmas. He described a delight I’d never experienced. I felt cheated. Again. I didn’t understand Christmas, and I hadn’t understood my grandmother. I longed to make sense of both. My dad said she loved Jesus. How could I reconcile her love of Jesus with the big red Santa that was always on her roof? (Santa was taboo in our household. I think the only thing worse than Santa was a Christmas tree.) Had something beautiful and magical been denied me, or had my grandmother died embracing a bunch of lies?
I was a mother myself when I finally connected my December blues to the fact that the last two dreary weeks of December were consistently the worst two weeks of the year in my childhood home. I must have been in my early thirties. I strolled through a Christian bookstore, feeling melancholy, when I suddenly realized it was the 28th. I flashed back to my parents’ sadness and anger. It was then I determined to break the cycle. I wish I had an immediate success story, but I don’t.
As I mentioned yesterday, Jerry and my journey to celebrate has been two steps forward and one step back. Lies that keep us in bondage and limited our joyful freedom are often many-armed. I imagine these lies like a twisty weed growing in my heart. One weedy arm that reaches from the lie root is the cycle of sadness that began in childhood. Another is the legalism that twisted about my heart, squeezing out freedom in my Christmas worship. I’m sure my dear husband has his own twisty weeds, squeezing out freedom in his life too.
For years my husband and I enjoyed a harmonious, happy marriage—until the week after Thanksgiving. Then it was struggle and compromise, arguments and silence. Unwittingly I carried on the family discord I’d grown up with in December, only it was around my desire to celebrate. The celebrant within me couldn’t be silenced, and my husband is an authentic, principled man. He couldn’t celebrate something he couldn’t understand.
Thankfully, the December discord was simply that. We tried not to personally attack each other. We didn’t question our marriage.
Each year I forged a little path toward celebration. Some things Jerry could embrace; others made him withdraw. I couldn’t let go of my need to celebrate. He couldn’t understand the need to do so. He tried. For my sake. We created little family traditions, but there was always an underlying stress. It was a push-pull, forward and back process.
As is life, there is good along with the struggle, some of which grew out of my mom’s desire to give good all those years ago. The one thing Jerry and I agreed upon was giving the children something to look forward to. Creating my own version of the game my mom did that year in Wichita, we embraced a yearly treasure hunt. I’d hide little gifts throughout the house and write rhymes offering clues to where they could be found. It was great fun and became a tradition the children could count on. Not yet free to decorate for Christmas, we began a first snow tradition and spent hours drinking hot chocolate and cutting out snowflakes, which we hung in the windows and left there until spring made them unwelcome. Eventually Jerry and I agreed it was okay to hang twinkle lights. (Oh how I love twinkle lights!) “After all,” I told Jerry, “Jesus is the Light of the World.” These events brought family connectedness and great joy to all of us. I’ve grieved my inability to give my children more Christmas memories of joy and worship, but I am grateful for what we did create together.
Still, no matter what we did, it was never enough for me. I understand now it is because no matter how many traditions I created, decorations I hung, or advent devotions I read, I never felt completely free. Sometimes it takes years, not weeks or months, for God to unwind the twisty weed so we walk in the fullness of the freedom He won at the cross.
It’s cathartic to me to process my Christmas wound. I believe it will aid in my quest for complete healing in a place that has healed tiny-bit-by-tiny-bit, two-steps-forward-one-step-back for years.
But I don’t only share for my healing.
We’ve all heard the statistics of suicide and destruction that rise around the holidays. Most of us have a Christmas wound or two. I hope yours are not as deep as mine. Even if they are deeper, isn’t it time to heal? Isn’t it time to break cycles of oppression and embrace the right to worship in joy and freedom? What if we invite Jesus to shine His light into our darkness this holiday season? What if we declare this day Christmas Day, fully His, and give Him permission to show us how to celebrate, living beyond the wounding?
Oh Sweet Jesus, You are the Light of the World and the Light of my life. You showed me the path of salvation, taking me from the captivity of sin and death and carrying me to the kingdom where You reign with the Father. You embrace me as Your very own family. Now that I am safe in community with You, I long for the wounds of darkness I’ve pushed down within myself to be exposed to Your healing light. I don’t know how to heal on my own. I don’t know how to break the cycles of oppression. But I ask You to do it. Heal the places within that hurt during the holidays. I give You permission to bring up specific memories, even if they hurt, because I trust You will know what to do with them. You will show me how to respond so I can heal. Where my thinking has been skewed by the enemy’s wounds and lies, I give You permission to untangle my thought processes and show me truth. Shine Your Light into my darkness. I know You’ve eagerly awaited my permission to walk with me into more freedom. I trust You.