It’s been 10 years since I celebrated Christmas with my family. I had no idea that December 24th and 25th of 2012 would be our last Christmas together but I remember it as one of our best. There were the usual ruffled feathers over Christmas decorating and getting to church on time for the multiple candlelight services we helped with and of course – the very quick supper of Swedish meatballs and potatoes. That was a step up from our supper the year before – when we slurped Campbells New England Clam Chowder with a can of potato soup added to make it “a little more special” before dashing off to church. I intentionally use the word “supper” as dinner would falsely elevate the nature of our Christmas “feasts.”
Once home for the night, I played Christmas carols on the piano for my dad as we awaited my brother Fred and his wife Kathie’s arrival and my mom to finally come down from her last-minute Christmas efforts to join us around the tree. The peanut brittle and nuts, eggnog and hot cocoa were ready to see us through a Christmas Eve that would last until the wee hours of the morning. Long past our dog Tucker’s bedtime – but even he managed to stay alert for anything that just might taste good.
Most of my family Christmas’s had a – let me just say – high emotional content – sometimes hair-trigger level – but not that last one. For once, there was nothing but warmth and love and even laughter. I will treasure that last family Christmas forever.
I’ve had a decade of Christmases since: Christmases spent with an Irish Catholic family three times the size of mine (something I had always dreamed of after watching too many Hallmark Christmas movies), Christmases spent pining for home when I couldn’t get home, Christmases spent with dear friends and their extended families, a first Christmas without Mom followed by a first Christmas without Dad but with a new puppy, a newly-wed Christmas followed by a newly-annulled Christmas, a COVID solitary Christmas, a Christmas spent hiking to a mountain lake by myself, Christmas’s spent with special cousins, and finally this Christmas.
This is the first Christmas I have spent in the present! No, not hiding in a miraculously wrapped package under the tree- but in the here and wonderful now!
The past few years I have lived in the foregone certainty of my past while running through and from my life. The past, you see, really was an idyllic setting. Time and distance do wonders for the past. It’s amazing how good it looks and feels with age! It was a time and place that didn’t know immense grief, betrayal, and most of all constant pain. A place where I had control of life – before things went haywire.
I spent most of the summer recovering from surgery and learning to walk again. As I think about it now, I was also learning how to live again. Being forced to rest and “deal” with my life rather than running through and from it, finally put me on a positive path. I have a whole new appreciation for who I am, and who I can be. I spent time examining my failures and made peace with them. They will no longer control the direction of my life. Period!
That my life isn’t what it used to be or how I had once imagined it would be or what I or what others think (or I think that they think) it should be – makes it no less worthy of living and no less worthy of joy!
This is the first Christmas I am looking back on all those Christmases past filled – not with sadness and melancholy – but with joy and gratitude and awe. Joy for the love planted and still grows within me, gratitude for the good, sad, hard, and lonely times that shaped me, and awe at this ever-surprising gift of life we get to journey through. This is the first Christmas I feel truly content – at peace with who I am and how life is and how I am celebrating the birth of the Light that has always lived in me – shining through it all.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. I am living proof!
May the light of Christ shine as brightly in your life as it is mine – that is my Christmas prayer for you. And a reminder to cherish every moment of life.