glad tidings of great joy

tidings means news or information, just FYI… I actually just checked that, what if we’ve been wishing each other something really awkward for all these many years?! Although, that term is from the Bible, and so we’re probably safe, although, folks have been known to really twist words from there, I have no idea why my husband thinks that I over-analyze everything, all I’m trying to say with that title is that I wish you joy. I’ve been having a hard time getting into Christmas this year. Maybe it’s because it hasn’t really snowed yet, (not complaining!) or because I got completely out of whack on account of Thanksgiving being late, and my steadfast refusal to acknowledge Christmas until the turkey has been thoroughly digested.

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it seems like a lot of my people are struggling this season. I don’t mean “I ate too much fruitcake and feel icky” struggles, although those are real, and not to be undermined. I’m thinking about the friend who has lovingly and selflessly cared for her aging parents over this last year, and is facing the reality of saying goodbye to her dear father any day now. I’m thinking about the family from our community who lost their precious Nana last weekend. They’ll be falling through the hole that her passing has torn in their lives, while opening presents that she bought them just days ago. I’m having an especially hard time with this because she was a Nana and I’m a Nana and it hurts. Another friend is processing having to face an attacker in court, and desperately needing justice that she is scared to hope for. My cousin is buying memorial ornaments this year, instead of gifts for his beautiful son. One of my dirt road girls has spent the time she should be using for decorating, and making cookies, sitting with her kids and explaining to them that dad is moving out and things are going to be a whole lot different. I think about the strains HJ and I have faced, the times I’ve sabotaged the foundations of our little house, the close calls. It’s all quite sobering.

we try to shout out joy to the world, but it doesn’t seem like anyone can hear right now; not over the shooting each other, and making terrible accusations of each other’s beliefs and ideals, the threats, the fears, and overall despair. The wishes for merriness, peace, and comfort are hard to convey to someone who doesn’t have anywhere to warm to sleep, or the ones who don’t know what tomorrow is bringing, much less the new year.

so I had just decided to skip Christmas this year. It felt fake and forced and I really hate fake and forced. It’s all my parent’s fault, (of course) for giving me an easy out. I wasn’t raised celebrating Christmas, leaving me tradition free. They cited religious beliefs and convictions for their deferral, which is fine. The older I get though, and the more I know my mom’s extreme avoidance of anything related to shopping, I have a pretty good feeling that was her much bigger reason. (I can hear the conversation at their house right now, while she’s reading this: “well Honey, it took more than 30 years, but the kids are on to us about the Christmas thing” “oh…does this mean that we have to buy them presents now?” “nah, they wouldn’t like anything we got them anyway.”)

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I went to church on Sunday morning though (another thing that I seriously considered skipping) for the annual cantata. It got me thinking about when Jesus came to us as a baby, and how the folks then were really needing some peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Sometimes I buy into the commercialized concept that Christmas has always been glitz and glitter, when really, it all started with homelessness, and babies without proper clothing. I forget that Mary knows about having to hide in fear while her life is turned upside down, she knows about giving up one set of life plans for a whole unexpected other way of living, she knows about burying a son, all of the unfairness and injustice in this world. She knows all of that, and still said with confidence and gratitude “He (God) has remembered to be merciful” (Luke 1:55 NLT) and then she named her baby God with Us (Emmanuel).

even if I was going to skip Christmas, I needed to display our cards, (you people who send Christmas cards… I can’t get over you. I feel so humbled and grateful every time I open one, I wonder where you find the time, and then you think of us, with that precious time. Bless you. For those of you who are more like me… it’s all good. I feel you, and you still bless my life.) And then I just kept going… a string of beads here, a strand of lights there. Actually, eight strands… I put up lights on the pines right outside our kitchen window, all for the very festive occasion of it being 50*, in December, in Indiana. If that’s not a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what would be. My heart feels dancy every time I look out there and see those twinkly fellows.

cards by just

here’s what I’m finding out in the middle of our real life Christmas… God with us. God with me. I can’t do a thing about the big ugly cracks in the world, but the other day I made a small gesture of kindness and love to a friend, and asked her just to pay it forward someday when she got an opportunity, she turned around and covered the simple gifts and bag of dog food a lady was trying to buy when her card was declined, God with us. I can’t put my neighbor’s family back together, but we can rally around and spend time with her kids and try to cheer everyone up. God with us. My sweet Momma, the one who hates to shop, she made a special trip to buy a coat, hat and gloves for a little girl at her school who doesn’t have proper protection from the cold and wind. God with her. My sister who has received much love and grace while she begins her journey as a single mother, she’s taking her kids to ring bells for the Salvation Army tonight, showing them how to give back. God with them. My cousin…in the middle of this horrifying year of firsts without his son…if I was him, I’d be throwing myself headlong into every chemical substance I could find, anything to dull the pain. Instead, he gets up every day, finds the courage to face the pain, to put one foot in front of the other, and he recently celebrated his first anniversary of sobriety. How does that even happen? God with him.

beads by just

we didn’t deck the halls this year. No stockings hung by the mantel (no mantel). No big holiday parties. HJ’s kids are coming over though, his kids and their kids, with all of their energy and noise and hugs and laughter. His kids, who I consider mine, because they let me, and even though we came together through the jagged edges of broken hearts and promises, we came together. We choose each other as family, over and over, and there’s another Christmas miracle that I celebrate in my heart every single day of the year. God with me. Glad tidings of great joy.

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“glad tidings of great joy”