Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When the holidays don't feel so happy

Maybe your family can't shake the flu. Your mom has cancer. Your dog died. Your lay-off came at the worst possible time. Your marriage is hanging on by a thread. Your kid is acting out in ways you don't know how to handle.

Life isn't what you expected.

And then the holidays come around and we're supposed to be happy. Except more than happy even, joyous and full of spirit and spreading it like pine needles along the living room floor.
Meet Anthony, our tree, spreading joy and pine needles throughout the land
But it isn't always easy. So what do we do then?

I'm in a funk. We didn't Christmas carol with our friends. The kids weren't part of a holiday piano recital or the church Christmas program. All of my Christmas cards are sent out and the vast majority of them carried lots of love to Minnesota, where most of my favorite people and memories reside.

I'm in a place I love with the people I love, but without the connections I crave and that's hard for me any time of the year, but I'm finding it particularly difficult in December.

So I'm thinking of families who are celebrating for the first time since losing a family member, or maybe even the thirtieth time,but the loss still takes their breath away. I'm thinking of families where money is tight and there will be no Christmas dreams come true, even if those dreams were really tiny. I'm thinking of people around the country and the world who survive day in and day out without having their basic needs met. They are hungry and thirsty and tired and overworked and underpaid and unappreciated.

And I know my sadness is but a drop in the bucket, but it's still my sadness.

What's your sadness?

And how do you handle it all year long, but especially in December when it's Peace and Joy and Love and Glitter everywhere?

Our local library has a kids' book club for 8- to 11-year-olds that meets monthly. (Cool, huh?!) I brought Isaac and Audrey yesterday and as part of the discussion a boy said he liked the book, but not the ending. He likes it "when all of the questions have answers."

I wanted to hug that kid. What a profound statement. I mean really. Can you imagine living in a world where all of the questions have answers?

Questions about family illness, from the baby's ear infection to the aunt's cancer, work, money, relationships, parenting.

What if we knew how it would all turn out?

In many ways we have no idea how it'll turn out. Life is one big mystery. While there are time it's a Choose Your Own Adventure, like I loved reading so much as a kid, there are other times it feels like one of those really messed up Stephen King or Gillian Flynn book where it's one surprise after the other and we're left reeling. We're left gasping for breath at the shock. We're left shaking at the impact of one thing after another.

In other ways we know how it'll turn out. Sadness will one day become joy again. Grief will give a little and we'll laugh easily again. We'll keep putting one foot in front of the other and, with the help of family and friends and faith we'll get through the hardest parts of life, cry some tears, learn some lessons, and appreciate the beauty on the other side of all that pain. The sun will keep shining and people will keep showing up to remind us that we are loved and that life is grand, even when it's really hard.

I really hope you have those people in your life. The ones who show up. And I really hope that you are one of those people in someone's life. The one who shows up with a hug and a smile and says it's going to be alright.

I know not all of my readers are Christian, but I would be remiss if I didn't say that there are some days I just straight up cling to my faith and Christ's promise that I am loved and cared for and chosen. That I never walk alone and that the path before me has beauty and promise, forgiveness and love.

God never says it will be easy. The bible is full of broken, angry, sad people being used by God to create wholeness and joy and love. I want to be that kind of person. I want to be secure in that faith. And some days I am. And other days I'm about 1,432 miles away.

So I just want to say it's okay if you're kind of blah and down and not overflowing with holiday cheer like that hilarious Will Ferrell in Elf.
I also want to say there's a whole lot to be happy and thankful and cheerful about. In spite of all of life's questions and uncertainties.

I want you to know that and I want me to know that.

So throw out the notion of perfect, sublime holidays and just stick with Happy Holidays.
And find your piece of happy in this terrible, beautiful world and hang on for dear life.
my happy Christmas elf dancing to Oh Tannenbaum on this musical Christmas tree-
he's grabbing onto some happy!
What's weighing you down today? What are you celebrating?I hope there is more celebration than sadness for you. 


  1. I've got a nasty cold, (which is why your winning granola bars haven't been sent out...tomorrow. I promise). it started on Thursday, so I can survive with being under the weather for a week. But if it isn't better by Saturday/Sunday.....life around me will not be pretty.

    This is the first Christmas without my dad's parents. We lost my grandpa before thanksgiving last year, and my grandma in june. My aunt is very sad, but I think its a good thing. They weren't healthy or happy for a couple years, now we know they are in a better place and with my two aunts that passed when i was younger.

    When I was a kid I would act out my own christmas stories, i would assign friends/family to be different characters, and I would be the director. Ohh I was/am a bossy child. Maybe you can encourage your kids to act out the christmas story? sheets/blankets make beautiful angel wings in my experience.

    1. I am sorry you're sick. I think everyone in MN has some cold/flu/illness going through their family. Yuck! Do not even worry about the granola bars. The post office is crazy (I was there today) so feel free to wait until January.

      I am sorry about the loss of your grandparents, but understand the peace that comes with knowing they are no longer in pain. It does make the holidays different as we remember and miss the people who are no longer with us on earth.

      I loooove your idea of having the kids do the Christmas story. We will definitely do that. I can just imagine how their personalities will play out in acting/directing/set production. Great idea. Merry Christmas!