Reflections of Christmas Passed: As if Nothing Has Happened

Which Way

I’m in a pensive mood. I’m remembering the excitement of preparations and our family party on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was spent sitting by the Christmas tree (sans presents), gazing at the flame of the candle – I was tired to the bone. There is so much to think about.

I smile as I remember how I thought hard about the perfect gifts, wrapping each in carefully selected paper, with matching bows lovingly made. I remember the happy commotion as family arrived, greeted by granddaughters who had spent two night sleeping under our Christmas tree (checking out names on all the packages). There was laughter and cookies and hugs and dishes lovingly made for our dinner. The long table was set with red cloths and candles, Santa napkins and oranges in a crystal bowl. And the number of presents grew as people placed theirs under the tree. Children begged to open presents while the elders teased about needing a nap first.

Christmas Past

Today, on 26 December, I listen to Christmas carols, religious and sung a capella by well trained voices, and light a candle and the tree. I’m not ready to take down the ornaments. They are dear friends. Some are primitive ornaments made by the little fingers of children who later stood with bated breath while I opened them to oohs and aahs and said how very beautiful they are. These paper ornaments are hanging near the more expensive hand blown and crystal ornaments given by grown children and friends. I am not ready to pack away the ornaments I made in my handicraft days and those that remind me of trips to foreign places – both near and far. Each year it becomes harder to pack away those ornaments that are reminiscent of those that hung on trees of parents and grandparents, and those that were made by friends, who have all now passed. The tree brings me great joy, as do the wreaths and candles that decorate my house. I want to believe they have made our guests feel welcomed and special.

But I keep coming back to the meaning of Christmas. My daughter Sharon only puts out an advent wreath and manger because she doesn’t need all those other decorations. She carries the promise, in her heart and mind, of the salvation that is begun through the Christmas message. She has told me several times how frustrated she is that Advent does not seem to be a part of the Christmas story – the anticipation and waiting to observe once again if the promise will be fulfilled. She teases me about my decorations, but concedes they are tastefully done. I tell her that I do it all out of the meaning that is engraved in my heart – they are rituals of love that overflows because of this miraculous birth.

A family member, now deceased, used to want Christmas decorations put away right after Christmas and declared that it was as if nothing had happened. When we celebrate a religious event that happened so many years, do we want our world unchanged after the wrapping paper is burned and the tree put away. I want to be a different person, a new and improved person, every time I remember and celebrate this sacred event through these activities. What does it mean to me this year?

I’ve been thinking what this birth of Jesus means to me. This is the Baby God, called Emmanuel, God is With Us. This is the baby who is not only God but was also an ordinary person who walked dusty roads, got tired, cried when people died, shared meals with friends; the one who knew the pain of not being accepted or understood. He got his hands dirty and had to deal with the muddy relationships of life just like me. Because he was born as an infant – just like me, and experienced the ups and downs of life, just like me, I can believe that he understands. I know he feels my pain and sadness, my joy and happiness. So when he says he loves me just as I am, I know I can believe him. If he says I am lovable, then I can accept and feel the healing love of the human people who know me as I am. There is healing taking place because of remembering this birth this year.

Of course there is more to this story but it will have to wait until Easter.



Elegance in the Back Alley

Eaton Rapids 036

I love this image – it was taken in a back alley, behind the main street of the town where I live. I had to fight a garbage truck to get the space I needed to frame it. Someone has created a very elegant entrance in an area of the city that isn’t described as elegant very often.

I love this image because it seems to be a visual metaphor for life, at least for many of us, at least for me. I was in therapy many years ago and realized that I was carrying around a lot of shame and guilt. I was conceived out of wedlock, by two youngsters who did the right thing, got married, and lived together for better or worse for over 50 years. Somewhere along the way of my growing up I determined that it was my fault that they had to get married. I took on this burden when I was small and they were unhappy about being married and were taking it out on me. There is more to that story but not important to this story.

This belief that there was something bad about me ran so deep that it felt like I had to break apart my world to get my mind around a different way of thinking. My adult mind used the logic that I couldn’t be responsible for an act that took place before I existed. As an adult I shed the shroud of shame I had carried for practically my whole life. It was like a rebirth.

I had never been conscious of carrying this burden, but I know I’m not alone. Every family has “secrets”, things they believe to be so bad, so naughty, so ugly that no one speaks about them. There is an unspoken rule that this part is private – but everyone in the family knows, deep within their soul, the garbage is there, and they believe they smell of the garbage. Even after the secret is taken into the light of day, laid out on the table to be scrutinized, it is hard for us to see beyond our shame to find our real beauty. Carl Rogers recognized that we put up a facade because we believe if others see who we really are, they will be repulsed.

And as we carry our burden, how hard it is to be strong and noble. How hard it is to stand in the light when we want to hide our face in shame. How hard it is to believe that anyone could love us when we are standing in garbage. And being loved, believing we are loved, is absolutely necessary for us to flourish.

I don’t blame my parents or society or God or fate. Life just is. I’m thankful there were people who loved me even when I couldn’t believe them. I’m thankful there were people who believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. I’m thankful that I was born with intelligence and resilience so I could pretend to be okay even when I wasn’t. I’m thankful for the capacity for emotional healing. I’m thankful for all the ways we can have integrity in the back alleys of life. These back alleys don’t define us, but they keep us humble.