My worst Christmas (and how I realized it was still pretty great)
On Christmas morning in 2012, I found myself weeping alone on the side of the highway due to a slight miscalculation. My husband was deployed to Afghanistan for the second Christmas in a row, and I was spending the holiday with friends and family in Atlanta. I thought I had given myself plenty of time to get from my uncle’s house on the south side to a Church on the north side where a priest friend of mine was celebrating Christmas Mass. The problem was, I neglected the fact that my mother would want me to stop and take tons of pictures with everybody before I left. That was my mistake.
The notorious Atlanta traffic took the morning off for Christmas, and no one was on the massive highways except for this lonely Army wife trying to make it to Mass on time. I was flying through the ATL on I-75N, apparently going 20 miles over the speed limit (75 in a 55 zone) when… you guessed it! Sirens, lights, and a request for license and registration that concluded with a $250 dollar speeding ticket. My first speeding ticket, ever. And no husband shoulder to cry on.
Merry Christmas, me.
I made it in time to catch the second half of Mass, and proceeded on to my cousin’s house where we had no food. So our Christmas meals consisted of lunch at Golden Coral, and dinner at TGIFridays—two restaurants I never eat at on any other occasion, but the only two places we knew of that were open on Christmas. In between meals, we went to see Les Misérables in the movie theater, which turned out to be a touch more than my already fried emotions could take before going completely numb. I went to bed that night taking deep personal inventory, noting that this was the most somber and heavy I had ever felt on any Christmas, ever. And so glad that it was over.
As it turns out, life does not always pause to make room for Christmas bliss.
Today, Christmas 2016 finds us inside of another extraordinary circumstance as my husband transitions out of active military duty into medical retirement. Never again will he spend Christmas on deployment—which I am grateful for—but never again will he spend a single day without some amount of pain, which is a new reality we’re adjusting to. He’s in training for a new career in the IT field, and in the meantime, we’re staying with his parents until we get our existence sorted out once again. So now, it’s just us, his parents, our two-year-old son, TJ, and Nana—Josh’s octogenarian grandmother who is also living in this house as she is no longer able to live on her own. Four generations under one roof! The youngest and oldest have become best pals. And yes, my in-laws do deserve a medal of some sort.
As it turns out, life does not always pause to make room for Christmas bliss. There are some years when we can actually put all else on hold to try and create a perfect celebration, but there are also those years when merriment has to simply be what we can eek out between deep, cleansing breaths amid the realities and responsibilities we face. What I’ve learned between 2012 and now, though, is that these challenging Christmases are still beautiful, and perfect in their own way. About as beautiful and perfect as a barn for the birthplace of God Incarnate, I suppose.
Christ was born into a desolate world longing for His hope, and there was nothing perfect about any of it, except for the Virgin and Her Child. That is still true of Christmas today. So what better time to understand this significance than when we are in times of desolation ourselves? Just as Christmas comes in the dead of winter when the world is cold, barren and at its darkest, so are our lives until Jesus breaths our air, and with His presence, brings light, warmth and vitality into our situations.
As I write this, we’ve all just returned from spending most of Christmas morning at the hospital where Nana is battling pneumonia. She’s been there for several days, and every time TJ notices that she’s not waiting to greet him from her chair, he whispers, “Nana’s still sleeping!”
The washing machine and dishwasher both decided to break this week, so the laundry and dishes are piling up, waiting for Christmas to pass. But my mother-in-law is downstairs getting started on Christmas dinner, other relatives are trickling through the front door, several hastily-wrapped presents are waiting under the tree for when everyone who can make it does, and whatever Christmasy-ness we will be able to eek out this year, it will be as beautiful and perfect as any Christmas ever was or every could be. We very much know around here how much we desperately need Jesus, and today, we celebrate the fact that He came. In the midst of chaos and brokenness, a Child was born. And that Child is everything beautiful and perfect.