It's the middle of December and most everyone's thoughts are upon the upcoming Christmas holiday. Nothing so strange about that - after all, its "the MOST wonderful time of the year". But for some reason, I've had a hard time "getting into the spirit" of Christmas this year. It's not that I don't like the holiday - what's NOT to like? Festive decorations, cheery holiday music and seasonal goodies all make it almost everyone's favorite holiday. And I DO like Christmas - really, I do. But as I get older, I notice that around the Christmas holiday season, I get less impressed with "holiday festivities", and lean more toward reflecting on the past months leading UP to this time of the year.
I know, you're supposed to do your "reflecting" AFTER Christmas and right before New Year's. That's the time you really start to look back over the past year and reflect on events and memories that have happened. And I do that, too. Only not as much. I prefer to look FORWARD come New Year's, rather than backwards.
Looking back over 2018, I can't say its been a bad year for me at all, although it did start out sort of "painful". Everything was going along fine until March, when my sciatic nerve put me flat down for about three months. In fact, I don't think I've updated this blog since I wrote about my "Twinge With Terror". Thankfully, I recovered from that with only a few lingering side effects, which I've spent the better part of the summer and fall trying to recover from. Then, I was thrown into that hormonal "hell-on-earth" female condition that all women go through at my age - menopause. I'm not EVEN going to try and explain what it's been like trying to deal with that! Women, you ALL know what I'm talking about, right? In fact, I blame menopause for a good part of the reason I haven't been writing lately. It's hard enough just trying to remember why I walked into a room, much less try to string two sentences together that actually make sense! Not to mention the overwhelming fatigue, weight gain, hot flashes, brain fog and achy joints that come with this "personal summer of hell"!
But the months rolled on and despite my physical and emotional roller-coaster ride, I was able to roll on with them. Spending time at the beach at our summer place was the PERFECT antidote for almost ANYTHING that I came against, and I took advantage of every opportunity I had to go. Walking for miles down the shell-littered shore and breathing in the clean, salt-scented air made me almost oblivious to the distractions of life around me, and I relished in each timeless moment spent in my "happy place". I'm almost always at my best during the summer, but alas, it passed by much too quickly - as it usually does - and I found myself trying to hold onto as much of it as possible, only to have it pried from my cold, dead grip by the chilly autumn winds.
So once again, I shifted my seasonal and emotional gears and readied myself for the upcoming pumpkin-spiced season. I'm not really much into fall, although I do enjoy watching the leaves morph into crayon-box shades of red, yellow and orange. Mostly fall is a sad time for me as it reminds me that my favorite time of the year is gone and won't be back for at least nine months. This year, it was also particularly extra sad as my 48 year old cousin passed away from pancreatic cancer in early November. She had been diagnosed several months earlier and we knew her prognosis wasn't good. Still, her untimely death left her parents, a grieving husband and three sons, and a host of family and friends to carry on the upcoming holidays without her. My heart couldn't help but break for the hard days ahead of them.
With Thanksgiving looming closely on the autumn horizon, the hubby and I had already decided to break tradition again this year as we had done the year before, by spending Thanksgiving at the "Salty Owl" - our little "home away from home", a place at the beach we had purchased just a year ago.
Generally a quiet time weather-wise, that was NOT to be the case this year. As fate would have it, a year after we had bought our little beach place, a five hundred year hurricane hit our coast and left moderate damage to our little piece of heaven on earth. Thankfully, we sustained MUCH less damage that many others in that area, and NOTHING compared to the destruction and loss of life suffered by many, many more others. All in all, we were VERY blessed and came out quite unscathed. And while we have just completed the minor repairs needed fixing on our little place, it will be many more months - possibly years - before others are as fortunate. Still, we did spend Thanksgiving at the beach, although it was quite nontraditional, with steak and salad replacing the traditional turkey and dressing. I think the best part was being there in the off-season when its mostly barren and secluded. Truly a great time and place to DE-flect instead of RE-flect.
After Thanksgiving, I once again turned my attention to the next upcoming holiday - Christmas. Only early December was to be the bearer of another heartbreaking event. This one a little closer to home. My husband's second cousin, who lived right across the path from us, was found dead in his home by my father-in-law on a cold and snowy Sunday morning.
We had just put up our first artificial Christmas tree in 24 years and I was feverishly trying to get it decorated, when my husband got the call from his father to step next door. The heavy, wet snow that blanketed our little farm lie peaceful and still as I watched the EMT workers roll my neighbor's lifeless body from his single wide trailer to the rescue vehicle. Cause of death was end stage liver disease. He, too, was only 48 years old. Another family devastated by a holiday tragedy. I tried my best to carry on with our usual holiday traditions, but each one was tinged with the sadness of the these heartbreaking losses.
In keeping with our annual family tradition, we had our annual family Christmas party a week later - an event I look forward to all year. You'd have to know our family to appreciate the "holiday humor" of our get-togethers, but they are always a lot of fun, nevertheless. Lots of delicious holiday treats, a rather subdued game of "Dirty Santa", and catching up with relatives we don't see nearly often enough, filled the damp, winter day with a festive and joyous holiday feeling. But that day, too, passed by much too quickly and I was left with only the precious holiday memories of a few fleeting hours with my friends and loved ones.
So now, it's Christmas Day and all the holiday festivities are coming to an end. The gifts have been opened, the obligatory family visits have been made, and I'm at home resting easy in my favorite chair. As I stare out the glass patio door beside me, there's a noticeable sadness that seems to hang from the barren limbs that reach up into the muddled-colored clouds above. A poignant sadness that punctuates the holiday season in a most depressing way. It's not MY sadness I see so much, but the sadness of all those around me who have lost their joy for whatever reason, in a season that is supposed to be the MOST joyful time of the year. A sadness that leeches on, and clings to you like the cold sweat of a chilling nightmare. A sadness that makes you question as to whether or not you even have a right to your own happiness. A selfish sadness that only exists to steal the last breadcrumb of joy from the "most wonderful time of the year". A sadness that knows not from where it comes.
But ironically, it's from this peculiar sadness that I'm reminded of what this day, and the season - as well as EVERY day - is all about. JESUS. Not only is He the "reason for the season", but He's the reason for LIFE.
I think the overwhelming sadness some people get with the holiday season comes NOT because they can't get into the feeling of the holidays, but because they can't feel Jesus. They are looking for old traditions or lost loved ones to bring back the nostalgic feelings of joyous holidays long ago, all the while knowing those days are lost to us; never to be relived again. They pine for the way things "used to be", and hopelessly reach back to a time and a feeling that is long gone, not wanting to accept that people, feelings and memories will all leave us one day. But as someone pointed out to me in a text I received earlier today, Jesus is ALWAYS with us. Not just every day, but in EVERY season. He's no longer that little baby that was born in a manger - He's the HOPE that was born FROM the manger! And because of that hope, we can find happiness and joy in EVERY season of the year - not just at Christmastime.
I know this Christmas is hard for a lot of people, for different reasons. And my heart goes out to them, as well as my prayers. I feel their sadness as if it were laying heavy in my own heart. You may even be one of those who are feeling sad and hopeless this holiday season. If you are, I want to remind you that there is still ONE present left for you to open - the precious gift that Jesus left in that manger over 2000 years ago; the gift of HOPE. For from His miraculous birth came the HOPE that saves people not only from their sins, but from the sadness and despair that the world can bring. A gift that He gave to ALL, but who so few have opened. But this gift can't be found under your Christmas tree, or at a holiday get together, or even from the memories of Christmases long ago. It can only be found in your HEART. And you know what - its been there ALL the time! All you have to do is OPEN it, and say THANK YOU JESUS for the gift of YOU! I promise you it will be the BEST gift you'll open this year! And it's a gift that will KEEP ON GIVING every day of your life!
As I continue to reflect on the past year, I thank God that despite all the bad times and difficult situations, His precious gift of hope has carried me through it all. I can truly say that I have been more blessed than stressed, and that my heart has been more joyful that sorrowful. For these gifts, I am truly grateful! Likewise, it is my Christmas wish for you that the sadness in your heart be replaced with the joyous gift of love of Jesus this holiday season- and EVERY day of the coming New Year!
Merry Christmas everyone, and blessings for a happy, prosperous and joyous New Year!