We give up joy when we focus on loss. (Marie Crews)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the ghosts of Christmas Past can sneak up on this time of year - and we don't have to be grieving to have them find us. I remember a conversation with my mom about ten years ago. My brother was spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his girlfriend's family...and I felt left behind. I remember saying, "I just don't know how to have an 8-year-old's Christmas at 28!"
To me, it felt like Christmas had to be about reliving those past traditions in order for it to be Christmas. ...and how do you relive a tradition without an integral family member?
You don't. ...and that tension of recognizing what has been is not what is can be very hard, frustrating, lonely or painful. For me, I think that Christmas was the first of letting go of the parameters put on Christmas and letting it just be.
Lucky enough for me, I didn't have to endure too many "single" Christmases after that. In fact, the very next year was what Dan and I referred to as the "awkward" Christmas - when he traveled to Orient for Christmas dinner when we were sort-of/almost dating - and it was a really fun day, really fun - one that you want to have again...but afterward, I felt a little more confused. I mean, what were we? Did he like me enough to actually ask me out? Looking back, a magical 8-ball could've told you all signs point to yes - but cautious Jessica just wasn't quite sure.
One of the gifts of Dan's presence in my life was a feeling of settling. Not like "settling" - where you give up...but a feeling of being...grounded. Whenever we speak of the peace of the Holy Spirit resting upon us - this is what I think of: the feeling of being grounded even when the rest of your life feels out of control.
I had felt, for so many years, that I was running behind everyone (my peers): not yet married, no kids...just me. and my parents. I must have a bit of a competitive nature because I felt like everyone around me was "moving forward" in their life, and here I was, a 28-year-old trying to either live out an 8-year-old's Christmas or live with the emptiness of being single. Dating and then being married to Dan changed that.
The last ten years have really been a lesson in loosening the parameters and allowing the present to be just what it is. However, it took Dan's diagnosis to make this lesson not just a good idea (an ideal), but a necessity. From the second day of the diagnosis, I realized that the best way to get through this was to stay grounded in this moment. That realization helped Dan and I truly live the last year of our lives with peace and joy in the midst of uncertainties.
I don't much remember Christmas last year. Maybe I was too focused on the getting through it...but, this year, though there are moments of heightened loss, I am finding my joy in the gift of Christmas present. My health coach shared this pearl of wisdom with me this past fall:
We give up joy when we focus on loss.
Those of us who have experienced loss realize the gift of today. Today, you have this moment to be with your family and friends: live it. If you feel pain, feel it. If you feel lonely, reach out. If you feel scared, open your heart to God. If you feel joy, laugh. If you feel you are not enough or your validation comes from giving the most presents or the goodness of the day is measured by what you get: then renounce those lies and send them to the pit of hell. Seriously. When you focus on loss, you give up joy. Don't let the joy of what really matters be stolen. You will only get this day once. Live it.
Jessica of ten years ago would be measuring herself by those around her. Has she arrived yet? Is she a wife yet? Is she a mom yet? Jessica today does feel the sting of loss at times. Of course she wants to be with Dan; of course she wants to be married; of course she wants to be a mom. And yet, this moment: this is enough.
It is a gift to be Aunt Jessica. ...and by all rights to be the cool aunt. Instead of spending Christmas Eve sewing last-minute gifts for your kid, it's for your kids (nieces).
...and when you get side-lined by a freak case of the stomach virus - you just come home and rest. Enjoying the chance to relive a bit of Christmas past: sitting in the dark with nothing but Christmas lights and Mannheim Steamroller...and taking a 2-hour nap before the opening of the presents.
In the past, I may have felt like if one little detail - or even one program missed - that Christmas would be ruined. For Christmas had been in the doing. Christmas is in the being - the dwelling. If we miss that, then we miss Christmas.
My dear friends, Christmas is about rejoicing: returning to joy in the midst of whatever your circumstances or feelings. JOY. The One who not only dwells in unapproachable Light but is Light itself has put on our flesh to be not only like us, but to be with us. If this is not a cause of wonder and awe, I don't know what is! But this same One has come to fulfill these words in himself: Comfort, comfort My people. Proclaim a day of rejoicing for the blind see, the lame walk, the captives have been set free! By the Lord has this been done and it is wonderful in our sight!
The gift of Christmas present: yesterday, today, and always.