It’s mid-November and the coffee cups have turned red, snow is on the ground, and the aisles of pumpkin spice are far gone being replaced by the aromas of evergreen and peppermint. My amazon wish lists are filling up with ideas and the pressure to find the right gift is already being felt. The Christmas trees are up and the holly is hung in each store I wander into. Although Thanksgiving is still over a week away, it is safe to say that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. With all the seasonal joy in the air, I decided I might as well join in! This weekend my boys and I pulled out the decorations from storage. Our time had come. Decorating the Christmas tree is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. Growing up I was given an ornament each year that was just for me. Each year the ornament collection would grow, and I would delight in hanging my special ones up on our freshly picked real live tree. They each had special meaning and related to something important in my life that year. That tradition grew as I started my own family. Each year I added a new ornament to our collection. Christmas ornaments make me feel nostalgic and remind me of the memories I have created over the years.
Three years ago, I put up our Christmas tree with all the special ornaments of Christmas past and looked with great expectation to the holiday season that I love so dearly. Within the week, I was on a plane leaving behind all my unfulfilled Christmas plans and the ornaments that would have gone along with them. That Christmas season turned out to be the hardest one of my life. A friend shipped me a box with a few of my most important Christmas items such as our stockings and my favorite nativity set so we could have them in Illinois. However, when I flew back to Texas eight weeks later to pack up my stuff, I discovered by some mix-up the box packed with all my Christmas ornaments was accidentally donated to a local Goodwill. I was devastated. All these memories dropped off to be either sold for a meaningless price or possibly just disposed of all together. Among the lost ornaments were all my childhood ornaments, a beautiful glass ornament bought in the festive markets of Venice, Italy, my sons’ first Christmas ornaments plus so many more. Each reminded me of family memories and a beautiful life I have lived. However, it was obvious I would never get these treasures back. I had lost so much that Christmas already, I just added these holiday mementos to the list.
Each year as the holiday season comes around, I am confronted with the loss that has occurred in my life. Christmas was a season when I lost so much. However, at the same time I find so much joy and hope during this time of year. I often feel the tug of war going on in my head and heart with both emotions. When I decorate my tree each year, I notice the ornaments that are missing. I remember the ones that should be there for my kids to see and hold. Those ornaments represented so much more than just keepsakes. Then again, they are just keepsakes. The items themselves are honestly not all that important in the scheme of things. Regardless, I have done my best to add new memories to that tree. Today, I can look at my Christmas tree and choose to see the new additions we have added over the last couple years. I can see the homemade preschool ornaments that were made with love by my precious toddlers. I can choose to see the picture ornaments of my kids and see how they have grown in such a short time. I can choose to see the “Merry Christmas Mom” ornament the boys handpicked for me last year with such excitement. I can look at our tree and choose to grieve the pain and loss that I have gone through, or I can look at my tree and choose to see God’s faithful hand over me and my family over the years and be grateful. Which one is more biblical? Which one is more true? BOTH. Both are true and both can be held at the same time.
I have been on path of learning to hold grief and joy at the same time and not feel guilty about either. There is a true and biblical place to grieve the losses in our lives. We see this all throughout scripture and even with our Lord Jesus. Jesus grieves over sin and death. We live in a broken world. This is not as it should be. As Christians we are not immune to suffering and in fact are promised it all the more. Many of us have experienced unimaginable pain. It does us a disservice to push past it and claim victory in Christ without processing the grief and hurt and allowing ourselves to feel it. We should lament. We should be broken for the brokenness of the world and in our story in particular. However, if we only see that part of our story, we will lose all hope. We will stay in the dark. The hope that Jesus offers us is the ability to be hurting so intensely, yet at the same time to be full of unexplainable joy. This joy that comes is not temporary and fleeting. It comes from an anchored faith in the gospel. When we know that this world is not all there is; When we know that God is compassionate and kind; When we know God has already shown himself faithful by sending Emmanuel to rescue us from the brokenness of sin and death; When we know all this, we can experience true and lasting JOY. This is true of me as I have come into the Christmas season the last few years. Yes, it can feel as if my heart is breaking over again each year, but I can also fall on my knees and delight in the truth of the holiday season. Emmanuel has come! God is with us! If the holidays are hard for you, I urge you to let yourself hold joy and grief at the same time. Remember the loss but focus on the lasting hope you have in Jesus.