The Thing About Christmas

There’s this memory that sort of hovers over me every year. It floats in sometime after Thanksgiving, and grows increasingly strong until Christmas morning when it roars past me like a freight train.

Sometimes I wish I could catch the memory, maybe climb back into it, and wrap myself up in the warmth of that moment.

It was Christmas, and I was young. My brother and I burrowed beneath blankets upstairs as the winters winds of Wisconsin knocked at the window panes. It was the middle of the night, not even close to being a reasonable time to wake our parents. The clock by my bedside said 3:30. We decided to wait until 4:00 to go downstairs.

Because, obviously, 4:00 is more than reasonable. Ask my mom. She loved getting up that early.

Brett slept on the floor by my bed, and on this night (morning? No…definitely night), I was reading Ziggy to him by flashlight. I’d read the words, then show him the pictures, and we’d both snicker because, for whatever reason, we found Ziggy hilarious.

It’s very tactile, this memory of mine. I remember the darkness that wrapped around our house, the way the windows rattled now and then with the wind. I remember my toes being cold, and not really wanting to get out of bed, but so longing to see what treasures waited for us under the tree.

I remember being happy and excited. I remember feeling both cold and warm, or…maybe it’s just the memory that makes me feel warm?

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Mostly I remember feeling completely at peace.

The thing about Christmas is it tends to get under your skin. There’s something about the holiday season that wraps all tight around your heart, forcing you to recall short snippets of time, replaying them like movie reels in your mind.

I love that Christmas memory. I don’t remember the gifts we received that year. I just remember being happy in my bed, giggling with my brother, anticipating the day to come.

There’s another Christmas memory that has loped it’s way into the reel in recent years. This one, too, has been pressing down on me for the last few days, reminding me that I’m not a kid anymore, but that Christmas can still hold a particular brand of magic.

It was three years ago that I sent off our completed dossier to Russia. I’d had eleventy frillion documents tracked down, signed, notarized, and copied, and I sent the stack of paperwork as thick as my arm off with a thrill in my heart.

And the week before Christmas it all sort of unraveled. Whispers of a Russian ban on American adoptions made their way into my heart, and began to squeeze tight.

It was Christmas night, and I was up all alone. The children were in bed, the events of the day having pushed them into slumber swiftly and mercifully. Lee was asleep, too, and so I sat alone.

I curled up in front of the tree, all lit and glittery with memories old and new, and I sipped my hot tea. I thought of a little girl far away, alone and waiting for a family to choose her, and I prayed the prayer that only a mother can pray when she feels powerless to help her child. 

I’m not one to claim to have heard the voice of God often. I don’t toss that idea around lightly. But on this still night, I heard the word Wait.

In this memory that keeps flitting around my subconscious, I hear the voice audibly. I don’t believe it was quite so clear that particular night, but I do remember growing still in spirit as the message washed through me.

Wait.

Tonight, we brought home our Christmas tree, and while Michael Buble´ crooned Jingle Bells in the background, we pulled out the lights and ornaments, and we dressed the spruce in our living room.

“Put the breakable ornaments up a little higher so Annika can’t get them,” I told the big kids, and they did. And all the while, Annika stood in the middle of the carpet, her eyes dancing with delight at the wonder of it all.

Three years ago last week, I put our dossier in the mail to Russia. It’s been a long wait, but tonight I felt a warmth spread quick through my soul. It’s the same feeling I get when I think of that Christmas morning in my bed with a flashlight, and a Ziggy book.

Peace. Joy. Anticipation.

The thing about Christmas is there’s always room for one more memory – another snippet to add to the reel.

And it is magic.

Good

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The blend of familiar chords filled the room, and I closed my eyes. It had been a long few days, and I felt the weight of life squeezing my throat tight. I was tired, my eyes so heavy, the knot in my neck pulling my head slightly to the side.

“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let earth receive her King!”

The melody washed over and through me, and I didn’t sing. I just listened. I was too weary to add my own voice, so I just let the song envelope me.

Christmas songs bring comfort. They are so familiar, and they carry with them years of memories, of happy times and joy filled moments. In a season of weary fatigue, the words and the melody felt like rest.

This Christmas will be a different one for our family. A bittersweet Christmas, indeed. The cancer of a loved one forces us to take it slower this year – to cherish the moments more sweetly – to look for the miracle of healing because that’s all we have left.

I believe He can speak life and health back into my father-in-law’s body.

I trust Him to be good whether or not He does.

We also have the awesome privilege of bringing our sweet “K” back to us for Christmas. How mysterious God is to ordain these two events in such a way. How awesome is His power to dictate that we should feel both immense joy, and desperate sadness, all at the same time.

“Let every heart. Prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing.”

I’ve written about Love before, and I’ve pondered the beauty of suffering. Walking in faith is easy sometimes. It’s easy to say “I believe” in the face of great joy and peace. But when the soul cries out without the promise of an answer, faith becomes a wrestling match.

Like Jacob with the angel, I tussle with my Savior. I call Him Sovereign, and I question His actions. I praise His goodness, and lament His silence. I waver, then accept, then waver, then accept.

“He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove. The glories of His righteousness.”

When the wrestling is finished, I hobble away, and still His Love pulls me back. You don’t wrestle with the Savior and come away unscathed. But the scathing is like a healing – the fire burning away the parts of me that cling to this world, the selfish pieces of my heart that seem so firmly attached to the things I can see and understand.

I don’t understand cancer, and I can’t see the glory of heaven. I doubt, and I question, and I wish that pain wasn’t so…painful. I open my eyes and look at the Christmas decorations up front, and it hits me that the story of Christmas has to be true. If it isn’t, then what is the point of my wrestling?

I battle because I want to believe, and the wrestling points me to Christ every. single. time.

This Christmas will be bittersweet as we cling to the One who came to earth as a humble infant. He was the One they prophesied about for hundreds of years. He was born in a manger, and His birth set into motion a life that pointed to a Creator. He would grow into a man who died on a tree so that I might live.

So that our family could have hope in the face of uncertainty. So that we could hope for a miracle, take comfort in the knowledge of heaven, and cling to peace when life feels foggy.

“And wonders of His Love.”

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He tugged on my sleeve and motioned me down. I leaned over, and his lips pressed against my ear, sending a shiver down my spine. He’s the one with the freckled face – the one who is asking a lot of questions, and seeking for the answers. I felt his hot breath, and my heart leapt with a fierce love.

“Is Jesus real?” he whispered. I glanced at his big, blue eyes, so full of wonder and hope, and the lump in my throat dissolved. There are so many things I don’t know – so many questions that feel unanswered. But not this one. The answer to this question is Joy to the world.

I lean down and press my mouth against his ear, and he pulls his shoulder up with a tickled grin.

“Yes,” I breath. One syllable, filled with conviction.

He grabs my hand and smiles, his nose inches from mine. “Good,” he whispers.

And I nod, because he’s right.

It is good.

 

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