(Image courtesy of Unsplash Olena Sergienko)
I didn’t grow up with Christmas. There were no evergreen trees or tinsel or lights. There were no arguments over where we would go or what we would wear.
There was no hustle and bustle of the season. No honey-glazed and smoked ham smell to fill up my nostrils. No sweet potatoes and fluffy marshmallows or ornaments that were passed on from generations of Christmases past. No, there was just me and Christ. It was 2013, the first time I ever celebrated Christmas.
We went to the store to get some things for the house. Two Jews shopping and overwhelmed by the gentiles who seemed to know how to do it all. Colors of red and green were frozen in my mind like a still photo from my past. No, these were not just colors, they were memories of feeling shut out. The red and green felt foreign but kind. We laughed our way through the aisle as we prepared for a Jewish Christmas.
The commercialization helped us ease a bit into the feeling that we were celebrating something bigger than us. And although many homilists will tell you that decorations do not matter, I beg to differ. My priest recently gave a homily during Advent about a walk he took around the neighborhood.
“This year was different,” he said, “there were hardly any lights. No decorations. It was sad to see.”
I love my priest because he speaks to me in a way I understand. Lights matter to me too. The external makes us contemplate the internal, and Father’s beautiful decorations in our parish remind me that He and his staff and volunteers have taken great measures to make this place special for us.
I imagine each wreath and decoration placed by hand. I imagine the person that took the time to do it. Hours upon hours of preparing for the Lord’s birth by this outward sign of His coming. I can hear Father’s voice, “Look at these beautiful decorations!” He speaks about the church like a person, and it makes me feel like I belong.
Our parish decorations remind me of those 2013 decorations. Items picked out with loving care. Traditional. Great detail placed into every facet of planning for our savior’s church. It was never about the amount of them, it was always the story behind them. The preparation to receive Christ in such an intimate and loving way.
Several nights ago, the Holy Spirit woke me up at 2 am. He had something to say.
At that 2 am divine conference, the Holy Spirit asked me to meditate on the feelings and memories of right before I gave birth to my children. The preparation, anxiety, and trepidation. The anticipatory joy. The birth of something new. Those memories sent me into a deep and vast space, filled with the beauty of the remembrance of that time in my life. My struggle with infertility and the gift of having three children in just two years. The mercy Christ had on me before I ever knew who He was. He was preparing me even then. Even in the moments when I didn’t know it.
I wanted so badly in that first pregnancy with the twins for those babies to be delivered. I was impatient and uncomfortable. I worked from home on doctor’s orders that if I didn’t stay on bed rest, these twins would be born many weeks premature. My two weeks at home kept them safe, and at thirty-five weeks, Avery and Collin came into the world. A year later came Meadow, this time just one day early.
Our preparation is so important. I’ve gleaned so many lessons from these experiences. At 3 am I realized that I had to do something about my lack of real preparation for Christ’s coming. This time, I had to find Him in the dark.
This year, I chose Christ over my depression. I chose to marvel at the parish decorations as Father said. I took extra notice at the houses that had lights, and spent time just journaling instead of sticking to my rigid bible study that I had boxed myself into. I lit candles and decorated a tree all in a place with no light. I volunteered, reached out to friends. I gave hugs. Nobody knew my light was not shining, only me and God. But that night, that night at the conclusion of my study at 4 am, I chose to carry the Christ child home with Mary. I chose to rejoice that Christ was soon to be born.
Struggling with any form of mental health issue or addiction does not preclude us from Christmas, in fact, it is all the more reason to celebrate. The light of Christ being taken to Elizabeth, being carried, being brought to us in our darkest hour provides the only real hope this world has ever known. And nothing can consume us if we don’t let it- depression, anxiety, addiction, whatever we may suffer from. Christ is so much bigger than that. And this, this is the joy of Christmas. The opportunity to be with Christ. God, born in the dirt, in the silence and rejection of an odorous stable. God, born amidst the uncertainty of this world. And this, this is something I can relate to, we can relate to. The dirty, ugly side of our lives, the ones we don’t talk about, the dark and grueling backdrops. This is the most perfect time to celebrate Christmas.
If you are where I am, welcome. It’s exactly where we are supposed to be.
Lying next to a dirty manger awaiting the arrival of our King.