I was already bad at Christmas. I love ordinary days when the bar is lower, the ones where no one is making sure you’re fitting in the frame of the photograph.
As bad as I already was, I got worse two years ago. I awoke twice that night: once to the phone call telling me my father had passed away and a second time to the task of telling my daughter the sad, hard news.
The latter was infinitely more difficult to endure. I liken the positions to cars just involved in an accident. In the first car, you’ve been hit; you don’t even have to consider how you’ll respond. In a moment, you collapse. Shrapnel flies. It’s not a decision. You’re necessarily passive. It’s Newton’s cradle.
Telling someone is like being in the second car, seeing yourself careening, unstoppable, into another who doesn’t know they’re about to be hit.
You know it’s coming, and you’re thinking, thinking, thinking about how to minimize the impact until you realize you can’t, so you just brace yourself because you can’t brace them.
That Christmas I moved as numb as I could. I should’ve stayed at home, but I saw family. I should’ve nodded and smiled, but I answered questions that made me cry.
And when you have a world’s worth of grief in your bones, the first tear works like the cracked seal of a shaken up Coke. I remember feeling precisely that chemical and plastic, overflowing into the arms of someone else’s uncle and everyone kind of helpless, sugary bubbles everywhere and no one knowing how to screw the top back on.
That Christmas and all its imagery merged into one, so the next year when I saw desktop Christmas trees, I’d think of the ones that lined the hospital windowsills. The indoor lights and burgundy bows reminded me of nurses’ stations. The movies, the songs, and every snow globe meant a shadow cast tall and dark onto the new year that seemed not to be new at all. I cobbled that Christmas together as best I could. I recall it as painful but passable.
This year I wanted to forget and remember all at once.
It’s impossible for the days to eclipse the years, and knowing that, I dreaded it altogether. I have never been more intentional about how my family and I marked the advent season, though, because I was determined to make it good somehow. My husband is the king of Christmas-season setting in our home, insisting on Christmas music, movies, lights, and a tree dressed to the nines, taking the day back for us bulb by bulb.
I spent my time with advent stories, but people in the flesh now are louder than people on the page then. And let me tell you, some of them are such a drag. I think of them as happiness marauders and peace thieves, and they came for me this season.
They found me in the church, and they found me in my inner circles. They found me in my bank account and in my inbox. They found me run down, fed up, worn out, and rude.
They came with pitchforks dressed in parental advice, with torches run on diet tips. They came with shackles that doubled as dollar signs and theological anchors that weighed me down so they could get ahead. With all these things and more they came—to convince, to convert, and to conquer—they came for me.
But sometimes love comes in unexpected ways from unexpected directions and hits you unexpectedly and unrepentantly hard—this kind of love that says that newness and peace are possible—and it does all these things—convinces me, converts me, and conquers me over and over again—and moves me in tight toward those I love so that the frame feels ever closer like home.