Sometimes I want to weep with the heavy truth that this world doesn’t have to be nice to me.
No one has to return my smile, no one has to match my tender heart with a tender heart of their own, no one has to love me through all things.
This will be the first Christmas I wake up in an empty house. No presents will be under the tree. No stockings hung. No one to make breakfast for.
And that makes me feel really, really sad. Like, “lump of coal in the pit of my stomach” sad. (I know typically people say “rock in the pit of my stomach”, but ’tis the season for coal, right? …Even my sorrow wants to get into the Christmas spirit. 😉 ).
But then, as I nurse that sorrow, I remember the last two years.
I hadn’t been physically alone on Christmas morning, but I had still found myself weeping from the shattered hope that the Christmas I was trying so hard to make special would end up feeling like love. I was trying to look facts in the face and still assert that there was love present in the room- that it wasn’t just me and my hopeful heart, and the lights on the tree adding a soft glow to the room, and the smell of a breakfast I had excitedly made that no one even wanted to eat.
And I think about how every Christmas has been heartbreak and tears since Mom died.
And I think about how the last Christmas she was with us, just a little over a month before she died, she knelt on the floor and made blankets for my sister and I. Tired and in pain, she knelt. She metaphorically washed our feet.
And I think about how, tired as she was, she refused to go to bed. “Stay up with me,” she whispered. And so I did. She didn’t want to say goodnight.
She didn’t want to say goodbye.
And shortly after that, Mom didn’t get out of bed again.
And so I, desperate and shattered inside, knelt. She had bought fabric to make herself a blanket, but hadn’t had the energy to actually make it, so I made it for her. And as a token of love, I crept into her room–where she now slept in a hospital bed as opposed to her own bed–and I wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Look, Mama,” I said gently. And slowly, she opened her eyes. “I made it for you!”
And she smiled and as she was closing her eyes again, she whispered, “You’re a good daughter.”
And my eyes stung with tears. That’s the only time she ever said that to me. Always, the opposite had seemed to resonate as truer to her.
And so I wonder, how often are there gifts in the suffering?
Is it a gift–to her and to me–that Mom got her blanket before she died- that my token of love was there, wrapped around her shoulders, every single moment until she passed? And that, in response, she was able to gift me with the words that I am a good daughter?
How about the year after Mom’s death, when I poured out the little money I had to create a special Christmas for my father, and I stood there Christmas morning, excited for him to see the surprise I had packed under the tree for him, and he hadn’t even cared? Is that a gift?
Because in giving to him I got to understand what Jesus did on the cross- pouring himself out for a people who might never appreciate it.
Is it a gift to grasp all the magic of Christmas between my hands and force it into the Decembers since Mom died?
Is there a gift to be found in feeling like I’m alone in my efforts- the only one with a heart beating the slow and steady and tentative beat of hope?
Is it a gift to wake up on Christmas morning looking for evidence that, contrary to what the other ordinary, busier days of the year might suggest, there is magic to be found in this life?
And is it a gift to instead be met with half-hearted, obligatory presents, forced smiles, and a lovingly-made breakfast going unwanted and getting cold?
Maybe the gift is having to run to Jesus and bury my face in His chest and let Him hold me while I weep. Maybe the gift is looking in His eyes alone for hope. Maybe the gift was the shedding of the Hold It All Together role I had taken on. Maybe the gift was the grieving of what no longer was. Maybe the gift was the heart-breaking and beautiful acceptance that His arms were the only ones that would hold me while I cried.
And waking up alone on Christmas morning?
Maybe that’s a gift, too.
Maybe, even in the sorrow and broken-heartedness, He is gifting me with a response to my prayer: “Let me know You as More Than Enough.”
And so I will wake up Christmas morning and look at the no presents, and the no smiling faces, and the empty house that feels like it does any other day, and say, “It’s okay. Because He came. He came. And He has never left.”
It’s an excruciating process, I think, to come to know God as More Than Enough.
But is there any other way to get to that place but to have Him standing there, tender and loving and present, in the middle of your nothing else?
Maybe not having anything to open on Christmas is actually a gift.