Retailers spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns every Christmas to encourage us to experience joy and happiness. Despite their best efforts, do you find the holidays painful? That is not usually the case for me. I love the holidays. I have over six decades of fond memories with family, friends, and churches that still make me smile.
This year, however, will be hard. My wife and I were caught in the Christmas Day airline debacle a year ago. We were put on two different flights. My wife, Jane, made it to Houston, but I did not. I spent the night in the airport because I couldn’t get a motel or rental car. A friend drove to Chicago to get me and help me find a vehicle. After driving to Cincinnati and returning the rental, I got in my car and started driving home, having given up on meeting the rest of the family in Texas. I was sad and upset. It began to snow, and I wondered how many other things could go wrong.
My cell phone rang, and because it was a Cincinnati number, I assumed it was my sister, Susan. She had been trying to get me rides and help me get back home. When I answered the phone, it was Susan’s husband, my brother-in-law, Sam. He asked me to pull off the Interstate, so I did. I soon realized that things really could get worse, a lot worse. My sister Susan had suddenly passed away, with no warning, at 54 years old.
What painful memories do you have?
Many of you have similar stories. Maybe you lost a spouse or a child. Perhaps your house was destroyed by fire, or you encountered some other tragedy during the Christmas holidays. It has a way of casting a pall on the whole idea of celebrating…anything.
If we live long enough, something unfortunate or tragic will happen on or near a holiday. So what do we do? Some choose to stop celebrating forever. Others go through the motions year after year without ever again fully experiencing joy. The optimists will do their best to return to normal but never quite make it there. Everyone deals with difficulty differently. Each person has to make their way through the journey of grief.
I had to make a choice this year. My first inclination was to stay home and not travel. I thought that perhaps it cheapened my sister’s memory to go ahead with trees, lights, and decorations despite it being the anniversary of her death. I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk air travel again. All in all, I was ready to cancel Christmas this year.
But I didn’t. I lit the first candle of Advent last week, the candle of hope. I have always personally interpreted Advent as a time of receiving rather than waiting. So, as that candle flickered and came to life, so did a bit of hope that Christmas would go on this year. Walking through the memories would be difficult, but I anticipated new memories that would heal the pain.
What am I doing this Christmas? My wife and I are getting on a plane. We’re flying to Houston to meet our daughters—oh, and one more thing. My 45-year-old daughter, who has wanted a child all of her adult life, is pregnant. She adopted an embryo. The doctor transferred it into her womb, and she is going to have a baby girl next year. A new life is coming into our family, and with it, new hope. Hope for healing, a future, joy, and peace that passes all understanding.
Do you find the holidays painful? Me too. But I also find them hopeful. This year, hope wins.