Hallmark Won't Make a Movie About This One: Words of hope for hard Holidays

    

           

            I don't know about you, but this Thanksgiving was not what I expected. 

            And before we even get into this, I feel like I need to tell you that *no Grandmothers were harmed in this story.* As I tell you what happened-don't panic.  I don't want to do that to you, because one simply does not tell stories where Grandma has anything bad happen to her.  Grandma's are holy ground.  Anyway-it's all going to be ok. Ok?  Ok.  Does that set the bar for how our holiday went?      

            I also want to say with all my heart that I have so very much to be thankful for.  Truly.  I have a lot of gratitude for my life.   

            But what do we do when things slide sideways on days that have so much meaning and weight, like the holidays?  What about when what we have to work with seems far off from what "normal" looks like?  How do we not only survive this season, with so many expectations heaped on it, but thrive in it with hope?      

            I'm about to tell you what went down at our house because I think there might be someone out there who needs to hear that my holiday experience was not fresh out of a Hallmark movie.  I'm trying to get my best sarcastic voice on for you so you do not feel sorry for us because that JUST MAKES IT WORSE.  Don't scrunch your face all up in sympathy!  Don't do it!  My holiday soundtrack is a little less "Silent night, holy night.  All is calm all is bright." and a little more , "Trouble, Oh trouble set me free.  I have seen your face and it's too much too much for me". 

            I have been kinda dreading the holidays to begin with because things were very different and hard this year.  So let me set the scene for you of this Thanksgiving...we banded our tiny family group together which was big change number one.  I have hosted upwards of 30 for the holidays and let's just say I didn't need a leaf in my table this year.  There is a strange kind of loss from a pivot that large. We have lost so many family members that it is still a challenge to gather the few that are left with out it being s.a.d. to begin with.  It is all still so very fresh.  It is all still a moving target.     

            Then, before my lovely 93 year old Grandma even got in our house she tripped on our porch and fell.  She actually landed on a tiny sparkly barrette she had put in her hair to be festive (Oh my gosh!  Don't you just want to squeeze her?).  She walked into our house with her head bleeding. WOW can tiny head wounds bleed!  That is quite the way to start off a holiday dinner-patching up Grandma.  Secretly wondering if our tough tiny Grandma really was "FINE!" as she insisted and feeling great guilt that we turned our backs on her for just a second.  She didn't want anyone to fuss over her so she would not let me help her get the blood out of her hair.  I think she thought it was a small amount but it actually formed a long pink streak in her perfect white hair.  My grandma spent Thanksgiving looking like a tiny elderly member of a punk rock band. 

            We went from the 25 pound turkey of years past to a tiny partial turkey.  We were apparently at a total loss on how to cook something so small so we completely ruined it by cooking it for freaking ever, assuming it was done and cutting into it at dinner time only to learn that it was still RAW (there will be a lot of words in ALL CAPS in this blog post because apparently I have BIG FEELINGS about all of this still).  So we had our very first vegetarian Thanksgiving.  This is extra funny because the part of the family that is actually vegetarian and have put up with our meat eating for years, opted out of spending the holiday with us this year.  Oh the irony.   

            We felt a little off all day but thought it was just a mix of stress and big feelings-and it turns out it was actually the flu that hit us with a vengeance the next day (which led us to wonder if we not only gave our Grandmother a head wound, food poisoning AND THE FLU.  She was totally fine, by the way.  Whew!  God bless my amazing, tiny Grandmother.  May I have her genes.  Amen.). 

            For some reason, Grandma decided not to spend Christmas with us...

            A couple of days later I found out I have round two of skin cancer which is small and slow growing and fine, but not the kind you can just burn off.  So I had a hole bigger than any hole I would like to have cut into my shoulder today.  Everything is fine.  But...

            Does anything amplify disappointment, heartache, loss, insert feeling here, like the holidays?  Some things that hit us are big bruisers like death and loneliness and some are tiny, annoying, discouraging, "first world" paper cuts like raw turkeys but heaped in a pile at the holidays it all feels like poop just the same.    

            Please hear my heart: I'm trying to be honest, not to complain, so that you know what planet I am coming from before I speak good things.  I guess I feel like I need to flash you my street cred before I continue.  I'm not sure that there is a single one of us that feels completely content, happy and whole at the holidays, but if you are that magical unicorn, please tell us your secret. 

            The Holidays loom large over life.  They bellow from every store from October on.  They remind us of all we simply must have to be happy.  They paint a picture of "should's".  My family should look like this.  We should buy these things for each other.  We should celebrate this way.  We should be busy (because that means we are important).  We should be surrounded by people and presents and food and money and happy and glitter and things we made from our Pinterest board with our own two hands, a glue gun and some emu feathers.

            But what happens when half your family dies and the other half doesn't want to celebrate together anymore-hypothetically speaking of course?  How do you squeeze any happy from those lemons? 

            Disappointment is the distance between expectation and reality. 
That is where my disappointment lurks-in the space between what I expect from life and how it actually rolls out.  As I was talking to God about the holidays he reminded me of a very different set of expectations and the difference between expectations and hope. 

            I'll bet Mary, the mother of Jesus had some expectations about how her life would turn out. Joseph too.  I'm willing to bet that unwed pregnancy, fleeing for her life and giving birth in a stable were not a part of her Pinterest board.  God's plans are often so different from what we think the script of our lives should look like.  He has a huge plan for our destiny but he must first grow us into a person who can handle the vastness of the great things he has for us.  God had a plan to multiply Mary's faith far beyond her expectations and into the land of unimaginable hopes.  Mary received the unfathomable honor of being the mother of the savior of the world...but it didn't look like a "normal" life.    

            Jesus had expectations placed on who he would be as well.  The world thought it was waiting for a conquering king, not a helpless baby.  The world pushed for its expectations of what the Messiah "should" be and God pushed back with a plan of unimaginable hope.  The savior of the world would be Immanuel, God with us.  He would be human and he would save us all by death and resurrection, by being a servant, by becoming human.  We did not expect that.  We could not even imagine to hope for such love to be lavished on us, for such a plan from the heart of God.  Thank God he didn't just give us the puny king of our expectations. 

            Our expectations are so small, yet they crush us if we hold them with a closed fist. 
God has come to obliterate our expectations with unimaginable hope. 

            It is hard to let the things we think "should be" die so that the things that are can be walked through well.  But God has also shown us that things need to die before there can be new life.

            In the perfect answer to feeling like my theme song is "Trouble", I came across this beautiful verse.  John 16:33 says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world."  He has ALREADY overcome our troubles.  He has ALREADY won our battles.  We know how this story ends, but oh there will be plot twists in the middle.  We just have to walk in peace knowing God is with us.  We need to trust in a God who always writes stories that are bigger than our biggest hopes.  He is the God of the eleventh hour, the God of the miracle, the God who weeps with us, the God of the long journey and the God who is with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  He is the God who does not do what we expect.  He does so much more than we can imagine to hope for.  It gets hard to see that sometimes when we are standing on the edge of the Red Sea and cannot imagine a way out.  Or when we are way too old and have waited way too long for the miracle.  Or when deliverance comes from a baby and that baby's mama is a virgin.  What??  

            The very things that Jesus came to be a beautiful answer for are the things that the world tries to rob from us.  If we can be distracted from all that God is by all the things that shout at our hearts, we will miss out on the very ways that He is here for us.  We focus on things that this season was never about and risk missing the gifts that were lavished on us by a God who loves us so.  Isaiah 9: 2 and 6 says, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 

            God came as a child for those of us who need simple faith, for those of us who need the joy of innocence in our hearts. 

            He came as a light for those who feel like the darkness may just strangle us, for those of us who need hope, for those of us walking in the long shadow of death: death of loved ones, our own health, or our beloved dreams.  He is the light that shines in the darkest shadows that we dare not think hope can reach. 

            He is the just government for restoration of all that is broken. 

            He is the Wonderful Counselor when we feel like we have nowhere to turn, no one who understands, when we need wisdom, help and encouragement, a kind ear to our troubles. 

            When we feel maxed out, at the end of our rope, he is the Prince of Peace.  He is peace in our crazy family or our life that has spun out of control. 

            He is the Everlasting Father who never stops loving us, never leaves us, is never separated from us by death and who loves us unconditionally forever and ever amen. 

            He is our Mighty God when everything seems so big and impossible and our resources seem so limited.  He is our Mighty God when we can't imagine that our story has good in it.  When we can't fathom how all this trouble can be redeemed, he whispers, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"  (Is 43:18-19)

      We cannot see all of this huge glorious picture that God is painting but he gives us the next step.  He gives us the next thing to do in front of us with faithfulness.  He gives us the opportunity to trust in his goodness and to walk in the peace of that, even when the path is hard.  He has given us so many examples of his faithfulness and he has given us himself to walk with through this path in the wilderness. 

            There is no Hallmark ending or bow on my story.  I still miss my Dad.  Things are still not how I would have planned them.  My heart has shifted though.  And oh, there are beautiful things that I did not expect that have come from this season.  I think it might actually end up better than I could have hoped. 

            I have never heard anyone say of their life, "Well, that went just how I expected it would."  What do we do when our expectations do not meet our reality?  We hope.  Expectations steal our joy but Hope does not disappoint us (Rom 5:5).  We let our tiny, fragile expectations die so that they can be resurrected as hope with a peace that our big God is doing something to work it all out for good (Rom 8:28).  And not a "someday when we die everything will be ok" sort of hope but a hope that this life has great meaning and purpose because God created it and he promised us, "...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."(Rom 8:37).   I look at all the hard we have walked through and I whisper with David, "I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27:13-14).  I look at the baby born to be a savior in a way no one expected and I admit that I do not know what all my plot twists hold because I trust a God who does not do what I expect.  He does so much more than I can imagine.  I cannot rest on my expectations.  They were never meant to hold that kind of weight.  I can, however put my hope in Immanuel.     

            "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

            Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."   (Ephesians 3:17b-21)  

 

            Peace and love to you as you journey through this holiday season. 
May it be more beautiful  and meaningful than you can even imagine.

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Awesome You are so special

Awesome You are so special

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