A time for reaching out.
I love this Christmas picture. It reminds me of the simple joy of Christmas children experience. It also makes me think about how my own Christmas experience has changed throughout my life. I love this time of year. The smell of cinnamon pine cones fills my kitchen and a beautiful red and gold wreath greets all who enter my house. I find that I'm focused on family and anticipating my long visit home. I read Benjamin a little storybook about the birth of Jesus at night and we sing Christmas Carols instead of Lullabies. It's just a warm and fuzzy month full of yummy smells and hope and joy and the people I love. My life is blessed.
Yet, I realize that this is not a happy time for all. My husband is often on call, and recently that means more time away from home dealing with tragedy and emergencies. He's a psychologist and this time of year is busy season. Why? Because it's also the time of year that tragedies in our lives can seem overwhelming. Stress can become almost unbearable for those who have lost jobs and are struggling to hold onto homes or just feed their families. It's also a time when we feel the loss of loved ones the most. This will be my first year home without my grandparents and it's hard for me to imagine the holidays without them. Yet, I feel fortunate because I know that there are many who will spend their first Christmas without fathers and mothers, siblings and children. I hope that they will receive an outpouring of love and hope from those around them. I hope that I will be one of those people to help lift the burden of my neighbor in some small way.
It seems to me that the last few years have been trying ones for many Americans. Unemployment is at it's highest level in almost three decades. We've experienced terrorism on our own soil and we're fighting two wars abroad. People are hurting. But through it all we are being refined. On a national level, I've watched with tears in my eyes as stories of heroism and generosity beyond what I could imagine have been displayed in the news. I love seeing those stories. But more than that I love seeing the little things that happen everyday and that seem even more abundant during the holidays. I've seen the true character of so many people I love and respect emerge through their trials this year. I've seen people I know are suffering reach out to those around them and forget themselves in service. I've seen generosity from those who have very little. I've seen dear friends battling sickness and loneliness with renewed faith and hope. I am in awe of the human spirit. I'm overcome with the capacity of men and women everywhere to love and give when times are tough. To me that is what Christmas is truly about. I believe giving to each other is a small token we can each pass along to acknowledge our gratitude for the gift of love we all received that first Christmas.
Every year I get older it seems that Christmas changes just a little bit. The anticipation of receiving gifts gives way to the anticipation of watching a child's eyes light up. The pleasure of holiday meals and sweets begins to pale in comparison with the gratitude for physical and mental health. I find that my eyes wander more often to the nativity than they do the Santa countdown clock. And the excitement of shopping and parties and Christmas skiing trips can't hold a candle to the simple joy of going home. Perhaps the biggest change is that giving thanks has become less of reflex and more a true expression of my gratitude for life, even the difficult parts of life that refine us, bring us together, and in the end add to the depth of our ability to feel joy and love.
***I realize this is two serious posts in a row. What can I say, I'm cyclical. I'm sure I'll be back to nonsense in no time.