Thursday, December 18, 2014

The challenge of Christmas memories

Crystal lay in a coma as the choir sang Christmas carols.  It’s was her last Christmas before she died the next month after a two year bout with brain cancer. 

I attempted to sing with the others, but listening to her breaths sounded like a clock ticking – tick, tock, tick, tock – to remind me time was coming to an end.  I took a few steps back from the choir and quickly made my way to my bedroom to cry alone.

It’s one of the memories that have led to my battle with depression every Christmas since.  It begins on December 4, Crystal’s birthday, and ends on January 10, the day she died.  It’s a Christmas memory that brings balance to my preaching, teaching and service to others.  It’s a reminder of the gift of love that shows up when a 13 year-old sister looks at her brother, with eyes bigger than her face should hold, and says I love you for the last time.

I welcome the depression. 

After years of confronting the despair of missing her, I’ve discovered that she has been with me every day since she died in 1976.  I hold my depression close. I cherish each tear that comes in between the date of her birth and death.  I feel her presence deeply when my body shakes so fiercely that it feels like a part of me will break.

Christmas is about memories. 

We reminiscence about childhoods were evergreen trees adorned with bright bulbs and flashing lights stirred laughter after the opening of each gift. We beam from ear to ear when thoughts of mama and daddy bellowing with deep joy after witnessing the joy of children.  Christmas reminds us of days when family bonds overshadowed the weariness before the coming of the promise of peace, joy and hope.

Christmas cultivates thoughts of grandma’s honey baked ham and collards greens placed in the middle of the table were uncles, aunts and cousins held hands in prayer.  Memories of snowmen built during a white Christmas and recollections of journeys down the hill in the back yard on a sleigh with room for two. 

The good comes bundled with all the bad that challenges the peace and questions the hope of Christmas.  Memories of the first Christmas without grandma cooking and grandpa telling stories that sound like lies told after a fishing trip.  The urge to stay away from the emotions that creep up in the middle of the first verse of silent night keep coming, and coming until you can’t fight the tears from coming. 

The temptation to hide from people, conditioned to have a good time, makes it hard to appear.  How do you sing happy songs when you only know the blues?  How can you pretend to have happy feelings when death, loss and misery keep coming back to disrupt the indulgence of eggnog and decorated cookies?

Christmas is about the good and bad of life and death.  The promise of life inspires the best of us, while the pain of loss challenges us to embrace the hope lurking with each song we sing.  Christmas is a reminder that more is left after everyone leaves. We’re left with the promise of more because Christmas comes again.  For those who trust, it comes every day, and can be found within each breath we take.

I stepped back in the room at the end of verse one.  The tears remained pasted on my face as I joined the choir.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
I prayed for Crystal to open her eyes. 

“Give me a miracle God. Please,” I prayed.

Her eyes remained closed as the sound of inhales and exhales matched the movement of her chest.

Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

I stopped singing. The tears came back.
There are many memories of Christmas.  Some evoke pleasant thoughts. Some renew thoughts of death and pain.

I’m looking for that star that twinkles bright – the one called the “North Star”.

I’m listening for the songs that awaken hope.

Christ the Savior is born.

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