Friday, December 1, 2017

Home for Christmas

The last eleven years I have had the privilege of serving in a support group ministry and have met some amazing and courageous ladies. One year I was leading a large group and there were several young gals who had grown up in extremely dysfunctional and abusive homes. They quickly formed a great friendship, partly because of their ages and partly because they all had difficult stories. They could identify with the pain each had endured, the struggle to find freedom from their pasts, and the hard work they would have to do to find healing and become the women God had created them to be. Diana and Tanna were two of the women that both left their childhood homes early in life. Amazingly they were wise enough to set some strict, healthy boundaries with their families of origin. The boundaries were very needed, but sometimes they felt hard. As Christmas was approaching, Diana remarked to Tanna that she was really missing her family. Tanna sighed and responded wistfully, "Yeah, I miss the family I made up, too!" They looked at each other and they both laughed because of the profound words Tanna had spoken were true. They gave me permission to share this part of their story, because it isn't just true for them, it is true for most of us. 

Holidays can be difficult to navigate. They can be difficult because we have had to separate ourselves from families that were abusive and they tend to surface grief of what was longed for but never fulfilled. It can be because the anxiety that arises with holiday preparations gets coupled with dread of the conflicts that often ignite as our extended families rub shoulders with its history and the dysfunction that arises as we push each other's buttons. It can be because tongues are loosed when alcohol flows and cutting words get said that pierce hearts to the core. It can be because of grief we feel over the loss of loved ones who made holidays special--the child, the soldier, the mom, the dad, the grandparents, or the friend gone too soon. It can be because of grief due to unfulfilled dreams being exposed by being around those whose dreams were fulfilled--dreams of a baby longed for but never had, dreams of a specific job that went to someone else, dreams of a spouse that hasn't materialized or the one who walked out, or the dream house we can't afford due to economy or mounting medical bills. It can be because of illness that can't be healed and pain that makes it hard to be around people we don't want to burden. It can be because of mental illness and the unpredictability of another's actions or even our own depression that is a fog crowding out joy. It can be because of eating disorders that trigger anxiety as holidays are planned around food. It can be because of the fear of giving presents that don't please or because we fear we can't react to a gift the way others need us to. And for some it can be the pressure family puts on us do away with boundaries we put in place to protect our families and ourselves.    

So, how do we navigate the holidays? First, we begin by going into the season with our eyes wide open. There are no perfect families and their will never be a perfect Christmas. We will enjoy Christmas more when we let go of expectations and the made-up families that live in our minds, accepting our families as they are. We can commit to treating others with respect and practicing good self-care by getting plenty of rest, drinking water, eating somewhat healthy, and using our voice to request what we desire and what we need. We can refuse to take every word, action, or attitude personally because those things are about others' hearts not ours. We can take quiet moments alone to breathe, grieve, or regroup as we needed. We can give thanks for the good moments and learn from the bad, knowing that one doesn't cancel the other out. We can make sure we extend grace to others as well as ourselves. We can own our mistakes, apologizing and making amends when needed. We can keep short accounts and forgive quickly. Us overwhelmed introverts can refuse to compare ourselves to extroverts and focus on one person at a time and have meaningful conversations, maybe looking for the one who looks as lost as we feel.   

Second, we can remember we have a Savior who cares and wants us to take our grief, our fear, our hurt, and our dreams to Him. If anyone understands dysfunctional families He does. Just look at the people who were in His family line. Abraham who was commended for his faith lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob weaved a mighty mess with his wives and concubines and the favoritism he showed one son over eleven others. Naomi--she became so bitter after the loss of her husband that she changed her name to Mara. David, the man after God's own heart messed up his family by abusing Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He ended up with a son who raped his daughter and chose to do nothing about it. Every family in his family line had its sin, its secrets, and its dysfunction. So, I believe He gets ours. This was proved by the way He treated those around Him. He was full of compassion for the woman caught in adultery, who was thrust at his feet without her partner. He was full of compassion for the woman at the well who had been dragged to the center of town five times and declared an unfit wife. He was full of compassion for the ill, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. He fed both those who were physically hungry and those who were spiritually hungry. He allowed Mary and Martha to vent their grief and stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept with them before He called him out. Jesus cares. Jesus understands.

Third, we can go into the holidays fully confident we have been given a new Heritage through Christ. The pain of our past, the dysfunction of our families, the failure of our Christmases to be perfect don't define us. Jesus, His love and His sacrifice, do. We are called beloved, chosen, blessed, forgiven, children, and friends. As I reflect on Christmases past, I think one of my most pleasant Christmases was when my children were teenagers. They got up early as they always had and then after they opened gifts they all fell asleep as they waited for Christmas dinner to be cooked. After I got the turkey on, I looked around at my sleeping teens and picked up my Bible and read the Christmas story again, feeling overwhelmed by His love and felt a heart connection with Him that gave me such peace. I felt a sense of belonging and realized that because of Jesus I was truly home for Christmas. That sweet moment prepared me for the losses of my parents and my kids leaving the nest who can't always make it home. It also fulfilled one of my deepest longings--to feel at home somewhere--the somewhere just happened to be a Someone and that Someone is Jesus. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!