It’s hard to admit, but some years I have to force myself to decorate for Christmas.
Some years the lights look a little dimmer.
The garlands feel a bit heavier.
And the circumstances of life just aren’t wrapped in a big red bow like I so wish they were.
Then comparison creeps in like a fake Facebook friend and I just feel like hiding under the covers and skipping it all. Because I know there’s no way to measure up to the perfect life “out there.”
And it all just feels heavier than it used to.
Though I feel alone, I think I’m not completely alone in this, because heaviness and loss are so much a part of this life. As we start traveling through the middle years between young and old, we start to leave a longer trail of losses behind.
Loved ones who have passed from cancer too young or old age too soon.
Dreams we had our heart set on that have died.
The heartache of betrayal.
Children with needs that, at times, feel far too great to meet.
Financial challenges that only seem to grow each month.
The realization that we aren’t as young or invincible as we once thought we were.
And sprinkled in between all the merry memories of past holidays are these pieces of pain that you feel in your stomach and chest at the most inopportune times.
Maybe it’s the smell of gingerbread cookies that takes you back to a loved one’s kitchen full of laughter and happy memories . . . so happy that now your heart breaks whenever you remember them.
Maybe it’s the “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament that takes you back to the hospital room where that same baby took their final breath in your arms.
Maybe it’s the mistletoe you and your husband used to stand under before all the secrecy of his double life came into the light.
Maybe it’s a certain song you heard or a Christmasy scent you smelled as a child that takes you back to a setting that deeply wounded you.
Maybe it’s the regret you feel over not saying everything you wanted when the time was there. Or the regret over saying too much and wishing you could turn back the clock.
And I guess one thing I’ve realized through this journey I’m still on is that both beauty and loss will forever be part of my story. I could try to escape the pain or hide my head under the covers or skip the Christmas decorations this year. But the beauty and pain will still be there, no matter what I choose to do.
I cannot escape this brokenness as long as I have a broken, beating heart.
So I breathe.
I feel my heart beating.
I hear. I smell. I see.
And I pull off the heavy covers. I plant my feet on the wooden floor and I feel this moment right now.
Because right now is what I have. And now can be a burden, or now can be beautiful. I have little control over my circumstances, but I have control over my step right now.
And I choose to step into the hope of joy. Because it’s a step. It’s one foot in front of the other some days. And that’s okay.
It’s pulling the Christmas decor out from the attic or garage. It’s turning on the music. It’s lighting the candle. It’s a million minuscule moments. Joy, joy, joy.
And it’s going to be okay.
And in the midst of it all, I can’t help but think of how Jesus stepped into our broken world and was broken for us.
Why did He endure three decades of sacrificially living, loving, and dying in this broken world?
For the joy.
“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2.
So why will I haul out the heavy holly and the dimming lights this year?
For the JOY.
For the joy in my children’s eyes as they bubble over with excitement over all the treasured ornaments they haven’t seen in a whole year.
For the joy that sparkled in my Grandma’s eyes as she baked her molasses cookies.
For the joy in my mom’s voice as she sang Christmas carols and played the piano.
For the joy my loved ones will feel as they unwrap gifts—these fleeting, temporal symbols of eternal love so far greater than anything in this life.
For the joy of Jesus’ broken heart beating in my own broken heart, making me whole.
I feel my heart beat. I feel His heart beat. And I know that all I really have to offer back to Him for this sacred gift of His presence is a heart that says, “Thank You, Emmanuel,” over and over and over again with each small step I take. “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You for the steps You took for the joy set before You. Thank You that I am Your joy and You are mine.”
I celebrate this season for the joy of people all around me who are yet to know Him. May they see Him in me. May He shine through all my brokenness, like these flickering lights glimmering through these heavy pine branches.
His beauty shines brightest in the darkest places. May the pain I’ve journeyed through be a beacon of light to those a few steps behind.
I don’t know all the mountains ahead and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But this I know: Jesus’ joy is worth fighting for.
And sometimes that just looks like one small step—one gift, one wreath, one hug one cup of cocoa—at a time.
There’s beauty here too.
Don’t miss it.