Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Magnifies Things

Christmas magnifies everything. Whatever you’re going through seems bigger at Christmastime. The good things seem even better, and the bad things ~ infinitely worse.

New romance is ecstasy at Christmastime. Loneliness is a bottomless pit. Family ties seem tighter . . . or more frayed. Grey weather is even bleaker on Christmas Day . . . and fresh snow even more magical.

It’s like Christmas is an overlay that changes the color of the everyday.  A filter that intensifies everything.  A magnifying glass that highlights the tiniest detail.

Christmas narrows it all down to one pin-point of time ~ that breath-hold as you wait for the gift to be unwrapped, for the verdict on its value to come down. I only get one chance at this ~ and what if I fail? We plan and strain ~ and too often our dreams of a Dickens Christmas die in a disappointing Christmas, and it doesn’t measure up. We don’t measure up. Again.

Across much of the world, Christmas is the pinnacle of the year. And how it captures our hearts! But Christmas is only one day ~ a man-made opportunity to remind ourselves of the greatest Gift ever given, and the Family that will never die. The twenty-four glittering hours pass, and life moves on. Hopefully, we are richer for taking the time to stop, be together, and believe.

My grandmother gave birth to her first child (my mother) on December 21. What intense joy! Five years and one week later, she lost her husband to kidney disease at age 28. What intense heartbreak. On her way cross-country from New York to Indiana for his final hospital stay, she heard “I’ll be Home for Christmas” playing in a restaurant. She said it was a long, long time before she could joyfully listen to carols again.

But she walked on. She did embrace Christmas again . . . and again ~ over 50 more times before she celebrated with her husband in Heaven. I remember that her home glowed with garlands and ribbon and mantel-snow and lights ~ I never knew the current of sorrow that surely ran underneath it all.

My mother-in-law spent Christmas 1982 in the hospital. She had been diagnosed at age 44 with a brain tumor and was to have surgery the next day. I treasure the photos of her opening gifts in her hospital bed with her children by her side. She’s smiling. She was to have only one more Christmas with her family. But still, she celebrated. And we still celebrate. We miss her presence intensely; but, because of Christmas, we know we’ll see her again.

How well I remember my own intense Christmas of 2012. On December 20 ~ the day my son came home from his first year in university ~ I lay on an ultrasound table, undergoing a follow-up to my mammogram the week before that had showed something “suspicious.” The intense joy of our reunion mingled with intense fear over my future.

There followed two breathless days of waiting, and a phone call from my doctor on December 23:  “It’s a complex cyst, probably benign. We’ll follow up again in 6 weeks.” What intense relief! And yet . . . and yet . . . the question still hung . . .

I felt Christmas so deeply that year. I realized that illness doesn’t take time off for the holidays. I watched wide-eyed, taking everything in. Some of my favorite memories from that year were totally unplanned: my youngest watching a spontaneous early-morning Christmas movie with Daddy, the breakfast table made festive simply with what I had on hand.

And yes, two months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And yes, I underwent surgery and chemotherapy and radiation. I struggled to regain my strength. And for two years I seemed to appreciate Christmas more. Then this year . . . I took on the burdens again. I clutched for control. And I lost some of the joy.

So I’m reminding myself: slow down, breathe, and revel in God’s good gifts.

There will come a last Christmas together. We may or may not have the warning: savor every moment. I’m not sure that I want it. What I want is to be in the moment, pleasantly surprised by whatever comes. And the knowledge that whoever is missing from the family circle is celebrating Christmas with Jesus. And the hope that . . . Someday . . . we’ll all be together again.

It’ll be bigger and better than anything we can imagine.

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