If it wasn’t for a certain misfit named “Buddy”, I would swear that I was the escaped Christmas elf come to earth. I love everything about Christmas. The songs, the lights, the special treats. The parades and cheesy movies, the trees and decor, the presents and the gift wrap. I record all the new and classic TV specials and am always disappointed in myself when I can’t get to them all before the end of the season. Even though I’m a native Texan, I dream of a white Christmas every year. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have jingle bells on my toes and tinsel in my soul. Except…the last two years have been hard. Last year’s Christmas newsletter was full of cancer and complications and job loss and seizures. Putting some of that behind us, I had hoped this Christmas would feel different. But it doesn’t. We still have financial stresses, complications with Shelby, and I’m facing yet another surgery. Instead of feeling sparkle, twinkle, jolly, most days I feel a little frazzled, a little tired and a little lonely.
As a city of Grapevine Employee, I was gifted tickets this year to our annual North Pole Express train ride and event. We forced the teenager to go and set off on a family Christmas adventure. It was everything that usually ignites my Yuletide spirit, but I wasn’t feeling it. While I liked the sights and sounds, my heart was heavy. Then Shelby started to laugh in sheer delight. It started when we began to sing along with the carols playing over the train’s loud speakers and built to near frenzy when Mrs. Claus came into sight. She laughed and laughed. And I started to cry. Shelby is satisfied with her lot in life. No, not satisfied. Joy-filled. Shelby – the child with uncontrolled seizures. Who cannot bathe, dress or toilet herself. Shelby, who will always be dependent on the care and kindness of others. She is truly happy. There are a lot of hard things about having an eternal toddler, but the innocence, light and love that inhabit her are the trade off. As she laughed, I could almost hear the narrator of the classic Grinch cartoon, “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that Lauren’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”
I recently read Lysa Terkeurst’s latest book It’s Not Supposed to be This Way, subtitled “finding unexpected strength when disappointments leave you shattered.” You may or may not have heard about her very public betrayal at the hands of her husband. While I feel like I currently have more issues than a magazine subscription, my troubles look like fairy tales compared to that. And yet, I feel like her message is so similar to the sermon I heard in Shelby’s laugh on that train. How are we supposed to feel about God when our normal doesn’t look like we think it should? How can I reconcile knowing in my head that God is good and kind and not always feeling it in my heart? The book challenged me to search myself for ways I am more attached to the outcomes in my life than trusting God in the process. And yet we have permission to stop pretending that we don’t get exhausted by our disappointments. But “To hope is to acknowledge reality in the very same breath that I acknowledge God’s sovereignty.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 is a very familiar passage to me, but I never before thought of it as an action plan for my “blahs”. Although by no means a foolproof blueprint for reclaiming my joy, a good place to start is by asking myself what sins are easily entangling me? And what would it look like for me to persevere right now? And lastly, what joy has been set before me that will help me endure? Now in actuality, our troubles are not always caused by our actions, and it may take time to regain enough strength to feel like we are persevering instead of barely hanging on. But we can turn to God’s Word and His promises to see that there is always a joy set before us – that He rescues and reconciles humanity to Himself. And that all started when His son Jesus was born to us in a barn. That is the picture frame through which we must view everything that happens to us.
Since my family’s train ride to the North Pole, I decided to revisit the lyrics to my favorite Christmas hymn and admit that there is nothing wrong with me feeling like the”weary world” we sing about (“O Holy Night”) right now . I still have plenty of reasons to rejoice and feel the “thrill of hope”. The baby in the manger came for me, He lived for me, He died for me, and He saved me from destruction. So I am lifting my eyes off of my temporary circumstances and looking to Him. It won’t be a perfect effort on my part. I still live in a world that’s hard, but the more I focus on Jesus and the incredible gift that He is, the more I can experience the joy Shelby is teaching me about.
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