The season of anticipation is upon us. Christmas is just around the corner, and for the first time since I was a kid, I wish there were a Santa Claus.
This week has passed with each day finding me in tears at some point.
I thought last year would be the hard year. I had no idea how numb I was...until the numb wore off.
This year, I'm not numb. This year I'm wishing there were a Santa Claus.
One thing Rob and I did well was Christmas.
We picked an evening, went on a date, had dinner, and shopped for the children. On another day, we would split the children up, have parent child date night, and let them shop for each other. Then he would take them for a night with Dad, and they would shop for me.
We put the tree up together. I doled out the ornaments, and everyone else decorated the tree, each person putting the personal ornaments from the years before. The children shared putting up the Pooh Bear figurines, and Rob always put up the Star Trek Shuttle and the Fragile leg from A Christmas Story.
On Christmas Eve, we baked cookies and put them on a plate for Santa. A glass of milk sat by them so he could dip the cookies or simply swallow down the sugar. The children wrote letters to Santa, telling about their year, telling him thank you, wishing him well, and all the teeth lost during the year were laid nicely by the plate for Santa to take to the Tooth Fairy so she could have the night off.
When the children were asleep, Rob and I would watch It's a Wonderful Life and wrap gifts. He wore his green reindeer shirt I made him the year we got married and his Christ-moose socks with the big antlers and fuzzy red nose. We packed stockings, laughed a lot, and thanked God for the wonder of being parents.
He ate the cookies--leaving lots of crumbs--and drank the milk and wrote in elegant print a letter from Santa replying to the children's notes, thanking them for the goodies, and telling them how thoughtful it was to give the Tooth Fairy the night off.
On Christmas, the schedule altered some, but for the most part, we opened gifts, ate lunch, played with toys, played games, and enjoyed being a family...even last year.
But this year...
This year the kids really have nothing they want, and I don't want to shop alone anyway. We've decided not to put up the personal ornaments but buy all new ones. And I can't even think about Christmas Eve or letters to Santa that have no one to answer, and, yes, the kids knew it was their dad, which makes it even harder. I don't know when I will be alone to wrap presents, and I cannot watch It's a Wonderful Life without wishing Rob could have realized how amazing he was to us and how much he gave to us by simply being part of life.
And how do we even touch Christmas Day?
And this year, I wish there were a Santa Claus.
I wish I could wake up Christmas morning to find gifts under the tree, stockings filled, and lights shining...on the tree and in the darkness.
I wish there were boxes and bags of new things,
things we've never considered,
things that show us something new about ourselves and the life being rebuilt,
things that fill the air with laughter and our hearts with joy.
I wish there were a Santa to take the weight of the day,
to fill it with life when it feels like everything about it this year just reminds us of death.
I wish he would fill the air with laughter and the smell of pumpkin pie.
I wish he would bring the perfect gifts,
the perfect people,
the perfect hugs,
the perfect stocking stuffers,
...the perfect heart fillers.
I wish he would bring the Christmas I can't even imagine this year.
The holidays are coming, and this year, they are not being greeted with the usual excitement. This year the anticipation has been replaced by dread.
When holidays are about family get-togethers, seeing others open the gifts you gave and watching their faces beam with joy, laughing together, and enjoying everybody, when those people are gone, it is hard. Traditions are hard when the traditional people aren't there to enjoy them with you. It could be parents, spouse, children, or friends.
When lives change big, big holes are created where the treasures used to be.
In our home, we are very traditional. We have a huge tree, five-foot diameter at the base, and eight feet tall. We bought it a few years ago to hold all our ornaments. Our ornaments are ones we've been collecting since 1988. The first Christmas Rob and I dated, we bought an ornament and had it personalized with both our names. Every Christmas after that we either bought an ornament with our names or we each bought an ornament. Then we had our four-legged children because we weren't planning to have two-legged ones, and they each got an ornament. Then Anna got her ornament. Then Robert got his ornament. It took time, but we eventually removed all ornaments that were not personal either in name of memory. All we have are named ornaments or ornaments with stories. It is pretty neat actually. Every year we put up the ornaments and tell the stories and laugh all over again.
Except this year the stories are a bit more painful than funny, and the personal ornaments that brought such great joy only magnify the empty place of the person not here to put up his ornament...either here with us or at his house with the kids.
My parents are gone. There is no family get together.
All the things we loved--the PEOPLE--we loved aren't here, and the hole is huge.
So, we held a meeting.
The very real option of ditching the holidays and going on a trip was put on the table. The option to not up a tree was laid out there, too. The option to scratch what we had always done and start all over was dropped into the mix.
"Like what what?"
"Like what like we've never done?"
"Like anything we want to do."
"I like the tree," I ventured. "I like to turn on the lights, listen to quiet music, and just be."
Two heads nod.
"But I can't put up the personal ornaments this year." My voice cracks without permission.
Two heads nod.
"We can get new ornaments," I suggest.
Two bodies come to attention.
"Really? We can do that?"
"Really. We can do that."
Today we did.
We went tropical with lime green, Caribbean blue, and hot pink. Streamers and viney looking straight ornaments in all colors, fancy pink butterflies, lime dragon flies, and blue flowers. It is our Christmas Carnival tree. A million miles from the stoic somber trees we usually see. None of the Christmas decorum for us. No, sirree. We are all about celebration...in the brightest sense of the word.
We shopped for our unit in Afghanistan while we were at it. Tomorrow we bake cookies and put a box of homemade, "You rock. Thank you for all you do!" in the mail.
I don't know.
But I have a feeling it will include laughter, a lot of cookies, some Kleenex, and Latin rhythms.
I wish I knew a way to make it better. I wish I knew a way to take away the ache. I wish...
But this is what I know. We won't always ache. We won't always feel like there is a hole...unless we choose to. We won't always...wish.
One day we will enjoy the new treasures, be comfortable in the new traditions, laugh to new jokes. One day the room won't be lit by the stings on the trees but the faces around us. One day we will see through the veil to rejoice in the lives that have filled our lives.
I already see them.
I don't know how God is incorporating them yet, but I see faces...all around me. I feel the new lives, the warmth of the knitting. It is good. It is very good.
And I choose to focus on THOSE gifts, the gifts of the present, the gifts of presence.
Do they "fix" things? No. They don't replace the loved ones we lost. But if we are going to be here, I sure am thankful for the gift of their presence.
In the last 18 months I have said some things that have left people wondering what I believe, and evidently some folks are questioning my Christianity and faith. Fair enough. So I thought I would take a moment to share what I believe.
-God is all-mighty, all-knowing, all-seeing Father and Creator.
-His love is deeper than we can fathom, and I know I had never seen it more clearly than I have in the last year and a half.
-The Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God. Unfortunately, the people who use it are not infallible.
-The Bible is God's way of reaching into a lost and hurting world and offering hope and salvation. Unfortunately, men too often use it to beat the hell out of people rather than lead them to heaven. God never intended for the Bible to be used as a weapon, but men are too often okay with making things with a special purpose multipurpose, and when that happens, people get hurt.
-The right verse at the right moment is life-giving. A verse given as a bandaid or demand to believe only inflicts more pain.
-God is not afraid of hard questions.
-Jesus came to save ANYone who accepts Him.
-There is one and only one God that manifests as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
-Being loved by God and being saved by Christ are not the same thing.
-Nothing is too big for God to forgive.
-God loves to talk to His children.
-No one is ever too far for God's hand to reach them.
And because I believe those things....
I believe wherever you are, whatever you've done, whatever is happening in your life...
God loves you and is pursuing you.
I am utterly and completely convinced,
whatever your need, whatever your sin, whatever your pain,
God can provide, forgive, and heal.
You have not fallen too far.
You have not sinned too big.
You have not waited too long.
You are not too screwed up, too dirty, too useless.
And wherever you are, whatever you've done, however you feel, I know the life you dreamed of, the peace you dreamed of, the hope you dreamed of...the love you dreamed of...it isn't just a dream.
I push the door closed until I hear the quiet click. I don't even turn on the light. A few steps, and my hand finds my bed. I don't slip off my jeans or pull off my sweater. I pull the comforter back and lie down. One thump hits the floor. Then the other. I pull the cover over me--jeans, sweater, and all. I don't have the energy to take them off, and no one notices anyway.
It has been a long time since I dreaded going to bed. It has been a long time since I couldn't bring myself to undress...because there is no one to undress for.
Friends ask how I am. I shrug and say I am tired, not sleeping well.
I am telling the truth.
They suggest sleep aides, various sleep help. How do I explain this?
Oh, I can say sleeping alone is hard, and people nod because we all know how tormenting an unreleased sex drive can be. What people don't know is that the bed is so much more than sex.
The bed is where rest is found, and there is none here. I know when I lie down that within a few hours, someone will have a dream that bothered them, someone will suffer from insomnia for some unknown cause, or someone will have misty eyes from missing their dad.
The bed is a place for intimacy, and I am intimate with no one. When people ask how I am, I answer fine. If I cannot answer fine, I say nothing. In fact, if I cannot say I am fine, I avoid people altogether.
The bed is a place where the day is settled and dreams in the waking are rolled around, but I am too tired to settle anything, and my dream...? I chuckle to myself. It isn't going to bed in jeans and a sweater and it not mattering.
The bed is a place of knowing...knowing someone else...someone else knowing you. Vulnerability. Honesty. Letting someone see beyond the jeans and the sweater. And I wonder if I have enough trust in me to do that anymore...in bed or out. I try to swallow the reality that I don't think I do...and am terrified I never will.
The tears slip quietly and soak into the odd corner of the blanket where my head lies because it doesn't matter if I take up the whole bed.
Then I hear the voice through the door. His legs are cramping. Will I get him some ibuprofen? I barely have time to say I am on my way and wipe the wet from my face when I hear the emergency call. The toilet is clogged and backing up, and she thinks it may overflow, and how does the plunger work anyway?
I close my eyes tight squeezing back the hot tears and breathe deep suppressing the ability of the scream in my mind to escape from my mouth.
I pause. Compose. Toss back the covers.
Doesn't matter anyway. After all, who really expects to sleep in jeans and a sweater anyway.