“If what it takes for you this year to be present in this sacred, thin place, to feel the breath and presence of a Holy God, is to forgo the cookies and the cards and the rushing and the lists, then we’ll be all right with cookies from the store and a few less gifts. It would be a great loss for you to miss this season, the soul of it, because you’re too busy pushing and rushing. And it would be a great loss if the people in your life receive your perfectly wrapped gifts, but not your love or your full attention or your spirit. This is my prayer for us, that we would give and receive the most important gifts this season—the palpable presence of a Holy God, the kindness of well-chosen words, the generosity of spirit and soul. My prayer is that what you’ve lost, and what I’ve lost this year, will fade a little bit in the beauty of this season, that for a few moments at least, what is right and good and worth believing will outshine all the darkness, within us and around us. And I hope that someone who loves you gives you a really cute scarf. Merry Christmas.”
1.From “Speak from the heart to be heard.“:
I came back from my parents’ house after Thanksgiving with a pit in my stomach. I enjoyed seeing my parents but I felt invisible while I was at home. I told my parents I was gay 26 years ago and I feel that my folks simply ignore talking about serious issues.
I know that I can’t expect all parents to fully embrace their gay kids with open arms and my parents made it clear that they love me and value me as their son. But there’s just this painful tension I experience when I’m around them. Its as if there’s a giant dancing elephant in the room and no one can see it.
Someone asked me what I wanted from my parents. And I think the main thing is I just want to feel like I’m heard. That my parents KNEW me, really knew me. What I like, who I date, my dreams, goals – just make an attempt to delve deeper into the person that I am. I need to have an honest talk with them and express how I feel.
2.From “The Heartbreakingly Hard Christmas“:
I spent Christmas Day of 2006 worrying if I would die. We were about to take part in a large scale combat operation amid the Second Battle of Ramadi, which history now records as one of the most violent battles at the height of the Iraq War.
After the operation wrapped, I returned to my dinky room where the Christmas tree sat with a thin layer of silt on it. I once more plopped in my chair and removed my body armor, then remarked to my teammates, “well… that was the shittiest Christmas I’ve ever had. How ‘bout you?”
Over ten years removed from these events, what I find odd is that the memories now have a soft glow to them. Yet, in 2006, I remarked that particular Christmas was the worst. Even more interesting is that in 2006 I didn’t run from what I experienced, which I have a tendency to do now. I sat in my room and grieved not being home. I explored the weight of what had just happened.
For all the lights and cheer at Christmas, we shouldn’t try to escape the hard moments or heartbreak that certain years bring. That may seem counter-intuitive, but more often than not, when tragedy and hardship hit we can retreat into a bottle, social media, isolation, a relationship, or something far more nefarious. Rarely do we plop down in our proverbial chairs, remove our body armor, and allow ourselves to feel. When we’re busy burying those emotions, we can miss the true magic of Christmastime. The magic that the story of Christmas is one that can empathize in our struggle, but can also later become one of those memories with a warm glow. A moment of triumph and victory, not defeat.
Looking back at the Christmas of 2006 where I shivered and bled in the cold, I’ve found something powerful about writing this moment down. Good can come from those heartbreakingly hard moments in life. Perhaps amid your heartbreaking holiday this year — or any year — your story can become an inspiration and anchor of hope for someone else weathering their Christmas blues.
Just like that little baby in the manger with sad beginnings, perhaps this sad beginning you’re going through, is destined for greatness.
3.From “Life Isn’t Fair“:
I’d reached the sagely age of five and was going to school! Which was neato. But what was even neato-er was that I would finally get to cross the street by myself! I still remember the delicious terror of crossing for the first time. I’d been warned that if I attempted to cross a street alone, cars—hundreds of them—would swoop down and kill me over and over again. And yet, here I was crossing the street, and not being killed even once. Then I had an epiphany:
Cars only kill you if you cross the street without permission!
That was when I realized there was a Law of Fairness that governs all of life. No one told me that. I just knew it. If we followed the rules, everything would turn out just as it should: If we ate our green beans, ice cream would show up on the dinner table. If we put our teeth under our pillow, money would appear! Heck, it would even be brought by a fair-y!
One thing I was nearly as proud of as crossing the street was my new artist’s smock! Mom had learned at Open House that we would be doing Art in kindergarten, and would need smocks. So she did what any mother of an Only-Child-Who-Happens-to-be-a-Genius would do. She bought the Simplicity pattern for an “Authentic Parisian Artist’s Smock,” and spent two weeks stitching it to perfection. She finished it off with a gorgeous monogram just like the ones the penniless impressionists in Paris wore during the early 20th Century.
The first day of Kindergarten went excruciatingly slowly. I blew bubbles in my milk, tapped my toes during nap time. But Art finally arrived! And then Miss Shirley spoke the fateful words, “Alright, children. Go to the closet and grab the first smock you see.”
By the time I got there, my smock had been snatched by a little cretin named Davey, who probably wouldn’t know an artist’s smock from a dress shirt. Which was, in fact, what all of the other smocks in the closet were—kid’s dad’s dress shirts. Mine was the only Authentic Parisian Artist’s Smock. I went straight to Miss Shirley, and pointed out her hideous error in judgment.
Her response dripped with unfairness: “We all need to learn to share, Mitchell.”
Mom called the teacher and begged her to reconsider: “I made that smock just for him. It has his initials on it.”
“Monogram, Mother,” I corrected.
No exception was made. And I was irrevocably scarred, becoming at last the shattered shell of a man you see before you today.
OK, so I got over it.
Only a short time had passed since I’d discovered the Law of Fairness, and already I’d learned it could be broken! However…
I’ve since discovered a larger principal: If we focus not on being treated fairly, but on treating others fairly, we end up with something even better: