December 26, 2014

Christmas is Done for 2014

It is the day after Christmas, and I have the "blues" (or greens, if you go by the photo!) Yes, I always experience that "big let down" right after Christmas ends. I know it shouldn't be this way, that I shouldn't focus on the "event" part of the season, but I cannot help it. It seems like each year, the same thing happens. There is all this build up to December 25th, and then BOOM!, the day ends, and the 26th arrives with a thud. Life resumes, the clock ticks on, and I go back to the business at hand. Sigh!

Yes, I know that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, and I know that the whole reason we celebrate Christmas is to focus our hearts and our minds on the blessed coming of the Savior. I think that Christmas, for me, has become a holiday -- in the true sense of the word. It is just like Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Labor Day, and so on. The holiday happens to coincide with family visits and gift giving, but it seems that the magical aspect of the season has been lost in the commercialization of the event. Let me explain...

Last night, I was sitting in the family room watching TV with my Mom. It was 6:30 and dinner was over. The dishes were done, and Mom and I were "chilling out" while my Dad and my brother (visiting from out of state) were putting a puzzle together. It was that "after dinner" time when you realize that you have eaten too much, sat too much, and generally lazed about too much. I had control of the remote (for a change), and I was flipping through the channels to see what was on TV. Mostly, there was nothing worth watching so we switched back and forth a couple times (an old movie, a TV series, and a Christmas holiday special). Then I landed on the 1966 version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It was good to hear Boris Karloff's voice, and the see all the little Who's from Whoville as they were doing their Christmas thing. I sat there enthralled for a moment, listening to Boris Karloff read Dr. Seuss' twisty dialog and studying the animation and color -- Metrocolor (thinking of how green the "green" was and how "red" the red was in the original version). I was waiting for my favorite moment (when the poor little dog gets the antlers strapped to his head and he is forced into pulling the Grinch's sleigh), when my mind just traveled backwards to 1966.

I can remember watching the original version when it aired on CBS in 1966. I was four at the time. I also watched all those wonderful claymation specials from the same period (Rudolph and Frosty, for example). As I was thinking back to those Christmases from my early childhood, I couldn't help but remember how much I loved Christmas time. I loved everything about the holiday season -- prepping at school, making gifts in the classroom, looking for the snow to fall outside the class window. I loved decorating the house with my Mom, setting up the tree, and putting the outside lights up. I loved going shopping for gifts, especially when all my brothers were home. I loved the whole experience of Christmas -- from beginning to end. I loved going to church on Christmas eve and singing Christmas Carols. I loved seeing the manger and nativity scene, watching the little kids in the nativity play. Christmas was special then, so very special to me.

I sat there for a moment while my mind raced through the years, hitting this memory and that memory, before it settled on a specific one from 1981. Christmas 1981 was very special for me. My parents and I flew to Ohio to spend the holiday's with my Aunt and Uncle and Grandmother. My Aunt and Uncle had already moved to FL, but they brought the family back up to Akron for this special get together. My Grandmother still lived in Akron, but she was planning on moving to FL later in the year. Her sisters, my great Aunts were all in the area, as were most of my second cousins. We stayed with my Grandmother, which just meant that we were the "destination spot" to meet all the relatives. I think this was the only time when I spent significant time with all the Ohio relatives (most are passed now). I had told my Grandmother that I was praying for snow -- and Lord willing -- thinking that I needed a white Christmas (it had been three years since I moved from Chicago to San Jose, and I was missing the cold and the snow). The Lord granted my prayer because the snow started to fall on the 23rd and it didn't stop until the 26th. Beautiful Lake-effect snow covered the ground, oodles of it (some 11-12 inches), so much that Christmas eve services were cancelled, the malls closed early, and everything shut down in order to keep people safe. The good news is that the relatives who lived in OH took it all in stride and made the trek to my Grandmother's house for Christmas dinner without a single concern.

I loved the snow, and I loved the fact that Christmas was spent with so many friends and family members around. We laughed, told stories, and generally spent 24-48 hours together (I mean together -- some 20-40 people crammed into a small 2-bedroom apartment). It was a blessed time, even if it wasn't spiritual or overtly focused on Jesus). Some of my relatives back then were Catholic, some were Baptist, Presbyterian and Brethren; some were agnostic. Yet, despite the various differences in belief, we all gathered together to remember the Savior, to remember why we were celebrating the coming of Christ.

I was thinking about this special memory, and how I still looked forward to Christmas. I was a freshman in college, was in the middle of an on again/off-again relationship (sadly, I read recently that my first boyfriend passed away earlier this year), and I was trying to figure out my life. I was a Christian, and I was struggling to understand my faith and my calling. I was unhappy in school (studying Art), and I was unhappy in my relationship with this young man. I was feeling the pinch of parental expectation (go to school or get a job), and I was thinking that my life wasn't going anywhere special. I was stuck, and I was feeling as though I was on the wrong path, going in the wrong direction.

Still, the memory of that time with family was sweet and warm. Christmas was special then, so very special.

Zoom back to last night and the strains of the Who's singing their Christmas hymn. I kept thinking to myself that the "Grinch" was so last-year, if you get my drift. I watched the show and I thought that it had lost all appeal to me. In fact, as I changed channels and I stopped to watch other "Christmas" themed shows, I felt the same "ugh" come over me. Nothing mattered, nothing seemed to create within me any desire to celebrate, to enjoy the festivities, to enjoy the reason for the season. Later in the evening, I thought about watching one of the holiday favorites on DVD. I thought about looking through movies on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, but instead, I ended up going to bed early. Christmas 2014 had come and gone without much fuss. It was over, and I was tired from the experience.

Why? Why am I feeling this way?

I woke up this morning, and the first thing on my mind was all the work I have to do between now and January 4th, 2015. I am teaching three classes at GCU, and while I have most of the curriculum/teaching materials created, I still need to create a syllabus for my students, and a plan for how I will teach each unit. On top of that, I am thinking about Regent, and my courses starting the same day. Plus, I am dealing with some challenges at home (parents and son).  I have a full plate heading into 2015, and in some ways, the load is overwhelming to me. Part of me wishes I could go back to 1981 and start over. Part of me wishes that I could be a young adult again, someone with little responsibility, and with a whole unknown life ahead of them. Instead, I consider my life, and I consider that 2015 will be a replicate of 2014 (more than likely). It will be filled with school (so much school) and work (more school, though teaching rather than studying). I don't know what the future holds for my parents, and I am uncertain as to my role in their prolonged care.

A case in point -- I took my Dad to breakfast on the 24th and he shared with me his anger about the situation. I appreciated his emotional response because he and I had some words the previous night, and I felt bad that we got angry with each other (my Dad was short with me, and I let go and was short back with him). It was an angry exchange by two people who felt pinched by the reality of the situation -- by the fact that my Mom (his wife) -- is more and more confused and more and more forgetful of momentary experiences. The level of care for her well-being is first and foremost on each of our minds. I was tired of having to carry the burden of making sure the daily things got done, things that Mom has normally done, but that would now fall to my already heavy plate. My Dad was tired of having to manage their limited finances, double-check the expenses, and consider next steps in both of their care/living situation. We both exploded, and we both let our emotions get out of control.

The Lord was gracious to both of us that night. The steam was let off, and the next day proved beneficial. I enjoyed spending time with my Dad -- it was good to talk about our feelings in a rational and logical way. We didn't apologize directly -- it wasn't needed -- because we both understood clearly what prompted the exchange; the mutual frustration, anger, and the unwilling realization of what the next year will be like for my parents. It was a bittersweet moment, a difficult and challenging time, but a good time, at the least, let each other know that we agree on what lay ahead for the three of us, on the challenge of navigating the uncertainty of the days, and on the fact that we are committed to doing whatever is necessary to work through it.

Christmas 2014 was difficult for me because I spent most of the month in direct care of my Mom. I did the grocery shopping, the gift buying, the decorating, the cooking, and the cleaning. I did all the things that my Mom normally would do, and I did it in addition to finishing my schooling, and closing out my teaching contracts. It was a lot of effort, a lot of work. I made it through, of course, thanks to the Lord, and I am now on the backside of the last major holiday of the year. Still, my heart is heavy because I look forward and I see what is to come. Sure, I don't really know what will be, but I have a strong inkling of it. My Mom seems to be following in the same type of dementia as her sister (my Aunt). What I am seeing now, is the same thing that my Uncle saw in my Aunt ten years ago. Of course, my Aunt's dementia came on early as a result of a traumatic head injury, and she suffered with it for 15 years before she had a stroke that took her into full-time nursing care. My Mom is 81, and is experiencing the onset of these same symptoms (forgetting what she just did 10 minutes before, confused and lost in public places, spending an hour in the grocery store without buying anything, unable to plan normal activities like cooking or cleaning). Her long-term memory is good, normal for a person of her age. It is her short-term memory, and the confusion that is causing the problem. She has admitted that she is so confused. She thinks it is because of our trip to FL, but truthfully, this has been coming on now for a couple months. It seems to be progressive, and it seems to be getting worse by the day.

As I plan my 2015, one this is for certain: the Lord has me well-covered. I know that the plans He has for my life are good, so very good. I know that the plans He has for my schooling and my career are good. I know that He has my parents care in His hand, and that He understands their needs far better than I do. I know that whatever happens, whatever comes to pass, that the Lord's will will be done. I know this, I believe this, and I trust Him in all of this UNKNOWN.

So as I consider this holiday season, one thing is for certain. I may not like the fact that the sentimentality of Christmas is gone. I may not like the fact that the holiday has been hijacked by non-believers who seek to commercialize on it. I may find the whole "event" -- from the nonstop Christmas Carol's on the radio to the early displays of lighted trees -- annoying and over the top. I may think that Christmas eve services, once soft and holy, are now designed as major theatrical events, with flashing lights, loud music, and pounding beats. And, I may find the shopping, the baking, and the decorating to be passe when compared to all the other demands placed on me during the month. Despite all of these "downers," these once looked-forward-to experiences, I still find the blessing of the Savior, His coming into the world and into my life, to be the only thing that matters when the bang, the bells, and the whistles, are all silenced. Yes, despite everything that seems to be heading my way, all the trials and difficulties, Jesus is my reason for living, my reason for holding on, and for staying the course.

We Are The Reason (1980)
by David Meece

As little children we would dream of Christmas morn
And all the gifts and toys we knew we'd find
But we never realized a baby born one blessed night
Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

We were the reason that He gave His life
We were the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

As the years went by we learned more about gifts
And giving of ourselves and what that means
On a dark and cloudy day a man hung crying in the rain
Because of love, because of love

And we are the reason that He gave His life
We are the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

I finally found the reason for living
It's in giving every part of my heart to Him
In all that I do every word that I say
I'll be giving my all just for Him, for Him

And we are the reason that He gave His life
We are the reason that He suffered and died
To a world that was lost, He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

He is my reason to live

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