the other eleven months

                Aahhhh……back to rhythm and routine.  My kids may not have been ready to head back to school, but I welcomed our entrance back into the real world after a couple of weeks off.  For many people, Christmas is not an easy time of the year.  I even know a couple of people who flat out hate it – and until recently I didn't really understand how that could be.  I certainly don’t hate Christmas, but this year felt hard, a touch more bitter than sweet.   My to-do lists felt more like chores than happy traditions, and I crossed some items off the lists without even completing them – I just wanted to get rid of them!  Preparations that I enjoyed in the past felt like work this year, and more than once I was aware of this pressure.  

               Pressure to create amazing moments, to fulfill desires and exceed 
expectations, to make this the hap-happiest season of all – I even felt pressure
 to have profound quiet times in front of my Christmas tree.  
A couple of times the thought crossed my mind, So much effort
 is put into everything at Christmas, but what about
 the other eleven months of the year?
                I understand why some people struggle with the pressures and expectations, with the feelings stirred up by memories of times and people that are no longer with us.  Yes, at times this Christmas felt hard.

                Hard because I was tired, from outside stressors and struggles within.  Hard because I miss my Mom and everything about Christmas reminds me of her.  Our family went to Shedd Aquarium the weekend before Christmas with my niece, her husband, and their two young children.  The kids were so excited to see the dolphins, and I was having a wonderful time with our family, totally wrapped up in the moment.  The aquatic show was adapted for the holidays, and this fantastic folk trio walked out strumming guitars and caroling.  It felt magical, and when they started singing Frosty the Snowman, Frosty himself came out and was dancing all ‘round, and before I knew what was happening I was crying.  I couldn’t stop the tears.  Frosty made me think of my mom and how much she loved Christmas, and I could hear her singing thumpity-thump-thump, thumpity-thump-thump, look at Frosty go…

                 I began to remember all sorts of things from when I was younger. 
 How she convinced me one night as we were leaving my grandmother’s house
 that we had actually seen Santa, his sleigh, and his reindeer flying across the night sky. 
 I saw it with my own eyes!  Or the time she showed us animal tracks in the snow 
and was certain they belonged to Rudolph.  Or the thud we heard on the roof on Christmas Eve – surely it was the reindeer touching down, and we’d better get to bed!  
Sweetness and sadness dance together when I remember.  
My heart aches, but I am comforted and filled with hope and joy 
as I come to the manger, 
open my heart, 
and receive my King.

                It’s a question worth asking again.  What about the rest of the year?  We've packed up our nativity sets and stored them away, but what do we do with the Christ we celebrated and worshipped at Christmas?  As we head into 2015 everyone is talking about how we can start anew.  Resolutions are being made, and while it is good to set goals, make necessary changes, and strive for wellness in every area of our lives, here is that nagging pressure again, seeking to inch its way into my soul.  Be better.  Get better.  Do better.
                This year I am seeking one thing above all else: 
 I have worshipped at the manger, now I want to follow and walk 
with the God who became flesh, the One who gave His life for me so I could truly live.  
 I want to abide and remain in Him, every day.

                   There is this notion that we need to leave behind all the pain and sadness of 2014 as we move into the new year.  As if we could just shut the door and instantly be transported to somewhere we are not.  But if we are to really walk with Christ, then we come as we are.  We don’t have to pretty it up, get rid of our limp, or pretend.  Why should I despise my tears if God says they are precious to Him and He stores them in His bottle? (Psalm 56:8) Why should I resist trials that come my way when James says to count them all joy, because they shape me and make me mature and complete in Christ? (James 1:2-4)  I want to walk with Jesus, Emmanuel, the Man of Sorrows, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.  The Way, the Truth, and the Life.  When I open myself to His love and peace, when I surrender to His will for me in 2015, it doesn't really matter what may or may not happen, and it's not at all about me doing better, or being better.  I am secure and complete in Him.

                Are you limping into the New Year?  It’s OK.  Jesus wants you to walk with Him.  Can you trust that He will continue the good work He began in you, and will transform your pain into something beautiful?