When Holidays hurt.

when holidays hurt

Holidays don’t summon happy memories for some people.

No matter how many happy moments have tried to crowd the painful ones, the painful ones still remain. Sometimes these memories are hidden in the dark corners of our hearts where only a few have been allowed in.

As much as we don’t want our past to effect our present, we struggle to forget. Believe me, we wish we could. We long to forget. Instead, we do our very best to celebrate with those who are celebrating.

But what about grieving with those who grieve?

It’s a toss up, I’ll be honest. It’s not that I want people to be miserable. Hell, I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be celebrating with everyone else– wearing red and green flare, singing Christmas carols and giving off that Holly Jolly vibe. Ok, maybe not that much Christmas spirit.

Instead, I feel like I’m in a hole. I can see the colored lights, hear the singing and smell the homemade cookies, but all around me is dark and lonely.

Lonely.

I’m not lonely because I am alone. In fact, I am not alone at all. I have some of the most amazing family and friends around me. You can’t fix an internal problem externally, though. As much as those closest to me shower me with love, my heart still hurts.

On December 4th, I had given up. I texted my best friend and told her how badly I wished for this dumb holiday to be over already. All I wanted was to get through it in one piece. I was a broken, weepy mess.

As she tends to do (thankfully) my bestie brought it back to Jesus.

“I just want to enjoy Him,” she confessed.

::sigh:: Me too.

It would mean I’d have to turn my eyes from my grief to someone else. Someone much more beautiful than all the pain and hurt.

So, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to celebrate Advent.

christmas

Since then, I’ve been reading portions of Scripture that talk about the birth of Christ. The reading isn’t super in-depth, a verse or two in length making it easy to follow through on daily. I made a similar calendar for my best friend, too, so we could share the experience. Just the thought that at any minute she could ask me if I’ve done my reading is enough motivation (…guilt…) to keep me on task.

Confession time….I’m still sad. I’m still hurting. I still feel like I’m in a hole. Some days, it feels unbearable.

What gives, Jesus?! I thought if I did the Christian thing that I’d get my happy shot and be good to go until Christmas. That all of a sudden my frown would be turned upside down and I’d be walking around with a smile plastered across my face. Instead of choking back tears anytime someone asks me “How are you doing?”

Maybe you’re like me and you’re hurting, too. I don’t know your story or the reasons why you’re hurting. I won’t pretend to have any answers. All I can do is tell you what I’ve decided to focus on despite the pain.

His name is Immanuel, which means God WITH us. That simple, but profound truth is the hallmark of my days. The powerful reminder that He is:

With us in the pain.

With us in the tears.

With us in the brokenness. The anger. The grief.

The nights I have fallen asleep with tear stained cheeks, He’s been there.

The days where I can barely respond to a text message asking how I am, He’s been there.

The days when my little girl heart was crushed, He was there.

And He’s there with you too. In all of your loneliness, in all of your unpleasant memories, in all of the questioning He’s there. I know you may not feel Him. I know you may not hear Him. But I pray that you would. That in this holiday season, you would experience Jesus…IMMANUEL…in a deeper, more real way than you ever have before.

Marco! Polo!

God, where are you?

I remember the first time I asked Him that. I was 6 years old, laying in my bed listening to my biological mother and her live in boyfriend argue in the next room over. By this time, I had been able to distinguish the type of argument that would end in silence or in the need for the police to be called. As I strained my ears to listen in on their exchange, I whispered to God, “Where are you?” There didn’t seem to be an answer and the noise next store continued to escalate. Part of me wishing they’d kill each other and let me have some peace. It was at that point, with my heart beating hard against my chest, that I slid out of bed and tip toed out the front door. In the middle of the night, I stood at my neighbors door in my nightgown and asked them to call the police.

This type of thing happened more times than I could remember. The last time being on Christmas Eve, when I was 12. I lived in a constant state of fear, waiting with anxious anticipation for the next fight. As a little girl, I thought up ways to kill myself wondering if that was the only way I’d get some peace. I needed an escape. I needed to be rescued.

And that’s exactly what happened. In the middle of my freshman year in high school, my mom and her new boyfriend were moving out of state. I saw it as my chance to get out and I did. When most teenage girls are deciding what movie to watch with their friends or what boy is the cutest in their class– I was telling my mother I was moving out. The conversation didn’t go “well”. Both her and my grandmother, threw insults and guilt at me in rapid fire motion as I sat at the kitchen table silent and immovable on my decision. By a miracle of God, she relented and within 3 days, I was packed up and moved in with my aunt and uncle 4-hours away from my hometown, but feeling safer and more loved than I ever had before.

I loved going swimming when I was a kid. I’d spend hours in the pool with friends as we made pool “tornadoes” and practiced our belly flopping form. Then, there was of course, the game of Marco Polo. Essentially, Marco Polo is a game of Hide & Seek and Tag kinda rolled into one. One person closes their eyes and yells “Marco!” and waits for the other person to respond with “Polo!”– all of this an attempt to reveal their location to you so you can tag them. With any game, there are ways for each person to cheat. The person with their eyes closed, trying to sneak a peak out of the slivers of their eyelids. The other person, whispering “polo” and going into pool stealth mode doing whatever they can to not make a splash or a ripple in the water. The game usually ends with a quick transition to pool wrestling as one kid gets frustrated at not being able to tag the other. At least, that’s what I always did.

Today, I found myself asking God again, “Where are you?”, as I have time and time again. My eyes closed, my hands grasping just to reach Him. I desperately call out, “God!!” and frantically try to find Him. He seems distant. Quiet. Unreachable.

Looking back on past hurtful experiences I find myself asking with an accusatory tone, “God, Where WERE you? If there is a God, why didn’t you do something? Why were you silent? Why did you let me go through that?” It’s in this place, that many people get discouraged. They find themselves questioning God and His ways and when they realize they’d NEVER be able to figure Him out they decide to give up.

As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not be able to understand the ways of God, but I can trust His character. You see I realized, while I’m there yelling at God “Where are you?!?!” He’s calling out, “Right here.” He’s not sadistic, trying to hide Himself from me. He’s there. Very much present.

I’ve often leaned on Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I’ve been in over my head about ready to drown. I’ve felt the heat of the fire on my skin wondering if I’d be consumed. But never once, was I in it alone.

That night, at the age of 6, laying in my bed– He was there. As I tip toed out the front door– He was there. Outside my neighbors house, barefoot and cold– He was there. At the age of 13, being berated and belittled for making a wise choice– He was there. At the age of 22, seeing the man I loved in a casket along with my dreams–He was there. Or today, feeling the pressure of an unexpected financial burden– He is here.

No. This doesn’t really answer any “Why” question. I know that. But for me, having the “Where” question has made the most difference. Wherever you are, whatever you are going through– or have gone through– know you never went through it alone. Never once was your prayer unheard. Your tears unnoticed. He’s there.