I’ve felt this one coming for a while now. Sometimes, you can feel the words there- words ready to heal. But walking down those roads again, the roads those words came from- can hurt.
I am convinced. We’re all full of words. Walking here and there, with all of life’s words, life’s stories- hidden deep within our hearts.
Christmas time always makes me think of her. When the weather is cold, so cold your body shakes as soon as you step into the dark- I have to physically shake my head to make the thought of her leave my mind.
We were always poor. But cold winters and a promised Christmas morning, always made poor have a feeling.
Sleeping together in the same bed to stay warm, running quickly to the electric stove, burning orange to warm frozen toes each morning before school- the kitchen lit by the light of the microwave. If there was extra money that winter- we would actually put up a sheet on the door of the room we slept and run a space heater. We had central heat and air, we just didn’t have money.
We had each other.
My mom was special. She worked hard. She would fix things when they broke. It was amazing. She would drive her little car into town and load it with lumber and then cut it with a real saw, like the ones dads used in their garage. On hot summer days, we would drive down to the filling station off the highway and share a real ham sandwich from the deli- made with Miracle Whip. We ate real slow, savoring each bite. If I was lucky, I also got to pick out a penny piece of gum.
Our Christmas tree was always so ugly. She would climb a ladder to the top of some cedar tree in our yard and cut out the top of it for a Christmas tree. Always telling me the same story of how her and my dad spent countless nights stealing little trees from ditches along the highways- planting them in the yard and planning one day to cut them for Christmas trees. Totally crazy in love.
I don’t think he ever cut a tree.
I hated those trees. They were so ugly. And our neighbors? They didn’t only have a real family– three children, a dad, grandparents, and a dog- they had a perfect tree too.
Now, all grown up- I only wish I remembered more ham sandwiches and ugly trees. The truth is- I remember lots of pain.
I get my fight from her. She was a fighter. Wouldn’t give up. Wouldn’t back down. Wouldn’t let go.
But you can only throw your fists up for so long before you have the throw in the towel.
Then, you decide. You decide to love or be hurt. You have to figure out- did you survive or die?
There were never free turkeys, coats, or school supplies those days. We didn’t have things like free health insurance and food stamps. For some reason, they had told her no and she never tried again. They didn’t enforce child support those days.
We ate a lot of Ramen Noodles.
Police didn’t respond like they do now- when the man who always said he loved us would hit and she would scream for hours, I would call and they never came. Not once. We must have lived to far. One day, he hit hard enough- she never let him come back.
She threw in the towel. Hurt for the last time. Two failed marriages, a failed lover, a cold house. That’s it.
She gave up the fight. She locked up and hated the world. Finally removed the mask and realized, what was always hidden had become worn and weary. And she couldn’t fix it- no matter how strong her fight.
What do you do when your hero leaves? She had loaded the lumber in the tiny car and cut it with the real saw. She had cried, silently, every month when the bills were due but still allowed me the penny gum from the filling station. She couldn’t be perfect anymore.
The problem with realizing you’re not perfect is- others will soon know. So, to keep others from knowing, you just shut down. She shut down. She became bitter and mean. She never smiled. She never encouraged, she stopped buying the penny gum and sharing sandwiches on hot days- she was finished.
I slept cold and alone that winter.
You still want to love when that happens, I wanted to love even more. When you’re twelve and your hero is hurting you don’t know what to do– but you want to do something. Now, I know though. It can’t work that way. There is only one healer who can mend those wounds.
She didn’t have to be perfect. I never knew what perfect was. We learn what perfect is by those around us. I wish I had known- I would have taken her weary face, held it in my hands and said, give up the fight. Surrender the pain and love like crazy.
We’ve had a lot of people in our home lately. New people. Two nights ago, I finally just started to cry. I told my husband, I can’t just keep loving like this Daniel. I think I’m afraid– It’s going to hurt too bad.
He says, “There’s no love without risk”
You see, what happens is in your quest for friendship you find the need to be perfect. And you don’t know it’s happening. You have a bunch of kids and people just assume you’re nice. Or you homeschool and people just assume you’re patient. You’re crazy about loving broken people and people think you’re some super Christian. But the reality is, you’re none of those things and you’re crazy dependent on Jesus to make you new every.single.day.
So you love. And people leave. You say the wrong thing that didn’t fit who they thought you were or should be and it’s never the same. So you’ve given your heart to them and now- they’re gone and you have a decision to face– did you survive or die? Do you close out the world and live in your box of pain or do you surrender, yet again, to an unfailing Jesus and start all over again?
When you sit with the “good brother” during the Christmas meal at the moms house who always told you you weren’t good enough- do you survive or die? When the father of your child doesn’t send a Christmas gift again for your little one- what do you decide? Do you ever love again? Or have you died to being loved. When you arrive at your in-laws home and they share with you, once again, how you really could have a better job and provide better for their daughter. You have to decide, do those words define you or does the love of a Savior and his promise of unending love define you?
I will never be strong enough. And not everyone will love me for who I really am. Someone will figure out I have Ja Rule in my Pandora playlist and they’ll decide I simply must be a reprobate. My big mouth will say something controversial and they’ll decide we can’t be friends. My Christmas tree will be too big for some and too little for others. My skirt too short, tattoos too exposed or skirt too long and perfect. I’ll make homemade bread one day and eat a donut the next and someone will have some sort of an opinion.
The truth is: in this life- many will still love, some will leave.
But the babe? The babe sent so perfectly that day? He will love.
I love Christmas. I am sure if I lived in a place such as Haiti or Syria– where death is all around and brokenness is so visible- Heaven and the promise of a new earth would be what I long for most. But here- in this world that I live in- the world I wake up in each day. A life full of masks, broken relationships, constant reminders of cold nights, a mom who has given up on love, and a mind reeling daily with imperfect memories of pain– struggling through self imposed standards- I long for the day when I will see Jesus. Streets of ‘gold’ don’t excite me one bit. I’ll take Jesus in the streets amongst the slums – I just want to be with Jesus.
He is the one. The only one perfect. And yet he chooses to look sweetly upon broken me and love. He knows my Pandora playlist; he knows my struggles and insecurities and he still chooses to love. Not just any type of love. I’m talking get down and dirty with my junk type of love. He never leaves my side and he never judges through human eyes. He helps me surrender and gently corrects my faults. He’s always there.
When I really sit and think of what Joy filled the earth that day- I am overwhelmed at the love of a savior that really did come in the form of a babe- dependent on a broken woman. A woman who many, I am sure, had decided, was not perfect.
Oh, the irony of that magnificent King.
This Christmas may you be overwhelmed at the majesty of his great love for you and may you remain humbled and dependent on Jesus- realizing only his opinion of you truly matters and if we are seeking him to the fullest, he is good to teach us such good things. And one day- we will truly be perfect and whole.
May you smile a little brighter and love a little deeper simply because he loves so sweetly.
“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”