'Tis the season to be:
A date marked on a calendar, no matter how much it is decked in mistle-toe and hallmarked by a miraculous birth, does not change our circumstances and doesn't always heighten our mood. As I write these words, I just learned of two close friends facing the imminent loss of loved ones. I saw a picture in the news that wrecked me. Other friends of mine are experiencing financial hardship and uncertain futures. There is suffering and chaos everywhere, yet we start the 25-day countdown this week.
My year has consisted of loss and significant changes, yet I will walk into this holiday season with a reservoir of merry gratitude. I will not let the enemy steal more joy from the four chambers pumping in my chest. I've been there. Depression stole my breath for more than just a holiday season, but Christmas hit the hardest. Holiday blues come in a shade much deeper than the rest of the year.
The shade of his gingham jumper was pale blue with intricately smocked Santas across the front. Twinkling white lights sparkled in the background, a slobbery smile showed off his new teeth, and his silly dad placed two package bows on his head. I can stare at his pictures from this day forever. It represents the unadulterated delight of a small child, not even one-year-old, experiencing the sights and sounds of a magical day. Too young to care what was wrapped in the shiny boxes, simply in awe of the atmosphere.
Do you want to know what amazes me the most when I reflect on the reel of pictures from this Christmas day eight years ago? His smile and precious chubby hand reached out for the photographer - me. His momma, fighting to experience even the slightest hint of bliss, had pulled it off. I didn't stain his first Christmas with the sorrow seeping from my pores.
The festivities had left me anything but jolly. After a long health battle, there wasn't any room for joy as depression gripped its claws on me. My baby's first Christmas looked normal. Sure, the tree was decorated, presents were wrapped, and a meal was shared, but the Christmas spirit was an elusive thought. Instead, a numbness had set in, and it was a blue Christmas for me.
At forty, I'm no longer a starry-eyed little girl blessed to have a magical childhood Christmas. My soul feels the weight of the world. I know, for some, their shade of blue is as dark as the deepest part of the ocean this holiday season. If that beautiful soul is you, I pray my words bring you the slightest hint of joy, hope, and peace. And maybe a quick chuckle!
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1. Look at Things with Fresh Eyes
Watching my young children at Christmas encourages me to exhibit that youthful wonder as much as possible, especially regarding my faith. In a recent episode of Lisa's Harper's Back Porch Theology, Dr. Jim Howard encourages us to try to hear the Christmas story like it is our first time (Luke 2:1-21). He talked about how we can become so familiar with particular Bible stories that they tend to lose their impact. There are so many aspects of our lives that we can intentionally choose to refresh our outlook and become new creations. And humbling ourselves to the true meaning of Christmas is an excellent place to start.
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2. Ask the Questions
Did you know that half of the Psalms are sad? God's people asked "Why?" and "How much longer?" long before you and I existed. Bringing our questions to the Lord can be an act of worship when we don't demand answers. God expects us to have questions with our finite, limited understanding. Otherwise, He would have removed the passionate expression of grief and despair from the pages of the Bible. Lamentation is a compassionate gift bestowed to us by the Lord that can draw us closer to Him.
Long conversations where I bared my soul to the best Secret Keeper sustained me through vast stretches of despair. My past trials helped me develop a more intimate relationship with Jesus that I cherish and hold tight to today. Make your requests known to God with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
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3. Remember the Works of the Lord
Recently, I've practiced recalling the breadcrumbs God has left in my path. They aren't significant miracles that grace the front pages of the news, but they are uniquely curated mini miracles where God has shown me who He is, His unending presence, and how much He loves me. When we are wading through troubled waters, it can be challenging to comprehend God's goodness. Living our days steeped in deep gratitude for the Lord's deeds gives us endurance and steadfastness to prevail.
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago" (Psalm 77:11, NIV).
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4. Listen to Music That Stirs the Soul
Do you want to know a surefire way to have a blue Christmas? Work retail. It's guaranteed to put the "bah" in your "humbug." I worked at a pharmacy for years, and like clockwork, the Christmas songs started playing on November 1st and lasted two whole months. I imagined choking Santa with jingle bells whenever I heard "Jingle Bell Rock."
But the music I love has been the best palliative care I could get. Songs were one of the tools God used to bring me out of the depths. Music has been around since King David danced in the streets, and it is the universal language. Music has magical therapeutic properties, and I encourage you to listen to your favorite songs while washing the dishes, going for a walk, or riding in the car.
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5. Know That This Is Not the End
Coming from someone who became best friends with depression, I know that at times, I thought I would never feel different. I'm a bit dramatic, so I constantly imagined the rest of my life going through the motions, void of any happiness. But here I am, eight years later (still dramatic), dancing in the kitchen, baking sugar cookies with my favorite people in the world. It looks like someone threw up Christmas as I've decorated just about every surface in my house. And I'm counting the days to Christmas morning just as eagerly as my children.
I'm not a cliché kind of girl, but I want to tell you this will pass. Maybe like a kidney stone, but it will pass! I don't say this to invalidate what you are going through. Hard is hard. And the holiday season brings years' past memories to the forefront of our thoughts. The bareness of winter can highlight loneliness and expound grief. But time does have a healing property built in. Eventually, spring will come, and you will soak in the miracle of vitamin D.
While studying the story of Jesus's birth with fresh eyes, I heard a profound statement that spoke deeply to my heart. "Despite the inn being full, the miracle still came as promised." Despite whatever is stealing your joy this season. Despite the painful circumstances you are facing. God's promises will come to fruition.
We are always one step closer to the unimaginable, glorious new beginning that is to come. One where the blues don't exist. (Revelation 21:4)
Photo Credit: ©Getty/Margarita Khamidulina
Originally published Thursday, 30 November 2023.