I’ve spent the last several weeks trying to think of something to write as we approached Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for. We all do. Yet, the holiday itself is typically the time when I’m feeling the least thankful. The holidays for me, like many others, hurt. No matter how hard I try to focus on the positive, the reality is that there are losses in my life that are most apparent during the holiday season. For some, there are no family gatherings to attend or there are painfully empty seats at the table. For others, the holidays are a reminder of the many restrictions involved in their lives; watching as those around them attend exciting events that, for their own family, are either extremely difficult or just not possible at all. Holidays, for me, are a mixture of both.
In past years, I fought against the current of holiday-induced depression. I struggled through parties with my husband’s family with a smile on my face, as echoes of my own family’s absence haunted my every thought. I’d do my best to hide the stress of knowing that, when we got home from these events, my Autistic daughter would go into full meltdown mode due to the overwhelming anxiety that all of the social interaction would cause her. I dreaded the holiday season approaching. I’d put my head down and push my way through it until I reached the other side, and I’d collapse when I got there. Exhausted. Lonely. Filled with heartache. Then, I’d look back and realize that I’d missed so much.
This year, the pain is no different…but I am. God has been patient with my fearful, defensive heart. He’s gently guided me to the realization that the things that have haunted my holidays may never change, but I have the power to change my perspective on them. I have the freedom to mourn the losses as I rejoice in the blessings. I have the ability to choose gratitude during the most painful moments of this season, not just after them. God has revealed to me that, had it not been for my tragedies, I would likely not recognize my triumphs. The depth of my thankfulness is, in all honesty, due to the depth of my suffering. The dark places I’ve been taken to have made His light all the more bright.
There are times when I wish it all away. I want things to be easy. I want “normal”. I look at the constant stream of happy family photos on social media sites and I play the comparison game…until He gently guides me back to the truth that we’re all hurting. I hand over my ache to Him in prayer and He answers in His usual way: Breathtaking love, spoken in that still, small voice…
I felt the urge to slow down. To almost stop completely in the midst of this busy season. He called me to set aside the extra, to eliminate the unnecessary. I gave myself space to lean into the pain, allowing it to wash over me. The tears fell…and then they didn’t. I gave my grief it’s moment to be center stage in my mind, and then I shifted my gaze to what was waiting for me afterwards: The joy. Not the fa-la-la-la-la, pumpkin pie, eight tiny reindeer warm fuzzies. True joy. I listened to the call to lighten my schedule and my need to fill my family’s time with as many distracting activities as possible. I held what I had close, and suddenly what I didn’t have wasn’t weighing as heavily on my heart. If God hadn’t taken my hand and had me pause, I would’ve missed it all over again…The “little things” that are actually the biggest of all. Those things in my life that overwhelm me with true, deep gratitude.
This year, I’m thankful for the many things that bring me joy and, dare I say, I’m thankful for the things that bring me pain. For, without them, I know that so much would have slipped by me, unnoticed and taken for granted. This year, I am choosing to obediently rest in His promise that He will be to be close to the brokenhearted and to save those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). The holidays may always bring with them some level of suffering. Yet, it’s that very suffering that has ushered me into something so much better than the “normal” I once craved. The blessings are richer, the joy is deeper, and my life is fuller because I’ve been emptied.