For the month of December, we are featuring essays around the theme A Quiet Christmas.
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Usually I can hide from my grief in the everyday life as a busy mom to my six, but at Christmas it is hard to hide, as much as I wish I could. It isn’t Christmas itself that I want to hide from, but the holidays bring a reminder of what I have lost, to death and to distance both physical and emotional. During this season I often find myself wondering: What did I do wrong? Why is this so hard?
We get out the decorations and hang our memories in the shape of popsicle-stick ornaments and hand-painted balls on our grocery store parking lot tree and I pray to just get through another season without a total breakdown. I crank up the oven for some holiday baking – Joy seems like a tall order, and Happy hasn’t coincided with Christmas in a long time – so we turn up the Pandora stations and Spotify playlists and I pray to just make it through.
My favorite Christmas songs are the ones from the perspective of Mary and Joseph, “Mary Did You Know” and “Joseph’s Lullaby”, they bring the story out of the pageants, plays and the storybook pages and into my heart and imagination. The other day I was listening to Francesca Battistelli’s beautiful Christmas song “Be Born in Me” (seriously, if you haven’t heard it yet stop what you are doing, grab a tissue and look it up on YouTube or something). I thought about Mary, and what it might have felt like as she carried her child, the Son of God. I thought about her, as a woman, not unlike me. I thought about how Mary and her loneliness as she traveled with her husband to Bethlehem. What must it have been like to be about to give birth, so far away from her mother and the tribe of women who should have been there by her side? Where were they? How had they hurt and rejected her?
I remember how her cousin Elisabeth called Mary “blessed among women” and how some consider her to be the most blessed and most important woman in the whole entire story of the Bible, and yet here she is, giving birth in a barn. This thought has turned my idea of what it means to be “blessed” completely inside out. Mary was blessed and yet her life was not easy, not at all. She was most blessed and yet she gave birth to the Son of God – in a barn. I can only just barely wrap my head around this. Blessed = giving birth in a barn. Seriously?!
Mary was in the very center of God’s blessing, she hadn’t messed up, she hadn’t made horrible choices that landed her in a difficult situation, she was smack-dab in the middle of God’s amazing story of redemption, but there was no room at the Inn. It is heartbreaking if you stop to think about it.
We have told this story a million times, and a hundred different ways, but Mary lived it moment by moment without knowing exactly how it would all turn out in the end, or how she would be remembered. She lived her story in the mess of the middle, just like we do and it makes me wonder how many times Mary & Joseph had to turn to each other and say “Tell me again. What did the angel say to you? Tell me again, tell me about the dream.” Mary must have felt like her life was falling to pieces and exactly the opposite of the way it should have been for one who was “blessed” and “highly favored”.
We are blessed. We are so very blessed. We get to live on the other side of Christmas and Easter and Pentecost. I wonder, though, do I equate being “blessed” with easy or happy or things going the way I hoped that they would? Because the Bible is super clear about this – God wants something better than easy for His cherished ones. And yet this is the mentality I slip into when circumstances start to go sideways. What did I do wrong? Why am I missing out on God’s blessings?
Sometimes life breaks your heart in a million ways that you did not know you could survive. Yet God is always there, redeeming the brokenness and making something so much better than what we had imagined for ourselves. I am still learning what it means to be blessed and that God’s ways are not our ways.
This moment I take a deep breath and remember that I am right where I need to be, even if this feels like giving birth in a barn.
Faith Raider lives in Augusta, Georgia with her husband and six kiddos. She is a reader, a writer, a creative coach and (occasionally) a photographer. You can connect with her most days on Instagram and you might bump into her once in awhile on Facebook. She just wrote a book (due to be released in January) entitled “Confessions of a Roadkill Christian” because sometimes you find yourself feeling like you’ve got tire tracks tattooed on your forehead, wondering if you will ever be okay and ever get close to God again. Find out more on her website www.faithraider.com or connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.