His Heart Carried Our Hearts

At 2:37 in the morning on Christmas Day, the youngest busted into my bedroom and scared me awake.

“What are you doing?”
“I woke up!”
“What time is it?”
“It’s 2:37!”
“But what are you doing?”
“I need to use the bathroom and you told us we have to use your bathroom instead of the hallway bathroom so we don’t look in the living room!”
“Oh. Okay. Go on.”

I put my head back down on my pillow. I had only been asleep for about an hour. I stayed up late to pull off the normal Christmas magic, wanting to make sure not-so-little boys were really asleep before taking to the task at hand. I rolled into bed sometime after one o’clock and was still awake after 1:30.

Let’s face it: I get excited on Christmas Eve, too. I get excited for their excitement. It’s one of my greatest joys.

I waited in the dark and drifted slightly before LittleBrother came back to my side of the bed.

“Can I trust you to go back to your room?”
“Yes. I love you.”

He bent down and kissed my forehead.

And then that child whispered, “Santa opened the door to the basement,” wonder and awe thick on his voice.

My eyes snapped open. His eyes shone in the dark.

“Well, don’t you peek. Now go get your sleep so we can wake up and have Christmas!”

I heard his feet run down the hall, followed by the shutting of his door. In the dark, my heart grew eighty sizes.

He was all in on Santa all season long. All. In. He spoke of him with reverent wonder, wide eyes, and a joy I wish I could bottle for darker days yet to come. Honestly, the pure belief that kid has in Santa helped smooth the edges of a really rough season.

As adults, we don’t believe in much the way our youngest son believes in Santa—with all of his being. We worry. We doubt. We try to reason it all away or into being. We talk ourselves in circles. And yes, as we age we require those critical thinking skills that allow us to make informed decisions about the world around us.

But there’s something to be said for magic.

Our Christmas Day was busy and beautiful. We spent the day with family and ate entirely too much food. Our hearts were heavy for various reasons, but we did the best we could to enjoy the day.

We cleaned up some messes after we got home and set up some Christmas presents. After LittleBrother opened one box, he noticed it had some dings. This particular present was delivered by Santa.

“I bet it got beat up on the ride here,” he told his daddy.

His belief was our joy this year. It was a hard year, for so many reasons. I am living through and with loss. My husband and I are working hard to care for his grandparents. The world is literally and figuratively on fire.

But one little boy—our little boy—believes with all of his heart. His joy became our joy; his heart carried our hearts.

His Heart Carried Our Hearts

What Works Best for Us at Christmas

I want to tell you all about our Christmas experience, but tomorrow we have another family get together. By the time we finish all of our Christmas-ing, January will feel well on its way. That’s how it is, I suppose.

Right now, our main focus falls on letting our sons enjoy their Christmas Day at home. No rushing through present opening. No making them get dressed before two o’clock in the afternoon. No splitting the day between various households. No four hours in the car. They wake up at o’dark o’clock, open presents, and spend the rest of the day eating delicious foods while playing with said presents.

It’s wonderful.

And it’s awful.

I love taking the slow approach to Christmas. I really appreciate telling the boys that I’m not even starting to make my labor-intensive Christmas Waffles until 9:30, and then, when I nearly catch the waffle iron on fire, there’s no big rush to get everything finished so we can get out the door. I like snacking sometime midday. In bed. I enjoy multiple mimosas. I really like staying in my super-cute Christmas Pajamas until four o’clock, at which point I put on leggings and a top.

But I miss our family members.

We’ve invited them to spend the day with us for the past three Christmases, thus being the ones we’ve decided to stay home and let the boys do their thing. No one has taken us up on the offer. We’ve extended the invite to all people who may be hosted by those other individuals as well, as we want everyone to be cared for and fed on such a holiday. Last year, Gramps and Mamaw came over for our Christmas meal and we dearly appreciated their presence.

My mother once told me she didn’t get to host Christmas Day until she was well into her 40s. I’m 35, going on 36, and so far, no go. I predict when the boys are a little bit older and their Christmas presents all travel with them, we can start traveling on Christmas Day again. But when LittleBrother wants nothing more than to start building his 10 bag LEGO fire station set on Christmas Day, I feel like staying home remains the appropriate choice for now.

I’m so excited to spend the day with my family tomorrow (or, as it’s past midnight because insomnia, today). I can’t wait to watch our nephews open their presents, to spend time with my parents, to joke with my brother and sister-in-law, to create memories with extended family members. All of that may not happen on Christmas Day, but it still happens. I’m okay with that.

In fact, it’s what works best for us right now.

Merry Christmas.

What Works Best for Us at Christmas

A Long Journey

A Long Journey: Christmas is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.

We dressed in all our Christmas Eve finery—blues, blacks, and hints of gold this year—and headed out to church with no coats. The warm weather felt confusing and wonderful in the same breath. As we waited for the service to begin, BigBrother and my husband quoted lines from Elf to one another. I found myself smiling, and my pastor even caught me in the act.

It’s been awhile since I’ve smiled in church.

The service proceeded as Christmas Eve services do: the lighting of the Advent candles, children singing along with a message and treats for the kids, carols, and the story of Jesus’ birth. Differences included my two sons singing all the songs, following along in the hymnal, my husband singing beside me as he normally doesn’t sing in church, and actually sitting next to my husband instead of separating the two boys and their giggles apart with our physical beings.

They’re growing up.

During the children’s message, our pastor instructed the children to share two of the three Hugs in their bags with other people. She even challenged them to share one with someone in church that they didn’t know. BigBrother gave one to the expectant mother sitting behind us. LittleBrother gave his to a man sitting in the other half of our pew. I also got one from one of the boys; it tasted like peace and joy.

I didn’t use the word joy at all last Christmas; I refused any card that mentioned peace or joy or love or even used the word merry. I didn’t feel any of those things. My heart still felt so broken over the loss of my beloved grandmother, still felt tangled from the fight against overwhelming depression and anxiety. I went through the motions last Christmas, but I did so in a sort of hazy bubble of grief and loss, sadness and self-doubt. I had started the hard work of healing by Christmas time, but it still hurt and I still felt a little lost. Or a lot.

When we got to the candle-lighting, Silent-Night-singing part of Christmas Eve service this year, I waited for the tears. I haven’t made it through Silent Night since 2010, the year grandpa died. Last year I didn’t even bother singing; I stood silently, staring into the light of my candle and wishing for my heart to stop feeling so hopelessly broken. But this year, I held my candle and sang the words I committed to memory decades ago. I kept my view on the boys as they stood more still than usual; a firefighter’s son treats fire-holding with extreme caution. I watched as the glow of the candle lit their faces, their smiles, their lips moving as they sang the song.

And then I realized we were on the last verse.

I kept singing.

As we finished the song, I thought, “Wow. I didn’t cry.” And then a few tears slipped out. Tears of relief, of letting go, of weight lifting.

Oh, I’m still grieving. So many things I felt numb to or about last Christmas hit me in a different way this year. I cried while ironing my grandma’s tablecloth because I knew she’d feel happy that I took the time to iron it. I felt sad when the first Christmas card in the mail wasn’t from her; she loved to be first. I stood in an aisle looking at something she would have loved to unwrap on Christmas day for far too long one day. Decorating the Christmas tree involved one bittersweet smile after another, as she gave us many beautiful ornaments over the years. All this to say: I felt this year, instead of feeling nothing but shock and numbness and intensely lost in what was—stuck in the past.

As we stepped out into the warm, clear night, the nearly full moon shining down on us, I exhaled slowly. The boys ran ahead of us and I slipped my hand into my husband’s, walking into the night together with those I love the most. I carried that full-heart feeling into Christmas Day, so in love with my people and our little life.

I hope to carry that feeling into 2016. But for right now, I’ll simply delight in the joy and peace I’ve found after a long journey.