Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keepin’ It Real

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:32

My niece Heidi was Christmas-crazy, as most kids are. Even into her young adult life, she was passionate about my Mother-In-Law’s sugar cookies (they are LIFE-CHANGING), festive hair accessories and Christmas music. However, NOTHING outshone her seasonal soapbox: the necessity of a real, cut from the tree farm, pine-smelling, needle-dropping, water-requiring Christmas tree. Oh, how she threw a fit when my in-laws joined the artificial bandwagon!

“It’s not a Christmas tree if it’s not real! I will never have a fake tree in my house!” she quipped, as her blond ponytail bobbed up and down with conviction. As Grandma Munson playfully shoved a sugar cookie in her mouth, she wrinkled her nose and bit down. As the molecules of carbohydrate and fat nirvana entered her blood stream, she seemed to subdue a bit. However, the fiery glimmer in her eyes warned, “I will continue this discussion after the sugar coma wears off!”

I don’t suppose you would see a melancholy turn to this story, unless you knew Heidi’s story. Be forewarned, it’s about to go there …

We lost Heidi before she ever had her own “house.” On April 9, 2002-- just before her twentieth birthday, she was killed in an accident. I had expected that Easter to be a struggle, but Christmas hit me like a ton of bricks that year.

There were so many reasons to find joy that Christmas; little Alan was nearly three, and genuinely understood what was going on for the first time. We had four stockings beneath our tree (we didn’t have a mantle) for the first time; the smallest of which would have baby food and board books for little Wyatt. Our little nuclear family felt complete for the first time, but the gaping hole in our extended family was painfully evident.

It came to me in waves, splashing cold reality on my face. The present she’d asked for last year was on the cover of a catalog. I couldn’t look at candy without thinking of my little sugar fiend. The tree sales … well, I’m sure that don’t have to tell you that it’s awkward to explain why you’re crying about cub scouts selling fresh trees. But I was fine—I had my little family, lots of friends and by golly, I was going to make this a fantastic year!

Embracing the season with all that I could muster, I over-spent on presents, baked more cookies than usual, drank enough peppermint mochas and eggnog fraps to sustain a coffee franchise and blared Christmas music. It seemed to be working … until Christmas day, when I was greeted by my brother-in-law, Eric. As he hugged me, his hollow eyes expressed what made this year different. There would no tiny-framed blondie sticking her head in the door, explaining why she was late. The floral couch in my in-law’s living room would not have Heidi sprawled across it, taking a nap. (Heidi was always either bouncing off the walls or tired—there was no in between!) There would be one less grandchild checking for Hershey kisses tucked into Grandma Munson’s Santa ornaments. There was no hiding how Christmas morning had gone for their family.

While we were opening presents, Eric mentioned that Heidi’s Christmas music box had gone around just one time that morning—as if she was sending a little “hello” on her favorite holiday. That bittersweet moment seemed to weave in and out of Christmas day, signifying the dreams to come that night …

I dreamt that Heidi was in the family room, talking to me. When I reached out to hug her, she disappeared. I awakened with hot tears stinging my cheeks, clinging to my husband’s arm for comfort. It made me feel less alone, but it didn’t make me feel better. For the next few days, feelings of anger, sadness and betrayal stewed inside me, until the dam broke.

While hanging up my festive red sweater in my closet, I started yelling, screaming and crying out to God about how betrayed, robbed and empty I had felt that year. For the first time, I chose to shed the artificiality of filling the season with “stuff” and got “real” about our first Christmas without Heidi. My soapbox moment was simply between myself and God, in the awkward, yet private solitude of my walk-in closet. Yes, she was in a better place, but we were still here. And that, for lack of a better word, completely sucked. When I admitted the true confines of my heart, God was not surprised. Surprisingly, after I’d blamed, demanded and shouted at the Ruler of the Universe, I felt Him comforting me. I wasn’t “better,” but I was honest.

On this, my seventh holiday season without her, I don’t have to “force” the Christmas spirit. I genuinely enjoy this season, but Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday, like it used to be. Christmas makes me miss my Heidi. It also reminds me that between now and Easter, I’m going to have another anniversary of that terrible day. I think it’s okay to be real about that. You can love Christmas and still struggle with depression this time of year. I also know that some of you have lost someone so close to you that it causes you to dread the entire season. (Read my friend Elizabeth Grant’s blog post on this subject— she inspired me to write this post: http://www.lifeinpencil.com/wp/) While well-meaning people may want you to “move on,” it’s okay to respectfully, but unapologetically say that you’re not ready.

In her short life, Heidi unintentionally caused me contemplate the importance of a genuine life. Just as real trees drop needles, dry out, cause allergies to flare up and make cleaning up Christmas more complicated, honesty can complicate things. While the truth is not always easy to admit to ourselves (or accept from others), there is nothing more freeing. When extending honesty, The Father will guide our words, providing both clarity and sensitivity, if only we ask Him.

Whether you embrace fresh trees or the artificial variety, a light-up nativity scene on the front lawn or a simple ceramic table display this season, my hope and prayer is that we would “keep it real” where it really counts—within the confines of our hearts.

*Thanks to kokoloveguam on flicker for the non-commercial use of this lovely tree photo :)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your brutal honesty. That kind of honesty lets others know they are not alone. God bless you!



About Me

I'm not your average housewife; but then, neither is any other housewife I've met! My life is a constant blur of kids, animals, hunting down and testing allergy-friendly recipes, shopping, LOTS of coffee, yarn crafting, nannying, singing and writing. I married my highschool sweetheart (the introvert who is a type-A, shy, organized, loves hunting, hiking and mountain climbing. He lives for pizza, burgers and cookies and doesn't like coffee). We are polar opposites, but Love, grace and a whole lotta Jesus can overcome anything! :) We have two boys who fill this house with lots of excitement, love, laughter and lunacy! Alan (9) is a happy-go-lucky, inventive, dramatic, eager-to-please kid who loves being dad's shadow and mom's shopping companion. He's the snuggliest kid I've ever met! Wyatt is extremely bright, inquisitive, entertaining and endearing. He lives for routine, Wii games, pixar films and writing stories. Alan is typically-developing, Wyatt has high-functioning autism. We live on an acre in the Pacific Northwest with our two aussies and 5 chickens. It's not the Waltons, but it works! :)