The Christmas Gift

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This year I thought I was on track for Christmas.  It’s been almost three years since R. left and we’ve achieved an amicable relationship.  He is settling into his new marriage and I was getting on with my life. After two years of procedures and surgeries I am pain free and able to enjoy so much more. And yet,…

During the divorcing phase you always seem to be scrambling for papers, and waiting and waiting, and applying for documents, balancing statements and wondering how to do more with less than half of what you had.  I felt like Indiana Jones running from the huge round stone that would crush me.  At times I thought it might even be a relief, but one day it stops. Sort of,…  The divorce is final and you grope around for ways to make the little broken bits fit and yet you don’t quite have the interest.  You know if you sit too long you will never move again so occasionally in spastic fits you snatch at something so you can feel like what you are doing is actually living. Eventually it becomes steadier,…more or less.

For me the circuit breaker became travel.  No I didn’t win the lottery but I had accumulated air miles and I am all about the art of making every dollar work hard. Eventually colour seeped back into my world.  It was a different world but I was learning its customs. In time I started to become a native and realized I needed to take other new comers by the hand and show them around.  I saw that God had another land for us to inhabit.  Not familiar but home, …in a way.

When I came back from a trip with my mom this November the first thing I heard was that my son was OK and my ex had lost his job.  My stomach clenched.  Our support, medical and insurance would be gone in a few months.  I fell back into that pit.  Everything spun.  Fear ripped through my new strength and shoved me on my haunches.  My bones were so new and fragile, my soul was spun sugar and I waited for everything to snap.  And then,…

There was no time to focus. I had handcrafting sales to prepare for, birthdays to celebrate, Christmas to decorate for and a journey to Bethlehem that only I could take. My heart needed to be called home.  I laughed I prepared, I baked, I cleaned, and I even entertained with a minimum of anxiety and internal  hysteria. We all set the bar differently,…

Tonight I took my son aside and tried to map out sharing arrangements for Christmas. Where would we be?  Who would get the choice parts of the holidays? When would we travel? What parties did he want to be at?  What were the youth events?  How were we going to manage the expectations?  What did he want for Christmas? Could he makes lists for everyone?

In the midst of all that there was the unspoken anxiety about losing the house, the income and my medication. Chemo. isn’t cheap.

My son came and put an arm around me. “Mom what I want is a stress free Christmas.  You and I have such a good life together.  Promise me you will have fun. That is what I want. I want us to enjoy the holidays and not worry about the calendar.  You’ve done enough. You are enough.  You are Christmas to me”.  My son had just given me his list.  He was asking for peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men, whatever comes our way.

He was asking for joy to the world. He wants a silent night, a holy night. He is saying come all you faithful. He is telling me not to be afraid because there are glad tidings of good news.

I really needed good news. I realized I really hadn’t stopped running in over three years.   Here I was asking for him to tell me what the perfect Christmas gift would be and instead he showed me and placed it in my lap.

No matter whether your Christmas is red and green,or blue or bathed in heavenly light I pray that you find a gift in your own trip to Bethlehem. with love, D.

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Steve Grissom and Me and Christmas Time

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For anyone who doesn’t know who Steve Grissom is, he is the founder and president of Divorce Care.  He also narrates the video series.  Steve may not realize it but he and I talked all through the series. We have been through all the emotions I can think of. There were times when I was about to really react and he’d disappear and another speaker would intercept my responses and turn my attention to the next step.  At times I’ve wanted to mess up his perfect hair and justify my viewpoint or say amen or sorrow for his experiences.

A week ago we finished our Divorce Care classes and we were told there would be one more on Surviving the Holidays.  I wasn’t too worried as I would have my son with me at my mom’s and then I’d do the trade off on boxing day.  I settled in to see what Steve would say. It started as I expected with a review of potential problems and being prepared. Check. Steve and I were doing fine. We explored ways to prepare for celebrating the holidays. Check.  Then things got into misty-eyed territory for me.

He talked about keeping traditions and how that didn’t necessarily work.  I thought about making the yearly gingerbread house. Each year he (my son not Steve) did that with his dad. I had the pictures of them every year.  After R. left  I’d offered to do that with him but he wouldn’t even consider it. Aah. The traditions had lost their joy.  We would need to create our own new traditions.  O.K. That was something pro-active I could do.  A girlfriend of mine was way ahead on that one. Her daughter suggested they drive into the mountains until they found snow. They’d go and find a tree to decorate and open their gifts under the tree. After a rousing snowball fight they’d head home.  How great is that?  Yes I was ready for the challenge.

Then you threw me a curveball Steve.  You talked about custody arrangements and a shared Christmas. Your next words froze my heart. You said it wasn’t a good idea. What???  You and I just worked through the lesson of Reconciliation. It was even suggested that I call him every six months and see if he’d come home. Seriously?  Steve, what are you saying?  Then one of the ladies said that we should ask ourselves if we had pure motives in wanting a family Christmas for the kids.  The implication was that if we were hoping the occasion would rekindle a longing for home then it wasn’t pure.  Now I was starting to steam.  What could be a purer motive?  Wanting to give a child a mended home and to forgive is at the top of my sainthood chart.  Steve and I had hit a rough patch.  I was upset because though I knew my ex wouldn’t come home I really wanted to keep my son’s life as normal and happy as possible.  I was trying so hard to be gentle and peaceful so that my ex would feel comfortable visiting.  That’s when one of the wingmen came in to back up Steve before he and I had words.

It was explained that for the child to be put in that situation could give them false hope. It could be very disappointing and put them back in that  first place of hurt and loss.  I was silent.  I didn’t want my son to go through the pain again.  That was the worst part of being left, seeing the sorrow on his face when dad disappeared.  I had honestly wanted to give him the life I thought he deserved.  It was another loss to realize I had to let both of us live in the reality of the divorce in order for him to heal.  It was another piece of grieving I hadn’t expected, but I was not going to hurt my son to try and preserve the past.  I realized that Steve was opening my eyes to something I couldn’t see.

For you that have taken Divorce Care but haven’t seen the video Survivng the Holidays it is worth it.  If you haven’t taken Divorce Care it is worth the internal conversation with Steve.

I still want to mess his hair up but I’d more likely shake his hand. On behalf of myself and my son thanks for caring Steve and thanks for the chats. D.

P.S. This blog entry was never meant to be interpreted as being endorsed by Steve Grissom or his hair.

Christmas Legacy

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I hadn’t seen Pam in years.  Pam and I used to be neighbours. I was filling up the cart getting ready for my son’s birthday party.  We exchanged greetings and told each other how good we looked. “So” I said, “Are you almost ready for Christmas?”.  Pam looked at me and said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas. One of the reasons I married Joe was because he’s a J.W. and they don’t do Christmas”.  I didn’t know what to say.  I know many people don’t celebrate Christmas but I’d never heard of someone marrying someone to get away from feeling any sense of obligation to the occasion. Pam launched right in. “When I was little Christmas was the worst time of year. The minute the music started on the radio I would get a knot in my stomach because I knew my mom would turn into a nightmare. It was like she hated us because now she had to shop, now she had to cook, now she had to clean, now she had to entertain, now she had to wrap gifts and now she had to write cards.  Everything was a misery and so by Christmas morning she would refuse to come out of her room until she felt like it and we felt the hate.”  She told me how they’d tried saying no gifts and that make her mom angrier. She said the gifts they gave often sat untouched as if the godess had rejected the offerings because the offence was too big and not forgiven.

I stood there imagining the pain.  There were no words. We went on to other topics, hugged each other, and went our separate ways.  What started to stab me was my own attitude.  Just that morning I’d been complaining that I’d have to get the cards out and the price of stamps was ridiculous. No, I didn’t think it would turn my son against Christmas but what legacy was I leaving him?

I know that being divorced or separated or even in a tense marriage, Christmas can seem to magnify the pain because it is supposed to be a time of family harmony and togetherness. It represents a lot of what we’ve lost or never had.  The happiness of the season can almost seem to mock our sorrow or make us feel that we can’t live up to the ideals.  When we see advent scenes and see the plays and hear the songs they give a tranquil sweet veneer to the event but what was it really like?

Mary was a teenager who gave birth without family or village women to help her. How terrifying. She was really alone in the equivalent of an unheated garage. There was no one to help her with the process or aftermath. The wisemen did not show up at the stable. It was about a year or two afterwards when they were in a house. She was with Joseph who would have had no experience with these things and then poor local sheep herders. I’d like to think that some of the local women came to help but there is no record of that.  The point is that the first Christmas had none of the warm trimmings of a home decorating show or Christmas special. Pain and sorrow are native to Christmas.  The birth was marked with an immense importance and knowing that may have given Mary comfort but it was not easy.

The question is, what legacy for Christmas are we going to give to our children?  Do we give them our stress, sorrow and sense of profound disappointment?  Our attitudes can affect the children for the rest of their lives.  Are Christmas cards too much this year? Don’t do them.  Is a huge dinner too much? Have a potluck. No one to celebrate with? Create your own tribe of others without families.  No money or time for a big turkey dinner?  Try tacos. Really.  One year we were moving into a new house one week before Christmas. Christmas eve came and we couldn’t do the dinner. All I had was a package of taco shells.  I made them and sprinkled them with chopped red and green peppers. I presented them as Christmas tacos. The next year I had things together, presented the full turkey dinner and my son looked at me and said, “But where are the Christmas tacos?”  From then one we make sure it is a dinner that celebrates the season.   The biggest decorating need we have is the environment we create for our children. Being loved and treasured, being given those extra moments of warm attention is what will make any event special.  Be good to yourself.  If you are alone, allow yourself moments of kindness to yourself. Allow yourself moments away from the presssure of what you think your life should be.   Just stand in thankfulness for the singular reason for Christmas.  I say this because though I feel a lot of physical pain I feel an escape when I do this. I am grateful for so much. Those things will be the meditation for the season.

I’m wishing you all that escape from the consumer jungle, the made for TV event, and the confines of our own expectations. Watch the video “The Advent Conspiracy” on YouTube and have a peaceful Christmas,    love, D.

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