When everything is different

This is a peaceful time of year. At least, it should be. During the weeks of Advent, we relish the promises of God and joyfully anticipate the day we celebrate His Son's birth. We are reminded of His goodness to us...of the blessings He has revealed...of His love personified in the Baby Jesus.

As Christmas approaches, we are encouraged to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of faith and family. We are reminded of the unbelievable impact that the birth of Jesus had on this world. And, we hope that finally, this year, this holiday season will be unlike those of the past - just a blur of hurry and shop and bake and prepare. We long to slow down and soak in all of the miracle that Christmas really is. 

Slow down. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

But, for some sweet souls walking along side of us, January, even with its drab bitterness, cannot come soon enough. For them, December will not be joyous or fun or even tolerable. It will be excruciating. They smile through gritted teeth and go through the motions of holiday spirit. But they are miserable and sad or mad because, this year, something is different.

The traditional mound of presents will be skimpy in comparison because the rent and utilities steal the entire unemployment check.

The house will be quiet and subdued as the chemotherapy takes its toll.

The plans now include two Christmases for the kids - one with Mom, one with Dad. 

Or maybe this will be the first time Christmas will come and go without the loved one whose name we can barely whisper, but whose voice we long to hear.

The Ugly Sweater Contest won't be so hilarious - because the reigning champion won't be on the U.S.C. runway...Someone else will have to read the Christmas story...And, we'll have to decide - do we hang up his stocking?

How on earth can the the world continue in a frenzy of planning and shopping and baking as if nothing changed? Because everything has changed. Forever. 

Everything is different.

For some of those grieving great loss, this may be the very first holiday they must endure without. And they face eleven more months of "firsts." First Christmas, first New Year, first Valentine's Day, first Mother's Day, first birthday, first vacation... And for some, this will be the last "first." For them, next year's anniversaries and celebrations will be just one degree less painful. But this is the first Christmas without.

God, please extra bless them all. 

For many of us, the message this year is the same: slow down and savor the moments. Read the Scriptures and live each day, whether festive or ordinary, on purpose, with both eyes and both ears open. Be still and contemplate the magnitude of God's gift - His Son.

But, let's be especially mindful of those who would rather just skip it altogether. Skip Christmas and every other holiday or anniversary or birthday for as long as it takes to be able to simply survive the crippling pain of recent loss. 

Let's rejoice. Let's celebrate. Let's slow down. And, let's remember.