Eliot stopped at the edge of the peeling porch step and whirled back around.

“Have a great Christmas, Mom. I’ll miss you.”

Within seconds his arms were wrapped tightly around me.

I savored the briefest moment, the growing gangly boy enveloped in my hug, then stepped back and flashed him a big smile, “I will – and you too! Have a great time at Dad’s, and I’ll see you in just a few days.” He grinned back, turned, and then lept confidently toward the massive SUV where his older brothers were already climbing inside. I stood for a moment, waving, smilling, seeing them all off – then back inside the warm house, closing out the sharp winter air behind me.

I stood for a moment in the stunning silence – such a change from the energy of six children that had filled it only hours ago. Reminders of them lay strewn about – a gingerbread house gumdrop fallen to the ground, the Settlers game yet to be picked up, a half empty cider glass. I sank into the rocking chair and surveyed the room. So peaceful. The moment to catch my breath that I had been longing for, after many full and hectic days in a row. One of the cats echoed my sentiments as he snuggled onto my lap and closed his eyes.

So why did my heart feel so heavy? Why did tears begin to fight their way to the surface? Surely they couldn’t be about this old thing … again. Wasn’t this my fifth Christmas now, sharing my children, saying goodbye to them in the snow? Nothing new, nothing unexpected, everything pre-orchestrated. And a precious time of peace to regroup. So I fought them back, these alien and unrequited tears.

Then John Denver’s voice flowed out of the streaming Christmas mix in the speaker next to my chair. John Denver, singing from ‘A Christmas Together’, with the Muppets. A family favorite growing up, especially beloved by my father, long since past, but who I now shared in this way with my own children.

The hope that has slumbered for two thousand years
the promise that silenced a thousand fears
the faith that can swallow an ocean of tears
the Peace of Christmas day.

And the damn burst. Not heavy sobbing or hopelessness, just tears. The weight of real loss, even still. The loss of an incredible father, who would have been an amazing grandfather, gone from this life now 15 years. The loss of spending the fullness of the holidays with my own children. The eerie stillness all around me, with Christmas morning just on the horizon.

One day I too would join the throngs of parents who transition to empty nests, college children who can’t travel home every holiday, children who marry and begin to split holidays with inlaws, or move far away, and on and on as the seasons go. But it shouldn’t be that way when the youngest is still only seven. It just shouldn’t.

Of course, every time I use the word should, it is an acute indication that I am not accepting reality as it actually is. So even as I let myself flush out the grief, I began to turn my thoughts toward what now IS. The literal green pastures I find myself in this year, the myriad of things to be thankful for, even the coming two days of quiet and rest – despite the dates they happen to fall on.

I spoke out things I love about our life, our family, our year, the promises still unfolding. I let my own faith be stirred up in a way that indeed began to dry up my tears. And then my words continued.

I began to pray for our ex’s, for their families, and for their holidays together with our children. For bonding for them all, for joy, for delight in their gifts, and the real Jesus to touch their homes this week. This praying felt good – the kind of good that comes with a solid workout; not good-fun or good-pleasant, just, good. Cleansing, I think. Right.

Focusing on the ‘should’ just keeps joy at bay, waiting for the day when things will be one’s own version of right. But God loves to come into the ever-messy now, just-as-things-are, and plop right down in the middle of it – His Presence, His peace, His joy. That’s what I felt, and was reminded of again today, as I invited Him into the middle of my tangle of tears, grief, joy and thankfulness. Him. Understanding it all. With me. With us.

The real Peace of Christmas Day.

Thank you Jesus. You arrived so many years ago, not in the way anyone thought things should be either. Not in the place you should be, or the form you should be in, or perhaps even to the family they thought you should have. No, you came right into the middle of our mess here on earth and broke all of our ‘shoulds’ wide open from day one. Thank you for being bigger than formulas and paradigms and expectations. Thank you for being real Peace, that surpasses our understanding and our circumstances.

One Response to “The Peace of Christmas Day”

  1. ecd says:

    Love your honesty…amazing how thanksgiving can bring the heart alongside it. You are a beautiful expression of God’s joy.

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