Christmas Cheer?

Sad. Lonely. Afraid. Angry

I don’t like Christmas very much.

I was riding in the car last night with my wife Brenda and my two youngest boys.  We were actually on our way home from doing a surprise “drop in” at the ice cream shop where my high school senior works a few evenings a week.

On the way home, Brenda saw a sign that said, “Christmas lights at the end of the street.”  Unable to resist the invitation, she drove us to the back of a dead end where we saw a house lit up with so many Christmas lights, I promise you astronauts on the international space station could likely see it as they orbited overhead.

Brenda was obviously delighted by the Christmas light carolers, the light display of a Santa Clause bowing down to a baby Jesus in a manger, snow skiers making their way down the hill in the yard (where there was no snow!), and my boys in the back were loving it almost as much as she was.

I felt trapped in the car and just wanted to go home.  It was worse that Brenda was driving, so I was not in control and had to endure it all with my foot tapping against the floor mat of the passenger side of the car as Brenda drove SO SLOWLY down the street – oohing and ahhhing . . . “Those ice skaters holding hands are my favorite!”

Brenda saw I was fidgety so she asked me what was wrong.  I didn’t know so I made something up.  My chest felt tight and I wanted out of the car.  I did not care much for the lights and I was somehow irritated by Brenda’s enjoyment of the whole thing. 

This morning I remembered something Brenda said to me a couple years ago (after about our 25th year of marriage), “Jeff, you’re not much fun at Christmas.”

She’s right and I’m not.  I never understood this until my heart began to soften a few years ago going through Chip Dodd’s Voice of the Heart.  The way our brains are constructed, our memories are stored in the same place where we feel our feelings.  As a result, the more you begin to feel, the more you will remember.  The more you remember, the more you will feel about what you remember as you awaken to the feelings you attempted to stuff into the background by “forgetting” or “explaining away” the events of your life.

In August of 1965, my dad informed my mom that he was leaving her to marry a woman he had been having an affair with.  I was just shy of 3 years old, my little sister Judy had just been born, and there were six of us kids under the age of 14.  My mom asked my dad to wait until after Christmas.  He honored her request to the letter.  On the evening of Christmas day that year, I remember seeing my dad walk out the door and out of my life.

Yeah, I’ve never been much fun at Christmas.  There is a low-grade fever that comes over me this time of year that gifts, games, and gatherings can distract me from – but not heal.

Nothing from the OUTSIDE of me can change what is true INSIDE of me.

I am thankful this Christmas that Jesus Christ became a man to die on a cross for my sins and to come live INSIDE of me – to change me from the INSIDE out with the relentless power and pursuit of His gracious love.  He is not an external distraction from my sadness and loneliness and hurt.  He is one who felt all those things as a man and who is WITH me in the truest sense. 

Merry Christmas. Immanuel literally means “God WITH us.”


Passion and its Relationship to Loss

These past couple of weeks I have not been myself.  Mostly, I’ve found that I do not have the passion I usually bring to my work and my family.  I get up and go to work, but something is “off.” Those close to me have noticed this and have lovingly kicked, prodded, and pursued to find me:  “Where are you in there Jeff?”

Today I realized that the problem is not my lack of  “wanting” (Chip Dodd calls this healthy anger) - the admission of which leads to the gift of passion.  My lack of anger (as Chip defines anger) is related to my present need to grieve some of the imminent losses of life this side of Genesis ch. 3.     

I am grieving many things.  I am grieving unmet expectations about life, hopes of an imagined future that have been dashed, last year’s move from Anchorage and the life and the friends I left there.  I am grieving the cruelty of time and the entropic effects on everything that matters to me – including me.  I am grieving broken relationships that I fear may never fully heal in this lifetime. 

I am profoundly sad and in some ways, not sure I can fully comprehend the losses and associated sadness.

Until I will feel and admit the depth of my sadness, the feeling that honors the value of what has been lost, my heart will also not be free to care and to risk the demands of my anger.

Chip Dodd has taught me that the heart is like a house.  I must enter through the foyer and exterior rooms to ultimately find myself in the heart of the home.  When I refuse to acknowledge my sadness, I close the door to the interior rooms in the house and to the possibilities when a choice few join me in those rooms.

I can’t make myself care about the work on my desk or the people my work privileges me to care about.  My passion will only be rekindled as I remain open to the depth of losses in my life and allow my heart to grieve unto life with a God and a few friends who see my tears and share them with me.  (Matthew 5:4)



The Collision of Glad and Sad

Chip Dodd says “Sadness is the honoring feeling” and that “gladness always comes with sadness” because in this life (post Genesis 3) gladness always gives way to the losses of this life.  No gain this side of heaven escapes the losses of Eden.

Sandwiched between speaking at conferences in two different cities thousands of miles apart, I was able to route my flight to spend a couple days with my oldest daughter JennaRae and her newlywed husband Josh.  JennaRae is a fantastic young woman . . . beautiful in all the ways a father hopes for his daughter.  I enjoy her presence and I delight in who she is.

I love watching JennaRae as a new wife.  I love her husband Josh.  I marvel at his love for her and I am deeply satisfied watching how she completes him and what a better man he is with her at his side.   I love watching them fight and work it out.  I love watching him hold her hand.  I love knowing he cherishes her and has a heart to care for her. 

I would not trade this season of life for any other.  I find myself enjoying JennaRae more than I ever have, if that’s possible. 

Before departing this morning to catch a flight to my next destination, I cupped JennaRae’s face in my hands, kissed her on her sunburned forehead and both of her cheeks, held her for a moment standing there by the car, and did not want to let go.  She wrapped her arms around me tightly and my heart was full . . . glad and sad.

Glad - there is no privilege greater in this world than being her dad.  

Sad - life moves on and the moving on is sometimes cruel.  Where did time go?

By now, I’m sitting on the plane and my thoughts are drifting, wondering what my grandchildren will call me when JennaRae and Josh have children someday (God willing).  Grandpa?  Gramps?  Granddad?  Others around me on the plane are getting buckled into their seats for takeoff.  But I am somewhere else - lying on my back on my living room floor with a little boy or girl playing the same games I made up with JennaRae when she was a little girl – the same games played with each of the other five kids who came after her . . . “balancing – balancing!”  Laughing.  Drinking in every moment not wanting it to end.

The flight attendant approaches and tells me they have an open seat in First Class – a small reward for the many miles I fly on their airline.  I jump up and almost run for the wider seat and extra legroom knowing I just might be able to get an hour of sleep on this flight.  

In my new seat, I am now sitting next to a young mom holding an eighteen month old little girl who looks like JennaRae did 22 years ago when Brenda and I took her on her first flight from Portland (where I was in seminary) to Minnesota (where I was speaking at a weekend retreat).  This little girl smiles at me while intermittently wanting to look out the window at the men loading bags on the plane.  

Like two bars of enriched uranium slamming together within the confines of a nuclear bomb casing, glad and sad collide and the tears explode behind my eyes – a small offering of the larger explosion going on deeper inside me.  

Glad and Sad.