I listen to Christmas music year around. Not constantly or anything. Just a little here and there, all year long. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I am a melancholy, and the message of Christmas is so incredibly poignant, so tragically beautiful, so achingly humble and hopeful. I can’t just save that for a few weeks at the end of the year.
This morning, after I dropped off L&L at preschool, the following played from the Christmas mix CD Jamie made for me last year:
O come O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Since my last post, we lost Steve’s beloved grandfather, a gentle giant of a man who treated his family like we were all some kind of royalty. What a guy. We will miss you, Grandpa. I hope you’re having a Manhattan in heaven right now!
When it came time to decide who would be traveling back to Arizona for the memorial service, it became clear that it really didn’t make sense for the kids and me (22 weeks pregnant! more on that development soon) to pack up and go—such long travel and such a short stay. Also, the family would be preparing Grandpa’s house for sale during the few days they were all together, and two 2-year-olds wouldn’t have been helpful in that process.
I got it. But I didn’t like it. And here’s why:
First, I was sad to miss the opportunity to grieve with the family and to celebrate Grandpa, who had been an incredible patriarch. When we moved to Bahrain in 2003, within practically weeks of arriving, I lost both my remaining Grandparents and was not able to go back for their services, and this brought back those sad memories as well.
But then I felt myself getting angrier and angrier, and even a feeling of desperation started rattling around inside me. I tried to pay attention to what all that was about, though it was mostly—in the moment—about resenting Steve for having freedoms I didn’t feel I had.
Ultimately, I realized how isolated I was feeling. And while we are settling here and we are making this house our home and this place our place, I’m still fragile and vulnerable in all the worst ways. And not getting to be with family, while Steve was getting to, just made the burn worse.
I felt stuck here. If you’ve ever felt stuck, you know what a terrible feeling it is to believe you are trapped and powerless. I panicked a little and mostly took it all out on Steve, which he appreciated I’m sure.
On top of it, I was here with the kids by myself for five days. And, of course, the morning Steve left, the battery in my car died, making me feel that much more vulnerable, that much more trapped, that much more angry. You’d think getting a battery replaced in your car would be a simple matter. As it turns out, nothing is a simple matter in the Middle East.
I’ve learned one thing in my life and that is when feelings as strong as these surface, you’d better pay attention because stuffing them back down will create something intensely toxic.
So I just tried my very best to feel what I was feeling and not try to explain it away or “yeah, but we’re so blessed” it to death or try to manufacture resolution with the “God brought us here” pleasantries or slap a “God has something to teach me right now” on it . . . because doing any of these things prematurely will just backfire.
And I got through it. In the very ugly way that you get through sometimes. Lacking hygiene and cussing under your breath a lot. Eating fast food and sleeping with the lights on.
Still a bit tender and not totally on easy street yet, this morning I heard this song, a song sung to someone mourning in lonely exile, to someone who needs her spirits cheered, a person under gloomy clouds and death’s dark shadow. Someone who need an injection of hope, no matter how humbly it arrives.
And I thought, especially after the tears started streaming down my cheeks, hey maybe that’s me. Maybe that’s all of us.
Emmanuel shall come to thee. The dayspring is here. The darkness disperser. The love. The presence. The company keeper. He is here.
And I cried all the way home. Because something finally entered into that space of pain and relieved it an inch with a balm of love and presence.
So I’m not going to move too quickly, for fear of needing to resolve it all. I’m just going to let myself be kept company because that’s what Christ does for us most of all if we let him.
And if you’re feeling widespread gloom today or there’s just a tiny place inside you that is pricked, I will keep my fingers crossed that you might be able to hear these words:
Emmanuel shall come to thee.