The holidays are my favorite time of year; but also one of my hardest. The bustle, busyiness, financial stress, and expectations are often compounded by the Ghosts of Caitie’s Christmas past. I’m in my parents deeptub during the baby’s afternoon nap on Christmas Day. Aunts and Uncles and cousins pile through the front door as I lay in the silence of a hot bath listening to the laughter from downstairs. I put more magnesium salt into this tub than the bag recommended in hopes that it will amplify my emergency clonopin dose. 

Being back home with people and places that remind me of all my long, hidden years in this little town bring up feelings of deep sorrow and deep joy, and create a lot of confusion. My parents adored the magic of Christmas and went all the way to our roof to stomp around and HoHoHo every Christmas Eve. Once they put soot foot prints through the house as proof of Santa’s visit. Wanting to accentuate the wonder of Christmas so we’d experience wonder like that of Jesus’ love. We grew up knowing the overwhelming mystery of Jesus’ loves by experiencing it in silly yet tangible traditions of Christmas wonder. 
I lay awake last night after Ted and I wrote a letter to Augustine from Santa, and I rejoiced at the joy I’d known as a child while I lay in the childhood bed that held all my young hours of insomnia. The joy of passing down special traditions while remembering that not everything was rosy is the juxtaposition of the holidays that is hardest for me. The memory of awful phone calls with the DA that I had in the same room that I’m now sharing with my sisters and my mom. Except instead of the DA asking invasive questions, it’s now filled with the sounds of giggling while we primp together. 

While driving to Christmas Eve Service last night, I had to let the ache and terror rise in my throat and take control in my chest as we drove past certain landmarks. Someone’s house with the basement couch where his expectations were always forced. The detention center where Dad and I went to visit the former family friend who violated more than our trust when he touched me. I let my body feel in the dark while my sisters sang Christmas carols to Augustine and helped him pass the time of the long drive, and then I tried to let the pain go with the miles. We sang at Christmas Eve service of the longing for Emmanuel to come. I held my little candle out of reach of Augustine’s curious fingers and begged for the Light of the World to dawn in my darkness and the darkness around the world. Then we blew out the candles, ate some free cookies and drove home to play our Christmas games as my brothers initiated their new wives into our family Christmas wonder. 

Then nightmares that filled my Christmas Eve sleep gave way to an early morning with my toddler excitedly calling for “Santa! Mama! Dada!” We opened our christmas stockings (hallelujah for new chapstick!). And then, finally, a moment to hide with Ted while Gramma gave Gus his lunch. Ted and I prayed and cried and cussed and let the pain mingle with the joy and redemption, and my husbands strong arms helped my heart to hold the present and the past in my body. And now, this quiet, hot bath with magnesium before another brother with two kids of his own moves into the master bedroom. 

Without letting my grief surface, the joy of Christ’s incarnate gift can’t reach my heart. He is still true no matter how numb I feel. But I am often numb to Him and no amount of declaring and claiming can release me into freedom like allowing  my pain to pour down my face and empty my soul of its grief.  This is what I feel is the incarnation gift, this unique gift I receive from Christ. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Who was, and is, and is to come. And every deep breath I take in mindfulness practices and tears let’s me inch my body closer to the incarnation miracle. 

May I encourage you to let your grief win today, if you need to. Press into it and seek Jesus’ weeping on your behalf in your midst. His tears are more salty and plentiful than mine.

 Let your advent longing inform your celebration of today’s incarnation miracle. And then risk to ask for Hope and Joy from Him who was born a babe and yet a king. Ask for more of his presence, more of the incarnation. 

 Open our ears, Oh God. And help us receive you in our days.