The Dark Christmas

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I originally wrote this on Christmas Eve last year. I didn’t want to “publish” it at the time, but I’m in a much better place than I was then. The darkness was so heavy; I suppose it was a despair about my life’s circumstances. Circumstantially, my life is relatively similar. As I type this my house is empty, and I am contentedly enjoying the silence with the clock ticking in the background. My desires remain the same, but I have peace because I’m better able to trust what Christ has for my life right now; He loves me more than I realized (or can realize), and He is with me. He is Immanuel, and it’s not just a Christmas thing.  I still have my moments, but they are moments, not the undercurrent of my life.

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“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, ESV).

In my mind I keep referring to this Christmas as The Dark Christmas. For last Christmas (2014) I was newly separated with a divorce in progress. It was the first time I wouldn’t have my daughter with me for every aspect of the holidays, which left an empty void in me when she was with her dad. The overwhelming feeling I had was, “I just want to move on with my life” because the events leading up to my separation were excruciating and crazy enough. I guess last Christmas I was still in a state of limbo, not knowing what to expect.

But this Christmas is different. I know what it is to have shared time with my daughter—it’s a heart-breaking process. This time I feel like I know what my life is (as much as a person can fathom her life in a moment), and this time it feels empty. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my dark emptiness for my old life of co-dependency, of not facing the grim reality that my marriage was built on lies. But the hope of what I desired then is still there: a family (a husband who loves Jesus, loves me and my daughter, and who demonstrates godly fatherhood to my daughter); this is not to discount the love I know my ex-husband has for our daughter. This hope for what I desire and don’t have creates an emptiness and a heavy darkness in my heart; that situation I want is silently, yet loudly, not there.

I’m thankful for that verse I started with (John 1:5). Even though this Christmas feels like the Dark Christmas, I am encouraged that the darkness I feel inside of me cannot overcome the light, the hope I have in Christ.

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Last year I believed the hope, but this year I also feel it.

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Fences and Stillness

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It’s so much easier to live behind a wall or fences, not to be seen or known. It’s my go-to defense mechanism. While I do need a lot of alone time, there are times when I pull away because I’m hurting. Besides coping with hurt, my life has been getting quieter. Although I like quiet, it can at times feel empty; I feel like I’m always processing life with God. I recently told my friend that it feels like removing layers of wax off of something—God removes a layer, and there’s still layers below it; it’s so slow and painful.

I recently participated in inner healing prayer at my most recent module in my Christian spiritual direction training. I told my cohort (who watched my prayer process) that at the beginning I imagined  a giant blanket towering high over my head with me hiding behind it because I didn’t want to be seen (even though I volunteered for this)—I have a difficult time allowing myself to express my emotions in front of others. However, it was worth it being vulnerable with them; I was able to deal with a deeply painful area of feeling abandoned by God on the night I confronted my (now ex) husband a few years ago. In my time of prayer I saw that Jesus was holding my hand in that traumatizing and terrifying moment. After the prayer, I felt more settled and relaxed, instead of feeling alone and abandoned as I always had in that memory. Those feelings of abandonment had painted some more recent events with the same color; the sense of abandonment felt just as real. I anticipate being more able  to cope now that some core emotional memories have been dealt with—another layer of wax removed.

Overall, in the last several months my life has been in a state of transition: I had to put down my old (and sick) dog in February—she was 14, and I had had her since she was 6 weeks old; I bought a house last spring, which makes me feel more physically settled and has solidified my single mom life, instead of feeling like a nomad who is constantly moving; I dated a man I re-met and connected with over the summer; I moved churches; my cousin became my roommate; my work content/contexts have changed; I began Christian spiritual direction training, and the 2016 election was exhausting on multiple levels.

Some of those transitions have simply been change (and I like routine), but others were deeply painful. I’ve discovered over the last couple of months that when things feel too painful, I retreat from my heart into my mind, and then I detach from my emotions until an emotional nerve is hit, at which time my emotions leak out. During those times of detachment I can’t write because I can’t access my heart; I’ve walled off my emotions from myself.

The pain of my change is real, but the slow realization of God’s tender love for me is also real. As a Christian, I know God loves me, but I have learned that our reactions reveal what’s really going on inside of us. Susan Scott (in Fierce Conversations) refers to this as the “official truth” versus the “ground truth;” “ground truth” is what someone believes as revealed by their actions, while the “official truth” is what someone says they believe, but reality (or their actions) contradict this. My ground truth revealed I didn’t believe God truly loves me, and I still wrestle with making it part of lived belief system.

Reflecting back throughout my year, I know that my changes have produced good. I feel physically settled because of my move and because of a gradual introduction of quiet, as well as more healing in my life. I’m learning the difference between my needs and my distractions; I’m learning to just be, to be still and know that God has this. Psalm 46 speaks of God’s peace in the context of chaos: natural disasters, tumultuous seas, war, nations falling, and in that, the psalmist learns that God is with us, that He is a refuge. In these similar circumstances in our lives (all of which originate with change), we can rest in the peace of God when we know who God is—the One who can stop wars, enemies, and tyrants; the One who provides refuge; and the One who helps us.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”