Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why No Christmas Letter this Year?

One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is writing.  I wait until most have gone to bed and hunker down in my Christmas PJs to reflect on the gifts of my life.  I always find myself in a state of prayerful insight as I jot down the blessings of this holiday.  I have carried the words for this year's post in my "think tank" for the past month.

I have sent Christmas cards since I was 13.  Every year, I would love the event of gathering addresses, stamps and my favorite pen to write a message to those I loved.  There have been years that my words flowed smoothly.  The stories and memories from the prior year flooded my soul with happiness.

And then there were other years.  Those years, the words were more difficult to find.  I would wrestle with finding joy in my memories.  At times, I would question if anyone cared what I had to say.  But still, I would write.  It would start slow, almost forced, typing a paragraph and then deleting half of it.  Letter by letter I would build my story for the year and with each word, my spirit would lighten and my heart would swell.  Fondly, I would think of those I shared my words with and know that there was purpose in my words, even if for one reader.

This is my Christmas - reflecting on the year to prepare for the season.  And then there's this year.  My journey to Christmas Day has looked different this December.  A few weeks ago, Robbie carried the dozen boxes down from the attic and I started the day-long task of decorating for Christmas.  I have loved Christmas my whole life, so you can imagine the vast amount of stuff I have accumulated over the years. Its a favorite time for me as I unpack each item and remember the story attached to it.

My sentiment towards each item was more present this year than in year's past and I'm not quite sure why.  One ornament in particular struck me.  Its story has stuck with me throughout this month.

This child ornament is part of a set of three.  Each child wears a glittery suit and appears to be frolicking in the snow.  The sentiment of these ornaments carries a big weight to start.  They were hand-painted by one of my dearest childhood friends almost twenty years ago.  If you look closely, you'll see there's more to this ornament's story.  The dusting of soot on the face and feet were not painted there.  Instead, they're remnants of a Christmas several years ago.

Christmas of 1998 was a rough one for me.  I was a poor, college grad in the midst of relationship blues.  The question loomed over my head "What are you going to do with your life?"  "Is this all there is?"

Life wasn't all that bad.  I had rented a house with two friends near campus.  It wasn't fancy, but it was OURS.  We painted it and found treasures at the local junk store to make it our home.  I was especially excited to put up a Christmas tree.  I came in from work one night, made a bowl of soup and hunkered down on the couch to decorate the tree with the ornaments I had brought back from NY.  Despite my personal struggles, I was proud to decorate that tree.  It felt like a rite of passage in my new home.

It started as a peaceful night.  

Christmas music playing.
Alone time journaling.
Twinkle lights twinkling.

And then suddenly, there was no peace.

The smoke rolled in....slowly at first and then so quickly it was suffocating.  I forgot every preventive word I had heard growing up.  I ran straight toward the smoke and opened my bedroom door.  Immediately, the heat was so intense, I fell to the ground and crawled outside.

I remember very little from the following days.

Friends and strangers cleaning out our burned things.
No renter's insurance.
Desperately wanting to go home to my mom and dad.

I lost a lot that night.  I didn't have much, but what I did have, I treasured.  There wasn't anything in my room worth a lot, but to me, it was worth everything.

A bible from my parents.
Ornaments from my grandmother.
My original Cooper softball glove.

My perspective changed from that fire.  Everything is replaceable, except the people that make the things special.  A bible is just a book - until its written with an inscription from your parents and filled with highlighted verses from many years at youth camp.  An ornament is just something you hang on a tree until its the only thing you have with your grandmother's handwriting.  A Cooper is just a glove until its used to work on "soft hands" with your grandfather and aunt.

I have lost people over the years from both death and disagreement.  There have been times in my life that I have invested in the wrong people.  Other times, my life's circumstances have prevented me from investing in anyone at all.  As a relationship person, the absence leaves a whole in my heart, regardless of the reason.  What I have experienced over the years is that I will find new treasures and will treasure new finds, but there is nothing that can alter the dynamics of my life more than a change in landscape of the people in my life.

This revelation comes to a crossroads, specifically this year, when it comes to sending Christmas cards.  Earlier this week, I came to the realization that I had run out of time and sending the letters felt more like a check in the box than a celebration of the season.  As we sat at Dunkin Donuts with my family, I blurted out, "I don't think I'm going to mail a Christmas Letter."  As the words came from my mouth, I was flooded with a sense of relief and I knew I had made the right choice.

I had fought the internal battle of not sending them because it means a lot to me to touch base, once a year, with our family and friends from all over the country.  I am certain its a temporary decision and I have not written my last O'Bryan Christmas Letter, but for this year, my Christmas story looks a little different than it has the past 30 years.  Christmas 2014 is about baking melted snowman cookies and staying up late chatting with my husband after everyone has gone to bed.

I'm perfectly ok with it.

Yesterday, the six of us went to Target and spent the money we would spend on cards and stamps and bought gifts for a family that lost everything this week in a fire. 

We didn't know them, but read about it on our Facebook newsfeed.  Its kind of serendipitous, don't you think?  

We took this picture at church last night.  If you can't tell, my heart is beaming!

Enjoy those you love and remember the greatest gift of love born on this day.

Merry Christmas!