(Very religious. Pretty raw. And kinda hopeful.)
A guest post by Julianne Bruce
I admit that I’m secretly wishing some not-so-nice things to befall Christmas revelers this year. I literally can’t look at personal Facebook pages right now. On top of this being my mom’s first year in memory care, my whole family has some awful respiratory thing. This deep, hacking cough blew up any chance of me finishing my shopping, making the house close to ready (not even decorated, we’re talking just kind of cleaned up), or getting to see my mom. I wanted, especially for my teenage daughter, a halfway decent holiday. We haven’t had one in years.
But I’m trying not to feel too sorry for myself because I know a lot of caregivers who are in much worse circumstances. There are people whose loved ones need to be in memory care, but they can’t afford it. There are people who are lovingly living out a promise that’s crushing them. There are people who can’t afford Christmas because their finances are in ruins. There are people whose extended families are spending their holidays together–but without them. There are people being cruelly screamed at by loved ones who used to speak gently. God help them. I know for a fact that there are people who, at this moment on Christmas Eve, are on their knees cleaning their loved ones’ smeared shit off the carpet…again. My heart aches for all of us.
Most caregivers have very little in common with the carol-filled, Santa-crazy, family-festive Christmas that’s going on around us.
But I realized tonight that we have a whole lot in common with the people of the Nativity. Mary and Joseph were dealing with life-changing circumstances they never imagined and wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yes, they were chosen and (impressively) obedient to God. But until that moment, they were just normal folks who planned on a regular life of being good people who worked hard and enjoyed their family and friends. Suddenly, their lives were in chaos. Everything fell apart. People they thought loved them turned their backs. They were alone. They were exhausted. They faced a medical ordeal that they weren’t equipped to handle on their own. (Don’t get me started on how much worse the government made things!) In their most desperate moment, after literally begging, they got very little help. (We all know that the corner of a barn is at the top of every woman’s birth plan.) What should’ve been a happy time in their life was filled with confusion, fear, and even death. They were outcasts through no fault of their own.
We sing “Away in a Manger,” but do we really think of how cold and sad and alone that family was? I imagine it sounded like quite a celebration with all the people in those over-filled inns partying the night away. (“Attention Target shoppers, we close in ten minutes.”) It must’ve been heartbreaking for Mary and Joseph to be excluded from the warmth and fun and camaraderie of all of those families. They were human. As humans, I’m sure they sat in a nasty-smelling barn with that precious life they were suddenly responsible for and asked God, “Really? THIS???” Nothing about the story of Christ’s coming was the was the way we would’ve envisioned it. It was messy and lonely and ugly. And I believe there were a lot of tears because even the most faithful get worn out and ask God if this is actually how things are supposed to go. Seriously, Lord? How about just five worry-free minutes with a cup of hot chocolate? We’re so damn tired.
While I’m awake tonight, watching over my beautiful daughter cough fitfully in her sleep, wishing it was me cuddled up next to my husband instead of one of our cats, and worrying that my precious mama might wake up and wonder (again) why she’s alone in a strange place, I’m going to mourn another lousy Christmas. It sucks. I want to go to the party. I want to overspend and overeat and not think about those that aren’t doing the same. But I’m also going to try to remember that none of that has anything to do with Christ’s birth. It’s not his party at all. It never has been.
I’m going to try to be still in the middle of this sad, lonely night and remember that God is with me in the barn. As much as I want it, I wasn’t promised anything wrapped up in bows and shipped in one day from Amazon. I was promised the love of a God who would be beside me through everything IN THE BARN. I don’t understand why and, while I don’t want it to, along with the joy of the beautiful baby and the promise of an eternity of His love, the barn includes pain, loneliness, disappointment, fear–and even smeared shit. As my therapist and bottles of anti-depressants will attest, I kind of suck at remembering that. Thankfully, God doesn’t rely on me to remember. Or to get it right when I do remember. That’s grace. Beautiful, soul-filling, eternal-life-giving, doesn’t-rely-on-me grace. So despite the fact that I’m dreaming of an Instagram Christmas, grace is the only gift worth asking for. And it’s already been given in abundance.
I love you, caregivers.