a messy, beautiful holiday season.

I'm sitting here on our soft, leather love seat, with the lights on our Christmas tree and our few, scattered lamps providing the only light in the room.  And as I'm sitting here, trying to wind down after the work day, trying to think about what else I need to do to be ready for work tomorrow, to clean up the house, to make for dinner tomorrow - my thoughts keep going back to how the holidays always seem to bring pain along the joy.  It's as if every year, in the midst of buying and wrapping gifts, lighting advent candles, hanging ornaments and putting up greenery, stories of the pain and loss of those we know and love also must come along for the holiday season, balancing out the sense of joy with a feeling of sadness, and calling us to share not only gifts but also the burdens of those we love.

This season, the tree is as bright as ever, and the holiday season is ever so sweet, but it also brings with it stories of sadness in the lives of those we love…the loss of our friends' father, the loss of a child, and a broken marriage keeps reminding us this season that life is painful, too.  At church on Sunday evening, we heard these same sentiments echoed from those around us, sharing the concerns, hurts, and brokenness of loved ones that inevitably share our thoughts this holiday season.

One thing I've learned in life is that pain and heartache cannot be avoided, and should not be avoided, because they shape and grow us in ways we cannot anticipate until we have gone through them.  I feel as though Ben and I have been spared many of the sorrows that others face, but we still feel it for them, and with them, and each experience our own little sorrows along the way.  One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, writes that there are three things she has learned to be true in life:  that we are messy, ruined people; that we are loved beyond imagining; and that we are in control of so little.

The holidays this year seem to be a reminder of that for me.  In the midst of celebrating the holiday, I cannot hold back the hurt that will inevitably enter the lives of those I love,  and I can't solve the world's problems, or even my own, at times.  But I can trust that along with the hard times, come good times, and that I am loved beyond what I can understand.   Along with the bitter, comes the sweet, and when it feels as though it has been raining forever, the sun breaks through.

I think it's fitting, somehow, that pain enters the holiday season.  Jesus' birth was likely not a beautiful, cozy, peaceful event.  It was a birth - and that means messy, dirty, painful, and certainly not silent.  There was hay, barn dirt, farm animals, and I'm sure more than a little fear and uncertainty in Mary and Joseph's minds about what was going to happen next.  An empire, the status quo, and old ways were being overthrown - and a new way of loving God and each other was being ushered in - with this painful, beautiful, messy birth of a baby boy named Jesus.

Sometimes I think about what I would say to my younger self, looking back at the past couple years of my life.  The thing I usually settle on is something like this - "Don't be afraid.  Yes, there are hard times in life, there will be anxiety, fear of not measuring up, and brokenness in relationships and lives.  That comes with the territory.  But there are also joyful moments, so full of life and love and amazement that you have to be thankful for the painful ones because they help you to realize and fully experience joy with a thankful heart."

If you're also feeling the weight of brokenness along with the joy this season, let these words be for you too.  Experience the bitter along with the sweet, the night along with the morning.  Let the hurt draw you close to the One who entered the world to bring a kind of love to your life that cannot measured or held, but must be received and given.

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