Struggling with the Season

The Holidays.  
and what most of us know as 
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. 

The simple phrase above embarks us down memory lane of holiday cheer, hot chocolate and marshmallows, family traditions, and so much more.  Just the thought of the holiday season spreads a grin on faces from ear to ear from ages young and old.  Since becoming a parent, it seems like everything is magnified to a joy that I never knew possible as seeing the world through my baby's eyes.  The sheer joy at the tiniest things; the excitement of Santa's reindeer landing on our roof; searching and wrapping those much wanted gifts for our loved ones; planning holiday traditions and activities to watch those eyes all a glow.  When my grandmother was still with us, I felt the same exact joy watching her open gifts, prepare for Christmas, and get giddy about celebrations.  The holidays really are for the young and old.  

But this year, my heart is is feeling a bit unusually heavy for this time of year.  That heaviness is a bizarre cross of a wide span of emotion derived directly from my pure state of joy and excitement at watching the season through my three year old's eyes, as it seems that we have encroached upon the PRIME time of Santa infatuation and the mystified glow of holiday sights, and sadness for those families who are struggling to make ends meet, or the lonely hearts beating through the holidays without anyone to make memories with.   It's such a strange feeling to feel so overwhelmed with joy and so broken-hearted in compassion for those who are struggling to make it their season bright.

Earlier this week (this was written in the midst of the ice storm over the weekend), I had to head to the grocery store with both girls in tow to stock up on groceries for the weekend to prepare for the incoming weather.  Adam was gone and my list was far longer than an infant carrier and one cart could hold.  Luckily, my mom was right down the street and met me in the store to help out.  She took Preslie off of my hands by bringing this little hand-decorated bell shaped ornament off a tree.  On the back was a sticker typed with a few words.  Simply put, it was a specific need for a little boy around Preslie's age and his one, ONE, Christmas request:  a Jake and the Neverland Pirates toy.  My mom showed it to me, then to Preslie.  My eyes welled as I turned away.  The pain too much to hide, although I am pretty sure I mastered it quite well.  My mom explained to her what they were going to do, and Preslie was SO EXCITED to help.  They walked away and I stood there for a second doing everything I could to prevent a tear from falling because I knew once one fell, many would follow. 

It hit me then like a ton of bricks.  The obvious.  What I know, but what I seem to easily block out.  The heartbreak of this world, the reality outside of my seemingly perfect bubble, the life that exists beyond the majority of my problems in which are easily be dubbed "First World Problems."   I am reminded just how beautifully blessed my life is, and in an odd twist, almost feel guilty for those blessings.

In the years past, despite having Preslie, she had yet to grasp what the season was about.  I could truly get away with getting her a book and she would have been beyond pleased.  She just wasn't old enough to really get it.  And of course years prior, I knew the sadness of children who don't have Santa and I always had compassion and sadness, but still--I didn't have kids; I didn't fully grasp the heartbreak a parent could provide a magical Christmas for their children.  The hurt, alone.  Now that I have Preslie and I experience first hand the joy of everything that comes with Christmas, and I am not just talking Santa, my heart is pierced with pain for those children out there who know the same exact stories that my little girl knows, but are told immediately that there is no Santa because if they expect Santa on Christmas Eve, they will be sorely disappointed to find that he skipped their house because his parents needed to buy food or warm coats instead.  Or those children who despite being told that there is no Santa, they still believe because they want to believe, but he never fulfills their fantasies despite hoping and wishing.  They want to see a "Christmas Miracle;" they want to experience the joy of celebrating Jesus's birthday and the tradition just like all the kids around them do.  This has nothing to do with families who choose not to do Santa for religious beliefs; it has to do with children who wake up to no gifts and the same old day because their families can't afford gifts.  Not just for Christmas, but their birthdays too.  My heart just can't take it. 

A few days before our shopping trip, my feelings were foreshadowed as I sung along to the Christmas classic... 

"Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, 
Will find it hard to sleep tonight. 

They know that Santa's on his way; 
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. 
And every mother's child is going to spy, 
To see if reindeer really know how to fly."

I was overcome with emotion on this particular day, not as much thinking about the toyless children who tug at my heart strings, but also the moment I am living in today.  Soon, my toddler will grow into a pre-teen, then a teenager, then she will be off at college far from my reach and daily hugs.  I want to savor these days in every and any way possible.  Is there anything, ANYTHING more special than seeing your own tot with their eyes all aglow?  Whether it's Disney World, Rudolph, or the world's mighty wonders, there is nothing that trumps the wide-eyed glow of a toddler experiencing something new and magical.  I know this season is bringing many firsts that I can identify with myself; memories of where I swore that I heard Santa and his reindeer on my roof; moments where I began to realize that Santa may not be real, but believed anyways because I wanted to hold onto my innocence with everything I had.  

For some reason this season, I can't listen to one of my favorite classic Christmas songs without bursting into emotion.  From never wanting to forget that glow in Preslie's eyes to those sweet children who sing this song but know that Santa has no toys and goodies on his sleigh with their names, my heart can't decide whether it's full from sheer delight or utter sadness that I can't give a toy to every single needy child on this earth.

I think that video has been the proverbial icing on the cake. 

 That sums up exactly how I feel.  I don't want my babies to EVER grow up--it goes along with my past post about how my earthly, motherly instincts want to protect them from hurt and pain and my realistic, spiritual self knows that experiencing pain allows them to have personal growth, much like this inspiring article explains what's wrong with today's parenting style.  I am tempted to write, "Don't we all have a Christmas where we can identify with these excited kids?"  But then I am struck with the reality that I am one of the fortunate ones.  So many, so, so, so many cannot relate to this commercial.  Instead, they can only dream of sitting around a Christmas tree on December 25th with their family as one, happy and loving one another. 

At times I am filled with shame that I live in this seemingly perfect bubble of fortune and blessings.  I grew up in Southlake which was coined as "The Bubble" while I zipped through my high school days--a term I never understood until I went to college.  At college, I saw culture.  I saw people struggling.  I learned a little bit more about life.  I graduated and a few years later and decided to teach.  My first job was in Irving--that's when I finally learned the magnitude of the size of that bubble that I lived the first 18 years of my life in.  It is in Irving that I learned about the depravity of the real world.  Parents jailed for life, not teenage pregnancies, but instead child pregnancies.  Twelve year old drug addicts who had been to juvenile hall for prostitution.  Fourteen year olds who buried their family pet alive.  Seventh graders missing too much school because they were their infant's siblings primary caretaker while her single mom worked to provide clothes and food for her kids.  An innocent little girl called out of class to find out that her mother and father had been picked up and deported--she was left here alone.  Reading an essay about a ten year old's journey to the US from Guatemala via coyote with her 8 year old brother--alone.  Parents waiting on the other side of the Rio Grande to retrieve them as the illegally crossed the border.  How she swam in the middle of the night, how she she was smuggled underneath the floor board of a car.  How US ranch hands on the border knew of their entrance as they accepted money to keep quiet.  I remembering reading all of this in an essay she wrote praying she wasn't abused on her way here.  All of this, the price for freedom in which I daily take advantage of.  Each of the experiences I listed above are students I, myself, had the honor of teaching--not here say, students who sat in my classroom for 187 days of the year.

Those children.  Those are the babies I think about when  I realize the darkness of this world.  Although they are 18 now, those are the eyes I see when I think of tree-less homes on Christmas morning.  I realize that it's easy to struggle with the season when Angel Trees fill the mall, the Salvation Army bells ring as we enter store upon store, Toys for Tots toy drives bombard the local news, charity upon charity reach out for help with things like filling shoeboxes with toys for children around the world.  I find myself lost in the emotion of sheer joy watching this season through my daughter's eyes paired with the reality of the sadness and the poverty in this world.

I want to save them all.  But that's not for me to do.

That's where I find Jesus.  I find him hiding out reminding me to not lose faith.  Reminding me that he is coming back and he will overcome.  He reminds me that the gospel alone can bring redemption and blessings to these children's lives that is far greater than a new toy or a visit with Santa.  Through this struggle, I have caught myself saying time after time, "If I had all the money in the world, I would buy hundreds of Angels and show them the Lord's love through compassion and love, providing them with the most perfect of perfect Christmas mornings."  Then I hang my head low, feeling like a failure reminding myself that I don't need all the money in the world to spread the gospel.

While this season reminds us of the darkness of this world, it also reminds us of God's Great Hand and all the HE is capable of.  Because as the Psalmist David said, "I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy," (Ps 140:12), I trust that those with the Lord Jesus as their God, will prevail from this loneliness in a much grandeur way.  His "unfailing love" (Ps 33:5) fills the earth; in the end, he will "bring justice to all the nations" (Mt 12:18) and the broken will become whole and beautiful, their perseverance shining before the Lord.  Feeling the brokenness for these innocent children is bitter, but it is also such a sweet reminder of why I am here on this earth:  to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ as He is the one who saves.  What am I waiting for being sad?  I need to get out their and spread his love through his message.  That will change lives more than any gift money could buy. 

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