Right when my sweet little family was gearing up for afternoons baking cookies and evenings driving around town gazing at twinkling lights we had to, instead, quickly shift gears, rearrange plans, throw clothes in suitcases, make haste. Suddenly, it was all about hustle—a verb that I fight with a vengeance during this holy season. But rather than it being about needing a little Christmas, right this very minute, it was a pressing need to get home.
My mom is, once again, fighting a battle with her body. Cancer thinks it deserves space in her bloodstream and it is acting like a big old bully. I hate cancer.
But, I figure, the best way to fight a bully is with love so my little family has slipped on our boxing gloves and we intend to go down punching. For we want to be known as people who love. We have shown up on my parent’s doorstep, even if there is but little room in the inn, and we are ready to do business.
It is Christmas time, though, and there are children here so I am trying to figure out how you patch together something that still sings of grace and glory while not ignoring the present reality. How do we take the straw we’ve been handed and spin it into something golden and magical?
The idea of stealing away for a few minutes to purchase a last minute gift seems like blasphemy and the realization that we ran out of town and never put up a Christmas tree elicits a furrowed brow and a heavy sigh. And just like that, I feel all the joy and wonder of the season melt away like last week’s snow.
The days rise and swell and then descend into darkness, each one shorter than the last. But the side effects of my mom’s chemo seem to have bottomed out and the darkness of that pit doesn’t pull her under quite as severely. Glory. We decide to stay a few days more anyway. For this is where she is and wherever she is? That is where I have always felt most at home.
It would be a lie if I said that I wasn’t scared. It would be dishonest to purport having courage that I lack immensely. But to leave would pull me away from the only thing I know to do.
So we stay.
And instead of trimming our tree, we cook pasta and meat sauce and feast around the table.
Rather than run from one commitment to another, we sit in my parents’ living room and receive folks who come bearing food and flowers and the gift of their friendship and I keep rubbing my eyes to brush away the tears and clear my vision because I swear I keep seeing angels.
And instead of worrying too terribly much about the presents that aren’t being bought, I feel overwhelmed by the incredible gift of today that keeps surprising and delighting and filling me. This very day, in all of its complete plainness and simplicity, is suddenly the greatest gift I have ever received.
I am slowly being humbled by the realization that, whether we are holding fiercely to the hands of someone who wants to cling to days this side of heaven or whether we are obstinately piloting through each week with lists of people to see and places to go, all of our joy rests in the center of each moment.
So, this Christmas, I choose to take hold of joy — the joy that the rocks and the hills and the plains can’t help but repeat. The joy that can’t be destroyed by the shadows of death or the valleys that harbor them. The joy that is right here, within my reach.
Yes. I choose joy.
I salute you!
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you,
now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
— Fra Giovanni