for when you don’t feel like dancing…

Back when I was in college in the late 1990s (ahem, has it been that long?!?) my roommates and I choreographed and put on a wonderful Christmas dance to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You…”

It was a dance in four parts and my friends Jamie, Jennifer and I were the steady three and our fourth was made up of our other roommate at the time (Beth, Wendy, Rebekah and I think Emily even filled in a few times).

I don’t mean to brag, but this dance was kind of a big deal. Let’s just say that there were some life size candy canes involved and the dance featured high, high energy, Rockette kicks, a peel off and some pretty elaborate footwork like the Chinese Checkers and portions of some old cheerleading routines. There may have also been a pyramid!

{***edited to add*** Last night, after re-reading this I was reminded that we also included what was called The Box from an Eric Nies dance/aerobics video called The Grind: Fitness with Flava.}

We also hosted a yearly Christmas dinner for our then boyfriends or crushes and we’d make them dinner and then force them to watch showcase our fun dance. But we didn’t wait for that specific dinner to do the dance; basically we’d do it for anyone who would come by our apartment. I could literally sit here and list close to 50 people we have performed for. Each year, the dance grew more popular, more elaborate and more professional looking perfected.

I love the memories of these college days and the good times involved in learning and practicing and performing that dance. I love it so much that when I became a mother, as a gift to my children, I perform that dance for my own kids as a way of kicking off the Christmas season so to speak.

A few years into the gig, I began teaching the girls the steps and now they do parts of the dance right along with me. It’s basically our warm up music to getting into the Christmas spirit.

These photographs (and memories) will serve as fodder for the hours of therapy my kids will need when they are older. I can hear the counselor now, “So your mother did a dance full of high kicks and expected you to join in every Christmas before you’d decorate the tree? Tell me how that made you feel…”

Anyway.

As most of our friends and family know by now, Ryan left for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan only two days before Christmas in 2012.

Man, it was tough. For weeks leading up to that Christmas I was faking smiles and pretending to be okay with the separation, but on the inside my heart was breaking. I did my dance, but I didn’t mean it.

I literally couldn’t hear Christmas carols without breaking down in tears…

“Have Your Self a Merry Little Christmas…” (nope)

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas…if the fates allow…” (well forget you ‘fate,’ in 2012 you didn’t allow)

I held things together for the kids, but I absolutely did NOT look forward to Christmas in 2012. We had to change up everything. We opened gifts on December 17 and it felt fake and manufactured to do “Santa” so early. And the tension of the deployment was almost palatable. It’s this weird dynamic of “please just go ahead and leave, rip off the bandaid” and yet, “please don’t leave, I can’t stand not having you in my arms for nine months.”

And on the morning of December 23, we took Ryan to his building and said our goodbyes.

On Christmas Eve he was praying at a military welcome center before they took off from U.S. soil.

I made a pathetic little Christmas dinner for me and the kids and fought back tears. I was giving myself nearly constant pep-talks of “YOU CAN DO THIS. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. THIS IS HAPPENING. SO SUCK IT UP.”

After a dinner that no one ate, we went to a Christmas Eve candlelight service on Fort Bliss.

 {the world’s bravest children}

 The next morning we drove to the airport and planned to land in Chattanooga around 5:00 pm on Christmas Day.

But that was not to be. What began as a delay and short layover turned into an entirely shut down airport at Dallas/Fort Worth. We were in that airport from 2:00 pm, until after 2:00 am where we finally found a flight that would get us as close as Atlanta. My awesome dad drove to pick us up at nearly 4:00 am.

Sleeping at the airport with thousands of your closest friends really is the suckiest thing you could imagine. Except the kids were the only ones who slept. Do you really think I’m leaving those babies unattended in a strange airport brimming with strangers? Not on your life.

Anyway I say alllllllllll of that to say that our Christmas in 2012 wasn’t the best on record. It started the beginning of a long separation from Ryan. And I just knew that by 2013 I was going to be so happy to celebrate Christmas.

However, when the holiday season for 2013 rolled around, I literally could NOT find my joy.

*****

Looking back, I know it was a combination of Ryan’s re-integration into the home that was still in process. It was also one of our busiest fall seasons on record with travel, vacations and many, many visitors. It was also one of another long, somewhat stressful trips home that would last almost an entire month.

Christmas 2013 brought up all those old feelings of fear, worry, anxiety and restlessness that I dealt with the year before. And I’ll be honest, those feelings stumped me.

WHY IN THE WORLD could I not be happy?

Ryan was home this year for crying out loud?

Why could I not rejoice in that fact?

Or the fact that we were visiting family for a long, long trip?

I don’t know (and may never know) the answers.

But Christmas 2013 didn’t feel like Christmas to me.

I didn’t send out Christmas cards (which I have done every year since 2001).

I didn’t put up our Christmas tree (which I have done every year since 2001).

And I didn’t feel like doing my dance.

In 2013 I didn’t feel like celebrating, or rejoicing, or dancing. No, not at all. Not in the least.

*****

And although I am eternally thankful that the Lord saw me through that season, I know that there are so very many hurting people this time of year.

 

The reasons are varied.

 

Some are dealing with the loss of unborn children. Others are dealing with children sick in the hospital undergoing life saving chemotherapy. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones or mourning the changes of aging parents. Another walks with her mother through the journey of a diagnosis.

 

Some people are lonely through divorce or separation. Others may be dealing with depression or sadness over a move or new transition.

 

For whatever reason, there has been a loss of hope. And if you’re in that predicament, well, frankly, it stinks!

 

And while I don’t know the outcome of your particular situation, I know the One who does. I know the One who is Faithful and True. He can be a Restorer of Joy and a Giver of Life even in the midst of pain and suffering or confusion.

 

Last year, during advent I read through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. The first section of the book deals with the theme of waiting. Oh how difficult it is to wait when we don’t see the end in sight. Oh how hard it is to trust Him when we don’t know the outcome.

 

In a letter to his fiancee Maria von Wedemeyer in 1943, Bonhoeffer writes:

 

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: ‘We’re beggars; it’s true.’ The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”

 

In that excerpt, I am reminded that God can still be glorified when we have nothing left to give. The more empty, broken, hollow and lost we may feel, the more He can be exalted and His name can be lifted high. In our waiting, we learn to depend on the grace, mercy and faithfulness of a Holy God.

 

I love Psalm 62:5-8. It says:

 

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust him in all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” 

Maybe this year you are in a place of grief. Perhaps the elusive joy of the holidays is already escaping your grasp. Possibly this year, you just don’t have it in your heart to break out your giant candy canes and do your dance. I know last year, I didn’t.

 

It’s okay. When Jesus came to this earth over 2,000 years ago, he didn’t come here dancing and high kicking. He came by way of a manger.

Maybe this is your year to hide in Him. Set aside your dancing shoes. You may find them again next year. For now, just abide. Just wait. Enjoy His mercy.

*****

“God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.” {D.B.}

*****

He can be a Restorer of Joy and a Giver of Life. And He is!

Merry Christmas Thomas, Mae and Kate. Your mother loves you.

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