Holiday depression · Spirituality

Finding Joy

Words of Joy are all around me as I plow forward into 2021. My fellow writer Kay Whately is planning on delving into all the verses in the Bible related to joy on her blog. I received a festive mug from my friend Lisa that proudly proclaims Joy across the front. And on one of my few shopping trips before Christmas, I picked up a cute decoration for my kitchen windowsill of three smiling snowmen, each holding up a letter for JOY. They have greeted me each morning as I stumble in for my morning coffee.

With all these reminders, why does JOY seem out of reach?

I felt joy when I directed Handel’s Messiah in my tiny kitchen as I baked pound cakes for Christmas. My heart swelled with the glory of the music and the anticipation of the approaching holiday season. But December 25th came and went and the lights and decorations were put back in their boxes and carried to the attic. The cold rain has begun and a gloomy Covid winter stretches before me. Our country continues to be divided and the hate and finger-pointing never cease. I’m struggling to catch hold of joy.

I picked up a book from my shelf by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, and this quote jumped out at me:

My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet. (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

I let that roll around in my head for a while and I thought about how closely love, joy and peace are bound to each other. It’s hard to have one without the other, kind of like bacon, tomatoes and mayonnaise. They are listed as the first of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If I concentrate on these other areas — being more patient, kind, gentle and self-controlled – will joy follow? If I focus on loving more, will I become more joyful? If I put feet to my peace by writing a note to someone or helping at the food giveaway, will I feel happier?

Joy seems to show up when I’m not looking for it, hiding behind the clouds or under a blanket of weariness. It nudges me when I dare to hope that tomorrow will be brighter and teases me when I let go of the circumstances I can’t control and trust God. When I start to recognize the Holy Spirit living inside me, it sneaks its hand out and gives me a high-five.

Today the sun is out and peace, love and joy have slid in. Just in case, I left the smiling snowmen out on my kitchen window. I need their reminder to keep looking for Joy to show up when I don’t expect it.

Christianity · Christmas · Holiday depression · Uncategorized

Not a Hallmark Movie

I have a confession to make –  I do not love Hallmark Christmas movies. I know this will come as a shock to my many friends who love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a cold winter night and being transported to a world where everyone lives in beautifully decorated homes filled to the brim with lights and wreaths. The women in these movies wake up with their makeup perfectly done so that they can jump into their designer clothes and pull gingerbread cookies out of the oven. The handsome men wear suits and have styled hair, Christmas Day always has snow and turkeys are placed on the table perfectly browned.  Ugh.

These movies depress me because my reality is closer to Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chases’s classic comedy about the earnest bumbler trying too hard to have the perfect holiday. In spite of everyone’s hard work, the family is getting on each other’s last nerve, the turkey is so overcooked it falls away to nothing, and a squirrel runs out of the Christmas tree. The mother, Ellen, sums it up when she says, “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”

Part of my problem is that my Christmases growing up were pretty ideal. My mother, like most of the moms I knew, was a homemaker and worked hard at having a perfect Christmas for us. While I was at school she decorated the house, bought and wrapped the gifts, and baked cakes and pies. On Christmas morning I awoke to see that Santa had come and put a plethora of dolls and toys and clothes across the chairs in the living room for my sister and me. Mama and my grandparents looked on sleepily while Daddy filmed away on his home movie camera.

With our new baby strollers, 1962

The night before, Mama had set the dining room table with the soft white tablecloth and the good china, had placed card tables in the living room with colorful red tablecloths and put the huge coffee percolator on the kitchen counter. Now all she had to do was get herself dressed, clean up the breakfast dishes, fix the macaroni and cheese and put the fatback in the green beans. The extended family would arrive with lots of hugs and kisses and loud talking and we would eat and then watch while our grandparents opened their presents. The day would end for me stretched in front of the TV.

Now as the holiday season begins I feel the Christmas depression waiting in the background, ready to creep in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy many things about this time of year. I love the music, lights, special programs at church, and time with friends and family. But mixed in with the joy of the season are often tears just on the surface for reasons I can’t explain. They come from a mixture of nostalgia for those perfect Christmases of my childhood, sadness over the loved ones who are no longer here and feelings of inadequacy for falling short of the Hallmark movie ideal.

I suspect others feel this way too. During these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everything in life is magnified, as if we were all living inside a giant snow globe. If we are having financial difficulties, the constant barrage of ads and expectations for gifts makes it worse. If we are struggling with our weight or with drinking too much, the gifts of goodies and special dinners put more temptation in our way. If we have lost a loved one the memories of past years make the grief that much more to bear. If we are far from our families, or have very few family members at all, then the loneliness comes barreling out at us in a way that is hard to ignore. If our family is in any way short of the perfection shown on the commercials and Hallmark movies, then we feel even more like failures.

I’m working on not expecting so much of myself this year. I still love putting up the tree with all of its ornaments that remind me of people I love and memories of family times together, but other than slapping a few wreaths on the front windows, that is the extent of my decorating. I’m making sure to get to bed on time and to keep up my running and to not overindulge at every tray of Christmas cookies. Even when my schedule gets busier than usual, I’m keeping my appointment with God each morning and I’m concentrating on doing what I can for others.

I know that I will have times that I feel down and I’m okay with that. God will be there for me and together we will wobble through. After all, I have lots in my life to be thankful for and I don’t want to let past memories overshadow that.

The following verses are on my phone wallpaper for this holiday season and they remind me that God will carry me through until I can breathe a sigh and get back to normal in January: