Washing Down Antidepressants with Eggnog

sad_santa_57639661Kent and I slept through the same sermons every Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Shamrock, Texas. Our butts bruised their way down many a ski slope together. We hunted turkeys by day and raccoons by night. And we bragged about how many girls we’d kissed (though I’m pretty sure we both grossly inflated the numbers). His older brother dated my older sister, and, especially in middle school, we both greatly delighted in being as obnoxious as possible when we were around them. Kent was a little guy but a force to reckoned with on the football field or basketball court. He was smart, likable, an overall good kid and great friend.

I was unloading a truck at the feed store in town when my mom pulled up one day in late December to tell me that, on his birthday, Kent had put a gun to his head and pulled shut the door to life. Were I to outlive Methuselah, it would still seem like yesterday. It’s one of those moments welded into my memory. Shock and fear and anger and guilt and emotions I didn’t even know were in me—they all came cascading out. A few days later, I, but a teenager, helped bear his teenage casket out of the church, into a world that blinked at us with a potpourri of festive lights that seemed a blasphemy of joy in the vortex of our grief.

Almost a decade later, the parsonage phone rang way too early one Saturday morning. I knew the instant Dale began to speak that whatever he said next would be wounded words. A police officer had knocked on the door of the family’s country home earlier that morning. Dale and Roxie’s twenty year old son had fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a guardrail, and been thrown from his pickup. Snow and ice blanketed the town on the day we laid Dewayne’s body to rest. It was December 26. And the day before, as I and my fellow mourners at St. Paul Lutheran church pretended to celebrate our Lord’s Nativity, every happy hymn, every joyful carol, was dragged from our lips like a dirge, and the sanctuary liquefied into one vast sea of tears.

I think, for most people, Christmas is the best of times and the worst of times. When I was a boy, I was unacquainted with the cruel nonchalance with which evil disregards the festival calendar. I knew nothing of tear-laden birthday parties and pill-popping Christmases. I sat on Santa’s lap and told him what I wanted under the tree. My family was all together on that happy morning. We all had colorful wrapping paper strewn about our feet when it was all over, new toys to play with, a feast to consume. Christmas was the best of times. And for those sweet boyhood memories, I am everlastingly grateful.

But I know now the darker side of Christmas, the gloom beneath the glitter, a side many of you reading this know all too well. Every December I think of the family of Kent, and the family of Dewayne, and the what-might-have-been memories that must rise to the surface every time the tree goes up and carols flood the airwaves. And though the grief is of a different kind, I think of all the families of broken marriages, of which mine is a part. The Hallmark scene of eager children waking their mom and dad early on Christmas morning to open the gifts isn’t possible when dad is living hours away, and mom’s newest boyfriend doesn’t appreciate some kid jumping in bed with them, especially when he’s nursing a hangover.

Perhaps part of the mistake we’ve made is in forgetting that the first Christmas, the actual birthday of Jesus, started out as the worst of times. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because of taxes, because the money-hungry, tyrannical Roman overlords had forced them to undertake this journey when no pregnant woman should be on the road. No warm, sanitized room awaited them after their trip, but a cold, dark barn. When this young mother went into labor, where was she supposed to lay down to give birth? On rough hay littered with cow crap? Where’d they get light? Warm water? Cloths to clean up the blood? It’s a wonder both mother and child didn’t die that night. The original crèche must have looked like a rural crime scene. This is not the way any baby, least of all Jesus, should have been born.

And yet it was. Far from home, in the dark, in the cold, in the mess, in the blood, in the shit of this world, God was born.

That’s a Christmas story I like, for it’s one I can identify with. More than that, it’s a story that gives meaning and hope to our own dark, cold, bloody, shitty stories of Christmases that seem anything but joyful. For it was on this night that God began to teach us that we don’t need to have a Hallmark Christmas to find peace and contentment and joy in him.

For Christmas is not about presents. It’s not even about family and friends. It’s about God taking on our flesh and blood, being born as one of us, to share our griefs, to bear our sorrows, and to unite us to himself, that we might find in our griefs and sorrows him. There’s a reason he’s called a “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.” The first sound leaving our newborn Lord’s lips would have been a cry. How fitting is that? God knows what it means to weep, to hurt, to suffer loneliness, anger, loss, and, yes, even the pangs of death. You do not have a Savior unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who has experienced them all, so that no matter what your own hurt, he redeems it, and carries you through it.

All I want for Christmas is a God like that.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or herefor The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

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12 thoughts on “Washing Down Antidepressants with Eggnog

  1. This is real Christianity writing. I’ll be back. And I’ll be stalking this blog. I suspect…it might be my salvation…or at least…an assist in that direction. This was an excellent post at a time when I truly needed it.

  2. Jennifer on said:

    Raw and painfully true. Especially after today’s tragedy.

  3. I am having a terrible time with Christmas this year. I wish it were all over. I’ve been battling depression and was hospitalized the first part of Sept. Then family was helpful and concerned. Thanksgiving was awufl, my married kids all go the other way. I stayed home alone, while my husband went hunting. Now all I do is wake up angry and just can’t get past it. Christmas Eve was always the family time. Our son doesnt attend church, but lets me take his 4 and 18 mo old. Our next daughter is in nursing school, just had surgery and I was there, but her boyfriend has to work. So they’ll come up that weekend before. And my oldest is expecting her 3rd boy. He’s due in Jan, but will probably go into labaor after the 25th, they are stopping her drogs that stop the contractions. Both other boys were early. They have both made their plans with their other families, the nurse’s boyfriend family always flies them somewhere for xmas. My other daughter has decided she isn’t going anywhere, except that fir or sat beforeMy son lives here and there, sometimes with the mother of the kids, sometimes not. I will try to get his kids. But no one understands I just want to be left alone, if I could afford it, I’d go away for the whole holiday. I was raised by a dad who was a minister, this is not how our christrmases were at all. I know they will change, and I siad I would never demand a time or place. I take the leftovers. I guess this year, I’d rather pass on it all, than take the leftovers. My dr. and therapost don’t seem to understand how I feel.. where do I d=go?

    • Beth, as someone who has struggled with depression, your post struck me as something that I should not ignore today. My son is only 11, but I am the daughter of a mother who I believe is having some of your same issues.

      I stopped going to my counselor the day that he said, “You cannot change how you feel, but you CAN change your mind.” That statement really clicked with me, and I never set foot in his office again. I don’t think his intent was to get me to stop seeing him, but he did do his job in helping me get over whatever it was I was there for in the first place.

      My mother’s life is defined by her children. She has no hobbies, activities or anything other than us. I enjoy her being around, but it does bother me that she has spent her entire existence caring for us. (We are all married adults, by the way.) I want her to have other things. I want her to be selfish. I have never heard her say, “I’m doing this because I WANT TO.”

      I want to encourage you to be selfish and try to change your mindset. Ask your husband for what you want. If you’re hurt by the fact that he went hunting and left you home alone, tell him. He may not know.

      As far as what you can do on Christmas day, I might start at church. I don’t know where you live, but you can find a church with Christmas services here: http://welslocator.locatorsearch.com/ The pastors of the WELS churches have always been welcoming, and would love for you to join them.

    • Sunny Wise on said:

      Go to the Lord — He understands!

  4. Just over a month ago my husband and I delivered our too-small-to-survive baby boy. He lived minutes before passing away. We buried him 10 days later and are now designing his grave marker. Something unimaginable to us a mere two months ago. The last thing we want is the world’s Christmas…but the Christmas you describe here is exactly what we need. My deepest thanks for touching my grief and pain and soothing my soul a bit tonight.

  5. I find it refreshing, in the midst of this phony-smile, buy-more-stuff feeding frenzy, to find a true understanding of what, AND WHO, Christmas is all about. Thank you ever so much for this blog.

    I became acquainted with your blog through Lori Peck’s re-postings. (Lori is my pastor’s wife, and we’ve been Facebook friends since they were here during his vicarage).

    I would like permission to add the link to this blog to my website (MOUNTAINTOP WITNESS – http://www.ablaze4god.sharepoint.com) as well as using selected posts as devotions on the website and in the Colorado OAFC group’s COLORADO YODELER
    newsletter, which I publish. If you approve these uses, please respond to the e-mail address below.

  6. Pingback: Advent: Broken | Pages of Me

  7. Jennifer K. on said:

    just read this on a friend’s facebook page. Thank you for the reminder that Christ was born amidst the human condition to be Emmanuel! I need to hear it and so does our weary world. Thank you! Reposting and following your blog.

  8. Excellently Put. Thank you very much for reminding us of the point to the season.

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