The Perfect Present

A survivor’s guide for Christmas and…Other Holidays.

by Al Newell

It was Mother’s Day. The speaker said Mother’s Day is not a source of celebration for everyone. Many mothers have lost children or unable to have children. I listened. My heart hurt for those women. That was years ago. A part of me now dreads Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Then there’s Christmas.

Christmas lights illuminate my spirit. Christmas movies give me great joy. It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf are two of my favorites. I love Christmas. Yet, like many people, my pain also multiplies at Christmas. At times my life doesn’t seem so wonderful. For many depression, negative thoughts and overall mental anguish throbs. As a dad who suffered the sudden unimaginable loss of his daughter, may I humbly offer a few suggestions on surviving this Christmas and other holidays?

It’s okay to grieve at Christmas. I asked a friend, who twelve years prior had lost his sister, to tell me how his Christian parents survived the loss of an adult daughter. His words rocked me, “My parents are a little less raw today.” Twelve years and a little less raw— I thought. “How will we survive?” The words that rocked my soul, today serve to comfort me as they made me realize I’m normal. It’s okay to cry and grieve not only during holidays but even at parties.

Understand who actually came at Christmas. It wasn’t Santa Claus bearing superfluous gifts, low interest credit cards and increase feelings of condemnation over gifts, I couldn’t afford, cards I couldn’t send and lights I couldn’t hang. It wasn’t an obnoxious man playing loud Christmas music cajoling me to get with the Christmas spirit.

No actually, the child that was born became the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It’s so easy to miss this amazing truth: The very reason He came was to share my suffering, engage my sorrow, forgive my sin and hold my hand. That’s what Christmas is about. Are you able to hear that gentle Christmas carol up on your roof top? Can you picture His arms open wide delivering that gift to you?

Don’t do it alone. Amy went be with Jesus a few days before Father’s Day 2011. How I would have loved to grieve, mourn and scream that Father’s day, but I was forced to be a medic without an arm attempting triage with no training. I felt so desperately alone. Not a person could possibly understand. Do you ever feel like that? That the physical, emotional, or spiritual pain is so deep that you want to avoid people? That feeling “that no one understands” caused Wendy, my wife and I to reason that we would be better off trying to navigate our first Thanksgiving after Amy’s passing by ourselves. That was a terrible mistake. Our isolation only amplified the pain. If you have the option to be with people during the Holidays, do it. Phone, text, or through webcam, or attend a Christmas service. If you are deeply grieving, anything’s better than isolation.

Say yes to help. Grieving is one thing, despair is another. It can spiral downward and cause me to think no one cares; it causes me to reject offers of help from others. That’s a mistake. Some of us have been hurt so badly by others, we become like a porcupine, raising our quills as defense against anyone who would reach out. If someone offers to serve you, let them. If they invite you over, take them up on it. Together is God’s Design. God’s heart and hands are extended to us through the body of Christ. I have learned just how desperately I need the body of Christ. It is often my lack of humility that keeps God’s heart from reaching my pain.

Really, Lord? A few weeks ago, I was sitting watching football on our couch. My two-year old granddaughter, Jael dropped popcorn on my lap that fell down the side of the couch. I retrieved the popcorn and in doing so, I felt an object, so I pulled it out. It was a tiny wrapped Christmas present with a label:

To: Amy Fry: Mama.

REALLY, Lord? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THIS? I left it wrapped and contemplated what I should do, knowing it would cause Wendy great pain. Many days later, at the precise moment, I felt God’s urging to show Wendy. She opened the gift that Amy never opened. Beneath the wrapping was a 2”x 4” magnet with imprinted with a picture of a museum in Chicago that Wendy and Amy had visited in 2003. She wept. I cried. The little unopened Christmas present proved to be a symbol of the many adventures that they both shared. Wendy has no idea when she purchased that gift, but it is likely that it was Christmas of 2003. Yet, it was opened on the perfect day at the perfect time, a powerful reminder of God’s perfect ongoing presence in the midst of our pain.

The man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, the perfect present to meet our pain. That’s what I mean this year when I say, Merry Christmas.

Maybe if in some way you have experienced this comfort you could pass it on by reaching out to someone you know who needs to experience the man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief.

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