Dearest family and friends,
I love Christmas. Anticipating Advent. Twinkly lights. The smell of pine. Crinkly wrapping paper. Red and white twine. Moss and thyme. Nativity Scenes. Chilly weather. Christmas has always felt like some kind of safe, warm and cozy bubble in which I have to emerge from every January. It’s a giant blanket woven with love and I’m grateful enough to have so many good memories around this sacred season. The world feels crowded with love.
And I love letters. Snail mail. Hand written. I get lost in the card section at Target. I love stationary and I firmly believe in the power of receiving a note in the mail box. The smell of paper and pens and sharpies and fresh envelops. Crisp and connecting. It’s connecting one part of the world to the other where your hand holds something my hand has held. There is love shared.
So naturally I love Christmas letters. I know that one might think that this practice is dead or old fashioned , but I still hold to this beautiful discipline of writing letters. I like knowing about what people are up to and about their lives and what matters to them. I like seeing their pictures pegged up on our cork board every year.
So here is my Christmas letter.
But so much of me feels this internal pressure, this performance anxiety, this inner hustle to give everyone the highlight reel of my life. The promotions, the career advancement, the house, the kids, the dog, the vacation, the-I’m-doing-it-American-dream.
Not that these things are bad inherently.
But I want everyone to know all is calm and all is bright, right?
So I cling to what is easy, and glossy, and pretty and busy. Fast and trendy, big and booming.
I assume everyone wants the PG version of my life.
You know the edited one, the filtered, air-brushed, face-tuned one. The smooth one. The one that has no edges or bumps or lumps one.
I could be very selective in what I share, just like I want to be with my feelings. But when I numb the negative feelings, I certainly lose a capacity to experience the positive feelings. And when I only share the highlight reel a bit of my humanity is lost.
I could tell you about passing my licensure exams to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
But you wouldn’t know that I studied and stressed and sweat for 6 months straight (aka 12 years total of education and gaining hours).
I could tell you that Scott’s job is going amazing and that kids are encountering Jesus and we are always well funded.
But then you wouldn’t know how terrifying it feels to live off of generosity. How hard it can feel to constantly be searching for new donors.
I could tell you this whole year was great, we moved into a bigger apartment, we adopted a fuzzy little puppy we adore, we went on an amazing trip to the United Kingdom.
But you wouldn’t know about Scott losing both his grandfathers, his mother being diagnosed with cancer, or that she is now cancer free.
You wouldn’t know that sometimes the stories I hear from my clients are so devastating that I sometimes wonder why I chose this career.
And that death, miscarriages, cancer, racism, eating disorders, affairs, poverty, addictions, suffering and the refugee crisis have no easy answer. There is no American dream that will erase this kind of pain.
I could tell you about our trip to the Grand Canyon, The Tower of London, the Castle of Edinburgh. I could tell you about zip lining over a lake, paddle boarding across smooth waters and swaying in a hammock peacefully.
But would you know about our more ordinary things, the bills, our head colds, the jet lag, our piles of laundry, our cars needing oil changes and our puppy needing a bath.
All might be calm and bright.
But it’s also hard.
It’s brutal. And it’s beautiful.
And it’s also ordinary and just meh.
And I think about what this holiday season ushers into us with gusto and grandiosity. Large Christmas trees and beckoning sales and lists and more to do and loud and blaring and chaotic and holiday parties and that little black dress and family and frenzied plans and flights and gift exchanges and candy canes and flashing lights and red lips and on and on and on.
This holiday season in America invites the chaos with open arms and open mouths and dazed eyes.
We've got clenched fists and are practically out of our wits.
We can’t see or feel what it’s really about because we are numb. And it’s too scary to talk about ordinary or hard or brutal or how it really is because Christmas is shiny and pretty and glittery and sparkly gold and BE MERRY nearly screams in our ears as we count down to Christmas.
Our trip to the United Kingdom was wonderful and beautiful. And while there have been thin places and gaping holes in the canvas that is our year, our trip was not one of them. Scotland is filled with rolling brilliant green hills; freckled with little white fuzzy dots. The sheep that filled the countryside laid around and munched on grass or simply stared off into space. It spun me back to a navy blue sky scattered with twinkly lights, fields and a chilly breeze.
Shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night.
The starry filled sky opened up with angels and good news.
And the good news was a tiny little baby. A small heartbeat. Shrill screams. Good news was scratchy hay and a smelly stable and not enough room inside.
This isn’t my exegesis on Luke 2 but I have to wonder if the holy and sacred might begin with small and quiet and listening and wonder. Not loud, straining, hustling and bustling.
I feel like it might be more honest and raw than we were are willing to see.
Here comes God riding on the small and uncertain, the hard and terrifying, the so-not-ready-for-this, the unfiltered, the mundane, the not-enough-space for you, the sacred ordinary.
We can just be sheep who bear witness to the miraculous falling out of the sky. The divine shaped to a fetal ball rolling and breaking and pushing into our world. A Savior who is Christ the Lord.
The good news is here.
The sacred is now.
And the beautiful.
As the acute and colorful holiday chaos rush past me I will sit on the fields of my mind staring up at the velvet night sky. Sheep do not hustle by any stretch of the imagination. They are fuzzy and wooly and dirty. They don’t boast of polished or glossy anything. Much of what they do is receive. And My Christmas letter, as for this year, will just point you back to the sky, to the rolling hills, to the scattered sheep, to the night that everything changed for us.
The Shepherd who holds the lambs. Who holds you in all your beautiful imperfections and stunning brokenness and earth shattering value. Who holds you through it all.
The Shepherd hold you through your whole year of brutal and beautiful.
Frayed and fragile.
Brave and bountiful.
Kind and connected.
Scared and white knuckling through.
The Shepherd doesn’t need you to perform or hustle or strive this Christmas.
And if we aren’t looking and getting quiet and curious, we’ll miss it. The being held. The sheep. The good news. The Shepherd. I don’t want to miss it. So take a deep breath and uncurl your fingers just like a baby did so many years ago, and let Christmas hold you.
Love, Heather and Scott and Leonard