We purchased the gifts and wrapped them. We planned menus, purchased loads and loads of food, and baked ourselves silly. We cleaned the house and made all the beds, and then we waited.
As we sat on the coach, staring at Netflix, the texts started to come in.
“We’re checked in at the hotel! See you in the morning!”
“Our flight just landed!”
“We should be there in an hour!”
And then our family started rolling in — from Ohio, from Massachusetts, from Missouri.
We hugged, we laughed, and we ate.
We puzzled; we played games. We did crafts, watched movies, and traveled to celebrate with even more family.
It sounds like what most families do over the holidays, but I suppose many families, like ours, can get together like this only because of a string of miracles — only because of choosing forgiveness, of going to therapy, and of healing and time and the stubborn belief that things get better.
Didn’t you, too, have the holiday where everyone was yelling at each another?
And the one where no one spoke a word?
And the one where everyone walked out of church sobbing?
And the one where some decided they just. couldn’t. do it — not this year.
And then there was the covid year (or years — who remembers?) where we packed presents into flat rate boxes and stood in line for hours at the post office, hoping our parcels would get there before Easter. The year (or was it two?) where we sat in Zoom rooms with family members, some of us trying not to hog the air time, others trying to endure those who were hogging the air time.
It seems after all those difficult years we might have stopped believing that we could once again be all in one space, laughing, eating, agreeing on what to watch, moving upstairs to open the gifts, and leaning together over a puzzle, snacking on chips and rock candy and cookies.
But we didn’t stop believing — really — did we?
Didn’t we keep hoping for the day when all the therapy would pay off? Didn’t we long for the moment when we all laughed at the same joke, all smiled at the same memory, all managed to load ourselves and our gifts and bags full of food into cars only to discover most of the way there that we had left the main dish warming in the oven and no one lost their shit but we rebounded easily, picking up take out on the way?
Didn’t we imagine it could happen? Didn’t we dream it?
And so I’m sitting here pinching myself, trying to believe that it actually happened. And someone in the Christmas 2022 group chat sends a text checking on someone else who left the festivities feeling subpar. Another sends a pic of a present that broke upon opening, and everyone laughs. More pics are shared, more laughter, and then a commitment to what we will do next year.
They want to do it again next year.
I need a moment to just take that in.
Every family relationship doesn’t get this gift, does it? We don’t all get the moments we prayed for.
Don’t we all have at least one relationship where we do all the initiating? where tender topics are avoided? where our hearts ache with disappointment at the end of each phone call? where we can’t shake the feeling of being unwanted?
In fact, I was sitting in therapy the very day that the last of our family left, on the come down, for sure, and all I managed was, “our Christmas was amazing, but this one relationship over here still sucks and that’s all I can think about.”
And over the hour of belaboring the one less-than-stellar relationship I have spent most of my life bemoaning, my therapist offered suggestions, role-playing, expectation-setting, and the like, and near the end of the session, I began to realize that the beauty we experienced with our family at Christmas didn’t come without the hard work of many — of all of us, really.
I can’t expect this other relationship to magically transform on its own. If I want something different, I’ll need to return — to my knees, to forgiveness, to therapy, to the stubborn belief that things can get better.
It’s risky — even just the hoping for change — because happy endings or even happy moments are not guaranteed. I might experience disappointment — again.
But I might risk hoping, and a series of miracles might just happen. We might laugh at the same joke or smile at the same memory. We might play a game together or lean toward each other over a puzzle. We might agree on a movie. We might enjoy a meal.
And it might be amazing.
Witnessing the string of miracles that led to an amazing Christmas has me thinking that I just might risk hoping again.
[He] is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of”Ephesians 3:20