06 Dec How my Christmas Sorrow was Replaced by Christ’s Joy

I’m just gonna level with ya—the holiday season wasn’t all that jolly when I was a boy.  The first Christmas morning memory I have from when I was a kiddo?

Only Mom and I were awake.  As she stirred scrambled eggs in the kitchen, she sported tell-tale, worry lines across her brow.  While I tried to play with my new action figure, on our wingback chair twenty feet from Ma, I repeatedly stole glances looked at her.  A slew of questions interrupted my make-believe:

Was her jaw set because my oldest brother had disappeared with his drug dealer again?

Did her hands shake with the knowledge that folks across the big-small town we lived in spoke about my brother’s final expulsion from high school?

Were her eyes watery ‘cause of Dad’s then-addictions?

For me, Christmas meant stress.  That changed the winter of ’86.

After receiving Christ in the late summer (“Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior….”*), when Christmas Eve came I felt the strangest of emotions…

Joy!

While I still had to attend the drunk-fest known as “Christmas Eve at Aunt Joyce’s House,” I did so whilst sporting a small, round “Happy Birthday Jesus!” button.  As I wandered around through the frowning faces, the weight of the scene left me.

It didn’t bother me so much that most of my older cousins were tripping on various substances (as sad as that was).  It did not hurt as badly that my sad-sack uncles, with bleary-eyes, slurred racist jokes (as horribly inappropriate as their Cro-Magnon beliefs were).

Something about having Christ in my soul—about knowing that my real Home was in Heaven and He had my best interests at heart on earth—produced what approximated a “peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7).”

15.5 years of yuletide sadness fell from my shoulders.  Then things got awesome.

That same year Mom recommitted her life to Christ with a prayer that went something like this:

“Lord Jesus, I’ve fallen away from you.  I’ve tried to take the wheel.  But you know best.  Thank you that you’ve “never left or forsaken me.”  I want you to take the wheel of my life again.” ‘’

Then she got she in a vibrant church, growing, Bible-believing and preaching church—one that had a fun-yet-Christlike youth group.  She and I started reading our Bibles!

My aged, addicted, abusive grandfather must’ve seen the difference in his youngest child, for one evening—after watching Billy Graham on TV (much to the dismay of my New Age step-grandma—ol’ George “Skid” Green, the onetime, drunken brawler called my Ma, bawling.  Grandpa Green had finally prayed the sinner’s prayer:

The eighty-something year-old fella who formerly hated other races, cheated on his first wife, and once (that I know about) slapped my real grandma around?  He became kind to the minority orderlies who took care of him, and his four children, who finally got to hear them say “I love you.”

Skid Green might’ve made poor choices for many years, but he ended well.

Five years went by before my saintly sister realized that handsome men, beautiful things, and pricey cars did not fill the Christ-shaped vacuum in her heart.  “Sissy” started attending a dynamic church.  Though the rest of her own, small family didn’t always make good choices, my sister kept growing.  Her earthly pain is still trumped by Heavenly hope.

It took about nine years for Dad to finally recommit his life to Jesus.  In the following 72 months—consistently going to church, reading his Bible, and pleading with God to change him—Pa’s maintenance drinking and leering stares at other women evaporated into the ether.

For the last 20 years of his life, my father was an awesome man—one I could finally look up to.

If I’m honest with you, there are a still a few hours, every Christmas vacation, where a bit of melancholy swoops over me.  Perhaps it’s the enemy of my soul, whispering into old wounds.  Maybe it’s just my wiring—blessed & cursed to feel things a little more deeply than most.

Be that as it may, my bundle of wounded minutes always gives way… broken up by the One Who Lives in my Heart:

He shows me the manger ornament that Jill and I received our first Christmas as newlyweds.

He brings the same Christmas songs—which, as I child, I’d droned in our then-dead church—to life on Christmas Eve.

He speaks to me through His word (especially the Psalms) and easily palatable devotionals (like Jesus Calling, amirite?).

And He loves me enough to keep changing me, from the inside out, into more and more of the man He has planned for me to be.

Christmas is different now.

So, so much better.