The wound is the place where the Light enters you.– Rumi
I have to admit that I never have been a “Christmas person“. Oh, maybe when I was a girl I loved Christmas, but as a young mom, there was always so much stress.
There were family obligations to juggle, the house to decorate, meals to plan and execute and, of course, gifts to buy. My husband and I married and had children while we were still quite young. We lived on a very tight budget. It was not easy to find the money to buy presents for three little boys, our parents and each other, even though I put aside a little bit every week into a Christmas fund. Somehow we managed, but every year, it was difficult to pull all the pieces together.
As my kids got older and left the house and money became a little more plentiful, December was still a busy time for me, due to the demands of managing several dozen students’ science fair projects at school. I regularly worked 60 – 70 hours a week, which left precious few hours for gift shopping, holiday parties, baking Christmas cookies, and other responsibilities. I always felt as though I slid into Christmas morning, harried and exhausted from completing everything on my list.
I think the event that finally completed my descent into Scrooge-dom was the death of my mom a few days before Christmas several years ago. My mom and I were always close, geographically and emotionally.
I used to call my mom every day, just to talk, when my kids were growing up. She was a generous, loving person, who gave compassionate advice, without ever seeming to give advice at all. My kids loved to spend time with my mom and dad, who, in return, spoiled them rotten, which, of course, is the duty of all grandparents. After my father died, my sons helped Mom maintain her house and yard. She paid them “Grandma wages“, about 10 times the minimum wage.
Mom and I loved to go out for lunch, and maybe sneak a glass of wine or a Bloody Mary in the middle of the day, then talk for hours. She was a steadying, encouraging, and calming presence in my life.
Mom had a stroke three years before she died, which rendered her incapable of caring for herself. She couldn’t read or even watch TV, due to her impaired short-term memory. She suffered from dementia and eventually was wheelchair-bound.
I was working full time, so the only option I could see for my mom was to place her in assisted living in a nearby retirement community. I was away from home for many hours during the day and she could not be left alone.
I considered hiring a companion for her while I worked, but was concerned about drawing down her retirement fund. What would happen if I drew down her nest egg, and then she had to go into a retirement home anyway? Without resources, her options would be severely limited.
I visited Mom every day, usually helping with her shower in the evening and getting her into bed. In the summertime, when school was out, we would still go out for lunch and a Bloody Mary. Even so, I was consumed with guilt for not keeping her at home. She had been an excellent mother to me. I worried that I was not a good enough daughter to her.
After watching Mom slowly decline for three agonizing years, Mom passed away four days before Christmas in a year that I missed school for the entire month of December, due to an illness of my own. This was, without a doubt, the lowest point of my life.
I went through Mom’s funeral in a haze, then returned to school in January. I still faced long work weeks and grinding deadlines, but something inside of me had shifted.
I was more patient with students at school. I would sit and talk for hours after class if a student needed to talk. My relationship with my husband improved dramatically. We began to enjoy spending time with each other again, after years of drifting apart. Faith became an important part of my life, rather than an obligation.
I ran the Miami marathon six weeks after Mom died. My companion for the trip was my youngest son. It was the first time we had traveled together, just the two of us. I was amazed at what a wonderful traveling buddy he was. We went out for dinner, lounged on the beach and strolled around the city. He took care of everything – driving our rental car, remembering to bring along a hotel key when we ventured out, and finding our way around a strange city in the days before everyone’s phone contained GPS.
Being wounded teaches us compassion and love. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. I needed that deflated “self” to let the Light in. Because I was all puffed up with self-importance, there was no room for God’s light to shine through me. All of those chores that were so crucial were actually my over-inflated ego reminding me how indispensable I was.
All of the business, all of that stress, even the guilt were forms of selfishness. I was considering myself before God and others. Guilt and shame are the worst sentiments in your emotional toolbox. Berating yourself for not doing better, not being better, is denying God’s mercy and abundant grace. Why should you judge yourself harshly when God is the God of redemption, forgiveness, and joy?
In this season of light, exultation, rejoicing, and exuberance let’s allow some room in our hearts for God’s grace. Permit that grace and love to crowd out any guilt, shame or selfishness. Let others see the Light shining through you. I consider that to be my mom’s last precious gift to me.