by Shannon Perry
As I stood in aisle three of the local Hobby Lobby, I could hardly contain myself. While shoppers briskly passed me humming tunes of Christmas joy, I stood among the Christmas trim crying my eyes out. "Shannon, get it together" I thought. How could anyone be so sad in the middle of all this joy? Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year" after all. This year, I had volunteered to get the Christmas flowers and decorate my Grandparents’ graves. My maternal and paternal grandparents are buried in a large cemetery within yards of one another. We drive four hours from home each year to place Christmas flowers and a special ornament on their tombstones. Christmas was always a very special time with them and I still recall amazing memories.
As "I'll Be Home for Christmas" streamed through the store's speakers, I wiped the tears from my face. With each stem of flowers I chose on aisle three, I remembered the wonderful times I shared with my Grandparents. I also remembered how much I miss them. I tried desperately to fight the tears, then gave up. So what if someone sees me crying? I am sure they could relate to missing someone at this time of year. The clerk who helped me with my purchases blew my cover when she asked, "Are you alright?" I thought that was odd, so I smiled a sheepish smile and answered, "Yes." I looked in the mirror when I got to my car thinking my cashier might be prophetic. How did she know I had been crying? I quickly discovered the answer. I'd left a trail of glitter on my face from wiping my tears after holding flowers full of glitter-filled leaves. It looked like a snow globe had exploded on my head. I laughed out loud and found it comforting that even when I feel sad, there was still a joy that could not be taken from me.
Many things can bring about difficult emotions during the holidays. Some of these "triggers" include unresolved guilt, past losses, anticipating a significant loss, disappointment with a current situation and the contrast of the image of the holidays with the reality of our lives. Although these are very real issues and must be addressed accordingly, we are not helpless. The greatest gift was given one Christmas night over two thousand years ago to remind us that we can survive, and even thrive, in the most difficult of circumstances. We have a Comforter who understands our weaknesses and He promises to help us each moment. His name is Jesus.
Many of the holiday "blues" we experience come as a result of how we think about our circumstances-- past, present and future. The mind is the battlefield, and the enemy of our soul knows which dagger to throw and when. For many of us, it is during the holiday season. Not only are we more stressed as we face crowds and financial burdens, we see the "ideal" Christmas on television that reinforces how much we have missed the mark in our own lives.
A very common "trigger" for the holiday blues is the grief of past losses or the anticipation of a significant loss. This is a very real experience and we must treat it as such. From my many years of counseling, I learned that when people are willing to face the grief and deal with it constructively, the agonizing pain can subside. When dealing with grief from a loss during the holidays, it is helpful to remember the following:
-It is ok to cry. Tears are a language that God understands. He understood mine in aisle three of Hobby Lobby.
-Do not try to over exert yourself during this time. Set reasonable expectations for what you will do and allow yourself to receive as well as give.
-While you treasure and respect the old traditions, create one new tradition for your holiday. This often makes the transition easier and there is less guilt over moving from standing traditions too quickly.
-Remember that Christmas is only one day out of the year. It does not determine the rest of your life. Jesus does.
-Do one thing that you really enjoy. Get a new haircut, take a bubble bath, read a book you have been longing to read.
-Talk to one person that you feel safe with and let them know how much you value your relationship with them. If you cannot think of one person, allow that to be a new goal for you in the coming year. Ask God to bring you the friend He has chosen just for you.
If you or someone you know is struggling beyond the blues into the grip of depression, it is important to seek help immediately. Depression left untreated is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous. Recently, a dear friend of mine lost her daughter in a way most parents can never fathom. She knew her daughter was upset, but did not understand many of the underlying issues. In one dark moment, her daughter listened to the lies in her own mind and she ended her life abruptly. If someone you know mentions "wanting to die," take it very seriously. One can never be too careful and it is best to err on the side of caution. Should you hear someone say this, inform their family or law enforcement. Make someone aware that you are concerned. If you have feelings of not wanting to live, seek out immediate attention from others. They DO care and they want to help. You are not alone in this battle. Not only are there others who care, your Creator has plans to "prosper you and not to harm you." He reminds us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and that "we CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens us."
Do not allow the lies of your emotions to rule your holiday season this year. Ask God to help you in the areas that are difficult. Pray that your expectations are only those that He would have you hold. Keep the focus on the One who came as a baby that precious Christmas night to give His life just for YOU. He had YOU on His mind even then, and He has never forgotten you.
Allow the giver of all good gifts to redefine your holidays this year. He gave the most celebrated gift in history. Accept it and know that His presence in your life is very real. He sees every tear that falls. Even the ones that glitter.
Shannon Perry is a speaker/singer whose new If The Shoe Fits women's conferences combine her teaching prowess with her musical talent. Perry's new music CD entitled The Real Thing (produced by Lifeway writer/producer Paul Marino) features songs specifically written to fit in with the theme of the conferences. Perry wrote the bulk of the original presentation in hospital waiting rooms while her husband was undergoing cancer treatment. Perry earned her Master's Degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and taught in the public school system for over fourteen years before entering into full-time ministry. She has previously-released music projects with both Daywind and Benson Records which garnered radio airplay on the national Christian charts. She has performed with the Houston Symphony and has even appeared at Carnegie Hall. She has been a featured soloist at the J&J Music Conferences in Houston, Texas, and led praise and worship at numerous women's conferences and for the national Lifeway conferences held annually in New Mexico and North Carolina. For more information, visit www.ShannonPerry.com