Dealing with Holiday Stress:

Dealing with Holiday Stress: Or 
Ho. Ho, How in the World Could This Be Happening NOW!!! 

"Wow, Mom! You look like you're so enjoying the holidays this year! I don't remember ever seeing you so lit up!" said my oldest daughter, now a young wife with children of her own. My immediate response shocked even me. "Well this is the first Christmas without all of your grandparents to worry about." Doesn't that sound ghastly? But in truth the holidays had been difficult for many years because of the grandparents' failing health. My husband and I are both the youngest children in our families and we had been through years of not only raising children, but dealing with losing our parents one by one. Two of them had suffered with Alzheimer's, one of the most dreaded diseases. My mother-in-law who lived in the Midwest, died just a day or two before Christmas-the same year my oldest son returned for a visit from service in the war zone in the deserts of the Middle East. Fa la la la la la la la la .... 

After thirty-five years of marriage, four children, the addition of two "in-law" children, and four grandchildren I can share at least a few less-than-idyllic holiday stories. Why do we get the impression that everyone has the Norman Rockwell deal every year? Writing this piece gave me the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and find a few personal highlights. 

I remember our very first year as husband and wife. After months of separation because of my husband's deployment to Viet Nam (Yep, I'm that old), we set up housekeeping for a few short months before his second of three almost consecutive deployments. Hunters Point, basically a base and shipyard in San Francisco, was located in a very rundown part of town-replete with visible bullet holes in the guardhouse. I still have a potato chip box cutout that folded into an origami-like Christmas ornament. Can you believe that potato chips came in cardboard boxes back then? I wrapped everything that Christmas, including my husband's new tightie whities so that it would beef up the appearance under the scrawny tree with its "ornaments." 

One year, when the kids were small, we were challenged by our very small budget (OK, we really didn't even have enough money to HAVE a budget). We decided to have a 'homemade Christmas." We made string art and macrame gifts for the adults in the family, and sock riding horses for the kids. Many Bluelight specials from Kmart rounded out the fare for our kids. Everything, including underwear (again, the underwear) was wrapped to give 'the effect" of abundance! It was a great Christmas and the kids didn't seem to notice. My mom still had that crazy string art fish in her home until the day she died.

My oldest son served in Iraq-often in harm's way. His brother is a military member, as well, serving overseas. It is often in the back of my mind that our big family will one day experience a loss. I get a little choked up at Christmas for a moment when I think that one day we' 11 not all be together again. I choose to be thankful for what we have today, knowing that God will give grace to deal with the future. This is a discipline I've learned folks. I could be a real worrier if cut loose, but I don't want to detract from the joy of the moment-it's not worth it! 

We are a real, raucous and rowdy family who has great fun together. The holidays that were the "Norman Rockwells" are really not that memorable--it's the years when we faced adversity together and had a great time anyway that really resonate. That's the stuff of real life. I saw my adult kids put it all in perspective the Christmas of their grandmother's death. We shuffled the dates a bit to travel for the funeral and still managed to celebrate. Christmas was NOT ruined that year, and I'm one blessed woman. 

I see those memories as times when our family was knit together in adversity by the stuff of real life. So the message here is this: don't feel that if you don't get the holidays just right, it's all a washout. You may be in tight financial circumstances, have a family member in ill health, or you may be grieving. God Bless you if this is not your "Norman Rockwell" year and you're going through it, as they say. Roll with it...Find the moments of joy in the relationships you have, my friend. And remember-this includes a relationship with our ever-present heavenly Father. So even if you're feeling like more like "Silent Night" than "Deck the Halls" this year, you're never alone. 

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