One of my favorite Christmases ever was one spent in our small family cabin on the TN river. John and Rebecca Hoover (papaw and Mom-bep because I couldn’t say mama-beck) built that little cabin and we spent several summers there, but Christmas there was magical. We went into the woods and found a cedar tree and placed it in the small living room. We covered it with lights. Then, we went to the Fred’s and Piggly Wiggly in a town nearby to get construction paper, glue, popcorn and cranberries. My older sister and I made a construction paper chain of red and green then strung a garland out of popped popcorn and fresh cranberries. We played Monopoly until we had to go to bed.
I’m not sure how “Santa” was sneaky enough to lay out our gifts that year but they were there on that old vinyl couch when the sun came up the next morning. There was nothing grandiose about that Christmas, just our small family in that home away from home, but it sticks out in my memories like no other.
On the other end of the spectrum of memories is the Christmas as a military family missing my service member – my husband. Fortunately, we have been together for 13/14 Christmases we have been married! I know there are others that cannot say the same and any holiday without your service member seems impossible to survive until you’ve done it. Christmas 2017 was that holiday for me.
My husband deployed to Afghanistan in September that year and I was two days away from delivering our fourth child. Emotions run high around the holidays anyway, but add to that pregnancy hormones and missing a spouse takes it to a whole new level of crazy.
My parents lived just 12 minutes from us so they (and our church) were the main support system while he was gone. My parents hosted the kids and I at their house for a few days while I mentally prepared for giving birth without my husband Daniel (and my favorite doctor) there. (Want to see a grown woman cry? Tell her her OBGYN and his nurse won’t be there to deliver your baby when your husband is gone!)
Technology has made separation a little more bearable with the ability to Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime around the world, but watching your kids open their gifts just isn’t the same on a screen. Not to mention our family photo that year included me holding him up on my iPhone instead of him holding me and our kids.
People often tell you how sorry they are that your spouse is deployed but there’s a aspect of it on this side that I don’t imagine can be as bad for you when you are the one with a support system at home and they just have their battle buddies.
Yes, he was gone for Christmas. Yes, it was hard (really hard). But I had friends, family, and church family to rally around me when I needed them (even if I said I didn’t).
Whatever your situation is this Christmas – if you are fortunate enough to be together – you are fortunate enough.
I am sure there are some reading this with deployed loved ones, those who have lost loved ones, newly widowed or seemingly forever single. Christmas can still be a sweet experience. Ask for the help you don’t want to rely on, call the people you love, call people you have been hurt by (or have hurt) and show them love and grace. Christmas is a time for family, whoever that family may be to you.
Hold your families close this year, because we don’t know what will happen next.