I'm excited to have my husband, Clayton King guest blog this week. He is a good man, father, and husband. Since my blogs this month focus on Family, I thought his voice could be a comfort to all of you who might be missing family members this Christmas because he has so much wisdom in this area. -Sharie King
Disclaimer: I have all good memories of Christmas as a kid growing up. With the exception of my 10-year-old Christmas experience (where I found all the toy boxes of the gifts Santa brought me in a big ditch in our backyard, proving to me that my parents were actually Ole Saint Nic himself), when I would think of the holidays, every thought and emotion and memory was good.
I used to love Christmas! Until I didn't. And there was a reason I stopped loving it...for a season.
Simply put, I experienced real loss. The kind of loss that sucker-punches you in the lower gut and knocks the breath out of you. The kind of loss that leaves you dazed and confused and wondering if you'll ever come back to a good place again. And it wasn't just one loss. It was one after another...and another...and another. Strung out over twelve years.
My parents adopted me when I was a few weeks old. They loved me unconditionally. They were affectionate, verbally affirming, protective and proud. Far from perfect, they lived with a strong faith in God who gave them the grace to work through their own brokenness and raise a family that experienced joy and love and good times together.
So Christmas was always good. The presents were awesome. I mean, what kid didn't go nuts when he woke up to a fully assembled Death Star with a Darth Vader action figure standing at the helm? But it was my mom and dad that made it magical. The food we ate, the stories told at the table, grandparents arriving and staying at our house all day long...the personal interactions with the people who loved me the most made this my very favorite time of the year.
But just like Christmas is a season that comes and goes, all seasons change. When I was in my late 20s, my family members began dying. First my grandfather, then my grandma, aunts and uncles, until the heaviest blow landed in 2010. A month before Christmas my mom dropped dead of a heart attack on a Sunday afternoon. Eighteen months later my dad died after a grueling battle with diabetes and heart disease. I lost nine family members in 12 years. That's an average of one death every 16 months... for 12 straight years.
I dreaded the thought of Christmas. How could I celebrate without them? Without their laughter, their stories, their presence, their memories? I was in survival mode. But I had a wife and two sons who loved me and loved Christmas, and I had to make a choice. Would I continue to live in an echo chamber where all I heard was my own voice telling me how I would never have fun at Christmas again, or would I choose to move forward, somehow, and create a Christmas for them like my parents had created for me?
I decided I wasn't going to live in the quicksand of past loss any longer, so here's what I did.
I chose conversation over isolation.
It was so easy for me to stay hunkered down in my basement study, with my books and laptop and to-do list. Isolation allowed me to live in my own sad space just talking to myself all day. But I got bored with myself and decided to actually walk upstairs and talk to my wife and kids. Simple conversations about cartoons, sports, friends...that's where things began to turn for me.
I chose activity over self-pity.
Once I opened up the emotional door to my family, words and emotions and insights and joy began to flow through that door, both from me to them and from them to me. The self-pity I had been wallowing in began to vaporize as I got busy with better activities than rehearsing how bad my life was. Family walks, board games, card games, running errands together. Just being with them and doing things together.
I chose fun over feelings.
The good momentum began to build when I left my basement office and started hanging out with my family again, and I started actually having fun! I remembered how much I enjoyed being around people, how good it felt to laugh really hard in public, and how awesome it was to be obnoxious in public and embarrass your children. The old feelings of depression and despair were slowly replaced with better feelings; happiness, contentment, and hope. Going to a movie together. Shopping for presents. Getting ice cream.
I chose trust over fear.
If I'm being honest, it was hard to get excited about Christmas because I was afraid that my joy would be destroyed when someone else I loved died. I was afraid to embrace anything good, even for a moment, for fear that it would be short-lived. But when I looked at my wife and my boys and my friends and family who I did have right there with me, I chose to ultimately trust God and embrace and enjoy the gifts that I did have.
Faith replaces fear, but not without a fight. I had to fight hard to gain back the ground I had lost, but it has paid off. I'm fully engaged now, enjoying the season, savoring the lights and the traffic and the insufferable ads and commercials. I turn up the radio and sing loudly, off key, just to watch my kids roll their eyes at me and my wife laugh at how goofy I am. I'm part of creating a Christmas memory bank for my family that my parents created for me, and that helps me stay grounded in the hope and promise of good times and better days.
Jesus was God's greatest gift to humanity. In response to that gift, I want to both become a gift to those I love and receive the gifts of joy and hope that they are to me, especially during Christmas. Just because I lost some things along the way, it doesn't mean I will lose the moments I have right now.
© 2016 by Clayton King. All rights reserved.
In Clayton's book, "Stonger," he unpacks how the hard times we face don't make us happy, but they can keep us humble and make us holy. He tells the story of how he lost 9 family members in 12 years. This book is both raw and redemptive, brutal and hopeful, and we hope that God breathes on it in order to help many of His children face their fears with faith. We hope that you will be inspired to see that when you're hurting, God is not punishing you for failure, He is pruning you for fruitfulness. Click image for more information!