It usually starts sometime around July 1st and gains in frequency and intensity the closer we get to football season. In truth, I think he would be happiest to engage year-round, but as younger brothers often do, his younger brother puts up an argument at every turn until around Thanksgiving, despite being a known music-lover in the family.
My oldest son loves Christmas. He enjoys everything about it—not just the receiving of gifts. By July first come the requests, “Mom, can we start playing Christmas music now?” I used to be like his younger brother scrooge and deny the request until Thanksgiving, but in recent years I’ve seen what joy it brings his heart and mine as well, that I’ve acquiesced earlier and earlier each year.
But it’s not just the music. He loves the decorations. The lights. The ceremonies. The cookies. Definitely the cookies. And the traditions.
When people talk about celebrating Christmas in their hearts throughout the year, that would be my son. Everything about the season fills him with joy. And while he is on the verge of becoming a man, he often reverts to a giddy young child when it comes to all things Christmas.
I leave a Christmas garland up over our fireplace in our living room year-round, that matches the décor in that room, which is a visual reminder to me every time I’m in that room of God’s gift of love, peace, and hope through Jesus each and every day of the year.
But if I’m being honest, over time, I’ve lost some of the awe and wonder of the Christmas season. While in my heart I can always go back to the “true meaning of Christmas,” ever since my mother died and I became the matriarch of the family and feel responsible for everyone else’s Christmas happiness, my own awe and wonder have deflated a bit.
Preparing for Christmas begins months in advance as a “to-do list” of sorts:
- Buy perfect gifts
- Hunt for the one or two elusive gifts
- Wrap gifts perfectly
- Mail gifts to out of town friends and family
- Decorate house
- Put up Christmas tree
- Bake and decorate Christmas cookies like mom did
- Take annual Christmas photo
- Write Christmas letter
- Mail Christmas cards
- Write Holiday menus
- Shop for food
- Cook, clean up, repeat, cook, clean up, repeat
- Take down and put away Christmas decorations
- Find the one or two straggler decorations that didn’t get put away that then remain out for weeks or months because we’ve moved on to the new year…
Individually, I enjoy every aspect of preparing for the holiday (well, except for taking down the decorations…I intensely dislike that part and that is almost enough to make me not put them up in the first place except that it’s so important to my children), primarily because I enjoy the happiness it brings to others. But over time, and over the years, the stress of it all has begun to weigh on me and I’ve lost a bit of the joy that I used to have.
Yet this year, something happened. My son, in his typical form, began asking if we could play Christmas songs, I think, in June. The occasional tune crossed his lips every so often, and the joy he exhibited was that of a child on, well, Christmas. And it brought me such joy to see it.
In August, our lives as we knew it, came to a screeching halt. We were prepared to celebrate the launch of my new book, “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression,” but on that very day my husband was diagnosed with cancer. From that day forward, many of our normal activities took a backseat to give way to doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy treatments, and hospitalizations.
One friend came to visit for a few days during one round of chemotherapy in October and offered her help in whatever way we needed most. In addition to cooking meals and driving my kids to school and extracurricular activities, I shared, “This may sound crazy, but what I really need help with is preparing for Christmas. I know it’s really early but if I don’t have help now, it’s not going to happen and it won’t feel like Christmas to the boys.” So the first weekend in October, we played Christmas music at full volume, my son hauled in all our Rubbermaid totes from the garage, and she and I went to work decorating the house for Christmas, almost three months early.
This gift of her presence and her service to us has served as a daily reminder to us of God’s Christmas gift of Jesus and His presence with us not just as we travel this cancer journey, but each and every moment of our lives. Her gift to us extended the Christmas season in a way that renewed my heart and helped refresh my desire to keep Christmas alive throughout the year, just as my son so joyously does.
As I look at that list above, this year many of those things won’t get done because more important things like chemotherapy treatments and time spent together as a family are taking priority, and that is not only okay, it’s the right thing to do.
As I reflect on the Scriptures, God set the precedent. When Jesus was born, God didn’t send out announcements on scrolls ahead of time, and Jesus wasn’t born in a white-glove perfect palace. He was born in a dirty manger with straw, and those who would worship Him and most wanted to spend time with Him, found Him and brought unwrapped gifts that were gestures representing their heart.
That’s my desire not only at Christmas but every day: to keep the most important things important. To love God and to share His love with my family and others in word and deed. To dispense with picture-perfect perfection and love with wild abandon, sharing my time and my heart, so that others will know His love, peace, and hope throughout the year.
Because of Him, love, peace, and hope prevail not only at Christmas but all year through!
P.S. If you visit me this year, don’t be surprised if my Christmas decorations are still up in February (or June) 😉
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
A short brief about Hope Prevails.
Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression
Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Speaking from personal and professional experience, a neuropsychologist unpacks what depression is, shows how it affects us spiritually, and offers hope for living the abundant life.
Neuropsychologist Offers Hope to Those Struggling with Depression
-By 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide
- An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression
- As with the bestselling My Stroke of Insight, the author experienced the same condition she treats
- Helpful features include personal stories, biblical truths, prayers, and music recommendations
In Hope Prevails, Dr. Bengtson writes with deep compassion and empathy, blending her extensive training and faith, to offer readers a hope that is grounded in God’s love and grace. She helps readers understand what depression is, how it affects them spiritually, and what, by God’s grace, it cannot do. The result is a treatment plan that addresses the whole person—not just chemical imbalances in the brain.
For those who struggle with depression and those that want to help them, Hope Prevails offers real hope for the future.
Hope Prevails is available now wherever books are sold. To find out more, see: https://drmichellebengtson.com/hope-prevails-book/.