Have Yourself A 20-Something Christmas

img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons
img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons

I have always loved Christmas and the anticipation that leads up to it. As a child, I spent many hours trying to find the gifts my mom would so painstakingly hide. I relished the suspense of seeing presents under the tree, dreaming up all the possibilities of what could be inside. On Christmas morning I would get up early, awakened by anticipation in the darkest of night, and sneak downstairs after I knew my parents and ‘Santa’ had finished arranging their pile of gifts and stuffing our stockings. I tiptoed about in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, gazing at the overflow of presents, basking in the calm and magic of Christmas before dawn.

As I grew older, the thing that made this season so special was not as much about the presents, but about being able to spend significant quality time with extended family who lived hours away. It was the one time of year we all gathered together to sit around the table and exchange stories of God’s faithfulness, and to have those unavoidable family debates. Throughout high school and college, I began feeling a longing, that desire to have someone to share my incredible family Christmas experiences. I looked at the strong marriages in my extended family, the camaraderie between all my aunts and uncles, and I felt the pang in my heart of bittersweet hope.

One day I will have that, but when?

The fact that popular culture harps on the ‘misery’ of being single during the holidays certainly did not help my case. You can not get away from it. I felt like I was missing out. My soundtrack to this season became variations of the sentiment behind SheDaisy’s “That’s What I Want for Christmas” (which of course I played on repeat):

‘When you said yesterday that it’s nearly Christmas
What did I want and I thought just love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas
When I walk through a room let them see you need me
Walk through a room let them see you love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas…’

Over the years, I had boyfriends through the holidays, so I had a taste of having someone to belong to during this magical season. When I was dating in my early twenties, my vision of a perfect engagement involved hot chocolate, a big fuzzy blanket, a one-horse open sleigh. My dreams were grandiose. My expectations for what Christmas would look once I had found my other half were pretty high to say the least. Thankfully, my parents had a pretty strict policy that boyfriends were not permitted to join us on family vacations. At the time it was annoying, but now I am grateful. The sacredness of most my favorite family memories are not marred by the ghosts of boyfriends past.

Finally, on Christmas of 2011, when I was 26, the dream of sharing my beloved family Christmas traditions with my true love came to pass. My new husband Nick came with me for our big extended family Christmas in North Carolina. It was surreal to watch a hope I had held so long come true. Having my husband among my family was wonderful. The ease with which he fit into our family surprised me a bit. He laughed and swapped stories with my cousins and uncles. It was oddly like he had always been there.

But can I tell you that now on the other side of my former hopes, while having someone forever at Christmas is wonderful, it is not quite like I pictured it? I live across the river from New York City, the American headquarters of Christmas cheer. People come here in droves to experience Christmastime in the city. There are many things I love about living here, but there are others that challenge my younger self’s expectations of what married Christmases would be like. I do not have a big, comfortable living room with a crackling fire and Christmas tree decked to the nines with ornaments telling stories of Christmases past. I live in a one bedroom apartment less than 800 square feet, and no real room for a respectable Christmas tree. So we make do with what we have – a wreath hung on our window, some twinkly lights, and a little tabletop greenery.

Now that I am married, I balance not just my family holiday traditions, but the those of my husband’s family as well. My Christmases will never look the same again. There are wonderful aspects of that, but also challenging ones. I am blessed to have incredible in-laws, but now I feel the pang of missing out in a different way – of not being able to be in two places at once. Those extended family holidays in the south will be few and far between. Distance and job responsibilities shape our Christmas season now. When we move into the season of life where we have children of our own, our holiday realities will shift all over again. And I admit… I’m looking forward to creating magical Christmas memories for my future kids – even though they will likely be entirely different from I imagined.

So for my friends whose hearts ache during this season, those still waiting and longing for the next stage, do your best to cherish this time in your life. And regardless of where you are… single, dating, married, waiting for children, or a growing family, Christmas requires cooperation. No matter your “status,” if you want to experience the magic and wonder of the season to its fullest, you have to start practicing now. Carry on your family traditions, or begin building your own. The magic of Christmas happens when you count your blessings and embrace where you are wholeheartedly.

[This post was originally published December 2013 at Sometimes, Always, Never.]

Waiting and Dating: Thoughts on Singleness

image source: Alessandro Pautasso, Creative Commons
image source: Alessandro Pautasso, Creative Commons

One of the things this season of life is teaching me is how to better empathize with others.

I realized recently that many of my single friends are likely experiencing a version of what I am now – this longing for a season of life that has not yet happened. Maybe, like me, you face daily reminders that you are not where you want to be – they show up multiple times a day, reminding you that you are behind. You feel like there are massive roadblocks keeping you from a role you were meant to play. You feel silly being reduced to tears over the desire to be somewhere different from where you are right now. It feels wrong to be devastated by your goal to be in a life-giving, loving relationship not coming true in your desired time, but you are devastated nonetheless.

Friend, you have every right to feel that way.

I have so many amazing, attractive, successful women friends who are single. I see all their incredible qualities and it seems to me that it is given that one day they will meet their match. I want to believe they will be rewarded for their years of faithfully waiting for that person and pursuing the callings on their lives while being open to love if it crosses their paths. I believe this because they have so much to offer, and because they deserve it. They seem to be doing everything right. But me telling my single friends that I know marriage will happen for them is not helpful, because I do not actually know that. My words are hopeful, but devoid of meaning.

When our friends are going through tough times, especially when they are sharing something painful with us, we tend to try to soothe their pain and offer advice. We offer platitudes because suffering and unrealized dreams make us feel uncomfortable. We want to fix it, make it better. We try to offer hope, but it often feels empty and falls flat.

Telling each other success stories is how we aim to prove that things will get better, that there is hope. And sometimes, we do find hope in those stories. But we need to be careful not to take one person’s story as use it as a rule for all people’s stories. It is a beautiful thing to have hope, but it’s another to make blanket statements and say because something happened for one person, it will happen for all of us.

We need to give ourselves and others permission to grieve instead of downplaying the reality of the suffering. Pretending that our circumstances are trivial or comparing our pain in degree to others’ does not make less painful. Instead, it metastasizes as we try to push it down and ignore it.

Can we not trivialize the pain and try to make it go away? Can we instead just sit and say that yes, it sucks? Yes, it is hard. Can we practice acknowledging that it exists and just be with one another?

God has promised me certain things in my conversations with Him – that I will be a mother, and even that it will happen biologically – but it is not as worthwhile to hang on to those promises as it is to hang on to the One who made the promises in the first place. I believe in a promise-keeping God, because I know that to be His character. He is good. He is love. And He is trustworthy despite my circumstances. He has shown up before, throughout the course of history, and fulfilled promises for His people, but answered prayers often look far different from our expectations. There are plenty of unrealized promises still lingering.

So how do we acknowledge suffering and longing, but not dwell in it, refusing to move? What does it look like for you to choose joy?