I was probably eight years old, and we were at my uncle’s house for Christmas. All of us kids were in my cousin’s room. I wish I could say we were having a great time, anticipating who would get what presents, or when the hot chocolate would be ready, or if we were going to get a visit from Santa Clause this year. Unfortunately, we weren’t raised in this sort of family.
No, we were all in this bedroom, hiding and hoping nobody would notice we were gone for a while. You see, we had all been screamed at and threatened with beatings for playing tag in the back yard, so we were afraid. We didn’t know what to do.
Aren’t children supposed to happily play in the back yard during holiday festivities, we thought to ourselves? Apparently not…but we weren’t sure where that left us, so here we sat, afraid.
I wish I could tell you this was the exception, but it was not – every family gathering when I was young was marred by actual violence or its spectre, so a shadow always hung over each holiday.
Some twenty years later, its pallor still haunts me. I cannot shake the suspicion that an angry drunk man is going to come lumbering into the family room ready to take a swing at me for some imagined offense, and ruin my joy.
So I make a choice. I preempt him. I preempt joy.
Unfortunately, my kids and my wife pay for my choice. Every year as Thanksgiving rolls around, the storm cloud begin to roll in over my head. I become more short-tempered than usual. My depression kicks into high gear. I find myself crying at nothing one moment, and seething angry the next.
I made a vow a while ago to not be like my dad’s generation, to bring joy into the holidays, but instead I find myself shackled by my past. Each year, it seems like it gets a little better, but I fear progress is too slow, the scars are too deep, the pain is already settled into the hearts of my own children, the expectation of anger is already set for my own wife. I begin to lose hope, the tears start to flow, and despair mounts again. Then I recall Lamentations 3:22:23 –
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
This promise each year becomes the prayer of my spirit. “Oh God, do not allow your compassions to fail, or I will be consumed by my own past, as will my children. May Your compassion arise fresh and new every day in the eyes of my family, as they view me through Your grace, and see the best in me.” Slowly, I begin to conquer these demons from my past and make meaningfully good memories for my own family that extend beyond these fears.
I know now I am making some progress. Six years ago, my oldest son told me he never wanted to get married, because he never wanted to fight with anyone around Thanksgiving and Christmas the way my wife and I fought. He doesn’t say that anymore.
Now he talks about looking forward to raising his kids with his wife in a home where they will celebrate and enjoy the holidays, like we do. Sometimes even miracles takes times, sometimes decades or even generations.