Of all the ornaments that my son could have broken, it was this one. This one got thrown against the wall. This one shattered.
I found it ironic really. This ornament has hung on my tree for the past few years, through two combat deployments.
And now…it’s broken. This year marks the last Christmas my husband will spend as an active duty soldier. He’s breaking ties with all we have known for the last six years.
And this broken ornament seems to symbolize it all. My pride has been broken. Broken pride. Broken faith that living this military life was the best thing for our family. Broken spirits.
We are so weary. He has been home for 11 months, and yet the struggles of my husband’s time in the Army are things that still haunt us, day in and day out.
My husband has been unhappy for the last six years. His spirit has been broken over and over and over by people who felt like it was their calling in life to do so. And now we are left trying to scramble those pieces up with bleeding hands and try to piece them back together. Because the man I live with now is so far different from the man I met ten years ago.
That man could laugh, joke, and tease with abandon. Handle daily burdens and stress with far more ease. Now, his broken spirit struggles to find enjoyment in anything. His resilience has shattered. His sense of control and his manhood completely battered by six years of being told that he is worthless.
I am angry. I am proud of him and all he has done for this country, but I am so angry. Angry at the people who have mentally abused him…just because they could. Angry that now I’m the one who has to try to help him overcome these feelings of total inadequacy–this paralyzing fear that he is useless and cannot succeed at anything.
I decorated our Christmas tree alone. Tears filled my eyes as I overheard my husband and son in the bedroom…just struggling. Ezra didn’t want to get dressed…Russ was nearly in tears begging him to cooperate. Please Ezra, PLEASE!!! A strong man, nearly reduced to tears by the simplest task. My instinct was to try to intervene, to help somehow. But instead, I tried to block it out as I let icicles fall from my fingertips to grace the Christmas tree. I just wanted to enjoy this moment that has been one of the highlights of the Christmas season since my childhood. Amy Grant crooned in the background…
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
It’s a little late for that…
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
Yes Lord…we need healing. He doesn’t have very many friends. Is a friend too much to ask you for?
And right would always win
And love would never end
Well heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul
What can be done when the “Christmas Spirit” is broken? When even the simplest of holiday gatherings brings such stress that my husband cannot function as he should? When tear-filled fights and then makeup cuddles have become the norm? So much so that even extended family have come to expect it from us?
God what can I do? How do I hold this family together for the rest of the holiday season? How can I minimize the fights? The stress?
And He answers me with an ornament that I almost didn’t put on the tree.
That one?!?!! Oh really God? Have you peeked in my windows at all over the past few days?
And still He answers:
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice,
and your joy no man taketh from you.
No man? No stressed-out husband? No cranky hard-to-handle two year old? No anxiety attacks? Jesus, that’s so much easier said than done!
Yes, my child. No man can take your joy unless you let him. It’s your choice. I know your pain. I know it’s hard. But you can have joy–you can hold tight to it so no man can take it from you.
And so there I stood. And I let the icicles fall from my fingertips to rest on the branches of my beautiful Christmas tree and the ornaments that I had so enjoyed making. And in that moment, I chose to let go of the stress, ignore the tears and whines from the bedroom, and choose joy. I wasn’t going to let them (as much as I love them), take this joyful moment from me.
And so, I will smile this Christmas season. I will smile and enjoy my family, regardless of the stress I feel rise within me at every toddler’s scream or husband’s frustrated sigh.
I will cuddle with my husband and watch cheesy romantic Christmas movies on Netflix and remember happier days from the past. I will cuddle with Ezra and watch Thomas Christmas episodes and Rudolph over and over and over.
I will take a bazillion pictures and try to capture every moment of this Christmas, stress and all.
I choose joy.
I will bake cookies. I will splurge on Christmas presents and wrap them in special Thomas the Tank Engine wrapping paper. I will hang up an advent calendar filled with 12 (cheap) gifts of Christmas for my son, and giggle with him as he opens each one.
I will hold my husband’s hand willingly and kiss him without holding back. I will hold him close and try to love his hurts away. I will try to give him the benefit of the doubt and not fight with him when he angers me. Because I know he’s trying. And it’s Christmas.
I choose joy.
And I will dream about and hope for future Christmases when joy is less of a choice.