As a young girl I pondered Norman Rockwell’s portraits of happy families in various settings. I wondered where those families existed that he found to capture in his paintings. My family didn’t look like that. I longed for my life to resemble what my heart felt as I pondered the art.
Christmas Eve Day at my home offered some places to appear happy and kind. Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents would come for dinner. After dinner we would open the gifts they brought. We dressed in our finest clothes. Much effort went into preparing an inviting meal and our guests always brought yummy desserts. Our house was a level of clean, though many things were shoved out of sight, hiding the usual chaos and upheaval of the house.
As I think back and remember those times, the painting forming in my mind is different than what I longed for. For a brief period it looked good on the outside, but the portrayal was counterfeit. It was a performance staged for our guests to hide the reality, which was NO Rockwell painting.
It was an oddly happy time for my father. He spent a great deal of time constructing large boxes decorated in a variety of ways to hide the contents and keep us guessing. It was difficult as a little girl to understand the change that came over my father during the week preceding Christmas from a usual sullen man to a man I barely recognized. I tentatively enjoyed the kinder days, wondering when the sullenness would come again.
God’s story was not offered in my childhood home. That piece was missing from Christmas. It isn’t missing from my home now, and God’s story is what makes sense of the holiday: both the sparkle and hope of white lights and decorated trees and the disappointments and unmet longings.
Our home is dressed in her holiday finery, lots of white lights, shimmering gold and white ornaments and greenery. If I could paint my own version of a Normal Rockwell scene offering calm, peace, everything in it’s place, and our entire family gathered, it would be a beautiful picture… and it would still not depict the full reality. We are at times all of the three h’s – healthy, happy and hopeful. And at times we are not. Disappointment, unmet longings, changed plans, illness — those things don’t cease just because it’s December and Christmas.
But the Gift – the Gift makes the difference. The Gift of a tiny baby born in a stable makes December an offering to celebrate even in the midst of struggle. Though we focus on celebrating the Gift in December, we have the Gift with us all the time. It doesn’t break, wear out, or get too small, like the other gifts we receive at Christmas.
As I ponder the “painting” of this December, I’m longing to wrap God’s story around all that I’m holding this Holiday Season. The wrapping isn’t shiny Christmas wrap with a huge bow. It’s a wrapping of promise. God’s story covers the excitement and the sadness of the month. I want His story to be my focus.
Yesterday I received a phone call that held a long-awaited hope for me and in the same breath an opportunity for great disappointment – a need to change my plans. I’ve had my heart set on something that will now not happen.
After the phone call I wanted to indulge myself in pity, sliding into anger and eventual contempt for the reasons messing up my plans. It’s been a familiar path in the past.
I’m purposing to live alive and different, allowing God’s story and promises to cover my disappointments. I am grateful I chose to stay alive to the hurt and allow my heart to feel the disappointment. I am finding places to feel gratitude for what is and for opportunities that might arise in changed plans.
My December doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. And yet, does that mean it’s not worth painting? Someone once offered me the idea of my being a white canvas, clean, fresh and ready to create art and beauty. What will my December canvas look like at the end of the month?
I’m on my way to the craft store to purchase a white canvas and some markers. I’m going to let God prompt me as I allow this month of December 2013 to create a work of art that’s glorious and messy, hopeful and hard. That will be a true depiction.
Want to join me in creating a work of art? A white canvas, clean and fresh awaits you.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 46 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can follow her other writings and doings on Facebook.