Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
Eight Christmases ago was my family’s last traditional one. We didn’t know it then, but nothing would ever be the same.
It’s a big deal when Christmas rolls around and looks different from the year before. This year I purged an old stockpile of holiday decorations, however that is not the kind of different I mean. Eight Decembers with varying levels of drama, emotions, and hope remind me that on the day Jesus came to earth, the world forever changed.
Christmas of 2009 – Major Move: My then-husband and I were saying goodbye to our city, church, friends, home, and adult sons who wished to remain in Cleveland. We moved to the Philadelphia area on New Year’s Day. My prayer was, “God, I hurt.”
Christmas of 2010 – Major Depression: A major depressive episode caused obsessive thoughts and misinterpretation of reality. This led to a suicide attempt 20 days after Christmas. To say despair owned that holiday would be an understatement. My prayer was, “God, please take me now.”
Christmas of 2011 – An Unfolding Future: Not fully recovered, my spirit could best be described as shaky and wary, which is more hopeful than despair. A publisher had accepted my first book and I was busy finishing the manuscript. Our sons learned of the suicide attempt and both were proud of me for turning tragedy into something positive. My prayer was, “God, can you still use me?”
Christmas 2012 – Family Drama: We drove a 24-hour round trip to Cleveland on Thanksgiving Day to intercede in a family dispute. Our sons came to Philadelphia to spend Christmas, a family first. My prayer was, “God, please protect my sons.”
Christmas 2013 – The Family is Broken: My husband and I were separated although still sharing an apartment. I had also been to a treatment center to begin recovery from a 40-year eating disorder and food addiction. This Christmas was the first as a broken family, and I was trying to deal with all the stress without my old coping mechanisms. My prayer was, “God, help!”
Christmas 2014 – By Myself on Christmas Day: My oldest son planned to come to Philadelphia for Christmas. My youngest son had been out of touch for four months. I was living alone for the first time in my life. The visit was cancelled at the last-minute and it was just me and God on Jesus’ birthday. I finished upholstering a chair. My prayer was, “God, please remind me you are all I need.”
Christmas 2015 – My Family of Origin Dies: On December 20, my father died. His funeral was Christmas Eve. That is the day I said goodbye to my brother, knowing we will never see each other again. In 2003, soon after our mother passed away, he inexplicably erased me from his life, and until our dad’s funeral I had never heard from him. He refused to speak with me that day too, and so I had two family members to grieve. My prayer was, “God, help me turn my eyes on you.”
Christmas 2016 – New Traditions: I’ve been back in Cleveland for over a year now. This time it will be just me and my sons. We will have a nice dinner with all the fixin’s, and then watch Christmas movies. I’ve been looking forward to this for a week, ever since I learned both would be in town. My prayer is, “God, I thank you for turning sorrow into blessing, for loving me with such passion, and for never letting me go. My hope is in you.”
Perhaps this year brought to you horrendous loss, or frightening discovery. Maybe trust was damaged, or disappointment knocked you to your knees. There may be an empty chair that last year held a loved one, or one less present to wrap. Are you in a different place in your spirit than you were last year? Is there more distress or peace, depression or joy, hopelessness or purpose?
For me there is more joy, more hope, more peace this year than in a long time. The lessons of the last eight Christmases have taught me that God is sovereign, and his love never, ever, fails.
One certainty is that next year will different yet, maybe much better. Jesus will stay the same, always prepared to steady our walk on shaky ground.
Today’s Helpful Word
Isaiah 9:6 NIV
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
*pictures from rgbstock.com