As we move into the latter part of the year and into the holiday season, I have, in recent years, struggled to find the joy and happiness I had as a child. Frankly, I assume many, if not most of us, are in a similar spot. Naturally, as years pass we are filled with experiences, and our outlooks, views, and priorities change. Often times these changes are what one might call “just life.” But others are forced upon us and are the start of a series of events that make holidays a little harder than we would like.

I remember when the “magic” of Santa went away, but that’s not really the kind of joy and happiness I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the kind of happiness that just envelops the heart and soul. I grew up with my maternal grandmother and her second husband—a man I fully accepted as my grandfather—and his mother, my great-grandmother, as very loving and strong influences in my life. My great-grandma was a very Godly woman, by far the best and most lasting example of unforgettable love and kindness I’ve ever known.

To this day, I think of her and smile or cry when I miss her, and there are times when I can feel her loving spirit surround me, watching over me.

I have many amazing memories of time with her: my grandpa driving us to her house during summer vacation so we could all go to McDonald’s for lunch, and he would slip me the money to buy her lunch—always with a milkshake; walking through her property to check out the fruits of her labor in her gardens; listening to her read Luke 2: 1-20 every Christmas Eve. I can still hear her voice as clearly as my own. When I read those verses, it’s her voice that I hear in my mind, and it is one of the memories I most cherish out of all of my experiences.

As I mentioned, my grandparents (my mom’s mom and stepdad) were a big part of my childhood and early teen years. I spent a week or two with them every summer when I was young, all of the holidays took place there, and up until I became super involved in sports in my teens, I’d venture to say that we spent more weekends at their house than we did at our own. I loved that. Sunday mornings were spent at church exchanging hugs with extended family, and big family meals were always sure to follow. I have a plethora of warm and fuzzy memories of time spent with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and younger cousins.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were so magical and full of family love. They stood on their own merit, long after Santa had faded into storybook depictions.

The strong family and sense of love started to crack in those teen years for various reasons, but then in my early twenties, I was outed to this big, loving family against my wishes.

A few years later, two days before Christmas, I learned that that love extended only so far.

At that moment, a huge part of my heart caved in. Now, there’s a small part of me wishes I didn’t have those wonderful memories—they are of a life I no longer know. They are of people who weren’t able to accept me because of who I love and of who drove me away from the wondrous love and grace of God. They are of people I will always love but will likely never feel connected to ever again.

You see, they let their religion get in the way of love.

They were so wrapped up in what they believed to be the letter of the Law, that they completely disregarded the spirit of the Law. But that small part of me that wishes those memories weren’t there? Even that part recognizes that I am made stronger by those experiences, that I know the power of family and love, and that even when we struggle to see it, Love always wins because Love is always right.

So when it’s all said and done, I’ve had plenty of experiences that make this time of year particularly difficult. These next few weeks don’t have the same magic that they used to, but it’s a whole other kind of wonderful. God is in my daily life, and it’s a progressive effort that I can work on for the rest of my days without fear of being cast aside for who I am.

I have loving family members and friends, a church to call home, and I finally appreciate Thanksgiving and Christmas for all the best reasons.

Now, whether you’re reading this and thinking pieces of it sound all too similar to your story, or you’re thinking this sounds nothing like your story, my hope for you is that despite your past (or perhaps because of it), you are able to stop and find peace and joy in the upcoming holidays.

Be thankful for the life you have today, and be an example of the grace and love of God to someone who needs the light of your lamp.

Peace and blessings. 

Angie Cox

Angie Cox lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner, Annette, and their two dogs, Sydney and Reese. She has an insatiable desire to learn. She currently works as an Instructional Designer in educational publishing but is in the process of applying to seminary. Still relatively new to the UMC family, Angie is strongly drawn to and encouraged by the drive to work for social justice for all and sees this as a key to loving God and others with whole heart, soul, and mind. Angie spends her leisure time running, cycling, kayaking, playing disc golf, and/or reading something—most likely nonfiction.

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