A thin mist is in the morning air as fog hovers over the shimmering water. Distant pine trees are lined up perfectly like proud tin soldiers, though their usual green color appears as a muted bluish gray.
In the distance, beyond the trees, the sun is gradually peeking through over the Atlantic Ocean as its pink rays reach out in all directions, as though a chorus of “Hallelujah” is about to be played at the moment of sunrise this Christmas Eve morning.
There’s a subtle sound of water sloshing against the sides of the dock, and the pinging of rocking sailboat masts in the marina around me is singing out with the rhythm of the moving water.
I’m enjoying coffee, sunrise, and warm air from the shore overlooking a large bay, a distant island, and the ocean as we visit family in Florida for Christmas.
I have to admit something I’m not very proud of.
I was not really looking forward to spending the holidays with family. Though it should be a joy-filled time, and it is, it can also be filled with angst because of a few family issues that never seem to go away.
We all have family issues … they cannot be avoided.
The dynamics of different personalities, new family members imported and bringing different traditions and expectations, clashing styles, unhealed wounds, unrealized potential, frustrations, arguments, aging parents, health, and the tensions of Christmas are all part of that family dynamic.
Why, then, with all these issues, do families gather?
Why not just avoid all the drama, the people who don’t live up to our expectations, the people who annoy us? After all, in the rest of our lives, if there are people who behave badly or don’t live up to our ideals, we simply avoid them.
I know there are families who do not gather because of their wounds. I know of families estranged. I have friends who have lost communication with one of their sons because an overly protective, domineering spouse decided they are evil people. The parents see things differently, and only the actors in this play know the real story. Yet hearts are breaking because the child they raised, and a new grandchild they’ve never met, are no longer in their lives.
I’d like to say this could never happen to me with my own children, but only time will tell, I suppose. We’re still dealing with high school and have a lot of life ahead of us, God willing. Yet I’ve seen it in my own life in other ways because people cling to the past, to a moment when we’ve said or done something, perhaps out of love, maybe out of anger, maybe with good intentions, maybe not. So avoidance is the best medicine, or so we think. Yet unresolved issues are begging to be resolved, and hearts continue to break. It’s so insane.
The magic of Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving, or Easter, or whatever moments our families gather, is that we are reunited, we reconnect, we break bread together, and we hope to put our issues aside for a few moments to honor the good memories of the past. It’s a time of miracles.
A Brief Moment of Sanity
On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, German and British soldiers who were hunkered down in the frozen mud of the trenches put their differences aside and walked out between the battle lines, and played football — in honor of Christmas, the one thing they held in common. Though they didn’t share a common language, they laughed, shared food and drink, and then, when the time came, returned to their role of killing one another.
Though it seems odd that they could find a brief spot of joy in the midst of horrific devastation, they called a truce in honor of Christmas. None of them were there because they wanted to be; they were there because of differences between leaders they would never meet and countries in which they had no say in decisions about war.
At Christmas, families should call a truce.
Though disagreements and uncomfortable moments will happen, we can create a truce in honor of the institution of family. A bond bigger than our problems. A chance to enjoy the dynamic of the whole, not the individual.
Christmas is a chance to heal. The mere existence of Christmas is rooted in the birth of a Savior who taught forgiveness. Whether or not that’s your take on the holiday, forgiveness is never a bad thing (after the discomfort of making it happen).
Anticipation and Angst
So here I am in Florida, about to spend a few days surrounded by people I love, some I like very much, and some I tolerate or who tolerate me. We can choose our friends, but our family was chosen for us. Sometimes I have to work hard to keep my mouth shut, to be non-judgmental, to be civil, because I’m as imperfect as those around me.
Some, I know, say this is a time to resolve the issues of the past, when the family is all together. Though all things need resolution and opportunities to do so should be taken, there is also magic in just putting issues to the side and trying to have a good time first. From those good times, perhaps healing can begin as we realize maybe this or that person isn’t so bad after all. Not every moment together has to be a battle to resolve old wounds.
Envision Christmas as It Should Be
My friend Lee Milteer, who trains people in life and business, reminds us that we get what we visualize. I have found it to be true. If I am headed to a meeting and I rehearse positive outcomes and exact details in my mind first, things tend to turn out the way I envisioned them.
So why not envision Christmas as a time when wounds are healed, when bygones are truly bygones, when joy overcomes all issues?
I’m often tempted to expect the worst, but tonight, as my family gathers, I’m walking in fully prepared to expect the best.
Stop Judging, Start Listening
My job isn’t to judge others. Everyone has their reasons for their issues, and rather than judging and responding, my way of honoring Christmas is to open my arms, receive people as they are, be open, and listen. And if any decide to dip into their anger about the past, I’m not going to fight back or get sucked in, I’m simply going to be there and accept the joy of being with those I love. Remember my motto: no drama.
What about you? What is your expectation?
Maybe if you expect the best, the best will happen.
PS: I need to take a moment to say a few words of gratitude to some people. First, my wife, who tolerates the worst of me, which no one else ever sees. Second, to my triplet teenagers, who offer unconditional love between hormonal rages. Third, to my supportive family members and parents; I’m blessed to have all of you in my life. Next, to my team at Streamline, who work so unbelievably hard so we can make people’s lives better by helping them discover the many products, magazines, newsletters, and training we offer. And, last but not least, to my friends who read this blog, and who attend our events and consume our magazines and videos. Thank you. Just this week, thanks to Fine Art Studio Online, we’ve added 41,000 additional readers. That was very generous of them to offer. And PleinAir remains the #1 selling art magazine in America (Barnes & Noble), for which I’m grateful. And the Plein Air Podcast, I just learned, is up to 158,000 listens after just a year, with about 18,000 per episode. Though my head wants to swell, I’m totally humbled.