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The Christmas Truce

2018-01-05T09:26:54+00:00

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.

Estranged Family

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.

Holiday Magic

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.

Merry Christmas.

Eric

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.

33 Comments

  1. Ruth P Weiss December 24, 2017 at 4:48 am - Reply

    Lovely, profound, wise and do-able Eric.

    Thanks and enjoy the hollidays,

    Ruth

  2. John December 24, 2017 at 5:05 am - Reply

    Eric,

    I have become an avid follower and share “Sunday Thoughts” with my family regularly. Your thoughts, inspire, educate, generate reflection and demonstrate we are never to old to learn, change behaviors and grow as an individual. Best wishes to you and your family for a fantastic Holiday.

    John

  3. Jackie December 24, 2017 at 5:22 am - Reply

    Once again you have shared wisdom. This year away from family for the first time in years. I miss them and all our Christmas traditions. I love my new home and celebrating my 1st Christmas w/ my new husband but I miss the joy and togetherness of my family. I’m building new traditions today.

  4. Rosalie Barrie December 24, 2017 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Sunday Cafe is the perfect read for all.
    From the Cuba invitational, including
    a tour , the Sorolla y Batista
    paintings would be a rarity.
    Best wishes and many thanks for
    the art news.

  5. Sandra Murphy December 24, 2017 at 6:19 am - Reply

    Merry Christmas, Eric! I hope this year’s turns out to be every bit as joyous as the one you’re envisioning and I want to extend my very best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous and art-filled 2018!

  6. Linda Lucas Hardy December 24, 2017 at 6:22 am - Reply

    Wow! You are a unique man Eric Rhoads! I truly appreciate you and thank you for taking the time to write this. It meant a great deal to me. By the way, I read every word of, “Are You Killing Yourself Unknowingly?” to my husband. I don’t know if you are aware but one of the meanings of the word, repent, is to change one’s mind…I’ve changed my mind. You’ve given me a whole new way to think.

    Kindest Regards and Blessings for today, tomorrow and always!

    Linda

  7. Jeannette December 24, 2017 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Eric,
    Thank you for your honest personal feelings and your accurate assessment of holiday strife. I needed to hear this this morning. I soon to be husband’s adult children (2 of the 3) choose to pretend I don’t exist and often treat there father poorly because he is with a woman who is not there deceased mother. It has been painful, but this year they will come to our house for a moment (perhaps a drive by) on Christmas Eve. I woke asking for more forgiveness and less judgement. Your article hit the spot.
    Thank you and Blessings,
    Jeannette

  8. Wendy Adams December 24, 2017 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric for posting this. I got a moment to read it while waiting for the Christmas Eve Roast to cook. Lots of family tonight and all day tomorrow. I am very excited, but a little on edge too. Will be back in the studio on the 27th. Merry Christmas.

  9. Mark hall December 24, 2017 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Awesome comments I enjoy your insights I like you believe family’s are what it’s all about in the end

  10. Marie Arre December 24, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Eric,

    Great reading…with so many common themes for us all. I always look forward to your “Sunday Coffee”. Merry Christmas to you, Laurie, Berkeley, Grace and Brady. ❤🎄

  11. Mary December 24, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    As I sit here here half listening to the Patriot’s game and looking at my neglected e-mails, your words have hit home with me. This morning our 3 children and families were here except for one daughter-in-law and her daughter. She was invited and welcomed but chose to do something else. I’m sad for her and yes for me too but as you say, “let the drama go”. I’ll just keep smiling and being thankful for all I ‘do’ have and I have had a fabulous husband for 47 years now. How bad can that be.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  12. Clark Gussin December 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Eric, I appreciated your uplifting comments of encouragement this morning. The focus of this time of year(every day actually) was authored by a peace maker, a healer, and a Savior of all mankind.

  13. Mike December 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    Eric this is a great piece. I always look forward to reading Sunday Coffee. But this one hits home, I believe everyone can relate to this and to me especially. Don’t want to get into it but has given me a lot to think about. Thank you, look forward to my Sundays.

  14. Joani Stotler December 24, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Eric, your message is a healing one! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  15. Donna December 24, 2017 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    “NO DRAMA” if only everyone could get over the drama……life is too short. Thank you…..wish everyone in the world could read this.

  16. Susan December 25, 2017 at 4:29 am - Reply

    Thank you for often saying something I need to hear and thank you for taking the time to write each week.
    Wishing you peace and happiness.

  17. MARY ARENDT December 25, 2017 at 11:31 am - Reply

    -YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO “HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD” – I LOVE OUR SUNDAY CAFE COMMENTS – POETRY AND WISDOM. THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO COMMUNICATE WITH MILLIONS OF ARTISTS, BECOMING A TRUE FRIEND. YOU MAKE EACH OF US FEEL WE ARE CLOSE PERSONAL FRIENDS AND THAT YOU KNOW EACH ONE OF US BY NAME. WHAT JOY YOU SPREAD. GOD HAS BLESSED YOU. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HEALTHY AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND ALL YOUR FAMILY. (WOULD LOVE TO SEE A PICTURE OF YOU ALL TOGETHER!!)

  18. Eileen Nichols December 25, 2017 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I enjoy your Sunday coffee letters much. Holidays can be a minefield. We have some folks in our families that are very good with the “snake eye” You could find your self in the yard with your car keys.

  19. Lori Woodward December 27, 2017 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Eric, good and honest words. We all have difficult family, and some of us have difficult friends. I’d rather flee than fight.
    That said, the one thing that I haven’t learned to handle is when someone makes a remark that is said to hurt me, just me.

    It always catches me off guard – I’m not expecting it because it seems so foreign that anyone would want to put me down while I’m just pretty much minding my own business. I’d like to learn how to better let it roll off my shoulders. I’m sensitive and some words reverberate in my mind – I just can’t understand why someone puts other people down. This especially happens in groups. It’s kind of like the “wolf pack” mentality where some try to establish their position in the family pack.

    I don’t actually expect these kind of remarks ahead of time, so I’m not pre-thinking them. What does one do when someone blurts out an undeserved insult? I don’t think retaliation is the answer. I just usually don’t say anything. Maybe I could ask a question and change the subject.

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