When I Cross the Streams on the Ghosts of Christmas Past

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So what does a post-neurochemical intervention and therapy-in-progress for depression Christmas look like? Last year was too soon for reflection. In fact, I don’t really remember last Christmas, my 49th, but I am sure it was just fine. Medications were being taken and adjusted to and doctors had their say and I listened. But this one, this year, has been remarkable on so many levels.

I entered this Christmas season with trending good news and hope. Though I am still often tired, the lupus that has caused all manner of change in my life these past 18 months (For example, I truly rock my Tilley hat to keep out the sun, though I still silently curse very sunny days), the disease remains quiescent for the time being and my blood work shows a continual decline in lupus marker activity.

“I’ve done my job,” the doctor told me last week, “Now you do yours.” What she was saying in polite doctor-speak was that it was time for me to get off my ass and exercise more and then I might find myself less tired. She’s right, of course. Taking photos of my cats doesn’t burn too many calories, nor does printing endless copies or sitting at the computer writing up prayer lists or upcoming worship services or talking on the phone. I should score some points for food shopping without a list so that I have to circle around and up and down the same aisle two or three times as I remember things. I’m sure if I had a fitbit or actually used one of those “map my run” apps on my phone you all would see my food shopping experience as another sign that I have lost my mind. “How many jars of pickles does this guy need?!?!” But all of those extra steps add up.

This Christmas season things went missing. Stress, for example. If a pastor isn’t stressed out, impatient, juggling a thousand things, every ball in the air as important as life, itself, can it really BE Christmas? Can it be Christmas if children aren’t crying over who gets to be Mary (we had a costume-free Christmas this year) or the key solo (every kid who wanted one, got one, even the little girl who took the mic and starting singing a song from Disney’s “Frozen,” though she wanted to sing two, which led to some brief sadness)? Can it be Christmas if the pastor isn’t spending Christmas Eve services running around making sure everything is perfect because of the visitors? And God forbid if you appear less than perfect for them since everyone knows that visitors only will return to perfect churches who know what candles to light and whose singers hit all the right notes and whose pastor bows and greets and sings and prays and chants and knows all manner of such holy nuance.

I’m pretty sure the homeless people who sat towards the back of our “Midnight Mass” Christmas Eve service, one a woman with bruise on her face who has taken to spending her evenings in the relative safety of our covered entrance, could have cared less about the perfection of our worship. “A wonderful mass,” she said. “Thank you so much.” That last of three Christmas eve services declined in attendance by half since last year, which surprised me, but when I placed communion in this woman’s hand or touched the shoulder of a man in tears, a son, his 91 year old mother next to him in the pew, him telling me how much celebrating Christmas with her here at this place meant to him and they would be back, though now in a whispered voice, “I fear this may be her last,” the metrics of worship attendance in raw numbers seemed such unholy a thing.

Everywhere on Christmas Eve, people lent a hand. It was glorious. Gone my bitterness of other years with me running around, vacuum in hand between services, picking up chips of wax and abandoned bulletins, then washing communionware, shutting off the lights and locking the last door, heading home and crawling into bed trying to remember if I had signed the card that I had bought for my wife, the house quiet and still.

Today I woke up refreshed; for the first time not feeling cheated out of Christmas, when in the past I would awake or be awoken still exhausted, zombie-like, grumpy. It felt good, of course, but not just good, but almost unnerving. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop and the day to unravel into misery.

Except it didn’t.

We all slept in and my wife made a special breakfast and we opened gifts and I headed off to our neighborhood mosque with nearly half of my church council and some of their family to share in the Friday afternoon prayer and to deliver remarks and gifts of friendship, peace and prayer. So many Muslims wished us a “Merry Christmas” that I found myself at a loss for words. Handshakes and hugs and kind and generous words abounded. They insisted we try and then take home some spicy meat-ball looking things. We gave them a peace lily and a card signed by everyone at parish who had promised to pray for them this Christmas week, to pray for peace this the week that we recall the birth of the Prince of Peace, Jesus, whom we love and follow and struggle to embody, truth be told.

Honestly, I do not know whose life I woke up into these past few months and especially these last few days. Sometimes things falter and I find myself changing the wicks of the church’s candelabras because I need something to be anxious about and fuss over or I find myself sorting the glasses at home by size and construction material as I empty the dishwasher. But these are brief and laughable in hindsight. As a family we enjoyed a good dinner, my wife out-doing her brunch casserole. We played a game in which I finished last and didn’t care because being together as a family trumped everything.

I could, one supposes, grieve the past and “what-if” myself to death, but seriously, I am too busy unwrapping the gift of this present life, the joy, the surprise, the grace of it, its beauty and simplicity. And tomorrow I will get up off my ass and starting walking.

Promise.

Blessings Ever, Keith

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4 thoughts on “When I Cross the Streams on the Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. Hooray. You’ve done it. You have arrived. Christmas without stress and panic attacks for a pastor or person who suffered with depression or a control freak who want to make everything perfect THEMSELVES is almost an impossibility. But when we ask God & his people for help.. And accept that it will work exactly the way it should be. We can then relax and take it easy. It is always perfect if it includes our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We just can’t necessarily see the perfection.
    When I look back at all of the Christmases that I stressed over everything, the madness of it is ridiculous now. I stressed everything. Every gift. Every dinner. Every reaction etc. I am not a pastor obviously that comes with its own unique set of stressors but I even stressed the services behind you and for you. Will there be enough wine poured “I hope PK fills enough trays “. “Which service should I go to. Ooh why pick. I’ll just go to all three. Oh, and I’ll assist, and greet, and sing and…..” And have family dinner in between. Dragging those teenagers and octogenarian back and forth and wondering why we were all so stressed. All the GOTTA GOTTA & WHAT IFS. CRAZY. INSANE. The mind of the mentally ill person, thinking that he/she can control everything in the universe only to CRASH & BURN (with depression & anxiety) and wonder how did I get here again. I never connected the dots either. Not until I got down and dirty with the illness. Looked it straight in the eye and acknowledged it. As you have. Now WE know what will take us to the ugly place. So now WE know how to take steps to live a quieter less stressful life. HA!!! Easier said than done, right.
    I have seen you grow & change so much in the last few years. I’ve seen you work hard to fight these things. I’ve seen you ask for and accept help. Like I said “you’ve arrived.” Just for today. That’s all we have is a set of moments in this thing we call life. You are an inspiration & I am blessed and honored to have you as my pastor & friend. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

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  2. Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And may your Blessed Christmas continue as we approach the New Year, and you continue to be surprised with good things!

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