Thursday, December 14, 2006

E-mail Appropros for the Holiday Season

Just got this gem via e-mail - and it's so true.

Happy Holidays and the myth of the ‘normal family’ - Charlie Summers

The holiday season is here with all its stories and legends. Candles flicker in the Menorah. Lights glow on a tree. Visions of sugar plums dance in our dreams. Some stories inspire us, some frighten us, and some stir our sense of wonder. Some tales draw us forward in hope, and some drag us down.

In recent years I have noticed one legend lurking just off stage in many holiday scenes. I’ll call it the myth of the “normal family”. This legend has turned Norman
Rockwell, Walt Disney and the Beaver into the three kings who rule the season. In the legend of the “normal family”, happy parents raise happy children in comfortable homes in a quiet neighborhood. Presents are purchased without stress or debt. Meals are eaten without fuss, spills or added weight. Just the right package shows up under the right tree at just the right time.

You will recognize these scenes from certain greeting cards and department store ads. They seem harmless enough. And maybe they are.

But the longer I work with people, the more I realize that there are no “normal” families. These glittering images have a way of making everyone feel inadequate, unprepared, or a disappointment to those they love. Like a mirage in the desert, they draw us forward to something which is not real.

Every family that I know of, sooner or later, is battered by the unexpected. No one escapes the wounds of life. In one household it is a grave disease, like cancer or HIV. In another it is chronic mental illness or addiction. Down the street a family loses a loved one in a car accident. Next door the breadwinner is laid off in a company
downsizing. Two doors over, a teen has run away, or the parents are in a messy divorce. Family life is always a mixture of struggle and success, of loss and love.

In each situation the family prepares for the holiday with a mix of sorrow and joy. It is as though a shadow hangs over all the plans. This is where the legend of the “normal family” haunts us. For it whispers that everyone is having a good time, except us. It tells us that everyone is buying great presents for their loved ones, but we do not have the money. All those other folks are looking forward to the holiday
meal, but we will have an empty place at the table. The legend leaves us isolated, afraid to mention our trouble lest we spoil someone else’s celebration. It leaves us depressed, because we cannot measure up to its shining example.

But it is just a legend; only a myth. There are no “normal families”. Remember that “Leave it to Beaver” was a fabrication of Hollywood. The department store scenes of glowing faces by a glowing fire on Christmas Eve are there to keep us shopping until the end. Luring us with the mirage of a gift that will make everything all right.
But if we put the legend aside, we can free ourselves to acknowledge our wounds and give thanks for our blessings.

The ancient stories at the heart of this season know that the Servant of God is “a man acquainted with grief.” “The hopes and fears of all the years” have always met at family gatherings.

Since there are no normal families, we are liberated to be with ours just as they are. To paraphrase a little Zen wisdom, whatever shape your family is in, that’s your family.

This holiday is a time to worship, to remember, to weep, to smile, to sing. Hope is a gift born in the reality of our lives, not purchased in some make-believe fairyland. We find our joy not in denial and pretending, but in openness to what God is doing. God has always worked in just such a mess of wounds and wisdom, of earth and spirit, of hurt and help. This is indeed a grand season of the year. It is made grand not by the perfection of our celebration, but by patience with those we love.

May your holiday be blessed with a Presence that cannot be bought,
returned, or marked down.

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