It was late afternoon and I was returning home from running an errand, my youngest son Blais in the car with me. “I don’t like that it gets dark so early in the day,” he said at one point, gazing out the window. “But we have so many more hours to enjoy all the Christmas lights!” I replied, trying to put a happy spin on things.
Where there is darkness, there is light. We wouldn’t know and appreciate what light is without darkness providing a contrast.
“I love that people have come up with a tradition to light up the streets and dwellings during the darkest time of the year – at least in the Northern Hemisphere – to cheer up the world.” I said to my son. “It is such a reminder that there is always a solution. A reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there is always a gift of Light.”
And this gift doesn’t have to be a million little lights strung by a wire; it could be a single candle lit and placed where a lonely traveler might see it. It could be a kind smile exchanged in the checkout line, a hug when you need one, a pot of hot soup prepared with love. Like the light that breaks the darkness, it says: Come in stranger, warm yourself up, break bread with us and get refreshed before you continue your journey. It points to a place where Love awaits.
It’s much like the Star that led the shepherds and kings to the “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes” – on that first Christmas.
My son and I got quiet. It was only a few weeks after we had lost my husband and his father to Stage 4 nonsmokers lung cancer (I wrote about it in my article Cancer: A Turning Point No One Wants). The pain and grief I felt seemed to suddenly spread like the darkness outside.
“Yeah … You are right, Mama. The lights are more beautiful. And, in a few weeks, the days will get longer again,” my son said with a sigh. I smiled, with gratitude, and I felt the pain loosening its grip.
It’s like going through a dark, scary tunnel and focusing your eyes on the light at the end of it – no matter how small. I find that if I look at that light, and I intentionally become grateful that it’s there, I won’t think about how long it will take me to get out of the tunnel, or what could happen while I’m in the dark.
It’s the same with struggle and grief … even terminal cancer. During my husband’s heroic battle, I was afraid of losing him. But instead of letting the fear send me into anxiety and panic attacks, I’d focus on his warm hand in mine – feeling grateful for every breath he was breathing, for each moment in which I got to feel his warmth.
Matthew wasn’t afraid, but he was in a lot of pain. And instead of letting the pain get the best of him, he kept turning to gratitude – thanking his doctors for the medical treatments, his nurses for their care, his mom and dad for sitting next to him 24/7, me for loving him, our sons for being the biggest gift to him. Every day he thanked thousands of people who were praying for him and sending him healing thoughts – and from the place of gratitude, he prayed for those who might not have anyone around them. He was grateful for love, which he was experiencing despite the awful disease that would cut his life short (he was 47). And when it was time to let go, he felt ready – grateful for his faith that would take him to a place with no pain.
Gratitude brought us comfort and strength, and it continues to do so. It will be a gift that will sustain us on our journey ahead.
25 GIFTS – A GRATITUDE PRACTICE
During those hard nine months, when I wasn’t spending time taking care of my husband, I worked on a project that turned out to be both a Gratitude practice and one that inspired mindfulness – to all that we already have and enjoy in our lives.
Gifts such as Family and Loved Ones, Gratitude, Time, Simplicity, Silence, Compassion, Courage, Creativity, Music, Fragrance, Forgiveness and Joy helped me to keep my mind and my heart comforted. I compiled 25 of them into a book and recorded them as daily reflections. They turn each of my days into a gift itself – no matter what life situation I find myself in. I like to “open” them in the days before Christmas, just as if they were packaged into an old-fashioned Advent Calendar.
This Christmas will be a new experience for me and my sons. And if yours will be without a loved one too, or if you simply desire a more healing and comforting holiday season, turn to these gifts – they can help you emerge on Christmas Day renewed with new hope, joy and peace.
Let 25 Gifts for Christmas – or any other gratitude practice shine a light on your life. It has for me.