Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holidays and "New Normals"

Since my 20s, I've put up my Christmas decorations immediately after Thanksgiving. And each year when I do it, I internally take stock of whether life is "normal" or "off kilter."

It wasn't until this year when I realized, however, that my definition of "normal" might be somebody else's definition of "spectacular." During the Christmas season of 2004, for example, I was still married. My husband at the time had exited the Army after three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I was feeling particularly grateful that he was home in one piece. I had a beautiful 2-year-old boy, one which doctors said I was incapable of carrying to term and who had survived a horrific pregnancy. We had one of those brand new "McMansions" in suburban Augusta, GA, where the weather was perfect every day. We had a fabulous church and were heavily involved. My business was booming. My then-husband had found an extremely lucrative sales job, and money was no object to any need. Our child was in a gorgeous preschool, and we had good friends, and family members were flying in for Christmas Day. We'd even just returned from a week that October to Disney World. I still remember my child coming down the stairs to the tree to see what Santa had brought for him, his oohs and ahhs and the piles of toys. I remember playing music that sounded like something out of "It's a Wonderful Life." I remember rib-eye steak for dinner and other holiday meals like rigatoni with Italian sausage and peppers. I remember baking in a kitchen that looked like a photograph on Pinterest.


To me, at that time, that was "normal."

That was what my life was "supposed" to look like on Christmas.

I was heavily blessed, as you can see.

At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me, and one decade later, I have had to survive a series of "new normals."

Ever hear the phrase, "This is my new normal?" Ever wonder what it means?

To those of us who say it, what we mean is that at one time, we had the picture perfect life ... one that to the outside world looked fabulous.

But then something tragic happens, and everything -- EVERYTHING -- is ripped away.

We have to learn to adjust to a life that is less than what we imagined our life should be. We have to recalibrate our expectations. We have to reassess how shallow we were and whether we were grateful enough at the time for the things we had when we had them. We have to take stock of the people around us and hug our kid a little tighter each time he goes out the door.

And to really give you a picture of this ... as we put up our Christmas decorations, we have to say to ourselves, "This is my new normal. This is me, putting up my Christmas decorations, in my life as I know it today, in the present. And I am grateful for it."

But are we? Are we grateful for our "new normal?"

It's taken me a very long time to get to a sense of peace about where I am today.

However, something happened this year that brought me full circle to where I finally achieved acceptance.

As I was unloading my Christmas boxes yesterday, I ran into a box that contained nothing but photographs. And these weren't just from my former marriage ... these dated back all the way into my early 20s. I realized as I thumbed through them, looking at the faces of family and friends over the years, that these past few years are just the most recent time I have had to adjust to a "new normal."

When I was 26, my father died the day after Thanksgiving. My "new normal" was a Christmas without him. I've had subsequent "new normals" where I've moved across country, where I've married and then had to adjust quickly to the war against terrorism, where I've had an infant at Christmas all by myself because of that war, where I've been divorced, where I've gone from great affluence to poverty, where I've discovered my child had autism, where I've been betrayed, where I've endured pain and sickness and where I've even faced fear of death.

But as I looked at these photographs, I didn't see tears and gloom.

All I saw was love, joy, laughter, peace. All I saw were treasures -- people who truly supported me, loved me and cared for me through each tragedy.

Most importantly, I realized that no matter what is endured, I have had blessed assurance that Jesus is mine. And that has been consistently true for me.

We sang that in church this morning.

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long. ..."

My "new normal" has never really existed!

My "normal" has always been the presence in my life of the One who holds me and sustains me when life goes off the rails. The photographs of my past moments revealed that in my darkest days, I carried that assurance with me, boldly, courageously, without flinching, with certainty.

I don't say that to brag. I say that because for me, this revelation this weekend has been profoundly empowering: to know that God has carried me through each "new normal" and to also know that during each life transition, I've rested confidently in His arms.

Are you facing a difficult holiday season? Are you looking over your shoulder at happier times? Do you think about intact families and remember when things were different? Have you had to endure enormous grief, betrayal, loneliness, despair and loss?

I do not doubt for one minute that you are in extreme pain. I've been through my own trials, and I don't know what's in the future for me. Will there be more to endure?

I'm here to tell you that yes, you may have a "new normal," but one thing will be consistent for you:

He will be.

If Jesus is yours, then nothing has changed. Yes, life circumstances and tragedies force us into paths that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies. But if you are rooted in His love, you are still operating in the "normal" spiritual world of God's faithfulness and grace.

Lean on Him. Depend on Him. And when you start thinking about your "new normal," give it back to Him. He will give you the peace beyond your understanding and dwell with you.

This holiday season, I celebrate the only "new normal" that shook the world 2,000 years ago and changed everything for us forever:

"For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." ~Isaiah 9:6-7

Embrace this "new normal." Celebrate it. Depend on it. Depend on Him. Call on Him, and He will answer you.