Our Christmas tree is decorated the way I remember them being decorated throughout my childhood: a mixture of white lights and BIG colorful lights (because they look like candy), cherished ornaments, crafted ornaments, and lots of vibrant color. It’s a real tree because I’m a real tree person. You know what I mean. And my husband puts up with the chaos and color of it all, because although he personally would like a more orderly and white-light approach, he loves me. So he does it this way for me. And I love him for that.
This year, there’s a strand of white lights on the tree that isn’t working. It was working just fine when we (read: the men, as the lights are a man job in this house) put it on the tree, but sometime in the first day it burnt out. And tonight as I was sitting in the post bedtime victory-lap moment, it occurred to me: of course there’s a strand that isn’t working.
That’s sort of symbolic of how 2016 has gone for us. Let me be honest. It just wasn’t great, friends. There were some lonely moments, some genuinely frightening ones, and lots of bad days punctuated, of course, by grace upon grace. It wasn’t all horrible. We are still abundantly blessed. But 2016 was sort of the dark strand of lights on the otherwise quite colorful tree we have called our sweet marriage adventure.
Every year, we make a photo book for the extended families and ourselves for Christmas. It tells the stories of our year from November to October, rather than a traditional calendar, because my side of the family celebrates Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving (Thanksmas is awesome!). As I waded through the photos of the last year, I appreciated the visual reminders of the special and positive moments of our year. And it was interesting to reflect on the fact that you hardly ever take pictures of the excruciatingly hard moments. I took one picture of Ryan’s fractured ankle (which took an eternity to heal), but in the end I didn’t even include it in the book. I couldn’t bring myself to commemorate the sour moments, our year of the broken light strings. Perhaps a more mature version of myself would have put those pictures and those stories in the book, so that I would someday appreciate this year more deeply. But the 2016 version of me just couldn’t include them, because in the end, we are still so ridiculously blessed that I simply feel foolish to complain.
My parents and brother and sister-in-love all came to Michigan for Thanksmas. It was the most refreshing, love filled, delightful visit. There was snow! We hugged and prayed and spoke words of life, love, encouragement, and goodness. There were two vomiting kids (lest we get too idealized here… This is still real life, and I still totally freaked out… Because vomit…but dad spent a day scrubbing vomit out of carpets because he is a servant). We avoided too many political discussions, because as queen of the house I banned them from my table. We gave gifts and played games and sat by roaring fires. This visit absolutely gave me life.
And I had the most wonderful realization as I took it all in: WE ARE IN A NEW BOOK. It’s November, and my yearbook is starting over!!! We are building a new year of memories. And even if there are more dead light strings to come, we are better for the growing pains that we experienced in the past year. We are stronger, I hope. We are closer to one another and more grateful and, I think, maybe, more grown up. God has been faithful to us even on a year that acted a bit like a burnt out strand of lights.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go see about ordering a new strand of lights. ‘Cause this is a new year, and these pictures are going in a new book.