For the first 33 years of my life, Christmas meant a kind of exhaustion that most people cannot fathom. Christmas in The Salvation Army is a beast. I’ve experienced it as a soldier (church member), as an employee, and as a officer (minister), and while it’ll surely tick some people off by me saying so, nothing comes close to the kind of busy/exhaustion/pressure that corps officers (local ministers) experience. It turns Christmas into a kind of ultramarathon that can eat you alive. Even when you love Christmas, even though you think you know what you’re signing up for prior to your first Christmas, it is something to survive.
This is the first year that I have experienced Christmas outside of The Salvation Army, and it has been weird, to put it mildly. This perspective is so different, this schedule so befuddling, this setting so different that despite the decorations and music, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Not one little bit.
I’ve gotten to do things that I hadn’t been able to do for years: go Christmas shopping at reasonable hours, bake Christmas cookies with my family, wrapped all my presents in carefully coordinated papers, watch White Christmas, go downtown Chicago (my favorite thing to do all year long), guzzle too many red-cupped doses of Starbucks, and yet, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I haven’t stood at a kettle, driven bellringers around town, taken a Christmas assistance application, done a TV or radio interview, shoveled a parking lot, gotten cussed out because of the contents of a food assistance box, scrambled to find presents for kids, visited a nursing home, decorated a church building, planned and executed any kind of Christmas program, or any of the other millions of things I spent my life doing. It has been hard watching my tribe continue to live through the monstrous exhaustion, sleep deprivation, soul-crushing emails from headquarters, borderline malnutrition, and emotional swings. I want to rescue them.
It hasn’t helped that my circumstances aren’t exactly what I would like them to be. I’m still looking for work, and I am so not used to living with people anymore, even my parents, and this year, it seems harder to miss my friends who are far away, probably because I’m not so busy that I’m distracted. I’ve gone and gotten myself a boyfriend, CJ, which has been exciting and fun and insane and anxiety-inducing all at the same time (more on that in a different post). It has been freakishly warm with virtually no snow all season, and not even my favorite Christmas albums are helping.
So here it is, Christmas Eve, yet in some ways, it might as well be the middle of February. It just doesn’t really feel all that special.
Hopefully that will change in the next few hours, when my brother and sister-in-law get into town and I go to Christmas Eve service at church. Even while writing this, things have started to look up: an unexpected Starbucks gift from my bff Brandon, listening ears and encouragement from my other bff Melissa, unexpected messages from people in my tribe who have paused to say “Merry Christmas” and wish me well, a text from CJ that made my heart a little happier, and my anxiety is dropping.
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll have some kind of grand holiday offering for you, but today, it lies here: It’s Christmas Eve and I’m a bit of a mess, but I can celebrate the love and kindness of my friends, who see the mess that I am and love me in spite of it.