The winter before I launched this blog to go beyond friends and family and a creative space to organize my photos and recipes. I stood on the cold lament flooring in our 1940s ranch home in the Midwest, I was feeling particularly grinchy this year. My son, then three, had recently had four minor surgeries and the recovery was going very, very, very badly. It felt as though I hadn’t slept in nearly eight months, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to carry on with this life I’d carefully constructed. I wrestled with feeling both blessed beyond measure and simultaneously feeling absolutely depleted. My husband’s first year of graduate school finals were underway, so he had crept out in the early morning, and I found myself making breakfast when my first Christmas card of the year arrived at my doorstep.
Wouldn’t you know it came from the most beautiful family I had ever seen?
“I bet her kids sleep through the night.”
“I’m sure she has family nearby to allow her the extra space and energy to get highlights.”
“I’d love to get back to the gym, but Liam’s immune system just wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Before I even realized what happened, I was so mad at this person. A person I really, really love. Her card had innocently enough (at no fault of her own!) brought to the surface so many vulnerable thoughts and insecurities. Trivial things like the extra thirty pounds from stress eating my way through 2015, the bags under my eyes from constantly waking throughout the night scared I had missed Liam’s early morning surgery appointments or speech therapy sessions. Less trivial things like: loneliness, isolation of the winter months in Indiana with two babies with no family nearby. Our graduate school budget making it impossible for us to travel across the country to visit family for the holidays, and the unpredictably of my life just then when all I had ever wanted when I grew us was stability and security.
I looked at my gorgeous friend, her dapper husband, and her darling children. I knew in my heart they had not intentionally sent me this stunning card to hurt me. Everyone knows I love Christmas, like REALLY love it. I host parties, bake, decorate, but this particular year in my heart I felt called to spread Christmas Cheer in a new, innovative way. What if I wrote a Christmas card where I openly shared where I’d struggled or fallen short? What if in this card we were honest about the hurt we’d endured that year? What if in a world of social media perfection, I openly admitted to all 150 people on my Christmas card that 2015 hadn’t been a perfect year, but that we were no less thankful for it?
So, I did just that. I shared that Sawyer had been hateful, that I’d lost my two children under three in Target multiple times. I included beautiful photos, but I also threw in some candid pictures where my acne was unconcealed and my weight gain was not masked by flattering outfits or great angles. I shared that my husband’s new school schedule had been a rocky adjustment and that while I didn’t love it, we recognized how blessed we were to be in a place to study whatever we want and learn and grow and prosper. The response blew me away, I got texts from across the globe from our friends who NEEDED that honesty. So, the next two years, we did the same thing. I found ways to speak honestly about our shortcomings, disappointments, and all of the great things that happened throughout the year. I took the pressure off myself and I was hopeful I was taking it off everyone else. This last year we received about five cards from people who followed suite. We don’t always realize what an impact we are making on someone when we share our struggles. Social media is a highlight reel and sometimes it can make us feel so completely inadequate, when all we really need to create those same images is a better camera or lens instead of a new life.
All photos from Gift of Today Photography –Bloomington, Indiana
This year, I want to challenge you all to type up an email, a letter, or include it in your card. Share your heart, not just the greatest pieces of your year. The holidays can be very lonely for some. I know I struggle every year when the weather shifts from colorful fall to dreary, isolating winter. I only barely remember my first holidays spent at the bedside of my terminally ill father, or I think of friends who are hurting for assorted reasons. Let’s be people who let the holiday season bring us together, not divide us further.