Gary teased me yesterday because I’ve only watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” once this week. Yes, I’ll watch it again during Christmas break, maybe even twice. I suppose my holiday obsession with it stems from memories of all the lean years when we didn’t know if we would be able to afford gifts for the children, when the rent was overdue, and at least one child was sick and feverish during the holidays. I can’t tell you how many Christmas Eves have been interrupted by a trip to ER. I don’t remember either of us being frantic enough about our situation to jump off a bridge, but I certainly fantasized a few times about running away to a deserted island in the South Sea.
Or perhaps my fascination is actually based on my own childhood memories of Christmas. I believed in Santa for many years, but I did notice that he seemed to favor many of my friends and classmates more than me. I was sure that had a direct correlation to my terrible behavior and mean disposition. After all, Mom and Dad had warned me many times that Santa could see who was “naughty or nice” and kept careful score of my behavior. Seemed obvious to me that he was displeased with something I was doing!
And our holiday celebrations weren’t always the stuff of movies. Grandad was often drunk by the end of the day and Gran was nagging at him. Mom and Dad were tense from visiting with other relatives who were better off financially and who didn’t mind making that abundantly clear. There was an unspoken division in our family between the “church-going” and the “unbelievers” and the unbelievers seemed to be much better off financially. It was a confusing time for me.
The one immutable fact in our family was that my grandmother was loved and revered by everyone who knew her. She loved the holidays and often cooked or made gifts for a dozen people who weren’t even family members. She had friends at work, at church, even the places where she shopped. People sought her advice and followed it. They listened to her ideas and believed in her dreams. She told me often that my life would change for the better and that I could do and be anything I wanted…if I worked hard. Turns out she was right.
I reflected on all of this as I decorated our tree yesterday and a woman on television talked about the stress of the holidays. She pointed out that it is our own expectations that dictate our holiday experience and determine our stress level. I don’t feel that stress anymore. I do what I want and buy what I want and give what I want. I don’t feel obligated to live up to the expectations of others or to recreate some dream holiday scenario from my childhood. I have nothing to prove. I feel only joy that I have so many blessings and I’m able to share with others. I feel grateful that God gave so much to someone so unworthy. He truly does see who is naughty or nice, but instead of keeping score like Santa, he erases some of the numbers and gives me another chance.
Decorating the tree keeps me grounded and reminds me of where we have been and how much our family has grown and evolved over the years. Each ornament I examine has a history and reminds me of another time, another holiday. And now that I have the perspective of time and experience my reflections include not only the frantic penny pinching and the trips to ER, but memories of all the people who helped us- of anonymous gifts left on our porch, of money slipped into my pocket, of food cooked for us, and prayers said by hospital bedsides. We have been the recipients of the generosity of friends and strangers, and now we have the privilege of paying some of that forward. I guess that is why a sappy movie made before I was even born makes my heart overflow with happiness each time I view it.
My life isn’t ideal.
My family isn’t perfect.
My health is just as fragile as anyone else’s.
My finances aren’t secure enough for me to quit my job.
I don’t have everything on this year’s “must have” list.
But the true measure of a life isn’t what you have…it’s the people you love and who love you in return. “Remember George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
I hope you reflect on your own circumstances this holiday season and bask in the glow of God’s love and the love of others.
It’s a Wonderful Life!