Over the past couple months, I have found myself encouraged to step back and take a look at my timeline, all 36 years of it. In my Bible study, I have tried over and over to journal about God’s work in my life over the years. This practice has been more challenging for me than I would have expected. I have a difficult time zooming my perspective in on certain moments, years, or even decades without my brain going fuzzy, like it can’t seem to get a cell phone signal. This disorientation and dissociation is often typical for those who have experienced trauma, and it is safe to say that I am a trauma survivor. Because God is so gracious and merciful, He has allowed me a concrete way to zoom into a particular year this Christmas season: Christmas ornaments.
It was November 24th, two days after Thanksgiving, the day when we as a family typically pull out our Christmas tree and start decorating for Christmas.
Our ornament collection is a hodge-podge assortment of old classics from Jordan’s and my childhoods, to new additions. The new additions consist of two categories: nostalgic crafts that the kids have made that honestly to the outside eye might look like trash on the tree; and the fancier ornaments that Jordan has yearly gifted to me on Christmas morning. I love both categories equally. What I wrestle with more are my childhood ornaments, and the ornaments of my adulthood that entered my life in my BJ (before Jordan) years.
As we were hanging ornaments, and I was trying to push back my perfectionism regarding how many ornaments should be shoved onto the same tree branch, I picked up a wooden snowman with a bright red scarf, painted with my name and ’07. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I got him. He’s cute. He’s warm. He’s cheery. He has rosy cheeks, and he is all together winsome. But as I reached down in our Christmas storage boxes to pick him up, I looked past his warm smile to the date on his belly: ’07. Right under my name. A shudder went through my body, and I felt the question rise up in me: Why in the world would I put him on the Christmas tree?
That snowman represents a year of torment, grief, shame, and great loss. Let me tell you a little about the year 2007. I was bouncing around in the limbo that exists between graduating college and finally “growing up.” But it was so much more than that: it was the year that I tried to take my own life twice, the final time being on December 10th, nestled in the “peace” week of Advent. Oh, there were so many reasons for my attempts: major depressive disorder, crippling anxiety, unprocessed trauma, droves of lies, and a medication that made me impulsive and even more depressed. It was a recipe for disaster. The year 2007 was an absolute nightmare.
As I lingered physically in 2018 with ornament in hand, mentally hovering in the shadow of 2007, I raised my hand to the tree. It felt like an act of obedience in that moment, to place that little snowman on our 2018 Christmas tree. So I stepped forward, I took a deep breath, and I placed him in the center of my Christmas tree, surrounding him with my favorite ornaments: The ornament that Jordan and I received in 2011, the year we were married; a lovely little cross with a red flower bleeding out of it’s heart, declaring peace on earth; A little girl with blonde pigtails perched on a swing with Lily Grace, 2017, on it; A clear ball with Elijah’s smiling one-year-old face suspended in the middle of it.
As I gazed at the tree, with bittersweet feelings about the array of ornaments haphazardly hung before me, it occurred to me that our Christmas tree offers a chance to step back from my timeline that is my life.
Our Christmas tree, borrowed from Jordan’s childhood, gives me a chance to glimpse snapshots of years that have been devastating and years that have been celebratory. It also gives me a vision of God’s perspective on my life, as He sees the redeeming work that He is doing over the long-haul of my timeline on this earth. The tree is like a journey from Chronos time into Kairos time.
In 2007, I was lonely, still connected with an incredibly destructive family system, and struggling mightily with Depression, Anxiety, and Anorexia. In the end of October of 2007, I had my first suicide attempt. On December 10, 2007, I had my second attempt. That year, I spent Advent in the hospital, and Christmas in the psych unit. I was despondent, broken, and still not sold on the idea of living. Quite honestly, Christmas was the absolute last thing that I wanted to experience in 2007. It felt like a tease, and I felt like a sleep-walker. My life was a nightmare, and I desperately wanted to wake up.
And yet…I hold that ornament in my 36-year-old hands today, the same ornament that I held in my 25-year-old hands 11 years ago, and I see a different story. It’s all my story. I’m still Megan. I still walk on the same timeline, but my perspective is quite different. I see 2007 through the lens of redemption and healing. I can hang that cute little painful reminder up on my tree today because I see God’s faithfulness in 2007 in a way that my eyes could not see it when I was entrenched in it.
If you are in your own 2007 and are taking the time to read about Christmas, I want you to know that you are so incredibly brave. I could not face the fact that it was Christmas in my 2007. I buried my head and tried to pretend that the season did not even exist.
I want you to know that God has not abandoned you. God never abandoned me in my season of deepest despair. Through the years following my hellish 2007, God has given me visions of His presence during my times in the valley of the shadow of death. Though my timeline is not by any means complete, and I will not see the fullness of the ribbon of God’s presence until I reach heaven, I can say with 100 percent certainty that God was there in the midst of my loss, in the midst of my depression, in the midst of my despair and overwhelming anxiety. I can see Him now.
There was a song that constantly came to my heart during that season. My mind was unable to process the literal meaning, but my heart, which was the Lord’s, held to this song for dear life. It is called, “Our Hope Endures” by Natalie Grant. These are the lyrics of the chorus and the bridge:
“Our hope endures,
The worst of conditions.
It’s more than our optimism.
Let the earth quake.
Our God is unchanged.”
Emmanuel, God is with us.
El-shaddi, all sufficient.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
El-shaddi, all sufficient.
We never walk alone.”
Beloved, the Lord is with you. You are not abandoned or left alone. You never have been. I know that it can feel like it. Your whole being can scream that you are utterly lost and abandoned and that God does not care. Hold on. He’s here. He’s in this room. He has never abandoned me, and He has never abandoned you. You may not see it today. Your mind may not be able to grasp it, but let the Spirit whisper it to your heart:
You are beloved.
The Spirit grieves with you and for you. You are embraced and enfolded in the love of the Almighty God. The morning will spill over into the night, and you will see His face again.