The overcast sky allowed only a thin grey light to pierce the early morning shadows. I squinted my eyes, straining to make out the words in the book I’d been reading when the electricity snapped off. Rain fell steadily outside the window. It looked and felt more like a warm spring rain, even though the calendar showed us quickly reaching the end of the year. How could it be almost December already?
Unless I grab a flashlight to aim on the small print in this book, I thought, my reading is over until the electricity comes back on. I looked over at my daughter on the couch, her face lit up with the light from her iPod. She played Doodle Jump while the cats took advantage of the rare moment of peace and curled up on a cozy throw close by. As long as the battery held out, she was good for a while. The only sounds in the dim front room were the electronic sproings and beeps from her game and the soft splat of raindrops on the dead leaves outside the window.
There was a brief surge of light, a flicker of electricity that quickly went black again, but was on long enough to show me that the Christmas tree had been turned on when we lost power. My girl must’ve turned on the tree lights when she woke up earlier. We’d just put it up the weekend before, too anxious to get the Christmas season started to wait until after Thanksgiving like we usually did. With holiday songs streaming from the TV and those darn cats batting at every strand of beads I unwound, we’d made an afternoon of giggling and dancing and decorating the tree. Each ornament I handed her had its own story, and I reached deep into the past, into the story of her and Kevin and me, digging the treasured memories out one by one to present to her: this one from our trip to Chicago, and this one from Orange Beach, and this one from the year she loved Thomas the Tank Engine so much. Her beloved Dora the Explorer appeared on quite a few ornaments; so did Kevin’s New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. Each green branch of the tree, bent under the weight of the colorful ornaments, became a page spilling over with our memories, heavy with our family history.
But now I stared at the tree, incredulous at what I saw perched in its darkened branches.
The glittery lime green ornaments, in the shape of letters that spelled out JOY, sparkled brightly in the dim room, even though no twinkling white lights illuminated them.
I couldn’t stop staring.
I’d gotten several boxes of those ornaments for twenty-five cents each at an after-Christmas sale a few years ago. Last year, I pulled them out for the first time, when I was desperately seeking some joy in a season that only felt melancholy and impossible in the middle of my grief. I stuck them haphazardly in among the branches, and they balanced precariously, which was exactly how I’d felt: stuck and off-balance in this new life without Kevin. I hoped they’d remind me to feel something – anything – during the Christmas season, because I needed to. For me, for Kevin, but especially for my girl, who still deserved all the magic of Christmas. It sort of worked, I guess, but the bright green color got a little lost among the dark green branches and sparkling lights and the overwhelming assortment of rich colorful ornaments, and I’m not sure I remembered to look for the JOY when I walked by the tree.
It was a hard Christmas.
Well, now, with the electricity off and the tree in solemn darkness, there was no missing it.
All over the tree, in all the hidden nooks and bent branches, JOY shone out brightly.
In the midst of darkness, it shines.
In spite of the darkness, it glimmers.
Because of the darkness, it glows.
And I needed to see it.
Because Christmas is still hard this year. Kevin’s not here, and that’s not any easier to reconcile: the mourning and the magic. And in the midst of this season, I need to be reminded that God is still here, even when grief clouds my life and it’s hard to see His light, or any light, in all the sad, depressing shadows. He is still with me, with my girl, still guiding our steps and catching the tears. He is still holding Kevin close to His side, and me and my girl even closer, murmuring words of comfort, of peace.
He is still bringing joy to our life. Joy in the memories, joy in the love, joy in the hope only He offers.
When the darkness comes, joy shines ever brightly.