Most Christmas cards look like this:
But what if our Christmas cards told the truth about our lives? Not the shining, happy, upwardly mobile ones we want everyone to believe in — but what we actually experienced and felt, told without any filters?
It might look a little something like this.
In the past year:
My husband and I left our jobs in the nonprofit sector, said goodbye to amazing friends, and moved across the country. We put our daughter through a hell of a lot of transition.
I experienced a traumatizing pregnancy and birth and nearly died. Our baby was born a month early and had to be hospitalized for several scary days at 6 weeks old.
Our van broke down, never to be resurrected. We moved into a cramped, loud, chaotic apartment complex. Our upstairs neighbors drove their car into my daughter's bedroom. My husband got a job, but it is taking forever to get back on our feet financially. Every month we hope that this time we won't qualify for food stamps, but it hasn't happened yet.
My anxiety got so bad my body decided to get depressed in order to "fix things." I wrestled with my book manuscript, but it's hard to edit when you are sad and aren't sleeping and have little people to care for. My husband and I became very isolated, partly on purpose, partly because we didn't have the energy to reach out to old friends.
What if our Christmas card said this?
Greetings from the Mayfields. This was our hardest year ever, and we still haven't recovered!
It was the year of hard things. Temper tantrums, anxiety disorders, strange fevers, panic attacks, shut-down souls. We have been in survival mode since April; we are shocked that we are still not out. We grit our teeth as we agonize over every purchase, every stomp from above that keeps us up at night, as we stick close to our apartment complex due to lack of money and a baby who doesn't like to be out too long.
But the other day we came home after being at my parents' house for a few days, and as we walked in I said, "I missed this place." Just a tiny, pleasant, normal thought. It felt like our place. It didn't feel like a huge mistake. I wasn't resentful or despondent. I missed our apartment. That was a pretty big deal.
And I see glimmers of our new normal. I cut all my hair off. Neighbors dropped by Afghan food, and we ate it standing up in my kitchen; I wanted to cry with how good it tasted, how lovely it felt. My husband wears ties and listens to problems from people on a wide spectrum of mental health and resources. The baby giggles at everyone, showing his dimples. My daughter taught herself to read this year; she is friends with blond boys named Lucas and black-haired boys named Mohammed; and now she gets to spend every holiday with cherished cousins and grandparents who dote on her. I'm going to start an English class in January. My baby is going to start crawling. We are going to have a savings account again. We are going to have to keep learning to be generous, vulnerable, hopeful, grateful. We might go to church more Sundays than not.
But perhaps the most significant thing is that my faith is growing. I've been a Christian since I was young, the daughter of an evangelical pastor. But for most of my life, I was very good at understanding religious language without any knowledge of what it really meant. After this year of relentless hardship, Jesus is no longer an abstract person, a walking theology, a list of dos and don'ts to me. This is the year I recognized him as my battered, bruised brother, and I see how he never once left my side. In my most anxious nights, he was with me, telling me to look for the sun rising up in the morning. In the hospital, he was there, consumed with love and compassion for my son, for all the other patients and their parents. He grieved with my daughter as she processed leaving her friends and her school, with my husband and me as we had to start over in so many ways. He became real, and relatable, and this is a gift that I never saw coming, one that I now treasure.
"It's been our hardest year yet," my husband said. He paused for a minute. "But our kids sure are great." We don't have the energy to pretend we are okay, because we aren't really. But the light around us remains, we take our mercies as we get them, we see a new year just around the corner. Maybe, just maybe, this one will be a little bit easier.
D.L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Her book, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith, is forthcoming from HarperOne in August 2016. She blogs at dlmayfield.com and is on Twitter @d_l_mayfield.
Cristina Byvik has been an editorial illustrator since graduating from the Ringling College of Art and Design. She and her husband are the owners of byvik ink, a hand-printed, ocean-friendly, letterpress shop in Encinitas, California.