Choosing to find joy in the holidays


For the past few weeks, I’ve seen a myriad of thoughts and posts regarding the holidays. Some people are totally into it; while others face the season with deep dread. I had another topic that I was planning to write about for this article, but decided to save it and join in with the holiday spirit. (or lack thereof!)

When our kids were young, the holidays were so much fun. Our biggest stress concerned what to buy for each one (we have 3). At that time, we were incredibly fortunate that our kids didn’t want for anything. We would give them the toy ads and have them circle all the things their hearts desired. Then, as good parents, we joined the throws in the line for the latest toy craze.

When our youngest son was in the midst of his darkest times and on suicide watch, the holidays took on a very different meaning. We had lost friends (actually, people we thought were friends) because no one wanted to be around us or our volatile child. As a result, our other two kids suffered, not only from lost friends, but also from all the emotional baggage that goes with mental illness and a brother who demanded so much attention. Financially, mental health will drain your bank account, so the funds were not there to purchase the gifts we had in the past.

Sounds pretty grim – right. Nope. What really happened are some of our greatest memories. As we marched (trudged) through that journey, the bad days were really bad, but the good days, well, they were really good! We started our own traditions as Team Bachman – we took on the moniker BGOD – Bachman Gang or Die.

On Christmas Eve, like every good Jewish family, we ordered Chinese Food (going to a restaurant was out of the question, given our situation). If we were having one or our rare “good weeks”, then we would treat ourselves to a trip to the movie theatre. (We really appreciated loud places!) If not, we rented a movie at home.

Christmas Day became movie and game day. We stayed in our pajamas all day. Instead of 8 gifts, one for each night of Hanukkah, each kid received one small one. Instead of the kids buying gifts for us, they made us gifts. One of those gifts is pictured in this post. What made this gift so special is that the kids worked together doing it. My husband and I could hear the laughter coming from behind the door. In the dark times, there was nothing better. Little victories. Big learning.

As our son’s mental health started to improve, we were able to get out more. Along the way, we developed incredible strength as a family. Our holiday tradition of Chinese food and a rented movie continued. The concept of material gifts became less important and we turned our attention to giving back. We took on feeding the homeless as our cause. Ten years ago, we started serving at a homeless shelter and then about 7 years ago, we met Beth Zone. She started a program to provide breakfast to the homeless on holidays. Now, on every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we are up and at the Church by 6:30am to cook a feast of eggs, potatoes, sausage & gravy, bacon and a host of pastries. They are then served to hundreds of hungry people.

Today, our holidays are very different. We still do the Chinese food thing and we still volunteer. Our family, however, is usually not together geographically. This is something that both my husband and I struggle with. Two of our three kids live in other cities and their jobs make traveling home for the holidays difficult. It’s very hard to see all our friends with their families that come from near and far.

But, our journey has taught us some incredible lessons. This sadness could consume us, but, what good would come from that? From our past experiences, I've learned I have choices and more importantly, I have the power to find happiness even in the darkest of times.

I’ve learned that if I keep my eyes open, I can truly see the possibilities that will lead to choices to find something good. You can too!

The best gift I will receive this holiday season will come from technology. My husband and I will be able to get on Skype or FaceTime and be with our kids that way. Is it as good as all being together? Nope. Is it a pretty great alternative? Absolutely! We can even get everyone together although they live in Tennessee and Connecticut! We can hear the hilarious sibling banter and simply spend time together.

There are many people out there who grab every ounce of happiness from the holidays. Sadly, there are just as many who can’t. Some have lost loved ones and don’t know how to spend the holidays. Others deal with depression, mental illness, or some other issue. If you know someone dealing with something this holiday season, please know that you can make a difference by simply calling or visiting. Let them know that you care. Yesterday, we received an invitation to join a friend on Christmas night. That totally made our days! We are jumping at the chance to join in on their celebration! I’ve already picked out what I’m going to wear!

Sometimes happiness is hard to find, especially during the holidays. But open your eyes to the little things and think about what makes you happy. Then, do them! It’s that simple, and once you find one good thing, the next is easier. It contagious and it grows.

No matter what you celebrate, I hope your holidays are filled with thoughtfulness and thankfulness; but, most of all, I hope you can put the troubles on the shelf even for just a few hours and simply find your own happiness.

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