As Beth opened the door of the coffee shop, bells jangled from the handle. Caught between the inside air and the crisp wind outside, her ponytail blew around her face, her denim skirt twisted around her legs. She closed the door, pushed her hair and skirt back where they belonged and inhaled the sweet, bitter, cozy scent of coffee. Jess waved to her from her corner table. The door opened behind her, the wind grabbed her hair and skirt again. She stepped aside to make room as Cara stepped inside.
The two friends greeted and walked over to join Jess, waiting for them with three cups of pumpkin spice coffee.
“My favorite part of Christmas is when it’s finally over,” said Cara as she plopped into her chair and took a sip from her cup. “Thanks Jess, this is good.”
“Don’t talk like that,” said Beth.
“You don’t have to survive my family,” said Cara. “The hateful glares between my mom and dad. My grandma lecturing my dad about all he should or shouldn’t have done while ‘Silent Night’ plays in the background. No, I am glad when the holidays are over.”
“Don’t you enjoy any of it? What about the music or the food or the decorations?” asked Beth.
“No, it all reminds me of what our family isn’t. I can’t see past the animosity and resentment.”
Beth turned to Jess, “How was your Christmas?”
“You make me feel guilty, Cara. We all got together, had lots of presents and loads of food and lots of fun.”
“How about you, Beth?” asked Jess.
“After church, we each opened one gift, we had our big meal, read the Bible and sang hymns, each picking our favorite. Later, we went to the convalescent home where my grandpa lives and my dad led a service for all the dozing old people. It was delightful.”
“You don’t sound too thrilled with Christmas, either,” said Jess.
“In my family, there is so much focus on what is right or Scriptural we forget to have fun. We have to ‘do’ Christmas instead of having a relaxed, easy, happy, together Christmas.”
Jess leaned back in her chair. “There is such a huge build up before Christmas. Seems it starts earlier each year.”
“And drops harder when it is over, when all the disappointment and dissatisfaction hit. When you realize all you didn’t do or didn’t get or didn’t give. When the next three hundred and sixty-four days seem a relief,” added Cara. “I wonder if it is wrong to feel a sense of grief. Relief and grief, when finally, it is all over.”
“I don’t think it is wrong. Recognizing your feelings is a good thing. What you do with those feelings is what matters,” said Jess. “Acknowledge your feelings of sadness, regret.” Jess paused, “ Cara, can you think of three good things that did happen?”
“Three things?” She counted them off on her fingers. “Well, my dad did try to say something nice to my grandma instead of fighting back, even when she was hounding him. My brother and I had fun building a puzzle together. The mashed potatoes turned out well even though I tried a new recipe.”
“There you go. Three things to appreciate and remember, with a smile and gratefulness. Does that change your perspective?”
“Yes, I guess it does,” said Cara. “Guess I could come up with more good things, too, if I tried.”
“Exactly. Isn’t that the message of Christmas?” asked Jess. “The gift of love, shared with us, right in the middle of our messy lives. Right where we are.”
“I can see what you are saying,” said Cara. “It would be hard to be angry and bitter if I think about loving, kind things.”
Beth added, “I can see that I need to work on my perspective, too. To see all I do have in my home and family, instead of thinking about all I think we don’t have. We do have some fun together, even if it isn’t exactly like I would like it to happen.”
“Look,” laughed Jess. “I am not trying to be a psychotherapist or something. But being grateful makes a huge difference. Focus on the negative, and that is what you will see. Focus on the good, even if it is just a little, and the little grows bigger.”
The three girls sipped their coffees, quiet with their own thoughts.
Cara said, “I came here to unload and complain to both of you, expecting you to sympathize with me. Instead, I see Christmas in a different light. A light, kind of like the Christmas star shining over everything. Gratefulness, illuminating, shining light on the beautiful and on the ugly parts of life.”
“I like that,” said Beth. “The manger scene, the shepherds in the field, all lit up by the light of the Christmas star. Right where they all were, busy with their lives, their work. The light shining over all of it. And here, now, each of us with our own family challenges. The light shining over us, too.”
“Makes me almost look forward to next Christmas,” said Cara, and the three girls laughed.