Becoming Okay With Disappointments During The Holidays

I hope Sofia loves Home Alone some day.

It’s the hope that kills you. Cliché right? No, I am not an English football fan, unless you count the Richmond Greyhounds, the team coached by Ted Lasso (Probably my favorite show right now and my favorite episode might be the Christmas episode that I watched this past August and yes it did get me into the Christmas spirit three months early), but I do agree with the sentiment. Hope can kill, especially if you place that hope in the wrong things. That is why I am learning to become okay with disappointments during the holidays because my hope is not in a perfect tree.

No, I am not giving up all hope and becoming a Scrooge for the season. On a side note, how come being a scrooge is a bad thing, since Ebanizer Scrooge turns his life around and becomes a man we should all model our lives after. A Christmas Carol, if I can continue this little aside, makes it clear that Christmas is not about what we buy, but about how we love our fellow man. At the end of the classic novel, Scrooge has a change of heart and realizes he must love those around him which leads him to buying the prized turkey (is it a goose? I think so.) for the Cratchet family. Christ calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even the message behind A Christmas Carol might leave us disappointed and feeling hopeless. When we love and expect love in return only to be shunned, that is disappointing, but true hope can still remain.

He’s trying to be a good boy.

Hope can bring us joy when we let go of our expectations, live in the moment, and let Christ into our season. Expectations are key to the Christmas season. When we place our expectations in the wrong things we can easily become disappointed. From Thanksgiving to Christmas I have expectations of a magical season. I want to experience joy. I want to eat quite a bit and not gain weight. I want to feel that sense of wonder only an early morning sitting in quiet near the Christmas tree can bring. But this year we had to buy a second Christmas tree because Phoenix, our cuddle king of a pup, chewed up our first one. Maybe this is why Scrooge, at the start of the story, is so jaded toward Christmas, someone chewed up his expectations of beauty at Christmas, so his flame of hope died out and all wonder left with it.

Even expecting wonder can bring on disappointment. Just go and watch National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, its streaming on HBO Max if you don’t have the blu-ray like I do. Clark Griswald expects to provide wonder for his entire family. He has always dreamed of having the house with the most lights and when the lights just won’t work he is so disappointed he punches his fake Santa Claus. The entire movie is packed full of hilarious examples of how Christmas expectations can be turned into disappointments. But it is okay to experience disappointments at Christmas, because if our true hope is in Christ we can know that the dark days will be redeemed. His love is coming to rescue us all, even the Clark Griswalds of the world.

Gryffin is keeping Phoenix in check

I can relate to Clark Griswald and Scrooge because I have felt disappointed during the Christmas season. I remember wanting a race track for Christmas, only for it to come without the full track. We went back to the store after the Christmas season was over only to be told they didn’t have the replacement part. I never got to play with that toy. Even this holiday season has already had its diapointments. I wasn’t able to sleep the night before Thanksgiving because I had an anxiety attack and so I spent the entire day tired, anxious, and disappointed. I know other disappointments will come this season. Maybe I’ll get sick and have to Zoom in with my family for Christmas morning (I’ve had to do this before when I lived in Guatemala and it was not quite the same). No, I don’t want gifts that are broken and no I don’t really want to be separated from my family, but being okay with disappointments is more about where I am placing my expectations.

Through the holidays, especially leading up to Christmas, advent is practiced throughout Christianity. Advent means to wait, to hope. Typically in the church this is observed by lighting four different candles, the first one being the representation of hope and the last one being the Christ candle. If we light our hope candle and place it in any other hands than the hands of Christ, our expectations are not going to be be met and our hope will leave us disappointed.

They are anxiously waiting for Santa to come

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the beautiful poem Christmas Bells (click the link for the full poem) about disappointment at Christmas. Here are the last two stanzas. Notice how God brings beauty to Wadsworth Longfellow in the midst of his despair. It is beauty that can bring us back to the hope that Christ has for us.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

So in Advent we wait with a hope that leads to Christ. His love for me is what allows me to feel disappointment at Christmas because I know he is coming back to redeem the wrongs and bring true peace to our world. Through the season I know I will have days that are so lacking in wonder that it hardly feels like Christmas at all, but in the end even if Christmas Day doesn’t go as planned I can remember that I am loved. That Christ came as a baby, lived in our wonderful and disappointing world, and still chose to sacrifice himself for me. That is where the magic of this season resides.

So this holiday season I am going to be okay if I am disappointed because my hope is in Christ and that is a hope that will never kill me.

All she wants for Christmas is a red rider BB gun.

Behind The Times: What I Watched This Year When Not Out On Adventures

Adventures in waterfalls

I turned the screen off in shock.  My mind was spinning.  I had just finished the final episode of the latest season of Game of Thrones.  “Not his real name! He’s more than, but what! Oh my gosh!” -Immediately I felt the need to talk about my feelings, but no one wanted to talk to me.  I’d finished the show a year after everyone else.  That’s just how behind the times I am.

Yep, we are nerds!

I don’t like being behind the times.  I would rather be up on all the pop culture happenings.  I go to comic cons.  I am a pop culture nerd.  But I don’t always get what I want.  I would love to have the last say on what I watch, but well, I love my wife even more.  So when April asks to watch something or she refuses to watch Game of Thrones with me, I let her pick.  God is asking me to be a little behind on the times so I can love my wife better.  Anyway, I didn’t get to watch the show on time and it turns out it was a good thing.

Yes, I know that if you watch the show and are more behind than I was, you could easily figure out who I am talking about and realize that it is a spoiler.  That is why I won’t remind you that this is a shocking revelation about the identity of a lead character who has grown up thinking he’s a bastard but in truth he is the son of the true King.

But, here’s what I say to any worries about spoilers.  I managed to stay spoiler free with a show that’s been out for a year and if a guy who has been teaching, coaching, and sneaking in episodes when his wife wasn’t around managed to finish season seven, you can manage it too.  If you do take the time to finish the show, be prepared for some powerful truth.

This wasn’t the only truth I learned this past summer while I was catching up on the best that TV has to offer.  At my wife’s request, I dove head first into This Is Us.

Tuesday nights and Chicken Parm!

After watching most of season one in a week I was in tears.  In the episode Jack, the selfless husband teaches his wife how to love football.  Neither Jack, nor Rebecca wanted a marriage like their parents. They grew up in families where their parents weren’t on the same team.  I didn’t expect the episode to hit me the way it did, but I guess the truth is I want my wife to love football too so she isn’t just a mistress to my team during football season, but a teammate in heartbreak and joy.

Before the Buffs Blew it.

My tear-filled reaction was born out of the desire to have a wife who loves football, but it was more than that.  I want to make sure my marriage is a healthy team.  And sometimes I don’t know if we are a team because of her refusal to like football or to give Game of Thrones a try.  That’s one reason why I picked up one of April’s shows so that we could share our time together and be on the same team.

April’s first Bronco’s game!

I spent much of 2017 telling her I would not watch This Is Us.  It just didn’t interest me as it seemed like it was too dramatic.  But I am glad I did.  Yes, I know I’m behind the times and am about two years late to the party.  No, I have not cried during every episode (That’s April’s job), but yes I do think it is one of the best written shows on TV.  And I started watching it right when I needed to.  See, I am behind the times, but this is what happens when you’re a teacher, coach, uncle, friend, and most importantly a new husband.

It might seem a little lame that I used my first free summer in two years to catch up on TV, but sometimes watching a good TV show can be just as adventurous as going up to Rocky Mountain National Park and seeing Moose, which I did twice this past summer.

Last year, as I documented, I married April, which has been the best thing to happen to me, like ever, but I had to work all summer so we could pay for our wedding.  I also coached basketball if you remember. While I worked my butt off during the school year and summer, I let my story consumption slip.  I hardly read last year.  I didn’t want that to happen again this year.  This is me being back in control of how I spend my time.

Yes, the World Cup was included in on what I watched.

Books, movies, and tv shows we consume are teachers if we let them.  Recently I started asking God what he has for me in what I am watching or reading.  Since I started this practice, it has helped me be okay with how I consume movies, tv, and books.  But it has also made me weary.  Not everything I consume is good for me.  I can’t do horror and I hate stories that depict the world as hopeless, so when April has us watching The Handmaid’s Tale I have to chase it with episodes of Fuller House.

Union Station is full of Ghosts

Can you see the ghosts in the picture?

After teaching a summer school focused on the horror genre (why I can’t do horror right now), I started not sleeping well and started looking for something positive to fill my mind and Game of Thrones did not disappoint.  I finished episode seven of Game of Thrones in early July and I felt God telling me, what lies are you living in?  Am I like the character who has been living under a false identity his whole life thinking that he is less than he actually is?

So on a sleepless night after finishing Game of Thrones, God told me, Brendan you are my son.  You are my child.  A son of the King, just like John Snow.  Do not worry, I have an amazing adventure planed for you.

These men are teaching me how to be a young king.

A couple of weeks later April and I were watching season two of This Is Us.  We were balling our eyes out as Jack loved his family perfectly.  I heard God say, not in an audible voice, but it was still clear, “My love is perfect and it sets you free.  I have given you a teammate who loves you and even if she doesn’t like football or she hasn’t agreed to watch the best show on television, she is with you in all your heartbreak and all your joys.”

I might have been behind the times on the TV shows, but I would say that I watched them right on time.  The messages I learned from these shows are helping me live free and connect with the love God has for me.

So this year, 2018, I watched plenty of TV, and I am not ashamed I did.  God used each well written show to speak his loving truth into my life.  Here are five shows you might like and what I learned from them (Honorable Mention: Lost in Space and Longmire):

Yes, I read the book first.

  1. The Haunting of Hill House scared the heck out of me, but reminded me that we are all broken and in need of healing.
  2. A Series of Unfortunate Events made me laugh and hit me with the fact that kids are strong and smart and I should empower my students to live to their fullest poential.
  3. The Walking Dead made my heart race and taught me that when the world goes to hell I can choose to love those around me like Rick did.
  4. Better Call Saul was so beautiful and tragic.  You can be good at heart, but if you break when the world is against you and don’t let love heal you, you might go bad.
  5. Stranger Things season two won me over with heart and horror.  Never bet against kids and don’t adopt baby alien creatures even if they are cute.

Doctor Who didn’t make the watchlist this year.  April is mad at the show, so I am waiting for her to get back into the TARDIS and travel with me.

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First world problems