I have always loved Christmas time! The lights, the activities, the food, and, especially as a mother, the gathering with the family. Every year, we have our traditions, like Christmas movie night when we watch White Christmas and Elf, and we make Chocolate Chex Mix. The decorations come out and inevitably, the memory sharing starts, “I remember this one – I made it in first grade!”
As our first Christmas in the Amirah house drew closer a couple of years ago, I was confronted with personal disappointment. As my excitement grew, and my plans on how to share Christmas with the women grew, they began to withdraw and shut down. I decorated that first tree by myself – BORING! And they resisted all my efforts to enjoy the holiday season. I needed to rethink this whole holiday experience!
I was reminded that the women we serve might have never had a holiday without tension and fights, might have never received the gift their little girl hearts desired, might not have any Christmas traditions. As adults, their trauma and substance use magnified loss, hurt, and hopelessness. As one woman said, “I never really celebrated the holidays because I was always worried about surviving!”
Amirah believes in family reunification, if it is possible and healthy to do so. But, as we have learned, this is very hard work that takes time and is fraught with pitfalls and heartache. Family holiday memories may not be worth remembering; lost time and relationships may spark shame and grief rather than excitement and anticipation.
For every woman who comes into our home, we desire to lavish her with pure, healthy love. But sometimes that love has to push through suspicion and pain before it can be received. That means that I must love a woman in whispers before I can love her in shouts. I have to dial down my Christmas enthusiasm in order to allow her to catch up to the expectation of the season as she heals. As she builds a new family at Amirah, and maybe works to repair her original family, we have to consciously doll out very small bites of delicious holiday experience until she catches up to the full feast.
Would you join me in supporting her by standing quietly and patiently while she slowly opens to the possibility of celebration? That’s what a family does for each other.