This week, I’m visiting family for Christmas, and one might think that, after many months away and long hours of travel to return, I might forego any editing work or writing, and spend all my time in the warm embrace of close kindred.
That embrace has not always been one of comfort, but of control and bought affection. It smothered. It threatened. It even attempted murder.
More than once.
But some of us broke free. We left those we thought we loved, but whom we knew could not love us.
Holidays assayed in their presence often ended in fights and ugly words, and sometimes violence. Our final Thanksgiving with them, my father beat his brother-in-law—not because Dad was spoiling for a fight, but because he was protecting us from an unwarranted and unexpected attack. Thank God Uncle’s head had just been buzzed, or Dad would have grabbed a fistful of hair and beaten Uncle’s head against the gravel driveway.
Lest you feel too much sympathy for him, here are a couple examples of violence against us children: Uncle had tried to hit my infant cousin’s head with a shovel (my aunt turned, shielding her son, and was herself hit with the shovel). Years later, at the aforementioned Thanksgiving, that same cousin’s older brother and I were almost smothered inside a sleeping bag when Uncle wouldn’t let us go.
So you’ll understand why I say, “Thank God Uncle’s head had been buzzed.” I’d rather never see that man again than lose my father for murder.
A later attempt to return for a summer visit—the last time I entered that house, hoping that family could mend—resulted in weapons being turned on us children as a threat to our parents.
That was the first of two times I’ve stared down the barrel of a gun.
Over the years since, we’ve had to learn what love looks like, how it feels, acts, speaks. The old taint tries to creep in every once in a while, tries to steal understanding with impatience, to replace humility with contention. Pride has no place in love, nor does selfish superiority. Love seeks the good of others, not for anything it can gain, but for everything it can give.
It’s a shared laugh, a shared burden, even a shared shoulder. Sometimes it speaks just the right words, with or without tangled tongue, and sometimes it holds its peace.
One of the most well-known, oft-quoted definitions of love, one we can all embrace:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
(I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV)
This holiday season, I wish you peace, hope, and much love.
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UPDATE (12-21-12): In an ironic twist, who should call this afternoon but the uncle mentioned in the post above. He wanted to speak with my mother, but she was at work, so he chatted with me. Yes, chatted.
Thirty years, thousands of miles, and a great amount of both reflection and forgetfulness can lead to mutual Christmas wishes. Crazy. And full of grace.