Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Light in the Darkness by Esther Emery

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

I’m doing something different for Christmas this year. Usually I host. Usually I do the shopping ahead of time, and arrange the crafts for the kids. I even host a little Christmas Eve celebratory talent show.

But this year, none of that is happening. Nobody’s coming. Partly I didn’t invite them. And partly they wouldn’t want to come anyway.

What’s different? Well, this year I live in a yurt, off the grid. There’s hardly room for me and my children. I’d have to put my brother’s family in bed with me.

I miss them. I do. I miss them all a lot. But blessings come in strange packages. I am a runaway, and there are costs to that. But there are freedoms, too. At least this year I get to give the bird to having a “meaningful” Christmas.” I’m going for a wild one, instead.

Hey, why don’t you come with me? Oh, do! I’d love the company! Come with me, just for a minute, to join me in my wild Christmas, in my yurt, off the grid, in the woods.

I’m afraid it’s a bit of a hike. But we can teleport. Just grab my hand and off we go…

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s dark.
It’s really dark.

We live on the North side of the hill, facing the opposite ridge and the creek below. The South-facing slope is our ever-changing field of color, pale blue in the morning and gold and pink in the afternoon, but our own house is in shadow. At this time of year, it is in shadow all day long.

We have a little Christmas tree, inside, that we cut ourselves. It is wide open and scraggly. It touches the ceiling. The children think it is amazing.

But really the whole hill is Christmas trees. The whole hill is tall green trees decorated with real snow, lit with the light of the stars.

And did I mention that it’s dark?

It is dark. It is dark, dark, dark. And silent. These woods that ring with birdsong in the summertime are almost lifeless now. Everything seems dead. Frozen.

Minus the piped in music of the mall and the ubiquitous lights of fossil-fuel burning holiday cheer, and you’ve got to wonder why Christmas has to be on this particular day anyway, at this most godforsaken hour!

Jesus wasn’t even born in December, right? The records show he was born in, what? April? Why we do we have to celebrate the birth of Christ on this night? The darkest night? A few days after solstice, by the funny machinations of physics often the day of the earliest sunset of the entire year?

There are our Christmas lights in the corner, bright and cheerful against the gloom. And there is the one candle in the middle of the room. Bright orange, warm light, casting shadows on the ceiling. You still have to hold the baby, so you don’t step on her.

Look into the candle, against the background of the black and cold of the woods, and you’ll find it lulls us, not into complacency, but quite the other way. The candle meets the flame within and those sparks merge, and the invitation is to a place deep within yourself. In there you’ll find it, if you want to find it. You’ll find the war of life.

This is a real, true fear. This is the fear that maybe this year is death. Maybe this year is the end. Maybe this year the sun isn’t coming back. Maybe this year God is dead.

This Christmas isn’t for the rich, or for the poor, but for the poor in spirit. (This Christmas is for us!) This Christmas is for the ones tucked up on couches with Kleenex, with heavy eyes and burning lungs. For the ones who feel the hour of God’s absence, and the pervasive hovering presence of death…

…for the bereaved, and those who know death that swallows children.

…and for the numb, and those who fear that the pit is bottomless.

…and for those who lose their sons and husbands to the war.

…and the candles in the windows calling all the sailors home against the odds.

…and for Tiny Tim who almost dies, but doesn't. And poor people’s children really do die, you know? That’s no fairy story.

Maybe our culture can’t remember this. Because maybe we have forgotten death. We have stuffed up our grieving mouths with dollar bills to keep the cries from leaking out.

But it doesn’t matter. Christmas still comes. And Christmas is for not for the rich, or for the poor, but for the birth of hope.

* * *

It’s Christmas morning, in my yurt now. And morning comes late. Much later than you want it to. Six o’clock and the rooster hasn’t stirred yet. Seven o’clock and there’s not a glimmer of light in the Eastern sky. I sit in my rocking chair, with my battery operated Christmas lights, and for company I have the shadow of death. Beside me is loss. And at my left is the fear of God’s absence. But I hope, and I beg, and I pray, for the light to rise.

It does.

And this is Christmas. 

What is the fear that is your companion in the darkness?  How do you hope in the loss, before the dawning of the light?  What is Christmas to you?
* * *

Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.


  1. Oh, Esther! I loved this! But especially this: "We have stuffed up our grieving mouths with dollar bills to keep the cries from leaking out." That one took my breath away. I live near the foothills of the Rocky Mountain, and I am learning to embrace my own faith and the rebel in me that has seen glimpses of her holy defiance. Nice to meet you!

  2. God isn't dead, dear Esther...He is right beside you, right beside me, every single moment of our lives. And when our lives feel like a living hell...He is still. right. here. Just keep hanging on until the light comes again, because it will come again. And you...and we...will be stronger.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King