The other night we decorated our Christmas tree.
In a word, it was magical. Our chubby tree glowed bright wrapped up in the strands of lights that all - oh miracle of Christmas miracles - worked. My boys delighted in the memories elicited from each ornament they dug out of our storage box. As they carefully hung their favorite ornaments, they each took turns reciting the verse about the birth of Jesus that they are learning in church. There was Christmas music playing and fresh baked Christmas cookies from the oven.
And then it happened.
The little one took a dive into the tree, whacking one of our beautiful bubble lights, and suddenly every single light on all four strands stopped working. In an instant, the lights on our tree were snuffed out and so was my holiday spirit.
It was all downhill from there. I snapped at him and quickly sent the boys to bed, feeling completely disappointed in the ending to our magical night. My husband tinkered with the lights for a while and finally got three out of the four strands to work. I mentally added "Buy more Christmas lights" to my growing checklist of Christmas expenses.
The next day dawned with hope for new beginnings - but what we got instead was a backed up sewage. This meant backed up laundry and dirty dishes due to limiting our running water.
Then that evening, after the water issue was finally fixed, I found myself trying to decompress from the stress of the day by checking social media. I stumbled on a blog post about a little girl in war-torn Syria. Mixed with my deep sadness over her story was a heavy dosage of guilt. In a world where there is such tragedy, how shallow am I that my level of joy is measured by Christmas lights that don't break?
Good bye, Holiday Spirit.
The following day, I ran into a friend and asked how she was. She remarked that she was struggling with feeling down. We went back and forth comparing notes on how each of us had high expectations for how we should be feeling right now and how instead of meeting them, our expectations were actually sabotaging our joy.
"Me too! Me too!" we kept exclaiming, as if we were actually relieved to be exposing our inner Scrooge. We wondered aloud why we hadn't told each other sooner, rather than assuming that we alone in our discouragement.
And then it happened. In an instant, the ashes of my holiday spirit began to re-ignite into flame.
What was it about that moment that inspired my comeback?
As I pondered, I was reminded of something that had happened last Christmas while our family was preparing to head out for our annual evening of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness.
Truth was, I was pretty grumpy about the whole thing. The reasons ranged from a messy kitchen to some pretty big heartache.
While we were prepping our RACKs, I commented to my 10 year old about how I was feeling and said, "It seems kind of silly that I'm getting ready to go be kind to people when I'm so grumpy." And he said, "Why? Grump away."
He had a point. Truth is, some days are just grumpy, aren't they? If I had allowed that fact to hold me back from participating in kindness, I would have let my discouragement win. Instead, I had the chance to see kindness triumph and rediscover my joy.
And there was something about him giving me permission to feel down that actually helped me regain my joy.
In that moment, I thought about the picture I had taken a few nights earlier. I had moved the J to fix a stocking and forgot to put it back. When I walked back into the room, this is what I saw and it made me chuckle. So I embraced the moment, snapped a pic and then went looking for the J.
Some days are OY days, aren't they?
Whether we feel down because of broken pipes or deep heartache, let's recognize the fact that the holidays don't erase sadness. In fact, at times our heightened expectations actually intensify it.
When OY days show up during the holidays we have two options. We can beat ourselves up that we aren't "in the holiday spirit" or we can give ourselves permission to feel down and then go looking for our J.
And friend, it's likely you won't find it by believing that it's unacceptable to feel sad during the holidays. Guilt is a terrible motivator and an even worse companion and wants you to believe that no one else feels the same as you.
My advice? Grump away. Let the tears fall, ponder your discouragement, embrace where you are. Give yourself grace.
Then don't let your discouragement win. Tell a friend and laugh when she says "Me too", bake your favorite Christmas cookies and pass a plate on to your neighbor, choose to meet a need that is close to your heart and pray for those you can't meet, actually allow yourself to put your feet up and sit in the light of your Christmas tree. Accept that gift of grace and then pass it on.
Here's to finding your J, friend. You are not alone.
This post was first seen on The Merry Little Christmas Project.
Kaley is the author of The Merry Little Christmas Project - Five Words that will Transform your Christmas - written for those who are looking for a simpler, more joyful Christmas.