How do you address a Christmas card to someone with terminal cancer?
This is the question that I asked myself while writing out cards for my church members on Saturday night. Our youth run a "Christmas post office" where members can bring in the cards they want to send to each other: they're organized and stuck in little file folder-like sleeves for people to pick up. As I wrote mine, I came to C's name and stopped. All the cards that I was using had predictably cheerful messages in them; well-wishes for the season and for the new year. And yet C probably will not see much of the new year. Sending greetings of the season suddenly becomes more complicated than what Hallmark usually provides.
I found this a fitting question to ask this weekend, as Sunday night was our Blue Christmas service. This is a special service recognizing that the holiday season is not universally joyful. There are plenty of people whose grief, stress, loneliness, and depression is amplified this time of year. I read a few hopeful scripture passages, and then I incorporate one or two other readings that speak to some of the causes of this season's sadness. This year, I adapted a post from A Church for Starving Artists, and I read the Mary Frye poem, Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep. The main act of the evening is the invitation for people to come forward and light candles to acknowledge their burdens.
I have to believe that this season is much different than in previous years for C and her family. She was on my mind during Blue Christmas, and so I lit a candle for her.
I also lit a candle for my brother-in-law, who died quite suddenly this past March and whose birthday is on Christmas. This will be no small thing for that side of the family.
I always light other candles, but these two were new this year.
The service saw a modest turnout, probably the most modest since it was introduced. There were other things happening for some who usually attend, so there was no reason to take it personally. And those who came needed it regardless.
After I came home from Blue Christmas, we went through our first batch of cards received through the "post office." As we opened each one, I was more and more thankful for a congregation that loves us the way they do. Some wrote personal notes of blessing for the new house or for Coffeeson. Our regular nursery workers signed their card with their "nursery names," indicating how much they enjoy having Coffeeson during worship.
Such is the mix of sadness and joy that Blue Christmas helps acknowledge. During this week of joy, I carry with me C and those who attended this special service, and I also carry the church as a whole who continue to speak words of joy for the Coffeefamily.