Everything was all daisies and roses until the summer before I turned 12. I lived with my parents, older sister, and two younger adopted brothers in Orlando, Florida. My parents worked for a Christian missions organization, so God was a big part of our family life. We went to church, participated in youth groups and Bible studies, and spent summers at the beach and Disney. Life was good. In 2003, my parents decided to move our family back to their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. My whole world was turned upside down. The beach was replaced with wheat fields and Disney was replaced with … well, wheat fields. There was unending newness—new school, new church, new friends.
Just weeks after we moved, my dad was laid off from his new job. My dad and sister were suffering from severe clinical depression. Both of my brothers were struggling with the side effects of Reactive Attachment Disorder*—lots of anger and aggression. My mom was the only stability left in my life. Up until this point I had never had a reason to doubt God, but in the face of so much rocking in my safe little world, I began to question a lot of things about my faith.
During this time my mom must have really been struggling—emotionally abandoned by my dad, trying to help each of her children with their unique struggles—all while adjusting to so many life changes. However, I rarely saw a sign of struggle. She modeled an unshakable faith. She stayed resolutely with my dad, supporting him in every way she could. She began working full-time again, without complaint, to take up the financial burden while my dad looked for work. Nevertheless, she always had time for a hug or an encouraging word for me when life became too much. This period of “survival mode” went on for years. But there was my mom, usually in the background, serving her family and God faithfully. It was because of this example that I eventually re-dedicated my life to God in eighth grade. My mom’s model of quiet faith even when there was no good ending in sight was a concrete example of what it looks like to follow God.
It is easy in the midst of life’s hardships to forget the times when God was faithful. Our family has a Christmas tradition that my parents started to intentionally remind us of what God has brought us through over the years. Every year, we buy or make an ornament that represents what God has done in our lives that year. Many ornaments represent happy occasions—seasons of great joy and excitement. There’s a bride-and-groom ornament to represent the year my parents got married. Each kid has an ornament for the year he or she was born or adopted. We have a miniature jersey that represents “building a family team.” There are also several years of ornaments that represent struggle and sadness in different forms.
The ornament for 2004 was a medical symbol to symbolize working on healing from depression, ADHD, and Reactive Attachment Disorder.
In 2005, a s’mores ornament represented “God’s care through waiting.” That one deserves further explanation—we joked that “chocolate is cheaper than counseling, and you don’t need an appointment.” There was a lot of counseling that year.
In 2008, my brother, JD, spent a year at a residential Christian counseling center to work through some anger issues. Discipline there took the form of digging up stumps. That year’s ornament was a miniature stump to represent “growth and healing.”
Every Christmas we take an evening to sit down and go through our family’s story together—one ornament, one year at a time. This time together reliving memories is often bittersweet, but a time I cherish nevertheless. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness through the good times and the hard times.
Consider starting a new tradition with your family. Take some time to remember what God has brought your family through—the good and the not so good. Then, talk as a family and choose an ornament that best represents your year together.
*Reactive Attachment Disorder—the difficulty to trust because of what feels like broken trust as a young child. This can occur in such things as adoption, family changes, or early significant medical difficulties.