A Season of Great Joy

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Our house is rarely quiet, if ever, but here I sit in silence. The tiny, white lights from the Christmas tree making me almost drunk with their simplicity and the hazy halo they cast on the entire room. 

This tree. I insist on a live tree and Bobby obliges every year. This tree is actually our second pick after we saw its statuesque beauty on the way to pay for our original pick. It was totally worth the embarrassment of making the Boy Scouts unload the less spectacular choice from our truck. This tree. Its perfect shape, its hodge-podge ornaments strewn as haphazardly as two toddlers can manage, its sweet, distinct outdoorsy smell. It’s memorable not only for the way it looks but because it took us over four hours to put the lights on because, for whatever reason, I thought decorating it during the Iron Bowl would make me less over-the-top anxious or upset if we lost. Spoiler — it didn’t work and I still don’t want to talk about it. #youcantkickafieldgoalwithonesecondontheclock

I sit very still. Afraid any movement will bring real life rushing in or wake a precariously sleeping child. I sit spellbound. Motionless. A sigh comes from so deep down inside me it’s like I’ve been holding my breath without realizing. Maybe I had.

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Then there were tears. Ones as quiet as the Cracker Barrel bought airplane that flew around the top of the tree that I was so much more geeked about than the kids when Bobby brought it home as a surprise. My tear-filled eyes blurred the Christmas lights until I blinked and they spilled down my cheeks and brought my view back into focus. They would fill again and I would blink them away. Fill and blink. Blur then focus. The tears rolled down my cheeks, over the edge of my jaw, and splashed down onto my hands in my lap. It felt like a relief every time I felt a new wave creep up and overflow. It was a subconscious cleansing. I wasn’t quite sure why I was crying, but I knew whatever was being held inside wanted out. An outside release of an inner struggle. So, I sat silently. Motionless. Fill and blink. Blur then focus. Cheeks soaked. Hands soaked. Curious as to when the tears would stop but also not wanting it to be over.

I couldn’t remember the last time I sat still. Like, for real still. Not driving somewhere. Not doing laundry. Not texting. Not talking to someone. Not directing a small child towards or away from something. No t.v. No podcast. No social media. No music. Not getting groceries, gas, or the gazillion other things that need to get got. Not planning a work event or family outing or friend get together. Not chasing or correcting or catching up on housework that never, ever, ever ends. Truly still. Is that even a thing anymore? It’s almost like our bodies have forgotten how to even not do sixteen different things at once. We wake up at sixty miles per hour and race through the day and towards the holy grail of a blissful, uninterrupted hour of Live PD that you watch through the blurred vision of your soul’s exhaustion.

And at Christmas time? You wake up and make a plan to achieve maximum holiday cheer, so intricate and ambitious a decorated war general would be impressed. How many times can a kid see Santa in a three-week period? We’re about to find out. Some of y’all done seen six Santas. Each with a different Christmas themed smocked outfit and your four-hundredth Dirty Santa gift in tow because for whatever reason we torture ourselves with bringing a $15-20 gift everywhere we go in December. Jiminy Christmas.

But as I sat with tear soaked cheeks and hands, none of that mattered. All the Christmas chaos was just outside the bubble of the glow of that magnificent tree. I sat with the spirit of the season and made my way towards the end of my tears. The deep sigh at the beginning of the moment broke into the jagged breaths we inhale when we try to pull ourselves back towards normalcy. I brushed the remaining wetness from my face and my hands and felt the next emotion bubbling up as a smile crept across my face. 

You see, I said I didn’t know why I was crying, but that’s a lie big enough to land me on the naughty list for sure. You see, a few weeks ago, I’d been told I was cancer free for the second time in my life and in only three years. Sitting on that couch the other night was the first time I’d been still since I’d gotten the incredible news (because of all the many, many reasons listed above), and it was like an airbag deploying after coming to an unexpected and very abrupt halt.

I hadn’t really cried for what “cancer free” meant until those twinkle lights crept into my heart and reminded me — be it something as big and magical as Christmas or as dull and mundane as a Tuesday in March (which is unarguably the worst month of the year #fightme), you’re here for it. You’re in it. You’re making the memories. You’re planning the attack of six million Santas. You’re driving to Lowe’s in the middle of the most important football game of the year because you bought a tree that was a king of the forest and required twice as many lights as you’ve needed any other year. You’re waking up to hear their excited footsteps as they race towards the living room Christmas morning and as their shrieks of joy erase any frustrations of months of planning and looming credit card debt. You’re baking the cookies. You’re staying up late Christmas Eve cussing China, from where all cheap toys hail. You’re swearing off your Amazon Prime subscription because it feeds a two-day shipping addiction there’s no rehab for. You’re shooting a mental middle finger to Elsa and all of Arendelle as you lay out all the millions of teeny-tiny parts it takes to erect the five-foot tall Frozen castle your five year old imprinted on in Target. You’re there to see the wonder in their eyes as that house-breaking elf miraculously moves (almost) every night. You’re there. 

Gosh. What a blessing to be there for any of it, isn’t it? But especially during this season. From where all the best nostalgia flows, Christmas should and always will be a season of great joy. So much of who we are is intrinsically wrapped around what happens when those lights are wrapped around those trees. Memories so palpable we will run ourselves ragged to ensure those building blocks of holiday tradition are planted in our children. Just like our parents did everything in their power to stoke the fires of Santa magic when we were kids, we’ll shove every possible ounce of holiday cheer, elf culture, hot chocolate, and forced festivity into our schedule praying something stands out when they look back thirty years from now. Remember that time Daddy screamed, “Saban will retire one day. What will you do then?!” while your parents strangled an over-sized tree with twenty thousand Christmas lights? Okay, bad example. But you get the idea.

Whether you’re watching White Christmas for the millionth time or trying to explain why you only open one door on the Advent calendar every day for goodness’ sake, you’re weaving the tradition tapestry for the next generation. You’re plucking heart strings that will vibrate long after they stop believing in flying reindeer or that Santa has sent a boots-on-the-ground house elf to monitor their every move. You’re in it. You’re witnessing it. You’re orchestrating it. You’re a part of the magic. You are the magic. What more could you ask for?

You’re here for this season of great joy. And whether it takes cancer or a quiet moment that is so long overdue that it knocks the air out of your insides, make sure you take a second and feel the full weight of that blessing. You’re here. Which, come to think of it, should make every season one of great joy, right?   

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Haley is an Alabama native who swore she would never end up back in Birmingham after college but has fallen in love with her city all over again since she graduated from the University of Alabama in 2007. With a degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a double minor in Marketing and English, Haley has always had a passion for helping the companies she's worked for grow their brands and make a positive impact in their communities. Haley is currently the Marketing Director at GrandView Financial Group and also does independent marketing consulting for causes she feels passionate about like the revitalization effort projects in downtown Birmingham. Haley is the proud wife of ten years to her chicken farming husband, Bobby. They have a seven-year-old daughter, Presley, who is as wonderfully affectionate as she is athletic, and Knox, five years old, who will undoubtedly have his own Netflix comedy special one day if he doesn't decide to follow in his dad's hardworking, farmer boots one day. In December of 2016, Haley was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer which has colored her life with a beautiful appreciation that most people don't get to experience. Don't count cancer a hobby, though. Haley is into sports talk radio, always playing hostess for friends and family and capturing life's precious moments with pictures and words as often as possible.

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