My Ongoing Transformation for Christmas
by Jeff Eberhard
* EDITOR'S UPDATE: Jeff was so kind to write an update for this post for 2016; you can read it after the article. - DDM
*Preface from Dan: Jeff was our dorm floor's RA (resident assistant) when we attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota together in the early 90s. We both were completing our undergraduate work and dorm life was fun. Jeff became a friend and I remember late nights staying up discussing all sorts of topics, some of them insignificant, but many more conversations dove into deeper (and more mysterious) waters.
I lost touch with him after graduation until after I had moved back to the Twin Cities nearly 5 years ago. I was recently sober, and lonely. He reached out to me on social media and we became fast friends, again. Since then, he works hard caring for people. He loves his kids. He has a boyfriend. I'm very happy for him.
Then I read his words he had written nearly four years ago on Facebook. He reposted it just on Tuesday. And I knew I had to ask him if he wanted a larger audience to read what he has to contribute to others' sense of longing during this time of year, the "Blue Christmas." What I appreciate most about his words is how he was able to bring the loss into himself, and to let it just . . . be. It's a hopeful message. I hope you find solace in reading his very special contribution to Tranformation-is-Real.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time on Facebook. It is banal. It is lifeless. And it often resembles all of the trash TV that I say I despise (and yet it's a medium that I am strangely drawn to.)
But I also realize that I have come to use Facebook as a way of filtering through all of the “stuff” that is on the internet, by way of my electronic friendships, until I come across something profound and wonderful. This was the case tonight, when I saw an article that someone posted, “The Absurdity of Christmas.”
I almost did not read it, because I did not think I would be interested. Mainly because I find that I am less interested in Christmas this year than I have been in many years. There are several reasons for this lack of interest — the most significant one is that it is the first year that I will celebrate the holiday without my brother Jason, who died in a car accident this last summer. It has been a terrible adjustment for me personally, and for the rest of our family. I can recall the first days after the news that he had died — I vaguely remember that I went to work, and that I went through the motions of my day, getting dressed, eating, feeding the cat and the dog.
I remember making phone call after phone call, of repeating the story over and over again to friends and family. I remember the first day I went to his family’s home, my sister-in-law Becky and I melted into each other . . . and just cried. There were times when I wondered if the crying would ever stop.
Fortunately, it did. And it does.
What eventually drew me to the read Dr. Lose's words was that I continued to wonder about the story of Christmas, and have for years. I was born and raised in the ELCA and I am an alumnus of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary with a degree in theological studies. You might wonder why I would question this central story of faith. Ultimately, I do not question the faith aspect of the story. I do not question the idea that God would consider becoming human, to walk on earth, to shed a tear or two, to walk with the sinners and the saints. The mere idea of this part of the story has remained at the core of my religious and spiritual beliefs.
The facts of the story, as others have written and speculated over, are another subject altogether. Do I believe that Mary was a virgin? Do I think that the babe was wrapped in old blankets and bathed in a heavenly light? Do I believe that shepherds and kings were beckoned by angels and stars to see this event?
Maybe. Maybe not. Those details have become secondary for me.
What is important, and what sent shivers up and down my arms and spine when I read the article, is the notion that: “. . . this is a story not of strength but weakness, not of certainty but of courage, not of power, but of utter vulnerability.” Source.
It is not unlike the truth found in the children’s book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, when a young girl from a dysfunctional family finds her own sense of peace in taking over the church’s Christmas pageant, in spite of the disapproval and outrage from others in the church.
When I look back over the last year to reflect on the losses, the challenges, the sadness, and the heartache that has at times consumed me, and has transformed the way that I view the world, I know that I have been weak. I know that I have been vulnerable. And I know that I have found courage to keep going.
I wake up every day. I take a shower and I get dressed. I go to work. I play with and I love my kids. I strive to support people who have their own struggles with weakness, vulnerability and courage.
Do I expect to experience the kind of miracle that is written about time and time again throughout Scripture? Not really. Do I think that because I believe something as absurd as the Christmas story has some truth woven into it (even in what now seems like a bastardization of what was once something more) that my pain will be less, or that I will cry fewer tears? No.
What strikes me as I read the article—and as I write these words—is that I still have hope. I may not worship in a traditional church, or hang with the Lutherans who have walked with me and who have gone before me, but I still believe. I believe that God has been, is and will continue to be the “impossible possibility.”
For that, I am thankful.
UPDATE FOR 2016 FROM THE AUTHOR
Faced with cancer, or hunger, or loneliness, or disappointment, or depression, or any of the host of other things that on any given day threaten to overwhelm us, some have perceived—or at least dared to hope—that there is a reality beyond this one, that there is a God who created, cares for, and promises to redeem us and the whole creation.
I was approached recently by Dan Maurer of TIRto ask if I had any thoughts about the article that I shared with him a year ago regarding “The Absurdity of Christmas.” In all reality, I didn't remember everything I had written one year ago, but I have since read again the article that inspired my thoughts from the Huffington Post. What I found interesting in re-discovering my thoughts from a year ago is that the truth of what I found a year ago, (or five years ago after the sudden death of my brother, Jason) still ring of truth today for me as well.
I am still on Facebook, and there are still times when I wonder why I still subject myself to it. There has been a resounding message popping up as 2016 comes to an end that resonates with me;
It has, in all honesty, been a very difficult year. The political news has been wrought with anxiety, anger, tears and more than a few swear words. (Where is that swear jar?) I felt the tremendous loss when it was announced that Prince died 8 months ago. I have and continue to struggle with personal issues with kids and family, and grieved with my new family at the loss of a brother-in-law after a long battle with cancer.
I have probably cried more tears this year than I have in any of the years since Jason died.
But, there were many good things this year that balance out (at least somewhat) the losses and struggles in 2016.
I got married this year.
My husband and I moved into a new house together. We were able to travel to some amazing places I have never seen before. My career continues to bring challenges and growth. My involvement with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has been full of positivity with many opportunities to share a message of joy and hope and promise.
It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the pain and the loss of 2016. In fact, every year brings some kind of challenge. And there is a part of me that tends to dwell on the heartache. The struggle. The pain. The sadness.
But, my view of the world has been permanently altered somewhere along the line. In my personal life and my professional world, I have to walk a fine line between sadness and hope, but I still tend toward the hopeful.
I believe that things always have the possibility of getting better, often times in spite of the evidence to the contrary. My belief in “a God who created, cares for, and promises to redeem us and the whole creation” continues to keep me in a good place.
The impossible possibility is still real for me. I still hope.
About the Author
Jeff Eberhard is a proud father to two kids, affectionately referred to in the world of Social Media as Girl© and Boy©. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Metropolitan State University, St. Paul and a Master of Theological Studies from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. He is a licensed social worker, and is the Director of Social Services at a Skilled Nursing Facility in the Twin Cities. He is a singing member of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, and he continues to find both the sacred and the profane in listening to Prince and reading Stephen King.