merry & bright

I don’t know Maddox Hyde. I don’t know his mom or any of his family members, and I hardly know anyone from Pennsylvania, for that matter. (Sidebar: Taylor Swift is from PA, but that is the only TSwift reference I will make, promise.) What I do know is that it doesn’t take meeting someone to be moved by their story, learn something from them, or want to spend time with them. The internet has a funny way of facilitating that.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I was searching the internet and came across several articles about the holiday season. What I found were not advertisements promising sales or discounts on big-ticket items (though there were plenty of them); rather, they were articles criticizing the very nature of these promotions. Articles discussing Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Tuesday, all spectacles which have infiltrated our culture and seemingly redefined the giving season, feasting on the idea of “more” rather than an extra helping of pumpkin pie.  They discussed the notion that many stores begin their deals before Thanksgiving and decried families who broke away from another round of Yahtzee or the Cowboys halftime show just to be the first ones in the checkout lines. The National Retail Federation estimates 69% of Americans — or 164 million consumers —  open their wallets over the five-day weekend, spending a combined $13.92 BILLION this year, according to Forbes.  In the United States alone, individual shoppers spend, on average, $1,007 for the holiday season.IMG_3091

Acquisitiveness certainly isn’t uniquely an American problem, nor is it limited to the Christmas season. In China, 11th November is dubbed ‘Singles Day‘, an anti-Valentine’s Day for those not in a committed relationship, which outperforms both Black Friday and Cyber Monday in terms of sales. In the United Kingdom, Boxing Day encourages shoppers to find the best deals the day after Christmas. Moreover in countries around the world, Easter is largely commemorated by fluffy bunnies who lay eggs for children to find, Valentine’s day is every florist’s nightmare, and Halloween, to quote Mean Girls, “is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total sl*t and no other girls can say anything about it”.

Reading these articles got me wondering: are we missing something?

Obviously, I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with catching a good sale. That would make me a hypocrite. I also understand basic consumer economics, the importance of the fourth-quarter, and the concept of supply and demand. Make no mistake; I am pro-capitalism and not suggesting the government divide up wealth equitably so we can put in a good day’s work and not worry about the rest. BUT…

There IS something wrong with getting sucked into the marketing vortex via cluttered emails, sale after sale, ultimately glorifying consumerism and making the holiday season about something other than what it is. I am not the first person to make this point, yet our culture has not changed. We still have an annual debate about whether “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” is a more politically correct holiday greeting. Not to sound like a scrooge, but sit on this for a moment: What if there were no shiny presents wrapped with bows, Douglas Firs adorned in lights, Gingerbread lattes served in red, venti cups, or a jolly, old man with a long, white beard? Would we still sing It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

That is a tough question to answer for some, especially those of you whose primary love language is Receiving Gifts. Instead of spending, what if we focused more on giving? Giving others our time, our energy, our resources, our gratitude. Perhaps you are one of the many who shopped over the holiday weekend; if you did, that’s alright. My only hope for you is that you might stop and reflect on what the holidays really mean. Search your heart, and if necessary, realign it. It may be hard to push against the culture, but even Jesus warned that the gate which leads to life is narrow and difficult to follow. May you live everyday and at all times with:

  • thankfulness for your many blessings and what you already have, like that on Thanksgiving,
  • generosity and benevolence toward others, especially the poor, the sick, and the less-situated, like that throughout the holiday season,
  • hope and expectancy for the promises of a Savior born unto us, like that throughout advent season and on Christmas Day,
  • excitement for fresh beginnings and new resolutions, like that on New Year’s Day,
  • abounding love toward every person in your life (even when it is hard) and yourself, like that on Valentine’s Day,
  • celebration and appreciation for the gift of life, like that on your Birthday,
  • gratitude that Christ died on the Cross for you and your sin, like that on Good Friday, and
  • joy that Christ rose from the dead and conquered death, like that on Easter.

Let us focus our minds and keep our eyes on the things that matter most. So, how does this relate to Maddox Hyde?!

Maddox Hyde
Meet Maddox. (Image taken from Centre Daily Times.)

I came across a link about Maddox and his story as I was sorting through Black Friday articles shortly after Thanksgiving. It dawned on me then that many people complain about Christmas “coming too early”, forgetting that they are lucky to celebrate Christmas at all. You may recall last year I posted on Facebook about a nine-year old named Jacob from Maine who was terminally ill — Maddox’s story is similar.

Maddox is a 14-year old 8th-grader from Pennsylvania who has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma and only has weeks to live, according to his doctors. He has been battling cancer for most of his life, yet still keeps that precious smile on his face and tries to live like a normal teenage boy by competing in video game tournaments and cheering on Penn State football. In his final weeks, he has requested people near and far send him Christmas cards to lift his spirits. Maddox’s story alone has reminded me that it is the little things that matter most, and I wish I could give him a big hug more than anything.

You see, until cancer directly touches you or a member of your family, you truly cannot understand the difficulties which ensue for the patient or their loved ones. Feelings of fear, uncertainty, denial, anger, guilt, stress, anxiety,  sadness, loneliness, and depression — just to name a few. Cancer has touched my family too close to home, but something that has helped us is resting in the knowledge that we are not in control, and that God is the source of our comfort, joy, and strength. Even when we feel weak, He is not. Without ever having met Maddox, there is a part of me that feels like I can relate to his journey. Perhaps that is why Jacob’s and Maddox’s story made me cry until I had no tears left.  Regardless, their stories are yet another reminder to me to make the most of this life. To live boldly, passionately, intentionally, and unforgettably. To never take anything for granted.

So, will you join me? Join me in celebrating everyday, not just the holidays, on purpose and with purpose. Join me in sending Maddox a Christmas card; it will take five minutes of your time, but I know it will mean so much to him. Join me in acknowledging every day is a gift, rejoicing in the truth that Jesus is enough to satisfy your every need.

Maddox Hyde, 333 Ohio Street, Reynoldsville, PA 15851 USA

Even if I do not know you and the internet has somehow brought us together, I am grateful for you this Christmas season. As always, thank you for reading. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and blessings to you and your family!

love always,

cait x

Copyright 2018 Caitlin Wood.