[Editor’s note: Good Sabbath, LoCO friends. Today your Lost Coast Outpost introduces you to its newest contributor Bethany Cseh, co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata. We’re calling this our “faith-y” section. Be blessed.] 

# # #

Christmas, 2005, was one of the hardest for me. We had found out two years before that my husband and I would never be able to conceive a child without help and after we looked into other forms of assisted reproduction, we pursued the adoption route. 

We found an adoption agency in Orange County where we were living, started the application process, gathered our home-study together, took parenting classes, and prepared our lives and home for a potential adoption. We were told that most people have to wait between one and five years before a birth parent picks them.

The day after we signed the last of the paperwork within this year long process we received a phone call from our agency saying a birth mom chose us and she was in the hospital giving birth to a baby boy. We met Matthew two days later, November 5th, a brisk fall morning. We held his tiny, round warmth and snuggled into our new son. We brought him home to our small shack on the beach in Newport, I quit my job to become a stay at home mommy, and we cherished our time together. 

On the way home from the agency the day we picked up Matthew, the agency called us urging us to retain a lawyer because the birthfather would be contesting the adoption and would be taking us to court. 

We knew we would be the perfect parents for Matthew, we were meant to be parents, and Matthew fulfilled every dream of ours. We breathed in his scent, we basked in his sweetness, we took in every moment we had with him knowing that we would have to give him back and hoping that his birth father would change his mind. 

It was a week into December, after court hearings, emotional unknowns and wondering why we should even have the right to fight a dad for his rights, that we were told by our agency they would re-place Matthew into a new home who would fight the father. As we handed our son over to our social worker, we were told we were unfit to be parents. We drove away with our empty car seat in the back of our car, experiencing loss like never before. 

Christmas was the last thing on my mind during the month we had Matthew. Thanksgiving came and went and all I could think about was how tightly I wanted to hold onto these possible few moments I had left. As we drove up to our dark, beach shack, lights twinkling on the surrounding homes, I wondered what Christmas would be like this year? How can we celebrate the Savior’s birth when my first son is no longer with me? 

Christmas can be hard for so many people. Underneath the shiny bows, the perfectly placed tinsel and the Christmas party smiles, there is great loss, drowning grief, overwhelming anxiety and fear. There are chairs around the table left empty this year because of death, estrangement or illness. And it feels difficult to live in the pain and brokenness while “Jingle Bells” and Christmas cheer bombard our senses. We’re either Scrooge, seeing everything as sadness, loneliness or fear or we are shiny, happy people without a care in the world. How do we live with both? How do we embrace the beauty and light of anticipation while admitting the fear and darkness of pain and loss? 

Within the Christmas story and within all of life, we live in paradox. We are people who can see the good within the bad, who can claim the joy within the pain, who make brave choices in the midst of being scared. The Christmas story is just that. It’s paradox. It’s God, the Divine, putting on skin to live with the created. It’s all things holy and glorious being born out of blood, sweat and feces into the messiness of life. It’s chaotic and peaceful. 

Our lives are paradox and it’s when we allow our hearts to be open to giving thanks, to being thankful, we can begin to see that silver lining, the hope out of Pandora’s box, the joy in the midst of pain. We claim paradox through thankfulness. Giving thanks and claiming the good when everything seems bad can shift your focus this Christmas.

My husband and I came home from work two days after we placed Matthew into the social workers arms to find our home had been decorated. My sister, who was working at Starbucks and barely had enough to pay her bills, had gone to Target, purchased Christmas lights, a tree for our home, a wreath for our door, stockings to be hung, and had done something for us that we couldn’t have done for ourselves. Then we walked down the sand and into a dive bar and all shared a pitcher of Coors Light while we laughed through our tears, talked about what it’s like to be peed on by an infant, and were thankful about the joy which came out of that month with Matthew. We embraced paradox. 

Christmas can be hard. But through thankfulness, Christmas can also give back life when you discover the paradox within.