Name that feeling

Image of little child wearing hat standing on stool near Christmas tree while drawing on blackboard.

Image of little child wearing hat standing on stool near Christmas tree while drawing on blackboard.

Dover Air Force Base Chapel list of Holiday Events.

Dover Air Force Base Chapel list of Holiday Events.

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- The day after Thanksgiving my family and I (along with our dog) piled into our car, put on some Christmas tunes, and headed to a tree farm in hopes of finding the perfect Christmas tree for this season. “The Great Tree Hunt” in some ways has become a family tradition and something my family looks forward to every year with the prize being the perfect, live Christmas tree. With few exceptions over the past years we’ve succeeded in our annual tree hunt, even if success was settling for a live tree from a hardware store.

Our hopes were high for a fine-looking tree for our first Christmas in Delaware. Despite our best efforts and keenly attuned sense of fragrant pine, we didn’t find the tree we were looking for. We could have gone looking at other tree farms, but we decided to try an artificial tree this year. It’s already up with bright colorful lights and ornaments our kids made in school and ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Yet, to be honest with myself, I miss the scent of a real tree and the tradition of getting a real one.

I was a pastor for 16 years in a variety of church settings and positions ranging from refugee and immigrant ministry; to youth, college and young adult ministry, to my last position before coming into the Air Force as a solo pastor at a small church for almost six years. What those experiences taught me was that the season ahead is brimming with emotions that range from full on excitement and joy to feelings of sadness and loneliness to everything in between.

In my case, this season came with a certain amount of disappointment. The disruption of our family tradition carried a sense of the holidays not being fully embodied. While I’m sure most would say, “but it’s just a tree,” it’s more than that. It’s a symbol of my family’s shared beliefs, unity and connection. Most everyone, in their own way, has a “tree” or tradition for this season whether that be Mom’s amazing fruit cake, Dad’s perfectly built fire, or having the whole family there to light the shamash.

For military members and their families, being able to have those traditions or even being near to family and friends can be difficult. That sense of something “missing” or the holiday in general not being quite right, can be amplified by the bombardment of “holiday spirit.” Most anywhere you look, there’s music, images, flavors, and scents creating a constant reminder that “you don’t have the right tree.” This season can be hard. It can be hard for those who have lost a loved one over the past year (or years ago.) It can be hard if you are in a new place or far from the traditions you knew growing up.

I strongly advocate naming what you are feeling. I miss having a real tree. I’m disappointed. In the big scheme of things it’s not a big deal, but if I can name these smaller feelings as they come, when big things happen, I’ll be better prepared to handle them. I believe that one of the keys to navigating the month ahead is to be mindful of your feelings and name what you are feeling. Know that you are not alone if you are feeling sad or lonely or a little burnt out on holiday music. It’s okay to talk to someone—a friend, a colleague, or any of the great helping agencies: Military OneSource, Military and Family Life Counselors, Mental Health, and of course Chaplains.

Perhaps you’re a person of action or maybe you’ve decided that you’ll blaze a new trail of holiday traditions. There are lot of different ways to participate in the season ahead, whether that be volunteering to help the less fortunate, attending a new chapel service to learn about other cultures or traditions, or making the annual tree lighting your “must do” family event.

Breathe—take heart that there is a lot of goodness all around us. Know that I’m rooting for everyone to find joy and hope in the month ahead. Be well and have a blessed holiday season.

Holiday events, chapel and volunteer opportunities include the following:

• Learn more about Hanukkah at Chapel 2 (housing chapel) on Sunday December 2nd at 4:45 p.m. for the first night of Hanukkah Lighting Service
• Enjoy the annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 4th at 4:30 p.m. at base housing (for the parade) and Chapel 2 (for the Lighting Ceremony)
• Enjoy or volunteer with the Chapel-sponsored Christmas Program and Caroling event on Wednesday, December 19th at 6:00 p.m. at Chapel 2 (housing chapel)
• On December 24th join the Christmas Eve Mass at Chapel 2 at 5:00 p.m. sponsored by the Roman Catholic community (and a Christmas Day Mass at 9 a.m.) and the Christmas Eve Worship Service at Chapel 1 at 5 p.m. sponsored by the Protestant Community

For any additional questions or information, feel free to call the chapel at 677-3932.