Christmas forgiveness

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Chele wraps our 4-year-old in footie pajamas, snow-coat, a Pendleton wool blanket and Santa hat then snugly packs her into the back seat of our 1987 Ford Taurus. Complaining from the restraint, Heather screams, "I can't move!"

Chuckling from her frustration, my wife and I offer, "Settle down; we are going to look at Christmas lights."

Three months ago our family sleigh lost its source of heat and with little income, feeding my family becomes more important than enjoying the luxury of warmth as I travel to and from work. For this reason, my wife, daughter and I are now packed into our only form of transportation on this Christmas Eve, freezing on this South Dakota winter night in search of homes lighted by sparkling, pretty green and red lights.

Heather screams, "There's one. Look! It's pretty."

With John Denver's "Aspenglow" playing on the radio, my wife cuddles up next to me while my daughter is warmly nestled in the back seat of our family sedan, excited to see pretty holiday lights. At this moment I know we have started a family tradition.

When I enlisted in the Air Force I knew my life would change but never imagined I would have to reinvent family traditions. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter are now focused on my little family of three and my military family of friends instead of my extended family of relatives. I am excited at the opportunity to create new traditions for my growing family and friends.

Children of divorce are thrown into this same quandary. What once was tradition is now new and often scary. Ample presents under the Christmas tree might now be few and a huge Christmas feast might include barely enough food to fill the bellies of the participants.

Divorce is an interesting thing. Children often lose faith in things once thought important in hope not to upset the custodial parent. Santa, the desire for gifts, the need to celebrate and joy often leave a child at Christmas in exchange for practicality, sadness, sympathy for the grieving parent and a desire to fix what is broken.

This is a parent's opportunity to start creating a world of mental wellness for a child. Children of divorce often struggle to understand their role in this world. Should he or she be a caretaker, take on the role of mom or dad, revert to the mental capacity of little child or remain a sturdy, competent young child? These are all choices of the child of divorce.

As a parent of a child who has experienced loss, I suggest creating new and exciting traditions for the child. Baking cookies, long walks in the woods, homemade presents under the tree, a ban on the commercialization of the holiday season or a ride in a freezing car to look at Christmas lights creates permanent positive memories in the mind of the child. These permanent positive memories erase the negative memories of a past, unhealthy life.

Lastly, grudges held by a spouse upset at the "ex" spreads negative and depressing mojo to the new-formed family and friends. If one is holding anger or frustration for their ex-partner, it is time to let the frustration go; it is time to forgive.

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky calls forgiveness "a shift in thinking" toward someone who has wronged you, "such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased." Forgiveness, at a minimum, is a decision to let go of the desire for revenge and ill-will toward the person who wronged you. It may also include feelings of goodwill toward the other person. Forgiveness is also a natural resolution of the grief process, which is the necessary acknowledgment of pain and loss.

Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. Forgiveness does not minimize, justify or excuse the wrong that was done. Forgiveness also does not mean denying the harm and the feelings that the injustice produced. And forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in a position to be harmed again. You can forgive someone and still take healthy steps to protect yourself, including choosing not to reconcile.

Forgiveness is a powerful choice you can make when it's right for you that can lead to greater well-being and better relationships.

The Christmas season is a time to reflect, a time to fix what is not working in your life and a time to forgive. I urge all those who hold a grudge, hatred, frustration or contempt for another person to let it go. Anger builds a heart of coal; ask the Grinch! Forgiveness builds a heart of gold; ask God!

Sources: "The How of Happiness," by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

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