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Flickr photo by Heather

What Christmas means when you don’t have a family

By Luke Grayson

Growing up, Christmas break always meant going to church and spending time with friends and their families. Christmas meant remembering the family I  couldn’t be with, because I was a foster kid.
Regardless of what happened, Christmas was never a happy time for me. Most were spent away from my siblings, many in a hospital room, and all of them from age 4 to 17 were spent away from both of my parents and any extended family.

Every family that I was with somehow all belonged to the same church, so my only constant was that. I was more than involved with my church. It was more of a home for me than anywhere else, so I spent as much time as I could there: all three weekend services, youth group during the week, leadership meetings, and some days I would even just sit there and do homework. Outside of school, if you needed to find me, odds were I was in the building helping with something.

Christmas services just meant that I could be there more, help more, see my friends and brother while school was out, and get out of the house that I likely hated. Christmas meant needing a distraction from the fact that it was Christmas and that nearly all of my peers were spending it with their families and would come back to school beaming about their holiday.

In 2010, two days before Christmas, I lost my brother — the only constant person — the only person that I knew understood what I was feeling and dealing with at any given moment.  From then until now, I have dreaded the approach of the holidays even more than I did before. From then on I had to mentally tell myself that it wasn’t really almost Christmas, and usually I slept through it and ignored all forms of communication with anyone. This year was no different, I turned off my phone, disconnected from social media and my friends, and only went to work.

The one thing that was different this year though, is that I went to a Christmas service for the first time since I ran away at 17 years old. And even though I have been going to this church for almost a year now, I had to stop and breathe before I could convince myself to walk through the doors and it was another couple minutes before I could walk into the sanctuary.

Holidays have gotten simultaneously easier and harder to deal with. On the one hand, I live on my own now and only do things that I want to, including only speaking to my biological family members that are supportive. On the other, it’s a reminder of what my life used to be like, what I’m still missing at 21 years old, and the family that I have lost over the last five years.

I still dread every upcoming family-oriented holiday, still have to mentally prepare for days before I can even remotely handle them. I still tense up walking into church some days, and I still have to remind myself that I am welcome there without condition.

As much as I feel like I’m the only one still struggling to feel safe in a church after everything, I know that I’m not and I know I’m not the only one that dreads the season.

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