Christmastime for me as a child was a magical time, even for a young boy with ADHD born in poverty the third of five children to a mother and disabled, albino father.
I vividly remember lying on the floor under the Christmas tree, looking up into the branches. I often got lost in the lights and sparkling colors as my imagination took me far, far away.
We didn’t have much, and we didn’t have much to spend, but we always had Christmas, and we could almost always count on getting one gift that we really wanted.
My father died before my 13th birthday, and Christmas was never the same. My mother uprooted us from our home in rural Missouri to the bustling slums of southern California. The desert meant that a white Christmas was no longer a dream, and soon the holiday lost most of its luster.
When my kids were born, I vowed to find that luster, and when I had an opportunity to return to a state with four seasons (though sometimes all in one week), I jumped at the chance.
I then became the parent, watching my own children take in the magic of Christmas — and yes, I showed them how to lie on the carpet and look up into the lights.
Then my children, too, grew up, and when my ex moved to Oregon with our son in 2010, Christmastime became more depressing than I ever could have fathomed.
I met my current wife, Shelly, three weeks before Christmas in 2011. My daughter and her fiance bought tickets to a Kansas City Chiefs game on Christmas Eve, and in one short year, my yuletime did a complete 360.
Soon married, with two bonus kids, I again had hope for Christmas. Yet, the depression still lingered. I missed my son terribly, but I think I also missed the child in me during this time of the year.
I tried surrounding myself with friends and family in hopes of drowning out sad or negative thoughts, and became almost obsessed with entertaining with our home karaoke setup. I tried putting on a happy face in the midst of misery.
When my daughter had a baby boy, I became a grandfather. A few years later, my bonus son had a daughter. I figured I had one more shot to try to get this thing right.
I had no more excuses (except my son being in Oregon). My once-chaotic life had settled down, and I told myself that I was happier than I’ve ever been.
“If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?” I belted out in my basement karaoke cave with all the passion I could muster. But I couldn’t answer that question.
Then I made a choice.
With a lot of prayer and a lot of encouragement from my wife, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being tired; I was through living in misery.
By the grace of God and the love of my wife, I slowly began re-channeling my thoughts and feelings. I worked hard on thinking positive. I battled the demons within while driving — while working — and while watching the Chiefs.
It is said that you have to train your brain to overcome the temptation to think negative thoughts or to get angry, and that serotonin and other chemicals in your brain react to your view on life. Slowly, but surely, the chemicals in my brain began the process of flushing out a lifetime of negative and angry thoughts and replacing them with contentment.
Then Christmastime came.
God has a way of testing you to see where you’re at in certain situations, and this season was no different.
We dealt with a niece who is battling cancer — and currently in remission, thank God. Then came a death in the family — a real sensitive situation for this time of year. Then my sister and her family who drive up from Lawton, Okla., for our annual Christmas-family reunion-karaoke party dropped unexpected news that they couldn’t make it.
It’s been a tough Christmastime so far. But there is a difference — I can feel it.
My first instinct is no longer to get angry or depressed. My initial reaction now is to be thankful. I now can see the good in my life just as vividly as I saw those sparkling lights under the Christmas tree.
I have so much to be thankful for. I thought I wouldn’t know where to start, but that came easy: My God never left me, and He never will. Just as He brought me from the streets of California, He is seeing this thing we call life through to the very end.
I don’t know where I would be without my wife. When I prayed for someone to come into my life in 2010 and 2011, God was listening, and He knew what I needed more than I did.
I don’t have a lot of close friends, but I am getting there. I am finally becoming the kind of person who doesn’t appear standoffish and aloof, or angry and bitter.
We get to celebrate our Christmas today with three of our four kids and both of our grandkids in the house we bought — with my sweet Christmas present parked in the carport.
Even if it still doesn’t show sometimes, I have never been happier. But the biggest difference now is that I see the good things in life.
It’s one thing to learn to be content with life. But being thankful can take us to places we thought we could only see in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree.
Sports editor Joey Sprinkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.