Since moving to Dayton, Ohio, I’ve become fascinated by the history of a significant innovation born at the turn of the 20th century: flight. The Wright brothers sparked something revolutionary. The brothers’ risk-taking stunts paved the way for other inventors and entrepreneurs. The spirit of innovation in this region didn't stop with the Wright brothers’ airplane; it included the cash register, ignitions for automobiles, pop-top beverage cans, electric wheelchairs, and on and on. In those days, Dayton had more patents per capita than any other city. It was the Silicon Valley of its day.
Fast-forward 100 years, and Dayton has forgotten its legacy. In 2008, during the national recession, Dayton was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the fastest dying cities in America. A few years after Callie and I moved here, Dayton was also named one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in the United States, due in part to the I-70/I-75 corridor. Then, in the summer of 2017, Dayton was named the prime target of America’s opioid epidemic. A city that, in its early days, was a center of innovation has gradually become a place of despair.
Despair has become all too common for many Daytonians when they think about their city, and despair has likewise fallen across much of America, as well, because of the division in our country.
This despair can put us in a stranglehold during the holiday season.
Marketers would have us believe that the holidays begin at Thanksgiving with a Norman Rockwell family dinner, and round out at Christmas, like a Hallmark Special. In reality, if your holiday season is anything like mine, it is less idyllic, less content, less peaceful, less orderly, and less clean. If your holiday season is anything like mine, it more closely resembles the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, complete with interesting relatives, an overcrowded house, and traveling on hectic roadways.
While the world tells us we are about to enter the “happiest time of the year,” for some of us it’s the hardest part of the year. We face the pressure of knowing what to purchase family and friends without ruining our budget, the stress of traveling among millions of other stressed-out travelers, the loss of a relationship or loved ones that hits especially hard during the holidays, and nostalgia for days gone by.
If I’m honest, there are times I feel the despair of my city and my own hurts the most during the holidays.
When I was growing up, my entire family came to my mom and dad’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was always entertaining to watch my Sicilian parents prepare an American meal. Even more entertaining was watching my dad carve the turkey. He put Clark Griswold to shame. At every holiday meal we ate well. In fact, we were stuffed (truth be told we had to loosen our belts a notch). We retold the same family stories every year, watched football, and then, of course, we would eat again. This is how the first thirty or so years of my holidays were spent. They were predictable, safe, and brought me comfort and joy.
That all changed five years ago when my dad passed away from Alzheimer’s. The family house became too much of a burden on my mom, and she decided to sell and move into a small apartment. Both of my sisters started family traditions with their own families, which left us separated for the holidays. What once was is gone. There are times that the holiday season has brought sadness, lament, despair, and longing for the way things used to be.
My father died on March 17th, 2013. Four years after my dad passed away, God granted me a sign of this hope in the birth of my first child, Lily Katherine Picardo. Lily was born on March 17th, 2017—four years to the day that my dad went to be with the Lord. When Lily was born, I felt like God was giving me a sign of hope to carry around with me for the rest of my life. Death and despair don’t have the final word; the hope of Jesus does.
What areas of your life and world are full of despair? Is it death, divorce, debt, the loss of a friendship? Is it the collective grief that our country and our town are currently experiencing? The good news is that God has given us eternal hope.
Like the old Christmas carol “O, Holy Night” so eloquently puts it, “The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” The world may be weary, but the hope of Christ is still present.
It is the hope only the Christ-Child can bring that can turn my city around, overcome the heroin epidemic, end human trafficking, turn around the economy and thwart whatever else opposes us. Hope in Jesus is the only thing that helps me to live a transformed life. Allow this Advent season to be one filled with the transforming hope of Jesus.