I was recently at a dinner party and the hostess asked us to go around the circle and share a favorite Christmas tradition that we did with our families. My mind immediately started racing trying to find something to share that wouldn’t leave everyone in tears. I was having a nice time and didn’t want to be the party pooper.
There used to be many happy traditions. They seem like a lifetime ago now.
Chuck and I were always off the Friday after Thanksgiving. That Friday would be our “kick-off” to Christmas with the boys. We would sleep in late, have a lazy morning with a big breakfast then off we’d go to find the perfect tree. We always got a real tree and the biggest we could find. That weekend there would be no Black Friday shopping. The four of us would be together focused on decorating the house inside and outside. Going all out (as much as we could afford). We would watch our first Christmas movie of the season that weekend, while enjoying the glow of the tree lit up and sipping hot cocoa and usually eating pizza and popcorn.
We made sure to have all the decorating done that weekend because once we rolled into December our calendars were always full. The boys had school events and practices for the various programs they were involved in. The four of us were always involved in Christmas programs at church, I even wrote some of the programs over the years – so that meant extra time at church in December practicing/preparing. There would also be Christmas caroling and trips to see Christmas lights throughout the month.
By the time Christmas Eve rolled around we had already celebrated the entire month, but the thrill of Christmas was just beginning. I remember tracking Santa on Norad with the boys on Christmas Eve. We would always read the birth of Jesus from the Bible and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and we’d always open one gift on Christmas Eve. Of course, we always picked the one gift they could open and always made sure it was new pajamas to wear. And we always wrote our letters Santa and left them out on Christmas Eve with milk and cookies for him. Trying to get two very excited boys to go to sleep that night was never an easy task. Then Chuck and I would be up for hours putting stuff together for Christmas morning.
When the boys woke on Christmas morning, they knew to come get us first (if we weren’t already up). One of us would go into the living room, turn the Christmas tree lights on and put on Christmas music in the background. Once we were ready with camera in hand, they ran excitedly to the living room to see what Santa had brought.
For Christmas 2001, (they were ages 12 and 10) one of their “big” gifts was an envelope in the tree. The envelope held 4 tickets to a 3-day Christian music festival at Liberty University (Winterfest). It included ringing in the New Year with some of the biggest Christian artists around at that time. They were thrilled and that itself became a “new” tradition that we kept every year. We were blessed by the fact that they loved Jesus and loved Christian music.
As the verse in that famous song goes-
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Chuck and I always made it a priority to be off the two weeks from Christmas to New Year’s. It was a wonderful time of no schedules, sleeping late, hanging out with the boys and just reconnecting as a family before another full and busy year started. All of that ended in 2008 when Jamie died. Christmas time (and the entire month of December) became something to “endure” not to look forward to with anticipation. The first Christmas after he died was horrible and the following years just as bad. Family members grieving in their own unique way ended up pushing away the ones that loved them the most. Christmas became a painful reminder of what was. A home that was once full of life, love and laughter now empty and silent.
Sometimes, it’s not the most the wonderful time of the year.
In his book, “Hope for the Brokenhearted” Dr. Terveen writes “going forward through grief, suffering and loss demands our greatest faith and love. Jesus marched into battle, full to the brim with love and faith. Thwarting the designs of the Devil to make death the last word on the battlefield of people’s souls, Jesus turns the tables by turning his own suffering and death into the very means of life for a myriad of people who give their lives to him. In the midst of our own pain, our hurt, and our losses, Jesus still comes to us (sometimes waking us up) with his call to go on, to go forward with him through the battles we must yet face in a world still afflicted by heartbreaking pain. We do not go on alone. He has gone this way before us, and now he will go forward with us.”
This year will be our twelfth Christmas since Jamie died. Christmas is still not the same as it was before. The month of December no longer means a month of celebrating for us. Grieving never ends but it can and should change. Unfortunately, though, sometimes people don’t grieve. Instead they run from the pain they feel. They try to bury their pain (and overwhelming emotions) in jobs and substances – hoping that will fill the void. And pushing away from anyone that would remind them of the pain. Which only causes more pain and loss. Grief has left our family a fractured shadow of what was.
There will always be an emptiness, an ache in my heart to hear him, to see him, to have one more conversation with him around the dinner table. But as I’ve continued to “go forward through my grief” and be honest with Jesus about my pain – I’ve watched over the years how Jesus has brought a lot of healing. In fact, when our family does get together this year for Christmas, I am quite certain there will laughter, fun and games and lots of life in our home that day.
If you’re facing a holiday season that brings great sadness to your heart, please know you are not alone. Remember the words of Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Your sadness and disappointment are real. It is okay to bring them to Jesus this Christmas season. He is the only one who can bring us deep and lasting comfort for life’s sorrows. It is His birth as a babe in a manger, and his death on a cross and resurrection that gives us Hope to endure this life.
My Hope Endures,
Laura Holmes, MA, CATP
Director, Ephraim Ministries