Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When You're Looking At a Bittersweet Christmas



Ah ... she so wanted it to be a Norman Rockwell scenario.  

Soft music playing in the background as the loving family gathered around the well-appointed table, lavishly laden with all manner of delectables.  The heirloom china and silver and crystal sparkling in candlelight's glow, the well-used name tags fashioned out of tattered index cards by sticky little fingers so many years ago reminding her of every memorable holiday that they'd spent together.

Mama's piping hot broccoli cheese casserole ... Aunt Tillie's delicious sausage stuffing ... tart yet sweet cranberry-orange relish made with Papa ... Sister's fragrant yeast rolls.

And then Grandpa would bring out the huge browned bird, carving it like a pro with everyone oohing and ahhing.  Each hand would eagerly reach for the next in a chain of grace as the patriarch led in prayer for the food.  Happy conversation and peals of laughter filled the room to the brim.  They would eat, drink, and be merry.  Stuff themselves senseless.  And bask in the glow of it all.

Fast forward a season ... or a few.

There is no well-appointed table and the fondly remembered delectables are few and far between.  The once intact family is sparsely represented and they're lucky if there's a pot of soup in sight.  The fine accouterments that once decorated the feasting place are gathering dust in some closet somewhere.

Grandpa's no longer with us and Aunt Tillie's not manning the kitchen.  The kids are grown and gone, in more ways than one.  No carols play in the background.  And if there's one other hand to hold, it would be a great big surprise.




In the past year, you might have found yourself encountering life-altering situations or difficult transitions that have left you reeling with exhaustion, numb with grief.

Or perhaps relationships that you once held dear have morphed into something distinctly disappointing, frightening, or completely non-existent.  You find yourself feeling betrayed, excluded, abandoned.

In the midst of your disorienting upside-down-inside-out circumstances, God is faithfully reaching out with tender invitations to your wounded heart.  For He's always in the business of inviting us to something deeper, stronger, and more substantial.

And we often find ourselves more receptive to His wooing when we've hit bottom, facing losses to great to bear, grappling with changes too complex to fathom.

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Speaking of life-altering situations and complex changes, we read in Luke 1 how Jesus' young mama-to-be was visited by the angel Gabriel with an astonishing announcement that she would birth the Son of the Most High.  Nothing would ever be the same for Mary after the angel visited.  Nothing.

In the midst of this stupendous miracle, news that begged to be pondered and wrestled with, Mary acknowledges her fear and her questions and then lays them aside to utter an extraordinary, expectant 'yes' of faith to God's invitation.

'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word' {v. 38}.

And then this brave young woman moves into a completely new, uncharted season.  We find nothing in Scriptures that talks about Mary's parents.  She could face abandonment, scandal, even stoning if her intended husband couldn't grasp and accept this miraculous news.

So Mary hurries off to spend her first trimester with relative Elizabeth, who herself is facing her own startling pregnancy in her later years.  And in the hill country of Elizabeth's home, Mary, embracing the immensity of God's calling on her life, sings her carol of joy ... 'my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior' {vs. 46-55}.

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As you walk through this challenging season, may your heart be attuned to the whispered invitations from Mary's Son.  May you say, 'yes, Lord,' even as you acknowledge the troubling thoughts whirling around in your aching head and the myriad of emotions that are assailing your tender heart.

And somewhere in the process of hearing His still, small voice, may you find yourself singing your own very personal carol of joy, knowing that your Redeemer is loving, gracious, and kind.  And may you be confident in the realization that He will not grow tired or weary as He carries you through this, your bittersweet season, in His arms of comfort and grace.


would you share this with your social media friends
... or maybe your Bible Study or small group?

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*

joining friends at Holley's

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49 comments:

  1. There are so many that find themselves in a changing landscape this Christmas season, Linda, yourself included. I'm so glad that you wrote this to address the ache that they feel and to encourage them with the story of Mary and Elizabeth--who certainly faced a changing landscape all their own on that first Christmas ever. It wasn't as rosy and "blessed" in many ways as we might think for either of these women. I do hope you and Tim are adjusting to the challenges that come with new seasons in a family's life. You know you're in my daily prayers, girlfriend! Hugs to you too!

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    1. Can you just imagine putting yourself in either one of their shoes? What exceptional women of faith!

      Yes, we are adjusting, thank you, Beth. You have been a faithful prayer warrior on my behalf through this transitional year and I am doing well, praise God.

      I hope you have a wonderful celebration of Jesus' birth ... I know this has not been an easy year for you. You are in my prayers this evening, friend ...

      Blessings.

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  2. Dear Linda,
    Oh, I can feel your ache, dear friend, and how you miss your father. And I replied to your comment on my blog post; yes, Mary faced incredible challenges after she said "yes,"...her trust humbles me. Thank you for your kind invitation reminding us we can trust Jesus to hold us in the midst of our bittersweet season. Praying God's comfort and peace for you and yours this Christmas. ((Hugs))

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    1. I love how we're both considering Mary in our writing this week, Dolly! What a legacy she has left us, what a role she's played.

      The first part of this post is an adaption from a 2012 post, the whole Norman Rockwell yearning kind of thing. I pulled together all kinds of stories I had seen first hand and that my clients had shared.

      I think we all see ourselves in some way in this little mirror. Gratefully, God doesn't leave us there, but invites us to something deeper and life-giving!

      With you, I'm grateful for God's comfort and peace. He is so good!

      Blessings to you, dear Dolly.

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  3. I'll be praying today for those who are feeling heavy during this season, Linda. It's lighter this year for me; all is well. But last year, as you well know and understand with your own losses, was hard. It was down-right stinky. But there's a new carol on the lips thanks to Jesus. My hope is that others find this Babe and sing a tune of hope somewhere in the dark but starry night. Merry Christmas, Linda. Your heart of compassion is a gift many of us have the joy of unwrapping weekly. Blessings.

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    1. 'A new carol on the lips thanks to Jesus.'

      And that's our testimony, isn't it, praise God! Thanks for speaking it so beautifully, friend.

      Joy & peace ...

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  4. It is, indeed, a bittersweet time for so many of us as we see our parents aging (or gone), and we, too, are getting older. Thank you for reminding us to think of Mary and what she faced, to trust and lean into God, knowing He will comfort us in all things.
    Blessings, Linda!

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    1. Being separated from those we love encourages us to make the most of every moment we've been given with the ones who remain, doesn't it ...

      So glad you're here today, Martha.

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  5. Thank you Linda, for the reminder that our redeemer is always near, even when in the bittersweet seasons. Christmas seems tougher this year than normal personally which may be due to some losses this year, as well as another Christmas of being single. Sometimes it's hard to find the joy when life just isn't what we hoped. But yes, may His comfort and grace be upon all during this season!

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    1. I hear your heart, Lynn. I do. That joy seems kinda elusive when life disappoints. I know.

      May there be pockets of joy scattered through each day of this sometimes difficult season, friend. And please know that I am praying for you even as I tap this reply ...

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  6. My dear friend, I am and have been praying for you. May you find sparkles of diamonds, rubies and gold amid the cooling embers of treasured memory, the fires made permanent in the foundations and pathways of Heaven.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2016/12/your-dying-spouse-245-was-my-life.html

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    1. 'Cooling embers of treasured memory.'

      Oh, that resonates.

      I hope there'll be days where your pain is lessened and your spirit feels stronger as we think of Jesus' birth. And while I'm failly sure you won't be singing fa-la-la-la-la, may you, Barbara, and the dogs find substantial comfort in each other's company.

      Blessings, pal ...

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    2. Linda, my heart goes out to you.

      And yes, there will be a fa-la-la-la-la here...with the blessings of Barbara and the dogs, and with the everlasting Love that is my Salvation...how can I keep from singing?

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    3. Oh my!

      Do the dogs join in the chorus?

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    4. They have sing-times several times a day. ladron The Service Heeler usually organizes them. Strawberry The Baby Bullmastiff has recently learned to join in, with a very high voice that is faintly ridiculous coming from such a big dog. But no one laughs at her; her heart is so caught up in the Song Of Strawberry's Joy!

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    5. Oh I doubt I'd be laughing at a bull mastiff no matter what he / she sounds like!!

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    6. She'd laugh with you, Linda. She's so inexpressibly happy now, after almost dying from the sheer sorrow of abandonment...she truly feels that the world is now her friend.

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  7. Hi Linda! You bring up a very important aspect of the holidays. Not everyone is fa-la-la'ing their way through to Christmas. Life can be very difficult at times, no matter what the season.
    I do find myself being more weepy this year, and I know I am missing my family and my dad especially. I know you are missing your own family members, and getting adjusted to your new home. The best news of all is that Christ will be born, he will come to us again, no matter what we are facing. And, he will help us to overcome. Christmas is a saving, loving and warm time for all. Aren't we blessed?
    Wishing you a merry and peaceful Christmas,
    Ceil

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    1. Oh, I know, I know you're missing your Dad, your family, Ceil. This has been a difficult year for you in many ways and the heaviness only seems deeper at these end of the year holidays, doesn't it.

      Yet in the midst of it, here you are, proclaiming Christ. I can't help thinking He's smiling down on you right now, saying, 'well done, Ceil ...'

      He giveth more grace, doesn't He.

      Peace, peace.

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  8. Hi (again) Linda - after reading your book blog post and your comment on my blog, I just wanted to comment here again because I can so relate to the thoughts you've shared here. Christmas is not always a Hallmark card where we're concerned. Our 2 teens are both on the autism spectrum and life has been challenging lately; it's hard to commit to anything, hard to know what will happen when we go out to do things such as even go to church ... just hard. My mom died 2 years ago and I think of my dad (who lives 1500km away from us) missing her at Christmas. I lost a friendship 3 years ago and I miss getting together with my friend to sing carols together as we used to do. My husband and I were saying yesterday that we don't really feel the "Christmas spirit," whatever that is, but just kind of a general blah. So I am really grateful for your reminder that God is ready to meet us -- has already met us -- in these dark times. It is so important to speak these words of hope to one another -- so thank you so much!

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    1. Jeannie ... meeting you this month has been a lovely gift. I am so glad you're here with us.

      It means so much that you've shared a bit of your story. Thanks for your vulnerability and honesty. You'll find as you read the comments that there are many around here {including myself} who are resonating with bits and pieces of what you've written.

      I hope you'll find this a supportive, safe community to hang out at. You bring much to the table and it makes a difference that you're here.

      Blessings to you as we continue to yearn for our Savior ...

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  9. This brings tears to my eyes, Linda. That evergreen looks like it's crying tears with us. It's so sad to experience the dwindling down of families. So many different types of losses and heartaches among you and your readers this year. Such hope in this - "In the midst of your disorienting upside-down-inside-out circumstances, God is faithfully reaching out with tender invitations to your wounded heart." I pray God will give you special strength and grace through this season. May He send you a carol of joy in the midst of your grief! Love and hugs!

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    1. The evergreen weeps, yes. I had to choose that photo for this post. You understand, don't you ...

      Praising Him for those carols of joys He faithfully sends.

      Advent blessings to you, Trudy ...

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  10. So often we like to romanticize the holidays of yesteryear, don't we? I'm guilty, too. Thank you for these refreshing words, this morning, Linda. Merry Christmas to you! xoxo

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    1. Thanks for being here with us Brenda ...

      Merry Christmas right back to you, to yours.

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  11. This is a beautiful reminder of the hope we have at Christmas even in the middle of pain and loss, because of Jesus, because he entered into this messy, broken world. I loved your reflections on Mary- she is a great example of faith and of embracing God's call even in the midst of the challenges.

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    1. Hope. Yes, yes. There's always hope.

      Advent blessings to you, friend ...

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  12. Truly a wonderful post, My Friend. Thank you for the reminder we live in a broken world, but our hope came down that first Christmas to that young frightened teen. God's mysterious ways!
    Blessings!

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    1. Hope. Yes, yes ... more hope!

      That's what we're all yearning for.

      Blessings to you this Saturday, Lulu.

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  13. I shared this with 2 friends who have lost loved ones just before Christmas last year. Your blogs are a blessing to me.

    {via text}

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    1. You've made my day, encouraged my heart with your kind note. My prayer is that your friends will continued to be blessed by your warm friendship ... and by the words offered here.

      Thank you so much for reaching out to them, to me ...

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  14. The holidays are the hardest time of the year for so many. Thank you for this heartfelt reminder that so many are hurting this time of year. Many hugs to you today!

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    1. Merry Christmas, my Idaho-ian pal!

      Be warm, be cozy ...

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  15. So much truth that we know and affirm throughout the year sparkles at Christmas time -- especially when we find that we really need to lean on it.

    And seeing your Adam McHugh quote above reminds me to mention how happy I am the "our friend's" book was chosen by CT as the top pick in one of their categories! I guess we weren't the only ones who were blessed by it. I saw somewhere that he is updating and revising his books about introverts in the church.

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    1. I know, I know! I'm so excited to see Adam's book highlighted. INTROVERTS IN THE CHURCH has been a favorite as well so I can't wait to see what he'll be doing with it.

      I'm a big fan ...

      Merry Christmas to you and your family, Michele. I hope you have many delightful moments together, love and laughter, joy and peace.

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  16. Oh this speaks to a very deep, unsettled part of me. This holiday season is like no other but even though there are loved ones missing I find that God is always present and loves sitting at the table with me.

    Your words show understanding and compassion. Thank you for saying what is on my heart right now. Merry Christmas!

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    1. I love how you said that God sits at the table with us. And isn't it true that when we aren't surrounded by the bustle of conversation and activity that we can be more attuned to His lavish love ...

      Merry Christmas, dear friend. You are a delight to me.

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  17. I love your tender words, as always. Change is especially glaringly obvious at Christmas and holes left by loved ones feel deep and dark. May you feel His arms around you and His peace in your heart this year!

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    1. Yeah, 'deep and dark' seem like they'll last forever, don't they, Sarah.

      But 'joy comes in the morning' {Psalm 30:5}. Maybe not as soon as we'd like, but it will appear.

      That we can count on ...

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  18. Hello Linda!
    I've been thinking about this post since it arrived in my in-box a few days ago and I'm struck as always, how you blend the joy and sadness, the bitter and sweet, the seen and unseen of what we all experience in various ways this holiday season. I know you know of these things firsthand and that deepens your understanding of what God continues to work in our lives, in our circumstances and in all we experience. Merry Christmas to you and I'm praying you experience God's peace and love this holiday! xoxo

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    1. Dear Friend ... you're so right. We'd like to separate our emotions into neat little piles but it just can't be done. They sure do blend and meld together, don't they.

      I hope you find yourself in a very sweet place this Christmas, surrounded by those you love and the warmth of those balmy southern breezes.

      Thanks for spending a bit of Christmas week here with us ...

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  19. My dear, I think this is one of your best posts ever. Thank you for sharing it again so I, in turn, can share it during this sometimes difficult season. You are a treasure. My prayers are with you this season. Merry Christmas.

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    1. You're kind and gracious, that's for sure. It makes me happy that you'll be able to share it with another soul or 2 who might find some solace and encouragement tucked in there.

      Sweetest Christmas blessings to you, friend ...

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  20. Here I am, better-late-than-never poster. The Rockwell Christmas was an obsession of mine back when my kids were small, messy, unruly. Back when I worryingly wondered when and who would get drunk rousing unwanted, hurtful feelings in everybody. Back when I had no money to decorate so whatever I did was pitiful. Here I am now and because of that wonderful baby in the manager, my life has changed dramatically. I can decorate to my heart's content, no one gets drunk, and I have a profound gratefulness to the Savior who we celebrate this season!!! Thanks for the reminder to me, Linda, of what God and I left behind.

    About Mary's unexpected journey, my fav Christmas movie is The Nativity. It really conveys to me what she went through.

    Merry Christmas!!!!! And enjoy ALL your kiddies, big and small.

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    1. You're never late and you know that the WELCOME mat is always out around here.

      Your story is a continual reminder that miracles happen, that relationships can be knit together in startlingly healthy ways, that God always has the bigger picture in mind even when we can't make sense of all the tatters.

      Carol, you are a great big blessing, your story is laced with a joyful hope. I'm always glad when you share what God has done ...

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  21. Thank you so much for these words ... encouragement ... and refocus as to what Mary would have been going through. It helped me to see my situation in a new light ... a light I didn't think I could find. I find that in my biggest struggles, also come my biggest new strengths ... Only through the grace of God, his love, his peace, and the sisters and brothers in Christ God has so graciously poured over me am I able to know and trust I'll get through this journey and be a light to others who are going through the journey w/ me, and as well, their own dark journey.
    Thank you !

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    1. Ellen, I am simply delighted that you've joined in the conversation today and have found a bit encouragement to help you refocus.

      And yes, yes. You will be a light to others in the seasons ahead. I just know it.

      And you're a blessing simply by gathering around the table with us here this afternoon.

      Warmest blessings this Christmas ...

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  22. Linda, this post ministered to me so deeply this year. Bless you xo

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    1. Oh, thanks for letting me know, Lyli. I know a number of people who sigh with relief when January 2nd comes around ...

      It can be a tough season.

      Grace, grace.

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'I want the people in my life to know that when they come to me, with whatever is on their mind or heart, they will be heard. I am dedicated to hearing the hearts of those around me.'
~ Adam McHugh, The Listening Life

Linda