I have chosen or been given a word to represent my year for at least 5 years now. Words of past years were: joy, trust, contentment, peace, faith. But this year, 2021, the word just dropped into my heart from the Lord.
It happened last New Year’s Eve. Following is an entry from my journal:
This morning I awoke before sunrise and noticed the nearly full moon shining brightly through our window. It was shining in a clear, night sky—a reflection of the sun not yet seen. I felt impressed to behold moments like these that happen everyday in the New Year (2021).
I have enjoyed this year beholding moments that bring joy or satisfaction. And they always lead me to thank God for providing such moments.
I used this hashtag throughout the year to document some of my favorite moments. #behilding2021 ❤️
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or do you also choose a word to pursue? I’d love to hear how you approach a new year.
It has been a season of loss for many, including myself. When I got the following article from Desiring God Ministries, it hit a chord in my heart that has resonated ever since. I pray it will do the same for you, but you must read it to the end. Otherwise, the article will leave you in a place of sadness, and I never want to do this for someone who is grieving.
Merry Christmas to all of you! May this serve as a gift from our table to yours. 🎄
Christmas With An Empty Chair
By Greg Morse
My grandfather is no longer here for Christmas.
I scarcely remember one without him, and yet now his absence is becoming the new normal. We no longer gather in his living room to read Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth, sing “Joy to the World,” open presents together, or eat the Christmas dinner he prepared. His chair, once so full of fondness, infectious laughter, and gentlemanly repose, now sits silent, full of memories.
A new sensation now dines with me during my favorite time of year. As the dining table crowds with new faces, new grins, and new babies, nostalgias of past Christmases unfold in the background. Here, more than at any other place or time, days past and days present meet. Here I behold fresh holiday scenes with old eyes. So much is the same, and so much is different.
Loss has made me older.
I look around the table at the bright eyes of the children, and see a joy unburdened. The Christmas they have known is the same today. They can’t see what their parents see. They cannot detect the soft-glowing faces or hear the unspeaking voices. To them, chairs aren’t empty, they’re yet to be filled. They don’t know the ache in our celebration, the wounds that never fully heal.
I now know Christmas as my grandfather had for years — as a mixture of gladness and grief, gratitude and regret, Christmas now and Christmas then. I could not discern the others who dined with us around the table from another life ago — parents, friends, his beloved wife. I never realized his Christmases filled with more than just that single Christmas. I now see the unspoken dimension. I better understand that weathered smile, brimming fuller, yet sadder than once before.
Suffice it to say, Christmases these days aren’t quite the same.
Out with the Old?
With this new experience of Christmas with an empty chair, comes certain threats and temptations.
Jesus once warned about sewing a piece of new cloth onto an old garment; or putting new wine into old wineskins. The wineskins might burst, he taught; the cloth might tear. But here we are. In the mind of the man or woman who has lost, the new is patched with the old; new wine pours into old family wineskins.
Perhaps you can relate. The pressure of sitting and eating and singing where he or she once sat and ate and sang can tear at the heart. You may have lost more than a grandfather. The strain of grief you feel around the holidays nearly concusses. The spouse whose name inscribed upon the ornament is no longer here. One stocking is missing. The beloved child you watched run down the stairs Christmas morning has not made it down for some years now. Christmas, this side of heaven, will never be the same.
I do not pretend to know such depths of despair. But I do know twin temptations that greet those of us who have lost someone. I hope that naming them might help you this Christmas.
Past Swallows Present
The first temptation is to the variety of grief that kidnaps us from life today. This bottomless ache comes when we begin to stare and stare at the empty chair. The grief overwhelms all gladness; the past swallows the present. The good that arrives is not the good that once was, so all current cause for happiness becomes spoiled or forgotten.
This is to step beyond the healthy grief and remembrance of our losses. It poisons the heart by entertaining the question the wise man bids us not to: “Say not,” he warns, “‘Why were the former days better than these?” For, he continues, “it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). This grief poisons the what is with the what used to be. It hinders the ability to go on.
Grief threatens to lock us in dark cellars of the past, keeping us from enjoying the child playing on the floor or the new faces around the table.
Second is the temptation to bow to the over-the-shoulder guilt bearing down on us. Lewis captures this in A Grief Observed:
There’s no denying that in some sense I “feel better,” and with that comes at once a sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one’s unhappiness. (53)
“The empty chair can threaten to overwhelm all joy in this Christmas or shame us for feeling any joy this Christmas.”
This temptation sees the empty chair frowning at us. “Why aren’t you sadder? How can Christmas still be merry? Didn’t you love him?” The memory, not remaining in its proper place, looms over our shoulder, patrolling our happiness in the present. This shame is a sickness that tempts us to hate wellness.
So, the empty chair can threaten to overwhelm all joy in this Christmas or shame us for feeling any joy this Christmas — both must be resisted.
Melt the Clouds of Sadness
So what do we do? There the empty chair sits.
Fighting both temptations, I need to remind myself: Christmas is not about family around a dinner table, but about Jesus. And Jesus has promised that for his people — for my grandfather — to be absent from the Christmas table is to be present with him.
I ask myself, Should I wish my grandfather back?Would I, if it stood within my power, recall him from that feast, reunite his soul with his ailing body — reclaim him to sickness, loneliness, sin — summon him from the heaven of Christ himself to a shadowy celebration of Christ on earth?
Somedays I half-consider it.
But I know that if I could speak to him now, he wishes me there. The empty chair heaven longs to see filled is not around our Christmas dinner, but the empty chairs still surrounding Christ. Our places are set already. Better life, real life, true life, lasting life lies in that world. That empty chair of our loved ones departed is not merely a reminder of loss, but a pointer to coming gain.
“That empty chair of our loved ones departed is not merely a reminder of loss, but a pointer to coming gain.”
This place of shadows and darkness, sin and Satan, grief and death, is no place yet for that Happy Reunion. The dull Christmas stab reminds me that life is not what it should be, but it can also remind me life is not what it will soon be for all who believe.
Jesus will come in a Second Advent. He will make all things new. Christmases with empty chairs are numbered; these too shall soon pass. And the greatest chair that shall be occupied, the one that shall restore all things, and bring real joy to the world, is Jesus Christ, the baby once born in Bethlehem, now King that rules the universe. He shall sit and eat with us at his eternal supper of the Lamb.
And until then, while we travel through Christmases present and future, I pray for myself and for you,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, Fill us with the light of day!
We went this week to see The Chosen Christmas at our local theater. We haven’t been to a movie theater in over two years, so being there was surreal. But this movie hit me on so many levels!
As you know our family took a big loss this year when my 66 year old, healthy brother whom I adored, died from Covid. Needless to say, it has been a very difficult year for all of us.
Then, one of the songs featured in the movie was sung by a group called Cain. The song’s title, Wonderful. Sounds like a typical Christmas song about rejoicing and celebrating the long-awaited arrival of our newborn King.
But that’s not the wonderful they’re singing of. Rather it’s to lift our drooping hearts to be embraced and cared for by our Wonderful Counselor.
He sees me. He knows my pain. And He alone can bring tidings of comfort and joy to my sad heart.
If you are experiencing sadness this Christmas, I am sorry for your loss. There are no words I can offer to make it better. However music has a way of reaching the depths of our pain and ringing comfort. I invite you to pause and listen to this song.
This will be the anthem of my Christmas 2021. May it be yours as well.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 ESV
There was a jewelry department—with costume jewelry, 14k gold options and sterling silver. They were displayed neatly on velvet lined trays that rotated around the glass case much like a Ferris wheel. Push one button to rotate forward, another to rotate backward. I loved looking at every shiny piece.
We also sold perfume, sunglasses, greeting cards, toys and of course drugs for anything that ailed you.
My favorite was the toy aisle, which is why I had a significant role in our annual summer event.
My parents purchased merchandise for our shelves from The Allen Drug Company. An independently owned drugstore distributor.
Every summer they put on a “wholesale only” trade show for retailers to select what they wanted to make available to their customers for the upcoming holiday shopping season.
My Dad invited me to come and help them purchase toys that kids my age would want. As payment for my expert opinion I was allowed to choose one toy for me.
It was a child’s dream come true.
Some now nostalgic toys that were new to me then:
Easy Bake Oven
My dad also raffled off a giant toy and candy-filled stocking every year to one lucky child.
As a pre-teen I enjoyed gift-wrapping the items our customers purchased, a free service. We had a giant roll of red striped paper on a steel cutting wheel that worked much like a roll of aluminum foil does today.
We had a new contraption that made bows in no time. With lots of ribbon choices, each gift was a unique work of art. I loved creasing the corners and taping the gift perfectly. I still enjoy wrapping gifts today as much as I did then.
Remembering my Christmases past has been a delight to behold. What memories do you have of Christmases past?
Of all the things my parents instilled in me, it’s the love of the local church and commitment to this community that stands apart.
I have so many memories of our little baptist church in the 60’s; the Sunday School class where I would embarrass myself at the young age of 12 by asking out loud, “What is circumcision?” The snickers from the guys in my class and the speechless response of my teacher let me know I shouldn’t have asked THAT question.
I was involved on Sunday nights too, with youth choir and the evening service. What my parents lacked in talking to me about my growth in God, they made sure I heard of it on a regular basis from these faithful stewards of God’s Word I. Our church.
I remember asking my Dad to walk with me down the aisle at the age of 10 (fifty two years ago this week). I felt God calling me and I was afraid. His presence gave me the confidence I needed to go forward, “Just As I Am”. Today would have been my dad’s 99th birthday. He’s been with Jesus now for 18 years and I miss still.
My grandmother (Grace) and my Mom were faithful to pray for me. I am reaping the benefits of those prayers even though they’ve both been gone from this life for a long time.
This gives me motivation to pray for my own children and grandchildren as often as it comes to mind. My prayers will outlive me for they circle the Throne of God as “incense before Him” as it says in Revelation 5:8.
The pandemic has caused many to abstain from going to their church’s service. Online capabilities has made it easier than ever to be a couch Christian. Oh, but what we miss when we neglect to gather.
Our pastor often says, “You never know what you’ll miss if you don’t come!” So true!
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
Who knows what questions (even the embarrassing ones) are waiting to be asked and remembered for a lifetime. It’s all part of my story. We now have the privilege of being part of the story of others, unless we neglect this privilege.
May your Sunday find you seeking God and asking or answering good questions
In 2013 Tom and I bought a cabin in the high country of North Carolina.
We named it Barefoot Cabin in order to mix our love for the beach with our love of vineyards. And it’s a cute play on words since it’s former name was “Bearfoot Cabin”.
We chose the small town of Banner Elk (BE) elevation 4300’, thus the title of this post.
It is conveniently located between Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountains—the closest ski resorts to Florida. This area is affectionately called, The Florida Alps.
It has the best restaurants all located near the intersection with the only traffic light. This also happens to be the place where our youngest daughter got engaged during the 4th of July Parade in 2017. The only gas station is located at the same intersection and still offers full service. If you don’t know what that means—look it up. A bit of history that makes me smile.
We bought Barefoot Cabin right after my Mom died.
She and I took many road trips to NC when I was a kid to pick blackberries, huckleberries and go ruby mining. It’s one of the finest parts of my childhood. She would have loved it here.
I say “here” because Tom and I drove up after Thanksgiving to pack away the Fall decor and spruce the place up for our winter guests. It is my favorite time to decorate.
Due to family needs we didn’t make it here last December. I realize how much I’ve missed our cabin.
Below are photos of our progress thus far. If you’re looking for a place to rent either to go skiing this winter, or to have a nice cool Summer retreat in 2022, you can check out information on how to do that HERE.