Our Gift – a story of hope

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. 

Over-the-Shoulder Guilt

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! 

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their son and daughter.

Some Songs Become Anthems We Never Forget

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

My Christmases Past

It was an annual event in our home. It happened every summer, but it’s focus was Christmas.

My Dad was a pharmacist and owned his own drug store with everything imaginable for our seasoned shoppers.

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:

  • Slinky
  • Gyro wheel
  • Clackers
  • Silly Putty
  • Weaving loom
  • Etch-A-Sketch
  • Lite Brite
  • Easy Bake Oven
  • And so.much.more

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?

Take A Moment…

Mill Pond, Banner Elk, NC

Take a moment today to pause alone. Take in your surroundings. Let God speak of His faithfulness through all generations including yours.

As long as He ordains it, creation will continue to pour forth praise to Him for all He has done.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

This is my 25th post I n the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post everyday in November.

Long-Distance Family

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

Today is 24 days of posts in November. I’m amazed I’ve made it this far!

Nikki asked a really good question about celebrating the holidays.

“I have been thinking about the differences in holiday celebrations now compared to when I was a kid. Our family isn’t quite as close-knit — everyone in my generation has moved away whereas my parents lived near their parents so we could all gather for the holidays. Have you noticed the same in your family?”

In my generation most of us stayed close to our parents, so holidays were always a big event.

Our children all moved away after they were married. Some it took years and our last one moved when she got married. All three living in different states from us.

I never considered this would happen.

When our daughter moved to GA with two of our grandchildren ages almost 4 and almost 2 in nearly killed me. I didn’t see this coming and my heart was broken.

I had well-meaning friends who said things like, “At least you are close enough to drive there and see them.” This was like pouring salt in my wounded heart.

But God! He had other plans.

My hope was that our family would share life together. We would be available to babysit so our kids could cultivate their relationship in the throes of raising a family. Holidays would be challenging in how we would seat everyone around the same table.

First our daughter, son-in-love and two grandchildren moved to GA. in 2011.

A year later my Mom died in 2012, leaving me feeling orphaned since my Dad died 9 years earlier.

Second, our son moved to Tennessee for his dream job in 2014. He took his sweet wife and three more of my precious grandchildren with him. While I was happy for the dreams they were pursuing, my heart was broken for what could have been. It haunted me daily.

Then Disney came out with a new movie and a hit song that was played everywhere. It had the three words I kept hearing God say to me. “Let it go!” I was afraid to let go of my desire for fear that my kids would never move back.

Finally, when our youngest daughter got married and moved to yet another state in 2018, I was undone. Finally I knew I had to let go of what I had imagined life would be to let my kids have the freedom to follow their dreams. I needed to be their biggest fan, not their strongest antagonist!

This made all the difference.

I was able to let go and trust that God was leading our kids exactly where he wanted them to be.

Our holidays change from year to year. We have enjoyed times where we are all together, but more times than not, we’ve had to adjust our expectations and enjoy the ones who were able to be with us.

Most times we are the ones who travel to see them because our kids and grandkids are a priority to us, even if it’s not convenient. I love them and anytime we are able to spend together.

FaceTime is an almost daily occurrence, and for this I am so very thankful. I think often of my grandmother, Grace, who moved away from her family at 16 years of age. There was no telephone, no internet, no cars even. Miles separated them and the only communication took weeks to receive.

As I write this we are with one third of our family for Thanksgiving. The other two-thirds are spending Thanksgiving with their in-laws. We are choosing to focus on being present and enjoying what is, rather than being sad over what could have been.

But God! He is the only reason I’m able to say this.

We almost lost two grandchildren in the last two years, and I lost my brother this year. The distance that separates us doesn’t seem as significant now.

As my youngest daughter recently wrote about raising an infant with special needs, “Every day is thanksgiving, and even though I can still struggle with a heart of complaint. I pray my perspective is always pointed to what God has blessed me with rather than what I think He has taken away.”

Yes, Perspective. it makes all the difference in how we move forward from grieving what could have been to what we’ve been given.

This is my 24th post in The Ultimate Blog Challenge to post everyday in November.

Four for a Dollar

This post was originally shared on The Romantic Vineyard blog in November 2010. I thought it was worth sharing in the UBC on Day 19. Enjoy…

It was the week of Thanksgiving, and I was set on trying a new creamed corn recipe for the holiday.  Having a large extended family I was going to need a lot of corn – 24 ears to be exact.  I knew that the grocery stores would be too expensive for such a large quantity; so my husband and I headed towards a roadside vegetable stand.   I was sure that their candy corn, as it’s called, would help me duplicate the dish I had so enjoyed at a New Orleans’ restaurant, Commander’s Palace.

Off we went.  We stopped at the first stand we came to, and I scouted out the market to see if they had what I needed.  They did and at the right price, too; four ears for a dollar!  My husband stayed in the car certain it would only take a moment to make my purchase.

I bagged my corn and took it to the man working the checkout counter.  He looked a bit odd, but seemed friendly enough.

“Hi!” I smiled as I placed my corn on the table in front of him.  “I have 24 ears of corn in the bags.”

He looked at me while figuring my total in his head, “That’ll be $21!”

“$21? The sign said that the corn is four ears for a dollar!

“That’s right – $21.”  He said with a toothless grin.

I knew he just wasn’t thinking, so I attempted to help him with his figuring.  “The sign says four ears for a dollar – that’s eight ears for two dollars, twelve ears for three dollars…”

I thought he would have stopped me by this point, but it was obvious by the unbelieving smirk on his face that he still wasn’t getting it.

I continued, “sixteen ears for four dollars, twenty ears for five dollars and twenty-four ears for six dollars!”

“Naw! You’re tryin’ to cheat me!” was his reply.

I couldn’t believe it!  Was he joking with me?  Was there a hidden camera somewhere? He was serious and so convinced in his mind to the point that he wasn’t going to sell me the corn!

I asked, while looking around, “Is there anyone else that works here?”

Before he could answer me I saw a couple of men sitting at the far end of the stand. I walked up to them and asked if they worked there.

The owner replied, “Is he giving you a hard time, darlin’?”

“Well, he’s trying to sell me 24 ears of corn for $21.” I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening.

“Man, he hit his head yesterday and must’ve hurt himself worse than I thought.  Come with me!”

I followed him as he approached the checkout counter.  “Mac, I want you to sell this lady her corn for $6, ya hear?”

He took my corn from under the counter and still hesitated in taking my money.  He kept staring suspiciously at me, and when his boss had walked away he said under his breath, “You must’ve really winked your eye at him!”

With that I took my bag of corn before he could grab it from me and quickly got in the car.
As I closed the door and took an exasperated breath, my husband said, “What took you so long?”

“You won’t believe it…”

Do you have an unbelievable story to tell?

Happy Birthday, Grace

Yesterday would have been my grandmother’s 129th birthday, so I’m hosting a cousins tea today. It’s themed after all her favorite things and to say excited is a huge understatement.

It would make her smile to see us gathered together around my table today having tea and biscuits.

She loved Spring probably because she loved gardening. We used to be commissioned to gather those ugly giant grasshoppers off her plants and throw them in a coffee can of turpentine. I never did it. I was afraid of a bug big enough to look me in the eyes. Still am!

She made the best chili too. You can find her recipe in the Oklahoma Recipes tab above.

The only thing missing from today’s celebration will be the cousins who couldn’t be here and of course, Grace. Maybe the Lord will let her have a peek and once again give thanks for the blessing of family.

Happy Spring from my table to yours!

Do You Remember?

<img src="https://debigraywalter.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_0262.jpg?w=560" class="size-large wp-image-604" width="560" height="446" alt="Our oldest granddaughters building their first snowman. Our oldest granddaughters building their first snowman. 

This week we’re celebrating Thanksgiving at our cabin in North Carolina. We’re having fun, but missing our daughter and her family. They’ve been battling lots of health issues and aren’t sure if they’ll make it here at all. Disappointing to say the least.

But the rest of us are having fun. We’re expecting a White Thanksgiving in Banner Elk, NC, which is a first for all of us Florida natives. 🙂

One thing I’ve purchased to have at our cabin is an acrylic box of cards with questions called, Table Topics, to use to get conversation going in a group setting. The company offers all sorts of themes, and the one I have is for Family Gatherings. Our oldest granddaughter can read now, and she has had a blast asking us questions on all sorts of topics. One in particular that got me thinking was  this question:

What did your grandparents do for you that you loved?

My grandparents owned 32 acres of orange groves when I was growing up, and I loved everything about life at their home. We would have rotten orange fights, eat ripened fruit from the trees, play hide and go seek after dark and the list goes on. It was  fun place to grow up.

That’s what holidays are made of, making memories that your children will remember fondly when they’re grown up.

What traditions have you established that will be remembered for a lifetime?

UPDATE: Our daughter and her family surprised us two days before Thanksgiving and arrived safe and sound. Shortly after it began snowing, and it hasn’t stopped yet. I have a feeling this is one Thanksgiving even the littlest among us will remember. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving from our home to yours!

 

My Birthday Is Special…

…because today starts my first ever book sale!

Through The Eyes Of Grace Cover

I’m very excited to tell you that if you order my book through my publisher: CertaPublishing.com or through Amazon.com you will receive a 20% discount starting today through the end of July! All you have to do is use the coupon code – Grace20 – when checking out. It’s that simple! If you’ve already purchased a copy, now is a great time to purchase copies for Christmas presents. It’s closer than you think, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a few gifts already checked off your list–in July?

Also, you may not know that I have a Facebook page and would love it if you clicked over and “liked” it. I’m hosting a birthday giveaway for all those who follow me–but you’ll have to go there to find out how to enter.  🙂

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 9.30.54 AM

Thank you for helping to make my birthday special.