100

That’s a number we often associate with a perfect score on a test or a high speed on the Interstate. But rarely does someone make it to their 100th birthday.

My Mom would have been 100 today.

She was born in the small town of Jenks, OK, in 1922 following the tragic death of her brother in 1920. Her only living brother was 11 years old at the time and was angry she wasn’t a boy. I can only imagine the heartache he suffered losing his little brother and best friend at such a young age.

The family moved to Florida when she was just 9 months old. Citrus groves were a hot, new investment for farmers and my grandfather and great-grandfather took the bait.

They arrived with the whole family including two cows and a horse by train. Once here they planted 32 acres of trees that produced a healthy crop for decades.

We have been in Florida ever since, but the orange groves are long gone.

It was a sad time in our family when the 32 acres of citrus trees we had were killed in the double freezes of 1983 and 1984. Only one tree survived due to it’s location; it was next to the irrigation pump that kept the tree just warm enough to save the roots of the tree.

My grandfather had installed that pump and it felt like part of him saved the lone tree for us to have its fruit. He passed away when I was 4 and my only memories of him are his pipe, the way he teased me and his delicious creamed corn.

My Mom sold the 12 acres of dead trees in town for the city to build a public park complete with ball fields, picnic pavilions, a massive playground and boardwalk through the bald cypress trees to the lake.

The other 20 acres she replanted with tangerine and tangelo trees alongside the one lone original tree. It stood like the grandfather of the grove making sure the young trees grew healthy and strong.

They did grow well, and we loved harvesting the early fruit that ripened just in time for Thanksgiving each year. We would pick as many as we could and gave them as gifts to friends at Christmas.

Those days are gone. My Mom was unable to afford to keep it, since the cost to harvest the fruit was more than the price she’d make selling it.

I’m sad to say the grove is now a subdivision in the sprawling hills of Clermont. The only memory of our family is the name of the road—It still bears my grandfather’s last name, Oswalt Road.

My Mom and I vowed to never drive out there again. A promise I’ve kept even after she took her last breath in 2012.

Happy 100th birthday in Heaven, Mom. I miss you. 💯🥰

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