The sights and sounds of the Christmas season have been appearing everywhere, but now have come to our house. Decorating our tree was the last step to complete the process just a few days ago. With my Honey Clementine candle burning and Christmas playlist tuned up on my iPod, I was ready to start the task by spiraling the glittering gold ribbon around the tree so the tree lights would reflect from every direction. Next came the gold and platinum colored net ribbon between the ribbon swirls.
Finally it was time for the ornaments we have collected over our nearly 54 years of marriage. Picking up each ornament brings back memories of people and places dear to our hearts. Yes, there are some of those beautiful Christmas balls scattered about the tree in red, gold, silver, and green, but the other ornaments are the ones that cause me to linger and consider the stories they tell.
Some are engraved from friends we have known for forty years and I pause as I find just the right spot for the one they gave us on our fiftieth anniversary just a few years ago. Some are handmade with sequins and assorted trims made by a friend who now celebrates Christmas in heaven each year. There are three hand crocheted snowflakes we received as a gift from an older friend (now deceased) for our first Christmas together and a hand-made crocheted angel from my mother.
My mother had not made the angel herself, but one of her friends had made one for us and each of our children. What I had not known was how she had planned for the future when she considered these angels. After she and my dad died, I found a large shoe box on their closet shelf and on the lid she had written “for future great-grandchildren.” Tucked inside there were five identical angels to the ones we had been given. As each of our grandchildren had their first Christmas I gave them the angel from the great-grandmother they had never met. Since we were blessed with six grandchildren, one did not receive one of her angels, but I looked for another ornament to be from her.
It took longer for me to place the ornaments as I recalled so many other Christmases and people. Then I added glass icicles. Several years ago I discovered these at a Christmas shop and could not resist buying several dozen. (To be honest, I bought six-dozen.) They brought back memories of the Christmas tree in my home when I was a child when we had some glass icicles on the tree.
The joy of this favorite season and all its precious memories bring tinges of sadness as well.
A number of those ornaments come from friends now gone from this earth and who are missed no matter how long they have been gone. There is also the memory of the Christmas my husband was away from me on active duty in military service and the first Christmas my parents were both celebrating Christmas in heaven. Other Christmas seasons are remembered because of deaths that came then and a suicide as well. Those years the candles didn’t hold the allure they usually do and the joy in the birth of the Savior was balanced by the sacrifice He came to give and the sorrow mingled with joy because of it.
It can be easy in the busyness of decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping gifts, and attending various Christmas programs to miss moments to attend to the hearts of some who will have a new empty chair at their table this Christmas. For them the season will be bittersweet. Perhaps that is true for you.
I recall so many of the meaningful words written by C.S. Lewis born of his own grief in A Grief Observed. One of the things he wrote was this:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep swallowing.”
Nearly twenty years ago two Christian authors wrote a special little book that I have on my shelf and would encourage you to consider. The title is The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions by Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge and Robert C. DeVries. It is less than 100 pages including an appendix and the words of the authors may resonate as you experience grief in the midst of a season where we focus on joy.
As I completed the tree and turned off all the lights except those on the mantle and tree, I sat down to enjoy its beauty knowing the light and the glow from the tree is a dim comparison to the light and glow that I will see when I meet the Savior face-to-face. I also whispered a prayer of thankfulness for each memory and each person connected with it, grateful for rich relationships that create such a special tapestry over my lifetime.
My thoughts recall the lines Joy Gresham speaks that come alive on the screen in the poignant movie “Shadowlands” as C.S. Lewis struggles with the prospect of losing her to cancer:
“The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”
How well our Lord understood that as He lived and chose to die a painful death so we could know the happiness of eternity with Him. Life now will always have some pain, even at Christmas, but not so one day.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4 (NIV)