Christmas is a wonderful time of celebration, but for many women December spells difficult.
Hard. Even painful.
Loneliness, disappointments and lost hope. Toxic relationships or family members make gatherings trying. Divorce and separation can create a tremendous void and celebrating the first Christmas without a loved one can make grief unbearable.
Instead of glorious, December can be grim, especially when everywhere we look all we see are pictures invoking the joy of the season. How do we deal with unmet expectations and disappointments?
I think we have to shift our focus. Relationship Coach and author of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship Leslie Vernick says, “Knowing ahead of time that your holidays may be filled with toxicity gives you time to prepare to take care of yourself.”
Expectations of Christmas perfection will only cause us to lose our focus on things that really matter. That’s why it’s important that we are intentional about finding joy in the little things. Focusing on what is missing or what makes us discouraged or what makes us angry will only produce destructive emotions.
We have to focus past the pain. If you have birthed a child you know how to do that. Contractions. Need I say more? The pain of contractions is so intense that new mothers are coached to find a focal point and concentrate on something else in the midst of their pain. We can do the same thing with our emotions.
Rachel learned that last year when her divorce left her discouraged about not having her children for Christmas. “The first year after our divorce I had my kids for Christmas, but the following year it was my ex-husband‘s turn. I’d never had a Christmas without my kids. The beginning of December was horrible. I fought depression and it started affecting Megan and Joshua as well. I knew I had to do something different or we would all be miserable the entire Christmas season.”
In the middle of a crisis or a difficult situation we are typically left with two options. Either we linger in despair or we determine to overcome. Just getting by or merely enduring the situation causes us to forgo the joy that God wants us to have Even Jesus endured the pain for the joy set before him. He knew that his misery served a greater purpose. Of course Jesus knew the outcome of his suffering before he went to the cross. We don’t always have that foresight. But we do have a promise—that God will cause all things to work together for our good. God intends to create something good out of our suffering.
Rachel decided to shift her focus. This required discipline and intentionality (yes, I created a new word) but the result brought her peace and joy. She decided to volunteer at a maternity home with other mothers who were raising their children alone and struggling to make ends meet. “The joy of seeing God‘s provision for these mothers and their children was overwhelming,” said Rachel. “I’ve never known what it was like to struggle to find a place to live and it gave me a new perspective on how much God has provided for me. I didn’t get to share the day with my children, but I got to witness the joy of six families hear the Christmas story and delight in tearing open their gifts. It was a game-changer for me.”
My husband John and I are empty-nesters now and while our grown children all live close by, I still wish I had my children at home. It can certainly cause discouragement when I focus on what I’m missing: daily hugs, dinner chats and all the festive school choir and band performances.
Here’s the deal. Disappointment Is inevitable, but joy is a decision.
Joy is independent of our circumstances. It’s a product of our focus.
Life is never perfect and there will always be opportunities for us to compare our situation to our past and relish the regrets of what we once had or compare our situation with our friends who seem to have it all together.
Newsflash: they don’t!
Pinterest just makes everything look perfect, but underneath the revised reality everyone has issues they struggle with. Their struggle may be different than yours, but nobody’s life is perfect.
Thankfully, despite imperfection we can choose to be grateful.
For me as an empty-nester I’ve decided to create new traditions. Each year John and I host a Christmas party, complete with games—some goofy, some sentimental. My brother Joe moans when I pull out a conversation-starter game, “Oh, we’re doing this again!” But guess what? He’s the one that talks the most.
Besides writing, another one of my loves is decorating. Some may argue that it’s an addiction.
In my defense, I’ve always said that if God can decorate the entire earth every season, then I can decorate my little corner of the world. It may seem extravagant or overindulgent, but God’s glory is magnificent. He decorated the entire sky with billions of stars and landscaped the entire planet with fresh flowers and beautiful trees.
I’m just copying my creator:) And in the spirit of the season, I’d love to share a few of my decorations with you.
This cart greets my guests on my front porch. Many of the things I decorate with are special to me, either because I got it at a thrift store or estate sale, or in this case, because the wooden box traveled all the way from Syracuse where I was born. After my father died, I rescued this treasure from his shed in the backyard where this jewel remained hidden for at least 40 years. In the summer it bursts with flowers, but for Christmas, I stuffed it with garland.
On the inside, I chose a different color palette. Navy and antique gold. A scheme I’ve never done before, but I’m loving it! I made two of the cream stockings because I’m too cheap to buy new ones and a friend bought me the one in the middle. Hobby Lobby had some luscious fuzzy fabric and pom poms that birthed the left cream stocking and the one on the right was repurposed from a thrift store cable knit sweater.
I literally stuffed greenery in every receptacle I had in the house. It’s one of the easiest ways to add cheer.
Framing sheet music adds a festive and inexpensive touch! (Don’t have any music books? Just print some out!)
And then I added mini wreaths (from Hobby Lobby…only $5! each) to every chair that would oblige.
Ornaments I didn’t use on my tree got piled into an empty Pottery Barn glass vase I scored for 8 bucks at an estate sale.
Since I’m not a photographer, it was hard to get a good pic of my tree with the lights on and this picture does not do it justice. I wish you could see it up close because I’m known to put all kinds of odd things on my tree. Among some of the quirky things I added this year, you’ll find a chalkboard sign my daughter Brittany crafted, a vintage feather duster, a pewter rooster salt shaker, rosary beads and several chocolate mink collars I’ve collected from various garage sales.
I added pops of red in the kitchen. I love the jingle bells. And by the way, these candy canes are not to eat. I saved them from last year. I can’t remember where I got them but the intense red is too beautiful to digest.
In the guest room, I got all girly with pink! I did a pink tree one year and didn’t want these ornaments to stay in their boxes. Why not let them make a collective statement!
My first date with John was at the ice rink. That’s why I love this ice skate ornament. In fact we also got married on the ice on New Year’s eve at the stroke of midnight. This New Year’s eve will be 21 years! Proof that God can transform a former love junkie!
Thanks so much for letting me indulge. Part of decorating is being able to enjoy the visual delight. I know God did that too! After each day of creation He sat back and admired His work and said, “It is good!” And then He shared it with us.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures. Have a beautiful Merry Christmas!