Finding Joy in Tough Seasons

Christmas time is here! Loved ones travel to be together, all of the best recipes come out, and the first signs of snow gently fall from the sky. There’s a gentle peacefulness that fills the air, joy that fills our hearts, and happiness that is shared in smiles and cocoa. But, it’s not like that for everyone…

While most people find comfort, joy, and peace easy to come by during the Christmas season, others strive to find it. Where some are quick to give it, others beg to receive it. But you won’t notice…. Unless you’ve been there.

The Christmas season always comes with traditions. Whether that means you do the same thing every year, or you do something different each year, everybody has that one thing that “Christmas isn’t Christmas” until it’s done. Growing up, we always had Christmas Eve at Nanny and Bubby’s, followed by Christmas morning at our house, Christmas afternoon at Grumpy’s house, and Christmas evening at Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry’s. Lots of food, lots of family, but most importantly, lots of love. Looking back, it’s so easy to see how blessed I truly am.

But as we get older, traditions change (sadly!). We go to different houses, we change up traditions a little bit, or tradition is forced to change because you experience loss… This is where the merry and bright Christmas season is a little bit harder to come by.

Growing up, going to my auntie Jo and uncle Jerry’s house on Christmas night was one of my favorite parts of Christmas. The Christmas morning and afternoon festivities had come and gone, and I always looked forward to a nice, relaxing night of fun, leftovers, and one last chance to open gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved every part of Christmas, but Christmas night will always hold a VERY special place in my heart.

We’d park the car, mom or dad would unlock the door to get in, and I would race up the stairs to beat my family coming up in the elevator. Opening the door to the floor they lived on, you could smell their apartment. (Maybe it was how the rest of the building smelled too, but I always liked to believe it was just their place..) I’d wait for the elevator doors to open and my family and I would walk down the hallway to their door. Upon knocking on the door, bubby would usually be the first person to the door to open it. Bubby smiling with open arms, Christmas music and laughter in the background, oh how I wish I could revisit those days. The smell of the apartment flooded our nostrils as we walked through the door and instantly, my heart was full. I can’t describe the feeling of walking through the door of their apartment other than I just felt overwhelmed with love. Everyone would rush to the door to greet us, give us hugs, and ask us how the rest of the family was doing. We’d join in on the fun, grab a bite to eat (if we were still hungry….), and relax while sharing stories of Christmases passed. We would all gather in the living room and Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry sat in their respective chairs. We never expected our last Christmas there to be just that.

Losing a family member is one of the hardest things I can imagine going through. When Auntie Jo passed away, she left this earth as peacefully as she walked through it. My whole family witnessed the gates of heaven welcome her home. I even got to pray with her a couple nights before she passed away. But Christmas definitely isn’t the same without her here. Celebrating Christmas night at home felt weird the first couple years, like we were forgetting to go to one more stop before we went home… Even now it’s so easy to remember the way her apartment smelled walking up to it, to remember the hugs that she gave, and to remember the joy-filled smile that never left her face.

Today, I was reminded of a verse in Matthew that states, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4) My aunt passed away a few years ago, but missing her hasn’t faded and at Christmas time, I miss her even more. This year, we’re also experiencing our first Christmas without my Uncle Jerry. My family is incredibly strong and has been through a lot, but through it all, we only get stronger. I know that my Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry are home with Jesus during this Christmas season and that’s where I find my peace in those moments of hurt.

When you lose someone, there’s no reason why. There’s rarely closure and the pain doesn’t go away. Memories stir up tears and heartache, and changing traditions becomes a little bit harder. In times of hurt, pain, and uncertainty, it’s crucial to look up instead of looking around.

In the last few moments I had with my aunt, it wasn’t until I prayed with her that my heart started to be at peace. Before that moment, I hurt for her, I hurt because I didn’t want to lose her, and I hurt because I didn’t want her to miss out on the adventure that my life was taking me on. But in the last few moments I had with her, I shared my life, my future, and where God was taking me and I saw something I hadn’t since she had been sick – her true, genuine, joy-filled smile. Praying with her was like taking all of my uncertainties and pain and trusting God that He knew what He was doing. In her last moment, God brought peace to everyone in the room. It was a solemn peace, but we all knew she went home peacefully. Did it take away the pain? No. But it did bring us together.

It’s in Christ that we find our comfort. When we look at Matthew 5:4, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, the context of the word blessed in this portion of text refers to the inner peace and joy we find when we’re right with God. This life is filled with uncertainties but when we look to God, we find the strength we need to keep going. Sure we may not get all of the answers that we are looking for, but we find a peace that surpasses all understanding, unspeakable joy, and an unfailing love. What’s required of us? A heart after God and faith the size of a mustard seed. Our God is not a God that sits up in the clouds and watches everything from afar. Our God sent His one and only Son to live on this earth as we live. His only Son who was crucified for the sins of the world and overcame death, in order that we may have an abundant life. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us. A relationship with God isn’t an impossible thing to comprehend, but instead a daily reminder that without God, we have nothing. But with God, we have everything we’ll need.

So this Christmas season, as all of the cheesy people say, let’s remember the reason for the season. If Christmas brings you pain where it once brought joy, I pray that the peace of God overwhelms you this season. You are not alone. If you know someone who is going through a tough Christmas season, pray for them, reach out to them, and love them. If your Christmas season is filled with love and joy, I pray (in the words of Elf) that you would spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear!

Seek God, love God, and encourage others.

Love and Blessings. ❤

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