I have another guest post this week by Sandy Scarboro. Sandy is also a contributor to Room at the Table: Encouraging Stories from Special Needs Families. She is mother to Miles and Grace, and a retired English teacher turned writer. Thank you, Sandy, for your thoughtful and relevant post on Christmas. We all need Hope!
Why do we Love Christmas?
People love Christmas–for Christians, it is the ultimate gift of Hope.
We all notice how it seems to come a bit earlier each year. The White House turkey pardon and the arrival ceremony of the grand presidential Christmas tree happened on the same day this year.
According to www.statista.com, the average American spends almost a thousand dollars on Christmas expenses. They report most shoppers begin hunting for the perfect gift in October. This site also claims 85% of Americans plan to celebrate Christmas and these merrymakers include “an increasing number of non-Christians”.
Some radio stations play Christmas tunes soon after Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations and parades are everywhere. And let’s not forget the Hallmark channel’s stocking full of sugarplum-sweet movies of love and really good hair. Finding love during the season of carols and mistletoe is even more thrilling than usual.
Why do we love Christmas time so much? Oh, let me count the ways. Presents. Who doesn’t love receiving a surprise, bought with love and wrapped in colorful paper topped with a bow? We love the food and the chance to overeat with others and for it to be okay. Because today is Christmas. Christmas grants everyone a respite from work or school. We get to use this time off to travel and see our family. The season offers us a fun intermission into our mundane lives.
Christmas Expectations and the Gift of Hope
I believe another reason the Yuletide season is so loved is that there is an underlying feeling of hope. If I decorate every room in the house, we’ll have a grand Christmas. We put our aspirations in gifts, ones given, and ones received. The diamond necklace will make my wife love me more. If I get a blender, I’ll make smoothies every day and lose weight. This party will be the best one I’ve given, and people will talk about it for years. If I attend my boss’s party, I may meet someone who can help me in my career. When I march in the parade, my picture will be all over social media. I just know my boyfriend will propose and give me a ring.
Every year Christmas comes and goes, leaving our bank accounts slimmer, our waistlines bigger and our homes overstuffed with stuff. The Christmas blues have come to town. We’ve spent months planning for the special day and now it’s over. In a 2015 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “64% of people report experiencing the post-holiday blues.” I feel it’s even higher in today’s post- covid, politically divided world.
The Gift of Hope at Christmas
The hope and joy of Christmas are real, but it doesn’t come in a gift bag. Christmas is a birthday, and we should celebrate it by singing, having parties, and presents. It is the birthday of hope. God sent his son Jesus, the ultimate gift, to live and die as a man. Jesus’s death paved the road for our eternal life. You can’t buy that at Walmart. This is where our hope lies, not in the painful, difficult life on earth, but in the anticipation of heaven.
Before retiring from teaching, I spent several years teaching fifth grade in a Christian school. We were doing a unit about heaven as a new girl enrolled in my class. Unlike most of the other students who had grown up in the church, it soon became apparent this girl had almost no knowledge of God, the Bible, and Jesus. For example, I asked the class to turn to John 14:2. She raised her hand and asked, “What page is that on?”. The other students gasped. Yes, a gasp of sheer unbelief.
A few days later, we were continuing our study of heaven. I noticed she was exceptionally quiet. I discussed biblical descriptions of heaven. She jumped out of her seat and said, “I want to go to heaven. How do I get there?” I spoke to her about confessing your sins and believing in Jesus. She later spoke to the pastor as well. It was pure, childlike faith combined with hope.
Two years ago, God gave me the chance to experience Christmas in a very different way. I was suffering from diverticulitis (infection in the colon). I had surgery and stayed in the hospital for three weeks. Between the infection, lack of food, and recovery from the surgery, I felt awful. Surely, I’d be out in time for Christmas. But every day the doctors would say, “a few more days”. It was during COVID, so no visitors could come. It was not a holly, jolly time.
I learned a lot about selfless love during that hospital stay. My older sister had organized my friends and family into what my father would call a platoon ready for battle. It’s her superpower. I’m divorced and my daughter, seventeen, still lived at home. My son, Miles, was home from college for his Christmas break. Why did I need a fighting platoon? My daughter, Grace, is autistic and needs constant supervision. Between my family and Grace’s regular staff workers, the days were covered, however, we needed someone to stay with her at night. Miles stepped up to the task. Most evenings were uneventful. My mom would bring over food for supper. Miles would give Grace her medication, spend some time with her, brush her teeth, and tuck her in at night. He only complained once. A few days before they released me Miles called my hospital room. “Hey, mom. I hope you’re feeling better and I’m not rushing you, but when do you think you might come home?”
Love and Kindness at Christmas
He seemed relieved when I told him only another day or two. I asked how things were going. He said everything was going smoothly. But apparently the night before, Grace had an issue with going to the toilet. Her stomach was upset and afterward, Miles said our bathroom looked like a crime scene. He was the only one there to clean it up. And he did.
A less foul-smelling memory occurred a few days earlier. I was so tired of the hospital and missing all my people. I turned on the camera in Grace’s room just in time to catch Miles tucking her in. He read her a book, said prayers with her, and covered her with her favorite blanket. It was such a touching moment.
The nurses in the hospital also showed me compassion and brought as much cheer to my room as they could. I understand they were doing their job, but several of them did more than they had to and did it with such a loving spirit. One young nurse stands out in my mind. After weeks of lying down, your hair gets matted. She helped me get a bath, washed my hair, and then braided it into a French braid. Yes, it looked better, but I felt like a new person. Other nurses told me about their Christmas plans and about the world outside the hospital. They made me laugh. Some even prayed with me.
My church family also came together. They started a meal chain, which lasted for weeks. Even when I wasn’t home or still could not eat, the food was manna from heaven. Miles, my mother, Grace, and the caregivers had wonderful meals. Made with love.
Christmas is all about selfless love and hope. This year, as you prepare to celebrate the birthday of the King, our gift of hope, remember to share that love and kindness with someone who isn’t expecting it and maybe doesn’t deserve it. God did.
Sandy Scarboro is the mother of two extraordinary people. She retired after twenty-eight years of teaching English to middle schoolers. Retirement has given her time to devote to writing. She’s contributed articles to the newspaper and local magazines. Sandy self-published a Christian romance, “Cotton Candy Sky” and a Bible devotional for teen girls called, “Two are Better Than One”. She is currently working on another Christian romance entitled “Waiting for the Sunset” and a women’s devotional called “Life Lessons “. Sandy enjoys walking and exploring local, historical places. Sandy is a member of Serious Writer and she’s currently looking for a new group of aspiring authors to create a new writing group.
Today’s blog post is by Theresa Pierce. Theresa is a contributor to our book Room at the Table: Encouraging Stories from Special Needs Families, where Theresa writes about living with her brother.
My favorite Christmas memory was being part of a living nativity scene at Spilman Baptist Church in Kinston, North Carolina. The living nativity of Spilman Baptist Church was epic! Everyone in town rode slowly by and many families filled the churchyard to take a closer look. That is what they told us, but to tell you the truth, I was always in the spotlight and could not see the record crowds. Every year, for as long as I could remember, I was an angel, literally.
An Angel in the Living Nativity
I was an angel next to Mary, the mother of Jesus. One year, I remember trying not to laugh as the donkey kept trying to eat my momma’s scarf while my dad swatted his efforts. They tried not to laugh. Eventually, they promoted me to the roof, where we crawled precarious ladders to position ourselves as angels who appeared to hover over the lowly manger. When the Halleluiah melody belted out, it was our angelic responsibility to raise our arms for the entire chorus. It felt like an eternity. Our arms ached, but we did not dare to let them drop. We took our duty seriously. Even our Sunday School teachers reminded us that our ministry mattered. And it did!
I was fortunate to grow up across the street from the church, what I believe to be divine intervention. My best friend and I got to watch the church men build the nativity set from the ground up. We watched farmers deliver sheep and a live donkey. I must admit there was slight disdain on our part because the portrayal of Christ’s birth took up the space where we usually played kickball for two weeks. We were children with limited space for our daily play. I know God understood our childlike innocence.
We worked in thirty-minute shifts as angels and shepherds. When our hands felt like they might freeze, we changed places with opposing actors. Just when our hands thawed, they offered us hot chocolate and cookies. The chocolate burned our tongues, but the marshmallows had to be eaten before they lost their foam. We traded burned tongues for frozen hands for about three hours and loved every minute of it.
I vividly remember how the wise men rotated bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds knelt with their sheep. My big brother wore a bathrobe and headdress. The manger was in the spotlight, and I remember worshipping in my own childlike way. “And He shall reign forever and ever.” At such an impressionable age, it was a privilege to portray one of the angels who witnessed the birth of Jesus.
Theresa Parker Pierce lives in Historic Salisbury, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has thirty-five years of experience teaching reading and history. She has a Master’s degree in education and is National Board-certified. two-time Rowan Salisbury Teacher of the Year, Theresa enjoys storytelling about her childhood in eastern North Carolina and the history of life in Rowan County.
Her manuscript, Up Dunn’s Mountain, won first place for Young Adult Literature at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2020. The sequel, Miss Clairmont’s Christmas, won third place for Novellas in 2022. Most recently, her poem Mrs. Claus Bakes was published in Christmas Spirit. The sales of this collection will benefit Samaritan’s Purse.
Theresa is a member of Word Weavers International, Blue Ridge Christian Writers, Room at the Table, and the 540 Club. She writes monthly for Senior Savvy magazine. She shares her volunteer time between the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and the Rowan Museum in Salisbury.
My guest, Steven Neptune, talks with me about Israel and the nations, replacement theology, covenant, and the Tanakh, as well as other topics found in his book Jesus and the Olive Tree: Re-engaging the Mystery.
Steve is the Senior Pastor of Gateway Church in Aurora, OH. He is an author, speaker, and President of HarvestNet Institute. In the tradition of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, Steve is passionate about presenting the truth claims of the Christian worldview in a relevant way to his and future generation.
This is the last installment of my month of stories of the Holidays.
We must remember that Christmas is not a happy time for all people but can bring about feelings of grief, sadness, and depression. the nearly two years have been difficult for a lot of people in more ways than one.
My friend, Dar Myers, tells her stories of grief and how best to deal with it, not only during this time of year but all year long.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 KJV
COVID-19. Delta variant. Omicron variant. Country lockdown. Mandates. Loss of loved ones. Unrest and dissension in our Country. Authority in question. Law enforcement officers were ambushed and killed. Claims of bias and profiling. Rogue police officers. Demand for defunding of police. Stress. Chaos. Unanswered questions. Uncertainty of future.
Grief and Sadness
All the above can bring sadness and grief to many individuals. Today’s society has various opinions on how to manage sadness and grief and is not afraid to offer their advice. Entering the holiday season, society’s advice adds pressure to individuals to suppress grief and sadness.
This advice of they’re in a better place, it’ll pass, it gets better with time, or it’s been a year, it’s time to move on, is meant out of love. But most times, it causes more anguish.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 KJV
My World Stopped
On September 24, 2015, my world changed in a matter of five-and-a-half hours. My cell phone rang at 9:00 am; my sister, Robin, was on the line. A call from her this early was a bad omen.
Shocked, all I heard was “Jimmy, my brother, an Okaloosa County Sheriff Deputy, was shot while serving a domestic violence injunction at an attorney’s office.” Robin said they transported him to a hospital, but she had no further information.
I headed for Shalimar, Florida, the community he lived and served.
Once I got to Tallahassee, Robin called again, explaining Jimmy had died at 2:30 pm. He was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the back of the head. I headed back to Jacksonville, Florida, to await arrangements.
My world stopped.
Over the next nine months, I felt the bullets that riddled Jimmy were catalysts as flint to fire. Unable to attend the funeral due to poor health, the televised funeral allowed my mom to watch. In December 2015, she died of a broken heart; the official cause of death was a heart attack.
In June 2016, a friend of eighteen years died of a sudden heart attack and two weeks later, a fire engine driving down Mayport Road in Mayport, Florida, found my daughter’s father dead in a creek. An autopsy ruled the cause of death as a heart attack.
I was reeling, had no sense of control, and was numb. There was a sense of detachment so I could function for the sake of my daughter, who was in denial.
Memories flooded my conscious and subconscious minds. Most predominant was the sound of Taps, 16-gun salute, and Last Call. I quake, fill with sadness, and find myself shutting down to this day whenever I hear these.
Society today has what they call “Stifled Grief,” meaning we don’t speak about it. We put it in the past and try to get over it quickly so we can move on.
Most people assume grief and sadness have a solvable solution.
The new Model of Grief contends to find a middle ground, one where we can directly face the grief. By directly facing the grief, allowing the reality of grief to exist, we can focus on helping ourselves, and others, survive within or inside the pain.
Self-compassion is approaching ourselves, our inner experience with spaciousness, with the quality of allowing which has a quality of gentleness. Instead of our usual tendency to want to get over something, to fit it, to make it go away, the path of compassion is totally different. Compassion allows.
Robert Gonzalez, Reflections on Living Compassion
In David Kessler’s Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief (2019), the six stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning. Finding meaning has the following components to assist in the processing:
It’s relative and personal
It takes time
It does not require understanding why a loved one died, or loss occurred
When you find out, it may not be worth what it cost you
Kessler indicated loss happens to you; meaning is what you make happen.
Love Does Not End with Death
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Holidays and special occasions intensify feelings of loss, sadness, and personal. There are no guaranteed simple guidelines to take away the hurt. However, below are suggestions that may help.
Talk about your grief. Ignoring the grief will not make it go away while talking about it often makes you feel better.
Recognize your physical and psychological limits. Low energy and fatigue are residual effects. Respect and honor what messages your body is relaying to you.
Avoid unnecessary stress. Do not overextend or isolate yourself. Make special time for yourself. Acknowledge “keeping busy” does not distract, but increases stress.
Be with supporting, comforting people.
Do what is right for you during the holidays. Focus on what you want to do, not what other want or expect you to do.
Embrace your treasured memories. After the death of a loved one, memories are the best legacies that exist. Treasure them, don’t ignore them. Feel your feelings.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Kessler, David. (2019). Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. ISBN13: 9781501192746
Living Observance Blog. (January 1, 2021). The New Model of Grief.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
When was the last time you mourned over someone or something?
There are days my heart is heavy over the things I see in this world–in politics, in the church, or in our country. I have mourned over the death of family members and pets, and the loss of relationships.
Sometimes as I mourned, I felt Jesus mourning with me, and other times I felt alone and unable to find peace or comfort. That didn’t mean Jesus wasn’t there. In the case of a few friendships, Jesus just let me cry it out until no more tears fell; then told me to let them go.
If you look at this verse from the standpoint of mourning or grieving over loss, you may always expect to be comforted. After all, Jesus promised comfort to the mourners.
Last week, I explained the meaning of the phrase Blessed are. It means, O the blessednessof or the gladness of…
If you combine O the gladness of with the phrase those who mourn, it doesn’t really make sense. Did Jesus really tell us that it is a blessed or a happy thing to mourn? How can we be happy while we are grieving?
Mourning is not exactly what I find happiness in.
However, the type of mourning Matthew 5:4 refers to is the kind of mourning we do over our sins.
That’s the kind of mourning God wants to hear and see. When we come to Him with remorse and repent for our lost tempers, unkind words, lies, or attitudes, among many others, He forgives us—thenHe comforts us.
He doesn’t hold our sin against us, send us on a guilt trip or condemn us, either.
I believe genuine remorse over our sin is a song in His ears. Why? Because He can now bury that sin in the deepest sea or as far as the east is from the west. He will never have to look at it again.
Genuine remorse over our sin is a song in the Lord’s ears. #ThisSideofHeaven #Blessedarethosewhomourn