In previous years I’ve made clear delineations between my fall and winter holidays. The Thanksgiving decor was removed from the Thanksgiving box the first part of November to join the fall wreath which had found it’s way to the door in mid October. The weekend after Thanksgiving the oranges, browns, and warm fiery reds were replaced by sparkling silvers, golds, and shining crimson. In this way the season of transformation gives way to the season of rest.
But this year has been different.
I, like many of my friends and others across the country, have overlapped the two holidays more than ever before. The flocked tree and gilded pumpkins find themselves as centerpieces in the same room at the same time in household after household. Mine included. As a writer I am compelled to ask, “Why?” What is it about these two holidays which are so very important to people right now? December is here and Christmas is a heartbeat away, yet there is not even a small part of me who wants to take down my Thanksgiving decor. I like the idea of the fall and winter living together for this one moment in time. Why not? 2020 has been topsey-turvey anyway. Spring, a season of renewal, took most of us into a forced season of rest; while summer, a season of possibility and playful fun was consumed with pain, anger, and sadness.
Perhaps, it is the significance and symbolism of Thanksgiving and Christmas, not the holidays themselves, we wish for. I long to hold onto the precepts of gratefulness, hope, peace, and goodwill. Maybe you do too. It could be we want to hang onto those things which are familiar and stable in an ever changing and uncertain world. I’ve even found myself reaching for old music, finding comfort in the hymns I never really liked before. Maybe I’m getting old or maybe there is something to be said for lyrics born out of sorrow. Lyrics such as:
"When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul
Or the following lyrics: (I’ve sang the Rend Collective Version often this year.)
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord Thou my great Father, I Thy true son Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise Thou mine Inheritance, now and always Thou and Thou only, first in my heart High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art High King of Heaven, my victory won ... Heart of my own heart, whate'er befall Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all
There is something about music. It has a power to get folks through some rough times, and folks, we are living in some rough times! It’s been a challenging year. Well, Challenging is an understatement. A worldwide pandemic has isolated many. People have lost jobs, homelessness has escalated, lines for those waiting to receive food from local food banks have been and continue to be several miles long. The health care system has been and is stretched like a balloon on the verge of popping. The death rate in many areas filled morgues beyond capacity. For some, it has all been too much. Mental health concerns surge. Suicide rates have increased. Others have succumbed to the stress of it all suffering heart attacks and strokes. People we may know, or maybe even we ourselves, have lost precious family members and close friends.
I could list statistic after statistic. But I’m not a statistician. Likely, neither are you. So, I’m going to share my heart.
I know people who have been laid off or furloughed with no clear idea of when or IF they will be going back to work. One of my clients told me, “You can’t even buy a job around here.” The church I attend, which founded, funds, and staffs a local food bank, gives away more food today than they ever have. I personally know people who are homeless. They sleep in tents in the woods or even in the bathrooms at the park if it is cold. Shelters are full. I see homeless people walking the streets, at the grocery store, or sitting on the sidewalk in front of the dollar store. Others don’t seem to see. Perhaps because of my job I notice the signs of homelessness. I see the concern in their eyes for their children. I see the hopelessness which has attacked their hearts and embedded itself into the psyche of their souls. At work my referrals for mental health evaluations have increased exponentially.
I am grateful that I, my husband, and my sons still have jobs. But the prices of EVERYTHING has risen. This is challenging, even for those of us who are blessed enough to maintain employment.
During the “lockdown”, when many were laid off, I accomplished much as I worked from home. Personal tasks I had wanted to tackle for over a year were checked off the list. However, during this time I had moments in which I felt isolated, alone, cut-off, and confined. While I am privileged to have a nice backyard where I can eat or even work outside at our patio table, having a privacy fence made me feel even more segregated. I could go for walks around the block and even talk to neighbors from a safe distance. But sometimes I just felt sad. Not overwhelmingly so, but I had a sense of being disconnected, melancholy, and heavyhearted.
Then I would recall King David’s words as he encouraged himself.
Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.Psalm 43:5
When I began to feel this way I would lie in the grass of my backyard, watch for shapes in the clouds, and talk to the God who doesn’t even live in the sky. He lives in you and in me. Knowing this, I believe, when we are isolated from others, we are cut-off from pieces of the body of Christ. Sometimes it felt as though I were separated from the parts of God in them that connected with the parts of God in me-parts that make me more whole. Lying in the grass, staring up at the sky, connecting to the earth God created and the atmosphere he spoke into existence helped to center me. It renewed in me a grateful heart.
I was grateful for the clouds. I was grateful for the cool earth and soft grass. I was grateful for my God, for family, and friends, even though I could not see them in person.
Andy Andrews tells us “Seeds of depression cannot take root in a grateful heart.”
So, what can we do to foster a grateful heart?
You have the power to choose your attitude. Choose wisely!
You are in control of what you focus on. Focus on the silver and not the tarnish.
You are in control of how you act. Act grateful!
You control the words which come out of your mouth. Express gratefulness!
Practical Application: 1) Read some blogs, devotions, or books about developing gratefulness. I recommend any of Andy Andrews’ material. 2) Search the scriptures! Here are a few to get you started: Hebrews 13:15, Philippians 4:6, I Thessalonians 5:16-18. 3) Start a gratitude journal. The following webpage has some great ideas!! https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-journal/
More about Gratefulness in an upcoming blog!!