“Bittersweet” Christmas Memories

ChristmasI love the smells of Christmas.

Douglas Fir, Pine scented candles, Cinnamon Cider, Turkey and cookies in the oven. It truly is a magical time that is always precious in it’s own way. Every family has those special years of Christmas where everything is so perfect it looks like a Hallmark card.

Then there are those years when a family burden is so heavy you just want to get through the days and really wish everyone would just stop singing.

My Dad died just a few days after Thanksgiving 7 years ago. December 2, 2002 actually. The shock and sadness of our family was palatable that Christmas season. Our grief was sudden, deep and fresh. To make matters worse, both of our married sons were scheduled to be in Georgia for Christmas. One was set to spend time with in-law relatives and the other, our adventurer, was going camping!

My husband and I could not bear to spend Christmas without them so we packed our daughter into the car along with a tiny table top Chritsmas tree and a few stings of lights. You would have to know me well to understand how big that was. My children and friends sometimes accuse me of “throwing up Christmas” :0). I have been known to decorate 4 trees!!

We headed to a cabin in Vogel State Park, located in the North Georgia Mountains, a place that holds lots of sweet family vacation memories and was the camping destination of our oldest son.

We had never NOT been at home for Christmas in our entire married life.

We have “routines” that look the same each year and include our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. This year just seemed so sad, we could not bear to do the same things we always did with out my Dad in the picture.

We had no idea how this journey would go.

We got to our tiny two room log cabin and set up our little tree on a small coffee table. We draped lights around the fireplace mantle and every window. We built a beautiful little fire in the fireplace  and plopped into the rocking chairs that demanded positions of honor directly in front of the flames and wondered how we might survive our grief.

We spent the next few days going for long chilly walks and visiting charming little mountain towns that looked like ones we had only seen in Thomas Kinkaid art. It was nothing like the hustle and bustle of a Florida Christmas in Tampa surrounded by parties, people we know and lots of kid noise. We actually had on jackets, gloves and hats. We normally wear shorts to Christmas dinner at home. Nice ones but shorts none-the-less.

Our sons were coming to the cabin for Christmas dinner so on Christmas Eve, to the sounds and warmth of the fire a short arms length away. I prepared a big fat turkey to slip into the tiny little cabin stove and set the table with tears running down my face.

I felt so bad for having left my sisters and my Mom to deal with our first Christmas without Daddy. What was I thinking??

In spite of it all, the peace and sweet presence of God filled that little mountain cabin and I had a sense that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

On Christmas morning our daughter woke us up squealing for us to look out the window. That in itself was enough to get our attention. Her normal Christmas wake up call is “Can I open my presents?” She pulled us from the warm covers of our bed, which mind you, was right in front of the fireplace behind the rocking chairs. We are talking small little cabin in the woods!

To our utter joy, we opened the door of the cabin to find that during the night snow had covered the ground, the cabin tops,the cars, the trees, the mountains.

It was a Winter Wonderland. The three of us grabbed hats and coats and gloves and ran out into the lighly falling snow. Our oldest son was camping nearby in his RV with our 2 grandsons and our Daughter in Love. It wasn’t long before our 2nd born son arrived with his bride. Before we knew it all of us were “frolicking” in the snow!

“Frolicking” was something I had not done in years (if ever before)–much less in the SNOW on Christmas Day!!!

I still remember the moment that I stopped still in the snow and listened to the snow fall and smelled the smell of fires burning and trees and winter woods all around me. The scripture verse “Be Still and Know that I am God” filled my heart and would later be recorded in my journal. I thought of my Daddy and my heart filled with the love of my Abba Father and His precious Christmas gift to us.

One of my Dad’s favorite quips was “You have to take the bitter with the sweet”. How true those words became that Christmas morning.

Today,December 2, 2009, as I smell Christmas coming alive in my house, I am remembering how different a Christmas can smell from one year to the next.

If you are living a year that makes you wonder where is the “Joy” in the World? I encourage you to take some time to “Be Still” and Smell God! He has not forsaken you. He NEVER will. Our Heavenly Father sent His son into the world so that we would never ever forget His passionate love.


2 Corinthians 2:14-16

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  1. All I can say is WOW sobbing at my desk at work ! I guess I did not get the email from Grandma before reading this she said ALONE in a quite place …………………… Love you Kristy

  2. I did read the e-mail from mama, but when will I learn that mama is always right! My heart is heavy today, but I feel comfort in the scripture that God has not forsaken me! He knows my desires, my dreams, my concerns, my fears, my joy & my heartache. I try not to question my circumstances, but fall short on that at times. I love you all, my family, and miss my daddy desparately.

    Poon-Paul forever

  3. Hi sweet friend. I’m afraid this is one of those Christmas seasons. I can’t even bare to listen to Christmas music yet, I just keep switching the channels. With a broken family I am finding it hard to find my joy. But, I do know that HE is the reason for this time and HE is my joy. I just need to quiet myself to hear Him.

    Thank you for these precious words. They came at the right time.



  4. I wasn’t crying… not until I came over here and read the comments. We all still miss Papa so much it’s hard to describe. I remember that Christmas too and it was a beautiful Christmas morning. Thanks for reminding me.



  5. Blessings all. I am so glad that you either got in a good cry (we all need one now and then) or captured a tender memory of your own.

    My sweet Jenn, my prayers are with you my friend. I hope to give you a big hug on Friday!!

  6. Dear sweet Aunt Pat,

    This January will be 5 years since Grandma Layton died and there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her…Christmas Eve 5 years ago was the last time we gathered with her as a family and this season although it is one that fills me with great joy, also brings overwhelming sadness as I miss her so very much! I know that she is in heaven with her King and I thank God for that! But her grand-daughter longs for one more hug, one more story, one more piece of advice… Thank you for sharing this precious story and for reminding me of the gift that she was to our family and to me and of God’s presence! I love you so!


  7. Mom,
    Thank you for spending the day with me. You made getting lost much more fun 🙂

    Traci nd Kristy,
    What a blessed Aunt I am!! so sweet for you to take time to comment.
    aunt pat

  8. 3 short weeks ago my husband’s best friend and business partner of 15 years died suddenly at age 51. We are devastated…and feeling like we have 100 pound weights around our ankles. I needed to read this today, thank you.

  9. Thanks for sharing. This is my first Christmas without my mom and I now live 6 hours from my sisters. Christmas will be very different this year. God is faithful and He is still the reason for the season.

  10. Melinda, Karla and Paulette–
    Thank you for stopping in. Isn’t it good to know that the REASON for the Season will still be there for us on December 26th, and 27th and 28th…you know what I’m sayin’.
    My blessings sisters,

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