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When the Kids Don’t Come Home for Christmas

Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.

This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.

I want you to know it won’t always be this way.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,

will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 

My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”

Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.

To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.

He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.

For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.

Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.

We had an advent calendar.

He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly. 

He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.

He was big on memories and minimal on material things.

So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.

And then.

Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.

The girls were 18 and 15.

A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.

What if they don’t come home?

For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.

It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.

A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.

I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.

We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.

What if they don’t come home?

Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.

All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.

I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.

Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with.
Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.

Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.

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Fast forward to now:

Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.

During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media.  They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season.  Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.

My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.

Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.

The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.  

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:25-26

Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look.  And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.

We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.

His name is a regular part of our conversation.

Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.

We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.

My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.

It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.

Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.

This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.

And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.

“God with us, Immanuel.”

God with us Immanuel, image by Glenn Daman. In Winter Whispers, Breath of Joy


Kathy Joy, author of the Breath of Joy gift book series
Coffee with Kathy supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com. timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see, “Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers.

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books

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Read a story about Christmas surprises.

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Hidden Confetti in the Gloom

“It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay.”

-The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens

Winter Whispers
Winter Whispers – Breath of Joy, Photo by Lynn Gurdak

I have a memory so richly steeped in the broth of gratitude, I can summon it anytime to fortify myself; it’s like opening a thermos of soup on the coldest day.

The memory involves a bit of confetti, a radio studio, and a Great Dane.

One dreary day beneath the canvas of a gray sky, I scooted my wheels into a parking space at the local grocery store. With my mind on autopilot, I found a cart and headed for the entrance. Then, a passing car sprayed my feet with mud and grit.

As my gaze drifted toward my soggy shoes, a little annoyed with the puddles and a little mad at the driver, something caught my eye. Bending down for closer inspection, I was rewarded to see a tiny metallic rocking horse. It was pink and gleaming and irresistible; a speck of color; an enchanting thing.

At that time I was the host of a radio show on WTMV-Youngsville, Pennsylvania. The studio operated from a refurbished living room on East Main. I remember telling my listeners about the confetti piece and comparing it to unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just below the surface “stuff” of living. Listeners began calling in their own experiences to symbolize the idea of “hidden confetti” – unexpected bits of color in dark times.

Pretty soon, we had a list:

  • Seeing a smile from across the room.
  • A promise in the Bible.
  • Sea salt on the breeze.
  • The first sip from a cup of coffee on an unpleasant, icy morning.
  • A letter in the mail, handwritten and sealed with a kiss.
  • The smell of a pine forest.
  • When your favorite song comes on the radio.

Later, I Scotch-taped the surprise confetti into my journal. The sparkly list inspired more thoughts of unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just beyond what’s so obvious. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth a closer look. Your “confetti” surprise may be very different from mine; perhaps it’s the company of a friend, or a rich memory, perhaps it’s the trusting hand of child’s in yours. An unexpected long-distance phone call.

Collect these discoveries in your own journal or wherever you keep your collection of photos, and soon you’ll be carrying around a generous barrel of confetti to shower on someone else who needs sprinkled light in their gloom.

I recall promising a Great Dane. So, it was that on a rainy winter day, in a radio studio, my nostrils were filled with the smell of wet dog – the station manager’s Great Dane, it was, resting his giant solemn head on my knee, these memories are keen in my heart, punctuated with an odd bit of confetti.

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Perhaps because of this keen memory, I have now made the hero of my new picture book a dog because to my core, I believe that one of the greatest gifts of comfort and happiness that our Creator gave humanity was the gift of a furry dog-gone pet.

This calls for a deeper dive into gift-giving at Christmas. Why not entertain the idea of giving some intangibles this year?

The thought of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it can be relationally memorable and exciting!

Here’s a starter list – customize your list to your family and friends and watch a new tradition unfold.

  • Be a tourist in your hometown and try touring some new things with a dog leading the way
  • Volunteer together for something you all care about
  • Plan out a garden together and, with the design, include an I.O.U. – a day of weeding and a packet of favorite seeds
  • Give State Park Passes or National Park Passes or an Art/Science Museum
  • Give a behind-the-scenes tour of a city theater’s costume and art department
  • Ice Skating Lessons or a boating outing
  • Read a children’s book aloud to someone who would appreciate it
  • Offer Painting lessons at a Children’s Museum
  • Write a Letter of honor to someone who has especially touched your life
  • Offer letter writing or make and send cards – on behalf of an immigrant to loved ones
  • Commit to sending handwritten letters in lieu of texting
  • Learn paper folding together and make origami garlands for the tree.
  • Buy two hot chocolates: one for you and one for the Salvation Army bell. Stay with that bell ringer on a frosty Decemberrrrrr evening!
  • Go caroling with a small group to one or two shut-ins during the pandemic, and bring the popcorn balls, figs, pudding, and nickles to reverse payment when you sing
  • Offer to lead a Singing Bible Study in the Psalm Hymns in the new year
  • Most important of all, give room for the unexpected. Linger longer in ordinary spaces, and bear witness to a holy entrance of Possibility.

Sometimes you just need to share the sparkly stuff to shift Christmas spirits upward. Especially, in the early darkness that defines December and January afternoons, Give the unexpected a chance to happen.

Kathy Joy, authorKathy Joy is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.

 

 

 

 

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Everyday joy: Winter Whispers, Breath of Joy by Kathy Joy
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Joy Germs Gone Rogue

While we are taking precautions against sickness and anger and injustice, looking out for the vulnerable, measuring our group outings and postponing trips, I believe cultivating joy has never been more critical than in this murkiness.

As human beings, we are naturally inclined to focus on bad news; therefore, germs of joy and laughter are the “super germs” we need in order to boost our immune systems.

Yes, it may be time to infect each other with love and fortifying stories.

How do we summon joy?

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, it may alight upon you.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Is joy also like the butterfly of happiness? If so, how do we infect one another with good, fortifying, stuff?

They tell me that volunteering in tandem with others is one pathway to the fortifications of joy. Why is this? Is it the teamwork? Is it the joy that comes from change or conversations or bringing results? I’ve experienced this joy when I’ve pushed myself passed my lethargy to schedule myself into something worthwhile.

  • We all know talented seamstresses with a superhuman tolerance for Zero Sleep who are churning out handmade masks – many of them are donated wherever there’s a need.
  • Others are delivering food and medicine to their elderly neighbors; gardening; cooking; spending time in nature.

Let’s be real – nurturing joy isn’t the same as ignoring reality. While nurturing joy, some emotions will cloud the process. There will be bumps in the road ahead. Feelings of fear, worry. And anxiety will threaten our well-being.

The future is unknowable, but we are known.

The future is unknowable, but we are known.

The future is unknowable, but we are known

We can start with that if you dare to believe it. I believe my Creator knows me better than I know myself. It helps me to trust the process and the outcome a little more.

We can recognize our own strengths from remembering our past. Bank on those. We can remember those who love and care for us. We are known.

Just in case you wondered … you are seen.

You are known.

You are valued.

Your smile is still felt; your presence still matters.

No mask can conceal a soul.

It’s a privilege to see you whether I find you in the office, on a walk, in a store, or whether I hear your muffled voice on the phone. It is a joy, an honor, to watch you, hear you, and know you even a little during this Season of the Mask.

Perhaps the most radical act of resistance in the face of adversity is to live joyfully.”

Ari Honarvar

The Virus of Joy

We care for ourselves and others by carrying the Virus of Joy into the workplace, the home, the marketplace. Hints of hope, colorful memories, practical teaching, and helpful compliments. These relational inspirations build up returns, like deposits for future interest on human bank accounts.

Let’s spread droplets of high regard to our fellow workers.

Let’s cross that six-foot chasm with an air hug of affirmation, a verbal Atta-girl or Atta-boy. Now – especially now – we don’t want to miss an opportunity to remind someone how much they matter, how what they do, matters.

Let’s light up so brightly that our eyes outdo our half-covered faces, that our radiance surpasses the mask and leaves happy dust on anyone who is sad or struggling.

In a world of extreme caution, and angry avenues, let’s practice radical acts of human connection.

We can outwit any fluish boundary and find a way into the soul.

  • With a word.
  • With a note, a phone call.
  • With a meaningful look, a listening heart, a watchful prayer.
  • Mask if you must, but laugh openly.

De-germ as you are told, but re-germ with shameless optimism.

  • Keep your body temperature within range, but heat up the place with fierce encouragement.
  • Play a game with someone across the table.
  • Mask if you must, but walk in the park while greeting others.

But above all, remain tethered to other souls. We need each other.

Joy germs gone rogue – they can rebuild our immune systems into powerhouses of Resilience.

winter whispers
Breath of Joy: Winter Whispers by Kathy Joy

©Kathy Joy, 2020 Capture Books. Ask about booking KATHY JOY for your next motivational zoom conference here. Besides being an author and a fine editor for other authors, she writes daily for Pennsylvania’s Daily Jabs, and blog articles for Coffee with Kathy and Books For Bonding Hearts.

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books
Book Cover by Chloe Belle Arts for The Melody of the Mulberries by Tonya Jewel Blessing
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Advice, ah autumn, Author tools and hacks, captive audiences, improvisation, Kathy Joy, Laura Bartnick, poetry, trust, winter

Untangling the Knots

Do you ever have a day that feels like a never-ending loop of knots to be untied? You have to solve one problem in order to gain entrance to the real problem – find an outlet, silence your phone, then assist a client all comes before you can see your way clear to untangling your own problems.

I had an hour of work that turned into two weeks of work because I had to back up and do the math, then I had to learn how to complete a new task that was part of the finished product. Then, I had to get permission to buy a software program in order to implement the answer.

It was a lot easier when all I had to do was give the ball of knots to my dad to untangle.

You may hear from a doctor that self-care is the act of providing yourself a sacred space in which to quiet your jangled nerves. It’s important, yes, to schedule peace in an overwhelming world.

To this end, I’ve found some simple things will sustain you  – things such as:

  • Giving yourself time to untangle a problem
  • Sharing hopes and dreams with somebody safe
  • pausing during a busy moment for a nudge of encouragement

Take a Step Against the Flow

Take a step against the flow and look at the surroundings for a different perspective.

Life is too short to go with the flow. Have fun and be different.”

Bianca Schlappa, Everyday Matters

Look further afield.

Look over a detail up close.

Sometimes, the masses have it mostly right but the right way just needs tweaking, and that is something that a different perspective can provide.

Use Your Humor, Wry Humor Acceptable

What’s the use of feeling sorry for yourself when you just get tangled into more knots? Even the wise and wonderful Oz got himself tangled up for a time behind a curtain far outside of Kansas and his usual County Fairs. Someone came along and discovered his need.

He was a little ashamed, but he laughed at his way of bumbling things up, and that helped. A lot. Someone came along and helped him find his way back home.

Laugh at yourself as you consider the past.

Open your hand to future options.

Celebrate Even a Partial Loosening of Knot Strands.

Thoughts from Winter Whispers: Breath of Joy by Kathy Joy

It heartens me in a way to know my knots are not all born from my individual situation or my personal inadequacy. It seems to be a community problem: “Humanity is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” This wit, from a friend of Job’s (Job 5:7). We are all just making our way through the challenging phases of life.

Help will arrive.

Ask for help.

Laugh a little.

Be willing to accept truth.

Choose as wisely as possible.

This article is co-written by good friends: author, Kathy Joy and editor, Laura Bartnick.

©Capture Books, 2020

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books
Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s great party.

Ask about booking KATHY JOY, or any of our authors for a zoom session with your book club or with your employees. We specialize in creative strand untangling.

Kathy Joy writes for Coffee with Kathy, and Pennsylvania’s Daily Jab.