Hope-more this advent

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


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Words have been failing me lately.

Winter brings with it a seasonal melancholy, possibly because I’m far from family, and possibly because every Christmas–until I do it–the decorating seems like so much work for little gain.

It’s more than that, I think. For one thing, healing takes time, and much has been needed this year. Physical issues have battered us both but have also affected others dear to me. Emotional struggles are real and difficult and, well, exhausting down to the toenails. Healing takes rest and time, two things we often avoid until we have no other choice.  December brings reminders of friends and family members who are no longer here, like Karen who died last Christmas Day, or my new friend Shannon, who died 8 days after I met her.  My nephew’s place remains empty, five years later. We all have empty chairs, don’t we?

It’s the knowledge that life is fragile and precious, warring with how it’s also exploited and wasted. Fact matters less than controversy on a made-up-meme, it seems. The most ridiculous things trend ferociously, obscuring important truths. Occasionally I wonder if we can even tell the difference anymore. It’s so easy to be pulled into a kind of desperate vortex that way.

Yet as I look out my office window this morning, I see the tree stripped of leaves again. Barren and empty, exactly as I feel.

DSC00406Into my field of view flies a hairy woodpecker, and then another. They are easier to see now, and their bounce on the branches make me smile. Chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches join them, no longer hidden by the leaves. They fight for the last of the berries. They dance and play as they’ve always done, and they’ll entertain me throughout the long winter. “Don’t give up”, they seem to say. “We were here all summer but you weren’t looking.”

Something deep inside me stirs, ever so slightly. Most people think of summer as the time when things are alive. It’s true, of course. In winter, though, I realize how much I’ve taken for granted, and the season of rest and renewal is necessary for me to feel alive again.

When I was a kid, the season was a time of impatience. One year, I found gifts tucked into the closet waiting for Christmas Day, and I opened the corners before carefully tacking the tape down again. Did you do that too? I remember thinking how clever I was, knowing what everyone, including me, was getting before they did. The weight of those secrets was incredible, and the anticipation–by far the most delightful part of Christmas for me–vanished. It turned Christmas into just another day, and it was one of the worst Christmases of my young life.

I’m much older now and perhaps the slightest bit wiser. I am, however, still fighting impatience. It’s different now, these adult advents. In the stripped bare, grown-up years, the yearning and the joy I have is more profound, quieter, even more difficult to express. Perhaps it’s because I’ve known grief, as so many of us have. They partner together, joy and grief. You can’t know one without the other, not really.

nuthatchHow grateful I am for the birds who have reminded me again that advent is not the hopeless season. It’s the hope-more one.


Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, 1719

10 thoughts on “Hope-more this advent

  1. This is one of the most beautiful Advent posts I’ve ever read, Crystal. And definitely one of your best all-around posts ever. I am grateful for you in this season of hope. Nancy Rue

    1. Thank you, Nancy. Your words surprise me a little. This was, without question, one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written.

  2. I hear what you are saying Crystal. I dread this time of year all the time. I do not lack for gratitude for all that is in my life. I truly do appreciate the smallest of things. But several people, as you said, will not be here for Christmas and also many other friends are not doing well at all and may not see this Christmas. Sometimes I can’t figure out why I’m here and what my purpose is. I’m tired of being in pain all the time, being limited and having to say no to friends and family because I know I can’t do what they are doing. I feel so much for you and knowing how impatient one can be when healing. It’s so tiring. But I see how much you make a difference in people’s life and know that once you feel better you have so much to offer. Anything that is the least bit upsetting seems to magnify during the Christmas season. So I just have to focus, pray, know others are praying for me and get my act together. So the day goes on. I pray for you for peace of mind and heart and that you heal quickly and can continue to enjoy life. Be sweet my friend, Gail

    1. And I pray for you, Gail. The impact you have on others is far greater than you realize, of this I am certain. None of us realizes the reach our “wonderful life” has on those around us–if we did, perhaps the movie wouldn’t be so enduring. We will focus and pray–together. Love to you!

    2. Gail, sometimes we long for the voices we no longer hear more than the ones who have just spoken to us. We were made for eternity and one day we will have it.

      I think the times we wonder what our purpose is are such valuable, scary, wonderful terrible times. We don’t feel wonderful. We certainly don’t realize our value, but they it’s true. It’s dark in the cocoon, but it’s not for always.

      Watching others do what we cannot is sometimes so painful. I cannot imagine how the woman with the issue of blood endured it for years. Years! I am so not her. And yet, because of wanting more, she went for a walk one day with one desire. To touch the hem of his garment. And she was seen.

      Pain is a teacher none of us hired. I pray God gives you the grace you need for the place you are in. Praying for you right now.

      1. There is such hard-fought wisdom in these words, Anne. .Thank you for sharing them!

  3. Crystal, this is beautifully written and just what I need to hear. There are empty chairs at our table, but as you say, grief and joy go together. Thank you.

    1. I’m saddened for your empty chairs, Laura–but I hope there are joy-filled memories resting there. Thank you for your kind and heart-felt words.

  4. Crystal,
    I am well aware of empty chairs, Crystal. And yet, it is something that has caused me to notice that most houses have them.

    I too, was thinking about how different it is at winter time. Quiet, cold. We all have winters here and there. And again, it makes me aware of those around me who may also be shivering, or long for a familiar voice.

    This post was sensitive and each word tiptoed in. Loved it.

    Grieving the health we once had is a difficult one. Part of us feels sad that we can’t do the things we once did, the things we see parading around us. The other part of us scolds, “There are people who are worse off than you are.” But grief is a room we must pass through if we are to once again feel everything.

    We need to be where we are Jim Elliot said. But sometimes we’d rather be anywhere else. Praying for you, Crystal.

    1. Yes, Anne. We need to be where we are–even if we don’t always want to be there. Perhaps these moments remind us only to be more like butterflies landing gently on the leaves around us, and less like bulls trampling through this life of ours. We only get one chance at it, after all. Thanks for your prayers, friend. You know you’re in mine too, right?

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