Holidays of the Heart {Finding Joy when Trouble Complicates the Season}


Christmas is my favorite season. As a child, I always enjoyed the decorations, the yummy fudge my aunts and grandma would make, and listening to Elvis and Alabama play holiday classics on the old jukebox in my dad’s bar room.

My mom conveniently placed herself behind the gigantic, 1980s, RCA camcorder that rested on her shoulder. She was determined to make memories, even if me and my sisters’ adolescent selves continuously rolled our eyes at the thought.

Mom’s birthday is Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition to do a huge holiday party with extended family that day. Even though mom was cheated out of years of individual birthday/Christmas gifts, she didn’t seem to be bothered by it. Her takeaway was tradition and togetherness with those she loved most.

I’ve carried that sentiment with me through the years, and have become an avid ornament collector for that very reason. As I carefully unpack the ornaments to hang on what I affectionately dub my “memory tree,” nostalgia pegs away at the recesses of my heart. The Christmas ornaments that adorn the snow-covered branches of my miniature, Douglas fir each tell a story of a poignant time in my life.

On the top hangs my iridescent, butterfly tree topper. Tucked gently beneath the butterfly’s wings are five, prominently displayed hand-drawn ornaments, lovingly representing each of my five children. As I caress each one, tears begin to fall. The first three depict a story of children I’ve never known except in heart—my angel babies, Ricky, River, and Reyn. It’s a bittersweet ache that tangoes with years of infertility and the longing to start a family. The other two artistic displays are of my joyous rainbows, Joy Joy and Brennie. Their birth stats and individual songs I made for them while they were cradled in my womb are written on the backside of their ornaments. Cascading down the tree are other keepsakes nestled alongside holly and ivy that symbolize a mix of joy and sorrow that the holiday season brings. There’s a glass heart that inscribes my wedding date and a favorite photo memorializing my dad, whose life was cut too short on this earth. Others are handmade, personalized, salt-dough decorations my sisters helped my kiddos create.

This eclectic mix of mementos is sobering. My remembrances are filled with both trials and triumphs, grief, and gratitude. The “holidays of the heart” can be vast, and it makes me wonder if maybe you, dear reader, are feeling wistful this holiday season. Perhaps you are facing insurmountable challenges with health or loss. Are you in a pensive mood reflecting over the past year? Or maybe you have gregarious energy that desires to brighten the lives of those who could use it.

However you feel this holiday season, please know you are not alone. It can be a complicated time—and that is okay. There were years where celebration took a backseat, and misfortune seemed my only companion. Now, I hold hands with Gratefulness and choose to count my blessings, despite the gamut of circumstances I might find myself facing. My hope and prayer for you is that you know you have someone in your corner—you are not forgotten or forsaken.  

You are celebrated, accepted, and understood. For those who are hurting or dealing with loss, I wrote this poem with you in mind. —Wendie

What do you do
when your world crashes down?
Soul overwhelmed,
every reason to frown?

The tears that keep coming
from a depth you didn’t know—
hard to explain to others,
don’t want it to show?

There’s still life goin’ on
when you’re at a standstill,
a whirlwind of emotions comes sweeping in.
You are happy for them,
but sad for you
because of the joy that you feel
has suddenly turned into blues.

A constant drip of more bad news,
from the faucet of difficulty you didn’t choose.
“Chin up,” they say,
“Your skies won’t always be this gray.”

One foot forward,
move full steam ahead?
What about the days
you can’t rise from your bed?

Keep your hearts energized by those things—
for surely that’s the antidote
to the difficulty disease.

You might feel beat,
tired, and shaken,
but sooner or later,
that blessing in disguise will awaken—
or will it?

Those heartaches won’t be pointless,
all the trash will turn to treasure.
One day, one day friend,
these qualms of life will disappear forever.

And on the banks of joy we’ll stand,
smiling and laughing,
shaking thankfulness’s hand.

Until then, when it rains and pours,
and you feel there are more
difficulties and storms—
dig into your memory box,
pull out the remembrances that mean a lot.

Honor them, hug them,
cradle them too,
for those precious memories
can help carry you through…

the hells of life,
the fires that scorch and burn,
the rough times that seem to
lurk around each turn.

Befriend faithfulness and hold onto
the simplicity of good times,
remember, this too shall hopefully pass
and a good blessing you’ll find.

One thing,
just one tidbit of grace-
grab hold, for it just may change
the countenance on your face.


  1. This wonderful essay, and accompanying photo and poem brought tears to my eyes, dear Wendie. Thank you so much for including me and sharing this with me. Just beautiful.


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