Opening all the holiday gifts

It was going to be a bit of a whirlwind trip. Over the snowy mountains for Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter, son-in-law, and their kiddos, including Shihoko, our Japanese exchange student from the 90s, and her family. A second Thanksgiving feast with Dan’s kids and grands and friends, and then overnight with Dan’s daughter and son-in-law.

I recorded some of the grace-filled Thanksgiving gifts of those hectic four days.

Photo by olga safronova on Unsplash

Gifts such as, conversation with my daughter as she put together her signature creamy chipotle sweet potato dish. Working a puzzle with the grandkids while college football played its background music. Rowdy games with all the generations joining in. A bedtime story and other shenanigans with our 4-year-old grandson and helping choose the perfect evergreen the next day at the cutest Christmas tree farm ever.

Those four days were more fast-paced than if Dan and I had stayed home. But the joy and the memories were written into another chapter of our story as we continue to recognize how blessed we are.

Conn family with Shihoko and her crew (photo by Lydia)

Shihoko and Yoshi and girls, Shannah and son (photo by waitress)

Lawry family and friends (photo by Jon)

What do we do with the pain?

I understand that the holiday season can be painful for people who can’t gather without drama, for kids in foster care, for those who’ve lost a beloved member of their crew. I have a young friend whose entire family—her husband and 3-year-old—were swept out to sea by a sneaker wave. Her level of joy always dipped during the holidays, but these days she’s not feeling the effect of the holiday sadness—mainly because she’s chosen to live forward as she chases down some of her rather large and ‘impossible’ dreams, including a PhD and pilot’s license.

I remember my first Christmas as a widow. I kept waiting to crumple in a wet mess. But there was no grief leaking from my eyes. Instead, there was unexplainable peace as I hung out with kids and grands in the Far East (a.k.a., New Jersey).

“So why hasn’t this been a more sorrowful time?” I wrote in my journal, a little worried that I was doing it wrong and it would all dump on me later. “Why another day of waking up to peace?” I captured a few thoughts as possible answers. “I know that the prayers of friends and family have made a huge difference. And I think the passing of time has something to do with it since we lived with a terminal cancer diagnosis for several years. But mostly, this peace comes from knowing Jesus Christ in a personal way.”

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

Who, but the Prince of Peace, could grant peace during a season of deep loss? So many priceless gifts that first holiday season as a widow. And ever since.

Do we have choices?

In her book, Waymaker, Ann Voskamp wrote:

None of us get do-overs, but we all get to keep writing on, we all get to write new lines and dreams and love into our tattered and crumpled stories …

Ann Voskamp

I wonder—is part of the story-writing process making choices to recognize the grace-filled gifts that come our way, to name them even while our crumpled pages are filled with rejection, setbacks, or heartbreak? I think so. In the early months of my season of deep loss, I didn’t see the beautiful things. I just saw the crumpled-ness. I didn’t choose to notice the good. I just wanted to wallow in self-pity. I could do self-pity really well back then.

But as Shauna Niequist points out in her book, Bittersweet:

My life is not a story about me.  And your life’s not a story about you. My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart.

Shauna Niequist

I’m living proof of what God can do in a human heart, of how He can write abundance in place of loss, and joy and beauty in place of ashes. Of how He can write in new love. New family members and friends. New adventures. And new holiday memories, no matter how rowdy the games get. (And actually, the rowdier, the better.)

I hope you open all the exquisite gifts you’ve been given this holy season.


What’s a micro-adventure?


What if you could be vulnerable?


  1. Diane Albert

    Lovely Thanksgiving/ Christmas message Marlys! God’s Peace to you, Diane Albert

  2. Pat

    Beautifully written, Marlys. I love reading about your journey.

    Blessings to you‼️🎄

  3. Charlene Holmes Schulz

    I just completed reading this post. We also just completed two weekends with our children in their home towns – one in Spokane Valley (Thanksgiving) and one in San Diego area (early Christmas). Your description of Thanksgiving was similar in some ways to ours.. a large extended family gathering with children from infancy to 18 – and many of them. The next weekend was spent with our daughter, husband and 2 adopted children. So many joys to remember as well as realities to absorb as to how different life is for them all as compared to what Jerry and I experienced. I loved what you shared (as I always do) – and I love the quote by Shauna Niequest. I hope I am a reflection of what God CAN do with a heart that has been sometimes wounded along the journey. Love you Marlys!

    • I love how you said this, Char: “I hope I am a reflection of what God CAN do with a heart that has been sometimes wounded along the journey.” You are this very thing. Love you, too!

  4. Fawn

    As always I enjoy your thoughts and your walk with the Lord. May your Christmas be filled with joy and worship of our Saviors birth❣️
    Christmas Blessings, Fawn

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