When the Holidays Make You Sad

sad holidays

When I was in college, a friend introduced me to the movie, Home for the Holidays. It stars Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr., and it’s a fantastic film about the special brand of family crazy that comes out around the holidays.

For a group of half-adult, half-child college students preparing to go home for a few days, it was the perfect way to simultaneously brace ourselves and acknowledge that, dysfunctional and stressful as our own families may be, at least they weren’t like the one we watched in that movie.

Not exactly like it, anyway.

It’s funny. I’d never heard of that movie before college, and I certainly don’t see it making any lists of “Best Holiday Movies.” I mean, it’s no Elf or White Christmas. But when the weather turns cold and cans of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie filling move to the endcaps at the grocery store, I always think of that movie.

This movie – and the story behind it – doesn’t come to mind every November because my family resembles the one Holly Hunter’s character has to face. (Well, not completely.) No, I always go back to those college memories because one of my friends who introduced me to the movie and its rightful place in my holiday prep routine hasn’t spoken to me in about a decade.

The story of how our friendship died is complicated and not one I’ll go into detail about here. The details really don’t matter, though. The point is that I lost one of my very best friends, and it broke my heart – and the days leading up to Thanksgiving remind me of that more than any other time of the year.

I bet you have a few people you miss all year long – but especially during the holidays – too.

When the Holidays Make You Sad

Sometimes memories intrude on celebrations, making this season hard to handle.

The empty chair sticks out more. Or sits alone in the corner.
The room full of people feels quieter. Or louder.
The favorite dish has plenty left over. Or the favorite dish isn’t made this year.
The gifts go unopened. Or unwrapped. Or un-bought.
It’s hard to remember something to be thankful for.
Smiles look a little shaky. And tears are the uninvited guest that won’t leave.

Divorce. Dysfunction. Death. All of these things (and more) affect our families, our lives, our hearts. And though they hurt all year long, day in and day out, the holidays seem to bring out the pain like no other time can. On a day – or days – when we’re supposed to be all smiles and good cheer, our hearts crack under the pressure and the remembering and the missing.

I know. I’ve been there in the “it’s still so fresh, we can’t think about anything else, how can we possibly put on a good face this year” seasons. And I’m there every year when memories of losses from long ago and not so long ago join together to wage war on our determination to forge on and focus on the reason for the season.

Family and friends we no longer speak to – or who no longer speak to us.
Family and friends who died much too soon. (It’s always too soon.)
Family and friends who aren’t invited – or don’t show up.
Family and friends who moved away.
Jobs that were taken away.
Children who are sick.
Anyone who is sick.

We try so hard to fight for our joy, don’t we? We print out place cards and try the new recipe. We dress up our kids and bundle up for the long drive. We take photos and send cards and smile and chat and catch up and promise to call more often.

But underneath, many of us still carry wounds ripped open by the reminders of relationships and situations that are no longer. And it hurts. And it’s hard. And we’re not sure what to do with it all.

I’m not advocating that we stay in our pajamas, curl up with a turkey leg and a box of tissues, and decline all invitations in favor of a Pity Party for One. I’m not suggesting we ignore the blessings we have in front of us and spend our days off flipping through our photo albums and memories searching for clues about when it all went wrong.

No. I’m simply offering an acknowledgement – that the pain is real; a reassurance – that you can find peace and joy anyway; an understanding smile – and a hug that’s totally not awkward even if we’ve never met.

Sometimes the holidays make us sad. They make us happy, too – and it’s okay to feel both. But the sadness might still be there. And I believe that’s okay.

That sadness colors how we see what’s in front of us today – the family who can’t wait to see us across the table, the friends who don’t care if your pumpkin brownie trifle gets soggy, the children whose eyes light up with wonder and innocence – either the kind that’s truly not seen pain yet or the kind that can forget about it when faced with jingle bells and wishbones and parade floats made of flowers.

But while it can try its best to turn those beautiful gifts into bitter reminders of what’s missing, the sadness can’t compete when we remember that today is full. Full of pain, yes – sometimes. But also full of blessings and joy and things both big and small that God has given us to remind us of His love and faithfulness. Yes, even when the flip side is covered in reasons to crawl under the blanket with a bowl of mashed potatoes.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
(Psalm 34:18)

If the holidays are making you sad this year – perhaps the same as every year or maybe more than you ever imagined possible – I pray that you can close your eyes and feel it for a moment. It’s okay to do that. Really. But then open them to the good that is still around you.

And, most importantly, remember that the Lord is close. And He will rescue us from the sadness. Not with false cheer or denial or caroling or casseroles, but with the peace that passes all understanding and His joy that can be our strength.

Do the holidays ever make you sad? How do you deal with that sadness?

{Photos by rezlab and h_elise}

Dancing (& Eating) in the Dark

Love can make you swing!

I can’t quite remember where everyone else went that night – ice skating? a slumber party? the mall? What I do remember is that on the night of my eighth grade Valentine’s dance, a bunch of my classmates had a scheduling conflict and chose to attend the not-a-dance. I don’t recall where they went or why I didn’t go with them. But I do remember the dance.

I remember going with my friend Chrissy; I probably spent the night at her house afterwards. And I remember Garth Brooks – a given in a small rural town in the 90s. But the two most important things I remember about that night are close dancing with a boy and winning a giant Hershey’s KISS.

Are you surprised by this? That dancing and eating hold equally important places in my junior high memories? Right.

Because most of the other girls in my class weren’t at the dance, that meant the boy I liked had to resort to the second string for his dance partners. Now, don’t worry, I didn’t see myself as second string. I knew full and well that I’d been his friend well before he lost his geeky glasses and braces. I liked him before he got all cute and everything. Obviously I was the clear choice for his love of a lifetime [cue the Firehouse now, please]. Sadly, he didn’t see it that way.

But that didn’t matter. Because on that fateful night, the other girls weren’t there and I was. Luckily my school dances didn’t include chaperones monitoring our personal space with rulers or balloons. So I got to middle school slow dance (you know, hugging in rhythm) all night long.

It was very romantic, and I’m pretty sure we looked something like this:

[Side note: Did you know that Boy Meets World is coming back? DID YOU KNOW?]

As you may have seen coming, our love connection didn’t last to Monday morning, and that crush just became one more in a line of cute boys who liked me as a friend. You know what else didn’t last long? THE GIANT HERSHEY’S KISS I WON IN A RAFFLE AT THE DANCE.

I have no idea what the other prizes were that night, but I remember feeling like I won the middle school dance jackpot when they announced my name and I laid eyes on that ginormous piece of chocolate goodness. I hid that puppy in my room when I got home and, bite by bite, I ate it like a champ that weekend. A lovesick champ on a sugar high, sure. But a champ.

I’m pretty sure if I pulled out my diary from that angsty season of life, we’d find that I journaled about the boy and the chocolate with equal amounts of intensity. I love the chocolate, and a giant kiss – well, let’s just say it was a decent consolation for the other kind of kiss I did NOT win that night.

I still love Hershey’s KISSES [and I haven't seen that boy since the summer after we graduated high school]. As a matter of fact, I’m headed to the grocery store as soon as I finish this post to buy some Hershey’s KISSES for Valentine bags we’re giving to Annalyn’s teachers.

But, more exciting for you (yes, even more exciting than reading about my middle school memories!), are the FOUR BAGS of Hershey’s KISSES I’m giving away this week. That means four lucky readers will win a bag of chocolates – and nobody will judge you if you want to hide it in your room and/or eat them all in one weekend. Happy Valentine’s Day TO YOU!!

Check out this infographic and then check out the giveaway details below.


To enter the giveaway for a bag of Hershey’s KISSES, leave a comment telling us about your favorite or sweetest memory involving Hershey’s KISSES. This giveaway will close at midnight (CST) next Monday, February 18.

This post is sponsored by The Motherhood and Hershey. Yes, I was compensated partly in chocolate. All opinions, however, are my own – including those about country music, teenage crushes, raffles and preschool teacher gifts.

[Side note #2: Does anyone else watch Cougar Town? Did you catch it the other week when Courtney Cox's character mentioned "Dancing in the Dark" as her favorite song? You know, the song whose video she got her big break from? That cracked me up.]

Crossing the Line

UPDATE: All right, friends. I promised you my story, so here it is.

I grew earlier than most of the kids in my class. Including, most notably, the boys. But also the girls. And that height gave me an advantage when it came to the sport of basketball.

Enough of an advantage, for a couple years, to make up for chubby legs and a painfully slow run. And, oh yeah, my asthma.

But by the time I entered high school, I still had chubby slow legs and an inhaler on hand at all time. But I wasn’t necessarily the tallest girl on the team.

[I know, Smitty. I was never taller than you. But for a while I was one of the tallest girls. And then I wasn't. But I still loved wearing your size 9 tall jeans in 8th grade. That one time? Remember? Yeah. I loved those jeans.]

Anyway, I played on the freshman basketball team, even though, like my height, my skills had really peaked about two years earlier. Our coach was a mean, mean man. And I didn’t like him much (if you couldn’t tell).

Well, one night we were in a neighboring small town, getting our adolescent butts kicked on the court. I have memories of our coach practically screaming at us at away games; I’m not sure if that happened on this certain night or not. But either way, tensions were running high.

So when I was running my darnedest down the court – behind everyone else, remember, I was slooow – and flat out tripped over my own two feet, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my so-called friends and teammates laughed hysterically.

Picture this: There I was, chubby and wheezing, trying so hard to make it from one end of that court to the other. Trying to be good. (Oh, how I tried.) And somehow, I just tripped over my Nike high tops. Falling FLAT ON MY FACE.

Oh, you know what? That’s not true. First my knees slammed into the floor. Then I fell flat on my face.

Apparently, as legend goes, I tripped near one of the many painted lines on the court. This coincidence, of course, prompted my evil coach to yell – for the whole world (and the boys team) to hear: “Watch out for that line!”

Cue the hysterical laughter. Cue the years of teasing from so-called best friends. Cue the mysterious title of today’s post.

Ah, high school. Bruised knees and a bruised ego. Memories. Glorious memories.

Whose idea was it, anyway, to dredge up these things?!

Right. Right. Well, anyway, that was the last year I played basketball. And that was most definitely one of my most embarrassing moments.

You like?

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A co-worker and I were discussing how weird it is that a common ice-breaker is to have each person in a newly formed group share his or her most embarrassing moment.

That’s weird, right?

So how about we share ours today? Because we’re not a new group here . . . c’mon! We’re more like family here on this blog!

I promise – if you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.

Actually, that’s not true. I’m going to tell you my most embarrassing moment no matter what. As soon as I get more time this afternoon. But it sure would be less painful if you shared yours, too . . . I’m just saying!

This Mama’s Baby Drama

In 2007, Mark and I experienced several true, literal, not-exaggerating miracles. First, we got pregnant. And then it was a healthy pregnancy. And then it wasn’t. But somehow, The Kiddo and I were okay. No, better than okay; we were great (eventually).

And did I mention that in the middle of the whole mess, I lost my job?

But we were still quite okay. Thanks to a mighty, merciful God who knows the plans He makes for us* and works all things together for good**.

Here’s my story.