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Experiencing the Holidays Through the Lens of Suffering

by | Nov 27, 2019 | Emotional Abuse, Grieving | 4 comments

I separated from my ex-husband in 2014. We had nine kids. The first two holiday seasons we went through as a fractured family were devastatingly sad. I don’t remember much about them because I was on duty by myself, several of our kids have special needs, and I was running a business from home. There was the relief of not dealing with the constant gaslighting, arguing, criticism, and passive-aggressive crap that had been a daily part of my life for the past 21 years, but separation brought waves of grief I didn’t know were possible.

I had to come face to face with countless losses, and I guess I do remember one thing that sticks out in my memory about that time.

I cried constantly.

On a scale of 1-10 with one being THE WORST holiday ever and 10 being THE BEST, that first holiday season was a one. The second year was a two. A disappointing improvement.

By the time the third season rolled around, I had filed for divorce, and a few months later—right before the holidays started gearing up again—I met my husband, Tom. We became friends, and our friendship blossomed into love which made that third holiday season incredibly healing and peaceful.

And right before Thanksgiving on the fourth year, my divorce was final, and Tom and I were married and celebrated a family Thanksgiving and Christmas that was everything I had always dreamed of. Full of love and peace. NO DRAMA. It was heaven on earth.

During that four-year time span, I learned new ways of looking at the holidays that helped me cope. Throughout this article I’m also going to share anonymous quotes (with permission) that members of the Flying Free Education and Support Community shared on our private forum.

The kids will be with their dad. So I don’t actually care too much about the actual day. So Saturday, two days ago, I just made a stress free Thanksgiving dinner. Since there wasn’t a ton to do and places we had to go, we just had fun. The kids and I even decorated a gingerbread turkey from Trader Joe’s. For the actual day of Thanksgiving I will see my extended family and then relax and read, or I could go shopping, or I could watch a movie…the options are kind of endless. And I like that sense of adventure that there is so much i could do. I’d like to surprise myself.

The Truth About Seasons

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
 A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Seasons come and go. I’ve lived through 53 winters, springs, summers, autumns, and holiday seasons, and I’ve noticed they are fairly predictable. Here in Minnesota I can expect winters to be cold and about two weeks in summer to be hot. I can expect the shopping malls to start displaying the Christmas paraphernalia at the beginning of October. And I can expect the anticipation of kids as they look forward to opening presents on December 25.

But the holidays are not always a time to laugh and dance. Sometimes they are a time to cry and grieve. Sometimes the worst crying and grieving happens during the holidays because our sorrow is juxtaposed with the expectations of the magical joys of the season. Our current devastation and emptiness lies in stark contrast to the warm memories of the past. Or, if we didn’t have warm memories to look back on, perhaps we had dreams of creating warm memories in the future with loved ones who truly loved.

And now it’s gone. The memories. The dreams. The hope of something better, something new…all gone.

But here’s the thing. The tearing and scattering and searching are also just a season. Life to death to life again. This is the lesson of the seasons.

My children will all be with their dad on Thanksgiving. I gave them all my blessing. (They were worried about hurting my feelings.) The only power I have is over myself. I did the right thing, and so I feel very good! There is a freedom and lightness when I stopped trying to control everything. I have a DWC (divorced wives club), and we all check in with one another. Nobody will be alone.

Surrender to the Season You are In Right Now

If we want to live life to the fullest, it means embracing ALL of life—including the ugliness of life—for what it is.

Let’s talk about quicksand for a minute.

“The human body has a density of 62.4 pounds per cubic foot (1 g/cm3) and is able to float on water. Quicksand is denser than water — it has a density of about 125 pounds per cubic foot (2 g/cm3) — which means you can float more easily on quicksand than on water. With quicksand, the more you struggle in it the faster you will sink. If you just relax, your body will float in it because your body is less dense than the quicksand.” (Source)

When a person fights quicksand, it only makes the situation worse. But if she does what feels counterintuitive and surrenders to the situation and floats, she can get out more easily as the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s apply this to our sorrowful holidays.

They are what they are. There is nothing we can do to change the fact that we have lost something we treasured, and now we must walk through this holiday season carrying the aching burden of that loss.

We can fight it by drinking, overworking, overspending, oversleeping, overeating, or any other number of coping mechanisms. We can smile and tell everyone we are doing GREAT, thank you very much! God is so good! He is meeting our every need, and we don’t need anything!

Or we can be honest with ourselves and others and lean into the sadness. Yes. We can make friends with our grief, because it’s going to be with us for a long time.

This means letting our bodies do what our bodies need to do. Cry. Tremble. Sleep. Rest.

It means letting go of the traditions we worked so hard to create in the past. They may not be possible anymore. We can let them slip away and grieve their loss as well.

Those two sad Christmas’s for me were simple seasons of letting go and saying “Thy will be done.”

When I decided to leave my abusive marriage of 27 years I couldn’t imagine the depth of pain I would feel once I was out.  I had made up my mind that I would treasure this Thanksgiving like no other before it. Thanks to the recommendations of our Flying Free community, I have made plans to do self care including a massage, a movie with buttered popcorn and a large coke.  I’m also trusting the prayer coverage of our faithful sisters to help me keep my eyes on the light that Jesus offers when the flood of darkness comes.

Identify with Jesus Christ

Our Savior came as a poor, helpless infant born to a young couple with little life experience. He was born in obscurity. In a barn. And his parents had to flee hit men when he was only two-years-old. When Christmas is sparse and your tree looks straight out of a holiday cartoon, you can identify with your Savior.

Make it a THING. Hang a nail on a cactus plant and call that your tree for this year. Your tree of sorrow.

Read Hind’s Feet on High Places and revel in all the beautiful lessons it teaches.

Listen to soothing Christmas music.

You are doing the hard work of birthing a new YOU, and God is your midwife. Let Him help you. He knows exactly what you face this year, and you are not alone.

To not spend the holidays with my son due to sharing holidays post divorce almost killed me. This was way before this community. But I realized that a day is just a day. We can make Christmas Day any day we want. I put presents under the tree (when we stayed with my mom) and we would wake up and it was Christmas Day. No matter what day it landed for us. ❤️ And the extended family learned this too. This year i have no tree. It’s like the grinch movie.my ex thought that by taking everything, he would take away the joy, the love, the peace.  We have that within. We have that with Christ. NOBODY can take that away. EVER. I bought a string of lights and a tiny lit garland $4 total. Make homemade paper garlands! Focus on what is real and what you can do. Not what isn’t the same. (Even though it’s so hard) ps I’m preaching to myself too.

Go Treasure Hunting for Gifts

Sounds strange, but you’d be amazed at how this little exercise will comfort your weary heart. Every morning when you wake up, whisper, “Jesus, I know You have good gifts for me today. I don’t know what they are, and I don’t know how to find them on my own. So help me. Give me eyes to see. I want to find THREE gifts today from You.”

And then keep your eyes open. They will come in mysterious ways. I won’t even give you any ideas or hints, because these are from HIM. And only He knows what you need most. Look for Him, and you WILL find Him. He is there, and He loves you with all His heart. Whatever has been stripped from you, He will return to you by unexpected means and in unexpected ways.

When you go to bed at night, think about those three gifts. Write them in you “sorrow” journal. Or put them on slips of paper and tuck them in a bottle that symbolizes the bottle of our tears that God keeps on our behalf in honor of our humanity and preciousness to Him.

Last Thanksgiving I was alone for Thanksgiving…I could have gone to be with friends…but I chose to have a me day with yummy foods and Netflix.  I then had Thanksgiving dinner a few days later with my kiddos on a weeknight.  For Christmas I make sure I bring my younger son shopping for me…something my Ex would have done previously.  My older kiddos sometimes are able to do this, but if not I do it.  This year my older kids have time off before Christmas which is when my youngest has his Christmas time with his Dad…so my Ex will get everyone for a number of days for family activities which means he will do Disney/Universal/Movies etc…which is hard on my heart…BUT…I am planning fun events with friends for those days. So I am acknowledging that there is pain, but I am moving on and creating new memories.   I will get everyone Christmas Day at 2 pm and will make the most of the time we do have together.  I have found the best thing for me is to be flexible and to focus on the time we do have together.  I have also learned to enjoy time by myself and new adventures with friends. I am 5 years out…so this didn’t happen overnight. 

Give Love and Peace to Yourself

Close your eyes and imagine yourself as a little child again. Look closely at yourself. Do you believe you are worth love? Do you believe you are valuable? Do you believe you deserve peace and rest? Or do you feel disdain for that person inside? Are there voices whispering that you are ugly, unwanted, stupid, naughty, unlovable, in the way, and undeserving of anything good?

Those voices are lying to you about yourself. The enemy hates you and wants to destroy you. But Jesus loves you and wants to set that little child free! Free to run and experience the fullness of His love and peace! No strings attached. You don’t need to earn it!

Who will you choose to align yourself with this season? Align yourself with Jesus in your life! When you accept and love yourself the way He accepts and loves you, you will then be able to embrace others or let them go – as they wish – without feeling the need to control them, hang on to them, or win their love.

I was doing well while decorating the tree with two of my four kids. My older ones come home from college tomorrow. Their father died a couple of weeks before Christmas seven years ago and I remarried 16 months later. To a psychopath! So the past seven years have been crazy. I actually felt kind of sorry for my soon-to-be-ex while decorating the tree. But…he chose to destroy his family and I chose to restore mine. This Christmas will be the first one with just the five of us since my first husband’s death. We will incorporate old traditions and create new ones. Our life is basically chaos free. My kids think I am the strongest person they know. For that I am thankful. I know how weak I am and how much I need Jesus. We most certainly will celebrate Christmas because it was the day our hope was born! Plus we got to put up the tree when we wanted to!  No waiting until soon-to-be-ex allowed us to. There will be no tension or fighting. No eggshells!!! God is good.

The following is a letter a survivor wrote to herself. She gave me permission to share it:

Dear Me,

This is a letter to the girl I used to be. You are on a journey of becoming and you’ll never be the same. You’ll give your heart to a man who pledged to cherish and protect it. You will believe – with every fiber of your being – that he will be true to his word. And one day your belief will be shattered. You will hear words spoken that steal your breath and crush your soul.

You will have your heart handed back to you – mangled and shattered.  You will feel a level of rejection, assassination, betrayal and hurt beyond your wildest imagination. Your hopes and dreams will die. And you will climb in that grave.

Yet, from the ashes of your broken heart, you will find a flicker of a flame. A flame that burned so deep within you, it lit a fire in your soul. And you will begin to fight like hell to remember who and whose you are. The battle will rage, the arrows will pierce, and the darkness will suffocate you.

But you are held. Every ounce of you is held. You’ll experience a community of believers supporting you. You’ll see a cloud of witnesses stand and testify. You’ll experience the love, selflessness and generosity of your friends and family like never before. You’ll see grace upon grace upon grace poured over you. You’ll see the countenance and kindness of your Father that leaves you in awe and wonder.

You’ll feel His tears as He stood weeping over you while sheltering you in the shadow of His wings. And you’ll break. A thousand times over you will break. Your pain will be so guttural, you’ll forget how to breathe. Yet, you’ll see. You’ll see countless prayers answered and an angel army surrounding you. And you’ll emerge. From the darkest night of your soul, you’ll become a woman who rises with courage. Who knows no one or nothing can define you except the love of your Father.

You’ll hear a deafening roar as He defeats the enemy who dares to attack his little girl. And you’ll rest. When you run out of options, you’ll run to him. And without fail, you’ll find He was already there. You just had to look upwards and not inwards.

When your brain runs wild and your body screams out with trauma, you’ll fall flat on your face. And you’ll find that’s the safest and best place to be. Because it is there, and only there, where you are forced to surrender everything in you and around you. And it is then when He rescues you. It is then when he takes your tear-stained face in His hands and tells you He never left you. He offers His hand and you will take it. Partly because you want to, but mostly because you have to. And He’ll understand.

You will feel a depth of shame and guilt that drowns you. But you will know – He bore all of that and more than you could ever fathom so you’d be free. Free to experience His love for you and His victory. You’ll believe, yet you’ll pray for help with your unbelief. And you will breathe. And you will survive.  And you will thrive.

Precious child of the Living God, I pray you will experience His breath soft on your face every day of this holiday season. He is love. He is Thanksgiving. He is Christmas. And He is all yours forever and ever. Amen.

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

I write more about loneliness during the holidays HERE.

The Kindle version of my book, Is It Me? is only $2.99 through December 2019.

And this is a beautiful video:

4 Comments

  1. Jamie Fryar

    This email couldn’t have come at a better time. I was literally crying and calling out to Jesus. Feeling such hurt and hopelessness. I believe that God spoke the words I needed to hear to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other until this season of life passes.

    Thank you for this blessing
    Jamie Fryar

    Reply
  2. Lorrie Roe

    Hi…. your email today was very comforting. And I’m so encouraged knowing that I’m not alone, and that it’s ok to not feel ok.
    I’m alone today, adult girls are with their dad.
    They are supporting him through the impending divorce. But I’m ok! Feeling held by Jesus! My 2 adult boys are taking me out to crackers barrel today. Have A Beautiful Thanksgiving Natalie!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You too, Lorrie!! I’m glad you have your two boys with you today! HUGS!

      Reply

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