The Both-ness of the Holidays

I’ve got these red jar-style drinking glasses in my cupboard. I found them scattered on a dusty shelf in a chain store in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. They’re cheaply made, and the red flakes off if they’re anything but gently hand washed, but we love using them for holiday dinners. The harder clean-up is worth it to my family.

I’m coming to realize that the holidays may be sweet as we move forward, but they may never be easy again.

I wrote these words to a friend this week, the same friend whose family sat with us around our table in the tropics, pretending that the roast chicken was turkey and laughing as my youngest held her red glass high in ridiculous toasts to everything. The same friend who spent part of her Christmas break two years ago carefully wrapping those red glasses and laying them in a shipping container so we could have some of our holiday memories with us on this side of the world.

Sweet memories, but not easy.

So much of my writing over the past few years has circled around this tension between pain and beauty. It’s been a season of both-ness, so it makes sense that the holidays would feel so both.

The holidays, maybe more than any other time of the year, are a reminder that there are some things that won’t be resolved on this side of eternity.

I don’t think there will be a year I don’t wish I could look over at my couch and see my mom laughing wide while peeling potatoes with a knife way too big for the job.  And at the same time, I wouldn’t wish away the amazing woman who came along four years ago and married my dad, loving him and us and our kids in a different and entirely special way.

And every year we nestle ornaments for our two miscarried babies in between family heirlooms and keepsakes made by their sisters. We video chat with family in Thailand, and the cousins trade jokes and silly faces while the grown-ups feel the 9000 miles. We put on the same albums that have sung us through decades of endings and beginnings, goodbyes and hellos, innocence lost and grace found.

Beautiful days… but not easy.

We all have them, these stories waiting for their exhale. It doesn’t take a lot of living before shadows become a part of the holidays just as sure as the lights and decorations.

I know how hollow Christmas has felt the years I’ve tried to push away the shadows.

Because if we lose the shadowed parts of the story, we lose Christmas all together

Christmas is all about both-ness. Both a scared young girl and her courageous faith. Both generations of inherited heartache and the fulfillment of an eternal promise. Both a dark night and the brilliant armies of Heaven. Both tiny arms reaching out for a mama’s love and strong arms stretched on a cross for love of us. Both blood and glory, captivity and freedom, despair and hope, brokenness and healing, death and life. The story has to have both.

So tears are welcome here, because even they catch the candlelight and glisten a truer truth — that no amount of pain can cancel out the beauty.

Tonight we’ll plug in the tree and turn off the lights, turn on the music and sit in the quiet space carved out by the both-ness of our life together. Another year of seeing our mourning comforted, watching hard memories redeemed, finding freedom taking root further and deeper in. Another year of knowing in new ways that the gospel is really, truly true — that it really is transforming us and making a way forward.

Here, red glasses in hand, we’re learning to be still in the both-ness and let it tell us again and again the story of God’s faithful grace.

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” ~Isaiah 9:2 (NLT)


“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” ~John 1:4-5 (NLT)


  1. Brenda Southard
    Nov 24, 2018

    I so enjoy you writing and I hear the heart of your Mother.God Bless You, Dear One

    • Beth
      Nov 24, 2018

      Thank you, Brenda. That’s best compliment!

  2. Megan Uhrich
    Nov 25, 2018

    Thank you for your raw vulnerability. The reality of grief and joy, beginnings and endings, hellos and goodbyes happening constantly at the same time–consist reminders this world is not our home, and one day our hearts divided between two worlds will once again be united in eternity.

  3. Cathy Lindley
    Dec 1, 2018

    So precious and so true. What a sweet perspective as I sit in the bothness.
    Thank you!

    • Beth
      Dec 1, 2018

      Thanks for being part of our bothness.

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