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Peggy Ployhar

 

Holidays are tricky for families dealing with atypical situations, but that doesn’t mean holidays need to magnify these areas of your family life. Follow these DIFFERENT steps to ensure you won’t miss out on a joyful holiday season with your family.

 

D – Develop a plan

No matter how many activities your family would like to do over the holiday season, take a critical look at your schedule, at what is essential and what isn’t. Purposefully blocking in margin around these essentials reduces stress and the pull towards over-booking holiday activities. Then, discuss as a family what traditions or activities matter most to each of you. Finally, match open dates and times in your calendar with these top traditions/activities.

 

Also realize every year will be different and just because you may only be able to schedule in three or four activities this year, this doesn’t mean next year you will have to do the same.

 

I – Individualize acceptance

Holiday activities are often accompanied by vivid memories and biases on how they should be done or enjoyed. But, when you have a family member who has a disability, sickness, or other struggles that require a holiday tradition to be modified it can be difficult to make the necessary adjustments if you can’t be flexible. Yes, your family tradition may take on a new flavor, but that doesn’t mean the new flavor is worse than the original. It is just different.

 

Over time your family member may be able to adjust to the original way you remember enjoying this holiday activity, or over time the modified activity may become more favored by you and your family than the original.

 

F – Focus on strengths

Holiday celebrations and traditions often stretch relationships, sensory thresholds, and much more. Unfortunately, this stretching can cause contention between family members who only see the weakness others possess in comparison to their strengths. On the other hand, these differences in strengths can be beneficial, gifts that complement other family members in need.

 

Especially during this season of giving, it can be helpful to set aside time to discuss individual strengths and weaknesses of each family member, create awareness, and purposefully work towards strengthening each other by better supporting one another.

 

F – Frame togetherness

Just because your family may want to spend more time together creating memories and doing your favorite holiday activities, it may not be realistic to expect everyone to spend all their spare time together doing these activities, especially when considering the needs of the more introverted and medically fragile members of your family.

 

Framing holiday time together with family members who must build rest into their daily schedules should be prioritized by setting aside not only specific days of the week but also the specific times of day for that rest. For instance, if the morning is the best time of day for your child, then booking a matinee for your family to attend the Nutcracker would be better than holding out for an evening performance like you remember enjoying from your childhood.

 

E – Embrace forgiveness

No one is perfect, and yet we often fantasize about having perfect holiday experiences with our imperfect family and less than perfect self. Realistically it is better to aim for ideal and build a larger buffer of forgiveness and understanding into our holiday planning.

 

Sicknesses, miscommunications, forgetfulness, and the general confusion and chaos which happens during the holiday season typically remind us we need to be okay with allowing wiggle room into our “perfect” holiday plans. This way, we don’t ruin our entire experience because we struggle to see beyond the imperfections and to simply enjoy the experiences we have been given to share with our family.

 

“If we desire to make our holiday season the most joyful season of the year, it is imperative to determine how to love others above traditions, events, or seasonal activities”

 

R – Remember to love

The greatest gift we can give any time of the year is to love others the way we would like to be loved ourselves. It’s not about the gifts we work so hard to hunt down and buy. Sometimes the pursuit of the perfect gift ends up sidetracking us from being anything but loving.

 

If we desire to make our holiday season the most joyful season of the year, it is imperative to determine how to love others above traditions, events, or seasonal activities. Many times, this means we have to sacrifice our wants to love, but this is the exact love that Christmas is all about.

 

E – Enjoy the journey

Joy is essentially the bi-product of where we determine our enjoyment or fulfillment will draw from. If our joy rests solely on the product of our day, or even the season, we do not find fulfillment because life’s twists and turns can keep us from reaching these goals on time or how we had imagined them to turn out. But, if we instead seek to rest our joy on the journey towards reaching our goals, we can more readily find joy in our progress as well as in our relationships we might have otherwise overlooked.

 

During the holiday season, focusing on the joy of the journey can require even more intentional concentration as our days, weeks, and even months have checklists for things we don’t normally prioritize in our lives. This is when getting done what the day allows without sacrificing the joyful journey alongside our family members needs to become an even more intentional practice as well as something we intentionally celebrate throughout the season.

 

N – Non-negotiable relationships

Loving others is difficult and the holiday season often brings our lives closer in proximity to relatives we don’t always associate with regularly. And, while it is important to set boundaries with others, proper boundaries always leave room for any relationship to continue to grow if these individuals make positive changes and establish more healthy habits and boundaries.

 

Everything we can do on our end to leave a relationship open, even if we have to mostly close out a family member because of their personal choices or extenuating circumstances, leaves room for that door to widen once again in the future. We can’t always take on the full weight of what another family member is going through or allow the harmful or unsafe choices immediate or extended family members have made into our homes, but we can show there is always room in our hearts to love beyond these extenuating circumstances.

 

T – Take action

 

Finally, it is important to remember to act and put these practices to work. A plan and good intentions will never lead you to where you want to go. Only by stepping out in faith to approach this holiday season differently and move beyond various obstacles that in the past may have held you or your family back from experiencing joy will the season be the most joyful one you could experience.

 

 

 

 


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Dyana Robbins

 

The holiday season offers many wonderful things to us: time away from work, more time with friends and family, traditions, and expressions of love. For many, this truly remains the happiest and most-anticipated time of the year. However, there are years when the holidays seem much less joyous. Deaths, losses, difficult circumstances, broken relationships and other factors can threaten the joy we want to experience.

 

Here are some thoughts that I hope will encourage you if you find yourself facing a difficult holiday season.  Some of them are humorous, others more serious, but all have helped our family celebrate the holidays in difficult years.

 

1.  Treat Hallmark movies and Christmas sentimentalism like a plague
Please don’t call me Scrooge; I know how committed people are to their Hallmark Christmas movies.  I have even liked a couple of them myself. However, when we are battling discouragement or even despair, the idealized versions of Christmas, love, and family that are peddled to us can intensify our pain.
Movies and many Christmas songs’ sentimental version of life can highlight places in our lives that don’t reflect the same perfection.  Instead of providing help, they actually create larger wounds.  If you must indulge in these entertainments,  make sure you balance them with movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol.”  They have some good old adversity and life lessons that balance out the schmaltz.  And for music, immerse yourself in songs that offers real joy and hope.  My favorite is “O Holy Night.”

 

2.  Simplify
We hear this advice everywhere, but what does it actually look like to practice simplicity?  It differs in families, but simplicity rests on the following principles:  contentment, pruning of useless or harmful things, and a grateful perspective.
Even in the most difficult times, we can practice simplicity.  As we rid ourselves of fruitless thoughts, useless energy expenditures, taxing social engagements, and burdensome traditions or expectations, joy can fill the space they vacate.  We can appreciate the beauty of what remains, the graces of each day, and enjoy rest.

 

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ― Henry David Thoreau

 

3.  Do something new
One of life’s greatest joys, is to experience or learn new things.  Whether you create new traditions, learn a new game, skill, or song, take a different route for Christmas light viewing, or bake something different, your venture into the unknown affirms life and fresh beginnings.  The scope and cost of these changes need not be great; just doing them brings happy feelings and memories.

 

4.  Avoid or limit negative influences
This may be the most difficult of my recommendations. Often, negative influences come from our closest  family members, or others we’re pressured to spend time with over the holidays.  If you feel guilty avoiding them entirely,  do all you can to limit your exposure to them.  
You can do a shorter visit, make sure others will be around to dilute their impact, gather in a place you feel most comfortable, or have the nearest exit mapped out for an emergency evacuation.  We need to show love to difficult people, but during dark seasons in our own lives, we might need a break or limited engagement to care for ourselves.
Likewise, give yourself permission to rest from considering or deciding about stressful or negative things.  Even a short break from decision-making can help you recharge and focus on the joy of the season.  Truly, our problems can almost always be put on temporary hold, instead of demanding all of our time and attention.

 

5.  Celebrate Christ
If you find yourself in the darkest of times, my other recommendations will ring with inadequacy. There are some problems we cannot change, fix or remove; they simply must be borne. Even bearing those burdens, hope shines and lights a path for joy.
Isaiah 9, in the Bible, talks of Christ the Savior.  Consider this beautiful passage with me:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

 

One dark day, the God of Heaven sent his son to us.  His arrival fulfilled many prophecies, God’s promises to man, to provide a Savior from ourselves, our condition, and this broken world.  He walked our paths, suffered our griefs, experienced our fragile joys, and purchased for us a joy that can never die.
Because of this gift, every trial, grief, injustice, betrayal, loss and inadequacy will one day be completely overwhelmed and overcome.  No matter what we face, even the most horrible and trying things, they only have temporary power and effect.  As we wait for that day, we enjoy Christ’s presence and help.  He is all to us that the verses above promise: our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
Every lesser joy can be extinguished. Life’s burdens can smother them all.  But, the joy of Christ, God’s guarantee to man, has never failed me or anyone who has trusted in Him.
Whatever your circumstances this year, I pray you will find and know joy.  If this season is painful for you, know that you are not alone in your struggle or in waiting for better days.  May the joy of this season overwhelm your struggles and bring you hope.  

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 


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This article

was reprinted with permission from Dyana Robbin’s personal blog,

Ambling Grace.
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