The Real Holiday

PC: Unsplash
By Nancy High Engel

We walked into my sister Carol’s house, not knowing what the next few minutes would hold. Looking around—my nieces and nephews with downcast eyes, my parents softly crying, my sister’s face registering shock and sadness. I looked at my brother-in-law Darell, and he gently shook his head.

It began as a normal Christmas day. My immediate family gathered at our house for a simple breakfast followed by exchanging of gifts. Shortly before lunch, we headed to Carol’s house for dinner, games, gifts and our traditional shrimp supper. My whole family was going to be there except for my brother Marlin’s wife who was spending Christmas with her family out of state. Everything was fine…until it wasn’t. Marlin was gone.

Late in the morning we became aware that none of us had heard from Marlin for a few days. Though he was very independent and sometimes unpredictable, family was important to him. We knew he wouldn’t miss Christmas, if possible. When he didn’t respond to texts or phone calls that Christmas morning, we agreed that Darell should go to his apartment to check on him. So it was with fearful, churning emotions that we walked into Carol’s kitchen.

As Darell shook his head, I knew this would be a Christmas like no other. Marlin was gone. Sometime in the previous few days, he had passed away from heart failure. What was going to be a peaceful, noisy, laughter-filled day suddenly changed to a day of tears, planning, phone calls and decisions.

A lot changed in a matter of hours. But some things remained. The reason we gather at holiday time is to give and receive love. That remained true. Love was poured out upon us through aunts and uncles who came to sit with us, served our meals and cleaned up, hugged us. Our pastor and the funeral director gently walked us through decisions that had to be made. We were held tightly in a circle of love. Later in the day we exchanged gifts, with a renewed awareness of the fragility of life, our own mortality, and the beauty of family.

This was certainly NOT a Norman Rockwell holiday! It would not have been the kind of perfect Christmas day that our world encourages us to expect. There is so much build up for this. One. Single. Day. We anticipate a holiday without stress, conflict, sickness, and sadness.

But that isn’t real life, is it?

However, the beautiful truth is that we can walk through the holiday—any day—with peace because we know that we are truly known and truly loved. This is what Jesus offers his followers. He provides us with abundant life. 

That doesn’t mean a holiday season absolutely perfect with happiness and smiles all the time and all of our dreams coming true! Our lives are not a Hallmark movie with a happy ending, all problems solved in two hours. They are much better, richer….filled with God’s love and peace.

May receiving and sharing HIS love fill our hearts and minds even as we plan meals, gatherings, give gifts, etc. This is the lasting and true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understandingthis extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!” Ephesians 3:18,19 TPT

Nancy High Engel is a wife to Jerry for 38 years, mother of three adult children and worship leader. However her favorite title is being "Grams" to her five precious young grandchildren. She finds so much pleasure in her family, creative journaling and Bible study in her sun room, worshiping Jesus, drinking coffee with friends and living in Lancaster County. She blogs at


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