Of reflection

I photographed this ornament at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor, 2011

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.”  Winston Churchill 

Merry Christmas! Chances are, this will be a busy day for you, coming on the heels of a busy season. For most of my adult life, it was that way for me, anyway. I love the Christmas season, with all the festive activities and joyful sharing. But it can be exhausting, too.

As simple and quiet as this year’s Christmas has been for Matt and me, it has kept us busy enough that the unscheduled times of relaxing at home have been a welcome balm for the strange, ineffable pressure that seems so pervasive in today’s world. Having more than the usual amount of quiet time this season, I’ve come to realize that staying hyper busy on holidays can be a sort of mind-numbing drug or clever distraction that keeps us from paying attention to uncomfortable realities such as worry, sadness or conflict.

I’ve never believed that positive thinking consists of ignoring the difficulties and traumas of life. This blog is called “defeat despair,” not “deny despair” or “delay despair.” And it’s almost impossible to defeat despair by ignoring what is in need of resolution. But the urgent call of daily tasks and obligations often drowns out higher priorities.

For this reason, times of reflection are crucial to staying sane and healthy. Balancing the focus of our reflection to acknowledge both blessings and struggles can keep us from delusional optimism on the one hand, or self-perpetuating despondency on the other.

So, whatever is on your schedule for today, I hope you will set aside some time to reflect.  No matter who or where you are, I’m pretty sure that the things on your mind will represent a very human mixture of happiness, sorrow, frustration, excitement and hope. May the final days of this year bring you gifts of both rejoicing and reflecting.


  1. I hope you are not feeling too consumed with sadness today, Julia. I’m sending you love and hoping that you have a peaceful day and spend some time enjoying the memories of past Christmases.
    Until about 10 years ago I did all the manic stuff associated with Christmas and then felt completely flat when the actual day arrived. Now I do none of that and have a much more enjoyable time. We had roast beef for dinner last night and for lunch today we’ll have our now traditional “indoor picnic” with fresh bread and sausage rolls. There are no presents and this year, instead, I made my charitable donations to organisations who help the homeless and displaced. We choose different charities to support each year instead of spending money on cards and presents.
    Anyway… love to you and I hope 2018 is a better year for you than 2017. x

    • Thank you, Jan. Your comment is so helpful and encouraging to me. When I read your description of feeling flat at Christmas, it really hit home. I’ve been there so many times. In contrast, our peaceful Christmas day was perfect, complete with one of the most delicious Christmas dinners Matt and I have ever enjoyed. We were welcomed into the home of my dear friend Renee and her husband Mark, and the food and fellowship was a fitting highlight of the season. Mark took this photo of us. There actually were two other men there, but one was dozing on the sofa, and one was– surprise! washing the dishes! (I can hear the applause from Christmas chefs everywhere 😀 ). It sounds as if your Christmas celebration was equally festive and rewarding. Thanks so much for being here, caring and sharing. Your comment is an additional Christmas gift! Love and light to you.

  2. “setting aside some time to .
    . .” This just got easier – Someone had wrapped a small mirror for my dopp kit.
    Merry Christmas!

  3. Harry Sims

    “God bless you,
    you make me feel brand-new…..”.

    Is it you?, Or is it God?.


    • It must be God, who has always been able to multiply a few “loaves and fishes” into something worthwhile.

  4. Ann

    Julia, Recently at a friend’s funeral, the pastor spoke directly to the family and said that they must go THROUGH grief; they could not go AROUND it. There would be days of anger, days of sadness and days of sweet memories. As you journey through your grief, I wish for you strength and peace.

    Your premise behind Defeat Despair is a good one and has blessed many of us through your generous sharing.

    • Thank you, Ann. I have been likewise blessed by your presence here, your caring and your prayers. I am so glad you are with us. Happy 2018!

  5. Merry Christmas!!!! I’m sending love and light your way!🎆🎆🎆

    • Thank you Cherie. I can see the glow from here. 🙂 ❤ Hope you and Ron are enjoying many blessings this season.

  6. Chris

    Merry Christmas, Julia!

    • Thank you Chris! Hope your Christmas was happy, and the New Year full of great things for you and your loved ones.

  7. Steve Bodiford

    Merry Christmas Julia…And thank you for continuing to share your thoughts, insight, and especially your heart. Praying for an unexpected sense of love and peace for the year to come.

    • Thank you Steve! I appreciate your presence here. Not too many people here can say they knew me over 40 years ago. 🙂 Hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful season and a year full of blessings in store.

  8. Rene

    MERRY CHRISTMAS JULIA & MATT!!!! I’m sorry to have been away for so long but it seems fitting to return today. The ornament you gave me for your 1st anniversary celebration is prominently placed on my brand-new artificial tree. I’m about to pour another cup of coffee and wrap a few more presents before my grown sons wake up (that could be HOURS away) and I become responsible for the preparation of the traditional Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. We are having guests for dinner: not the large family gathering of past years but a few people who would otherwise be alone. It was a stressful first half of the year at work but I feel more calm & joyful now than I have at any Christmas season I can remember. I have been having to do a lot of reflecting and letting go. I expect that I will spend more time reflecting as the year (both calendar and school) winds down. I pray that your reflections bring you both joy and peace. BUON NATALE!

    (I hope this link works, it is one of my favorite carols).

    • WOW Rene, this is one of my favorite Christmas surprises this year! Believe it or not, just recently I had been thinking about you, wondering how you were doing. I even intended to email you and ask if you wanted another ornament. 🙂 I have a TON of them to give away!! 🙂 I was thinking the one I sent you that first year got broken in the mail, so I’m happy that either I was mistaken or you were able to fix it. Hey, cinnamon rolls were always our family tradition, too. I would fix a big dinner on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas we’d have breakfast as our main meal of the day, after opening our gifts. How wonderful that you had people over to share your holiday. Matt and I were the recipients of such kindness ourselves this year, and it was deeply appreciated. I’m so glad you are having a great Christmas season. Send me any hints you have about letting go. I’m still very much in training where that is concerned, but life is forcing me to keep plugging away at it. I really enjoyed the video. I too love that song. We sang it in high school chorus and the beautifully haunting music has been with me ever since. This was a particularly good performance of it. I’m so delighted to hear from you again! And I’m serious about the ornaments. I’ll dig up your comment from 2013 and remind myself what kind you said you liked. 🙂 Happy 2018!

      • Rene

        Re: Ornaments, I like anything that has a memory attached (or that I can attach one to).

        Christmas Dinner was a good example of me letting go. I haven’t had a big family dinner at my house since my sister & family came out from Chicago two years ago. I decided to do it again but only my mom was going to be out. Then, she decided she couldn’t make it because my uncle whom she cares for has been falling frequently. So I suggested to Johnny that he invite any friends he might have who had nowhere else to go. He immediately suggested a couple who had stayed with us for a few months when they were between homes. I have to confess that I don’t really care for the husband and my first reaction was “Nooo…” (yes, out loud). I felt immediately convicted; especially when Johnny pointed out that the couple considers us like family. If I’m going to claim to be Christian and do things with Christian motives, I have to let go of things like my “dislike.” It turns out that the wife is in Honduras visiting her family for the first time in about 15 years; the man’s son is visiting from PA and they would have been alone. We also had our brother-in-law (the widower of Johnny’s sister) who has had a breach in his own family and a surprise visit from the friend’s nephew & family. We had a great time! Now, don’t think I let go on my own strength, I had many people praying for me. Maybe that’s the hint: don’t be shy about asking for prayer. I was really ashamed of my attitude but asking for prayer helped. Btw, it was really great to see that you enjoyed the hospitality of another Renee. Please know that you have an open invitation to join us if you ever feel like spending Christmas in California. It’s not too snowy but we do have our own type of Christmas weather. Blessings!

        • Thank you Rene! I remember several wonderful Christmas seasons in California; I might just take you up on that invite sometime! Meanwhile, I appreciate your story, and it does inspire me to ask others to pray for me, to be able to know what I should let go of– and then to be able to do it! Bravo to you for being willing to consider people who normally are not on your “A” list of ideal guests. You are a great example to me and I’m so happy your holiday went well. I’m often ashamed of my own attitude– maybe more often than not, if I stop to think about it at all– but with you and others (named Renee or not 🙂 ) I should have plenty of encouragement to improve in that challenge. Happy New Year!

    • Rene, thank you for the lovely reprieve and from the constant hustle and bustle of this season. What a pleasant few and precious moments of reflection this has brought me.

      • Susan, me too! and in a good way, contrary to what the phrase has come to mean…

        • Hmm.
          I just realized that a reflection is only as good, bad, accurate or otherwise, as it can be – based on the reflecting medium.
          Take as an example: the photo reflection in the Christmas tree ornament. Cute, amusing, but distorted. That reflection is both “bad” and “good,” and not terribly accurate on either count.

          • Good point! As Shakespeare said (through Hamlet) “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” But of course, we often have less choice about the reflecting medium than we think we do. In my experience, we all tend to think– even if we don’t realize it– that we have a crystal-clear lens, whether focused on ourselves or others. But I think Paul had the best take on that: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13) I’m guessing that in Paul’s day, the mirrors were not nearly as good as they are now. But he certainly echoes the same truth you point out here.

  9. This has been a Christmas for deep reflection here. I had a small part of the family yesterday, my daughter was here for a few hours today but it was quiet and simple. This next year will be one of introspection. Lots of changes happening here, decisions to be made. Holidays are harder when you are alone. It’s like a piece of us is missing and the heart hurts a bit. Defeating despair is hard work that never seems to end but we have to keep trying. Hope your Christmas was somewhat merry and your New Year bright. Giant squishy hugs.

    • Thank you Marlene, your comments always touch my heart and help me feel a bit less alone. I have been meaning to get a letter in the mail to you and catch up on how things are going. Lots of changes and decisions on this coast, too. You’re right, defeating despair is hard work, and like all maintenance activity, it often feels thankless and sometimes futile. But now and then flowers spring up from the cracks in the pavement and the sun pops out from behind the clouds. I’m hoping we both have many such moments in the coming year. Sending you giant holiday hugs!!

  10. Amy

    Reflection does indeed bring all those emotions to bear. One of my favorite poems from WA was called, “ What I know” and the first line was “What I know is less and less.” I have always kind of chuckled at that line but I also always feel it is sooo appropro for my life, especially these days. God holds the future in his hands. Merry Christmas friend. Love you.

    • Amy, I may have told you something funny a friend of mine once said that Jeff overheard, when they were both taking Systematic Christian Doctrine (which was a legendary course at Lipscomb, and rightly so — it was the most mind-blowing course I took and the hardest I’ve ever worked to get a “B” in any course in my life). About midway through the course Jeff said he heard my friend mutter “I knew more when I came into this class than I do now.” 🙂 I guess life is like that too. Well, they say ignorance is bliss, so we should have lots of bliss in store, including the knowledge that it’s in God’s hands, not ours. I love you too!

      • Amy Hill


      • Rene

        “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

        • Don’t you just love Dylan? 🙂

  11. Good morning, Julia!
    It’s an important distinction you make: “This blog is called ‘defeat despair,’ not ‘deny despair’ or ‘delay despair.'”
    You recognize the difference, and that God has the power to DEFEAT the darkness! Moment by moment, we may struggle, but in the end, despair is defeated, and the Lord gives us the victory! He has, indeed, overcome this world.
    Meanwhile, I’m still here with you, praying for you and Matt, and grateful that so many others are doing the same, and that you have other brothers and sisters in Christ that live close enough to wrap their living, loving arms around you and say “Merry Christmas!”

    • Susan, thank you so much. We continue to need and appreciate your prayers. Hope we get to visit in person again soon!

  12. Hi Julia ! ❤ Holiday wishes and frozen Canadian kisses coming your way. It's minus 30 C this morning ! It's a little crazy. With the windchill, -38 C or -36.4 F So at that temperature C -vs- F evens out. I'm thinking, please don't let the power go out.
    Have you ever heard music by UB40? They're one of my favourite bands in the 80's. They have a catchy tune called Higher Ground. It immediately came to mind when I read Amy and your messages here. It goes:

    Every hour of every day I'm learning more,
    The more I learn, the less I know about before,
    The less I know the more I want to look around,
    Digging deep for clues on higher ground.

    The rest of the song is so beautifully poetic,

    Moon and stars sit way up high
    Earth and trees beneath them lie
    The wind blows fragrant lullaby
    To cool the night for you and I
    On the wing the birds fly free
    Leviathan tames angry sea
    The flower waits for honeybee
    The sunrise wakes new life in me

    You can listen here https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tb35irtnic6pl3s567leqkdfzly?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics&u=0#

    Their music feels like a beautiful day 😀 Everyday has it's merit, some better than others. It's easy to feel blessed xo K

    • K, I had never heard of that group or that song, but I enjoyed listening to it. It has almost a calypso sound to it, naturally cheery. Amy and I did grow up singing another song called “Higher Ground,” which I wrote about in this blog post. It features a photo of Jeff taken just a short time before his devastating diagnosis. Yes, some days are definitely better than others, but we can always find blessings to count. You are always near the top of my list when I start counting. 🙂

      • ! did you see the comments on that post Julia? 😀 I am my fathers daughter, telling the same people the same stories over again. I have to laugh at that. I guess I just *really* like that song 😀
        I hope you know, you are thought of often xo with the most love ! How will we hook up again?! Are you hip to travelling ? Like maybe Ottawa ? Summertime? Just throwing out a longer term idea xoxox K

        • K, I think a lot of us repeat ourselves. I can’t count the number of times people have said to me “you told me that already” so now I try to open every story with “Have I told you about…” or even “Stop me if you’ve heard this before…” In our defense, I must say that most people hear so much nowadays that remembering all of it is almost impossible. So keep those stories coming! Definitely hip to travelling once I get some huge deadlines out of the way. I’ve never been to Ottawa but that sounds fun. Anyplace in Canada sounds fun! Jeff and I drove from Montreal to Toronto but we stayed at the military base in Trenton overnight and didn’t go to Ottawa at all. Keep throwing out all those ideas. I still dream of travelling a lot someday, before I get too old for it. 🙂 Talking about it in advance is at least half of the fun!

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