2016 December

Embracing grief as part of Christmas

Posted by | christmas, grief, Stories, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

 

My fingers page through this precious Advent book, my eyes scanning through the readings and my own handwritten reflections from the last three Advent seasons. Each year, has been marked by such grief and such surprising joy. I trace the words of this journal, remembering the days I felt most vulnerable and the days I felt most strengthened. This book marks the journey of my heart to the manger.

This will be my third Christmas missing my beloved – our third Christmas with him missing at the table, his loud voice missing when we sing the carols on Christmas Eve, his laughter missing during the unpacking of stockings and unwrapping of gifts.

I still remember our first Christmas after he died. We tried to hold it together. We tried to stay the course with certain traditions, but it was clear something was off-kilter. We passed the Bible around the circle to read the Christmas story, but his blazing voice was missing. We tried to make conversation at the table, but it felt strained, awkward, empty without his presence.

Looking back, I wish I had been more intentional that year to speak up when things felt wonky. My heart was pained, but I couldn’t push to find the words to articulate it. As a newly-single mama, I was cracking inside for my three girls who were without their gregarious daddy. I saw my family stumbling through the holidays as we lacked his leadership. Now I know it takes time to recalibrate when someone is lost.

I discovered some traditions need to be reimagined. We need to provide space to acknowledge, to be quiet and to remember together. One year we sent out Advent books to all our friends and family in his honor. I love getting the messages from friends as they are reading that book with their families each year and remembering Ericlee’s legacy of faith. Last year I decided to let go of the long-time tradition of going to pick out a real Christmas tree. That was something we did with him, and I wanted to reserve that for our memories. Now our family takes time to share memories of Daddy in Heaven while we hang each ornament on our artificial tree.

I know many of you are stepping into this Christmas feeling raw and vulnerable. That miscarriage you experienced a few months ago, that recent cancer diagnosis, that child estranged from your family, the death of your spouse or grandparent, the unspeakable injustices raging in our world – all these weigh heavy on our hearts. Christmas is the not time to turn away from our grief; it’s time to draw close and offer the present of our presence to each other.

This is not the time to plaster on the cheery face, to try to go through the motions and shut down our emotions. This is the time to muster up the courage to sit together, to weep with each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to rejoice in the new beginnings and the unexpected gifts. Let’s vow to lean in together.

Christ’s birth was always pregnant with a certain bittersweet. Like the birthing process, there is pain always wrapped up with the joy. God knew He was sending His son to earth as a baby born to die so we all might live. This baby wrapped in swaddling clothes has been wrapped in the paradox of death and life from the very beginning of the story.

To fully understand Christmas we have to embrace the grief with the joy.

After my husband died, I wondered if I should be cautious about experiencing joy. I hesitated to laugh because I was never sure when the trigger would come that would make me cry. I worried that people might judge me for finding new happiness and new love. These past few years, I realized that finding joy does not replace the grief of missing, but we still have permission to dance.

This year we count three Christmases missing my beloved, three years he has enjoyed in Glory. And this will be my first Christmas celebrating in a new house with my new husband and girls. This is a dance of joy and pain, a dance of breathtaking redemption only my Heavenly Father could orchestrate. I am starting to believe this dance is the way to embrace Christmas. I could sit on the sidelines and fake it or I can jump into the dance whirling with joy and pain, memories and merriment.

If you’re grieving this Christmas, give yourself space to remember. Be present with those around you. Think about how you might reimagine the traditions to honor the lost. Embrace the pain with the joy. Lean in with me.

I can’t stop singing the words to my favorite carol: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…” He continues to show me His glory shines in every dark corner, in every cold stable, in every rough manger.

sydg_married_0563

Holiday Mint Trifle: Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Posted by | christmas, cooking, family life, food stories, friendship, gifts, kids, Recipes | No Comments

Through the years there are some recipes that have become tradition in our home. I have so many memories of baking and cooking with my Italian Mama Maria and Grandma Sara. We would make Italian pizzelle cookies that looked like powdered-sugar-dusted snowflakes. We would wrap them by the dozens and share them with teachers and friends. Our whole family would gather to make an Italian Christmas pastry called pita piatta. My grandpa John and my dad used to get their muscles into rolling out the dough until it was paper thin. Before long, the house filled with that mmm-I-can-taste-it smell of sugar, cinnamon, nuts and dough. Through the years, my brother and my family have continued some of these traditions and started some of our own. We have added kids and variations to some of the original family recipes.

One year I happened upon a photograph in the newspaper for a beautiful Chocolate Trifle dessert. My all-time fave dessert has always been Italian tiramisu, which I consider the original trifle. People usually dip the ladyfinger cookies in coffee and a dash of rum, brandy or Kahlua for the traditional dessert that literally means “pick-me-up.” I was always searching for a kid-friendly version that could still wow the crowd with decadent layers of cream, chocolate and whipped mascarpone cheese. I decided to try that Chocolate Trifle recipe I found in the newspaper and the rest is history.

I added some of my own variations to that original, including Trader Joe’s Mint Joe-Joe cookies only stocked during the holidays. I actually run over there at the start of December and buy a healthy stash of these amped-up Oreos just so they can last the season (or longer than the season in my freezer.) Can’t get Mint Joe-Joe’s? No worries. Just add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream and you can still enjoy that mint-meets-chocolate marriage.

Through the years, the Chocolate Mint Trifle became our “Happy Birthday Jesus cake.” We make it for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at our house. We put candles in it and all the cousins since “Happy Birthday” to Jesus before we serve it. Now my kids can make this on their own for company and birthday parties.

This year I’ve been teaching cooking classes for my fifth grade daughter’s class. For their class party, I taught them to make this decadent dessert. Everyone had a job – pounding the Joe-Joe cookies into crumbs, whipping the heavy cream, mixing the pudding, layering the ladyfinger cookeis, etc. We practiced reading recipes and multiplying ingredients for bigger portions. I also challenged the kids to be creative and think of variations they might make to this dessert. I had added mint, but what would they add? Some of their ideas are shared below.

I hope this season you will take time to gather some of your people in the kitchen and make something yummy together. Sure, it’s messy but this is how some of the fondest holiday memories are made.

Merry Christmas!

macie-layers-ladyfingers

Maycie helps layer ladyfingers on our Holiday Mint Trifle.

 

Ingredients:
-1 pint organic whipping cream
-1 tablespoon raw organic sugar or honey
-2 packages instant chocolate pudding mix (I love the Whole Foods version.)
-4 cups milk, divided
-1 package cream cheese (or 8-ounce container mascarpone)
-2 boxes ladyfingers cookies (Trader Joe’s sells a soft version but you can get these at other Italian specialty stores and grocery stores as well.)
-1 box Mint Joe-Joe’s cookies (or other chocolate sandwich cookies like Oreos)

1. Pour whipping cream into mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Blend in sugar/honey while the cream is beating. Set aside.
2. Place the 2 packages of chocolate pudding and 3 cups of milk in the mixing bowl and blend until pudding thickens. Add cream cheese and blend in. Set aside.
3. Place chocolate cookies in a large ziplock bag and use a mallet to crush. (You could also use a food processor but you want to make sure the cookies stay coarse, not emulsified.) Set aside.
4. Begin assembly of trifle. In the bottom of your trifle bowl, arrange a layer of ladyfinger cookies. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of remaining milk. Spread about 1/4 of the pudding mixture on top of the ladyfingers. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream over the pudding. Top with 1/4 of the crushed chocolate cookies.
5. Repeat these layers three more times and finish with the crushed chocolate cookies. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 15 servings.
class-making-trifle

Fun Variations:
-Make this a Garden Party Dessert. Add gummy worms to the layers. Cut out paper flowers and glue them to popsicle sticks to insert in the top.
-Add sliced berries as an extra layer for a Berry-Chocolate Trifle.
-Drizzle caramel sauce on top or add caramel pudding in place of the chocolate pudding.

Do you have a favorite trifle story? When and where do you serve it? Is there another favorite holiday dessert that always makes your family’s menu? Share in the comments!