Four years ago, my snapshot of family changed forever. The comfortable and familiar were snatched out from underneath my feet like a magician pulling a tablecloth away from the table decorations in one fell swoop.
This marked the beginning of the dance of the empty chairs.
Two years ago, my dad still sat at the head of the table and even though he never demanded the center of attention, we all willingly focused on him. His seat is now empty as the dance of the empty chairs continues.
Over the last few years, as my family snapshot has grown smaller, I also see another photo of how my family has grown. The symbol of empty chairs can remain as a reminder of all that is lost or I can see the blessing of new people sitting in those same chairs.
Life looks black and white, full or empty, blessed or broken, or God-centered and full of grace. I try to fit each moment, good or bad, into a box. My eyes capture one extreme at a time losing the opportunity to live in harmony with all. When my heart replays loss, I only see the dance of the empty chairs. How can I embrace the emptiness of loss while living fully in the presence of my family who is still here?
The symbol of a dance reminds me how one person always leads. As my mom and dad danced their way to heaven, I’m learning to let go so others can take the lead. Most importantly, I see how God will always lead the dance when I let Him.
New rhythms enter my dance. The gentle sway of sons, daughters-in-law, brothers, and wives. The sidestep of new family stepping onto the dance floor. A circle ever widening as the look of family changes and grows. And the gift of harmonious balance as I accept the changing faces of family and invite them to join the dance of the empty chairs.
God moved me across town to teach me what family looks like. As I let go of my sons and allow them to grow as God is calling them, He reframes my idea of family. God promises,
“He goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Jesus teaches us about family when He shared:
“My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Luke 8:21
In order for me to embrace family, I need to invite others to join me at my table. I belong to a church that has become my family. When I spend time with them, I see how God works to grow my identity. He teaches me what connection looks like as my church family grows. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees as to why He sits at the table with those who are not deemed worthy. His response is:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Love meets us all right where we are and crosses all boundaries. A family is made of love. Jesus loved all and calls us to do the same.
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As life ebbs and flows, people come and go and the sweet dance of life continues, we have a choice: joining the dance of the empty chairs or making room at the table for new people to gather as family.
I see a bright future around my table. A future that welcomes new faces while at the same time loving and honoring those I already call family. God makes all things new and He promises to be with us each step of the way.
What dance will you choose today? How do you already honor those who have gone ahead?
Blessings and praise that my dance continues!
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All change is challenging but none more so that the grief of losing loved ones and trying to fit new faces into our “family.” I can’t think of anything in my life that has changed more than the faces around our dinner and holiday tables. There is both sorrow and joy. And blessing can come from both if we let it. How we honor our missing loved ones can be a powerful testimony to those who remain. What a wonderful conversation to begin, Mary, as we enter into Advent and await the One Whose presence makes all things possible. Blessings!
I honor my mom’s parents by making lefse whenever I can ;). I honor my dad’s parents by my goal to never stop learning :).
I saw your post in which you talked about lefse but I’m not sure I still know what it is. I love your goal of always learning. That describes who my dad was too.
Beautiful and tender, friend. Thanking God with you for the gentle swaying, the new rhythms that always seem to emerge from our losses.
Most especially during this time of year. I am touched by your post, I understand this shifting of chairs …
Blessings to you, Mary.
As I look around my table I see the faces of my mom and dad and miss them. But I look again and I see two daughters-in-law as well as new friends from church. It is a gift that I do not take for granted. I appreciate your words especially your post you wrote recently on grief. I wish I didn’t understand grief so personally but then again I have grown so much in who I am as a result. Blessed always by you!
Mary, such a beautiful post. I was thinking about you last week and the changes that have occurred in your family the past few years. Your perspective is refreshing. When we look at the dance of empty chairs, and open our hearts to allow others to fill them, healing happens. Perspectives can change from one of loss to one of filled. As Hubs’ and my parents age, I know that day is coming. I will be honest: I dread it. But it is inevitable. I hope I can hold onto the truths you’ve shared here, my friend.
I appreciate knowing you were thinking about me. Believe it or not, I am healing and am looking forward to Christmas this year. That is a good thing. As we each experience our own dance, our perspective changes as well as our partner but the one constant is always God. Losing a parent is very hard and I pray you have many more years to enjoy yours. Love you friend!
My family can be compared to this dance as well, Mary, though I think there’s been some stepping on toes as we learn new dance steps with new partners. 😉
I’m praying that your heart continues to heal from the loss of your father and, before him, your mother. I’m a decade past the time of my dad’s death and 15 years out from my mom’s, so I’ve adjusted to their absence (Though they are never far from my thoughts). So I understand, but am also grateful for the healing God has done in my heart since then. I’m certain He will do the same in yours in time.
I know my heart is healing because I am actually looking forward to celebrating Christmas this year. It has been a few years since I have felt this excitement. I know there will always be that moment as I look around the table and imagine those who are gone. I pray as your family continues to change that you feel the presence of The One who will always be at your table.
Oh yes, we have experienced the pain of empty chairs but each year there seems to be someone new to sit at our table! Neighbors at Barbie’s today!
I love how you embrace new people. You do that so well and it is evident to me online. What a beautiful dance you must be experiencing.
Thank you for these words of such comfort and encouragement. We want to (naturally) hold onto those memories and moments that were so precious. But if we hold on too tightly we miss the new that is being birthed right now. This image of the dance is so beautiful. I needed to hear these words in this season of my own life. Blessings to you!
Memories are precious and we work hard to remember our loved ones. But you are right in saying that if we hold on too tight, we miss the new memories God is creating for us. We each have our own dance. Sometimes there is a definite rhythm and other times we hold too tight and lose the gentle swaying that could be ours. I pray that you find your own rhythm as people in your life come and go.
The ebb and flow of life has been on my mind a lot especially with the recent passing of my brother at 55 years old. I’ve noticed I’ve been putting my family more first these last years during the loss of also my parents and best-friend. And think more about what legacy I’d like to leave behind! I’m happy for you that you have a good church family too, Mary, that occupy and add new chairs to a prospering and caring place of life you are in.
I am so sorry about your brother. I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a sibling. Family is the heart of who I am, but I am learning to embrace a new look to my family as people come and go. It is not easy because I miss those who have gone ahead very much.
I am blessed by my church family. I pray you are able to define your legacy and watch how God provides exactly what you need to do this. Love you, friend!
I love this, Mary. It’s so easy to focus on the heartache of the empty chairs instead of those who are still with us. The heartache of any loss can pull at us. I’m learning grieving for loss (instead of feeling I need to be strong and buck up) is healthy and it helps me to further embrace the blessings that still surround me. Thank you for this beautiful reminder that Jesus never, ever changes or leaves us! Love and hugs to you!
You do not need to be strong and buck up. That is a myth. Grief for any kind of loss is a process and the length of time it takes to heal is different for everyone. As you learn to grieve aspects of your health, God is always with you. He will not leave you surrounded by empty chairs.
Thank you for being here and sharing so deeply. Love and hugs!
As we get older, Christmas isn’t as “simple” as it used to be. Family dynamics and members have changed. Parents have left our tables temporarily. We look at Christmas with a little more reality and a little less fantasy, but we can still appreciate the wonder that is Christmas….the One and only person who doesn’t change – Jesus! All the other characters in my Nativity scene may dance in and out, but Jesus always remains and so therefore, I will celebrate the One constant that is always there….great reflection on Christmas in our changing seasons. Sharing with you in missing those who have gone before us.
I am celebrating the One constant with you. It is comforting to know Jesus will always grace our tables. Christmas isn’t simple but I am glad I am willing to invite new people to join me. Let’s pray for all those who are missing loved ones this holiday season. Thank you for sharing your insight.
Oh, Mary, this is perfect timing for me, too, as I learn to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year without my mum and with boys coming and going in ways that I can’t even keep track of. This is teaching me (slowly) to be thankful for the given — to embrace the moments we have together and practice simple gratitude.
We’re in this adjustment thing together, I think, and your beautiful words keep me thinking and on course.
I know so many people who are experiencing the dance of the empty chairs. I don’t wish it on anyone. However, the lessons that God are teaching me shows me I have room in my heart for new people to enter the dance.
I know your holidays will be different without your mom and of course, you have boys that are married, grandkids and who knows what else the future will bring. Your blessings are many but there will always be an empty spot in your heart for those who are gone. I am praying for you as you learn a new normal.