Monday, November 1, 2010

Who Makes a Family?

By LeAnn Rice

Between the loss of my husband, Ron, and living on the opposite coast from my parents and in-laws, holidays felt mighty lonely. Empty chairs around the table, fewer stockings hung, and wrapping presents alone made me keenly aware of the smallness of my family of two. But letting people in is not easy for me. Loss and betrayal have resulted in protective walls around my heart. Big ones. Walls to keep me from being hurt again.

For years, I was so afraid of letting anyone in that I found myself completely alone with my sweet little boy who didn’t understand why our home wasn’t filled with family on special occasions and why there were so many empty chairs at our dinner table. I knew I desired our home to be filled with people, laughter and memories, but how could I make that happen?

I didn’t know, but God did. Over the years, God put little cracks in my walls and brought a handful of treasured friends to fill the empty chairs around our table and the voids in our lives.

~ Friends who fill in the gaps when I am unable to pick Nick up from school.

~ Friends who include us in family celebrations.

~ Friends who take care of home repairs that are beyond my capabilities.

~ Friends who let me be “Aunt LeLe” to their children.

~ Friends who notice that Nick needs a positive male role model in his life and someone to hit a tennis ball with.

~ Friends who help with the yard work in our overgrown forest of weeds and leaves.

~ Friends who notice that I don’t always fit in, so they find ways to fit me into their lives.

~ Friends who continue to eat my kitchen experiments no matter how many times I set
off the smoke alarm.

I may not have the life I imagined or hoped for, but it is my life and I am grateful for the blessings of family and friends who love Nick and me and fill in some of the empty spaces in our hearts.

I have to be honest though…I miss the holidays I used to have. Yes, I feel loved when my new “family” gathers for a big Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas celebration. But, they have families of their own: parents, siblings, or in-laws to visit on Christmas, so our celebration takes place on a different day. Christmas morning comes around and it is still just Nick and me sitting by the tree. Well… except for that spoiled rotten cat of ours.

If you find yourself in the same situation here are a few ideas that I hope will help get you through the holidays:

• Find a family or organization that needs something you can offer. It may be bringing ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner to a family that can’t afford a turkey and fixings. Maybe a family needs help purchasing and wrapping presents for their children who would otherwise have no gifts under their Christmas tree. Collect warm coats, blankets and socks for a homeless shelter. Help a shut-in write and send Christmas cards to friends and family. Simply find a need (and there is always a need) that you are gifted and have a heart for, and fill it.

• See if there are others who will be alone on a holiday and celebrate together. Prepare and serve a “family” meal or have everyone bring a dish to share. Maybe include a silly game to keep the mood lively.

• Volunteer to serve a holiday meal at a local soup kitchen.

I have found that doing for others makes me feel so much better. It takes the focus off of me, and I am blessed to be a blessing to someone else.

Maybe your situation is different. Maybe your home will be filled with family and friends this holiday season. Do you know someone who will be alone? Consider opening your home and heart to include them in your celebration. But please do not be offended if they say “no.” Sometimes it is actually harder to be a part of someone else’s celebration because it brings back memories of what you once had. But, even when I say “no,” it means so much to have been invited…to feel like I matter to someone.

Whether you are alone this holiday season, or you have a house brimming with family, I pray that God reveals Himself to you in a very real and tangible way. May He be all that you need. May He fill every empty space. May He draw you nearer to His heart.

Sweet Blessings,

LeAnn Rice is the Executive Director of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She lives with her 17-year-old son, Nick, and their ornery cat, Angel, in a small town just outside of Charlotte, NC. LeAnn shares hope and inspiration on her site and recipes, grace, and southern hospitality on


Kelsie said...

LeAnn, I appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to share your struggles. It's so helpful to have different perspectives. May you be blessed this Christmas season!!