Making Christmas Merry: Not As Happy, but Just As Joyful

Guest post by Lucas Doremus (my husband)

Christmas will be different this year.

Just before Thanksgiving my Grandpa Dave went into the hospital because of breathing trouble. After the tests came back, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. As time went on, it was apparent there was no treatment that was going to heal the problem with his lungs. I still don't know all the details, not because it's a secret, but because I don't need to. He spent the last period of his life with a mask on that was pumping oxygen into his lungs because he couldn't breathe otherwise. On Saturday December 6th, David G. Doremus breathed his last breath and went home to Jesus.

Four generations of Doremus men.
Clockwise from top left: Luke's Dad, Lucas & Little Mouse,
Grandpa Dave, and Luke's oldest brother with his son "Buddy Bear."
As far as we know, Grandpa was in no pain through this whole process. Every time he was asked if he was in pain, he answered no. My family and I visited him while he was still very active on Tuesday earlier that week. He was in very good spirits! We saw him two more times, but both times he was not awake. At one point, we suspect he may have been dreaming of fishing because of the casting motion he exhibited during his nap.

Through the courage of my brother, he asked and Grandpa confirmed that he had trusted in Christ for his salvation on our first visit. I cannot think of a more wonderful thing to know when the previous conversation in the room had been with doctors about whether they were going to revive him if he stopped breathing. What great internal joy in the midst of the face of death.

Grandpa and Bentley

Little Mouse came with us when we visited Grandpa on that Tuesday.

He was understandably a bit frightened by the mask Grandpa was wearing. But what happened over the next week was amazing. Oh, how God uses little children to teach us things!

The next day Little Mouse kept asking to see Ga-Ga Day-Day. By the end of the week he was clearly saying Dave. Even now every time we say “today,” he gets confused and says Dave. 

At one point, Little Mouse wanted to see Ga-ga Day-Day so badly while he was still in the hospital that he had a complete, sobbing-on-the-entryway-floor meltdown over it! Little Mouse also kept putting his hand over his mouth saying, "may-eh" and then signing “bed,” obviously remembering the mask and that Grandpa was in a hospital bed. 

We had seen Grandpa a number of times in the last year and a half and Little Mouse always enjoyed seeing him (and especially Bentley!), but he had never been so focused on him. We did take him to see Grandpa at the hospital again later that week and Little Mouse was brave enough to touch his hand! The transformation of comfort and fixation on Grandpa was quite astounding. 

The Doremus Gentlemen at the babies' (Little Mouse & cousin Bitty Bear's) first family gathering.
L-R: Lucas & Little Mouse, Luke's Father, Grandpa Dave,
Luke's oldest brother & his son "Buddy Bear", and Luke's youngest brother.

Because of this fixation, it put Sarah and I in a wonderful position of having to explain to a one and a half year old what was happening to Grandpa. I say wonderful not because I enjoy going through a death close to me in any way, but because of how focused it kept Sarah and I through the whole trial. When tragedies happen, a proper perspective is not to avoid mourning or being sad, but to focus on our Counselor and Rock.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). The Greek word translated “always” literally means “at all times.” Either that verse is true or it isn't. Notice the verse doesn't say “Rejoice in the Lord at all times unless...” So in the midst of my Grandpa dying, how are you to rejoice or have/feel joy?

A lot of times we confuse joy with happiness. 

The word “happy” stems from the word “happenstance” which doesn't appear in writing until the mid to late 1800s depending on your history. It refers to chance happenings. “Happy” as a result has to do with gaining joy from your circumstances. The Bible never tells us to have joy because of circumstances (although we can receive joy from them), nor do any of the Hebrew or Greek words in the Bible translate to “happy” (a better word is generally “blessed” if you have a translation that uses “happy”). Our joy should be internal, focused on God and His purposes. In fact, a few verses after Phil 4:4 Paul tells use where our joy should be placed.

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:10-13)

Where does Paul get his contentment? From rejoicing in the Lord during circumstances and the strength he receives from Him. Notice how he also points out he has had prosperity and he has not had prosperity. He also tells us this is a learned skill. So I can read this passage, but I won't really get it until God gives me an opportunity to learn it for myself. What's the most recent way God taught me this skill? Through my son. 

While Grandpa was alive, we explained to Little Mouse that he was tired and couldn't breathe very well. After Grandpa died, Little Mouse did not let up wanting to see him. But we can't tell him he went bye-bye. People that go bye-bye get to be seen again. And why in the world would we stress the point to him that he'll never see him again on this Earth?

So what did we focus on? Eternity and God's grace.

We explained to Little Mouse that Grandpa is in Heaven now with Jesus. And guess what? He doesn't need a mask to breathe! Nor does he need a walker! His neuropathy is gone and he can run again! He can build and do work for God now! How magnificent is that!?

Sure, we shed tears telling him. And yes, I miss my Grandpa. But he is now complete. He never has to deal with the consequences of sin again. And I will see him again one day, along with my other Grandpas, Grandmas, and others that I miss. But even better than seeing my relatives will be meeting my Maker.

"There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face" (Revelation 22:3-4a)

I can't imagine what it will be like to see God face to face. For now I can only see Him through a darkened mirror, but one day it will be face to face. What a day that will be! That is a cause for contentment and rejoicing at all times. And God used Little Mouse to help me understand that better than I did before.

So Christmas this year will be less happy, but it shouldn't be any less joyful. 

Yes, our family is rearranging a few things. There will be one less gift under the tree. And I will be praying a lot for my Grandma's heart, that it will be guarded by a peace that surpasses her comprehension. But my family will be resting in the contentment that comes from rejoicing in the Lord. Rejoicing that Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth to set us free from the penalty of sin, which is eternal separation from God in Hell. Rejoicing that I know nothing I could ever do could be good enough to get into Heaven, but Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to save me because He loves me. Rejoicing that by putting faith in His death that paid my penalty, I know I am going to spend eternity with Him in Heaven along with everyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ.

I hope you have placed your faith in Jesus as well. Because that is what makes Christmas merry. 


Lucas has been given the greatest blessing he could receive by being married to Sarah. A close second is getting to be the Father of Little Mouse.

Lucas doesn't do anything particularly interesting on the internet. He checks his email. That's about it. You can't find him on Pinterest or Twitter. But he's a: Husband. Father. Guitar player. Black belt. Teacher. Reader. And other cool titles.

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