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When it’s not all merry and bright

ornaments

My cell phone jingled with the notification of a text: “Can you play for a funeral on Saturday?”

It is my only day this week with nothing scheduled. I respond, “If you need me.” What a silly response. Of course I’m needed or otherwise I would not have been asked. I say “yes” because this is the gift I can offer.

Just because it’s December with Christmas around the corner, we are not immune to heartache. Death does not take a holiday. More email brings announcements confirming it.

I remember back to other years, other people, other funerals. Other sorrows.

I ache at the thought of families enduring heartbreak at the time of year when so many celebrate with gusto. Children are excited at the prospect of their wish lists showing up under the tree. Holiday parties fill calendars. Family gatherings are planned and anticipated. Preparation for out-of-town relatives is a labor of love as we look forward to being together once again.

If only it were all so merry and bright. We kid ourselves if we think it is.

For some it is not: a couple facing Christmas for the first time without a beloved granddaughter at their family table; a woman whose mother died in December and the anniversary brings poignant memories; a friend who is learning to live in the unknown of a diagnoses that is terminal.

Others deal with their own sicknesses and disabilities. Caregivers carry responsibilities that drain the life from them some days. A husband and wife wonder about a job that may be ending and an uncertain year ahead. Bills stack high on the desk as funds dwindle low. Families are divided for one reason or another. Plans we made for a joyful season implode when the unexpected report crushes them.

Life can be hard even at Christmas time.

The good news is Jesus. Jesus is Christmas. Plain and simple. He is the One and only reason for any kind of celebration.

God’s plan was formed before the foundations of the earth were laid, and He planned for Christ to come for us.

Jesus birth was not haphazard but detailed in every possible way. In the fullness of time, the eternal blueprint began to take shape exactly as the grand Architect designed it.

Jesus came for just such a time as this, to give us unspeakable joy and to share in our inconceivable sadness. His name is Emanuel, God with us. He is the Comforter, the Sustainer and Provider, the Friend of sinners, the Way to the Father, the open Door to forgiveness and freedom, the Wisdom and Power of God.

He is Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Period.

Who else offers this kind of relationship, who invites us to cast our burdens upon Himself, who bore our sins – all of our sins – on a cross and rose from the dead to assure us of an eternal home in the Heavens?

The circumstances of our lives do not dictate the celebration of Christmas. If we are expecting the picture-perfect magazine layout, where everything and everyone looks great, to be our holiday experience, we will be disappointed every single time.

But if we are looking for a Baby in a manger, a Child who embodies the very presence of Almighty God, we will find Him. He came to be one of us. He invites us to come to the celebration of real life.

There is cause for celebration this December. It is Jesus. 

The tinsel and lights may droop. The presents under the tree might be scarce. The family get-together could be somewhat dysfunctional. The cookies might burn in the oven. The hospital corridor may be familiar ground. There may be the sound a funeral song in the distance.

Do not be dismayed. Do not fear. Do not lose hope. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

He is the reason for this season of celebration. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy!

nativity-vectorimage from freevector.com

Stones and diamonds

An old John Denver songs goes like this, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.”

I had a day or two this week that was pretty rocky. My tears were on the edge; my emotions were fragile.

But today was a sparkly kind of day.

Though my own son and his family are far away, and I face another holiday without them being part of the celebration, kindness has been extended to me in the dearest ways.

I think my love language includes words.  I like to speak them and write them, telling people how they have affected my life, to encourage them along their journey, and to express what they mean to me.  So when I receive words, they sooth like a healing balm.

The last two days I have been gifted with words. A card, a letter, a digital greeting, and spoken appreciation all conveyed kindness to my grieved spirit. Words reassured me that I am loved.

I needed those words this week.

I also had the privilege of offering my words to a group of women at a Mother’s Day brunch today. It was delightful to share time and conversation with God’s beautiful women.

We ate well. We talked among ourselves. We laughed and I met new friends who share my love of the Savior. We were a sisterhood.

Holidays can be hard on us, filled with expectations and pressure to celebrate in a certain way. Then they can do an about face and suddenly it is a warm quilt taking away the chill of feeling alone.

The pressure, the heat, the aggravation, and the pain are just as much part of life as the pleasure, the sweetness, the shining light, and the jubilee.

Our days are made up of the rough and rugged, the charm and wonder. They run through our lives like dual rails on a track.

There is a time for everything under heaven. Tears and laughter. Joy and sorrow.

God uses all of it to create a life as precious as diamonds.

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Joy in the morning

I had breakfast with a young woman whose mother died almost a year ago.  She has faced many “first” holidays and events in the past 11 months.  She still has a few to go.

She and I talked about our mothers, their profound influence on us, their lasting legacy that goes beyond the tangle.  It was easier for her to talk today than it was months ago when she and I first met on the mutual ground of grief and loss.

We are glad to chat about these women we called “mother.”  As we do it keeps the memories alive.  And we want to remember this special person and have others remember her also.

We want to tell those yet to be born about the fun things we did with our mothers, about holiday traditions, about lessons we were taught and how they have influenced us.

I see joy returned to this young friend of mine.  I wonder if she has fought for it the way I have when life was just plain hard and questions remained unanswered.

Candle_Light

In the dark, we reach for the lighted candle of hope.  Though its beam is small, it will show the way one tiny step at a time.  We endure knowing others have traveled a similar path.  And we are comforted by the greatest Someone who walks with us now and forever.

The dark night of the soul does indeed precede a sunrise.   Though the night seems long and unending, the light will come.  Day will break and the sun will shine again.

Even while we sorrow, we wait with hope.  We wait for the new day, for the fresh grace.  We wait knowing joy does indeed come in the morning.

A melancholy musing

Two almost-sisters were blessed with new grandbabies last week.  One is a cousin by marriage who has been family a long time  The other is a life-long friend who calls me her “forever friend.”

I am so happy for both of them.  There is nothing like holding a new baby in your arms, and when that baby is your very own grandchild, well you just have to experience it and you know what I mean.

I was blessed beyond measure to be at the birth of my first grandchild, a girl.  Our one and only son and his beautiful wife lived close to us then, and her parents were driving from out of state to be here when she entered the hospital.  So it was my great priviledge to be in the birthing room when that tiny little creature breathed her first and squalled like a baby.

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,   Because birth itself is simply breathtaking.  But when the son of my heart gives life to his own child, that is a mountain’s high peak.

My melancholy comes when I wish for and long for that grandgirl to be closer to my house.  She, along with her two siblings (my other equally precious grandchildren), and her parents moved far away three years ago.

So when I get a Facebook message from that first grandgirl saying, “Dreamt that I arrived at your house after a long trip. I miss your face!!!!!”, I weep.  I just can’t help it. Because I. Miss. Her. Face. So.Very. Much!

Elyse older

I know I’m not the only one.  I have friends whose grandchildren live across country, and we often share our joys and heartaches at short bursts of togetherness and long stretches of being apart.  We understand each other.

So I rejoice with those almost-sisters who have new babies to hold and snuggle.  They will cherish these days.  And I weep with those who wish their grands were right next door, like mine were for twelve years.

I thank God for those twelve wonderful years.  I was given time to invest in relationships with three that are still precious and dear to this Grammy’s heart.  Those years were a gift, an important and valuable gift that I don’t take for granted.

In my tears, I will remember the hugs, the smiles, the cups of hot cocoa, the snuggles with a thousand Disney movies, the tucking into bed, the reading of books, the telling of stories, the prayers.  Ah, the prayers.  They never stop.  They go wherever the grandchild goes because that is my connection with her and with God.

And I trust God to hold her.

Burden bearing

Day 25 of 31 Days of October – Roses Among The Thorn

The call came in the middle of a beautiful October Saturday when the sunshine’s warmth is a surprise.

It’s been a busy and full day already.  There are tasks still ahead that don’t even show up on the list of things to do.  They simply must be done before night falls.

But the call interrupts and I hear her sadness and then the struggle to speak because of the tears she is trying to hold back.  And my heart breaks for her, for her family.  The loss is sudden and unexpected.  The grief is hard.  Isn’t it always?

Sometimes I can get caught up in my own stuff, my own struggles, my own thorns.  It is easy to forget the rest of the world while I’m muddling through my mess.

But there are hurting people all around me.  I must pay attention.  I must share their load.

Jesus came as the ultimate Burden Bearer.  He took the weightiest load in the world, my sins, to the cross and thus relieved me of having to bear the unbearable myself.  At the same time He asks me to help carry someone else’s burdens.  This is the law of Christ.

Love God.  Love others.  It really is that simple.  Do it with all your heart.  Do it with all your strength.  Do it in whatever way you can.

While I pray for strength to get through my day, I must not forget to pray for strength for someone else.  It is the Lord’s way of helping us all to keep going.

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On the phone, I listen to her talk.  I share her sorrow for I have dealt with my own loss.  I promise to pray.  And I will.  For this is my duty of love, for Christ and for my my friend.

I am extravagantly loved by God in order to be a conduit of His love to others.  No matter what, this is my highest calling.

  For a list of the days of October, go here please.

Thoughts of women and Mother’s Day

I anticipate Mother’s Day with mixed emotions.

Being a mother can only be described as one of the greatest adventures of my life.  When I was pregnant, I wanted to be the very best mom with the near perfect child, and I really thought I knew how I was going to accomplish that.

Then the child was born.  Everything changed – my life, my focus, my time, my energy, and especially my ideas of what it is to be a mother.  

A child consumes you and changes you in ways no one can prepare you.  The cord that connects mother to child during pregnancy may be cut at birth, but the cord that connects a mother’s heart to the heart of her child can never, ever be severed.  Her love is bound to that child in such a way that even God showed a comparison of His love to that of a mother.

Isaiah 49:15 says “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb?  Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.”

So at Mother’s Day, I celebrate the privilege and joy of being a mother. 

But . . . the week before Mother’s Day I begin to miss my own mother once again.   She died early in 1983, and despite the year or more of deep mourning, I have adjusted to living my life without her – not really gotten over it but adjusted to it.   The months following her death, however, I could not picture how I would live my life without the woman who gave birth to me, who modeled motherhood, who gave me wise counsel, and who loved me like only a mother can.

But I did adjust.  I moved past my grief.  I allowed other women into my heart, both older and younger.  And I have become richer for it.

Still, on Mother’s Day, the memories of my own dear mother suddenly break into my thoughts like an unexpected visitor.  My thoughts return to my childhood, my teen years, my young adulthood, and my own motherhood and how I am becoming more and more like her as the years go by.  I cannot separate the happiness of celebrating from the sadness of loss.  It will always be so, I suppose.

Because of my loss, at Mother’s Day I remember women who are grieving their own mothers’ passing.  I know of two women whose mother died within this year.  Their hearts are heavy, like mine was in May 1983.  I hurt with them.  I want to acknowledge their loss and let them know someone understands how they feel this year.

Then there are the women who have miscarried and will grieve the loss of the child they should have been holding, either in their womb or in their arms.  I hurt with them also, because I remember that grief as well.  Having a hope of life snuffed out too soon is difficult to bear, especially at Mother’s Day.

In a similar place are the women who mourn a child they did hold, perhaps watched grow up, even to become an adult, but like a candle extinguished, life was cut short.  It never feels right for a parent to outlive her child.  I’ve not experienced this grief, cannot imagine the deep well of sorrow this brings.  I have friends who deal with it, who mention the child’s name and tell a story so others will remember.   I know the child lives in her heart if not on this earth.  For this woman, Mother’s Day may rip open the wound. 

There is still another group of women I think of at this holiday.  They are the ones who long to be mothers, but for reasons known only to God, they have been denied.  In some ways they have adjusted, like I adjusted to my mother’s death.  We must adjust, or we stagnate in an unhealthy place, where productive life ceases, where sorrow has made its permanent home and joy has moved out.

But if I perceive their hidden tears behind smiles, I think they have the same mixed emotions that flow through me, like high water flooding its banks.  They desire to celebrate in a way they cannot. 

” . . . The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces . . . ” Isaiah 25:8.

I wish all mothers a blessed day on Sunday.  You have been given the gift of life and of training souls for the kingdom of God.  What an awesome task.   May God be with you through it all.

I pray for cleansing tears for those of you who grieve the loss of your own mother or for the loss of the precious child you hold close to your heart.  Tears are healing.  We must give them release to flow.  There will be a brighter day and a day of reunion when God will wipe away all tears and there will be no more death.  Hope for it.

And for those who have been denied the title “mother,” I dare say you are nurturing people all along your pathway.  You may not even dream of how many are blessed by knowing you, are warmed by your love and concern, and are honored to call you friend, aunt, step-mother, sister, foster-mom, teacher, neighbor . . .  Their will be songs in Heaven for you, “Thank you for giving to the Lord.  I am a life that was changed.” 

We are women, all of us.  Placed in the heart of every woman is the desire to nurture, to love, to care for, and to protect.  God allows us to do that in so many wonderful and unexpected ways.  He brings people along to walk the journey with us on purpose, people who need what we can give, people who will be touched by our womanhood.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you precious women.  You are dear to my heart.  And even more so to the heart of your God.

Genesis 3:20 – “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”

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Where joy and sorrow meet – December 4

I woke to a light dusting of snow with flakes still falling.  In the still-dark morning, it was a lovely awakening.   The day seemed promising and full of anticipation.

But a shadow clouded my sleepy thoughts.  My sweet William and I would go and share a great loss with dear friends this morning – a loss that cannot be explained, a grief that surely seems unfair.

As I sat in a small chapel crowded with friends and family, I thought, “We cannot take their grief away.  We can only share it.”  And then the Holy Spirit whispered, “God does not take our grief away either.  But He did come to share it.”

My mind went back to another December in 1982 when I waited in a hospital room while my dear mother endured a treatment on her lungs, by now infested with cancer.  The treatment was simply temporary relief to her breathing.  The doctor had told us she only had three months to live.  His diagnosis/prediction was very accurate.

It was Christmas time but there was no Christmas spirit in me.  Thankfully, my extended family took my nine-year-old son with them so he could enjoy the holiday festivities.  I certainly was not interested in shopping, baking cookies, or putting up a Christmas tree.  My mother lay dying in a hospital bed.

She wanted me with her while the treatment was being administered.  I sang to her, quoted Scripture, held her hand, and tried to appear strong for her sake.  I was anything but.  I was falling apart on the inside.

While she rested awhile after the treatment, I looked out of the hospital window and wondered where God was in all of this.  How could people be celebrating the joyous season, how could I? The sweet whisper of the Spirit spoke to my heart, reminding me that Jesus came to the earth in human flesh for just such a reason as this, because of sin, sickness, and death.  He came to share in my humanity with all of its joys and sorrows. 

I am comforted to know the prophet Isaiah called Jesus a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with my grief (Isaiah 53).  While Jesus lived on this green and blue planet, He purposely clothed Himself in blood cells, nerve endings, human emotions and skin just like mine.  He subjected himself to life and death, to friendship and betrayal, to joy and sorrow.

And He did it all without sinning.  I cannot say the same.

This is what makes my Savior the Great High Priest that He is, the One who entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain on my behalf; the One who lives to intercede for me, the One who runs to my cry when I am tempted, tried, and suffering.  (Hebrews 7:25, 6:19-20; 2:18)

Don’t we anticipate the days leading to Christmas as being joy-filled and happy?  It is just not so for countless fellow travelers on this road called life.   Even Mary the mother of Jesus, in the midst of her joyful moment of dedicating her precious baby at the temple, was given a grave prophecy by Simeon.   “A sword will pierce your soul, too,” he told Mary.

Sorrow is part of life just as much as happiness and joy and peace and celebrations.  The final Word on it all for me comes from Hebrews 13: 5b . . .

” . . . for He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support.  I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let you down, relax My hold on you — assuredly not!”   (Amplified Bible)

There is no greater assurance than that.  And no better reason to celebrate.