December 27, 2010

Jesus - the Bringer of hope, the Reason for the season

He looked across the room at me, presents and wrapping paper scattered all over the floor, and I knew what my brother was thinking: this is a lot of presents. My sister squealed with delight as she opened another Barbie doll - just the one she had wanted. It was Mike's turn now, and we all turned our attention to him as he ripped open the paper for another surprise gift.

Mom had gone all out this year. I couldn't imagine how much money she had spent on us kids. She had always loved Christmas, and the past few years, Christmas had been wonderful, but this year was extreme. She wanted it to be special. I knew in a way, she was trying to make up for every Christmas she would be missing in the future.

This was her last Christmas. We all knew it - the doctors, the family, even my little sister, only 5 years old, knew something wasn't quite right. They had been telling her for years that it was her last Christmas, but this year we knew it was true. And so she soaked it all in, sang every Christmas carol with reverance and gusto, and breathed deeply the smell of Christmas cookies.

We shopped like it was a fever that had overtaken us. We took our time, lingered over the small shops and displays, drank coffee, ate doughnuts at the local cafe and giggled on the way home, eager to get the presents wrapped and under the tree.

She had always loved Christmas.
We kids tried to make it special for her too. We gave her gift after gift that was a meager attempt to express to her how much we loved her, how much we were going to miss her, but the sweaters and scarves and figurines didn't do justice to the emotions of that day. Words choked in our throats as we managed a simple "you're welcome" after every gift she opened. She was delighted with every offering of love, and we knew she would cherish these gifts for the rest of her life.

The rest of her life...

Only God knew how much time she had with us. In those moments, the moments that we wanted to hold on to, time seemed to go on fast-forward speed. We were too young to have figured out how to slow it down and enjoy it. Perhaps no one ever really figures that out, though I think most people try at one point or another. So we savored what we could, cleaned up afterwards, and moved on with life. Christmas, as it always does, faded quickly as the normal routine of life snuck back in like a thief and stole the cherished break, the slower pace, the special moments.

Soon it was Spring. She loved spring almost as much as she loved Christmas. It was another magical time of year - a different magic, the magic of rebirth and life. Except this Spring was a spring of endings, a Spring that brought life to the earth, but death to our family. That Spring we came to grips with the truth that had haunted us that Christmas prior. Her life, which had teetered on the edge for so many years, the life that had fought valiantly though not victoriously against the disease that ravaged her body, finally gave in to the beckonings of the grave. That Spring brought death and ushered our family into a new season all together - a season of grief, a season of loss, and season of change.

Eight long, full years have passed since that Last Christmas. Slowly redemption has crept back into our lives. Slowly change has come and brought with it traces of joy. And now, this year, came the first Christmas that I did not think about loss, did not grieve her death. This year, our family felt complete. It's different - the mother that fills the seat across the table from my dad is a different woman than what I grew up with, but she is the matriarch of our family, a gift, a reminder that death does not, nor will it ever, reign. This year felt complete.

Really, that Christmas eight years ago marked the realization that life was changing. That Spring she died, but really, because of Jesus, the Reason for all of this celebration in the first place, death was not the end of the story. Though death felt like it had the final say, we know that she truly stepped into a new season - an Eternity - of Life with Jesus. That Christmas was the last one we will celebrate with her on earth, but though my mother is no longer a part of our family's Christmas celebration, we still continue to celebrate and honor the Reason for the celebration, the Author of our story, the Savior who came to earth in the humblest of ways to ensure that death will NOT have the final say. He brought us hope, a hope that reigns over my story today, a hope that reminds me that though my mother was not with me this Christmas, she is now living with the Bringer of Hope.

She always loved Christmas. And I love that now, instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus, she is celebrating life WITH Jesus, in His presence, finally and eternally fully alive.

December 6, 2010

blessed and thankful

After writing about missing my momma yesterday, I thought it would be a nice "lift" for my heart to write about the rest of my family, whom I love so dearly and am so extremely thankful for.

My daddy...

My dad is an amazing man. He has grown so much over the past years. He is the embodiment of compassion and love that reminds me of the love and compassion of Jesus. My dad has walked through a lot of tough seasons with me, and even though things haven't always been perfect in our relationship, he has always fought to figure out how to love me - a tough struggle for the father of a bipolar, depressed, emotionally distraught, grieving daughter. I am so proud of this man, so thankful for the random phone calls to check in on how I'm doing, the big bear hugs whenever we drop by the house, and the way he has accepted my husband as a son. I love you daddy!

My brother Josh...Josh is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is such a jolly guy. He feels things deeply, loves us fiercely, and jokes unceasingly. He is an amazing artist, a great big brother, and is becoming a precious friend to me and my husband. He loves the Huskers with all of his heart...and he loves us just as much. I always feel happier when I have been around Josh. He's the best big brother I could have asked for. Our "grown-up" relationship that we have developed over the past few years has totally made up for all of the beatings when I was younger.

My younger brother, Mike...Mike has always been an extremely passionate person. When he was younger, he was a fireball, hilarious and a bit on the wild side. Now, as an adult, he loves poetry, reading, and thinks through issues with the best of them. He hasn't always loved school, but he is becoming one of the smartest people I know. He never stops thinking, and his love for issues that he is passionate about makes me want to love and care for those issues and authors too. Mike and I have been best and worst friends since we were little. Since we were homeschooled, we spent a LOT of time together. This made for a lot of fun playtime, and a lot of passionate fights! Neither of us like losing a battle, so my mom definitely had her hands full with us. But now that we're adults, our friendship is so sweet. I love being with my brother, and I am so thankful for the man he is becoming.

My sister Hannah...Hannah is one of the sole bringers of joy in my life. She, like my two brothers, is a very passionate young woman. She loves to read, is SO smart, and such a kind, loving human being. She's a great babysitter, an amazing big sister to the youngest two, and a beautiful, godly, intelligent woman. I am so proud of her! I used to rock her to sleep at night when she was a baby...and now I find myself having grown up discussions with her, and even receiving advice and comfort from this little woman. What a beautiful creature. I love her so much.

My second mom, Dawn...I have known Dawn for almost six years now, I think. She started out as a friend, then my dad's girlfriend, then my dad's wife, and now, my mom. Our relationship has been one of figuring things out from the figuring out how to let go of being the woman of the house, her figuring out how to not step on my toes, but to still be the wife and mother of the home. We have always had a pleasant relationship, but I am very thankful to be able to say that over the past few years, we have grown to really love each other. She has truly become a mother to me, and while I miss my mom so deeply, I cannot express how thankful I am for my step-mother. Dawn is an amazing woman, and I relate to her in ways that I didn't relate to my first mom. I am so impressed with the mother she is to my younger siblings, and love seeing her get to know my brothers and husband and interacting with them. Thank you, Jesus, for giving our family a second mother.

Nik and Eva (couldn't find a picture of them!) my youngest siblings, are precious indeed.

Nik is such a witty boy. He loves us, we know, but he's mischievous and loves to pick on the girls. I love that he's not too cool to hug us and tell us he loves us. I love how much he loves my husband. He's super athletic, super cool, and going to make a great husband someday.

Eva is the sweetest, most sensitive, loving little girl I have ever met. She is a lot like her mother in that she feels things extremely deeply, has an overload amount of empathy for people. She can't stand to see people get hurt. She loves us so much, and is such a beautiful friend and sister.

I am so thankful for my family. This doesn't even count my new family - my husbands brothers and sisters and nieces and parents, who are all such amazing, loving, godly people. I truly am blessed, and I am choosing to embrace this aspect of my life, knowing that all will one day be restored. Some day I will sit with my first mom, Arlene, my second mom, Dawn, my two sisters, Hannah and Eva, my sister in laws, Jolene and Ruth, and my third mother, Karen, and we will all marvel in the story that God gave us, the way he wove our lives together, and the blessing that he brought to each of our lives through one another.

So yesterday, I grieved the loss of a mother.
Today, I am thankful for the rest of my beautiful family. I am truly blessed.

December 5, 2010

Joy, peace and comfort

My heart has been aching these past few days. I miss my mom so much, I have just been crying and crying...on the floor, in my car, in my bed, getting ready for work. The ways that I miss her are too numerous to count. I miss her all through the year, but Christmastime just brings around so many different ways that I feel like she should be here. She embodied Christmas in our family. She wasn't a good decorator (she kindly passed that trait on to me) but she loved decorating for Christmas nonetheless. We always had the tree up the day after Thanksgiving, with Christmas music playing 24/7, cookie baking extravaganzas, and even a Christmas concert at the Retirement home every year with all of her piano students.

I have so many good memories of Christmas with her. From as far back as I can remember, Christmas was full of life and love and joy... and my mom was a huge part of that.

Christmas has been hard for me ever since she died, but I've found these past few years that it's especially hard for me to even get in the mood of decorating or shopping or doing anything festive.  It's just hard to get over this hump of knowing that this is going to be a hard month, having to acknowledge that and face it head on.

Anyways, after avoiding it for a while, and debating skipping it all together this year, I decided to buck up and put up our Christmas tree today. Something inside me told me this was something I just had to do. Like brushing your teeth or eating vegetables. You don't want to sometimes, but you know, as an adult, it's just one of those things you have to do for your own good.

Today turned out to be a not so bad day. I'm very thankful for my husband, who laid on the floor next to me and snuggled up close and held me while I cried, who recommended we get a real tree when I almost cried while looking at our pathetic excuse for a fake tree, who kept up the Christmas cheer when I was on the negative side of the "cheer-o-meter".

And to be honest, although I still in a pretty weepy mood tonight, I am really glad that we put up the tree. This is the first real Christmas tree I've ever had. It smells like Christmas, and brings a smile to my face.

This year, I think I'm going to try to fight this melancholy. I don't think it's wrong to miss my mom, but I also don't want to miss out on the joy of Christmas. I don't want to passively let myself be sucked into a black cloud of joylessness. I think that I can miss my mom joyfully. I think that even in the midst of the sorrow of this loss that will never be replaced, I can be at peace, because I know the Giver of joy, the Prince of Peace, the God of all comfort.