Christmas – Traditions, changes, presents

Christmas Eve 2017 was different.  It seems as if every Christmas has been different since losing my husband.  This one wasn’t a “bad” different – just “more” different.  We attended the Christmas Eve service at our church and it wasn’t the same as in past years, because there were slightly new traditions.  There was no communion service and we had battery operated candles for the candle lighting.  (I think we just got a battery candle because we got there a little close to the start of the service.)  Now that I have been home for a few hours, I realize that those things didn’t change the meaning of the night.   After all, sometimes things change.

We got home and I let my daughter open the traditional Christmas Eve gift.  For years, it has been strategically purchased pajamas so that she could wear them to bed and have them on when she woke up.  It helped to make perfect Christmas morning pictures.  This year she is 14 and has pretty much caught on to what the gift will be so she asked for Christmas onesies.  She wanted us each to have a pair – matching onesies.  Um…might look good on her but not sure about me.  Of course, I got them and she was so excited!  Mine were slightly big…I forget that I am not the same size as I used to be.  They looked great in our selfie pictures and now I hope to exchange them for a smaller size.  They were actually quite comfy!

 

She went to bed and my melancholy set in.  I guess it is better than the overwhelming anxiety  I had when I awoke.  When you are missing a loved one, grief and anxiety are things that just come with the holidays.  Having a teenager made me realize that there is no Barbie house to build or Santa presents to leave out.  We didn’t leave cookies and milk for Santa or throw Reindeer food outside.  It is just an ordinary night.  After she went to bed, I picked up my room and got some clothes ready to pack for my mom’s house.  The presents fit neatly under the tree.  I remember the years when the whole living room was covered in things both wrapped and set out from Santa.  This year is different.  She is such a humble teenager, doesn’t demand the latest form of technology or clothes from the most expensive stores.  I think she asked for three things.  Of course, I got her a little more.  The part that I am most proud of is that she understands that she doesn’t have to have 20-50 presents to be happy.  She is happy with whatever she gets and knows it is more about what she needs than what she wants.  I know that as she grows up she will appreciate all that she has because she understands that sometimes it is a struggle to provide for even daily needs.  Fads will fade away and the clothes will wear out but her heart and character are things that will take her further in life.

The most important part about Christmas is not what you can get or how many presents you can unwrap.  The most important thing to remember is that Jesus came to ordinary parents into an ordinary world and was laid in an ordinary place, a manger.  He came to this world to do an extraordinary thing, save us from our sins and teach us more about the miracles of God so that we could live in heaven one day.

Life is different as a single mom and widow.  Everything changes and things aren’t the same but I know that God still has a plan.  Just as the baby born in the manger had a very special purpose, each one of us does too.  Traditions may change and celebrations may be different but I am so blessed to have a daughter who has a heart so big and not afraid to match onesies with her mom.  I am going to bed watching “The Nativity Story” and will awake Christmas morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus and enjoy it with my daughter before we attend other celebrations with family.  May all who read this know the reason for Christmas and cherish every memory that you make.

Finding Joy

The four SunIMG_4562.JPGdays during Advent remind us of hope, love, joy aare easy things for me to embrace and peace comes when I wrap my thoughts in hope and love.  Joy should be something that comes naturally but we let other things get in the way of our joy.  When I think of joy, I think of an abundance of happiness that is overflowing!  According to the dictionary, the definition of joy is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”  It isn’t just a smile or being happy. In fact some of the synonyms of joy are jubilation, triumph, exultation and exuberance.

We experience the JOY at Christmas through the birth of Jesus.  Later on in Jesus’ life he spoke these words in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”   The world doesn’t always encourage your heart to be full and overflowing with joy.  So, how do you maintain that level of joy that goes beyond just being content or happy?   How do you have joy if you are in a season of pain?  I believe that we must remember that joy isn’t only at Christmas.  It is for all seasons in our life.  Happiness is something we have in the moment, but joy is continual and can overcome so much more.  Joy goes deeper than our circumstances and flows stronger than a mere happy moment.  Finding joy in ordinary things helps us to remember to thank God for those hidden gems.

When Jesus was leaving this Earth, he left his disciples with some important words. John 16:20b says, “You will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.”  The Christmas season may be painful and hard to see joy because you are grieving the loss of a loved one, dealing with a difficult person, having financial problems, or unhappy in a work situation.  Things like this can affect your joy even after the Holiday season.  If we can turn around and look at our situation from a different point of view, we can see how God is working in us.  When we lose a loved one, we can remember the joyous times. It may still hurt (a lot) but maybe it teaches us how to have more joy with those still around us.  Dealing with a difficult person, a joy stealer, makes us realize that it isn’t the kind of person we want to be.  It might teach you to be more of a joy giver because the joy stealer isn’t fun to be around.  Finding joy in the difficult times or in ordinary things helps us to have continual joy that is abundant and overflowing.

James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  Some of us should be able to run a marathon with that much joy, right??  Be happy, but be more joyful.  Share joy with people this Christmas and find your own joy in ordinary things.  Remember the joy of holding a little child and know that you are that child that God is holding in His arms each day.  Merry Christmas to you all and may you find hope, love, JOY and peace!

October Falls

fall leavesOctober is a month filled with falling leaves, pumpkins and football.  The days get shorter and the air gets cooler.  We have joy seeing scarecrows, wearing hoodies and going on hayrides.  My parents celebrated their anniversary on October 1 and if my dad were living today, they would have been married 50 years.

There was a time in my family when October wasn’t so happy.  My mom lost all three sisters to cancer and two of them died in October.  She also lost a nephew in October.  These were during my young adult years and it caused October to have a black cloud of sadness. Time passed and October continued to be a time for leaves, pumpkins and football.

On the last day of October 2010, my mom was in a very scary car accident.  She escaped serious injury but the car was totaled.  On that same day, we made a difficult decision to leave a church where my husband was pastor.  It began a long year of uncertainty but we knew that God had bigger and better plans for us.  One year later, God revealed those plans for us as we were finalizing for him to become the pastor of a new church that was filled with people who loved God, loved missions and most importantly, loved their pastor.  October once again became a month of leaves, pumpkin rolls (thanks to a sweet lady in the new church) and football, always a favorite of my husband.

On October 6, 2012, I received a frantic call from my mom.  “The house is on fire.”  We jumped in the car and drove the hour to her house.  I prayed the whole way there to save my childhood home.  As we came closer to her house and I could look across the farm field to see it in the distance, I saw that the roof was still on and the house looked normal.  The firemen were able to contain the fire that had been smoldering in the attic.  Although it was inches from making it up the rafters and to the roof, it was caught just in time.  She was out of her home for 3 months while reconstruction took place.  October continued with leaves (lots at her house), pumpkins, but no football – she isn’t a fan.

Two years later.  October 7, 2015.  October falls.  It replays in my head like a bad movie flashback.  The day before, my husband had a procedure to shock his heart back into rhythm.  Everything went well and he woke up in tears to the news that it worked.  Later than night he was discouraged because he felt like it was out of rhythm.  The next morning on October 7, he said he felt great.  I didn’t want to go to work so I stayed a little longer with him but he said he thought his heart was in rhythm and he wanted to go prepare his Bible study for that night.  Before we both left for work, I wanted to know his heartbeat was normal.  Since I couldn’t find the pulse, I put my head on his chest to hear it and it was in rhythm.  Little did I know, that would be the last time I would hear and feel his heartbeat.  That afternoon, I got a frantic call from my 12 year old daughter and she said the words, “Dad’s not breathing!”  I rushed home to find emergency personnel and lots of people at my house.  The police officer stopped me at the door and said, “I’m sorry, he’s gone.”  I fell to the floor crying out in shock as I looked my daughter in the eyes.

Like leaves beneath my feet, I was crushed and shattered.  After recently celebrating 20 years of marriage, he was gone.  He took a nap and woke up with Jesus.  That October was a month of shock and uncertainty.  I had been here before but this time I felt alone.

Two years later and October 2017 is here with leaves that are changing color, pumpkin spice in way too many things and football – it will always be a part of our home.  Just like leaves changing colors, life changes too.  It wasn’t the way that I had expected and wasn’t the way that I had planned.  Fortunately, my faith is strong and so I must remain strong too.  October may always have that tint of sadness but I know that God is the author of my story and my October may fall but He will pick me up and show me the beauty as he paints October each Fall.

Shoulders

Our shoulders can carry a lot of weight.  Most of the time it is weight that can’t be seen.  It comes from worries, burdens or anxiety that we carry.  Even though it is invisible, we feel the pressure.  Our muscles get tense and tight.  You may be the single parent or widow trying to raise your child or children alone.  You may be a coworker with more responsibilities than one person should ever have.  You may be a caregiver taking on the emotional and physical needs of someone else.  You may just be the type of person who worries about the future in this world that we live.  Our shoulders can become so heavy that we start to feel the physical pain.  I am currently diagnosed with a “frozen shoulder.”  It is truly the most painful thing I have ever had and prevents me from lifting and doing a lot of daily things that I used to take for granted.

Shoulders can be used to carry others and to help others.  I remember when Hannah was little, she was almost too big for me to carry her in my arms. I could still carry her on my shoulders to give her little legs a break.  Her weight was balanced on my shoulders and I could carry her a little further that way.  However, my shoulders were never as good as daddy’s shoulders.  Daddy’s shoulders could carry her so much higher and he was so much stronger than I was.  Therefore, Daddy could carry her longer, she could see over crowds and she had time to rest.

Our heavenly Father carries all of us on His shoulders.  He is our rest and our rescue.  He takes all of our burdens, worries, fears and troubles and carries them on His shoulders.  It is like that small child that can’t take another step.  He lifts us up and puts us on His shoulders where we can see things clearer.  We just have to get to the point when we acknowledge that we can’t take another step on our own.

For me, I struggle frequently with anxiety and worry.  As the single mom, young widow and only financial provider, I worry about how I can raise my child so that she has what she needs.  My shoulders weren’t as strong as her daddy’s shoulders.  I can’t raise her above the crowds when they close in on us.  Now I know the reality is that she is a teenager and won’t literally be on my shoulders.  Metaphorically speaking, those thoughts are still there.  I carry so many burdens upon my shoulders and I have to constantly remind myself that God already carries me and every single thing.  All He asks me to do is to put my arms up to Him.  I can’t do it on my own.  The burdens might not go away and the world is going to keep having problems but when I know that I can ask God to help me, He will give me the rest I need to ease the weight on my shoulders.

“May the beloved of the LORD dwell in security by Him, Who shields him all the day, And he dwells between His shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Polaris – Always a Constant

Polaris is more commonly known as the North Star.  It remains almost motionless over time as other stars in the sky seem to rotate around it.  The star is very helpful because it has been used as navigation for ships and travelers.  Find Polaris and you can navigate your way.  It is a constant.  I have never been successful at finding other constellations but I can always find the big dipper and this bright star.

In the same way, Jesus remains constant in our lives.  Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.”  He has always been there and always will be there.  Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change.”

Last summer, we were in New Mexico and had the opportunity to camp out on a sailboat for a few days.  Every night we would lay on the boat deck and look up at the numerous stars.  We would watch for shooting stars and sometimes see a satellite that was flashing by.  It was a peaceful time because it reminded me that God knows every single star in the sky just like He knows us and yet, He still provides us with the constant, unchanging star to guide our way.

Even in the midst of life struggles and times when you don’t know if you can deal with the changes that are happening, we can be assured that God doesn’t change in His compassion for us.  He is always there, always constant — just like that star in the sky.  Look up, see the bright star shining down on you.

Father’s Day – A New Look

Father’s Day used to be a day when I honored and remembered my father.  Then he passed away the day after Father’s Day in 2001 and it became a difficult holiday.  Two years later, I was able to celebrate my husband being a father and the years of creating fun gifts for him from our daughter began.  Since he passed away in 2015, it now is a holiday that just floats and I don’t know what to do with it.  I still honor both in my memories and am thankful for the time I had with them.  There are lots of other men that I know that show great examples of what it means to be a father and a man of God.  Some of those I secretly adopt in my heart as a father figure and grandfather figure for my daughter.  They may or may not know it, but that’s okay.

I ran across this poem from Maya Angelou, a woman of great writing and wisdom.  It reminded me of those in my life who have passed on.  They were a great tree, rooted in faith.  Although their life is no longer growing with us, they have still made the impact in people’s lives and leave roots for us all to continue growing.  As you read the poem, think about someone in your life who was that “great tree” and live your life in such a way that you can be that for someone else.

When Great Trees Fall
by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.  Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid,
promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly.  Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed. We can be.  Be and be better.  For they existed.

Learn and Do the Impossible

This Spring we have had at least three nests in areas of our front yard.  Two were in trees and one is on the eaves of the garage.  The nest pictured was out of my visual realm because I am not one with super long legs.  Okay, I am short.  I used the video on my phone and lifted it above the nest to observe the changes that were taking place each week as the mama bird flew to get food.  Imagine my surprise when I saw this little birdie, mouth wide open, just waiting for some food.  The old cliche “Early bird gets the worm” rings true as his siblings are still in the egg.

I would like to think that I am like this little bird in the way that I approach learning.  I love to learn!  I love to take in anything that I can to keep my mind sharp and also fill it with new things.  Recently, I started to learn spanish on a popular phone app.  It may not be formal learning but I am learning basic Spanish words, phrases and sentences.  Yo como manzanas ~ I eat apples.  While I may never actually use it, it is still fun to learn.

In the same way that I love to learn new things, I also love to share with others in the way that might help someone be a better person.  We all have a new day in front of us, full of possibility — with God, maybe an impossibility too.  In Luke 1:37, it says, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  It is always possible to learn something new, no matter what our age.  We also need to share our knowledge with others.  We need to be like this little bird, waiting in the nest for some nourishment.  When we are nourished, we will grow and be able to fly out of the nest, out of our comfort zones, and help others know that God makes all things possible.  ¡Aprende algo nuevo!  Learn something new!