Grieving at Christmas

It was 6 a.m. when the call came. My husband was still asleep so I slipped into the bathroom to answer my phone so as to not disturb him. It was a call I had been expecting, but not on this morning. I turned the light on, shut the door and groggily said “hello”. It was Christmas morning. December 25. A day of celebration. A day of happy family time together. Of presents shared and food. But, it wasn’t a day to celebrate for me. My mom had just died. On Christmas morning.

While others would be waking up and anticipating the joy. My heart was broken. I decided to not tell our kids- teenagers at the time- until after they had opened their gifts and had their Christmas breakfast- a mixture of special sweets and candy, I didn’t want to steal their joy. To take away or diminish their day. Even though my joy was completely gone. I felt empty and helpless. And numb.

Usually I would be writing of the joy of Christmas, the hope found in a relationship with Jesus at this advent of Christmas. But I know that many of you are hurting this Christmas. Your joy is missing. You are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas, but you heart is just not in it. You are in pain. Your loved one is gone. And you miss them terribly. It is difficult to celebrate. The world is moving around you, but you are stuck in the place of grief.

I can tell you. It will get better. The hurt will fade a little. Memories that make you cry now, will make you laugh with joy. If not today then someday. When you have had time to heal. From your loss. You loved this person who is not with you now. So it is okay to miss them. Even when we know, in our minds at least, that they are better now, that they are celebrating Christmas in Heaven. It is still okay to miss them. It is okay to cry.

In my helpless moment on that Christmas now 8 years ago, I found one thing I could do. We packed into our mini van and drove to the beach. On the way out the door, I grabbed the bouquet of flowers off the table. I needed to do something. To not feel helpless. My parents lived several hours away, so I knew I would be making travel plans later. But there was nothing I could do today, on Christmas Day. But I needed to do something, something that I could feel control over. So, my drive to the ocean- about forty -five minutes, felt like the answer.

We rode in silence, my hands firmly gripping the flowers. We weren’t the only ones there. People were running, playing and celebrating. But I wasn’t. I had formed a plan on the drive. I would throw the flowers into the ocean and say a prayer. We each took a flower from the bouquet and tossed them into the water. We watch as the waves took them down the beach and some out into the ocean. It was my way to say goodbye to my mom. It gave me some control over my grief that day.

We also wrote out my mom’s name in the sand with her epitaph. Her dates of living. One person walked past and saw what we had written and softly said, “I’m sorry” That helped me that day. We have been making the same trip every Christmas since.

It has been a way to remember her. Remember the past year and reflect and pray. And that is the one thing I want to offer you today. It is okay to do something to remember your loved one at Christmas. Place a special ornament on your tree, Visit the ocean or another quiet place. Don’t be afraid to slow down from all the busyness of Christmas. Allow yourself some time to grieve. Grief is a journey. It is not a destination. There will be times, even years from now when you will find yourself crying. It is okay.

Pray. Often. Ask God for comfort. Ask God to send friends to comfort us. We need it. We don’t have to grieve alone. God does understand our grief; our pain. He became one of us. He hurt. He wept. But because He became a man, in Jesus, we can have this hope. The hope that we will see our loved one again. Through your tears, may you hold on tightly to this hope. It is the message of Christmas. Death robs us. Jesus comes to make it right. He came to defeat death. It is worth celebrating, even through our tears. God bless you – Nancy

What Are You Thankful For?

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song “( Psalm 95:2, NIV).

Here in the United States we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving next week. But, you probably wouldn’t know it if you were to walk into any store here. Or in my neighborhood. Oh, there are the usual food items stacked up high on the shelves: pumpkin pie filling, cranberry sauce, gravy, bags of bread crumbs for the stuffing, appetizers, turkey themed decorations. But, if you were to look next to these displays you would also notice the Christmas foods and decorations, given equal shelf space.

In my neighborhood I’ve noticed people have put up their Christmas trees. This juxtaposition of two holidays, each vying for attention, has created a bit of a controversy. Some people embrace the early decorating for Christmas, while others, like myself, believe we should celebrate each holiday as it comes and to not rush things.

Is it possible that we have chosen to rush past Thanksgiving, because we aren’t thankful? Or because it is only a single day, not an entire season. I have heard arguments for both viewpoints. But it has paused me to think about it.

And I have to admit, I have not been in a very thankful mindset lately. I have complained about everything costing so much, thanks to inflation. The budget gets stressed and pushed and tested. And although I try to look past it, I finally realized that it has taken a toll on my joy and my thankfulness. I’ve tried to ignore for awhile, just rolling with it all, all the while thinking I was handling it all. Managing the budget and my soul.

That is until I was reading my morning devotional, while enjoying my morning cup of coffee, and it was like boom! Time for an attitude check. I realized that I was missing something in all my “managing” of myself. My joy. My peace. And most importantly; my thankfulness. I had replaced all of these with worry, anxiety, and complaining. Nothing extreme, nothing I would speak out loud to many people, but something I knew in my soul. The thoughts I was thinking to myself. The complaining that there wasn’t much extra spending cash available. But, I still want stuff. But why are there so many other necessities to buy? Why does it cost so much? Why aren’t the politicians understanding this is a big deal to most people. We are not rich, but I know it has been a stressor for us. I can only imagine how single parents and the elderly are dealing with all this inflation.

Maybe that is it. The reason for the early invasion of Christmas over Thanksgiving. People are wanting hope. Wanting peace. The peace that the birth of Jesus brought. And how are we supposed to be thankful anyway. What is there to be thankful for? Houses are not affordable. Food prices are high. Gasoline is expensive. Covid is still around.

But, Jesus’ birth is the reason we should have a grateful, thankful heart. He is our peace. He is our hope. He is our salvation. We are not helpless. We are not hopeless.

I have realized that this is what I have forgotten. Well, not forgotten per se, but just set aside, while I turned from my focus on Jesus, to my focus on myself, my stresses, anxieties and worries. It can be so subtle. Like when driving a car, and you see something on the side of the road. It catches your attention, so you turn towards it, only to quickly be brought back to the task at hand- driving- when the car ahead suddenly stops. You immediately are brought back to focusing ahead, rather than to the side of the road.

It is not until you are forced to turn back, that you realize, you head drifted your focus to the side of the road. Hopefully you stop in time to prevent a collision with the car ahead. So, my devotional was like the stopping of the car ahead of me. Whoops!Time to focus back on God, instead of allowing it to drift towards complaint, worry, stress, anxiety. I traded joy and thankfulness for a brief side view of my problems.

The problems will still be there. Inflation. Holiday stress. Traffic. Difficult people. They are still vying for my attention from the side of the road.Waving at me to look at them. But, just like safe driving; I must keep my eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of my faith; Jesus. The journey ahead is what I need to focus on- even though some might think this means to race past Thanksgiving, it doesn’t.

I am not giving permission to race ahead of Thanksgiving to celebrate Christmas already. I want to take my time. Be still. Keep each holiday to itself. And quiet the complaining thoughts in my head. Remind myself what I have to be thankful for this year. Change my perspective.

When I change my perspective, shifting my eyes back on Jesus, my attitude catches up and I realize I have a lot to be thankful for this year. My budget is squeezed, but I can still travel to the store and buy food. My family is coming to celebrate. I have lost loved ones, but also celebrate the newest family member, my granddaughter. These problems will pass by, and will probably be replaced with problems. But, I can always choose to keep focused on Jesus to get through it all. Jesus is the best reason of all to be thankful this year. He is with me. He knows my problems, nothing comes as a surprise to Him, so I can rest and trust He has got this.

What are you thankful for?

God bless you- Nancy

Death To Life

Doubting Thomas. Have you ever thought about how he would compare with you? It might seem like a strange topic for Christmas time, especially Christmas Eve, the day I’m writing this blog. But bear with with me for a moment. When we think of Christmas we mostly think about the cute little baby Jesus in the manger. And the cute nativity scene with the animals- sheep, cows, and camels. and the very peaceful baby sleeping in Mary’s arms. We don’t usually fast forward to Jesus all grown up as a man. We save that for Easter.

When we look at the Christmas story as told in the Gospels, we enjoy the story as a completed picture. We have the perspective that those living at the time did not. Except for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, and John the Baptist. They all knew who Jesus was when he was born because the angels had visited or in the case of the wisemen, by studying the astrological charts. Everyone else around them, did not know what was happening. They were looking for a Messiah, but they didn’t see who He was when He arrived as the little baby lamb of God. They hadn’t read the gospels, like we have.

Sometimes God is trying to show us what He is doing, but we don’t see it. We lack perspective until we look back and see what He has done. The people of Jesus’ time had been awaiting a savior to free them from their darkness and when He came they did not all realize it, and as He grew to a man, even failed to understand who He was, calling him simply Joseph’s son.

As this advent season gives way to Christmas day, God has been preparing my heart and helping me to understand what He is doing in my life. Piece by piece, step by step, He reveals areas I need growth.

Recently, our beloved family dog died. It was the first dog we had ever had and she died unexpectedly early Sunday morning. My sorrow was deeper than I realized it could be for an animal. It brought back grief and sorrow that I still carry for my Mom who passed on Christmas Day 2014. Christmas can be a very sad time for some, myself included. But, as I was feeling so sad about losing our pet of six years, my thoughts and emotions were jolted in the opposite direction when on Wednesday my daughter and her husband announced their pregnancy. From death to news of life. In three days. Sounds like a familiar story, right? From feeling overwhelmed by the death of a pet, and my mom, to celebrating the upcoming addition to our family. From grief to joy.

God showed me in that moment, how I could be like doubting Thomas. He had just lost His friend, the man He had spent three years following and a presumed lifetime waiting for, like his other fellow Jews. And then He was gone. Thomas was in the middle of grieving and was in shock over the news that Jesus had risen. Jesus was not dead, but had resurrected. How could this be? Was it true? Is this really a change from sadness to joy?

Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see for himself. Even when Jesus appeared to him later. It was Jesus who offered for Thomas to see the nail prints in his hands. I can finally understand how he felt. A bit of shock. A jolt from his grief into hope. Hopeless to hopeful.

I have a print of my new grandson or granddaughter’s ultrasound. I see him/her. I have anticipation for our meeting. On Sunday, I was grieving, but on Wednesday I celebrated. We just do not know what will happen next. God has it under control. It might seem dark now. But light has come into the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.– John 1:1-5

Merry Christmas and God Bless You

Waiting for the Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.- Isaiah 9:2 NIV

Isaiah’s words prophesying the birth of Jesus brought hope to those who lived at his time as well as ours. But what does it mean to be a people walking in darkness? Do we walk in darkness too? Spiritually speaking yes, we do, until we accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness. But also we can have dark times in our lives when we cannot seem to see the way out. We are looking for answers to free us from our depression, anxiety and stress. We see the world around us as a very dark place full of injustice and heartache and even grief. Grief is especially difficult to process at Christmas time. It can appear so dark.

Or perhaps it seems as if God is far off and silent. That’s how many of the Israelites felt during the four hundred years of silence between what we now have as our Old and New Testaments.

During that time there were no prophets or people being filled with the Holy Spirit to speak God’s message until the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Their darkness was about to end and God was breaking forth the light. Mary and Elizabeth would have the Holy Spirit come upon them and the silence would be broken.

I wonder what I would have thought if I lived at that time in Bethlehem or Nazareth? Last night my husband and I visited a local church’s drive though nativity. Scenes depicting the birth of Jesus are recreated, complete with the marketplaces, King Herod’s temple, the inn with no room, the stable where Jesus was born and the gate of the city guarded with Roman soldiers. You are completely transported back in time. As we drove through, we rolled the windows down and listened to the conversations between the people. Herod was scolding the people, the carpenter was sanding a piece of wood, the blacksmith forging the iron, the women in the market trying to sell us their wares, the Roman soldiers sitting on their horses, looking suspiciously over us and our car, the shepherds watching the sheep eat the hay, the young Mary and Joseph begging the innkeeper to give them a room for a trade of a loaf of bread. Although some of the conversation followed the Bible story as we have heard it many times before, many of the actors improvised. I liked this improvisation. The women were gossiping around the town well, and the craftsmen telling each other to travel safely. It was what it probably sounded like back in the day. People will spread rumors and talk about politics and business, no matter what time frame. People are the same.

So, what do you think it would have been like? Rumors about a rushed marriage and miraculous birth. A king who would be sought after by wise men following a star? Shepherds seeing angels? People living under the oppression of the Roman government in a violent time? A difficult life of work and never enough money for most of it went to the tax collectors. Religious rulers working in conjunction with the Roman rulers to increase the burden on the people. Making up new rules that must be followed. Yeah. A dark time. It was good news of great joy, when they heard about Jesus. Light breaking into the darkness.

As we get ready for Christmas, let us think past all of the preparations, past the shopping, past the food prep, past the sadness when we think of the loved ones who won’t be around the table this Christmas. Let’s look for the light breaking into this world’s darkness. Remember, Jesus came once as a little baby in a humble stable, but He is coming back again. Breaking into the darkness of this world. But next time He won’t be a baby, but a a triumphant King. That is truly good news of great joy! -God Bless – Nancy

Night Light

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

– Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

I really enjoy driving around the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas lights. Some people seem to have gone all out and bought every light strand and inflatable Santa available. It amazes me how some people will even risk life and limb to put lights on their roofs. But I’m glad they do. Christmas lights on the houses and the tree reminds us of the light of the world that came into a dark world. It certainly brightens up what would ordinarily be a dark season of the year, at least here in the northern hemisphere.

Without the lights, it would be pretty dim around the neighborhood except for a few streetlights. I grew up in the country, which means no streetlights and it was in a valley and surrounded by trees. What this means is that it got really dark, really fast in the winter months as the sun went down. If you didn’t have a flashlight in hand to walk between the house and the barn/garage it could be kinda scary for a little kid.  You couldn’t see where you were going, much less where you were stepping.

But the years since then have made me braver, if not wiser and I don’t fear the dark as much. I live in a neighborhood with streetlights and porch lights to guide my walks out at night. The light is great for walks, but not for sleeping, so we have blinds to block the light coming into our house. This is great for sleeping , but not walking around inside the house. I still need light inside for that. But, sometimes I try to risk it and walk around without turning on a light. Yay for me! I have overcome my fear of the dark. Yes! I have conquered it! Watch out world, I now believe I can do anything! I don’t need a light!

Yeah right! I wish I hadn’t been so brave and bold the other night as my foot became entangled with a chair leg. Who put that chair there, anyway? Oh yeah it was me. My second thought was why? As I looked down at my foot which was in pain, I noticed that my pinky toe was no longer where it should be. It looked like it was trying to run away from my foot. Seeing my broken toe was disturbing. But I also felt a tremendous amount of regret for not turning on a light before I ventured into the living room. I thought I knew where everything was. I thought there was a clear path ahead. But, I was wrong. I needed light to see where I was going. I had walked into the living room and through it so many times, that I was certain I could make it safely without needing light. But, reality is often different then what we think it is. We need light to safely travel on our paths. We need clarity, direction and safety. Things can change, obstacles shift and if we are trying to navigate by memory or trust the things are the same in the dark, we’re going to stumble and fall.

Life is full of changes and what we need is some light on our path so we won’t fall. Psalm 119 gives us the answer to that light; the Bible. It’s easy to get brave and try to rely on ourselves for our own direction. We know what we are doing and we can figure it all out on our own, or so we think. We made it work before, so we should be able to do it again. We don’t need to read the Bible or seek God’s plan, we can handle it all, until the obstacle we didn’t see ahead blocks our path. Walking through life without seeking God’s plan is like trying to walk in the dark.

As you see all the Christmas lights out there, take time to reflect on what it means. Jesus came into the dark world that was without hope to shine light and reconcile men to God. Without Jesus the world is stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of all this. Jesus came as the light of the world and exposes the darkness of the world. He offers a clear path that leads to life. Time to stop bumping into stuff in the dark and turn on the lights. -God Bless Nancy

Being (a) Present

For many years my Husband and I would pack up our snacks, our stuff, our presents, our kids and load our mini van up to the brim for the trip home at Christmas. It was hectic, tiring and stressful at times. I remember once when we were stuck in a blizzard driving across the country. We were stuck for two days outside Buffalo, New York until the roads were cleared and reopened. Another time we couldn’t find any room at the inn, and were forced to drive some 20 plus hours straight through instead of stopping for the night. Despite all of this we tried to make it home for Christmas to visit mine and my Husband’s parents and grandparents. Looking back now, I am thankful and grateful for those crazy times- all of it- including the car sick kids, multiple bathroom stops,  numerous diaper changes accomplished on the seats of our minivan and even all the spilled fast food drinks, fries, chips and ripped up paper pieces that our daughter liked to decorate the van with.

The best thing with all of these trips is that we were together and we could visit our parents for Christmas. Sadly, as the years have passed, we’ve lost some of our loved ones and we can no longer visit them at Christmas. So, as I reflect back, I am thankful for the struggle and stress of the past, driving so often to visit family. When young families are in the thick of raising kids, its hard to see a time past that, but it arrives and soon we find ourselves without our loved ones to visit and our kids all grown up. Life is never static, it is a constant change and we have to learn how to move through the changes. It isn’t easy, and to do it well we need God’s help.

Maybe you’re dreading visiting families. with all the traveling by air or car and needed a reminder from me that its worth the struggle. Or, maybe you’ve been too busy to think about Christmas. So, let me talk to you too. See, you can be with others this Christmas, but not present. You might not have to drive far to be with your family and friends this Christmas, but you’re not really enjoying being with them and spending time with them. We all try to buy the right gifts to give. Some can afford big extravagant gifts, while others cannot. Some might spend hours hand making gifts. Others might spend hours shopping and choosing the perfect gift, and standing in long lines at the store. But let me tell you the secret of it all. People would rather spend time with you than have a present you stressed over.

The best gift you can give is yourself. The fully present self. The put- down- the- cell- phone -and -talk- with others self. I think it’s easier to give presents than give ourselves, but giving ourselves is the best gift. Need an example? Well, its Christmas, and what is Christmas about? Answer: Jesus. “For God so love the world that He GAVE His one and only SON that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16, NIV) God gave us his son; a person. This is the WHY we celebrate Christmas and give gifts in the first place, because of the gift given to us. So why not take His lead by giving yourself this Christmas to others. Spend time with those you love; talk with them; play with them, put down the cell phones and close the laptops, turn off the Tv’s. And BE PRESENT. God Bless- Nancy