Finding Joy in a Sorrow-filled Christmas

Maybe your Christmas season is filled with illness, divorce, conflict, or death? Perhaps, like many others, you find the cheery “Merry Christmas” greeting hard to return, as you fight the unforgiving lump growing in your throat? For lots of people, the months have been hard and the year is ending with disappointment, betrayal, or sorrow. The holiday season dawns difficult and joy is hard to find.

How can Christmas be joy-filled when grief is real and ever-present?

Back when our girls were little, the pleasures of Christmas were found within the stockings under the tree, in the delightful squeals of children unwrapping presents, and tucked inside the delectable treats and goodies scattered around the kitchen. Christmas meant family and family meant peace, happiness, and unity.

Scattered in those years, life happened and heartache entered the picture. Divorce, dysfunction, disease, and death crept in and Christmas became a juggle of emotions; reality of loss overlaid our day of happiness. Yearning for the past, it became easy to wish for simpler years, for holidays that felt alive with anticipation and wonder; when Christmas was truly the most wonderful time of the year, and all felt right in the world.

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In seasons of hardship, our propensity can be to run and hide. Avoid the cheerfully decorated shopping malls. Skip the company Christmas party. Spend Christmas Eve at home instead of in a candle-laden church pew. Occasionally these practices are best. Honestly, sometimes we need to protect our hearts in these fragile moments. You may be in this fresh season of grief. Cut yourself some slack. It is okay. For a season.

For the rest of us, where can we find Christmas joy when our hearts hurt with the things of this world? How can we engage with the people around us and see the gladness of Jesus when our hearts don’t feel happy, our families have conflict, and our circumstances are complicated? Unlike a faucet, we can’t turn off our emotions at the leisure or convenience of others. We shouldn’t have to pretend, feel guilty, or ignore the pain within us. Acknowledging the hard, while still experiencing peace and joy, can be our anthem this year.

It comes down to seeing the gift of Jesus for who He really is in our life.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah was written over 700 years before the birth of Christ, yet it perfectly describes the coming of our Messiah. The following are just a few of the prophesies fulfilled:

He will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

He will come from the line of King David (Isaiah 9:7)

He will be beaten and struck with a willing spirit (Isaiah 50:6)

He will make a blood sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5)

He will take our place (Isaiah 53:6)

He will heal our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1-2)

“Instead if their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7)

Thankfully for us, Jesus didn’t stay a baby in that manger. Growing in God’s likeness – being fully man, yet fully divine – He lived a perfect, sinless life. Suffering on the cross, He bore the punishment for our sins, dying the criminals death that you, I, and the world deserve. Bursting from the grave three days later, He conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of our Father. He made eternal life available to all who call on His name. Death, disease, heartache, conflict, and grief were conquered once and for all.

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Because of Jesus’ journey from manger to cross to heaven, our weary world can rejoice. Our hearts can feel heavy, yet hopeful; sorrow-filled, yet alive. We can grieve, yet be in gladness. Joy can still be found this Christmas season, no matter what our circumstances bring.

All because our true Hope was born this Christmas Day.

***

I’d love to hear what is hard for you this Christmas season and where you find joy in the midst of your current circumstances? And know, dear reader, I will be lifting you up as this season unfolds.

*For practical advice in how to best love someone who is hurting this Christmas season, I highly recommend reading this article by Desiring God. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas

 

How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World

The mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. An evening shopping trip turned deadly at a neighborhood Walmart. A routine meeting at the UPS office leaving people dead and in shock. Las Vegas, New York City and countless others just this year.

Where are we protected? Where can we shop, work, seek entertainment, or go to school without the threat of unexplained violence? Can we freely walk through our neighborhoods, travel cross-country, or have an adventure without running the risk of death. Are we safe anywhere?

And if not, how do we be less afraid in a world full of scary things?

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Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

“Time heals all wounds.”

“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”

“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”

“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”

People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.

Does grief really get easier with time?

Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.

After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.

But the truth is…

No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.

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Learning to be Thankful When Life Hurts

I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.

Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…

How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?

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Our Terminal: A Community of Hope Facing Terminal Illness

Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.

When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.

After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.

After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…

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Running Towards Grief

I AM A RUNNER. 

When stress overtakes me…I grab my sneakers and hit the pavement. When people hurt me…I desire to seek refuge as far away as possible. When life gets hard…I search for the greener pasture. This is a part of my DNA. My makeup. For as long as I can remember, my propensity has been to run. Flee. Take flight. Escape the uncomfortable.

On the other hand…

MY MOM WAS A FIGHTER. 

When stress overtook her…it motivated her to dig deeper and challenge the obstacle. When people hurt her…she confronted them, desiring reconciliation or at least a chance to be heard. When life got hard…She rose to the occasion, passion pulsing through her veins. This was who she was. Her default. Mode of operation. For the 34 years I knew her, she stood up, faced the hard, and conquered the awkward.

The summer after my senior year in high school, I came home from a month-long camp to find a friend problem waiting at my doorstep. As teenage drama happens, people misunderstood people, circumstances got twisted out of focus, and real feelings got hurt along the way. All the while I was living on the Slovakian mountainside.

Heading off to college, I was content to just let things play out. After all, I’d probably never see these people again, right? Mom couldn’t have disagreed more. Before I could raise my hand to object, the phone dialed a few numbers, and Mom was slamming my car door shut as she drove out of the garage. By the end of the day, I had made four house calls, talked through the disagreement with each friend, and felt a burden lifted. That day allies were restored, relationships salvaged, and wounds forgiven. With Mom behind the wheel, my running days were coming to an end. Quick.

Yesterday would have been the perfect day to just hide away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Try to stay comfortable and just move on. Staying extra busy, I could have glossed over the hurt, stuffing it a little bit deeper into the corners of my soul. Being the one year anniversary of Mom passing away, I had navigated 365 days without the lady I turned to in my deepest pain and brightest joy. Grief is just plain hard. The hurt cuts to the core. Doing most anything to make it go away, this monumental marker felt like an enormous end-cap to the hardest year of my life.

But just like Mom that summer day in high school, God had other plans for my troubles…

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When the World Rages On

Ding. My phone lit up at 5:45am this morning. One of my favorite people in the world was in a rage. Literal, chemically induced, uncontrollable rage. Anger, aggression flowed out of her in rapid torrents. Out of control, she cried out to God, “Why did you allow this pain in my life!” Flare gun prayer shot straight to heaven, she yearned to hear an answer.

While the world raged on.

Why does this world hurt so bad? Why are we exposed to pain and disappointment? Who is in control of this chaotic, pressure-filled globe we call Earth? Will there ever be relief from our suffering?

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The Year That Changed Everything

I woke up October 30, 2014 full of hope, excitement and anticipation for the year ahead. For the first time in 10 years we would have a grandma living in the same town as us . My mom had woken up one day that July and just knew she needed to move to us. She bought a house sight unseen, one that was only one mile from ours. She just knew Texas wasn’t suppose to be her home anymore, even after 33 amazing years in that community. She just knew this year everything needed to change.

As we waited for the moving van to arrive on that beautiful fall day, we talked about the sleep overs, family outings and projects we could do together. She was excited to make friends, get involved and open this new chapter of her life. She was full of hope for her life here, eager to see what blessings lay ahead. She just knew she was where she needed to be. In hindsight we just didn’t know exactly why.

Today, October 30, 2015, I left the house keys on her kitchen counter, releasing her home to some other family. Exactly one year ago we were moving her into this house, with dreams in tow. Now it lays empty, void of her smells, her furniture, our plans. As I walked the halls for the very last time, I shed tears for the loss of her presence. I cried, mourning the memories yet to make. I broke over the way we suffered together, shared life together, and clung to hope side by side. The emptiness of her place was overwhelming. The finality deafening.

This Year Changed Everything.

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When God Gets It Wrong

We prayed.  We petitioned. We cried out for a miracle. We trusted God was big enough, strong enough, and good enough to heal. We knew His promises, were trained in His faithfulness, and depended on His mercy.  But instead of healing, death came, at least in the finite, earthly, temporal form.

I sometimes think that God gets it wrong.

He doesn’t answer some of our most heartfelt, guttural, vulnerable prayers, ones that cut to our core and rip us of our pride. Venturing into an area of trust we haven’t experienced before, only groans can express the deepest crevasses of our heart. Our trust wavers when our loved one’s body shows the unmistakable marks of impending finality or when our dreams fade far from reality.

Doubts swirl in our mind:

Where is God when He says no?

What is His plan when we don’t see the good in our circumstances?

Can we truly say He is good and holy when our life is crumpling and the pain is unbearable?

Is He just? Is He fair?

Does He really love me after all?

Sometimes it feels like prayer doesn’t work, has no purpose, and yields no response. I get tempted to just give in and quit asking, especially when it comes to the deepest longings of my heart.

My very first time praying occurred five years after realizing and accepting the fact that I needed a Savior. My dear friend, Katie, was on a trip with her family when she had a sudden heart attack and slipped into a coma. For three days she teetered between death and life, leaving us unsure of what lay ahead for her life. Three friends huddled around a living room ottoman in North Texas, crying out to God on Katie’s behalf. Spare her life, God! Deliver her! Heal her heart, Lord, a heart that loves people with genuine compassion and grace! Save her parents, siblings, and friends from enduring the agony of her death!

But, Katie died. Not seeing the end of eighth grade like the rest of us, her numbered days were done. My first time praying ended in death, disappointment, and despair.

God answered wrong.

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