When Christmas Hurts

This has been a difficult advent season for me.  Since the sudden passing of my uncle in November, I have felt the wave of grief wash over me again.

It will be five years ago on December 25th that my mom passed away suddenly of a heart attack.  It has been long enough now that I am used to life without her, but long enough that the absence of her is so painfully evident in my life.  I can’t pretend anymore that she is really here, but just on vacation for a while.

I can’t help but think about how old Janelle and Willem were, my two oldest children, when she died.  Before I went to see her in the hospital on December 23, 2010, I had shown her the most recent photographs of Willem at age 2, sitting on a potty, just beginning to train and Janelle at 7 months, grinning with her two little teeth.  Those two pictures hold a lot of meaning to me now.

The fact that she doesn’t know my other 3 children is astonishing.  I keep picturing a moment when she walks in the door and she sees how the kids have grown and I get to introduce her to the three grandchildren she has never met.  This moment will  never happen, but it is nice for me to imagine.

Living life without my mom is tough.  She was my cheerleader.  She was my go-to person for advice and Godly wisdom.  She knew when to push me and when to comfort me.

The longer I am a mom, the more I discover the key to her secret powers.  Growing up, I never understood how, in the middle of the night, she was already awake and at my bedside before I threw up.  I never could figure out how she knew something bad had happened to me at school.  But I get it now.  I can read my kids like a book.  Every facial expression is a clue to how they are feeling inside.  Every unusual sound or movement in the middle of the night alerts me to wake up.  Moms just know because they know their kids.

I miss my mom being that person to me.  But I am so thankful I can still feel her presence when I experience the same thing with my own kids. I’m so thankful I get to be a little bit like the mom she was to me to my own offspring.  Of course I’m not exactly like her, that wouldn’t exactly be healthy, but so much of who she was rubbed off on me and I get to pass it on.

I know Christmas can be hard for many people.  Even those who’s family member didn’t die on December 25th.  Christmas is a reminder that the loved one has missed yet another year of family life.  The grief never completely disappears, but the wave grows bigger and stronger during special occasions.

I encourage you to take time this Christmas season to tell a grieving friend you are thinking of them.  I so appreciate the notes I get from friends saying they are remembering my mom or thinking of me during this season.

Remember that no matter how much time has past, the loved one is always remembered and always missed.  The pain of the loss comes and goes, but the new normal never feels quite right.

The birth of Christ is the light we long for in this dark month.  We anticipate the coming of the Savior with urgency.  Our broken world is suffering:  millions of displaced people due to war, bombs in public places, shootings at innocent victims, severe storms that bring about disaster, mental illness that plagues the mind,  cancer that destroys a body, and the death of a loved one all display a world in pain.

The earth is groaning.  The labour pains are getting more intense.  The suffering is becoming unbearable.

This advent season, I pray for Jesus to come.  To bring us relief of the sadness we feel for the broken state we and our precious world is in.

I pray for the healing of hearts, bodies and minds.

And I pray that as we wait, we can shed light in the dark places.   To bring hope to someone this Christmas.  To share with others that not all is lost to brokenness.

I pray for peace.

Come, Lord Jesus.IMG_20151212_211240

Luke 1: 76-79 (Zechariah’s Song)

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”




Great Expectations

Advent Starry Night 2

The season of Advent is upon us again and with Advent comes a season of reflection.

This year, I have been hearing reminders of how advent is a time to slow down and ponder the miracle surrounding the birth of Christ.    A time to be still enough to be aware of God’s work in us and in our world.  It is a time of waiting.  It is a time of great expectation.

Of course there are so many distractions to keep us from being anything but calm and still.

Since early November, the pressure to come up with wonderful gifts for my kids within the limited budget is always a bit of a stresser for me.  I am a gift giver.  I enjoy showering my kids with presents they will delight in.  It is a way for me to express my love for them.  The fact that I know them well enough to find something they will be thrilled about is something I take delight in as well.  But it is something on the list that needs to be done and I don’t have much free time without the kids to accomplish it.

Starting three week ago, planning family events and friend gatherings in and around everyone’s busy schedules has occupied a considerable amount of my time.  I already have the stuffed turkey in the freezer ready for the Christmas day dinner.  I’ve started planning a possible New Year’s party with friends.  The calendar is filling up with much anticipated quality time with friends and family.

This past week, the decorations went up at our house.  I have a rule that I wait until December 1st to put up decorations.  The Christmas music is played, the tree is decorated, the lights are strung and plugged in.

On Wednesday, I took out a book at the library full of holiday treat recipes.  Currently, I am in a state of great expectation for the glorious time in the kitchen I will have preparing delicious and visually stunning treats for the Christmas season.

I am getting ready.  Ready to celebrate the birth of Christ.

But am I really getting ready to celebrate the birth?  Or am I getting ready to entertain and impress?  I know my mind is often filled with how I can impress with fancy foods and pretty place settings.  I love to entertain and be hospitable (practicing hospitality is encouraged in the Bible!), but maybe my focus is getting a little off track.

Advent is a time to slow down and reflect.  But I don’t feel like my mind is slowing one bit.  In fact, it is racing a lot of time thinking about what needs to be done or planned next.

The distractions are real.  It is Satan’s way of leading us in the wrong direction.  To take our minds off of Christ’s miraculous birth and on meaningless things like toys and cookies.

It is ridiculous if you think about it.  I can sit and think about how to decorate, bake and shop for hours but forget to reflect on God’s love for me.

I challenge myself this advent season to be still.  To put away the cookbook, for now, and to wait in expectation for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  To look around me, and not at my calendar, in order to see him at work.

And when I catch a glimpse of him, I know I will feel peace in my heart.  My soul will sing in expectation of the coming of the Christ.

I will feel ready for the celebration.