Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Today has not been a good day. It has actually been quite rotten. Not ten minutes ago I found myself sweeping glass into the trash while reassuring my four year old that yes, Mommy still does, in fact, love her. About an hour before that I was sweeping more glass into the trash, while simultaneously feeding Cora and kissing the "owie" on Eliza's forehead that she received when Dana tipped over the chair she was (not supposed to be) standing on, landed on top of Eliza, and broke said two-year old's new Christmas ornament. About an hour before that I was upstairs in the attic, trying to regain my composure so that I could head down with an armful of Christmas decorations and not let on to my girls that this was going to be a very, very hard day for Mommy.

My nerves are shot, I am totally on edge, and I just completely lost it in front of my two oldest girls. It's been that kind of day.

It began this morning when I was looking at our Christmas tree, trying to figure out my plan of attack. Decorate now or later? Kids or no kids? Baby or no baby? Before lunch or after lunch? I figured I'd just dive in head first, let the girls help me in whatever way they wanted to, and see how things went. So I headed upstairs to collect some decorations, and upon reaching the corner where we "keep Christmas" was hit face first with memories of years gone by with my Dad.

Today would have been our day. Or, at least until about five years ago, today was always our day. From the time I was around twelve years old until I married Jason at the age of 27 it was my job and my job alone to deck my parent's halls for Christmas. I'm not sure how it happened, or where anyone else was, but it just became expected that on the day after Thanksgiving I would put up the stockings, trim the tree, and set out the annual decorations. It became tradition for me to hear my father ask when I woke up on Friday morning, "Do you think you'll have time to put up the tree today?", knowing that of course I would say yes. And he would proceed to bring the tree up from downstairs (we were never a "real tree" kind of household), string on the lights, help me bring up the rest of the boxes, and then retire to his favorite chair with his crossword puzzle in hand, newspaper next to him, ready and willing to help me out if I needed it. I would put on Amy Grant's Christmas CD, turn up the volume as high as I thought he could stand it, and start plugging away. He would look up every once in awhile to admire my progress, or tell me how nice it was looking, and then go back to his puzzle, or maybe nod off for a few minutes while I kept at it. And when I was finished I would announce my completion, and he would, without fail, get up from his chair, take a look around the tree, give me his famous grin and tell me how great it looked and thank me for doing all the work.

It was never any work at all for me. I loved this time. I loved the stillness of the house, as for some reason it always ended up being just my Dad and me at home during these few hours. I loved the peacefulness in which we kept each other company, speaking only when necessary, otherwise just enjoying the comfortable silence that can only be had in the presence of those who know you best, and love you most. For one afternoon, every year, I had the knowledge of exactly what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, and who was going to be there to help me make it happen.

I missed this time together with my Dad after Jason and I got married. Every year since then I would still reminisce about those afternoons we spent with each other. I would find myself putting up my tree, by myself since Jason was usually gone hunting, missing the quiet company of my father, not getting the satisfaction out of the Amy Grant Christmas CD that I had always felt in years prior, with the finishing of the final touches being pretty anticlimatic with no one around to share them with. I would find myself wondering if my Dad was remembering these days gone by, too, and would make a point to ask him the next time I saw him if he wanted any help with his own tree. But by this time my Mom and Dad had moved into a condo, and had taken to just keeping a fully decorated tree down in the basement to be brought up without any fuss or fanfare whenever the spirit moved one of them.

Well, today my Dad's spirit has been all around me. I feel him everywhere, and I miss him. Today I find myself having to periodically retreat to the kitchen, out of eyesight of my kids, while I weep for these todays gone by. Today I just want to see his warm smile again, hear his gentle voice, look into his kind eyes, and know I did something that made him happy.

Instead, today I have spent more time being a bad mother to my own kids as I try to reconcile the loss of my father. I have spent more time raising my voice, more time trying to distract them so I can be alone with these thoughts, more time wishing this day would end, more time wasted in reliving traditions past instead of building traditions for the future.

And so when Dana, in all of her four year old gracefulness, dropped the brand new glass snowglobe which my mother-in-law had given our family as a gift last Christmas and I saw glass shatter all around her, I lost it. My hands went over my mouth, my eyes welled up with tears, I sank to the ground, and started crying.

Now I sit here devastated that this is the memory Dana will most likely remember when she thinks back to the day she helped Mommy set up the Christmas tree. When she thinks back to this day, instead of recalling stories about all the different ornaments, or how she helped me set up the nativity scene, or how we read a story about the first Christmas, she will just go back to the picture of her mother, sitting on the floor, head in her hands, watching as her tears mingle with the spilled water on the floor.

Like I said, today has not been a good day.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day clinging to your promise of grace. I need it today, Lord. I have been reminded at every turn that I am fragile, I am human, I am weak, and I need Your help.

I need Your help as I strive to be good parent while I am mourning the death of my own. I need Your help in those moments, in those split seconds where I can choose to keep my cool, or to crumple. I need Your help to make good decisions, decisions which result in value, and strength, and progress in my life and in the life of my children.

I feel my Dad's spirit everywhere today, Lord, but I know if I let myself I will be able to feel Yours, too.

Fill me with Your Spirit. Calm me with Your presence. Remind me, again, that I need only rely on You being here and everything will be okay. Remind me that it's not a matter of counting to ten, it's just a matter of counting on You.

I ask for comfort in the middle of this sorrow, and a renewed confidence to face the future You have so carefully laid out for me.

Thank You for being a God I know I can ask these things of, and they will be given to me.

In Your Holy Spirit's Name I pray,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holding Out For Happy

Sometimes I wonder what God's motive was when He gave humans the capacity to feel grief. I understand that without sorrow there can be no joy, without feeling sad we wouldn't know what it feels like to be happy, but grief in and of itself is just such a strange emotion.

For instance, in the last eight months since my Dad died I have yet to experience the same grief twice. It is ever-changing, ever-shifting, even taking up residence in different parts of my body. There are the days when it hits suddenly, like a semi-truck to the solar plexus, while other days it is a never-ending ache in my heart. One day the intensity of it will make my knees buckle, while the next day it is restricted to the burning behind my eyes, indicating the tears are about to fall. It comes fast, or it comes on slow, it lessens quickly, or it doesn't seem to lessen at all. The only thing that doesn't change is that it changes, and it will keep coming back. It is never duplicated, never replicated, yet it is always there. Even when I am happy, I am sad. Even when I am excited, I am still mourning. Even while I continue to live out the day to day of my life, the longing to be with my father never goes away. My grief has become just as much a part of me as any other physical part of my being. It is part of my definition. If I were to introduce myself to someone, it would be hard to leave out the phrase, "Grieving my Dad" at the end of my list of characteristics. This loss has changed me, more so than I ever thought it could.

What makes me even more sad is that while my Dad was alive he would often comment on my happiness. By nature I have always been an optimist, a lover of life, able to go with the flow, finding the positive in every situation. On a few occasions he told me that seeing me always happy made him happy, and he wished he had more of that in himself. I was so flattered to know that there was something in me that he admired, and what can I say? It made me happy.

But without him here that innate lightheartedness which was always so easy for me to tap into has disappeared. I still feel joy, I still laugh, I still can find good around me, but now it is all tainted with this burning hole in my heart that he left behind. A part of me died when he did. A part that he appreciated in me. A part that was tied up in him being in my life. A part that I very much miss, but don't expect to ever return, as I think alot of it was born of naivete and inexperience as to what this life can hold (or take away).

Eight months ago today my dear, beloved, treasured Dad died. It has been eight months since I've heard him laugh, since I've played him in a card game, since I've seen him walk in my door, since we've enjoyed a meal together.

In this time I have put my house up for sale, bought a new car, and given him another grandchild. My daughters have turned another year older. My life goes on, even without him here. I don't know how it does, but night keeps turning to day and the sun keeps rising, neverminding the fact that I just want time to go backwards, to a place when I can see him and touch him again.

Obviously, I know this is not possible. So instead I will try to look forward. I will look forward to the very second when I will lay eyes on him again, look forward to that first embrace, look forward to being with him forever, knowing that nothing will never, can never, separate us again.

And that makes me happy.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day wishing he was still here. You know how I miss him, how my life forever feels as if it's empty of something significant, how I feel I am being robbed over, and over, and over again. But, Lord, if he must be gone, it only makes me appreciate and love You more. You are unable to leave me. You are unable to be stolen from me. You love me as he loved me, even more than he loved me, and that love can never be destroyed by cancer, conquered by death, buried in a grave. It is Your love, Lord, which makes losing him okay. It is this love alone that makes the pain bearable, and makes it even hopeful. Only You, Lord, are capable of turning grieving into glad expectation.

Thank You, for being the Lord of life. You are Power. You are Strength. You are Comfort. You are Peace.

You are Joy. And in that I will continue to find my happiness.

In Your Name I pray,

Friday, November 6, 2009

Don't Mess With Me

For the past few years I have been stalked by a bookmark. This bookmark turns up everywhere. My house, my Mom's house, my friend's houses, just when I think I may have escaped it for good there it is again, in all of it's challenging and soul-searching glory.

It is a bookmark which was handed out in our church about two years ago. I vividly remember the sermon that morning, receiving the bookmark as we were leaving, reading it, and hearing God clearly asking me if I was ready to do what this bookmark requires.

I have yet to comply.

Let me write down the words for you, and maybe then you will understand my hesitation.

"Dear Jesus,
I encourage you to mess with me.
Feel free to mess with my comfortable lifestyle,
my predictable patterns,
my long-held convictions.
Do not allow me to settle into safe, status quo Christianity.
Mess with me until I think like you think,
act like you act,
love like you love.
powerfully -

Is it just me, or do these words seem like an open invitation for God to turn the person who prays them into a modern-day Job?

And to make matters horribly, infinitely worse, after hearing and receiving these words my Mom and Dad proceeded to take them to heart. They prayed this prayer that very day to God, trusting that no matter what came their way He would use it to make them stronger in their faith.

Well, my Mom lost her husband, and my Dad lost his life.

And I'm scared.

I want nothing more than to be able to recite these words back to God in all honesty. I want to be able to lift myself, my job, my house, my husband, my children, everything I hold dear up to Him for Him to do with as He sees fit, willing to sacrifice any or all of it if that's what it would take to bring Him glory. In my heart I want so badly to be used by Him, to bring people to Him, to get to know Him better myself. But then in my heart of hearts, way down deep, I am just not there yet, and I am ashamed.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day ashamed to come before You, knowing that we both know I am not coming before You with all of me. I am so sorry, Lord, that my need to be in control, and my need to hold onto certain parts of my life continue to separate me from You.

I will continue to try, can that be good enough for right now? Because I do want to get there, get to that place in our relationship where no matter what happens I can handle it because I can still see You in it. It's just so hard, Lord... No matter how much I love You, no matter how much I tell myself I will do whatever it takes to get other people to love You too, there's that part of me that's still mine, only mine, standing in the way of what could be between You and me.

Will You help me? Will You break through my stubborn human streak and convince me that You are always in control, and that You have a purpose for my life and the life of my loved ones? I lost a little bit of that faith when my Dad died, Lord, but I know I don't need to tell You that.

At the very center of my soul I do love You, and want to do all You ask of me. I just ask that You help me live from my center, when it's so easy to stay on the surface. I need You to get me to the place where I will trust You to mess with me. To persistently, patiently, and powerfully mess with me. Don't give up on me, Lord, and I won't either.

In Your Name I pray,