Making Room for Grief at the Christmas Table

Our family didn’t do Santa.

We started to with our first child, but when she asked, “How does Santa know everything and how does he live forever?” at two years old, we ditched him.

I realized that even her young mind had picked out the inconsistencies between Jolly Old Saint Nick and what we were teaching her about God and the human condition.

The path to joy is filled with pain.  The way to heaven is traveled through a world where children die and cruelty is common.  Not every good little boy or girl finds their wishes fulfilled on Christmas morning.

This is precisely the place where the grieving find Christmas difficult.

Even Christ followers tend to section off the celebration of Jesus’ birth from the agony and necessity of His death.  We welcome the Baby but disregard the crucified Savior.  We like to pretend that “all is calm, all is bright”.

The pressure to maintain the facade of jollity overwhelms my heart and makes me weary down to my bones.

Joy and sorrow both dwell in my soul and I cannot reveal one and hide the other.  I may laugh and cry in the same moment.

It is all too easy for others to welcome the laughter and to shut out the grief–to insist that those who gather pretend everyone gets what they want for Christmas.

No one can bring my son back to me.  No one can giftwrap a restored family and place it under the tree. 

But you can give me and other mourners space for our pain at the Christmas table.

You can honor those we miss by noting their absence–you can acknowledge that eternity is truly wonderful, but today is so very hard.

That is a gift we would treasure.

 

We are Not Home Yet

“Are we there yet?” * “I’m tired.” * “I’m hungry!” * “I need to go to the bathroom!!” 

When I was young, my family took many cross-country trips from Alabama to Arizona and back again.

My dad would hand me the map and a small calculator (one of the first-with only a few buttons and no fancy functions!) and tell me to add up the miles to our next stopping place.  It required focused concentration and careful calculation, but I was rewarded with an accurate assessment of where we were and how much farther we had to go.  Then I could count the mile-markers and measure our progress.

I had a sense of where I was going and how much longer it would take to get there.

I don’t want to be the whiny kid in the backseat, but my grief journey has me crying daily, “Am I there yet?!”

I am confident of where I am going but there’s

no map,

no mile markers and

no real way to measure my progress.

I can’t calculate how long I have to wait to see my son again and I can’t foresee what twists and turns this road may take.  I grow tired and impatient and uncomfortable.

I know each day brings me closer to the moment when my family will be reunited and whole.  Sunrise to sunrise is twenty-four hours less that I have to wait until eternity swallows my pain and longing.  Every revolution of the earth moves me toward the finish line of victory over death.

God has not ordained that I know when this journey will end, so I concentrate my focus on truth and lean into the promises of Scripture:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for

and assurance about what we do not see.

This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song: We Are Not Home Yet.

It helps me remember that my life is a journey, not a destination.

My true home is heaven and there all things will be redeemed and restored.

Soldier On

Grief doesn’t travel alone, it brings anxiety along for the ride.

I live by the mantra, “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow!” and I don’t struggle to fend off worry.

But this vague feeling of impending doom that follows grief is invasive and pervasive and relentless.  I can’t stop it, find its edges or outrun it.

If I could just pin it down, I’d toss it out…

I have never been in combat but I am daily doing battle.  The enemy of my soul wants me to give in and give up.  So I push back, dig in and soldier on.

I am worn out and worn down.  

This is the hardest work I have ever done.  No breaks, no vacations, no time-outs or pauses.  And no forward progress.

BUT I REFUSE TO GIVE UP GROUND.

My struggle is not against flesh and blood and my weapons are not physical.  The only hope I have is to remain rooted in the Word of God and to cling to this truth:

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God,

so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger],

and having done everything [that the crisis demands],

to stand firm [in our place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].

Ephesians 6:13 AMP

Thankful But Broken

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

I love the colors of fall, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, the freedom from gift-giving pressures that lets me focus on the people in my life.

A few years ago, Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was published sparking a renewed interest in the Christian community to focus on thankfulness as a way to open our hearts to the goodness and faithfulness of God and to open our hands and lives to serve others from our bounty.

An invitation to trust and not be afraid.

Across social media, people began to post , “Today I am thankful for___________.” Instagram.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Good stuff, and good reminders.

And I am thankful.

Really.

I am thankful that my family has managed to survive the loss of Dominic without going crazy  or becoming bitter or running away. We continue to support, love and care for one another.

I am thankful for the few, special friends who have made it a priority to visit me, love me and give me a safe space to vent my grief.

I am thankful that I have food to eat, a place to live and clothes to wear.

I am thankful for my Bible, the one I got while carrying Dominic beneath my heart-the one filled with notes, prayers and underlined passages-because it reminds me that God is still God even when I can’t feel Him.

But I am broken.

Truly.

Losing a child, not being able to save the life your love created, not being there when he breathed his last, not holding his hand as he entered eternity-that is humbling.

My November and Thanksgiving will be quieter than in years past.

No daily posts.  No long lists.

I will lean in and listen hard for the whispered promises that one day heartache will end.

I will open my heart and hand to a hurting world.

I will trust and not be afraid.

Walking The Balance Beam

One reason grief is so exhausting is that every step I take is on a balance beam of faith and hope.

I must navigate every necessary task without falling off.

According to one sports writer, “The balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult event in women’s gymnastics at any level of competition. At only four inches wide and four feet off the ground, there’s barely enough space for a person’s foot to fit on the beam let alone enough room to flip and dance.”

But an average competitive routine lasts only 30 to 90 seconds.

I will have to walk this narrow way the rest of my life.

Despair lies in wait on my left.  One misstep and I’m lost.  Down on the ground, hurting and hopeless.  Doubt, guilt, anger and grief threaten to drag me into a pit so deep there’s no way out.

Delusion calls from the right.

Singing a lullaby to my wounded heart-he’s not really gone.  “Can’t you feel him in the wind?  See him in the clouds?” It would be so easy to just step off the rational and faithful path and embrace some fluffy facsimile of biblical truth.

The solid beam is my faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That what He said is true.

That what He promises will come to pass.

That even though I cannot see proof of life after death, it exists and Dominic is experiencing it.

That, like David said when his baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.”

It takes every fiber of my being to focus my will and to direct my attention to the Truth.

Many nights I fall asleep reciting Scripture.  Many mornings I wake before the sun and remind myself that even in the dark, God reigns.

So when you see me and I look tired-I am.

But I wait in hope for the LORD…

   We wait in hope for the LORD;  He is our help and our shield.
 In Him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in His holy name.
 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22 NIV