Reflections on a Not So Happy Holiday Season

Now that we are well into the new year and have transitioned out of the holiday season, I keep thinking about this past December.  As school started back up and we all got back into our routines, the question kept popping up in conversations: “Did you have a good Christmas?”  Our answer was a pretty straight-forward (and some what Grinch-y sounding), “Not really.  It was kind of terrible!”

I’ve shared some posts in the past about my mother-in-law’s battle with Alzheimer’s.  She was living in a care facility for over 6 years and early in December, Hospice came in and informed the family that her health was failing.  So, from that point on, through most of the month, my wife visited with her mom almost every day.  Her brothers who live out-of-state came in for a few days and had an opportunity to spend time with her, with each other and to make plans for her services.  Hospice was keeping her comfortable and a Critical Care Nurse was in the room around the clock.  Nana made it through one more Christmas, but then passed away on December 27.  Her visitation took place on the 29th and she was laid to rest on the 30th.

In the midst of all that, our youngest (six month old) was sick for a few days and we had guys in and out of house repairing the floor in our laundry room, installing a new furnace and putting in new flooring throughout our first floor.

So, all those things kind of took the fun out of the holidays for us this year.  We still enjoyed celebrating Christmas with family who came in and with the extended family we have gained through adoption.  But, we didn’t get to do some of the holiday things we had planned.  The Christmas tree didn’t get put up til about one week before Christmas and our annual New Years Eve celebration with friends didn’t happen.

You probably know the feeling – you approach a certain season of the year (holidays, vacation, a significant celebration, etc.) and have an idea of how you want things to go.  You picture them in your mind and then the reality doesn’t match up with what you were thinking.  That was kind of Christmas for us.

As I look back at it, there a few things I personally took away from our not so happy holiday season.

The Power of Hope.  While we knew that my mother-in-law’s days on this earth were coming to an end, we also knew this wasn’t the end.  Because of her faith in Jesus, we have something to which we can look forward.  That message really came out at her funeral and it was a great reminder of the hope we can have in Jesus.

I loved this quote from Louie Giglio I was able to share at the funeral:  “Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is to live as if this world is all there is, when God’s promise is for so much more. So make the most of every moment while you’re here. If you see something wrong, seek to fix it, but as you do, know that Jesus is preparing something brand new (and exponentially better) for those who have put their hope in Him. Live like you are headed to forever. Endure like you believe this world will fade, but Jesus will remain.”

Phyllis lived like this world will fade, but Jesus will remain.

The Strength of Family and Friends.  I was able to watch my wife sit and talk with her two brothers and her dad.  I listened as they shared memories about their mom and laugh and cry together.  I saw them hug each other and just support each other through a time of saying goodbye.

I also saw the stream of people who came to the visitation, who attended the funeral, who sent cards, who sent texts, who left Facebook messages, who prepared meals and who called just to check in.

You know in your mind that those relationships are important and needed, but you really come to understand it on a deeper level when you are the recipient of that love and care and concern.

The Beauty and Brevity of Life.  My mother-in-law lived to be almost 80 years old.  Many people would consider that old or a full-life.  I really only knew her in the last season of her life when she became my mother-in-law in 2010.  But hearing and reading stories about her, I came to appreciate how she enjoyed life.  Life is beautiful for sure.

There were a few times as we sat in her room that I was feeding our six month old son.  There, in the same room sitting about 10 feet apart, were two of my family who were at opposite ends of the spectrum of life.  One was just beginning his life; the other was nearing the end of hers.

I thought about all the life she experienced as a daughter, a sister, a student, a wife, a mom, a nurse, a friend.  I thought about what was still in store for our son and all that he had yet to experience, to learn, to discover, to know.

Life is both beautiful and brief.

The Comfort in Memories.  I shared at the funeral that I learned a lot about my mother-in-law through the memories of my wife.  As we went through this season, my wife would share things her mom liked, recipes she would make, things she liked to do, places she liked to go, food she liked to eat, music she liked to hear and so much more.

While I’m sad my wife doesn’t have her mother present with her anymore, I’m grateful she has those memories.

So, it wasn’t a very happy holiday season for us, but there were some good things about it.  In the midst of sadness, we received comfort. Even while shedding tears, I heard the joy of laughter.

While it’s not a season we want to repeat, we know that the hope we have makes all the difference.

The Noticer Returns

The Noticer ReturnsBack in September, 2013, I wrote about reading Andy Andrew’s The Noticer. Jones (just Jones, not Mr. Jones) shows up unexpectedly to offer insight and advice (he calls it “perspective”) to people just when they need to hear it. Andrews has released a second book about Jones titled The Noticer Returns.

In this second offering Jones continues to offer perspective to people and he continues to show up at unexpected times. One time he meets a farmer in the middle of his wheat field and Jones almost gets shot (you’ll have to read it to see what happens).

Much of this book focuses on parents who have questions about the best way to raise their children and, maybe more importantly, how the parents know they are going about it the right way. It made for some interesting chapters.

There were two passages of the book that really stood out to me. One came out of conversation with the farmer. In talking about some of the decisions this farmer needed to make, Jones said this: “The man you become will be determined by the value you provide for others – those whom you meet on the road to who you are becoming. Great or small, your legacy will be judged one day by the quality and amount of value you were able to contribute in the lives of other people.” Pretty powerful thought about the legacy we leave.

The other passage was in a conversation with a man whose wife was dying. The husband was emotionally spent and was angry that he was losing his spouse of so many years. Jones offered some perspective to the man comparing her exit from this world like a birth into a new world. “She is not the end. She is at the beginning…for many years this dear child was happy and content in this body. But for some time now, she has struggled. She has become uncomfortable. She has begun to long for freedom from the pain of this body and has sensed that the world she inhabits is not where she ultimately belongs. Even now she does not fully appreciate the reality that is waiting on the other side of her struggle, but she is preparing to experience something new and wonderful that in her wildest imaginings could not be described.” I liked the description that the world she inhabits is not where she ultimately belongs. God has more in store for us than just this life.

The Noticer Returns would be worth your time to read, whatever season of life you find yourself.

A Life Well Lived

The past week has been a rough one for our church family. We have had several members pass away and three funerals will occur in our building over a span of about 5 days.

I was honored to be a part of Pete’s funeral on Friday. I knew Pete for a little over 12 years, but there who so many who knew him for 20, 30 or 40+ years. His funeral was both easy and difficult. It was easy because his was a life well lived. He loved God, loved his church, loved his family and loved others. So many people attested to that by their presence at the visitation and funeral service. It was difficult because he was so loved and will be missed by many. His passing came suddenly and so was a surprise to his family and friends. His funeral was more of a celebration of his life and his relationship with God than it was a time of mourning. His wife said it well when she said that is what he would have wanted – a celebration.

Probably the most powerful moment for me came the Sunday after Pete’s funeral. I have the privilege to lead worship at our church and so was on the platform Sunday morning. Pete’s wife and family were present for church. As we started singing the song, “How Great is our God,” Pete’s wife and daughter stood in honor of the One who they were worshipping. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, they put their trust, confidence and hope in God. What an example of how we should spend the time we’ve been given.

What’s On My Mind

Normally when I put a post on the blog, it deals with a singular subject.  Maybe a review of a book, an interesting video, something to do with #Hoosiernation or the like.  Today is a hodge-podge or random assortment of a couple of thoughts.  Basically, what’s been on my mind.

A huge part of what’s been consuming thoughts and conversations is my mother-in-law.  Last week my wife, along with her brother and father, had to make the difficult decision to put Cheryl’s mom in a care facility.  She has been struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s/dementia.  It was a challenge for them to know the best way to care for her and address her issues of confusion about where she was and who she thought was with her.  A spot opened up in a very nice facility, but that lead to a whole host of emotions after they moved her in.  I don’t think any of us were ready for the flurry of loss and sadness that accompanied the decision and subsequent move.  There is a period of no contact for the family members as Cheryl’s mom adjusts to her new living space.  Needless to say it has been tough on them, but many friends have offered their love, care and support.  It has been one of those situations where I wish I had great wisdom and words of comfort to share and yet find myself lacking.

Over the weekend, my aunt (my mother’s sister-in-law) passed away unexpectedly.  We didn’t get together often with mom’s side of the family and, to be honest, I can’t be sure how many years it has been since I’ve seen them.  But, as my mom said on the phone, “It’s family,” so with her passing comes sadness.  On-line obituaries and guest books give an insight into the lives of people.  I feel for my family members who lost a wife, mother, grandma and friend.

In the midst of all that, I have been reminded that some day – maybe not today or tomorrow, but some day – we will be totally healed and restored.  Jesus will make all things new.  Sickness will be gone.  Death will be finally defeated.  Confusion will be banished.  Sadness will be no more.  I need that to be continually on my mind in the midst of life’s bumps and bruises.  It’s easy to become focused on the current struggle.  As we continue to press on, I need to know and cling to the truth that He will make all things new.