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.

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A Must Read: A Letter to My Step-Daughter @DaytonMomsBlog

I’m a little late in sharing this (it was published last Friday), but it is still worth a read. My wife has another post on the Dayton Moms Blog and it gives a little peek into our journey of being a blended family.

Before we added to our family through adoption, we took on the challenge of blending a family of three boys and one girl spaced out from elementary school through a new high school graduate. Like most families, this was new territory for us and we faced a few challenges. Cheryl writes about that in her post.

I joked with her that her post makes me sound smarter than I really am, but I loved her honesty in this particular paragraph:

He told me to be patient and that was so hard. I wanted an instant family, I wanted you to just fit right into our family with my kids, and that was so selfish of me. Being patient was hard, but oh the wonderful things I was able to see and observe in that time. I watched you grow and mature from a distance.

Take a few minutes to read the letter on the Dayton Moms Blog.  Hopefully it will be an encouragement to you or allow you to encourage someone else facing a similar journey.

Want Better SAT Scores? // Try Family Meals

All parents want their children to do well in school. When it comes to moving onto higher education, high school students have to take the ACT or SAT. Some students take the test more than once to try to raise their score. Others do practice tests online or attend classes designed to prepare them for success on the test. I received an email today that pointed to another key to success on the test: Family Dinners.

Tim Elmore of Growing Leaders referenced a couple of studies which show the impact of families having regular meals together. At one point in the post Elmore wrote this: “Students who enjoyed talking over a meal with family members also enjoyed rising scores on standardized tests.”

I did some quick googling about family meals and while there are other factors at work, the general consensus from research is that there is benefit from families that have regular meal times together.

While studying for tests is a plus and there is value in taking prep courses, there is also merit to regular family meals. A study from Cornell University said, “Most studies have found that medium and high levels (i.e., 3 or more days per week) of frequent meals yield the most positive benefits for children.”

The Cornell study concluded with three suggestions:

1. Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three times per week, if possible.

2. Remember the benefits of consistent family mealtimes

3. Don’t forget, quality of family meals is just as important as quantity.

The research on family meals shows that regular family meals impact relationships within the family, increase academic achievement, help with overall health and nutrition among other things. Take some time during the week to sit together with your family and share a meal. While juggling busy schedules can be a challenge, regular meal times show a lot of benefit.

Flesh & Hammocks // @syd_the_kyd31

I’ve shared before that my daughter has a blog. As a parent it’s fun to read her posts and see how she expresses herself, what inspires her to write and the conclusions she comes to.

Yesterday she shared a new post. It comes out of a book she is reading again. I’m familiar with the author, but haven’t read the book. In this post, I appreciated the imagery she used as she talked about what stood out to her from the book.

I especially liked this phrase:

But relying on Jesus, the One who hangs the best hammock ever in between the two trees that are the world and the riches of Heaven, that will get us somewhere. I want to be in that hammock.

Go check out the post on her blog: Flesh & hammocks

The Beach // Beauty and Simplicity

Last week our family enjoyed a much anticipated and relaxing week at the beach. This summer for a number reasons was more hectic than most. While we always look forward to vacations and holidays, this particular time away was one my wife and I (and the rest of our family) were especially excited about.

One thing my wife and I have discovered is that we both love the beach. Dragging chairs, umbrellas, snacks and towels to the ocean to sit and soak is something we both relish. The beach is our “happy place.” There are some families that love to go camping or make the trek to Disney or Harry Potter World or visit state parks or national monuments. We have done those things and may plan trips like that in the future, but, for us, the ideal place is the beach. Give us sand, sun and ocean and we are good.

As I stood on the beach one day, I was reminded of why we enjoy going there. Two words came to mind as I looked out at the ocean that morning.

The first word was beauty.

You see it quite often on social media feeds: pictures of sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, mountain views, lakefronts and much more. We are captivated by the beauty of creation. To sit on the beach or stand at the edge of the ocean and look out at the waves rolling in, you are struck by the beauty of what God spoke into existence. I was reminded of the beauty of what our Creator made.

The second word was simplicity.

The ocean is like an escape. You are not too concerned about your phone or social media feed (unless you are capturing pics of the kids playing in the surf or the sand). Other than the beach necessities (towels, chairs, some snacks, sunscreen, sand tools and a good book), there’s not much else needed for the day. There’s swimming, sitting or even sleeping in the sun, searching for sea shells, sand castle building, reading your book or just taking a walk along the shore line. Simple really. The beach is less about doing and more about just being.

Beauty.

Simplicity.

Just a couple of reasons why we enjoy going to the beach.

50th Anniversary Celebration

A few weeks ago, on July 21, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. On the next day (July 22), my siblings, spouses and other family hosted an open house in Fort Wayne. It was fun to stand back and watch as numerous friends came by and offered their congratulations to our parents…and there were a number of people who stopped by.

We moved to Fort Wayne when I began elementary school and lived in the same house until I graduated high school. We were members of the same church throughout that time and our family was pretty involved: youth group, Sunday School, children’s musicals, adult choir, Christmas and Easter pageants, various roles in church leadership and probably a few others not listed. Many of the relationships we had were through our church family. So, when the 50th celebration came around, many who attended were from the church.

I saw former Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, friends of my parents and past choir members. I wish I could say I remembered everyone’s name (I didn’t) or even recognized everyone who came through. It was apparent that many of those friendships ran deep as many conversations were going and many lasted for a while.

Several family members were there which also made the day special.

A 50th Anniversary is definitely worth celebrating and it was cool to see the ripple effect of my parents’ marriage. Not only were children, grandchildren, a great-grandson, a brother, a niece and cousin present, there were countless relationships and friendships represented. It’s hard to quantify the influence they have had on people in Indiana, Oklahoma, all the places they have traveled plus the places their family members have lived.

It was a good day and a couple worth celebrating.

Here are a few pics from the day.

Mom & Dad, Uncle John & Aunt Ginny, Niece Emilee and Cousin Janet

My siblings

Just a few of the people that came

A not-so-great family selfie at dinner following Open House