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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The Good News About Marriage

good news marriageI first heard about The Good News About Marriage when I listened to an interview with the author on the Catalyst Podcast. I thought the information was interesting and it was mentioned several times in the interview that in order to get the whole picture, a person should read the book. So I did.

The title for the book is quite fitting. After reading the survey results that the author, Shaunti Feldhahn, and Tally Whitehead collected from years of research, I would agree that it is good news. For a number of years people in the church have quoted the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce and the percentages inside the church community aren’t any better. As one who has grown up in a church community and now serves at a church, I find those statistics to be bad news. But, from the research revealed in this book, it turns out those numbers are not true. Many of those percentages were based on projections, not actual statistics.

The book does a good job explaining not only the more accurate statistics, but how those facts and figures were accumulated. Here is some of the good news the book shares…

…the actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percent

…the rate of divorce in the church is not the same as the rate among those who don’t attend worship services

…most marriages are happy

In the past few years I have performed a number of weddings and this is great news to share with couples who are preparing for marriage. It provides hope and motivation that a high percentage of marriages are not only intact, but are thriving. It gives good news to those who might be in a season where their marriage is struggling. It communicates that a happy, fulfilling relationship is possible and many are experiencing it.

This is a good resource for pastors, counselors or anyone who works with married couples. It is an encouragement to those who are already married or considering it. The Good News About Marriage really is good news that our churches and families need to hear.

Plus, if you get a hold of the book, there are some free resources that go along with the book’s message.

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.

Let Hope In – review

Let Hope InSometimes you read a book because you’ve read the author’s previous writings and you like what he/she offers. I picked up Let Hope In based on the recommendation of someone I know and trust. He spoke highly of the author, Pete Wilson, so I thought I would give his book a read. It was a good recommendation.

In Let Hope In Pete Wilson offers four choices people can make that have the potential to be life changing. In the opening chapter, Wilson makes this statement that provides the foundation for the rest of his book: “I’m learning that everyone needs healing. Everyone has been hurt. Some of us have been hurt worse than others, but no one escapes this life without some emotional bruising along the way. And if we haven’t dealt with the hurt from past, it will continue to impact everything we touch.”

Whatever our past looks like, everyone has some type of pain or regret and Wilson offers some insight and encouragement in how to let God bring hope in and help us move past our past. Wilson uses both scripture and stories from people he has encountered to provide practical ways to allow hope into our past experiences and regrets.

One chapter that stood out to me addressed the topic of shame. I appreciated how Wilson addressed the issue of shame. He expressed it this way: Shame is not like guilt. Guilt says, ‘I did something wrong,’ while shame says ‘I am wrong.’…Shame says you are not normal” I thought how he both defined and then addressed the issue was helpful and gave a new perspective on the shame our past can bring.

Let Hope In is a practical resource for anyone who struggles with a difficult past or who desires to walk alongside others working through past issues. I found myself highlighting phrases along the way that were helpful. All of us have a past. How we deal with that past makes the difference.

(I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® <http://BookSneeze.com&gt; book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

What Do You Hope For?

HeavensI’ve been catching up on my podcast listening (again) and was listening to some previous editions of the Catalyst podcast. There was an interview with John Eldredge relating to a talk he gave at one of the Catalyst events.

Several years ago I went through the “Wild At Heart” curriculum with some men here at church and then read some of Eldredge’s books. Epic was one of my favorites and I have always enjoyed Eldredge’s unique perspective on being a follower of Christ, a husband and how we look at heaven and the eternal life that God offers.

In his talk at Catalyst, his focus is how we look at heaven. He asked this question, “What do you hope for?” His question was meant to bring to the surface what we think about when we think about heaven. How we look at heaven and what we think eternal life will be like impacts how we live now. He said if we see heaven as “the never-ending church service in the clouds,” there’s not much to get excited about. If, however, we see heaven as the place where God makes all things news, where beauty is restored, where eternity is full of adventure, then we can long for that.

In the interview, the discussion went to what keeps us from being hopeful. The contrast was made between those of us who live in the US and those who live in poverty in other countries. It seems those Christians who live in poverty, especially compared to life in the US, live with more hope. Eldredge observed that most Christians in the states aren’t as hopeful because of our stuff as much from the fact that we are numb. We are so busy with all that we have and do in life, we don’t have (or take) the time to consider eternity. This life keeps us numb to the hope that God offers.

I think that question – What do you hope for? – is a good one to consider. We weren’t made just for this life, yet so often we live as if this is it. What do we hope for? What do we think God has in store for us? How does that impact how I live now?

Heaven Changes Everything review

My mom passed on the book Heaven is for Real after she read it and it was also the first e-book I bought for my wife when she got an eReader. While a book about people who go to heaven and return to tell about it is met with skepticism, I enjoyed reading this book. One of the things that I appreciated about the Burpos was how they interacted with Colton regarding his memories of heaven. They tried to allow him to share as opportunities presented themselves, rather than ask leading questions or perhaps planting ideas in his head. They sought to simply allow him to share.

In Heaven Changes Everything Todd and Sonja build on what was written in the first book. This second book is set up more as a devotional type reading, with forty-two short chapters based on a section of Heaven is for Real.

One of the nice aspects of this book is that it gives a look into where the family is now after the publishing of the first book.  The Burpos share about some of the opportunities that have come their way because of the success of the first book.  They talk about some of the speaking engagements they’ve had as well as chances to talk individually with those have lost a child or suffered some type of loss.  They talk about family life after the writing of Heaven is for Real and the popularity of Colton’s story.  Their story gives some insight into how Colton’s visit to heaven has impacted their own faith and the spiritual life of their family.

One thing continues to come out of the pages of this book – hope.  Even though the Burpos were given their son Colton back, they also share the pain of a miscarriage prior to Colton’s birth.  They have not only experienced the hope that God provides, they have been given a platform to share that with others.  The encounters they share continually point to the promise of heaven and a Father who cares for His children.

If you have read Heaven is for Real, you would enjoy this next book.  If you haven’t, this book provides a glimpse not just into the Burpo’s past experience, but how it impacts the way they live today.

(I received this book from the BookSneeze.com program in exchange for my review)

See You Later, Not Goodbye

On Memorial Day, my wife and I hosted a going away party for a family from her church.   We fired up the grill and she had invited many families who had relationship with our friends that are moving away.  We planned for 100 and think we ended up with between 70-80 people when it was all said and done.  I ran the grill for the first part of the afternoon and we had burgers, turkey burgers, sausages and hot dogs.  I put something on twitter with the hashtag #grillmaster.  My wife thought I was being a little conceited, but I made note that I put #grillmaster, not #THEgrillmaster. However you look at it, it was a great afternoon.

Due to a job change, this family is relocating to Illinois.  My wife and I have become friends with them and they have definitely made a mark at their church, where they have filled many roles – VBS helpers, Drama Camp workers, small group leaders and many more.  While I am not involved actively in their church, I know what a vital role volunteers fill in children’s and youth ministry.  They will be missed on both a personal and ministry level.

Yesterday was just one chance for many in the church to say thank you and farewell.  We stopped mid-afternoon for a prayer circle with them to ask God’s blessing on their relocation.  I really liked the approach Michelle (the wife) had in saying goodbye.  She said, “I’ll say ‘see you later,’ not ‘goodbye.'”  

While they will be moving out-of-state, we are connected by something larger than just our geographic location. We belong to God’s kingdom.  While we wish they weren’t moving, we also know that the kingdom is larger than where we live and we know that relationship will remain. As plans are already in the works to connect with them after they move, we also know that we’ll have all of eternity to hang out together.  And I won’t even have to run the grill.