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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This Life I Live // Rory Feek

I have to admit that I don’t listen to country music. If I do hear a country song, it is purely by accident. So, there are a lot of country music stars that I simply don’t know. I may recognize a name or two, but couldn’t pick them out of a line up or name any of their popular songs.

And here’s another thing I must admit: until I received a copy of This Life I Live, I didn’t know the names Rory or Joey Feek.  I didn’t know their story or their music or the fact that they have a TV show.

Several weeks ago I happened to be watching the TODAY show and there was an interview with Rory.  Matt Lauer was talking to him, asking him questions and referenced Rory’s story like everyone watching knew it.

I didn’t.

But after reading This Life I Live, I’m glad I do.

The book tells the compelling story of Rory and Joey’s relationship: how they met, the fact that she saw herself marrying another man even while talking with Rory, the courtship and marriage that followed, the birth of Indiana and her battle with the cancer that ultimately took her life.

Rory and Joey’s story is both real and powerful.  Each chapter in the book reads more like a journal entry than a typical biography and Rory writes from his heart.  It was more like having a conversation with him and he was transparent about his successes and his failures.

While This Life I Live is the story of Rory and Joey, it is so much more than that.

The first half of the book gives Rory’s back story: about his upbringing, his family’s constant moving and the on and off again relationship with his father.  All of that leads into the man he is as he begins his relationship with Joey.

While This Life I Live is the story of Rory and Joey, it really is the story of how God was working in the life of Rory to make him the man he is today.  Through a rough upbringing, many broken relationships, a lot of mistakes, successes and failures, parenting, marriage, having a child and losing his wife to cancer, God used all of that to shape and mold Rory.

A quote that jumped off the page at me is from chapter 52 where Rory writes about his daughter Indiana. She is born with Downs syndrome and this was his conclusion:  I have a feeling – I’ve had it for a while now – that Indiana is here to teach me something.  To teach me everything . . . She will teach all of us.  Just because she’s different. Her extra chromosome will be the thing that changes our DNA. What we’re made of and what’s down deep inside.

Her extra chromosome will be the thing that changes our DNA.

This Life I Live is ultimately about change.  And growth.  And growing up.

While This Life I Live is the story of Rory and Joey, it’s really about how God doesn’t give up on His children and will teach us and grow us as long as we allow Him.

You can see more about Rory and Joey on their website which features a blog, videos and information where you can get a copy of the book.

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.

BELIEVE 2013

the presenceLast weekend we took 19 of our Junior High students and 5 brave adults to the Christ In Youth BELIEVE Conference held at Northern Kentucky University. I say “brave adults” because we joined with 6,00 other people . . . and the vast majority were sixth, seventh and eighth graders. There was a lot of junior high energy in the room.

We’ve attended this event for the last several years. The program is always top-notch and this year’s followed suit. The theme for the weekend was “The Presence.” The focus was on the Holy Spirit. When I first heard that theme, I wondered how they were going to take a sometimes confusing topic for adults and present it in a way that young teens would understand. They did an excellent job.

Weaving together the music sets, clear teaching and well-done video stories, three clear messages about The Presence came through the weekend:

The Presence gives life where there was no life.
The Presence creates community where there was no community.
The Presence gives courage where there was no courage.

Through the events of the weekend, we were challenged to accept the life the Spirit gives, engage in community and rely of the courage The Presence gives to live for God.

The program was great and we had a lot of fun through the weekend.  We enjoyed participating in BELIEVE, eating sardines in the hallway of the hotel, cruising around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in a church van and bus and killing some time at the mall.

Here are a few pics from the weekend:

Music & energy

stage 2

Sardines!

sardines

Sweet stage and lights!

stage shot

Joe Turns 21 Today!

Joe senior 59On this day, a mere 21 years ago, Joe showed up! He was born in Defiance (the name of the city, not his state of being) Ohio and much has transpired since then. We have lived in three different states (Ohio to Kentucky to Indiana and back to Ohio) and a sister joined the group a few years after his arrival.

Kind of hard to believe that he hits 21 years today. I was thinking this morning that I remember when I turned 21 and find it somewhat disconcerting that I now have a son that is 21.

He’s played football and basketball, performed in many band concerts, traveled numerous miles with Solid Rock, marched on many a football field, participated in several musicals, graduated high school and is making his way through college. A stroke darkened the picture for a little while in junior high, but he still managed to go visit Uruguay while in elementary school, take a trip to Southeast Asia with his grandfather and cousin and go to Ireland with a crew from college. Not a bad itinerary for the first 21 years of life.

I know God has good things in store for Joe and look forward to what He will do through him. So, Happy 21st Birthday!! Here’s a “cup of Joe” to help celebrate. (Hitting pf changs later in the day for a good birthday meal)

Cup of Joe (Brackemyre)