Living a Wonderful Life, in a Bah Humbug world.

… “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again!” It was time. It was way past time.

After the beginning credits have stopped the scene zooms in on a small, quaint town where everybody knows everybody. The streets are pristinely decorated with Christmas lights as people hustle and bustle, getting the last of their Christmas shopping done.

In a local coffee shop, we see a couple talking about their upcoming divorce, but they agree it’s best to wait and tell the kids after the New Year. A single mom mourns the loss of her husband just months before. A man gets dumped by his girlfriend on Christmas Eve and he swears he’ll never celebrate Christmas or love again. Finally, George Bailey realizes that wishing to never have been born proves to be the best life lesson he’ll ever need.

Ahhh. Hello Hallmark Channel.

Two things I know for sure about these movies; there is always a happy ending, and the women always have at least 4 or 5 stylish winter wool coats. Who has that many wool coats? I’m mean, come on!

Before the credits roll, we learn the couple discover renewed love after getting stranded together in a stranger’s house while driving home in a blizzard. A widowed woman from church befriends the single mom, and helps her find a new job with great pay and great benefits, while reigniting her faith once more. The man who got dumped meets someone else he can’t live without. (I got nothing else here. It just happens.) And good ole George Bailey realizes he’s tired of seeing life as it could have been had he not been born. He simply prays, “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again!”

David died in June 2010. Christmas came six months later, which we spent in Wisconsin that year. I couldn’t contain my emotions because I couldn’t control my anguish. I had to push myself to engage in conversations. I hid in the bathroom periodically because when the tears came, the tears came. No one needed or wanted to see that. All I could think about was losing my son. I had very little leftover to think about God’s. I felt guilty about this, selfish even. Was I dishonoring God? It is His Son’s birthday after all! Sigh.

The following year was difficult too. Mike’s Mom had been in the hospital for several weeks, and we knew she wouldn’t be with us much longer. None of us could have imagined Grandma Nancy would die at 5:33 pm on Christmas Eve. This was also our second Christmas without David, and while I missed him terribly I felt that it would be inappropriate to deal with those emotions under the circumstances. I did my best to compartmentalize those feelings for another day down the road. I felt I had to be strong, especially for Mike’s Dad.

By the time December 2012 rolled around I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty numb, almost indifferent. I was determined to just go with whatever happened. 

Until.

Until I had a conversation with one of my very best friends. (a friend I can be real with and she still likes me!) We were talking about everything, then De De told me her son KJ randomly asked her why she doesn’t decorate more for Christmas. I like the decorations. Hmmm. Okay. So, she grabbed a few boxes out of storage and went to town. She played loud Christmas music as she decorated the house and decided to claim the joy of the season of celebrating Jesus. She got some baking done too. This was so much fun Jan! It feels so good to slow down and reflect on the joy of Christmas.

Joy. There’s that word again. Ya know, I’d spent the past two years balancing my grief, but experiencing joy weaved in with Christmas traditions of the season hadn’t even entered my mind. Just like when De De had to spoon feed me crackers to get me to eat after David died, she may not have realized it, but she was doing the same with this notion of joy.

De De sent me pictures of what she had done and that’s all it took for me. A spark ignited, and suddenly I became excited to re-claim the joy of Jesus and the joy of Christmas traditions that used to drive me this time of year. I put lights on the Christmas tree and lit garland on the fireplace mantle, along with the snowman stocking holders which showcased David and Daniel’s stockings I’ve had since they were little. I also set out the nativity set that Grandma Rozga gave me a month before she died. I’m giving this to you early so you can enjoy it this Christmas. It was the last gift she gave to me and I will treasure it forever.

I also decided I would do something I hadn’t done in years; I turned on Christmas music and baked away. I actually had fun doing it, anticipating the moment when I would hand deliver the Christmas treats to our friends in the neighborhood. I hadn’t felt this joy for years, and I’m talking about a “Merry Christmas Mr. Potter!” type of joy. I couldnt wipe the smile off my face. It was wonderful.

I called De De later that day and sent her a picture of my finished work and the treats cooling on my kitchen countertop. I thanked her for helping me to jumpstart my Christmas spirit. More specifically my soul. I had been missing out on a lot of things in my life, a lot of joy that had been buried within me. I needed to open my heart up… “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.” 

It was time. It was way past time. Maybe it’s time for you too.

Each Christmas brings its own challenges. This year we will spend it without Mike’s Dad. He passed away last month. But I know what I know; God is still good, and searching for joy is a choice. I choose joy.

Dear friend,

It is possible to mourn your loss AND celebrate Jesus’ birth at the same time. I pray that you will rediscover Jesus, the reason for the season and that you will find joy in the traditions of the past that you once loved and looked forward to. You may even start new traditions. What joy it will bring to your heart as you prepare for Christmas next week.  Grab the decorations out of storage and set the butter out to soften. You have work to do. 

God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

Jan

God’s Promises

Luke 2:10-11

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Jesus=joy, and joy=Jesus.

Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Our hope is found in Jesus, and joy always follows this hope. And not just at Christmas time.

 

“The children were nestled all snug in their beds…”

“What can we do when the pain of our loss competes with the joy of Jesus’ birth?”

The kids are in bed and can’t wait for Christmas morning. The first ray of sunlight appears to announce the day. The sound of tiny feet follow. It’s Christmas!  Before you take your first sip of coffee, the surge of questions begin: “Did Santa come?” “When can we open our presents?” “What’s for breakfast?”

Maybe you have adult children. You look forward to their arrival, and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re all finally under the same roof after a long day of travel. Ahhh. All is well with the world. You know that feeling. And yes, they still want to know what’s for breakfast!

There’s something wonderful about having family together.

Christmas 2004 comes to mind. Our niece was in the Army. She’d just finished serving a tour in Iraq. Although she was back in the states, we knew she wouldn’t be able to join us for Christmas in the north woods of Wisconsin. Everyone else would be there but her. Wait for it…

Someone whispered in my ear, “Kim will be here for Christmas!” Oh gosh, I could hardly contain myself!

We all screamed with joy when Kim finally walked through the front door. Of course Mike’s Mom cried, which started a chain reaction. Hugs followed. This was “the best Christmas ever!” I thought my heart would burst! I felt that “all was well with the world” feeling again. We were all together. Life was good.

While you may not be able to celebrate with everyone in your family this year, let them know they’ll be missed and tell them you love them.

Christmas traditions that once included friends or family members who have since passed away are especially difficult. It’s hard to turn from our sadness to be able to embrace the joy of what Christmas is all about. I know it’s not easy.

I don’t know about you but after the hustle and bustle of getting the tree up and decorated, buying and wrapping the gifts, the mind has more space to fill. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to hustle or bustle this year. Sadness may creep in as we’re staring straight into the celebratory face of Christmas without those we lost.

What can we do when the pain of our loss competes with the joy of Jesus’ birth?  It feels like an oxymoron to feel them both simultaneously, but we do.

It’s normal to feel as if you’re being pulled in different emotional directions. You need to acknowledge you’re hurting because someone you loved has died. Your tears are proof of that. The pain is proof of that. At the same time, God wants you to know that Jesus’ birth is proof of his love for you.

The heart requires us to feel whatever we’re feeling. The emotions need to come out anyway right? Taking time to cry, pray or read encouraging Bible verses can be cleansing, and may be helpful prior to meeting with family or friends. Just go with it. It’s a human response to our devastating loss.

So much has happened since our ‘miracle’ Christmas. I could have never imagined we would lose our son David six years later, or that Grandma Rozga would pass away on Christmas Eve 2011. They are greatly missed.

I long for the days when David was safe and sound, under the same roof. His smile was contagious. I miss watching him play football in the snow with his brother Daniel, and making the ole standby, Swiss Miss hot chocolate for them after. On Christmas morning he was always the first one up to see what Santa brought.

I swear I can actually feel my heart ache when the memories flood in, but at the same time I know he is safe and nestled close to Jesus in Heaven; the one we celebrate now. He isn’t home, but he is home.

While life is still very hard without him, I have been able to find moments of peace while still living on this side of Heaven.

Oh, and the answer to the question?… I suppose it’s not rocket science but do the best you can. You can be sad and celebrate at the same time. Give yourself permission to do both, and try to engage with others who are hurting as well. Most of all, know that God loves you more than you can imagine. You are not alone in this journey.

Dear Friend,

I hope you’ll take uninterrupted time for yourself to just feel the emotions of missing the person(s) who have died. Don’t ignore what your heart is aching for you to acknowledge, because it can only stay bottled up for so long. This is no guarantee you won’t struggle during your gatherings, but it may lessen it a bit. Life continues to change for all of us. Cherish those in your life now, and accept the bitter with the sweet of the season.  God Bless you and Merry Christmas.

 

 

✅ Christmas 2016

“…Christmas may have seemed impossible to get through, and yet, here you are.”

A dear friend of mine used to encourage me as I guided my heart to do things that; A) I didn’t want to do, B) things I didn’t think I was capable of doing after we lost David, or C) taking actions that would challenge me to be strong, whether in public or private.

My first trip to the grocery store, “Checkmark.” Attempting to focus on reading a book, “Checkmark.” Going in to get my hair cut and colored, “Checkmark.” That first Christmas, “Checkmark.” The first birthday, death anniversary, the list is long.

That was always her response. She didn’t say much else. She didn’t have to. She knew with each new thing I did, or with each old thing I struggled with but muddled through, was an accomplishment for my hurting heart. She knew it was a big deal for me.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s incredibly difficult and no matter how recent your loss, getting through this Christmas may have seemed impossible to get through, and yet, here you are.

Maybe it went better than you thought it would. Maybe it was harder than you thought it would be. I know it looks different for each of you, but may I just tell you this, “Checkmark.” You got through it! I know it was a huge challenge for you. I know it was hard.

The dinner dishes are done. The presents have been opened. The house is quiet. So now what?

For me I will thank God for getting me through another day, another Christmas. Our seventh without David. This is a checkmark day for me too.

Dear friend,

Christmas 2016, ✅  This is just one of many checkmarks for you as you strive to live out your new normal. I would say that they are absolutely necessary for our healing and moving forward.

I know you can do it! I want to cheer you on, just like my friend Dawn did for me, and still does. Don’t stop laughing. Don’t stop loving. Don’t stop crying out to God.  Continue to guide your heart through your loss. Until next time.

Promises

Psalm 71:20-23         1 Peter 5:6-7, 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Christmas as you grieve

“I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.”

Christmas 2010. Our first without David. I’ll never forget it.  Christmas is supposed to be a joyful, happy time, but tell that to my heart. The only thing I wanted I couldn’t have.

Everything that I had done in previous years to prepare for Christmas was something I began to dread.  None of it felt right.  I had no idea how I would get through it all.  It felt like I was being torn between feeling such sadness and yet, knowing I should be focusing on the birth of Jesus, which is why we celebrate Christmas to begin with.  How would I be able to celebrate when I felt so sad? I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.

If you’ve experienced loss you may be feeling the same way about Christmas. It can be a sinking feeling of hopelessness, dread, and anger . You try not to let your defenses down because if you do, you fear you could fall into an endless pit of sadness. That’s how I felt back then anyway. I’d been in that pit far too many times, so I avoided thinking about all of it, but in reality there was no way to avoid it. Christmas would come whether David was here or not.

My anticipation of our first Christmas without David brought with it one of the most loving whispers from God I have ever encountered, and I will never forget it; “You can mourn the loss of your son and still celebrate the birth of mine.”… “You can mourn the loss of your son and STILL celebrate the birth of mine.”…  it was okay for me to experience all of these conflicting emotions.

During a time when I was paralyzed with sadness God gave me this promise, an eternal perspective that I desperately needed to claim through John 3:16-17…

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent His Son into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”

I believe God was simply reminding me that through the pain and sadness I feel because my son is not here, I need to focus on His Son now more than ever… because it is Jesus’ life, His death on the cross and His resurrection that give me the assurance of where David is right now.

I’ve heard this verse so many times before, but here’s the reality of it as I read it now; David is living out this promise from God. I know that his last breath on earth was his first breath in Heaven. I also know that when I die Jesus will be there to greet me…and David will be right behind Him. I-will-see-David-again.

What’s even more amazing? The same Jesus that walks with David right now in Heaven, is the same Jesus I placed my trust in when I was 17. We both share whom we celebrate on Christmas! This has given me tremendous comfort.

Christmas 2010 was spent with family in Wisconsin. We attended Christmas Eve service at a small church in the north woods. It was hard, but as the Pastor shared the Christmas story I listened much more intently. I needed to be reminded, even though I’d heard it many times over the years. While the tears shed that night were tears of anguish, missing my David, they were also tears of joy, celebrating the birth of the One Who was born for me, died for me, and who lives in me.

I know this won’t be easy. It still hurts. Take it minute by minute. Pray and ask God to help you.

If you would like help as you grieve, GriefShare is a wonderful resource. We can’t control when our emotions will take us over during the holidays.  If this happens, excuse yourself and just take time to cry. If possible, drive separately to your family gatherings. This way you can leave early if you need to. Check out their website for more helpful suggestions.

Dear Friend,

This is sad time for a lot of people, but in the midst of your loss there is joy to be found as we celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s okay to experience anguish as you guide your heart to find joy in the Savior’s birth. I found that anguish and joy are intertwined quite often as we search for peace through our loss. I pray you will cling to the hope of Christmas as you grieve. His name is Jesus. I’m still praying for you.  See you next time.

Promises

John 3:16-17       Romans 10:9

I love the simplicity of  Luke 2:9-14 as told by Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”