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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It is Christmas Time



For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.                                             Isaiah 9:6


 
     I have been in the midst of writing this post for a couple of weeks. When I started it only a few days after Thanksgiving, I felt like I had a handle on everything. I truly thought that I was just going to make it through Christmas, even though I knew it would be so much different this year. But the honest truth is that I never expected it to be so incredibly difficult. We made it to six months, and I really thought that I had finally reached a level point in my grief. There were still so many days when it was hard, and I have never lost that painful hole with every beat of my heart. Yet I felt a little bit more stable.
     But then the days after Thanksgiving hit. I was thrown into the season of Christmas against my will. The reality is that no matter how much you want to avoid all of those holiday things, it is impossible. Every store that I bravely entered held very real triggers to my emotions. Not only did I see joy and excitement on the faces of beautiful little children, but I also saw tiny Christmas dresses, red and green hair bows, and baby's first Christmas stockings. It is impossible to avoid.
     I can not even tell you how many times I abandoned my shopping cart to reach the safety of my car. I can not even tell you how many tears I have cried as I gazed at all of the Christmas decorations sitting untouched on our living room floor. I can not even tell you how many times I have wished to just be a normal mom who could buy that beautiful red and gold Christmas dress that is hanging there for all to see. But I am not. The holidays truly have been different this year. I wish that I could say it has been in a good way. But the reality is that I wonder if I am strong enough to face each day.
     However, I have learned so many things throughout the past few weeks. Lessons that reach far beyond just the surface of my being. I have learned these lessons in a way that will touch me, and change me for the rest of my life. I would like to share them with you today, because I think that we can all learn from them, and apply them to our own lives as well.

* I have learned that it is entirely okay to say "no". Now the truth is that I have always been that reliable person. When I commit to something, I always follow through to the very best of my ability. I never want to be that person who you cannot count on. But this year I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Josh and I had an activity where we were both committed to helping. But that night as I walked in the door from work, I felt so many confusing and overwhelming emotions. Immediately I began to get crabby with my poor husband, and I just did not know how to handle everything that was flooding my mind, heart, and body. When he realized something was not right, he came over to give me a hug, and let me tell you, the emotions flooded out. They always say that you can only hold in your emotions for so long, before they will find a way out. That is so true! So that night I tried to wipe away those tears, I tried to cover up the hurt and the pain that was crushing my heart, but it was not working. Josh made the call that night, and even though I felt beyond guilty and awful for not showing up, I know that he did the right thing. He knew that I needed time and space to allow myself to grieve. It is not the easy thing to do, especially when you feel like you are being selfish. But the truth is that God gives us feelings and he gives us emotions for a reason. Sometimes it is okay to cover those up, and to hide and carry on as normal. But other times I believe that God wants us to protect our hearts. I have had to say "no" to Christmas parties, and other fun event this year, because I just knew that it would be too hard, and too painful. I entered into this season with an open heart, just waiting to see how my body would handle everything. It has been a learning experience, but each time we have a party or activity, I pray. I pray with all of my heart that God would give me wisdom and strength to make the right decision. In response, He has always given me very clear signs of what I should do. I am so thankful that He is teaching me how to take care of myself, and that He is the one who is guarding and protecting my very fragile heart.

* I have learned that it is important to think of others at this time of year. In the years past, I have never given much thought to those who may be sad, or suffering, or alone this year. When your heart is filled with such joy and happiness, it can be hard to see things from the perspective of another. It can be hard to understand why others are not rushing around and enjoying the season. But as my heart grieves, I truly feel a bond with others in a very special way this year. On those days, when you wish so badly that you could just sleep through the month of December, I know that there are others out there feeling the same way. It still amazes me at what a difference a card, phone call, or text can truly make. Those days, just knowing that someone else is thinking of you, that someone knows that your struggling and hurting, that someone is praying for you, makes all the difference in the world. I wish that I had enough time to respond with a huge thanks to each person who has remembered Josh and I in a special way this holiday season. But please know what a huge difference you have made in my life. You have touched my heart in such a special way. I can never say thank you enough. My prayer this season is that God opens up my eyes to see other people who are hurting. My prayer is that He provides opportunities for me to make a small difference in their lives as well.

* I have learned that it is important to remember. Sometimes it is so painful to realize that Caroline will not be with us this Christmas. This morning I woke up with the desperate desire to pick out a beautiful Christmas outfit for her to wear to our party tonight. I just wanted to take pictures of her being held, being loved, and enjoying her first Christmas. But all too quickly those desires are washed away by the aching in my heart. The reality is that Josh and I will be driving alone to our parties this year.
But that does not mean that we can not include her in our Christmas this year and every year to come. Every night during the month of December, I have lit a candle in honor of my sweet little girl. Every time I glance at those flickering flames, I realize just how much I love her. There is something so comforting about the warmth of a candle being lit on a dark cold night. This year Josh insisted on putting up our Christmas tree. But instead of having ornaments on our tree this year, we only have a few that were given to us in honor of Caroline. Our tree is very bare this year, and in so many ways I like it that way. Because the truth is that our life is so empty this year without her, and so it is very significant to me. But at the same time, our tree has a few absolutely beautiful ornaments that each help me to remember her life in a very special way. Our little girl also has a tiny tree that Josh and I brought to her special place on December 17. On the top of her tree is an angel. This week I decided that I  also wanted to buy her a stocking. When I was walking down the aisle at Meijer the tears filled my eyes when I saw some of the baby's first Christmas stockings. But my eye caught on one dark blue velvet stocking, with swirly snowflakes sewn onto the fabric. It was beautiful, and I just knew it was perfect for her. So we have decided to start a new tradition in our house. We will write Caroline a letter on Christmas each year, and we will keep them in her stocking. I pray that we will be able to find comfort in reading and writing these letters each Christmas.

* I have learned that there is joy in celebrating the holidays! When you miss somebody so much, it is hard to find a reason to celebrate. This year, I have decided to focus not on all of the busyness of the season, but rather on the reason that we celebrate. Our Savior was born for us! He came to earth as a tiny baby for us! There was nothing special, or kingly about his birth. But it was beautiful because... He was born for ME! He was born for YOU! He was born for CAROLINE! Even in the midst of hurt, and pain, and suffering, and loneliness, that should fill our hearts with joy, true joy. We do have hope because God loved us so much. Despite our weakness, our failures, our sorrow, God sent us his Son, to come as a little baby, to experience the reality of being a human, to live among us, to die for us. He loved us that much. When I choose to focus on that precious gift that was so lovingly and carefully sent to us that Christmas day so long ago, I can feel the joy filling my heart. When we focus on the gift of Jesus, we find that there is a real reason to celebrate!

* I have learned that we can look to others in our greatest time of need. It is so hard to be vulnerable, and so easy to just use the simple answer of "good". We can get so caught up in hiding our feelings and emotions, that we truly miss out on the fellowship of sharing in each others burdens. There are always those times when it is okay to hide your real feelings, and to pretend that everything really is good. But I have found that there is such comfort, peace, and assurance when you open yourself up to somebody else. When you tell them the truth that you really are struggling, that you really do miss that special person, that you really wish you could just skip the holidays altogether. It takes real courage and real strength to be vulnerable. But I have found that when I share my true thoughts and feelings with another person, it makes them feel safe to share with me. I truly believe that God has placed us together on this earth to be there for each other. I know that he not only wants us to share in each others joys, but also in each others sorrows. There are so many beautiful people in my life who have been there for me in the joys and the sorrows. I have so many friends and family members who have and continue to stick beside me, strengthening me, encouraging me, crying with me, praying with me, and sharing with me. It is especially important during the holiday season to keep close those that you trust. Because the reality is that sometimes we just need a friend, who will allow us to be open and honest.

* I have learned that God IS faithful. There has not been one moment on this journey where God has left my side. I can tell you that there have been moments where I felt abandoned. There have been moments where I wondered if God still loved me, and if he was even watching out for me anymore. There are still moments where I question that he wants the best for me. But never once did I ever walk alone on this journey. He has held me up, strengthen me, given me courage, given me peace, and filled my empty heart with joy. The holiday season hit me like a ton of bricks. There has been nothing easy about the past month. I have cried more tears than I ever thought possible, I have questioned, I have wondered, I have screamed, I have sat in silence, and I have felt numb. Not one moment is there a guarantee. But somehow as I sit here on Christmas Eve, I realize that I have made it through the absolute worst moments of my life, and I can still say that God is faithful. Even now as my heart hurts, and my head pounds, and my arms ache, I know that God will walk me through the day. I know that God will walk me through tomorrow. I know that God will walk me through the New Year, and the days, months, and years to come. The truth is that I see no end to my grief. I see no end to the tears, the pain, and the heart ache. I imagine next Christmas will be just as painful. But yet I cling to the promise that God will hold me close, He will hold each of my tears, He will hold my head above the deep waters, and He will bring moments of peace to my heart. This year I sing the song "O Come All Ye Faithful" with new eyes.
O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

     This list of lessons that I have learned this holiday season could truly go on for a very long time. It amazes me that as you walk the darkest road of your life, you are still able to learn so many things. I am so thankful to all of the beautiful people in my life who have come alongside of me during these hard weeks. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for asking me for specific prayer requests. Thank you for teaching me some of these important lessons on love, faith, grace, self care, and hope. I do not know what I would do without all of you!
  I know that as I sit here watching the rain fall softly on the ground, and as I look up at the dark clouds in the sky above, that God is crying with me. I know that He hurts when we hurt. I know that His heart is broken along with mine. But as we think about the greatest gift of His Son, we know that one day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. One day there will be no more pain and no more sadness. There will be a day when the Light of Jesus shines through all of this darkness. We have a beautiful hope for eternity, all because a tiny baby was born that day in Bethlehem.  Oh Come, let us adore Him! 
    





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