Christmas Heart Ache

One of the things I love about Christmas is the lights.  I love the colors, the twinkle and the beams that bounce off the shiny ornaments.  As a little girl I would sit in the dark living room with only the tree lit. The bulbs were big and bright. Tinsel covered the tree. Bulbs hung along side hand-made ornaments my sister and I had made with our mom or in school.  My mother and father worked at the General Electric Lamp Plant in St. Louis.  Mom had brought some clear light bulbs home without the innards. Only the bulb and the metal end.  She put us at the table and showed us how to apply glue and glitter to the inside of the bulb.  Then we took a small picture she had cut out of us into the shape of an oval and we taped a string to the back side of it.  My mother put the picture and string inside the bulb and attached it to the metal part which she glued onto the end of the bulb. Viola! A beautiful light bulb ornament. I still have it today and it hangs on my tree.

1967 Shell GE light bulb ornament

1967 Shell GE light bulb ornament

When I left home to go into the Air Force, my mother began to send me an ornament every year.  Some were bought and some were hand-made.  All were a memorial to the year being given.  I kept every one of them and have hung them on my tree each year.  I even began making some of my own to commemorate some major events of the year. But I still continue to add them to mark a specific family event.  For example this year my son and his wife gave birth to a baby girl, Ann Marie.  My daughter got married and my third child, though now a man, graduated from high school and then 6 months later graduated Army Basic Training.  All very proud moments for me.  So I plan to hang three plus one for my fathers’ passing in remembrance.

This is the 1st Christmas without him.  It is surreal to come home and find him not here. I am staying in his house. The house he and his wife bought several years ago.  A beautiful Victorian style home.  It is in the center of the town off the main street.  I sense him all around us.  The ache in my heart of missing him but knowing he is celebrating this season in heaven with my sister.  What a thought, worshiping Jesus on His birthday in Heaven. Wow!

It is more difficult for his wife, my step-mom.  She sees him everywhere she turns.  He loved her so much and she knew it.  He took care of her and she misses that. Being taken care of and loved by a man who had searched for love his whole life.  The coolest part of their relationship was that not only did they both find a special love, he found Christ through her love.  I can not begin to tell you how special that is to me.  An answer to a 20 year prayer.  In her grief she is comforted by the fact she knows where he is but the ache is more real in the absence of his touch and his daily concern for her. Grief does not have a calendar or clock.  It knows no boundaries. It takes its time in the humdrum days of loneliness! I pray she finds healing in moving forward and focus on Christ who fills the emptiness left by my dad. I am glad I was here to share these days with her.  I believe it brought some ease to both of our hearts.

I did go to the cemetery to put flowers on my sister’s grave and my fathers’. He has no headstone yet but the grass has grown over him. The small blades of grass resemble moss, revealing to those who come to visit a fresh grave.  There is always a breeze there when I visit.  A warm, hot breeze on the day of his funeral.  But today very cold and brisk, making my eyes sting with tears.  Memories are a funny thing. Standing there I remembered I was the last to leave his casket waiting to go down into the ground.  I almost could not leave him.  I knew it was just his body, not him.  Something in me wanted to stay. I guess it was the finality of it all. I think that is why 1st anniversaries after a loved one passing on is so difficult.  It is the final remembrance of all the years you spent before.  Everything reminds you of what they did the last time you opened presents or sang Happy Birthday. The end of their living life.  The beginning of recalling every last word spoken.

I have noticed that there are memories that do not really come alive until your loved one is gone.  Is that what ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ means? The memories are more vivid and emotional.  I guess it is the heart and the mind that bring them together much like a photo album with dates and places written underneath the pictures. A slide show perhaps.  I like to make memorial videos of people and their moments. I have made several for myself, friends and family of special events we have shared.  I load all the pictures, put them in sequential order and then add music.  I try to add music that speaks to their life, their memory.  It is amazing how it all comes together when it is completed.  I watch them over and over. They make me smile.

I did that for my father.  I enjoyed looking at all his earlier pictures.  When it was finished and I watched it all the way through I realized how adventurous he was.  Motorcycles, boats and hobbies he had throughout the years.  He smiled a lot when he held his children and grandchildren. That was very cool to see.  The end was harder to watch because the pictures were more recent.  Even so he ended well.

I am wondering what the memory of this Christmas will be in a few months.  It was full of what is important.  Family.  Loving one another unconditionally and cherishing each precious moment the Lord allows us to share with those who make our lives full and rich.  Never mind the junk because really the junk is the reason Christ came. To take away the junk and replace it with gems.  His precious gift of a redeemed and restored life! And that is what I remember today of my dad. A gift from God. Redeemed, restored and at peace!  Thank you Lord for filling our minds with memories and hearts with love!!! Thank you for turning heartache into joy when we turn our hearts toward you!

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:26

Grace to you

Shell

A Cardboard Shoe Box

fall autum-colours

I seemed to be at a loss as to how to share with the world all the things I was and am thankful for this year. Many had posted their thankfulness list on Facebook throughout the month of November.  I did the list last year and pretty much kept up with it each day but my heart and mind could not settle on this notion of listing all the things I am thankful for for the sake of posting, it was something more internal this year. Something I believe God wanted me to communicate with Him intimately.  And so began somewhat of a different focus on Thanksgiving.

I saw a prayer on a devotional post several months ago and it sparked something within me and so I began praying it also, “Lord, stir my heart, awaken my soul!” I told my oldest son about it and he said he completely understood.  He himself felt the urgency to wake up!  We all have been sort of asleep at our house.  As if waiting for something or someone to wake us all up with a bang.  But after some discussion we decided we did not want to be caught asleep at the wheel so to speak if it just happened to be the rapture.

After some ‘soul searching’ among us we found that we each had settled into a comfortableness, almost complacency.  For my son and daughter-in-law it was looking for the next place to be.  Somewhere else God was calling them.  The Lord began to speak to them about being called right here.  Where they are now.  So a spark was lit for them as well.  When we compared notes on the last few months we understood that God was moving us to wake up together. I believe we have been lulled asleep by the insanity of our world.  Bad news every day on every level of humanity.  We tune it out because it overwhelms and it causes us to be tempted to give in to the fear it brings with it.  We turn inward hoping it does not touch us and we begin to show the signs of walking in the flesh by the lack of concern or compassion we show others.  Our love flickers to a small dim flame because we have our eyes on the waves and not on Jesus.

We believe the themes of the messages we have been hearing are simple and back to basics.  Back to the simple gospel of Christ and the sold-out worship of Him. No idols standing in His place.  No program or plan to replace Him.  No monotonous “Christian” thing done each day of the week.  No box checked on Sunday morning. Just an overwhelming sense of love flowing from our hearts that spills onto others in acts of kindness and mercy.  We question are we grateful, thankful to the God that saved us, changed us and is daily conforming us to His image or is it because of what He can give us or do for us?  Are we living out of the gratefulness and walking thankful lives by our actions?

I heard a message on the radio by David Jeremiah and I am sure it was no coincidence, he said, “You worship the one you trust and you trust the one you know.” He was preaching from the old testament book of Habakkuk.  I love that book.  The short three chapters are so huge with a message of pure worship.  The conversation between the prophet and God about a people who turned their backs on God and hearts to idols, he pleads with God over His decision to use the Babylonians to bring judgment on  the children of Israel by taking them into captivity.  The fact is God will use any and all things to turn our hearts back to Him.  When the prophet comes to face to face of the inevitability of what he and his people will endure he still worships the one who created him.  The one he knows.

The prophet ends his rapport with God stating that if there is nothing left, there is still God.  He will rejoice in Him and have joy in his salvation.  He trusts God for his strength and he knows that God will exalt him through difficulties if he remains faithful.  Or at least that is what the Lord speaks to me through words of Habakkuk.  I know first hand the touch of God’s hand in my life. I have seen Him make me clean after a venture into sin.  I have seen Him make all things new.  I have seen Him raise many in my family from spiritual death.  I have seen Him restore to me the years the locusts have eaten.   I have seen. With all the wonders of God’s miracles in my life I still have not seen what He has prepared for me in Heaven.  But I know He has because He said so. 

If I am asleep or awake God is still present.  He speaks to me through so many things, through His Word, music, people, children, nature and circumstances. He even times His messages so that they are heard with eyes and ears that are prepared to hear and see them.  I have been asked the question, “How do you know God is there, how do you see Him?”  I believe it is like connecting the dots.  I loved doing that as a child.  I would try to figure out what the picture would look like before I put the pencil to paper. I followed the numbers with my eyes and drew the lines in my mind to try to guess the outline.  But it was not until I actually drew the line from 1 to 2 and then to 3 that I could actually realize what the artist had envisioned.  The closer I got to the last number the more clear it came into view.  And at last I could see the form.  There was some satisfaction or surprise in seeing it for the first time.  Partly because I was a part of the process, there was accomplishment and partly because I followed the correct path to the end.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.~Jeremiah 29:13

It is much like this when you seek God.  The daily readings connect to the messages heard throughout the day connecting to the conversations you have with others. Which all connects to the circumstances you travel through on your way to the end of the day.  And in  the stillness of the night or the calm quiet time you spend  with God or even during the morning service Sunday morning He brings it all together in your heart and mind.  The two synchronize the connections and voice speaks to you through the Holy Spirit of God.  He is saying, “I see you and I hear you, you are chosen and you are mine.”

That happens to me many times.  This past Sunday morning is no exception. Our Pastor had us all bring a box to church early in the year of 2013.  He called it a “Praise Box.” He wanted us to get in the habit of praising and thanking God each day for His blessings in our lives.  We were to bring notes, songs, poems, pictures, scriptures, prayers  or whatever we wanted to put in our box to praise God.  It was not to share with others but between God and ourselves. As part of our Thanksgiving  week we took our boxes this Sunday and went through them to look back on all the things we put in there through out this past year. What sweet memories there were for me in that cardboard shoe box.  Giving thanks for all God had done in my life and that of my families.  All He gave and all He took.

A wedding anniversary, high school graduation, a baby shower, a death, a celebration of a life, a birth, a son going off to Army basic training, a wedding and a few salvations.  All this year. Life in all of its forms passing from one thing to the next with God ever-present in it all.  And then as I went back through the dates of the slips of paper I arrived to the very first one I slipped into my box.  No great event happened that day, just an ordinary day but a verse that God had given me.  It was written out word for word.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. ~ Hebrews 12:28

I did not even notate the reason for writing it down other than the fact that it was significant that day.  The awesomeness of God, giving to us the gift of salvation that can never be taken away and a life in Him that can never be destroyed.  A God who is more powerful than anything known to man.  A God who chose me to serve Him with all my heart, mind soul and strength.  And why did I gasp when I read that verse? Because He again gave me the very same verse last week as I have been praying the prayer, “Lord, stir my heart, awaken my soul!”  What do you think He wanted me to see?  What dots was He connecting in my life?  I believe that no matter what happens in my life, no matter what losses I suffer, no matter what blessings I gain  my worship has to be grounded in humility and my walk has to be the picture of gratefulness.  Nothing else will do when my works are judged by a consuming fire the day I stand or kneel in the unshakable kingdom before my awesome God!

Grace to you all who have come here,

Shell