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The Most Emotional Time of the Year

Is this a First Christmas for you? Are you hanging a special ornament on your tree this year? One that celebrates becoming man and wife in 2017 or welcoming a baby to your family? If so, give thanks! For my younger son, this is the First Christmas when he has an apartment all to himself.  He began making his personal decorating plans in May and has a beautiful little tree of his own this year.

I remember my own First Christmas in an apartment where I put up my Christmas tree and made my bed on the couch so I could fall asleep enjoying it’s lights. In recent years, as an empty nester yet to have grandchildren, I’ve experienced a bit of ambivalence about putting up our tree. Our family’s holiday celebrations are usually held in my hometown, so we lack the excitement of having loved ones gathered around our Christmas tree. That’s why I tell everyone who asks about our plans that this year that we will have both our sons and our new daughter-in-law with us for a couple of days before Christmas. My heart feels happy and full of anticipation.

Still, I admit that even though this Christmas is shaping up to be merry and bright, I’ve found myself experiencing moments of melancholy. It’s tricky to determine what brings the sadness on. I tear up and hear myself saying to my husband, “I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s just that things are quite right.” At least not for many people. Not every First Christmas is celebrated with joy. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I were preparing for the First Christmas in our home in North Dakota when he got the phone call about his dad’s sudden death. Travel plans were rearranged, children were taken out of school, and that Christmas was filled with grief. My First Christmas without my own dad was in 1979. Even after months, years, and decades have passed, the Christmas season can stir up memories of those who are gone or longings for the “good old days” when kids or parents were younger or times were simpler. I pray for friends who have lost someone this year.

That’s me with Dad’s hand on my head in 1968.

Many life situations can bring anxiety about Christmas. Situations that we don’t write about in Christmas cards or commemorate with an ornament. I empathize with people who are without employment, have separated from their spouse, or are dealing with illness. Some folks were hoping this would be a First Christmas and still have an unfulfilled dream. During this Advent Season, I’ve thought about the people who were waiting for God’s promised arrival of a King foretold through prophets of old. Life was dark and years, even centuries, were ticking by. When would he come?

Then, suddenly, unsuspecting shepherds were awakened to a sky full of angels! Christ the Savior was born!

The gospel of Matthew proclaims, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:16,17)

These thoughts about the emotions of Christmas were triggered by today’s Advent devotional reading entitled Life and Death at Christmas. In it, John Piper says in part, “Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears—for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas… Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections both in life and death? But, O, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter.” Piper goes on to talk of homecoming, “Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of our being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good. Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.”

Perhaps my moments of melancholy come because I am restless for home. For now, our tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and I’m happy to be just one week away from having my “kids” under our roof for the night.

Yes, that’s a crown on the top in honor of Jesus, the King of kings.

 

 

 

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Has it really been 6 years since I turned 50?

When I turned 50, my mom held a lovely party for me.  The occasion, in my opinion, warranted a speech from the guest of honor – me!   Here is that speech:

Well, it happened.  I turned 50.  I’ve been anticipating, and more often dreading it for all of 2010.  During the last months, I’ve found myself wondering whether I look like I’m 50.  I’ve noticed other women who are showing a little age and thought that, surely, they must be a couple years older than me!  Now there are a few of you who know that 50 is old, because you haven’t reached it yet.  But some of you are looking back at 50 and thinking that I’ve been silly to worry about turning such a young age.  I know because I’ve laughed at those who dread 30 or 40.

But my thoughts about getting older haven’t all been about the superficial.  I’ve wondered whether I’m getting wiser as I get older.  At times, when I’ve felt immature in some way, I’ve told myself “You’re almost 50!” with the underlying thought “you should know better.”

To my credit, there have been moments when I’ve appreciated each year of my life, remembering that some are taken by death before reaching this milestone.  Life is a gift that should be celebrated!  And I’m so glad that each one of you is here today to celebrate with me.

On Wednesday, while I was anticipating this weekend of celebration, I was informed of two rather shocking events that occurred that day.  A friend called me at noon to tell me that her brother’s mother-in-law had walked out to her mailbox that morning and was struck by a car and killed.  On Wednesday evening, I was asked to pray for a family whose 2 year old daughter had suddenly died.   Naturally, my heart went out to both of the families involved.  But I also thought a bit about that moment when life on earth ends.  Sometimes it comes way too early.  Sometimes it seems to take too long.  None of us knows when it will be, and none of us can add an hour to our lives by worrying about it.

I have a good friend, who is quite a bit older than me.  I’ve mentioned my birthday to her several times, and of course, she doesn’t think 50 is old.  When she turned 65 this year, she realized that in another 15 years, she may not be here.  So, she decided to make sure that she is living days that count.  She tells me “You’re not old.  Your age doesn’t matter.  What matters is how you are living your life.”

The truth is I may not be here in 15 years.  I may reach four or five more milestone birthdays, or this could be my last one.  I’m OK with that.  Life is a wonderful adventure, and there are many things I look forward to in the years to come.  The two unexpected deaths that came on Wednesday remind me that my life could end suddenly.  But, death has lost its sting.  I have been assured by Jesus that I have already crossed over from death to life.

I have another dear friend who I’m tempted to call my “oldest” friend.  She’s not really the oldest, but has been my friend for the longest time.  We’re lifelong friends, but we don’t get to see each other very often.  Sometimes she writes me a note to tell me what’s going on in her life.  She then blesses me by telling me what my friendship means to her and reminds me that we will have all of eternity to be together.

Thank you for celebrating life with me today.  I’m not going to take a poll to see whether you think I look like I’m 50 or not.  I do plan on focusing on making my days and years count.  And, hopefully, I’ve shared a little wisdom.

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