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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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The Best Tuna Noodle Ever

A family favorite became a memorable meal in 2011.  Many readers will remember the November when my husband, Dave, had open heart surgery.  As Thanksgiving came around this year, my mind went back to 2011 when, instead of hosting my  family for a couple of days of celebration, Dave and I spent Thanksgiving Day in a hospital room.

We had traveled 3 1/2 hours to the Cleveland Clinic on November 1 and hoped to be back home by the ninth, giving us a couple of weeks for recovery before Thanksgiving.  But surgery was postponed from the fourth to the seventh so our surgeon could do a heart/lung transplant.  Then, when Dave’s post-op experience included complications, the hotel I was occupying became my home-away-from-home for nearly a month, and the Clinic’s Au Bon Pain did most of the cooking.

Dave’s heart valve disease had been detected 25 years earlier when our first son was just 3 months old.  By the grace of God, the surgery was not necessary until a point in our life when our boys were grown and it was possible for me to park the car at the hotel and spend the days at the hospital with Dave.

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View from the Heart Center

On November 7, Dave underwent a very successful heart surgery to replace two defective valves.  He was only 50 years old and in good health, yet he developed atrial fibrillation that kept him in ICU for a week.  Then, 10 days post-op, we heard the words tamponade and pericardial effusion for the first time and found ourselves back in ICU receiving plasma to thicken his intentionally thinned blood.  The same excellent doctor was able to get to the sac around his heart and drain off the “fluid” (blood) with only a tiny incision.  Dave went from feeling “lethargic” and being in considerable danger to giving me a thumbs up immediately after surgery.  That evening I found out what a true sigh of relief feels like!

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Normal Heart Rhythm – a Beautiful Sight

After the emergency, our cardiologist told Dave that he would learn why he’s called a patient, since it was necessary to very carefully and slowly thin his blood again to the level that would keep him safe from clots and strokes.  He hoped to get us home by Thanksgiving.  Dave had told me prior to our journey that he only needed me to do 3 things – be there when he needed me, pray, and get him back home.  With energy and an unsinkable optimism that could only come from the Lord, I became his cheerleader.  The encouraging visits, messages and prayers from precious friends and family members meant more than they could know.

We were patient, even when Thanksgiving came, because we did not yet feel confident to leave the watchful eyes of the doctors and nurses.  And we were OK – and thankful, even as I ate something from Au Bon Pain and Dave picked at the hospital version of a Turkey Dinner.  Later in the evening, our niece who works in the Clinic came by with some homemade pumpkin roll.  What a blessing!

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My Black Friday purchase from a Clinic boutique.

Circumstances prevented our sons from being with us on the holiday, but three days later we were on our way home where our younger son was waiting to welcome us.  The  day included a delay in discharge, a long wait at the local pharmacy, and some prescribed stops on the way home, and we arrived at dinner time.  But, rather than feeling exhausted, I was energized by the victory and offered to make a Tuna Noodle Casserole for the three of us.  What a joy it was to prepare and share that meal.

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