Christmas Gifts

The stockings are hung, the presents are wrapped, the goodies are baked.  We’ve rehearsed our Christmas Eve KidStuf show, decorated for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, watched the favorite Christmas classics, and even cleaned the house.  We’ve bought the last minute presents and should be sitting back relaxing and enjoying it.

But I’m on day two of migraines and getting enough relief to barely function but nothing more.  And Michael is on week three of an episode that hasn’t landed him in the hospital but has made me contemplate the need for it many times.  So just like usual, I’m feeling a bit sorry for us, and mostly for him.  He should be able to enjoy this season, but we’re here once again and he’s struggling with the emotional battlefield that creates.

But God keeps sending us these small surprises that help keep us going, and remind me that we’re not forgotten.

First, there was this gift.

As I dug through my wrapping paper supplies, which includes old Christmas cards that I use as tags, I saw handwriting that I hadn’t seen in years.  6 1/2 years actually.

Austin’s last Christmas with us we made quite a few sweet memories.  One of them was him helping me with Michael’s Christmas gift.  Austin was a computer whiz, and I asked him to set up and configure the new laptop that he’d helped me find.  He met me at Panera and we drank coffee while he worked on it, to make sure Michael didn’t see.  He then bought a warranty to go with it as Michael’s gift, and what I found was his handwritten note saying that he’d bought him a warranty.

It’s the kind of thing I’d normally throw away, and I’m not sure why I kept it.  I’m not sure how it sat in that box of supplies for so long without me seeing it either.  But as I sat wrapping presents this year, with Michael asleep near me, and me hoping for a miracle for him this year, I got a small one of my own.  A reminder of my brother and of the love he had for us.

Later that night, last night, another completely unexpected gift was given.

A small company, UnMarketing, who says to ‘Stop Marketing, Start Engaging’ did just that through granting items from wish lists for a fairly large group of people.  They asked you to send them Amazon wish lists, and they’d be selecting some people to pick an item off the list and send it.  No questions, no fuss, no contest.  They didn’t make you share it to win it, or like them on Facebook, or fill out an application.

Within 10 minutes, two items off of Michael’s Christmas list were ordered and a personal note sent about why the man behind this chose those- he didn’t just throw money (which was cool enough on it’s own) but he took time to connect.  They weren’t high ticket items, but they’re items that he’ll love.

And with those two gifts, I’m reminded….

We’re loved, we’re taken care of, we’re not forgotten.

I wish I didn’t have to write a post like this every year- that I didn’t struggle with balancing the great and true Joy of the God we’re celebrating and the kids who have my heart with the heartache of this illness and my brother being missing.  I often feel like I’ve said as much as I can say on these topics, and have nothing more to give.

But maybe, you’re like me and facing the same things year after year and needing the reminder that just because you are doesn’t mean you’re forgotten, or unloved.

He loves us more than we can know, which is after all why we have Christmas to celebrate.

Merry Christmas my friends.

 

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009

 

Traditions

I’ve been gone.  I know you missed me. {despite your silence that would say otherwise.  no hard feelings.}

Every now and then I disappear because I can’t figure out how to write about what’s going on, but every now and then I just give myself permission to take care of what’s going on around me without worrying about sharing it, or enjoy some time without then writing.  That’s what this was- and I find that after I take a short break, I’m grateful to get back and have the chance to share.  Sometimes I write because I’m ‘supposed’ to, much like I do many things in life because I’m ‘supposed’ to.

Especially at Christmastime, when traditions are everything.

We have to decorate and shop and sing and watch movies and make cocoa and visit Santa and make lists and look at lights and make cookies and visit friends and send cards and host parties and volunteer and take photos and and and and…. Oh, and then there’s Ben’s birthday right in the middle and there’s a whole list of must do’s there too, to make sure his birthday isn’t overshadowed.

I LOVE all those things.  But when they become more about checking off a list and making sure we do all the things than about enjoying the things we do, we’ve put tradition over what we’re really meant to get from it.

And this year, once again, I started stressing about what I hadn’t yet checked off that list and when I would.  But then, one of my best friend’s brother died very unexpectedly and I only cared that week about what she was feeling.  And then I got knocked on my butt by a bad cold and days of migraine.  And then I realized that my husband was slowing down and that we were probably entering the pre-phase of a an episode of his chronic illness.  And when I asked friends about what they consider must do’s so I could alter my list, a good friend called bullsh!t and said that nothing was a must do.  She’s a genius.

So, I switched gears and am really trying to focus on simply enjoying what we are able to do.

It’s not as much as I’d like.  I’d always like to do more.

But yesterday, on my youngest son’s birthday as I worried that it hadn’t been magical enough a day, he reminded me again.

Me:  Ben, what do you want to do tonight for the last part of your birthday celebration?

Ben:  Watch Diego and play with my new toys. 

Me:  But I thought we’d go look at lights and get hot chocolate, or …. You really just want to stay home and play?

Ben:  Yep.

Me:  But did you have a happy birthday?

Ben:  Yes!

So we stayed home, ate ice cream and played.

Yes, in my ideal world my husband would be full of energy and able to fully participate, and every day would be full of lifetime worthy memories.

But maybe just enjoying what we do, whatever that is, and being together makes the best tradition.

Do you have a checklist and must do’s, or do you just enjoy what comes?  I’m not sure I’ll ever drop the list without being reminded, it’s my nature.  But I’m trying to learn.

 

minnie

one of the memories we did make- Ben kissing Minnie!

 

The Season Of Joy- And Hurt

I rarely have the right words to say.  So I make jokes, or say inappropriate things, or say nothing.  I can come across as crass or unfeeling quite often.  Not proud of that, just fact.

But it also makes me pretty forgiving of others who don’t get the right words out.  I care way more about intent and heart than about the right words, and there are so many times that words are inadequate anyway.

So for those who are sometimes at a loss in the most difficult of times, I thought I’d give some tips.  Why now?

Because it’s the start of the season of Joy.  But also the season of great loss and sorrow.

Even those celebrating with family and finding joy throughout this season may be missing someone.  Or may be facing financial troubles that overshadow all else.  Or may be healing from heartbreak.  There’s a lot of darkness in homes this time of year.

My 10 tips for helping a hurting friend :

1.  Assume everyone is facing something and give them the benefit of the doubt when their words aren’t quite right.

2.  When you know they’re missing someone who has passed away or missing, let them talk about their loved one.  You don’t have to have the right words, you just have to ask about their traditions or past holidays and listen.  Pretending they aren’t gone won’t make it easier for them.

3.  Don’t ask if someone needs help.  If there’s a reason for you to ask, you probably already know there is a need.  They’re probably not going to tell you specifically or even say so.  Look around- maybe they need a meal, their yard taken care of, or just a coffee brought to them.  Don’t ask, just do.

4.  Give something personal and meaningful.  Small meaningful gifts that remind them they’re loved mean the most.

5.  Don’t offer religious catch phrases.  Did you know that it is not biblical that God won’t give you more than you can handle?  (Great article about that here).

6.  Invite them but don’t push them.  Depending on the situation or their place in the cycle of grief, they may not be ready.  But they also may just need to be asked and loved.

7.  Enjoy your family.  No one hurting truly wants those around them to feel the way the do.

8.  Don’t remind them that it will get better.  It doesn’t help and they probably already know that.  But imagining the time when they’ll miss their loved one less only means imagining even more time passing.

9.  Encourage.  Cards, text, voice mails, all to let them know they’re on your mind.

10.  Pray.  It works.

With two young kids and the most amazing friends, the holidays are full of joy.  But even then there are moments of sadness missing Austin and others.  And I know many for whom the grief overshadows the joy.

I hope this starts you thinking about how you can help a friend experiencing that this season.

 

hurting_friend

 

 

Small Thanks, Big Change Project

An idea started peculating in my brain on Christmas morning.  Michael was in the hospital but doing well, and I had taken the boys to visit.  We stopped in the cafeteria first, everyone hungry after an early morning of finding what Santa left under the tree.  I was very thankful for the hot food and warm smiles of the staff.  I didn’t hear one bit of grumbling about being there on Christmas morning.

I was also trying not to grumble- my boys were happy, and my husband was on the mend, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be.  It probably wasn’t where they wanted to be either- but thinking on it more, I’d bet that at least a few of them volunteered so those with young kids could be home.

As I let the boys pick their food, including a request from Drew to see if they could put chocolate chips in the pancakes (and yes, they found some), I wanted to tell them thank you for being there and being open, for serving hot food, and for doing it with smiles.  (I know it was a management decision to be open with full menu for staff and patient families, but you never would have known it wasn’t their choice.)  I wanted to tell them that on a morning like that, it meant the world to have my boys smile over the buffet of choices, and the time saved from cooking to instead be with Michael.

But I don’t do that.  I save words for things I think, not things I feel.  Sometimes I put them here- but that’s pushing it.  To be vulnerable enough to tell someone how much their simple actions meant?  Hmmm…. well, it was Christmas morning, a morning for miracles.  So as we paid, I looked the cashier in the eye and told her that though I knew she’d rather be somewhere else, it meant a lot to people like us, and thanked her for the cheery attitudes.  She did seem a bit uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

If we think about it, there are lots of small things that are done for us by people with no expectation in return.  The more I thought about the small things that Christmas morning, the more I started remembering other small things over the past few weeks.  And the more I thought about the small things, the more gratitude I had for it all.  I could end it here, and encourage us all to keep doing those small things, and keep recognizing the small things done for us.  But I read this morning:

Living with gratitude is nothing is not expressed directly, personally and immediately- Pete Wright

So I’m starting the ‘Small Thanks, Big Change’ project.  I’m challenging myself, and challenging you, to let people know that what they do matters.  I’ve made small note cards that tell people thank you, and let them know about this project.  I’m including a small gift card in each one, with the goal of giving out at least one each week.

I’ll be sharing some of the stories here as we go, but also made a Facebook page to encourage people to find their own way to say thanks in a small way that can have big change.  Hang out with me there, and share your stories of small things people do- and hey, I’ll definitely count you liking that page as one of them!    Facebook:  Small Thanks, Big Change

If I’m the only one changed (even a little bit) by this, by being pushed to see the small things all around me to be grateful for, it will have been a great investment.

And I’ll start with this- thanks for reading my random thoughts and learning about my nutty self over the past year or so.  It’s been good therapy to say the least.  Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

A New Year: 2013

We are ready for a New Year- 2012 was not our best.  I shared thoughts reflecting on the Christmas season and looking ahead to 2013 on Time’s Up Blog today.  I hope you’ll visit there to read today.

A New Year: 2013!

Wishing you all the best in 2013,
Anita

Choosing Joy

A few days ago I wrote half a blog post that I couldn’t get finished for some reason.   I was reminded of it this morning, how I’d written about choosing to be happy even in times where that’s tough.  Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:

“When I was a teenager, the words that could irritate me like no other were “decide to be happy”- usually coming from my dad when something in my teen world wasn’t going quite right- and in the life of a teenage girl, things usually aren’t.  I knew he was right but that didn’t make me like it any more.”

Well, things aren’t going quite right for us this week.  It’s Christmas, the most magical time, a time I truly love.  And today and tomorrow are my favorite days of the year.  Tonight’s plan was our KidStuf show at church, with Michael and I on stage and our boys in the audience, with our amazing and talented team helping prepare hearts of kids of all ages for Christmas.  Then, we were to have dinner with a group of friends we call family, and would end the night with a beautiful candlelight service.  Tomorrow morning we’d wake up to the awe and wonder of our boys’ faces as they discovered the tree transformed with gifts from Santa and gifts from us.  We’d have a relaxing day and one of our favorite meals (a big pot of shrimp boil) before packing the car and making the drive to see Michael’s family for a few days.  As with every day, especially days like this, we would miss Austin and wish he was there.  But it would be a magical time regardless.

view from the room this morning

Instead, I’m writing from Michael’s hospital room yet again, and making sure that all bases are covered for Santa to still visit, and the rest of Christmas Day to be postponed until we’re home.  We won’t be able to reschedule Christmas Eve with our family of friends, or reschedule the trip to West Virginia anytime soon (much too long a drive for a weekend visit, much too expensive to fly and tough to schedule with Drew in school).

Today’s a day I truly have to choose to be happy, but I have to dig deeper than just happy.  Happy is a feeling that is influenced by circumstances, but Joy is part of who you are.  Joy is knowing that no matter the circumstances, no matter the feelings of the moment, your soul has peace.  I could get away with giving into the disappointment today, it’s understandable.  But I won’t.  I choose joy.

I’m joyful for the reason for Christmas, for a savior who was born to change the world.  I’m joyful for the promises made that no matter our circumstances, there is reason for joy.

All around us there are people needing to choose joy because of things happening that make it so difficult.  I see it here- from staff who will be working, to families wishing they were anywhere else.  I see it in those I love who are missing someone or are struggling to provide.  But I’ve seen people choosing joy already today- nurses and food services staff who are cheerful and give no clue they’d rather be home, and family members wishing Merry Christmas to those they see.  And we have many around us choosing to help us find joy by loving us in their own ways, as they have so many times.   What I’ve realized, is that when we choose joy for ourselves, we can’t help but spread it to others as well.

Merry Christmas my friends, what a joyous day it is.

Giving Beyond

Year after year there are discussions about consumerism taking over and making Christmas something other than it should be, about the birth of the Christ Jesus. This year I struggled with deciding how much was too much as always. I don’t want my children to believe that Christmas is about Santa and presents, but know the joy of truly celebrating Christmas.

As I stood watching them with their gifts this morning, I was overcome with the magic of Christmas yet again. My oldest has really struggled with obedience and respect lately, and didn’t deserve to be lavished with all the things he got. But it hit me, that we didn’t deserve the gift that God gave us over 2,000 years ago. He lavished us with all of his love, knowing that we could never earn it. I struggle with disobedience daily and yet He gives. He gave the greatest gift, with sacrifice and with joy. And because of that we can know the depths of His love.

So yes, we can go overboard in presents, but this is one time where we can show others the kind of love that God has shown us. Let’s not make it about the gifts themselves, but remember that because He gave us everything, we can give much.

Give today. Give every day. Give sacrificially and joyously, even when it can never be repaid or earned.

This is what I want to teach my children, that Christmas is about giving all you have to those you love and to thank God daily for loving us so much that He gave all.

Merry Christmas.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Giving

Stuck

I’ve been stuck.

My last post was written as I grieved my friend ending her life, though I had missed her for years as her illness had overcome her.  But it was a few days later when I was stopped in my tracks and became stuck.

Josh performing at The Church at Argyle

Just before the service, an acquaintance expressed anger at all the friends who had let Diane down, which obviously included me.  It was a blow.  I had already been thinking it, wondering if I could have or should have done more.  Just like I have asked since Austin has been gone.  No one had ever told me I failed, those were only my fears and hurts. But for 5 years, I had wanted to help Diane more than I could, and for almost that long have regretted not doing more for Austin.

That accusation stuck me in place, not allowing me to fully believe the truth.  For weeks, I’ve tried to move, I’ve tried to not let this keep me in this place, but facing the fifth Christmas without Austin and thinking on Diane’s family facing the first without her made it tougher. 

Then, last night I was blessed to hear an amazing artist perform live, Josh Wilson.  Josh’s music had touched me before, especially his song ‘I Refuse’ which inspired a blog post about 6 months ago. Last night as he sang that song, along with other incredible verses, I was reminded that God’s plan for me is not to look back.  God’s plan for me is not continue to be stuck, even for just a few weeks.  Josh sang beautiful words of Hope as well, but having Hope in God has never been a challenge for me.  Taking steps to do what God has called me to do however, that takes facing fears, including the fear of past failure. 

This Christmas, I challenge you to not be stuck by fear or hopelessness.  I challenge you to see the world before you who needs to see the light of hope, and to be that light.  My light may not shine on many, but may it shine as bright as possible on the few I can reach.

Vist Josh Wilson online

Wheels

Austin’s love of cars and trucks started at a pretty early age, and I think his favorite gift ever might have been the battery operated 4×4 truck he got when he was about three.  From that time on, his wheels were an important piece of who he was.

Austin’s first ride

A few years after that truck was outgrown, he upgraded to a go-cart.  We lived on 3 acres off a dirt road, a dream of a place for a kid with a go-cart.  I’ll never forget that Christmas morning, when Austin went plowing through our outdoor decorations, laughing the whole time.  He was on top of the world.  We just laughed with him.  Sometimes I realize I need to just laugh with my boys more, and not worry so much about the things…. I can guarantee you, those decorations wouldn’t have survived to today.  But you know, the memories of us all laughing that morning have. 

Austin loved Ford Mustang’s and everyone knew he’d have one one day.  When I turned 17, I had finally saved enough money for my parents to match and get a car.  They did better than match it, and I was thrilled when I was surprised with a 1988 Ford Mustang, only about 5 years old and the envy of my friends.  The funny thing was, I had never wanted a Mustang, but it was pretty, and Austin assured me it was the coolest.  I think he was just excited to get driven around in it, though truthfully he also loved seeing people he loved happy.  Not too many years later, he got his own.  Soon after, my mom had one too- a fast, great looking fire red convertible.    We were a Mustang family.

No one could beat him or his car, or so he thought.  I had recently started dating a guy who also had a history of speed.  And apparently I liked fast cars too, because I bought a Mitsubishi Eclipse Turbo.  Austin just knew that his car was faster.  We were hanging out at a friend’s house and everyone wanted to know which was faster…. I had no intention of finding out.  So, they sat on me, took my keys and everyone ran out the front door.  Austin had his car, and my new guy took mine, but suggested that I ride with him. He  promised he wouldn’t race with me in the car.  He lied.  I was in the backseat screaming as my car beat Austin’s down the road we grew up on.  When we got back to the house, everyone high tailed it inside, though the last words I heard as they did were “please don’t break up with him!”  I didn’t, and as a matter of fact, Austin was in our wedding the next year.

What may be even more bizarre to me than knowing that Austin is gone, is knowing that he left on foot.  Just about 10 days prior, Austin’s car had been impounded due to unpaid tickets and he was gathering the money to get it back.  He didn’t like relying on friends to get him to work, and we thought he had it figured out.  The last day that anyone who knows him saw him, he had called into work to go take care of the tickets.  The next day, when he hadn’t called work and didn’t show up, they knew something was seriously wrong.  It was about two months later when we learned what really happened, that Austin had taken a cab and gone to a pawn shop.  From there he walked on foot to a store to buy ammo and a duffel bag, then back to the shop to retrieve the recently purchased shotgun.  The he left.  Just walked away.  Almost four years later, and no one has seen him since.  He left everything including a paycheck, signed blank check, laptop, and even his car.  It just still makes no sense.  He should have been on wheels.