Sunday, November 28, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays: A Meek Offering

I'm thankful to have made it through Thanksgiving. Honestly that was all I could muster up to say I was thankful for that day. I sat across from an empty chair at our family dinner. No amount of my mom's delicious food could comfort the pain, though I did try.

It was a quiet day, a day of reflection. I was glad to spend it in my refuge at my parents. That home carries many happy memories of Thanksgivings past. So many dearly loved family members sat around that same dining room table. Now they feast at the Ultimate Table in heaven.

And for that I am thankful.

But it is hard to say thanks when I miss them so much.

The day after Thanksgiving, I headed to my second refuge, Casey's house in South Georgia. Being greeted at the door by her sweet girls, Chloe and Claire, quickly assured me I was in the best place to finish out the holiday weekend.

I even helped them usher in Christmas by giving them their presents early. I think I was more excited than they were about the book I gave them - a Charlie Brown Christmas Story. As I sat down to read it to them, I discovered that the story was really for me.

I grew up loving Charlie Brown. My brother even had a mural painted in his room as a child. I guess I had forgotten the story of his puny Christmas tree and his disdain for the commercialization of Christmas.

I could so be Charlie Brown this year.

And that puny tree is about all I have to offer in the way of Christmas cheer.

It is my meek offering.

I did at least buy a couple of ornaments toput on my parents Christmas tree. Both of them have the word 'hope' on them. I stuck them right in front in plain view. They carry a lot of meaning this holiday for sure.

They are like the ornament Charlie Brown puts on his tree in the story. Its so substantial compared to his humble tree that is causes it to bend completely over.

And my prayer is that my hopeful ornaments will do the same - cause me to bend my knees in prayer and thanksgiving to my heavenly Father - no matter how weak and puny my offering.

I'm glad the story ends with Charlie Brown finding the true meaning of Christmas with the help of his friends. I'm certainly grateful I have friends - both young and old - to keep me focused on Jesus too.

Before I left to Casey's to head home, Chloe came up to me with her hands on her face, looked at me with her big blue eyes, and exclaimed, "Melissa, I am so excited about Christmas."

And my Hope grew just a bit bigger.
Dearly Loved,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weakness and the art of slowing...

Sorry to disappoint, but I haven't been up for blogging this week.  It is like I just don't have anything to offer, anything to give. I'm spent. I'm tired. I'm weary. I'm weak.

God keeps bringing this verse to mind - one of my favorites:
"'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." ~ 2 Cor. 12:9

So I guess if Paul could admit to weakness, so can I.

Because I'd much rather have God's power flowing through me than my own.  His power is infinitely more than I could ever muster up anyway.  On a good day, I could maybe combine all my powerful efforts to light just one bulb on a strand of Christmas lights...and God's power could more than light up strands of lights spanning the entire universe...just look at the stars.

Look up the word rest and weary in the Bible, and there are more than enough verses to give us encouragement.  God never intended us to do life on our own, to wear down our limited bodies to the point of utter exhaustion.

He tells us to come to him....

and rest.

And that is what I need so much this week.  I'm not all that concerned about Thanksgiving (well, except about a plateful of my mom's dressing)...I just want some time off to take a deep slow down my life.

I wish I would finally learn that life lesson about the art of slowing.  I call it an art because it is not something easily mastered.  It is like a unique talent that requires much practice. 

And practice is what I intend to do over the next 5 weeks.  Take life slowly, in stride, in no hurry.

That is my Christmas gift to myself. 

So, here's to boasting about weakness and unconventionial in our busy society, but so very much needed.

Dearly loved, slow and weak,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

HOPE for the holidays...One day at a time...

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." ~ Matthew 6:33-34

I was reminded of this insightful verse by my counselor last night.  It seems I have gotten myself into a frantic mess worrying about the holidays this past week. 

I mean, I didn't think my 30 year old body could handle this much stress.  It is a wonder I am still standing.  I am utterly exhausted, and it is still a week before Thanksgiving...

And after that comes Tony's birthday on December 12th.  And the 16th is the 2 year anniversary of my Pop's passing.  Then, there is Christmas, and New Year's and finally my birthday in January.

Can I please, please press fast forward on my life?  Or else, just crawl in a hole?

My family and I are going on a Carnival cruise for Christmas.  I've gotten a couple of jokes about getting stuck out in the middle of the ocean.  I think I would be okay with that.

I know, I know, there is no fast forward button, or hole, and not very much likelihood of getting stranded at sea.  So, I suppose I will take up that advice of my counselor and take this season one day at a time. 

Sometimes one hour at a time, sometimes one moment. 

My friend Casey reminded me today that more often that not, things turn out not as bad as I had anticipated.  And that if God gave me the grace to stand that day in front of hundreds at Tony's memorial, surely He will give me the grace to get to January and beyond.

I never thought I would make it through the first day after Tony died.  Here I stand almost 8 months later.  I give all the credit to God for that.

So that is all the HOPE I've got to share with you for this posting.  I'm sorry it's not more.  I'm sorry it is not a message wrapped up in a pretty bow.  Honestly, there may never be a bow tied around this story.

But my God is not in the business of making our lives nice and pretty.  His business is asking us to love and trust Him daily, moment by moment, and providing us with the ultimate gift of eternity, a present too great to be confined to even the most beautiful bow this life could ever tie.

Dearly loved, and still standing,

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Jordans...

It seems I have invited myself into another family these last few months.  Sure, I still have my own and Tony's, who I love dearly.  I am blessed to have such amazing support and love.

This other family of 4 was an answer to a prayer that I wrote in my journal about a year before Tony and I married.  He and I were "getting serious" and felt it would be a wise investment in our future to find a Godly couple to mentor us.

So we began to pray.  And pray.  And believe God.  And keep our eyes out for just the right folks.

It was a year and half later, about 4 months after our wedding, when God answered our prayer.  We didn't know it at the time, but when we signed up for a newly married small group through our church, God was bringing us life-long mentors and friends.

That is when we met Mark and Michelle Jordan, and their beautiful daughters Emily and Nicole.

A few weeks into our gatherings, Tony and I were in love with this family.  We loved to hear how Mark and Michelle did married life together and were convinced that when we had children, we would have them on a parenting hotline.  We would constantly ask the question, "What would the Jordans do?"

We had no idea God would place such amazing people in our lives.  And we thought it was just for marriage and family advice.

They became so much more.  I was faced with some urgent financial decisions shortly after Tony's passing.  I was driving down the road one day, bawling my eyes out, and God brought to my mind, "What would the Jordans do?"

One phone call later, and the Jordans joined me in the "trenches" of my tragedy, dregging through important decisions, and hard tasks, and realities that no one would ever wish to face.

I loved the words of wisdom I heard recently that said who you take advice from will ultimately be who you become.  The Jordans are defintely like the folks I want to become.

These verses in Proverbs 15:22 are so true, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." I am forever grateful for their continued counsel. 

There are no words to thank them enough. No words.

Dearly loved, and loving the Jordans,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hope for the Holidays...Life Unexpected

I've decided to not visit the mall for shopping until after January 1st.  Now those who know me best realize what a major accomplishment that will be.  I mean, I love all things Ann Taylor Loft, and Aveda, and Macy's, and now that Great American Cookie Company has gluten-free cookies, oh, I am set.

Hmmm, we'll see if this long as I don't get any coupons or special offers in the mail, I should be good.  Better put mom on presorting my mail.

I digress.  So, I've been thinking more about why this Scrooge wants to come out of me this Christmas season (really, pre-Christmas until after Thanksgiving).  Of course, the obvious reason is that it is the first one without my Tony.  But for me to blame my bitterness on him, now that would just be unfair - that is against his very being.  Bitter would be the farthest trait I would use to describe him, ever.

My "bah humbug" sentiments seem to be directed more toward the very things our society has embraced as "Christmas" or "holiday."  Christmas trees, and lights, and presents, and plastic Nativity scenes, and presents, and more presents, and Santa, and Rudolf, and more presents, and food, and busy calendars, and parties, and Christmas music (still haven't changed my thoughts on this one since my last blog).

None of those things are bad.  I used to love all those things.  They were a big part of celebrating this time of year, of remembering the birth of Jesus, of being with friends and family, of leading into a new year.

Then, my world, as I knew it, fell apart.

And "things" didn't much matter any more.

I am sure I am not alone in that.

I asked my mom the other day if we really had to put up a Christmas tree this year.  I never imagined that question coming out of my mouth.  Ever.

This is a Christmas that I never imagined. 

My Christmas meets life unexpected. 

What is so hard about this year is there are so many unknowns.  How will I feel?  How much will I miss Tony?  How will I push through while society is Christmas crazy?

Funny how the association of those two words "life + unexpected" conjure up negative thoughts. 

Yet, the very story, the very core of Christmas began out of life unexpected.  Sure, the birth of Jesus had been anticipated for years, yet no one expected the Savior of the World to be born in a stable.  Life unexpected.  And certainly Mary never grew up expecting to be a virgin with child.  Life unexpected.  And the world never expected that a tiny baby lying in a manger could become the One Hope for salvation and eternity.  Life unexpected.

Perhaps life unexpected is not so bad after all.  Perhaps life unexpected is God's perfect plan.

So I will not look toward the traditional things for my Christmas this year.  I will celebrate Christmas and Jesus in the unexpected.  I will seek Hope for the holidays with people and places out of the ordinary.  I will look for Hope in life unexpected.

It has already begun.  After launching my hope blog last week, I received messages from folks I didn't even know read my blog who were also seeking that same Hope. People unexpected. 

My prayer is that I will look toward places unexpected for Hope as well.

Perhaps those of you seeking Hope will do the same.  May God meet you in the unexpected.

Dearly loved, and hoping for the unexpected,

Monday, November 8, 2010

Even if He does not...

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego has always resonated with me.  These 3 men were required by King Nebuchadnezzar to bow down to an image of gold instead of their God Most High.  Because they refused to do so, the king subjected them to a fiery furnace.  I admire their undying devotion to their God, even in the face of death.

Daniel 3:16-18:
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'"

And they came out of the fire unscathed. 

It was about 12 hours from the time I knew Tony was missing until I was told that he had fallen.  Those hours seemed like the passing of days at the they seem like fleeting moments.

My life changed forever during those 12 hours.  Forever.

I don't recall all the details, and that is okay with me.  I remember faces of friends who showed up in the wee hours of the morning.  I can faintly picture those bright camera lights while standing in front of every news station in Atlanta, but I could not tell you what I said.  I do remember thinking I was in a bad dream - surely I was not the latest tragedy to hit the morning news.  Yes, a very bad, dark dream.  My own fiery furnace.

Still, God was with me.  No, I did not spend those 12 hours on my knees in prayer, but I recall being in a constant state of dialog with my Protector, my Comfortor, my God.  I begged Him to bring Tony back to me.  Begged Him.

But I did not bargain.  I did not attempt to strike up a deal that if God brought Tony back, I'd follow Him more closely.  Or that I'd tell everyone in my circle of influence about Him.  Or that I'd be more generous, more patient, more loving, if only He would bring my husband back safely.

My God is not a vending machine.  He is not a savy businessman looking for next best scheme to win my heart, to win my obedience. 

He is God.  God, period.

So I was left facing my furnace like those 3 men, facing my "Even if He does not" moment.

And I made the choice that though my circumstances did not turn out as I had so desperately hoped, I will not turn away from my God. 

And I will not curse God for my tragedy.  I will not blame God for my tragedy.  I will not.

I will not.

Dearly loved,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

HOPE for the Holidays...

Is it just me, or has anyone else felt as if they were caught up in the middle of Cinderella's Ball this week?  It's as if the clock struck midnight on Halloween and all of the sudden every pumpkin turned into Christmas decor.  Really?

By Monday evening of November 1st, I was scratching my head as I drove home past the courthouse in Braselton lit up with garland and lights.  And, not to blast my Facebook friends, but I read post after post of folks busting out Christmas music, trading in pumpkin spice lattes for peppermint ones, and entering the fury of buying presents.

I say it again...really?

I mean, I'm still munching on way too much Halloween candy that I snagged off my cute little neice and nephew (their payment for me dressing up like a ridiculous queen to trick or treat with them).

Now, I must temper my thoughts with my state of mind and spirit as I enter these festive days that I used to get all excited for (but honestly never this early - I love turkey and dressing too much!).  Never before could I relate to Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," but this year I sure could.

I guess that is why my grief group, my counselor and countless books on loss warn those grieving to enter the holiday season with extreme caution.  Now, I could turn into Scrooge and everyone would attempt to understand.  I might not be much fun for the next 2 months, but certainly no one would stop me from being a sad mess.

But I do have a choice in the matter.  To be Scrooge or not to be Scrooge?  That is my question.

No, I probably won't be busting out my Christmas decor.  And, I won't listen to much Christmas music, which isn't different from years past (yes, I love Jesus, just not Christmas music).  I'll turn down my fair share of holiday parties.  I don't plan to visit the mall or buy many presents (sorry, friends and family, unless you're under the age of 6).

A wave of sadness hit me on Monday as I realized that November was really here and the holidays were encroaching faster that I wanted.  It was then that one of my favorite words came to mind, hope.  How could I find hope for the holidays?  How could I give hope for the holidays?  How could I BE hope for the holidays?

I figure I'm not the only one who needs hope this season.  Countless others are facing their first holidays without a dear loved one, due to death, divorce or some other cause.  Several more are facing their first without a job, without health, without a home, without money, without friends, the list goes on and on.

So, Hope.
Yes, Hope.

Hope is what I'll focus on.  Stay tuned for special postings labeled "HOPE for the Holidays" mixed in with my weekly blogs.  Please pass them along as you feel led to share with anyone who needs some hope.

Dear Lord, this is my prayer.  Keep me from being Scrooge this year.  Keep my eyes on You, my Hope, my Love.  And please God, bring Hope to the hurting this holiday season.  Please give us the miracle of Hope.  Amen.

Dearly loved, and hoping,

Monday, November 1, 2010

First dates...

Last week marked 4 years since my first date with Tony.  It came to mind as I was driving down "south" this weekend to meet my dear friend Casey's newest baby girl, Caitlyn.  I was holding her oldest girl, Chloe Melissa, for the first time 4 years ago, when I sheepishly said to Casey and her husband with a grin, "So I have a date this weekend."

Tony invited me for our first date to what was supposed to be a reception for one of his clients at the Westin downtown.  Well, it was far from it....a 2 hour business meeting instead, where I proceeded to enjoy the view of going round and round downtown Atlanta.  It was a train-wreck for Tony; I was quite impressed by the calm and collected way he handled himself that day.

I knew he owned "big boy pants" when he asked me out again.  On our third date, he took me to meet his dear friends at their annual haunted house, which Tony had never attended in years past.  They threw fake "guts" at us and made us crawl on our knees through a maze.  The next time I saw them without their Halloween horror gear on, I didn't even recognize them. We still chuckle about that. Oh, the bloopers of our early days together.

One of my colleagues asked me this week what attracted me to Tony.  Along with our shared values, I simply said, "he actually pursued me."

And despite those first dates not turning out the way he had hoped, the pursuit was on.  Very quickly, I found myself wishing to spend every moment of my life with Tony.

I miss him.

But I can definitely relate to the saying, and now say it with confidence, that "it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Dearly loved, and giggling at Tony,