Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree...

I broke the cardinal rule of all rules in Christmas decorating this year.  I put my tree up before Thanksgiving.  I have never done such a thing in all my decorating years, and I pondered it over and over in my mind before making the final decision.

Honestly, I just want to enjoy it all this year.

I didn't realize how much of last Christmas I don't remember until I started unpacking my ornaments.  I remember next to nothing about my first Christmas since my mother's death.  And, though I won't be hard on myself about the lack of memory as I was still in the I can't believe she's gone phase of grief, it makes me sad that I missed out on time I can't get back.  So I have purposed that I will enjoy this year, even through the empty place where she should be and the sadness.

I've got my main tree up.  Mantle half-way done with new garland and sparkly mesh.  And I put together a small tree with nothing but vintage ornaments I remember from my childhood.  It may not look special to a stranger, but I will find no greater joy this year in anything else than that little tree.  I remember unpacking these ornaments beside her every single year, hanging them on whatever tree we had that year.  When I was a kid, we had colored lights and a real tree.  In the latter years, it was pure white lights and an artificial tree.  But the ornaments stayed the same.  I feel some sense of comfort knowing how many times she touched them over the years.

Life is hard.  I know so many people struggling this year.  Divorces and deaths and illness.  We live in a disappointing world.  But I want to focus on the real meaning of Christmas this year.  Hope.  Christ's birth gives us a hope that can't be found in anything else on this earth.  It's not just hope in seeing those who have gone on before us or living an eternity in a place where there is no sin, sickness, or disappointment.  Rather it's a hope in a God that can raise from the dead, that can heal the wounds of this world.  A hope in a savior that came to this cruel world and felt all the same feelings I feel every single day.  A hope that there is more to this life than just today.  The hope that this sinful wretch, me, will be loved and granted grace even when neither are deserved.

Life is hard.  Yes.  But hope can be found anywhere.  We just have to look.  May you never stop looking, friend.

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.  "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found my you," says the Lord.   {Jeremiah 29:11-14a}

Friday, November 22, 2013

Morning moments...

I have an old lady cat.  She's really, really old.  Like 17 years old.  Like mostly deaf, partially senile, and becoming stiff in the bones just like people do when they age.  Just a few years ago, I discovered she couldn't jump up higher than onto the couch.  She started coming to the side of the bed most mornings and meowing so that I would pick her up.

That's when we started our little routine.  As I still laid under the covers, eyes open, mind running over the day ahead, she would quietly move to my side of the bed, sit down and let out her call to me.  Meow.  I always lean down, pick her up, and place her right on top of my chest.  And then we would have our little morning moment.

It's not all sweet morning moments with the old lady cat, though.  She's a puker.  Yes... she pukes at least once a week, and it's quite a gross experience to walk in and find unexpectedly or to hear happening in another room.  And, honestly, I talk so ugly and angrily to her as I clean up her messes, because, in my defense, she can't hear me anyway.  On the days she doesn't puke, it's time to clean out the litter box, and it doesn't take much thought about that task to understand how gross that can be.

The puker is also a talker.  And if you spend a minimum of five minutes a day on the phone with me, odds are you will hear the old lady screaming at me.  Because, though she's always been quite a talker, seems that her hearing loss has made her a much louder talker.  She's loud, folks.  And she's the only breathing being that anyone in my house is allowed to tell to shut up.  I mean she is a cat that can't hear.  And even if she could hear, she's still a cat, and we all know that cats definitely don't have emotions.  So we all tell the old lady cat to shut up.  And then she screams back at us.

So many days I worry I will walk in a room and find her lifeless.  If I don't see her or hear her much in a day, I find myself checking her common resting spots.  In Scott's close underneath his hanging shorts.  On the couch downstairs curled tightly in a ball.  In the laundry basket with that one towel I leave for her to lay on, the laundry basket I don't even try to use anymore because I have given it over to her.  Sometimes when I locate her, she's sleeping so soundly that I fear she's dead, so I lightly lay my hand on her to check for breathing.

See, the truth is that even with her messes and her incessant loud meowing, I love her, that is as much as a cat will allow herself to be loved.  And this morning, when I heard her at the side of my bed, I gently lifted her up and sat her on my chest.  And she purred beautifully and squinted her little kitty eyes at me and I rubbed the sides of her jaw.  And my mind wandered for some reason to the Garden of Eden.  My mind does this from time to time, going to places that make no sense at all in the most ordinary of situations.  But this is what I heard:

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"  {Genesis 3:8-9}

Atop my chest sat this nasty puking, litter box dirtying, obnoxiously loud fussing cat.  And none of it mattered in that moment.  I was so happy to have her there, warm and purring on my chest.  So happy to have my morning moment and connection with her that none of the aggravation of what lie behind or ahead mattered.

And that's how God feels about me.

God went looking for Adam and Eve just after they had sinned.  So many times I read this passage and got stuck on the fact that He was walking through the garden.  How neat to be able to walk alongside the Creator in the Garden of Eden.  But it wasn't until a few months ago that I heard someone say this is the first instance in the Scriptures of God's pursuit of His children.  How lovely.

Just like me, the not-so-proud owner of a puking, screeching 17 year old cat, if God hasn't seen me in a while, He will come looking for me.  And it doesn't matter if I've made a mess of things or cried too loud about something.  He waits to lift me gently onto His chest and enjoy His quiet moment with me.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, however messy and chaotic it may seem, there is a quiet place you can go.  And He waits patiently for you.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I woke this morning with a song on my mind, "Always" by Switchfoot.

This is the start
This is your heart
This is the day you were born
This is the sun
These are your lungs
This is the day you were born

And I am always, always, always yours

Today is the day I was born.

I've had a hard time lately, and I really can't put a finger on a reason why these past few months have seemed so heavy.  She's been gone over a year now, my mother, and I should be feeling better by now.  At least that's what I always thought, that something magical would take place at that one year mark and it will all just be a little easier.

But that hasn't happened.  Not yet.

Two weeks ago marked eighteen months without her.  A few days later was the day she would have turned 67.  And now my birthday, a day that seems so strange to even acknowledge without the presence of the one who gave me life.

I'm angry now.  I'm angry at cancer.  I'm angry that other people still have their moms and get to do the things with them that I used to love to do with my mom.  I'm angry that I can't talk to her anymore.  I'm angry that my kids don't have a Gammie.  I'm just angry, and I know it's just a part of the process, and I know I'm blessed to have so much to be angry about, and I know all the other right answers and responses like every good little Christian woman in the South does.  But I am still angry.  And still missing her.  And still in the midst of this terrible grief.

And then comes along the day I was born.

These are the scars
Deep in your heart
This is the place you were born
This is the hole
Where most of your soul
Comes ripping out
From the places you've been torn

And it is always, always, always yours
And I am always, always, always yours

Holes.  Holes in my soul.  There are the holes left by other people, things done to me, bitter emotional and physical abuse.  There are the holes I gave myself, stupid decisions, turning away from God.  And then there's the big hole, this unexpected one, the place where my mother always was, the place I will always want her to be.

Oh but my Father cried out to me this morning as I listened to this song... I am always yours.  Always.  He's the only one who can say always.  His always is always true.  And so I turned to my favorite Psalm, 139...

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. {verses 13-16, New Living Translation}

And then the anger started to melt, and the beauty of my life comes into focus.  That God put me there in her womb with a purpose, put me there as a big surprise to her and my father both.  And He saw me growing there, He saw the whole of my life in the darkness of her womb as the strands of DNA planned out every detail of what would become me.  And I see that I am a part of this big miracle, one on which I even have a birthday.  The miracle of life.  And she facilitated it for me.  For Him.  She brought me to life to carry out His purpose for me.

So the anger melts to thankfulness as this mother-less child comes to grips with the fact that I am His first.  Yes, I was hers.  I was born to her.  She was my mother, and I miss her so.  But this came as no surprise to Him.  No surprise at all.  And He watched me form, and He made me inside of her womb exactly who I am, nothing more, nothing less.  And He is always my Father, always mine.  And He is enough, always.

I'm caving in
I'm in love again
I'm a wretched man
Every breath is a second chance

And it is always, always, always yours
And I am always, always, always yours

To listen to Switchfoot's song, "Always", click here.