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This Thanksgiving was so different, but no different. While Covid was a component, it wasn’t the culprit.

The holidays are not my favorite time of year. In fact, they’re my least favorite, which seems almost sacrilegious, especially because, I am religious. Not only am I religious, but Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Tired of consumerism, but loving food to a fault, a holiday centered around foods unique to once a year and family, was just great with me. It segued into transforming the house into a Christmas wonderland. I relished the Christmas spirit, with my children underfoot or at older ages, making their Christmas gift lists overtly known. The gift exchanges with friends, baking, giving extra to those in need, I loved it all, but so much more, because it was done within the framework of my family.

Which is probably why it’s so hard to find joy in the holidays still, ten years after my divorce. Wait, it might be eleven! But I’m not counting. Those are the holidays that I still want, and cannot have. I made the decision soon after the divorce that I would not give in to the temptation of a stale emotional state. So, for the holidays, I would do my best to maintain the integrity of who I am. Each year, while on a lesser scale, but still in earnest, I pursue the holidays. I do my best to maintain a semblance of the home and traditions my kids grew up in. While the family we knew died, we don’t have to live like we died, but can live and thrive.

But that is no easy task. Thriving can mean striving, and if one is always striving, seeking that life that we desire, the one that brings us joy and peace, the process can be arduous.

Even today, with just my daughter, our two dogs, and myself, I made a full Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, a whole turkey, and the works. Because of medical issues, my daughter did not eat (these are not related to her medical issues she had in HS or college). I can imagine what some of you are thinking, and it’s probably not, “Can I have the recipe?”

Since the divorce, this family still struggles to find its footing. The reasons are complex, and for many families of divorce, this is not the case. But it is the case for ours, and I know there are others.

In spite of the big meals I make, the bounce in my step, the decorations of tinsel and sparkle, the holidays are difficult, and I find myself enduring them, instead of running into their arms with the excitement I once knew.

Well-intentioned people have advised me with admonishment to move on, reminding me that God is my husband and my father. My first response is to punch them. I want to say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, since you have one.” Would one say that to someone who lost a child in death?

Punching them isn’t cool though, and I could not agree with them more. Without God as my husband and father, I would not be here today. Besides the health of my daughter, my relationship with my children, and living without my family during the holidays has brought me closer to God than any other thing. God created my family. It is his design. And I believe that as my heavenly father and husband, he mourns with me, with every ornament I hang, the disappointments I bear, and the tears that fall.

If you are divorced and strive to thrive, but face the glare of the holiday lights that expose the losses, and intensifies the pain, I see you. I feel you, and I know you. God created the design of family to be the pillar of our society, and our strength in times of good and bad. Every form of media emphasizes the value of family. That when we have our family, we have everything, even when faced with the most difficult of circumstances.

What does that mean then, for those who don’t have family, or it’s been dismantled beyond recognition? When that family is no longer there, like the rag that gets tossed around a bit, yet still predictably, always ready for use when needed?

There are times I turn to some of my amazing friends. Some people will turn to romantic relationships, drugs, or alcohol. Determined to wedge something into that empty space, they attempt to complete the puzzle that was uniquely made for their family.

My friends are a generous salve. They are angels in my life, divinely appointed for me. And while they are sometimes an answer to prayer, they, nor drugs, alcohol, or romantic fulfillment can answer prayers or change hearts.

Every year, it’s the same drill. I brace myself, I prepare myself, I’m disappointed, I grieve, and I beg God for mercy. And every year, he delivers in specific, unique, and holy ways that are difficult to articulate, because I think, all miracles are.

This Thanksgiving was anything but typical. It was fragmented and disjointed. I couldn’t find the answer in one TV illustration on how to handle the complexities of Covid. None of the experts on TV addressed my personal scenario. But God heard my pleas and answered my prayers. He gave me courage to find the right words when I needed them, and tenderness in my execution. Angels were on my side and in my presence. My daughter and I shared a time of conversation that united us and a memory that I will treasure; one on which we can build.

The holidays shine a light on the brokenness that we work so hard to recover. But there is one who is the light of the world, whose light is so powerful, that he will not let the darkness overpower him (John 1:5). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34).

Covid is hard. I understand that the destruction it’s caused. But the media and God are right. That when we have the love of our families, we can overcome any hardship. Of the hardships we face,  none compares to the hardship of losing one’s family.

Being this transparent is hard for me. But I know this hard walk. It’s exhausting and discouraging when we don’t reap what we’ve sown. It reminds me of some favorite movies. One I recently saw called The Biggest Little Farm. It documents the enormous energy that a family puts into building a farm out of nothing. One fiasco and tragedy after the other occurs, until ultimately they discover how all of those mishaps shaped their farm into the success it is today.

The other movie is more relevant to this time of year. That is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  After so much sacrifice and devotion to the people he loves, George Baily faces the potential collapse of his business, and not because of any fault of his own. Through an angel, and the beautiful gift of perspective, George is able to reconcile his losses and overcome his despair.

It’s true that in the end, George has his family. But it’s God who gives him the perspective he needs to be pointed in the right direction, positioning himself for God’s miracles.

Many of us can relate to George. If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have made a movie about it! Look for your Clarence, and let him point you in the right direction.

You can do this, because God can do this.

PS: Oh, and a whole pie. These are the best store-bought homemade pies ever.

Welcome to the club. That’s what Jim said as he pulled the needle from my arm. “You’ve saved at least one person’s life. You can’t do better than that.” I gulped and resisted a moment of emotion that I didn’t want to reveal. “Awe, thank you Jim. You and Alanna made it so painless. Thank you for what you are doing,” I said.

I’ve felt like I should be doing more. I’ve helped a friend out here and there. I’ve offered my Juggle Source services for free, and my prayer list is long, but I wasn’t sinking my teeth into anything where I could see an impact. There are so many people on the front lines, it’s hard not to be part of the equation when I am seemingly healthy. Instead, I’ve spent hours designing products and learning the skill of maintaining an Etsy store with T-shirts and other products. I recognize how crucial it is that I am creative and generate an income. I would tell anyone that’s what they too should do. Yet when life is so broken, I want to fix something. And now with what seemed like a small amount of energy, I had fixed something. No, I had saved someone. Jim said so. And he welcomed me to the club.

Over the last many years I’ve been admitted to “clubs” that I would have rather not joined, but because the direction my life took, I’d become an unwilling member. That is life. Most of us have become a member of some club we’d rather not join. Single, unemployed, illness,… the list is long. I’m starting another club: The Coronavirus Carb Club. We insiders can call it Triple C. If you know what this is, you are automatically admitted. Criteria is that you have to have had at least one baked good a day for the last week, homemade or store bought. It doesn’t matter. OK… I’m going to loosen up the criteria. If your Go To has been chips and salsa or potato chips, you’re also a member.

Being welcomed into the club felt honorable. Here I’m talking about Jim’s club, the American Red Cross, not Triple C. In the past, I’d been turned away for one reason or another. This time I was accepted. Good weight (thank you, Carb Club), good iron count, good blood pressure. Woo Hoo! Being fifty-nine in a day of coronavirus, this was good news. I had a weird sense of accomplishment, like a little satisfaction that in the face of being of “that group,” I could beat the odds. Not that I will tempt them.

Right now we are all members of a club that we didn’t choose. It’s the Coronavirus 2020 Club. There is one condition: you are alive. You don’t live in a particular country, county, or city to qualify. It is not income or socio-economic dependent. There is no consideration to profession, education, social status, race, political party, or religion. There is some preference to a certain age group (that I will not repeat), and people with underlying health conditions. But still all people in the world are active members, even if slow to accept this status.

There are a whole lot of downsides to this club. Initiation is a steep expectation to sacrifice mobility and submit to authority. For some, we will do it because we respect or fear authority. For others, we will do it because we want to do our part in keeping others safe. For some it’s to keep ourselves safe. For many, it’s for all these reasons. But some cannot conceive of the absurdity of an invisible attack on human kind. And it does seem absurd. We all recognize that this virus doesn’t line up with what we, especially Americans, know in our world of modern day medicine. These individuals can’t get past this, or some won’t let something stand in the way of progress and living their lives. Especially something they can’t see. The invisible enemies are always the hardest to confront.

In spite of our perspective, we’re all part of the club. Rules for membership are given to us via an overwhelming number of sources: TV, radio, Internet, social media, and each other. I access it all, every day, although, I’ve begun to take breaks. I even spotted info on a piece of paper lying in the middle of the road yesterday. Because it didn’t have Dr. Fauci’s name on it, I decided to place it in the garbage. We must sift through a lot of the info we hear and see, and do the same, place it in the garbage.

Really, there are three simple (not easy) rules:

  • Stay home
  • Wash your hands often
  • Keep six feet between yourself and others

Everything else is a variation of that or instructions on how to accomplish those things. 

This experience is the great equalizer. We’re all subject to the same threat and must figure out how to cope. And that we are. Before we joined this club, we often suppressed emotions, some so foreign we couldn’t identify them. So we could take on the demands of the day, we kept them at a distance, way more than six feet away. If they tried to persist, we’d be on to the next thing, never allowing grief, loneliness, insecurity, or others, to crack open that door.

Today’s rules force us to slow down, give in, submit, and stay put. Our emotions have a chance now. We can’t use our calendar of daily activities as an escape. Whatever we’re feeling as a result of this new world demands our attention, whether we like it or not. Just like Hoda Kotb’s sadness erupted without warning for all the NBC viewers to see. We think we are fine. We want to be fine. And then we are not.

But here they are, our emotions. We get to welcome them, and transform them. We don’t send them away. We don’t dwell in them. They are not to be feared. We stop. We talk with a friend. We listen to music. Sadness, loneliness, and uncertainty joins us in the moment. We say hello, acknowledge them, and in the process we discover our humanity again. We embrace them, and invite them to be useful. Our feelings of hopelessness can choose to be hopeful. Helplessness gets to choose to be helpful. Discouragement gets to choose to encourage.

I hope you feel the camaraderie of this experience that we are sharing across our city, our state, our country, and across our world, like never before in our lives. It isn’t a them and us. This is a “we.” In China, New Zealand, or Hawaii, we join God’s people all over the world. This is really really hard for them, and for us. This is really really good for them, and for us. Welcome to the club.

There are three things that I just know God created because of his abundant love for us: sports, music, and coffee. Forgive the mix of genre, but I love all three so much. And by sports, I mean competition. I suppose a person could entertain us with his basketball shooting skills on a YouTube video, but without competition, it isn’t the same.

But like you, I see so many wonderful talents via Facebook and You Tube, and I want to share them all. But since I’ve been posting more than usual for connection, and a lot as I market Juggle Source and my new Etsy Store products, I have refrained from the myriad of things I want to share with everyone!

But I have to share this. We’ve lost our sports. But hallelujah, music prevails.

It’s the Garth Brooks Gershwin Prize Season 2020 on PBS. It was an amazing experience of artists honoring Garth Brooks, with performances by Christ Stapleton (unbelievable), Trisha Yearwood (tear jerker!), and Keith Urban. But the highlight was Garth’s performances alone, in the second half. When you watch this performance, it’s clear why he was admitted to this particular club.

And thank you Jimmy Fallon for being the funniest person on earth. My schedule has been completely disrupted, and I owe some of that to you.

 

Oh, how I wish I could get my blog site set up the way I want it. Because it’s not what I envision, I tend not to write, but I have so much to share! It’s not that I think everyone is eager to hear what I have to say. But I do love to express, document, and share what I’ve learned. I have learned a lot. I look forward to a time when I will write regularly.

Much has occurred since my last post in late May. I worked at my Principal Secretary job through the summer. It was good, and it was also hard. The job wasn’t hard (it’s much better than the first many months when everything was new), just working was hard! I know. Many people do it. I’m both grateful and frustrated. I’m grateful for a job. And I’m frustrated that I don’t have more time to accomplish more in my life. But those topics are for another day.

We lost our beloved Rocky two weeks ago. He was sick for three weeks with a bulging disc or slipped disc or both. We don’t know for certain because with my finances, I couldn’t justify surgery, and if we weren’t going to do surgery, I didn’t think  the cost of x-rays made sense. We chose the route of recovery without surgery, which can be successful, but instead we and he endured 3 weeks of pain. The pain got intolerable, so we decided to put him to rest. It was heart wrenching. We loved him immensely, and Bridgette misses him terribly. I can cry at the thought of him, but here’s the truth: Two dogs were hard for me. That also may be a topic for another day.

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Rocky is the reddish brown dachshund.

Today I’m writing about death, grief, rejoicing, and peace, all at once. This is unique to the one who looks to God as her savior. It’s unlikely the person who doesn’t know God can relate to the ability to face all emotions at once. The ability to experience all these emotions simultaneously has been a mystery to me.  This morning Bridgette and I laid in bed and we thought about exactly this.

We woke up early to the news that a community member for whom we’ve fought beside in prayer and otherwise, for 6 years, had died. He was 13 (I think). We’ve known him since he was in early grade school. His sister is in my son, Bradley’s class. Sam Day died of Ewing’s sarcoma. Bridgette is home from OSU for the weekend. It’s nice that she can do that for many reasons. It’s really nice when she needs to grieve, as well as cram for an anatomy final. There’s been a lot of grieving lately, and a lot of reconciling emotions.

As  we laid in bed, both acknowledging that our stomachs twisted as we hurt for Sam and his family, we also discussed Nathalie Traller. Nathalie died last year of Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma, otherwise known as ASPS. She was another community member who we got to know indirectly because we chose to fight her fight with her.

This last week Nathalie’s dad had written an article about his grief and I hadn’t yet read it,  but Bridgette had. This morning, I read it and wept. I had just cried because of Sam. Not just wet eyes, but tears that accompanied unfamiliar sounds, as if I was  personally losing someone. As much as I know Sam, I did not know Sam. I did not live life with Sam, or his parents. The same was true for Nathalie. Both Bridgette and I (and Bradley has loved on them as well) weren’t what I call a personal friend, but we were committed to these families in prayer. We had personal contact with them, and volunteered on their behalf, in an effort to raise funds that would further medicines that would bring them and others to healing. We had invested in them, and it felt our investment had been taken from us. It hurt.

As we laid in bed, thinking out loud about death, we expressed sincere conviction that we knew Sam and Nathalie were in heaven.  We wondered however, how we could be both so grieved and relieved for them, yet not feel happiness. If heaven is the ultimate goal, shouldn’t we be ecstatic? And if heaven is that wonderful, what’s the point of life here? We’re not the first to have asked these questions. But it was the first time the two of us asked these questions of each other, and in the context of a mother and daughter. As much as I know we were exploring these questions with each other, I am the mom, and I wanted to give my grieving daughter words she could hang on to.

Our grief comes from our investment, and the loss we experience when we don’t get to cash in. Regardless of what the loss is, we have typically invested in the thing we have lost, in some form. Otherwise, it’s not much of a loss. The more we invest, the more pay off we expect.  As good stewards and servants, we contribute in this world. On one hand, we read in Psalm 128:2 “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” We have instructions to “…‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” in Mathew 22:39. In fact, it’s not instructions; it’s God’s command: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. … in Matthew 22:36-40.

Yet, King Solomon in Ecclesiastes says ““Meaningless! Meaningless!”  says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

We invest, yet it’s meaningless? If it’s all meaningless and our ultimate destination is to be with Jesus, why can’t we skip this part? The part where we toil and invest and love, here on earth? Can’t we just do that in heaven?

I don’t have all the answers to that, necessarily. As a mom and a Christian who depends on my relationship with Jesus each day, I had some answers for Bridgette. I knew to tell her that we are here to glorify God and to bring others to know him. And that God’s plan is so intricate, complex, and unique to each of us, that we can’t necessarily understand it, but that we can see its beauty as it’s played out. Beauty, not like rainbows and unicorns and Pinterest quotes, but beauty that is uniquely experienced by us when we are intimate and relational with God and with others.

I assured her that each of us brings something unique to each other, so unique, that without each other, none of us can be the person God intends us to be. That in each moment, we are offering to the other something, and that something is either building the other, or tearing the other. Building the other is living within God’s will. Other than God’s word (the bible), there are few people who can communicate clearly what God’s plan looks like (although, for me, CS Lewis comes very close). I prayed that my words in this moment would resonate with Bridgette, and I’ll leave the rest up to God’s word, and CS Lewis sometime if she chooses.

As Christians, we are able to rejoice in our grief, because we believe that our ultimate destination is to be with our heavenly father, where all things will be good.  Yet we cry when we know someone has gone there! Shouldn’t we be shouting for joy, absent the grief? But we cannot, because of the investment that we have made in this life and given to those we love.

We are placed in this world by our heavenly father. While living within his will, we are to embrace it. We are to glorify him in everything we do. We are to work hard, to love well, to love our neighbor, to parent with wisdom, to teach, to feed the hungry and to give to others. Everything about Jesus is relational. Everything we are asked to do requires heart and grit. But. It can be taken away.

For those who don’t know our heavenly father, they have no insurance. They only have grief. For the person whose car has been stolen and has no insurance, he has only anger. For the person whose beautiful home has burned to the ground, but has not enough insurance to recover his losses, he has only loss and probably torment. But for the person who has vested into this life, according to God’s will, with heart, and faced hard times with grit, our loss means grief, with the insurance of our heavenly father backing us. So, we both grieve and rejoice. And part of that beauty that we can’t explain is promised to us in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thank you, Bridgey and thank you heavenly father for a moment with my daughter to explore sadness and you.