Christmas is officially over. Sure, some of the remnants remain. The tree is still up. There are opened gifts still waiting to find a “home”. But the anticipation is over. The stress. The rushing. The anxiety.
I survived. Just barely. There were some days over the past couple of weeks when life wasn’t too pretty. I snapped at the people I am supposed to give my best to. Like Pete. And my kids.
I struggled under all the expectations that were on me. Expectations that came mostly from me. The need for everything to be perfect. The perfect gifts. The perfect food. The perfect atmosphere. Of course, perfection is subjective. I am a difficult taskmaster. Relentless. And, truth be told, I was probably one of the few who really cared.
I tossed and turned at night for almost a week. My head was full all the things I still needed to do. I fell asleep with a list swirling around my head and woke to the same. It felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day. There wasn’t enough time to finish that “list”.
To top off all the seasonal stress, we lost three different items this year. Nothing drives me more crazy that misplacing things and not being able to find them. I read a statistic today that says that we spend a whole year of our lifetime looking for things. I think I am working on my second year. First, Karissa came home and promptly lost her keys. She just borrowed ours so it didn’t really bother me. Then Sarina lost her security toy. It isn’t really a toy. Before they were born, my aunt made 2 special blanket “buddies” that had a long piece of satin binding tied around their necks as a bow. Nathan very quickly adopted both of the bears as his security blanket and Sarina got the “strings”. They should have been discarded long ago but since the twins are the babies of the family, they have been able to keep their special toys. Sarina is supposed to keep hers in her bed but it often gets misplaced. It did again, 2 days before Christmas. We have tried getting the kids to try to help look for something by offering a reward but that didn’t work this time. The days were okay but I knew the nights would be tough. Christmas Eve it came to a head for me. Karissa was busy trying to put batteries in Sarina’s new “Hello Kitty” camera when the screw that was holding the battery cover on dropped. I was crawling around on my hands and knees looking for an almost microscopic screw, fretting about Sarina’s string and basically almost losing it. I found the screw, Karissa found her keys and I resigned myself to the fact that “stringy” would remain lost for the night. I found it the next day, along with the peace that everything lost was found–for the moment.
Then there was the unexpected news, a mere week before Christmas, that a good friend got a cancer diagnosis. All while planning her own wedding. Tough stuff any time of the year. Her faith has been strong. But I have to believe that she is asking “why me?”. “Why now?” I understand her anger when she heard the story of someone losing his “joy” when he didn’t get the right order at the drive-through. How does a missed hamburger compare to the life-altering news of cancer diagnosis? Having to deal with the tough stuff in life really changes someone’s view. I think it makes me appreciate the little stuff more. And I realize that life is far more fragile than most of us think. I don’t tread quite as lightly as I used to. I am sure my friend won’t either. We have both had a change in perspective. And, for me, Heaven is a little bit closer. Not close enough. But closer.
I was surprised by the intensity of this year. While in the past it was easier to be carried along in an emotion-numbing river of joylessness and grief, this year has been the start of a new chapter. I still cried at church. Looking down the pew to see all my family but Arlynne is still sad but I cried more with gratitude. Gratitude for my Saviour. For His sacrifice. For His love. Even when I don’t think I’m worth it.
I cried at the mall too. I cried when Karissa finally confirmed, after months of dating, that she did have a boyfriend. I found out by text message. She didn’t want to say anything until she was sure she wanted to “keep” him. I was upset because I thought she didn’t trust me. And she hadn’t told him about Arlynne. I am not sure when the best time is to spring news like that on a boyfriend. We met him last week. He survived the most skeptical judges–her siblings. He might even come back. And he will be welcome.
I listened when Arlynne’s name was spoken at both family gatherings. How her name was still in my sister-in-law’s box of place markers. She still has a place so her absence is still noticed. How one of her fellow summer missionaries has allowed Arlynne’s death to change her life focus. How she gets up each morning with thanks and anticipation. How another sister-in-law thinks about her every time she sees a girl at her church who reminds her of Arlynne. It is nice to know I’m not alone. But it didn’t make me cry. It just made me grateful.
Eden asked if she could hand out the presents this year. I wanted to scream “NO!! That’s Arlynne’s job!” but I didn’t. I will fondly remember the past but someone else needs to fill Arlynne’s shoes. They are big shoes but someone will. And it’s okay. Josiah did it this year. At 14 years old and 5’11” tall, his feet are pretty big! I just have to let go.
In the middle of it all there was joy. I didn’t think I would ever get to this point. The place of joy. I have known peace. Even at the beginning. But joy has taken longer. It isn’t happiness. Happiness is fickle. Changing. Temporal. I don’t think I do “happy” well. I have been through too much. But joy is different. Joy isn’t of this world. It is something that only my Father God could give me. I haven’t wanted to take it. It seemed to conflict with grief. I thought I could have peace with grief but not joy. But my joy comes from an assurance that my Father God loves me. It is more deliberate. More stable. More lasting. I don’t find it in this world. I find it in my Saviour. In my Jesus. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.”(NIV). God gives me joy in His presence and in the hope of eternal pleasures. This joy will last.
Now, I accept joy as one of my Father God’s gifts. I welcome it. I embrace it. Even while I mourn.