Merry Christmas Eve Eve

December 23rd.

The night before the night before Christmas. Not the most significant day of the holiday season is it. Maybe you spent it doing some last minute gift shopping or purchasing all the food for your Christmas meal. Perhaps it was spent traveling home or getting the house ready for friends and family to arrive. Or maybe you’ve been alone all day, just like you will be tomorrow, and on Christmas.

It could be a day that’s different each year. Perhaps last year things were going well in your life and you were happy but this year it’s been one problem after another and there just isn’t much to be happy about. The tree is decorated and presents surround it but there’s still an empty feeling. There’s someone you miss or you are concerned about. Or maybe you’re waiting on a lab report to come back after the holidays.

At Christmas we all like to have the holiday spirit but some years it just doesn’t come that easily. We try to be merry, cheerful, and glad but underneath our smiles, we’re hurting. And if we were honest we would say that the Christmas season really isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year.

The past four December 23rds for me have been just about as diverse as they come. A holiday rollercoaster ride if you will with tremendous ups and downs.

Dec. 23, 2015 – it was just 4 months before that my wife Barb was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had undergone surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible and had recovered pretty well from that but in early December a follow up MRI indicated another surgery was needed. So the Christmas of 2015 was spent by our family being thankful for the support many were giving us and also preparing for another unknown outcome. We would spend New Year’s Eve in the hospital with Barb celebrating with her as she recovered from what we hoped was her last surgery.

Dec 23, 2016 – the past year had seen Barb not require any further surgery for which we were very thankful. She had completed her radiation treatment and had been receiving chemo treatments for a number of months and was surprisingly strong and doing well. It had been 16 months since her diagnosis. It was our first Christmas with our granddaughter and even in the midst of uncertainty, we celebrated the season and thanked God for His love and gift.

Dec. 23, 2017 – this was our first Christmas without Barb. In January of 2017, the cancer began to grow again and Barb made the decision to not try any other treatments as there were none that were viable and would give her a good quality of life. She declined quickly and went to her heavenly home on March 7. It was the lowest of times for me. I had never felt more lost in my life. But as the year went on, I came to understand that even in the midst of my grieve I could still celebrate the Christmas season and be thankful for all the years I shared with Barb and the way God walked with us through both the good and tough times.

Dec. 23rd, 2018 – today. The present. Another Christmas just two days away. This holiday season I’ve been missing Barb, again. The kids and I are continuing our traditions of putting up the tree, baking sugar cookies, and having our family Christmas eve dinner but each of these still have a feeling of incompleteness. Not really sad but just not the same as before. That will probably always be the case. And that’s okay because our traditions were made with Barb. So I will celebrate and honor those memories as I thank God for where He has brought me and how He continues to love me. And for who He is bringing into my life.

I don’t know where Christmas Eve Eve finds you this year but let me encourage you, if you are down, to not give up but to look up. And if 2018 has been good to you, I encourage you to lift up those around you that are feeling down.

In good times and bad, God’s love for us and His gift to us does not change. He is always there. No matter where we go or what we endure, He is with us. Look for Him. You will find Him. Emmanuel is right beside you this day and every day. And He loves you.

I pray that this Christmas you may experience the glad tidings of the good news that the season is really all about. Look beyond where you are now to where God can take you. Where He will go with you.

Merry Christmas my friends and see you down the road….

Another First Christmas

Tis the night before the night before Christmas. The house is quiet except for the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie playing in the family room. Yes, I’m home alone with the dogs and watching a Hallmark movie. Please don’t judge me. I had to see if Santa’s daughter Kristi would find true love with a postman, rock band guitarist. Happy ending.  She did!

Hallmark Christmas movies have been a tradition in our home for many, many, did I mention, many years?! My wife Barb loved these sappy romantic holiday love stories even though every movie I have ever watched has had almost the exact same storyline.

Girl or boy has relationship issues, she meets new boy or he reunites with girl from his past, they awkwardly begin to like each other, laughs are shared, they fall in love, a misunderstanding arises, they part ways, then rush back to each other just before the plane, train or bus leaves so they may live happily ever after. I guess we all still like a fairytale ending and the hope of love it brings. Including me.

I’ve been blessed to have lived a real-world love story and Hallmark is welcome to use it for next season’s hit movie. From our first meeting on a dance floor and then our first date where Barb broiled to a crisp our Valentine’s Day steaks. My first after church Sunday meal with her family where her brother Greg served a small plate of freshly fried squirrel (I’m a city boy). My awkward proposal to Barb on New’s Years Eve and our June wedding six months later where we drove off to our honeymoon in a car, shoe polished with messages such as ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.

Each Christmas over our years together has been just as memorable. Our first Christmas as newlyweds. Then Christmas mornings with one then two then three children under the age of five. The late night Christmas Eve wrappings and assemblings. The Christmas church programs with our little angels playing angels and shepherds at the stable (one year with holsters and toy guns). Year after year so many wonderful Christmas memories with Barb and the kids and now making new ones with our granddaughter. The word blessing is appropriate but doesn’t really convey the true gift these memories are to me.

And this Christmas will be no different except it is without Barb. So, in reality, it is very different. It is hard. It is sad. So much so at times, it is overwhelming. The reason for the season has not and never will change but the Christmas lights are not as bright this year. The songs not as much fun to sing. The cookies are not as sweet. There is a gift missing this year and that gift is Barb.

But there is another gift that sustains me. There is a gift that gives me strength and hope. There is a gift that brings joy regardless of my situation. That gift is Christmas itself. The gift God gave to all of us and continues to give every year, day, and moment. The gift of Himself, a child, our savior. This is the reason for this season and this gift is greater than any sorrow we endure. I accept it again this year and am so very grateful. It is the true love story we all long for.

This Fall I decided to join our church chorus. I had not sung in a choir for over thirty years so my vocal chords are going through a year of retraining and fine tuning but I’m really enjoying the music and our choir family. For this Christmas season, one of the songs we sang is called Fear Not. It was a very moving song for me and at times hard to get through as thoughts of Barb were very prevalent in my mind while singing it.

“To those who think your prayers have all been worthless
To those who think your chains are yours for life
To those who think you cannot leave the darkness
And bring your brokenness into the light” 

“Fear not, our God is with us
Emmanuel redeeming love has come
Fear not, we have a Savior
And nothing is impossible with God
Fear not”

So this Christmas, this first Christmas without Barb, I will fear not. I will bring my brokenness into the light. And it is my prayer that each of you will be able to do the same no matter what circumstance, what darkness, you find yourself in. This Christmas accept the gift of life, love, and joy. Nothing is impossible with God. Fear Not my friends!

Merry Christmas and see you down the road.

{Fear Not – Carl Cartee and David Moffitt}