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….

The New Song Of Morning

I woke this morning, thankful for a good night’s sleep. And now I’m sitting in my apartment, drinking my morning tea, and listening to some Christian worship music reflecting on a few things.

Life. It’s not always what we expect or want it to be. For many of us there seems to be more bad times than good. But with the rising of the morning sun, we are given another day that will hopefully be better than the day before. A chance, an opportunity, a gift to improve our life. There’s a song from Jason Mraz that has a line which has stuck with me, as a prayer, from the first time I heard it. “May the best of your todays be the worse of your tomorrows.”

Death: I find it interesting that the words mourning and morning are pronounced the same. One brings us feelings of sadness, remorse, and grief. The other brings us hope, peace, and a reassurance that today is a different morning where we can leave the mourning of yesterday a little further behind us.

Love. What truly is love? Is it just an emotion or is it something deeper. Something greater. Something everlasting. I think it’s all of these and so much more. Actually more than I’ll ever fully understand. Love of family, love of friends, love of a lifetime, love of God.

One thing I’ve discovered is love is a two way road. If it was just one direction then it’s just affection or infatuation. Real love is where two become one, many times from that first word or glance. It’s an aching of the heart where you are incomplete without the other. This is true in our human love for one another and the love our God has with us.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

So as the light of the new day brightens the darkness of the world outside, I pray that neither life nor death become the focus of our day but that love is where we place our focus. Our hearts. And our hope.

See you down the road….

Front Porch Sittin’

It seems summer has come early to Central Ohio. Today, the temps were in the mid 80s as it has been for the past four or five days. Tonight there’s a cool breeze as the Doodle and I enjoy the front porch. That breeze also has the scent of rain so something is coming our way it seems.

Today was a really good day. Actually, the weekend has been very special.

Our family celebrated Mothers Day this afternoon to honor all the mom’s in our family. Three generations. This morning, our extended church family stood and affirmed our commitment to 10 young children being dedicated by their parents. Two were my grandchildren. That commitment of love makes my heart full.

Today was also my two-year-old granddaughter’s birthday and last evening we partied like a two-year-old to celebrate her presence in our lives. She and her little brother bring incomparable joy to my life.

And Friday night I was able to go with a group of friends to see a band perform the hits of Fleetwood Mac. One of my favorite groups from my youth. Music has always moved my soul.

So tonight while doing some front porch sittin’, I’m lingering in the stillness of the evening with a full heart, a joyful spirit, and a soul that is singing a song of gratitude and thanks.

Oh, how I wish my wife Barb was still here with us to celebrate these precious moments. They are the life events she loved. From the hanging out with friends to celebrating special days with her family, she deeply enjoyed times like these. And you know, I’m confident she did so this weekend.

I don’t really know if our loved ones, who have passed on, do have some heavenly view over our lives but I like to think so. Even though she is not physically present, I can sure feel her with us.

I felt her Friday night at the show and could visualize the two of us dancing away the night like we used to. She was with us last night as we enjoyed and celebrated the blessing of our granddaughter, and her spirit was with us today during the dedication of our grandchildren. Her joy tonight must be beyond abundant.

I find comfort in knowing Barb’s joy is abundant and complete. How awesome that must be. I can’t wait to experience it for myself some glorious day.

But for now, I remain here in this life. And I have to say it’s a pretty good one. I’m surrounded by family and friends that love me and one another. And with that love and grace, there isn’t any storm that can overcome the hope and joy I have.

So tonight I’ll leave the windows cracked and let the breeze blow in as I listen to the rain on the roof. It will give me peace. And there again I’m reminded of Barb and her love.

Peace to you my friends.

See you down the road…

How Sweet It Is

I woke up this morning with James Taylor.

Singing in my mind that is. I’ve always enjoyed his music and this morning I could hear his song “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”. My foot started tapping which apparently annoyed Izzy the Doodle enough that she jumped off the bed. She must not be a fan of the original JT.

Here are a bit of the lyrics:

‘I close my eyes at night wondering where would I be without you in my life.
Everything I did was just a bore, everywhere I went it seems I’d been there before.
But you brighten up for me all of my days with a love so sweet in so many ways,
I want to stop and thank you baby, I just want to stop and thank you baby.
How sweet it is to be loved by you, feels so fine. How sweet it is to be loved by you.’

This is one of a number of songs throughout my life that has always picked me up. I can’t help but to start singing along and let the song put a smile on my face. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll pull up beside me at a stop light while this song is playing. I expect you to sing along with me so don’t be shy. Put the windows down and join me in making a joyful noise!

Do you have a song that picks you up? Why does it? Perhaps when you first heard it, it really connected with you. Or perhaps you heard it during an emotional time in your life and it’s been your goto song ever since. Or maybe it’s a family favorite or a song you and your childhood friends have great memories around.

Songs are memories. And tied to them are emotions. Many if not most songs have emotions as part of their title or in their lyrics. Songs such as:

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake (the other JT)
“Happy” by Pharrell

“Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night
“Yesterday” by The Beatles
“I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams

And thousands more across all genres of music. No matter your favorite artist or style of music, I’m sure there are certain songs that will forever open your mind and emotions to another place. Take you back to a time when you experienced something that made an impact on your life. A life-changing moment.

James Taylor’s version of “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” has now made a new emotional connection with me. In addition to being that happy little jingle that always made me sing, it has also become an anthem since losing my wife Barb. We would dance to this song everytime we heard it. Weddings, parties, clubs, and once on a public sidewalk. I promise it wasn’t too embarrassing.

Wonderful memories of a love so sweet in so many ways that continue on even after the grave. I really do wonder where would I be without having had her in my life all those years. So many great memories and experiences that will stay with me no matter what comes. I’m very thankful for that.

So which song connects with you? I’d love to hear about your song and your story so please leave a comment to share. And while you’re doing so, queue up that song of yours. Play it loud and sing along. Get that feeling inside your bones and go electric wavy when you turn it on. Dang there comes that other JT! He’s pretty good too.

See you down the road.

The Ness Of March

The month of March has always meant the coming of Spring. Sure almost every year in Ohio, we would get a pretty decent snow in March but it usually didn’t last long. Soon the sun would warm up the ground to melt the mantle of white and flowers would start poking their way up through the soil. Daffadills, Crocus, and sometimes Tulips would begin blooming in all their colors as Spring arrived. Such wonderful colors. Nature in transition. The beauty of creation. March in all its fullness.

Since 1939, March has also been the month where brackets are drawn, teams compete, buzzer beaters ignite the crowd, nets are cut down, and a champion is crowned. If you’re a fan of college basketball then this is your month. Even if your team is not in the tourney, there’s something about these games that is unlike anything else in sports. Going through the season and all the transitions teams must deal with to reach the pinnacle of success. Such anticipation. Such excitement. The beauty of the game. March in all its madness.

And then there’s March of 2017. March 7th to be precise. The day our family said goodbye to the person that held our hearts together. The day my wife Barb finished her 19-month journey of transitioning from a healthy life to her death from cancer.

It truly is the saddest day I have ever experienced. No other pain or sorrow comes close to what I felt that morning as I kissed her goodbye and whispered in her ear it was ok for her to go. She had fought long enough and now she could fly high to her new home. My heart still aches as I think about that moment. Tears well up again as I experience one more time the loss of her beauty. March in all its sadness.

But there’s another Ness that surpasses all the others.

Some years, Easter occurs in March which brings with it the greatest beauty. The beauty of grace and sacrifice. If you are a follower of the Christ, Easter week is probably the most significant example of transition you can find.

From the joyous shouts of Hosanna, through the final days of teaching and preparation, and into the night of communion and betrayal. Then the Friday of trial, suffering, and death and the Sabbath of sadness, doubt, and despair.

But then, oh thank God then, coming with the rising of the sun, there is the gift of new life. The raising of the Son on Sunday morning. The world transitions from a place of darkness, confusion, and fear to a home of hope, light, and life as the Christ overcomes the grave. The beauty of the Creator. Easter with all its forgiveness and completeness.

This March has been a tough one for me. In some ways even tougher than that first March losing Barb. Everything I’ve seen and experienced this month has reminded me of her. At times bringing great happiness and smiles and other times such a strong feeling of loss and tears. Grief is a process that presents itself in many ways. I’m learning to allow the ways of grief to come and to accept them. The transition out of grief is long and perhaps I will never be rid of all of it. And that’s ok.

You see I know that this loss and grief will not keep me. It cannot keep me. Because the love I shared with Barb and the love our Saviour has shared with us, is greater than anything we have to endure in this world. I am so thankful for it. The goodness of God.

Tonight during our Good Friday service, we sang the song At The Cross by Christ Tomlin.  I heard the lyrics in a way I had not before. Singing this song tonight gave me a comfort, a hug from God if you will, which is what I needed to close out this month of March.

I hope you, no matter what you are going through, are able to see and take in the goodness of God and what He has done for you. It is my prayer that you do.

“There’s a place where mercy reigns and never dies
There’s a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood
Comes flowing down”

 

Happy Easter and see you down the road.

 

Strength In The Broken Pieces

Have you ever broken something?

I know, a silly question isn’t it. We’ve all broken something during our lives. A toy, a glass, grandpa’s storm door, a friendship, a heart. Some breaks are easy to fix while others are hard. And sometimes what has become broken is the hardest to mend. Our self.

Through this first year without my wife Barb, there have been many times that the brokenness I experienced was so complete that I honestly felt lost. Lost to the point I had no idea where to find or how to put things back together again. Have you felt that way? It’s an empty, deep, dark place to be.

When you lose that one thing, the person, that brought wholeness to your life and fullness to your heart, it’s, well, indescribable. It’s one of those things that until you have experienced it you really cannot understand how it feels. Have you been there?

As many of you know, my wife’s brain cancer was not the first brokenness our family had felt. Just a few years before Barb’s passing, her younger brother Greg also died of brain cancer. To lose one was tragic but to lose both of them to this vile disease has been truly devastating. It felt like our lives had been broken into pieces and scattered across the table. Spilling onto the floor. And some pieces seemed to have been lost. That’s what cancer can do to a family. It was not the first time cancer broke me.

When I was 15, my father died of lung cancer and other complications. Dad was a smoker and a drinker. Two habits he developed during his youth and service in WWII. When he was wounded in Europe and sent stateside to recuperate, he met my mom.

I was their only child. They adopted me in 1959, eleven days after I was born which is a story for another time. Through my childhood, my dad was not totally present in my life. He lived with mom and me, took me fishing and mushroom hunting, took vacations with us each year, but being a fully involved fulltime father he was not.

I resented my dad for that and when he was diagnosed with cancer and started to spend even more time away from home, at the hospital, I resented him even more. Such a foolish, childish, selfish way to feel as my dad struggled with his illness. When he went to the hospital the last time, I never went to see him. He died and I stayed home due to fear and that resentment. It’s something I will never get over. I wish I could go back now and be there for him. Do you have regrets of resentment like that? It’s another empty dark place to be.

But we do not have to stay there.

When our lives are broken and become scattered, we have choices to make. We can choose to allow the darkness to hold power over us or we can choose to overcome the darkness to live again. I’ve learned this now. I’m stronger than before. I’m no longer that young man afraid and resentful. I’m learning to find the broken pieces of my life and put them back together. Not the same shape as before. A life that is different for sure but also a life that is strong.

I’m finding strength in the brokenness through my friends, my family, and my faith. This cord of three has proven to be unbreakable in my life. It has pulled me up, gathered me in, and put me together again. It is healing and powerful. It is a gift.

If you have this cord of three in your life you know how great a blessing it is. If you do not, I encourage you to reach out to those around you who are waiting to help you heal, to mend. You don’t have to go it alone.

But you should know there are really four cords involved in living. Friends, family, faith, and the fourth cord is yourself. It’s up to you to first start putting yourself together and although it can be a rough start, you can do it. If I can you can too.

Over this past year, I’ve read many books, watched many videos, and prayed many times to find strength and wholeness. You have to find what connects best with you. One thing that has helped me very much is the book “Healing After Loss” by Martha W. Hickman. Her short but spot on daily meditations are really helping me grow stronger through the healing process. You may find her words helpful too. I’ve included a link below regarding her book.

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, if you are feeling broken, I want to encourage you to not give up. It’s hard, this grieving process, but you can get through it. Persevere. You can find strength in the brokenness and that strength will lead you to a life of renewed meaning and wholeness. You are stronger than you know.

See you down the road.

Martha Higgins’s “Healing After Loss” is a wonderful book of daily meditations to help you through your grief. Available on Amazon via the image above.

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}