From Dad, With Love.

There was an empty chair at Christmas dinner this year. There was an open spot where daddy should have been sitting. I can’t say I didn’t have a good Christmas; in fact, I had a great Christmas. I got wrapped up in the magic of the season just like I always do. But there was also a tugging void that hovered like a dense fog over the holiday.

It was different without him, and I think it always will be. That’s something I’ve come to notice about grief, it never really goes anywhere. Sure it retreats to its dark place most of the time, hanging like a shadow at dusk. But you can always feel it’s heaviness, lingering at the edge of your world, reeling with an energy that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

But even as it stews, there’s a beauty in its existence. You see, when you have that grief pressing in, it’s then that you learn to put your blinders up. Just as they cause a horse to sharpen it’s attention to the task at hand, these blinders drive you to look ahead. They tunnel your vision until the path in front of you is all you see. In a way, that grief is the greatest motivator to charge full speed ahead. But your attention isn’t just focused straight in front of you, but instead it’s focused in the right direction. And as a Christian, I find myself with my eyes trained solely on God who’s always before me, beckoning me to follow him.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

There’s honestly days my breath catches in my throat and I remember he’s gone. It’s not because he isn’t always on my mind, but more so because it strikes me that I’m still standing, that I’m still breathing, and that I’m moving on. My heart breaks even as I write that, because I shouldn’t be moving on, but in my sigh I hear God telling me it’s okay, that I’m not leaving daddy and his memory behind, but rather I’m carrying him with me as I walk with God. And it is truly only through his grace that I am still standing.

I woke up the day after Christmas fairly early for me. Lori, her family and my mom were coming to my house to celebrate together. As I walked into the kitchen to let the pups out, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a light dusting of snow on the ground. It wasn’t called for, and we weren’t expecting it, but there it was, lightly coating the grass and trees. I chuckled, trained my eyes upward and mouthed the words “thank you” because I truly believe it was just for me. I think it was daddy’s way of saying, “I’m here, and it’s okay to be happy today.” And no one knew just how much I loved the snow more than he did, mainly because I texted him every time it fell from the sky, so I couldn’t think of a more fitting, or more beautiful messenger.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I love to picture heaven as being just above the clouds. And when I see it, it’s a flat space and God and dad are just peering over the edge of its ledge watching over me as I go throughout my day. They probably smile when I act silly or sing and dance in the kitchen, they no doubt laugh when I attempt to fuss at the pups, and I know they shake their heads when I am feeling a little bit sassy. But they are always there, rising when I do and resting when I’m sleeping. Like I said, I may be crazy but it’s the most comforting thing to me.

And so that’s where I choose to train my vision. I put that image in front of me, I banish the grief to the edge of my world, and I follow God’s call on my life. I stumble, a lot. With my eyes looking up, I sometimes don’t see the roots and rocks beneath my feet. And ever now and then, I trip, fall flat on my face, and take a while to get back up. But you know what, that’s okay. For me, the most important thing is that I’m moving forward. And the clarity with which I can follow him now is striking. There truly is beauty in pain, and his name is Jesus Christ.

So now, with 2018 just around the bend, I think about leaving this year behind. I think about how many people I love, and how many I’ve never met, whose hearts broke this year. And I think about them standing on this path, grief lapping at the edge, with blinders on and they are faced with a choice. They can either run towards God who is beckoning them forward, or they can stand still with the darkness walling them in as the ground beneath their feet sinks, threatening to hold them there. It’s my prayer that if this is you, if you’re nursing a broken heart, that you choose to run towards God. Drop your baggage and follow his voice, for peace lies within his arms.

God, I pray that you would fix my eyes on you. Help me to be blind to the pain and the grief and see only your light this year. Help me to choose to move forward and to carry with me the strength you have granted me. Light my way and unburden my heart.

Amen

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Wishes of Wonder

We laid my sweet papaw to rest this past week. It was a tough day, to sit there in the seat meant for my daddy, trying to be strong for my mom while the memories and emotions of his funeral flooded over me. It’s been a tough year, there’s no doubt about that and there’s moments when I truly think my heart is so fragile, that if the wind blows one more gust of hurt my way, it might shatter. But then there’s days I feel numb, like whatever breath of emotion that generally circulated through my body has left in one big gush.

But as I stood there by the casket saying goodbye, I looked around me and saw family hugging one another and telling each how much they loved them, clinging to each other’s shoulders, and wiping away shared tears, and it struck me; there is nothing that brings people together quite like tragedy. I was overwhelmed with wonder and amazement at how such a precious moment could exist amidst such hurt and despair.

In the days leading up to the funeral, I kept repeating my spill about how although it had been a tough year, I was looking forward to the fresh start around the corner to those who ask how I was. And in the back of my mind I kept thinking how much I needed Christmas and the holiday season this year. The months surrounding and leading up to Christmas have always been my favorite. I love the cold weather, I love snow and I love how the season just seems a little bit more magical. Besides, it literally combines four of my favorite things; Christ, shopping, decorating and eating. I kept telling myself if I could just get through those two days, I could go into Christmas mode and everything would be alright. At the time, I think my game plan was hide in the spirit of the holidays and face the music afterwards.

But on the drive back from the funeral home one day, I propped my feet on George’s dash and got lost in my one of my favorite magazines, The Magnolia Journal. It is one of the few magazines I truly read from cover to cover, so as I read Joanna’s opening letter, I had to laugh. The theme of this issue was wonder, and finding the time to truly enjoy the magical moments of Christmas with the heart of a child. The pages were full of ways to transport yourself to those years when just the twinkling of Christmas lights could brighten your day, when the smallest dose of Christmas magic could get you through an entire year.

After the funeral, everything that had been swirling around in my head for the past week suddenly made sense. What my heart needs to heal from this year is a little wonder and God knew I would need help seeing it, so he brought me to this crossroads at just the perfect season of life, the Christmas season. Besides, what other time of the year is quite as magical as Christmas time? Even though the world is literally darker, the darkness is alive with twinkling lights, joyous Christmas music, love and laughter, and the holiness of our Savior.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

You see, Christmas is a time that no matter your beliefs, no matter your circumstances, and no matter what you believe, everyone simply believes a little more at Christmas time; that there is joy to be found in our lives, that there is hope for the despair we see all around us, and that miracles and wonder do exist around us. And as God speaks to us through 2 Peter, he tells us that everything we need to live a godly life, a life pleasing to him and one laced with survival for us, has been provided. He has given us the very tools we need to make it through anything. And perhaps, one of those tools is wonder. He has given us the ability to see miracles if we look, to see happiness in pain, and to love one another through each and every day. He allowed me to see the the wonder I needed as I was mourning the loss of one of the most important men to me.

And just as he has given us what we need to survive, he has also given us what we need to heal. The very thing that can take away the sharp pain of death every time we breathe the breath of life when those we love take their last, can be found nestled beside the pain in our hearts. So in times like these when days seem long, and just a little darker, perhaps Christ gave us the ability to dig a little deeper and find the wonder in our hearts to brighten the darkest part of our lives. After all, it is his birthday season and what better time to enjoy true peace then with the birth of the Lord and Savior of our lives.

So this Christmas season, that’s what I will do. I will dig a little deeper, past the pain and the hurt, through the lingering numbness to find that ember of wonder that I know exists in my heart. I will cling to it, I will nurture it, and I will find ways to let it shine all season long. I will take the time to appreciate the magic of this holiday season, and to let magic dance in my eyes through the twinkling lights. I will give this season to others, and in turn heal my own heart as I am blessed by their thankfulness. I will cling to the moments I am surrounded by friends and family and revel in their love and light, taking small pieces of it with me through the rest of the year. And I will remember above all else, that so many years ago, my Lord and Savior came to this Earth as a small child and brought with him the salvation of my life. And that’s truly all I could ever need in life.

I invite you to surround yourself with wonder this Christmas season, surround yourself with love and allow your heart to heal amidst the holiness of our Savior and the celebration of his birth. And together, we will start fresh come the new year. Blessings to you and yours, may this be the best holiday season yet.