The Seasons of Loss

God is teaching me a lot about loss right now. Right here at Christmas, when the focus is on getting — getting gifts, getting decorations up, getting together with loved ones — I am living through different kinds of loss. Charis losing her front tooth. Losing my time. Losing a dog. Tucked into each of these losses are good lessons, but they are bittersweet.

Charis is now officially without two front teeth. I must be getting sentimental in my old age, but it marked more than being able to sing the “All I want for Christmas” song. She is growing up. The baby of her is almost gone. I looked at her and thought, “Childhood is passing so quickly.” And there is a spiritual picture in losing teeth — moving away from baby things to maturity, from temporary to permanent, from milk to solid foods. I am forced to ask: Am I investing in the days I have with her? I found myself praying, “Lord, help me to relish the moments. Help me to savor her as she lets go of childlike things, and to not miss these vanishing days.”

Birthdays, though wonderful, are a kind of loss to me. They mark a passage of time. I always do an evaluation of where my life is to date. What am I doing with my time? Am I moving forward in my life goals and dreams? Have I allowed another year to be sucked away by distractions and excuses? Now more than ever, I am seeing that my time is a gift. My energy and health are gifts. But they are like seeds that can only be sown in certain seasons. I don’t want to lose the seeds to neglect.

We had to put Pearl, our Great Dane, down. She was nine years old, which is old age for these gentle giants. But age didn’t ease the how, why, and when questions, the second-guessing, the wishful thinking. When your dog weighs 150+ lbs, your options are very limited. But her frailty didn’t lessen the bitter decision.  Finally, one day when Salem and I were both trying to lift Pearl up to help her outside and failing miserably, Charis’ voice hit home. “Mom, it’s just time. It’s time to put her down,” she said quietly. Just like that, I realized that my avoiding the moment wouldn’t stop the moment. The loss was inescapable.

We all went together as a family, by choice. We cried and prayed before we took her to the vet. We thanked the Lord for the years, for the great dog that she was. And again Charis’ voice cut through the fog. “Lord, it is just time to let Pearl go. Help us let her go. We love her. And we let her go back to You. Amen.”

The peace that transcends understanding flooded into my weeping heart. After it was over — the vet, the tears, Pearl’s last breaths escaping her body — I asked the Lord to show me the sweet of this bitter moment. And the sweet was in the weeping. We all came home and lay on our bed together and wept. It was the realness of the loss, the realness of the emotion, the realness of death that we needed to experience and be comforted in.

What makes gain so real, so beautiful, is when it laid up against loss. My heart knows joy better when it has known grief. A hungry belly appreciates a meal more than a well fed one. A father letting his son go off to war knows better than anyone the joy of his son’s return. Let God soften and comfort your heart in losses. He is an ever-present help in time of need.

Trees Without Christmas?

Now here is a sad statement of the day.

Everywhere we go, people are saying “Happy Holidays” for fear of intolerance or offending.  Or they are being pure spiritual wimps. Yet we are still selling Christmas trees.  I mean seriously, where are the militant atheists when you need them? Where are the political, historical scrubbers who try to erase any sign of religious freedom in our country?  Are they taking naps? This is a pretty serious oversight…

(Deep breath.)  Is anyone else chaffed by this duplicity in our culture?  If we are not going to SAY Christmas then why are we still SELLING Christmas?  I mean, let’s just drop the whole day altogether if we aren’t going to have the freedom to call it what it is.  Now hear me, I happen to love unbelievers and folks of other faiths.  I spent a large part of my life in that belief system.  But the last time I checked, neither they nor I were the authorities on what Christians could and could not do.  If I didn’t believe in Jesus, then I didn’t participate.  Today however, for non-believers to tell me what can and cannot be said around my Holy Day is ridiculous.  At the very least, if you want to make money off it, then you should have to at least call it the same name I do.

I don’t believe in Halloween, Santa or the Easter Bunny, but I don’t try to move legislation to silence those things.  Christmas is a religious holiday, part of our religious heritage.

Can you imagine trying to pull off this heresy in a Muslim culture?

So you know what we are doing as a family?  We are wishing every single store teller, Salvation Army ringer, and restaurant server, “Merry Christmas.”  No matter what they say, we are singing it out.  It is a simple act of faith, but a stand for God nonetheless.  No matter what their reactions are, we smile and bless them anyway. Why?

Because that’s what the angels said that glorious day.  Without fear, without shame, they declared the good news in a world just as hostile to the Messiah as ours is today.

“Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”  Merry Christmas.

Okay, okay, I am un-American…

Or am I?  We decided to break away from our traditional family gathering and head to the beach instead.  No problem, right? Wrong.

Traditions and perceptions of traditions are very, very weighty issues. Let me try to explain.  If you are born in the South, and you have a big family, and you cook, and you have birthed “grandchildren,”  then you go home for the holidays. If you don’t, this is almost grounds for stoning or disowning. Or both.

No one told me this. It is just what I have always perceived as truth. It is after all, the point of traditions. You do it the same way every year. From Hallmark to relatives’ comments and expectations, there is a credo of family rituals.  This credo is sometimes spoken of kindly or demanded at all costs.  Sometimes it is communicated in a cold, silent chill.  Attached to this credo is a guilt-producing factor that rings something like, “This ritual is a way of showing appreciation and love for your family.”

I don’t think I really got all this until I decided to forego the credo.  The pit in my stomach as I thought about telling my family that I wouldn’t be there was a great revealer of both the credo and my willing buy-in. But as I wrestled through this drama, I realized just how crazy all this pressure is.  The duty, the obligation, the guilt, the strain — it simply doesn’t add up.

For example, my friend is from Ohio and she doesn’t want to go home. So maybe it isn’t a Southern thing. My other friend has a big family and she’s not going home.  So maybe it isn’t a big family thing.   All of us have children (read grandchildren), but we are seeing their grandmas and grandpas at other special times. And the cooking thing, well, they don’t have Sister Schubert rolls for nothing.

What are we all doing instead of going home for Thanksgiving?  Being quiet, resting, spending time with “our” families. That doesn’t sound so evil does it?

Sure you don’t want to miss out on family gatherings every year. But you sure don’t want to go (and be miserable) just so you can check off a box. Maybe — just maybe — the credo has bullied us around long enough. What did my family do when I told them?  They said they would miss us. No threats, no dramas, no manipulation. That was all in my head. I know for some that would not be the reaction. For some it is downright emotional blackmail. But we always have a choice.

Here is the Scripture the Lord gave me:  “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred.”  I love my family, and they love me. Of course we will miss each other. But when I finally got the guts to tell them that I was breaking out of the mold, I felt really free. Free like I had actually chosen to love.

I chose to love “my” family by investing real down time with them. I chose to love my extended family by being honest —”I am tired and need a break.”  Besides, I wouldn’t be doing my family any favors by going out of duty and obligation. I chose to love myself by tending to my own heart instead of stuffing everything and pretending to play along.   And my own kids? They are learning that there are lots of ways to celebrate and be thankful.

Isn’t that the whole point?  To be thankful?  So take yourself off the hook. Use your voice and your spine if that is what it takes. And Be Real. . . Real about what you can and can’t do. Real about what you really need. Real about being thankful. Be thankful for times together and times apart.  One of my mom’s favorite verses is from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for every season.”

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. I know I will.