Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post Thanksgiving

In the last four years, we have lost three parents between us. What no one tells you, is that with the proverbial "changing of the guard", there also comes changing traditions that are challenging.

Anyone who has lost a parent or other loved one will tell you, holidays are among the most difficult times to navigate. They are often steeped in traditions, created by the specific group of individuals who gather together to celebrate said holiday. For many, holidays are defined by traditions. When they change, it's as if the world has been somehow turned upside down.

Thanksgiving was a huge event on the Mandish side and, Christmas on the Matthis side. Both have been altered forever by the loss of two fathers and one mother. Things, they are a changin'.

Last year was the first year our daughter, Amanda, took on Thanksgiving in she and her hubby's home. In attempt to avoid having to dash from house to house, they brought both sets of parents to their home. I helped her with the turkey and many others brought traditional fare to add to the feast. The tables were beautifully set and the mood was festive. But-for me, it was very hard. It wasn't the same.

Instead of knowing every face around the table, I was surrounded by many with names I hadn't yet mastered. Instead of knowing all the stories, the children, the struggles they'd been through, they were, effectively strangers. There was none of the spirited conversation the Mandish clan is known for, no talking over each other, no---familiarity. It just felt wrong.

I have shared this experience with other family members on both sides and we all agree, we HATE it. I hate that the Matthis family doesn't go to Mom and Dad's on Christmas Eve. I hate that we don't all spend the night, wake up complaining the it was too hot, or too cold or that someone had snored too loudly. I hate that we don't eat my Dad's famous French Toast for breakfast. I even hate that we don't have the two hour drive home on Christmas morning, listening to Christmas music and looking forward to the next celebration. I also know that to go back is not an option. There is only one direction to travel and that is forward. I get it.

Time passes and some traditions must go by the wayside, out of necessity. We are now the older generation and we have to make adjustments that are often painful. It is a process that is wrought with melancholy moments. So, we incorporate what we can into the new, and let go of what we must from the old. We forge a new path that will be equally precious with the passing of time, but, may be a little rocky in this present day.

I was glad to tell our daughter that Thanksgiving this year was so much better for us than last. Faces were more familiar, expectations were adjusted, conversation was rich, laughter rang out and we truly enjoyed the new friendships we are forging. It wasn't the same as years gone by, but, it was good. By the time we left, our stomaches and our hearts were full. Same is not the gold standard; changing with the seasons of life, may well be.

I truly appreciate the ability to treasure so many sweet memories, but also for the blessed opportunity to choose to live in the moment. It is a gift to be thankful for. I am.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Every breath we take...

I rolled over in bed this morning, put on my glasses and picked up my phone, ready to scroll through the early posters on Facebook. The first post I read was about a young man on our church staff. When I say young, I mean young. Married to his bride less than a decade and father of two precious little girls.

I didn't know Ash personally. But, I do remember him sharing one evening during a service about how many years earlier, he had been contemplating ending his own life. Instead he walked through the doors of a place called Hope, and met the Savior. His life was forever changed. He became a bright light in a dark world.

He had been sick, but was still working. Still leading small groups. Still going on mission trips. Still loving his family. He was in church Friday night. But somehow between Friday night services and Monday morning, his body gave out. He left this life and entered the next.

We, (and when I say we, I mean, ME) so easily complain about meaningless irritations. We take for granted that we'll live to see another day. We fail to be grateful for so many blessings and instead complain about insignificant, trivial irritations. Then, in the blink of an eye, someone in our midst is taken from us. Gone forever from this world. Gone too soon in our estimations.

Every breath we take. We ought to be thankful. RIP Ash.

Friday, November 18, 2011

'Tis the season to be grateful...

Thanksgiving is just a week away. Early this month, I posted my annual challenge to my Facebook peeps, suggesting that each take a moment everyday this month, to post what they are most thankful for. I love seeing the challenge spread from person to person, knowing that being grateful is to be happy. I love to see blessings remembered and recounted.

I long to be known for a heart full of gratitude, regardless of the ups and downs of everyday life. And, I find, that focusing on it reminds me that there is much to be thankful for. Many days, I post more than once, and I often find myself thinking, what will I post next. I am oft reminded that acknowledging my blessing is foundational to believing and living as blessed.

I once gave a gratitude journal to someone I love, who often suffers from depression and self-focus. I shared with them that the practice of simply writing down those things I appreciated, caused me to rejoice in that which I had vs bemoaning what I lacked. I encouraged them to take on the challenge to see if it would have the same effect on them. Sadly, after less than two weeks of daily notations, they confessed that they intended to stop. Why? This is hard for me to imagine and harder still to believe, but, they stopped because they couldn't think of anything more to write.

My heart broke a little that day, knowing that most likely they were doomed to a life of never having enough, never recognizing that their life was truly charmed; not without sorrow or trial or pain, but, still-blessed. When you don't recognize the gifts you've been given, you are dooming yourself to discontent. That's a life I will not accept.

Be thankful. In all things. In every circumstance. It has made all the difference for me. It can for you, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I woke up this morning to falling rain and hot coffee. We turned on the heat for the first time this fall and I returned to bed, with bible, lap top and journal in hand. I am preparing for a talk I will give in December at Mission Hills Church to the wonderful women who worship there.

Four hours later, I have a rough framework for what I'll be saying and an excitement about sharing what is good and true and right about Christmas...that Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving and that there is a way to enjoy the season that so many have come to dread. It's all about living with intention.

My lovely sister-in-love, Christine, recently expressed surprise at my mid-October attmept to schedule our annual Christmas baking date. My response was that I have learned to plan in advance in order to make sure that those things that are genuinely important to me don't get crowded out by things that are "urgent" but not necessarily important or valuable.

Like it or not, (and I really like it!) Christmas is coming. News flash: It happens every year at the same time. So, take a few minutes and figure out what's important to you this year and what's not. And plan accordingly.