Sunday, December 10, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 1-7

Day 1: Winter//
As a child, I eagerly anticipated winter all year long. Growing up in Southern California, winter wasn’t so much about bitter cold and snow as it was a cumulation of all of my favorite yearly celebrations. December was always filled with festivities for Christmas and my birthday, each complete with beloved friends, family, and plenty of fun surprises.
The year we lost Ethan, winter took on a whole new meaning for me. December was no longer the highly anticipated month I had always looked forward to. It was no longer a time of singing, smiles, and continuing family traditions. December became nothing more than winter.
Bitter, dark, cold winter.
Looking back on December 2015, I can vividly remember how cold it was. While the temperatures were average for that time of year, everything felt so much colder. The world continued to spin with joyful festivities in spite of my aching heart and it felt cold--cruel even. Questions, confusion, sorrow and defeat whirled around me like harsh winter winds and I struggled to stand beneath the force of it all.
It always strikes me as interesting that the sun continues to rise each morning and warm the earth, even in the dead cold of winter. As I notice the rays of sun stretching across the sky and through my window, I am reminded that the winters of our lives do not last forever. The sun serves as a picture of God’s continual grace and mercy in our lives, even in the coldest winter seasons. I am reminded to rest in his goodness and soak in the realization that He has promised to return again and bring final restoration. Even when our earthly circumstances do not change, Christ is the end to our winter.
The eternal Spring is coming.

Photo by Clem Ono (text modified)
Day 2: The empty seat at the table//
Grief changes as the days, months, and years pass. I wouldn’t say that it goes away, but it takes different shapes and softens with time. Two years, three months, two weeks, and two days after Ethan’s death, I am able to find joy on most days--something that honestly felt nearly impossible in those initial months. I laugh more often than I cry, though I still welcome an evening of tearful lamentation from time to time.
Though my grief has changed over time, there are some things that will always remain the same this side of heaven. Someone important will always be missing. A part of me will always ache. A piece of our family will always be absent. This world will never feel completely like my home--nor should it, because it is not. The absence of our son further solidifies my unwavering belief that our home is not of this world. It further keeps my teary eyes fixed on Christ and my weary heart tethered to the hope of heaven.
As I anticipate that day and do my best to embrace each opportunity God has presented me with on this side of heaven, a piece of me will always grieve the child who is missing--not without hope, but grieving nonetheless.
As life continues to bring new experiences, unexpected joys, and reasons to celebrate, there will always be an empty seat at our table.
One less pair of Christmas pajamas to purchase. One less child on my Christmas shopping list. One less pair of eyes lighting up at the sight of an elaborate light display. One less chime of laughter on Christmas morning. One less place setting at the dinner table.
The empty seat is both a painful reminder and a beautiful symbol of God’s faithfulness and the hope that is coming.

Photo by Redd Angelo
Day 3: Hope and expectation//
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels' voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine
It was not until recent years that I began to notice the recurring theme of hope and expectation in so many familiar Christmas songs. The weary world is in desperate need of a Savior--my aching heart is in desperate need of a Savior. What a gift that God sent his son Jesus to bring hope to a broken world. What a gift that we can have a relationship with him here and now. May we rejoice with teary eyes, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, cherish who he is, and eagerly expect his return.

Comfort and Joy Advent-Day 4: Oh come, Emmanuel//
In the midst of the heartbreak and overwhelming pain, the truth of Christmas has become more real to me. And the truth brings me comfort. In a way, Christmas is more meaningful to me than it ever has been before. Sure, I could go all year without hearing another carol, eating another cookie or visiting the mall. But the truth of Christmas has hit me upside the head.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Christmas is about God coming to earth to rescue his people and to offer salvation to a broken world. God's people waited for the Messiah to come. They faced persecution, slavery and tribulation. They longed for a king. They longed for peace. Jesus came to die on the cross, to set his chosen people free.

That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.

Jesus came to offer hope to a world of heartache. He knew that the world was broken. He knew that the world was hurting. He knew that people were fighting to keep going. That is why He came. To offer rescue. To provide hope.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

He came. He came to offer salvation to those who call on His name. He came and He is coming again. He is coming to conquer evil and brokenness. He is coming bring justice to the Earth. He is coming to wipe every tear from our eyes.


Isaiah 9:6-7 "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."

*An excerpt from a blog post I wrote the year Ethan died. You can read the entire post here.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 5: I wish they knew//
I’m doing okay this year--good even. When November rolled around and the weather started to cool down, I felt a spark of excitement stir inside of me. It felt strange at first because the Christmas season hasn’t evoked that type of response in three years, but I was grateful for the change. I looked forward to celebrating our Savior’s birth with lights, music, and festivities. The feeling can best be described as excitement.
Someone asked me how I was doing recently and I told them. “I’m good,” I said, truly meaning it and feeling my heart fill with the peace only God can give.
“No, really. Are you sure?” they asked with care.
I nodded. “Really. I am good.”
I could tell they didn’t believe me. I’m sure a lot of people don’t and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to understand.
I wish they knew I still miss you. I wish they knew every joyful celebration is missing an important piece of our family, thus all the excitement is bittersweet. I wish they knew I think about you every day.
But I wish they knew that I’m deeply grateful to have been given such a rare and incredible gift--the gift of parenting a child that I cannot hold. I wish they knew the depth of joy and closeness with Christ that has come from such deep suffering. I wish they knew the joy I feel--yes, true unwavering joy, but that I am experiencing lighter happiness too.
It’s both and. The daily ache does not take away my joy, yet the joy does not take away my ache. I am living in tension--but as a follower of Christ, I always have been.
Thank you Jesus for generously placing dear friends, radiant sunsets, and joyful surprises in this season--You have always been good in every circumstance, and I thank you for the comfort and joy only you can pour out.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 6: Scripture//
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
In an article titled “What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas”, Nancy Guthrie writes, “This is our great hope at Christmas, and the hope we have to share with those who are grieving at Christmas — that ‘yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.’ The Christ who came as a baby and died as our substitute will one day return to consummate his kingdom.”

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 7: Traditions past//
I love traditions. Decorating the tree while soft Christmas music plays, watching cheesy Christmas cartoons, going to church on Christmas Eve, picking up a hot beverage and driving around to view the brilliant light displays--it all brings me so much joy this time of year.
The year Ethan died, our old traditions felt far from traditional. The traditions of my childhood, those I had hoped to pass down to our children, hadn’t changed much--yet they had changed entirely. Decorating the tree felt like a chore, watching cheesy Christmas cartoons felt painful (and honestly, I felt pathetic) without a child to watch them with, and elaborate displays just wasn’t the same without another set of eyes to soak it all in. Something was missing. Someone was missing.  

Over the years I’ve found joy in these traditions once again, but they do feel different. It’s not that they aren’t enjoyable--they just feel less familiar. Although nothing has changed, everything has changed and thus they feel less like “traditions”.

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