Grief, Joy, Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and I find myself wavering back and forth between joy and happiness and guilt and worry. 

In other words, I am fully human. Even though I somehow think I will get superpowers when holidays come around and I will cease to have stress and grief and daily troubles. After all, it’s Christmas! Right? 

This Christmas I have all my children home, the first time in three years. My heart is full. Our house is cheerful, we were able to get presents for everyone, we have everything we need and a little extra. We’ve had a great advent season of daily bible readings with the kids. We’ve had great church services helping us bring our focus on Jesus. It has been a good Christmas season. 

And then, at the same time, a friend of mine unexpectedly died a couple days ago. Another friend of mine is in the process of losing her mom to cancer. Another friend just lost a famly member unexpectedly. So much grief. So much heaviness. 

Kind of like the first Christmas. 

Mary, pregnant and unmarried, having to deal with all the presumptions people are making of her. Joseph with a new wife, but in name only, watching her carry someone else’s child, not the way he was planning on starting his marriage. A trip to Bethlehem because of the whims of a conquering nation. Bad timing, Mary is about to give birth. Then, they get to Bethlehem, the baby is definitely coming, right now. No place to stay. No warm welcome. No comfortable place to settle in. Birth. Mary’s first. First labor, not knowing what to expect. Not knowing if you will survive the process. And then the baby is here. But no proud grandparents to announce the news to friends and family. No friends and family. 

But then a bunch of shepherds come running in. Telling stories about angels and heavenly hosts. And I’m sure Mary and Joseph remembered vividly their own encounters with angels. And there is of course this brand new baby filling their hearts with joy as only a new baby can. 

Grief and Joy. Suffering and Hope. Christmas.

We are in good company. 

This season I pray that we can have peace. That we can accept our grief but give ourselves permission to have joy as well. That we can have happiness and not feel guilty for feeling sad at the same time. 

In the end, we cling to the hope that All is Well. 

“All is well all is well

Lift up your voices and sing

Born is now Emmanuel

Born is our Lord and Savior”

Michael W. Smith

Emmanuel, God is with Us. We go through our trials here on earth, but we are no longer alone. We have hope for a future with Jesus where every tear will be wiped away. No more sorrow. No more grief. 

Until that time comes, we move forward. Tears in our eyes. A smile on our face. Grief, Joy. Christmas. 

May you all have a Merry Christmas filled with joy and may you have peace to feel all the emotions that face you this season.

And Peace on Earth

It is early in the morning. I am the only one awake. I’m sitting out in my living room, all the lights off except my Christmas Tree which is glowing softly. I had been lying in bed, wide awake, my mind fretting on a million things, so I finally decided to just get up. 

Right now I have one of the pieces from Handel’s Messiah running through my head. “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the Highest…….And Peace, On earth……Good will toward men, toward men, Good will toward men, toward men…” which of course comes straight from Luke 2:14. 

Thinking back, this year has been insane. We have weathered some really hard things. I think about the violence our neighborhood and schools have seen this year. I think about the crazy ups and downs we’ve had with our foster daughter. I think about the stressful medical situations we’ve gone through with different family members. Loved ones who passed away. A lot of uncertainty in our country and the news always blasting gloom and hopelessness. 

It’s been a hard year. 

1 Thessolonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

This verse talks about grieving death. But I think it is appropriate to say that we don’t grieve, in general, without hope. Whether it is over the death of a loved one, over loss, over enduring trauma, or anything else that hits us hard. We don’t grieve without hope. 

The next verses in Thessolonians 4 go on to say that Jesus died on the cross for us and he will return one day and take all of us up to be with him. And so we know that this time on earth is just a chapter. Not the final credits. The story is just beginning. We look forward to eternity with Jesus. And that is our hope. 

And this brings me back to the angels singing Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth, Good will toward men. 

It’s been a hard year. I’m sitting up early because my mind is worried about a lot of things. But, I don’t worry or grieve or live life as someone without hope. I know that I am at peace with God. Jesus made the way for me to be at peace with God. Before Jesus, all my sins made it impossible for me to come close to God at all. After Jesus, well here I am. I’ve endured a crazy year. I am looking at more craziness right now. But I have peace. I feel God’s good will toward me. I feel surrounded by his blessings and mercy. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. 

I’m not sure how to spell this out clearly enough. I could make you a giant list of things I’m worried about. Legitimate things. Legal issues we have to look into concerning our foster child. Problems with the inner city schools our children are attending. Financial worries. The normal worries of, “Are my kids going to turn out ok??” The everyday worries, “This family is eating way too much junk over the holidays, how do we get back to eating healthy again??” Nagging worries like, “It’s only ten days to Christmas and I haven’t bought any Christmas gifts yet.” So many things that try to steal our peace. And yet, I am at peace. And Jesus is the one that did that for me. 

And so I sit up early and hum to myself, “Glory to God in the Highest”, and I hand my worries back over to God, get ready for another busy day, and know that I have Peace. 

A Story Behind Every Cookie

I just made chocolate chip cookies with my eight year old. After the cookies went into the oven to bake, she ran off to play, and I was the one who carefully watched the timer and made sure the cookies came out at the exact right time, quickly sliding them off the cooking sheet onto a cooling rack so they wouldn’t overcook on the sheet. And it suddenly brought back memories. 

My friend Alyssa taught me how to make chocolate chip cookies. My mom was not a cookie maker. No one can beat my mom’s raisin cinnamon rolls or her brownies, but cookies were not her thing. So, I moved to Bethel, Alaska just before my 16th birthday without the great life skill of knowing how to make good cookies. 

Alyssa and I met pretty soon after I moved to Bethel, and our friendship quickly grew into Best-Friend-dom. We were in the same grade at school. Being a Christian was important to both of us. And that’s about all we had in common. Well, we both got good grades in school. She was on all the sports teams, President of the Student Body, involved in every single leadership thing there was and graduated Valedictorian. I practiced piano all the time, loved to read, had a quirky sense of humor, and did not hold any positions of leadership. I ended up being Class Secretary senior year because of her interference. She also would make crazy suggestions like, Let’s Go Running! What??? But, we adapted. I went running, she watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail with me. I like to think that we were good for each other. 

But let’s get back to cookies. Alyssa’s family had the secret “Mrs Field’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe (which Alyssa copied into a recipe book and gave to me for a wedding present and which I have passed down to all my children). One time I checked, very carefully, and was able to see that yes, there were some slight variations from her recipe and the recipe that comes on the chocolate chip bag.. But, I honestly think that the Key to her amazing cookies was knowing the exact amount of time to cook them. It’s a science. It’s taken me many years to figure it out perfectly, but Alyssa, you will be glad to know, I am now a master too! 

Alyssa’s house was the perfect tundra-living house. It was two stories, but all the living areas and kitchen were on the 2nd story. That way, you had a breathtaking view of snow and lights, sky, stars, going on for miles and miles. I remember long winter evenings at her house. We would bake cookies while munching on chips and salsa (also something Alyssa introduced me to). We would make the perfect cookies, play games, talk. Sometimes I’d play their piano and we would all sing together. Or we would go out and play in the snow. Alyssa and her family introduced me to the “STEAM” which is a far-north tradition. Small wooden building full of hot steam, so hot that you end up walking outside in Alaska winter in your swimsuit and it doens’t affect you. Her family also introduced me to Lefse (Norwegian potato pancakes), snowmobiling, and all the thrills of having a Dad who worked for Fish and Wildlife and was a trapper on the side. 

I get up from writing and go in the kitchen to grab a cookie. They sure are good. It’s funny how layered our lives are. We bake some cookies, but oh, all the stories and history behind that simple cookie. It’s good to take the time to remember every once in a while. 

P.S. My husband is back at work, mostly recovered from his covid, thank you for all your prayers!

Guarantees

Last Friday my husband texted me to say he was feeling sick, needed to come home and go to bed. 

Cue elevated heart rate. 

Ok. Come on home. Symptoms? Sore throat, headache, fever. Ok. It could be strep. We’ve had strep go through the house in the past month. Or…it could be covid. Ok, not going to go there till I have to. 

By the next day his sore throat wasn’t very bad but he was passed out with a fever. Ok. In strep, sore throat usually gets worse, not better. I went ahead and canceled everyone’s weekend plans and we started treating it like possible Covid. 

And I felt like I was back on the river in my canoe, rapids ahead. Get ready. Adrenaline pumping. High alert. 

I wasn’t able to get him tested till Monday, results came back positive. I’m starting to paddle fast now. Ok, we need to get groceries in, call all the schools, email them the test results, let’s get this laundry caught up. House needs to be clean. 

We need to be ready. Cause, I’m probably going to get sick too. And what if my teenagers get sick too? And what if my kids get sick and need to go to the doctor? And I’m looking at my husband passed out in bed, the sickest I’ve ever seen him, and I’m wondering how I’m going to keep taking care of my family while I am equally sick? Big rapids ahead. Get ready. 

In the middle of all this, my parents called, said, we’ve already had covid, we’re not going to get it again this soon, come to my house so we can help. 

It didn’t take very long to realize this was definitely the best option. Then we went into a full-blown quick retreat. Everyone pack! Take out the trash, wash up those dishes, clean up this mess, we’re heading to Grandmas. And I felt this urgency. I had a headache coming on and all I could think was, I’m going to be in bed sick very soon and I need to get my kids settled first. 

So, we all packed up in a very short amount of time and headed out the door. 

And I never got sick. And none of my kids got sick. But my adrenaline is still pumping as I watch my husband, still not sure how his recovery is going to play out. 

And I want guarantees. I want to know with certainty that all my loved ones will remain healthy and happy and cared for. I want to know that I’ll pray for healing, and healing will happen. I want to know that instead of going through the rapids, I can just say, let’s skip this part of the river, and I’ll be magically transported to another peaceful section of water where no giant rocks loom right under the surface, ready to upset my boat. 

But here I am. No guarantees. My boat is tipping all over the place. Actually,  I think I’ve already jumped out of the boat and am dragging it. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

I guess I do have a guarantee, that God is going to use every single thing that happens in my life to shape me into the person he wants me to be. 

But, I am looking forward to some calm waters, coming soon I hope. 

Covid and the New School Year

I just read an article on SLATE titled, “I Have No Idea What I’m OK Letting My Kids Do During Covid Anymore” by Allison Benedikt. I was nodding and smiling the whole time I read it, cause yep, I’m in the same place. 

We are in the South. Our schools are not requiring masks, and our governor just made a rule that parents can opt-out of any mask mandates. The Superintendent of our school district made an announcement that our schools can’t offer virtual options when we have absences due to Covid. In a high school meeting we were informed that absences are a big problem and we need to have signed notes any time our kids are absent and make it a big priority to have as few absences as possible. Ok. Great message when you also don’t want kids to come to school if they have any symptoms at all. Our homeschooling co-op has a rule that if ANYONE in the family is sick, don’t come. Which is a pain in the butt when you have a big family, but it’s very effective at keeping any possibility of germs from showing up. But, public schools do not have that policy. 

So, my kids went to school the first week. Day three, one child came home and was not feeling well. By evening she had a fever. She ended up having strep throat and then three days later also came down with symptoms of the hand foot and mouth virus. Both of those are pretty common childhood illnesses that get passed around all the time. But, I want to point out something. Last school year my kids went to public school and wore masks. We did not get sick. The entire year. It was bizarre. No strep. No colds. No stomach bugs. And no covid. 

I talked to the nurse practitioner who saw my sick kids (cause yes, the strep and other virus both spread to all the other little kids). I asked her what she thought about masks at school and the idea that kids DO need to be exposed to childhood viruses so they can build their immune system. She hemmed and hawed. Wouldn’t commit to any stance (which is understandable, it’s a highly charged subject). 

I had one child who did not get sick. It was time to send kids to school, everyone from the elementary school was staying home except her. She had no symptoms. According to public school policy, I should send her to school. But, she COULD get sick. It was very possible that I would send her to school and then by the afternoon she could have a fever. What do you do? So, I gave her a mask and told her to wear it. No, it doesn’t block everything, but it does block some.  Hopefully it would make her less contagious. Well, when I picked her up at the end of the day, she was not wearing her mask. Said it was hot. Got annoying. Fortunately, she did not end up getting sick, but my thoughts of maybe sending my kids to school with masks kind of fell flat. Without it being a rule and someone enforcing it, there is no way they are going to keep them on. I also was talking to a therapist who works at the school and she said the kids who were showing up with masks were getting teased about it. 

I think the general attitude in our state is that Covid is a virus. It’s unavoidable. Like colds and the flu. Vaccines are available, but like flu shots, are going to be very limited in what they can do in the longterm, simply because covid is a constantly mutating virus. And so, we are going about the business of doing normal life with Covid. And it’s messy. No one knows what the rules are. No one knows who to listen to. The hospitals are filling up. When my father got sick with Covid, he ended up getting transferred to an out-of-state hospital. 

And us parents are standing on the sidelines, scratching our heads, hoping that we are making the right choices for our kids. But not sure. 

Fat Fridays: Trying Not to Capsize

A couple weeks ago we were on a river canoe trip. My canoe had me in the back, my seventeen year old daughter in the front and a seven and eight year old in the middle. It was the last day of the trip. We were tired. We did not want our canoe to tip over like it had the day before. We were on high alert. We were going through some rapids and despite our best efforts we hit a big rock and got stuck. The canoe started to tip over, one side getting centimeters from the water that was threatening to pour in and capsize us. My seventeen year old and I both threw ourselves to one side to try and counterbalance the boat while we made efforts to push off the rock. We were both yelling instructions to each other, pulse racing as we fought the river. Suddenly the two little girls in the middle started yelling frantically. LOOK! LOOK!!! Thinking that there was some other disaster happening to the boat I craned my neck around, trying to see what was wrong. They were both pointing at a bald eagle that was flying low overhead, very close to us. Everything froze for a second while we stared at the eagle, watching it fly gracefully through the air. Then we got sucked right back into our emergency. I don’t have time to look at a bird! I’m trying to save the boat!!

Ok. So, I feel like this story is an analogy of how my diet is going. My life and trying to get NINE kids settled into FIVE different schools with all the BACK TO SCHOOL fuss that happens for each school, my parents being sick, trying to bounce back from a vacation, get my house in order after a long summer of not having my house in order, and still dealing with the daily stuff of doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, dishwashing, and laundry…All that is me in a canoe trying not to capsize. Diet and exercise are the bald eagle flying over. 

I am trying to exercise every day. I’m having my one homeschooler join me as part of his PE. But today my trainer has me doing a 45 minute hill workout. And I’m not sure how that’s going to happen as I have a sick child that has to go to the doctor this morning and in the afternoon I’m supervising a family visit for my foster child. It might have to wait till tomorrow. 

I’m trying to eat healthy and modest portions, but a lot of my meals have been on the run with not enough time to stop at the store to get my healthy snacks etc. 

I am anticipating probably two more weeks before life starts settling into our FALL ROUTINE. But right now, I’m just trying to keep this canoe from tipping over. 

We are Done!

Today was the kids’ last half-day of school. Got up early, took the kids to school for the last time, took my virtual student by the high school to drop off her text books, went and picked up kids from school. We still have a drive-thru 5th grade send-off that we have to go to this afternoon and then we are officially done. 

What a year. 

Red days for high covid numbers. Red days for gun violence in the neighborhood. Finding clean masks every day, collecting the dirty masks every day. Signing homework folders every night. Never ending car lines for pick up. Lots of debates about virtual school, masks, school safety. Lots of tragedy. Five students dead this year. Trauma. School lockdowns.  

Art projects. Kids excitedly practicing their Spanish from their new Spanish class. Watching my first grader grow in her ability to read. Seeing my fifth grader blossom as he walked into leadership positions. New friends made. Projects finished. Presentations given. Awards won. Recognition for good sportsmanship. Classes completed. Lessons learned. 

So, I say thank you to all the teachers who made the best of a crazy year. Thank you to all the administration who made the best decisions you could. Thank you to all the support staff that cleaned and cooked and loved on the kids. 

We made it! We never have to do this year again! May the next school year be peaceful and easy and a walk in the park in comparison. 

We’ll see you all again in the Fall. 

Fat Fridays: Fighting Stress

Emotional eating has always been a thing for me. It’s a source of comfort for every imaginable problem. Since I started this journey, about six weeks ago, I noticed that after the first couple weeks, food stopped having such a strong hold on me. I haven’t been tempted to grab something every time my mood swings. I think a big part of it is that I am losing weight, and I have a definite goal that I want to achieve this year, and that goal has been front and center in my mind. No, I don’t want to just eat whatever, whenever. I wouldn’t reach my goal if I do that!

This week has been a bit of a test. On Wednesday I received word that my father’s cousin had died, (someone I had made a connection with online and who often commented on my posts and engaged in conversation with me), and then that same evening I received word that a dear lady from our church (who had long been a source of encouragement to me) had also died, of covid. 

I admit, my first reaction was that I just wanted to binge eat. Forget this diet. I’m just going to make a bunch of food and eat it. Maybe I will feel better. But, by the grace of God, I walked past the fridge and went in my room and cried instead. Which is actually what I needed to do, instead of trying to stuff the emotions down with food. 

The next day I was pretty out of it. We’ve had a lot of death in our neighborhood due to gun violence and everything just seemed to be crushing me down. My trainer asked how things were going, and I mentioned briefly what was going on. She suggested that I use exercise as therapy, and later that day I went outside for a long brisk walk in the sunshine. It helped. 

In the past, I have always had this mentality that I can’t start a diet until my life calms down. Like, adding a diet and exercise to an already stressed out life would just send me over the brink. But this year I am realizing that the exercise and diet are actually tools to help deal with the stress. Bingeing on donuts does not help you deal with stress. Knowing that you are eating healthy DOES make you feel better though. Like, the world is falling apart, but at least I am taking care of my body! 

In other news, I woke up early this morning and took my fasting blood sugar and it was 96!! I haven’t had a reading below 100 in years. That also made me feel better. 

So, my takeaway for this week is diet and exercise aren’t causing me stress, they’re fighting stress. 

I Don’t Have Any Answers

My mind has been reeling the past two days, watching the news, watching what everyone has to say about the news. And honestly, I don’t feel like talking about it. The press has covered it Ad Nauseum, almost everyone I know has voiced an opinion. (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing!) As I thought about writing my blog today, I thought, well, I should address what is happening in the country. Give my opinion. And I have finally realized that I really don’t want to do that. 

First, I feel like my opinion is half-baked at best. I am bewildered, torn, and kind of feel like I’m in the middle of a blizzard of information and ideas. I don’t know anything and I don’t have any good thoughts to share at the moment. 

Second, I really don’t feel like I have a finger on “What does the Bible say concerning these matters?” I am still searching and praying. I don’t know. 

So, let’s talk about how we’re doing with just life in general right now. 

Do you realize that we just finished a month and half of celebrating: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years? And did you know that it’s a common phenomenom that when you have an emotional high, it’s followed by an emotional low? I for one am sitting nice and firm in that low. My kids went back to school this week and I started homeschooling again. The kindergartner was not happy to start homeschooling again. It’s taken me to Thursday to get him through a normal school day in a normal amount of time. And then this afternoon I got the news that “due to the possibility of inclement weather” all the kids will be home for virtual school tomorrow. 

Wonderful.

Tomorrow I also have to take my 7th grader to get a covid test because he is having surgery on Monday morning. Something that just got scheduled this week. (I’ve never had this doctor’s office move so fast in getting a surgery lined up.) It’s an old complaint. Fluid in his ear causing hearing loss. He already had six sets of PE tubes when he was little. We’ve had a good long stretch of no problems, but now it seems it’s back. 

Our family has managed to stay healthy through all this Covid junk, but it’s concerning to me to hear, every day it seems, of more people I know who are sick with it. My daughter is going to bed right now and told me that she is cold, even though she is wearing really warm pajamas, socks, gloves, hat and is under a blanket. All I can think is that she’s getting the chills that come before a fever. And I just feel tense, wondering if the three days back at school was enough for her to pick up something that will now spread through the whole family. Who knows. We’ll see. And, as I think about it, if this daughter ends up getting sick, it will probably affect the other child’s surgery. Uggh. 

Emotionally I’ve been struggling with feeling like a failure. The old voices are speaking loudly in my head. 

So, here I am, just hanging on, and then the news explodes and everyone’s social media explodes and I get all caught up in it. And I realize. I can’t do this. I can’t let the drama of this dysfunctional country keep me yo-yo-ing up and down. I’m already having a hard time without focusing on what’s happening in Washington D.C. 

Someone suggested on their Facebook that now was a good time to get off the social media and focus on Jesus and His Kingdom. And I have to agree. I need wisdom, discernment, love, patience, power. I’m not going to get any of that by focusing on the world. I will get that by turning my focus back on God. Repeatedly. Over and Over again. Habitually. 

I’m not saying that I’m going to just ignore everything that is happening in the world. I live in the world, my personal life is affected by what is going on out there. But, if I take a look at how much time I am devoting to every activity in my day, social media and the news should not be taking up the majority of my time. (And I can hear my husband in the background saying, AMEN!) 

So, that’s where I’m at. Post-holiday blues, regular stresses of taking care of lots of kids, trying to resolve to spend less time on the internet, more time in real life, more focus on the Real King. 

I’ll talk to you all later.