My mama was amazing at creating traditions and celebrating. I grew up getting a special card or treat for every holiday. When I went away to college, I got a Valentine's Day box of goodies, a St. Patty's Day box of goodies, a President's Day box of goodies…you get the idea. And when it came to Christmas, she went all out. Every December 1st, she pulled out all the Christmas books (of which there were many because we got a new one every Christmas Eve), turned out all of the lights at bedtime, lit dozens of candles and cozied up to us kids and read us a Christmas story. We did that every night in December until Christmas. We also opened a door on our Advent Calendar every night, got a new Christmas ornament she had chosen especially for us and some new Christmas jammies every Christmas Eve, opened our presents a certain way, had a special breakfast every Christmas morning, etc. Our Christmases were full of love and tradition and the tradition was all infused with love. Her ritualistic, almost sacred way of laying out the nativity always reminded us of what Christmas was all about, and her excitement on Christmas morning as we dove into our stockings matched our own. This phenomenal women used traditions to lavish my dad, my brothers and I with love.
Which is why I've wondered how I'll handle this Christmas. Will it be devastating to try to get through it without her? Will it be torture to continue her traditions in her absence? Or will it be like a balm to my aching spirit, much like reading her old texts or wrapping myself in a scarf she gave me has been these last few months? I'm definitely hoping the latter, but as I ponder the approaching holiday season, I am struck with the reason for the season (if I may use a cliche). For the true joy of Christmas stands out to me now more than ever in light of my sadness.
It was during Easter time this last year that I realized Mama was not going to beat ovarian cancer. It was a secret admission in my heart that I barely even whispered to my husband, because I still was holding out for my version of a miracle and I knew Mama had not and would not give up. But as I stood and sang praises in church on Easter Sunday, I was filled with the magnitude of Jesus' sacrifice in a way I never had been before. Jesus died so that I would never truly have to say good-bye to my mama, my best friend. He died that terrible death, conquered the grave and rose again so that my mama and I might have a reunion more beautiful than I could ever imagine. Needless to say, on that day I felt a thankfulness and a love for my Savior that surpassed my lifetime of worship to him.
While I still am so thankful for the promise of Easter, I have now had to say good-bye to my beautiful mama. I've had to live with her absence, an absence that is so screamingly apparent in everything I do that I'm surprised when people don't notice it all the time. C.S. Lewis said, "The death of a loved one is an amputation" (
A Grief Observed).
This so accurately describes how I feel that I sometimes wonder how to function in the same way I imagine feeling at a loss at how to function without my left leg. And having actually had my breasts amputated, I understand the ghostly feeling like they're still there, just like when I pick up the phone to call my mom before my mind catches up and cruelly reminds me that she cannot answer. Christians still grieve. But I grieve with hope. And this hope is effervescent to me as Christmas approaches.
The story of baby Jesus is so much more than the simple "Away in a Manger" we've grown up on. This was a huge step in God's battle against death. By sending his son in the form of a baby, he put the Easter story into motion and rang the victory gong against separation between him and his creation. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to truly believe my mom was gone forever (a thought so horrible, it's hard to even type), and someone telling me I'm wrong and I will see her again. This is part of the promise that came wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The shepherds and wise men understood what baby Jesus meant. I would have come running to bow at Jesus' feet too if I had had the privilege to be with them.
But death still hurts…a lot! Yet this is where God's grace is further exhibited. Just like God created our bodies to heal and even thrive after an amputation, he created our souls to heal as well. The book
Grieving the Loss of Someone You love
says, "We can take our denial, our rage, our desire to bargain and our sadness to our loving heavenly Father, who can and will carve stepping stones of them--stepping stones leading to acceptance, and ultimately, healing" (17). Paul reminds us to encourage each other with the reminder that we will be together with those who have died, and "we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This hope helps us to heal.
So remember that this Christmas is a celebration of God's plan that began the journey in which I get to see my mother again, in which we all have the gift of eternal life if we will but accept it and in which we have been granted access to God who can handle whatever we throw at him in our grief. And He will literally wrap his arms around us as the winds of pain tear at our hearts.