When I walked into my classroom on my first day after being on maternity leave with Everett, there were beautiful flowers on my desk, candy in my desk drawer and a message on the white board: "You is smart. You is kind. You is important" (our favorite quote from the amazing book The Help). My mom snuck in and somehow put all that together before I got there at 7:00am. She knew that I was having conflicting emotions about coming back to work and leaving my six-week-old-baby, and so she turned my return into a celebration. Mama sure did know how to celebrate.
That memory has been dancing through my head as I finished up my last time of feeling awful from chemo and enjoyed Christmastime with my family. Both instances have made me miss her even more, because she would have been so good at commemorating them. My mama had a gift for celebrating the big and the small in the lives of those around her. She made cookies for the entire elementary school after a good concert; she snuck congratulations cards in first-year-teachers' boxes after they completed their first year; she brought congratulations (or sometimes conciliatory) treats to the basketball teams after state championships; she threw the best birthdays and baby showers; and once, during my junior year in college, she sent a box full of hula skirts and a hula-how-to-book to my house of girls because she found out that October was Learn Something New Month. I love that she never missed out on a chance to celebrate.
As we go through this time of celebration in December and the New Year, I am struck with how much this has given me strength and purpose through my own cancer journey and through the murky waters of grief. For my mama celebrated life during the most difficult times. And I've found that to be one of the keys to getting through the really tough stuff. If I waited for things to be better or smoother or easier, I would never celebrate the victories happening around me every day.
My two big boys were in a wonderful Christmas concert at the beginning of this month. I was bursting with pride as Sawyer banged on his plastic drum and sang "Little Drummer Boy." I beamed as Liam came out in his angel costume and watched his director with a serious intensity, getting every word to the song right. I laughed as Liam lost interest toward the end of the program and studied his fingernails with that same intensity. Right at the end, though, he remembered he was on stage and sang the last few notes with gusto. I was sitting in the audience, filled with joy and thankfulness that my boys were part of something so sweet right as Everett snuggled into my chest and threw up (Exorcist-style) all over me.
And that's just the way it is, isn't it? Our moments of celebration and our times of despair often crash right up against each other, usually in a messy way. But the vomit didn't take away from Liam and Sawyer's accomplishment, and their wonderful job in the program didn't distract me from caring for Everett. All of it happened at once...and that's ok.
Sometimes, usually when I'm feeling sick or my boys are struggling, I catch myself thinking that everything is dark and gloomy, that light and sunshine are hard to find and that I will have to wait until the future to truly experience joy. But that's definitely not how my Savior lived his life here on earth. He knew that mourning and sorrow were coming more quickly than he would like, but he continually chose relationship and healing over despair. When others were fasting, he ate with friends (Mark 2:18-22), when the Pharisees and Sadducees made him angry with their "stubborn hearts", he reached out and healed a man's shriveled hand (Mark 3:1-6), when his congregation got hungry, but he still had a message to give, he miraculously fed 5000 people and then later 4000! (Matthew 14:13-21 & 15:32-39). He did often feel heavy-hearted, and he would withdraw to regroup, but he did not let gloom and trouble dominate his life and his actions or thwart his intentions.
One of the last things my mom did before she died was go to Disneyland with my dad to celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary. She would ride rides with my dad, eat yummy food and then collapse in their hotel room in pain. She never let her pain stop her from celebrating.
So if you are experiencing the tough stuff this holiday, that's ok...this has been a hard December for me too. Just know that there is room for the good stuff too. May you find reasons to celebrate every day.