The holidays are in full swing in the Bandelman home. The tree has been trimmed, the stockings are hung, and anticipation is running high with each new shopping bag secreted away! Christmas is definitely our most wonderful time of the year.
I know it isn’t this way for everyone, and for many it is a time of frustration, depression, and anxiety. It brings back memories of better days, or worse times, and triggers grief that is nearly debilitating. I understand that, and I sympathize. Grief will strike each one of us at some time or another. While grief is part of life, and we all experience it, God did not intend us to live in it. He tells us to “renew our minds” daily;* to focus on what is “pure, lovely, and a good report.”**
Let me tell you a little story.
I was in my early 20s, it was Christmas morning, and Brian and I were driving to his parents’ home to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. It was early on a gray, cloudy, Pacific Northwest morning, and our first Christmas back home from college. We were remembering the fun we had had with my family the evening before (the Evarts' are Christmas Eve celebrators), and anticipating the upcoming morning festivities with Brian's parents, to be followed by afternoon fun with extended family. Half way to our destination, we passed an ambulance with it's lights flashing and siren screaming as it rushed toward the little town of Yoncalla.
Brian and I had just entered his childhood home when the phone began to ring. My sister called to tell me the ambulance we had passed was transporting my dad to the hospital. He had suffered a massive heart attack and was unconscious and unresponsive. I needed to go!
That Christmas morning was the beginning of months in and out of the hospital and care facilities. Agonizing family choices of when to “pull the plug”, what care facility should he go to, could he go home, and many more became part of our daily lives. The uncertainty of brain damage, fear of the unknown, and anger that this happened to our family all played out in each of us.
Over the next three years we rejoiced in milestones of my dad learning to talk, walk, and drive. He even relearned Pinochle, a family favorite card game. We grieved that he never fully recovered. My smart, witty dad was reduced to the cognitive ability of a fifth grader, and he was physically and mentally frail until he finally died.
My dad suffered the heart attack that stole him from us, and ultimately lead to his death, as I was preparing to open presents just a few miles down the road. Christmas should forever hold that dark memory and perhaps I should not celebrate again! That is how Satan would move in and conquer, but I and my family refuse to be robbed or our joy! Instead we celebrate the birth of Jesus to the fullest.
We lived in a tiny trailer house when I was little. Every December my mom decorated our little home with a live tree and fake fireplace. We celebrated Christmas with presents and a feast! The years following my dad's death, my mom put up her tree, and we all came "home" every year until she passed always. My brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grands, and friends continue to come together and celebrate Jesus! We miss those not with us, but oh the good memories we share!
I remember Kevin and me cutting down a 20 foot Douglas Fir tree when we had finally moved into a bigger house. The two of us were in our early teens, and we laughed so much trying to load that beast in the back of the old Ford pickup. Dad drove slow and careful trying to keep it balanced all the way home.
I remember the laughter of driving to Diamond Lake, one Christmas afternoon, and my dad getting the car stuck in a snow bank! It was a good thing we had cold-bologna-on-white-bread sandwiches to sustain us while he dug the car out.
I remember the excitement of trips to Washington to celebrate the day after Christmas with aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I remember the special Christmas shopping trips, taking small gifts to friends and family, and driving through neighborhoods looking for the best light displays.
I remember joy and laughter, love and celebration. I don’t forget the struggles and grief, but I choose to renew my mind daily to fulfill the will of God in my life, and I am teaching my children to look for the good in every situation. I acknowledge bad things happen. I grieve my losses, but lean on Jesus for joy, peace, and strength.
A family tradition I am passing to the next generations is one of abundant life, even in adversity! I WILL REJOICE!