“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” C.S.Lewis in A Grief Observed
I’m a bit of an eclectic reader, so I’m not surprised that I picked up a book that I knew might depress me. It turned out to be one hard read.
Only Spring is the journal of a father who lost two sons: one to suicide at the age of 22 and the other to leukemia at age 6. You can only imagine the pain that bled through each page.
At different times throughout the book I asked myself, why am I reading about this parent’s worst nightmare? After several chapters I realized I needed to know. I needed to know how this Dad survived spiritually, emotionally, and mentally through his anguish. I wanted to know. I attached to the author’s agony and ached to see him through.
This morning, I awoke before the alarm and reflected on trudging through Only Spring. I discovered it held a certain purpose. This memoir offered me a deeper understanding of loss that I would soon engage in ways I could not anticipate. For this day our dear folks at my church would say good-bye to a vibrant, generous, thoughtful, and most Christ-like Jesus follower, Don Rinehart.
A few days ago, Don cheered on his beloved Ashland University women’s basketball team with Ohio rival, University of Findlay. During the game at the U. of F. gymnasium, his vision became blurry and he experienced some dizziness.
An urgent trip to the hospital revealed that an aneurism had invaded Don’s brain with a vengeance. A few hours earlier Don was a man of remarkable health, suddenly he could not survive without a life support machine. Artificial support was removed yesterday. Around 4 am. on this Lord’s day, Don breathed his last breath.
Tragically, Don’s death is one of many recent losses for our congregation. A brutal season of grief ushers in 2016 for Park Street Brethren. Three funerals were held for church members’ families just this past week.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers: Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love. It would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation. For the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with one another, even at the cost of pain.
Hopefully I came to worship today with at least a drop of consolation in an ocean of deep sadness. Perhaps I offered a richer gift of empathy to my friends because I spent a little time with a difficult book.
Wish I could do more, but that’s all I got. I hang on to Mother Teresa’s words:
We can do no great things, only small things with great love.
It seemed like almost every other store clerk I encountered this past Advent season asked that question of me. The implied message was obvious. December is busy and stressful, so getting all those Christmasy to dos done by the 25th is nearly impossible.
The truth of my answer, yes I am ready, never failed to surprise the folks that waited on me while I shopped. I was ready a long time ago, because I forced myself to keep it simple. The usual temptation for me is to decorate everywhere, cook more than I need, and squeeze in just one more gift into the “budget.” But the past few years I’ve come to enjoy the less is more theory. So, yes, thanks for asking, harried sales people! I am ready and calm and focusing more on Jesus and less on stuff.
In talking to my peers, I found out I’m not alone in relinquishing some of the of the holiday happenings to Christmas past. By the very nature of our sixty something years, many of us just aren’t available for all the fussing and fixing. Traveling to see the grand kids or taking care of elderly parents require time spent away from elaborate decorations and hours of shopping. Aging bodies, unexpected disease, and new found fatigue have a delimiting effect.
Do you want a calmer Christmas next year?
Four Ways to Keep Christmas Simple in ’16
Let Go of The Tree. It’s taking me years to do this and I’m glad I waited. I LOVE Christmas trees. I remember when my Mom quit putting up our traditional Christmas tree. First, she moved from real to artificial. How could she! A few years later, she opted for a pint sized version. Then a tree finally disappeared from her living room all together. In the initial stages of this letting go, I was mortified. In my more mature years, this is becoming less painful. And it’s become a major topic of conversation among my friends. Are you putting up a tree this year? Have you tried the pre-lit ones? I can’t see buying a real tree when we won’t even be around to water it.
We thoroughly enjoy buying a real tree. Christmas tree farms are just a few miles from our home and offer beautiful trees at affordable prices. It makes giving up this tradition difficult. Of course, not hanging the memories behind the ornaments is a tough one, too.
This year I succumbed to three small, very manageable artificial! trees and my great room was beautifully lit! I found them at the Habitat for Humanity Restore at a reasonable price. (Super fun place to shop.) Plus two of them are pre-lit pencil trees; very trendy right now and fit well with our decor.
Gather All Year Long. I don’t really go shopping for presents per se, I gather them throughout the year when I find something special for those on my gift list. The danger is that I can end up stockpiling, because I love picking out presents for others. Fortunately, my kids are quite practical, so that keeps me in check. There are a lot of benefits to gathering gifts throughout the year.
Summer sales, such as church rummage sales or garage sales, often have big ticket or more expensive items at great prices. For example, furniture, kids’ bikes, and name brand clothing are a few items I’ve bought cheaply at these sales.
Scope out resale shops. Master decorator and church friend Judie calls this “thrifting.” Many delightful boutiques exist to fund non-profits with their sales. Some operate as consignment shops, where you can find local donations in excellent condition. The key is taking your time to find the diamonds in the rough and unique purchases.
If you listen well enough, you can catch family members talking about things that they would like to have. Take note, then you will have time to find them at your leisure, at a good price. And your loved ones will be getting something they want.
Schedule in time throughout the year to make a handmade item. One year I joined a quilting club and made a blanket for my grandson. I am all thumbs when it comes to anything crafty, so it seemed like it took me most of the year to finish it! Knowing I had several months took the pressure off.
Visit a variety of antique shops while on vacation, or go on an antiquing road trip with a friend. Chances are something will catch your eye that would make a unique Christmas present. I collect Currier & Ives dishes for my daughter and am thrilled when I find serving pieces she does not own yet. One year my friend Ruth found a lovely hand held mirror for her new daughter-in-law. On another outing, my friend Wende scored a chic urban decor item for a family member.
Simply Decorate Simply. Besides going easy on the trees, I decided this year to pick just two areas to decorate indoors, my mantel and my dining room table. And that’s enough for me at this stage of my life.
My mantel is usually filled to the brim with greens, candles, ribbon, and Christmas picks for filler. This year I found a rather retro looking white poinsettia garland at Restore and went with that, two pillar candles and two votives. The antiqued pillar candles are seconds from a chalk paint shop that I display all year long.
Tablescapes are a great way to decorate for any season. What’s nice is that a winter theme can stay put for several weeks. I’ve been taking Jeanie’s advice and allowing some wood to show when I use a table cloth. The cloth is the anchor for the vignette. A wreath from a Hospice resale shop frames a large candle. For winter, I scatter pine cones. (For Fall, I use gourds mixed in with bittersweet.)
Mason jars filled with water and a pine sprig with a tea light floating on top are fun for Fall and Christmas. (Thanks, pinterest.) This bittersweet was found on the side of a country road by one of our local merchants. She wouldn’t share which road!
Practice Simplicity. If you desire a simpler Christmas and a Christ-mas, you need to be intentional about practicing simplicity. Putting Jesus in the center does not just happen. A few ideas that are helpful to me:
Splurge on a specialty coffee, hot chocolate, or tea, and browse through local shops. Slow down. Alone. Take time to smile at the clerks, check out the goods, and have no agenda. Think about Jesus, why we celebrate, and pray. Thank God for His good gifts to you. Count your blessings. This is one of my favorite activities.
Schedule lightly on Christmas Eve day. Make sure you are done with shopping and wrapping. Have time to linger over a meal, take pics of your friends, kids and grandkids, and go to worship unhurried. Ask the Holy Spirit to settle your inner self and embrace the hymns, the message, and the meaning. Has it been a tough year? Ask Jesus to make beauty from ashes. Has it been a glorious year? Give Him thanks.
Find one book for Advent that helps you become more like Christ, provides inspiration, and moves you from a self-focused mindset to other focused. This year I chose EssentialWritings, a compilation from Jean Vanier’s prolific works. This man was more like Jesus to others than almost anyone I’ve ever read.
One more picture, the reason for the season. May you find your own rhythm of life that celebrates His coming throughout your New Year.
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what You will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I’m ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into Your hands I commend my soul,
I offer it to You with all the love of my heart,
for I love You, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into Your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for You are my Father.
by Ordained Priest and Brother Charles de Foucauld