Saturday, December 23, 2017

Joy Runs Deeper Than Despair

Christmas..... Amy loved Christmas, the tree, the celebrations, the gifts, and the lights. Especially the lights and she would look and look at them. We always put up a strand of lights in her room, too. I wonder what kind of lights and colors she is seeing now? What kind of birthday celebration do they have in heaven for the Son of God? The very Reason there is a Christmas. The very Reason that she is now in heaven! 

I wasn't going to decorate much this year as the new baby was coming. I was busy making presents and we were having our Christmas on the 15th- early, as families were traveling. "Just put up lights and the tree," I told myself, but I got carried away and did a lot! This month has been so crazy with my emotions. One day I'll be crying, remembering the past, and the next day singing along to carols while I go about my work. The Christmas season brings so many memories; my grief is still very great at times. But the joy! Oh, the joy this season has been wonderful! 

We welcomed Samuel Bradley into the world on December 8. No longer does the 8th bring pain, but only joy. He was such a tiny little thing but is growing so fast!
The day before we celebrated Christmas, we woke up to this! So we had a white Christmas this year. 
We celebrated with the family when Samuel was only a week old. It was the kids idea to keep things simple since I went all out for Thanksgiving. The first photo is Thanksgiving. The next three are Christmas.

My flowers bloomed that I forced from October bulbs. We had paper plates and pizza, chips, some fruit, and of course Jesus Birthday Cake (the only baking I did this year) and Laura brought a plate of  pretty Christmas cookies. 
This was the fun present I got for the "boys" this years.

The next Sunday evening we visited a church where our retired pastor and his wife attend. Our associate pastor and his family attend there now also. They had an evening of music for Christmas and I was able to hear  "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" one of my favorite Christmas songs. Special memories.

Our greatest joy this season included Sunday morning worship. Our children had visited this one church for a few weeks and they kept encouraging us to come. But we had the idea to visit a lot of local churches first and this one is about half an hour away, just over the county line. But Bill and I were getting weary; visiting local churches always brought someone from our past and they'd want to know why we were looking for a new church. We were tired of so many small churches and we just wanted to put the past behind us, be uplifted, and move on. 
Our first Sunday there, before the service started, a man came up shook Bill's hand and said he was Pastor___.  Bill said, "So you're the head honcho." The Pastor shook his head and said, "No. I'm part of a team of pastors."  Later we found out he was the head pastor, but obviously a very humble man.  Even though the church is in the middle of a small town in a farming community, we saw a mixed congregation of ages, abilities, and race. What a joy that was to me! The music was so great as the worship director really feels what he is singing. He has the passion for music that our associate pastor had at our old church and I have missed hearing and seeing that passion for the last 4 months. We've experienced everything from formal choirs with a small orchestra, to a contemporary band with guitars and drums in the three Sundays we have been there. They sing a mixture of hymns and new songs. I was moved to tears last week when I saw two men in front of us raising their hands in worship as they sang. Just a few minutes before the service started they were talking to each other about hunting. The people have been so very friendly to us. Last Sunday the greeter at the door remembered our names, as did others we talked to! This was only our third time there! This is not because it is a small church; they average 400-500 every week. 
They  have a team of pastors and they take turns preaching. We have heard three different pastors in the three times we have attended. God spoke to my heart each time through His word.  The first message we heard was on contentment. "Contentment increases as we view our lives in the light of eternity." The second was on saying yes to God (as Mary did). "For when I am weak, then I am strong." and "I am not my own." Last week the youth pastor spoke. He's younger and so 'real' and funny. "We misinterpret what God says and we say things that God never said and we try to make God in our image. Joseph (Mary's Joseph)obeyed God. It wasn't easy for him, but he did it." So it is for me. Obedience isn't easy and following God is hard, but He is always there to help me because He has walked a harder road than I have or ever will.  "We celebrate the baby Jesus to prepare for His second coming. Will Jesus find us obedient when He comes?"  
They are a church that has an mission/outreach emphasis. This is so important to us to find a church that cares about the community around them and the needs of the whole world. Every Sunday they pray for a different church in the community, two Sundays they shared mission trip reports, and they help an orphanage in a foreign country. I'm sure there is more we don't know about yet.
We have not attended the Adult Bible Fellowship (Sunday School), but they are starting a 6 week grief support class the first of the year during ABF and we signed up for it.
I have been moved to tears at every single service. It just feels so good to be there. God has given us peace and joy. 
The final closing song we sang last week was one I had been taught quite a few years ago by someone very special to me. 

 Before The Throne of God
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom that says exactly what my last month and this past year has been like for me. 
"Joy runs deeper than despair."
So as we close out this year, my year of joy, I will not fight my tears anymore. Tears are cleansing, despair will come because I'm still mourning the loss of Amy, my Daddy, and my church friends, but I know that my joy runs deeper because of Jesus. 

Amy has been gone 4 years. As I write this, the tears come.
God has given me four new little people in that time.
My arms aren't empty anymore. Merry Christmas everyone!

Samuel, yesterday, two weeks old.

As I was sorting through photos this week I came across this one.
Daddy and Mama waving goodbye as we drove away in 2013.
Our first visit to the farm without Amy.
So as 2017 soon comes to a close I won't say,
"Happy New Year" because I have learned sometimes happiness
is fleeting. I will say, "I hope you are blessed as you walk with the
Lord and find the peace and JOY that only He can bring." 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Always Winter But........ Always Christmas

The last few months have flown by and we have been busy! We have had our first snowflakes and our wood burner is running as cold weather has set in, so winter is right around the corner. 

Bill and I were able to get away for a week in early October with some dear friends as we traveled to New England and enjoyed the beautiful colors up there and especially enjoyed their fellowship. We met over 40 years ago and stay in touch across the miles as they live 5 states away to the west. 
In late October Bill had a birthday and we surprised him with a side by side. It's kind of like a golf cart with the power of a four wheeler. He had told me that they were for "old" people and that he wouldn't need one until he was in his 80's! Well I think he is enjoying it now, in his 60's! (I need to get a picture in the daylight!)
Halloween came and of course I got a few pictures of the boys. Will was a hunter and Micah was a deer. 

The little deer riding the Deere!
Although I didn't get a picture of Mari in her costume, I did get a picture of her after our little "school" last week. We have been studying creation for about two months and have had a lot of fun. 
On our last day I allowed her to tell ME the creation story and put on all the pieces by herself. She loves the flannel graph!

We started our Christmas unit this week and I asked her if she knew that there was a very important birthday coming up and she said very excitedly, "Baby Sammy!"  Yes, that has been the most exciting thing for her right now as she will soon  be a big sister to a real live baby. Samuel is expected to arrive in just a few weeks, that's why I started the Christmas stories early with Marissa as Tess will be on maternity leave and I won't be babysitting very much. Although I think I might have to go steal her for a few days now and then! 

Bill and I have been visiting a different church every week. God has been speaking to us as we hear His word preached and through the music as we worship. We have been to churches of a few hundred down to churches of around 20. We have been to churches that sing only hymns, mixture of hymns and contemporary music, and only contemporary. We have been stretched by churches that do things differently than we have done. Churches with liturgy, prayers that are read with congregation responses, and the cross and Bible displayed, held high and revered (I was in awe). We have felt content, waiting on the Lord to direct us to where He wants us to go. Last week we went to a very small church and the Pastor was so compassionate. He talked to us after the service and said he could tell we were hurting and asked Bill if he could give him a hug. That brought tears to both of us. We were hurting, it had been a hard week. We were told that our family had been kicked off the prayer chain at the church where we had attended for 40 years and are still members of.  I always thought prayer was something that was welcomed, but I guess not everyone thinks so. I will continue to pray for those who attend that church. We feel we did what God was telling us to do when we exposed the evil. We did it because we love the people in the church. If we didn't care about them we just would have quietly left a year ago. It has been hard, but is the Christian life supposed to be easy? This past month God has been teaching me to forgive and to love as I have studied 2 Corinthians. I have never felt a connection with Paul before as I did in this study. It was an affirmation that we did the right thing. I praise God and am so thankful for giving us His words in the Bible to show us how to live. 

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my fathers passing. I remember the details of each day of his last few days like it was just yesterday. His last day on earth I can recall every hour, maybe every minute of that day! I was with my mother-in-law until just a few hours before she died, and I had the privilege of being with Amy and Daddy in their last days, hours, minutes, and the very second they passed from my arms to Jesus' arms.  It is a beautiful thing, but yet gut-wrenching at the same time. I miss them both so much.  I cry often, but not as much as I used to. The grief comes and goes.  There are so many constant reminders of their lives and the holes they each left in my life.
My favorite picture of Daddy and Amy
But there are constant blessings also, if I just look for them.
My husband, children, and grandchildren.
The beauty of nature always takes my breath away.
Music can touch my soul.
A good book, a warm cup of tea.
The list can go on and on.

I have always been a fan of CS Lewis and Amy loved listening to the "Chronicles of Narnia" audio tapes from Focus on the Family. She listened to them so many times and was listening to them again the days before she left us. I have not listened to them since.... 
Until a few days ago...... I decided to listen to "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." For years and years Narnia always has winter and never Christmas; until Aslan comes and the snow starts to melt and the birds start to sing and Father Christmas comes with presents. Aslan is a allegory for Christ. It occurred to me that if we truly are following Christ, we will always have winter (trials and sorrow in our life), BUT we will always have Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Savior!  Always winter, but the seasons will cycle, spring, summer, fall and winter again. Jesus is with us through each season in our life. 
I love living in this part of the world that has the different seasons. Fall has always been my favorite. In my last blog I shared about planting bulbs at Amy's grave, in her little garden area in our yard and in a pot inside to force for blooms for Christmas. Well I planted them when the package suggested for our area, but we had an unusual warm fall and a few of the bulbs started to grow and even produced buds. We have had a few nights of frost, but the buds survived. One night last week it was to get down in the teens so I cut off the buds and brought them in. The last few days they have turned into beautiful blooms and smell wonderful!

Another blessing to have spring flowers in November.