Last year this time, our family was on a journey down a road we had never traveled before. It would have been much more unsettling and scary had the kids and I not all been in a semi-state of shock and numbness. I had lost my husband of over 25 years, my best friend, a wonderful godly man and father. I'm so thankful for the days the children and I had together with Chris at the end...so grateful we could say, "Thank you," "I love you," "I will miss you," and "Goodbye for now, but we will see you again soon." Even still, over a year later, I wish we’d had more time.
I remember that for last year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, two holidays the kids and I really love, we just didn't want to be at home. The words to a song from Les Miserables come to mind to describe a little of what I didn't want to experience:
There´s a grief that can´t be spoken
There´s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables…
We didn’t want to put up a Christmas tree and lights and stockings without our daddy/husband there, so we all took to the road and spent Thanksgiving with my daughter Bethany, my son-in-law Ben, my daughter Megan, her then fiancé Brendan, and his family in Chattanooga. After Thanksgiving we spent a few days at Ben and Bethany’s little home in Lauderdale, MS, packed in like sardines, eight of us with their two cats but loving every minute of it!
Following that, we saw good friends, Traci Garrett and her kids in Atlanta for a quick overnight in a tall downtown hotel with mega-story indoor elevator rides, pizza delivered to the indoor pool where the kids had fun swimming, and a late night movie for the boys (while Traci and me spent some time catching up). Her Chris and my Chris were good friends, and they used to kid each other about having the best Traci/Tracy. Our time was too short, but we were all thankful for every minute.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Jesse couldn’t spend the next three and a half weeks on the road with us; he had a part-time job to get back to (I think he also said that being in the car with us for several days on the road would drive him crazy!) So after dropping him off at the Atlanta airport, we head down to Florida for a few days at a beach house in St. Augustine, a place I’d always wanted to visit but never had. I enjoyed hearing ocean waves rolling onto the shore and seagulls crying overhead.
The kids and I climbed up a lighthouse for a spectacular view of the Florida coast and heard cannons fire from the wall of the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the US. We even got to celebrate British Night Watch and watch the Grande Illumination, an impressive recreation of a moment in the British period of St. Augustine’s history.
Making our way south we drove on to Orlando, where a dear family in our church very generously let us use their timeshare for a week. Chris’s parents flew in shortly thereafter, and we all stayed in a couple of adjoining condos where we could go swimming, or walk by the lake, eat ice cream, play putt-putt, or venture out for a day at Disney.
It had been 35 years since Chris’s parents had been to Orlando, when they took their then teenage son Chris. It was indeed a sweet time together, not only getting to celebrate John’s very special golden birthday (he turned 12 on 12/12/09) at a nearby Thai restaurant (yep, that’s what he picked for his birthday dinner!), but also to celebrate Grandpa George’s birthday, and spend a really delightful day at Epcot Center with Ben and Bethany (who were on their way to a wedding in St. Augustine, Florida) after seeing us for two days.
At Epcot, we enjoyed a holiday program with full orchestra and choir, narrated by Abigail Breslin and featuring “real” Christmas music, traditional carols we all grew up with. I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed as I listened to some of my favorite songs about the birth of my Savior while sitting with my arms around my kids. Later on in the day, to counter the insanity of visiting a Disney theme park in December packed in with thousands of others, Ben and John started racing Grandpa and Grandma around in the wheelchairs we had rented for them so they didn’t have to walk so much in a day. Oh, how good it felt to act silly and laugh hilariously for a little bit!
LONGING FOR “HOME”
Even though my heart was wildly fluctuating between real joy and deep, deep sorrow, I felt very much carried in the arms of the Lord through this time. I know it was because so many hundreds of people were praying for us; so many hands were reaching out with hugs and help, with smiles and Kleenex. The whole month of December was very much a miracle of God’s great kindness and magnanimous love. How the Lord longs to bring comfort to His people in the midst of anguish, sickness and trial!
With a great deal of excitement and fun behind us, however, I was yearning for a sense of home and some quiet that seemed virtually impossible to find. I’m what you would call a friendly introvert. I love people; I love to help others and encourage others “with the comfort with which God has comforted” me. I equally love, however, to be alone. This is when I recharge—when I regain a biblical focus more often than not; when I create, and when I most consistently hear from the Lord. And I don’t think I’d been alone since Chris died.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair...Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
I also longed for the comfort and familiarity some longtime friends were eager to share with us. So for the next two plus weeks, we stayed with Bob and Tina Farewell and their family near Orlando. Bob had been with us in Colorado Springs for a whole month through the time of Chris’s home going, and been about the best friend Chris could have the end of his life. How Bob and Tina knew just what we needed escapes me, but they surely did, both in Colorado Springs last October and in Florida last December.
Upon arriving, my kids immediately reconnected with the Farewell kids and started planning their adventures. Tina led me to their loft apartment over the barn, simply but comfortably decorated. With some healthy snacks on hand, a soft throw to wrap up in, sunlight pouring in from several windows and a couple of very special books of one of our mutually-much-loved authors, Lilias Trotter placed on the coffee table, I felt like I had been escorted into my own personal haven of rest.
Tina doesn’t know this, but after she left me to get settled in, I just broke down and cried, this little abode was that comforting to my tired body and soul. I probably could have slept for two days straight if I wouldn’t have felt so guilty doing it!
Our time with them was a perfectly balanced mixture of rest, and fun, and family tradition as we helped to decorate their tree, cooked meals together, attended a lovely Christmas Eve service, and devoured delicious lemon/cottage cheese pancakes on Christmas morning. More than any particular thing we did with our dear friends, however, was the sense of being family what we most cherished. They let us just be ourselves, yet we never felt like we were anything else than their own cousins, or sisters and brothers. I think the Lord knew we needed that more than anything else so soon after Chris’s death.
How greatly God lavished His love on us through them and so many other friends and family along our Christmas journey last year!
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
And now Christmas is upon us once more. Only this time we’re not on the road; we’re at home. For sure, we’ve put up the decorations (some my kids specifically remember from when they were toddlers!), and the kids have strung the lights outside. The stockings are all hung, including a new one with a comical reindeer on it for Indy, our Irish terrier and the baby of the family. The tree will go up as soon as we decide where to put it (I want it in the living room where we’ve always had it; the kids want it in the family room).
Yet, there’s a part of me that wants to “skip” Christmas again, at least Christmas at home. It’s our first one here without Chris. The closer it gets to December 25, the heavier my heart. I’m surprised to find myself feeling very alone, even though the kids are all here, in the house or in the vicinity. Just last week I helped Megan move back to this area where she’s gotten a job transfer and will be attending our sister church in Gaithersburg, MD. It is so good to have her near again!
I’m busy getting ready for a big Christmas concert next week with my 40-member homeschool choir, and am helping lead a church choir for our church’s Christmas Eve service. I’ve got plenty to do this season, I love being with my kids, and I am blessed to be serving others.
This being alone without Chris however, isn’t easy. I was startled to wake up the other morning, tears streaming down my face, apparently brought on while I was sleeping and dreaming about Chris. I suppose the busyness of this time of year isn’t helping that need-to-be-alone-to-recharge-time happen for me either. I think I’m missing that quiet little Farewell retreat center in Florida right about now.
THINKING BACK 2,000 YEARS
As I read the Christmas story again, I can’t help but think of Mary and Joseph and the difficult journey they had to make in order to be ready to bring forth their Son in the place and in the way God had called them to, as part of the many prophecies He gave us about Jesus’ birth. Even before they set out on that long, arduous trek, Mary was probably already bone-tired. They had no assurance they would find a comfortable place to lay their heads once they got to Bethlehem, let alone find one anywhere along the way.
Didn’t they too, feel very much alone as they had to leave their familiar surroundings, their friends and neighbors, perhaps even some of their close family, to make the journey to Bethlehem? And once they got to the busy town and faced dozens, if not hundreds of other sojourners who like them crowded the streets, would not Mary have longed for a place of quiet and rest just hours before her baby Boy was born?
Granted, she had her Joseph, while I am missing my Chris. Yet, I have my Jesus, the lover of my soul. It was, if even only in small part, because Mary and Joseph were willing to obey God their Father and make the wearying trip with no assurance of rest in sight, and no comfort except what they had in each other, that I, as the object of Christ’s love can enjoy the full benefits of His inheritance. I can make this journey, though tiring and lonely, humanly speaking, with Jesus, who has forgiven all my sin, has brought me to life and has made me new.
In Him, God my Father has bestowed on me great and precious promises, the best of which is yet to come. Merry Christmas to you all!
“For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…..so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.” ~II Cor 4:7-5:5, excerpts
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL ON CHRIS'S BOOK, POWER PERFECTED IN WEAKNESS!
Though Christmas is almost upon us, you may be looking for a last minute gift for a special loved one or friend who's going through a difficult season right now. Might I recommend Chris's last book, Power Perfected in Weakness, The Journal of Christopher J. Klicka? I've received dozens of letters and notes from folks who have received great encouragement from Chris's testimony of God's great faithfulness and love in the midst of his greatly debilitating MS.
I'd like to make copies of this book available at a 20% discount ($11.96 + $2.99 shipping), or through the end of this year, two for $20.10, plus $4.99 shipping. To order your copy in time for Christmas, send your Paypal payment by Dec. 19th, to: FreshGrace.firstname.lastname@example.org. Your purchase will help me buy some last minute gifts for my family! Thank you!
May the Lord Jesus be the joy in your Christmas celebration!
Grateful for your friendship, your prayers and your care in Him,