This Year’s Decorations

photo-1514193880418-896682417f97I wasn’t planning on decorating for Christmas.

Last year was the first year I was on my own. I left the Christmas tree with my ex, so I got creative with decorations. I had used three small trees on the front porch at the old house, so I covered a small table with a blanket, then put the trees on top. It was simple but nice. I put a few other favorite decorations around the house, especially since my girls and I were celebrating at the house I was renting. After I had already put up the trees, I found a tree on sale, and I stored it in the basement for this year.

But this year, my girls and I are celebrating somewhere else. I’m still in the rental house, and I decided to wait until next year to put up the new tree, perhaps when I’ll have a house of my own.

A few days ago, I decided to put out a few decorations. I like Christmas, and the familiar decorations I’ve put out through the years are cozy to me. Even if I don’t have my own house, I have a home. It’s my safe, comfortable place.

Why not put up the tree? So, I decorated my home for Christmas yesterday. I turned on Christmas music, hauled totes and boxes from the basement, and smiled as I sorted and decided what to put where.

I sighed at the familiar.

Sure, it was a bit different. My ex always put up the tree and covered it with lights, then I (and often the girls) would finalize it with ornaments. But I opened the Christmas tree box for the first time. I broke the seal. I sorted the branches, and I followed the color-coded layers and shaped each branch. I wrapped each branch with lights I’d also bought on sale last year. I went through all the blinking options and chose a calming setting. I added favorite ornaments and set aside the ones with less-favorite memories. I decided on a creative, different tree topper.

I stood back and looked at the tree…and smiled. I finished choosing the rest of the decorations I most wanted around the house, then I put all the boxes and totes away and cleaned the house.

I was content. I brought pieces of the past into the present, and I incorporated newness of my future. And I was content.

Living on my own is new. Sure it’s been almost a couple years since my ex decided our marriage was over, but the suddenness of it all after so many years of marriage has taken a while to adjust. And I’m sure I still have much room to grow and heal.

But for now, I can look around and sigh, appreciating where I am, the many friends and family I love and do life with, and hope for the future.

Life is good. Because God is good. Life is always hard, but in the context of God’s goodness, I find peace and contentment.

The Grief of Christmas

photo-1482517967863-00e15c9b44beThree years ago, I knew it was my dad’s last Christmas. It was bittersweet. I didn’t know exactly when he would die, but I knew it would come before the next Christmas. It was shorter than I expected – only a couple weeks later. And it was difficult. Yet there was a sweetness to that Christmas despite the uncertainty. There were several moments that are etched in my mind, because I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in.

The following year was difficult, but I took the grief process one step at a time and learned a new rhythm of life. There were more moments of grief as a good friend’s husband unexpectedly died in an accident and a friend and mentor died after a short and ugly cancer battle. Death awakens us and adjusts our perspective on life. I also adjusted to a new job, enjoyed adjusting to a daughter and son-in-law moving closer to me, helped my mom as much as I could, and bought a house and moved with my then-husband.

Christmas approached, and while it had a taste of bittersweet to it, I also felt a deeply abiding joy. I had settled deeper into God’s presence through the grief process. I was healing. I sat in the corner and looked around the living room in the new house, filled with our family – our two daughters and the men they loved. We laughed, made new memories, and I sighed. Like the year before, I was intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. I appreciated life and relationships in a clarifying way.

But I didn’t notice all the details.

What I didn’t know waa there was another person in that room, not physically, but relationally. My ex was in the process of leaving his family, and throughout that day, he contacted his girlfriend many times. It might have appeared as if he was there and invested in the rest of us, but he had stepped away emotionally. He was on his way out. He wouldn’t announce it until about six weeks later, but every Christmas gathering that year – with our immediate family, his extended family, and my extended family – included his girlfriend and his disconnection.

I was about to face grief yet again, although this time, I didn’t expect it.

Would it have mattered? I’m not sure. What I know is this: grief is a process. It looks different based on our perspective. It is difficult. It is revealing. It can be confusing and clarifying. It burdens us, yet we also experience uplifting moments as we do life authentically with others and heal along the way.

I know a lot of people will deal with grief this Christmas. Some are reeling from it. Some know it’s coming. Others, including me, have no idea what the day after Christmas or the new year will bring.

Regardless of what you’re aware of and what you’re experiencing, be intentional about looking around, noticing the details, and taking a deep breath to soak it in. Appreciate life and relationships in whatever snapshots you can.

Life can be bitter at times, but it is sweet, too.

Hard Things

photo-1519144565251-d0bd1b311d1eI had a rough day.

Nothing much happened, but it was just oppressive.

Two of the people I love most in the world dealt with specific issues of the fallout of the divorce. I am so thankful they are able and willing to come to me with their struggles. It’s difficult to listen to at times and process, but it is good, too.

Doing the hard things of life are worth the effort and humility. Relationships are worth it. But I just felt heavy. I did all the things I knew to do to stay focused and give what I could identify to God. I stayed up too late, and while I felt some peace, I also still felt “too” of something.

Too much.

I woke up the next morning with gratitude. Before I went to sleep, the last words on my mind and lips had been to thank God and to put on his armor. I don’t think I moved an inch overnight. I woke up in the same position I had gone to sleep in. My mind was still on gratitude and his armor. But I was lighter. Nothing had changed except that God reminded me of his faithfulness. I went through the day with a cloud close to me, with my heart burdened for my girls and for others, yet my step was just a bit more springy, my heart was a bit more light, and my mind was a bit more clear.

Adventures Ahead

photo-1506012787146-f92b2d7d6d96My mom and I rode the airport shuttle with a husband and wife who were around my age. They barely made the shuttle. The driver asked if they had everything out of the car, and they replied, “yes.” But as we approached their terminal, they realized the husband had left his phone in the car. They were going to Europe, and the woman’s phone was apparently not keeping a charge, so they definitely wanted the phone. They had arrived at the airport with enough time, they thought it would be safe to return to the car.

So they rode with us to our terminal before returning to the parking lot. We had a good conversation during our brief time together. They reminded me a bit of my ex and me. We enjoyed travel adventures together. We’d taken that shuttle and talked through our checklist of items many times. There was always such a sense of excitement, often because of the anticipation of getting away and relaxing together.

I saw the same anticipation and excitement in the husband and wife. They shared some of their plans. They were ready to experience some news things together – some things they’d talked about for years and some they’d recently decided to add to the adventure. They were glad to be taking an adventure and adding to their life experiences together.

So, that’s where the comparison ended between them and my ex and me. No more trips for us. No more adventures. No more anticipation and excitement. No more together.

But instead of feeling sad about that, I was thankful this husband and wife sat across from me and were moving forward with their life together. I can be grateful for what others have even if I don’t. I can find joy in others’ choices and plans.

And I can appreciate what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t. After all, I was facing a weekend of adventures with my mom.

I sighed with contentment.

Looping Back

photo-1526566661780-1a67ea3c863e“I was in a bad place in my marriage and in my life, but I am sorry. I shouldn’t have complicated yours.”

I was watching a movie, and the statement caught my attention. Of course, it wasn’t real life, but it reminded me of the honesty people can have with themselves and others. At least this character (or the writers of the movie) acknowledged the impact one person’s choices can have on others. Just because we’re struggling doesn’t mean we have to suck people in. Yes, we do life with others, but how we do life with others matters.

We all know the saying “hurt people hurt people.” But what do we do once we realize we’ve hurt people? Do we rationalize our impact on others and chalk it up to “I did the best I could and everyone will just have to deal with it”? or do we reflect and say, “Wow, that is not what I intended. I need to loop back and repair some things.”

What we do in the moment impacts others. How we continue to reflect on and move on from those hurtful moments matters, too. Perhaps even more. We don’t have to get stuck in the past, but sometimes we need to loop back into the past in order to heal, pick up pieces, and help others, so we can all move forward in healthier ways.

 

Suddenly Incompatible

photo-1527224857830-43a7acc85260I was working offsite with several coworkers, and someone printed a single page to review. It didn’t print the way he preferred, so he made a couple adjustments to the document, then clicked print again.

It wouldn’t print. He got a message stating the cartridge was incompatible with the printer.

Several of us tried multiple things to solve the issue. Nothing worked.

One coworker stated with frustration, “That makes no sense! It was compatible a few minutes ago then suddenly says it’s not compatible. How can something change that quickly?”

I laughed to myself. I didn’t say what I was thinking out loud, because not everyone would understand why it seemed funny to me. And perhaps it wasn’t actually funny, but sometimes we find odd humor among sad and frustrating circumstances.

Why was I laughing? Because the parallel between the printer and my life seemed ridiculously sensible and perplexing.

What I withheld saying was, “It makes sense to me! I mean, my husband of 27 years suddenly decided we weren’t compatible, so apparently, that’s a thing that can happen all the sudden without warning!”

Maybe it doesn’t sound as funny when it’s taken out of context. I certainly don’t laugh at the pain of my situation. But I find moments to laugh about the ridiculousness of it all. When I shared it with someone later, she replied, “Well, it’s not really that funny, but the fact that you can laugh at it makes me laugh!”

We all need comic relief at times, even when we’re in some difficult, trying situations.
Find a reason to laugh at yourself and your situation today. You can take life more seriously tomorrow.

Giving In, Giving Up

photo-1500382017468-9049fed747efI was ready to give up, to give in.

I don’t have a lot of those moments these days, but they still come at times. I’m just deeply sad or overwhelmed or frustrated. The feeling most recently came when I had space and time to breathe and remember, to tally the loose ends of divorce that I couldn’t personally wrap up and seemed to be getting nowhere in motivating others to take action, to listen to and notice the depth of hurt family and friends closest to me continue to feel through the fractures – and to feel their frustration with others who don’t seem to want to face the fallout and deal with it in healthy ways to be able to move on.

I had space to breathe, but I couldn’t. Tears fell, I gasped, and I felt crushed.

“I give! I’m done!”

I heard the words come out of my mouth, although I don’t remember processing them. Until I heard them.

God has impeccable timing. I was talking with him, and he had a great comeback.

As I heard the word “give” explode from myself, the intended focus of giving in and giving up was washed away with a simple question that changed my perspective.

“What would I be giving, really?”

Why do we even use the word “give” in those phrases? Because we aren’t really giving anything at all. When we’re in that dark place, teetering on hopelessness, we’re not usually focused on giving at all. We go internal . The world presses in on us, yet it fades around us at the same time. We forget the perspective we had in the light.

Give. Light. Hope.

My focus shifted.

No matter where you are right now, your focus can shift, too.

Don’t make a decision in the dark until you make sure it’s what stands true and pure in the light.

The sunrise of a new day is a beautiful thing.