Dear January [yet again],

Dear January,

This is my third year of letters to you. You and I haven’t been on good terms for seven years, but I think the truce that we worked out last year is going ok so far, at least until my Facebook newsfeed blows up later in the month. (Facebook has a new thing now where it reminds you of posts that you wrote in years past, so I think I’ll take a hiatus toward the end of the month. I still remember the post that I wrote quickly on Jan. 23, 2009, asking for urgent prayer because something awful had happened to my brother, but I didn’t know what. I really don’t want to relive the posts from the days and weeks that followed that night.)

The 23rd falls on a Saturday this year, and I’m contemplating getting a sitter for the kids and going away for the weekend — just me, myself, and I. A little solitude might be nice.

This year holds a lot of promise, and I’m going to focus on being optimistic about the future. I’ll be finishing my second year as a professor, and I’m loving my job. Two of my kids are in high school now, the middle is in junior high, and this year is our last round of elementary school. When the fall semester begins, I’ll only have to deal with TWO school schedules!

I still imagine sometimes what life would look like if Nathan was here. Most likely, I would still feel stressed about being outnumbered raising three boys and have no clue about how capable I really am. I suppose I have that to be grateful for. Without the trials, I wouldn’t know how strong I could be. I would give anything to have him back, but life manages to go on, and so do I.

January, I feel like I have more confidence facing you this year than I have in several years. You don’t intimidate me like you used to, because I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through, and in just a few weeks, you’ll be gone and February will arrive in your place.

Till next year,

Ang

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The holidays are stinkin’ difficult

I’m going to share something that is on my heart because I know there are others going through similar things, but since the holidays are supposed to be cheerful and lovely, we don’t often talk about it.

Sometimes, the holidays are stinkin’ difficult.

I miss my brother year-round, but the holidays always seem to exacerbate grief. Sometimes, I want to stay in my pajamas all day with a stack of books to read and no one to talk to, but real life beckons.

The kids are simultaneously antsy and bored, cranky and hyper, hungry and … never mind, boys are always hungry. They’re in vacation-mode, and having six people cooped up under one roof for too many hours at a time invariably results in bickering, but going and doing requires time, money, and putting on shoes.

So, there you have it. The answer to the question I’ve been asked for years about how I manage it all is simply this: Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I have an ugly cry with snot and the whole nine yards, and then I get back up and do life.

This isn’t a plea for attention on my part, but I do encourage you to have a little extra grace with each other during the holidays, especially. Bear in mind that people around you are carrying burdens that are so heavy, they aren’t sure how many more steps they can take before they fall down. Put an arm around them and walk a few steps alongside them.

Impending Death … and Hope (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 15, 2015)

I received some devastating news this week about an old mentor and kind friend. As things stand now, it looks like she has advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread to her liver. I am terribly sad, and yet I feel a strong sense of peace for her. She loves the Lord, she adores her family, and she cares about her fellow man. She is passionate about justice, and not just the kind that penalizes criminals for wrongdoings, but the kind that rights the wrongs in the world. She is an advocate, a brilliant thinker, and a confidante.

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless Jesus returns to take us home before then, there is a 100% chance that you will die. How does that make you feel? Does the notion of dying fill you with dread or joy? Like it or not, as James 4:14 and Psalm 103:15-16 point out, our lives are like a mist puffed into the air or a dandelion blowing in the wind – only temporary.

 

While imprisoned for the gospel, Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He had a very matter-of-fact view about death: if he lived, then he had more opportunity to serve the Lord. If he died, then he got to be with Jesus. Win-win!

 

For a long while after my brother died, I had peculiar feelings that could only be described as jealousy. I hesitated to share it, because I didn’t want anyone mistakenly thinking that I was suicidal. It’s just that the more I thought about him being in the very presence of God in heaven, it felt like I got the short end of the stick. I/we were left behind to grieve and cope, to continue living in this broken world of sin and despair and problems, while he was free from such entanglements. How I long to be with Christ!

 

Easter is just around the corner, and it is my absolute favorite holiday. Sure, I love the festivities of Christmas, and I enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving, but wow – Easter! Easter is a reminder that this world is not our home (Philippians 3:20). Easter is about the resurrection, newness, eternal life, victory, and HOPE.

 

It is with this everlasting hope in my heart that I can say to my sweet friend: Go in peace. Go to Jesus, relish in his presence, and enjoy the reward for your labors. I will always cherish having the opportunity to know you and call you my friend.

Dear January [again],

Alas, we meet again. You know I still don’t like you, but we seem to be getting better at maintaining a tolerable coexistence. I hope you don’t take my disdain personally. I wrote you a letter last year about how I was going to change my mindset concerning you, and I think I did. In fact, when you visited last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and preparing to defend it, so that was good. A lot of changes took place last year — so much so that I’m even greeting you from a different time zone this year!

Honestly, I don’t have anything particularly sassy, smart-alecky, or gripey to say to you this year. I suppose this must be what healing looks like. I still don’t look forward to the 23rd, which happens to fall on a Friday this year. I’ll have a class to teach that afternoon, so staying under the covers and pretending not to be a grownup isn’t a valid option. I still have to get the kids to school and then get to school, myself. It’s going to be hard, though. It always is.

Would you believe this is the first Christmas since I lost Nathan that I didn’t cry at all that day? I almost lost it on stage during the Christmas Eve service as we sang Silent Night, though. Normally, I can’t really see the congregation because of the lighting, but they dimmed the lights for the candlelight portion, and I looked over to where the boys were seated. I saw my five boys — thankfully, not setting the pew ablaze — and then my eyes lingered a bit longer on my two nephew-sons. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of Nathan’s facial features lit up in both of them; my eyes got watery and a lump rose in my throat, and I couldn’t sing a couple of lines. I was thinking about singing with him in Glory one day, seeing his face lit up with the Light that lacks shadows, and I felt such a pull on my heart to want to be with him.

Instead of dreading you this year like I have done in the past, I’m going to choose to be thankful for you. Seeing you again is a reminder that my time on earth isn’t yet complete. There’s still work to be finished here, and for reasons often unbeknownst to me, the Lord has designated a few particular things for my doing. So, January, I offer you a truce. Perhaps by the time you roll around again, we might even be friends.

How long, O Lord? (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 14, 2014)

At least 15 times in the book of Psalms, the author asks a prayer along the lines of, “How long, O Lord?” Sometimes, the psalmist is referring to rescue from his enemies, but other times, he is crying out for God’s attention in his own life – for forgiveness and mercy.   If I’m completely honest, I have prayed numerous “How long, O Lord?” prayers in the years since my two nephew-sons joined my household: How long will their grief manifest in anger? How long until they can understand and manage their emotions in a healthy way? How long will it take for their own tragedies to become tools that will equip them to minister to others? How long until it feels like I’ve done the right things for them as a parent? Those aren’t rote prayers that I recite, but the questions have been on my heart for a long while.   Well, I learned this week that one of them was asked to be desk buddies with a new kid in his class. The new boy had a traumatic situation in utero and suffers from physical and cognitive challenges. He’s in a mainstream class but needs extra help. My son came home positively bubbling over and raving about how excited he was to be asked to help. As I listened to him share and sensed his compassion and kindness toward his new friend, it felt like those prayers that I’ve lifted up for years were coming to fruition.   In the psalms mentioned previously, the author tends to conclude with an account of God’s goodness. In Psalm 35, David writes, “My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long” (NIV). The author of Psalm 79 declares, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise” (NIV). Psalm 94 declares, “But the Lord has become my fortress and my God the rock in whom I take refuge” (NIV). After crying out to the Lord for who knows how long about enduring certain trials, the writer remembered to go back to the source with praise.   Each of us has a different faith-journey, and the challenges in my life will look different from the trials in your life. Yet, one thing remains constant: We serve a great and mighty God, and he will never leave you stranded (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20). I also believe that he’s got a big enough lap for his children (that’s you & me!) to climb into his arms and cry out, “How long, O Lord?” when life feels like it is beating us up. I am confident that he can handle our tough questions, but we need to be like the psalmist and lavish him with praise when we witness the answers to those prayers.

To think or to sleep

2014-09-10 18.06.05

(That’s not food on my chin; it’s a quirky reflection of the light.) Not the most flattering picture, but we had fun. 🙂

I had a lovely time at a work-dinner tonight. It was the Homecoming Alumni Banquet, where the university recognized three alums for their achievements. The food was good, the company was nice, and since I’m fresh out of hot dates at the moment (that was sarcasm, in case you missed it), I got to bring my 15yo as my guest. We had fun, and he behaved like a gentleman — see, I knew he was capable of breathing between mouthfuls of food! 😉  He cut his meat into bite-sized chunks, ate slowly, and carried on conversations with others at our table. I was very proud of him and enjoyed our time together.

Then, we got back home.

I learned that No. 4 had ridden his bike through the neighbor’s neatly raked gravel driveway ditch, which a) he knew full well not to do, and b) he’d already been scolded for doing it once before. So tomorrow, he and I are walking back over there (his big brother who was babysitting already made him apologize today) to offer his manual labor services for whatever they might need done. In addition, he’s grounded from anything with wheels for the rest of the month. I will probably tack on some additional chores, especially if the neighbor doesn’t accept his offer to work.

I just don’t understand what goes through their heads sometimes! It’s infuriating, not to mention embarrassing because the neighbors must think I’m a totally out-of-touch parent. I probably shouldn’t care what they think, but I do. We are the minorities in this neighborhood/community/city/state, and it makes me feel sad and awkward when their behavior reflects poorly on our family. Maybe that sounds like I’m putting too much pressure on my kids to behave, but are the Mormon kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood like stark-raving maniacs? Absolutely not — in fact, I hardly ever see them. It’s like there are these huge houses filled with gobs of kids, and you Never. Hear. Them. EVER. It’s uncanny to me, because my boys are LOUD even when they are behaving!!

As if that weren’t enough, No. 3 blew a gasket with me when I scolded and grounded him because he was disrespectful to his brother-in-charge while I was away. There’s more to the story, but I’m tired and don’t feel like rehashing it. He accused me of not caring about him and wanted to call Nana to tattle on me for being so mean to him. Sometimes, I have to take deep breaths before I can even speak.

Then, I found out that one of the best hug-givers at my old church died unexpectedly today after what seems to have been a very brief and violent illness. No one knows anything substantive, so we have to wait for the autopsy results to learn more. Her husband died of a heart attack a year or so ago, and part of me feels glad that they are together in glory, but part of me still feels the loss. We weren’t even super-close friends, but she was always eager to greet me with a hug, and she looked forward to reading the devotionals that I write. She was one of those people who you don’t realize are watching you, until they say something that blows you away — like how I meant a lot to her, and she looked up to me. What? Really? Wow. Humbled.

Plus, tomorrow is 9/11, which means social media is filled with quotes and blurbs and photos and rants. I think I’ll just take a day off from Twitter and Facebook, because the deluge of that type of imagery makes me feel gloomy.

I really should be in bed by now, but I need to clear my mind. I read my Bible for a little while earlier, and maybe I’ll read a novel for a bit. It’s hard to go to sleep — and sleep well — when my brain is filled with sadness and coulda-shoulda-woulda scenarios that make me feel like a terrible parent.