Home for Christmas

A few years ago I accidentally ruined one of my favorite Christmas songs. So, spoiler alert, this post might actually do the same for you. You have been warned. This is also another one of those downer posts. Therefore, I am also issuing a tissue alert. You have been double warned.

I love Christmas music! I am one of those people who will turn it on in October and keep it going through January. I am also a sucker for the classics from decades long gone. Give me Peggy Lee singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Dean or Frank or Bing singing just about anything. I have always been an old soul who dreams of living in the past.

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” was always one of those classic tunes that could quickly put me in the Christmas spirit. Until one year I actually listened to the lyrics and really took them to heart.

“I’ll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.”

An idea popped into my head and my interpretation of those lyrics changed forever. Sometimes you can only go home in your dreams. For some that is because they are too far away from home so going there is too expensive or physically impossible at the moment. But what if you can’t go home because your concept of home doesn’t exist anymore? What if when you think of going home for Christmas you can only picture a time in the past that will never happen again?

When I hear this song now, my mind wanders back to the Christmases of my childhood. Going home for Christmas means crowding into my Grandparents’ houses with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and more. Home is spending the day sneaking Christmas candy the adults thought they hid in the garage. Home is my Dad only putting the video camera down long enough to take some photos. Home is my Grandma wrapping me up in a big hug just because she loves being a Grandma so much. Home is a handmade doll crib crafted with so much love from my Grandpa. Home is a place I can’t go back to no matter how much I want to. Home is lost in the fading memories of those who are no longer with us.

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My mom has a VHS tape from Christmas 1992, I think, that just has random scenes from a typical Christmas at my Grandparents’ house. There is absolutely nothing special about it but it’s a treasure to me. Sometimes I love watching it to remember all the good times. Sometimes, though, it hurts. Sometimes I wish there was a way to go back in time and tell my 4 year old self to take it all in and not take anything for granted. Relish in the hugs and kisses. Be grateful for the thoughtful gifts. Enjoy the carelessness that comes with feeling completely safe surrounded by those you love.

When I hear this song now, I miss my Dad. I miss my grandparents and all the other relatives who are no longer around. Then, that darn busted mustard seed starts to creep back in. (See Busted Mustard Seed) Who can I blame for the sadness that comes from missing those loved ones? Who’s fault is it that I can’t go “home” for Christmas? It always puts one more issue between me and God. It throws just a little more kindling on the fire of anger that has been brewing for years.

I wish I could say that in writing this post God and I have totally worked all this out together but we haven’t. I know that I shouldn’t be angry with Him simply because I can’t have what I want. But my head and my heart aren’t always on the same page.

I also realize that the reason I can’t go “home” is because He has called those people Home. They are in a place they don’t dream of ever leaving. They are having the best Christmases with the one it’s all about. How selfish is it of me to wish they were still here? Especially, when I know how much suffering each of them went through toward the end.

I think it’s time for me to find a new meaning of the word home. Home can’t be in the past. Home, also, doesn’t have to be a place. Home is where you feel comfortable, safe, and loved. Home is knowing that no matter what everything will turn out alright. Home is where your heart should lay. Home is God. At least it should be. This year I have slowly started moving from my past “home” into my new “home” in Him. The trouble is nothing ever feels like home until you accept it. Sometimes you just have to live there for a while until you slowly start to settle in and unpack some boxes. I’m terrible at unpacking and decorating new places. So this is going to be an awfully slow process.

Here is to hoping that this year we can let go and make Him our home for Christmas.

Busted Mustard Seed

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.” Matthew 17:20. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this phrase, been given lessons on this phrase, and had this phrase quoted to me in times of hardship. It’s something we teach little kids because we can show them a real mustard seed and let them marvel at its size compared to a gigantic mountain. It’s something we reinforce with teenagers by giving them their very own mustard seed in a little glass tube necklace. It’s the simplest way to explain that just a little faith in God can help you achieve big things. It’s a phrase that completely ruined my life.

Alright, so that might be a little dramatic, but it has been something that I have been questioning for many years. It was something I never truly understood and as a result took it’s meaning a little too literally. Let me tell you the story of how this simple concept threw me into years of questioning everything.

I come from a proudly religious family. I grew up in church. We were there every time the doors were open. I went to church camp every summer. My sister and I sang specials almost every Sunday. Daddy played drums and Mama strummed the guitar. When I was 10 years old I accepted Jesus as my savior and threw myself even further into our Christian lifestyle.

Now the perfect little Christian family, we were not, but those are stories for another time. Long story short, we had a decent life, as far as I was concerned, and things were going pretty well. Except for the fact that my Daddy had a lot of medical issues. Many of my childhood memories take place in hospital waiting rooms. He was in and out of the hospital more times than I could count. So much so, that it just became part of the routine for us. I didn’t know any different and no one ever really told us that sometimes things were really serious.

That being said, when November 2000 rolled around and Dad was once again in the hospital I didn’t think much of it. When we were told that Dad needed to have surgery on his heart it was no big deal to me. I couldn’t understand why the adults seemed a little more worried this time because he’d had heart surgery before and everything worked out fine. When we were in the waiting room after the doctor came to talk to my Mom the first time and she started crying, I still wasn’t sure what was going on. We came together as a family and prayed for Dad in that waiting room and in my head that was clearly going to take care of it.

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At some point it was decided that my sister and I would go home with my grandparents that night. I don’t think Dad was out of surgery but it was getting really late. We were only 12 and 14 and pulling an all nighter in a surgery waiting room probably wasn’t the best thing for us. I remember crawling into that pull out sofa bed with my sister. She was upset and worried about Dad and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. I remember asking if she wanted to pray. Right there on that sofa bed in my grandparents’ living room I prayed the most earnest prayer I have ever prayed in my life. I prayed with faith the size of a galaxy that God would help my Daddy be okay. I remember feeling so much peace after that prayer knowing that God had everything under control. I quickly drifted off to sleep thinking about how great tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, would be and excited to see Dad again.

A couple hours later the telephone’s non-stop ringing woke us up. I remember Grandpa talking quietly on the phone in the kitchen. I remember him telling us we needed to get up and get dressed because we needed to go back to the hospital. I don’t remember if he told us why. I don’t know how long it took us all to get dressed, but I’m sure it wasn’t very long. I think my Grandma took the longest because she wanted to shower or something, but it’s all a little fussy. My vivid memories pick back up when the phone rang again. I can almost feel what it was like standing in that little living room with my sister wondering what this next call could be about. I can hear Grandpa’s voice cracking while he talked to someone on the other end of the call. I can feel his hug when he came over to wrap his arms around us and choke out the worst words I have ever heard in my life. He is gone.

The next few hours, days, month, even years went by in a fog. A daze that only comes when your entire world is rocked and flipped upside down. I honestly don’t know how we made it through those first few days. I know that our family was a big part of it.

The problem was, though we survived, we never really worked though it. Mom was heartbroken and us kids were lost. I think we all found ways to cope but we never really worked through it together. Life kind of just found a way to move on.

We were back in church the next Sunday. I continued to be a devout Christian. It took me a long time to realize something wasn’t quite the same. I probably just thought it was because I missed my Dad. I don’t know when it happened but at some point, years later, I realized the problem was that I blamed God. I blamed God for taking my Daddy away from me. I blamed God for putting my family through all this pain. I not only blamed Him, I was angry at Him. How could He do this to me? How could someone who loved me so much hurt me so deeply?

Then I remember being in Sunday School one morning and we had a lesson over that phrase. That is when things clicked and started to really go downhill for me. I was being told, once again, that having just the smallest morsel of faith would give me the power to overcome the biggest obstacles. I remember thinking in my head, well if that were true my Dad would be here right now happy and healthy. I had never asked God for anything more important or with more faith than that night I asked Him to save my Dad. Yet nothing happened. If anything, He did the opposite of what I asked. I remember sitting in that classroom realizing that I had lost faith in God and that doubts were starting to set in. I was devastated. My mustard seed was busted.

I held on to that anger and blame for a very long time. The problem was, I never admitted it or talked to anyone about it. I continued to be the good little girl who showed up to church on Sundays, more or less. I sang all the old hymns, helped with bible school, even wrote and directed Christmas plays. No one knew, or let on, that I was struggling with hating God and even questioning whether I even believed in Him at all anymore.

I was once again directing a Christmas play I had written when I had a moment that scared me. I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember sitting in our little rehearsal space with about 8 kids who were acting out a nativity scene. I remember someone made a comment and in my head I said, “if God even really exists.” It was sarcastic and mean spirited. That is where I was in my relationship with God, standing in a church, watching children reenact the birth of Jesus and questioning His sheer existence. It scared me.

Shortly after the Christmas play, I don’t know if it was out of fear or if God really stepped in but something lead me to watch some episodes of Touched by an Angel. Yes, that old TV show from the 90s about Angels who work cases on Earth and share God’s message to all. The episodes kind of whispered to me, but there were a coupled that knocked me down with messages that I needed to hear. There was the idea that people die when they are supposed to, not when we want them to. No matter how meaningless their death might seem, there is a reason. The one that really got me though was when the  message was that sometimes God says no to prayers. They aren’t unanswered, you just didn’t get the answer you wanted. What? The more I watched of the show, the more I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on God just yet.

This year has been a struggle of trying to find my way back to God. I was terrified, lost, and unsure of where to start. It took every ounce of courage I had to accept an invitation from a friend to attend church with her. I sat in the parking lot debating whether or not I really wanted to go in. I could just go home and back to the comfort of my anger and frustrations or I could walk through those doors and take the first step in my journey back to Him. It was hard, but I did it. It helped that the song “Come as you Are” by Crowder came on the radio just as I was thinking about leaving and then they sang it in the service.

I’m not even close to where I need to be but I have already felt a difference in rebuilding my relationship with God. He and I both know there is still a lot of work to do and I still have a lot of questions I would like answers to. For now though, I’m just thankful I took that first step.

My biggest problem right now though is that my mustard seed is still busted. My faith in God and a lot of things shattered that night. It took me so long to realize it was busted that I’m still rounding up all the pieces and trying to glue them back together. Remember, mustard seeds are tiny so it’s a challenging puzzle. It’s a puzzle that I might never fully complete, but I’m trying. I have hope that one day I will get back to where I was in my faith. I have comfort in knowing that even though I’ve been mad at Him for 16 years, He still loves me. I have peace in knowing that, whether I like it or not, everything that has happened has been a part of His plan.

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal, but you have to be open to the healing and help from above. I think I’m finally ready to start that healing process. This blog is going to be a part of that journey. Writing has always been an outlet for me, but I have never shared it with others. This could get interesting. Let’s see what happens.