Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Celebrating God’s Goodness

Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Today we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ which conquered death and gives us new life.

Easter lilies. Choral and brass anthems. Dress-up clothes. And yes, Easter baskets, hidden eggs, and even chocolate bunnies.

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Celebration is important, necessary for a full life, the highs balancing the lows. But what if you don’t feel like celebrating? What if you’re stuck in a valley so deep you don’t remember the sky?

Thank God the Bible addresses the full range of human experience. See Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

David cries out in despair, feeling the absence of God in this struggle against his enemy. And yet, he chooses to trust, to rejoice, to sing the Lord’s praise, to celebrate God’s goodness. He doesn’t feel like celebrating but he chooses to celebrate nonetheless.

It helps to remember that celebration is itself a spiritual discipline. We can choose it even when – maybe especially when – we don’t feel it.

A decade ago I went through a particularly difficult few years. After two years of secondary infertility we finally got pregnant just as my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister had a baby and on his baptism day, Father’s Day in fact, she landed in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening case of pancreatitis. Around the time our own long-awaited baby was born, we realized our jobs were in transition; we left our jobs shortly after Dad passed on Tween’s first birthday. Our peers, fortunately for them, hadn’t experienced the crushing weight of life’s traumas and couldn’t support us in our grief.

My kids were my joy, my reason to get out of bed each day. My sweet husband held me when I could cry, not as often as I expected. Family felt like a lifeline as we walked together through the valley of the shadow of death, that poetic line from Scripture becoming our too-real daily walk.

Time passes. We found new jobs and new community in a new town, and I came across my journal from that time. Although grief like thick fog had obscured my vision, had left me feeling alone, here I saw page after page of Scriptures and prayers in my own handwriting, a dialogue with God that had under-girded each day. Even in the darkness I had continued to practice a long-time discipline of Scripture reading and prayer. I wrote in my journal the verses that stood out from each day’s reading and then wrote my prayers to God in response. It didn’t feel celebratory, but I held on to God’s goodness, to His faithfulness, His love for me, His promises to be with me in every circumstance: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

As I flipped through the pages of my journal, a testament to God’s goodness, I recalled this promise from Psalm 30:

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

I wish that dark valley hadn’t appeared in our journey, but I am forever grateful for God’s presence with me and for the spiritual practices He used to reveal Himself to me. I am grateful, too, for the place He has planted us down the road, for the good work before us and the rich friendships we enjoy. We might have wanted to go a different way, but we had to keep walking to arrive at this beautiful destination.

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

Jack & Diane tell us: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.”
Jesus responds: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Celebrating God’s goodness in every situation – rejoicing in the Lord always – may be the very thing we need to get through those dark valleys and to live the full life Jesus intends for us. We will not emerge unchanged, but Lord willing we will come out with grace enough to share.

Jesus Christ has risen, and that changes everything. Hallelujah!

Connect
Reflect on a great party you’ve attended and what made it a special event.

Study
Read Philippians 4:4-7.
What does it look like in everyday life to “Rejoice in the Lord always”? i.e., How can you obey this command in the midst of difficult circumstances without being phony or inauthentic?
Explain the connection between rejoicing, anxiety, and prayer.
Read 2 Samuel 6:12-22.
Describe David’s acts of celebration.
Why was Michal offended, and how did David respond?

Live
What causes you anxiety? How can an intentional focus on celebration affect your anxiety?
When have you danced before the Lord with all your might, physically or otherwise? Explain.
What gets in the way of you celebrating God’s goodness? What can you do this week to level those obstacles and increase your celebration?
Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, writes, “…I am inclined to think that joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. Without joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.” Reflect on your experience practicing spiritual disciplines this Lent. Does the above quote resonate with your experience? If so, how?
What spiritual practices might God be leading you to continue beyond Lent?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will cause your faith training to overflow with joy.

Note: This is the last study in the Faith Training series. It may be helpful to review the Faith Training Exercises and continue to explore practices as God leads you.

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors

Death and Hope for Life

We all four hopped in the car, heading to the store to buy Christmas gifts for our “adopted” little boys who live over the hill in a poor part of town. These littles, both under five years old, don’t have families of their own to buy them gifts, a fact that broke Tween’s heart so that he exclaimed, “Let’s adopt them for real! I want two little brothers!” If we could… But we can buy them some gifts to brighten their Christmas just a smidge. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

Only two blocks down the road we got the call: our friend has passed. Just in time for Christmas, he’ll be singing Christmas carols with the angels this year, in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ Himself.

We immediately drove to their house, the privilege and price of being both a pastor’s family and friends. We hugged and cried and sat on the linoleum kitchen floor. The two-ton tabby stepped over and around us, winding between extended hands, his soft snuggles in contrast with the jagged-broken crunch in our hearts. As directed we sent texts and emails to let others know of our dear friend’s loss, one less thing for the bereaved to do.

Our kids were troopers, so sad themselves at the loss of their “local grandfather,” but willing to tell stories, to make people laugh, to give comfort in their way. Together we talked about earth time (a blink) and eternity (forever), about hope in God’s love, about God’s broken heart as He holds His grieving people.

Teen was in kindergarten when cancer took my dad. On Tween’s first birthday, a day of course he doesn’t remember but links them forever. And Tween was in third grade when cancer took my grandma; her last taste of food was a bite of the churro dessert in his Mexican fast food kid’s meal. These boys have witnessed the hard work of dying, that love and sorrow and joy weave families together in painful shared experience, the dying unraveled and the living wrapped up and handed back to the world to figure out a new “normal.”

We sat together not eating through dinnertime until the Hospice nurse and then the mortician arrived. We hugged and cried some more, spoke words intended to comfort, and we left. We picked up the now-cold Chinese food we’d ordered hours earlier. We went shopping for the little boys, our big boys picking out toys and books they loved years ago. We bought big decorative gift bags to wrap these gifts, imagining the boys’ smiles. Where will they be on Christmas morning? Who will help them create Christmas memories? We went home, warmed up and ate dinner in front of a sitcom, an attempt at levity in our sadness.

I didn’t sleep well. Today the sun shines silver through the white-cloud sky, a temporary reprieve from the rain reported to resume tomorrow. It’s cold. I shiver, as much from sleeplessness and sadness as from the actual chill in the air. Tears well up and recede, abiding by a mysterious tear tide chart. They’ll crash, unpredictably. More than once, I’m sure.

I miss my friend, the one who never failed to greet me with, “Howdy, friend!” Whose big hug and stable, unflappable personality chuckled at our silly kid drama, who prayed for us, who modeled for my boys a life of masculine faith and commitment to family, to serving others, to loving well. Who called his wife his “girlfriend” and “sweetheart” because he intended to always woo and court this beautiful woman who won his heart so many years ago. I ache for her as she cannot imagine life without his companionship, cannot fathom coming moments of joy.

Today, in this bleak midwinter, this article appears, some small balm for the brokenhearted.

Emmanuel — God with us. God with us and for us and in us and holding us and this is the Christmas miracle that outlasts all of time…. Evidence of God’s existence is cold comfort. What warms us is the wounded, weeping God who doesn’t write answers in stars – but writes His ardent love in our scars.

“With His scars.

“The miracle of Christmas is we get more than proof of God’s existence. We get the experience of God’s presence.

“We get our Christmas miracle. We get God with us.

Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to be with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us. Thank you for pouring out your love on us, for holding us even when we can’t feel your arms of love. We need a Christmas miracle of hope in the experience of your presence. Emmanuel, we need you now more than ever. Come, O come, Emmanuel!