Tag Archives: Christmas

Gifts from Heaven

To Malaika, love Susan
To Elijah, love Christopher
Christmas 2013

Susan died April 14, 2013 at the age of 51. Christopher died August 25, 2011 at the age of 10. Yet there were gifts from them under the tree this Christmas. And in the tree was a note from heaven that read:

“Merry Christmas from Heaven”
I love you all dearly,
Now don’t shed a tear,
I’m spending my Christmas
With Jesus this year
Does Malaika (age 3) understand that Susan, whom she has never met and will never meet this side of heaven, has given her a hand-me-down music player and a nice hat and socks that she never had the opportunity to use? Does Elijah understand the significance of the play mat with the roads on it, the mat that Christopher used to construct elaborate roads and tracks for his cars and trucks? Probably not. Yet the value of these gifts is priceless.Gifts from heaven blog pic

Those who have gone before us leave us so much, the physical things being the least important yet often the most valued as they are the only things we can concretely grasp. In Christopher’s home there are pictures of Christopher everywhere, there are cups with his name on them, there are gift bags from years past addressed to him; but most importantly, his presence is always evident in the hearts of his ¬†family. Stories of Christopher are recounted regularly, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears. This is a beautiful thing. He continues to live in the lives of those who loved him because his family is healthy enough and comfortable enough to keep him in the present while knowing fully that he is physically gone.

This year I really valued the gifts that I received from heaven. My cousin Susan suffered from a debilitating condition called Rett syndrome so what I knew of Susan was her smile and her dark eyes. My nephew Christopher spent 8 of his 10 years in West Africa so my time with him was intermittent and limited. Yet the loss of these 2 precious children of God has had an enormous impact on me.

At Susan’s funeral, I was impacted in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend. My struggle with “the ways of God” was bigger than I had initially thought. Why does God allow such suffering in a life? Yet listening to her sisters speak about her and listening to the deeply touching songs about being children of God affected me deeply. Susan’s life was significant! She didn’t achieve her way through life; she didn’t have that ability. But here is what was said:

Sister 1:
I believe there are angels in heaven and I also believe God gives us gifts on earth. Susan was a very special gift from God given to our family. She taught us so much in her 51 years of life about love, endurance, patience, compassion… Her infectious smile will surely be a welcome addition to Heaven.

Sister 2:
Early on, she helped me recognize the sanctity and uncertainty of life.
Susan opened our eyes to the sheer improbability of existence, the nobility of the human spirit and our own individual capacities to experience joy as well as sadness.
We will remember her as a very special person with an indomitable spirit, infectious smile and the clear, attentive gaze of a child- and we will miss her.

Sister 3 (about their mother, my aunt):
Watching my mom snuggle with Susan, care for her, comfort her and say good-bye to her, my understanding of a parent’s unwavering love evolved. It was so apparent that a mother’s love is forever, no matter what the circumstances.

When I see my children singing and dancing to the kids music player that came from Susan, I am reminded of the message that Susan’s life so strongly conveyed to me at her funeral: Come to God as a child and stop trying so hard! (Matthew 19:14) Susan’s life was an example of a life lived in simple innocence, before God; a life that had an improbable impact on so many. Receiving a gift to Malaika from Susan under the tree brought all of this back to me.

When I see my children playing with Christopher’s play mat I am reminded of the fragility of life and how suddenly everything can change. And I take a breath and give thanks for these 2 who consume so much of my energy yet offer back more joy than I could ever articulate!

Gifts from heaven are lasting.

Thank you Susan and Christopher for your beautiful lives and your beautiful gifts.

We see where we focus

We arrived at my parents around 5pm in a snow squall, 3 year old soundly sleeping, 5 year old wildly excited. My brother and his wife had arrived the night before. All converged together at the family home to celebrate Christmas.

My 3 year old should never nap! Come bedtime she was wide awake, eventually drifting off to sleep at 10:45pm in bed with her grandmother. I carried her, finally in dreamland, to her own bed in the loft next to her snoring brother.

5 adults, 2 children and a cat, all in close proximity, made for a night that was reminiscent of a circus act. Sounds of snoring rang through the darkness. The bathroom door revolved endlessly on its axis. A shout emerged from an active dream life. A brother’s nocturnal thrashings resulted in an unceremonious “whack!” to a little sister. Crying ensued “He hurt me!!!”, followed by further yelling protests “She woke me up!!!” Then, small feet carrying sleep deprived but excited little passengers scampered about at the crack of dawn.

This is what family Christmas gatherings are all about, right? I was awake more than I was asleep, but woke up strangely content. I wandered downstairs to the scent of brewing coffee. A glance out the front window revealed a slowly rising sun over a wide expanse of river that was disgorging its heat into the cold winter air, slowly giving way to ice. Powdery snow covered the landscape surrounding the house, shimmering, the kids said, “like jewels”.
outdoor beauty
How could I let my sleep deprivation deprive me of this beautiful moment? It’s all in where we focus, isn’t it? I could have focused on my exhaustion, on the reality that this was only night #1 of our 2 weeks of holidays, on my irritated throat and sore neck. But that would have robbed me of the joy of this moment.

Even through the night, I was able to frame the interruptions with gratitude. My 3 year old won’t go to sleep – but she is happy and behaving well. My 5 year old whacked her in his sleep and I am up, yet again – but there is life, there is breath, they are well, and I am up because they ARE. These little people that I longed for, that I prayed for: they ARE.

As I cleaned, bleary eyed, my son’s pee from the back of the toilet this morning (little boys know how to aim but are apparently too distracted much of the time to concern themselves with minor details such as actually hitting the water in the toilet), I was once again reminded of something my sister-in-law said to me: “the toilets are easier to clean now that he’s gone”. She was referring to her son, who died of malaria at the tender age of 10. This statement wasn’t meant as a good thing, but rather, as a statement of just how much changes in one’s life when there is such a profound loss. So now I clean up pee with gratitude – because my son IS, because he breaths, because he is healthy and able to pee all over the place.

As I walk into Christmas, I want to keep my heart in this place of gratitude. I want to frame each moment, whether “good” or “bad” as a moment to give thanks. God is ultimately the reason that I am able to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but Ann Voskamp helped provide me the tool I needed to get there: a gratitude journal (One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully, right where you are – check it out!).

Christmas, (as at all times!) is a time to give thanks and love one another. I challenge you to try to find the good in every demanding or difficult circumstance that comes your way. The disruption of holidays is a both/and scenario – both good AND hard. It’s not either/or – one or the other. Particularly with young children who become over-excited and over-tired and over-sugared and lots of other “overs”! Enjoy family, enjoy friends, give thanks for what IS and for WHO IS.

I thank God for this glorious day of exhausted fun!

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Family sillies