Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas 2008 - Paradox

This season has been such a rollercoaster - not just in our family, but for our whole community. It began in late October when we started anticipating Thanksgiving. Our household was looking at the calendar and thinking that we'd better get busy or the house wouldn't be ready for the influx of people we'd invited to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. So, with great anticipation we started cleaning house and making plans and grocery lists. I was so excited to think that both my brother and his whole family, my sister and her whole family, my parents, a couple of uncles and a few friends were coming to celebrate with us. It was wonderful and joyful.

And yet, by Thanksgiving day tragedy had come to our hometown and left it's dark imprint. I spent one Sunday morning unable to truly worship as I sat in church with my arms wrapped around Cody as we both cried and cried over the death of the not just one but two young girls who had each chosen to take her own life in just the past couple of weeks. My heart broke for these girls' families, my heart broke for my daughter as she tried to grapple with understanding why two people she knew would make such a sad decision, my heart broke for my community as we all staggered in the wake of these suicides. There are no words adequate for such a situation.

Thanksgiving Day did arrive and with joy tempered by sorrow it was a wonderful time with family and friends. My heart is absolutely happiest when I am surrounded by extended loved ones and this holiday filled me up to overflowing. We had three generations of family celebrating simply being together. In my family we practice the motto that many hands make light work so it was not a burden to make sure everyone was fed three times a day and other daily needs taken care of. And, of course, it ended all too soon as eventually they all had to head back to their own homes and jobs, etc. Still we made many happy memories. My favorite is my nephew Matthew telling me that he left the sleeping bag he had used at my house in the closet in the guest bedroom and wanted to make sure I would keep it there for the next time he came to visit. What a wonderful gift to know that that my little nephew had such a good time he's already anticipating coming back!!

So then our minds naturally moved into Christmas preparation mode. Another joyous time, more time with family to anticipate. The girls and I had the most fun of all buying presents for a family whose information we got from the Angel Tree at church. We may never know who they are, but it was a wonderful lesson in how giving is so much more rewarding than receiving. The decorations went up around the house and lights up around the yard. What beautiful anticipation of celebrating God's greatest gift to us. And then, the news that a good friend of Cody's older sister named Megan has gone missing. After a week of prayer and worry and searching by our community which was still in mourning we receive the sad news that this third young woman has been found - and she has also made the tragic choice to end her own life. How can this be happening? My sorrow was so great and yet I knew it was as mere drops compared to the ocean of sorrow Megan's family must be experiencing. Why comes up a lot - why should Matt and Carol lose their firstborn baby girl like this? Why should Tabby - my own daughter's friend - lose her big sister? Why should this wonderful family have to experience Christmas and the rest of their lives without someone they loved so dearly? Why?

Cody and I attended Megan's funeral and the church was so full there was standing room only. In the midst of heartache we received a vital message. Megan and both of the other two girls we lost before Thanksgiving are indeed no longer suffering. Surely they are in the arms of a God who can minister to them so much better than we ever could. And yet part of the message was that it was not God's plan that they should choose to take their own lives. God surely had so much more in mind for them if they would only have chosen differently. I was greatly heartened to hear that. Very glad that my own daughter was able to hear that God loves us all so much and wants so much for us - and even though He does not promise it will always be easy - He does promise He will always be with us and always wants us to make the choice never to give up on the life He has given us. Rev. Trudy and Megan's soccer coach both said the right things about how Megan and the others made the mistake of believing a lie. The lie that suicide is the only answer. It never is - God offers us so much more.

Rev. Trudy talked about how in many ways Megan's life was a paradox. One the one hand she was an amazingly gifted athelete and bright young woman and on the other hand extremely shy and insecure. This holiday season feels like a paradox to me. How can so much sadness and tragedy exist in the same time and place as so much joy and celebration? In just two days it will be Christmas. I know that my family will experience a time of sharing gifts with loved ones and rejoicing in all that God continues to bless us with. And I know that I will also be very aware that not everyone will feel that same joy, not everyone will feel so tremendously blessed as my family knows they are and that will leave this Christmas another joyful Holiday tempered by great sadness. God probably did that on purpose. I trust Him in that. If He feels I need to know this paradox, then there is a good reason- even when all I can comprehend is enough to make me continue to ask, why?