Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Thanksgiving Post

Christmas began last Friday, the day before my son's memorial service. We were so occupied during the weekend that its arrival didn't really register until we were driving home from the graveside service on Monday. It was then that I noticed Christmas music on the radio, decorations on buildings, and later on, the inevitable rush of "super deals!!" into my inbox. I read, as from a distance, the status updates of friends who described decorating the tree and standing in long lines at midnight to score great bargains. It didn't make me sad or angry, but I had just a flash of the odd sensation of being a premature baby, hypersensitive to the overstimulation of an environment that I wasn't ready for just yet. It was all a bit surreal.
My breakfast bar is covered with flowers right now, bouquets in the palette of fall colors- purple, orange, yellow, crimson, brown. Bethany asked me many times, what kind of flowers did I want? And at the time it seemed just right- it matched the girls' cute pumpkin patch dresses, the mild warmth and sunshine of the last days of fall. The overwhelming feeling in my heart of Thankfulness. Perhaps I forgot how quickly and suddenly Thanksgiving is over, yielding way to CHRISTMAS, that season when we struggle to cling to Advent and wrestle with the demons of our flesh, our materialism. I've been struggling the last couple of days with the urge to yell to the world, "Stop! I need more time for Thanksgiving this year." These flowers on my breakfast bar? They have a few days of life left. It isn't time yet for green and red and shopping and parties and presents. In my mind and my heart, it's still Thanksgiving.

And that's what this post is about. It's December 1st and I know that soon, the time of transition is here. There are a few things I need to say before I can move on.

I'm more thankful- and thankful for more-this year, than ever before. I'm thankful that my birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year because it seems all the more appropriate and special.

I'm thankful for Jesus. It all begins and ends with Him. Everything pales in comparison to Him. Through Him we live, and move, and have our being. He is the Meaning behind everything and the Reason for everything, our Joy and our Hope. Nothing is beyond Him. Nothing could stop His light from coming into the world, and the grave could not hold Him, not defeat Him, for He defeated death.

I'm thankful for the life of my son, Everett Zechariah. I'm thankful for the power of God to change my heart and open my eyes to His work. The morning after Everett was born, I woke up and struggled with grief and fear and cried out to God and asked, "Why, Lord? If You were going to take him, why couldn't we have lost him at 5 or 6 weeks, why couldn't he have slipped away in quiet invisibility, without going through this pain and struggle? What is the purpose of a baby born too soon, to suffer in the world for a day and then die?" and within just a few days of praying that, God gave me my answers. Who are we to even question His sovereignty, but in His MERCY and grace he revealed so many things to me. I came to see the opportunity to meet our son alive, not as a hardship, but as a gift. Not as a wound, but a blessing. I came to be thankful that he WASN'T born at home, that he did manage to get stabilized after birth, that he DID have a chance to live with every human effort possible provided for him. I came to see how the whole process of struggle, fear, worry, surrender, grief, tears, condolences, services, Worship- how they were a blessing to not just our family, but our extended family, our friends, our acquaintances, our coworkers, our neighbors, for so many people that we've never even met, and never will. How could a baby who lived 20 hours bring so much blessing to so many? It is the power of our God. It is His way. We would never choose this, but praise Him that He chooses for us. That He knows best.

I am thankful for God using this to soften my heart. A few months ago I wrote to our pastor Jorn in State College and I shared with him how much I was struggling with not doing the things that keep my mind happy- reading, writing, doing math- and with the intensity of mothering two little ones with one more on the way. "In my flesh, I'm miserable," I wrote to him. I'm thankful for God now giving me peace that He didn't take this baby because of that attitude I had and expressed. I'm thankful for God relieving me of the tendency to feel horribly, horribly guilty about what I said, for giving me sympathy for the Nancy Elizabeth of a few months ago who hadn't yet been transformed by the terrible beauty of loss. And I'm thankful, most of all, that that restlessness and discontent has been- at least temporarily- destroyed most thoroughly and naturally by what has happened. It's like I'm a whole different person. The whole world looks different, more shimmering, more ephemeral. I can see how beautiful my children are every day- their unruliness, their disobedience, their neediness is beautiful to me because I can see Life now. I am so very, very thankful for that life, that grace.

I am thankful for God using this to break through the bondage I've been in for so long, enslaved to the easy, empty things of this world. It's been YEARS now since I've been able to form a habit of reading my Bible every day. I couldn't pick a book, I kept saying. Now I'm reading Zechariah, and soon Isaiah, to find out what God Remembers...

I'm thankful for the tenderness of my husband. I'm thankful for the feel and sound of his warm tears over me as we each held hands with our son while he died. I'm thankful for the time we had to talk as we came home from the hospital. I'm thankful to think what God will be doing in his own heart, maybe new and different from what He's doing in mine.

I'm thankful for the beauty of my girls, of how precious they are to me. I'm thankful how they are children of this earth, inquisitive and bright-eyed and fiesty and joyous, with tousled hair and child-like tempers and hearts full of love for those around them. I'm thankful that their souls are still so carefully hidden away inside those little vessels, not burst open wide with blinding brightness like their little brother's soul. I'm thankful that God chose LIFE for them here with us, in all its terrible, glorious imperfections. I'm mourning the loss of their chance to be big sisters at this age, THIS time, but thankful to know that their Heavenly Father really does know what's best for them. I'm thankful that Charlotte is here to drink her brother's milk, that God has spared me the agony of empty arms that so many women know.

I'm thankful for Everett's grandparents and aunts and uncles. I'm so very, very thankful that my mom arrived in time to see him while he lived, because I knew that meant so much to her. I'm so thankful for the millions of "little," tangible things they've done for me in the past few weeks that have added up to an enormity- time to rest, to grieve, to write this post. I'm thankful for the feel of their hugs, the knowledge that I could call any of them at any time of the night or day just to talk.

I'm thankful for the dearest, old friends we have scattered near and far. I'm thankful for Bethany's best-friend grief, for her compassion and her willingness with Eric and Micah to come so far to BE here, despite the impracticality and hardness of the trip. I'm thankful for our church families in Atlanta, Bethlehem, State College, and Boulder, reaching across the miles with the warmth of their love and prayers. I'm thankful for the few we know who aren't believers who have been touched or moved by this in some way, thankful- and hoping- that they might see a glimpse of Christ in this.

I'm thankful for our new friends in Johnson City. For the people of Sojourn, for Bill and Lyndsey Jolley, who worked so hard and did so much to quickly organize and host the memorial service for Everett. Their hospitality and love were such a blessing. For Todd and Ginger Hare and the people of our Sunday morning Anglican church- I'm thankful that God sent Todd to the hospital at just the right moment, and thankful for the things he shared at the graveside service that came from his own experience of losing a baby. For all the people of Milligan College who don't know us very well yet, but still want to show their love. For Debbie Siebenaler, whose straightforward Midwestern cheeriness (and incredible servant's heart) were such welcome companions through this whole journey. For Susan Scheiman, who served our family so far above and beyond the meager compensation we gave her. For so many others- some we still haven't even met- who said, "Please call me. Please let us know any way we can help" in a way where I could tell they really meant it.

I'm thankful for the future we have. Thankful to no longer be in pain, no longer worried that every time I get up to mother my children or live my life, I could be hurting my baby. Thankful for an able body that can be used to serve others, and praying that I do not quickly let go of the lessons I've learned about serving and sharing and being poured out. Thankful for the opportunities we will have in the coming months to find new adventures with our girls and explore what God has for us as, for now, a family of four, missing Everett forever but honoring God in the lives he's given us now to be lived.

I'm thankful for faith. Never in my life have I been FORCED to have the kind of faith that I have now, the faith that Jesus is holding my baby in His arms. I'm so very, very thankful for God leading me to this point.

I'm thankful for the imperfections of this post, because if I weren't so painfully aware of them, I wouldn't realize, as C.S. Lewis said, that Joy is really longing for our home in Heaven. It's so wonderfully, gloriously Frustrating to not be home yet. Thank you Lord that someday, we'll BE there!

I'm thankful for Jesus. It all begins and ends with You, Lord. Thank you for coming to this earth. Thank you for giving Your life to save us. Thank you Heavenly Father that YOU did not spare your firstborn Son, but willingly gave His life because You loved US so much. Thank You Lord for knowing our pain, for You wept when Lazarus died, but You didn't only know it, You came to REDEEM it. Thank you for Advent, a season of waiting, waiting through the agony and the ecstasy of this world for the glorious sign of Your appearing, our redemption.

Thank you for Christmas, for I'm ready to welcome it now. :-)

Love, Neb