When Pain Mocks the Song – Even in the Christmas Update Letter

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! As I debated on what to write for a Christmas Letter to Lindsey, I thought the actual Brady family update letter might be appropriate…in case you didn’t receive it in the mail yet. 🙂 I changed it a little, but the message is the same: from our house to yours, Merry Christmas!

(If you prefer to skip the personal update and get to the meat of the message – skip down to “Life’s Railroad and the Train of Time.” I won’t be offended. Sometimes I save the Christmas update letters for after Christmas too.)

Dear friends and family

I wanted to give you a joyful update – about Casey’s college choice, Chris’s new position: you know- the “norm” of decking the halls with boughs of blessings – or is it boughs of bragging?

But, it didn’t seem right, and almost seemed fake, since that would allude to perfection that 2014 did not necessarily hold. It just seemed that hiding the struggle wouldn’t give honor to the ones I lost – or those who are in the middle of strife right now.

So here goes: 2014 was an up and down year.

On January 2nd Chris took a new position at our company – a major adjustment in imagesfunction, but not in purpose. The new role brought a massive change to close relationships – like getting on a ship to a new destination, knowing it was directed by God, but bringing tears as you lose sight of the shore.

January 15th was when the call came that Terri’s mother had suffered a heart attack and stroke. We rejoice that she recovered with minimal permanent damage.

Seven days later, on the opening night of Christine’s youth theatre musical another call came from Colorado, this one telling the shocking news of the loss of Terri’s younger brother Mike. Terri spent 10 days in Colorado with her parents, and Chris was able to fly out for the funeral.

A few weeks later, barely out of sight, grief struck again with the short illness and passing of our dear friend and business co-founder, Jackie. Staying for that snowy funeral in Michigan clearly took precedence over our family’s trip to the Cayman Islands, and it was rightfully cancelled. April brought a trip back to Colorado to celebrate Terri’s Uncle Buck and his presentation of WWII Legion of Honor medal, as well as to be introduced to Adelyn, the first great-grandchild for Terri’s parents; Mike would have been a proud grandpa!

June was triumphant as Nate was selected to play Academy level soccer, and Casey’s team took the N.C. state champ title – finishing 2nd in the region in Baton Rouge, LA.

July 25th marked the 98th birthday for Terri’s grandmother in Kansas, now a great-great-grandmother of two 2014 babies! She has 5 “kids” in their 70’s!! Must be a record!

Our summer was filled with lake time. J.R. wowed us with his wakeboard abilities between his Lego masterpieces. Christine showed us that artists could handle the waves as well. Visitors to N.C. were plentiful – friends from Michigan and Florida; family from Pennsylvania and Colorado. We even had a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Chris’s parents held here! We joked that our guest room needed a revolving door! And we were blessed by all! (Although when Terri’s mother fell down the stairs and broke bones in three places, she might not have felt like a blessing.)

Autumn brought news of Casey’s decision to play soccer for college in South Carolina next fall, paying his own way with athletic and academic scholarships. Wow.

Life’s Railroad for the Train of Time

I used to think that there were years on mountains and years in valleys. Of course now I can see mountain hours, separated by valley hours, or even a joyful mountain moment in the midst of the depth of sorrowful valley moments. I like it best the way author Kay Warren says: “Life is like a set of parallel train tracks, with joy and sorrow running inseparably side-by-side throughout our days.”

Yet, all the while, the train of time still carries us down the middle of the rails toward our destiny.

Often Christmas cards come (and I have written many!) with the updates – telling the joys of the year. But this year, as you can see, had such HIGH highs and LOW lows in the parallel tracks, it seemed strange to only share one side. I am guessing that most people have had years like that. Many are on the “low” right now – not ready to even celebrate Christmas, wondering if there will ever be happiness again. My prayers go to them.

I mean, really, when you look at the news of 2014, it seems odd to be celebrating anything doesn’t it? My house was not the only one who experienced pain – and by far not the worst pain compared to others I know. Many have lost loved ones, received dooming medical news, had diagnoses since last Christmas that ended life before this Christmas! There are words on the TV that don’t necessarily scream “JOY!” : Ferguson, Isis, North Korea, Ebola. You know the list could go on and make a railroad track far worse than my own. But suffering is not a competition. The Lord knows and cares for each inch of the tracks of life that have been laid and knows and cares for how we handle each inch of that track – since everyone handles it differently.

Christmas is a time of joy – when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Yet I recall that the promise of joy AND sorrow met in the manger that first Christmas. The promise of redemption and eternal life rested in that baby, … yet the sin He would carry away was in the forecast. While He slept beneath the famous guiding star, His future of being mocked, scourged and publicly executed by crucifixion rested in that bed of hay. The miracles making the lame walk, the deaf hear and the blind see rested in that manger…as did the weeping over the loss of a friend, the anger needed to turn over tables and the prayers so strong to cause sweat as drops of blood. I suppose it’s the moments when sorrow’s side of the track seems to be leading that make us truly recognize the value of its parallel Joy if we can see it.

I recently read that the hymn, I heard the Bells on Christmas Day, was written by Longfellow after a not-so-perfect year. Already a widower due to an 1860 fire that took his wife, he found out weeks before Christmas of 1863 that his eldest son was nearly paralyzed at the hand of an enemy in the Civil War. The song’s words weren’t written as the happy song I sing today. They were penned in the agony of grief, on Christmas Day, 1863.

And in despair I bowed my head:

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,

‘For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

 Though I did not walk in his shoes, I can relate to pain that “mocks the songs”. So I hold his next words dearly:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.’

Whether you have had a perfect year, or less-than-so, may you follow a star that leads you to the only “perfect” there is: Christ. Let us bring our gifts, our sorrows, our whole selves, because that is all He asks. May you make room in the inn of your heart in which He may reside forever. And may you know that the destiny at the end of the tracks is in His arms: the Peace that Passes Understanding.  The true JOY of Christmas is knowing that the destiny at the end of the tracks is HEAVEN. The no more crying heaven…The no more darkness heaven…The no more imperfect moments, days or years heaven. But alas, I cannot waste my days on earth – I want others to know!! And hence I write Christmas Update Letters so they will know the reason for my real JOY this Christmas and always!

Blessings to you and your family, Merry Christmas!   

Chris, Terri, Casey, Nate, Christine, and J.R.

2 Cor 4:5-6 For what we preach [should be telling in our Christmas letter] is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord… For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

– THAT is the best Christmas update letter there is!!

“Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy – for unto you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” 

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Don’t Waste It

(Your Cancer, Your Tragedy, Your Problems)

 

The goal of life is not to live long, live healthy, get wealthy and leave all of it to great-great-grandchildren. But isn’t that easy to forget in our busy, goal-oriented lives?

Tragedy close to home

The school buses behind the hearse were a sobering sight. Though the vehicles from Wake Christian Academy said “activity bus,” the funeral was not an “activity” anyone had anticipated. The gravity of the situation stifled the noise on those buses to a Raleigh's Finestsilence they had never known. Even cars unaffected by the buses’ path pulled over in reverence to let the entourage pass. At each stoplight, Raleigh’s finest stood at attention, saluting the grieving students and the hundreds of cars’ drivers in the line that went for miles en route to the cemetery where Madison’s grave awaited.

My son’s classmate, Madison Pearce, did not survive when her car crossed the centerline and hit a truck head-on last Saturday, seven weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Being a small class of 2015 with only seventy-seven students, there was not one who did not know Madison: her smile; her unconditional love; her ability to light up a room. She was the captain of the cheerleaders – whether on the sidelines or just in life. She seemed to personify letting Christ shine.

“Things can change in the blink of an eye,” one of her last Tweets had said. Every student and parent from the school couldn’t agree more…now.

The pastor who spoke at the funeral was Madison’s uncle, Reverend Ben Pearce. He fought the tears just like everyone in the room. I loved what he shared in what must have been the most difficult speech he has ever made, “Don’t let her death be in vain.”

I think in a way, he was saying, “Don’t waste this tragedy.” John Piper had similar sentiments in his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” which I summarized in the post-script below.

Go ahead and think about what happens when we die, because, we all are dying.

Now is a good time to recognize that we are sinners and deserve Hell, but receiveHope Parkway forgiveness when we ask through Christ alone.

“Mom, it just makes me realize that you never know when you say goodbye if it will be the last time you see someone,” my fourteen-year-old said he learned.

“She is the lucky one; she is in heaven with no more tears, no more pain,” my seventeen-year-old resolved.

As I watched Madison’s parents in the visitation line, I saw them hug each person. They comforted the long line of teenagers whose hearts were broken like their own. “She was so excited to have you singing in Chorale with her again,” the mom comforted when she saw my son. “Oh, I remember your name! You are the ‘smart’ one,” she said to another, repeating words to the teens that Madison must have told her.

The scheduled visitation hours were from 6-8pm, but people stayed – even the grieving family – until well past midnight. They gave as much comfort as they received while the crowd grieved together. Pastor Doug Bookman often says that God does His best work when we are at the end of ourselves. As I saw strength in that family to stand for so many hours: smile, cry, smile, cry and still have something to give to the next person in line, I couldn’t help but see God at work. They were at the “end of themselves” long before the line had even formed.

A friend recently mentioned how wrong it is that people quote, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” because of course He does! He knows we can’t handle it – except through Him. When we cry, “I can’t handle it!” maybe it is just our final battle getting to the “end of ourselves.”

“My tears have fed me day and night; while men have said, ‘Where is your God?’” David wrote in Psalm 42. How real. Tears are real. Grieving is real. It’s what we do with it that could “waste” its purpose.

Bitterness knocks at the door. Answer with trust.

Resentment and anger take their shots. Kick them with praise.

Depression tries to check-in; Tell it that gratitude has already taken that room.

Drugs and alcohol invite to numb the pain; Remind them they only prolong it.

Despair tries to suck us into the black hole, but we can remember what even Madison knew, as her Twitter account quoted a song earlier this year:

“All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

Heaven is not the consolation prize; it’s the destination. Don’t waste the journey.

in love,

Terri

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P.S.  John Piper in his article Don’t Waste Your Cancer, was quoted by a guest pastor, Scott Kellum, at a small church near our lake house. The words were too good not to take notes. The notes were too good not to share. Whether it is cancer, death of a dearly loved one, or another form of storm that hits our lives, the words aptly apply: “Don’t waste it.”

The below list was originally posted as Don’t Waste Your Cancer, but it could be, “Don’t waste your problems,”  “Don’t waste your tragedy,” “Don’t waste your hurt,” or “Don’t waste your today.”

When we truly believe that there’s nothing outside of God’s hands that happens in a believer’s life, this list is incredibly poignant.

Don’t Waste Your Cancer (from John Piper)

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.th-1
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. (The blessing comes in what God does for us, with us, and through us.)
  3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your “odds” rather than from your God.
  4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
  5. You will waste your cancer if you think that beating cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ
  6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepening your loving relationships with others. (Some dig a hole and start pulling in dirt on top of themselves, blocking everyone out.)
  8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. (Grieving is perfectly legitimate, but not as if we have no victory.)
  9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. (Today’s the day to make it right with God.)
  10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

Feel free to go back and read that list again, making the substitution of the deepest struggle in your own life, which may not be cancer. “You will waste your…[past hurt] if you…”