Saturday, December 14, 2013

Elizabeth and Advent

This afternoon I was waiting on a friend in Old Salem.  We were *finally* going to attend the Candle Tea together.  While I'm ashamed that it's taken me 11 years of living in Winston to go, I won't throw her under the bus and point out that this was her first time in 19 years.  (See what I just did there?)

As I was waiting, the line behind me grew and an older woman kept saying "Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!"  She was calling to her daughter who had let her out of the car and gone to park.  Later, her Elizabeth went off to the bakery in search of Sugar Cake, and her mom again called out to her "Elizabeth!  Elizabeth!" We shared a moment- as strangers tend to do with people named Waldrup- and began to talk about names.

My sweet Elizabeth's name was on the forefront of my mind as our time came for the Tea and we were admitted to the Single Brother's house.  Much to my surprise, I came face to face with one of the best parts of my 2013- a friend that I gained through my grief group this summer.  She was playing the part of hostess today, so we grabbed only a quick moment to speak, but the hug from my soul sister on this journey was both sacred and life-giving.

It wasn't until we were downstairs that my mind wandered back to my friend... and I spent time thinking of her sweet daughter who I never had the joy to meet.  Her precious girl- Elizabeth- was taken from this world as a teenager.  Seeing my friend living out loud years past her daughter's death is awe-inspiring and hope-producing.  Seeing someone who keeps her daughter's life alive to those she meets as well as who is honest with the pain and the grief... that... that is real.

We eventually entered a room in which the Nativity was laid before us- both in word and in sight.  I have shared with those close to me this year (and now I share with all of you) that 2013 has been a tough year for me spiritually.  I have sought wise counsel, given myself grace, and am daily working through my confusion and frustration with a God who is Big Enough to handle all of that.  I have worked through my anger with how His People care for one another- and some of the hurtful things that we say all while using His Name as power.

Yet as I found myself in front of the Nativity, I was again drawn to Elizabeth.

We chose to name our daughter Elizabeth because of the connection we felt to Biblical women who struggled with fertility.  Elizabeth in the New Testament- cousin of Mary (mother of Jesus)- shows up and we are told her story.  And a lot of her story is told in relation to the story of Jesus.  When Mary came to tell Elizabeth that she was pregnant, this is the account according to Luke:

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

As Elizabeth is pregnant with her own child, that has nothing to do with her response to Mary.  Unlike so many women (present company included) I know, her response was not "YAY!  We can have babies together!!"  Her response was genuine joy for her cousin, reverence for being the presence of God, and admiration of Mary for her faith.

And in the midst of trials of faith and dark nights of the soul- that is what a I long for.  I long for someone to look at my life and say the words "You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said."  While I am not there in this moment, I look to Elizabeth for encouragement.  She was a woman who knew her God, and a woman who loved her family well because of it.

In these last few days in which we celebrate the Advent- the coming of Christ- I wish for us all to have a true encounter with Jesus.  While I don't know lots about how God works- I know that His son is good and kind and generous to those He loves.

And lucky for us all- we are those that He loves.

Oh come, let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Giving Grace: a Hall Pass for the Holidays

Just before Christmas 2005, Dan and I were in the waiting room of our Fertility Clinic awaiting yet another round of "trying."  I had been a regular in this room for months by this point, so not much of the reading material was new... except for a pamphlet they had out that talked about "Protecting Your Heart During the Holidays."  I read through it and felt as though someone understood our struggle.  It talked about giving yourself grace during a season that could be potentially difficult.  It mentioned giving yourself permission to skip walking by the Santa in the mall and seeing all the happy families with sweet babies waiting to see him.  It went as far as to say that if being around your own niece and nephews would be too hard, to excuse yourself from that year's holiday celebration.  While I was not about to walk away from our family's traditions, I imagined that having that "hall pass" was helpful to some people even further down the road than we were.

The "protecting your heart" theme has run rampant in my life in the last 2 years, and especially since we lost our baby in April.  I have had conversations with friends who have new precious children in their lives and apologized that I've not been in a place where I've been able to love upon them yet.  I've struggled with buying baby gifts- not at all because I begrudge them their happiness, but because at moments I've still been drowning in our own sorrow.  Friends who were due the same time I was, in full disclosure, were hard for me to see.  As their baby bellies grew and then became amazing miracles in their families, all that was growing for me was the vacant space in my heart.

Through the years, that brochure has popped back into my mind on occasion.  There have been moments that while they are non-baby related, I've relied on those same words.  In 2010, I was about six weeks out from losing my Stepmother to cancer, and I found myself stuck in a room where people were making jokes about death and dying.  I piped in and asked if we could change the subject.  I'm sure that it was not intentional, but my pain from that recent loss wasn't on the forefront of their minds.  They continued a discussion about "donating (someone's) body to science"... at which point I left the room.  In that moment, rather than lash out at those speaking, I instead needed to excuse myself.  Grace.

Pain seems to hover just at the surface of the holidays for so many people.  I remember one Christmas Party my family hosted in the early 90's- a friend came who had recently lost her husband.  My Mom was playing "The Carpenters' Christmas Album", and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" came on.  Very gently and tactfully, our friend asked my Mom to skip that song.  When Mom skipped ahead to "Merry Christmas, Darling" and saw a similar look of pain in our friend's eyes, she jumped ship and moved on to The Beach Boys instead.

So with all of that hurt ready to erupt during "the most wonderful time of the year", I give you your very own hall pass.  While you may not need to use it now, please understand that someone in your life might... and please accept their pass with grace and and understanding of all that it took to have them present it to you.

-Too hard to be around kids because you find yourself longing for one or missing one of your own?  Say no to the activity that will cause yourself pain.  The kindhearted people who invited you will understand your need to miss a year.

- Miss your spouse/partner/ex so much it hurts? Skip the "Couples Only" event where there will be lots of laughter and memories shared in lieu of some pampering just for yourself.

- Can't be around certain family members because they say hurtful things?  Excuse yourself from those painful situations.  It's okay.  They're family.

- Don't feel like hosting even though you always do and people expect it?  Let someone else take on that burden this year.  Shoot, go out to eat for once!  It's one year- people will survive.

- Just don't think you can handle one more sad holiday at home?  As a wise friend said to me last week- "I knew I'd be sad at Christmas, so I told my husband I'd rather be somewhere sad... and WARM."  Take off!  Get out of town!  Or even take a day trip to get you out of that memory drenched location.

- Old traditions too hard to handle because someone won't be there?  Make new traditions!  One of my favorite holiday traditions- our neighborhood Christmas party- was started because my Dad had just moved out and Mom wanted to do something fun and new.  She succeeded... even with the occasional music fail.

Now one caveat in the way of a warning: just like "Baby Blues", sometimes "Holiday Blues" are a much deeper seated issue.  Rather than just escape or hide or run- if you are at a place of significant pain, please get professional help.  Don't know who to talk to?  Message me- I have good connections with some mental health professionals.

Protect your heart this Christmas.  Use the Hall Pass when you need to.  Accept the Hall Pass when it's given to you.  Give grace, receive grace.

And God bless us... everyone.