It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“With kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, ‘be of good cheer.'”  Can you hear the music?  The ringing of the bells and the caroling?  The tree lighting ceremonies have passed and the sleigh has arrived.  The season is in full swing.

I return from a beautiful visit from a canyon right outside the big city, San Diego, where the palms don ornaments and lights. And, the music comes to a scratching halt for some, for me. Like the sound from an old record player when the needle jumps across an album as the room shakes. My world is shaken and the music stops.

I step off the plane and exit reticently into the polar vortex that is Michigan and I whine and I groan. Tears, real tears fill my dry eyes, not from the cold, but I am overcome with sorrow and sadness. It almost takes me by surprise. I am sad to leave my kids in San Diego, especially following such a lovely visit. I missed them terribly even before leaving the house. Surely I’m sorrowful that I’m so torn between my home state with all of my loves who still reside there and the warm, sunny, mountainous place I just left where some of my loves reside. Then there’s Florida, a short, inexpensive plane ride into the warm sun, where more of my loves are and still, a number more in southern Illinois, not nearly so far and not nearly as bitter as Michigan. Clearly, I do not handle the cold well at all. It is, after all, cold. But no, that can’t be it. Is this enough to make me cry real tears?

On December 29, 2013, at the early age of 58 years old, my brother-in-law made an unexpected exit from this earth, leaving a wife, three daughters, three grandchildren, and many other family members stunned and shaken. Four days after Christmas! Two days after his and my sister’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary!

August 30, 2016, my mother-in-law of nearly thirty-one years, went to be our Lord after several years of illness.

On January 5, 2016, the gavel came down, granting the final decree and the judge dismissed us. A few weeks later the paperwork came. We are divorced. I am divorced. After nearly 31 years, married to the same man, I’m divorced. Yes, I filed. Yes, it was my choice to dissolve it. To put an end to years, decades of something that just never worked. I made a decision to leave, but I didn’t choose to end my dream, my hope, my vision of what I thought my life would be like when I grew up.

All I ever wanted in life was to have a family, a husband, children. Then as they grew and married, grandchildren. A legacy. To be surrounded by those I bore, those that I love and those they love, that I gave my life for. That has not been dissolved, but it has changed. There is a certain shifting of my world. It is shaken. I wanted to have the home they would run to when they didn’t know where to run. The soft place to land when things were hard. Sunday dinner. Morning coffee. Afternoon or evening stroll.  Perhaps a trip to the movie theater every once in a while.

“It’s the hap-happiest season of all…..There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.”

Darling, I know you are also still riveting from your loss.  That devastation that would change even the way you walk, the way you breathe, the way you don’t breathe.  From that moment and forever, there is a shift.  No matter how recent or how long ago they left, you’re still standing, gasping, holding onto that last breath you took the moment you learned of their passing.  Some days you catch yourself breathing normal, laughing normal, but most days are not that way.

You know they wouldn’t want it this way.  You know they wouldn’t want you to grieve so hard, for so long.  But grief, this kind of grief just cannot be told how to behave.  No more than breath can be told how to breathe.  So we breathe, so we grieve.

As I return to my cozy apartment, to my little dog I haven’t seen in a week, it’s a stark reminder of my loneliness.  My alone-ness.  There’s a wreath on the door, a snowman soap dispenser, and a snowman candle holder.  That’s it.  That’s all the Christmas you’ll find in my apartment.  I just haven’t had the heart to decorate.  Why bother?  Nobody is going to see it anyway.  It is at this point I realize, it hits me, hard.  I’m going to be alone on Christmas.  My heart thumps, then skips a beat, thumps hard inside of me, and my throat begins to close.   For the next day-and-a-half, my throat feels like it is in anaphylaxis.  I can’t stop it.  I can’t tell it to go away, no more than I can tell grief not to grieve, or tell breath how to breathe.

It takes another day or so, but I begin to get my heart around the idea.  I receive an invitation from a friend, and then another.  I extend an invitation and I realize I’m not alone.  Things are not as I planned, as I dreamed they would be, and yes, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt.  But isn’t this what Christmas is really about?  Isn’t it just this reason that God sent a Savior?  He came to heal this hurt, your hurt.  He came to mend this brokenness, your brokenness.  He came to comfort our mourning and to teach us to love and serve one another.

We know it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  Really, the child inside, the Jesus-loving child inside that is still alive with wonder wants it to be.  So, we move.  Slow.  Measured.  Movement.  Forward.  We put on our ugly sweaters and paint on a smile.  Maybe put a wreath on the door, a string of lights around a window, and go in search of the perfectly, imperfect spruce, donning it now with 30 years of homemade ornaments you couldn’t fathom leaving packed away.

We adjust the needle on the old phonograph and thoughts of the babe in the manger flood our minds.  The One adored on bended knee fills our every thought, while Andy Williams belts out the best rendition.

It is, after all, “the most wonderful time of the year……”

This is not the life we anticipated, the life we planned or hoped for ourselves, but it is a God-given life and we must live it, well.  We will never be the same again and that has to be okay.  So we devote ourselves to God, to the discovery of the plan He has for us, and we learn to accept it.  Not without grief or sorrow, but with grace.  His grace.  His Savior-giving, ever-loving, never-ending grace that came as a gift on a silent, starry night over two-thousand years ago.

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My 2 Minute Jesus Story

My name is Mary Williams and this is my 2-Minute Jesus Story

When I was a little girl, I attended a local Catholic church with my family. I went to catechism and made my first communion.  Surely I believed in Jesus.  I mean, He was Jesus.  You know, virgin birth, new-born babe in the manger, glory to God in the highest, Son of God, son of man.  Jesus.  At that time in my life, I didn’t know anyone that didn’t know Jesus.  As time went on, my faith waned into doubt and I turned to drugs and alcohol and a very destructive lifestyle that went along with it, I turned farther away from my faith in Jesus.  Eventually, I decided that I was too bad for Jesus to love me and besides, I was feeling a bit abandoned by Him as well.

So my destructive lifestyle continued on for many years until I was about to lose everything I cared about.  Inevitably I hit bottom and could no longer control my own behavior and landed myself in a 12 step recovery program.  At first, when I heard the group members discuss the need to return to faith in a “power greater than myself,” I sort of cringed.  After a while, I began to remember my reverent faith in that infant child. I learned about in catechism, about the Jesus I heard about as a teenager.  The Jesus I had heard would love me no matter what.  No matter what?

I began to study scripture, looking for that one phrase or clause that singled me out.  The phrase that says that Jesus was a friend to everyone else but me.  Needless to say, it didn’t exist.  It just was not there.  But instead, I read that He was exactly what a messed up life like mine needed.  After nearly 5 years of sobriety, I finally made a decision to give my life and all that it was to Jesus.

For me, that moment was life changing.  It was as if everything I had been studying suddenly made sense.  I knew that what I had been reading about was indeed meant for me, as well as you.  I came to believe that Jesus was not only real but that He could change me and help me to be a better person, the person He wanted me to be.

My life since that day in 1993 has not been perfect, but it is surely better because of that decision I made.  Rather than trying to figure everything out for myself and trying to process everything that happens in life by myself, I can depend on Jesus to give me wisdom and guidance for everything.  I can have peace knowing He is in control and that He cares about every detail of my life.

The Promises of God

As I opened my Bible in the early morning hours, I was compelled to return to some of the passages we covered in our ladies study group.  In 1 Samuel chapter 1, we read about Hannah’s devotion to God and her prayer to conceive a son.  As Hannah pleaded, the passage says she “wept bitterly” as she vowed to dedicate the child to the Lord’s service all his days.  Eli the priest was near and heard her praying under her breath.  After sorting out whether she had been drinking, he gave her his blessing, declaring her prayer would be answered.  The scripture says that Hannah left and “her face was no longer sad.”  She later conceived, gave birth to Samuel, and made good on her promise to God.

My goal for my reading that morning was to read Hannah’s prayer of the dedication of Samuel in chapter 2.  But I could just not get there.  I could only think about God’s promises.  I could only think about God’s promises to me.

What promise of God are you waiting for to be fulfilled?  Have you heard from God Himself regarding a situation in your life, where He said your petition would be granted?   Are you still waiting and wondering if you heard him right or if He changed His mind?

So I began to search my mind and heart to recall that one big promise I had waited for, that I still wait for.  The one seemingly unfulfilled promise that makes my heart sad, that makes my face sad, distressed, to the point of bitter weeping.  Have you ever wept bitterly?  As I reflected and searched my memory, I could not think of even one.

I remembered times when I begged for the Lord’s intervention.  I remembered the sheer terror I felt when I knew I would have to face life without the use of alcohol and drugs. As I struggled through the beginning stages of withdrawal, detoxifying at home, I begged a God I had not yet known to just let me sleep for an hour.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a chair, somewhat rested, peaceful.

I remembered a time some years later, weeping bitterly before the Lord, begging Him to prove His love by giving me a child after months and even years of no success.  Though I surely heard from Him, it wasn’t a promise, but a conviction.  At the time, I had already been blessed with a beautiful son, who by this time was a thriving, lively, healthy 4-year-old.  The soft voice of God rung loudly through my bitterness,  “If you would only put all that love and energy into the child I already gave you, instead of the one you do not have, maybe you will know my love.”  A month later I had conceived.

I remembered His presence as I stood frozen in fear, in the corner of my stick framed house, knowing I would have to come face to face with the horror of my broken past.  Unable to move I once again, wept bitterly, crying out, “No.  I would rather die right here, than to face that!”  I heard His audible voice, “Wait……”  With……..a………..long……….pause………..  “Wait upon Me.”  I knew the reference, but that day, I began to live it.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31 (KJV).

Sobbing uncontrollably, I prayed, “Why now Lord?”  Again I heard His tender whisper, “Then when?” It was the only time I can recall asking, “Why me?”  Again He answered, “Then who,”?  A peace came over me like I had never known before, crying out in agreement, “Okay Lord….okay.”
I remembered many years later, upon a diagnosis and years of destruction caused by  Rheumatoid Arthritis, Degenerative Disk Disease, and Scoliosis which was directly caused by disease, once again calling to Him, “Please remove this from me.”  His answer was clear.

7 …because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10 (NIV)

As I contemplated the many promises in the scriptures, I couldn’t remember a single time that He had promised to grant me a favor and give me whatever I asked; a child, a nation, the possession of a vast land, or even a corner lot in a tiny little town.  But rather, the old Lynn Anderson song, ‘Rose Garden’ comes to mind.  “I Beg Your Pardon (I never promised you a rose garden)” now rings gently through my mind.

The fact is, in my life, there is not one unmet promise of God.  In Job 42:2, my promise was that “no plan of [God’s] would be thwarted, but rather as in Joel 2:25, “[He] will restore to [me] the years the locust have eaten.”  In Isaiah 40:31, He promised that I would be given renewed strength.  He has promised to be with me in times of calamity, to comfort me in times of grief, to give me His strength when I am weak.   I memorized John 3:16 while attending a girls youth club I had been invited to as a teenager.  There, I am given the only promise that I am waiting for to be fulfilled, eternal life with Him.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Though it is already mine, I’m told in John 19:30 “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  The timing of its fulfillment for me is only known to God.  So I wait, in faith, in hope, in peace.

In The Valley

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4)

In the valley, I have felt alone, isolated, separated, and quite frankly as though I will never return.  It seems as a deep, dark pit where I am forgotten, even though I know that I’m not. I have at times spent months, even years living, residing in the valley, feeling as though I would stay forever and perhaps even die there, cold and alone.

In the valley, all sorts of evil can happen.  I have been faced with temptations that I thought were long behind me, temptations that only the Devil himself would bother to remember.  “Nobody cares about you or your life” he sneers.  “Why don’t you just curse God and die?”  Believe me, I thought about it.

I’ve recently risen up from a valley so deep and only after the fact have I realized that I am surely not alone, and that I never have been.  I’ve also realized that the time I spent there was not a waste, but rather a necessary component to my growth.  Yes, necessary.  Though part of me wanted to believe that I was alone, I know I was not.  The Almighty, was right there with me.  He was so close to me that His shadow was over me.

He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  (Psalm 91:1 American King James Version)

In the Valley, I’ve drawn nearer to God.  I’ve found that He is there to  stand with me, to walk with me, to weep with me, to grieve with me, to rise with me.  I’ve come to know, beyond all doubt, He is really all I need.  In the Valley, I return.  I return to the safe, loving arms of my Father, the One Who has never left, Who could never forsake me.

From the valley, I rise.  I rise up, hand in hand with the One Who never left.  I climb slowly, awkwardly from the depths of “the secret place of the most High”.  I am changed.  A piece of me is left in that valley, a broken piece so big, I can feel the hollow that is left behind.  I can feel an emptiness left by the loss, and I grieve.  I am grieved.

But it’s more than a loss, it is gain.  I realized that what was found in the valley and that which was lost in the valley were equally necessary.  As I rise up from the valley, I gain freedom, I gain peace, I gain a wisdom, a knowing that I never would have known otherwise.  Had I remained up on the peaks of  mountain tops, I’d only see the valley  below and never really know the abundance of what is gained by entering into the deepest places. It was only in such a deep place that I could find a renewed sense of the love of my God, my Redeemer, the care and protection He has for me, the mission He has called me to.  Just as it was, that I needed to go to such depths to leave a burden I was never meant to carry in the first place; shame, sorrow, discouragement, apathy.  I had been chosen, called to a depth so deep to battle the Devil himself who had been keeping me from living out the true call of my life.

I want to believe I would never choose to go to such a place.  But perhaps it was my choices indeed that brought me there.   My prayer now is that, not if, but when I must return to a valley so deep, I will always remember and never forget the One Whose Shadow is over me.

Nana’s Got Ink

After decades of scratching out thoughts, ideas, concepts, quips, and quotes on scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes, or notebooks, claiming to be a writer that never writes, I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog. I will hopefully be inspired to complete an article that will also inspire the reader.

I’m a 50-year-old mama and nana who has personally experienced the infinite, loving, grace of God in my life, and a woman whose greatest desire is to honor Him and to serve my fellow-man.

In recent months I found myself deep in the throes of divorce after 31 years of marriage and left with the nagging questions, “Who am I?” and “What do I do now?”

As the youngest child to a man who rode with a motor cycle club and sported several tattoos, I always found myself secretly infatuated with the idea of having ink on my body. My ex-husband made it clear early in our marriage how much he disapproved and I decided that there is enough in marriage to disagree about that this was one issue I could let go. Now after several months of considering exactly what my tastes and desires are, I knew quickly that this was one thing I would follow through with.  Not as an act of rebellion or mid-life crisis, but just as a response to my own discovery of what I appreciate, without apprehension, I got my first and only tat. They say once you do it, it’s addictive and while I don’t know how much truth there is to that statement, I confess, I have already planned my next two designs, hence, nanasgotink.

My goal as a blogger is to share inspirational messages, remedies, experience, or just whatever message God would have me share. Almost daily, I’m given inspiration to pen a message and usually write down the idea to follow-up with later. But later just wanes into never.  I’m inspired to write about light topics such as  “Tips On Tipping” to enlighten my fellow man on etiquette when using services.  Or to write about deeper issues such as “Suicide and Depression” or “The Place to Dwell” and more personal messages on “Confrontation and Forgiveness” or “What do I know of grief?”  My prayer for myself as a blogger is that I have a sense of urgency to share these messages with you. My prayer for you, the reader of nanasgotink, is that the message is relevant, timely, and transforming. That it is just the right word at just the right time.