Archives For December 2010

No do-overs

Tim Jackson —  December 29, 2010 — 3 Comments

Would you ever like a do-over? You know, like when you were a Junior high kid playing a game of “pig” with your buddies in the driveway and you missed a shot because something (or more like someone–one of your round ball adversaries) distracted you from making your best shot and you called out “DO OVER!” You wanted another chance to do it better than you did the first time.

Do you ever feel that way at this time of the year? As you take an over-the-shoulder glance back at the year that has quickly passed as you’ve been busy living your life, what’s the predominant feeling you are experiencing? Right now, stop amid the holiday festivities and flurry of celebrations and ask yourself this question: “Was this a good year?” Was it? If so, why? If not, why not?

Do you respond to that question with confidence like, “Yes, this was a good year.” Or, is it more the feeling of “I wish I had a do-over?”

Come on, now, be honest with me. Which is the feeling that tugs at your heart the most?

The sad thing about life is that we often look back with regrets. And I’m not talking just a few of us. All of us do that at one point or another. Maybe that’s why we are so good at avoiding opportunities to look back and take stock of the year in review. Maybe we’re just afraid to admit to ourselves, much less to another person, that this is a year we just wish we could do over.

But in life, unlike the driveway version of “pig” we played as kids, there are no “do-overs.” The point of looking back isn’t merely to lament what we didn’t do or what we did do or what we wish we’d done. The point to looking back to learn from all the experiences over the past year–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful–so that we can write a better future in the coming year. We get to “do-different” or to “do better.”

So, here’s the challenge. Carve out some time for personal reflection before the hoopla of the New Year’s holiday celebrations. I know it’s tough. I’m trying to figure out when to do that too. But, please remember that you’re worth it. Your life has had many twists and turns over the past year. Take the time to appreciate them all. You can learn from the good times as well as the bad. Express your gratefulness to God for what you’ve learned, and then make some plans with Him in mind for this new year. More about the looking forward thing later, but for now, take the time to look back and remember.

Life isn’t an event . . . it’s a journey.

Oh, yea, and Happy New Year!

The Last Goodbye

Tim Jackson —  December 28, 2010 — 12 Comments

I just got an email from a dear friend who shared with me that a mutual friend of ours just said goodbye to his wife and sent her home. He wasn’t putting her on a train or plane. He wasn’t sending her home to the place where she grew up. Nor was he sending her off to visit her parents. He said his last goodbye to her just today as she went home to be with Jesus after a valiant battle with cancer.

Talk about holiday heartache. I’ve shared before on this blog about the heartache that we experience the first time we go through a holiday without a loved one. It totally changes the color and feel of the holidays. Now my friend will not only have the holiday to look forward to but also the anniversary of his wife’s departure to heaven.

And, as sad as it has been for Ned to lose Kathy, he and the family know that she’s not longer suffering with the cancer that ravage her body. They take comfort in knowing that she’s at peace and free to enjoy all the delights of heaven that they still can only dream about now. And although Ned is a Jesus follower knows that he will see his bride again because she did trust Jesus as her personal Savior and Lord, he and his family still grieve over the loss of enjoying Kathy’s presence here and now.

Paul, a New Testament author,  described the  grief of a Jesus follower as “grief with hope” instead of “grief without hope” (1Thess. 4:13-18). He reminded us that we are not exempt from grief because of our faith. We still grieve. But we grieve differently. We grieve with hope.

Our friend grieves the loss of his wife, as does her children and grandchildren. They have lost a beloved wife, mother, and grandmother for a while. But they know with confidence that she is with the Lord in a place of unimaginable joy and peace that the Apostle John described in Revelation 21:4 as a place without tears . . . “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So, if you will, please remember Ned and his family in your prayers as God brings them to mind. Ask “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4) to comfort them as they’ve said their last goodbye to a wonderful woman that they will see again, but not just yet.

Cookies and more

Tim Jackson —  December 25, 2010 — 3 Comments

Christmas is a time for children. It’s a time for all of us as adults to revisit the excitement of the season through the eyes of a child. Remember? The sights! The sounds! And the cookies! Oh, the COOKIES!!!

My mom and my grandma’s kitchens were bursting with all the wonderful aromas of cookies. My mom made the best sugar cookies, you know, the cut out kind. Stars. Trees. Candy canes. Santa Clause.  Decorated with red and green sugar. The crumbly melt-in-your-mouth kind that cannot be savored properly without a glass of cold milk to wash them down.

And then there was my Grandma Corl (mom’s mom) who made the most scrumpdelicious raisin filled and sour cream cookies on the planet! And believe me I was there to not only scarf up any cookie dough I could sneak from the bowl before they hit the oven and the first one to steal one from the cooling rack when they were too hot to handle. Really! They made the best cookies.

And now there’s my wife, and frankly, she outshines both mom and grandma in the baking department. Her culinary skills are renowned in my neck of the woods. Mom and grandma have graciously passed the proverbial spatula to her to carry on the holiday baking traditions. And she’s  added a few from her side of the family tree, like Russian tea cakes and cranberry nut bread. Toss in some chocolate crinkles, Danish puffs on Christmas morning that are to die for and yes, the much maligned fruitcake that is an out-of-this-world favorite of  my kids and me, and you have a veritable smorgasbord of sweet delights around the Jackson household over the Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations.

Cookies are part of the Jackson Christmas traditions that we look forward to with anticipation every year. But not merely because they taste sooooo good. While I’m certainly not denying that it’s true,  traditional foods at special times of celebration provide a flavorful way to transport us back in time. Taste is a provocative memory stimulant. A simple flavor or texture can flood our minds with past memories–good or bad. We don’t have to think about it. We’re just there.

That’s what makes traditions so important. They are memory markers that transport us back and reconnect us with our story, like our family and where we grew up. They can reconnect us to the past that gives greater meaning to our present, a context for our stories. After all, how many times have you delighted in a meal together with family or friends and afterward sat around the table sharing stories? Remember?  Some that made you laugh till your sides hurt, and others brought tears of fond memory as well as painful loss?

But there’s even more during the Christmas holiday celebrations than connection with our immediate past. There’s a connection with The Past, The Larger Story and our part in the continuing saga of God’s purpose for His people.

There’s the larger story of God’s redemptive invasion of our planet in the form of a helpless baby named Jesus. He is the ultimate occasion for our traditions and celebrations. I know it sounds trite, but it is nevertheless true: Jesus is the reason for the season.

Another of our traditions is to read the Christmas story together as a family from Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve. We light candles, sing carols, and pray together, thanking God for the greatest of all gifts, His Son, Immanuel–God with us (Matthew 1:23). We want to remember and celebrate. Traditions help us do just that.

So, this year, as we’re fast approaching Christmas day, do you have any traditions that help you celebrate and to remember the ultimate gift of the Child that started the revolution of redemption that has been transforming individual lives for the last 2000 years? If not, maybe this is the year to start some in your home, in your church, and maybe even in your community.

Check out our discussion about the importance of building meaningful traditions for your family. They can be a source of incredible frustration or a wonderful bonding experience. Some are just fun while others are  deeply meaningful and highlight rich spiritual realities. Check it out:

So, now that you’ve heard from us, what about you? Feel free to share some of the traditions from your home that have been meaningful to you. You just might help someone else establish a new tradition that could last for generations. But don’t worry, the cookies don’t last nearly that long at my house. :)

Merry Christmas from the HelpForMyLife family here at RBC Ministries. And in the words of another more famous “Tim” . . . “God bless us every one.”

Christmas “Magic”

Jeff Olson —  December 23, 2010 — 1 Comment

My neighbor across the street stopped by the other day to ask how my nephew with Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy was doing. Last week my nephew faced a life threatening situation because the muscles in his throat that allow him to swallow food stopped working. I told my neighbor that he pulled through a surgery (to put in a feeding tube) that the doctors gave him little chance of surviving. Although he’ll never be out of the woods with his disease, all things considering, he is doing remarkably well.

Immediately, my neighbor (whose long white beard qualifies him as a look-a-like for Santa Claus) chuckled with a huge grin on his face, “See, I guess there is Christmas magic after all!”

My neighbor made a great point. We thought we were saying goodbye to my nephew when they took him  into surgery last week. But our family got a taste of  the miraculous.

Of course, this miracle stems from the ultimate miracle of  Immanuel–that God is indeed with us.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, may you more fully come to know and experience the life-changing truth of Immanuel!

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

These words from Isaiah 9:6 are often quoted during the Christmas season. They are the words that the prophet penned some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. They foretold of his arrival on planet earth as a baby boy who would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The irony of the silent night invasion of God into the world of mankind in the form of a helpless infant is almost as laughable as it is profound.  The Ultimate Gift from God slipped almost totally unnoticed into our world under cover of darkness with the weight of mankind’s redemption riding on his shoulders. Unbelievable!

Most children burst into our lives with much celebration and fanfare from parents and extended family. Tons of preparation takes place in anticipation of the new arrival. Parents prepare the nursery, buy clothes, paint rooms, stock up on diapers, and much more. However, no one is ever prepared to lose a child. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Unthinkable!

Parents are not suppose to bury their children. Children are suppose to bury their parents. That’s what we expect. It’s the natural progression of things.  And while it deeply hurts to lose a beloved parent, it is expected that they will precede us in death. But to lose a child, is devastating.

And walking through those first holidays after the death of a child feels impossible.  Unbearable!

I sat for an hour at a local restaurant last Friday with a courageous young couple who last year lost their precious son after a 2 year heroic battle with cancer. Braeden was 3. Christmas 2009 was awful for Kevin and Dawn. They were invited to many holiday celebrations, but it felt like no one knew what to do with them. They didn’t know what to do with themselves. Uncomfortable! Lonely!

Everyone invited them to holiday celebrations, but no one even mentioned Braeden. They had the sense that after eight months, they should be over it and everything should be back to normal. They wanted to scream. Usually they didn’t. They just felt numb.

This year is different for them. Life is far from normal. It will never be the same. It can’t be. Braeden isn’t here. And while the invitations still come, this year they would prefer to avoid the discomfort and simply have a quiet family celebration at home with their other 3 children. But both of them teared up when talking about their precious “Bub.” They should. This is their son.

When I asked them what they would want from others during this holiday season, Dawn responded almost reflexively, “Say his name.” She continued, “We love Braeden. Say his name. You won’t remind us that we’ve lost him for now. We are reminded of his painful absence everyday. You are not going to bring us pain when you say his name. We love him. We’ll never forget him. And we don’t want others to forget him either.”

She added, “Tell us what you remember about him. Tell us a story or your favorite memory. Kevin’s cousin shared a story about Braeden at his celebration of life service that I had never heard before because I wasn’t there to witness it. What a gift!”

So, remember: grief doesn’t take a holiday over the holidays. In fact it can intensify for many. Sit in on our discussion about dealing with grief and loss over the holidays, and then share with us your story.

And, if you have friends or family members who are grieving the loss of a child, don’t expect them to be over it, even if its been a couple of years. Don’t avoid them. Step towards them and say the name of their child. Share a memory with them about their son or daughter. It just might be the most treasured gift that they will receive this Christmas . . . and the most priceless that you can give.

For more on Braeden Burgess and his heroic family, check out Dawn’s blog: Through This Valley. Merry Christmas Braeden.

Charlie Brown

Allison Stevens —  December 20, 2010 — 2 Comments

It’s tradition for us to watch Charlie Brown on television at Christmas time.  We own the DVD, but there is something more fun about catching it on TV instead.

Oh, Charlie, I can so relate to your frustration with the commercialism that we’ve attached to Christmas. Finding the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect gifts, the perfect Christmas play. Just writing about it exhausts me.

And then enters Linus.  He saves the day by reminding Charlie and me what this time of year is all about. It’s about a savior. God, coming to earth as a baby, to save us. He brings us peace and goodness. This is the miracle of Christmas.

I’m so glad that we have a reason to see past the materialism and commercialism; all that fades away when I look at Jesus, our Savior, Emmanuel.  In Him we find love, joy, and peace.

Luke 2:11-14:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

It was Christmas 1963 when It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year first hit the airwaves. Andy Williams was the first artist to record this soon to become a favorite melody written by Eddie Pola and George Wyle. The lyrics celebrate the good times, fun, laughter, and festive atmosphere that surrounds the Christmas season:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all . . .

The song goes on to celebrate the festive parties and holiday celebrations that surround the Christmas season for many. But, is it really the happiest season of all? Or, it that just wishful thinking? Many people experience the holidays as anything but happy.

For those who are facing the first holidays without someone they love by their side,  the holidays can be more of a dreaded reminder of the emptiness and heartache that they are feeling. Grief has a way of invading our lives like an unwelcomed and unstoppable virus that infects every aspect of the holidays. Times that were once filled with joy and hope are now clouded with a dread and emptiness that at times may border on despair. Some one is missing. And we’re devastated. Things will never be the same again.

Holiday heartache is real. And we’d like to help. Join me for a round table discussion on facing grief and loss over the holidays with author Shelly Beach and fellow counselor Jeff Olson. Pull up a chair and a cup of coffee as we walk through a struggle that is common for many this time of year.

won’t and will

Jeff Olson —  December 13, 2010 — 4 Comments

In the last week our family has been facing the inevitable. My 21 year old nephew is nearing the end of his life-long battle with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

MD is a genetic disease people are born with that prevents the body from making proteins needed for healthy muscle development. Eventually the body’s muscles that are needed to function will deteriorate and fail.

We’ve known this time has been coming for years. Still, it’s arrival is very painful.

During one of our recent visits to hospital, I had some time alone with my nephew. As I sat next to his bed contemplating the unavoidable, two thoughts came to me that I felt prompted to share with him.

First, I told him that whatever happens we won’t forget him. He has left an unforgettable mark on our lives and we will make it our practice to reminisce and speak of him as he comes to our minds.

Second, I reminded him (and myself) that we will see him again. And that when we do, we will see him completely free of Muscular Dystrophy. I told him that I look forward to going for a long walk or maybe even shooting some hoops with him. I reminded him that a day is coming when there will be no more sorrow or pain or death–a day when Jesus is going to make everything new (Revelation 21:4-5).

My nephew is at peace with dying because has a personal relationship with his Savior Jesus Christ. Still, death is hard to face because God never intended for us to experience it. I pray that sharing those thoughts brought him some comfort. They certainly comfort me.