Monday, February 17, 2014

The Christmas Letter I *Would Have* Written

Well, it's February 17th. And you still haven't gotten a Christmas letter or picture from me. You know how I know? 'Cause I haven't sent one. ;-) It's a long story about photos sent to Texas instead of Vermont and myriad other issues, but mostly, and most honestly, it was just a difficult end of the year during which sitting down to address envelopes never really felt like a priority. (And most of y'all know me and Christmas, so it's a pretty big deal for me to say that.)

This morning was the first Monday in a very long time that I could have slept late. The girls are having their winter break this week. There is still about a 3-foot covering of snow on the ground, and we only have one vehicle suitable to drive in Vermont winter, which Jared needs to get to work. It would have been the perfect day for me to sleep in. Instead I woke up at 5am and couldn't go back to sleep, which is kind of the opposite of awesome, except that it gave me a quiet morning to drink a cup of coffee, watch the sun slowly sneak in through the windows and gather some reflective thoughts. It's been a long while since that has happened.

So. For what it's worth-- here is the Christmas letter I *would have* written if I had taken the time to do so in 2013.

Merry Christmas, Everyone! (Work with me, people--this is supposed to be a Christmas letter.)

I hope you all have had a sweet and special year and are looking forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior surrounded by your favorite people. Our family is always eager to slow down and sit still together a little more often during the holidays than we typically do, and that seems magnified this year for so many reasons. It's been a difficult year. More specifically, it's been a difficult second half of the year. But we'll come back to that in a minute.

Because: also, it's been a really good year. Really good. And I don't want to gloss over that. We celebrated accomplishments like Macy's 6th grade graduation, Grace's first 5K run and more book releases/completed manuscripts for Jared. We relaxed and giggled and snuggled our way through a beautiful vacation in our favorite little town in Maine. We hosted all kinds of guests, new friends and old, in our home. We shared meals and drinks and hugs and giggles and maybe even a few snorts and chortles when things really got going. We sent Jared all over America (and even into Mexico) to proclaim Christ, and sometimes we even got to go with him. We FINALLY SOLD OUR HOUSE in Tennessee! (I KNOW, RIGHT?!? It only took 4 YEARS!) We even welcomed 2 new family members this year in the form of our sweet foster niece Lilly and precious new nephew Deacon. All good things for sure (and this is barely scratching the surface).

But it gets better. Here's how. We learned to cling to Christ more fiercely than ever before. And even better than that, we felt his presence more profoundly than we knew possible. In the second half of 2013, we witnessed the final earthly decline of 2 dear friends in their battles with brain cancer. I'm not sure how to categorize that journey other than to say it was (and continues to be in some ways) unlike (and more grueling than) anything I've ever seen or done before.

Our friend Richard and his precious family first came into our lives a couple years ago when they started attending our church. It was a pretty good trek for them (a little over an hour from where they live) and difficult to have "quantity" time with them because of the distance, but our church embraced them from Day 1 and they settled into all of our hearts firmly and quickly. "Quality" time was no problem at all. 

Unfortunately, Richard already had cancer when we first met him, and already his prognosis wasn't great, but he stayed healthier than most doctors expected, so we got to love him here on earth longer than anyone would have guessed. It still didn't feel long enough when he went to be with Jesus on September 22nd, 2013, but we were so grateful to cling to the memory of Jared baptizing him in 2012, and we are still basking in the glow of his ceaseless and powerful confidence in Christ--even in the midst of his greatest suffering. Maybe ESPECIALLY then.

Then there's Anne. Oh, my Anne! I kept posting this picture and trying to convince everyone that we are really from the same family, 'cause that's just how much I love her. (There's at least a slight resemblance, no? ;-))

I've said so much about her here (see this and this and this for just a few examples if you like) and yet somehow it's not enough. I just don't have enough (and certainly not *powerful* enough) words for her. So special to me.

Her battle was unlike Richard's in that it was significantly quicker. Her tumor was first discovered on August 27th. God graciously sustained her long enough for her son Mark to transport her across the country to Tahoe (in a car since she wasn't well enough to fly) so she could dance at her daughter Ally's wedding on September 7th and then back across the country to re-enact the wedding here in Vermont on September 14th. 

But after those events, she declined quite rapidly, losing basic motor and brain skills pretty steadily. Glimmers of hope would occur occasionally, but they were usually short-lived and followed by devastating realizations.

I've never hurt so badly as I did watching her several days a week for hours at a time in so much pain and with so little of herself left in that little shell of a body. I sobbed into my carpet and/or my pillow so many nights during the last few months of 2013, it sort of became my new normal for that time. Agony. All while watching her precious, amazing family suffer all the more. I would think over and over again, "If I hurt this badly, what must THEY feel?" More agony. Helpless. Undone.

Anne died on December 2, which felt like the worst day of my life in many ways. Because this is who she is to me. And you can't just replace a person like that.

And yet. There was Christ. OHHH! How do I explain this? I can't. I just know. 

He didn't take away my pain, but OH how he held me (and my entire family AND my entire church family) through it! Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Words so real to me. I don't know how to explain. I only know what I experienced, and it was truer and more real and more vibrant than most of the rest of my life. For that I'm incredibly grateful. 

Indeed it was a good, (hard), beautiful, (painful), brilliant (excruciating), CHRIST-FILLED year.

So. There you have it. I hope that you experienced a less painful 2013, but if yours hurt as badly as ours did at times, I hope you felt that sweet Jesus embrace carrying you through it. And if you didn't feel it in 2013, I sure hope you will feel it the next time you do hurt. I'm not one to volunteer for pain, but I can tell you this: hurting in the arms of Jesus is far better than not hurting apart from him. This I guarantee.

Many blessings to all of you! I hope I get to put my arms around you soon, but until then, know that I love you and wish you a Gorgeous Christmas and a Fabulous 2014! (Stay with me. This is still the Christmas letter, remember? ;-))

Oh, and here is the photo card I *would have* sent: :-)

But I kinda like the outtakes even better. ;-)


Joanna said...

We've never met, but I still hope it's okay I read your blog! :) I think I originally found it when your husband posted a link to one of the posts a while back on Twitter. I've never met him, either, but have been so blessed by his writing - whether on his blog, his books, or even his football tweets (and I don't even watch football!).

Some of the most beautiful things I've ever read in my life have been what the two of you have written about Richard and Anne, and I didn't know them either! As a brain tumor survivor, I'm particularly drawn to the stories of people who have battled them, even moreso when they are Christians and so vividly seek and strive to glorify Jesus in their suffering. Oh, how much I still need to grow in doing that! I don't want to turn this into an essay, so I'll just stop here and say thank you!

Becky said...

Joanna! I couldn't find a link to an email or anything in your comment, but I would love to get in touch with you if that's ok. If you see this follow-up, can you let me know? If you don't mind sending me an email address, I promise not to publish the comment publicly. (All of my comments are monitored, so I promise not to let it go through.) Thank you for reaching out. This means more to me than you know.