Whew, December sure has hit me with a vengeance! Between the dark evenings, gloomy skies and colder weather - my mood has been less than cheerful (to put it nicely). If I thought I was feeling sorry for myself before, self-pity has taken on a whole new level this winter.
I sent out my Christmas cards today, and I really struggled with it this year. I wanted to find a way to appropriately recognize Olive in our holiday photo and also acknowledge those that have shown us so much love and support. As I was designing them I found myself feeling down that other families were busy picking out photos that would be just perfect this year and I was struggling with how to sign them. Something so simple, yet so heartbreaking.
Before we had Olive, when we were trying to decide on a name, I would find myself writing out our family names to see how they would look, to see what fit: With love, Charlie, Nicole and Olive Smith
Yet, the moment finally came where I needed to sign our cards and I realized that we would forever be The Smiths or The Smith Family - I will never send out a card with our children's names on it. The only way I know how to include our WHOLE family is through a generic signature.
No matter how many more children we have, our family will never feel complete.
For Christians, the season of Advent is one of preparation. We are preparing for the birth of a Savior, the birth of a King - the birth of a baby. It's not just the birth we find ourselves preparing for, though, it's His return - when, in all His glory, He'll bring us all home to Him in heaven. Every year I find myself rushing through Advent - in the hustle and bustle of our society's version of the Christmas season - and every year I get so overwhelmed that my soul ends up feeling underwhelmed.
This Advent was going to be different. Or so I had intended.
Lucky for me, the season is still here and even though I'm a bit late to the game - I'm vowing to practice the stillness my soul is longing for.
The birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, isn't it? Those times are times of great anticipation, times of great joy. I had expected the birth of my baby to be all of those things and more. I had expected this Christmas season would be one of wonder and promise. It is, indeed, but I've been focusing on the wrong baby.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I don't want Olive on my mind (not that I could control it if I wanted to) but she's not coming back. I will never know baby Olive the way I intended, the way I thought that I would. No amount of longing for her will ever bring my soul rest - not the rest or stillness it desires. In fact, the longing I feel for her actually brings me more sadness, more grief and more disappointment - because the longing will never be fulfilled. If, at least for this Advent season, I put as much time, effort and emotion into longing for Jesus - well, I can't even imagine what that could do for my soul!
It's not just Olive that I'm allowing to rule my heart and mind this Advent season - the birth of other babies, the birth of my unborn babies, babies that are new to our family and babies that will soon be here - these babies are on my mind so regularly it's actually become debilitating. I've become so focused on these other babies that I've failed to recognize the ONLY baby that matters right now.
For a child will be born unto us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Here is a baby that can offer exactly what I need - and more.
Wonderful Counselor - I have been seeking advice from other grieving parents, from my therapist, my pastor, my husband and other friends. While this advice is helpful, no one has the exact answers I'm looking for. True counsel comes from God, from His son who came to this earth in human form to offer us salvation. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him - the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2 As Pastor John Barnett puts it, "true wisdom from the wonderful counselor knows that: In weakness is strength; surrender is victory and death is life." I need to pray more - to be quiet and still and allow God to reveal Himself to me - that may be through other people, it may be through His word - I haven't really been giving Him the chance lately, and I need to be better about that.
Mighty God- I have learned that I cannot bear this burden on my own. I am certainly trying to- and failing miserably. Who am I to question God? Who am I to demand answers? Why do I think that anyone on this earth can offer me the strength and peace I need? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 The maker of the universe is available to me 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and yet the amount of time I'm actually seeking Him out - honestly trying to connect to Him - is pathetic, to be frank.
Eternal Father - Parents often find themselves not giving in to every desire of their children. Sometimes beautiful lessons have to be learned through pain and heartache. Children tend to believe that they know better - their parents are being unfair or unkind. How many times have I looked back on a decision my parents made and later realized it was for my own good? Please don't mistake me in thinking that I believe God is "teaching me a lesson" or that Olive had to die for God to prove a point. No, that's what our human minds would like us to assume - but Olive's days were numbered just as mine are. For some reason, unknown to me in this life, Olive's sweet life was always meant to be short. I do believe her time with us was meant to serve a purpose, although unfair to us, God - in his infinite wisdom - had other plans. I can choose to get stuck in her death or recognize the beauty in her life - and the lessons that can be learned from it, if I only open myself up and allow God to reveal himself to me in this way. Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. Ephesians 3:20NLT
Prince of Peace - Peace - what I long for the most this Christmas season. I have been searching for peace, and the few times I believe I'm starting to find it is when I'm at church or searching God's word for answers. Then I go back out into the world and allow myself to believe the lies that I would be at peace if only I had my daughter back. I begin to believe that true peace on this earth would be living a life that goes according to what I wish - a life without pain, a life without sorrow, a life where all of my heart's desires would be fulfilled. Interestingly enough (though not a life I could ever create for myself), my daughter has the peace I desire. Olive is celebrating Christmas this year only knowing a peace we all long for. Olive's first Christmas is with Jesus - what is more peaceful than that? Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 I need to remember that true peace comes from God and I can rest assured that one day I'll be celebrating Christmas with my beautiful baby and the baby who saved us both!
I've gotten a lot of grief this year for not having anything on my Christmas list. What I want this year cannot be purchased at a department store and Amazon doesn't have it in stock. What I WANT this year is 4 month sleep regression, piles of laundry filled with sleepers covered in spit up and early morning feedings. What I long for and NEED this year is counsel, strength and peace - and those things can only be received through one tiny baby - not my baby, not your baby, not my unborn babies or the babies you long for in your life. No, these things come from the one baby we tend to forget most -a baby who was born into poverty to a young and terrified mother - a mother who knew from the very beginning that her child's sole purpose on this earth was to die so that we could live.
I don't doubt that my holiday will still be filled with sadness, grief and pain - but I hope and pray that through those human emotions I can make more room in my heart for the truth and promises that come from a small manger in Bethlehem.