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Grieving Christmas Before Moving Into 2014

3 Jan
It's A Small World will go back to being normal, too.

It’s A Small World will go back to being normal, too.

I’ll admit it, I’m grieving the holiday season. It’s over. The tree is about to go to the recycling spot. The twinkling lights are in a ball on my living room floor because I just haven’t had the heart to put them away yet. The Christmas cards are still hanging next to my door, but those too will soon come down. Last remenants of Christmas candy and cookies are in our pantry either to be forgotten in leiu of healthier options.

It was a good Christmas. It was relaxing to be with family. It was nice to go to church again with my dad and to remember how much Jesus loves us. It was neat to see a whole gaggle of kids open presents again at my husband’s family Christmas party. It was good to take a flight again and then to drive through the desert home with Mark.

I like peppermint mochas, the smell of pine. I like looking at mall santas and seeing how closely they resemble the Santa Claus of collective memory. I like the traditions. Seeing the same Christmas ornaments come out and adorn the tree year after year. It gave me a sense of stability for another year full of lots of changes. I liked having permission to not look for a job. I liked knowing that I’ll have a few days of rest and my mom’s cooking. I enjoyed a Christmas party with college friends who have all come back together after marriages, babies, and job transitions.

And then came the rest of the holidays. New Year’s Eve wasn’t really on our calendar. I figure we would just get to it eventually. And we did. More with a wimper than a bang. Mark was sick with what I think is bronchitis and he threw out his back that day. While I’d hoped we’d be able to go for a bike ride, we were mostly inside for a few days. It wasn’t all bad. I roasted my first chicken! We had our first two Monopoly games together! And last night, we discussed God in a new way. We wondered if he was trying to tell us something considering we’ve both been so sick lately. We talked about churches and what we both hope to get out of one. It was good to talk. I’m glad we’ve been sick because it’s forced us to be together to talk and figure things out. We’re in new season and new is often hard at first until it becomes more familiar.

Grieving is like that. It’s looking back. Fondly remembering. Acknowledging the loss and being able to move on. 2013 was a good year. And the holidays that followed at the end were nice. Sweet times with family. Fun with kids. Lots of game playing, eating good food, and resting. Time to be thankful and remember the blessings I have.

Now it’s time to get to work. 2014 is going to be the year I pursue life and go after what God has for me in a new way!

The Eulogy I Gave For My Grandma

14 Mar

I wrote this the night before her memorial service. Some of it I ad-libbed, so it actually went over really well in person. Reading it might leave a lot to be desired but some wanted me to share it with them! Here it is:

 

On behalf of the Mills family, I want to thank you all for being here today. My grandma, Loma Mills, has meant a lot to so many people, and your presence here signifies just how many lives she impacted during her 93 years here on earth.

 

Grandma pics Her roles were many. She was the eldest daughter of Frank and Alice Oesterle, German farmers living here in Marion. She was a sister to Ruth Staub and Doris Beaver. She was also a high school history teacher for 32 years, a wife to John, a mother to three sons, Judd, Craig, and Kim. A grandmother to 7 (Laurel, Stacy, Jenna, me, Belinda, Chris, and Josh) and great grandmother to Gretchen, Nick, Hannah, Jake, Josie, and Oliver.  She was a friend to so many different types of people, whether you knew her for a few minutes or for decades. Even last year, she wrote more than100 Christmas cards to people she loved.

 

Family. Firey. Fiercely Independent. Spunky. Kind. Giving, Woman of Great Faith, Generous, Charitable, Optimistic, Saw the Silver Lining, Avid reader, Loved children, celebrating holidays, and God. These are all words that people in Loma’s family used to describe her. My cousin, Belinda, always laughs because when I was younger I said of Grandma that she was a tough cookie. She’d been through a lot and just kept on going.

 

One word that keeps coming up for me that I think described my grandma the best is grit. My grandma had “grit.” I looked it up in the dictionary.  Grit is “the firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Loma learned independence from an early age. Her father was a frugal man who made wise investments in other farms during her early years, which happened to be during the Great Depression.  Her mother used the money that she got from selling her chicken’s eggs to clothe my grandmother and her two sisters. Committed to educating his three daughters,  Frank insisted that Loma, Ruth, and Doris go to college, which they all did.

 

The values of faith, family, charity, and a hard work ethic were instilled in my Grandma from an early age and she passed them on to all of us. And we are so grateful for these.

Because we’re all knew my Grandma differently, I thought I’d share a few reflections on her life.

 

A glimpse into Loma’s inner life:

 

Grandma was a full time mother and full time teacher as well as a farm owner simultaneously, before it was cool to be all of those things at the same time. Grit.

 

Grandma and GrandpaShe raised her eldest son, Judd, alone for two and a half years while her husband, John, was off at war.

 

Her faith inspired me and others she knew to care about the less fortunate and beyond it all, trust in God. She would often say to me in a knowing voice, “Kid (because she called everyone “kid”), life is hard. But the Lord is with you. He is.” More than anything, she believed that we were to cling closely to God. Whether I was going through a breakup, a move, or another traumatic life event for a young adult, my Grandma would encourage me and all of us in her determined voice that God would and could help, if we let him into our lives.

 

 

-Grandma loved bonfires, Weenie roasts, and pig roasts. If someone were having a birthday, we’d all go out into the back yard and roast weenies in a bonfire.

 

-Grandma also loved lawncare- We couldn’t believe it when she actually hired people to do her lawn because well into her 70s, grandma would be seen tending to her flowers and mowing her acres of lawn by herself, waving to those passing by.

 

-Grandma had a keen fashion sense which she passed on to her granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and daughter-in-laws. To show our love and appreciate of that, we are all wearing hats from the Loma Mills collection.

 

-Vacation – Our family has been taking an annual vacation to Rehoboth Beach, Deleware since 1953. Boardwalk. Funland. Grotto’s Pizza. Rented beach umbrellas. Apartment over Lingo’s market. This was a family tradition that was etched into our lives, since we’ve been going there for so long. It was one of her favorite yearly traditions.

 

-YMCA – Grandma often used to wake up at 5AM to go swimming at the Y up until her 90s. In fact, I just met two of her Y friends before the service who reminded me of how much Grandma loved that daily ritual.

 

-She was also a dedicated sister to Doris and Ruth, with Doris even being across the street. She really looked up to and was grateful to be near her sisters both spiritually and physically. With the Beavers living across the street, their children had memories together. This meant that our family has an entire set of second and third cousins that are actually very close and share holidays and vacations together.

 

-She’d often have 70 person family reunions in her two bedroom cape cod making traditional Thanksgivings and other meals.

 

-An evidence of my Grandma’s grit is this: “Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith, developed perseverance. Perseverance must finish it’s work, so you can be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4. Her steadfast strength in life and in God were her foundation and she took trials as they came, looking to God for help during troubled times.

 

-Baking cookies and pies. Always a pecan or apple pie waiting or on its way when I visited.

 

-She loved her sweets. My cousin, Belinda, reminded me that she would make people go to two or three different drug stores until she found her favorite, Russell Stover’s candies.

 

-She was a woman of habit, making her infamous Santa Cookies. It was an orchestrated event down to a science. It wasn’t just a dedication to tradition and the holidays IE holiday cookie making, you weren’t just signing up for cookie making, but more a full-fledged production, with 15 minutes spent decorating each cookie.

 

-Grandma wouldn’t want a big “to do” for her funeral. I think she’s glad that we’ve come together as family and friends to celebrate her life because togetherness is what she always wanted and loved best. She might say this if she were here, paraphrased a bit from a poem that Matt Burke, my grandma’s favorite grandson-in-law:

 

”Speak to me in the easy way which you always used to Put no difference in your tone, Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.”

 

In that spirit, let me tell you the ice cream story. We were driving in the car in the summer with the windows down. I was about 10 or 12 years old. Grandma had just treated Belinda and me to ice cream. The day before, I had gone to my first ever pig roast at the Lashey’s house and Belinda hadn’t been able to make it. Grandma was always a little bit absent minded so as she was describing how big the pig was, she took her ice cream like this (open arms wide) and it flew out the window, only leaving the cone left! This was a typical kind of story you’d hear about my grandma.

 

To finish, she had a solid 93 years. I think she’d be pleased to see how life came full swing. I don’t think there’s anything else she would have wanted to accomplish in her life. This is her legacy. We are her legacy.

 

And now I’d like to invite her grandchildren and great-grandchildren up to read a poem that was one of our Grandma’s favorites, “The House By The Side Of The Road”.

 

Looking Closer for Love Notes

28 Dec

A “Glee” song played at the exact moment when I want to dance. 

Waking up to the Beatles on the radio. 

Christmas lights. 

The smell of broccoli cheddar soup on the stove. 

An unexpected message from a friend on Facebook. 

A whisper in my heart to turn off the radio and tune into an often missed world underneath the surface of the things I worry about most of the time. 

A sober reminder that we only have 525,600 minutes in a year. 

A love note

What do all of these have in common?

They are love notes. My friend, Jessica, told me about love notes yesterday. She said that they are all around and that she looks for them now that she’s aware that they exist. Some probably call them signs. I’m not sure, but I’m starting to believe that they do in fact exist.

Today I began a process of discernment and observation. I’m attempting to make some major shifts in my life and before just jumping in like I often do, I want to step back and observe to make sure that where I’m about to go, what I’m about to put my time into is worthwhile. To observe means you have to focus. It means stopping. Slowing down. Paying attention to these little things that are all around me. It is not easy because it’s actually a huge discipline. But when I do it, the worry stops. Instead, the beauty emerges.

So far, I’ve seen the above love notes. And the pain that I’ve been feeling, the sadness, the waiting, the loss, the hurt, the heartache, the question of why has become much more subtle. It’s muted because instead I’m seeing possibility. I’m seeing hope and a future. I’m believing that there’s something else happening that maybe I just don’t see or haven’t been able to see lately.

Earlier I was watching the movie, “Soul Surfer” about the young surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who survives a shark attack but loses her arm. In the movie, they discuss this idea about being so close to something that you can’t really see it for what it is. I feel like this about my life recently.  I’m so close that I don’t always have perspective. So I will actively observe. I will watch. See. Observe. And in the process, I’ll hopefully stumble across some of these love notes that my friend keeps talking about.

I want to look closer at my life. At the beauty around me. During all of the moments when I’m worried or anxious or insecure, I easily forget that God has a story for my life. I’m starting to remember. Here’s a little reminder.

From my favorite movie, “American Beauty”:

Ricky: It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing. And there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just… dancing with me. Like a little kid beggin me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid ever.
Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember. Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it… and my heart is going to cave in.

 

“Rent” asks the question, how do you measure a year? 

“In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.” 

It was all of the above. I learned truth. I cried a lot. I said goodbye to some people I needed to let go of. I died to myself over and over.

I’m proud of this year. I’m proud of where I’ve been. I’m proud of where I’m going. Right now though, I’m going to look closer and hopefully find some love notes from God that will guide me in the direction I’m going.

A few days left of 2011. Make ‘em count.

 

Tootsie Pops, Waiting, The Real Story of the Cement Truck, and A Return from Tanzania

17 Dec

I don’t do New Years resolutions. For recovering perfectionists like myself, resolutions turn into “should haves” and “should haves” turn to guilt which soon becomes regret. So I don’t do that. Instead, every year, for the past three years, I’ve picked a word that will define that new year for me. Just one word. This year’s is JOY. And if you’re a regular reader, you know what I’ve learned about joy over the past 12 months.

However, instead of pondering about it too much, my word for 2012 came early.

The Roddys before the retreat

It was November. The culmination of a lot of things for me. I go on an annual young adult retreat every year at this time. I have a birthday, usually an occasion in and of itself. Thanksgiving happens. And this year two great friends, Liz and Shannon Roddy, came back after being gone for a year and a half in Tanzania, Africa serving at Wild Hope International. Oh how I had waited for them. In the midst of life I would often say aloud and yet rhetorically, “Liz and Shannon should be here, don’t you think?” At first it was a sad addition to whatever memorable moment my friends and I were having at the time. Then it became a joke to those who know me well. Before I could even say it, my roommate would see the sad look on my face as my forehead wrinkled, my head turned down, and my eyes filled slightly with tears and she would ask, “What, I’m not good enough? Just kidding. I know. Liz and Shannon should be here.”

But they weren’t. For a year and a half (despite the fact that they were doing amazingly awesome things and growing a ton), they missed birthdays, Christmases, milestones.  My breakup, my roommate’s new promotion to pastoral staff, that time I took a missions trip to the Czech republic, births of babies, deaths of people within our church, small moments, big moments. There’s only so much you can relay over Skype. They missed a lot. And I missed them. Waiting, waiting for their arrival back into my life.

When I saw their faces for the first time, I remembered what it was like to have complete  joy return. I hugged them and jumped up and down, probably waking up all of my sleeping neighbors as we lugged their bags into my apartment. Finally. They. Were. Here. And they were in the same room as me, breathing the same air, cracking jokes and able to engage with us without the screen freezing or the power going out. We laughed. We realized how much we had changed. And how much we were still the same.

I found in the time that they were visiting us that I wanted everything to go faster. Maybe it was a hold over from the year and a half of waiting. I wanted to catch them up on everything, hear their stories, and live the life that had been missed by all of us for the past 18 months.

This urgency culminated on our way to the young adult retreat. I was so used to waiting that I didn’t want to wait anymore. I wanted us to BE there. So when our car got stuck behind a cement truck going 20 MPH on a mountain road, I got irate.

The rest of the car thought I was crazy with impatience. I kept yelling at the truck to move over.  He wouldn’t move. Every turn was torture. Every place he could pull over, he refused. Finally, what seemed like hours later, the truck slowly found its way to the shoulder. (My roommate swears it was only 30 seconds that we were stuck behind the truck). After my irrational behavior, everyone else in the car was convinced I needed to settle down. But I didn’t.

I kept being impatient.

And suddenly like that, the Roddys were gone again. The card games, the night at the Lawry’s Steak House with Liz, the pool sharking she and I had done at the retreat, the spiritual conversations. It all went by in a flash.

We're such pool sharks! We were on a roll!

Even in this season of advent. I’m ready for New Year’s. I want to skip through Christmas because I don’t feel like it’s Christmas. I want to get to the good part of the story, the chocolate dipped cone at the bottom of the ice cream drumstick, the Tootsie Roll in the center of the Tootsie Pop.

It’s in the quiet moments I realize that I need to wait. For what, I don’t know. Maybe a whisper. Maybe an answer? Maybe just silence. Yet there is something pushing me forward. I don’t know what it is. I don’t want to miss this chance to wait, though. I know in my heart the greatest gift the world has ever seen is coming soon. And in my impatience, I may miss Him. And that would be a great tragedy.

As I was contemplating waiting this past week, I heard this in a poem by Issac Wimberly in spoken word form that makes me want to be a better wait-er.

This groaning was growing, generation after generationKnowing He was holy, no matter what the situationBut they longed for HimThey yearned for HimThey waited for Him on the edge of their seatOn the edge of where excitement and containment meetThey waitedLike a child watches out the window for their father to return from work—they waitedLike a groom stares at the double doors at the back of the church—they waited

And in their waiting, they had hope

Hope that was fully pledged to a God they had not seen

To a God who had promised a King

A King who would reign over the enemy

Over Satan’s tyranny

They waited

Wow. People waited YEARS for Jesus. 400 years. And I get all upset about a cement truck and a year and a half without my friends. Despite all my wanting the best for people, I can still get upset about still being single while others are getting engagement rings and sonograms. Perspective shift, much after hearing this poem/spoken word? Yeah. Definitely. I can wait. And in the moments I can’t, I will learn. I will hope that despite the fact that things don’t work out exactly the way I planned that there still is a plan. And in that hope I can believe that the lyrics to the song I heard recently by Jesus Culture are true. “I have a plan for you/ It’s gonna be wild/It’s gonna be great/It’s gonna be full of Me.”

So because of this, this next year will be the year that I will learn to wait. Patience: my word for 2012.

Musings On Christmas Traditions

21 Dec

Christmas is a little harder this year. It doesn’t help that I hear Wham’s “Last Christmas” everywhere I go and when shopping with my roommate, I get sad that I can’t really afford to buy any presents for anyone this year. But it’s not all bad. I have a job this Christmas. That’s an improvement! I get to be around family and friends. And I feel close to God, which makes me appreciate the gift of Jesus even more.

Despite the difficulty I’ve faced this holiday season, I’ve begun to make new traditions and still uphold old ones. My aunt and cousins are coming in from Colorado as they have the past several years. We’ll play games together, enjoy my mom’s well-planned and delicious meals, and compete in our annual croquet tournament, always a highlight. My dad and I went to church together for Christmas as we do each year. Whether it’s been Lutheran churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, or Foursquare, in Ohio, Chicago, or California, we don’t miss this special time. It started in high school when we were in Ohio visiting our family. I wanted to go to the church where my mom was raised in Columbus. Ever since, we’ve made it part of Christmas for us to help each other remember the real meaning of Christmas. Usually, we would go on Christmas Eve but since I began attending Christian Assembly and the weekend before Christmas is usually one of the best services of the year, my dad and I changed our tradition. And traditions have to change sometimes because we change. We grow in and out of traditions. That doesn’t mean they are gone forever, just different.

My cousin resurrected a tradition recently that I had almost forgotten. When I was young, my grandma would make all of the members in the family these amazing Santa cookies. The cookies are epic. Nothing compares. Each cookie takes at least 15 solid minutes to decorate and includes coconut, sprinkles, raisins for the eyes, icing, and red gloss for the lips. Every year about two weeks before Christmas, we would get our package in the mail of santa cookies! Our immediate family would argue about how many cookies each of us had eaten. At one point, we even had to section off the refrigerator so that someone wouldn’t “accidentally” eat another’s cookie. It got heated. My cousin found a cookie cutter online and she made the cookies this year! How exciting. Soon I’ll have the recipie in hand and next year, I can attempt Santa cookies for my friends and family.

When thinking about traditions, I thought of the Christmas tree. I got my own real tree this year. Granted, it’s about four feet tall and topples over every once in awhile because I couldn’t find a tree stand that workd, but it’s real and it’s actually mine. It makes me think I want to do this again next year. Friends I know recently had to redecorate their real Christmas tree. Their old one suddenly died and all of the work and time they put into decorating the first tree was undone when they had to take all of the ornaments off and put them back on a new tree.

Christmas trees are like stories of a family, which is why I like them. Each ornament has a reason for being there. On this particular tree, each of the kids had a “My First Christmas” ornament with the year on it. Some ornaments were handmade and it was easy to trace back and see who was responsible for its creation based on whose name was on the back. All of their ornaments told stories through bible verses, macaroni and beans placed on cardboard, places they had been. and pictures of the children frozen for that moment of time, adorning the tree with their smiles from Christmases in years past. I noticed a rather new ornament on their tree to comemorate their son who was born on December 18th last year. Imagining Christmases where he wasn’t part of the family, before he existed was strange. With him, a new tradition was born. Now, this family will celebrate his birth while also remembering Christmas.

We can sing the same songs each year and they bring us comfort. We can drink our peppermint mochas, sit by the fire, play games with people we love, reconnect with old friends. We can have Christmas trees or not. We can choose to engage with one another this Christmas or choose to hide away. We can choose to be busy shopping or we can take a few moments to reflect on our year. We can choose to celebrate Christmas or dread it.

As I grow older and remember Christmas traditions I want to keep and make, I remember moments and people, not just things. I remember laughing to the point of tears when coming up with funny names to put on Christmas presents, accidentally revealing gifts that were still wrapped, and songs sung in basements on clanky pianos on a farm in Ohio. I remember Christmas plays and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” I remember my dad holding my hand at church. I remember the statue we have of Santa kneeling next to the baby Jesus in a manger and what a picture of humility that taught me even when I wasn’t aware yet.

This Christmas, I choose to embrace. I choose to let family and friends and God in. I choose to move forward and hope that next year things will look and feel a little different and the traditions I will keep will remain close.

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