Tuesday, 25 Dec 2001

Is it possible to have a joyful Christmas one day shy of six weeks after your son dies? Is it possible to find peace on such a day? Is it possible to experience some of the happiness from the past, before your whole life had been changed, never to be the same again?

Yes, yes it is, and I want you to know that. I want you to know that even when the very worst thing possible happens, when your child dies and there is nothing you want more for Christmas than to have them back, and that is not possible, it is possible to rejoice. I don't talk about something that I haven't experienced. I don't say this glibly, without emotion or feeling. I say this because I have experienced it. I have now lived through it, and as the day comes to a close, even I am amazed still at what an awesome God we have!! Why oh why do I still stand amazed at how much He loves us and wants to help us? I don't know. I guess because I'm still learning, and I will never know all that there is to know about Him until I too meet him face to face. I wonder how Phil's first Christmas in heaven was. How was the party? Was there one? Do they pick out a special day to celebrate Christ's earthly birth, or is every day "Christmas" in heaven? I wouldn't be surprised. Why would they not celebrate the Lord every day when He is in their presence, as He should be in ours, but we get busy. We get busy working, or playing or cleaning, or shopping, or whatever, and He is not our main focus. But in heaven, how can He not be? There He is, right before their eyes. They can literally bow down at His feet and worship Him. He can literally wrap His arms around them and comfort them, and share His wisdom. They know His "address" and He knows theirs. After all, He did prepare a room for them, as He will for us. Ahhh, the wonder of heaven. So many are there this Christmas that were not there last Christmas. I thought of all the families of September 11th who had an empty chair at the table this year. I thought of all those I know personally or through friends or family that have gone home this year. It seems like so many for some reason. I was wondering if God was extra busy this year gathering His sheep...hey God!! I'm here and ready to be gathered!! :) I was thinking about all the people with heavy hearts and praying for them, wondering how they were doing, knowing it must be different for everyone. I didn't know how I would do. I started out pretty miserable to tell you the truth. Yesterday I struggled as the day got started. I started with a heartache the night before, woke with a stomachache and then moved into a jaw ache. Some of the ways I grieve, I guess. I try to think of the heartache as a growing instead of a missing. Just like the Grinch, whose heart grew four (?) sizes that day, I think that with all that I am feeling my heart is growing and stretching and that is why it hurts so much. I try to think of my stomachache as a hunger for God. When it hurts I should go to His word and eat and drink to fill that void. I still have not figured out what to do with the jaw ache, but I'm sure that will come in time. As the day went on, my misery would come and go as I would try different "tools" to help get through this time like the Bible, praying, inspirational videos and music. But actually, I thought it would be better to just get Christmas over with, and not have to think about it so much. Then God, who knows our every need, stopped by....not really God but God's love through a faithful servant and friend of mine. She knocked on the door and dropped off a basket, and a card, then quickly left. I sat down and read the card, and it said that in the basket were four candles that she had saved from Phil's Memorial Service, and there was a fifth candle in the basket also. A gold one, the others were white. The four white candles were to be lit by the four of us, in memory of Phil, and the gold candle was to be lit for all of them, all those lives that had been touched by Phil's. I set the basket on the dining room table and headed off to church, not knowing the impact that those candles would have on the peace God would bring into our home this Christmas.

Pastor John spoke on "Home for the Holidays" this year. He spoke about all those who would be home and all those who wouldn't, for many reasons. He said if we have an empty chair at our table this year, if we are missing a loved one, we should fill that chair with Jesus. We should invite Him into our home, to sit at our table, to gather around our tree. To toast the Lord, whatever we chose, but to invite the Savior to this Christmas. He and He alone could fill that empty spot. When we arrived home from church, we sat down to some chili and cornbread, but not until I shared with Jim, Jimm and Chris what the basket on the table was for. I read the card, and then we each unwrapped a thick white candle and set it before us on the table, along with the gold candle. We each lit a candle in Phil's memory and then I read

John 8:12 as it was also written in the card. John 8:12 reads: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Then we joined hands as Jim prayed over our family and our meal, thanking God for our many blessings and for our extended family and friends and for the food provided. We ate in peace as we remembered Phil, and it was good.

The next morning, we repeated this once again, as we lit our candles and read scripture and prayed before our meal, and then once again later in the day before we enjoyed our turkey dinner, we repeated it once again. In doing so, each time we honored our Savior, we gave thanks, and we remembered Phil and all that he meant to us, and with that, that empty "chair" at the table was filled. Filled with the peace of God that transcends understanding. Filled with the joy of the Lord even in the midst of sorrow. Filled with His goodness and His care for a hurting family who missed someone so much we didn't know if we wanted to celebrate this day at all.  I truly believe, it will be one of our most memorable Christmass' ever. Not because of tears, or pain or missing, but because of the peace that filled our home. Because of the Savior, and who He is and what He offers to us on His birthday. The greatest gifts ever, the gifts of peace and hope and eternal life. We sat there as a family mourning our loss and missing Phil, for sure, never doubt that, but also as a family with the hope that one day we will all be together again, and the joy that will bring. Phil is not dead, he is more alive than ever, and we are not dead because our grieving makes us feel that way, we are more alive than ever because more than ever before, we feel the presence of the Lord as a family and we see our need for a Savior. We laughed, we opened our gifts, we ate our turkey and our pie and we watched "A Christmas Story" 24 hour marathon. We talked of Phil as we opened our gifts and throughout the day, and we kept the gold candle, now moved into the living room, lit all day. Phil was with us in spirit and we felt that warmth. It felt good to remember him. It felt good to know we can remember and not always be devastated because of our loss when those memories include such hope. Oh, how we miss him, we do, and oh how we wish he was here with us today, but we know that we can go forward in life, healthy and happy and as a family, even with one missing member. It is possible, even in so short of a time. It's not dishonoring Phil to enjoy this day, it's in his honor and his memory that we enjoy this day and keep him close, grieving as those with hope. Praise God for His goodness. We see it so clearly!

As the day comes to a close, I pray that all of you have found that peace and joy, even if there was an empty chair at your table. I hope Jesus filled that chair, as he did Phil's. We thank you for all the prayers being said for our family and for the protection and help they provided on this day, and every day.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!