Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tablecloth Memories

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies, 
and the God of all comfort
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation..."
2 Corinthians 1:3,4
(KJV)

How was your Christmas?
I hope you had special moments...
with family, friends, and those you love the most.
I hope you made great memories....
that will last you the whole year through.
I hope when you look back on this Christmas,
it will be with the fondest, most cherished thoughts.

It's always sad when it's over.
We spend so much time,
expend so much energy,
build so much excitement...
that the day after...
well, it can be a pretty big letdown.

Not so, at our house.

Because a very special thing happens at our house every year.

On the day after we celebrate Jesus' birthday...
we celebrate Zachary's birthday!

I can't believe today he turned 12.
Twelve!
How could this be?
Where did the years go?
How quickly they have come and gone!

This year, we started Zach's birthday celebration early...
during the evening on Christmas Day.

I've always striven to make his birthday a completely separate event...
so he wouldn't feel cheated.  :-)

But, this year, it was his choice to combine the two.
Somehow, it just made it more bearable to him...
to start his birthday with more of his loved ones around him.
I consented...
to be honest,
I really wasn't up to a big shebang, either.
I have relived last Christmas...
his last birthday...
then imagined this Christmas...
and this birthday...
without Mom...
over and over and over....
only to feel completely overwhelmed...
and unequal to the task ahead of me...
to even face the two days.

So, after we finished our Christmas meal
and all of the dishes were washed and put away,
I switched gears...
and table cloths.
I took off the Christmas one,
and replaced it with the birthday one...
and I added the "Happy Birthday" banner 
under the "Merry Christmas" banner...
in our dining room.


Our birthday table cloth is unlike any other on earth.
I guarantee you will never find another one like it....
if you search the whole world over.

It is invaluable to me, 
though it didn't cost much when we bought it new...years ago.

It isn't unique because of the plastic material from which it is made,
nor is it unusual because of its design or color or print.

I'll tell you why it is so special.

On the tablecloth,
are names.
Signatures.
Words of well-wishers.
Followed by dates.
Written with permanent ink markers....
held by loving, caring hands...
over the past several years...
each time someone in our family or circle of friends 
has celebrated a birthday...around our table.  

We started the tradition years ago, 
and we continue to add to it.
We used to just sign and write messages in the balloons along the sides,
but now we have started signing it in the middle, 
because we were running out of balloons.  :-)


When I take it out of its usual storage spot...
in our kitchen cupboard...
and I look at all the names, dates, words...
I am taken back...
to so many moments...
so many occasions.

So many memories!

They flood my mind...
as I unfold it and spread it from one end of our table to the other.

Yesterday, as I looked down at the tablecloth...
on the end closest to where I was standing near Zach's chair...
it caught my eye.
In Mom's familiar handwriting, I read, "Mom 2-3-2012".
It serves as a stark reminder
that it was the very last time 
she signed or ever will sign that cloth.
She signed it just this year....
on Kevin's birthday.
Just a short distance away...
over to the left of Mom's signature...
I felt another stab of sadness as I spotted Dad's familiar scrawl,
"Dad 2-14-2000"...
it was the very last time he signed it...
or ever will.

The two signatures happened to fall right in front 
of Zachary's spot at the end of the table.
I pointed it out to some in the room.

We all shed our share of tears yesterday...
and had our moments....
missing her.

Seeing their handwriting there...near to us...
somehow brought a sense of comfort...
as if a part of them is still here.

I'm glad we started signing that tablecloth...
I'm glad we have held on to it all these years.

It wouldn't mean much to anyone else...
but it means the world to me.
There are so many memories attached.
I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I dread the day it rips or becomes unusable!
When it does, I'll store it away someplace safe...
and then, God willing, we'll start another one.

Life must go on.
Even when we are hurting.
We must cherish the memories,
relive the happy times,
find comfort in moments of reminiscing,
then we have to realize that to linger there too long is unhealthy.
To try to recapture something that is gone forever...
is unwise.

Life is happening all around us.
There are others who need us to be strong.
We must thank God for the time He allowed us to share with 
those who have gone on, then
we must go on....living...
until He calls us home to join them.

God is so faithful.
He knew how hard these first occasions would be...
without Mom.

So, He has sent us extra-special blessings....
one right after the other...
through little special reminders of His love....
through the dear, thoughtful deeds and kindnesses....
of those who care.

We are so blessed to have a caring Heavenly Father
Who knows exactly what we need....
when we need it.

Sometimes, we look ahead, 
and our hearts become so overwhelmed....
dreading the emotions,
wondering how we will ever get through the pain, 
when all along, God has it all worked out.
He has a plan....
to get us through the impossible....
to make bearable...the unbearable.

Many are hurting this holiday season.
Not every heart is merry.
There are many empty chairs.
Vacant spots.
Missing links...
in the family circle.

More than once yesterday,
my thoughts went to Connecticut....
to the parents who were unable to watch their darlings
open the gifts they had already bought for them...
on Christmas morning.
Too soon the candles of their little, precious lives
were violently and abruptly blown out...
snatched from the scene of life.
As we prayed and asked the blessing over our Christmas meal,
we begged God to comfort those families...
to be with them.

My thoughts often go to my dear cousin, Steve, 
who has had far more than his fair share of grief...
this year and in recent years.
To be honest, I can't imagine how he is putting one foot in front of the other...
other than the fact He is being under girded by God's everlasting arms.
He lost his 9 year old grand-daughter.
She was more like his daughter.
He raised her, cared for her, loved her...
as his very own.
Not too long after, he lost his mother.
They were very close.
Just a few short months ago, 
he lost his wife, the love of his life.
Now, just a few days before this Christmas,
he lost his daughter, Stephanie.
My heart breaks for him.
There is no human comfort...
that can heal his broken heart.
I think of him, and all I know to do is pray...
that somehow God will do what I do not know how to do.
That the God of all comfort will reach down and mend the broken pieces of his heart.
That He will know that God is love....
and His great, Father heart breaks...
right along with his.

If you are lonely,
if you are missing someone,
if death has touched your life this year,
my heart goes out to you, my friend.

I understand.
I can relate.
All of our circumstances are different,
but we share a common sorrow...
a common thread weaves through our individual places of pain.
I understand, and I can relate,
and we share a common bond...
but I can only go so far.
As much as I would like to make it all go away,
as much as it would thrill my heart to eliminate your grief,
I am so inadequate.
No amount of empathy...or sympathy...on my part will relieve your heartache.

Since I am so powerless to help,
do I leave you without hope?
Never!
Jesus loves you.
He sees you cry.
He hears your heart shatter...
time after time after time.
He isn't rushing you.
He applies no pressure...
no time restraints on the length of your grieving process.
He only wishes to hold you...
close to Him....
in His arms.

He is the only true Source of comfort.

There are many things readily available to ease the pain...
at least for the moment.
There are boundless options out there...to dull the senses...
to mask the root...
of the deep-seated sorrow.

But, as the old song says,
"Other friends may bless and comfort, 
Speak a kind and cheering word;
But the balm to heal the heartache,
Only Jesus can afford."

It's true.
Only Jesus can afford...
only He can provide...
what we really need.

His comfort is permanent.
It doesn't wear off after a few hours...
leaving you in a crashing, crushing whirlwind of despair.

The aftermath of His comfort is peace....
calm assurance...
that you are not alone.
That He is there.
That even though you must walk this lonely path,
you are accompanied by the most understanding of friends.
That He has walked this path ahead of you...
and He knows how you feel.

This is how you experience His love...
on the most intimate of all levels.
Those who trust Him through the grieving process
enter a realm of fellowship with Christ
unknown to and inexperienced by others.

Through my grief, I have come to know Christ better than I did before.
He has opened Himself to me...
revealed His love....
drawn me to Him....
in an unexplainable way.

There just are no words.

Recently, we attended a live re-enactment of 
the life of Jesus Christ...
from the time of Isaiah's prophecy...
to the time of His resurrection from the dead.

It lasted over two hours.
I was speechless.
Spellbound.
It was absolutely amazing.
The old, old story...
of Jesus and His love!
I never grow tired of seeing it,
hearing it,
being told about it...
I long to hear and learn all I can.
Mostly, I yearn to see...
into the hidden joys of salvation.

The pathway to many of those joys...
lies behind undesirable gates.

We don't want to suffer....
or grieve...
or cry.
Our flesh recoils from all things negative.
What we fail to realize is that behind the ugliness,
past the undesirable exterior...
lies the path to know Him better...
to experience His presence...
to enter levels of intimacy...
that are completely unknown to those who never walk 
through the valley.  

As I sat in the massive church auditorium,
watching the actors as they portrayed the life of Jesus Christ,
I cried...multiple times.
It affected me differently than it would have...say....
two years ago.

Oh, I would have been moved.
I would have more than likely cried...
but, it is different now.

My relationship with Him is different.
My walk with Him is different.
I am not the same.

Paths of unpleasantness have proven to be paths to peace...
for me.
He is so real to me.
Never has He walked so close...
to my side.
Never have I experienced the reality...
the nearness of His presence...
as I do right now.
It is not an emotion.
It is the most real reality...
I find no words.
There are no words.
To explain what Jesus means to me....
right now.
It is a deep-down sense of bond that I am completely helpless
to describe.
To say I know Him...
is the closest description I can unearth.

If the death of a loved one has cast its cruel shadow across your path...
if you are walking through the valley...
do not fear, my friend!
He is with you.
Allow Him to console you.
Turn to Him with your grief.
Run into His open arms.
Let Him soothe your inmost soul with His peace.
You will find something more precious than gold.
You will discover peace that passes all understanding.
You will walk out of your valley completely transformed.
Your relationship with Jesus will never be the same.

He is there.
Lean on Him.
Let Him fill your soul...
with His Spirit....
the Comforter!

A new year is approaching.
We do no injustice to the memories of our loved ones
to within ourselves determine to enjoy the new year ahead.
We are not forgetting them....
or forsaking them.
We must keep living.
They would want us to.

I cherish the tablecloth...
and so many other reminders of my parents.
I won't toss those reminders away.
But, I will not allow them to pull me back
to the point of hopelessness.
I will take comfort from them when I can...
I will relive the moments from time to time as reminders come across my path.
And I will move forward, by God's grace.
To embrace His love.
To accept His peace.
To walk in confidence...
that He is with me...
that I am better...and stronger...for having walked through the gate of sorrow...
that I am closer to Him for having experienced the undesirable.

I will look to the future...
to watching the tablecloth completely fill up....
with comments and signatures and names....
to life...
and all of God's goodness.

And I will rest assured that in the hard times...
He will be there...
in the most real and precious of ways.

If you are hurting,
please know that I care.
Jesus does, too.
Unlike me,
He can help you.

All you have to do is let Him.






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