Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Eve in the Balcony

In a few hours it will be New Year's Eve ~ December 31, 2008. I plan to spend at least part of New Year's Eve in the balcony. British theologian Alister McGrath, in his book Suffering and God, shares an analogy of the balcony and the road, to illustrate one's perspective while on life's journey.

In this analogy, the balcony refers to a platform that protrudes from an upper window to allow one to see off into the distance, to see how far one has come, to see what lies ahead, or to simply gaze at the journey from a fresh vantage point.

The road is that place "where life is tensely lived . . . where choices are made and decisions are carried out." The road, where one may travel far with the wind at one's back, or grind to a halt from insurmountable pressures of stress, conflict and loss.

When I remain on the road, I see the projects I did not complete, those extra pounds I did not lose, the time I wasted on petty things. I see places where weeds grow up to block the way. On the road, I stand face-to-face with the struggles and obstacles which at times seem to overwhelm me.

I really am looking forward to climbing into the balcony on New Year's Eve. From that perspective, I see all the ground I did cover in 2008. I see the boulders that were in my path, and somehow I managed to navigate around them. I see where the road narrowed and was difficult, yet I kept on putting one foot in front of the other to travel on.

And in the balcony, I will turn to face the road ahead. I can see that I indeed am not alone as there are other travelers further along the same road I intend to travel. I get a clear picture of where it is I am going. I can see that even though the road may twist and turn, it takes me where I want to go if I just keep moving along. My perspective on life is transformed in the balcony!

Maybe your road in 2008 was straight and clear, and you are rejoicing in the successes you have experienced along the way! That is a wonderful way to celebrate on New Year's Eve.

Maybe your year has had times of disappointment or despair. Maybe you wish you could simply forget 2008 completely. I invite you to step off the road of life and climb into the balcony to gain a clearer perspective on the past twelve months, and to look ahead to the coming new year. It is quite a view from the balcony!

Happy New Year from Life's Balcony!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

O Holy Night is a well-known Christmas carol composed in 1847 to accompany a French poem about the night of Jesus's birth. Although our English version is not a direct translation of the French poem, it communicates to me the significance of this night.

For most families around the world, Christmas Eve is a night of anticipation. For children, it means falling to sleep and waking up to see what gifts await them. For parents, it often means a long night of assembling those "easy to assemble" toys for our children, and awaiting their shouts of joy. For many, it is traditionally the night we celebrate our Savior's birth.

This year, the anticipation of Christmas Eve is even clearer to me. As you can tell by the name of my blog, I love the notion of redeeming the future. (Honestly, there may be some readers who scratch their heads at the name of my blog.) My desire is to look at the events of this fallen world through a new lens. And to me, Christmas Eve, one of the most blessed nights in history, is perhaps the greatest example of redeeming the future for all of us.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to redeem means to:
• to buy back • to change for the better • to make good • to exchange for something of value • to free from what distresses or harms • to offset the bad effect of • to free from the consequences of sin • to release from blame or debt • to make worthwhile

For me, redeeming the future means that I can transform the pain of my past, the lament of my losses, the offenses of life, the disappointments and failures, and change it for the better, make it good, exchange it for something of value, release the blame, and make it worthwhile. It means I can have "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow." Lamentations 3:19-25

O Holy Night, when "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Phillipians 2:5-8

O Holy Night, when our Savior came to the world that lay in sin and error pining, to bring the promise of a future with Him.

O Holy Night, when my soul felt its worth.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Present

This past December 2007, as Andy sat before the computer to compose their Christmas letter, tears were all he could produce. Andy and Stephanie hoped to announce the wonderful news that they were expecting their first child. But two years of infertility and a miscarriage finally wore their spirits thin. Tears were all they had . . . and who sends tears at Christmas?

Andy and Stephanie knew the Babe of Bethlehem came to earth to bring salvation, yet the joy of Christmas was dampened by their sorrow. They worshiped Him as King of Kings. But their grief was great. Their hearts were heavy.

Trusting God with their grief, Andy and Stephanie began to accept the fact that they may not produce children of their own, and they began to work with an adoption agency. There were questionnaires to complete, interviews to go through, and classes to learn about how to be adoptive parents. Then, the morning after they completed a weekend parenting seminar on adoption, Andy and Stephanie were surprised by a positive pregnancy test!

Once again, they had conceived! But like others who live with the burden of infertility, their joy was mixed with the reality that another miscarriage may occur. Again, they waited on the Lord.

Now, Christmas Present is here, as Andy sits before the computer this December 2008, he has magnificent news to share. The Lord has given them a precious daughter, Annaliese Joy, who came into their world on November 18th. In their Christmas letter, Andy writes, “She is beautiful like her mother and each day we both fall more madly in love with her. I can better imagine now the love the Father must have for us as His children.”

I am privileged to know Andy and Stephanie as friends. I am grateful for their willingness to be transparent in their pain and sorrow. Although they cried many tears, and their empty arms at Christmas, 2007 was a very difficult time, they never lost the perspective of a loving heavenly Father who sent his Son to earth over 2000 years ago.

In their sorrow, Andy and Stephanie turned to this Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, to carry their burden, to restore their joy, and to increase their faith. What God taught them about His promises could not have been learned except in the depths of their need. And the beauty of redemption is that it truly sets one free to restore the future, to be transformed rather than destroyed by the pain of the past.

This story of Christmas Present is not about redeeming the future because a precious daughter was born into their family. The birth of Annaliese does not take away the pain and grief of the life they lost through miscarriage and the sorrow of years of infertility. Andy and Stephanie began to redeem the future in the midst of their grief. It was there, in the dark night of the soul, that the potential existed for this young couple to be destroyed by the loss of the dream of having children of their own. But Andy and Stephanie chose daily, in the midst of their pain, to be transformed along the way. By God’s grace and mercy, they chose to rest in the everlasting arms of God, to trust Him with the losses, and in the process, their lives continue to glorify God and draw others to His Kingdom. That, my friends, is redeeming the future.

Revelation 21:3-5 promises: And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new," and He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true."

Welcome Annaliese Joy

Precious Gift of God

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmases Past

I keep our Christmas decorations in narrow plastic bins under our bed. We always pull the dust covered containers out from under the bed in the days following Thanksgiving as we anticipate the coming of Christmas. I remember when Amy and Scott were little - the excitement of opening those bins each year and their joy as they placed the decorations around the house and on the tree.

I vividly remember Christmas, 1995. Amy was in her first year of college at Biola in southern California. Scott was a sophomore at Immanuel High School in Reedley. As was our tradition, we went out to a local Christmas tree farm, and cut down the perfect tree. Scott wanted to begin decorating the tree immediately. I told him that we were going to wait for Amy to arrive home from college before we decorate the tree. I remember saying, "We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree." And we did.

That was December, 1995. In six short weeks, February 1996, Scott was killed in an accident. As December 1996 rolled around, my words from Christmas past rang in my ears - "We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree."

I could not buy a tree for Christmas. I could not pull the bins out from under the bed. I could not feel the joy of the season.

For ten painful years we did not buy a Christmas tree. We did not decorate the house for Christmas. Although we celebrated the holiday in the homes of friends and family, exchanging gifts and sharing meals, I could not bring myself to touch the ornaments Scott had touched his last Christmas on earth. I could not decorate a tree when our family would never be together again this side of eternity.

I remember thinking, "How long will I go on like this?"

In a feeble attempt to conquer the pain, we decided to try a different Christmas tree farm, and we actually purchased a tree for Christmas in 2005 - ten years since the tree we decorated all together. We bravely brought it home, but that was as far as my courage could take me. The tree remained outside, leaning against the side of the garage.

Christmas 2006 again found us able to purchase a tree for our home. We again bravely brought it home. This time, we placed the tree in the stand, and stood it in its rightful place beside the fireplace in our family room. But, sadly, there it stood; we never decorated it. It just stood there throughout the Christmas season; its bare, empty branches a metaphor for my heart. It was Christmas, but something . . . someone . . . was so obviously missing.

Then last year, we purchased one of those fake trees, only about four feet tall, that already has lights attached to it. We set it up in its rightful place and I slid the bins out from under our bed. As I opened each bin, I was hit with waves of emotions that brought all the pain and sorrow of losing Scott right back to me. There were the ornaments celebrating his early years. There were the precious trinkets he had made in school. There was the box of glassables, what Scott called our breakable ornaments when he was little. I pulled out a few items for my grandchildren to hang on the tree and slid the bins back under the bed.

Well, Christmas has come again. This year we decided to have a few friends over to celebrate the season with a Christmas brunch. It sounded like a good idea until I realized that I had set myself up to need to decorate. How could they come to my house and have it not look bleak for Christmas? Yet, how could I face my sorrows stored in those bins under the bed?

I asked Amy if she and the grandchildren could come over to help me. I pulled the bins out from under the bed. Almost immediately upon opening the bins there were once again, shouts of glee as my grandchildren spied some of the decorations for the first time. They joyfully decorated the house and stood back to admire their work. Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was difficult. But it was then that I realized I had to let go of the tight grip I held on my old traditions and embrace new ones . . . new traditions that would have been created even if Scott was still here.

I share my experiences with Christmases Past because Christmas can be one of the saddest times for those who have experienced loss.

If you are one of those who grieves the loss of a dear one, I hope my own experience can bring you some comfort. Everyone's grief is unique and you have the right to own your own journey. It took me ten years to begin to feel like I could face Christmas in a familiar fashion. And then it took another three years to come to the place in my heart where I was ready to create new traditions to build on the old ones. This Christmas, give yourself the gift of listening to your heart. Honor the memories of Christmases Past, take care of yourself this Christmas Present, and look forward to Christmas Future.

If you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, be present to their need. Do not hurry them to leave their grief behind. Do not ask them to experience Christmas through your eyes. Listen to their sorrow. Respect their reasoning. Honor the memories they hold dear. In so doing, you will companion them toward experiencing peace with loss.

For the very Babe of Bethlehem came to earth as the Prince of Peace, and He will reconcile all things to himself in time, and make all things beautiful. Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Soccer Shoes

It's that time of year when the weather turns bitterly cold and the sun does not shine for days through the valley fog. There is much to be done to have Christmas gifts ready to go under the tree, and food prepared for various holiday parties.

But all of that is on hold! There are weekend SOCCER TOURNAMENTS to be played! So we pack the trunk with folding chairs, blankets, snacks and a thermos of hot coffee. We head off for the long-haul of the soccer tournaments to watch our grandson, Kyle, play with the Steel Dragons.

Kyle's team went undefeated in the regular season, and won some games during the tournaments. What a joy to see Kyle learn to play on a team. He has never scored a goal, but as goalie and defense, he stopped many goals from being scored against the Steel Dragons as he contributes to their wins! As forward, he made assists. He discovered some life lessons on this team which will serve him well as he continues on in life - work well with others, do your job and do it well, and rejoice when anyone on the team does something well.

For me, it is a thrill to cheer and coach from the sidelines once again(it's part of my personality, what can I say?). Watching Kyle play soccer is special for another reason, too. Kyle's full name is Kyle Scott Doolittle. He is named after his Uncle Scott, who loved soccer and played well. Kyle often asks, "Did I play like Uncle Scott?" I think Kyle fills his uncle's shoes well!

Today is the last of those tournament games. I am sad that Kyle will have to wait another eight months to play on a soccer team. But for today I am ready! I have my long johns on under layers of clothing. My thermos is ready to go. I will cheer for the sweet boy who loves the Uncle he is yet to meet.

And then I will finish all the holiday demands that are waiting for me as I ready myself for the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus. Thank you, Baby Jesus, for coming at this cold, dreary time of year, to bring the hope of resurrection so sweet Kyle will someday share in our reunion with Uncle Scott.