10 Thank You’s

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest had an interesting school assignment.  He had to tell something about his life using the numbers 1-10.  Pretty cool!

As we near Thanksgiving, I’d like to share ten things about life I am thankful for using the numbers 1-10.

#10 – My great-grandmother gave me, for my 10th birthday, a 110 Instamatic camera.  As soon as I held it, I was hooked for life.  Someone once told me photography is my voice to the world.  Nailed it!  Although my cameras have changed over the years, it’s been an unending love affair ever since.

#9 –  God has richly blessed my life with nine fantastic girlfriends.  These are women I deeply admire and respect.  They are funny, smart, godly, and irreplaceable.  They are women who I know I can call anytime of day for anything – and they me.  We laugh till it hurts, pray for and with each other, and love sharing life together.  They never cease to amaze me with the bottomless love, grace and mercy they weave into their lives.  I want to be like them when I grow up!  We may have many friends and acquaintances, but I am spoiled with these nine women who generously let me in their worlds and love me back.  You know who you are!

#8 –  This Thanksgiving I am thankful for eight years with my dad.  With his permission, I published a devotion about our story (click here) , and today I find myself sitting here thinking about him.  This will be the first Thanksgiving since he died last December.  This time last fall, we were traveling back and forth almost every weekend crossing state lines to visit him in the hospital.  Every time we went, he was a little weaker.  On the fifth trip, we received the call to hurry and say goodbye, and so we dropped everything and went.  I am so glad we did.  When I was in his hospital room, a different kind of sadness overtook my heart.  It seems most people have a hard time letting go of a loved one because of how much history they share and how deeply they have loved.  I found myself mourning not what we had, but what we won’t have.  Over the past year, I have mourned the lack of a future together rather than a past.  Our history involved decades of silence and hurt.  But, once we reconciled, with Christ as our mediator, we got 8 great years together.  Driving home from saying goodbye to him for the final time, I said to Bruce, Life is messy.  People aren’t perfect, but many people live their whole lives with family only on the surface level.  Ray and I may have only had 8 years together, but they were deep.  I would have rather had 8 years of fulling loving each other than a lifetime of staying merely relatives.  I miss him a lot.  I continue to miss what we won’t get to have this side of heaven.  But, I look forward to the day I will see him again – cancer free – and this time we have eternity to look forward to spending together.  No more goodbyes.

#7 – My family is blessed to spend Thanksgiving with seven family members, in addition to our party of five, this year.  We love our extended family and cherish the tradition of getting together.  Cousins, grandmother, uncles, aunts, and in-laws – we have a great time together!  We are blessed that everyone gets along great and is as excited as we are to be together.  The family game of football, Black Friday shopping, and leftover turkey sandwiches are great times, but it’s an extra blessing to be with people who share life together not just on the holidays.  Although we all live in different places, we have so much in common.  Whether it be old memories of times we’ve shared or fond stories about people we miss, no one understands it like those who lived it, too.  I am very thankful for the blessing of family.

#6 – My dog turned six this year.  She is my 4th child.  Although I’ve had pets all my life, I always dreamed of a dog who wanted to be with me.  A dog I can let off the leash and not worry about her running away because she actually wants to stay with me.  This is my dog.  She is my shadow, my friend.  Yesterday, she had some oral surgery leaving her very sore and quite loopy from the anesthesia.  When we got home from the vet, she followed behind me making the most pitiful moans and groans.  I thought she was hungry because of the fast for surgery so I gave her a small amount of food.  She ate it all up, but followed me still.  I caved in and gave her more.  Gobbled it up, but followed me still.  She stood at my feet while I washed dishes in the kitchen, begging with her glassy eyes and shaved I.V. leg.  I remembered her favorite treats, so I cut up a couple really small.  She loved them, but returned under foot.  She had such a longing in her eyes.  I turned off the faucet, looked at her and said, I don’t know what you want?  What it is?  She cocked her head to the side like she usually does when trying to tell me something.  We have this special bond, and it was in that moment I said, Do you just want me?  She cocked her head again and raised her paw to me.  So, I left the kitchen and sat down on the couch.  She jumped up on my lap and snuggled down.  Within just a minute or two, she was fast asleep in my arms.  Content.  Comfortable.  Loved.

#5 – God hand-picked five incredible people to be a part of my life – through an unusual way.  Three of them (plus a brother in-law!) come by way of my dad’s third marriage.  I have two step-sisters and one step-brother.  From the day I first met them when I was 13 years old, they all welcomed me into their family and although we don’t get to see each other much, I love them and am honored to call them friends.  They are really good people.  You know what I mean?  Honest, sincere, funny and witty.  They love their country, family and never met a stranger.  The other two people are newer to me and are nothing short of a gift from God.  They are…my half brothers!  From my dad’s first marriage (we were marriage #2), these guys remained a mystery to me until last December.  When my dad died, they both came to his celebration of life service.  Oh my!  I was instantly smitten with the idea of having these two men in my life.  They are kind, genuine and want me in their life!  How about that?  Whereas we went to honor the loss of our mutual father, it was in his death that new life sprang up between theses guys and me.  We live long-distance, but it is an enormous blessing to share emails and Facebook with them.  Our dad would be so happy!  Also, I got to meet their mom and she is wonderful!  Actually, all 3 wives would get along great if my mom were alive today.  The peace and harmony in our colorful family is Christ.  Everyone single one of us are believers, and that is what makes this unique situation – not just work – but be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  I LOVE having two half-brothers and am forever grateful they have room in their hearts for me.  Life, no – God, is full of surprises!

#4 – I am thankful for four words – blessing, honor, glory & power.  One of my favorite worship songs is Philips, Craig & Dean’s When the Stars Burn Down.  What a great song about what is to come!  In the meantime, these four words usurp everything this world can throw at us.  Whether we are at our peak or in the deepest valley, it all pales in comparison to the majesty of the God we serve.  If I am shouting praise or crying His name through pain, who God is covers all.  The mere shadow of the train of His robe dwarfs the problems of this world as well as sets me up for the anticipation of the very real world that awaits.  With a word, the sun will fade, the moon will hide and the world as we know it will be changed.  In all of the seasons of life, my heart claims again and again and again blessing, honor, glory & power.  There is strength, healing and grace in the Name that saves.

#3 – I am blessed with three amazing kids!!!!!  Each one of them was born with a different love language and communication style, unique talents and gifts – life is never boring with them!  They are so much fun.  They love their family deeply and show it in their own way.  I never thought I’d have 3 kids.  Never thought I’d have boys – and I have two.  Never thought I’d have a daughter who is so much like her mother. 🙂  In the mornings while I sleepily gather lunchboxes, my oldest son tells me often how pretty he thinks I am.  To me, there nothing pretty about morning stick-up hair, my husband’s robe I stole from him long ago 😉 or my less-than-enthusiastic attitude pre-sunrise, but he says he sees a mom who is willing to get up and make breakfast and lunch and see him off for the day and that he thinks that’s beautiful.  My teenage daughter, when asked in a survey at a girls retreat who her best friend is, listed me!!  Need I say more?  My youngest, a tween, still hugs me every single time he leaves for any activity – and he doesn’t care who sees.  Even at school, in the middle of tons of cars and kids, he’ll give me a hug and a kiss.  I’m never going to turn it down.  I am blessed beyond measure with awesome kids and I never, ever take that granted.

#2 – Two surgical boots.  That’s right!  I am thankful for this season of healing for Bruce and me.  Although it is crazy, stressful, choatic and literally painful, this season has brought me such beautiful blessings of: having my husband work from home (I get to see him more!), some stolen lunches together (something we otherwise never get to have), and a renewed compassion for each other.  First, I was down for the count after surgery and he cared for me.  Then, he fell from 20′ and has been quite injured and it’s my turn to care for him – even as I hobble to do it.  Watching ourselves limp in tandem around the house, hearing the loud velcro strips from our boots either coming off or putting them on, sharing the ice machine – and even the shower seat (EWW!!) has slowed our pace, let us laugh at life, and has reminded us that in the daily grind of the week we are people, not machines.  Nursing our medical issues has also given us permission to simply go to bed earlier with no guilt.  Something both of us needed.

#1 – There is one Name that saves.  Only one.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He is my true love, hope, salvation, joy, purpose, friend, brother, King, Lord, Prince of Peace, manager, coach, cheerleader, encourager, my Savior – my everything!  I will give Him thanks today and always.  To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25)

What is your top ten? 🙂

Breaking Tradition

Yesterday, I wrote about one of our family’s favorite Thanksgiving traditions.  Today, there is a different story to share.

Growing up, I used to come up with all kinds of ideas to hopefully draw our family closer together.  There weren’t many fun times that I can remember living through 2 divorces, a very frightful childhood with my stepfather and my mom dying of cancer when I was a teenager.  Still, something inside me just couldn’t lay down and die – though at one point I thought it may be my only hope to escape the stress and trauma I knew as our “normal.”

My mom said I was an eternal optimist.  I didn’t know what that meant, so she described it as always trying to see the positive in people and situations.  I’m not sure I understood that either as a child, but I knew that something inside me always wanted to look at the bright side of life – even if I had to search hard to find it.

To lighten the unrelenting heaviness that hung over our house laced with financial woes and other issues, despite my mom’s tireless efforts to provide as best she could, I tried to start little traditions.  Most of the time I was the only one who wanted to keep them going.  It’s okay.  I understood.

One tradition I came up with was at Thanksgiving was (this is not a new idea, but it was new to our family) when we gathered around the table with my grandparents and immediate family, we would all say one thing we were thankful for before the blessing was offered.

This tradition stuck for a while…until 1994.  By then, I was married (at 19) and was making the annual trek to my grandparents’ home for Thanksgiving – where our very small family spent all of our holidays.

However, this year, my grandfather was dying of lung cancer.  He was an honorable man.  Everyone in the community knew him and respected him.  He began his work career unloading shipments on the docks at 13 years old and retired with the same company at 65 in upper management.  He was faithful to his wife, said what he meant, and counted every penny.  I feared him – in a good way.  He was steady, consistent – something my home didn’t offer me.  He had a soft side that only we saw and was quietly generous toward others.

Thanksgiving 1994, Bruce and I came over like we usually did for the big feast.  I really didn’t have a thought in my mind about the day, as I had taught myself (for better or worse) to navigate holidays with a sense of numbness.  I allowed myself to feel happiness, but nothing else for those 24 hours.  I was a master compartmentalizer, if you will.

But, not so with Granddad on this day.  He most certainly had something on his mind.

We didn’t know at the time he was dying.  He was very sick, but we thought he was still fighting with hope of beating the odds.  Whether or not he knew differently, I’ll never know.  He pulled me aside.

A private conversation with him was rare.  In fact, I think this was our only one ever.

He surprised me by saying, This year, Kristi, when we sit down to eat, I don’t want to go around the table and say something we are thankful for.

My response was what it always was, Yes, Sir.

He walked away without another word, but I stood in the darkened hallway speechless, with my breath caught in my throat.

First, I was surprised he paid attention to my little tradition.  Being the baby of the family, I grew up feeling completely unheard (Thus, this blog! Hmm.) and oftentimes humored and even laughed at.  Many of my thoughts, convictions and opinions were discounted or just plain ignored by my family.  I really couldn’t believe he paid this one tradition any mind at all.

Second, which was more impactful to me, was that by him saying this to me, it was the first time since he became sick that I saw him as a fragile man.

He had always been larger-than-life to me.  He was…Granddad.  The military veteran, loyal employee, devoted husband, church-goer, excellent golfer and manager of their house. He was also a man of very few words.

When he pulled me aside, he allowed me to see a vulnerable side of his heart.  All of a sudden I saw him as human, not superhero.  I saw his cancer through fresh eyes and realized how serious it was (I was 24 at the time).  It’s like I saw a different man standing before me.  An aged man, weathered from life and illness.

He rarely, and I mean if ever, let his innermost feelings show.  When he asked/told me this, he was heading me off at the pass before we could reach the table where I would blindly begin the tradition.

I was stunned.  Humbled.  Somber.  Sad.  Grateful.

It was the first time I felt he looked at me as an adult.

Out of great respect for him, and for his risk in sharing with me his most private feelings, it was an honor not to bring up the tradition of telling what we are thankful for at the table.

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a season and purpose for everything.  This was not the season for this tradition.

Although I can be very stubborn for the cause, pulling myself up by the bootstraps for what I believe in and fight for it, it was a humbling decision to lay this down that year.

He died a month later.

At the holidays, traditions can help us relive fond memories, create new ones, and make the season simply more fun and special.  But, sometimes traditions can hurt.  Even if they don’t hurt us, they may hurt someone we love.

I’m all for traditions, but Granddad taught me that it’s not all about me.  Other people are involved and have feelings, too.  Sometimes traditions need to be paused out of consideration of others…and that’s okay.

With the world spinning in chaos, who I am today, because of Granddad, approaches holidays light-footed.  I try to be sensitive to others around me whether it is: inviting those without family to be a part of ours for the holiday; to simplify things so as to not cause a financial burden on my husband; or even quietly let a tradition slip by unnoticed if it helps someone else through a difficult season.

We may not have practiced our thankful tradition that year, but I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give my granddad the gift of compassion.  Something a hardworking, proud man doesn’t easily receive.

No one ever knew about this moment between us until now.  I’ve kept it close to my heart, but want to share it as I know I am not alone in wondering how to approach the holidays – which are no respecter of problems, come what may.

I have found that if I step back, breathe and ask God how to handle certain traditions, He gives me a perspective different than the one I see from where my feet stand in the longitude and latitude of life.

If a special tradition isn’t observed this year because of a difficult situation, it’s okay to grieve it and let it go – for now.  However, sometimes it’s important to celebrate a tradition in spite of the situation, but it can be difficult to discern which way is best.  Rest knowing that God is bigger than all circumstance and loves us so much He is only a prayer away.  He’ll carry your burden and give you wisdom if you ask Him.  He may even give you back an unexpected blessing in return.

For me, the blessing was getting to share a moment with Granddad that we otherwise never would have had.  That moment is now one of my most special memories with him.  And when my family sits around the table this Thanksgiving and says what we are thankful for, I’m sure I’ll have lots to say, but one I will be feeling in my heart is the Thanksgiving of 1994 when, for the first time in my life, I could give back to the man who always selflessly sacrificed for me.  And for that, I will always be thankful.