Do you remember the first time that you “adulted” Christmas? You know – that first Christmas when you carefully curated “real” gifts for everyone on your list without your parents doing the shopping (or the buying) for you. The first year that I lived on my own, I had filled my car with presents for everyone that I loved. I was so proud to have chosen something special for each one of my family members. I was so full of anticipation just imagining everyone’s reactions as they tore through the wrappings.
Sadly, those presents were stolen from my car. I never got to see anyone’s reaction. More than anything – that is what was stolen from my car that night – the joy of seeing my anticipation made full.
Working my way through the holidays without Brooke feels a lot like that moment in 1985 when I walked up to my old Mazda GLC to find it empty. As a mom, my heart brims with anticipation and excitement to see the lives of my children unfold. The driver who hit Brooke stole part of that from me. He robbed me of the joy of seeing that anticipation made full.
This second holiday season is a little tougher than the first. The shock is starting to wear off. The reality is beginning to settle in. I never imagined that part of the holidays would ever include deciding how to decorate my child’s gravesite. It is tempting to believe that anticipation is a waste of time and that joy will never come. What is there even to look forward to?
A lot more than we’d like to admit when our circumstances don’t meet our expectations. The starkness of an unwelcomed reality floods our worlds blinding us from what is still worthy and hopeful. It takes effort to reorient ourselves and to adjust our perspectives when life has zapped us of all emotional, physical, and spiritual energy. Even so – it is worth the effort.
Zig Ziglar once mused, “One of these days you will say either ‘I wish I had’ or ‘I’m glad I did.’” Mustering our effort to move forward in hope is about rejecting “I wish I had” and clinging tightly to “I’m glad I did.”
When I look back upon my short time with Brooke, I can say with my whole heart – “I’m glad I did.” I’m glad that I encouraged her to chase her passion (even when watching her jump horses over three-and-a-half-foot fences made my heart stop). I’m glad that we road tripped across the country chasing boy bands. I’m glad that we made girls’ trips. I’m glad that we took family vacations. I’m glad that she sneaked into my bed as a toddler (even though the doctors were convinced that she was much too old not to sleep in her own bed). I’m glad that we had movie nights, “American Idol” nights, and “Modern Family” nights. I’m glad that she was too “scared” to watch Pretty Little Liars alone. I’m glad that many nights consisted of simple meals around our dining table. I’m glad that the last week of her life she talked me into spaghetti and meatballs, bread, and ice cream (so many “cheats” at one sitting!).
Granted, there were plenty of “I wish I hads” along the way as well. I am grateful beyond measure that they are outweighed by the “I’m glad I dids.” Yet, if I am not careful, I won’t be able to say the same about other loved ones in my life. If we don’t rage against the hurt and brokenness to live life in spite of it all, we may very well find ourselves left with more “I wish I hads” the next go round.
Death, divorce, financial struggles, addiction, illness or any number of other trials may have robbed you of the life that you thought you should have – maybe even a life that you deserved – or earned. The real danger comes if we let the past steal the future. When what we’ve lost overshadows the blessings and joy that we have (and what is still to be had), then Death wins twice. When we shut down in the face of misfortunes, “I wish I hads” are sure to follow. It is music to Satan’s ears to hear – I wish I had made time for family dinners. I wish I had made time for family game night. I wish that I had made time to cruise the neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights. I wish that I had a little more patience with the store clerk. I wish that I had made time to deliver meals to the needy or toys to the underprivileged. I wish that I had read “Goodnight Moon” just one more time before bed. I wish I had made time to roast marshmallows and to play in the snow. I wish that I had been present.
Lord, in this crazy, broken world that becomes even more frenzied for these few weeks at the end of the year – help us be present. Help us to connect with one another. Help us to lend a hand. Help us to slow down and smell the peppermint. Help us to remember that we celebrate this time in remembrance of the greatest time of anticipation as the world awaited the birth of our Savior. Help us to recall that the Son was sent in order to restore our eternal anticipation and to fulfill our everlasting joy. Help us turn our “I wish I hads” into “I’m glad I dids.”