It has always been our family tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving around my parents’ dining room table.
With 3 younger sisters, each year another seat was added to accommodate our own growing families of spouses, children and now grandchildren. Traditions translate into legacies for future generations and offer us a little bit of consistency in an ever-changing world. Thanksgiving of 2010, certainly challenged that sense of certainty and tradition.
Within hours of that years celebration my sister called me with the tragic news that our dad had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Anyone who has experienced the loss of a parent knows there are no words to describe the collective emotions of a family to such a sudden passing. The weeks that followed my dad’s passing were like a thick fog, a viscous mixture of anger and grief. This wasn’t fair. Every holiday season up to that point in my life had been one of joyful memory making baking, shopping, decorating and celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Tragedy had interrupted tradition and we were lost.
In fact, every one of us needed to find our way to build a new tradition. We needed to trust God, and believe that His love would surround us. And it did, individually and in the most unexpected ways.
First, our middle son apologetically reaffirmed his previously set plans to visit his wife’s family in North Georgia that Christmas. I assured him that it was perfectly ok, even while I cringed inwardly at the thought of their absence.
The next call came from our oldest married son sorrowfully stating that he just couldn’t face Christmas without his beloved Pappa. Their family was also headed to the mountains for Christmas camping.
As the days went by and the grief deepened, my husband, youngest daughter and I began to realize that not only would our Christmas not have my Dad, it would not include our 2 sons, 2 treasured daughters-in-love and our 5 Grandchildren. I was overwhelmed.
After some passionate prayer and heartfelt discussions about leaving my Mom during such a difficult time my husband and I made the decision to join our sons and gather as a family at Vogel State Park in the North Georgia Mountains. I hesitantly approached my mom with the plan and invited her to come with us. She encouraged me, as I had encouraged my own children to go where we needed to go to get through this year. The entire car trip I was crying.
I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving my Mom and sisters at such a sad time.
Yet, at the same time I felt God’s peace filling my broken heart, and reminding me to trust him, with my own grief as well as everyone else’s.
In the days leading up to Christmas I started to see the new shape of things. God’s own evergreen trees and brilliant stars filled every space with the sounds and scents of life. I began to surrender traditions I had so tightly held, and slowly embraced what was new. A roaring fireplace surrounded me, kids wandered nomadically in the beautiful state park and grown-ups chattered leisurely. No hustle and bustle. No lines. No malls. No crowds. No “to do” lists. I felt a sense of hope that and I continued to trust in the midst of this tragedy.
I called my Mom from the camp ground several times each day to discover that God had also set her Christmas up quietly and tenderly with a few close friends and family members. It turned out that she needed a new tradition as well. She needed not to try to have the same Christmas she had for over 50 years with my Dad. God, in His good love and His tender ways, had given us all what we needed.
On Christmas Eve at the cabin we brewed hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows and munched on cranberry muffins in front of our grandsons’ “biggest fire in the world.” Our middle son’s family was set to join us the next day. The cold got colder and the stars lit up the park. It seemed perfect… and then it was. Christmas morning I woke up to smoldering fire embers and a deep chill. In need of firewood to fuel the hearth, my husband grabbed boots and a coat and trudged to the door. He swung the front door open and gasped. Snow was pouring from the sky! The ground was covered and our grandsons where barreling down the winter white hill towards us in utter delight. Vogel State Park in the north Georgia Mountains was seeing her first snowfall in over 15 years!
My tears mixed with the melting snowflakes and I thanked God for such a sweet miracle, our very first white Christmas.
In just a few days I start a QUEST with a few hundred girlfriends.