Christmas Reflections

The church is full on Christmas Eve. Elbow to elbow, friends and family nudge in to make space for late-comers. A trio of angels surround the Advent candle circle, gleaming in the soft light of early evening. 

In a lovely piece of encircling grace, the same family whom I wrote about way back when lit the Christ candle for this first Christmas Eve service in 20+ years where I have no role to play. That year they were new to our community. This year, he is the new associate pastor and his little ones are almost all grown up.

That final singing of “Silent Night” is always moving to me, watching the light spread throughout the room, reminding me

each time that the smallest candle can light the way. Just the smallest of flame, in a sea of darkness.

The next day, I watch from the kitchen as the morning sun lights up the soft honeyed-hues of the hardwood floor, bouncing off the ornaments on our fully-loaded tree. Just three of us for Christmas breakfast – my husband, my mother and me.


She comes to the table shivering a little bit – she always shivers when she comes here, even if it’s August – because at 90, she is always cold. But we’ve turned on the small gas fireplace near the breakfast table and she soon warms enough to smile and sit down to eat.

I’ve made pumpkin waffles – made them on her small waffle maker which I just moved from her house to mine. She is nearly blind, needs hearing aids, and is so forgetful that cooking is getting to be hazardous, so we’re moving her into an assisted living apartment the first week of 2012.

To see her like this causes me physical pain. Always bright, charming, funny, beautiful, my mother is now a worried, frail, confused old woman. And she knows it. She is frightened by it and frequently in tears.

But breakfast is good – she eats 4 squares of waffle, adding whipped cream and fresh berries to a couple of them, and seems quite content. This is the most she has eaten in several days and it gives me a strange feeling of comfort to be able to give her something that suits her, that makes her want more.

There isn’t much room for ‘more’ in her life just now. She can barely manage what is. In fact, the tension surrounding this move has made every symptom worse and I wonder – will settling into this new space bring improvement? Stability? Less worry for me and less fear for her?

We spend much of Christmas day doing quiet things – napping for mom, computer work for me. I open the back gate so that she can go out and wish my brother a Merry Christmas. My youngest brother, the one who died two years ago and whose ashes are buried beneath a fledgling oak in our side yard. My brother who had no life when he died – housed in a sober living residence, loving AA, dealing with a severely damaged heart. He died in his sleep one early October morning and my mother has not been the same since that hard day.

We drive to my daughter’s home in the late afternoon sunlight, admiring the crystal clear view of the Channel Islands as we cruise down the 101. It’s beautiful out there, and beauty brings its own kind of comfort, reminders of goodness and life and Something/Someone bigger than we are.

The children are wild and wonderful when we arrive – glad to see us, making us feel welcome and loved. My small mom, who had dissolved in tears almost immediately after speaking with my remaining brother by phone earlier that afternoon – she breaks out in a sunny smile, clapping her hands to see the energy and liveliness of my grandchildren as they play together.
After the food, after the crazy-making ripping through paper and ribbon and box and bag, we all help mom out to the car that will carry her home through the night. She has trouble navigating the uneven flagstone walkway, so a son and a son-in-law both offer cell phone flashlights, I offer a strong arm, my husband goes ahead to open car doors. I help her up into her seat – she is shivering again in the frosty night air – and I buckle her seat belt. There. She is safely stowed for the last leg of this long weekend journey.
But really, is my mother safe? No, I don’t think so. There is nothing safe about the fragility of her life, there is nothing safe about slowly coming unraveled, there is nothing safe about losing yourself, piece by agonizing piece.

“God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken,” the psalmist sings out.

Perhaps there is safety there. Yes, I will choose to believe that. In every way that truly counts, my mother is safe, she will never be shaken. 

Even when she stumbles, even when the tears come, even when she forgets who I am, even when she forgets who she is.

Even then. 

Even then

I am more thankful than I can possibly put into words to be heading out of town for four days with my husband and our oldest daughter and her family. We need a spell away from these concerns that hang heavy so much of the time. I may find time to write while we’re gone and I may not. We’re bringing some projects to work on – I got a new scanner for Christmas and my eldest grandson is going to help me figure out how to use it. Because, you see, I have literally THOUSANDS of old photos/negatives/slides that need to be digitized and stored. And we’re bringing some watercolor supplies. Dick and I don’t ‘do’ art, but Lisa and her crew? They’re all gifted and love to spend time just dinking around with simple instructions and basic art supplies. So we’ll try it – maybe we’ll like it! I am posting this today with quite a list of friends because I don’t know when I’ll post again this week. And then the next week, I move my mom. So, those of you who know me enough to pray for me, I’d appreciate your thoughts over these days, both the restful ones and the stressful ones. I will, as always, carry you with me as I go.

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Comments

  1. I keep seeing those pictures of the candles. A single flame arresting the darkness gets me every time. And then when it is joined by an entire congregation lifting its many candles together, I always feel the strength of heaven. Prayer shines like that, too. I am praying for your family. Emmanuel.

  2. I feel so privileged to be the first one here to comment. You are amazing, Diana. (and I think I know how you might have just reacted to that statement =) Yes, truly amazing. I mean it. You and your loving care of your mom is a wonderful testimony of God’s grace, and servanthood.

    I have been where you are, it’s wonderful that you are getting away for a bit of a rest. You bring memory tears to my eyes… just a few short years ago, I was right where you are. Moving mom, sorting into keep, give away, and throw away piles. It is overwhelming and the stress is very sneaky how it steals from you very quietly… so rest is good. My prayers are with you for strength, endurance, patience and the eyes and hands of God as you care for mom…. and for your mom, that she would feel a sense of peace and security in her new place. Sending a hug and love your way.

  3. Lovely words describing such a poignant day . . . Praying all goes well as you move your mom into her new space. Blessings!

  4. It did my heart good to read of your mother enjoying a beautiful Christmas breakfast and of breaking out into a sunny smile.

    Enjoy your respite.

  5. So much here, from candlelight service through the return home the next evening. So much.

    Thank you for taking us along, Diana. Rest well, scan well, paint well….you’re in my heart and prayers.

  6. Beauty brings its own kind of comfort…yes. This post is so tender with love and raw with pain and touches me deeply. These ways that you love in these hard places–this is the beauty of humanity, Diana. Oh, how we need each other. Praying you through…

  7. Oh, Diana, your story is so dear, so touching, so full of love, and the realities of life, as well. My mother is in a time of life almost identical to your mother’s, and I love the verse you shared about not being shaken; it’s one of my all-time favorites.

    Perhaps you already read this post from The High Calling. Words about another mother grabbed hold of my heart and I saved these words from it: “Then she looks at me with the same eyes she’s always had and they tell me, one day she will be better, and all because of a Baby born in a manger. And her eyes, they tell me that she’s still my mom…”

    Here’s the link: http://www.thehighcalling.org/family/hum-something-holy

    Diana, have a blessed rest on your get-away. We’ll miss you, but I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Linda
    p.s. Tomorrow I’m posting your Christmas vignette on my blog. 🙂

  8. Have a wonderful time Diana.
    I will be praying for you – for all of you. I read your moving words with the knowledge that I could be walking where you are in the near future. This “business of aging” is not for the faint of heart. It is so hard to watch the slow fading of a once vibrant life.
    I know there is grace sufficient for each day. I pray His grace and strength for you as you navigate through these days.

  9. I have been where you are, Diana. Only HE can get us through times like this. Praying you enjoy your respite and praying for you as you move your Mom into A.L.
    Blessings~~~

  10. Those pictures! Stunning. That candlelight service is quite breathtaking.

    (Praying for you and yours, my friend …)

  11. I appreciate seeing through your eyes … our church was full on Christmas Eve, too, and the final “Silent Night” was sung by candlelight. Every year I find it so moving.

    My prayers go with you for a refreshing respite. My father had Alzheimer’s, and I know how stressful it can be, although he made his own choice to move into an assisted living complex before he needed any help with the move. Still, after that, I found it so hard to watch him slowly become lost within himself. A tough journey. God upholds us in such times.

  12. From the beauty of the service to the sudden beauty of that sofa and the light and oh those reds that pop with hope.

    But then your dear mother. The rest of this post just shreds my heart.

    But even then–in the midst–as she unravels and your heart breaks, we know that our mighty fortress weaves it all together. That’s the only place we find peace. And hope.

    Loving you, dear Diana. Holding you close. Lifting you

  13. “In every way that truly counts, my mother is safe, she will never be shaken.”

    I needed to read that today.

  14. Beautiful images and people woven into this, Diana. Thank you for sharing this blessed night and softly lit morning with us.

    A belated Merry Christmas to you, friend.

  15. Thank you to one and all for your very kind words in this space. We are enjoying our time away and grateful for the beauty of this part of the state/country/world as we recuperate from the stresses of these past few weeks. Mom seems somewhat more sanguine about this move right now and for that I am deeply grateful. I’ll dig into making it happen next week.

  16. My heart understands this journey and my prayers are with all of you.

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