Commemorating Loss in the Christmas Season

Memory Tree This past Wednesday, Kandern’s Area Counselors (of which I’m part) led the 2nd Annual Christmas Memory Tree Ceremony here in Kandern, in collaboration with our local church, Black Forest Christian Fellowship.

The dream to host an event like this began with my own tragic loss… the sudden death of my mother-in-law in 2005. We attended the Christmas Memory Tree event only four months later, to pause and acknowledge the heavy weight we felt during a normally joyous season. This was painful. But it was also very powerful.

It freed us to enter into the rest of the season without regret or the nagging something’s-missing feeling, because we’d taken time to feel it.

This past year, as most of you know, we lost a dear, dear friend to cancer. His wife is among my closest of friends. I love her girls like blood-family. Shoot, I love her whole family like blood-family. These are my people.

An hour before our event, as I was putting together a commemorative ornament for Ericlee, I wasn’t sure I could go. I didn’t know if I could keep it together long enough to be a “strong” leader, to help others walk through this journey.

As if these deaths weren’t enough, missionaries (and their children) also deal with LOADS of other kinds of loss: so many goodbyes, family and friends far away, loss of dreams and hopes, loss of identity and belonging, loss of a quality of living, loss of financial security. Loss after loss. We miss weddings, births, funerals. We miss birthday parties and mama’s outings. Heck, we miss the latest movies in the theatre. We miss getting mail in a language we speak.

We miss Christmas Tree Lane and BIG roasted turkeys.

I felt this deeply in the minutes before I was supposed to help run this thing.

I felt the grey-area of friendship that this season holds… that I’ve been gone long enough that the intimacy in my far-away friendships is changing as their lives continue to move forward. Yet, I haven’t been here long enough to find really deep friendships here. I have good friends, and we’re headed this direction… But some of my deepest friendships took SEVEN YEARS to really take off!

I felt the longing to be enjoyed for being me, not for what I could offer or provide. That also requires a level of friendship… the being. I felt this loss.

I feel this loss.

I stepped out of my house, items in tow, heavy with the weight of my own pain, in order to usher others into a comfort that only God can give. A comfort I also desperately needed.

We sang a couple of carols. We listened to my colleague, Joel, share about love and loss and the four tasks of grief. We adorned our Christmas tree with ornaments representing our losses. Some had names of people, both alive and deceased. Some had names of our other losses. We were a small, small sample size of this community… and yet if our losses were multiplied over each person. Wow. This community deals with so much pain.The list is long.

Yet God’s comfort is longer.

We lit candles to represent aspects of God’s offerings in our pain.Memory Tree 2

Faith.

Hope.

Love.

Joy.

Christ.

Christ Himself is our comfort. Our Healer. Our Friend. Some say we’ve chosen this pain… but really, we just chose to agree with the vision God had placed on our hearts. We tried to count the cost, but we didn’t know the full price. Isn’t this true, missionary or not? Anytime we agree with what God wants to do? Anytime we step in and forward with enough light for the next step? Every “yes” is a “no” to much else, right?

And community. We didn’t have a candle for community, but we represented it. A part of the flock coming together to support and love one another. To acknowledge that we hurt… and then help each other hand that hurt over.

I hope I speak for everyone’s experience when I say that I left lighter.

I traded some sorrow for the joy of the Lord.

I traded some mourning for the joy of the Lord.

I traded some insecurity for the joy of the Lord.

That doesn’t mean I left dancing and skipping and singing happy songs. It means that the burden of sorrow was a little less heavy. The grief of mourning found some relief. The insecurity of friendship and self re-connected with it’s source in Christ.

I love this event. And I dread it. Who wants to go feel what hurts? But I keep going and now encourage others to go because it’s beautiful.

It’s beautiful when God steps with full glory into all of our messy heartache and pain and brings His comfort.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Hebrews 5:4

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