okI was up and baking early on Thanksgiving Day morning. Over the years it’s been tradition for me to make sticky buns from scratch every Thanksgiving holiday. My kids would always help when they were smaller, as they got their little hands in the flour to knead the dough and help roll it out as we added the butter, cinnamon and sugar and rolled it up like a jelly roll. So as I was elbow deep in the flour the other morning, I was remembering past Thanksgiving celebrations as a little girl spent at my grandparents house. I was thinking about my grandma’s cooking and thought about one of her special dishes, home made cranberry orange relish which was part of the plate of condiments that was served up at our Thanksgiving table. And, I thought about not having any of her special relish since the last Thanksgiving meal that our grandma prepared for us, so many years ago. Anyway as I continued to work on the sticky buns the other morning, I received a text from Izabela, one of my newest acquaintances from Hearts of Hope. She wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. I responded with a similar greeting and followed it up by asking her if she had a signature favorite Thanksgiving recipe. The words that she replied put a smile on my face. She said this: “cranberry-orange relish. It was Dominque’s favorite. We would make it together”.

Izabela and  Dominique

Izabela’s son Dominque died 14 months ago due to a drug overdose. She and I were recently connected by attending Hearts of Hope, a grief support group for moms who have lost a child. So I started to believe that her unusual response to my recipe question was a very intentional Godwink; not only for me but also for Izabela! I explained to her that I had just been thinking about my grandma’s cranberry orange relish. I said to her: ” I wonder if Kenzie and Dominique have met”. Her reply: “I think that they did…I think our roads met because of their magical love”. My thought was that we were meant to meet and through God’s hands we received this treasure of a Godwink!. Perhaps God was sending his reassurance to us that Dominique and Kenzie were with him. This thought always brings me joy in the journey. To think that I had randomly purchased a bag of cranberries the day before and stored them away with plans to later try a Cranberry pie recipe for Christmas. Izabela commented that those cranberries that I had bought were for my special cranberry-orange relish, no coincidence!
Izabela stayed with me as we texted back and forth as I went about preparing her cranberry orange relish recipe. It turned out wonderful and was delicious.

 

So I thought about using this blog post to talk about the holidays. I decided to share again my post regarding that first Christmas just eleven months following Makenzie’s death. Many have read it but, I will share for those who have not. It’s called:

“The Christmas Tree of Life”.

As I read posts on social media about loss, especially recent loss and about sadness around the holidays, it makes me think of that first Christmas without Kenz. I recall words from a well meaning friend “you will just have to find your new normal”. At the time, the words stung! I did not want a new normal. I had made up my mind that I was not going to have a Christmas tree. After all, Makenzie was such an intricate part of the tradition of putting the tree up . I am for the most part a procrastinator. I have to feel inspired to do things that matter; but, Kenz always wanted the tree up immediately following Thanksgiving. I could usually delay this with my own reasoning for a couple of weeks but then she would haul off and pull the decorations out of storage and get everything going. With Christmas music blaring, she would get the tree situated with lights wrapped on it and a few precious handmade ornaments from kindergarten placed strategically front and center ( she knew that I would move these sweet little gems to the back to accommodate my own need for synchronicity and perfection). And then she would ditch me! Opened boxes spread all over the living room floor she would find something else to suit her fancy and leave me to finish the job.
Anyway that first Christmas season I was shopping and as I waited in line, a box of purple ornaments summoned me. I actually got out of a very long line at a cash register to retrieve that single box of ornaments and then went to the back of the line to purchase them.

Kenzie and I on Christmas Day 2008.

So that first December, Kenzie’s friends Nicole and Ashley, came and helped me decorate the most meaningful and precious Christmas tree. In some sense, I considered it my Tree of Life that first Christmas without her.  During their visit, I also told Nicole and Ashley about Kenzie’s gift of life. It was a very long and tearful afternoon as I shared with them the pages of the correspondence that I had exchanged with the recipients. I think we used a full box of tissues on that day.
Once word got out about the purple ornaments that adorned our Christmas tree, ornaments were gifted me from many sweet friends. Purple, zebra, and butterfly ornaments; so amazing and special!  I was mesmerized by the white lights shining on each decoration and would sit for hours in the evening transfixed in my own thoughts and place of serenity. Perhaps only a tree Kenzie’s mom could love? That first Christmas I kept that tree up until Valentine’s Day when my husband finally coaxed me, begged me, to put it away.

Each person ‘s process of experiencing those first holidays without their loved one is unique. A new normal is unimaginable and even seemingly insurmountable for most of us. Be gentle and patient and kind to yourself and allow the gift; the greatest gift of all to embrace you, love on you, and allow your heart to find peace and comfort. Maybe even joy will be discovered in something as unassuming as a box of purple ornaments.

Even after seven years have passed since my daughter’s accident and death, I experienced this unsettling, ill feeling in the center of my soul when this month of November arrived. It is an impending feeling of sadness and emptiness that I fear will be experienced during the holidays without Makenzie. When she entered a room, she had a spark and was a light so bright it could outshine our Christmas tree.

I have caught myself more times than I want to admit, telling others about my dislike of the holidays, both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The holidays cause me stress and pain. But  do they have to? Christmas is the celebration of God’s gift, the greatest gift to the world in a precious child, Jesus. Our God of the universe gave us the ultimate gift in His son, who came to be among us; to live humbly, teach us  peace and give us undeserved grace and His perfect abiding love.

 So as I read and re-read that sentence, I thought how can I dislike Christmas, our Savior’s birthday? And I had this epiphany that it is me and my attitude at Christmas time that I dislike. I don’t like the funk that I allow in my persona.  So I have an appreciation and understanding now, that it is up to me how I decide to approach and celebrate the holidays. Why not with a self-less, Christ-like attitude? Perhaps, with God’s help, I can walk humbly, share the peace of Christ, and give undeserved grace in circumstances that might dictate otherwise. I can slow down and with deliberate purpose decide how and where I will spend the moments, hours and days of Christmas time as I relish the holidays; the true meaning of Christmas.  I can be intentional as I extend the hand of peace to others and share the  greatest gift of all. I WILL  lose the junk in my funk ! My daughter would expect this of me … I will do this to honor her happy memory.

How great is His love for you and for me, as we celebrate the birth of Christ. As believers and followers of Jesus, we have this hope and security in the knowledge that He is with us in every day and every circumstance. And as we meet other believers we can find joy in the sharing of His God winks.  God’s affirmations are both larger than life as in the miracle of Christmas and as small as a mustard seed and even a bag of cranberries and a shared recipe from a new friend.  Relish the holidays my friends, it is the greatest time of year.