Happy Hanukkah

I know the holidays are over and this is very late, but it’s something I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now, and I feel like I just really got a handle on it myself, so I’ll go ahead and say it. Better late than never, right?

Just a tiny back-story to start: I made Christmas CDs for all of my coworkers for Christmas, except for my Jewish boss, who got a Hanukkah mix. I didn’t have a lot of Hanukkah music, but I found some really good tunes, and I ended up having more fun making that mix than the Christmas one. I’ve also enjoyed listening to it more. I thought, at first, that it was because those songs weren’t so familiar and played out, but the more I listen to them, I think it’s something different.

People keep asking me how my Christmas was, and I keep saying that it was good, but lacking. I did Christmas things because that’s what I do at the end of December, but I’m not really sure I celebrated Christmas this year.

I feel like some Christians might get upset or concerned when I say things like this, but just hang with me. I really preferred Hanukkah to Christmas this year. That doesn’t mean that I’m converting to Judaism or that Jesus’s birth is insignificant to me. Hanukkah and Christmas are not mutually exclusive holidays. Just because they happen at the same time of year does not mean that they are in competition. They simply celebrate different things. They tell different stories, and this year, my own story lines up better with the Hanukkah story than the Christmas story.

Christmas, for me, this year, was just too big. It was too overwhelming, too much to receive at one time, too much to change. Christmas is about a world-changing event. The way we count our years revolves around it. It was the beginning of a new era. It was THE BIG ONE for all mankind. But my heart is still too tender for that. Overwhelming is overwhelming whether it’s good or bad, and I couldn’t open up to the overwhelming joy of Christmas because I’m overwhelmed enough. Or maybe I’m just not in a position to see the big picture right now because pain causes you to focus in on it so that you can take care of it one step at a time.

Either way, I felt like while Christmas was happening all around me, I was oblivious to it. Christmas might have been like the sun rising, but I was sitting in a blacked-out room. What I had in the room with me, though, were candles, and they were just what I needed. If I had opened the curtains, I would have been blinded. The candles were just the right amount of light.

The story of Hanukkah goes like this (the extremely condensed version, but correct me if I’m wrong in any way): The Greeks had taken over the Holy Land and made it illegal to study the Torah. The Maccabees were the leaders of a Jewish rebel army that fought to get their land and their religious rights and traditions back. They won despite being horribly outnumbered and outarmed (is that a word?). The Greeks de-purified all the ceremonial oil in the temple, but the Jews found ONE jar that had been overlooked. It was only enough for one day, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days, which gave the Jews enough time to purify more oil according to their laws.

As I listen to music about this, I relate to it in two ways:

  1. I have felt very ill-equipped to deal with my life over the past five months. As I look back on each week, I continue to see that things are easier than they were the week before, but I often still feel overwhelmed. Some days, the sadness is still very oppressive. But the Maccabees were overwhelmed and oppressed, and they fought back and WON, not by their own strength, but by that of the God who stood with them. That gives me hope.
  2. There are days when I don’t know how much more I can take, but somehow, hope remains. There are days when I feel that my hope should have dried up a week ago, but somehow, it’s still going. I don’t know how, but it’s there. I’ve found one little jar of hope untouched by sorrow, and it’s keeping me going against all odds.

So happy Hanukkah, everyone. Whether you’re Jewish or not, may you experience the light of hope that miraculously continues to shine until your supply is replenished.

Ella’s Song

I walked four months with Ella
Barely knowing she was there,
And now, although she’s gone,
She travels with me everywhere.

I knew that she would change me,
But I had no way of knowing
She could break my heart and fill it
Even as she was going.

My broken heart cried out for help.
The answer came from above:
“Ella’s life and death will grow
Redemption, hope, and love.”

Though I’ll never see her take a step
Or utter her first word,
Her purpose isn’t finished yet,
Her song is still to be heard.

I’ll walk with Ella always,
Carrying her song,
And those for redemption, love, and hope
May walk and sing along.

Unreasonable

I used to say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” and, “This is part of God’s plan.” I’m not going to say those things anymore, especially when death is involved. Jesus’s death and resurrection were physical so that ours could be spiritual, but I think that in the original plan, there was only life, both spiritual and physical. And I think that in eternity, there will be only life. And while we are physically living, we are meant to experience life in abundance. I think that death is an indication that something is broken. I don’t think it’s part of the plan.

That is not to say that I doubt God. I’m a big believer in the redemption of all broken things, and I hope that I’m in the process of healing. I think these are God-given things that come after a death or loss, but I will not say that God planned the death of my daughter. (Nor will I say that God planned the death of my great-grandmother, who passed away after living a long, full life.) I think we find hope and redemption after a death occurs, and those are good things. I think we have healing, hope, and redemption because we have death, loss, and brokenness. I do not think we have death, loss, and brokenness so that we can have healing, hope, and redemption.

I don’t really know how it all works, but what I do know is that in this time of loss, it is not comforting to me to hear people say that it’s part of God’s plan. It’s not comforting to me to think of God as someone who plans death for babies and pain for parents. It is, however, comforting to think of God as someone who comforts, someone who loves, someone whose heart breaks with mine over the brokenness of death, and someone who brings healing, hope, and redemption.

So if you’re dealing with a death, be it sudden or expected, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a loss of any kind, I want you to know that there is hope for the future. There is always healing and redemption to be found. Just try to hang in there. I know that’s what people mean when they say that things happen for a reason. They mean that if you hang in there and work toward healing, healing will come. They mean that in time, you will learn a lesson or come to appreciate something about the hardship. They mean that this will not always be the completely and totally horrible thing that it is at this moment. But that’s not always the way it comes across. So if someone says something insensitive or hurtful to you, I know it’s hard, but try to remember that people are not always the most eloquent, diplomatic, sensitive, or helpful in times like these. They don’t know what to say, but they want to say that it’ll be ok and they love you.

And if you love someone who is experiencing a death or loss of any kind, consider refraining from saying things like, “This is part of God’s plan.” If your friend expresses this sentiment, you can certainly support the belief, but be aware that these words are not always comforting. Honestly, the best interactions I’ve had since my miscarriage three weeks ago have been with people who’ve:

  • said, “I’m sorry.”
  • said nothing, but just let me cry.
  • said, “You can talk about it if you want to, but we totally don’t have to.”
  • brought food and talked to me like a normal person.
  • texted me cute/funny animal pictures.
  • cleaned and/or helped me clean something.
  • played games with me.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to say to comfort people. They don’t need to hear your theories on why it happened or what’s to come. They just need to know that you love and support them where they are right now.