It would have been Tom's 50th birthday. Before saying anything about it, I must share with you this unbelievable card, made by Christian, 6 years old, for his daddy. I had to share this first, because if you read no further, you must know how intensely these boys get what life and death mean at a gut level.
Two cliffs – one with Daddy on it, the other with Christian on top. A bridge that supposed to connect the two cliffs drops down into the chasm and the railings of the bridge spell out, "HaPP bthday dbddeey". To fill in the gaping depth that separates Christian from Dad, Christian drew a huge cross.
Now I can continue with the details of that day. One of my friends who checked in on me that day told me, "Most widows would spend the day trying to forget about it.... you're always so different! So I never know if I should be thinking that it was all roses for you, or if I should be worried about you??!!!"
Absolutely there are roses- with thorns of pain- but there is joy in knowing that I'm embracing challenges as they come up.
In Matthew 8:26, Jesus reprimanded the disciples, "Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?" Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: "Silence!" The sea became smooth as glass.
Can you imagine a simple birthday making a coward of me? But it could.
I so get why a widow would prefer to just forget about her husband’s birthday. Daunting feelings of loss leap out at you, stinging you just the way it did when you first found out that you’ve lost him forever.
And by now, I'm so tired of firsts. First Trick or Treat, first vacation, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday. It seems like an endless train of ceremony that I want to just "forget" about it.
But Christ asks us not to be faint of heart. He shows us by standing up and telling the wind to be silent.
Forgetting about a significant day doesn't work for kids or for me - it just pushes the terror of loneliness beneath the surface where it will bubble up in other ways.
As I looked at my four boys, who so loved to celebrate life with Dad, I knew exactly what I needed to do. Not run from that storm – silence it! Deal with it openly and honestly.
So the boys and I had a plan. We included crafts, a visit to the grave site, a hike and pizzeria outing, a bike ride, and a movie rental.
The day started very sad and awkward. The boys were acting so weird that I had to cut short our morning devotion, and get started on making cards and crafts for Dad. At first even that was awkward- some of the boys breaking into tears at the smallest of their errors, as though the entire work of art was now unworthy of Dad’s approval. We all knew what the tears were about – what was ruined wasn’t the card or craft, but the reality of having Dad with them here on earth.
Their tears dried and they became more resolute in their artwork when convinced that Dad sees everything through the eyes of Christ now. Imperfections in the artwork are simply evidence of the love and joy in the children’s hearts.
We brought the crafts to the site where Tom is buried and flew a model airplane there. There were also silly string battles and bubbles and a round of "Happy Birthday to You" to celebrate.
We went hiking about a mile away from our house to a pizza restaurant. This was something Tom did with them a lot. They had a blast getting muddy in the red clay "quick sand" and climbing mud hills.
We rented Spiderman II at Blockbuster and got Krispy Kreme Donuts at Harris Teeter and hiked back home.
Then it was time to pull out the bikes. We had them all repaired just for Tom's birthday. And Christian taught himself to ride a bike just this weekend. We rode on our neighborhood trail and on our cul-de-sac. Something so simple, but the kids LOVED it!
Then we settled down with the movie and sang Happy Birthday once more with the Krispy Kreme donuts in place of a cake.
The kids went to bed content that we honored Dad in a Tom kind of way.
The storm was silenced.
Thank you, Lord, for answering our obedience to celebrate with joy rather than to cower in defeat.