December 31, 2016

2017 is Finally Here

I remember sitting at the end of 2015 thinking, "Next year has to be better."

And now I laugh thinking about that thought. In human terms, 2016 was worse and much harder than 2015 ever thought about being. And this time last year, I couldn't imagine a year harder than what we lived in 2015. 2015 included 2 trips to the ER because of overdose, temporary separation from my husband, a month of rehab for drug addiction, and a long, hard battle against an enemy that felt impossible to even stand against, let alone meet in battle. What could have been worse?!?!

2016 found us still battling addiction Each week was full of ups and downs, as addiction and depression walk hand-in-hand and never affect just one person. It found me in the basement, desperately pulling my husband out of his office chair and frantically giving him CPR. It had me standing in an ER room, with two of the most loving and brave women I know, as they turned off all the machines and I said goodbye to my husband one last time here on earth. It found my dad, once again, breaking news to children that someone they loved was gone. It saw my children tearfully rejoicing that daddy is healed and whole and enjoying all the grace and love and joy and fun Heaven has to offer as he worships daily at the feet of his Savior. It found me desperately clinging to His word on days when all I could do was read a line or two, cry, and pry myself out of bed. It found me with friendships deepened, my table full, my heart overwhelmed with the love the Father was lavishing on me through beautiful ladies, loving family, and an amazing church family who has learned, the hard way, how to love its own through grief and pain. It saw my faith put to the fire and, though at times I needed others to come close and put their shield of faith up over mine because I couldn't hold mine up, for the most part, my arms grew stronger and my faith got deeper and bigger. God enabled me to face one of the hardest events of my life and come out the other side with peace, hope, love, patience, kindness, and JOY. God-given JOY. He has opened my eyes to see grace where human eyes see only pain and tragedy. He has taught me to be a #tablesitter in the worst of times, earning the right to be one in the good times, too. Those who seemed like "bosom friends" before, proved it and grew even closer. Those who weren't "bosom friends", but were physically closer than those who were, stepped up and stepped in and adopted me as one of their own in ways I couldn't ask for or imagine. All of these precious ladies have given more than I could ever repay. My family has filled in every gap and loved from near and far and at all times. They've given sweet, thoughtful gifts, rejoiced and cried with me, and continued to point me to Christ all along the way. My church family has loved me through food, doing laundry, washing dishes, fixing cars and tools, putting in new flooring and other things around the house, watching and feeding my children, and so much more. Again, I could never repay any of these people and my words are just not enough!

For the last few years there was a word or phrase that I was focusing on for the year. I prayed about it this year and the only word that I could ever come up with was survive, but I want to do so much more than merely survive. And then I put in my Rend Collective Christmas CD and the Lord gave me a song as my theme for this year. My theme song for the year is For All That You Have Done (Listen HERE).

Your grace will never be forgot, Your mercy all my life, 
will be my soul's forever song, my story and my light.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Sometimes I have to look harder for the grace than I really want to, but it's there. It's always there. Kevin's death was grace, especially to Kevin, even though it was painful. It opened the door to Sophie seeing her need for salvation. It opened a deep well in my heart to love and cling to Christ and His word. It has opened the door to Ethan being more sensitive to God and I can see Him moving in Ethan's life, even if it's slower than I want. He has given me a heart to seek and eyes to see the #graceinthegray more than I ever dreamed possible. It has given me the courage to speak and share the grace, even in the hard.

From mountaintop to valley low, through laughter and through tears
surely the goodness of my God will follow all the years.

Every valley surely does have a mix of laughter and tears. He has opened my eyes to see that in 2016. Psalm 23 is one chapter I have read over and over and over again. He is a good, good Father who gives good gifts, even in the hardest of times. Thank You, Lord, thank You!!!

For all that You have done for us, for every battle won, 
we'll raise a song to bless Your heart, for all that You have done.

Oh, Father, fill my heart and mouth with a song of praise to You for every.little.thing. Thank You for surrounding me with those who will do that on my behalf on the days when I just can't do it on my own. Oh, Father, let my life be a legacy of praise and love to You, regardless of circumstance. Let that be the legacy of our little McSmith family, from generation to generation. 

In all our failures and regrets, You've always lead us home.
Redemption's arm has raised us up, our triumph in the storm.

Could there be lines that are more true for both Kevin and I at the same time?!?! Regardless of any failures or regrets that Kevin may have had, he was lead Home by a loving and gracious Father. In the storm of addiction, depression, grief, fear, all.the.storms., He is our redemption, our saving grace. Amen!!!!

In unity, we'll stand as one, as family we'll go.
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, into the Great Unknown.

Every time it gets to this verse, I sing it as loudly as I can as many beautiful faces of God's love float through my mind. Yes! Yes! Yes! Amen! This is the church. This is what it means to the body of Christ, holding each other up when they can't hold themselves up. It's been year of hashtags like this: #asfamilywego #asfamilywegrieve #asfamilyweletgo #asfamilyweholdtherope #asfamilywetablesit #asfamilywerun #asfamilywelaugh #asfamilywecry #tablesitters #nomoretables 

2016, you were hard. You were full of tears. You were full of adventures. You were full of joys. You were full of the unexpected. You were better and worse than I had hoped. I wanted to #justshowup, but others ended up doing that for me. I learned how to be still, ask for help, let others in, tell the truth, be real and raw, and depend on Christ like never before or I ever thought I could. 

2017, I have no idea what you hold, but I know who is in control and saw every one of your days before one of them ever came to be. I will sing praise to the One who holds my days, whatever my days hold. I will give ubroken praise and ask God to "let my deeds outrun my words, let my life outweigh my song." I will continue to use social media to declare Your praise and I will hold up others when then can't do it themselves. I will speak Your word to all I meet and I beg You to let the legacy of our family be that we declared You at all times. Oh, Father, do great things for Your Kingdom through me and my family in 2017.

December 21, 2016

Turning the Hard of Christmas Into the Holy Hard of Praise

That's what I am trying to do with this hard first Christmas. In my heart and in my home. For me. For my children. For all those around me. This is hard, intentional work. I don't always like it. It's nearly impossible to do without my tribe spurring me on (even if they don't know they are doing it.) Many days I would just rather wallow in my sorrow. Sit in my bed looking at pictures and videos, crying, and wishing for the old days to return. But that is not what I am called to do.

I am called to lean on my Savior, put all my trust in Him, let my mouth be ever filled with His praises, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until He calls me Home. But let's be honest, that is just hard to do some days. For all of us. We're all grieving in one way or another. We're all living a life different than the one we imagined. We're all facing an empty seat once filled by a loved one no longer with us. There are all kinds of "firsts" facing us every day. We can drown in the sorrow or we can reach for the Life Giver, whose hand is stretched out to us, and trust Him, even before He calms the raging of the seas around us.

I don't have all the answers on how to turn this hard Christmas into the Holy hard of praise, but I know I must not stop trying. Here are the things the Lord has given me so far:

Though it's hard, I cannot expect others not to share their own joys during this season. Whether it's Christmas or new babies or engagements or weddings, I cannot expect others to dampen their joy because it's hard for me to watch. I have been commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. There are many times my human nature takes over and I do not want to do this. Many times, I just want everyone to wallow in my sadness with me. But, oh, how blessed I have been. My tribe has mourned so well with me. I must also learn to rejoice well with them. Each little joy they experience is an opportunity for them to declare praise for the goodness of God and all He is doing in their lives. I must learn to join in that praise, even in the midst of my sorrow, rather than drown it out with lies from the enemy. I don't have to jump up and down and overdo it. I don't have to put on a fake face, but I can rejoice because my God is good and He chooses to bless and use His people. There will come a day when I will have much to rejoice over (can I get an AMEN?!?!?) and these same people who have mourned with me will be delighted to rejoice with me. Oh, Father, teach me to rejoice and praise You in the joys of those around me, even in the midst of my sorrow.

Crying is OK. For me and for you. And it is not an indicator of a lack of faith or hope. This is sometimes a hard lesson to learn. It feels like, if we have faith in Christ and know that the death of our loved one was grace from God because they have started their eternity with Him, that we should not mourn or cry. But that is just not true. Sadness is now part of this broken world in which we live. Tears will come. Sorrow will visit our hearts. Take the time. Let the tears fall. Then open the Word and read His truth, sing loudly and declare His praises, drop a note to someone who needs to hear they are loved. Shed the tears, but don't stay there. (Again, easier said than done.)

Sometimes we see our best growth in the darkest of times. I know this has been true of me. I have often thought in these last nine months of how badly I feel that my husband clearly never got the best me. The me that was his wife is so far behind the woman I have become in this harsh, dark, winter season. Like the amaryllis that blooms in winter, I have truly seen the grace of God blossom in and through me during this long, hard winter. I am stronger because my weakness has forced me to return to God, on my knees, trusting Him for every.little.thing. I am more compassionate (most of the time) because God's compassion has been lavished so beautifully on me by my Lord, through His word and through His people. I am less judgmental (again, most of the time) because I have seen first-hand how hard the enemy works to steal, kill, and destroy all that belongs to the Lord. I am more in love with the Word because I have seen first hand how it sustains, grows, and moves me closer to my Savior. I am more real and open because I know now that's the only way to truly declare the goodness, graciousness, and love my Savior has for me and the rest of the human race.

My life, at this moment, will make others feel awkward. And it's because they love me and want to help, but really, there are no words and it's hard to know what to do. No one wants to speak of their pain because it somehow seems "less than" mine. No one wants to declare their joys because my pain is still so raw. Please hear me with two things: hard is hard. Please don't ever feel you can't share your struggle with me because it's different than mine. Secondly, you aren't hurting my feelings when things are awkward. I feel awkward most of the time! I love you, you love me, and somehow, we'll navigate this crazy life.

Even in the darkest night, there is still grace and still reason to praise God. You just have to choose to look past the pain and the sorrow to see God at work. Sometimes, you have to beg God to give you His eyes to see all the little glimpses of grace He's sprinkling in your darkness; that person who drops a gift card in the mail, the random hug at church, the people who step up to take your kids once a week so you can have some peace and quiet, the song during worship that speaks right to your heart, and so much more. When you see those glimpses, write them down, then the next time you feel alone and hopeless, pull out that list and let the Lord fill you with praise!

This turned out to be more random than I anticipated (I have a headache that just won't go away and it's hard to focus) but I hope it helps you turn your hard to praise, whatever your hard may be!

December 12, 2016

The Closest Thing I've Got to a Christmas Card

Doing the yearly Christmas card used to be my favorite thing. I never wrote a letter or poem or anything, but I loved getting our pictures taken and choosing a card to send to friends and family. 2015 was a long, hard year and Kevin didn't want to have his picture taken (mixed with the fact that he felt like no one cared about him anymore. I wish I could kick satan in the face for sending such lies Kevin's way), so we didn't take pictures and we didn't send cards. In fact, we had no family pictures taken at all in 2015. It just didn't feel right.

Feels the same way this year. Our family pictures would feel incomplete. And the one person I want to take them is in South Africa. (And I am praying hard that in the next two years all three of us will be in South Africa and she can take our pictures there!) And I don't have the energy or emotional bandwidth to sift through templates and pick just the perfect card with the perfect saying. It just won't happen this year.

I have gotten several beautiful family cards in the mail and I have loved each one. There have been tears at our loss when looking at their pictures. There have been tears when reading about their years and feeling like our is so empty in comparison. Yet, there is also joy as I see all the beautiful faces looking back at me from each card. Excitement as I see all the God is doing in and through these lovely families I am so blessed to know.

I've been trying to think of something to write to sum up our year. But, really, what is there left to say? I guess that's what happens when you have little to no filter and share everything on social media. As I am sure you are all well-aware, life changed drastically for us in March when my beloved Kevin (precious husband and wonderful father) passed away. There have been a lot of ups and downs in the nine months since that hard, horrible, long day.

God has been more real and more true and more deep than at any other time in my life. His word has uplifted me, encouraged me, and given me a voice on many days. I have come to see death in a whole new way, particularly for believers. I've learned that there is always grace and joy to be praised and celebrated, you just have to ask the Lord for the eyes to see them. Leaning on the Lord day by day, moment by moment, will help you keep putting one foot in front of the other on days when you don't even think you can get out of bed. Exercise is important. Fellowship is essential. Honesty with those who love you will keep you sane as they continue to point you to Christ and talk you off the emotional ledge.

Even in the midst of the deep grief we've been experiencing, we've managed to have a lot of fun this year. We spent the summer traveling and seeing friends and family we've been missing. We even got to do several fun field trips that we all enjoyed. School hasn't been as smooth as I would like, but the kids are doing well and I am trying (though often not succeeding) to give grace to all of us in that area. We've shared a lot of laughs as we've shared some of our favorite Kevin memories and looked through old pictures. We've shared some tears, too, but mostly laughter.

I've seen both kids become much more sensitive, especially to me. They are such good comforters. They can turn tears to laughter in no time at all. They've also both become more loving toward each other and more compassionate with others. Oh, how I pray this only continues to deepen over time.

I worry so much about them as they continue to grow up without their daddy. I pray that the love of their Heavenly Father will be all the more sweet because of the lack of an earthly father. I pray that He will prepare them for those hard moments when there are father/son or daddy/daughter things and there's no dad there for them. I pray for all those milestones they'll hit without their dad there to tell them he loves them and how proud he is of them. I am thankful the Lord always gives strength for the moment because I know there are many more hard moments to come.

I have no Christmas cards to give and I have no cute poem to share, but I thought I'd leave you with a few pictures of our year. Merry Christmas and may you feel the Lord near on your hardest days and your most joyous of days. May His praise be ever on your lips and in your heart.