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Monday, December 29, 2008

Unfelt Blessings

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

How contrary to the direction my prayers usually take. They often boil down to Lord, spare me and mine. Spare me grief, loss, disappointment. And when those losses and disappointments come--as they have, in abundance, this year--I throw a pity party.

I pity myself. In what way have I displeased God or failed my children that my precious daughter committed suicide? And I question God's goodness. Can't I even go to see my granddaughter? Will You deny me even that sliver of happiness?

Instead, God says I have given you a blessing.

Huh. I don't feel blessed.

But I do feel comforted. Tenets of faith which I have long held in my head I know hold in my heart. They have become real for me (they have always been real, of course). Some of those truths:

Jesus died to give us eternal life.

Jolene has eternal life because she placed her trust in Jesus.

Jolene is in heaven, tears and pain a thing of the past, watching the race I continue to run on earth.

I will see Jolene again.

Because God became man, He understands my pain and mourns with me.

Christmas is about more than traditions. It's about God's loving intervention with mankind.

I confess, I would still rather have avoided the "blessing" of grief. My pastor's words about trusting God comfort me (hey, there's that word "comfort" again. Hmm.)

Let me tell you a few things, fellow struggler: First, God knows you struggle. Second, He loves you, pilgrim. Third, if you ask Him, He'll give you the gasoline (in the Bible, gasoline is spelled g-r-a-c-e) to trust Him. Fourth, you see, whether you realize it or not yet, we can't do this Christian life by "our" hustle. It has to be by Him, of Him, through Him, and for Him." (from "One Parson's Opinion" by Dr. Jim Perkins, The Challenger, January 2009).


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Paradox

Sitting in church yesterday, listening to our pastor preach on "The Significance of Christmas," I realized something.

I'm having a difficult time because it's Christmas.

My lifeline to survive this time of year is the reality of Christmas.

The difficulties arise because of my personal traditions and memories surrounding Christmas. Americans put the emphasis on family. Well, my daughter is dead and my son has joined the Messianic tradition and no longer celebrates Christmas. That leaves Mom and me. Time after time, my mind scurries to Christmases past and things we did with Jolene. I ache. People keep wishing me a merry Christmas. I keep thinking (and sometimes saying), Lord, just let me survive.

But ... the hope I cling to? Emmanuel. God with us.

The far greater and longer lasting reality of Christmas is that God became man. The Bible says that because Jesus put on flesh, He can understand our frailties from the inside out. He has experienced everything we go through. In recent months, I have wondered if someone close to Jesus (other than Judas, of course) committed suicide.

The incarnation--the fancy word theologians use for the birth of Jesus Christ--is my ultimate lifeline. In that baby in the manger, I find hope, love, comfort--even, God willing, joy. Without that fact, the historical truth we celebrate at Christmas time, where would I turn as I struggle through this first year without Jolene?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas 1995

Of all my memories of Christmas with Jolene, the year 1995 has to stand out.

I was heavily involved with the music ministry at our church. Our leader, Ruth Bartel, invited me and another person to help her write the Christmas program. We came up with the idea of "Home for Christmas." Each of us wrote a skit about Christmas in different periods of history, accompanied by appropriate music. We scrounged for actors from our small congregation, and Jolene got to play a part. It was a simple story, about a person who received Christ at Christmas as a child, returned from war at Christmas, and went home to heaven also at Christmas.

I don't remember exactly what her character did. But participating in memorizing her lines, listening to the story and music, brought home the gospel message in a very personal way. She was ten at the time.

The following Saturday, she came running down the stairs at our house, frightened from a nightmare. "I don't want to go to hell!" She fell into my arms, sobbing.

(Now, I'm not sure what brought that fear on. Although I believe in a literal hell, neither the church nor I taught about salvation as fire insurance.)

Nevertheless, God was moving in Jolene's heart. We talked again about how Jesus came so no one had to go to hell. He paid the price for her sins on the cross, and all she had to do was believe in Him. She wanted to call the pastor.

Pastor Bob Moneypenny (who took part in her funeral service) led her to Christ. He told us how he had just returned from the bedside of an elderly saint who had just gone home to glory. Jolene always linked the two events; one person absent from the church on earth while another one was added. Her.

Jordan's birth feels the same way, of course. One person close to me absent from the earth; another added. I can see Jolene up in heaven, nodding her head and smiling.

Christmas was Jolene's new birthday, when she was born into God's family. I rejoice in that memory even while I grieve. Because Jolene made that choice, I know I will see her again.

On my first day back at work, I listened to a Christian music station. On the way to work, Mercy Me sang I Can Only Imagine. On the way home, someone sang a new song about coming home for Christmas. After that, I turned off the radio. Jolene is home, but she won't be at my home this year.

God has been meeting with me in ways large and small. Thank you for reaching out, for your continued prayers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Nine Months: The Holidays

Saturday marked nine months since the day Jolene took her life. My son called about four times--they brought Jordan home from the hospital, and he was full of updates like "she's had her first car ride" and "we're staying at Mimi's house."

After Mom reminded me of the date--the dreaded 13th--I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He hesitated, and said "I've given myself permission to stop noting the anniversary."

I wish I could.

This past month I have ridden a roller coaster of grief and despair. My employer's retraction of the week of Christmas leave----when I intended to fly to Oklahoma and spend time with my new grandchild--has ripped open the scabs.

Can I put the feelings into words? I can but try.

We knew about the baby about a month after Jolene's death. Out of death, life; a tremendous gift from God at a time when my heart had broken in a thousand mirror pieces, every one reflecting grief. We made our Christmas plans. When that most dreaded of holidays (for this year) arrived, we would be safe in the arms of family with the rejoicing of new life to sustain us. For eight months, I have said, "At least at Christmas I will get to see the baby." And I could smile and look forward to the future.

Now that hope has been stolen from me. And in an odd sense, I feel as though I have lost Jolene all over again.

And Mom and I are left with the question--what are we going to do for Christmas? I will explore the answers more fully as the day approaches. My main point today is that our coping strategy has been thrown out the window.

I remember Jolene's generosity with every ring of a Salvation Army bell. I stay at home rather than go see the lights which we did every year as the simplest of Christmas traditions. Forget sugar cookies; I cannot bear the sight or smell without Jolene to help me decorate them. Christmas decorations remain in their boxes. How could I stand to touch the purple ball with "Jolene" in gold letters or the delicate ornament marked "baby's first Christmas 1984?"

Next year, I hope I'm brave enough to revisit those memories. But not now. We had intended to form new memories with Jaran's family to add to our memories of Jolene. Now we can't.

Through the time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, I choose to praise God for Emmanuel, God with Us. Otherwise we have no hope.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Baby's Here

Jordan Elizabeth Franklin arrived approximately an hour and a half ago. My overly-excited son exclaims "She's so beautiful! She's so adorable! Tiny nose, tiny feet, perfectly manicured nails."

She has dark brown hair and black pools for eyes, continuing the Bremner family tradition of dark haired/dark eyed babies that goes back at least to my grandmother. My grandfather was a fair-complexioned Scot, and three of their children took after him. My mother inherited Grandma's dark hair and eyes, and so did I, my children and now, my grandchild.

I confess I am jealous. All of the other grandparents are there (including my ex. Grr.) I am stuck here, without even the reminder that "I'll be there soon enough. I chose to wait so Shelley would have some time to recover." (Because of work--double Grrr.)

The proud Papa says that after Jordan let out her cry and wiggled all over the place (I told him she hasn't had room to move for awhile), she settled down peacefully. Her blood sugar and temperature are a little low, so they have whisked her away to the nursery.

Okay, I can't figure out how to copy Jordan's picture into the blog. Stay tuned.

Jordan's arrival--and work's refusal to allow me to visit--have triggered a lot of feelings about the loss of Jolene. But I will save those thoughts for another day. Today is a day for rejoicing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The X Factor

My employer has made its stance clear: I will return to work next Tuesday and work Christmas week (although I had arranged for a week's leave back in June, to see my new grandbaby--or lose my job. They feel that have accomodated me by allowing me to work 3 hours a day instead of 6. And, of course, that I can return to the same job.

Their position has caused me to consider my options. Jaran (my son) is encouraging me to "retire and write full time"--in Oklahoma, where the cost of living is easily a quarter lower than in Denver.

For those of you at Echostar, no, I'm not ready to turn in my resignation. LOL.

Five years ago, Mom took a huge leap of faith and moved from Maine to Colorado. I hate to ask her to uproot again to move elsewhere. At the time, we decided we wanted to be close, geographically, as she aged and her infirmities increased.

Then there was the x factor. I love Colorado. But an even greater consideration made me stay. Yes, you've got it. Jolene.

I mentioned that to Mom last night, and she said, "You didn't have to remind me."

Five years ago, Jolene was barely 19 and struggling to make it on her own. At least she was plugged in to all the services Colorado had to offer. I wondered what decision I would make as I aged; stay with Jolene, who would always be the needy one; or move closer to Jaran, who could help me.

Now Jolene is no longer a factor in my decisions.

How I wish that weren't so.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Valentine

Tuesday was both the worst day in recent memory--and the best.

My employer informed me that in spite of the doctor's recommendation, if I did not return to work at least a few hours a day starting on December 16th, I might lose my job. Even worse, I had to make a decision that day. I panicked, screamed, cried. As a writer, a part of me felt like let them fire me. Then I can write full time like I want to. I was in that place where I couldn't see any options, and no one could say anything to improvoe my mood.

Then the social worker from the home health care agency came for her appointment, bearing three bags of food. She was one the few people who realized the impact of three months without income on my wallet, and made multiple suggestions for resources for help.

Mom and I sat down for supper--we ate the canned Spam she provided. I haven't had it for years, and I enjoyed every bite. We made up a shopping list, since Mom had the opportunity to get to the store on Wednesday.

We had just finished eating when the doorbell rang.

A lady who had joined our church the same week we did held a box full of food in her arms. She brought it in and dropped it on top of the freezer. "Don't lock the door," she warned. "There's more."

Three boxes later, Mom and I held each other and cried. Pat had seen the state of our refrigerator on Sunday (when she brought a Thanksgiving meal). She had developed a sense of what foods we enjoyed ... and went shopping on our behalf. She had purchased all but three items on our list, and so much more.

Even down to box of popcorn. The box started Mom crying again. "Jolene was the only one who ate popcorn." With her voice breaking, she continued. "I always made sure I had popcorn in the house."

Words cannot express our gratitude for this gift of love and God's grace. Mom kept saying, "What did we do to deserve this?"

I reminded her, "We don't deserve it. That's what grace means."

The food didn't provide a solution to my problems with work. But God used two different people to send us a gigantic "I love you!" note. My spirits lifted, and suddenly the problems with work didn't seem as significant.

Two days later, it looks like I will indeed be working three hours a day starting on the 16th. I'm at peace about it, although I know it will be difficult. I'll tell you all about my return to work later. My immediate need is to build up endurance; and to either return to driving (which means no more pain medication) or find a ride five days a week.

I am featured on two different blogs today, so stop by and say hello! I wrote an Advent devotional for (click on the "advent calendar link.) Also, I was interviewed about Snowbound Colorado Christmas at

Merry Christmas! God is with us!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation

In a recent blog interview (to be published this week at, I mentioned that at least once during December I like to sit down at a piano and play and sing my way through the Christmas section of the hymnal.

God must have heard my request. The family that invited Mom and I over for Thanksgiving (an absolutely delightful time) had a piano. I begged for a few minutes at the piano. I played each and every Christmas carol, and Glenda (our host) and Mom sang right along with me. Thank You, God, for the gift of music.

I teared up when I sang "Silent Night." Jolene and I had to do all our Christmas shopping by bus for most of her life. By the time we finished shopping, our buses started running once an hour. We spent many cold, clear December nights waiting for the bus to come and singing every Christmas song we could remember. Something about Silent Night brought those evenings to mind.

But the shock to my system came on Saturday, when I went to Barnes & Noble for a booksigning. I was rushing in to speak with the manager but couldn't make it past the first row of books. Standing there, with her back to me with only her chin showing, stood Jolene's doppleganger.

I couldn't move. The young woman was Jolene's height and shared her body build. She wore jeans and a plain white polo shirt, like Jolene might wear. Her dark hair hung straight to the same chin length Jolene wore hers. And that chin--that nicely rounded chin--that broad nose ... I could have sworn I was looking at my daughter. Except I knew it was impossible. Until the stranger turned around and her facial features shattered the illusion.

I shook myself back to reality and found Colleen. Megan DiMaria and I held a joint booksigning event, and we met a number of new readers. One lady rushed past, saying she only buys "bestsellers." Too late, I thought, hey, Snowbound Colorado Christmas is on a couple of bestseller lists!

Snubbed or not, we had a wonderful time and even sold a few books.

Hey, my news today: I finished the rough draft of my third mystery! Woo-hoo!