I brace myself for each new day, especially the significant ones. Holidays, snow days, school vacation days, Sundays, and birthdays. I anticipate all of these days with great despair because each special day that passes reminds me of Christiano’s permanent residence and tells me again that he isn’t coming back here. On February 6th, Christiano would have been nineteen years old. It still seems surreal that he won’t turn another year older; that we won’t see his toothy grin while singing the Happy Birthday song; that he won’t blow out the candles on his cake; or, that we’ll never buy him another birthday gift – ever.
This year his birthday fell on a Thursday, and after getting through the Super Bowl without him, every day leading up to it was a challenge. Monday and Tuesday came with their own similar obstacles – mostly dread and sadness. Wednesday, was different, though. Wednesday, for the first time since Christiano was gone, I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed. The kids had a snow day, and those are usually the best days at our house. But, not this time. This snow day turned into a flop pretty fast. There had been two other days that started off like this; but I was able to make myself get up by noon. Not this time, though – this time I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to face what was coming next. I didn’t want to reach Thursday and wake up without my son here for his birthday. I couldn’t seem to get past thinking about it; thinking about the day and how it would be; thinking of past birthdays, thinking about Christiano and how little it took to put a smile on his face; thinking of my other children and how they would be. Thinking, thinking, and thinking some more. Thinking can take our mind to a whole lot of places it has never been before. It can create destinations that don’t exist and exit signs that lead us down a dark one-way path. Thinking can get us stuck in a ditch before we ever take one actual, physical step. Our thoughts can race like a horse and never stop if the reigns aren’t pulled. The mind can be one giant free for all that the enemy will have a field day with; a play-yard where no rules and restrictions apply. Imagine you are on a swing. Someone you love and trust is gently pushing you to reach a safe, secure and enjoyable level to swing and flow naturally. But, the higher you go – the farther you go – that hand – the one that was once your guide – it can no longer reach you. The force of gravity has taken over, and you’ve joined it by pumping your feet harder and faster. Now, you are up so high, that your level is dangerous, and you are tricked into thinking there is no way off – no way out. You can’t jump off because it is too high, and you are afraid. You convince yourself that you are stuck here. But, wait. All it takes is a decision to rest; to stop pumping your legs; to stop giving a foothold. Only then will you slow down. When you take a rest, you will fall back into the unforced rhythms of God’s grace – the place where He can help us. The place where we are safe in our thoughts.
This is what Jesus spoke to the people in Matthew 11, and He is speaking to those of us in need of rest and comfort now…
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30
I decided that night at 7pm to stop racing and to take a real rest; to succumb to the unforced rhythms of God’s grace, again; to allow Him to empty my mind of all He didn’t place there. Then, I made a decision that was hard and uncomfortable. I chose to get up out of bed. I only had a few hours left of the day, but I chose to get up. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I still have life – that I still have breath – that I still have a part to play in God’s story. Will I accept the role? Or, will I pass? Only I can decide that. And, I accept – even if I have to decide over and over again – I accept. Amazingly, Christiano’s birthday was the best day I’ve had since he left this earth. It was a day that I could fully feel the peace of God that surpasses my human understanding, and it was a day that I could finally celebrate all that my boy has been to our family, but especially all he’s been to me. He is way too beautiful a young man not to be celebrated full-on supreme. And, we definitely celebrated. We all wore blue for Christiano, along with at least a hundred others. We wrote messages on balloons and sent them to Heaven. We went bowling and had dinner at one of his favorite places. We laughed, we smiled, we cried, and we reminisced. It was more ‘beautiful’ than we could have imagined. After all, he is still the birthday boy, and God is still faithful. He loves Christiano more than I could imagine, and He loves our family, too. Therefore, He always causes us to put our best foot forward and to triumph in all things.
‘ Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.’
2 Corinthians 2:14