Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Thoughts

Christmas is over. The house is quiet. My thoughts are running back over the last few days of celebrations, and I just felt like sharing some of my thoughts.

Since late September I have fretted and worried and prayed over how to manage Christmas this year. So many little issues ...

*It was our first as a blended family.

*Jon was hospitalized last Christmas and was sick for much of the year, and as a result we have enormous medical bills and very little extra cash flow. There was no way we could do for our 5 children what we used to do for them prior to our marriage.

*And how could we ever blend all of our traditions into something that worked for all of us?! I knew that as the mom it would mostly fall to me to figure it all out, and I really wanted this first Christmas to be meaningful and special and good for us all.

*Mostly I wanted our focus to be on Christ. If Jesus is the reason for the season, then I wanted our Christmas to show it.

I had come up with a budget of about $300 total for Christmas. It wasn't much, considering that we needed to buy for 5 kids, plus several others. But by mid-November I seemed to have a plan coming together. It must have been a God-inspired idea for I don't know where else it would have come from.

I put together 5 boxes to be opened on Christmas Eve after we read the Bible story ... one for each child to open. Inside each box was a small surprise to be given to everyone. After I planned out what to put in each of the boxes, I created 4 or 5 Bible verse clues so that before opening the gift and sharing the contents, the child had to read the verses and then try to figure out what was inside each box.

Box #1
Candy Canes ... really nice, big, thick ones and a candy cane ornament for our tree (We read a short version of the Candy cane legend, while enjoying the candy canes.)

Box #2
a Bible bookmark for each child, and a bag of M&Ms with a card attached telling how you could remember the nativity story as you turned the M&M around.

Box #3
CDs ... Seeds Family Worship (which is Bible Verses put to contemporary music). There are 6 or 7 different volumes based on a type of verse (verses for courage or faith or encouragement, etc), so we got a different volume for each child.

Box #4
Word Cloud mini-posters that I created for each child with their name and lots of their special traits and qualities and dreams. I laminated them so that they can hang them on their bedroom walls.

Box #5
a Christmas tree ornament ... one for each child representing something special that happened to them the past year.

The kids loved it (the mini word cloud posters were a big hit), and they had a terrific time with the guessing part of our gift opening.

Afterwards, we read An Orange for Frankie and shared a chocolate orange. Then we sang carols.

On Christmas morning, the kids opened their stockings, which were mostly filled with candy from the dollar store, toiletries but did contain one special $10-$15 gift ... A nutcracker for Maddie's collection, a book on Christian athletes for Joel, a magazine subscription for Nate, an very inexpensive MP3 player for Meg, and a tiny fish aquarium with a promise of a beta fish for Julia.

Everyone was thrilled, and not one complained or asked about where were the other presents. Jon and I were thrilled because it seemed to help us focus on Jesus and not on the Christmas extras.

Our first Christmas was different ... and so very special. We won't forget it. I can't help but ponder of the wonder of it. This time last year, I was worried over my soon-to-be husband's life. I can't tell you how many times during the first 6 months of 2011 that I wondered why on earth God would allow me to fall in love and marry a man only to take him to heaven. Even now, I constantly question why we had to go through such difficulty, and why we must still deal with ramifications of the experience even to this day.

But during the last 6 months of 2011, God has shown me over and over that because of that lengthy illness and the "problems" which resulted, our blended family has been forced to bond and forge in an amazing way. I am beginning to see how truly Jon's illness was God's mercy to our family, and we will forever be changed as a result.

This is Emmanuel ... God with me. God working in my life, in trials and grief and tough times. God working all things for my good, even when it hurts and doesn't make sense. God in me. God with me. God for me. This is Christmas. This is Emmanuel.

I know that so many are going through tough times .... many of you are facing things that are so much harder than the things I face. I am praying that somehow you too will find gold and silver linings throughout the problems, along with the fingerprints of God all over your life as you begin this new year!

with love,

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hamilton Christmas Letter
December 2011

Hello and Merry Christmas to all of our loved ones! Jon and I can’t decide if 2011 can exactly be classified as a “good year,” but one thing we do know is there has never been another year quite like this one! Perhaps miraculous is the best word to describe the past twelve months for our family. It was certainly filled with a variety of contrasts and much drama. Thankfully, there was this unreal sort of joy in the background of it all which somehow made even the hardest of days seem good to us.

Jon and I are rapidly approaching our 1st anniversary on December 31st. During the first few months of our marriage, Jon tested out my promise to love him “in sickness.” Most of you know how Jon nearly died twice. But, after a major open heart surgery and 4 lengthy hospital stays, he is healthy once again ... and I’m able to say that though my love for him did not waver in the midst of sickness, I certainly enjoy being his wife during times of health much better! We are immensely grateful to everyone who prayed for Jon’s healing, sent cards and emails of encouragement, brought food or made hospital visits. Jon is truly a walking miracle and his renewed health is a constant reminder to us of God’s amazing powers, amazing love and amazing grace.

Many people ask us how blending our family of five children has gone, and wonder if the chaos ever gets to us at all. Actually, we have discovered that we rather like the chaos! Our small home is crowded and noisy and often cluttered with shoes and toys, but it is a happy home and we wouldn’t trade it for all the calm and quiet in the world. Best of all, recently we’ve had several people tell us that they cannot figure out which of our children belong to Jon and which ones belong to me ... which thrills us because we both think of all five as “ours.” Another testimony of God’s mercy to our family!

As hard as this past spring was for our family, we had some amazingly joyful times as well. Julia and Maddie both asked Christ to be their Savior within a 2 week period, and then Jon was able to baptize all 3 of our daughters in November. It was a day that we will cherish as parents, knowing that all 5 of our children have now put their faith and trust in Christ Jesus. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about anyway?

For truly, shouldn’t Christmas be more about the cross than the manger? Since Christmas is only the beginning of the story of salvation, shouldn’t we then acknowledge that the manger in Bethlehem wouldn’t be worth remembering if it weren’t for the cross of Calvary? For our family, Christmas is simply pausing to celebrate how the very God who spoke the oceans and mountains into existence humbled Himself to walk among us, fully man and fully God, and then allowed mankind to kill Him for sins that were not His so that we (who deserve it least) can be made holy and perfect in His sight.

The very thought makes our hearts want to sing with the angels ... “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” We pray that your heart is singing this Christmas, too!

With love and joy,
Paige & Jon Hamilton (along with Maddie, Joel, Megan, Nathan and Julia, too!)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Worth Far Greater Than Rubies

Today is my grandmother's birthday. I'm thinking of her with a smile wishing I could give her a huge birthday hug, sing a joyful rendition of the birthday son, watch her blow out candles and sit next to her as we enjoyed a piece of birthday cake. It's been nearly 5 years since she passed away, and so the only way I can honor her today is in my memories.

Two days ago, a dear family friend, Mrs. Jean E. Mitchell, passed away very suddenly. That afternoon I visited with my grandfather. I spoke of how I already missed Mrs. Jean E. He stared off for a minute and then replied, "I still miss your grandmother as much today as I did the day she died. Not a day goes by without me thinking of something about her or a memory we shared."

I understand ... thoughts and reminders of my grandmother are frequent. I suppose it has been a decade or more since she did any real cooking, but I am often surprised not to see her there in the kitchen when I step through the door of the house where she lived. On Sunday mornings I hear her voice in the familiar hymns of my childhood, her strong and mellow alto still singing in the back of my mind. Four years ago I bought a bottle of her favorite perfume, and whenever I wear it all day long I feel somehow as though she herself has given me a hug and the scent has lingered with me.

One of the most precious memories things that happened to me occurred on my birthday two years ago. I opened up a birthday card and it was signed with my grandmother's name. I blinked and then read it again. Sure enough, my grandmother had signed the card. And about the time I began to think I was going crazy, I noticed a note penned on the opposite side of the card ... a sweet message from my friend Jean E. Mitchell. She wrote how she thought I might appreciate receiving a "recycled" card that my grandmother had sent to her one birthday years ago and how she still had such sweet memories of my grandmother. The tears began to flow and I felt this surreal love around me ... the precious rememberance of my grandmother's love expressed to me in a tangible way through the love of another friend.

In a few minutes I'll be leaving to go to the visitation for Mrs. Jean E. I've been thinking of her a lot the past two days ... all the things she taught me and how her life was such an example of being a godly woman. And today as I've remembered my grandmother, I'm amazed at how many qualities these two women shared ... virtues described in Proverbs 31.

These are a few of the lessons I've learned from both of these women:

~She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. (v. 12)
I never heard my grandmother or Mrs. Jean E. speak ill of their husbands. Both of them were proud of the men they married, spoke highly of their strengths and successes, supported their husband in all of his endeavors, and radiated love and admiration for their spouse.

~She ... works with eager hands. ... She sets about her work vigorously. (v. 13, 17)
Both ladies were hard workers, actively serving at home and at church. Mrs. Jean E. kept the church sign with a current message, decorated bulletin boards, helped with functions of all sorts. I never knew her not to be busy ... it could even be hard to keep up with her when she walked! My grandmother seemed more easy-going in her approach and yet she was always busy doing something ... cooking, visiting those who were sick or grieving, helping behind the scenes with church functions, always there and always ready to help.

~She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. (v. 20)
My grandmother taught me so much about reaching out to those who needed food, clothes, money or love. She gave generously and was always aware of those in need. Mrs. Jean E. also was a generous woman, who gave freely of what she had.

~She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. (v. 25)
One of the things I recall most about my grandmother is her laugh. Mrs. Jean E. laughed often as well. Inner joy is a gift from God and both of these precious ladies had that gift. They were women mature in their faith, bold and courageous in their lifestyle, joyful and peaceful ... they were inspirations to me.

~A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (v. 29)
So many times I've heard it said that the best witness for Christ is our day-to-day life. My grandmother and my friend were women who lived for Christ every day. They took care of His people. They took care of His creation. They gave of their love and their possessions. They honored Christ with their eager willingness to serve. They feared the Lord and so whenever I remember them and the things that they taught me I am blessed again.

Although I know that I will continue to miss both of these women, their deaths do not represent the end. My much-loved grandmother and my dear friend will continue to live on in my heart and memory. More importantly, their souls will live on for eternity in the presence of the Lord they loved so much with their time on earth.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Joy of Grief

Yesterday I lost a great friend ... a wonderful lady that I've known and loved for my entire life. Today I am grieving for her, already missing those precious parts of who she was that I cherished and loved and was not ready to part with so suddenly.

Grief is never easy. I've grieved before ... when my great-grandmothers died, at the passing of my grandfather and my grandmother, when my first marriage ended. I dearly loved each one but they were all either very old (over 90) or very sick (cancer, alzheimer's). In a way, death for them seemed like a blessing and the grief was somehow not as overwhelming.

This sort of grief is a first for me. My friend was the same age as my parents, and her death was so very sudden. Sixty-three seems far too young to die, especially for someone who was so full of life. Just last week I saw her at my grandfather's Thanksgiving Breakfast. She hugged my neck and we talked, never dreaming that would be our last conversation. This is the kind of grief that evokes questions ... "Why, Lord? Why now? Why her?"

And yet, there is a supreme peace in the midst of this grief. My friend knew Jesus. She knew Him well. She loved Him and served Him and shared Him in all areas of her life. I know that while I grief and mourn and shed tears for her passing, she is singing with the angels, bowing low before the throne of her Beloved Saviour, walking streets of gold, gazing at the crystal sea, soaking in the majesty and wonder and complete awe of God Almighty. She was redeemed on earth and so she is now glorified in heaven. Today she is in paradise.

I can't describe the wonder of thinking about her now ... knowing she is completely healed of this earthly sin and shame, praising God in her now perfect body. She will no longer battle the day to day struggles of sin and pain. I know that she wouldn't come back to earth for a second now that she has experienced being with God in all of His perfect holiness.

Somehow this knowledge makes me long for the wonders of heaven a bit more, for I know that my grief will last for only a short season but her joy will now last for eternity.

Somehow this knowledge makes me miss her all the more, but not truly want her back on earth. Rather, I would like to go where she is ... to be with my Savior in a place so glorious that I cannot fathom it in my brain.

Somehow, the death of my friend has taught me that sometimes there is a joy that comes only in the midst of grief.

I am a better person for loving her on earth. I am also a better person for experiencing the grief of her death, as with the death of all those who love Christ, as seen through joy-covered glasses.