Our birthdays were one week apart; so we chose every year to celebrate them together. Jason's Mom and I even planned our own birthday get-togethers. We would conspire if we wanted a cookout or if we wanted to go out to eat. We chose the menu, the dessert, and location. Then we would pass the information on to the guys. It was their job to make our plans happen.
Sharon (Gramma) and I were quite a pair. And we loved sharing our special day together because we loved each other so much. I never had a reason to complain about my mother-in-law. She was amazing!
But then in 2006, she went home to be with the Lord. Lots of things changed. We knew they would. Thanksgiving was different. Christmas was strange without her. But when it came time for our birthday party... I mean, my birthday party, it was a challenge to even think of it as my own birthday. We had celebrated together since Jason and I had been married. Now I was being forced to call it "my birthday party." It just did not feel right.
Things had changed. The routine, the family tradition... gone. And there was no way to get it back. There was no way to duplicate it. It was time to make a choice: throw in the towel defeated and resigned to the fact that it would never be the same... or embrace the opportunity for a new family tradition.
Our family opted for new family traditions. It was a tough grieving process, but we got through it. It took a couple of years to find a tradition that worked for my birthday, but we did it. Our new tradition? I let the guys decide the birthday plans! And somehow we ended up going to Gramma's favorite Chinese restaurant for my birthday each year. I love that restaurant! And they give free meals to customers on their birthday. I love free things. So when we went to this restaurant to celebrate my birthday... it felt like we were celebrating memories of Gramma, too. It always seemed to come up in the conversation how much she loved eating there. And we would all smile talking about funny things she did or said. It was once again "our birthday."
When we moved here, that same feeling came back when it came time for the holidays. Things had changed. The family routines and traditions were gone because our family is on the other side of the world.
But this is ground I have walked before. I have already learned this lesson. I just have to learn how to apply in my new country what I have already learned . What lesson did I learn? I learned to treasure the past while still looking forward. I learned how to treasure family traditions and memories on the holidays without being bound to them. I learned how to create new traditions while praising God for the years I had with the old traditions.
Getting Ourselves Ready for New Traditions
Moving on the other side of the world away from friends and family changes a lot of holiday traditions. Some of those traditions are very precious. As you and I planned on moving to a new country, there were many things we both laid on the altar for Christ. You and I both gave up our homes... because Christ is worthy. We gave up our family pets... because He is worthy. We moved away from family and friends... because He is worthy. In the same fashion that we laid those things on the altar, you and I both must also lay some of our holiday traditions on the altar... because He is worthy.
Every year, our family went to a large Christmas tree farm. We would ride a hay ride or tractor up the mountain to find the perfect tree. When we found the perfect tree, the family would gather around the tree and sing... the Christmas tree song. It was our family's special "silly" song. We did not care who was listening. It was our tradition. While we were there, we would also get a tree for the church's fellowship hall and wreaths for the doors. We would go put up the church tree, and then we would head home and put up our tree. Then, we would decorate it while listening to Christmas music and drinking hot chocolate. Every year... the same. Every year... something to look forward to.
But we had to lay those things on the altar when we came here. No tractor rides. No Christmas tree farms with real trees. (We are hesitant in even getting a fake tree here because the people here worship trees.)
We miss those things... but He is worthy. When I lay those things down as a gift to Him, I do not want to do it grudgingly. Yes, I miss it. That is what makes it a sacrifice. That makes it a beautiful gift. It costs us something. (Shouldn't our gifts to Him cost us something?) When I cannot lay it down willingly on the altar, it has become an idol.
Let's take time to inspect our hearts. Have we placed our lost holiday family traditions on the altar willingly? Purposefully? Even cheerfully?
Grudging: Wishing we could take it back.
Necessity: Giving only because we have to.
Cheerful: Setting it down on the altar with a smile, because He is worthy.