Remember Grandma Hollywood? The matriarch and queen bee of my family? Did I mention that twice a year she travels over 2000 miles from beautifully pleasant California to Grandma-really-likes-to-complain-about-the-weather Ohio - and she travels ALONE?! I know, I know, she's amazing.
My Grandma Hollywood is months shy of ninety. Her tender heart and precious soul are now outliving her nearly century-old body. While macular degeneration, cancer, bone frailty, and deafness (among other cruel gifts from aging) have attacked her senses and mobility, the good Lord continues to give her breath.
My Grandma Hollywood can no longer read or drive. Though she lives independently, she must wear an Emergency Response System and she requires daily check-ins from family. Recently she fell while taking out the trash and she had to wait 10 minutes before mustering up enough strength to crawl back to her porch. One of the hardest realities of her 90 years is that she has outlived her husband, her son, dozens of friends and family, and her ability to engage in hobbies such as knitting, crocheting, crossword puzzles, needlepoint, and dancing. With the help of hearing aids, she can listen to music and books. But listening will never replace engaging.
My Grandma Hollywood will tell you that she's ready to go. She wants to be in Heaven with her husband, her son, and the mother she never met (her mother and twin brother died when my grandma was born). Selfishly I pray that my grandma has another 20 years. But that's not Grandma's prayer. She is at peace with her life. She is not afraid to die. She welcomes eternity with open arms.
Us grandkids joke that we need to keep procreating so that Grandma Hollywood has another great-grandbaby to live to see.
One thing Grandma Hollywood refuses to give up is her ability to crochet dishcloths. Many many years ago my grandma could turn yarn and thread into beautiful clothing, blankets and wall hangings. With what little mobility she has left in her hands and with just enough of her diminishing mind still intact, she manages to crochet dishcloths from memory. Every single visit from Grandma Hollywood is accompanied by a set of surprisingly well-stitched dishcloths.
- Jesse Tree. I LOVE this advent tradition because of its emphasis on Jesus and because it doesn't involve picking candies out of a cardboard display. If you don't know Jesse Tree, I encourage you to learn about it. This is quickly becoming my favorite tradition of all time.
- Service. This year we are serving as a family alongside The Manger. It's a great fit for us because our children can participate. I think service is important year-round, but it seems that there are more family-wide opportunities available during the holidays.
- Family. Although our children are young, it is important that we spend the evening together - as a family - decorating the house for Christmas. This year, our son put the star on the tree and our daughter danced to carols as we decorated. We created a memory that is a fantastic reminder of Christmas' true meaning - a celebration for Jesus.
- Give. Rather than focusing on gifts for those who have excess, we are shifting our priorities. At the top of that list: giving to those who truly need. My friend Marla introduced me to giving opportunities through Samaritan's Purse and Gospel for Asia's. I love these opportunities for many reasons, and it's especially neat to look through the catalogs with Henry as he excitedly identifies the many animals available for gifting. This type of giving engages our children and allows us to have a hand in making a difference in another family's life.
- Fast. Why wait until Lent to practice fasting? In an effort to focus on the holiness of this season, I am praying about what is in my best interest to go without. Fasting is such a challenge for me. I always gain a heightened awareness of my awful selfishness leaving me humbly on my knees.
Two years ago, shortly after the birth of my son, we made the decision to sacrifice a second income so that I could be home with our boy.
Actually, it was God's decision.
Months after my son was born, I applied for a position with the school where I was a long-term sub, and naturally, I thought I had the job in the bag. As it turns out, I didn't get the job. Oh-holy-humbling. I felt so defeated. And disappointed. Especially because with two incomes, my husband and I thought that we could afford to start trying for a second child - a decision that we knew came with huge financial responsibility (my first c-section cost over $30,000).
Anyone else notice all that was wrong with our perspective? God sure noticed. My over-confidence in job security. My insistence that a certain level of financial security equated to our ability to carry out OUR plan. Even the lack of confidence in God's ability to provide for us as we tackled medical bills.
So there we were, living humbly on a single-income, still paying off medical bills from my pregnancy and delivery, and wondering if we'd ever be able to afford more children (yes, we have health insurance, but it didn't cover all of our bills). Though I very much tried to live in the moment with my then six-month-old son (he was and still is the delight of my life), I couldn't help but feel discouraged that God's plan apparently wasn't my plan. I was praying for a part-time-work-from-home-school-counseling-job (or the impossible) and, in an effort to get back to a more positive mindset, I began taking daily jogs.
One Saturday morning, I grabbed the dog and my running shoes and headed out for a quick jog. As we made our return home, we came to a ditch and my foot slipped on the early morning dew still covering the grass. My foot planted in the ditch as my body kept moving forward. I heard three awful pops and landed face-first in the grass, the dog still by my side. I knew right away that my ankle was broken.
Fast forward several days - I'm rolled into the OR for surgery on my very-broken ankle. And guess what? Ankle surgery ain't much cheaper than a c-section.
Now we had medical bills out the wazoo. I was physically unable to even pick-up my crazy-busy six-month-old. And my hopes of jogging my way to sanity were shot. (We can never thank our families enough for helping us to survive those eight weeks that I lived on crutches.)
And to top it all off, eight weeks of being confined to the couch and bed resulted in something I wasn't quite expecting: a pregnancy.
Of course we were thrilled, but deep-down, I was frightened. Everything that had once given me security had been taken from me - my physical abilities, financial stability, even my self-worth from a job. And throw in the challenges of a soon-to-be-toddler and pregnancy hormones - Yikes! Thank you, Jesus, for giving me a patient and level-headed husband!
Fast forward almost two years. My son is more delightful than ever. My daughter is beautiful and healthy. And I'm jogging again (I even completed a half-marathon in May).
And remember that flippant and impossible prayer I delivered in the midst of my defeat and disappointment - a prayer for a part-time-work-from-home-school-counseling-job? Well I forgot about it. But guess who didn't?
The one-and-only, always-faithful, nothing-is-impossible-for-Him, crazy-awesome God.
Two months ago I accepted the impossible: a part-time-work-from-home-school-counseling-job. I am so not kidding. It is as if God was saying, "I never forgot about you, but I needed the timing to be perfect. Your timing, Ali, was not my timing. Your securities are not my securities." I am so blown away by His faithfulness.
And in case you were wondering, we paid off all of our medical bills. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of bills. All before I accepted the job. All on one income. Because with God, ALL things ARE possible.
Gosh, He is so stinkin' good.
I didn't think that it was possible to toss my maternal instincts aside any farther, but apparently, I was wrong.