Friday, December 26, 2008

Our 2008 Christmas Letter

The following several paragraphs is our Christmas letter that we opted to just put on our blog this year rather than send out. One, being that it is rather lengthy (imagine that!) and two, being that we realize that not everyone is all that interested in reading up on our life :) ! So, if you have some time, here is our very detailed account of our past year:

God’s Snapshots

It is early in the morning on Christmas Eve. As I write this, rain is pelting the windows and winds are howling, gusting up to 40 mph. Not exactly a picture perfect Christmas Eve, is it? However, things don’t always turn out the way we would like; things don’t always go as planned—life is not picture perfect.

Moments. Little or big, life is a series of moments. As a camera captures a snapshot, forever to remind you of a moment in your past, our minds also capture these moments to reflect upon, learn from or sometimes to just relish in and enjoy. The next few paragraphs are the snapshots of our lives this past year; moments that are forever etched in our minds and have defined and changed us. Moments that have God’s handprints all over them as they were purposed by God to shape us into whom He has designed us to be. I’ll warn you now, this year has been a difficult one for us. It has been a year of sadness. It has been a year of loss. There have definitely been sweet moments intertwined in the midst of the hardships. But, the things that have shaped us most have been the difficult things. So, here it goes---

February 17th—I will start here because everything before that date in 2008 seems a blur now and quite insignificant. February 17th is a day I will never forget. In my mind, whenever I am discussing something from the past, my mind mentally asks 'was that before or after Feb. 17th?' Because that date forever changed myself and how I view life. That was the day my mom breathed her last breath here on earth. That was the date that I understood the heartache of losing someone you love. That was the date that my heart ached and I wondered if it would ever stop. That was the date I experienced the regret you feel after someone dies, regret because you wished you would have said this or done that. Up to this point in life, I had a more carefree, light hearted outlook on life. I thought I understood loss. But now I realize that I didn't understand it at all. Loss can only be understood by actually experiencing it. As Beth Moore would say, 'you can't learn about this in the classroom, you can only experience it by taking a field trip'. What a field trip I have been on since that dismal day in February. It's definitely a field trip I would never have chosen.

I remember walking into my mom's house for the first time after she had died. Seeing her shoes sitting beside the chair she always sat in. Sitting by her chair was an unopened coke--her drink of choice. The shoes--that is what dug a knife into my stomach--seeing the shoes. I don't know why, but I could hardly stand seeing them sitting there. I remember walking into the viewing room at the funeral home for the first time. That was another first that I would give anything to not have to experience. I remember standing at the top of the hill in the cemetary with my siblings, discussing which plot to choose. I remember the bone chilling wind ripping through us, making us shiver uncontrollably--or maybe we were just shivering uncontrollably and the wind was helping it along. I remember not feeling like nor being able to eat for two days straight.

Reverend Shaw, whom my mom had always been fond of, did my mother’s service. He quoted several scriptures, including Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." This verse is especially meaningful to me. It is the verse we had read at our wedding. It is the exact verse my mother-in-law had quoted to me the day after my mom died. It was the verse the Reverend chose to read at my mom's funeral. I love how God does that. It is His way of showing He is present--His pep talk of encouragement when you're just about to call it quits. There are moments in life when you feel God's presence so tangibly that you can almost touch Him. Her funeral was one of those moments. Strangely, and I know only God can do this, I felt joyful that day. The Bible says in Nehemiah 8:10: 'The joy of the Lord is my strength'. I can attest to that. He somehow brings you joy in the dimmest of circumstances.

That celebratory 'high' lasted only through that day...and then came some of the hardest weeks. I had to go home and do my life. I had to be a wife, take care of five kids, homeschool, take kids to practices, cook, clean...and when Eric traveled I had to do it all on my own. Everyone was counting on me and I didn't feel like being counted on. Those weeks after the funeral were just ones of complete sadness. And I really questioned my faith in God. Why did He do this and why did He let it happen the way He had? I just literally felt like quitting; throwing in the towel on my faith. Why? Why? Why? So many questions. And no answers. Believe me. I really let God know how I felt! And I believe God wants us to do that. He knows how we are feeling anyway, so why not get brutally honest? He wants us to be brutally honest with Him so He can meet us right where we are. He, again, made himself so tangible to me right when I was about to say 'forget it'...He continued to whisper to me 'The joy of the Lord is your strength', over and over again. Moment by moment He got me through this time. He reminded me that ‘true faith’ is having faith when everything is crummy. ‘True faith’ is trusting God when nothing makes sense. These weeks were not easy. They were messy. Let's just say I didn't win any parenting awards during this time! I guess you could say many things in my life had to take a backseat so that I could walk through this grief. After these weeks of intense sadness and faith questioning, my emotions turned a 180. I became mad--mad at just about everyone. Mad at my husband. Mad at my children. Mad at friends who didn't call me. Mad at friends who called me but didn't say the right things. This anger came out of nowhere and it surprised me. I mean I know I can get mad, but not that mad! Once again, God guided me through it. He kept showing me over and over: the joy of the Lord is your strength...the joy of the Lord is your strength…The Psalms gave me such comfort during this time: ‘Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.’ Psalm 62:5-8

On May 10, my youngest brother got married the weekend of Mother’s Day. My mother’s absence was painfully evident. However, it was redeeming and so like God to choose this weekend for their wedding. A wedding celebrates new beginnings and new life, as a marriage is born---all of the aspects that brought Mother’s Day into existence in the first place. It was comforting to share this weekend with my brothers and sister. It was therapeutic (I suppose that’s the right word) to spend this weekend celebrating a new beginning for my brother and his new wife.

I must back up to the first weekend in May for a moment and tell you of a defining moment. Our family (minus Owen—whom we still call the ‘O’ factor :) ) spent the weekend in Cincinnati cheering on Eric and his brother and two of their friends in the Flying Pig Marathon. This was a weekend much needed for our family. Leading up to this weekend, there had been many trips made and time spent cleaning out my mom’s house with my brothers and sister. These weekends were mentally and physically exhausting, yet they were also precious. Some of my favorite memories with my siblings were on those weekends. But we, Eric and I and the fam, needed some QT and I needed time to completely focus on something else. This weekend was that time. If you have never been to a race to cheer people on from the sidelines, especially a marathon, you must do it some time! It is absolutely one of my favorite things to do! It is inspiring and exciting…and really I can’t explain it; you just must go do it sometime! It is one of my favorite memories from 2009.

Cheering on Eric in Cincinnati birthed the idea of running a marathon myself. Which is what I decided to do a few weeks later when I signed up to run the Chicago marathon for Team Worldvision.

Running is a part of who I am. When things seem overwhelming in life, I run. When things are going great and I am on cloud nine, I run. I feel closest to God when I run. It makes me a better mom and a better person. It makes me think clearly about things that seem muddled. Little did I know, God was going to use the four plus months of training to bring healing to my heart. He taught me about persevering through suffering that I could only learn from experiencing it physically through running. He taught me how to rely on Him when I had nothing left to give. He taught me so much about not throwing in the towel on difficult circumstances. He brought my running to a different level. Before the marathon, I ran for sheer enjoyment and pleasure. During marathon training, I learned how to keep running through excruciating pain, just as He was teaching me to keep trusting Him through the excruciating pain that comes with grief and the loneliness that accompanies it. The verse that became my ‘marathon verse’ and non-coincidentally, began showing up in every sermon, bible verse and song during these months was Isaiah 49:30: ‘for those whose hope is in the Lord, He will renew their strength. They will soar like wings on eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ Running for Team Worldvision was a defining moment in my life. Raising money for people who do not have clean water or food helped my family and I keep our perspective on ‘others’ who are in extreme need. Having this perspective is a daily struggle for Eric and I and our children as we live in a country where we have most everything we could ever want or need at our fingertips. We so want to have the right perspective, to live for others--especially the hungry, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, just as God commands us to. But this is a constant struggle for us! Living in such wealth, yet trying not to live in it is something we fight against daily. We pray that 2009 will bring us to a more Godly perspective on how to glorify Him by sharing with those who are in need. We pray that 2009 will help us to always ask the questions: ‘‘In light of eternity’ do we really need to buy this?’ Or, in ‘light of eternity’ do we really need to be spending our time doing this or that?’” Crossing the finish line on October 12 was another defining moment. A snapshot of victory, of accomplishment, of overcoming. A memory of being in awe of the sweet outpouring of support from friends and family. It was a weekend that our family will cherish forever.

Another moment caught forever in the snapshots of my mind was one seemingly ordinary night in September. It was one of those rushed evenings due to an unplanned trip to the doctor earlier in the day with a sick child. Dinner hastily figured out and fixed at the last moment while a whiny child hangs on you…you get the picture. That night, after putting the children to bed, I exhaustedly and absent-mindedly put chicken on the stove to boil (chicken I was supposed to have boiled earlier that afternoon). Then, I took a Tylenol PM (because I, too, was sick) and Eric and I went upstairs to bed. Yes. I FORGOT ABOUT THE CHICKEN. Anytime I take a Tylenol PM, I am out for the count. And Eric is ALWAYS out for the count. It takes a freight train to wake him. But this night I awoke at 2:00 AM. I groggily got out of bed, thinking something was not right. I very sleepily walked into each of our children’s bedrooms (also upstairs). When I got in Joshua’s room over the kitchen, I thought I smelled something strange--not a burning smell, just a strange smell. As my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, I thought it seemed hazy. I decided to investigate further and walked down the stairs. When I got to the bottom, all I saw was smoke. It suddenly hit me—THE CHICKEN!!! I ran into the kitchen and pulled the pot off the stove—at this point the chicken looked like a mess of boiling black tar. It was within minutes, possibly seconds, from going up in flames. Thick smoke covered our entire house, even the basement. No, our smoke alarms didn’t go off (because we had forgotten to change out the batteries). Yes, we installed new smoke detectors (with lithium batteries that last ten years) the very next day and now we have a total of six in our very medium sized home. All I could do the next day was thank God over and over for his hand of mercy. It was such a picture to me of how God looks over us and takes care of us even when we mess up. It also made me realize that God is ULTIMATELY in control. I know without a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Spirit awoke me that night. It was nothing short of a miracle that kept that night from ending disastrously. ‘I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone O LORD, make me dwell in safety.’ Psalm 4:8

In July, Eric and I got to get away for four days to Savannah, Georgia. It was here that God began to lay on my heart the possibility that He might not be done with our family. It was here we first began talking about this. In the months that followed, God changed Eric's heart too. We realized that we needed to relinquish control over this part of our lives and let Him be in control of whether or not to have more children. While the world wants to tell us that children are an inconvenience, expensive, etc. etc., we firmly believe that children are a blessing from the Lord. Yes, letting the Lord lead in this decision may keep us from ever experiencing Disney World or HD TV. It may make college for our children a big question mark and may make retirement in America’s standards unattainable. It means all of our children sharing bedrooms. It also means less time to do what we want to do. Ultimately, we realized it came down to this question: In what do we put our trust and our security? Things or the Lord? So, we let go of our fears and insecurities, deciding to trust God and choose life; four weeks after the Chicago marathon we learned I was pregnant! My due date was to be exactly one year after the vacation we had in Savannah.

Fast forward to today. It has been a couple of eventful days, but eventful in a way I wished they hadn’t. You see, our plans for our Christmas card were to send a picture of our children holding a sign that said ‘Oh me, Oh my, #6 is due in July!’

Our plans were to announce to you that we were expecting our sixth! We were so excited to share this news! Two days ago, we told our children the news, made the picture, and sent it off to be developed. We were going to tell our extended families the news when we were together for Christmas. Our New Year’s card to you was going to say “Celebrating New Life in a New Year”. However, God had a different plan. An hour after sending off the picture, I began to have a miscarriage. As I was eleven weeks along, we were in shock. We have been through every emotion in the last forty-eight hours. We are deeply saddened that our sixth was not meant to live on this earth yet joyful that he or she is in heaven. We are trusting God that He is in control and will somehow bring joy through this sorrow. We are trusting Him and remembering once again that ‘the Joy of the Lord is our strength!’ I changed our greeting on our New Year’s card and it no longer reads, ‘Celebrating New Life in a New Year’, but I am regretful of that decision. As I write this, I am reminded of all the ‘new life’ we are going to experience this year. I am reminded of the fact that Sophie is going to be baptized on February 22, 2009. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is almost exactly a year since my mother’s death. I am amazed at how God can redeem your loss by bringing about moments that celebrate ‘life’. I am thankful that we will be celebrating life when Eric’s brother and his wife have twin baby girls in March! I am thankful of the fact that we will be celebrating life with our friends who have been trying over six years to have children and just recently found out they are pregnant and due in August! I am thankful and reminded of the fact that we will be celebrating life with some other friends who recently announced they too are having children in 2009! I am thankful and reminded of the fact that we will be celebrating life with some friends that will be bringing home four adopted children from Ethiopia in 2009! Also, I THINK I am thankful :) that we just gave our children a puppy for Christmas. He is a big ball of fluff and the cutest thing ever! We might name him Murray—an important place to us, as Eric grew up there, we went to college there and got married there. Plus, it rhymes with Furry! I don’t think my home town would make an appropriate name—Boonville. No, I think we’ll stick with Murray.

MOST importantly, we will be celebrating the life of all lives this season, JESUS CHRIST. The one life that came to give each of us life through HIM, if we so choose. The one life that gives us hope for the future as we look forward to eternal life through HIM.

To quickly update you on our children: honestly, not much has changed from last year. Joshua’s passion continues to be sports and anything outdoors, Wes is quickly following in his footsteps, Sophie’s interests change daily and Jeremiah just goes with the flow. Owen—the O-Man, the O Factor—is a complete trip. He gives each of us a new strand of gray hair daily :) .

As I look back over this letter, it is quite odd, I suppose, for a Christmas letter. It speaks a lot about the sorrows and difficulties that we have faced this past year. However, these things are what have most shaped and changed our family. The Bible tells us we most identify with Jesus through our sufferings. These are the things that make us most like Him. Times are uncertain. Life is unpredictable—it is not picture perfect. But Jesus is unshakeable. He is the calm of the storm. We pray you put your trust in Him in 2009. We pray you lean on Him through whatever trials you might be facing and find joy in the journey.

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

Happy New Year!
With Much Love,
The Grogan Family—Eric, Maria, Joshua, Sophie, Wes, Jeremiah, Owen and Murray


Karen said...

Oh Maria....I've thought of you often during the holiday, and prayed for you and your family. But, I just now have read this and am praying in a new way. I laughed and cried while reading the events...especially the recent ones. Please know that you are loved and prayed for today.

Charlotte said...

Sweet Maria... you know I've checked my mail each day in December specifically for your Christmas letter! As I read it today, I shed many tears for you my friend but not just tears of sadness, but tears of joy as well. What a year it's been for you my friend but I just love seeing how God is with you each step of the way and how you continue to bring glory to Him throughout your struggles & trials... I pray sweet & bountiful blessings for you and your gang in 2009! Thanks for sharing with all of us!

Cathy said...

Oh Maria! I have checked the blog so often and wondered how you were spending December. What a beautiful letter. You and your family are such a blessing to so many. I have to keep reminding myself that God is in control. He has amazing plans for you!

Maria said...

Thank you, sweet friends!!! Know I am praying for each of you too!

Jeffrey said...

sweet maria. my heart is overwhelmed as i read this. i love you & identified with SO much of what you said. loss brings about the unexpected. thanks for your honesty... it is so refreshing! i miss you!
weeping may last for the night...but JOY comes in the morning!!!
(even though it may say jeffrey)

Charlotte said...

I don't know Maria... Eric is definitely giving you a run for your money with his Christmas letter enclosed in your card... hee hee! Again, praying for a blessed and JOYFUL 2009 for you and your gang!

rhonda said...

your words are always so beautiful...thanks so much for your honesty and sharing your thoughts...prayers to you and all the groganators!!! and yes, we are also excited for baby a and b to arrive....

Maria said...

Thank you--miss you, friend!

Thanks again for the prayers--and I'll let Eric know you enjoyed it :) . Just saw you have a blog--so glad we get to hang out in blog world!

thank you! Loved getting your Christmas card--Annaleigh is so pretty! If you check back here, will you email your address? I threw away your envelope on accident.