Jennifer Ireland ~ “Season” of Redemption {Story 12 of 30}

Thanksgiving and Christmas are officially on the way! For some of us, this fact sends us into a joyful frenzy of gift shopping, recipe hunting, idea organizing, and house cleaning. You no sooner get the pumpkins thrown over the hill and the costumes put away, and it’s time to begin decking the halls while listening to Christmas music.

But, for some of us, this season sends us into a dark place. A place of loneliness and despair. A place of bitterness. A place of debt. A place of worry. To us, these two holidays single handedly show us everything we don’t have. A home. Family. Friends. Warm food. Attention. Money. The list is a different combination for each of us.

We let Thanksgiving begin our marathon of misery and New Years Eve end it with a big bang of nothingness.  And each year this time makes us question the sanity of those joyful folk around us. Not only question, but we get angry because we don’t understand the source of their joy.

Growing up in my parents house, Thanksgivings and Christmases were always amazing. My mom loved cooking and shopping and giving, so each year we held all the family gatherings and my mom always went overboard on food and presents. The day before Thanksgiving was filled with Sandy Patty music blaring on the stereo as she scrubbed the house and prepared for the meal.

It was her favorite time of year.

My brothers, sister, and I would wake up Thanksgiving morning to the parade on every TV in the house and the sweet aroma of turkey, stuffing, and coffee sweeping through the rooms. My mom would be cooking in her full makeup and dressed in her Sunday best. My dad would come home early from the hospital in his tie and lay his white coat across a chair in the kitchen, sample some food, take off his shoes and promptly fall asleep on the couch as all the kids climbed on him and loudly played throughout the house. I LOVED this time of year and just simply thinking about them takes me back to the happiest parts of my childhood.

In 1998 everything changed.  This was the year my mom had been battling her second bout of cancer. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 1994 and they found it during her C-section for my youngest brother’s birth. It was now back and in her spine. We had spent the past six months caring for her as she laid prisoner to the couch in pain. My dad and I tried to move her to a hospital bed, but it was too firm and caused her to cry out in even more agony.  Thanksgiving day our house was empty except for the six of us, and my dad did his best to be a doctor, a husband, a father, and a cook on Thanksgiving. Despite the four of us young kids, the house was quiet.

Christmas was worse. It had began affecting my mom’s brain. Normally decorating the tree was my favorite time of the season. My mom collected ornaments, so each one we hung was a memory, a giver, and just pure happiness. And each year my sister and I would fight over who would hang the Santa ornament. This usually ended with someone in tears and began Santa’s journey around the tree; each day you could find Santa in a different place. For all of those with sisters, this is the equivalent of the last word! This time as I strung the lights and hung the ornaments, my mom thought I was an invader and started screaming for my dad. I desperately tried to comfort her, but she didn’t know who I was and all my efforts only frightened her more.

This memory haunted me. To be honest, if I’m not careful, still haunts me. Christmas day we opened presents for the last time all together. My dad was age 48. My mom age 43. I was 15. My sister Bonnie age 14. My brother Robert age 8. The baby in the family, Jonathan, age 4.

Sixteen days after Christmas my mom was called home to her Creator. And I began hating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and God.

How could He? Why would He?

Her entire battle my mom spent praying to Him, singing to Him, crying out to Him, writing to Him, reading His word. I have pages and pages of her prayers and the scripture written out to Him on yellow legal pads. I hated Him for ignoring her. I never doubted that He was there, but was blind to His love and so angry at Him I despised anything to do with His name.

Several Christmases passed and each year I tried to put on a smile for my siblings, and make it through the Christmas season hoping my family and friends would still love me at the end despite my anger and sadness. Each year I would fall into a pit of depression, anxiety, and deeply- rooted anger around mid- November. Each Christmas was tedious and exhausting.

Finally, Jesus broke me down and rescued me from myself.

It was a long year that started with miscarrying a baby, making amends with my dad after almost a year of not speaking, watching amazing joy in kids with disabilities, getting married, and finally surrendering to Jesus. It was in season of loss and unfathomable gain; He basically, but lovingly, took a bat to my knees.

Through that whole year I began to pray and beg for Him. The Holy Spirit started working overtime in me. My first Christmas with Christ in my heart, I was pregnant and facing the possibility of birthing our first child and having a Christmas without my soldier husband. Nate(husband) made it home the night I was admitted at the hospital for labor and with him we had our first ,healthy baby girl. And for the first Christmas since my childhood, I raised my arms for my Heavenly Father in praise and begged for Him; not for my mom, not for my family to be pieced back together, not for my memories, not for my health, not for the American white snow on the ground, stockings hung with care, gifts flooding the floor around the tree Christmas…. but for Him.

I wanted Him. I needed Him. I found His joy. I found HIS Christmas.

There have been five more Christmases since that time, and each year my Savior has brought me closer. I have since had to bury my dad to pancreatic cancer, and both my mom’s parents, had another baby girl, and endured another deployment with my husband.

But each Christmas I grow in anticipation and joy for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. He continues to redeem the Christmas season for our family. He hasn’t made our meals like they were with my mom and dad. He hasn’t fixed all the problems. He hasn’t given me my childhood back. He hasn’t erased the ugly memories of my mom and dad’s suffering. But, He has given me Himself. He has filled my heart with Him. He has promised me that I will see my mom and dad again.

He has used my mom and dad’s suffering to bring new life through the salvation of me and my sister, our husbands, and hopefully many  more to come. He has revealed the Gospel to my heart and mind. His birth isn’t about my family time anymore or the traditions. His birth is about God’s beautiful plan for His creation from the very beginning. His birth is about the resurrection, His victory over sickness, war, sin, death, and CANCER!!! He has given me two beautiful children to see Christmas through their eyes. Christmas is about the adoption of us by Him and the adoption of us into family of those believers he has sent us.

Remember those annoying joyful folk I mentioned earlier?? Yeah, I get them now –I understand their joy… the source of their insanity….Jesus. And I am now their kind of crazy. No one could have told me or explained to me how my mom was able to pray to Him, sing to Him, want Him while she was stuck laying down catheterized and in pain on a couch. No one.

However, one of the beautiful parts of having Him, I understand how and why she did it amidst the torturing pain and loss of the dignity in her usual dress and function. He was her everything and she knew what He promised would be far greater than any suffering she could endure at the hands of cancer. She knew  the salvation of those around her was a far greater gain than the healing of her cancer.

The Holy Spirit has since illuminated the Word of God and now it’s not just a history of ancient peoples and lofty promises and rules from a far off God. Now, it’s a promise threaded through ancient peoples, seen by those who love Him, promises made and promises kept and beautiful promises to come.

Promises made…

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet– I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalms 22:16-18)

Promises kept…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just  and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespassess and rasied for our justification.( Romans 4:23-25)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Promises to come…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place  of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Everything found in Him, makes even the suffering, the cancer, the deaths, and being orphaned seem momentary and purposeful. I’m not going to write this and pretend like I found Jesus and all the pain and anger and frustration just melted away. It still hurts at my inner most core when I get too busy, or turn my focus onto myself, or prayers aren’t answered in my time; my heart still throbs.

However, when I stay close to Him through His word, His community of believers, and prayer I can find the beauty in the pain. The joy of His promises overshadow of what I think I’m missing, the memories of suffering, and the drama that comes with broken people.He has put Christmas back in my heart. And greatest of all He loves me enough to let me hurt so I find eternity with Him.

Please, if you like this entry take time to praise God for it. If you find Him looking for you as you read my experience, praise Him! But, please for my sake do not email or comment praises to protect me from pride. I struggle with pride. And if you have any questions or disagree with the use of scripture, please email me personally(jennifercrile@gmail.com) or let’s have coffee to discuss. Also, I have had two people that I trust very much, read ahead of the posting to help protect against any misuse.

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Jennifer Ireland lives in Ohio with her husband, Nate, and two sweet gals: Launa and Briege.  She’s a history teacher who enjoys riding horses and teaching others to ride.  Most of all, she’s a Christ follower who loves serving at The Journey Church.  You can connect with her on Twitter or via Email.

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Sometimes God places a person in your life at just the right time…in just the right season.  A few years ago, I needed someone to watch my kiddos while I was in a church meeting.  Our youth pastor’s wife said she’d be in the youth area with Jennifer Ireland, and my kiddos should be fine.

I met Jen that day.

A few days later, there’s a new student teacher at my school: Jennifer Ireland.  We had the same planning period.  We solved the world’s problems…and a few of our own…during those planning periods.  We were both in tough spots, and I know God gave us one another.

For about 18 months, Jen was also one of my accountability partners.  She spoke both love and truth into my life…and almost shook me on a few occasions, I think;)  I am blessed to call her my friend.  She has a deep, authentic faith that I admire.

Simply put…Jen loves Jesus.  She’s all about Him.  I am blessed to share her story with you.  May you learn as much from her as I have.

Comments

  1. Jennifer….if you will allow….I want to thank you for one thing in particular, for giving voice to what the holiday season can be for so many people. There is no permission to say this in most places. It’s rare to hear it. It’s kept tucked away in corners of people’s minds and hearts as they try to muddle through. You have conveyed it well. But, of course, you haven’t stopped there. It isn’t your whole story. You have indeed told a story of redemption. Marvelous.

  2. Thank you for sharing how God works all things for our good. Thank you for sharing such wonder in your pain.

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