I'm thankful it's November! Why, you ask? Because it means that Halloween is behind us once again! I admitted to all of you last November, that in my own experience it seemed that the holiday of Thanksgiving had somehow lost its' way. Sadly, the so called "holiday" of Oct 31st has not! In short... I hate it!!! In fact, I simply refuse to even acknowledge it as a holiday that needs to be celebrated in our home! As a Christ follower, I find this popular day counter-intuitive to everything I believe. I don't mean to offend my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord... but I wonder if the Christ followers of the 1st Century embraced such "dark", cultural, pagan practices the way we Christians do today. I'm really not trying to stand in judgement of anyone for the way they choose to handle Oct 31st each year. I have personally struggled with what would be the most God-honoring way for our family to participate in the festivities of Halloween since my 'Phase I' kids were born. We were blessed to have alternative fun offered through many of our churches through the years, and I was grateful to have that for my kids instead. Then there were several years that we felt led to get dressed up and join our neighbors in some "evangelistic" Trick-or-Treat fun. One year, our next door neighbor had a massive cookout and the kids all knocked on front doors and loaded up on candy while the parents all enjoyed the rare occasion to spend some time together. Some of my favorite Halloween memories are the years we would take our older kids out to dinner and a movie instead of roaming the streets for "treats". I think the kids loved this tradition as much as I did... The theaters were always empty and I promised to buy my kids all the candy they could possibly want, at 50% off the next day!!! That's what I call a "win-win" solution to my least favorite "holiday"! :-)
Then 8 years ago, we began what we affectionately call 'Phase II' of our family, and I was faced with the decision on how we would celebrate this most dreaded holiday with our young children again. I'm not so cold hearted that I don't understand the pure delight a child finds in dressing up in costumes and filling bags full of candy. I have wonderful memories myself of when, as a teenager, my entire family would dress in disguise and ring the doorbells of unsuspecting friends and neighbors. It was the cleanest form of laughter-filled fun and chocolate-filled buckets! What more can I say? I loved it! Why wouldn't I want the same for my kids? And yet, this year, more than any in the past, I can't seem to make myself go there...
I'll just be brutally honest... Our family is sadly, and most literally, staring death in the face this year. I have had more conversations about death and dying with my young children than I ever wanted or could have even imagined! These things happen to someone else's child, in someone else's family... don't they? But then, suddenly, as if shaken awake from a bad dream to discover that it is your new reality, I am forced to have another grueling conversation on the subject with my very critically ill 8 year old daughter. It saddens me to realize that Rachel must think of these things so much, when other little girls her age, can grow up completely oblivious to their own mortality. I'm sure that as the days of praying for a new heart turn into months and months of waiting, she thinks of it more and more. Rachel seems to clearly understand that the heart she needs will ultimately come from God. "But where," she asked, "will God get my new heart?... Heaven?" Thus began another discussion on death and dying. I was forced to finally explain, in the simplest terms I could muster, the reality that someone would have to die so that she might live. Rachel looked stunned by this new revelation, and as expected, it led to several other lines of questioning... "What happens to our bodies when we die?", "What do you do with them?" No wonder she is confused and worried, since each time she saw death in China, she watched as the precious bodies of her friends were stuffed in garbage bags or put onto a shelf in the freezer. I don't mean to be gruesome or insensitive, but these are, sadly, the realities our daughter faced for 7 years inside the walls of an orphanage where she was told plainly that she was "dying"... I can hardly force my heart to go to these dark places her memories are filled with.
Is it any wonder I have absolutely no inclination to celebrate a "holiday" that is focused on darkness, fear, and death right now? When you are raising a child with a grim diagnoses, life changes in ways you could not begin to imagine. It would be only natural for us as parents, to live a life of fear and dread, instead of joy and hope ...to focus on the dying, instead of the "living". But Doug and I made a conscious choice when we adopted Rachel, to live life differently and to celebrate each day that the Lord would give. Not just for Rachel... but for each of us! We have learned, through Rachel, how fragile life is... how each day is a fresh miracle from God... and how little time we have to waste on things that simply don't matter! We have chosen to focus on LIFE and trust God with what tomorrow might hold.
I do not want to communicate to my children that death is a "dark" reality, with black, psychotic characters, skeletons, ghosts, goblins, and creepy gravestones. Because we love Jesus, our dying is a celebration of a very different kind! I hope my death will be celebrated one day with happy colors, hope-filled singing, and wonderful memories of a loving family and joy-filled living. I hope that those I leave behind will know that the grave is not my final resting place. That my hope is more fully alive in my dying, than in my living! That one day we will be reunited through death and live- REALLY live! FOREVER!
In light of these things, I decided to use yesterday's festivities to celebrate the gift of LIFE... most specifically, through the most treasured gifts of "life" God has given me... my 3 precious girls! Here then, are the photos I snapped to remember this most special celebration~