My brother-in-law passed away on December 23. He had been very sick for quite a while, and as Christmas approached, we learned that he wasn’t expected to live much longer. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept or to live with when it happens, especially when it’s around the holidays.

“I was hoping so much that he’d be able to hang on till Christmas,” my sister sobbed when she called us from the hospital.

We were prepared to drop or significantly alter our holiday celebration, but my sister said that for her kids, for her sanity, and for all of us, she wanted Christmas to be as close to normal as possible. So we continued on with our plans and preparations, in addition to helping my sister with funeral arrangements. In the middle of this, she, her son, my dad, and I all came down with varying degrees of the flu and colds that seem to have struck half the people on the planet and knocked them out cold. So several trips to urgent care, to “regular doctors,” and to the pharmacy for medications and supplies were added to our agenda over the course of the next few days.

Ironically, I was in the middle of reading a book entitled, “Where is God?” that a friend had lent to me just before my husband and I left for Chicago, which is where most of our family still lives and where we went to spend Christmas.  The book addresses the question that so many people ask in the midst of personal and more widespread crises and tragedies. When we are struck with severe illness or disease, when we lose a loved one, when economic problems devour our life savings or destroy our careers and our security, and when disturbed persons armed with automatic weapons march into schools and shopping malls and start shooting, many people desperately and understandably ask, “Where is God?”

The reason my friend gave me the book to read was not because I had been struggling with this question. It was because I have been attempting to answer it. In the speaking I’ve been doing over the last few years about finding buried treasure in our lives, and about recognizing and appreciating our gifts from God, I have spent a good deal of time talking – and learning even more – about the gifts, the growth, and the strength that come to us not like manna from heaven, or wrapped in pretty packages with shiny ribbons, but in the storms and tempests that devastate our lives.

This Christmas is one I will long remember, as I know my sister and everyone else in our family will as well. For several years, it will be a painful memory, fresh with the loss of my brother-in-law, and with how weak and sick a number of us were and how much of an extra burden it was on everyone else who was picking up the slack and taking care of us. But even now, I recognize and am grateful for the gifts that were and will be a part of the experience. The comfort we were able to give and receive from each other. The faith, patience and compassion that was brought out in each of us. The additional help, strength and support we received from so many others.

And as time goes by, I know that painful memories will be replaced by peaceful and happy ones. Christmas will always bring to mind thoughts of my brother-in-law, and most of those thoughts will be good ones, in spite of the ones that will always be there of how much he is missed.

This is where God is, I know. And this is where we find and are reminded of the best gifts that any of us could ever give or receive – the comfort, love and support of family and friends when we need it the most.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on January 10, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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