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How many?


Holidays are usually filled with laughter, late nights watching movies and eating way too much food with friends and family. Christmas, for me, is the most wonderful time of the year! I anticipate the month of November with jubilation because I know I can finally pull out all of the Christmas decorations and immerse myself in my happy place!


My husband’s Star Trek Christmas tree is the first tree I assemble. I take so much care to strategically place the twenty-year collection of ornaments just right. There is an order to this ritual, and Chris always receives the newest ornaments on his November birthday. They arrive and are joyfully opened just in time for the ceremony around his tree. The Star Trek tree topper plays the theme song; I record videos for all our children; and Chris always smiles and tells me the history of each new ornament in detail that only a Trekker could recount. (And you Trekkers know exactly who you are. I see you!) It is one of my favorite things about my husband. He loves Star Trek! The deep satisfaction in my heart as that first tree turns on each morning throughout November and December makes the ornament placement ritual worth every minute. Just know that I do my best, but every year he needs to adjust those ornaments, so no character, spaceship or icon is “offended” by its location on the tree. Seriously, it is a thing. (I see you Trekkers.) LOL!


Joy, joy, and more joy! As the ornament boxes are unpacked and the Christmas candles are lit, we find satisfaction in knowing that this holiday season will be filled again with our friends and family. Can you smell that sweet pine and cinnamon fragrance? Perhaps you have different traditions. I would love to hear how you celebrate your holiday seasons. There are so many meaningful holidays that we celebrate in our communities. We are a beautiful country of deep faith and differing beliefs. I trust you have traditions in your significant holidays that you hold dear and repeat with joy, lights, and with friends and family.


It is during these joyful holiday gatherings that I am most often asked by new acquaintances,


“How many? (Pause) How many children do you have?”


This is a very innocent question. It is usually preceded by talk of our children flying into our city to join us for the holidays or houseguests who may see the many Christmas stockings strewn across our lighted balcony railing.


Jessica, Eliotte (& Ryan, Baby James) James III, Victoria, and…Robert. Four or five children?


Pausing just a minute as I consider the person, surroundings and intent of the question, I make my judgment and eventually answer. Sometimes, I let out a sudden bit of awkward laughter because the shock of our full quiver needs time. Did I mention that I wanted 10 children? I guess that may be too much to comprehend in this moment as the inflection of the inquiring voice may have lilted upward with an increased pitch as the question ended.


“How many children do you have?”


Was the question just a passing inquiry sparked by something I said earlier? Did I mistakenly mention that we have five children and one grandson, but only named the four older ones? Did I say Robert’s name? Does this person really need to know about Robert, or can I skillfully dismiss the question without telling a lie or reducing Robert’s life? What in the world should my reply be to this question in this moment?


What additional information will I need to divulge once I answer? Will this person respond appropriately once they hear my answer, or will they move on to the next question without feeling the deep hesitation in my voice? Can I take the very real chance that my answer may cause additional pain to my heart, or trigger something that causes me to remove myself from the gathering? Or is this the one person in the room who will hear my answer in any form, and with intentional eye contact see right into my very soul and understand whatever words flow from my mouth?


All these questions repeat themselves in my head every time I am asked this question. I am writing this to you today because I have had the privilege of speaking with other moms who have lost children, and this very question causes the same reaction in them. It is a real “pause” that stops us in our tracks. The question is common and not offensive. We just hear that question differently and need a minute to prepare our response.


The holidays should be celebrated to their fullest, even when there is tragedy or difficult memories surrounding them. It is not “joy, joy, and more joy” for everyone. I know that. I have walked this path. Each holiday can bring memories almost too unbearable to voice. I know. But this one question is one that we can all agree to ask gently with grace and kindness.


Some of you have children here, and children there that you have never held. I may see you with two beautiful children by your side, but your reality is that you have three additional children that I may have never met…over there. Please give me grace to ask you this question and give me grace as I take a minute to answer this question for you. The numerical answer I hear when I ask you this question and the numerical answer I give, when asked, is very important because it will demand a listening ear and a vulnerable heart.


We are strong enough to engage in this conversation together with a more informed outlook. Take a moment, all of you, to consider how you would answer this question if you, unfortunately, suffered deep loss. This is a “walking in another’s shoes” type of moment that is a necessary exercise in growth. We can walk together so much more closely just by taking this simple step. I may want to tell you all about Robert in that instance, if appropriate, but I also do not want to be vulnerable if it is a question that only brings with it a casual inquiry. I don’t want to become a crying mess when you just wanted a simple, one-word numerical answer.


I have treasured the many times someone leaned in and waited for my answer. It gave me such validation. It takes my breath away to this day to hear the question and have the privilege to say, “Four,” politely to avoid any further discussion, or to say, “Five,” with the full intention of inviting a beautiful, deeper conversation. It is usually followed with, “We have a son, Robert, who passed away at age 18 from a very rare seizure disorder.” If allowed in the moment, you will hear more, but only if you really wanted to know. Sometimes, those deeper conversations need to happen outside of that moment, and that is welcome, too.


So, how many children do you have? Tell me, please. I am listening and I promise I will hear you. May we all listen well with grace and kindness during these very meaningful holiday celebrations.


Joy, joy, and more joy to you and yours…here, and there.


Listening Library: Speak Life (TobyMac)

https://youtu.be/ZeBv9r92VQ0


“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12 NIV)



Speak Life


Some days, life feels perfect Other days, it just ain't workin' The good, the bad, the right, the wrong And everything in between

Yo it's crazy, amazing We can turn our heart through the words we say

Mountains crumble with every syllable Hope can live or die


So speak life, speak life To the deadest, darkest night Speak life, speak life When the sun won't shine and you don't know why Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted Watch 'em come alive as soon as you speak hope You speak love, you speak

You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Some days, the tongue gets twisted Other days, my thoughts just fall apart I do, I don't, I will, I won't It's like I'm drowning in the deep

Well, it's crazy to imagine Words from my lips as the arms of compassion

Mountains crumble with every syllable Hope can live or die


So speak life, speak life To the deadest, darkest night Speak life, speak life When the sun won't shine and you don't know why Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted Watch 'em come alive as soon as you speak hope You speak love, you speak

You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh


Lift your head a little higher Spread the love like fire Hope will fall like rain When you speak life with the words you say

Raise your thoughts a little higher Use your words to inspire Joy will fall like rain When you speak life with the things you say


Lift your head a little higher Spread the love like fire Hope will fall like rain When you speak life with the words you say


So speak life, speak life To the deadest, darkest night Speak life, speak life When the sun won't shine and you don't know why Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted Watch 'em come alive as soon as you speak hope You speak love, you speak

You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh You speak life, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh


Some days, life feels perfect


Songwriters: Ryan Stevenson / James L Moore / Kevin Michael McKeehan

Speak Life lyrics © Universal Music - Brentwood Benson Publ., Jamnu Publishing, Songs Of Emack, Achtober Songs




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