Apple Hill

Early in our marriage, we made our home near Sacramento. It was a great place to live. The cities surrounding the capital still have a rural feel to them.  It is such a beautiful area ~

did you know that Sacramento claims more trees per capita than any other city?

Remembering our years spent in northern California always brings a smile to my face.  Our children were born in a small local hospital.  We made friendships that remain part of our lives today.  We learned many lessons about faith and life that strengthened our marriage. And, every October we went to Apple Hill.

Apple Hill

is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the small El Dorado County community of Camino.  The original sixteen apple orchards that made up

Apple Hill

have grown through the years to include 55 ranches, wineries, a micro-brewery, spa and vineyards.  The various orchards offer many ways for visitors to experience the fruit of their labor ~ fresh-pressed cider, apple donuts made-to-order, apple pies, apple milk shakes, caramel apples, and the list goes on!  You can even grab a bucket and pick your own apples!

It has been almost 30 years since we moved from northern California to make our home here in the central valley.  Many years have passed since we loaded up our two small children to spend a day in the orchards. 

Last year we took a road trip back to Apple Hill with our daughter Amy and our grandchildren.  Amy was only three years old the last time she was there! How fun to see it

for the first time again

through the eyes of Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack, and taste

anew

the delicious treats! 

Well, it is October again.

We are finalizing our plans to travel north again to reconnect with friends and spend a weekend at Apple Hill with the whole family!  The trees will put on a grand display of fall foliage and the scent of apples will permeate the air.  Aside from the vibrant colors and edible delights that are part of Apple Hill, for me, it is a privilege to retrace my steps, to remember how things used to be, and to focus on God's faithfulness over the years of my life. 

You see, there were times in those early years of our marriage when we went to Apple Hill because it was

free

~ money was very scarce.  Those who walked with us then know the many ways God provided for our every need ~ money slipped anonymously into an envelope, bags of groceries delivered on our porch, and even the time the doorbell rang and we found a Christmas tree leaning against the door jam.  We may have had little in those days but we were truly blessed.

Apple Hill is a place where we were a

family of four

.  Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that someday

Scott

would not be part of this life.  But even in losing a child, God has graciously cleared a path and caused our feet to not stumble. The sights and smells of Apple Hill remind me of who I am ~

the mother of Amy and Scott.

The orchards of Apple Hill are a reminder for me of the different seasons of life.  Some seasons bring forth fruit; some seem cold and harsh.  Some provide a time of refreshing; thankfully, some usher in the promise of renewal. So I look forward to once again immersing myself in Apple Hill.  To see and feel God's faithfulness.  To remember and renew my hope in Him.

Redecorating the Future with the Past

Scott loved tools from a very young age and to build something with his hands was his ultimate form of play. If there was a job to be done, and he could use his tools, he would beg to do it. If he stayed home from school sick, I knew he would complete some "fix it" job around the house while I was at work.

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During his sophomore year, Scott was very excited to help Dayn, his youth pastor, remodel the old barn our church used as its youth center. It turned out to be one of his last projects before his fatal accident.

When Scott died two months later, the youth group decided to rename the barn,

Scotty's Place

. It was a thoughtful way to remember Scott and also acknowledge the

hole

left in their midst by his absence.

Age and weather eventually took its toll on the old barn, and it became a safety hazard. The leaders of the church told us about the situation a few years ago, and graciously asked for our input. From a logical position, a decision was not hard to make; the building could not remain standing if it could collapse on someone. But from an emotional perspective, the choice to demolish it was complicated; Scotty's Place would be no more. We gave our vote to have the old barn taken down, but we asked to keep some of the old window frames as a memory of Scott and his work on the place.

The day for demolition finally came. Just before the bulldozer moved in, some friends gently removed three window frames from the sides of the old barn. Then, in a matter of minutes, we watched as Scotty's Place became a pile of rubble.

We recently did some painting and redecorating in our house. (Scott would have loved to be there - especially pulling the old built-in bookcase out of the wall!) We gave a fresh coat of paint to one of the window frames from Scotty's Place and decided it looked great as an accent piece hanging by our dining room table.

Like the youth group, there will always be

Scotty's Place

in our hearts and home. Now, there is a window in our home; to provide a glimpse of the past and to remind us to focus on the future, when we will experience a blessed reunion one day.

Christmases Past

I keep our Christmas decorations in narrow plastic bins under our bed. We always pull the dust covered containers out from under the bed in the days following Thanksgiving as we anticipate the coming of Christmas. I remember when Amy and Scott were little - the excitement of opening those bins each year and their joy as they placed the decorations around the house and on the tree.

I vividly remember Christmas, 1995. Amy was in her first year of college at Biola in southern California. Scott was a sophomore at Immanuel High School in Reedley. As was our tradition, we went out to a local Christmas tree farm, and cut down the

perfect

tree. Scott wanted to begin decorating the tree immediately. I told him that we were going to wait for Amy to arrive home from college before we decorate the tree. I remember saying, "We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree." And we did.

That was December, 1995. In six short weeks, February 1996, Scott was killed in an accident. As December 1996 rolled around, my words from Christmas past rang in my ears -

"We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree."

I could not buy a tree for Christmas. I could not pull the bins out from under the bed. I could not feel the joy of the season.

For ten painful years we did not buy a Christmas tree. We did not decorate the house for Christmas. Although we celebrated the holiday in the homes of friends and family, exchanging gifts and sharing meals, I could not bring myself to touch the ornaments Scott had touched his last Christmas on earth. I could not decorate a tree when our family would never be

together

again this side of eternity.

I remember thinking, "How long will I go on like this?"

In a feeble attempt to conquer the pain, we decided to try a

different

Christmas tree farm, and we actually purchased a tree for Christmas in 2005 - ten years since the tree we decorated all together. We bravely brought it home, but that was as far as my courage could take me. The tree remained outside, leaning against the side of the garage.

Christmas 2006 again found us able to purchase a tree for our home. We again bravely brought it home. This time, we placed the tree in the stand, and stood it in its rightful place beside the fireplace in our family room. But, sadly, there it stood; we never decorated it. It just stood there throughout the Christmas season; its bare, empty branches a metaphor for my heart. It was Christmas, but something . . .

someone

. . . was so obviously missing.

Then last year, we purchased one of those

fake

trees, only about four feet tall, that already has lights attached to it. We set it up in its rightful place and I slid the bins out from under our bed. As I opened each bin, I was hit with waves of emotions that brought all the pain and sorrow of losing Scott right back to me. There were the ornaments celebrating his early years. There were the precious trinkets he had made in school. There was the box of

glassables

, what Scott called our breakable ornaments when he was little. I pulled out a few items for my grandchildren to hang on the tree and slid the bins back under the bed.

Well, Christmas has come again. This year we decided to have a few friends over to celebrate the season with a Christmas brunch. It sounded like a good idea until I realized that I had set myself up to

need

to decorate. How could they come to my house and have it not look bleak for Christmas? Yet, how could I face my sorrows stored in those bins under the bed?

I asked Amy if she and the grandchildren could come over to help me. I pulled the bins out from under the bed. Almost immediately upon opening the bins there were once again, shouts of glee as my grandchildren spied some of the decorations for the first time. They joyfully decorated the house and stood back to admire their work. Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was difficult. But it was then that I realized I had to let go of the tight grip I held on my old traditions and embrace new ones . . . new traditions that would have been created even if Scott was still here.

I share my experiences with Christmases Past because Christmas can be one of the saddest times for those who have experienced loss.

If you are one of those who grieves the loss of a dear one, I hope my own experience can bring you some comfort. Everyone's grief is unique and you have the right to

own

your own journey. It took me ten years to begin to feel like I could face Christmas in a familiar fashion. And then it took another three years to come to the place in my heart where I was ready to create

new

traditions to build on the old ones. This Christmas, give yourself the gift of listening to your heart. Honor the memories of Christmases Past, take care of yourself this Christmas Present, and look forward to Christmas Future.

If you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, be present to their need. Do not hurry them to leave their grief behind. Do not ask them to experience Christmas through your eyes. Listen to their sorrow. Respect their reasoning. Honor the memories they hold dear. In so doing, you will companion them toward experiencing peace with loss.

For the very Babe of Bethlehem came to earth as the Prince of Peace, and He will reconcile all things to himself in time, and make all things beautiful. Happy Birthday, Jesus.