Friday, December 25, 2015

Dear Matt

Dear Matt,

I think about you every day. We talk about you all the time. You are missed. You are loved beyond measure. I think you would be proud of me, Matt. I have finally come to a place of resolution in traversing this grief journey. I've navigated this massive mountain of child loss and made it through the valley of sorrow. I army-crawled through the mine field of grief and made it out alive. Oh, I didn't come out whole, but I came out stronger. And it's funny, because strength wasn't what I wanted. But strength is what I got, because, as I've said many times before, I believe there are only two choices in surviving: better or bitter. (And surviving? I didn't even want that for a long time.)

I've wrestled for months with this feeling of resolution, not quite knowing what it was. But then we watched the movie Inside Out over Thanksgiving break, and I bawled unreservedly because it finally gave birth to what I had been laboring to deliver: this new life of joy and grief. See, after loss our society tells us that at some point, we will be over our grief, that our grief will be in the past, a done deal. But that is a lie. Our culture brainwashes us into believing that our sorrow (especially any sorrow lasting more than a year in length) is somehow not normal, that we are divergent if we don't "get over it."

This resolution I feel is because I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will always have grief. I will always miss you. I will miss you until the day I die. But I also have joy. I have laughter. I have love. I have learned to be grateful and forgiving. (And trust me, if grief doesn't teach you to be grateful and forgiving, then I don't know what will.) Changing our understanding of what it means to have closure is pivotal in healing from loss.

The struggle in healing from grief is not the choosing between joy and grief. It is not an either-or decision. It is the reconciliation of joy and grief to coexist, to cohabitate and assimilate them in one's life after devastating loss. It is moving forward with both, knowing that there will be times (especially in the beginning years of loss) where one outweighs the other. And that is o.k. because it is not a this-or-that position. It is, instead, a "I will lean hard on God, trusting in Him" choice. It is the decision to feel the pain, the anger, the confusion, the sorrow, and every other grief emotion while pressing into Jesus, allowing Him to carry me. He carried the cross for me. I know that He can carry this, this mess, this grief. He carries me.

Watching Inside Out and Beyond closure gave me the validation I had been searching for. See, Matt, the idea endorsed is that if one has joy in this life, then they can't have grief also. That, somehow, the grief is "over." But there is no "over" in child loss. There is, instead, a moving forward, forward with shrapnel, scars, and missing body parts, but forward nonetheless. Yet there is beauty in the ugly because it necessitates the acknowledgement of victory, victory in overcoming devastation. It proclaims healing. It affirms a story, a story of the faithfulness of God.

As we endure yet another Christmas without you, Matt, I ache. I ache. I cry. I long for you, my son. I cling to God's word, for it is my life. This world holds joy and grief, and there is plenty of both on earth. But I don't cling to this life. This life is temporary. The present joy and grief are merely the birth pangs to eternal life, a life in the presence of God. You are looking into the face of your Savior, Matt. I can't imagine it, yet I know it is all and only joy in His presence. I am comforted in knowing that you are being taken care of in the most perfect way ever.

Love, Mom

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yes!, yes!, yes! A thousand times yes!

Do not let this day end without watching this. Please. It will take less than 18 minutes of your time.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

"Life is a furnace and the faithful live by the Shadrach-prayer of only 4 words: 
“Even if He doesn’t.”" - Ann Voskamp

“How was your Thanksgiving?” It‘s a well-intentioned question, asked with the same superficial tone of the “How are you?” question. It’s a question that doesn’t really expect an answer. At least, no answer besides “Great!” Unfortunately, I have little patience for idle chit-chat. I don’t want “surface” relationship. I get that our society has social norms and such pertaining to greetings like these, but I’ve long since (four years, to be precise) foregone catering to them. And it’s hard. It’s hard because I feel like I don’t fit in. I don’t belong. My heart is elsewhere. My heart no longer resides on this side of heaven. I am, as the Bible describes Christians, a stranger and an alien, a foreigner.

Child loss will do that to you, you know. It shifts your focus. It opens your eyes to eternal things. It redefines what’s important. It presents you with only two choices: to say as Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him…” or as Job’s wife, “…Curse God and die.” (Job 13:15, 2:9) When your world falls apart, you don’t get to sit on the fence. Devastation forces a response: Lean hard on Him? Or harden your heart? In that moment when your world shifts, your response determines the direction of your healing.

See, your circumstances don’t change if you bless or curse. Like Job and his wife, their possessions and their children were destroyed. They weren’t coming back, and no amount of blessing or cursing was going to change that. But their responses? Their responses changed everything. Job chose to worship God. He chose to trust God despite his feelings. And the circumstances didn’t change. In fact, they got worse. Yet Job continued to press in to God, to recount His character. And in the end, he held fast to his belief in God’s goodness, and he was greatly blessed.

Job experienced what Ann Voskamp called the “Shadrach-prayer of only 4 words: ‘Even if He doesn’t.’” Those of us, like Job, who have buried children know this “Even if He doesn’t.” We live it every day. And every day is a choice to keep trusting God, to trust Him amid the grief and throughout the holidays when sorrow seeps in.

I choose to give thanks because God is faithful. I thank Him, not because of the gifts He gives (though He does give good gifts, and I am thankful for them), but because of the Giver. It is the Giver who invokes my praise. The gifts are fleeting. The Giver is the true gift. He will never be taken away from me. My joy in Him becomes my strength, my thanks.

How was my Thanksgiving? My Thanksgiving was like every day…filled with joy…and grief…and thanks giving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

One or the other?

There are just some posts that say it all. Posts that I don't write, but say everything I want to say, especially as Thanksgiving approaches. This is one of them:  (from Angela Miller's blog A Bed for My Heart)

Grateful and Grieving by Angela Miller

Friday, November 13, 2015

Choose this moment

My 8yo. spoke to his 15yr. old sister earlier saying: "We're 7 years apart, but you're my best friend."

This. This right here has been one of my top 3 goals as a parent that I have wanted for my children since the day they were born. My heart melted...and broke. For this is what they're missing out on with their older brother Matt. These are the moments I wish things were different. These are the moments I wish we had a glimpse of heaven. These are the moments I fight for truth.

It is in these moments where I must put on my spiritual armor and fight back against the subtle tactics of the enemy. The enemy whispers, “See what they’re missing? See how this isn’t fair?” Words like these can entice me to bitterness and to the belief that God isn’t good. Words like these tempt me to wallow in self-pity.

Well, guess what? It isn’t fair, and they are missing out. But there’s something greater than all that. There’s something better. Yes, it’s hard to believe because my heart hurts for them. My hearts hurts for the things we no longer get to experience with their brother gone.

But God’s word comes quickly to mind, and I am reminded that every earthly experience is temporal. While these amazing moments are precious and joyful and treasured, not a single one of them can compare to the joy that’s coming, to the glory that awaits. Grief fights for first place, but joy always, always follows darkness. Joy will always follow darkness when we choose to turn on the Light. I am missing my son, cherishing the present, and looking forward with joy.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Faith in the dark

by Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Grief will change you, there is no question of that. Grief throws you violently into a hole and quickly shovels the dirt on top of your stunned body. And there you are. In the dark. Struggling to breathe. Struggling to find your way out. Amazingly, you do. Eventually. You come out of the dirt blackened, bloodied, and gasping for air, but alive.

I remember those days when all was dark. I remember begging God to just let me die with my son, to somehow allow me and my whole family to be with Matt. I didn't want to be separated from my son. I didn't want to live the rest of my life without my child. I remember the desperation. I remember the pain. I remember when my faith was buried deep, and I questioned everything I had ever believed about God and the Christian life. I remember how easy it was to give thanks and praise God when life was good and blessings were falling as quickly as the leaves from the trees in October.

But now? Now I know that when faith is buried deep in the dark, it is not dead. It is placed in the dark like a seed planted in the ground, waiting for the right time to sprout. I know that when everything looks dead, it is only the quiet beginnings of life. The seed of faith is a promise of a new season. Buried deep, faith has to work to reach the light. It has to be watered with the truth of God's word. It must be buried, for it is only in the dark that change and growth occur. It is only in the straining toward the light that faith's seed matures and emerges from the dark, hard soil of this earth.

Unbelievably, God does make beautiful things out of the dust. It is beyond my comprehension how he can turn something as horrific as the loss of my child into anything good, but I know that this, redeeming, is His specialty. Since the beginning of time, redemption has been His plan. He is all about creating something out of nothing. He is the ultimate Artist and Creator. (Gen. 2:7 "Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground...") He is the Master of putting broken things back together. The broken will be made beautiful. Just as a seed planted in the dark which splits wide, cracks open, grows into something with purpose, my faith has grown large. It has grown while in the dark, and I dare suspect that He is, indeed, making beautiful things out of this. This. Child loss.

Friday, October 16, 2015

God knows

This journey of child loss continues to amaze and surprise me. I never imagined meeting the many incredible moms that I have the past four years. I never thought I would see light or color again. I couldn't fathom finding joy or laughter. I didn't think it was possible to live with joy and grief simultaneously. I failed to see how God could work anything good from the death of my child.

Yet I clung to Him because He is all I had. I knew in whom I believed and was convinced of His character. (See 2 Tim. 1:12.) He is faithful, all the while knowing that I am not. I have doubted greatly along this journey. I have been angry. I have wanted to die. I have questioned everything I ever believed. I have felt hopeless, and I have experienced pain that is beyond description. I have lost friendships and family relationships. I have offended and been offended.

But God never once left me. He never once told me to just "get over it" or "move on already." He is patient. He is kind. He is merciful, loving, and forgiving. He does not turn His children away. With every doubt, angry response, and hurt I threw at Him, He beckoned me closer. He whispers His word over me, gently reminding me of His great love. He continues to speak to me intimately, knowing exactly what it is that I need to hear.

Healing from child loss is a painstakingly slow process, agonizing and exhausting. It is rebuilding the billion pieces of your life and heart that shattered the day your child died. Our lives were blown to smithereens. We don't know what we're supposed to look like, and putting those pieces back together is like diligently figuring out each piece of a difficult, seemingly impossible, jigsaw puzzle. And some pieces are simply missing from the puzzle, so we have to figure out how to complete the puzzle without those pieces. The finished result of the puzzle? We don't even know, for there's no picture to go by. But I do know this. We'll get there. We'll get there if we keep trusting Him, 

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes watching this video: Doorways, Hallways, and Gateways. I'm not sure how others viewed it, but for me, seeing everything through the lens of grief and loss, it was a powerful reflection of the grief journey. It was God speaking truth to me through this message. Then, not more than a few minutes later, I came across this post The Ultimate Trial from Christyn Taylor's blog. God knows the fickleness of our love. Yet He remains unconditional in His. I am simply blown away with gratitude.

And some day, this jigsaw puzzle life of ours will display an amazing scene. Even we will be surprised with joy by the beauty of it. Until then, I will work on putting the pieces into place, trusting that He has the picture. And every missing piece is, and will be, filled with His presence.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dear Onlooker,

Dear Onlooker,
I was out with my children the other day at the store, and I saw you, like so many other people and times before, counting. Counting my kids as they walked by. Yes, I have a lot of children. But what you didn't know was that that wasn't all of them. I wanted to stop and tell you about each one of these precious gifts I have been given. I wanted to tell you how incredibly blessed I am for each and every one of them. I wanted to tell you that every disparaging comment I receive about the large number of children I have is worth it. I saw the look of bewilderment on your face, the unasked questions blinking in your eyes like a flashing billboard. But I didn't have time to stop and chat, and I've learned to just smile politely and keep moving. Much like I do when asked how many children I have.

The question doesn't torment me like it first did, when grief was fresh and the wound of child loss gaping and raw. For now, the question gives opportunity to speak about all of my kids, including the one who was made perfect in heaven at the age of 16. Like most parents, I love to talk about my kids, the ones with me and the one in heaven. I realize this makes people uncomfortable, and most don't know what to say. Many are simply too shocked to respond. How I wish I didn't have to shock you with the news that my child died, but Matt is a part of our family. And yes, I said is. He is no longer with us, but we were blessed with 16 years. The absence of my child does not erase his existence. Matt continues to be a part of our daily lives through the memories we cherish of him. We talk of him often, and that is yet another "hard" of grief, that as the years go by fewer and fewer people mention him.

Of course, this is reality. Life changes, people move on. Friends come and go. New friends have no history with Matt or memories of him, no clue of his personality or mannerisms. Longtime friends remember our history, but their lives, like ours, sail relentlessly forward in life's current. What was remains then, while what is drifts swiftly by. I want to tell you, dear Onlooker, that I, too, was once where you were. I, too, saw the "outside" of people. I thought I knew about them just by looking at them. I didn't know their stories. I had no clue of the invisible scars people bore. I gave no thought to the fact that scars are forever.

I never realized my child-loss scar would be forever. From day one of our son's death, I thought that healing meant complete, whole, that things would be the way they were before. And I thought that complete and whole meant unscarred, smooth, without blemish. I now know that healing means bearing a scar, a scar that isn't visible to most. It's a scar that will remain until I, too, am made perfect in heaven like Matt.

I wanted to tell you my story, dear Onlooker, because we too soon forget that this life is short. We take our days and time here for granted. Sharing my story is a chance to remind you that this life is a gift. Savor it, and make sure that the foundation of your life is built on Jesus Christ. Because some day, you will, if you haven't already, face situations that leave you scarred, as well. And I daresay that there are only two choices when your world crumbles: be bitter or better. A foundation built on the rock of Christ will stand, and what is rebuilt will be an even better abode. Bitterness destroys a foundation. It is a poison that permeates from the inside out, contaminating not only the container, but everyone it comes in contact with.

The scars we bear are not pretty. But to quote Chris Cleaves: "A scar means, 'I survived'." A scar means there's a story to tell. Yet not everyone desires to tell their story. Some hide their story behind the "fine" smile (Feelings I'm Not Expressing). Others grab a megaphone, blaring ripe for someone, anyone, to hear it. Some want their stories to just go away. But I'm betting we all just want our story to matter, to make sense, to count for something. We want to know that our scars are not in vain, that they serve a purpose.

Dear Onlooker, you didn't see my scar or know of the ache in my heart as I walked past you. For I, too, was counting my children, missing my firstborn. You only saw a mom of many with her hands full. But I know that my scar bears witness of God's faithfulness, of His unfailing love and goodness. This scar keeps me relying on Christ, turning to Him daily for grace and peace. The scar is permanent, but so is Jesus.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dear Matt,

Dear Matt,

It's been four years since I've seen you face to face. Four years since I've heard your voice. Four years since I've talked to you. Four years. I can't even fathom it. I miss you with an ache that won't be assuaged. I cried while driving home tonight because I miss you. Colleges and schools started back up several weeks ago, and I tried so hard to ignore it. I tried to ignore all the back-to-school pictures. I tried to ignore them because what follows those pictures is the thought, "I wonder what Matt..." and I can't go there. But I don't do very well at ignoring, as you well know. I don't do very well at stuffing, either, as you also know.

I long to know what you'd look like now, four years later. I want to know where you'd be working, and if you'd be dating. I want to know if you'd be going to school or if you'd have just gotten an awesome computer job somewhere. I want to know if you'd still be in town or if you'd have "flown the nest." I want to see if you'd still have a buzz cut or if you'd grown a beard. I want to know what you'd sound like and how much you'd have grown. I see your friends at church, and I notice how much they've changed in four years, and I wonder how much you would have changed.

My heart aches. It aches daily. Most days, the ache is a faint vibration. But other days, like today, it hurts. It hurts so much so that it takes my breath away. I try to repeat God's promises and truth. I try to listen to the praise and worship music, but some days it all just gets drowned out by the pain. Some days, I'm just too tired to fight for joy. Some days I flat-out fail at being strong. I fail at being positive. I fail at believing the truth. Some days, I'm not content to wait, and I just want you back. Some days I am selfish, and all I want is another chance to live life with you.

I am weak, and I am not satisfied with *"stabs of joy." I want joy like I had it before. Before grief came. And days like these? They make me doubt that joy like that is ever possible again. Whew. What a mess I am, eh? You know, I often think back to shortly after you left for heaven when one of our dear family friends told me she had a dream about you. (I was so jealous.) In the dream, you stood there in typical Matt fashion with arms crossed and an attitude, that look, of "What's the big deal?" That was precious to me because that's exactly what you'd say, of course. And right now, you're probably saying, "Geez, Mom. Lighten up."


I went to bed last night, weary and exhausted, but encouraged. Matt, I am incredibly thankful for the moms I've met along this journey. I'm certain you know who I'm talking about, too! Just before I logged off last night I messaged a fellow grief mom. She commented in reply to a post about our kids in heaven saying, "I can just hear them, 'Why would we go back when we've got God!!'" To which I replied, "I am jealous. They really have it all, and I'm stuck here with my sucky attitude." She responded by saying, "I know!! They have it made! This life is a skip!!!! We will see them!" It was exactly the encouragement and hope I needed. This life is a "skip." I do not know when my time to join you will be, but I do know it will be one of the best days of my life.

I don't have to rush time, either, I know. This life is short. Pain obscures time, makes it seem as if the clock hands never move. But pain is a liar. How precious to me are the words now of 2 Corinthians 4:17.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Though we certainly don't think our trials are light and momentary, from God's perspective they are. And not only that, but they are achieving something. There is purpose in them. They are achieving an eternal glory. A glory that far outweighs them all. Thank you, Jesus, that these sufferings are not forever. Thank you, Father, that they are not in vain. Thank you for being my comforter and for sending others who comfort, as well.

I miss you, son. I miss you so much at times that I'm certain my heart has failed to beat. But just know that with this great sorrow comes an even greater love. And love is eternal.

See you in a snap.
Love, Mom

*The 'stabs of joy' phrase is from Ch. 6 of the book, "Room of Marvels: A Story about Heaven that Heals the Heart" by James Bryan Smith.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The quiet days of grief

Surrendering in God is a beautiful thing, and the peace that follows surrender is unsurpassed. The raging waters settle and there is little that resembles the storm that surged only hours before. There is quiet in the soul. There is acceptance without resentment. There is peace. These are the days of grief that I did not, could not, imagine when in the midst of the tsunami of our child loss. These are the quiet days of grief.

With the ebb and flow of sorrow's pain, I often think of the pain scale used in the medical field. Patients are asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten being unbearable. If I were to rate my pain most days, I would give it a 2. Some days a 1. Some days a 3. But for the most part, it stays below a 5. (Those dreaded "anniversaries," birthdays, holidays, etc. often exceed a 7, most a 9 or 10.) Never, however, is the pain completely gone. Instead, sorrow's silent presence in my heart has become white noise.

I continue to fill my mind with truth, still reminding myself that Matt is alive. Driving past the cemetery the other day, I caught myself thinking, "I had a son." Thankfully, I immediately countered my own thoughts with "No, I have a son. He is alive in heaven, and I will see him again. He is at my Father's house." (The idea of Matt being at my Father's house came from reading about the death of Anne Graham Lotz' husband, Danny.) Speaking God's truth about death becomes the life jacket I wear when the waves of grief assail.

The surrender, this trust again in God, has deepened my desire for joy and rekindled my hunger for Christ. I thirst for a restored closeness with Jesus. I recently shared with a friend about how my relationship with God the last several months had changed, and she said, "It's not that you've left God, but it's more like the relationship went from being eye to eye, you and God looking into one another's faces, to one where you're no longer facing each other, but instead, you are walking side by side." Yes, that was it exactly. And now, I am wanting to look into His eyes again. I want to be able to say of our son's loss what John Piper said of cancer:
“We waste our cancer if we think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. Satan’s and God’s designs in our cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy our love for Christ. God designs to deepen our love for Christ. Cancer does not win if we die. It wins if we fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean us off the breast of this world and feast us on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help us say and feel, ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3:8) and to know that therefore, ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).” -John Piper, Don't Waste Your Cancer
In other words, I waste my loss if I think that 'beating' death means merely surviving rather than cherishing Christ...Death does not win because my child died... My son's death will mean nothing if I don't, as a result, cherish Christ more. Death didn't win when Matt died. It wins if I fail, subsequently, to cherish Christ. I long for my son, but I long for Christ even more. And that is indeed a deep and severe longing.

It is a longing, however, that causes me to fight for joy, to quiet grief's voice with shouts of joy. This has been playing on repeat:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Grief and God are terrifying

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements to me after four years along this journey is the continuous battle between faith and fear. Looking back, it seemed almost easier to exercise unwavering faith in the beginning of this journey. I unhesitatingly and unquestionably exercised faith in God and His word. That time of faith without fear was sacred indeed. At the time, my faith, amazingly, matched my searing pain. It didn't seem a struggle to find my faith, and fear had not yet taken root. After all, my worse fear had come true: I lost a child.

I'm not sure exactly when fear sprouted and my faith wavered, but I know now why Paul calls faith "the good fight." (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7) Last week, my faith and fear stepped into the ring, fear swinging fiercely. My faith stumbled. It fell hard. It took a hard hit and didn't get back up quickly. For the last several months, actually, fear and faith have danced around the ring, hung off the ropes, and ducked a few punches. For whatever reason, the four year anniversary of our son's death was an agonizing affair.

The battle raging between my heart and head has been privy only to God, for it is with Him that I have contended. See, I know how powerful God is. I know He is mighty and strong. I don't hold any safe, tame notions about God. This article? Oh, yeah, I get it. And that is exactly what I have been trying to reconcile in my head for the past several months: the "terrifying" nature of God and His goodness, His majesty. How do I completely trust God again, the very One who wounded me so deeply? 

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” - C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

But this God? My Father? Oh, yet He is amazing, for He accepts this mistrust of mine, these fearful questions, and my faltering steps, and He waits. He listens. He answers. He knows the very thoughts I think. And I am blown away by His grace, by His tenderness and compassion toward me. The intimacy He displays toward His children never fails to astound me. I wept with conviction when I read this article on Tuesday: Did God Betray You? What confirmation and comfort it was to know that He knows me so well. 

Finally, my faith got up off the mat, stood to her feet, and sucker punched fear to the ropes. For it was while lying motionless on the floor, faith heard these words: The Secret to Organizing Your Priorities & Perspective When Things Aren't What You'd Hope. God sees the unseen, and He invites you to see what He sees. Those empty baskets Ann speaks of look a lot like my heart. I feel as if grief has emptied it completely. But an empty basket? It's good for something. It's good for filling. For filling, again, as Ann writes, "with eternal, unseen things." She continues with this quote from clergyman James Aughey: “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out toward things unseen.”

Those eternal, unseen things are God. He fills the empty spaces with Himself. Fear seeks to fill the void, and it will, if it's not filled with Him. I have wanted, needed, so desperately to trust Him again, but I have been afraid. He terrifies me, this God who has the power to take a life. I'm terrified that He will do it again. How do I root out this fear that cripples? Relationships do not thrive on fear. Fear suffocates and extinguishes life. Relationships thrive on love. And God. is. love. This Lion of Judah? He is powerful. He is mighty. He is for me. He chases after me.

But what I saw was not what I thought I saw. Fear convinced me that the lion chasing me was out to destroy me. Fear lies. This untame God was not after me to hunt me down and attack. No, He was after me because He saw what was ahead of me. He was behind me, protecting me, waiting to pounce upon the enemy in front of me: fear. I had totally missed God as my protector and mistaken Him as the hunter. This God? He will do anything to protect His child.

Fear is terrifying, and so is God. But the difference is that God is motivated by love. It's the reason He came. Love compelled Him to die on the cross for me so that sin and death would not win. Fear says that my son's death is proof that God is not love, that though He can protect, He doesn't. Fear says you can't trust God. Faith says that though this world is a place of hurt and loss, it is a world that has been and will be redeemed. Faith says God is love, that He works all things for good, because that's what love does. Love hurts with us. Love stays with us. Love grieves with us.       

Faith exterminates fear. Faith fills the empty heart. Faith remembers Love's character. God sees this cross, the stinging reproach, of child loss that I carry. He sees the scars. And He asks me to trust Him with them. Faith will say yes whereas fear always says no. Saying yes, I lift the shield of faith with hope because Love is all around me. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Look for the helpers

You know those days when you just count the hours until bedtime, until the day is “officially” over? They’re endless, those days. At least they sure seem that way. Yet, the thing to remember, to keep at the forefront of your mind is the truth: every day has just 24hrs. That’s it. Just 24hrs. That was my mantra Wednesday as my husband and I marked four years without our son, Matt’s siblings without their brother. It was a hard day.

We did our best, but honestly, I think we were just gritting our teeth and boring through. We had booked a night at a hotel and the kids enjoyed the pool and water slide. We missed having our usual close family friends along this year, and it pitched a different tone for the day. Though we had a plan, it just felt flat. I wish we had done more. We didn’t do any of Matt’s favorite activities and even neglected to buy his favorite drink, a Mocha Frappe. We didn’t throw eggs.

I wanted desperately to just lie in bed and cry the day away, but I felt obligated to redeem what I could from the day. Yet I failed miserably at appreciating the children in front of me because I ached for the one who wasn’t. While I didn’t lie in bed and weep, I also wasn’t present for the rest of my kids. I was crabby and short-tempered. I wasn’t kind in my speech, and I was far from redeeming anything of value from the day. I sucked at parenting Wednesday. I tried to short-circuit grief and force a fa├žade of joy.

As a result, I learned a valuable lesson. You cannot short-circuit grief. At least, not without some pretty negative consequences. I had refused to go through my grief and, instead, believed I could ignore it. I declined to acknowledge it and, instead, threw up the “if we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away” sign. Mmmm, hmmm. Worked like a charm. *NOT*  You cannot fake joy because genuine joy results in peace. And let me tell you, I didn’t have peace Wednesday.

But the awesome thing about mistakes is that God’s grace covers them all. God’s grace is abundant and excessive. It is altogether lavish. I stand in today covered in grace. I re-read my blog post from Wednesday and have pondered over Jennifer’s words. The admonishment to “look for the helpers” has fixed itself in my mind. As I scrolled through my Facebook notifications, I was humbled in gratitude, for I know who my helpers are. They are many. They are every individual who took the time to pray for us, to post, or to message a word of comfort. They are those who acknowledged that Wednesday was tough. They are the ones who recognize that our hearts still hurt after four years.

I am incredibly thankful for you people. You are my helpers. You are God’s grace in action. You are the aroma of His love. You are a source of comfort and joy. I thank God for you. I looked for you, and you were there. Thank you. Because of the helpers, I can see redemption. I know that today, too, holds 24hrs. 24hrs. in which we can throw eggs, buy a Mocha Frappe, or talk about Matt. We have today to remember the gift of Matt that we were given. We have today to remember the joy he brought while he was here. And we will endure, as Jesus did, because we, too, have the joy set before us.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

4 years, and I am held.

Four years ago today my 16yo. son died. There was no warning. There was no answered prayer, no miracle. There was no goodbye. Instead, there was a knock on the door and two State Patrol cars in the driveway. There was a long ride to the hospital. There was the sound of my husband screaming, screaming what they call the "death cry." We were hit unexpectedly by a storm, an F5 tornado, a tsunami, a hurricane. Whatever you want to call it, it was a storm of massive proportion.

Four years later, we have sifted through the rubble and risen from the ashes. We have rebuilt from the ground up. And we still grieve. We still ache for our son. We still cry. But never have we ever walked alone. Never once has God left us. He was in the midst of the storm, and He is in this new life we were forced to build. He has been patient with me in this grief journey as I've struggled to sort through trust, anger, despair, fear, doubt, jealousy, joy, and faith. Grief seems like such an encapsulated experience, but peel away the lid and it's a hornets nest of emotions.

How I wish, still, that I could just erase July 29th from the calendar. How I wish this life didn't include it's "Job" moments. I wish God had a different plan. Oh, God, forgive me. I don't mean to sound like I know better than you because I don't. I just hurt. I miss my son. I don't understand this plan of yours. These "anniversary" dates are tough. They are painful. But pain serves a purpose. That I know. Pain compels us to cry out, to seek relief. And it's to whom we cry out that makes all the difference in our healing. It's where we turn for relief that determines how well we recover from the devastating storms in our lives. I cry out to You, Lord.

I thank you for the pain because without it I would not seek You. I would go about my life and believe I had no need of You. I thank You that You are in the midst of this. I thank you for who You are, Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides. You have given me much: strength when I had no strength, friends and family to walk beside us, and words of encouragement and wisdom when I need it most. I silently begged You for help today, and I wept when I read this morning's devotional from James MacDonald titled, "Even Though."

You keep reminding me, Lord, that the only way out is through. And yet not only that, You go with me. You carry me. You hold me. You also provide helpers for the journey, as my friend Jennifer writes about: When You're Going Through a Storm
You tell me, too, Father that joy is possible. Again, as I struggled today, desperately wanting to hear from You, I "stumbled" across this post:  I had to smile, for You know that those two verses (..."for the joy set before Him" and 2 Cor. 4:17) have been my lifelines on these difficult days. I wanted a different "God-nod," but You gave me what I needed. You gave me truth. Thankful that I am held. By His hands. By His word.

Natalie Grant - Held

Two months is too little
They let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling
Who told us we'd be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
Were asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live, it's unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held
This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and
Let the hatred numb our sorrows
The wise hand opens slowly
To lilies of the valley and tomorrow
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held
If hope if born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our savior
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We'd be held

Friday, July 24, 2015

I don't want to do this anymore

We are five days away from July 29th. It will mark four years since my son died. I've been posting pictures daily on my Facebook wall of Matt this month in an attempt to redeem a month that holds such incomprehensible grief. It is a grief complicated by the fact that it is sandwiched between two significant, joyful, dates. They are Matt's sisters' birthdays. Tomorrow is his youngest sister's birthday, followed by his oldest sister's birthday ten days later.

I don't understand why God would choose my son's homegoing date to be where it is, between his two sisters' birthdays. (As if there's a better day to lose one's child, right? *insert sarcasm*) Fighting for joy in the midst of grieving is beyond my ability. I don't have the strength for it. But I know who does. I know who gives me strength. I know the One who carries me. I know His strength. I know that everything He does is good.

Circumstances do not dictate God's character. Not understanding those circumstances, too, does not negate His character. I am thankful I don't need to understand in order to know that He is good. I have witnessed His goodness all throughout this journey of grief. To be sure, there are days I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to feel any more pain. I am tired of it. I want to escape. And yet, the very thing (grief) that causes so much pain is the very thing that catapults me into the arms of my Father. The closer July 29th draws, the greater my pain. But the greater my pain, the more God carries me. His grace will carry me through. 

His grace is greater still than all my sorrow, and His grace leads to so much more. Four years into this grief journey, and I can now see joy. I am thankful that there are things to celebrate. I am thankful for the distraction of birthdays. I am thankful for healing. I am thankful for God's patience and sovereignty. I know now that grief, though constant, is fluid. Grief waxes and wanes. I know that joy is not the antithesis of grief. Joy is not grief's competitor. Joy runs a race all her own. Joy is an expression of faith. Joy is Faith's daughter, and she is beautiful.

Still playing this on repeat. Finding joy. Finding faith. With God. Through all of it. Even when I don't want to do this anymore.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The hurting days

There are days that just hurt. Days in which I feel I just can't do this child loss thing one more day. Days that push me to the ground and make me fall to my knees. Days where I think if only there were a rhyme or reason to this messy, ugly grief. How I wish I could wash off my grief-bloodied hands on these days and wipe them clean, make them look like they did before. But before is gone. It will never be again. Before is the past. And I am left with now. Now is what I have been given.

I don't want to miss now. I want to embrace it, for I know how short this life is. I don't want to be so busy mourning what was that I miss what is. I know now, almost four years into this grief journey, that joy comes. It comes softly, quietly. It comes after each hard-fought choice to believe truth, the truth of God's word. It forms each step of the walk out of the valley of the shadow of death. I don't know where those steps lead, but I do know that with every breath of thanksgiving I have uttered the past almost four years, it has created a step out of the valley.

The hurting days are detours, my friend. Detours that, for whatever reason, bring us to a stop, slow us down, or simply reroute us. A detour is seldom welcomed, not always anticipated, and often misunderstood. But God knows. He sees, for He is the master planner. There is not a step we take that He doesn't see. He has a purpose even if we don't discern it. I'm convinced the detour of the hurting days is simply the opportunity God provides for us to come to Him, to step toward His open arms full of grace. The hurting days are an invitation to throw yourself at His feet when grief shoves you to the ground.

I'm never unamazed by the intimacy of God, how He knows me so well. He knows my struggle, my every cry, and every need. As the four year anniversary date of my son's death draws near, each successive day has felt just a bit more heavier. Yet, how reassuring He was through the words of my friend Jennifer this morning: What We Need to Know When Life Takes a Detour. I give thanks for God's presence, His very presence in the midst of the hurting days. For every step through the valley, He walks with me. I am thankful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

July number four


As I write this, it's July 1st. I don't even have words to describe what July means to me. I hate July. I hate that it will forever be the month that my son died. And yet, this month I am thankful I am not where I was almost four years ago. This year, I am no longer in a grief fog. This year, I can smile and find joy. This year, I will make beautiful memories despite grief.

This weekend we will celebrate the 4th of July holiday as we always do, in our usual spot, our favorite spot. It will have it's moments of sadness, to be sure, but this year I will recognize the joyful moments as well. I will fight for joy, and I will miss my son. I will cherish what I have, and I will grieve what I don't. And that is o.k. because I have learned that neither joy nor grief is exclusive. Jesus said, "...In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!.." (John 16:33)

Jesus lived with sorrow, and He lived with joy. He knew what it was to suffer, and He knew what it was to rejoice. More and more, I think about how incredible it was for Christ to leave perfection, to voluntarily inhabit an earthly body with all it's limitations and finiteness, and to live on earth with sin and brokenness. He didn't have to do that, yet He chose to so that we could ultimately be coheirs with Him. It just stuns me. When my grief overwhelms, there is great comfort when I remember His sacrifice.

Monday, July 6th

God knows how much this month makes me feel broken, busted wide open again. And, try as I might to find joy like Ann Voskamp entreats, I am bruised and sore. The child loss scar throbs and rubs raw this month. Yet I grasp for the one thing that sustains me: the truth of God's word. And how beautiful it is when played on repeat with the music of MercyMe (Flawless), Colton Dixon (Through All Of It), and Morgan Harper Nichols (Storyteller). The strains of the music are like salve on the wound. I keep applying their lyrics and they keep my heart still, my spirit from being troubled. I am humbled at how God ministers to and comforts His children. When I think I can no longer bear the sorrow, His grace pours over me.

This month, as I am reminded daily of God's grace, I am compelled to make July overflow with joy. Grief is a given. It doesn't take any effort to experience it. But joy? Joy is a choice. Joy is hard won. Joy steps over grief and plants her feet firmly in the dust. She doesn't wait for permission. She doesn't wait to "feel" it. Joy believes God's word even if it doesn't make sense because she trusts in Him.
I want to choose joy and, while joy is a choice, it's not easy. Choosing joy sometimes takes all the strength I have. But it's always the right choice. I rarely (if ever) look at photos of Matt because it's just too painful. But I decided I would try to "redeem" this month by posting photos of Matt daily on my Facebook wall. I'll be honest and admit that it's tough. Really tough. Going through photos daily is emotionally draining. I'm struggling with falling into that grief pit.  Yet I am encouraged by the joy it brings to those who see the pictures. I had forgotten how much Matthew smiled. (Not that he wasn't happy when he was a teenager, but there's a reason he had the nickname "Mr. Stoic.") ;)

As I try to redeem this month of grief, I hope to grow in grace and joy. (Do you sense a recurring theme?) I hope that instead of seeing what I have lost, I will instead see how much I have gained. My God is great. He is my Redeemer, my healer, my comforter, and my hope. He is matter what.

Friday, June 26, 2015

To my best friend

I wrote this to my best friend the other day. It happened to be a "bad" (a.k.a. grief) day. I was missing Matt and struggling because I hadn't yet had a plan in place for next month for the 29th, the four year anniversary. It was weighing heavily on me, and with each passing day it got worse. When my friend called to tell me about her oldest child's accomplishment, I was, regrettably, a "rain on her parade." I knew I was, too, so I sent her an email later that day.

"I wanted to tell you on the phone today in a bright, cheerful voice, “Congratulations!” when you told me about Sam’s ACT score. I wanted to, but I failed. I failed because my hurt was too great. The pain of missing Matt was all I could feel. Pain, and jealousy. Jealousy because, honestly, as you told me such wonderful news, all I could think was, “I wish I had gotten that chance with Matt.” “I wish I could have experienced it with my son, my oldest.” It’s selfish, I know, and I’m sorry. I immediately felt like such a failure as a friend. I feel so bad for my friends and family who have to put up with me when grief rears it’s ugly head. And the problem is that you’re never given any warning. Instead, you just get to deal with messy me. 

As if you probably hadn’t noticed, the last couple weeks have been touchy. See, it’s June, but all I can think about is July. July, which means another year without Matt. July, when every day of June’s voice taunts, “It’s coming. It’s coming.” July, when I wish time would stop, that I could run away or fast-forward the calendar to August."

Of course, she responded, as is typical of her, with grace and forgiveness. This whole "It's June, but July's coming" thing is horrible. It's horrible because of the anticipation and horrible because I like having a plan for the 29th, and I didn't have one. Not having a plan was putting me into a tailspin.

But as much as I want to avoid July, I can't. I can't avoid it, but I can be honest. I can be honest about my struggle, and I can ask forgiveness for being jealous. I can not allow grief to be my excuse for acting unkindly. Thank you, dear friends and family. Thank you for the grace you’ve shown me every day. Thank you for listening. Thank you for understanding and allowing me to grieve. Thank you for understanding that my grief will last until I see my son again in heaven. Thank you for acknowledging my sorrow, for validating my feelings. Your support continues to matter and make a difference.

Grief is still present, but I'm able to see joy and purpose in life again. I'm able to live life while missing my son every single day. I'm able to move forward with grief and with hope. I will continue to write about our journey because I know that it has value. There is value in being vulnerable about the grief process because it is in being real that others, hopefully, will no longer be, as this writer puts it, "grief illiterate."

Friday, June 19, 2015

A soft heart

My husband, though he isn't an affectionate person by nature and didn't grow up in an overly affectionate household, isn't one to hold his feelings back. He's not a "man up," "keep a stiff upper lip" kind of guy. He doesn't subscribe to the "men don't cry" theory. And I thank God for that because I need someone who is real, who is honest, about their feelings. He's shown our kids that it's o.k. to cry, especially for our boys. He models a biblical example of grief. Grief that expresses emotion. Grief that allows tears and accommodates real expression of feelings.

Father's Day is tough for him just as Mother's Day is tough for me. It's a day when we rejoice in the children we still have, yet grieve for the one who isn't here with us. It's not easy navigating holidays because they typically incorporate celebration. But grief complicates things. It's always an unwelcome visitor to the party. My husband and I have fought for joy, fought to keep hope on these special days. We don't want the death of our son to harden our hearts.

Instead, we look for hope. We grieve with hope. I wrote more on this on the Grieving With Hope Facebook page. (You are invited to "like" the page, as well.) Hope is always there. It's what we crave. (Just as the lyrics read to For King and Country's song, "Crave.") I am thankful for a man who knows the truth, the truth that fathers do weep. Fathers do grieve. And more importantly, we have a heavenly Father who weeps with us, who grieves with us, who gives us hope, who is our hope.

And speaking of fathers, I was all too happy to run across this post today: Whether your Father's Day contains sorrow or not, may it hold gratefulness for our fathers, those here and those we wait to rejoin in eternity, and gratefulness for the privilege of being a father, to those here and to those we wait to rejoin in eternity.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A driver's license

The day we left for family camp was a hard, hard day. It had been an emotional morning, for Matt's younger sister took her behind-the-wheel driver's test. To say I was a wreck is an understatement. As soon as she disappeared out of sight with the testing driver, I fell apart. I called my best friend who "got it," who understood why I was a hot, crying mess. She understood why, though happy for my daughter, I was completely undone. She's one of the very few who knows the utter fear and sorrow this moment held for me.

Instead of showing up excitedly at the same DMV building where my son took his driver's test only four years ago, I wanted badly to just lock my daughter in a closet. I wanted to protect her and keep her from driving. My heart hurt for her, for I felt she was cheated, cheated from having a mom who was excited. It sucked. It really, really sucked. Four years ago when I did this, it was exciting. I was a proud parent experiencing a "rite of passage" with my oldest, my firstborn.

But it wasn't excitement I felt, by any means, that Friday. I couldn't figure out, either, what it was about that particular day, but there was something significant, nagging about it. I just couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't long, however, before my daughter returned with the examiner, and I shoved my uneasiness aside. I had pulled myself together by the time they had parked and walked to the entrance. I didn't ask my daughter if she had passed the test for fear of upsetting her if she hadn't. However, as we walked directly to the counter and she was given the license form to fill out, it was clear she had passed. The examiner confirmed that she did well and congratulated her. I took a deep breath and uttered an appropriate reply. It felt like one of those "wow" moments that catches you off-guard, sort of a vertigo feeling where the floor tilts and you feel a bit disconcerted.

She finished filling out the papers and then posed for the head shot. As I stood to the side, I noticed the blue background for the photo. It was cerulean blue. Matt's color. I softly smiled. A God-nod.

We left the DMV and celebrated her accomplishment by stopping for her favorite shake on the way home. Once we were home, I pulled up my calendar and flipped back to 2011. My mind had finally connected the dots, and I was pretty sure I knew what the nagging feeling was. Sure enough, the calendar soon confirmed it. Matt had taken his driving test in May. In fact, his sister took her test exactly one day before Matt took his. I sighed in disbelief and shook my head.

This was definitely one of those times I didn't understand God's purpose. We never planned for it to fall on that day. We didn't pick the date. In fact, her original appointment wasn't until July 3rd, but the driving instructor said to call daily to see if they had cancellations as you want to take the test as soon as possible after the last lesson with them. So we called the same day as her last lesson and was told they had a cancellation for Friday. Of course, we took it per the driving school's recommendation to keep it as close to the last lesson as possible. I never considered the date as I'm not a detail person. It didn't occur to me or come to mind regarding Matt's test date. 

Now, at least, I had relief, for I finally had the answer to what was bugging me. This dance of joy and grief? I never wanted grief for a partner, and he's awfully good at tripping me up. I'm still trying to learn the steps, how to stay on my feet when he throws in an unexpected turn. I wish more than anything that I could be naively excited for my daughter, but I can't. I simply can't, for the gravity of teenage driving and mortality obscures my world. My son died in a car accident just two months after getting his license. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to respond with enthusiasm to the multiple comments of, "Oh! She has her license? How wonderful!"

Yet, as much as it causes my heart to fear, I can not and will not live in fear. I will, instead, turn to the Lord and offer up a sacrifice of praise. Praise for His mercy and grace. Praise for His faithfulness and comfort. Praise for walking with me every step of this journey.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Memorial Weekend

We went to one of our favorite places for Memorial weekend, Trout Lake Camps. Trout was one of Matt's favorite places, as well. We went for family camp, and it was great. I think, for once, the joy and the grief were equal partners. Grief no longer takes precedence, though it remains a constant. We had wonderful weather right up until the morning of our departure. However, even that wasn't so bad because, well, who doesn't love shooting off rockets in the rain?!

For the most part, it was a weekend of relaxation and fun with my family. It was a much needed time away, though it wasn't without its moments of testing. See, when grief shows up, it doesn't come alone. He brings a few friends along. Friends like Fear and Doubt, for instance. Fear, like grief, is good at the art of ambushing. It showed up strongly at one point during our weekend and then once again after we got back from vacation. I wrote the following on my Facebook wall last week after fear had attacked:

Me and Fear? We didn’t use to be friends. Not really. More like occasional acquaintances that would run into each other on rare instances. But after losing my son, fear likes to pretend to be my best friend. Fear stalks me, constantly trying the door handle of my faith to see if I’ve left a way in for him. Fear shows up at the most opportune moments. Like today. Today I saw this headline: "More than 500 people killed as heat wave bakes parts of India."

Oh, nice try, Fear. Nice try. You know that tomorrow my husband leaves for India for two weeks. You know that I trust God, but you take advantage anyway, always trying to shake my footing and make me fall. You sure did a good job at that last weekend, too, by the way, when my daughter went missing. Though she really wasn’t missing, I just hadn’t gotten an account of where her camp group had gone and then freaked out when they didn’t return at the stated time. Nicely done, Fear. I’ll give you ten points for that one.

I won’t lie. You scare me, Fear. You do, because I know the reality of actually having a parent’s worst nightmare come true. It happened, and I lost a child. And there are no guarantees that I won’t lose another child or my spouse. And now I’m left, like Eve in the garden, to choose. Unfortunately, Eve made the wrong choice. I don’t want to make the same mistake. I want to trust God. I want to live in faith.

You terrify me, Fear. But God? God laughs at you. He knows that you are finite. He knows that you hold nothing on Him. He knows that the ropes you throw around me and others are dissolvable. He knows we speak, Fear. He is aware of our conversations, and He knows that I am weak. He is patient and stands waiting for me, waiting for me to take my eyes off of you and turn to Him, to look at Him. Him, whose motives are pure, who does everything out of love. You wouldn’t know about that, though, would you, Fear? Because you are not from Him. He is love and you are not. He is love, and perfect love casts out all fear. I will choose to ignore your scare tactics and lean on God, the Only One who has the power to render you powerless. He is mighty to save. Goodbye, Fear. Rattle the door if you must, but I’m not answering it this time.

I struggled Memorial weekend with fear, and I felt like a failure. Instead of trusting God, I freaked out. I listened to the voice of fear whispering in my ear. When my daughter didn't return at the time and place specified, all I could think was, "I don't ever want to experience that kind of pain again. Ever. Please, God, No." The pain of losing Matt was horrific. I don't wish that kind of pain on anyone. To this day, I still have moments where I am struck by the horror of it all over again. It takes an inordinate amount of strength not to "go there" with my thoughts. But I did go there at camp, and I'm not proud of it.

However, it did reveal something to me. It revealed there's still work to do, still some growing to do. But I realized something else, too. I realized that it's ok. My Father knows the pain I've endured. He knows my fears. He knows my anxiety and doubts. And He loves me through it all. He has been my God, and He will never leave me. My "God-nod" for the week has been this song:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A reprieve

After Matt's birthday there's been a reprieve of sorts. It's like grief gave up, relinquished the choke hold it had on us. It's been a relief, and I'm glad it's over. I think of my son every single day, but the "special" dates are extraordinarily tough ones. I am all too happy to have grief take a back seat. I couldn't have imagined the roller coaster ride ever slowing down, but, indeed, it has.

I never would have thought it, but Matt's birthday was a good day, most likely because it was spent doing Matt's 20 Random Acts of Kindness with our best friends, a family we have known for about 15 years. Our families are so close that our kids refer to themselves by a new last name which came from them combining both family names! (The Chernfields) I can honestly say there was joy on May 2nd which I never thought would be possible. Of course, there's never joy without grief, but there was joy.

This reprieve feels like a new lease, a much welcome time. It is as if I now crave joy and color in my life. I desire to have fun, to make memories, and to cherish what I have. For so long, I didn't care. I couldn't see color and had no desire to laugh. I found it difficult to truly engage in the present. And though grief is always present, it's no longer debilitating. It was once a canyon, but is now a fissure. I'm beginning to see the scar as evidence of healing. I don't like it, still wish I didn't have it, but can't deny it means I have survived.

Our wedding anniversary (Mother's Day, as well) falls closely on the heels of Matt's birthday. Needless to say, it's a week and a half of emotionally-laden days. The first few anniversaries, my husband and I just wanted to pretend the day didn't exist. We were hurting and the word "happy" wasn't in our vocabulary, much less the word "celebrate." This year, however, I secured tickets to "The Table Tour" with Steven Curtis Chapman, Ellie Holcomb, Love and the Outcome, and Brandon Heath. The concert date providentially fell on the day after our anniversary. There is nothing that ministers more to me than music (except God's word). I knew it would be a good concert, and we weren't disappointed.

I also knew Steven Curtis Chapman is a member of "the club no one wants to be a part of." What I didn't remember was that their daughter's birthday and death anniversary date were also in May. I cried through his song, "Something Beautiful." I needed to "SEE" hope, and I got it. Hope is what carries us and gives us wings. We need those wings, for with them, we shall someday, too, fly to the Father. Holding on to hope and looking for the beautiful here.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

I read this the other day: A Mother's Day Letter to Grieving Moms

Wishing Mother's Day didn't exist? Yep, I definitely did wish that the first three years of this grief journey. This year, I no longer wish it, though I’m still not overly excited about it. Mother’s Day now carries grief, an “in your face” confirmation, if you will, that not ALL of my children are here with me on this day. This day is not supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to incorporate grief. It’s supposed to be joyful, and only joyful. But it’s not, not for women who long for babies (but don’t have them) and not for women who have lost babies (no matter the age).

The loss of a child forever changes Mother’s Day. The author of the article was spot on when she wrote: "You are extraordinarily grateful that your surviving children breathe and wake up every morning yet live in constant fear that they too will be taken too soon."

We (bereaved parents) battle fear daily because our worse fears HAVE come true. Yet, because they have come true, we are also no longer under any pretense that we have any control. It is a balancing existence we find ourselves in. It also reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1: “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”

I couldn’t enjoy Mother’s Day the last several years because the grief was too great. (Still is.) But I can “enjoy” it this year because I am stronger, the grief having been absorbed, as Gerald Sittser said, “like decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am.” (A Grace Disguised: How the Soul GrowsThrough Loss) I can enjoy it because I have cultivated thankfulness. And joy is the byproduct of a thankful heart. I have joy and grief this Mother’s Day. (And will for all the remaining Mother’s Days to come.)

Mother's Day isn't what it's supposed to be. But that's o.k., because God promises us that this isn't all there is. There is more than joy. There is more than grief. There is grace. There is peace. There is hope. May Mother's Day remind you of the great love God has for you, an eternal love that lasts far beyond Mother's Day.