Wednesday, April 29, 2015

3 years and 9 months

Three years and nine months ago today my 16yr. old son was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital an hour and a half away. He never made it to the hospital, however. Instead, he flew into glory before the flight ended. He was instantly made perfect in heaven while our hearts were instantly broken, shattered into a billion, unrecognizable pieces.

The second, however, that grief stepped in, grace took over. For the past three years and nine months, God has continued to bring healing and hope to our broken hearts. They will never be the same, for we bear on our hearts the scars of grief. Death leaves a mark, but it is a mark that evidences survival, evidence of a God that loves us so much, that won't leave us to tend to our wounds alone.

As this difficult week seemingly draws on and on, I am thankful for the reminder of His love. I am pondering the lyrics of the song, "How He Loves" by the David Crowder Band. My heart lies prostrate, soaking up truth like a sunbather on the beach soaking up the sun's rays. I am particularly struck by this line: "I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,..." How it comforts me to know how great His love is toward me and how, someday, all of these afflictions will be eclipsed by glory.

My heart hurts. It hurts so much that words fail me. But I can listen. And listen I will to God's truth, spoken by so many brothers and sisters in Christ. They are precious to me, these words. I gasp for truth. It becomes my oxygen on these days when grief squeezes the air from my lungs. I needed to be reminded of God's love and all that remains. Ann Voskamp's post today was my "God-nod." Ann writes:

"...our broken bones can be re-memembered when we remember to thank a good God...

When we stop seeing reasons to give thanks, we stop thinking there are reasons to live.
 When we don’t focus on what we can thank God for, we can’t focus on living for God. 
Giving thanks can help us want to take —
the next breath."
I give thanks for Jesus who also bears the scars of death. (John 20:24-29) He is the grace I need, the reason I live.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Matt's 20th birthday

Your child's birthday. A day to be celebrated and joyfully anticipated. But for a bereaved parent, it is a dreaded day, a day that, for weeks and months before it's arrival, is painfully, annually grieved. Birthdays without our children are excruciating. Grief roars it's ugly head at times like these, but I refuse to allow my son's death to be in vain. God promises us that He will restore, renew, and redeem the broken. Only He can make beauty from ashes. I give Him this pile of ash and ask Him to make it beautiful.

Matt's 20th birthday is May 2nd, and we will be doing 20 random acts of kindness on Saturday. If anyone who would like to participate in remembering our son in this way, I have listed the 20 random acts below. The acts reflect Matt's personality, interests, and special memories of his life. I have also included a link for printing off cards to accompany each random act of kindness. It is my prayer that Matt's 20th birthday will be a day in which God will indeed redeem what death has stolen from us.

20 Random Acts of Kindness in memory of Matt's 20th birthday:

  1.  Buy a Mocha Frappe for someone.
  2.  Donate a box of Honey Bunches of Oats to a local food shelf.
  3.  Buy a Redbox movie for someone.
  4.  Pay for someone’s round of golf (or give a box of balls).
  5.  Pay for someone’s bird purchase at the pet store.
  6.  Buy a bag of bird seed and give away.
  7.  Donate a box of Cheez-its to a local food shelf.
  8.  Donate a bag of Spearmint Starlight mints to a local food shelf.
  9.  Give a Barnes and Noble gift card to a random stranger.
  10.  Donate a children’s book (I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, It’s the Bear! by Jez Alborough, Go, Dog, Go! by Dr. Seuss, or The Pokey Little Puppy (A Golden Book Classic) to the hospital, library, or childcare center.
  11. Donate a gift in any amount to Trout Lake Camps. ( (Donate online and then send an email to: and let them know the memorial gift is in memory of Matt Cherney.)
  12. Donate to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
  13. Buy a red geranium and give to someone. (hospital or nursing home)
  14. Donate the board game Blokus. (women's shelter or other)
  15. Give an iTunes gift card. (Purchase at Walmart, etc. and give to random stranger)
  16. Donate a t-shirt in Matt's favorite shade of blue…cerulean.(Women's shelter, 'Lil Angels Closet Sale, etc.)
  17. Make a donation to the Community Education chess class (or donate a chess game).
  18. Give a gift of ping pong balls, paddles, or money to the Bethel Baptist Ping Pong group. **
  19. Make a Green Bay Packer tie blanket (adult or infant size) and donate to local hospital, shelter, childcare center, or nursing home.
  20. Give a donation of any amount to the Matt Cherney VEX Robotics Scholarship. **
Click the link below to print off a card to accompany each random act of kindness on May 2nd:
Random Act of Kindness cards
(One doesn't need to print off the random act of kindness cards for #'s 11, 12, & 20. Also, we would love to see you post/comment on your random act of kindness on Saturday, please! Thank you.)

 **Please email me for monetary donation information!

With tears, I say, "Happy Birthday, my son." And with joy, I give the LORD the broken pieces of my heart to do what He does best...create beauty.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dear Matt,

Dear Matt,

Your 20th birthday is next week. I don't understand why some days are so much harder than others, but today is one of them. I can't stop the tears, and my heart hurts. I ache. I ache to see you, to hear your quiet, deep voice, to see you saunter into the kitchen, to hear you tease your siblings. I have missed so much of your life in these past three and a half years. And it's hard. It's so hard.

Your birthday has been weighing heavily on my heart since March. Yes, since March. Many people don't get it, why I would already be thinking about your birthday in March when your birthday isn't until May. The days and months before significant dates are, as they say, the hardest. Oftentimes (and understandably), it seems the only people who remember this are the bereaved. It makes for a lonely journey at times like these. Likewise, the more time that goes by, the less understanding one receives.

Your 20th birthday. It's just so significant to me, and I guess that's why it's hit me so hard. You'd no longer be a teenager, but officially a full-fledged adult. (Your 21st birthday will be significant, too, but like every birthday, each one is different and means something a little different.) I grieve because you are not here. I grieve because we, your family, do not get to celebrate it with you. I grieve for your sisters and brothers who have missed so much of you, as well. I grieve because they have missed a relationship with their big brother. I grieve because your youngest brother was too little when you left to remember you or even have memories of you to cherish. (Though we talk about you almost every day and keep the photo albums out.)

Your birthday is approaching, Matt, and each passing day feels like a freight train car being rolled over my heart. It just keeps coming, and I can't avoid it. I've had to remind myself of much truth the past several weeks, as it is air for my lungs. Deep breaths of truth. Truth to sustain and breath life into dry and weary bones. The truth is that you are alive. The truth is that you don't belong here, we belong there and someday, God will fulfill the plan that He began before the world began.

My heart aches, and I am finding it hard to give thanks, but give thanks I will. I will give thanks because I do not grieve without hope. I give thanks because God is good. I give thanks because He does not leave us alone. I give thanks because God is a God of redemption. He will redeem my sorrow and every single tear I have cried. He will redeem the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25) He will redeem what death took away, for death is not eternal, but God is eternal. I will choose to believe even though I do not see or understand God's plan. I will trust in Him and believe that beautiful things are happening.

 Lyrics to "Beautiful Things"

I have some wonderful plans for your birthday, Matt. I hope you like them. Do you remember the book "Love You Forever" that I used to read to you? :) I'll be singing this part of the book on your birthday: (Yep, even if it's your 20th!)
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

I love you, son.
Love, Mom

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Shortly after our son Matt died, we attended GriefShare. One of the most powerful statements I heard at GriefShare was "lean into your grief." Only by leaning into it are we able to get through it. Earl Grollman says, "The only cure for grief is to grieve." I've met enough grief companions along the way to recognize the "healthy" ones are the ones who leaned into their grief, burning it as fuel for the journey.

Unfortunately, however, there are times when leaning into it isn't a choice. Instead, grief grabs you by the collar and throws you to the ground. (Like it did for us on Maundy Thursday evening.) No chance of leaning into it there. The only thing to do at those times is simply survive the best you can. I didn't appreciate getting caught off guard like that and it made me angry. What sucks is that grief still has the power to ambush after 3 1/2 years. What sucks is sitting down in the front row at church (not by choice) and immediately realizing that the last time you sat there was your son's funeral. That royally sucks.

Sometimes grief ambushes and sometimes all you can do is endure the attack. Thankfully, I had volunteered to help out in the kitchen on Sunday at church as our youth group served the annual Easter breakfast. It was good to keep busy. It was also my turn for nursery duty that day, and I was only too glad to stay occupied. Finally, exhausted, I went home to take a nap. I knew I still had to make Easter dinner for my family, but I wasn't going to think about it until I had allowed myself some sleep. I woke a couple hours later to my husband saying that dinner was ready. He had made the entire meal! I was pleasantly surprised....and so relieved. We ate our meal and made it through the Easter weekend.

I wasn't as strong as I had hoped I would be for the weekend, but I realized that instead of leaning into my grief, I had been avoiding it. I learned a valuable lesson, one you think I'd have learned by now! It isn't easy to give in to the grief, to allow myself to acknowledge that there are still powerfully painful days. I want to say, "It's over. I'm done grieving." and that there will never be any more "bad" (a.k.a. grief) days. But that's simply not true. I just wanted to avoid the pain by denying it existed. How silly, for in denying the pain, I denied the opportunity to use it. I rejected God's invitation to turn to Him, to draw comfort and strength from the only One who understands my pain best.

There are always going to be the difficult days (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) along this grief journey. They don't go away, they are a given. But it is what we do with them that determines how we survive them. Our response is key. We can take our pain and become bitter, or we can use the pain for purpose. We can purpose to do with our pain what God did with a fallen world....redeem it. Redemption doesn't deny the hurt or brokenness. It acknowledges it and then moves forward with intention. I am so thankful we have a God that redeems the broken things. And more importantly, He redeems broken people.