Thursday, August 18, 2016

When grief takes a back seat. And it will.

I can’t begin to count how many times over the past five years I’ve heard the phrase, “It never gets better.” I instinctively cringe when I hear it. And trust me, I’m not a “Happy-Go-Lucky” person by nature. I’m not one to see the glass as “half-full.” No, I tend to be a realist. (Or, as some might say, “Complainer.” Ouch.) It usually takes me a bit to find the “silver lining.”

But I do find it.

I find it because, honestly, I’ve trained myself to find it. Please don’t read that as prideful. It certainly isn’t. In fact, it’s been a work in progress. It’s been work. Period. As a natural complainer, I’ve had to retrain my mind, to think the things God thinks.

Especially when it comes to grief.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Phil. 4:8

“It never gets better” comes from the lips of both the bereaved and non-bereaved. From the non-bereaved, it is a death sentence. It is perhaps one of the most unhopeful things that can be uttered. And the bereaved who have spoken this? They are possibly the most hopeless people I’ve met.

Before our son died, I knew some of these people. And I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want a lack of joy and bitterness to characterize my life. When Matt died, I refused to believe that “it never gets better.” Everything in me repulsed at this idea. I simply could not, would not, accept that.

And God knows the deepness of this pain. He knows the bone-marrow depth of grief. He understands our pain because He has been there.

God’s word, however, has always been about redemption. His plan from the very beginning has been to rescue us from this sin-filled, grief-stricken world. He will not leave us here in the broken places. He intends to bring healing.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3
This journey of grief? We are not meant to stay focused on our grief.
"...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,..." Ecc. 3:4

When grief hits, we are floored. Literally. Some of us cannot fathom, or even desire, to get up, to go on. And this is where I grabbed hold of His hand, the hand that is always outstretched, always offered. God wrapped His hand around mine and pulled me up "out of the miry clay.” (Ps.40:2) His word sustained me.

I didn’t “move on.” I moved forward. Every grief-stricken, painful step of the way, I moved forward. With Him, In Him, and Through Him. Healing doesn’t just happen. It isn’t incidental. It is purposeful. It is doing the hard work of grief: crying out to the LORD, making your needs known to others, and holding onto hope.

Hope is symbolized in Christian iconography by an anchor. And what does an anchor do? It keeps the ship on course when wind and waves rage against it. But the anchor of hope is sunk in heaven, not on earth.
Gregory Floyd, A Grief Unveiled

Grief is a chauffeur in the loss journey, but I have learned how to drive now. Grief no longer sits in the front seat navigating this journey. (Sure, he takes over at the wheel occasionally still, but not for long.) Grief is a good teacher if you pay attention and learn what he teaches. I’ve studied forgiveness and compassion and learned much about being humble. I have not welcomed these lessons, but have discovered that they aren’t taught by any teacher other than grief.

I’ve also discovered this: Eventually, grief does take a back seat.

It doesn’t mean he exits the vehicle. No. But he does slip into the back. “It never gets better” is transformed into “It gets softer.” 

I think of my son daily, countless times throughout a day. But Fridays are no longer dreaded, and I have long since stopped counting his absence in months. The pain that once seared now lies like cool embers, occasionally fanned into flames on those “special” days (his birthday and death date) and holidays. (As well as the random “grief ambush” days.)

But as for “It never gets better?” Oh, my. Yes, yes, I can say it gets better…because love grows stronger. Love sits in the passenger seat where grief once sat. Grief now sits in the back. Love guides this journey, navigating the way. Love is greater than grief, for it is eternal. 

Take heart. Take hope, dear friends. 


**NOTE: I've prayed for many, many months about when and how to "close" this blog. This post is it. I have begun blogging at a new blog. I will continue writing and hope you'll join me in looking through the window of "The Life I Live, Crucified with Christ" blog. Thank you, friends, for joining me in the journey!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

God showed up

We each have things in our lives, experiences, we wish we could forget. If only we could take an eraser and wash the slate clean. We long to have a “do-over,” for things to be different.  But no amount of wishing changes some things. Death isn’t something we can fix. Burying one’s child isn’t something one can forget.

On this day five years ago, we buried our 16yr. old son, our firstborn.

But on this day five years ago, God showed up in so many ways. 

From the second death showed up at the door, God stepped into the room. He was there when our neighbor drove by at exactly the time the State Troopers told me we would need someone to drive us to St. Mary’s. He was there at exactly the time we discovered our son did not make it. He was there when one of my best friend’s showed up at exactly the time I needed her. He was there at exactly the time when I flipped to the last page of the funeral home’s program book and finally found “the right one.”

He was there when my husband’s best friend from childhood showed up at exactly the time we were to enter the sanctuary of the church to begin the funeral service for our son. He was there when the beloved people of our church served Matt’s favorite dish of goulash for the luncheon. He was there at exactly the right time when everything I kept hearing at the cemetery service was “You are loved.

God showed up in every cardinal I saw, always at the bird feeder during meals. He showed up at Hearts of Hope family grief camp when we learned that throwing eggs is, indeed, a wonderfully healing exercise. He showed up at exactly the right time by providing people who prayed for us on the days when we could not.

God showed up for us then.

And He is still here for us now five years later.

Psalm 18: 1-2
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Friday, July 29, 2016

1,828 days

1,828 days. Five years since I've seen my son. Oh, the ache that remains. There are, still, no words to describe what it's like to live with this kind of loss. This blog has been my feeble attempt at describing it, however. It's been a place of refuge where I can pour out my heart to God in my native language, the language that comes naturally to me: the written word. It's been a window into the grief world for those on the outside seeking how to best help their loved ones who are in "the club no one wants to be a part of." I hope and pray it's been helpful, but more so, honoring to God and glorifying Him.

While I am tempted to count each of these 1,828 days as lost with my son, I am reminded of one of the lyrics from the well-known hymn, Amazing Grace, penned by John Newton:
"When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun."
These are words that give me hope, that help me grieve with hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) For our short time on this earth results in absolutely not one day less in heaven. For each day that passes here without my precious son, I have not lost one day in eternity with him. In fact, time in heaven does not count down or shorten. Every day in heaven is forward. Unlike this earthly life, in heaven we will always look forward, there will always be a next day. This life may not have tomorrow, but heaven always does. What a glorious thought.

Gregory Floyd, A Grief Unveiled:

Today, as we mark these 1,828 days without Matt, we remember where our hope is placed, in whom it is placed. We continue to press forward with the GoFundMe campaign so that others, through the ministry of Trout Lake Camps, can experience the hope and salvation through Jesus Christ that we, and Matt, have. We are only $810 from our goal. We invite you to wear #Mattsblueshirt today and, if you are able, give to the GoFundMe in memory of our son.

I can't thank you enough for supporting us. Your prayers, thoughts, donations, and love are appreciated more than words can convey. They have carried us through.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For the 5 year anniversary

I found out yesterday that Matt created several Facebook pages. Of course, they were all weird and totally "him." They each reflected his personality and likes. He also had a few events he attended, and one of the events he "attended" gave us a laugh and left us shaking our heads in amusement. It was an event titled, "Wear A Blue Shirt Day." Yes, his favorite color was blue and he had a few favorite blue shirts that he wore frequently.

But it's a certain shade of blue.

It's not baby blue, and it's not dark blue, either. It's a tricky shade to describe and hard to pinpoint. I finally found the right hue, though, after a bit of online searching. It's called cerulean. Cerulean is a deep sky-blue color.

The 29th this year is a bit different than past years for several reasons. We've had a French foreign exchange student staying with us for the month of July. It's been wonderful and we only wish we could keep her for the year and not just a month! As it turns out, her departure date is the 29th. This year, also, two of the kids will be gone over the anniversary date. Our second oldest is away for the summer working, and our fourth child (teen) leaves tomorrow and returns the 30th.

Of course, as a parent, I want all of us together on this significant date, but it isn't possible. Things change, and life with teenagers and young adults is definitely not like it was when they were toddlers. It's no longer my calendar, but my calendar and theirs!

However, in an attempt to keep us "together" on this day, I'm running with an idea that came from Matt's Facebook "Wear A Blue Shirt" event. I'll be getting some cerulean blue t-shirts for us to wear on the 29th. While the 5 Year Remembrance GoFundMe campaign is our "plan" for observing this anniversary, I want something tangible for the day, something I can do.

I invite you to join us and wear a cerulean blue t-shirt on the 29th for Matt. (#Mattsblueshirt) Feel free to send me a picture of it, too! It would warm my heart and bring us comfort in knowing that Matt isn't forgotten.

Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

One of "those" days

I dreamt about Matt Saturday night. I don’t often dream about him. In fact, I’d say it’s less than five times in the last five years. It’s one of those grief parent things where you long to dream about your child and yet dread it. Longing because it’s in your dreams that you get to see them again. You get to touch them, talk to them, and be with them. It is such indescribable joy.

But then you wake up.

And reality sucks because the ache that you had finally managed to control comes roaring painfully alive when you wake from the dream. And you’re left afresh with the pain of your child’s absence once again.

This is what Sunday morning for me ended up like. In a deep sleep, I was ecstatic, taking Matt around to friends and family, showing him off, telling them, “Look! He’s back! Matt’s alive!” But in the space of a few seconds, from sleep to awake, he was gone. And the reality that my son died hit my waking consciousness like a bucket of ice water.

I rose with a heavy heart and knew it was going to be one of “those” days, those days where I had to fight harder to find joy, to give thanks, and to dig deeper to grab hold of God’s truth. It was one of the “those” days where looking at pictures doesn’t bring comfort, but instead, a disbelief that he is gone. You’d think after almost five years, there would no longer be any disbelief.

But there is. Still.

We got ready and drove to our “home away from home” church, one we visit a few times a year when we’re away. It’s a beautiful community of believers, and I was looking forward to worshiping with them. We arrived and were informed that the schedule of service was a bit different due to the holiday weekend. The message would be condensed as they had a special guest. Their guest was a gentleman by the name of T.K. Hilton who has been an opening musician for Loretta Lynn.

Music has been instrumental in this grief journey for me, providing much comfort and resonating with truth. Sunday morning was no different. What a treat it was to listen to T.K. Though I’m not a country music fan, I am a fan of hymns. Hymns are saturated with the truth of God’s word. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I smiled as T.K. began to play the first few notes of the familiar hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”

This song, for whatever reason, gives me joy and hope. I had woken with the harsh reminder that my son had died, but the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away” reminded me of the truth, the truth that Matt is alive and all is good where he is at. I don’t ever have to worry about his safety or fear for his future. He is home.

T.K. also sang and played “God on the Mountain,” another favorite of mine. Again, a perfect reminder of God’s promises, that “when things go wrong, He’ll make them right” and “the God of the day is still God in the night.” Such comfort for my heart, these words.

What a blessing it was to worship on Sunday, for it also reminded me that God is in control. He is in the details. I don’t have to worry about “those” days. I don’t have to fret about the outcome of the GoFundMe campaign or fear the 29th. I can sleep without anxiety because I know that someday, I will wake with eternal joy. God is bigger than our dreams and more fulfilling than anything we can imagine. I am thankful that though my Sunday began as one of “those” days, God is one of “those” Gods: Able, Only, and Always.

**A tremendous THANK YOU to all who have donated toward Matt's five year remembrance GoFundMe campaign. There are just over three weeks left to reach our goal, and you have already hit the halfway mark! Thanks to you, hundreds of campers will hear the good news of Jesus Christ and experience some awesome Knockerball fun while at Trout Lake Camps. Please consider giving in memory of Matt if you haven't already. **

Friday, June 24, 2016

Redeeming the pain at five years

As many know, next month marks five years since Matt died. Each year we have sought to find some way to redeem this horrific pain and glorify God and His goodness toward us. Each year has encompassed something different, but always with the endeavor to display Matt's personality, interests, and skills to hopefully give those who never got the chance to meet him to somehow know him.

This year we have chosen to create another GoFundMe campaign. We would be deeply honored if you would join us. Please follow to link to read more:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Do you want to be healed?

John 5:1-9
1After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.
3In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;
4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
5A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
6When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”
9Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
Do you want to be healed? 

I've been pondering this question for several months now after listening to a sermon on these verses from the book of John. What an odd question, I think, for Jesus to ask this man. 

Of course he wants to be healed! 

Why on earth would Jesus ask this, we wonder. I mean, it even says in verse six that Jesus "knew that he had already been a long time in that condition..." 

A long time. 
Thirty-eight years, to be exact. 
Yeah, that's a long time. 

Just as odd, to me, is the man's response. Does he respond with an emphatic, "Yes! Yes!" No. No, he doesn't. Instead, he perplexingly gives an excuse. (Verse 7) 

But Jesus heals him. He heals him, and I realize why the man responded as he did. You see, friends, once you've been in a condition in which you have tried repeatedly to secure healing, but without any success, you lose hope. You begin to think healing simply isn't possible. You begin to believe you're always going to be this way. You even quit trying to find healing. This man's answer reflects his hopelessness. 

Recovery from child loss is like this man. Child loss, like this man's illness, doesn't go away. Year after year, the loss remains. Recovery sits on the sideline wondering if healing is ever going to happen. You begin to believe that healing is for others, not you. You sit on your mat of child loss and watch while everyone else's prayers get answered. In the meantime, your hope takes a dive in a different pool. 

But then Jesus comes along. 

Jesus comes along and asks the same question: "Do you wish to get well?"  Oh, therein lies the real issue. Do you, bereaved parent, want to heal? See, it seems like such a dumb question, doesn't it? Of course we want to be healed, right!? But the problem is this: It means we have to get up off the mat of child loss. The mat that, perhaps, has become our excuse to stay out of the healing waters. 

Why on earth would we avoid the water, you ask? Well, I can tell you why. For one, being close to our grief means being close to our child. If we leave our grief then, in a sense, we leave our child. As bereaved parents, we're already separated from our child(ren). To chose healing seems almost like a betrayal to our precious son or daughter. But that simply is not true. Choosing life, laughter, and joy is not a barometer of our love for our child. Our love is not measured by how long we grieve. See, grief can subside while our love remains as deep as ever. Living with joy, moving forward with life, and finding our purpose does not diminish our love for them.

Second, like the man who had been ill for 38 years, we begin to say, "I can't do it. I've tried, but I just can't get there." This is a dangerous place to be, in all honesty. This is the place where hope has died and discouragement and resignation rules. We can sit here in our loss, too, unless we do what Jesus said to the man: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” (verse 8)

Healing begins when we take action.

When we pick up the mat of grief and make the phone call, attend the meeting, or share with a friend or family member, we are taking our first steps to healing. Asking for help, daring to hope, and believing God are the toddler steps that grow our faith and promote healing. These seemingly small steps have a huge impact on the outcome of our life with loss. These steps are the hard work of grief, but if we persist, we will find strength. Our feeble legs will become increasingly stronger and more coordinated the more we use them.

Finally, we avoid the healing water because, again like the sick man, our grief is not some short-lived illness. It is a serious, debilitating condition that lasts for years. When loss is fresh, the bereaved cannot fathom healing. Pain obscures our vision. We long to die so that we can join our child. Healing is a pool that we simply don't know how to get to.

But Jesus shows up.

He asks the question, "Do you trust me?" Do we trust that He will bring us through this agonizing, indescribable loss? Do we trust Him that His word is true? Do we believe that healing is possible? Jesus's question begs an answer. We don't have to understand how He's going to provide healing, we simply have to believe He will.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sibling grief

Last night during the tornado warnings our nine year old came over to me and said, “If Matt were here and still alive, I’d feel safer with him, Mom.”

This is grief. This is the heart of a little boy who misses his big brother. Still. Next month, it will be five years since he’s seen his big brother. My heart breaks for him and the rest of his siblings. I hurt for them because this is something I can’t fix. Though he has five other siblings, he misses the one that’s not here.

Sibling grief is hard. My kids see other siblings together and still wish their big brother were here. It doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the siblings they still have. In fact, I daresay they appreciate them even more. It simply means they long for the brother they no longer have.

That sibling you don’t get along with? Tell them you love them today. Just do it. Whether the relationship stinks or not, remind them that there’s a nine year old little boy who wishes he had one more day with his brother. There are no do-overs in this life. This is it. Even if the relationship with your brother or sister isn’t what you wish it would be, call, text, or write them and tell them you love them today.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When grief doesn't end

I listened to a pastor this past Memorial weekend who spoke on the topic of marriage and family. He was a wonderful speaker and had several relevant points regarding relationships. He spoke of the difficulties and storms that are guaranteed to come along at some point in everyone's lives. He spoke with confidence how we can take assurance and comfort in knowing that every storm in our life will pass. Yes, to some extent, that is true.

But I'm guessing, however, that he likely wasn't referring to the grief that remains after child loss or death.

Definitely, the initial "storm" after loss subsides. The winds die down, the waters recede, and the black clouds eventually roll away. But while the storm may be "over," its reverberating aftermath continues for weeks, months, and, indeed, years. Nearly five years later, my son's death continues to impact his brothers' and sisters' lives, as well as my husband's and mine.

Grief is not a passing storm.

Grief is a thread that is woven throughout the tapestry of our lives. It will, with God's help, not be the unraveling of us, but rather be the binding stitched onto the storybook of our lives. Max Lucado explains the idea of reweaving in the story of Joseph:

“You meant evil against me,” Joseph told his brothers, using a Hebrew verb that traces its meaning to “weave” or “plait.”
“You wove evil,” he was saying, “but God rewove it together for good.”
God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes His reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at His command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as He does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves.
Death is our enemy. (1 Cor.15:26) Death destroys. The loss of a child destroys a parents life. And if there are siblings, it destroys their lives, as well. The world we once knew exploded when Matt died. One of Matt's sisters continues to struggle with the loss of her brother. She stuffed her grief for two years after he died, but eventually the volcano of grief poured out in a molten lava mess of social anxiety and depression.

I have often felt as if I didn't just lose one child July 29, 2011, but two.

While our daughter has come a long way in three years with professional counseling, her grief, like ours, has not ended. But the broken pieces, like our tears, are being collected. (Psalm 56:8) The enemy Death means to destroy and work evil out of the circumstances in our lives, but God our Father, who loves us and intends good for us, reweaves the thread of grief. Death wove a black thread into the fabric of our heart, but the Master Weaver (per Max Lucado) picks up the black thread and reweaves it with scarlet thread; the thread of hope, Jesus Christ.

We may feel as if the storm never ends, but, as the pastor from the weekend pointed out, God doesn't move. When the storms come, and we wonder where He went, we must remember that God does not leave us. He is in the midst of our circumstances. Trust Him with your pain. He reminded us of Psalm 55:22a: "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you..." and that the word cast here is not in the context of casting out and reeling back in as in fishing, but rather a complete dropping. Drop your cares on God and do not pick them back up again.

Grief is not a passing storm, but that doesn't mean we have to hold on to the pain. Instead, we hold on to the One who holds us. We hold on to the anchor, to truth. We allow God to thread the needle of grief with His promise of eternal life through His son Jesus Christ. And the thread of grace will keep us until the end of the story. What God is creating we cannot fathom, but we can trust that it is good.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

VEX Robotics scholarship presentation video

The Matt Cherney VEX Robotics scholarship was presented today by our close family friend and "second" dad of sorts to Matt. We are incredibly grateful to Max for presenting, and to Sam, for recording it. The video is below, but can also be viewed on Youtube HERE.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Matt Cherney VEX Robotics Scholarship

This past week my husband and I selected a scholarship recipient. On Wednesday, May 18th, the Matt Cherney VEX Robotics Scholarship will be presented. It is given with great grief and great joy. May is a hard month for us. Matt's birthday, his sister's high school graduation and party, our anniversary (this year on Mother's Day), Mother's Day, and the scholarship selection all fell in the first eight days of the month. Yeah. Whew is right.

We are incredibly thankful, however, for God's provision. Without the amazing generosity of family and friends this $1000 scholarship wouldn't be possible. Matt had a gift with computers and programming. Anyone that knew him discovered that quickly. He had a passion for computer technology that would have been a perfect fit with VEX Robotics. I am forever grateful that Matt's memory, talents, and skills live on through this scholarship.

Our grief is great, but our joy is as well. Knowing that Matt, through this scholarship, is touching the lives of students who share his passion is a great, great comfort. Thank you, dear family and friends, for helping to redeem our pain, comfort us in our grief, and exemplify the body of Christ.
VEX Robotics
Matt Cherney attended Mankato East High School in the 2010-11 school year as a sophomore student. At age 16, Matt’s passion was computers, specifically programming and trouble-shooting. He was self-taught and loved learning everything he could about programming. In his own words from his Facebook page, he said, “I LOVE Java, C/C++, JavaFX, XHTML, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and XML. OH! And Perl, and C#, and...” Matt surpassed even his dad in his knowledge of computers (which is impressive since his dad is a senior programmer/analyst of over 20 years).
Matt joined the BPA club (Business Professionals of America) at the beginning of the school year and quickly proved his skills were on par when he placed 1st in PC Servicing & Troubleshooting and 5th in Java Programming at the BPA Regional Competition. Since East High School no longer offers a BPA club, the Matt Cherney scholarship is now being offered through East High’s Vex Robotics program. Vex Robotics is a program Matt would definitely have participated in with great joy.

If you are interested in contributing to the scholarship fund, please email me. Our hope and desire, of course, is to offer this scholarship for many, many years to come. 

Monday, May 2, 2016


Today is my son's 21st birthday. It should be a day of great joy and celebration. But it isn't. Not really.

Because when you have a child who died, these days are difficult. We try to eke out as much redemption as we can by remembering Matt and all the things we love best about him. We remember the ways he made us smile and how he brought us joy. We move forward, choosing joy over bitterness.

We gather ideas and give away Mocha Frappes to stem the flow of grief from my busted heart that threatens to bleed out.

I slept fitfully last night, thinking of this day twenty-one years ago when I was in labor with this baby who had already stolen our hearts, before we knew that parenting was a "No-Holds-Barred" contract signed with undying love.

We were blessed to celebrate sixteen years of birthdays with this "Gift of God," my Peanut, my Mateo, Matthew, Matt.

We are blessed to have family and friends who grieve with us, who weep with us, and who remember Matt with us. These friends and family are the tourniquet applied to my heart today. They are the ones who allow me to cry and remind me that hope and joy are still here...though just buried right now.

We are off to get a DQ cake shortly. I think Matt would like it. Here's to hope and joy.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Matt's 21st birthday

Most of our close family and friends know the following 21 things about Matt. But Matt has been gone for over four and a half years, and many new friends have since come into our lives, friends who wonder who he was, who desire to catch a glimpse of this boy of mine who would now be an adult, a young man of 21.

I want them to know Matt as much as they can even if he's not here. Like every bereaved parent, I don't want my child to be forgotten. I want people to ask about Matt. Parents love to talk about their kids, and bereaved parents are no different. It is a tremendous gift when we are given the opportunity, to not only talk about the ones here with us, but about the ones with whom we will someday be reunited. We take joy in our kids, both those who remain with us and those with whom we ache to see again.

For Matt's 21st birthday, I compiled a list of 21 things about Matt. Sticking to just twenty-one things is like asking me to pick my favorite book! There are too many good ones to choose from, but I exercised self-control and plucked from my shelf of memories whatever came to mind first.

21 Things About Matt:
  1.  a deep thinker (It's partly where he got his nickname of "Mr. Stoic.")
  2.  favorite color was blue (cerulean...look it up ;) )
  3.  a smirk = a smile
  4.  liked playing Poker
  5.  could suck down a McDonald's Mocha Frappe faster than anyone
  6.  enjoyed playing ping pong several times a week with the "Pong" group from Bethel
  7.  favorite snack was Cheez-Its
  8.  ate a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal every night before bed
  9.  avid bird watcher - his favorite was the Indigo Bunting
  10.  liked playing chess
  11.  liked playing tennis - though he was the least athletic kid!
  12.  liked playing golf - albeit only in our yard!
  13.  loved Trout Lake Camp - one of his favorite places to go (ours, too.)
  14.  Green Bay Packer fan - What can I say? He knew how to pick 'em. ;)
  15.  Bethel Media Technician - he loved his job behind the scenes
  16.  enjoyed learning Spanish - I like to think he liked Spanish because I always called him "Mateo" as a little boy. ;)
  17.  favorite candy was Spearmint Starlight Mints
  18.  loved playing LOTRO (Lord of the Rings online)
  19.  loved his brothers and sisters deeply - especially when each was a baby
  20.  brilliant with computers, especially troubleshooting and repair (He placed 1st in PC Troubleschooting & Repair and 3rd in Java Programming at the State Regional Competition level in 2011.)
  21. loved Jesus

On this milestone of a birthday, I can't help but be tempted to wonder and ponder the "What if's." Yet I know the "What if's" are unproductive, so I will turn them instead into "God knows." God knows every step I take. He knows every tear I shed. God knows the broken places that remain.

The broken places, however, are not the only thing to remain. I have hope. I have faith. And I have love. Love for God and love for my son.

On Matt's birthday this year, his 21st, I'd like to give away 21 Mocha Frappes. Will you join me in remembering Matt? On May 2nd, would you send me a picture, post a reply, or email me with your story of how you blessed someone with a Mocha Frappe in memory of Matt and in celebration of his 21st birthday? 

***If finances are a challenge, no worries. It's really not about Mocha Frappe's. It's about telling a bereaved parent that you remember their child, you acknowledge their loss.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Go Around Again!

Do you remember the book "Go, Dog. Go!" by P.D. Eastman? Well, I do. I've only read it, say, a million or two times to all seven of my children over the span of close to twenty years. It's a great book.
But life can read a bit "bookish" at times.
Do you see where the blue dog shouts, "Go around again!" in the picture? That's when this life feels bookish, the days going 'round and 'round. Only, unlike the excitement of a Ferris wheel ride, life spins sickeningly fast, excitement turning to nausea, and we simply want off the ride.
This grief journey began as a Tsunami, then quickly transitioned to a wicked roller coaster ride. The roller coaster ride eventually jerked to a stop and threw us out, only to land in line at the Ferris wheel. Life has become a series of "Go Around Again" stops:

- Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, etc. Any family gathering where Matt is absent. 

Matt's birthday, May 2
- as well as my birthday, his dad's birthday, and his siblings' birthdays. Again, any event where Matt is absent.

Matt's death/life date (the day he physically died on earth, but stepped fully, completely ALIVE into heaven)
- July 29, 2011

These "stops" are rough, the jerk a painful transition. However, I've learned a few things that have helped with the Ferris wheel rotations. Perhaps the greatest, for me, has been to plan ahead for these significant "date stops." Whether it's spending the day at home in bed crying or getting out to participate in an activity to honor our son's memory, it has helped to have a plan. Either way, the dates suck, but having a plan provides purpose and the mild comfort, at least, of feeling in control of an event that is very much out of my control.

Matt's birthday is in two weeks, his 21st. We have a plan for the day. Our hearts continue to grieve deeply the loss of our son, but we are held by the truth that Matt is alive in heaven. This earthly life is temporary for all of us. Because of Jesus, we have hope and grieve with hope. Like Jesus, we endure because of the assurance of the joy that awaits. While we may "go around again" on the Ferris wheel of grief, we rest in the Grace that goes with us.

On Matt's birthday this year, his 21st, I'd like to give away 21 Mocha Frappes. Will you join me in remembering Matt? On May 2nd, would you send me a picture, post a reply, or email me with your story of how you blessed someone with a Mocha Frappe in memory of Matt and in celebration of his 21st birthday? 

Friday, February 26, 2016

He never lets go

Dear Matt,
Your sister is graduating this year. It's hard to believe, and it brings so many emotions to the surface. Once again, the waves of "if only" and "what if" rhythmically pound the shores of my sorrow. I've waded long enough in the waters, however, to know that I will not drown. I know enough now to "take captive every thought." I will not allow my mind to go "there," for I know there is nothing productive in it. Instead, I will focus on the blessings. I will smile and cherish the memories and give thanks that I got to be your mom. I will look for the "God-Nods." I will give thanks for God's goodness and grace.

Your sister also got her first job. (Actually, two jobs!) I know you'd be pretty psyched and happy for her, especially regarding the summer job. God has been good. With every milestone your brothers and sisters reach, my heart twinges with joy and grief. (What irony that we really do live on Bittersweet Lane.) I shake my head in disbelief, yet am held solid because I know that my Redeemer lives and that He has a good and perfect plan.

This moving through milestones is tricky business, but God's hand is obvious, never letting go of mine. As I plan your sister's graduation party and prepare for her "leaving the nest," I am struck by how familiar this event feels to losing you. It has left me feeling quite disoriented. I cannot, try as I might, put words to it. However, I came across this article from 2006 a few weeks ago to find that Beverly Beckham had, indeed, found the words. I have read and re-read it several times, and what I appreciate most is this line:
It's not a death. And it's not a tragedy.
But it's not nothing, either. - Beverly Beckham
It occurred to me why this line so resonated with me. It's because it acknowledges a mother's heart. It is validation. Validation is what every grieving parent wants, as well. Just acknowledge our child, no matter their "departure" date. I ache to do the things with you that I am doing with your sister, but I know that that is not the thinking to embrace. I must lean into truth, into "It is what it is" and continue to trust God. I must stay here in the moment. I don't want to cheat your siblings out of their special moments and milestones. I want to find joy.

I know that you would want that, too, Matt. I know that God also sees my pain and my struggle. He knows the fight for joy, how it doesn't come easy. He never fails to amaze me with His grace. Several weeks ago, it showed up big when I decided to join the audio-visual team at church. It was a position you loved doing, too, and were so good at. I never imagined I'd be doing it some day, either, but the need was great, and I decided to give it a try.

Wouldn't you know that God was already preparing me. Several days before my first practice with the team, the song by Matt Redman, "You Never Let Go" came on the radio. Oh, what emotions and memories this song brings up, memories of your funeral. However, little by little over the last four and a half years, I've been able to tolerate it more and more. I hadn't heard it in at least six months or more, but early last week, it played twice the same day. Thursday came, and I showed up for av practice. The worship team gathered to run through the upcoming songs for Sunday. I sat behind the sound board and took a deep breath, trying not to think of the last time I saw you sitting in this exact same spot. As they played the first few notes, and I glanced at the song list, I shook my head and let out a knowing sigh.

God's grace showed up big as I pulled up the first slide and the worship team sang the first line to, yep, you guessed it, Matt Redman's "You Never Let Go." I felt like God was saying, "He's right here." It was a God-nod, for sure. I silently thanked God for His grace. My heart filled with peace as my eyes blinked back tears. It was yet another step of healing.

I thought of God's grace, and then of your sister's graduation. I know I don't have to worry about it. I don't have to worry and wonder how I'm going to deal with her leaving and graduating because I know that His grace will be sufficient. It will be there when I need it. God's grace is not something we encounter in advance. It's not a transaction or "cash advance." It is lived moment by moment, poured out in abundance at exactly the right time. It is sufficient because He never lets go.

I love you.

Love, Mom

Friday, January 29, 2016

4 1/2 years and 29 things

If you've been around the blog a bit, you know that the number 29 is significant. Thankfully, it no longer encompasses the fiery pain it once did when grief was new. My journey with grief began July 29, 2011 with the sudden loss of our 16 year old son, our firstborn. The 29th of each month was agonizing, a day to just bear through, to somehow endure each minute until the day would mercifully end.

Several years later, I am no longer thrown into the pit of grief on the 29th of each month. Fridays are no longer accompanied by dread, and the counting of calendar months no longer at the forefront. Grief has become a shadow, a quiet companion, a dormant fellow.

At least, most days.

Most days except these "significant" ones. Today marks 4 1/2 years without my son. My chest feels heavy, and I have fought back tears daily for two weeks. The roller coaster of grief took a plunge this week, leaving me breathless.

I haven't seen my son in 4 1/2 years. I haven't touched him, hugged him, talked to him, or kissed him in 4 1/2 years. I haven't seen him grow and mature. I am hit anew with horror, still in disbelief that he is gone, that it has been four and a half years. I wonder if I will ever stop counting the years and half-years. I doubt it, for what parent ever stops counting how old their child is? It matters not whether their child is here or in heaven, we count.

The dance with grief is all too familiar by now. I have learned the steps well. I know how to push through, how to swallow the lump that precedes the tears because the current of life sweeps swiftly by, plucking me from the temptation to wallow on grief's shore.

At least, most days.

Most days, I can decline grief's dance card. But there are some days, like today, where I trip over the steps, stumbling on the feet of my partner Grief.

But I refuse to let him lead for too long.

Just as God determines to redeem "the years the locusts have eaten," I intend to redeem joy from this wasteland of child loss, I don't get a choice in my circumstances, but I do get a choice in how to respond. I get to choose whether to be bitter or better. I get to choose to trust God, that He will someday bestow "a crown of beauty instead of ashes." I get to decide what I will plant in the ashes. Will I plant hope, faith, and love?

Grief and love, indeed, run deep for my son. But it is love that conquers, for it is stronger than death. Love will always strive toward the light. Today, like every day, love wins. Today, the 29th, I choose to give thanks for 29 things.

I am thankful for:

  1. God's faithfulness
  2. hope
  3. joy
  4. peace
  5. grace 
  6. forgiveness
  7. mercy
  8. blessings in the midst of sorrow 
  9. God's Word
  10. comfort
  11. God's presence
  12. the ministry of music
  13. the promise of heaven & life eternal
  14. friends & family who continue to walk beside us in this journey and grant us grace
  15. sweet & precious memories
  16. photographs & videos
  17. the dear women, my sisters, of "the club no one wants to be a part of"
  18. Jesus and His sacrifice
  19. love
  20. laughter
  21. tears
  22. life
  23. cardinals
  24. healing
  25. faith
  26. creation
  27. books
  28. computers/writing
  29. Matt