Like the fall leaves, brilliant and changing

Right now I smell crisp air and burnt autumn leaves. I see the bright orange branches dancing against a brilliant blue sky. I hear the crunching of a thousand maple leaves as I speed past on my bike. I feel the wind rushing through my hair and I feel alive in a season that is revealing its beauty through change and loss.

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I wonder if a tree looks forward to its time where its color and brilliance leave us staring up in awe at the wonder of God. Or is it saddened knowing that all its leaves will soon be dead and gone? In a Bible study (Bible Study Fellowship) I attended this morning, I am reminded as God’s beloved daughter, my suffering and loss is for a purpose and it only lasts for as long as it’s necessary to bring glory to Him. I also realized that God is completely faithful. Of course He cannot prove his faithfulness to me if I am afraid to risk and step out in faith. And His light and brilliance will not shine inside of me if I am not willing to let go, to let go of my leaves and be naked and bare before Him.

I am studying Exodus right now. Its unbelievable the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years.” God knew the hard future that lay ahead for His people. He also had a plan to deliver them and carried it out on the exact day that He had promised. Exodus 12:40-41 says, “The people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years. In fact, it was on the exact day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land.” The 30 years when the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt but were not slaves was the generation of Joseph and his brothers. (Genesis 1:6-8) God fulfilled His promise to His people on the exact day He declared. His timing is perfect and reveals to me that He is in complete control of those who love and put their trust in Him. 

I have experienced suffering and I have experienced loss. All of us have experienced suffering and loss and hardship. And I have realized that it can shine God’s brilliant glory and faithfulness if I am willing. I am continually changing and being refined by a designer, a healer, a teacher, a Father. He is creating within me a heart that is drawn to others who are experiencing suffering and pain, a heart that is willing to risk and love unconditionally and a heart that says yes to Him no matter the cost.

There was one more thing this morning that hit me and I want to share it with all of you just like if I was sitting down with you at Starbucks sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I would look at you with sincerity and share how I have realized that I am apart of God’s family and I will choose to always be apart of God’s family but the relationship that I have with the Lord Almighty can change. I can choose to become more intimate and more dependent despite my circumstances or I can choose to slowly drift away from His heart. After a pause of processing these words I would then tell you that I am going to choose to fight for that closeness, that complete dependence and that vulnerable and intimate love with God, my Savior, and I need you to help me and pray for me in doing this.

Pray for me friends that my life will be like fall leaves, brilliant and changing, that I reflect Him in all His wonder and beauty.

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Gabby and Grandma

Dear Gabby,

We are leaving tomorrow to go see your Grandma who lives in Pennsylvania. Your Grandma had cancer about 3 years before you were born and now she has it again. Your Grandma is a strong woman but cancer makes life hard and she will need us now more then ever. I will be there to take her Doctor appointments and make meals. I will be there to have late night discussions, to encourage and support. I will be there to assure your Grandma that in whatever circumstance I will be here to take care of her and she does not to worry.

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But you, my daughter, will be there to give your Grandma something I cannot give her. The incredible joy that you give to people astounds me. To a complete stranger you have a wave and smile. For any friend who comes into our home they are not left without little arms wrapping around their legs. And for Grandma, you give wide open mouth kisses over and over and over again. The two of you giggle until you have to catch your breath. The happiness and joy that you will bring to your Grandmothers soul is more powerful then anything I could ever say.

The reality of loosing your Daddy will always be with you, but instead of resentment and anger I encourage you to remember that you can be a brilliant star shinning brightly in the darkness of fear, sadness and pain. Your name, Gabriella, means, “The Lord is my strength” Let The Lord be your strength my daughter and the infectious joy that he has given you will radiate into the lives of everyone you meet.

There are a lot of people who are hurting because of cancer. Your life and your story connects you to those who are hurting and struggling with this disease in a very intimate and personal way. Some of your Mommy’s closest friends came from this shared struggle of cancer. And your Mommy knows so many people who have had to battle with this disease or walked closely with someone who they love so dearly go through its pain. When you’re older, it is likely you will know even more people than I. Take courage, my love, for we know that one day God will make all things new. Revelation 21:5

While we are anxiously awaiting, we are here in this world to love people unconditionally, to cry with people when they are hurting and laugh with them when they are, for that one day, feeling better. You’re only 16 months old, and I see already the compassion and love you have for people. Don’t hold back! Love God and love others, even when you might get hurt, it’s worth it every time. I John 4:10

Daddy’s Eyes

Dear Gabby,

Do you remember your Daddy’s eyes?  His eyes showed you who he was, and who you were to him. If you can’t remember I will tell you about them as best I can. When your Daddy looked at you, love and adoration was spoken into your heart. When you first started to smile it was because of an uninhibited reaction by your Daddy’s look of unrelenting love that radiated from his eyes. Image

When his eyes looked at you it was his very spirit gleaming out from underneath his eyelids. To a stranger, they might have seemed ordinary and of no significance, but your Daddy’s eyes were powerful. His eyes had the power to comfort and to heal. His eyes inspired perseverance and they demanded respect. No one knew that better then me, and probably most of his students.   IMG_1517

His eyes burned his competitive spirit when he raced around your Uncle Matt to throw ball for a lay up in the hoop above. They revealed his vast knowledge and understanding in our conversations at night, time alone with a book or his classroom, in front of 30 pliable minds. And they shown forth great integrity and truth throughout his entire life road. Never once can I recall I time when a lie protruded from his lips or deceit hid behind his eyes.275-IMG_2214

Your Daddy had eyes that a person can not forget. They had a way of looking into who you really are, it was impossible to not be affected. Those eyes are what I miss most. In the end moments when your Daddy would soon be with Jesus, his eyes radiated acceptance, peace and joy. While his body was weak, his eyes were alive and strong and focused.

I still see those eyes in my dreams, they exhibited his spirit which can never be tamed or forgotten. Like a brightly burning flame, his eyes showed forth the true light, the very light of God. And that cannot be snuffed out.

Love,

Mommy

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New Life from Dry Bones.

Easter for me is all wrapped up in tradition. Not tradition from my side of the family, tradition from Chris’s side of the family. There were some traditions that we held this year, but it took great effort, like Grandma baking her “to die for” rolls. Motivation in keeping the traditions alive was dead. There was no fire this year and frankly I think we all thought, “What’s the point?” and “It’s not the same.” Chris was the one who felt so strongly about tradition and fought for it. Now, can we really keep the same traditions? Should we, in order to keep it alive, to keep the memories alive? Today, as I was with family, it was like we all just got through.

One think I do know, is that my focus was not on family and traditions this year. This year was quite different. In my remembrance and sorrow of not having Chris here, I clung to the wonderful weight of the Spirit living inside of me. I wept with joy over the story of Jesus raising to life the widow’s son because of His great love and compassion for her. (Luke 7: 11-15) And all of my thoughts keep coming back to how utterly lost I would be without Him. This easter was very different then it ever was before. I was not as busy, distracted, self dependent, and put together. It brought me to my knees realizing the incredible gift that was given to me. Without His sacrifice I would be blinded with darkness and despair. There would be no hope, there would be no life.

But He has created NEW LIFE, by rising from the dead and bring us out of the grave. His gift was new life, because of His great love for us. (Ephesians 2:4-5) Its hard to even put into words. I am overwhelmed by the whole thing and end up in silence because I have no words. The gratitude in my heart is overflowing, and its because of my dependance, my entire identity in Him. He is the one, and only one who has saved me, and He is constantly creating me into something new.

 

 

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new

A birthday and a hope.

Dear Gabby,

DSC_0025-2Happy Birthday my big one year old! Wow, what a day! Did you realize that 38 people came to celebrate your life today? Did you also realize that all of your friends, “brothers” and “sisters” (the kids) outnumbered the mommy’s and daddy’s? Just so that you are aware, we are not doing this every year. You will not  have your own memory of this day, so I am going to do my best in giving you some of my favorite highlights.

 

I was holding you as the majority of people came through the door and as a mommy’s girl you were not quite ready to be passed to another person’s arms, but I know a trick. You love to walk, and although you can’t quite do it on your own yet, its a great way to warm up to someone (someone being everyone who isn’t mom) by holding their hard and showing off your developing agility and gusto. Your tiny feet pitter patter along the hardwood floor and your face lights up along with whoever is holding your hand at your joyous ability. It works every time.

All the kids were your favorite, and it was a favorite of everyones to see you enjoy them. A kiss from Charlotte and giving back one in return would produce three room full’s of “Aww!”

 

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You love sugar! You would have eaten that entire cake if I would have let you. Your baby hands were covered in vibrant pink icing and your face became all of a sudden a very rosy glow. Cameras were going off left and right, and we never got bored of watching your inquisitive and comical expressions as you discovered a new love for sweets. I jumped into your messiness and allowed you to give me a big kiss.We together enjoyed the same taste of the sugary deliciousness of cotton candy. (The icing was cotton candy flavored)

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You were much more involved with opening presents then you were at Christmas. You grabbed that paper at the top and ripped it all the way down to the bottom, the only problem was that you had several helpers who also liked to open presents. Knowing you were not quite as fast, they volunteered to “help” you. Your helpers were Selah, Nevaeh, Lorenzo and Regan. And you, being the kid lover that you are, had no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, having your friends help you open your gifts was the same as playing together and for you it couldn’t get any better. Just remember that when your older.

 

IMG_0386Wrapping paper, bags, clothes, ribbon, toys and people gathered all around. You had just started pulling the tissue paper out of the small gift bag resting in between your legs when Lorenzo, who was sitting next to you, reached out for a toy that was being touched by a toddler. He declared, “Don’t touch that toy, thats DSC_0054my sister’s!” (Lorenzo is my crazy 5 year old who I had the privilege to be a mom to for a year and a half. He is now back home with his real mom along with the rest of his brothers and sisters. This amazing moment shows the closeness of our forever foster family.)

The last memory I will leave you with is the result of eating too much cake. I’m sure your tastebuds were singing for joy at 3:00 but your tummy was pounding its fists on the floor at 5:00. Your grunts and groanings lasted until you fell asleep on your Mommy. I love cuddling with you, so you just slept as I continued to talk with friends. Poor Sadie who was sitting next to me, for by that time, you were only asleep because the mess was in the diaper. But today was a special day and that indulgence was worth it.  Which is why I gave away all your cupcakes for people to take home, it’s only worth it because it was special and out of the ordinary. We can’t do that every day.

The rain came as everyone was leaving. The rain came as wet drops on the grass and pavement outside, and the rain came as a dead and quiet fog inside a big house. It came as it seeped into the loneliness of a widow’s heart. This day was very special, which is why your Mommy cried listening to the patter of rain on the windows.  Your Daddy was not here to smile at me while you were zonked out on my chest. He wasn’t here to push you around on your pink flashy princess car from your Uncle Matt. He wasn’t here to pick you up and help you dunk your ball in the Easy Score Basketball Hoop he specifically picked out for you. He wasn’t here. A heartsick and despondent tune played strong in the wind.  It tangled my hair into knots. DSC_0147The celebration of your one year of life was over and he missed it. Then a blow of consciousness slashes at my heart as I realize He is going to miss everything. There will be many of your special days and there will be no Daddy. And all I can say after the celebration is, I’m so sorry sweetheart.

And as much as I would love to promise you that I will always be there to watch you blow out your candles, I can’t. Life is precious and uncertain and a gift. So, my dearest daughter, you will have to let God be your Daddy. My hope and prayer for you is that through the pain and loss of your Daddy, your relationship with God will become one of complete dependence and love like you have never known before. I also pray that you will trust and feel deep within you the immense love that God has for you. And don’t believe it because I said it, God said it to you. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! . . . 1 John 3:1″ So when you are sad, let God be your comfort and let him love on you. He might take away your pain and He might not. Don’t be angry if He doesn’t take away the pain, for it’s through your pain God is able to be so close to you. He is getting me through, and he will get you through as well. 

 

 

 

 

A Grief Observed- Part 2 “Mysterious Love”

Everyone, who has gone through sorrow or tragedy, asks “Where are you God?” Maybe not out loud or maybe they try to dismiss it but deep within them it’s always wondered. C.S. Lewis describes when you are in most need of Him that it feels like, “a door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” (Lewis, 18) I have felt this too. Your mind and your feelings play tricks on you. Although deep within your soul you know that God has promised to never leave you, it is almost impossible to shake that feeling that you are alone.

And then over the next couple of days I made a beautiful discovery. I have had many good days that are magnified into great days by the love of others. And there are bad days that are turned into good days by love. One big contributer is Gabriella, my daughter. At a young age, when she is learning and discovering so much, expressing her love for me is surprising and unexpected. My heart leaps out of my chest when she looks at me, her eyes wide and alive, her smile covering her entire face as she leans in to give me a big kiss. She can’t talk, but she sure knows how to love. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world, but it cannot be forced and it cannot be controlled. If it was, it would completely loose its value. There are also bad days that are hard and seemingly unrelenting, and no matter how much on those days I want Gabby to shower me with love and kisses, she won’t and I cannot force her.

And yet, wanting immediate relief from my pain by receiving love from my baby girl, doesn’t work! It is only true and real when it is uncontrolled. Those times, in the unexpected moments, her love is sweeter then the sweetest honey. Just like I know Gabby loves me, I know my God loves me, but showing that love cannot be forced. He is mysterious, and cannot be contained. He is not controlled by our feelings. His love for me is constant, but the expressions of His love are often a complete and joyous surprise. It is addictive, and when I don’t feel His love I find myself crying out in desperation for it, seeking and looking and seeking more. And it seems in my despair that I am groping around in the darkness.

Many have felt this feeling that God is far from them. Psalms 22 1-2 says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? . . . O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, and by night I find no rest.” Written by David and quoted by Jesus. But what faith would we have if we could access the immediate feeling of God’s love any time we wanted? Is it a refreshing drink we can just pull out of the fridge whenever we want? Psalms 22: 3-4; 9 says, Yet you are holy . . . In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them. Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you . . .”  This is true faith; trusting Him despite feeling very far from Him.

Then when I least expect it, and my strength has failed, He picks me up and is my comfort. 

In the very next chapter Psalms 23:2-3 He draws us in to Himself. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. . . .” And in our affliction and suffering we remember, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v.4).”

 Oh, How He loves us!

 

 

A perspective on grief and loss.


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Grief and loss are very weird emotions. As our pastor reminded us, it can look different and be different for all of us. What I have realized is that my grief, and I am sure this is true of others, has come in several stages.  There were many tears in the hospital and at home while Chris was still here. After talking to Palliative Care and understanding that Chris has a very short time, there were friends and extended family who came to see him.  For several weeks I experienced and heard each person say good-bye to Chris for the last time. It was hard. It was hard to say good-bye every time someone else did.  It was hard to fight against my emotions that Chris was going to die and I would have loss, but that he hasn’t died yet. It was hard to accept what was really happening, despite knowing in my heart and mind that it would one day. It was hard to not be afraid. It was hard at the end too. (My details below are only to help you have a little better understanding of my grief and pain in order that others will be comforted who have gone through similar situations. It is not for you to feel sorry or be given the horrid details)

For several days, 5 I believe, Chris lived longer then what his hospice nurses expected. He was ready and we all told Chris good-bye. We took shifts to stay with him around the clock. Some of his pain and nausea meds made him hallucinate and laying in a bed all day for several days was causing him to have bed sores. He could no longer stand or sit up without help. He could not hold his own bowels and had to wear a diaper. His feet turned cold from the blood conserving itself towards the organs. He then could not lift or more his legs. He was coherent right until the end. Things were confusing and the lack of blood circulation created some disconnect but when you said, “I love you,” he said, “I love you” back. There were many times when Chris thought it was time and we would all gather around and say I love you and good bye. We would hold his hands and cry. We would pray. And Chris’s body would keep fighting and it wasn’t wanting to quit. His last 8 hours were painful and uncomfortable. All night he was very restless. He would tell whoever was up with him that he had to sit up. Then he would immediately want to lay back down. He wanted pulled and turned and readjusted. When it became my shift at 6 in the morning, he was in pain and was trying to breath through it. His heart rate was high because of the lack of blood. Chris, for several weeks, was bleeding internally. After 1 then 2 then another 2 ml of Roxanol (liquid morphine) and the pain wasn’t subsiding, I knew we were very close, but I was focused. I was terrified that he would be in uncontrollable pain at the end. I gave him another 4 ml and we were at our absolute max. We held hands and I tried to keep him comfortable. When his mom got up and came out to sit beside him I called hospice to have a nurse come out. I wanted someone’s help to keep his pain under control. I got off the phone and came to kneel down beside his bed. I could tell he was still in pain despite that he never complained. Then he said, “This is it, its time for me to go now. I’m going to sleep, I love you.” I said, “I love you too.” I watched him breath as he tried to rest and then his mom and I started talking. A couple minutes later, with both of us beside him, I looked down at Chris sleeping and there was blood draping from the corner of his mouth. His chest rose and fell, never rising again.

My grief was loud and uncontrollable. For 10 minutes I cried hard, clinging to his hand. I could hear myself in my sadness, and I just couldn’t stop myself. Everyone who had gone back to bed was back up and around Chris, each grieving in our own way. Then I just had this release, and I became calm. I stepped away grabbing a tissue. I left to take a shower, and in that moment I felt tremendous loss but also an equally felt relief that it was all over. The struggle was done and the race was completed.

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From the time of Chris’s death until his memorial service I became focused again. It was Chris’s goal that even after he was gone, Christ would be proclaimed to those who attended his memorial. I worked on obituaries, memorial cards, the selection of songs and the order of service. I stayed busy. I compiled stories and asked specific people to read at his service, including myself. Then the day finally came. I had been looking forward to it all week. It was Chris’s long talked about accomplishment. Then all of a sudden we were there and people started showing up and before I knew it we were walking in. In my hand was little Lorenzo’s hand and the rest of the bunch behind me. In what seemed like seconds we were already done with the first slideshow and friends were coming up to read. The entire day completely flew by. I was so tired at the end of the day but, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and couldn’t stop the intense feelings that it was all over. Only this time the feelings were heavy and painfully overbearing. It was all over and now my life has to go on with out him. Everything has been accomplished. His purpose was over. It was a long night.

It has been 3 days since the memorial service and each day is getting easier. There are still times when I cry and other times when I am surprised I’m not crying. I still laugh when my daughter makes a silly face and smile just as much as I did before but I am different. I have changed. Its not bad, its actually a very good thing. I have grown in ways that I feel like its been overnight. I am in a strange middle ground, a land between, but I am learning to find joy in it. I don’t want to be too distracted or busy and I don’t want to be lazy and discouraged.

I want to truly live exactly where I am, in the present. Not in the past and not in the future.

It is not very often in life that you have a chance to start over and seek a new direction, a new purpose. It is scary, but I am not afraid, because I am not alone. God is here and is with me.