A Gift

I have to apologize for not writing in a while. My life recently has been a whirlwind of emotions, mostly really good. I could easily compare it to a roller coaster. The last couple months have been extremely fun and exhilarating, but I feel like I am also trying to cling to God’s hand with anxiousness and fear and hope all at the same time.  My life is not incredibly busy, although running after my daughter has become a full time job, but my emotions and thoughts run me exhausted most days.

I will try and explain as best as I can 🙂

Meeting Tyler and getting to know him and falling in love with him has been a joyous and unexpected surprise. And I know not everything in my life is orchestrated by God, but I am completely convinced that God had this one planned out. I completely give God all the credit. Honestly, there were too many answered prayers to make me believe otherwise. Lets just say that Tyler brings me an incredible amount of joy, and every time he shows me love I am reminded of the love that God also has for me.

With all this new joy and love in my life also comes unexpected pain and sadness. Its like I have opened myself up to feel all the good, but I also feel everything else as well. Less then a year ago, Chris was my first and really my only. I married my high school sweetheart. And our relationship grew to be more mature based on the love and respect God intended for a husband and wife.  Now, in my new relationship, I know and feel love for another and it’s good and wonderful, but it also reminds me of the love I had for Chris and his love for me as well. This is a very good thing. Chris and Tyler share several similar qualities, and Tyler’s character often reminds me of Chris’s. I of course wouldn’t want it any other way, its why I haven’t looked back; but sometimes those qualities remind me of Chris, and I can’t help but miss him.

The only thing that is getting me through is sharing my thoughts and feelings to those who I trust, telling my story to friends or sometimes people who I just met for the first time, and realizing my struggle to a God who understands. About a week ago my good friend Bethany and I hosted a Christmas party at Dégagé Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids. Close to 200 men and women who, for whatever reason, have found themselves without a home, came to our Christmas party. I was able to catch up with some old friends who we knew from a couple years ago when we served at Heartside Park. I was also able to talk to several people I had never met before. One gentleman called me over to talk as I was passing by. He was an older African American who was missing most of his teeth but still had quite a smile. He started asking me several questions wanting to get to know me, and at this point I am very comfortable answering “I am widowed” when the “Are you married?” question comes.

I love this question actually because it makes the conversation go from surface to deep and intentional and real. I believe it’s the only kind of conversations we should really have as followers of Christ. I can immediately be open and real with a stranger, and when these conversations happen a stranger can become a friend in very short time. We talked for several minutes but the words that I remember the most from him is when he said, “Now listen, I can see that you have a lot of joy in your life, and I feel sorry for your husband who passed away because he doesn’t get to have that joy any more. But you find someone else that you can share your joy with, thats what your husband would have wanted.”

Its incredible what you can learn from those who you least expect.

I know that Chris misses me and all of us who he left, but I know that the joy he is experiencing is far greater then I can ever imagine. However, I never considered before that my life and the joy and love I have in life but also the pain, would be a gift to someone else. I never considered that I am a gift to Tyler. I realize how much he is a gift to me. He is the first person and sometimes the only who I share my deepest and darkest emotions too. He knows that I still miss Chris because he is there when I am sad, and he understands. I know my gift.

But I realized that day, from a man who did not have much to give, gave me a tremendous gift of realization that I am a gift to someone else.

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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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. 

 

 

 

 

Dance in the Downpour

Dear Gabby,

Today as you were busy giving sloppy open mouth kisses to your adoring grandparents, your Uncle Dan and I spent our day listening with our ears and digesting with our hearts a host of information, wisdom, and advice from writers who have already gone ahead of us. I am listening to these writers because I want to learn how to write my story and your Daddy’s story so it will not be lost, and that it can be a part of your story.

I’m sorry to say that what I discovered about writing today is very much like that first tooth in your mouth that is still stubbornly hiding behind your gummy smile. It’s there, but it can be quite a process of pain and it is very uncomfortable. And of course to help relieve your pain, you chew on coffee tables, people’s fingers and Mommy’s I Phone cord. It’s taken me a while to realize this, but you are teaching me to work through the pain of my writing instead of screaming about it. And I can only work through it by involving others into my story. Granted sometimes chewing on fingers is easier then chewing on people’s heartstrings. A physical reaction of pain is easier to see from a friend then an emotional reaction to pain, especially the pain in my own life.

I realized today that I have a lot of work and a lot of writing ahead of me. I love writing. I love writing about you and your Daddy and the small drop of knowledge I have of God in the vast ocean of who He is. I will always love to write, but I have to decide if I should still write on the nights when I am sad and lonely, or the nights when I am tired, or the nights when I am lazy. On those nights when you’re dreaming of that first taste of Mommy’s Reese Pieces with your new and long awaited teeth, I will be laying in bed wondering if writing with that much passion, vulnerability and work is really worth it? (I have to admit, it’s very hard to resist those cute beanie boo eyes of yours. Inching closer to me in such anticipation almost transforms me into this programmed robotic mom who would give you anything you wanted.)

So Peanut, if you see me this week sitting down at my computer, but produce a look of confusion, discouragement and anxiety, you will know that your Mommy answered her question. She answered herself; yes, it is worth the “hard” to share the story. It is worth the nakedness to have the open, unfiltered community. It is worth the risk of failure for the chance to love and to live as I have always been called by Christ.

One day, my daughter, you will have many adventures. You will have places that you want to go and things that you want to do. And the best things are when you get to play in the mud and rain and get dirty. Its easy to live in a partly cloudy, predictable and pleasant climate, but where’s the fun in that? Not just the fun but where is the joy, where is the wonder in predictable? I might regret saying this, but I give you permission to live and get messy. I want you to feel the wet and residual clumps of mud between your sinking toes into the earth below, I want you to see the masterpiece of beauty when you create your first finger painting, I want you to hear the cry of other kids who are hurting, I want you to smell the rain in the middle of a downpour, and I want you to speak the truth to your friends through fear and rejection and self-consciousness.

Things are very unpredictable right now and your Mommy feels like she is caught in a downpour. Many adults that I know do not like to get caught in a downpour of rain. Once you start caring about what you look like, you probably wont like it either. But your Mommy is learning to appreciate the downpour, like a child.  In the downpour you can play and dance and feel a freedom that is unlike any other feeling in the world. You just have to get past the heavy clothes which cling to your body, the standing water in your shoes announcing to everyone you’re presence by a “squish” and it reveals your appearance to others; disheveled, imperfect and messy. Is it worth it? Gabby, do you think it’s worth it for Mommy to dance in the downpour?

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.

Gabby walking to her “Da-Da”

While I was talking to a friend at the hospital a little over a week ago, Chris, laying in his bed, had a dream that Gabby was taking her first steps as his hands went up in the air to catch her. This is a video of Gabby walking towards her Daddy with her walker. I had to share it with all of you. One of my best “now” memories ever! 🙂