Monday, December 31, 2012

2012...

I started to write a totally different post, one in which detailed all the crappy things that happened in the year 2012.  It would have been quite lengthy, I assure you.  But as I began to type, I thought to myself, "This is really not beneficial..."

So, instead, I will write about the blessings 2012 brought me.  And as I stop to think about them, there were many blessings buried in the midst of the bad.

God blessed us immensely through Scott's new job.  When he decided to make the change from the car business to the camper world, we were very uncertain how things would turn out.  It was a risk worth taking, however.  The change has been a huge blessing for our family.  Scott is only minutes away from home when he is at work.  He was able to help me out with the kids when my mother was so sick.  He is working less hours and making good money.  I am amazed at how God provided this place for Scott at just the right time in our lives.  God is good.

I have been blessed by new relationships in my life this year.  But not by way of new people.  Losing my mom is the single worst thing that has ever happened to me, but through this loss, I have learned new things about people who were already in my life.  I see a whole new side of my husband in his patience with me as I grieve.  I have seen this amazing side to my Madalyn that is so tender and philosophical and precious.  It has completely changed my relationship with her, and I am so thankful.  But the relationship which has changed the most this year is that of my father and I.  We are close in a way we have never been before, relying more on one another than I ever dreamed possible.  And that is such a dear blessing to my heart.

I have also experienced many little blessings this year, far too many to count, in which some of my sisters in Christ have ministered to my soul in ways I never dreamed possible.  Prayers.  Cards.  Texts.  Facebook messages and emails.  Little gifts in the mail.  I stop and think about the many ways in which God has moved through so many of His beautiful vessels to remind me that He cares for me, and it leaves me speechless.  Thank you to each and every one of you... you know who you are.

Perhaps one of the biggest blessings I gained this year was a deeper more authentic connection with my Savior.  I am still not finished working on myself, or, rather, He is not finished working on me.  I have a multitude of imperfections.  But I have such a stronger connection to who He is and who He wants to be in my life and a deeper understanding of the Peace only He can offer.  And I will be eternally grateful for the ways in which He has blessed me, comforted me, loved me, held my heart together during this most difficult year.  He is the only thing that keeps me moving forward... I am nothing without Jesus, and this year has taught me that.

Saying goodbye to this year is difficult, but starting fresh is promising.  Taking what I have gained in the midst of my deep loss will sustain me for many years to come.

Blessings to all my friends in the year to come!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On this side of Christmas...

The past week has been riddled with the most severe anxiety I have ever experienced.  I never knew that this was a part of grief until it happened to me... the nervousness, the racing heart, the pit in the stomach, the feeling that my heart may jump right out of my chest.  But it is.  It's this real part of grief that I don't think many people expect because most people don't talk about it.

The fact is that I have never experienced Christmas without my mother.  Not one.  Never had a Christmas that she wasn't a part of to some degree.  So the anxiety of having my first without her in the world seems normal.  But why did it take me by surprise?  Why did I really believe that I could sail through it and not feel like I was going to die?  I don't know...

I found myself holding onto her more than ever since I lost her, more than when I watched her slipping away.  I made the two homemade treats she made every Christmas, divinity and the cake we called the Santa Clause cake, which is just a devil's food cake with a homemade icing.  I used her old recipes that she wrote down over thirty years ago.  It felt good to do something she would have done if she were still alive, and it made me feel somewhat closer to her.  But it didn't make anything feel less painful

I have cried more in the past week than I did the week that she died.  The grief was the most physical it had ever been, with the chest pains and racing heart and nausea.  There were moments in which I felt I couldn't make it one more second, moments in which all I could do was utter Jesus under my breath.  I felt distracted and unable to concentrate on much of anything, so detached from the holiday going on around me.  It was hard to imagine the joy of the season without her here, hard to picture what things would be like.

But here I am on the other side.

As the day progressed yesterday, the weight lifted off my chest.  The anxiety diminished.  My heart slowed down.  Today I find myself feeling a little numb.  In many ways, I am looking forward to a new year, the first year of my life without my mother.  But in another way, I feel like it separates me even further from her, to begin something new without her.  But life moves forward.

I think that's one of the trickiest parts of grief.  I am constantly looking backwards in my mind, reliving the good and the bad, thinking of all the ways she touched my life.  All the while, life carries on.  And I keep looking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth between what was when she was here and what will be without her.  I am stuck somewhere in the middle trying to figure it all out, knowing there will be a day when the dizzying back and forth becomes less frequent.  Less painful.

Until then, I carry on as best I can.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The house is quiet this morning.  The kids are still asleep, the dishwasher hums in the background, and I am sipping my coffee.

It's Christmas Eve.

My heart is full, but in a different way than it normally is.  There's the excitement of watching my kids enjoy the season.  There's gratitude for the reason behind this holiday, in Christ becoming an humble man in order to save my imperfect soul.  And this year there is great sadness in my heat as well.  Great sadness and grief, and this is the first Christmas of my life in which I've experienced such emotions.

It's strange.

A holiday that is built around love and family and happiness and togetherness means something different to me this year.

I keep trying to go back to last Christmas in my mind, trying to remember what we did and what made it uniquely it's own.  But the details are fuzzy, and that makes me even more sad.  I can't remember how she fit into the picture last year other than what she wrapped up in a box and gave to me and what we ate for dinner when we had our holiday get together.  And that makes me sad.

I had suspicions it could be our last Christmas with her, but didn't really know.  Would it have been better to know for sure?  I don't know.

And now I see Christmas so differently than I ever have before.  I think about all the people all over this country who have sadness in their hearts during this season because of the losses they have suffered.  I think about how difficult it is for them to function during this time.

Dear Lord... I thank you for the precious gift of Jesus Christ you gave to all the world in order that we may experience Your love and grace...  I thank you, Jesus, for lowering yourself to earth and suffering so that I may know eternal life... I come to you on behalf of those hurting this holiday season, those whom are lonely and grieving, those who may not be feeling the spirit of Christmas.  I pray that each one will feel Your love and mercy and peace wrapped around them in a special and real way this year.  I pray in your name... Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mama,

My tree looks beautiful this year.  I decided to buy a new one, put it in a totally different place, and just mix things up this year, our first without you.  The kids will be so happy... David is finally getting an Ipod touch and Madalyn is getting Justin Bieber tickets.  I have overdone it maybe a little this year, but you remember what a struggle we have had during some years in the past, so it was nice to be able to splurge on a couple of things.

We're getting together with your family on Saturday afternoon.  Your brothers will be there, and your sister's daughters.  I am making the dressing.  It's not nearly as good as how Grandmother used to make, but I think it will please most everyone.  We'll all be at Trey's new house which is beautiful and open enough to accommodate a big crowd like that.

Then we'll be at your house that night... me, Trey, and Todd, the grand kids, and dad.

This week has felt so strange.  I find myself in a blue haze.  It's Christmas, but it just doesn't feel the same.  I have a huge pit in my stomach, and my heart is racing at times.  And I just want it to be done and over with.  Well, that's not all together honest... what I really want is for you to still be here.  But that's not a possibility.

I know people say that you are here, that you are always with me, but it doesn't feel that way.  God is always with me, and you are with Him, so we share a spiritual connection, but you are definitely not here.  Your voice, your presence, your advice, everything that made you you is gone.  And it is missed so deeply.  There is  no word to adequately describe how deep.

Sometimes I feel like that world has forgotten about you.  And all the while my mind continues to remember you more and more each day.  I do my best to carry on, and most days I do fine, but the past few have more difficult than I expected.  It's so strange.

I wonder if I will ever stop missing you.  I doubt it.  I just guess it won't be so sharp as the time passes by, as the new experiences of this new world without you wash over the grief again and again, softening the edges.

As for you... well, to be honest, I can't imagine a better place to have Christmas than in heaven.  I am envious of you in a way.  You are there, and you are at unimaginable peace.  I wouldn't pull you away from there even if I could, not for even a minute.  You fought so hard, so long and endured so much along the way, and I am so happy for you.

Please give my grandmother a hug for me.  I miss her, too.  Her sweet smile, her long slender fingers, and her pound cake.  I miss her handwriting on a card, her attempt at gifts, and stepping on pins in her carpet.  I am so glad she didn't have to spend a Christmas without you, though, so I a happy for her, too.

Merry Christmas, Mama.  I love you.  I will forever love and miss you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The words...

He said the words I've been dreading for many years.  He said them in the car on the way home from school.  And he said it with no doubt in his voice.  No doubt at all.

"Mama... I know.  You don't have to pretend any more."

But I want to pretend.  I want him to believe in magic, in Santa, in flying reindeer that never grow weary, in an bottomless bag of toys.

I still want to believe.  So I definitely want him to believe.

The years, they are flying as fast as Santa's sleigh on a cold winter's eve.  I can't slow them down or bottle them to open at a later date and re-enjoy.  So strange the beginning years of my son's life I wished away... and now I find myself clinging to time.

The day is coming soon that I won't need to hide gifts or have things shipped to another address.  The innocence of childhood fleeting and the magic of the little paper flakes we sprinkle on our elves at night is fading.  Christmas will take new shape and meaning and fit into a much smaller box sooner than I want to admit.

I already miss it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Simplicity...

There was a time in which I didn't believe I was much of a Christian.  I didn't fit the mold I had constructed in my mind throughout my youth of the soft-spoken, panty hose clad, skirt to the knee, Sunday school attending fine Christian lady.  I didn't necessarily (and still don't, as a matter of fact) subscribe to any one denomination of thinking.  I don't want to be given a list of things to believe by someone else; I want to discover what I believe on my own.

I felt that because I didn't look and act and talk like the ladies I saw sitting in the pews of the church when I was little that I didn't belong in the Kingdom of God.

I was wrong.

Remembering there was once a day when there were no fancy buildings, little plastic cups with grape juice, sound systems and doctrinal codes gives me a fresh perspective of Jesus.  Rereading the Gospels opens my eyes to Jesus' acceptance of all.

People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.  {Matthew 14:35b-36}

I guess word spread across the land at record speed.  Some called Him a prophet, some The Messiah, some the Son of God, but seemingly the masses deemed Him the Great Healer.  People came from all around, they followed Him, they drew near just to touch the edge of His clothing.  And, furthermore, they believed that if they did, they would be healed.

This is beyond anything I can fathom in our modern society.  Beyond how I felt about the New Kids on the Block when I was 13.  More than the Justin Bieber craze, the Dave Ramsey phenomenon, more than adoration and appreciation for one's talents or beliefs, whether secular or religious.

It was hope.  Pure, divine Hope.  And Jesus didn't with hold it from anyone.  No one.  He didn't stop in the crowds to ask if they had prayed a special prayer, had been baptized, if they drank too much of the wine last Friday night or had eaten eat pork, if they had bowed and prayed to an idol that very day... He healed as He walked through the crowds.  And not even an active healing, a laying on of the hands, but rather giving permission to allow His Power to transfer through the act of Belief and Hope in Him.

Am I the only one who is so humbled and amazed by this?  That Jesus, had I have lived in that day, would have healed me from any ailment if I simply believed and touched the edge of His cloak.

There are so many days that I don't have the energy to do much more that reach my hand out and barely touch the edge.  Many days I don't feel worthy enough to get too close to Him.  Truth is, none of us are worthy, but He doesn't care.

Reach out your hand, my friend.  He is there.  And He asks no questions.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Heaven...

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

We had been out and about purchasing fresh sand for Crystal, the hermit crab that will most likely never die because she grosses me out.  Madalyn selected a bright pink and white, and we found a cheap Sterilite box to keep her in so she would have more room to roam about.  Scott drilled holes in the plastic top, and Madalyn spread the fresh sand, mixing her fingers through the white and obnoxious pink to blend a lovely lighter shade.  We placed Crystal in her new home, and she seemed pleased.  Madalyn was as well.

Later that evening, as I asked for my goodnight kiss, we had the following conversation:

"I bet Gammie likes that sand, Mama."
"Oh, I bet she does..."
"You know, we are with her all the time."
"Oh, really..."  At this point I thought she may be confused, thinking that Gammie is with us in our hearts even though she's not physically here with us.  This is something we've talked about before.
"Yeah, we're with her all the time.  We have a house up there, too.  And she's with us in our house, and she has Crystal and Buddy and Millie, too.  They're her pets now, too.  She can see everything because we're already with her."

Her words stunned me.

"That's a really neat way to think about heaven.  I like it... I like it a lot," I said, bewildered and intrigued at the same time.  She amazes me, the words that come from her mouth so pure and unadulterated, so matter of fact but not sharp in any way.

Truth is, it's really hard to be forced to sit down and talk about heaven with your children.  Not in a we'll be there one day sort of way, but in a your Gammie is about to go there way.  I don't know how many people reading these words have had to have that conversation with a seven and ten year old, but it's tough, and there are tears, confusion, and hurt on both the child and adult side.  It's one I will never forget.  And I venture to say neither one of my children will ever forget it either.

But then there are subsequent conversations about heaven with your kids, ones that you can have once someone you all deeply love has gone ahead of you.  Conversations, words, thoughts, ideas we get to bounce around because of such a great loss.  Because of our Gammie's physical death, we are able, as a family, to talk about heaven in a different way, to think about love and spiritual connection differently than I ever dreamed possible.  To discuss grace and forgiveness and the promise of heaven in such a tangible way, as real as our sweet Gammie was to us before she passed.  It's a blessing in the midst of a heavy loss.  Heaven and salvation becomes less about what's written in a book and more about an experience to them.  And, for that, I am grateful

Maybe Madalyn is on to something.  I think about what would make my mother happy.  She would be surrounded by all of those she loved.  Her mother and sister who reached heaven before her.  Her relatives that she left behind.  Maybe she's surrounded by all those souls already.  Maybe not.  Maybe that's just how my sweet and surprisingly philosophical almost eight year old can make sense of heaven in her mind.  Whatever the case may be, it's lovely way to think about where my mom is.  And I firmly believe our souls are forever connected even now as they are separated by earthly atmosphere.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  {Jesus, Mark 10:14-15}

Monday, December 3, 2012

The tears began to well up in my eyes as I read the words, seemingly ordained specifically for me on this very day:

Do not be surprised by the fiery attacks on your mind.  When you struggle to find Me and to live in My Peace, don't let discouragement set in.  You are engaged in massive warfare, spiritually speaking. {Excerpt from December 3 entry of Jesus Calling, Sara Young}

I have been struggling to find Him, to feel Him, as of late.  I find myself roaming through each day, making it from morning to afternoon to night, going to bed, and doing it all again.  Making it through the first Thanksgiving without her, the first Christmas shopping excursion without her, the first putting up of the tree, the first random Tuesday after Thanksgiving without her... without her.

Seems each day is raw and new, and yet still another day without her, each one filled with a deep silent sadness, ever present but not all together consuming.  I rise above the sadness at various points in the day... laughing at Madalyn and her wittiness, enjoying the purchase of something my David really wants for Christmas, ending the day with entertaining television and conversation with my best friend and husband.  But the silent sadness is there all throughout the day, raining down on my me like black confetti.  At Target as I looked through the girls' clothing department looking at the Holiday outfits for my daughter, knowing that was something that she normally did for her, buying her a cute outfit or dress for the season.  I will most likely not be able to buy her a dress this year... just not sure I can bring myself to do so.  Looking at the Christmas plates and napkins and wondering which ones she would have picked out this year for our annual family dinner.  Having that moment take me completely off guard when I'd like to pick up the phone and call her to tell her about something Madayln has said that I know she would adore.

Those are the moments that play out inside my brain all day long every single day.  Each day is new and fresh, and my heart still relives the pain of losing her all over again.  I don't speak about these moments... I feel they are too sacred, special moments to share with her even though she is gone.  And no one else would understand anyway.  To cry at the sight of paper napkins and plates makes little sense to anyone else but me.

And so I have found myself feeling a little lost.  A little disappointed by grief, discovering that it is not something that ever goes away, not something the gets better if you just dig your feet in an work a little harder.  No, it has filled the space in my heart that she once filled.

And, so, I wonder as I walk through the aisles of my local stores and look in the mall for gifts and plan our holiday activities how many other people walk about with the same Spiritual War going on inside of them.  A battle against grief, against a sadness that can overwhelm our souls if we give way to it.

Let me share another little bit of the same devotion above:

When you find yourself in the thick of battle, call upon my Name: "Jesus, help me!"  At that instant, the battle becomes Mine; your role is simply to trust Me as I fight for you.

I love the imagery of Jesus fighting for me.  I love knowing that He lived here on earth, the He loved and laughed and lost.  I love knowing that He ultimately conquered death.  I love knowing that He understands me in the deepest part of my soul the way no other person can.

As I read through the verses referenced at the end of the devotion, I was reminded of one of my favorites in Isaiah, one that meant so much to me during the months my mother fought that dreadful disease.  And I will close with those words...

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."  {Isaiah 43:1-3}

AMEN.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give thanks...

Three batches of cornbread made.  Need to mix in the ingredients for the dressing.
A batch of salted caramel and chocolate pretzel bark ready for breaking.
Batch of pecan pie cookies to bake today.
Bathrooms need to be cleaned, entire house straightened, floors vacuumed and or swept, kitchen mopped.
Need to map my cooking game plan for tomorrow since we are eating a few hours earlier.
Pictures for the holiday card to be taken today.

Got just a little to do.

In the midst of this busyness, there's a quiet whisper in my soul reminding me to soak it in.  Reminding me that in a blink of an eye, things can all change leaving my normal life looking totally different.  I glance back in my mind to last year, last Thanksgiving, and I miss what was normal then.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  {1 Thessalonians 5:16-18}

Give an extra hug tomorrow.  Maybe a little longer hug than normal.
Take more pictures.
Let the dishes lie where they may until the guests are gone.
Soak it in, my friends.  Enjoy.  Laugh.  Love deeply.
And in it all, give thanks to the God of all Creation, our Strength, our Portion, our All.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ornament...

There's a part of me looking forward to pulling out the Christmas decor, rummaging through each box, looking at the pieces one by one and placing the spirit all over the house.  But then there's this other part of me that dreads it, knowing that most of what I have in some way reminds me of her.  Knowing that Christmas will never be the same.  It will be good in its own way, but never quite the same.

So many of my ornaments came from my mom.  She bought me Winnie the Pooh ornaments for years. I can't say how many I have.  She's bought me angels and crosses and whatnot.  In fact, I have purchased very few of my ornaments for myself.  But that has changed now, too.

I knew I wanted to buy one this year.  I needed to, you know.  Needed to keep a tradition alive for myself even though only the shell of the tradition itself remained.  I would purchase my own ornament without the ooh's and ahhh's of my mother at my side.  I would look for the perfect one which would make me feel like a little piece of her were hanging on my tree.  There are so many pieces of her to hang on the tree in the Pooh ornaments, the ones from my childhood, the many from Holiday shows we perused together.  It's hard to imagine no new pieces to join the others from Christmases past. So I will carry it on.  Carry it on without her presence, though she is ever present in my heart.

I found it hanging in the back of the little gift shop on a magnificent tree.  Mercury glass, eyes beaming into my soul with a magical stare.  A sweet little owl.  One she would have loved for her own tree.  It was perfect, and I knew it the moment I saw it even though I already had a different one in my hand to purchase.  I put back the one I previously decided on, and picked up my new friend.  A new friend for my tree.

New.  Everything seems so new and different.  As I tried to start my Christmas shopping yesterday, it felt like the first time I had ever done it.  I went here and there with what seemed to be no direction.  But I must find it, the direction, the new way.  I must and I will.  In due time.

Life goes on.  Lights are popping up all around town.  Some already have their trees up.  A local radio station has been playing Christmas music since November 1st.  And I dig deeper... deeper still to find the spirit within me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My first turkey...

In case you haven't seen a calendar lately, I will clue you in on a little something... Thanksgiving is next  week, folks.

Several years ago, when I was young and still relatively naive (or stupid, whichever term you prefer), I decided to take on Thanksgiving for my husband's family.  At the time, they didn't have much of a tradition, and the first time I went to eat at a buffet in a hotel restaurant, I knew that as soon as we had a place that would accomadate the number of people, I would host Thanksgiving.

My first time to host, I don't think my mother-in-law was certain I could handle all the cooking.  I had never done a turkey, after all, and never made a skillet of cornbread much less put together dressing.  So she offered to do the turkey and dressing and bring it, and I did the vegetables and rolls and tea.  All went well, but I felt like I had jipped myself out of an adult Southern woman experience.  So I declared that I would be doing the bulk of the following Thanksgiving, and that's just what I did.

I got a recipe for cornbread dressing from an old co-worker that seemed easy enough.  I will never forget reading over it and being so confused at first because it hadn't dawned on me that the recipe was for baking the cornbread and then the second part was what you did with the cornbread once you made it.  See there... young, naive, and stupid.  But I figured it out, and I tried the recipe on Scott for lunch one day before November rolled around, and it was surprisingly tasty.  In fact, no one could have been more surprised than I was in the moment that I tasted that cornbread dressing and realized it was actually good.

I purchased my turkey and thawed the big bird out in the kitchen sink according to package directions.  And then I did what any old Southern youngin' would do with a big raw turkey... I called my mom to come over and help me.  She reached her hand inside the gut of Mr. Turkey and pulled out all the stuff I was afraid to touch.  And then she retrieved the neck from the other side.  She showed me how to rinse it rub it down with oil while I curled my nose up at the notion of having to touch what once was covered with feathers and made funny noises.

But I did it.  And the next year, I had the complete turkey experience all by myself, putting my hands in the strange places and rinsing and preparing.  I can remember talking to my mother on the phone and her saying, "You did it?  You pulled out the giblet packet and the neck?"  Why, yes, I had, and I was darn proud of myself.

She was proud of me, too.

My first turkey.  I think about him every year when I am preparing for a new Thanksgiving.  This year, I am remembering how much she helped me through those first years and how proud she was when she saw I could do it all by myself.

Sure do miss that lady.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just because...

There's this whole side to Jesus I had been missing all along.

This is what I read this morning:
Soon afterward, Jesus went into a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out - the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  {Luke 7:11-15}

My jaw fell open as I read this passage.  I have read this account before, of that I am certain.  I've read every word of the New Testament before.  This little story is nestled between the faith of the Centurion and the woman with the alabaster jar, but I have no recollection of it, and none of it has been highlighted or underlined in either of my Bibles.  So this morning, I feel like I've unearthed something for the first time in this magnificent Word.

I imagine the scene.  I try to put myself on the dusty streets in the handmade clothing of that widow.  One son, now dead.  Who will take care of her?  How will she go on?  All that she had, lost, dead.  Not only her heart but her means of making it in the society around her.

She was stripped down to bare.  Nothing remained.  Grief so heavy one could see it as it weighed down upon that widow.  A grief too heavy for one to bear, the mass of it too much for her frame to handle.

I feel the grief, as Jesus did, too.  For he saw her... the Lord saw her, and his heart went out to her.    And then he said to her, "Don't cry."

Those two words in my Bible in bright red just protrude from the page.  "Don't cry," He says to me, an understanding, loving whisper I have never heard from Him before.

But He did not stop there.  No, He never stops where we think He should.  That's the lovely part about Jesus that makes no sense even to some Christians in our modern society who profess His name the loudest.  Jesus did something He had not even been asked to do, completely unsolicited, and seemingly out of sheer empathy.  He brought the dead man back to life.

Grace.

Precious friend, if you are reading these words today, it is no mistake.  Just as my discovery of this story for what seems to be the first time was no mistake as well.  Allow Jesus to touch your life, restore you, have His mighty way with you.  It's strange and familiar all at the same time.  Allow His Grace to wash over your soul and secure your place in Heaven for you, undeserved and unsolicited.  And don't listen to the voice of Satan anymore that tells you perhaps your misgivings and sins are bigger than the fellow next to you.  They're not.  There's enough clean water to go around.  Bathe in it... His love, His mercy, His amazing Grace.

And then, turn around, and share that love.  Share it, let it flow from you unending.

"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."  {Luke 7:47}

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pansies...

I felt the need to plunge my hands in the soil, dark, moist and damp between my fingers.  Add a little color to the porch in way of bright mums and pansies.  A flash of life amidst the falling leaves, brittle and brown, covering the fading green of the lawn.

Life in a sea of death.

I have always loved fall, but this one feels different.  Everything feels different.  The luscious colors in the trees, deep mustards and brick reds, are heavy on my eyes and heart.  I look at each leaf, different shapes and sizes and colors, and I can't help but think, "When she died, these were new, just beginning."

Grief brings about a different perspective on the world and every little thing in it.

I was drawn to the pansies.  Can't say I have ever really planted them before, but this year, they called my name.  There's something so interesting about flowers that thrive in cooler temperatures.  It seems so far from what flowers should like... sunny, warm days would be my favorite if I were a flower.  But the pansies prefer a little lower sun than that of June, a little cooler temp than that of the summer.

I found a little planter already established with lovely periwinkle colored blooms on the clearance rack.  There were some dry areas, but I knew the planter alone was worth the $4 price tag.  I picked the dead pieces off and gave it a little water and found a place for it on my front porch.  This morning the pansies were cheerful, and it made me hopeful that they liked their new home.

In another planter, I mixed a variety of bold colors, plum, vivid yellow, deep crimson, and white with a dark center.  In a couple of weeks, they will all intermingle with one another and be a lovely mound of autumn color.

I am feeling so varied like that pot of pansies.  So many colors.  Mixture of emotions.  My mind seems to spiral in weird swirling motions, unable to focus on much of anything at all.  With the fall came the leaves and less sunlight and yet, still, more grief.  The grief never runs thin, I am finding out.

I look around me.  It all moves forward.  Another season beginning.  It reminds me of a passage in Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.  {Ecc 1:3}

There is a time for the leaves to fall and for them to spring forth from the trees again.
A time for flowers to bloom and to wither away.
Even a time to dance and a time to mourn.

But how long is the season of mourning?  No one knows.

If I seem off, it's because I am.  If I seem sad, it's because I am.  If I seem disinterested, detached, unfocused, it's because I am.  But I remain hopeful I will find a way to thrive.  If not today, if not tomorrow, somewhere right around the bend.

I will be like the pansy one day.  I will thrive with a little less light.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dear Mama,

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Do you keep up with stuff like that in heaven?  I don't know.  I wouldn't want to keep up with birthdays in heaven.  Or keep up with anything in particular for that matter.

So, tomorrow, I will be thirty-six.  Somehow, I never dreamed I'd be turning thirty-anything without you in the world.  Or forty or fifty-anything either.  It's so weird.  Weird to still have so much to share with you and yet you're gone.

Today, if you were still alive, we would have convinced dad to keep the kids while we drove to Wetumkpa to Southern Homes and Gardens for their annual Christmas Open House.  We started going back when I was Madalyn's age.  I remember walking around in amazement at the coordinated trees and decorations.  We never had anything that fancy in our house.  Our stuff was hodgepodge and handmade, but beautiful nonetheless.  At Southern Homes and Gardens, everything matched perfectly and the trees were full with stunning ornaments and lights.  Like a Christmas fantasy world with price tags.  You always bought me an ornament, and when my grandmother went with us, she did the same.

We would have gone, and we would have maybe gone to Belk.  And then we'd have gone back to your house and visited a while.  And then I would drive home with the kids for a normal Saturday night around here.  But there's nothing normal anymore.  Like my birthday... tomorrow... and I'd rather just pretend it wasn't a day unlike any other.

It's hard to imagine a birthday without the woman who gave birth to you.

I'm so tired of missing you.  I never knew what people meant before when they said, "Come quickly, Lord."  But I do now.  For when He comes, I won't miss you anymore.  We'll be together again in some capacity.  I don't suppose I'll need a Mama in heaven, but it will be so nice just to feel your presence again.

Until then...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This time seven years ago...


Seven years ago, I strolled this little flower around trick-or-treating.  A Blue Power Ranger darted around me, making noises with his mouth I never knew were humanly possible.  My house was always clean back then, toys contained to David's room and a small basket of baby stuff in the living room.  I was twenty pounds thinner, and I hadn't broken the thirty mark yet.  I probably only had five grey hairs on my head.  But do you know what stands out to me most about this time seven years ago?

We didn't know my mother had cancer yet.

It was in early November that we found out, that the call came in, that one word would change our lives forever.  It's hard to think back to a time when there was no cancer in my life, but this photo captures it in sheer perfection.  The simplicity of the life back then.  How easy it was to protect both my children from the uncertainty and disappointment of this world.  But now they know that life doesn't always come with a happily-ever-after, and that's a truth they will carry with them their whole life.

So funny how I would have never dreamed in the moment that I took the above photo that in seven years' time my mother would be gone.  Seven years... sounds so long, but boy has it flown by.

If I could bottle the last seven years, I would.  Open it up in the quiet grey moments when I need a splash of my Mama.  Instead, I can browse through photos, looking at them as I always have but finding different things within the frame.  Remembering what was going on behind the scenes.  Knowing that during this time or that time I had no idea how drastically different life would turn out than how I always thought it would.  Knowing how hard she fought, how brilliantly strong she was through it all.


Last night, neither one of them wanted their picture taken.  David is way better at faking a smile than my Madalyn.  Shortly after this photo, Madalyn locked herself in her room because she was scared of how one of our friends had his face painted.  She only went to a handful of houses and I walked her home to get ready for bed.  Our first Halloween ever to have a child that she was scared of nearly everything.  Funny.  But something tells me that I may not remember that little detail in seven years.  But I will always remember that that photo was from our first Halloween since my mother died.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I am with you...

My mother gave me the most amazing gift.  This little book that speaks to me in ways I never dreamed a little book could.

This morning, I read the following:
I am with you, I am with you, I am with you.  Heaven's bells continually peal with that promise of My presence.  Some people never hear those bells because their minds are earthbound and their hearts are closed to Me.  Others hear the bells only once or twice in their lifetimes, in rare moments of seeking Me above all else.  My desire is that My "sheep" hear My voice continuously, for I am the ever-present Shepherd
Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice.  Beginners need a quiet place in order to still their minds.  As you advance in this discipline, you gradually learn to carry the stillness with you wherever you go.  When you step back into the mainstream of life, strain to hear those glorious bells: I am with you, I am with you, I am with you.
{Jesus Calling, October 30th, Sarah Young}

I am with you.

He always is.  And He is always the same.  This has been most comforting in my ever-changing life.  I am living out a life I never dreamed possible... a world without my mother, the single most influential person in my life, my confidant, my friend.  I think back to when I knew the cancer would take her, long before she looked sick or had lost her hair for the second time, and I remember thinking, "I won't be able to live without her!"

Oh, but God knew better.  He always does.  He believes the things about us that we don't think are possible, for nothing is impossible with Him (Matthew 19:26).  He began a work inside of me that I couldn't explain, a living, breathing Work.  And He began to bathe over my soul with His healing and His Hope.

I look around the world today, one so busy and selfish and seemingly corrupt at every angle, and I am saddened.  I am sad that others haven't seen the God I have seen.  Haven't felt Him in their hearts, carried His love inside.  They are stressed and worn down by the weight of this sinful place, by the loss the sinful worlds brings upon us, by the endless and pointless worry.

If your mother dies from cancer at 65, it will be okay.
If your candidate for president doesn't win next week, it will be okay.
If hurricane Sandy has wrecked your home and your life, it will be okay.
If you've lost a friend in an argument, can't pay your bills this month and maybe the next, your car wouldn't start this morning, your kid told you they hate you, your marriage is broken, your dishwasher is broken, your cat threw up on the comforter.... no matter what the worldly problem is, it will be okay.

The glory of and with God is that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He has ample supply of Love, Hope, Peace, and Forgiveness.  And in Him is the Power to get up every single day and live, even when we think all is lost.  Because our earthly losses can be dealt with.  And He promises to use them for good in our lives (Romans 8:28).

Now I am not saying that our earthly troubles don't cause us to shed tears and give us anxiety, because I know they do!  But allow God to speak over those fears and worries and whisper His promises into your heart.  He will take care of you.  I know, because He has given me every little thing I have needed in the last 191 days without my Mama.  Every little thing I needed on every single one of those days.

If you doubt that it's possible, pull out your Bible and read what Jesus had to say about it... Matthew 6:25-33.

I will write more tomorrow on getting up and living, a post that's been brewing in my mind over the past few days.  For today, I am praying that the peace of God washes over your heart today if you have read these words.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yesterday, I went to Hobby Lobby and perused their selection of fake flowers.  I have never looked at flowers for the purpose of leaving them at a grave, so it was a new experience.  I settled on white lilies with a few small pink roses mixed in.  Simple.

Today, I assembled the ensemble into a plastic thingy with styrofoam inside it.  I am hoping it will fit inside that permanent vase on the headstone.  I can't decide if I am pleased with the flowers or not.  It's hard to say, "Oh, this looks nice..." when they are going to be on your mother's headstone.

Tomorrow, I will have my hair cut.  I am nervous and anxious and emotional.  I have never had this much hair cut off at one time.  Never made such a drastic change.  But I can imagine how much lighter my head will feel (hopefully literally and figuratively) once it is done.  Then we will go place flowers at the grave in honor of what would have been her 66th birthday.

Whoever you are reading these words right now, I am thankful that you have been on this journey with me.  I am thankful you have shared in my grief by reading the words here on my blog about my mother.  I feel like I carry her on by talking and writing about her.  And if you are reading these words and your mama is still alive, will you do something for me to help honor the relationship I had with mine?  Call her tomorrow, the 25th of October.  Tell her you love her for no reason.  Even if things aren't perfect and may be a little strained.  Call her, hug her, squeeze her and hang onto her.  For one day, my friend, she will be gone.  Live in such a way that there are no regrets with the ones you love.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pink sky...

I am not a morning person.  Neither was my mother.  I need a moment to collect myself before I can put my feet on the ground.  Some mornings, I talk to God, some to my mother, and others to Jesus Himself.  And then there are some I share with the old lady cat, Millie, lifting her to sit and purr on my chest.

This morning was shared with a pink sunrise.

Our bedroom is situated at the front of our house facing the road.  There is a bank of three windows flanked with two inch faux wood blinds that are never opened.  At the top of the windows and right in the very middle is a tiny half-moon shaped window that is much smaller in proportion to the three below it.  When we first moved in, it took some getting used to.  Depending on the season and time of month, the moonlight peaks its way through that little window.  On stormy nights, I can watch the motion of the trees in the wind, the streetlight shining behind them.  On sunny mornings, the light beams in on my face and there's no chance of sleeping late.

This morning I opened my eyes to a pink sky unlike I have ever seen before.  Pink.  I couldn't see the sun, only the magnificent color it rendered in the sky around it.  I winced and smiled at the same time.  That's the story of my life right now; pleasure and pain so equally dispersed.  For every thing I have been thankful for this month specific to my mother is also something that I miss so desperately about her.  So, though I have searched and found so many things I thank God for about my mother, I have also pinpointed an equal number of things I wish I still had.

But that's grief, I guess.  What we loved when they were living, we miss equally as much in their absence.

So how do you deal with it all?  How do you appreciate and miss something at the same time?  Perhaps this is why I am so tired lately...

I have found myself exhausted the last week.  Not tired or sleepy; exhausted.  Yesterday was the six month anniversary of her death.  Thursday is her birthday.  In another week and a half will be my first birthday without her.  The heaviness of right now takes so much energy to carry around.  And I am exhausted.

Someone brought up my mother Saturday night, and then apologized, saying, "I am so sorry I brought that up..."  I told them not to worry.  That whether it was brought up in conversation or not, I am always thinking about her.  In fact, when someone mentions her, I actually feel better.  I feel like the load I am carrying is acknowledged in some way, made more visible.  Then I don't feel so crazy.

I don't know what the moral of my post is today.  I can't say that it has one.  I am thankful for the beautiful pink of the morning sky this morning, and I do feel like it was a gift from God, reminding me that the beauty and the pain are sometimes so intertwined that you can't really tell them apart.  And that's okay.  That days like Thursday, my mother's first birthday in heaven, the day I cut this hair of mine so that someday down the road a cancer patient can wear it on her head in place of her own locks,  will be so equally painful and glorious that there's no sense in trying to make any sense of which is which.  "Just live it, Tamara," He says to me in the beauty of the sunrise.  "Just live on, and feel the pain with the joy, all of it I give to you."

Today I am thankful for the pink sunrise.  For the grief.  For the beauty and the pain of this internal struggle I fight every day.  For it is shaping my soul.  It will all work together for the good.  For that is what has been promised.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Six months...

Today it will be hard to be thankful.

I watched the sunrise as I drove home from her house.  My first drive home without her in the world.  Her soul had soared in the dark of night with the broad wings of the mysterious owl finding its ways back Home.  And, just like that, we found ourselves left behind and in the midst of grief.

I pulled my car back in the drive, unlocked the door, and escaped the damp chill in the air.  I climbed back in bed to sleep until the rest of the house would wake.

Every morning for the past six months, I have wanted to climb back in that bed.  I want to lie down and cover myself up in the warm comfy covers and let my body and mind rest.  I want to sleep.  I want to pretend like that day, April 22nd, didn't really happen.  I want to just let myself go, to not care, to succumb to the darkness of grief that hovers around me.

But I don't.  Some days it's harder than others to resist to the temptation to just lie down and not fight through the day, but I choose to go through it anyway.  I think this is where the thankfulness comes in...

I am thankful that my mom showed me how to fight through most anything.  

She never gave in.  Never gave up.  Never sulked around, never let anything get her down.  She chose to get up everyday and keep fighting.  Even when things seemed overwhelming and inevitable, she fought through whatever that day had in store for her.

If she could fight through her days laden with health problems, with pain, with every physical obstacle imaginable thrown into her path at some point in her battle with cancer, then I can fight through this grief.

Today, six months after she breathed her last, I am thankful for the fighting spirit she exemplified so well throughout her life.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Owls...

I am thankful for owls.

I perused the rack of cheap inexpensive Halloween inspired shirts at my local Walmart.  Don't judge... I buy clothes at Walmart sometimes.  Lots of bats and spiders and childish looking jack-o-lanterns adorned most of the shirts.  But then I saw him... a lovely owl.  That would be the one.

Owls surrounded me in my childhood home.  Little pewter and shiny brass owls on shelves.  Pictures of them on the walls.  Pottery owls found at local arts and craft shows.  Owl ornaments on the Christmas tree.  My mom loved owls.

The owl still remains to me one of the most mysterious creatures God made.  A few years ago, I had the privilege to see one take a short flight across our backyard.  We knew one lived somewhere up in the neighboring trees.  We could hear him talk in the deep black of night as we sat in the swing discussing our day.  One night, I heard a strange noise, one I can't put into words, and we looked up to see him, wings magnificently spread several feet across, swooping to another nearby tree.  It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

After all these years of looking at little owl trinkets, I was surprised by how large the owl was.  Taking something that is real and transferring it to a lifeless little idol takes away the awe and wonder of a living being.  I had been looking at an image of the owl all along, but to see it move in its natural state was breathtaking.

When I was little, I never knew what the owl would mean to me.  Last night, as I donned my Happy Owl-O-Ween tee shirt from Walmart at Madalyn's school fall festival and cued music for a reveling game of musical chairs, a lady stepped into the room with a lovely owl necklace hanging around her neck.  It was aged silver with brilliant blue jeweled eyes that seemed to stare right through me.

Every owl takes me to this place.  A place of joy and wonder.  Back to my mother's smile.  Back to a time when I didn't know that cancer existed.  Back to her, to her love of one of God's mysterious creatures.

I am thankful for owls, both real and all the tiny little images I find around me everywhere I go.  I am thankful for the owls because they remind me of the mother of my childhood.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Buds...

Today, I am thankful for buds.

I remember asking her, "Why is that Christmas cactus blooming?"  It was April and Easter, clearly not the time for any plant with the word Christmas in the name to be blooming.  She said she didn't know, that she had never seen one do that before.

Two weeks later, I busied myself around the house while she lay in the bed resting and waiting to be called Home.  I leaned down and picked up the bright pink blooms that were falling off the cactus from the floor.

Buds.  Blooms.  Fall.

I inherited the Christmas cactus.  I also have two plants that I haven't killed yet that came from my mother's service.  One small peace lilly and a beautiful indoor tree.  I was watering them all the other day when I noticed the buds on the cactus.

Buds.

The same plant that sat in her house on the floor just inside her front door.  The same plant she watered and cared for.  The same plant that was in full bloom as my mother lost her life.  The same plant going through the same cycle.  Another sign that life just keeps on going.

The buds, all tight and promising, caught me so off guard and took my breath away.  The sight of those tiny buds literally sucked the air out of my lungs.  Who knew that something so minuscule and surprising could effect me to such a degree?

Soon those buds will burst forth with vibrant color.  They will mark the beginning or end of a cycle.  I can't distinguish which the bloom marks... the beginning or the end?  But that's the thing about cycles.  They never end, unless they are interrupted by an outside force.

I live a life interrupted right now.  Interrupted by grief.  By loss.  By the weight of it all.  A life put on pause for long enough to try to figure out how to balance it and carry on.  How long does it take to figure that out?  I wonder.  I wonder and I keep on trying.

In the meantime, my own cycle continues.  The cycle of life at work within me.  I feel the tight and promising buds on the appendages of my soul.  I feel the growth, the intimacy with my God that I have never felt before.  I feel the changes within even though those changes sometimes feel more inconvenient than they do good.  I am so different.  So forever changed.  Reborn, in a sense, into a world without my mother.  Relearning.  Readjusting.  Reconfiguring my world both inside and out.

It's hard, the world without her.

I am thankful for the buds on her Christmas cactus, as painful as they were to see.  I hold onto the knowledge that one day soon they will release and open into brilliant blooms.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anniversary band...

I am thankful for her anniversary band.

I was with my dad the day he bought it.  I made a fuss about the anniversary band being yellow gold and her bridal set being white.  It didn't match, and that bothered me.

When she passed, I took it to have it sized to fit my right hand.  It's simple, the way she was.  Tiny diamonds across the top.  When my hands swell, which is a lot, I take off my own wedding band and solitaire and put the anniversary band on my left hand.

Sadly, right now, I think I wear it there more than my wedding band.  At least I still look married.

It's not a big rock of a diamond.  It's nothing fancy and expensive that would make anyone drool over.  But I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars.  I really wouldn't.

I am thankful for her anniversary band.  And I find it something other than ironic that my wedding set is yellow gold.  It matched after all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Housecoat...

I am thankful for her housecoats.

I slipped it on one day at the house when I got chilly.  My dad had the fan running on high, and I was cold.  It was hanging over the back of the high top bar stools in the kitchen like she would just walk in there and put it on herself.  Instead she lie all together motionless but for the labored breaths she took.

My mom was almost always cold except when she worked in the the yard in the thick of summer.  I am typically pretty cold natured, too, and I love to have a warm blanket or a cozy sweater to put on when I am in the house.  Several years ago, my mom gave me a cozy housecoat (for lack of a better term) for Christmas.  It wasn't a robe, but rather it was more like a jacket that you wear indoors.  It zipped up the front and was made from the same material those thick fluffy socks are made from.  I wore it until it was worn out.  I finally threw it away at the end of this past winter.

Mom had two of these housecoats of her own.  One was brown and zipped up the front like mine.  The other was creamy winter white and just lay open with no closures in the front.  That's the one that I slipped on at her house that day.  When I left that night, I put it back in its place just in case the miracle we all secretly wished for happened over night and she might need it again.

When my father and I started going through my mother's clothes, I was happy to take the two housecoats.  Not just because they were hers, but also because I knew that I would actually be able to use them, and that in using them, I would be reminded of her.

The mornings have been chilly lately, and because the temperatures like to soar back up to hot in the afternoons, I don't turn the heater on.  Instead, I have been reaching for one of those warm and cozy jackets my mom used to wear.  In a way, it feels a little weird when I where her stuff.  But in this other way, it's so comforting.  To know that she wore it not so very long ago.  To know that it made her warm.  To know that in this weird way she is wrapped around me.

I am so thankful for her housecoats.  They keep me warm, both body and soul.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Message...

I am so thankful for the message she left me....

We had almost lost her.  I will never forget the agony I felt when my brother called me to tell me that my mother had collapsed and had some markers that she may have suffered a stroke.  None of us knew what to think.  We knew that things had been a little off, and she had appointment set up to do a scan of her brain.  But nothing could have prepared us for the journey that brain tumor would take her on.

She went to the ER, and by the time I got there, it was clear to me that she wouldn't be walking out of that hospital.  This was serious.  A couple of days later, a surgeon opened up her skull and removed what he described as a baseball sized tumor from the base of her brain.  There was no way to know what kind of long term damage there was to her brain until time went by and the swelling went down.  My mom recuperated in the hospital for several days and was moved to a rehab facility to do the physical rehabilitation necessary for her to go back home and care for herself.

There were moments before and after my mother's brain surgery that I thought, "She's gone... she will never be the same."  But she proved me wrong.

A day or two after she was moved to rehab, I was talking on the phone with my dad discussing how she was doing and reacting to the rehab.  I saw that someone was calling in on my cell phone, but it was a number I didn't recognize, so I let the voicemail get it.  When I got off the phone with my dad, I checked the message, and to my surprise, it was my mother.

I still haven't erased it.

I am so thankful that I still have that message.

Every so often, when I check my voicemail, the system plays me the message and asks me if I want to save it again.  I say yes every time.

This morning, I went through that routine for the third time since her death.  I wonder how long I will save it?

I am so thankful to still hear her voice though it sounds a little different than she normally sounded.  I am thankful to hear her say, "I love you," one more time.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gammie...

I am thankful for the Gammie that she was.

Yesterday, I bought Madalyn three shirts at TJMaxx.  I showed them to her last night, and there was a long sleeve one with a few rhinestones and flowers and stuff at the top.  I told her that it made me think of Christmas.  She said, "It makes me think of Gammie."

I don't know what it is that stands out in her mind, but plenty does when it comes to her Gammie.  She will call me out to the driveway to look at the stars only to tell me that it makes her think about Gammie.  She is incredibly protective of anything her Gammie bought for her.  She is forever linked to her Gammie though she only knew her for seven years.

David, too.  Not as vocally as Madalyn, but it's there inside his heart.  My kids knew that she adored them.  There was no doubt.  And I could see it, too.

I hate it that they lost their Gammie so early in their lives, but I love it that she left such an impression on their heart.  And I know that one day they will look back at her spirit differently.  They will see what a strong fighter she was, and it will seep into their souls.  And they will see her for the woman she was, not just as their Gammie.

I am so thankful for the Gammie that she was, for the love that will live on in their hearts.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little moments...

I am thankful for the little moments we were able to share.

I have had this moment on my mind since March.  And I haven't really shared it with many people.  But this moment is one I will absolutely never forget and has gotten me through so much.  This moment of tenderness and covenant between my mother and I.  One that I didn't fully understand at the time, but how can one really fully know in the teensy tiny moments?

I sat on the side of the hospital bed.  We were having a moment.  A breakdown of sorts.  My mother was not a crier, so when she did, it was big.  She was weepy, but she was beyond entitled to be so.  It had only been a few days since a surgeon had opened her skull, for goodness sake, so she was allowed to cry.  And as soon as she started, I started, too.  I, unlike her, am quite the crier, and I had indulged in weeping more times than I could count since the moment we discovered there was a massive tumor in her head.

I sat on the side of the bed with a box of tissues, using some for myself and passing her some to use.  We cried.  It was more like weeping if I am completely honest.  And then she took her hand and ran it through my hair which was spilling over in front of her.  My hair had officially reached the long stage since I had decided to grow it out the year before, and she thought it was gorgeous.  She ran her hand through the long brown locks, and I said something out loud that I had been pondering in my mind for a few weeks.

"I am thinking about getting it cut on your birthday.  What do you think about that?"

The crying that had settled down started back up again.

"I didn't mean to make you cry again..."

We wiped our eyes and faces some more, and then she said, "I think that's a good idea."

And that's where it was settled in my mind.  That's what I would do.  I would have my hair cut on October 25, 2012, my mother's 66th birthday.  In that little moment, I didn't know my mother would not be alive.  I kinda thought it in the crevices of my heart, but it wasn't something I had allowed myself to fully explore.

So here I am.  October of 2012.  And I can't tell you how many times that little moment has replayed on the big white screen of my mind.  Of her hands, still warm and full of pumping blood, running through this hair that will someday be on a stranger's head.  Nothing gives me more joy than to know that what she has touched will bring someone who has lost their hair a smile.

There are so many little moments from those final days that I hold onto.  Some I won't share here.  Those I will keep only for myself.  But I cling to them.  They are precious gifts.  From God.  From her. The little moments.

Thank you, Lord, for all the little moments we shared.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Interested...

I didn't think the words would come today.  I don't feel like being thankful.  Not at all.  My face is broken out like a 15 year old girl, I hate my long hair, and I just want to sit and eat fun size candies until I throw up on myself.  That's how I feel today... it's not lovely.

I didn't want to be thankful.  And, even though the possibilities of things to be thankful for in reference to my mother are multiple, none tickled my fancy.  Until just now as I cleaned the downstairs bathroom.

I am so thankful she was always interested in me.

It's what I miss the most.  She always wanted to know what was going on and to talk about it.  Every day.  Whether it be how heavy my menstrual cycle was this month or how much homework the kids have tonight or what was on sale at Publix this week, she was interested.  She loved to read what I wrote because I wrote it.  If someone else wrote the same words as me, she wouldn't have given a darn about it.  She had a genuine interest in me as my mother that no one on this green earth will ever have, and I miss that terribly.

I understand it.  It's the same interest that lies behind the conversations I have held about Power Rangers and Barbie and Xbox games I don't understand and which flavor Sweet-tart I like the best.  It's the way moms talk and ask questions about things that are only interesting when you add your child into the equation.  It's a mom thing.  And I sure do miss my mom.

I think, sometimes, if I could have one more conversation with her, what would it be about?  And the answer is that I would simply like to have a conversation.  It wouldn't have to be about much of anything at all, and she would be interested in anything I had to say as she always was.  And no matter what the subject material, I would not take a single second of that conversation for granted.

I am so thankful that my mother was always interested in me.  From beginning to end, she wanted to know about me, about my life, how I felt about things.  Not all moms are like that, but I was blessed with one who was.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Red birds...

I am thankful for red birds.

I never really paid all that much attention to the birds until this past spring.  My mom was failing, and, at the same time, there was an unusual abundance of birds in my yard.  There were a lovely couple of Cardinals that kept appearing on my deck, and I watched them through the panes of the back door.  The little flashes of red were nice in opposition to my gloomy mood.  And my mama always loved birds, so it drew me in to study them more in her absence.

In the week before she died, there was a deep indigo colored bird that visited my deck a few times as well, and one so similar in color it could have been its twin that appeared on my parents' deck.  I considered it my messenger bird, like God was sending me a sign of what was to come.  I never saw that bird again.

Since she died, I notice the birds.  I find them so symbolic sometimes, even feeling like it's her in weird silent moments between just me and nature.  One day, I sat out by the pool in late May.  One little bird kept perch on the fence seemingly watching over me.  So I told him hello, and then said aloud, "Hey, Mama."  I still do that when I feel there's a bird looking into my soul.

This morning, I woke with that unexpected heaviness that just happens on some random day for no apparent reason.  It hangs over the days with even more thoughts of her, even more missing her.  I never can quite put my finger on what makes some days harder than others, why some mornings I wake up and hurt more than I did the previous day, but it just happens like that.  Today has been heavier than yesterday.  Until just this afternoon, a bright red bird flew right across the road as I drove the kids to get their hair cut.

I smiled.  The red birds always make me smile because they made her smile.  She loved the birds.

Lord, today I am thankful for the birds, especially the red ones the sprinkle color into the greyest days.  I am thankful for that one little red bird that flew across my path today reminding me of her in a happy way.  Thank you for the birds, Lord.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lucky 13...

Today I am diverting away from my thankfulness project because it's my anniversary.  Well, our anniversary.  Mine and Scott's.  Thirteen years to be exact.

Usually thirteen has an unlucky connotation.  But when you've reached your thirteenth year of marriage, unlucky is the last word that comes to mind.

We are extremely lucky to have made it this far.

But it isn't all luck.  There's been a lot of effort and patience and sweat and tears.  I can't say that either one of us has worked harder than the other, but there have been times when one of us has had to carry the load.  Like the last year, I think Scott's load in the marriage has been a lot heavier.  Nearly losing my mom twice and then ultimately losing her so quickly in April has left me in emotional topsy turvy for the bulk of the last twelve months.  And my husband has risen to the occasion and been incredibly supportive.

It's taken our marriage to a different level, one where we really do see that we can make it through anything.  With a lot of prayer and patience, we can see this thing through.  And it's totally worth it.

October 9th.  It's a day that changed my life forever.  It's the day I casually said I do to a very young, wide-eyed man who had no clue what he was getting himself into.  Funny thing is we are still learning so much about one another even now and how we can be a better spouse for the other.  We are still growing up and becoming the people God wants us to be.  We are working on it every single day, and we are lucky enough to love and laugh and live along he way.

Today I am thankful for my marriage, for the good phases and the bad ones, for everything they have taught us.  I am thankful for a man who works so hard for his family.  I am thankful that we have both dug our heels in and made this life what it is today.  And I am thankful for a God who has orchestrated it all for us.

I love you, Scott!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Advice...

I am thankful for her advice.

Anytime I had an issue, she was the first one I called.  Don't get me wrong... I love my husband's opinion and I have great friends, but she was my voice of reason.  It didn't matter how emotional the situation or how unfixable the problem seemed, she always knew what to say and how to put things in perspective.

Kinda goes back to that peace thing, I think.

I have thought so much about her advice to me over the years, and I have to say that the words I hang on to the most are, "Pick your battles, dear."  This is a phrase you grow up hearing, but the first time she told me was in the first few years of my marriage.  I craved her advice back then in those first unsteady years of getting used to marriage.  And I respected what she said.  So when she said those words to me about choosing which fights were important to have, I listened.  I won't say that it made a difference over night, but it resonated with me.  And since she had always been realistic with me about marriage and it's ups and downs, I understood.

She advised me in the same manner about the kids.  That some things, like respect and not hitting our friends and not saying ugly words, are worth fighting about.  But others, like our socks not matching every day and wanting to drink from a blue cup instead of a green one, are not worth the wasted time.

She delivered so much advice along the way.  A lot of it may seem like common sense when we stop and think about it, but to have her level, sound voice in my head reminding me to keep my calm and use my head in the thickest of situations is priceless.

I won't lie... I would give anything to hear her advice face to face again.  But I can't.  Instead, though, I have years of it stored inside my heart.  Even if it's something new going on that I never talked to her about, I can stop and ask myself, "What would she think or say about this?"  I knew her so well and had so many years of the words of wisdom that I can usually answer.  It's no replacement, but it gets me through.

I am so thankful for all the words of wisdom she shared with me about so many different things.  And I am thankful they can carry me through the years to come.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Potatoes...

I am thankful that she taught me how to peel potatoes.

This morning, I woke with potato soup on my mind.  On Friday I purchased all the ingredients and found what seemed to be a good recipe, and I was anxious to give it a try today since it's the coolest day we've had so far this fall.  I also woke with my mother on mind.  Thinking of something else to share about her today.  I am so glad I decided to do this exercise in thankfulness.  It keeps my mind in the right spot.

I can't say how old I was when she taught me how to peel potatoes.  I hope I was older than seven, because I haven't taught Madalyn yet.  But I was a different child altogether than my Madalyn, so that could have something to do with it as well.  Anywho... my mom taught me how to peel potatoes, and I thought it was fun to do it.  So whenever I saw her preparing a roast or hear her talking about mashed potatoes, I would ask to do the peeling.  When I got older, I was able to add the cutting, and I would sit with her in the kitchen and do my part to help.

She taught me a lot about the kitchen.  Poppy seed chicken casserole, homemade french fries, cinnamon toast.  The basics.  But so many women grow up not knowing how to do any of those things.  My repertoire of recipes wasn't incredibly varied as my dad had very limited tastes, but I grew up with knowing how to prepare a few dinners.

I thought about her while I peeled and cut the potatoes.  I tried to imagine what it was like the very first time I performed that task, but I couldn't.  I couldn't put a place or time on it at all.

Funny how I find myself thankful for the smallest of things, stuff I took for granted when she was here. But I look at the little things she taught me like peeling and cutting potatoes, and I realize my life would be so different today if she hadn't been that kind of mom.

I am so grateful my mom took the time with me when I was little to teach me how to peel potatoes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday song...

I am thankful for the Saturday song.

It was a silly little ditty that she sang to me on Saturday mornings when I was little.  As far as I know, she never sang it to anyone else on this planet, so it was something sacred just between us.

There's something lovely in having little intimacies with someone you love.  Whether it be a nickname or a tradition or a song you like to sing together, close relationships almost always have small things that make them individually unique.  And these unique intimacies are unaffected by time and place.  They transcend time and maturity and phase of life.  Even when I was a teenager, on certain sleepy Saturday mornings, my mom sang the Saturday song.  And one Saturday morning this past Spring when she finally made it home from the rehab facility after her brain surgery, she answered the phone and sang it to me.

I can hear it in my mind.  What a lovely gift.

It didn't start out as a memory.  It started as living, as her just being my mom the best way she knew how.  It started as me and her, sleepy still in the nooks of our eyes, together on a random Saturday morning.  And it lives on inside of me some thirty years later.

I am so thankful for the Saturday song and all the other little intimate ways in which our lives were intertwined.  She was so much more than just a mom to me.  So much more.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Peace...

I am thankful for her peaceful spirit.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. {Psalm 23:4a, Message}

My mother was never afraid.

Well, there was this one time... we had just moved to Arkansas and were renting this house on a lake.  I don't know how long we had been there, but this particular night, it was just us two in the house.  I don't remember which one of us first discovered it, but there was a rather large bug in the house.  I can't tell you how big it was... there are no comparisons to be made with any other bug I had ever seen before in my life.  We didn't know what it was, but it was flying all over the place, and it was mammoth in size, and the way it flew at us almost felt like a kamikaze attack, and it had us a little unnerved.  So my mom grabbed a broom, and we attempted to kill it.  But first we had to trap it.  We ran all over the house that night waging war against that stupid bug.  Though we were a little freaked out (I mean, cause you just never know when I killer bug is planning to infiltrate your home and kill everyone), we ended up laughing like a bunch of high school girls.  We were so tickled that it made the task of hunting it down and killing it even more difficult.  What was so funny was the fear that this little bug, which really was the largest flying insect I had ever seen, had welled up inside us human beings.

Funny thing now is that I can't remember if we ever killed it.  I just remember the laughter.

But that's how my mom was.  She had a peace about her that was unlike anything I have seen in anyone else.  She had a calm spirit.  It was something that sprung up within her from a natural source, the kind of peace that cannot be taught or purchased.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, she never seemed afraid.
When she found out it had spread to her liver, she told me over the phone and followed the bad news with, "I don't want you to worry... I am going to be okay."
In her final days, there was no tension or anxiety or fear in her countenance at all.

She lived in peace; she died in peace.


Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  {Philippians 4:4-7}


I am so grateful I had an example of true inner peace for thirty-five years of my life.  So many people never experience it at all, and I had it in my mother.  I try to mirror it in my life whether it be in situations like when Madalyn's head was split wide open or when I knew my mother was dying right before me eyes.  There's something to be said about the peace that my mother had, a peace that comes from the Holy Spirit.  It sustains you even when life is crazy and complicated and disappointing.  It never runs out.  It makes no sense to those who have never tasted true Peace.  But it is real, and it is available in Him.


Dear Lord... I thank you for a mother who lived out your amazing promises right before my eyes... for a mother who taught me through example and not just by words alone... for the beauty of her peace throughout the toughest battle of her life... Amen.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The best...

I am thankful my mother was always concerned about my well being.

Seems to go without saying, right?  That a mother would be concerned about the well being of their daughter.  But these days, with the break down in the family unit and modern women investing more time in their careers than in their children, it's not always the case.

My mother always looked out for my best interest.  When I was fifteen and my face broke out in a million huge cysts and she couldn't get me in to see a dermatologist in any less than four weeks, she convinced my jaw surgeon to write me a prescription for something for my face at a post-surgical appointment.  Any time I started to cough, she prompted me to get to the doctor before it got out of hand and to get plenty of rest.  Last year, when I turned thirty-five and my gynecologist said it was time for a mammogram, she wouldn't accept the two places to which he refers his patients.

"I want you to go to the Kirklin Clinic."
"Oh, okay..."

I agreed with her at the time, but I had no intentions of going way out of my way to downtown Birmingham to have a routine mammogram.  But, after mulling it over in my mind, and since she passed, I realize why she had the desire for me to go there.  It's the best place in the area to go.  Probably the best mammography/radiology department in the state.  And that's where the best doctors for the treatment of breast cancer are located.  And she would want me to have the best imaginable care, especially considering a radiologist in Montgomery misdiagnosed her breast cancer so many years ago.

My mother had a way of getting what she wanted.  Like that jaw surgeon that prescribed me antibiotics for my broken out face.  And like today when I made the thirty minute drive downtown to the Kirklin Clinic for my mammogram.  She got what she wanted from most everyone because her intentions were always sincere... she only wanted the best for anyone she loved.  I was lucky enough to be one of the people she loved while she was on this earth.

Thank you, Lord, that my mother cared so deeply for me while she was living, and that she did everything within her power to provide the best for me.  Not always everything I wanted, but always the best of what I needed.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Knock-out roses...

I am thankful for knock-out roses.

Sunday the wind picked up swirling the leaves in the air.  I went out to the backyard to check on the pool and found that many fallen leaves were collecting on the surface of the water.  Mixed in with the them were little bits of vivid pink, small flashes of color among the brown of fall.  The wind had stirred up petals from the knock-out rose bush my mother bought me several years ago.

She came to see one random Saturday in May.  Must have been in 2009 when the economy had begun the downward spiral and the car business had been greatly effected.  In other words, we were broke most of the time.  What little bit of money we had was used for necessities.  I wanted to plant some things in the backyard for color around the pool, but I didn't have the luxury of splurging on those items.

She brought me a knock-out rose bush and a hydrangea bush.  We planted them, and I nurtured them equally the same.  The rose bush flourished while the hydrangea didn't make it.

Seeing those petals all over the concrete and yard and in the pool on Sunday made me smile.  Each one felt like a piece of her.  Each little fleck of color reminded me of all the little pieces of her that she has left me, whether in what she taught me or some of the things she bought me along the way.  Some are tangible and some not.  Some living and some inanimate.  But all are precious in my heart.  So many little flecks of color amidst the grey of grief.  I welcome them all.

I am so thankful for that brightly colored knock-out rose bush we planted together in my backyard.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brown eyes...

I am thankful for my mother's brown eyes.

I can remember where I sat when he said it.  "You're so plain with your brown eyes and your brown hair..."  It was so condescending.  So belittling.  So mean.  And for a while I believed him, even though he chose to pursue and date that plain young woman.

Thankfully, I matured, got rid of the guy that said those words to me, and learned to appreciate my deep brown eyes and brown hair.

When I gave birth to my own little girl, I was so pleased to see the same deep brown eyes my mother passed down to me.  Dark, rich brown.  So dark that they're almost black.  Full of life and light despite the darkness of their color.  I started saying to Madalyn at a very early age, "Where did you get those pretty brown eyes?"  And she would say, "You."  And then I ask, "Where did I get mine?"  She always answers, "Gammie."  We still do this little game at least once a week, and she loves it just as much today as she did when she was a little bitty thing.

It's something so simple.  Something that to some may seem so plain.  Brown eyes.  But there's something so dear in sharing that trait with my mother.  In passing it on to my daughter.  In knowing that in all the many ways my DNA could have gone, God allowed them to work in this way so that when I look in the mirror or in the eyes of my daughter, I see my mother's eyes.

Hers were deep and dark and contained so much behind them.  Wisdom.  Concern.  Love.  Honesty.  I could trust them.  I could look into them with no fear of judgement.  She hid nothing behind her eyes, and she never expected me to do any hiding either.

Today, I am thankful for my mother's brown eyes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October...

October hit me in the chest this morning like a punch from Mike Tyson (back in his prime, mind you).

October?  Yes, October.  The month my mother was born.  Breast cancer awareness month.  The six month mark since her death.

I never knew a month could hurt like this.  And it's only the first day.

But about an hour ago, I thought to myself, "Maybe I should do a month of thanksgiving?"

Now, when I think thanksgiving, I think November, not October.  But I simply have to do something to  celebrate her.  To celebrate who she was.  Who she continues to be in my heart.  Who I miss so much.  I have to do something to try to keep my mind in the positive instead of it going down that dark road I see ahead.  I can see it... the dark and windy road where nothing positive lives.  Nothing good at all.  Only tears and pain and loneliness and missing her.

So why not share the many things about her for which I am grateful?  What better day to start than today, October first, the beginning of one of the toughest months in my grief process so far.

I am thankful for my mother's quietness.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment... Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.  {1 Peter 3:3-4}

She was not loud in any sense of the word.  She never called attention to herself or her own opinions, agenda, or feelings.  Because of that, when she talked or shared, people listened.  I listened.

Because she was so quiet, and I am so not, I continue to strive for that.  Not just because that's how my mom was, but because that's how God would have me be.  Keeping away from gossip.  Biting my tongue with my husband and children (or at least trying really hard to).  Picking my battles wisely.  These are not easy concepts, but my mother had it mastered very naturally.  And it was extremely admirable.

And for her quiet example as a wife, mother, and Godly woman, I am so thankful.

Thank you, Lord, for showing me through her the kind of woman You would have me be.  


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Five months...

We usually reserve the quantifying of time for the good things in life.  We count the weeks of pregnancy, the years of life, the grades of school, the years of marriage, how many months or weeks until the next holiday or special event, or how many days until our next paycheck.

When my mother died, it was the first experience with keeping track of time in my mind as it pertains to a negative event.  It's quite different than from the anticipation of something or the leading up to another birthday.  It's surrounded by anxiety and sadness, and every time that date rolls around in a month, a reliving of the death is experienced inside the brain.

It's weird.

Today marks five months without my mother.  And though it seems like it's been five forevers since I saw her last, there are moments that her absence seems like such a fresh wound in my soul.  I miss her every bit as much today as I did the first day without her, and I don't think that will ever go away.  Funny things is that now that we are settled into the normal every day life, the ways I miss her seem to multiply.  Nearly every day something small occurs or I see or hear something that I would like to share with her, to go over with her, to hear her thoughts on.  And though I know that I can talk to her empty space in the air around me anytime I want, there's little to no consolation in doing so.  Truth is, I don't want to pretend to talk to her... I want the real deal.  And my heart doesn't settle for talking to imaginary friends anymore.

I had an imaginary friend when I was little.  Her name was Marcie.  My mother said that I would talk and talk and talk to her just like she was there.  Even to the point that it was a wee bit embarrassing to my mom.  Wherever I went, Marcie was there.  I assume she was as real to me as a real friend, but no one else could see her.  How I wish I could back to that place in my mind where a figment of imagination is enough to satisfy me.  Oh how I wish... then it wouldn't have been five months since I had seen her face.  I could see her and talk to her anytime I wanted, and no one would even know.

If only...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Drink it...

In the fall of 2001, I opened my Bible and read.  Every day.  During David's nap time, I turned off the TV and the outside noise of the world and read.  I started in Matthew and read right through.  When I got to Romans, I was enthralled.  Literally mouth gaped open and in awe of some of the things I read.

The first verse I ever felt deep in my soul was Romans 8:11...
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Does the thought of that give you chills?  It does me... that the very Spirit of Him who is able to bring a dead body back to life is living inside of my soul.  That He designed it all this way.  That He wanted to be within me.  Isn't that amazing?

There's also another element to this, too.  That power is inside of me.  Immeasurable strength.  The ability to make it through today, no matter what today may bring.  The strength to make the right choices, to live a life controlled by the Spirit of God not by the world.

Let me share a little story...  I have a cat.  A sixteen year old cat, to be exact.  And she's on the verge of senile.  I have always kept a water bowl for her in the kitchen.  Nothing fancy; just a lime green plastic cereal bowl from Walmart.  Every so often over the last eight years, I rinse it out or wash it or throw it in the dishwasher.  I had noticed over the last few months that scaling was building up all over the inside of the bowl from our hard water, and it was beginning to look a little gross.  So I threw the bowl away and put another one down for her, similar in color and shape.  The stupid cat refused to drink out of it.

Now, Millie, the cat, has always been a fusser.  The night my boyfriend (and future ex-husband) brought her to me after his shift waiting tables at a little pub, I had to put her in a pet taxi and place it on the back porch so I could get some rest.  She would not shut up.  And nothing has changed since then.  If she's not happy, she will most certainly let you know.  If she can see the bottom of her food bowl at any place, she fusses until I go fill it up or shake it to spread the food around evenly.  If her water runs a wee bit low, she follows you around until you fill it back up.  If she's having a good day and just wants to chat, she does that, too.  We have conversations, I tell you, and we've been together for so long that I feel like she understands what I am saying.

But as of this morning, she still would not drink out of the new bowl.  I had filled it to the point that if I bumped it in any way the water rolled over the curved edge and onto the floor.  I sat down beside her on the floor and stuck my finger in it to show her there was indeed water in the bowl and it was safe to drink.  I tried just explaining it to her, thinking maybe her little kitty mind would accept the fact.  But, no... not drinking from the new bowl, and going to go down screaming.

This morning, I gave in.  I pulled out a totally different bowl, filled it with water and set it down.  Wouldn't you know that she lapped it up.  For three days I have been listening to this senile cat drive me batty over not liking the bowl I had given her.

Got me thinking, though.

Here we are, God's amazing masterpiece.  Full to the brim with His Spirit, Power, Mercy, Love, Forgiveness.  All we want, need, desire.  All at our disposal.  Overflowing and spilling onto the floor.  And, yet, so many times, we refuse to drink.  Maybe we don't like our bowl or the temperature or the setting or the circumstances.  But the Spirit inside us never changes, never falters, never goes away.

To be honest, I don't like my bowl most days.  I am motherless at 35, and I miss her terribly.  I am fifteen pounds heavier than I want to be.  I am unorganized and absentminded.  I medicate my soul with  food.  I feel like I am a mess and a half.  But God doesn't feel that way about me.  He thinks I am wonderful enough to host His very Spirit, the one that raised Jesus Christ from the tomb on that first Easter morning.  If that doesn't make you feel special, well then I don't know what will.

I don't know that God gives us a fresh bowl just because we fuss too much or too loudly like my stinking cat, Millie.  But what He has shown me over the past two years is that He will give me what I need to make it through every single day.  His Power is sufficient if I simply choose to drink it in.  If I choose to live in His Spirit, make my choices according to His purposes, my bowl will always be full.  And where I fail, His mercy will cover me.

"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Jesus, John 4:13-14

Drink it today.