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.