Monday, December 30, 2013

Awaken...

There's a little semi-circle window that caps the three normal sized windows in my bedroom.  I've often thought it strange that it's there.  It serves no general purpose, and if someone thought it made a grand enough aesthetic difference then they must be a window sales person.  It's miniscule compared to what's below it.

As the years have gone by, I've enjoyed my little window.  In the middle of the night, I can see the moon, sometimes stars, watch the leaves sway with a rain storm, and watch the night gently turn to day.    This morning, my eyes fixed on the little window, and I was amazed to see a purple hued sky.  Winter dawns are more striking than the other seasons.  With the bare grey trees as the only accessory, there are no other colors to distract from the colors of the sky.  This morning was a color I had never seen before, and I began to study it with my sleepy eyes.  Streaks of blue and pink, almost as though a giant hand had painted them.  I could focus in and see the two colors and move my focus out and see the purple.  It was lovely.

In these small moments, I know there is a God.  I feel Him, His divinity, power, majesty.  I felt it this morning for the first time in, if I'm honest, a couple of months.  For two months, November and December, I hadn't felt much of anything, especially not God.  It's not that I don't believe in Him or have hope in Him, but it's that I don't want to feel any of it.  Don't want to feel anything at all.  Not God, not love, not peace and joy, and definitely not grief.  And so I subconsciously shut down all systems and numb myself to emotion to make it through the holiday season.  I become a spectator instead of participator.  I eat more carbs and drink more vodka.  I numb out.

And this morning, God spoke to me in the purple of the sky.

Good morning, daughter.  You've been sleeping.  I hope you rested well.  It's time to wake up.  

And I made my apologies to Him.  I didn't make any promises other than to awaken.  I know He understands.

As I wrap up 2013, the first full year without my mother, I begin to understand why I still have these surprising moments of unbelievable grief.  It hit me just this morning as I made the bed.  It is the first full year without her.  Ever.  The whole year... from January 1st to December 31st... no mother.  Perhaps I look the same from the outside and seem to be running along as usual, but it's not that way at all.  There have been a year of quiet tears alone because I don't know what else to do with what I'm feeling inside instead of take a moment and let them fall from my eyes.  A year of afternoons with burning questions for her that only she can answer about the simplest of things.  A year of holidays spent thinking, "What was our last Christmas like?  What was the last birthday gift she bought Madalyn?  How did we spend our last Thanksgiving?"  My reference point for all these things has become so askew that I can't pinpoint details, and it plagues me, and my mind spins with memories and moments and words.  An entire year without her.  It just seems so strange even now as I type the words on the next to the last day of my first whole year without her.

I haven't written much this year.  It's been more difficult to make the words flow.  And I keep holding back for so many reasons, but maybe it's time to let go of that.  I always feel better once I've put my feelings into words and hit the publish button.  Then everything feels put together and tidied up from the normal mess inside my head.  Perhaps I should do this more often.

Maybe the word awaken should be my focus for 2014.  Awakening my senses again, my fingertips to write, my emotions, my spirit.  Awaken each morning with the belief that I can embrace it all with God's help.

For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
{Ephesians 5:14}


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree...

I broke the cardinal rule of all rules in Christmas decorating this year.  I put my tree up before Thanksgiving.  I have never done such a thing in all my decorating years, and I pondered it over and over in my mind before making the final decision.

Honestly, I just want to enjoy it all this year.

I didn't realize how much of last Christmas I don't remember until I started unpacking my ornaments.  I remember next to nothing about my first Christmas since my mother's death.  And, though I won't be hard on myself about the lack of memory as I was still in the I can't believe she's gone phase of grief, it makes me sad that I missed out on time I can't get back.  So I have purposed that I will enjoy this year, even through the empty place where she should be and the sadness.

I've got my main tree up.  Mantle half-way done with new garland and sparkly mesh.  And I put together a small tree with nothing but vintage ornaments I remember from my childhood.  It may not look special to a stranger, but I will find no greater joy this year in anything else than that little tree.  I remember unpacking these ornaments beside her every single year, hanging them on whatever tree we had that year.  When I was a kid, we had colored lights and a real tree.  In the latter years, it was pure white lights and an artificial tree.  But the ornaments stayed the same.  I feel some sense of comfort knowing how many times she touched them over the years.

Life is hard.  I know so many people struggling this year.  Divorces and deaths and illness.  We live in a disappointing world.  But I want to focus on the real meaning of Christmas this year.  Hope.  Christ's birth gives us a hope that can't be found in anything else on this earth.  It's not just hope in seeing those who have gone on before us or living an eternity in a place where there is no sin, sickness, or disappointment.  Rather it's a hope in a God that can raise from the dead, that can heal the wounds of this world.  A hope in a savior that came to this cruel world and felt all the same feelings I feel every single day.  A hope that there is more to this life than just today.  The hope that this sinful wretch, me, will be loved and granted grace even when neither are deserved.

Life is hard.  Yes.  But hope can be found anywhere.  We just have to look.  May you never stop looking, friend.

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.  "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found my you," says the Lord.   {Jeremiah 29:11-14a}

Friday, November 22, 2013

Morning moments...

I have an old lady cat.  She's really, really old.  Like 17 years old.  Like mostly deaf, partially senile, and becoming stiff in the bones just like people do when they age.  Just a few years ago, I discovered she couldn't jump up higher than onto the couch.  She started coming to the side of the bed most mornings and meowing so that I would pick her up.

That's when we started our little routine.  As I still laid under the covers, eyes open, mind running over the day ahead, she would quietly move to my side of the bed, sit down and let out her call to me.  Meow.  I always lean down, pick her up, and place her right on top of my chest.  And then we would have our little morning moment.

It's not all sweet morning moments with the old lady cat, though.  She's a puker.  Yes... she pukes at least once a week, and it's quite a gross experience to walk in and find unexpectedly or to hear happening in another room.  And, honestly, I talk so ugly and angrily to her as I clean up her messes, because, in my defense, she can't hear me anyway.  On the days she doesn't puke, it's time to clean out the litter box, and it doesn't take much thought about that task to understand how gross that can be.

The puker is also a talker.  And if you spend a minimum of five minutes a day on the phone with me, odds are you will hear the old lady screaming at me.  Because, though she's always been quite a talker, seems that her hearing loss has made her a much louder talker.  She's loud, folks.  And she's the only breathing being that anyone in my house is allowed to tell to shut up.  I mean she is a cat that can't hear.  And even if she could hear, she's still a cat, and we all know that cats definitely don't have emotions.  So we all tell the old lady cat to shut up.  And then she screams back at us.

So many days I worry I will walk in a room and find her lifeless.  If I don't see her or hear her much in a day, I find myself checking her common resting spots.  In Scott's close underneath his hanging shorts.  On the couch downstairs curled tightly in a ball.  In the laundry basket with that one towel I leave for her to lay on, the laundry basket I don't even try to use anymore because I have given it over to her.  Sometimes when I locate her, she's sleeping so soundly that I fear she's dead, so I lightly lay my hand on her to check for breathing.

See, the truth is that even with her messes and her incessant loud meowing, I love her, that is as much as a cat will allow herself to be loved.  And this morning, when I heard her at the side of my bed, I gently lifted her up and sat her on my chest.  And she purred beautifully and squinted her little kitty eyes at me and I rubbed the sides of her jaw.  And my mind wandered for some reason to the Garden of Eden.  My mind does this from time to time, going to places that make no sense at all in the most ordinary of situations.  But this is what I heard:

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.  So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"  {Genesis 3:8-9}

Atop my chest sat this nasty puking, litter box dirtying, obnoxiously loud fussing cat.  And none of it mattered in that moment.  I was so happy to have her there, warm and purring on my chest.  So happy to have my morning moment and connection with her that none of the aggravation of what lie behind or ahead mattered.

And that's how God feels about me.

God went looking for Adam and Eve just after they had sinned.  So many times I read this passage and got stuck on the fact that He was walking through the garden.  How neat to be able to walk alongside the Creator in the Garden of Eden.  But it wasn't until a few months ago that I heard someone say this is the first instance in the Scriptures of God's pursuit of His children.  How lovely.

Just like me, the not-so-proud owner of a puking, screeching 17 year old cat, if God hasn't seen me in a while, He will come looking for me.  And it doesn't matter if I've made a mess of things or cried too loud about something.  He waits to lift me gently onto His chest and enjoy His quiet moment with me.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, however messy and chaotic it may seem, there is a quiet place you can go.  And He waits patiently for you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Always...

I woke this morning with a song on my mind, "Always" by Switchfoot.

This is the start
This is your heart
This is the day you were born
This is the sun
These are your lungs
This is the day you were born

And I am always, always, always yours

Today is the day I was born.

I've had a hard time lately, and I really can't put a finger on a reason why these past few months have seemed so heavy.  She's been gone over a year now, my mother, and I should be feeling better by now.  At least that's what I always thought, that something magical would take place at that one year mark and it will all just be a little easier.

But that hasn't happened.  Not yet.

Two weeks ago marked eighteen months without her.  A few days later was the day she would have turned 67.  And now my birthday, a day that seems so strange to even acknowledge without the presence of the one who gave me life.

I'm angry now.  I'm angry at cancer.  I'm angry that other people still have their moms and get to do the things with them that I used to love to do with my mom.  I'm angry that I can't talk to her anymore.  I'm angry that my kids don't have a Gammie.  I'm just angry, and I know it's just a part of the process, and I know I'm blessed to have so much to be angry about, and I know all the other right answers and responses like every good little Christian woman in the South does.  But I am still angry.  And still missing her.  And still in the midst of this terrible grief.

And then comes along the day I was born.

These are the scars
Deep in your heart
This is the place you were born
This is the hole
Where most of your soul
Comes ripping out
From the places you've been torn

And it is always, always, always yours
And I am always, always, always yours

Holes.  Holes in my soul.  There are the holes left by other people, things done to me, bitter emotional and physical abuse.  There are the holes I gave myself, stupid decisions, turning away from God.  And then there's the big hole, this unexpected one, the place where my mother always was, the place I will always want her to be.

Oh but my Father cried out to me this morning as I listened to this song... I am always yours.  Always.  He's the only one who can say always.  His always is always true.  And so I turned to my favorite Psalm, 139...

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. {verses 13-16, New Living Translation}

And then the anger started to melt, and the beauty of my life comes into focus.  That God put me there in her womb with a purpose, put me there as a big surprise to her and my father both.  And He saw me growing there, He saw the whole of my life in the darkness of her womb as the strands of DNA planned out every detail of what would become me.  And I see that I am a part of this big miracle, one on which I even have a birthday.  The miracle of life.  And she facilitated it for me.  For Him.  She brought me to life to carry out His purpose for me.

So the anger melts to thankfulness as this mother-less child comes to grips with the fact that I am His first.  Yes, I was hers.  I was born to her.  She was my mother, and I miss her so.  But this came as no surprise to Him.  No surprise at all.  And He watched me form, and He made me inside of her womb exactly who I am, nothing more, nothing less.  And He is always my Father, always mine.  And He is enough, always.

Hallelujah!
I'm caving in
Hallelujah!
I'm in love again
Hallelujah!
I'm a wretched man
Hallelujah!
Every breath is a second chance

And it is always, always, always yours
And I am always, always, always yours


To listen to Switchfoot's song, "Always", click here.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Old hymn...

Yesterday, I went to church for the first time (with the exception of Easter) since my mother died.

There are lots of reasons why I haven't gone.  I have felt resistant.  I've slept in.  I have been so confused as to where I fit into the body of Christ, particularly which denomination I feel is closest to my personal beliefs.  I've held onto a lot of bitterness from my experiences as the daughter of a minister.  I just haven't felt like going.  Putting myself out there.  Pretending.  Sitting in a room silently measuring myself up to other Christians.

And, to be perfectly transparent, I didn't want to cry in a room full of strangers.

I made it easily through the first two songs of the service without any threat of a tears.  But then the words popped up on the screen and a familiar melody filled the air around me.

Holy, holy, holy.

All the people joined together in chorus, each part of the harmony melting together beautifully in the way only congregational singing can.  And I heard it, brilliant and clear, just as though she were standing right next to me.

Lord God Almighty.

She always sang soprano, and I typically took the lower notes as an alto.  She had a lovely voice, but she wasn't one to seek out the limelight, so you would never know about it unless you sat in front of her on Sunday morning.

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

I heard her all around me.  She filled the room.  Oh if only she were right beside me.

Holy, holy, holy.  Merciful and mighty.

This is the emotion I've been avoiding, that I've been running from.  And I stood there holding back the tears, keeping them at bay, telling myself just to relish the sound of her voice in my mind.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mama,

The house is so quiet now.  The kids are back into the full swing of school, and that means a little more (well, a lot more) quiet time for me.  I used to love this time so much, cherishing turning off the television and going about my normal routine in quietness.  But here lately, I seem to resent the lack of noise more than I knew I could, hating the void it leaves me.  It was in these moments that I would talk to you, and I am missing that more than ever right now.

Fall is just around the bend.  The leaves on the tree by my driveway are beginning to fall.  I don't know what kind of tree it is.  I just know that it's the first to bloom in the spring and first to drop its small leaves all over the grass in September.  Pretty soon, the colors will begin to break forth in the trees changing the scenery dramatically.  I planted a few mums in pots on Sunday, one of which was a pot I brought from your house.  At first, I thought I would dump all the soil out of it and start fresh, not knowing how long it had been in the pot or what had been planted in it before.  But as I started to do so, I realized that you had put it there, and so I stopped, decided to save the rest, and just added some fresh soil to the top and planted a beautiful lavender colored mum.

I also did a little work in the yard, pulling up a few lantana plants I planted years ago.  I love lantana, but these just weren't in the right spot, and they had become such a nuisance.  I set out just to trim them back, but then I found myself with a shovel in my hands rooting them out all together.  I thought about you the whole time, knowing how much alike we are when it comes to times like this.  I had no idea what I was doing, nor did I really have the physical strength to pull those matured plants out of the ground, but I figured it out and got it done with no assistance from anyone.  Just as you would have done.  I love the way I got that from you, the where with all to figure things out on my own and do things for myself.  Some may call it stubbornness, but I call it independence.

I've been working on a lot of things inside the house.  You would love the changes I have made.  Adding in new bright colors.  Blue has become my favorite color since you died.  I don't know why.  Maybe it's the beautiful indigo colored bird that kept appearing on my back deck the last week of your life.  Maybe it's just the soothing quality of the peaceful color.  Maybe it's that blue is the color of the sky I stare into wondering if you are somewhere just beyond that puffy cloud.  I don't know.  Blue it is, though, in any shade.  It's my favorite.

Seems you pepper my dreams here lately.  To some, that may sound wonderful, but it's exhausting.  My nights have become completely exhausting.  There's nothing much I can do about it, so I just carry on.  That I got from you, too... the ability to carry on.  But sometimes, carrying on becomes exhausting just like the nights of endless dreaming I experience.  And that's when I wish I had someone who could carry me through a bit.  You used to do that, just in a conversation or words of wisdom.  It seemed so simple then, and so ordinary.  But now I realize how immensely unique it was, and that I will never have that again.  Perhaps that is why the grief seems so hard to bear right now, that I am fully realizing that indeed you are gone and I no longer have a mother.  Not having you around makes every single task seem more difficult than it really is simply because I can't talk it over with you.  And that sounds so silly to me even as I write it out like this, but it is true.

I am tired, Mama.  Tired of missing you, of hurting, of quietly mourning you as the rest of the world spins on and on seemingly without a glitch.  Tired of crying alone.  Tired of crying all together.  Tired of this world without your presence.  It's all so different yet becoming so normal at the same time.  And though I would never bring you back to this fallen world, I can't help but wish I had another day with you.  It's so crazy, but I do.

I wonder what you're doing.  Am I already there with you, like some kind of parallel spiritual existence?  Or are you aware of what is going on here?  When I think about it too much, my head begins to spin.  Whatever it is like there, I know you are well and not suffering.  No more chemo or procedures.  No more cancer.  No more tears.  And that is enough for me.  That's what keeps me sane.  Or close to sanity, at least.

I love you, Mama.  And miss you more than I ever dreamed possible.

Love,
Me

Friday, September 6, 2013

Through a different lens...

I have {at least} ten friends on Facebook who have shared this article in the last week.  And I assure you that I agree with this mom's basic statement; I don't wanna see a bunch of girls posing in their bathing suits or towels fresh out of the shower with the hand on the hip and duck lips either.  But....

Over a year ago, I became entangled in a heated debate over swimwear and modesty on Facebook.  Should Christian women wear bikinis or two piece swimwear?  Should they wear a bathing suit at all?  Should men?  The truth is, I have no idea what Jesus thinks about this subject matter.  No clue.  It's not addressed in the Bible {the issue of swimwear} because I doubt it was a heated debate back in the day.  There's talk about the eating of certain meat and circumcision and belief in the resurrection, but I have yet to read anything about proper swim attire by the pool or on the sandy shores.  Or about what's appropriate to post on Facebook and Instagram.  Or about whether the Baptists or Methodists or Catholics have it figured out right.  It's just not in there, folks.  

What I do find are the following things and are what I consider a pretty good compass for all of us to follow:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.  {John 3:16-17, NLT}

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  {Philippians 4:8, NLT}

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  {John 14:34, NLT}

You see, if Jesus didn't come here to judge us, that means I have no right to do that either.  And if there is one particular sector of the population that deserves to not be judged it's the teenagers and adolescents of this crazy world.  I shudder to think what my life would have looked like, how many more tears I would have shed alone in my bed at night, how many more ways my heart could have been torn to pieces if I had grown up in this modern generation.  We are living our lives surrounded by children who have zero direction and crave all the wrong attention.  It's no different than the way most of us were as teenagers, but it gets the public attention that we didn't have access to before cell phones with cameras and the internet.  Just because the children of this technological generation can operate any device you place in their hand with ease does not make them any less children.

Let me out myself for a minute here.  I peruse through my son's Facebook on a regular basis, and I delete children at will that use profane language or talk about things that aren't appropriate.  During the summer, I opened David's private messages to find one sent to him by a boy I have known (through the school system) since first grade.  It was a picture of an animal with a caption around it, and I assure you it was subject matter that is inappropriate to share whatever your age may be.  I sent him a private message back and let him know that I was de-friending him, that if I see anything that is not appropriate or has foul language, I immediately delete the friend, and that David has no control over these things.  The boy never responded, but his mother did, and she wanted me to explain what the problem was.

To me, the problem was obvious.  It was in clear sight right above the message I was reading.  But for this family, a very troubled one whose history I am aware of because my son and this boy shared two years of class together in elementary school, the picture wasn't a big deal.  And then it hit me that I may have missed the mark with this situation, that I may have given over to fear instead of using it as an opportunity to help teach a child who, for all practical purposes, simply doesn't know any better.

From what I see on Facebook, a lot Christians like to live in a bubble.  They think that if they go to church, pray over every meal, and do the right things most of the time that their lives should be void of external influences.  But guess what?  Life doesn't work that way.  If we leave the confines of our home or open up our social media apps on our phones, other peoples' stuff oozes onto us, onto our kids, and there's simply nothing we can do to avoid it.  What we can do is call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us address those sticky, oozey messes that permeate our society.  The decline of the American family.  Divorce.  Greed.  Ignorance.  Vanity.  Pride.  They are all around us all of the time.  They are middle class, low income, and upper crust problems alike.  We find them in believers and non-believers.  And all the while, yet another generation of children turn to all the wrong things for attention because of the longing for acceptance that is so basic to our human existence.

My hopes in raising both a son and daughter in today's world is that neither of them turn to how many likes or comments they get on a photo for their self worth.  That they view the people around them from a lens of love and grace, the same way our Heavenly Father views us.  That they know they are in full control of what they think and how they look at another human being.  That people are not objects or characters in a story.  That we are all to be respected and loved.  That we never know what may be going on behind the scenes of a specific photo or comment.  That we are all a work in progress, striving and stretching and growing, and that we move at different paces.  That people, young and old, are looking for the same thing, though it might demonstrate itself in different ways...

We are all just looking for love.  Unfortunately, there are a ton of kids out there who aren't getting it at home.  Not just the poor kids.  Maybe the ones living right next door to your perfectly pleasant middle class home.  They are everywhere, the kids torn apart by divorce, by dad or mom not being present in their life, by a loved one's addiction, by sexual abuse, manipulation, depression, worthlessness.  Shifting our focus as adults and looking at children through a set of grace-filled eyes changes the picture quite a bit.  Don't you think?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Mama,

These little notes to you are few and far between, and I never know when I will feel the need to write one.  The funniest things set me off and make me wish I could just pick up the phone one more time to hear your voice, your sound reason, on the other end.

The kids are back in school.  I think I missed it more this year... the way you used to call and see how their first day went, talk to them over the line about it, how interested you were in every little detail of their life.  And mine.  No one else will ever be that interested, and it's missed so much right now.  So very much.  I miss my Mama.

I often think about how selfish the emotion of grief really is, how it is so intrinsically focused on what I miss about you.  But then I realize that what I miss is all about you, and so that relieves me of the notion that missing you is a selfish act.

There are so many things I would like to talk to you about.  This Bible study I am doing.  Madalyn's new red cowgirl boots.  David being in middle school.  That I am about to paint that old dresser you let me borrow when I got married... the one I never gave back.  Just general stuff of life that we used to toss around in casual conversation, ones I took for granted.  That's just it, too; missing you makes me realize just how much of you I took for granted without being aware.

I guess we are all moving along nicely.  Life goes on.  Kids grow up.  New patterns, new habits, are established.  But the grief remains.  It's not as deep as it once was, not as sharp.  But it's there.  And it bubbles up inside me unexpectedly.

I know it's nice where you are.  And I know I will see you one day.  But I sure am wishing the space in between didn't have to hurt so much.

Until then ~ Your Daughter

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to school...


I bid the kids farewell this morning bright and early.  Back to school.  It's a fresh season of learning, and I hope there may be some in store for this old mama, too.

I think I set as many goals in the fall as I do in the actual new year.  Summer becomes a blurry mess of disorganization and nothingness, and I long for the structure of a new school year as much as the quiet time it gives me.  I have more time to think and read, more time to collect myself, than when the rowdy kids are here.

I definitely have a long list of things I want to accomplish this fall.  Having been in our house nearly ten years, it's time to do some basic things.  All the interior trim and doors need painting.  That should keep me busy enough.  But add in David's room, the downstairs, and the kids' bathroom, and that means I will have a paint brush in my hand for most of the school year.  I will hire someone to do the living room, stair well, and master bath as the vaulted ceilings are just a little too much for me, but I am not a fan of hiring someone to do what I am able to do myself.  Especially inside my house.

It's more than home improvement I want to focus on, however.  A few weeks ago, I woke up with Lillie on my mind.  Lillie, the main character in the novel I started three years ago.  She's been sleeping since my mother passed away, but I think it's time to wake her up and work on her again.  I know it is.  I can look at her story through a different set of eyes now, one I had no idea I would have when I wrote  her history down on paper.  You see, her father was killed when she was in her late teens, and now I know what it feels like to lose a parent.  I've been brainstorming about her for past few weeks, even editing the first few pages.  I have grown and changed as a person since the last time I sat down with her character, and it's time to infuse that into her story line.  I am excited to see how it all comes together.

And I have another little project in the works.  I have had a desire to write something specific for families caring for a loved one who is terminally ill.  A compilation of little nuggets of hope that would be easy to read and full of the peace and hope only found in the Lord.  So much of it has already been written here, but it's an arduous process of going back through my posts, editing them into a different style, and then putting it in a format I could either self-publish or submit to a publisher.  I think I have an idea the direction in which I want to go, but sometimes (well, most of the time) things don't fall into place as we plan.

I am feeling better, more settled, as of late.  I have been working through an amazing study entitled Named by God by Kasey Van Norman.  Some of her focus has been on things I already knew or realized, but she presents it in a really different way.  I am growing again.  And it feels nice.  Truth is, I can either move or sit still.  Literally and figuratively and spiritually.  This study is opening me up to some truths about me I didn't really understand.  That maybe I have worked through some of the obvious resentments and bitterness in my life, but one big one remains, the one I built up against the "body" of Christ.

I've talked some here about my experience as a minister's daughter, one in which I saw the not-so-nice side of the church.  What I am learning is that I have taken that experience and built a wall.  It's thick and high and difficult to break through.  I am learning that, at an early age, I created a complicated equation for evaluating who was worthy of trust.  To be honest, it's a crazy equation that simply doesn't work.  And I am at a time in my life where I have to learn to open myself up to other Christians, or I won't move forward.

So many things have been swirling around in my adult ADD mind.  And I always come back to my most favorite Scripture, one that means so much to me now:

May the God of hope fill ME with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  {Romans 15:13, emphasis added by me}

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Middle School...

We all have the one anxiety dream, the one that continues to plague us throughout our nights when we should be resting soundly.  Mine involves my high school locker.  I've either forgotten my combination or I can't get it to work or I can't find my locker or my books aren't there when I do finally get it open.  Why on earth the locker has become the staple of my anxiety based dream, I will never know, but it's all mine.

Yesterday was registration day for David's 7th grade year.  We had already filled out all the forms, so we only had to drop off copies of our bills proving our address and pick up his schedule.  Once that was complete, we found his locker.  Just looking at the little slip of paper with the combination and directions for using brought up that feeling of anxiety in my chest.  But I talked him through it, and he got it on his first try.  And then he practiced it several times until he felt more comfortable.  And then we walked through the halls and located all his classrooms, visiting with familiar faces all along the way.

In those big halls full of kids in varying stages of adolescence, I couldn't help but look at my child and feel he just looked to young to be there.  Too young to be 7th grade.  Too young to walk past a group of 8th grade football players wearing their jerseys as they walk the halls, already pronouncing their dominance before the first day of school.  Too young to be getting certain looks from young ladies as we walked past them and they said hello to him.

It's all going by so fast.

I think back to the day I tried something I had seen on television.  David was an infant, and he was a crier.  He cried for the bulk of his first several months of life, and I was at my wits end.  So I propped the vacuum cleaner up on its side in the floor of his nursery and turned it on.  His crying went silent, and I fled the room for a little reprieve.  I felt so trapped back then by his dependence on me, by his needing me for every single thing.  I felt so trapped by my inadequacy when I couldn't make his crying stop.  I felt so overwhelmed by this little life that was all under my control.  What I couldn't see was how easy it really was back then, how easily I could protect him from the world even if I didn't know how to stop his cries.

Oh how I wish I could put him in a crib and flip the vacuum cleaner on again, drowning out the noise of this crazy world of middle school he's about to step foot into.

Dear Lord... thank you for my David.  Thank you for his wit and sense of humor and laughter we share.  Thank you for his caring heart.  Thank you for the areas in which he is challenged as this is where You will help him grow.  Protect him, Lord.  Give him a sense of Your presence even when he doesn't realize what it is.  Give him peace about a new year, a new school.  Be that Voice inside his head helping him to make good choices.  Give me strength as his mom to love him through it all and not to fret too much.  Amen...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making uncomfortable comfortable...

Grief makes people uncomfortable.

Well isn't that just the understatement of the century?

But it is the truth.  Grief, whether it be your own or belonging to someone else, makes one uncomfortable in such an intangible way.  When my mother died, I didn't really know how I felt exactly, but I knew that what was going on inside of me made me feel uncomfortable and out of place everywhere I went.  Everywhere.  The only place I felt at peace was in my own home.  And I would imagine that there are a lot of grieving people, like my father perhaps, that don't even have that luxury.  For him, home is the place where the bulk of memories of the lost loved one can be found.

Just last week, I encountered a situation in which I was around a mother in the very, very early stages of grief, having just loss her thirteen month old baby girl.  When she walked into the room, I immediately felt that same uncomfortable feeling I had in the months after my mother's death.  I had no expectation to feel this way as this is a woman I barely even know, but it hit me hard, and I wanted to run.  But I knew I was right where I needed to be, that God had brought this moment into my life to help and teach me.  I had a little talk with myself, "It's not about my feelings.  This is about her loss.  The best thing I can do for her in this moment is hug her and tell her I am praying for her."  And that is exactly what I did.

Because, I feel - don't know for a fact, don't have any Scriptural proof, but believe because I have experienced it in a real way several times in my life - that in these moments with others we may not even know on a very intimate level, that our souls connect.  Her soul, in that one hug, could feel that I hurt for her, that I understood grief in a real way in my heart, that I had compassion for her.  Perhaps you may think I am crazy or being dramatic or misguided in my feelings, but I still believe it to be true.  If the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and relates our prayers to the Lord (Romans 8:26), then why would He stop short of helping us to communicate in a similar way to others?

Truth is, there are moments when no words are needed or there are simply no appropriate words to offer.  What should I say to a mother who has lost her baby girl in the physical world?  What can I say?  There are no words powerful enough to take her pain away, none soothing enough to wipe away her grief.  But I know, through the experience of losing my Mama that all one needs to do is offer a genuine hug and the promise of prayer.  Those two things, those very simple things, mean so much more to a hurting heart than a sound bite about your loved one being better off.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that grief makes us all uncomfortable.  It forces us to ponder our own mortality, our beliefs, our faith.  But why do we as humans want to be comfortable all the time?  Grief is a part of life.  It falls into the not-so-pretty category, but it is still a part of life.

Scott and I were watching a documentary on war in which the soldiers were the commentators and the footage was filmed by the combat crew.  One of the soldiers made a point that stuck with me.  He said (and this is my very loose paraphrase), "When the shots start firing, your first inclination is to stop.  But that's what the enemy wants you to do so they can ambush you."  What I take from his recount of a war situation is that when we are confronted with an uncomfortable situation, such as being in the presence of someone deep in the throes of grief, we should fight through that fear of feeling uneasy, of saying the wrong thing, of appearing too vulnerable.  We should think more of the other person than of our self.  We should use that opportunity to do what Christ would do.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

O sleeper...

Love is patient.  Which means God is patient, because we all know that God is love.  But do you ever feel the gentle yet undeniable prodding from Him?  I liken it to how I wake my kids in the morning... I rub their back first, whisper their name, and then I may begin to poke at them a little (not hard, but just enough as to annoy them and rouse them into the conscious world).

God has sort of left me alone for the past year and three months.  It's been a whirlwind of emotion as I have dealt with the loss of my mother and both maternal grandparents.  It's been ugly at times, difficult. It's been painful.  I have found myself resorting to old ways of dealing with trauma... by withdrawing into my shell and isolating myself.  I trust no one outside my tight circle.  I talk to very few people about the pain of losing my mother.  I have pushed the notion of involving myself in organized religion even further to the back of my mind.

But something has been going on lately.  I feel Him stroking my back, encouraging me to wake up.  It came in the way of a phone call from a friend a few weeks ago inviting me to join a ladies' Bible study with her.  I have already seen some of the reasons why God wanted me to be there, and I know there must be more He waits to show me.  And then I wake to read a brilliant blog post about writing from an old friend from childhood and high school, Lisa, who talks about my own grandmother and her infamous writing advice.  Words I have heard too many times to count.  Words I need to listen to.

Truth is, I have been holding back so much here on my little blog.  Because I can't say there is anyone who wants to read about the reality of grief.  That it doesn't go away.  That it stretches on an on with no end.  That I have dreamt about her for a week and a half now.  Not nice dreams, but stressful dreams of trying to call her, trying to get to her, trying trying trying.  That she's not the only dead person in my dreams.  That everyone I have ever had some emotional connection to that has passed has appeared in my dreams lately in some capacity.  That this is so exhausting some days I just want to crawl in the bed and pull the covers over my head.

No one wants to read about how I am still surprised that she is really gone.  That now I try to fill her role as best I can for my brothers and my father.  How I know I will never be able to pull it off, especially since I can't talk to her for advice.

No one wants to know about the memories that don't go away.  Not the good ones, mind you, but the ones you want so desperately to forget.  The Friday morning I knew she was gone from us a full 36 hours before she breathed her last breath.  My time helping to care for her in the hospital after her brain surgery.  The way she looked in her wheel chair as I pushed her through Walmart.  These are things that don't go away even if you try your best to talk them our of your mind.

You see, this is why I am not writing.  Because I don't think there's a person on the planet that wants to hear about this.  I don't want to hear about, and I actually lived it all!  But then, I realize, maybe that's the whole point.  Maybe it's not what people want to hear about grief, but it is the truth about grief, this bizarre human emotion that no one seems to want to touch.  Perhaps in exposing the ugliness of it I could make it more tangible, more real, more human.

So I guess it's time to open myself back up in more than one way.  It won't be an instant change, as it has not been an instant shut-down, but there's no denying the need my soul has and the prompting I have felt from my Father.

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hello world...

Hello there little blogosphere.  I am still here.  Still thinking.  Still writing in my mind nearly every day. Seems like I have so much to say, but when I sit down to put it into words, it just doesn't work for me.

We just took a lovely family vacation last week.  Just the kids and the husband and me.  And we needed it.  We had mostly good weather, but we managed to enjoy the rainy times as well, even spending some time on the beach in a light sprinkle.

David is officially a preteen complete with Iphone and unpredictable moodiness.  He's hot or cold these days with his crazy mama, so I relish in the moments when he's soft toward me.

Madalyn did her usual searching for shells.  We found some really lovely ones.  The shells always make my brain swim with thoughts of God's magnificent creation, this beautiful world we live in.  It seems so ugly and unfair and full of injustices sometimes, but as I examine the beauty of a tiny shell, it all makes perfect sense to me somehow.

Scott cut his foot the very first day we were there, and, most likely, he could have used a couple of stitches in it.  But we doctored it ourselves and used an entire bottle of peroxide and lots of little butterfly bandages.  He made the best of it, he really did.  And he never let the kids know how much it hurt him.  He's such an amazing daddy.

And me.  I enjoyed being away from the normal world.  I enjoyed watching the water and the birds.  I felt so close to God there at the sea's edge, closer than I had felt in a long time.  And I had a good talk with Him.  I know He's there.  I know she's there with Him.  I know He sees the whole picture, just like He knew that me and Madalyn would pick up shells that were made for a totally different purpose other than our enjoyment.  He's pretty amazing like that.

Summer ticks away.  I am hoping that with the beginning of a new school year in just a month I can get my brain back up and running and writing.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dreams...

I heard their voices at 5:50 in the AM.  Three boys, not so small anymore, make a tremendous amount of noise with nothing but their voices.  David had impromptu spend the night company last night, but I was certainly not prepared for loud boys to wake me up at 5:50.

I tossed and turned for a little while, and then my ears adjusted to the noise and drowned it out, and I managed to doze off into that state of sleep that slips away as easily as it comes.

And then she came to me.

It was just she and I in our old house in Montgomery.  I had moved back home, though I am not sure why, and we talked about how I needed to find a job.  She suggested I go talk to my old boss at the coffee shop where I used to work.  We were in the kitchen making sausage pie.  She seemed so much like her that it felt so completely real and natural, just as life used to be.  And then Madalyn was there.  she ran in the kitchen for some reason and ran back out, and my mother said, "She wants to be called Madabug now."  And then she turned to me and repeated the weird name mimicking the way Madalyn would have said it if it were all real.  Madabug.  And we laughed like we would really do.  And I filled two pie crusts with the filling for the breakfast dish she once taught me how to make in that very kitchen.  And then the voices won out again, putting an end to the visit I shared with her in the vague space of my dreams.

Oh how I wish she could come more often.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mortar Creek...

Sunlight filtered through the thick canopy above leaving its lacy shadows on the cool flowing water below my feet.  I felt her there in that moment and remembered a conversation from several years ago.  We were on the way to my in-law's house to pick up little David who had spent the night with his Nana.  I passed over a little bridge, green sign at my right marking the name of the little creek below us: Mortar Creek.

"Oh... Mortar Creek.  Your grandaddy used to take us to swim in a Mortar Creek when I was little.  I wonder if that's the same one?"  I can see her looking at me from the passenger seat.  All I see is her face.

"I'm sure it is.  Can't be too many creeks by that name in this area."

I had no idea back then how little insignificant snippets of life would matter so much in years to come when the possibility of new moments were no more.  That's just it... once someone you love is gone, all you have left to hang onto are the old moments.

My husband grew up in the little rural area near Mortar Creek.  He terrorized that creek bed on a three wheeler as an adolescent, and now that he has a son of his own, he has been back down to revisit it, a trailer of four wheelers in tow, to share it with the little boy he loves so much.  Making new memories where so many old ones were created.  They beg me to go riding with them every now and again, but I wasn't raised doing such things.  Creeks and four wheelers and woods are not familiar to me, but every now and then, especially on Father's Day, I agree to go.

Sunday was my first visit to Mortar Creek.  The trip was actually Madalyn's idea, which is in and of itself pure irony.  She is sassy and girly and high maintenance to the core, but she likes to go riding with her brother and daddy every now and then.  I actually like this about her; she won't grow up as prissy as I did which will suit her well when she's older.

The water was crisp and clear, a lovely rock bed below the gentle flow.  And as I rode along on the back of my husband's four wheeler, the father of my two children, I watched the shadows of the sunlight dance with the movement of the water, and I could picture that day so long ago.  My lanky grandfather.  My mother and her siblings, tiny and laughing, kicking, playing in the coolness of the water.  And I felt her there with me.

We stopped a few times along the ride and collected rocks.  We have pea gravel in our beds in the back yard, and Madalyn loves to pick up big rocks when we go different places.  So she and I picked out ones we loved.  I was attracted to the dark ones, some almost black with what I assumed was age.  Perhaps she had touched one of them.  I will never know.  But I will think of her every time I see them.

Memories sometimes so surprisingly and beautifully intertwine, reconciling the past with the present.  And when they do, it's simply lovely.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Confessions of a baseball mom...

Sunday I sat in my comfy chair and watched what could possibly be the last baseball game David ever plays.  The sounds of passion, excitement, anger, frustration along with bat hitting ball and the pop of the glove filled the air all around me.  I floated back through time in my mind and watched myself transform from the baseball mom I once was to the baseball mom I have become.

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

He hit his first baseball in the yard where we live now.  I still picture him, so tiny and determined, standing there in little knit shorts, tongue most likely peeking out just a little from his lips, and his daddy tossing balls to him.  He had never hit a moving ball, only stationary off the tee or a golf ball on the ground.  He was so proud when he made contact.  He was only three.

At five, we signed up for tee ball.  He wore his teeny pin striped pants and Yankees jersey.  He could smoke the ball of that tee, and he loved every second of it.  He learned to field, and he learned the basics of the game.  I remember explaining to him as we watched a major league game on TV, "See you want to get them out so that your team can go hit again."  The light bulb went off inside his growing brain, and he replied, "OHHHHHH....."  It was the beginning of a boy's passion for team play, for the love of the American game.  And it was the beginning of this mama's insane passion for her little player, to cheer with reckless abandon, not caring how ridiculous I must have looked our sounded.

There was park ball and all stars.  And then there was the start of something new, of travel.  Our little group of boys was phenomenal.  They were all good, and they all loved to play.  And they won.  A lot.  And this mama found herself completely intertwined in the world of travel baseball.  Our whole life was scheduled around it.  There were many missed birthday parties and family functions, vacations based around tournaments.  But there were many trophies, many triumphs, many highs.  And I let myself ride the enormous wave of pride, of fun, living through my son's abilities and successes on the field.

But when David was nine, he wanted out.  The key player wasn't happy.  And I was devastated.  How could he give up on me????

Oh how I have been humbled as a mother.  How much I have learned through watching my son play baseball.  You see, there's nothing wrong with enjoying my son's sports, but when my own joy is at the forefront of my mind instead of his, when I am seeking my own gratification through anything he does, it's wrong.

After three very successful season of travel ball which included two world series and three state championships, David bowed out.  He played park ball for a year, and he thought he was completely over the sport at the end of that season, but another opportunity to play presented itself.  This season was filled to the brim (perhaps overflowing) with its own challenges, most of which I am not willing to discuss in such an open forum as this blog.  The team lost a lot.  David struggled deeply with his confidence.  But I watched as he began to stand on his own, began to smile again, began to enjoy the sport in the same way he once did in spite of what was going on around him.  And I watched my son take ownership of his pass time.  I watched him play for fun, for the love of the game, for himself, not for the praise of any coach or his mom or dad.

On Sunday, before his game started, I told him that of all the seasons he has played, all the games won, trophies and titles earned, this season has made me the most proud of him.  He lost his way for a minute, but he battled his way back.  He did it on his own.  And he looked at me, freckles spattered across the sweet bridge of his nose, and smiled so big at me.  And in that moment, he was five all over again.  And I felt like a better mama having learned such valuable lessons over the course of six years of baseball.

And I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

This fall, David wants to try out for the seventh grade golf team.  If he earns a spot, he will focus in that direction.  If not, he may play baseball again.  Whichever was it goes, I hope he finds satisfaction within himself.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Moments...

We pulled into the parking lot and took a space right in front of the little shop where we've been getting our hair cut for years now.  An older man was getting out of his cute little Mazda Miata to my left as my children filed out of the car arguing about who would sit in the chair first.  I was already frustrated, and it was only 12:30.

We walked in and took a seat near our stylist's chair, no one buzzing about the floor.  No one.  No other stylists, and no other clients.  Only me and the kids and the older gentlemen.  It was strange to say the least, and the gentleman and I shared a puzzled look.

One of the stylists emerged from the back and let us know they would be back out shortly.  That they were making phone calls.  That they had lost one of their stylists just this morning.  And my heart quickly sank down into my own personal pool of grief.

David looked at me.  "You're crying."

"I'm not crying."

"Yes you are.  You've got water in your eyes."

"I do have water in my eyes.  I hurt for them."

You see, in that moment, I felt it all, the loss, the confusion, the pain, the anger, the love, the longing, the grief.  Because the woman lost was not just a hair stylist with coworkers and clients she had for years, but rather she was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a cousin, a neighbor.  There are layers and layers of life lived, and layers and layers of grief to come.  So many will miss her.  So many will struggle with reconciling her death with what they know to be true, the very Presence of God in this world, and it's a tough process.  Because, really, when we think about it, what is grief all about to a believer?  It's the answering of the question, "Why didn't God let me keep her?"

I am not a believer in chance or accident.  I believe that in every moment of our lives, we are right where we are supposed to be.  I believe that if we have full faith in God, He will use every experience to pull us closer to Him.  I believe it so deeply in my bones that even in the midst of my current spiritual stagnancy, I know I was supposed to be there in that moment, to feel it in that place, and to hug a neck of someone that was hurting.  And I praise You, God, for pricking my heart and letting it pour out, for reminding me of Your Presence and Power and Purpose.

And I am reminded of a lovely Psalm.

I lift my eyes up to the hills - 
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
The Maker of heaven and earth. 
{121:1-2}


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Little Children...

I feel heavy lately.  So much going on.  So much hurt and loss and pain.  So much grief still weighing down on my soul that any other little thing that falls on it threatens to drag it down to the pit.  It's a tough world out there.

I was gone the bulk of the day yesterday and did not see the tragic events in Oklahoma unfold on television.  This morning, as I sipped my coffee, it all came down on me.  Tornados can be measured on a scale for earthly and physical damage, but the toll it takes on the people in that small town cannot be quantified.  The parents who have lost their child.  The teachers who shielded the lives of their students.  The children who lived through the terrifying experience.  The responders who are still hard at work in hopes of recovering all of those who are missing.  The lives of all these people will never be the same.

I turned on my Kindle this morning to do my chronological reading of the New Testament.  I haven't been reading much of my Bible lately.  I haven't read much in the copy of Jesus Calling that my sweet mama gave me.  I haven't been tapping into anything spiritually edifying.  Truth is, I just feel numb.  I don't feel much of anything at all.  I am settling into a life without my mother, and it still hurts too much, and I just don't want to feel any of it.  And then I see the pain unfolding on the morning news, the faces of those just beginning their own grief, and I hear that whisper... Keep looking for Me.  I am here.

This is what I read this morning:
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.  {Mark 10:13-16}

My mind immediately went to a Bible I had when I was little.  On the front or somewhere in it was a picture of Jesus with a herd of children at His feet.  Of course, it was some mainstream caucasian Jesus with a rainbow of ethnicity around Him.  But that's not how I pictured it this morning.  I pictured a more realistic Jesus, skin weathered by the sun, long unkept hair, holes still in his hands, and children all around Him, bloodied and battered by that storm.  They were closest to Him, but I was there, too, battered by the difficulties of this world.  Resigning myself of ever trying to make any sense of this place we live in, of its losses and hurts, of its imperfections.  Still clinging on to His love for me, though it makes no sense either.  Still believing that there is Hope in Him, that He one day will take us all into His arms and bless us just as He did those children in the Scripture above.

You see, children so blindly believe most anything.  They don't need all the reasons and proof and science and fact that adults need.  They accept love and forgiveness with ease.  They let go of mistakes and hurt in an instant.  They live unbridled by pride and self righteousness.  And that's how we should be.  It's much harder to live that way when the weight of the earth bears down on us year after year.

Jesus opened his arms to a host of souls yesterday in that tornado, the number of which is still unknown.  Many we know were children.  It's the same Jesus that opened His arms up for my mother in April, 2012.  It's the same Jesus that will open His arms for me one day and for you reading my words right now.  He is the same yesterday, today, forever.  So whatever your burden may be today, take it to His feet.  Give your tears to Him.  Tell Him about it.  He waits with open arms adequate to carry the load of what you may be carrying in your heart.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day...

I remember Scott closing the door behind him as he walked out of the master bedroom of our cozy garden home.  I could hear a little noise outside the door, mumblings from and almost one year old and a little rattling here and there.  When the door opened, little David came teetering through with a tiny box and a card and a smile as broad as his face.

He climbed up on the bed and gave me my first Mother's Day gift.  I opened the card first, and Scott had helped David scribble his name on the inside.  And then I opened the little box to find a gold heart with diamonds all the way around it.

It was a moment I will cherish for my entire life.

There's nothing like being a mom.  It's indescribable.  It's joy and pain and laughter and tears and hope and worry all wrapped up in a big package.  Sometimes I feel like someone has picked up the package and shaken it so hard that all the emotions are spinning out of control.  Sometimes I am quiet and still inside of my package enjoying and treasuring every moment.

What makes being a mom so incredible to me is the hope that one day my children will look at me and feel about me the way I felt about my mom.  That I am their voice of reason, their soft place, their constant source of unconditional love in this world.  If my children feel that way about me, my joy will be complete.  What more can any woman ask than their flesh and blood feeling that way about her?  I can think of nothing better.

This day... Mother's Day... they say set aside to recognize the one who gave us life... it will never be the same.  But she lives on through me.  She breathes in my motherhood as I work toward being the kind of mom she was.  Patient.  Wise.  Timeless.  Tireless in loving me.

I love you, sweet Mama!  We will be together again one day!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lazarus...

I feel as though I've hit the pause button and am merely hovering about through life right now.  I'm not reading my Bible much, my prayer life is stale, and I am emotionally numb.  I am tired of grief.  It's exhausting and all encompassing, and my mind never takes a break from it except when I sleep.  And even some nights I dream of her so there's really no break.

This morning, I purposed to read some in my chronological Bible.  There are a million things I need to be doing, but I made myself pick it up where I had last left off... at the story of Lazarus.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  "Where have you laid him?" he asked.  "Come and see, Lord," they replied.  Jesus wept.  

He saw Mary's grief, and He felt it in himself.  He grieved for the loss of his friend and for the pain his other friends were feeling.  He knows what it feels like to grieve.

He understands.

He lived.  He loved.  He lost.  He grieved.  He has overcome the world.  I needed that reminder this morning.

I like to think of myself as Mary right now.  I am still on my knees at His feet.  I've moved past the point of thinking I wish she were still alive.  I moved past being angry and questioning.  I moved on past the crying every day.  I am somewhere now on the timeline of grief, still on my knees, head down at His feet, begging each day for the strength to face the 24 hours ahead of me.  Begging for mercy on the hearts of those of us left behind struggling to make through without her.

And I know He knows the whole picture.  How each thing fits together perfectly and how it all ends.  And I know He hurts for us but rejoices with her.  And somehow, reading this story of Lazarus, comforts me this morning.  Makes me feel like everything really is okay.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mama,

There's so much... so very, very much... going on that I wish I could talk to you about.  How I miss your voice of reason in my ear every day!

Last week marked a year without you.  Everyone is always saying, "Once that first year is out of the way, it gets easier."  But I don't think that's true.  Maybe the second Christmas and birthday without you won't be so painful, but what about the first time Madalyn goes shopping for a prom dress or the first time David gets his heart broken?  What about those firsts that will come long after the first year is over?  Those are the firsts when I will need you most, when I will miss you most, when I will long to hear your voice again.  No, I don't believe missing you will ever get easier.

I got a new cell phone, and I thought I would lose your message I had saved from so long ago.  But last night I discovered that it was still there.  Madalyn wanted to hear it, so I put it on speaker, and we relished the moment.  And then she said to keep it forever.

I think we are all doing okay.  We are all still learning how to be in this world without you, Mama.  Oh how things have changed.  I find myself so intolerant of things I was once so patient with, the trivial things of life.  I am not nearly as afraid to speak up for myself or my children.  What do I have to lose?  You showed me true courage, and so I am trying to embrace it.  I just know that my life is forever changed without you in it.

I find it hard to talk about my grief with anyone else but dad.  Truth is, I don't want to share it with anyone.  I hang on to it, this final connection to you.  A shrink would tell me that I must find a way to talk about how much I miss you, but I don't care.  I will do this my way, much like I do everything else.  You were like that, too.

I wonder what you're doing now.  Maybe you're tidying up and preparing a spot for all of us to join you.  Maybe you're planting some flowers.  I don't know.  I ask Jesus to give you a hug sometimes when I talk to him, and I believe that He honors my request.  I still see you in the birds.  I always will.

 I love you still and always will.

Forever your daughter...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Refinishing...

I have this little patio set that my grandmother gave me about eight years ago when she moved out of her home and into a retirement apartment.  I have no idea how old it is, but it's nice and heavy and really cute.  There's a little round table, two chairs, and a two-seater bench.  When she gave it to me, it was solid black, the typical color for wrought iron pieces.  But over the years of sitting in the sun, the paint had begun to bubble up a bit and crack and peel revealing the colors in layers below.

I had been considering refinishing it all for quite some time, and just this week I made the trip to my local Lowe's to pick up all the necessary supplies.  Paint stripper, rust neutralizer, primer, paint, drop cloths, steel wool.  I picked out a lovely teal shade of blue, and I was so excited to get started.  Until I actually did, and then I realized that I had a big mess on my hands.

There were thick layers upon layers of paint.  The first application of stripper only ate through the first coat of paint on most of the chair I began with, and so I realized I would need to apply more.  What I was left with was a gunky mess of old paint clinging to the lattice work of the seat and around the scroll work at the top.

Lord have mercy.

So I put a little muscle into it, and I began to scrape, scrape, scrape.  After quite a bit of time and sweat, I felt like I was getting somewhere and could actually see what must have been the original color.  Seemed like the piece of furniture had lost so much of its shape with all the coats of paint from over the years.  Where the iron work had been delicately formed into curves and had been forged together, layers of paint had settled making curves fatter and clean lines frumpy.  With a lot of hard work, each piece of furniture was looking more and more like what its maker had intended.

If you know me at all, you know where my mind is going...

I thought about my life, how I started out fresh and clean and void of residue and gunk.  And then we grow up, we start living our lives, we learn what is really out there, what really goes on.  We make mistakes, some big and some small.  We cover them up in layers of regret and pain and guilt and shame.  Things may look okay on the surface, but underneath is still that same old crap, and it's jumbled up the clean lines of who our Maker created us to be.

His Grace is like the stripping agent.  He pours His blood on us, and miracles happen, dissolving away years of disgrace and disgust.  With a little work, we become as close to our original self as possible, leaving behind mere faded scars of our past.

I don't think I am the only one who looks around me, in real life and in social media, and thinks, "Look at her... she did it all right.  Made the right choices, married the right person the first time, has the right number of kids and does everything so well."  I somehow think that just because I can't see what lies beneath her shiny finish that she must not have layers and layers of the same crap I do.  But she does.  And so does everyone else.  We are all covering up something.  It's in our nature.  Read about the first sin in the history of mankind... when we are ashamed of something, we do anything in our power to hide it.

In Christ, however, we need not be ashamed.  We need not apply thick coats of primer and paint to alter who we really are.  He knows what is underneath anyway.  We only do it to impress the others around us.  So I wonder what the world would look like if we all bathed ourselves in the blood of Christ, letting go of the past, letting Him strip us down to the bare rawness of the soul of our childhood, where is was safe to tell the truth and love freely with zero expectations?

I guess that is what heaven will really be like.  Until then, I will continue my scraping, both literally and figuratively.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Finding the words...

I've been struggling for words lately.  What normally flows from my heart to the tips of my fingers so easily has seemingly ceased.

It's April.

To most, it is April, the month of pollen, bright blooms, and the greening of trees and lawns.  But to me it's the month I lost my mother.  And it is hard to believe that April has already come back around.  How is it possible that she has been gone almost a year?  It feels like a day and decade all at the same time, and I still can't reconcile my emotions.

A year ago, on this date, we shared one last family gathering.  Easter.  It was a lovely day.  The sun was bright, and the kids were all so happy.  My mother was exhausted, her body already beginning to fail though we didn't know it yet.  It was one last day of togetherness before all things we ever knew to be normal would be forever changed.

I am beginning to realize that I will never be the same.  I am okay, but not the same.  It's as if I've gotten out a familiar jig saw puzzle to put it all together and one piece is missing.  Can't find it anywhere.  One would still be able to make out the picture, appreciate its beauty, but it can't ever be the same if it's not complete.  And that is how I feel exactly.

I feel my best when I am outside in my yard doing things she loved and that I never dreamed I would do.  Last week, I put out pine straw and planted a few things, laid rock in my backyard flower beds, pruned back some trees that had gone wild.  I felt close to her, so much like her in those moments.  I imagined how she would be so happy with what I had done, how she would have answered the questions I wished I could ask her.  I contemplated how strange this world seems without her, so different.

I am grateful for the changes in me that have come about since I lost her... not worrying about things that don't matter, being aware of what it is important in life, not taking anything for granted.  But what I give to have another day with her...

Spiritually, I am all over the place, much like the ups and downs of my emotions.  I open myself up to feel close to God sometimes, while other times I close my feelings off to protect myself from not feeling too much.  Some days I don't want to feel anything at all.  I just want to make it through the day with sanity in tact, so I float.  I know full well He has given me all I ever needed in every tiny moment, and I know He never lets go of me even on the days I don't want to feel anything.  His Love and Mercy are amazing.

In my devotional time this morning, I was directed to Hebrews 13:8.  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  How comforting to know.  Predictable.  Dependable.  Immovable.  The same.  The one and only thing in our ever-changing lives that remains the same.  And I cling to Him who never changes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ordinary days...

I look at people differently now.  As I go about my normal daily functions, I don't make assumptions about those I walk amongst.

A year ago today, I had my last real day with my mother.  We went shopping together, and it was a perfectly lovely day, as normal as one could possibly have with a mom who was still recovering from brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her brain and liver functions steadily declining from the tumors in her life-sustaining organ.  Maybe to some we didn't seem normal, her looking a little odd, speech still slightly slurred, having to walk behind a cart to keep herself steady.  Us giggling a little more than usual, just giddy to be have the day with one another.

No one around us knew what a miracle that day was.  How could they?  How could they know how I had almost lost her to that tumor in her brain?  They would never believe the state she had been in just a few weeks before, unable to walk without aid and not having full use of her hand.  No one knew that she was a walking, talking, breathing miracle that day.  But I did.  And I drank it in.

I am still so thankful to have had that day.  Even more thankful that I documented it here in my little spot in the blogosphere.  Memories are so precious, and most of them are so ordinarily created that we don't stop to fully appreciate them.  For the most part, we don't even notice we are in the process of making a memory until the experience has long passed.

I look at people differently now.  I wonder who around me is creating that one last memory.  I wonder who around me is going about a normal day with someone they love completely unaware that it's their last ordinary day together.  I wonder.  I treat people differently.  I see more pain in eyes than I used to as I pass people in the aisle at Publix.  I catch glances more often, smile at more strangers.  I remember that day, and how ordinary it was, but how completely unique it will forever be in my mind.

Sharing God's love in midst of the ordinary.  A simple but genuine smile.  Patience with a stranger.  Unexpected kindness.  Making the cashier laugh as she rings up your ordinary purchase.  Remembering that we all wear our masks... and I will never know the stories hidden behind the faces of each person I meet as I carry out my own ordinary days.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Perfect day...

Yesterday was a lovely day here in the south.  Sunny.  70 degrees.  Light breeze.  Birds flying about, chirping to one another in the trees.

When Scott came home for lunch, we sat out on the deck and ate.  After he went back to work, I went outside to do a little maintenance in the yard.  Weeding, pruning, raking.

The knock-out rose bush my mother gave me six years ago had gotten out of control.  It was huge, taller than me, way too broad across, and leaves only on the exterior tips of each branch.  I got my clippers out and went to work on it, first trying to shape it up a bit.  I quickly discovered it needed more than a little shaping.  The branches were all intertwined and needed to be cut back.  There were dead areas that had to be removed.  It just needed an overhaul, so a few hours later, it was cut back to not much of anything at all.  I can't wait to watch it come back to life, bursting out with new branches and leaves and buds.  By summer, it will be a totally different bush than it was before.

I cleaned out the beds in the back yard, pulling weeds and clearing them of all the accumulation of winter leaves.  I raked up an area full of hickory nut shells.  I sweated and soaked in the sunshine.  I thought about my mom all day.

"She would have loved today," I said over and over throughout the afternoon.  And she would have.  She would have spent the day as I did, outside, in her yard.  She would have commented on how perfect the temperature was.  And then the thought hit me that perhaps this is what every day is like for her now.  Perfect.  Perfect temperature.  Perfect amount of sun and breeze.  And I went to bed with a smile thinking how happy she must be.

Oh how I miss her so, but I am thankful she has a perfect day every day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

God is...

Love is patient, love is kind.

I have the words written on an index card and placed above my kitchen sink so that I can read them as often as I stand there to wash dishes and fill water cups.  My hope is that the more I read them, the more  likely the words will seep deep into my soul and perhaps become easier to carry out.

In fact, love is many things.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails...  {1 Corinthians 13:4-8}

I have tried, over the last several years, to focus on this Scripture, specifically in terms of how I love, whether it be my husband, my children, or my friends.  It's an extensive list of what love should look like, how it should behave, and to be quite honest, I fall short in several of the characteristics.  Especially in the patience part.

The past few weeks have been internally difficult for me.  I've reached a point in grieving my mother in which I don't talk about it much.  There's lots of thinking about it and praying about it, but not a lot of verbal communication with anyone about how much I miss her.  I find it hard to discuss it for a multitude of reasons.  Life has moved on,  No one in my life wants to focus so deeply on one specific loss.  To be frank, it doesn't mean as much to anyone else in the world as it does to me, the loss of my mother.  My dad grieves as deeply as I do (most likely more), but his experience is still so different from mine.  Grief is so personal and unique that I have come to feel it's a sacred experience that I would rather not share with anyone.  And so I feel I have slipped into a numb place... I don't want to feel anything at all, and my intimacy with God has become stagnant.  It's still there, but it is neither growing or shrinking, just the same.

My internal thoughts have been, "He must be really irritated with me... I haven't been spending as much time with Him as I should, my attitude is crappy, I am too sad... I am annoyed with myself, so surely He is annoyed with me."

Love is patient, love is kind.

The other day, I stood over my sink, rinsing and placing items in the dishwasher.  I glanced up to see the words on that index card, the reminder of how my love should be to those around me, and something inside me said, "God is love."

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  {1 John 4:7-8}

God is love.  God is patient, God is kind.  God is not easily angered.  He keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  God never fails.

In that moment, He whispered to me, "Sweet girl, I am not irritated with you.  I am here.  I am patient.  I believe in you.  I love you."

You see, I had been reading 1 Corinthians as a flat, one dimensional concept: this Scripture shows how I should love those around me.  But, in reality, not only is it how I should love my husband, my children, my co-inhabitants on this earth, but it's how God loves me.

It's how God loves me.  And you.

Isn't that amazing?

For the first time in a while, I took a deep breath.  Two full lungs of oxygen in followed by a heavy exhale.  This sacred experience I am going through, grieving the loss of my mother, my friend, my confidant, can only be completely shared with and understood by my Father in heaven.  And He loves me.  He is patient with me.  He will not give up on me ever.  Even in the midst of grief that has caused a numbness in my soul.  He will wait for me.

As I type these words, I feel His love in such a different way.  And I pray you do, too, as well.

Monday, March 4, 2013

I was in the left turn lane heading home from a small grocery run to Walmart.  I looked over to my right and saw her standing there, bushy dry blonde pony tail, jeans, a bright red gas can at her feet, and a cardboard sign.  "Need money for gas.  God bless you," it read in bold black letters.

My mind began to spin as I looked shamefully away.  Why was she there?  What brought her to the corner of a main highway and a shopping center entryway to beg for money?  Was it drugs?  Mental health issues?  Rape or abuse?  The list of reasons went on and on in my mind.

But then it hit me: it doesn't really matter what her reason is.

She really stood at the corner of desperation and shame.  No matter what brought her to that place, the emotions would be the same.  I can't imagine feeling that desperate... one in which I put marker to cardboard and hold it beneath my face as strangers ride by and make their judgements.

In that moment, I wished I had some cash on me.  I never have cash.  But I would have given anything to hand her a few dollars.  I would have told her, "I hope you find your way back home soon."  Because, when I think about it, most of us have looked like her on the inside.  Maybe we haven't seen that low of a time in the flesh, but spiritually, most of us have reached the point where we believe we've exhausted all our funds and options.  And then He drives by as we're standing there on that corner of desperation and shame, and He stops.  He doesn't only give us money, but He gives us a ride, a place to stay, a hot meal and a smile.

So this afternoon, I am feeling blessed.  Thankful.  Taken care of.  Not just in the physical and financial sense, but in the spiritual as well.  I guess that makes me doubly blessed.  But she will haunt me for a few days.  I will wonder if she ever got what she needed.  I will wonder if she needed what she got.  But mostly, I will wonder if she knows Him.

I pray that she will find her way Home soon.

Friday, February 22, 2013

This morning, I read the following words from my copy of Jesus Calling (by Sarah Young), a little book my mother gave me a couple of years ago:

You need Me every moment.  Your awareness of your constant need for Me is your greatest strength.  You neediness, properly handled, is a link to My Presence... Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice - deep dependence on Me, or despair.  The emptiness you feel within will be filed either with problems or with My Presence.

How fitting on this day, February 22, 2013, the day that marks ten months without my mother.

I was telling my father last night... just last night... that there's this emptiness within me, within us.  She's gone, and there's a hole.  A void.  A gaping crevice, deep and wide.

The past week, maybe the past two or three, have been some of the most emotional for me.  Can't say why exactly.  It has caught me off guard.  I am thinking more about her.  Dreaming more about her.  Missing her more than ever.  Perhaps it's that the fact that she is really gone has settled in and become more real than before.  Perhaps it's that we are nearing the year mark and I feel my connection with her is fading, fading, fading as the days go by.  Perhaps this is just the way it will always be, a grief that ebbs and flows but never disappears, as large and vast as the ocean that will never dry up and cannot be contained.  I really don't know.

The trees are budding.  The bold purple of the Wandering Jew my mother gave me so many years ago from her own yard to stick in the ground and let it take root is beginning to pop up from the faded pine straw and collection of dead leaves.  The weeds are popping up in the yard, bright and green.  The days are growing longer.  Spring is beginning.  And it doesn't seem right to me that this cycle is starting over without her here.  Maybe that's why I've been so emotional as of late.  Evidence abounds in the world around me all day long that life goes on without her.  And I am still shocked by it.

I am trying to keep my focus on my Savior.  Trying.  He is holding on to me with a firm grasp.  As awful as all of this has been, watching my mother suffer, watching her fade, losing her, I have at least walked away with a steadfast faith that He is always there, always loving me, always forgiving, always providing what I need in every single moment.  And I am so thankful for Him.

Sweet Jesus, keep my mind focused on You and not heading toward despair.  Thank You for holding on to me and never letting go.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Memories..

Some days begin with raw memories.  Unexpected.  Unwelcome.  I have no idea why, but some just do.  Today is one of those days.

They were wheeling my Mama off to surgery.  A craniotomy, to be exact.  A surgeon would take out a piece of her skull, remove a tumor, and place that thin piece of bone back where it once was.  All surgeries are dangerous, but this one felt different to me.

She hadn't been the same since she had fallen.  She was silly and goofy, uninhibited.  It was funny, sure, but it wasn't my mother.  I feared that she would never be the same.

We weren't sure what caused the fall, but we knew what was in her brain.  A baseball sized tumor had grown inside her head, unexpected and unwelcome, just like the raw memories that pierce my heart from time to time.

The anesthesiologist was at her head, and we were saying our goodbyes before they took her in an elevator to the surgical unit.  And I felt this urge, this need to pray with her.  And so I took her hand and I whispered to my Father and Savior only loud enough for us to hear.  And she heard the words, she felt my fear, and she said to me, "Everything is gonna be okay."  And for a moment, she sounded like my Mama.  Not a brain surgery patient.  Not a woman with a massive tumor in her head.  Not slurred or silly or different.  For a second, it was as it should be.

And I woke this morning with that memory.  And I don't want to think about it.  Not at all.  There's so much I don't want to think about.  Not the brain surgery.  Not the cancer.  Not the last week.  Not the sights or the experiences of the end.  Not the loss.  Not the sadness.  Not the way this still doesn't make any sense to me at all.  Not the fact that I am still surprised I have to remind myself that she is really gone.  Not the way that I wake up on a random Wednesday morning reliving something and feeling the pain in such a different way.

But then there's this tiny blessing of hearing her words in my mind all day.  Everything is gonna be okay.  Everything is gonna be okay.  Everything is gonna be okay.

Oh what I would give to hear them again.  To feel her words drip over me.  To bathe in them.  To cherish them.

One day, Lord, one day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Discovery...

I've lived 288 days without  my mother.

Seems so strange, even now, to say that.  Without.  It still doesn't seem real in so many ways.

This far into my grief, I am surprised by moments when the weight sinks down into the pit of my stomach and the tears begin to fall.  Random quiet moments when things are calm and settled around me and there's nothing to divert my attention away from the fact that she's gone.

I had one this morning.  I was so shocked by it, so puzzled.  One thinks they can control their emotions and feelings, one believes they have it all together.  And these little moments are proof that we really can't control sadness or grief.  It will not be harnessed or tamed.

I stood in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal, and that feeling fell down on top of me suddenly and uninvited.  She's not here.  She's really not here.

A few hours later, I was in Madalyn's room cleaning out the drawers of a piece of furniture I am planning on spray painting to go along with her new decor.  I dumped out the contents of one and found something I thought was lost, something Madalyn took with her from my mother's room on the day of her funeral.  It's this little clear rock with a pink ribbon on the inside, and Madalyn picked it out for my mother when she was in the hospital after her brain surgery.  I thought it was lost, but there it was underneath some bathing suits.  It was there all along.

I held it in my hand knowing that she had held it once, too.  And then I whispered, "She really is here."

It's so hard missing her, her very presence in my life, not hearing her voice or words or laughter.  It's so hard to be without my mother, my friend.  So hard not to have her to share something with or to ask a question.  But somewhere, just underneath the sadness and the cruel fact that this world goes on without her in it, she's there.