2014

69498_1424146644489151_450715240_nI kind of want to say, “Screw you 2014!”

But this is the very last year that actually contains a living Graham…

So I kind of want to hold it close and never let it go.

I can’t go anywhere but forward, but I still just really want to go back.

“I’m Not!”

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Charlotte and I stood in the busy reception area after today’s church service, when the small library caught her eye. “I wanna check out a library book!” she blurted.

Just getting out of bed today was difficult for me. I hadn’t even managed to brush my teeth and had used Evan’s deodorant because I’ve been putting off critical shopping.  My kids’ diet this week has consisted of fast food, pizza, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The list of humiliating and shameful truths could go on and on.

I feel like a shell of a person… a shell of a life.  Before church started, a friend had earnestly pressed, “how are you doing it?”  I wanted to answer, “I’m not!” but didn’t trust myself not to melt away right then and there so instead I attempted a sound bite of an answer – something that feigned perspective.

How do I do it???  Well, today I showed up I guess.  It’s all I had in me to give – I’m used up, broken, and empty, but somehow here I am.

I looked down at my daughter and absently answered, “No library book today.”

She pushed back, heightening the pitch of her voice and stretching her arms up to hang off of me, “Mom PLEEEAASSSSE! I just REALLLLY want a book!!!!”

One library book – a completely normal and reasonable request for a 5-year-old, but all I could see was an overwhelming burden and a guaranteed failure.  I could imagine waiting for endless minutes as she chose the right book, following behind her to re-sort the books that were cast aside. Waiting in line to check it out, only to be informed that we have yet to return a storybook from this time last year… a Christmas book that I had read to all three of my children.

The book is on one of our shelves at home and returning it has gotten dropped to the bottom of the to-do list over and over again in the aftermath of Graham’s death.  I would have to apologise to the library volunteer or try to explain things… maybe offer to pay for it or promise to return it – knowing fully that I wont…

If Charlotte were actually allowed to take a new book home, I would be responsible for it.  I would be the one ensuring that the girls set aside time to read and enjoy it and keep it from getting lost or ruined.  I would have to pick it up off the floor every night to protect it from the puppy, and keep Eleanor from sneaking off with it (she can still be naughty with crayon drawings in inappropriate places).  Finally, I would need to remember to bring it back to church, remember to put it in the car, take it out of the car, and back to the library where it belonged.

These are normal things, reasonable chores associated with mothering… living.  Only I’m not normal or reasonable right now.  Am I even mothering at all? Or living?

 “Charlotte, I said no.” I snapped at her curtly.

She went on, “MOMMMMM!!!!”

I dropped to the ground in front of her and cupped her small shoulders in my hands.  “I can’t do it today Charlie, it’s just one too many things.  Today is difficult – this season is difficult – I can barely do the simple stuff and I just can’t do one more thing, I just can’t.” She looked into my eyes and softened in my arms. “It won’t always be like this.” I promised her as the tears welled in my eyes.  “We’ll be able to check out library books again someday… just please not today, ok?”

“Ok.” she answered without a hint of disappointment in her voice, and then she wrapped her small frame around me in a big hug.

On one hand, I am so very grateful for the grace and acceptance my small daughter showed me this morning.  On the other hand, I am terrified that my weakness is ruining her.  That she is feeling forced to care for me, to hold the pieces of our life together because I can’t be trusted with this essential task.

I won’t stay here – in this place – too much is at stake. I can imagine a different version of myself… better than this.  Somehow.  Someday.

Just not today, I guess.

The Arms of Jesus

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Shutting the door behind us and moving together in a mass of tears and tangled bodies we walked away from our dead boy. I looked down the long hallway to discover our pastors moving quickly toward us. Numbed surprise rushed over me, as I hadn’t thought to call them.  Yet here they were – moving in intense, committed mission.

I was overwhelmed by the incredible beauty in these men.  Valiant and trustworthy, handsome and strong they moved like gladiators entering an arena… Like Jesus himself…   In my memory’s version they literally shined with light, and the combination of relief and pain that tingled in my fingers will never be matched.  When I look back at that singular experience in time – I am rocked to the core – for I have never seen Jesus more clearly.

I didn’t fall apart as I watched my son crushed under the force of chest compressions or while my strong father heaved silently over Graham’s small, white body.  I made all the necessary phone calls and texts, answered questions and made decisions – all without falling apart.

I didn’t fall apart as I wrapped my body around my son and outlined his eyebrows and fingered his earlobes until he became cold and stiff in my arms.  I didn’t fall apart as my husband’s face morphed into someone unrecognizable and pink-tinged fluid bubbled out of a tube in my baby’s mouth. I even left him in a stranger’s arms and walked away… and didn’t fall apart.

Like a soldier riddled with bullets, I remained standing and coherent for a slow motion instant before crumpling to the ground in defeat. And so it was, under the fluorescent lights of an ER hallway, wrapped in the arms of our shepherds I finally began the inevitable process of falling apart.

Their very presence offered just enough security and hope to peek inward and realize nothing remained but gushing torrents of mutilated life.  And it was Jesus himself – in the life and breath of these two men – who held me as my soul gave way.   I knew somehow that I was safe – protected and cherished even as the waves consumed me.

I would in fact survive the impossible – although I didn’t know it then.  I would be plucked from the wreckage – the quivering, blackened pieces would be held together until scars could begin to replace the living tissue. I would reemerge as someone else, and shoulder all the trauma and grace with a phantom heart…

But I had to give in first – fall apart… in the arms of Jesus.

Forever

 “And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.” Philippians 1:6

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My middle child prayed a simple prayer the other night.  She gave Jesus her darkness and promised her devotion.  She asked the God of the universe to come live within her – to be with her and for her… forever.

This precious girl is still so young, with so much more to learn and discover, but I don’t doubt her capacity to comprehend love.  And I don’t doubt the power of God’s grace in her life.

I prayed a similar prayer many years ago, and then went on to walk a path full of hope, confusion, mistakes, triumphs, pain, anguish, glory, peace…  But always God was with me.

To be honest, I’m not sure the precise moment I was ‘saved’.  When information developed to relationship and I first recognized “God in me”… but I have no doubt of my place in God’s plan now.  The assurance of heaven is solid…

Of course, I can never know the inner-workings of God’s relationship with Eleanor or where her journey will take her, but I am so grateful to have witnessed this simple, profound moment in her life…

Today I am celebrating the beginnings of God’s good work!  Will you join me today in praying for my little girls?  May God be with them always.

Merry Christmas

May the God of HOPE fill you with JOY and PEACE as you trust in him.  So that you may overflow with HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

These words have been my mantra through this holiday season and God is certainly ministering to my tender heart .  It’s a simple, authentic verse and has filled my thinking and dreaming… It seems an adequate defense against the frivolous sentiments candy-coating the season.

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Ted E. Bear Hollow held a Tinsel and Tears event and we got to craft the afternoon away. My girls are pretty obsessed with crafts these days so I was really grateful for some good old-fashioned fun!  For me, it was just the right amount of festiveness and I didn’t have to ignore the heavy sorrow in my heart.

We made votive candles, tote bags, gingerbread houses, mugs, ornaments, and a beautiful diorama.  My favorite project was the family tree.  The glass jar held rocks for specific memories that popped up in our conversations, and there was a branch for each of us that held stars for our hopes and wishes for the future.

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To be honest, I agonized over how to use the special elf pajamas that Graham wore last year.  I was planning on sewing them into a Christmas stocking but when it came down to it the whole idea seemed unsettling.  Instead, we took a trip to Teddy Bear Connection and made a little stuffed fox.  Graham’s PJ’s fit perfectly and the girls are thrilled with their ‘Grammie-Fox’.  He helps fill our space with a tangible presence, and is especially nice for photos.

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As for our stockings… There’s five hanging.  Someday I’d like to make or find a matched/coordinating set with names… Just couldn’t make it happen this year, too many decisions – too much heaviness.

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I had a lot of ideas this year regarding sentiment and memorial, but in the end I decided on a making a simple ornament to give him a place on our tree – a quiet but powerful testament to Christmas 2014.   Fabric scraps from his wardrobe and a small styrofoam ball offered a sweet tribute, and a poignant presence.

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Lastly,  I let myself shop for him.  I share this with vulnerability because I’m not sure if it’s a healthy choice.

Every time I walk by the latest in boy clothes, toys, even room decor… I realize I can’t buy them.  I would have, could have… but now I can’t.  So I regularly grieve in the aisles of Target – wanting to mother my son in the same way I do my daughters… anticipating his needs and wishes, surprising, providing…

Instead of just avoiding the shopping areas where I will be reminded, I tend to deliberately walk by. It lets me pretend a little, imagine a different world… a place where he is here and almost two years old.  I find strange comfort in this ritual, but practically it always ends with an empty card.

We ‘adopted’ a single mom and her two-year old son who need some help this Christmas. I shopped for two boys at once and it felt really good.  I could indulge in pain and ground myself in reality, but also find some goodness and hope.

I suppose I should follow up with all the things I wanted to do but didn’t, all of the moments where I just couldn’t fabricate a silver lining.  Instead of leaning into hope I give into despair… a lot.  Sadness wells up and I yell at my kids, fight with my husband, and cringe when the joy of others edges too close.  But the God of grace keeps finding me somehow, and brings me back from the depths.  Again and again… forever.

May the God of HOPE fill you with JOY and PEACE as you trust in him.  So that you may overflow with HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Seat Belt

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**** I want to make something very, very clear before you begin reading this piece.  This post is NOT about suicide, even though it explores reminiscent themes.  I know there are grievers who wrestle with thoughts of suicide, but this is simply not the form my demons take.  Oh, and I use the F-word :)****

I jumped into the car and put the key into the ignition, but instead of reaching for my seatbelt next, I pulled out of the parking stall completely unbelted.  I always wear my seatbelt, it’s a completely ingrained habit – I do it every time.  Except this time… this time I just didn’t feel like it.

I didn’t  know why I had the urge not to reach for the belt, but I consciously validated the impulse, and enjoyed the physical freedom that allowed my spiritual self to explore deeper truths.

Death often feels like the most powerful force possible, and I’m merely existing in the underbelly of its ferocious domination.  The broken-ness of death is the champion in this world and, I’m the pitiful loser – beaten down and desperate, crying out for mercy.  The only thing worse than Graham’s death is more – more death, more loss, more destruction… the possibilities are crippling.

Day after day, I attempt to put on the armor of God’s promises and fight against death’s lies. Over and over again, I stand firm in faith trying to tease out the hidden beauty. I seek for peace while constantly holding fearfulness at bay. On this day, however, the anxiety welled within me and in a split-second moment, something let loose.

Inching through a Target parking lot without my seatbelt, I internally threw aside my fighting gear and in a nothing-to-loose attitude, gave the death monster a giant “Fuck you!!! So what I might die?!?”  I taunted between clenched teeth,  “Bring it! I’m so tired of being afraid of you!!” In desperate abandon I hurled myself, crazed and swinging, into the heart of my fear.

Before I could even catch my breath, the fasten seat belt alarm began chiming.  As I begrudgingly pulled the belt across my lap and clicked it in place, heaven felt so close… so powerful.  In the safety of my mind I could give into the death-monster completely and it didn’t eat me up – it didn’t dare. I could feel Jesus within me… Graham too.   Organically and authentically, my fear was exchanged for hope.

I’m just a death away – one breath, one heartbeat from glory.  Redemption.  Wholeness. What a beautiful, liberating, exhilarating feeling – to throw myself at death and actually feel the promise of heaven meet me instead.