Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Hundred Little Things and More

Today marks 4 years and 4 months since you left us - 52 months, 224 weeks, 1,580 days. In terms of Eternity, it is just a drop in the bucket of time. Most days, it seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, it was. Life is different in so many ways now. Memories are marked by what happened while you were still alive and what has  happened since you left.

And there are so many memories. Some are the huge, life- changing ones - weddings, births, anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays; but most of them are the little things. The hundred little things and more. Those moments in time, that make up a day, a week, a month, a year. The hundred little things and more that don't really seem to matter at the time because you take for granted that there will be a hundred more.  And then, one day, there are no more - the memories, the hundred little things, are all that are left.

At first, every single one of them hurt. A hundred little things and more that could bring me to tears, in mere seconds. Tears that would last for hours or sometimes days. They hurt so much, cut so deep, that sometimes I could hardly breath.  While I found it impossible to believe all those memories would ever become more than a reminder of what I didn't have anymore, the painful recollection of what I'd lost, the fact that you were no longer here, in time, they did.  Slowly, ever so slowly, some days, when one of those hundred little things would come to mind, they would bring a smile.

They became a connection between what was, what is, and what is yet to come. They became a reminder of the past, yet at the same time, a bridge to the future. They became a source of joy and hope.  (And, yes, at times, they still brought tears. Sometimes, the tears were still torrential, but more times than not, they were short- lived). They made me grateful - grateful for what we had, the life we built together, the children we had and the men they had become, and the future ahead. They made me more aware - more aware of the hundred little things and more that make up my days, weeks, and months now that will also become a part of who I am. They made me stronger because I know I can go through dark days and still come out the other side. They made me acknowledge the pain and struggles in others and understand in a much deeper way. They made me so much more attuned to both the beauty and the pain that is all around.

But most of all?  They enabled me to see the Grace and Love that God surrounded me with.  I always knew it was there, but it was not until it was all  that was there, that I truly appreciated the depth and the magnitude of His love and grace. I never saw how He covered me with them in a hundred little ways. Not until I was able to see myself through the filter of this unending love and undeserved grace, was I able to extend them to myself and others.

So, thank you. Thank you for the life you lived. Thank you for the many gifts you left behind, for the hundred little things and more that are always in my heart and in my mind and will forever be a part of who I am.  Thank you for the hundred little things and more that let me know you are never far. Thank you for loving the person that I was and helping me become the person I am now. Thank you for the sons you gave me and the father you were to them. Thank you for being here for us, then and now, in a hundred little ways and more.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

To my Sons on Mother's Day

                                                                                                              May 14, 2017

Dear Sons,
This is the 32nd year I have celebrated Mother's Day as a Mom.  In the quiet of the morning I am remembering past Mother's Days and smiling.  I remember the many breakfasts in bed, me lying there, pretending to still be asleep, while you both and your Dad banged and clanged dishes and pots and pans.  I remember the smells of bacon frying and coffee brewing.  I remember the trays of food brought to me in bed that always held at least one flower from the garden.  

I remember homemade cards on construction paper with little hand prints, stickers, wildly colored flowers, and such heartfelt love.  It seemed like the blink of an eye and those homemade cards on the breakfast tray gave way to beautiful purchased cards that you knew would still make me cry. (I know, I know - it is not hard to make me cry.)

I remember the marigolds planted in Dixie Cups, the homemade heart magnets, and all the other treasures you have made for me throughout the years.

Then, I blinked and you were both men,  both taller than me,  both wearing shoes bigger than your Dad's - not my little boys anymore.  Each with your own distinct personalities and your own unique wisdom.

I blinked and one of you were not here for the first time ever on Mother's Day, gone away to college. While I was extremely proud of your choice, I missed you terribly.

I blinked again and the other one of you was not here for the first time ever on Mother's Day, gone overseas to serve our country.    I was also extremely proud of your choice, but I missed you terribly.

Part of me misses those Mother's Days when you were both were so very young and home was your whole world. Part of me misses those days when construction paper cards, breakfasts in bed, and a daffodil picked from the yard were given with such pride and love. I miss those days when you were both small enough to fit in my lap and a kiss and a glass of Koolaid would fix just about anything.  I will forever cherish  those days. Sometimes, they seem like only yesterday.  Some days, it seems like a million years ago.

We've walked some tough roads since those days.  We've had some very hard days, months,and even years.  Some were consequences of our own choices.  Others were paths we never would have chosen, if we had been given the choice. Through it all, the ups and downs, the good and the hard, the joy and the pain,  the chosen and the unchosen,  there were things that remained constant.

We were always there for each other, through the laughter and the pain, one giving strength when the others were weak.  We always knew God was with us, and that He did indeed have a plan, even in what seemed like the darkest of days.

I think most Moms (and Dads) have doubts about their parenting, if they are honest with themselves. Did they do the right things?  Did they do enough of the right things to negate the not right things? Were they available enough? Were they strict enough?  Were they too strict?   I have had all those doubts and many more, but what I can say without any doubt, is that I have loved you both since the very moment I knew you were coming.  I have loved you with a love that is strong and fierce and protective and unconditional.  I am so proud of the men you have become.  You are both faithful, kind, compassionate, loving men.  The world needs more men like you two.

I am so thankful, proud, and yet so humble that God entrusted me to be your Mom.  You both are the reason I get to celebrate this day.

To the moon and back.....


Monday, June 22, 2015

Lessons from a Mourning Dove

April 17, 2015
Dedicated to my dear, sweet friend, Joy

One of my husband and my favorite ways to relax in Michigan's short, but beautiful spring and summer seasons was to sit out on our back patio (one of my favorite places in the whole world) and watch the birds our feeders attracted.  While this may sound boring to some more adventurous people, we shared our hearts and many long conversations over coffee or iced tea out there. There were times we didn't talk at all, but shared the comfortable silence that couples develop after many years of marriage, just soaking in the sounds and beauty God has surrounded us with.

I cherish those days and the memories they hold. This will be the third summer I have sat on the patio, watching the birds alone. My husband of 30 years passed away quit unexpectedly in January of 2013. I can often feel his presence still right beside me. But this is a tale of hope and anticipation, not one of sadness.

Our feeders don't attract any exotic birds - mostly tiny Sparrows and chubby Robins with an occasional bullying Blue Jay or colorful Cardinal.

We had a pair of Mourning Doves that seemed to frequent our little spot of Paradise behind the house. I had read somewhere that Mourning Doves mated for life and that if you ever saw a lone Mourning Dove, it's mate was probably either missing or dead. And inevitably, when we saw only one Dove, the other would soon arrive. They would feed off the seeds that had dropped to the ground and fly off, frequently to perch together on the power lines crossing over the back of the yard. We never saw babies, just the pair of them.

And that first spring and summer of my widowhood? It was hard, so very hard. The trees budded, the
 perennials sprouted, the grass greened, the birds returned. And I did the things I had always done-    planted flowers and the vegetable garden, sat outside and read, had my coffee out on the patio - mostly because it was what I had always done and I didn't know what else to do. I also took over the chores my husband had always taken care of- fertilizing the lawn  mowing, trimming the shrubs. In retrospect, it was my way of trying to keep some control and normalcy in what had become a very different life. It was also my way of trying to show our sons that I was ok and they didn't  need to worry about me. I would be fine. But it felt different. I didn't derive the peace and tranquility
 from these things that I had in the past. I was simply going through the motions. It was almost like my body and spirit were disconnected. But I kept on doing the motions. Mostly because I had to- one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one day, sometimes one hour at a time.

And the doves? Only one returned that first year. At first, it made me sad and seemed to echo my loneliness. I soon started looking for the dove whenever I came out.  I watched it feed underneath
the feeders. I watched it fly off whenever my dogs decided to chased it away, only to perch peacefully
on one of the wires. I listened to it coo, perched high up in a tree. I heard the graceful fluttering of its wings.   I watched it do what God had created it to do- carry on, keep doing what it needed to do to survive. I even felt like it was, at times, watching over me.

I began to see my one lone dove and it's peaceful cooing as a sign, a gift if you will, from God. A gift that had special significance to only me.

"You may be feeling lonely, but you are not alone. I am here- just look around, " God spoke to me through that dove.

"You are doing just fine, in fact much better than you think", God whispered to me.

 "You are so much braver than you feel", God quietly reminded me, "You can do all things through
 My Son."

"You are doing exactly what you need to be doing," God encouraged me, "you just need to move
through this at the pace I have set for"

"You are going to be fine, even though it doesn't feel like it now, " God reassured me through that dove.

And three summers later, I sit in my backyard and I am not lonely.  I am so much braver. I am moving at a slower pace, and most days I am just fine.

And my lone dove?  It has come back every year. In fact, I think it is around more now than in the past. And it continues to soar, gracefully, from tree to wire to feeder and back again, cooing peacefully, just as God created it to do.

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am The Lord, your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life."
Isaiah 43:1-4

If  you are walking through the sweeping river or the burning blaze today, or if you find yourself there tomorrow, know whatever it is you are going through, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Look for Him.    God is right there with you. Your feet may get wet, your shoes may get singed, but you will not be swept away or set ablaze. He wants to show you His mighty power  and incomprehensible love and unsurpassing grace. Although the path may be long, He will set your feet on dry, unparched ground again. Because you are precious and honored in His sight and He loves you.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Thing About Grief

Sometimes you know the loss is coming, sometimes you don't. Either way, you are never prepared. You can never be prepared. Not prepared for the shock. Not prepared for the deep void. Not prepared for the pain unlike any other you have ever known. Not prepared for the duration. Not prepared, when you think you are finally better, for it to slam into you again.

Early on, I remember someone saying something to me about the next year and my response was, "oh, I hope this doesn't take a year."  Almost 2 years later, some days the pain is still so fresh and debilitating, it feels like it was only yesterday. A memory crops up, seemingly out of nowhere and it feels like a scab being ripped off- still so raw and fresh.

What I've learned along the way:
There is no time limit on grief. There is no right way to grieve. There are no words that make it better. There is nothing you can do for me. There is nothing I can do for myself.  The grief comes in waves, with no warning. Sometimes it comes after a long calm, it hits quickly and is gone; sometimes it pounds into you like a tsunami- relentlessly, over and over with no break in sight. And you just have to ride out. There will be good days and bad days. Embrace the good days and ride out the bad ones.

And it's ok. It's all ok. It doesn't mean you are weak. It doesn't mean your faith is lacking. It doesn't mean you are stuck.  It means you are human. It means you have loved. It means you have suffered loss. And it means you are healing. In exactly the way that is right for you. Give yourself grace and time.

Everyone's journey of grief is unique. Listen to your heart, listen to your spirit, and listen to your body. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to rest, rest. If you need to be alone, be alone. If you need to be with people, be with people.  And listen for what God's Spirit is telling you. Because He is with you - in the middle of your pain and your grief, He is there. He sees you. He knows your pain. And He holds you in the palm of His hand through every second of your journey.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Missing You

It's been almost a year and a half – seventy eight weeks – five hundred and forty seven days-since you left
Somehow I didn't think it would still be this hard
I didn't think the ache would still feel so fresh
I didn't think the memories would still assault so unexpectedly
I didn't think the wound would still feel so raw

I talked a lot about getting used to the “new normal” in the beginning
As the “new” normal became the normal, I thought it would just be easier
I didn't think I would still hear your voice at unexpected times
I didn't think I would still miss the little things so much
I didn't think the tears would still appear so frequently

I thought the one year mark held some kind of magic healing power
We had endured all the firsts without you so surely the next round would be easier
Your absence is still so obvious
Your laughter is still so missed
You've left a hole no one will ever be able to fill

And, yes, we're moving ahead
Changes have been made
Life goes on
But it goes on without you
And it will never be the same

Healing comes slowly, painfully
The journey of life continues
The good, the bad, the celebrated, the mourned
The sun still rises and the moon still shines
The stars come out and the rain comes down

And through it all,
God whispers gently, “I'm still here,
I see your tears and I've caught them all,
I see your pain and you are not alone
Come to me, my child, and I will give you peace
I will give you rest”

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Doesn't Kill You....

What Doesn't Kill You......

“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone”

I don't think Kelly Clarkson meant this song to be spiritual in nature, but it is was for me. This used to be my mantra, my anthem: I am strong, I am capable, I am together! But then the unimaginable happened and suddenly I wasn't.

I have lived through the unlivable. I survived what I never thought I could. And I was not strong. I was scared, I felt alone, I was lonely, I was downright panicked. I was nearly swallowed by the darkness and the hopelessness. But I survived. I am surviving. And not on my own. There was a Power at work in me that I acknowledged, but didn't understand. There was a Power in me that was pulling for me when I wanted to give in and give up. God's Spirit was in me saying, “You'll get through this. You are going to make it. You don't have to know how and you don't have to figure it all out. All you have to do is trust. But you will need help. Accept My help.”

Help has never been easy for me to accept. Needing help on any level is a sign of weakness. And weakness is a bad thing, or so I always thought. Weakness opens you up – it opens up the cracks for others to get in, to see inside, to see the mess that is really me in spite of what I pretend. And that mess is not pretty – it is petty, it is scared, it is doubtful, it is selfish, it is greedy, it is even bitter and unforgiving and angry sometimes-no, a lot of the time, it feels entitled, and it is very prideful. It is human. And it wants to be loved and if all that ugliness that is the mess of me is known to you, then you may not love me.

And if you don't love me, that means I am no good – right? I am not worthy of love if you know all the mess inside. So I will put up the facade – the “I have it all together” attitude, the “Yes, I am fine” face, the “I can handle this all on my own” pose, the “I've got this” stance. And then the unthinkable happens and all those shields crumble, they shatter into tiny pieces all around you and land at your feet and you are left defenseless, visible to for all to see who you really are – actually who you really are not. You are not strong, you don't have it all together, you totally do not have this – whatever this is for you. 

For me, it was my husband dying. For you it might be death of a loved one, but it might not. It might be a diagnosis you didn't want. It might be a financial crisis you can't see a way through. It might be a prodigal son or daughter. It might be a job loss, or a move, or a hurtful word or betrayal from someone you thought trustworthy. It might be any one of a million things that just destroys and crumbles the tidy little life you have set up and all the shields and fences you put up around you to keep the mess in. And suddenly, the mess is no longer contained, but out there. You have become the mess you have fought so hard to hide deep inside. And you are ashamed. You are ashamed you are not strong, you are ashamed you aren't together, you are ashamed you DO NOT HAVE THIS. 

But slowly, very slowly, over time, you are able to see just a tiny bit around the mess, through the mess, a little glance above the mess, a tiny glimpse past the mess, And there are people still there. And God is still there. You have not been left alone in your mess. You never were. And you still are not strong, you still are not together, you still don't have this. But there are still people there, and more importantly, God is still there. He knows your mess, all of it – He always has. And yet, He is still there – He always was. 

You begin to see the pale pinks and purples of the sunrise, you begin to hear the birds sing again, you begin to feel the ground beneath your feet. And you realize it was there all along. You put one foot in front of the other when that was all you could manage, and suddenly you feel like you might again, one day, dance or skip or even run. You find small pleasure in things you thought you never would again. The fog begins to lift just a bit and the sun is still there – it shines through, gently and warmly. You begin to feel the raindrops instead of the storm. And through it all, people are still there. Through it all, God is still there. Your mess-your brokenness, your flaws, your tears and your wailings, your doubts and your fears? Your mess did not scare God off. He didn't turn His back on you. He held you in the palm of His hand and patiently waited for you to notice. He waited for you to notice that HE is strong, that HE has it all together, that HE has got this for you – whatever “it” is.

No, what doesn't kill you doesn't make you stronger – it makes you weaker. Yes, weakness opens you up. And maybe that was what it was intended to do all along.  

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. II Corinthians 12:9

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fathers and Daughters

May 27, 2014

Since the beginning of families, since Adam and Eve, there has been dysfunction.  There has been hurt and jealousy and rivalry and downright ugliness.  This is not a new thing- not to my generation, whose fathers' were strict and not very hands-on;, not to my mother's generation, whose fathers' worked from dawn until dusk; and not in my children's generation, whose fathers' tend to be more hands on but sometimes more in touch with their electronic connections than their human ones.

As women, our fathers shape so much of our identity.  They shape how we see ourselves and how we see the men in our lives and how we filter our relationships with other women. They shape how we expect to be treated and how we expect to be loved.  Don't feel like you could ever do enough to earn your father's love as a child?  Then you probably don't feel like you really deserve to be loved as a grown woman.  Never really felt like you lived up to your father's expectations?  Then you probably won't live up to anyone else's expectations, including your own. Father not present in your life, either physically or emotionally?  Then you probably don't deserve to have someone present in your life now. These are the lies that we have told ourselves over and over until they have become our unconscious truths.

It seems many of the women of my generation ( I am the tail end of the baby boomers), shared the same experiences growing up -our fathers were hard-working, strict disciplinarians, conservative, critical, and emotionally distant.  Or as my teenage self viewed it- the epitome of the "establishment".

Many of us live our lives never realizing that how we processed our father's actions when we were young continue to impact how we process (and react to) the relationships in our lives when we are grown.  Ever wonder why you turn right back into that rebellious teenager when around your father (or other male authority figures)?  Ever wonder why, as a grown woman, you cannot relate to your father on a "grown-up" level?  I have.  And it has made me question myself-"what is wrong with me that I can't just get over this?  Why do other women not seem to struggle with the need for approval and the need to be accepted from their fathers when I still do so many years after it should have ceased to matter? Am I the only person who still struggles with this?"

I don't think so.  All we have to do is look at the divorce statistics in our society today (both in and out of the Church), the number of children being raised either fatherless or with multiple father figures who pass in and out of their lives, and society's attitude toward marriage in general, to see many of us have not "gotten past" this and have not learned to handle our relationships in a healthy, Godly manner.

Some of you reading this may be thinking at this point, "What in the world is she even talking about?"  If that is you, my feelings will not be the least bit hurt if you don't read another word here. If you can relate on any level, please read on. 

If we never realize and acknowledge the hurts we incurred at our fathers' hands, whether intended or not, we will never realize how they continue to impact our view of ourselves and the people around us, including those closest to us- our children, our spouses, our siblings, and even our closest friends. Admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery. Admitting you avoid conflict because chances are someone will be angry with you and if someone is angry with you, they won't love you and you must be loved at all costs-admitting this is the first step.  Admitting you invite and even instigate conflict because you relate to others best when one of you is angry-admitting this is the first step. Admitting you procrastinate tasks because you figure you will blow whatever you attempt because you never manage to get it right anyway-admitting this is the first step. Admitting you take on more than you can handle in order to earn the approval of others- admitting this is the first step.

And the next step? Admitting (and believing-this takes some time and patience with yourself and  lots of continual prayer) that none of this matters!   Regardless of how we were treated by our earthly fathers, regardless of they standards they dangled in front of us that we could never quite meet, regardless of the love that we felt was almost within our grasp if we just tried a little harder, it doesn't matter!  It doesn't matter because we have a Father in Heaven who loves us with an everlasting, unending, incomparable, unexplainable love!  Just as we are - shortcomings and all, at out best and at our worst, in our shining moments and in our failures.  

We no longer have to prove ourselves, we no longer have to fight for the love and approval we so desperately long for, we no longer have to fight at all! When Christ died on the cross, He said, "It is finished." (John 19:30)  Our fights for approval, our strivings to please, our desperation for love? "It is finished."

God told His children, the Israelites , "Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life." (Isaiah 43:4)  The nation of Israel were His chosen people, the people He promised all the world would be blessed through.  And they were precious and honored in His sight and He loved them enough to give nations in exchange for them, to make sure they were safe and provided for.  If you are in Christ, you are now one of His chosen people and He loves you, you are precious and honored in His sight.  He will give nations in exchange for you.  He loves you that much!  The God of the Universe is willing to do anything for you! And He did - He gave up what He loved the most - He gave His Son for you.

And all that stuff we didn't get growing up?  We now have it all in abundance, more than we ever could have imagined  - we are precious and honored and loved!