Sunday, April 27, 2008

Seasons of Grief

We went through Hurricane Ivan a few years ago in Pensacola, Florida. Houses destroyed, trees stripped bare, destruction and death all around. But within a few weeks, a miraculous healing began to occur. Even though it was fall, the broken and wounded trees began to bud as though it were springtime. New leaves and beautiful blossoms covered the surviving Magnolia trees, hiding the truth of their broken bodies and bringing hope to a destroyed city.

But then comes the winter. The fall blooms and buds cannot bear the cold of winter and are discarded, exposing again the broken limbs. The hope is that some healing of the tree occurred before the cold set in.

I feel I am entering in to the winter of grief. The initial storm of our loss stripped me bare and broke me. But God in His great wisdom, just as He designed the Magnolia, allowed me a season of growth in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Broken limbs of my heart became covered with buds of hope as I basked in the warmth of His presence. Blossoms of joy covered me. Healing occurred. But to everything there is a season, and the season of winter is setting in. The fall foliage is being cast off and wounds that were masked by a temporary covering are now being exposed to the cold.

Just like the Magnolia blossoms brought hope after destruction, I am thankful for the countless miracles and joys I experienced, bringing me hope in my grief. But everything must have a winter and the Lord has said that now is the season for my wounds to be revealed. It is shocking at times, when I see the brokenness once again exposed - but I must simply trust the Lord that what He reveals He also will heal.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eternal Optimist

Okay, the optimist in me cannot end my night without posting a follow up to Fallen World. While everything I wrote is true to my current emotions, I feel like it didn't tell the whole story.

I am frustrated with a lot of the things in this world, but I am far from hating it (most days anyway). The truth is, I absolutely love this amazing place God made for us. I love the smell of a fresh afternoon breeze blowing through my bedroom. I love the sound of raindrops outside the sunroom windows. I love to walk outside on a brisk fall night and gaze up at the stars. God really did make a pretty amazing place.

But what is more amazing to me than anything else is that all this beauty is only a shadow of the life to come. Every joy of this earth with be completely eclipsed by heaven. So do I love this fallen world - yes! I love how much it makes me think of my Lord. Every day is a wonderful chance to discover something new and to see what it shows me of God.

I guess some days though, like today, I am more overwhelmed by the dark shadows of this world - the pain, frustrations, and trials. But thankfully these dark shadows will not be found hereafter. Oh how I long for that day. Or, as my 3 year old says - Oh Mommy, it takes such a long time to get to heaven! Yes it does Kaiden, but thank goodness we will be there forever!

This Fallen World

Sometimes I feel like I have been lied to. Throughout all my years of learning there was always logical outcomes. My entire education seems based on being able to predict the outcome given the input. Science class was that way - hypothesis, experiment, theory, law. Math was full of proof and algorithm. The world was predictable, at least the world of textbooks.

But this world is fallen and therefore is apparently not prone to arranging itself in order. Instead, the opposite happens. I spent my pregnancy carefully monitoring my diet and exercise and yet, in the last week, Lia died.

Today I am watching a friend face this fallen world. She has breast cancer. It seems she has done everything right, eating healthy and exercising but again, she faces the opposite of the expected.

Life is not a textbook and things don't happen according to plan. So where is the hope? If I can't depend on this world to behave as I think it ought, then what hope do I have? Am I simply at the whim of happenstance?

Thankfully no. For even though this fallen world does not act according to how we think it should, it still is under the authority of God. At times, God feels as unpredictable as the trials I face, but that's okay with me. I don't want a God who is bound by codes of conduct. I don't want a God whose choices to work in my life must be weighed by logic and exhibit reasonable predictability. His law is love and His love knows no limits or bounds. He can work miracles or simply just make the world work. As crazy, painful, and frustrating as life on this fallen world can be, God is never caught off guard, never flustered, never frustrated. Instead, he is just the opposite always in control and always patient.

So am I still frustrated with this fallen world? Yes. Am I still angry that babies die and mommies get cancer? Yes. Do I still love God? Absolutely yes. More now than ever.

Monday, April 21, 2008

So Now What

I am struggling. My family doesn't look the way I thought it would and I just am not sure what God wants us to do next. Do we have more kids? Do we have kids of our own or adopt? I feel like this question is being held in a dusty old box in the attic of my mind. Every time I crack it open, moths coming fluttering out in all directions. I look inside for the answer but find nothing. All I have is confusion, with divergent thoughts fluttering through my mind.

Oh, I think I know the answer, at least for today. I am sure my thought will be different tomorrow. And therein lies the problem. God does not change and His plan for our family does not change. But I sure am being tossed by the waves. I have felt moments of great confidence, certain of what God is saying. But within a day I am once again off the sturdy foundation of the rock and lost in the crashing waves of my emotions.

So much else in life right now feels in place. Things make sense. I can see God's hand clearly directing opportunities. But every night, in the quiet of our home, I constantly think.... So Now What.

Lord, I need wisdom. Perhaps I am not ready yet to know Your plans for our family, but whatever it is within me that is holding me in this sea of confusion, would You please reveal it and take care of it. I just can't seem to hear you over the constant roar of the waves. In moments of stillness I think I hear but as the next wave rolls in I am again swept away. Lord I want to hear what You have to say, but I need You to calm the storm within. Prepare my heart to hear and receive what You intend for us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Common Grief and a Consistent God

I had the great joy last week of listening to Karen, a lady in our church, tell the story of her recovery from a near fatal car accident. Thrown from her rolling SUV, Karen suffered multiple broken bones, internal bleeding, a broken neck and crushed pelvis. Her recovery has been painful, difficult, full of grief and anger and joy and hope.

As Karen spoke of the trials of her recovery it was as if she were reading from my own private journal. Many of her comments mirrored my own - word for word. Even though our trials are vastly different, our God is the same. This is encouraging to me because it reminds me that the hope I cling to is not just for empty-arm mommies, but a hope for all who suffer.

So often in our Western Christianity, we keep our sufferings to ourselves. And when we have "recovered" we are often counseled to "move on". But we must share our stories. We must share the joys and the hope we find in the middle of our storms. Every person's storm is unique but our God is the same. No matter how insignificant our struggles may seem, anything that causes us to better know the Lord is a light in this dark world. We must allow these lights to shine, leading others to the hope of Christ.

Lord I thank You that You do not change. I thank You that all I have seen You do is available to all who believe. Thank You for Karen's testimony and for reminding me that You are present in every person's storm. I pray that You will continue to use Karen, and me, to share with others the greatness of Your comforting presence to those who are hurting.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost balloons

In September, Kaiden lost her balloon. We were climbing into the van on a windy West Texas evening. Two helium filled balloons from our fun dinner at Red Robin wafted in the back of the van. I opened one sliding door to load the kids, then opened the other to help me better reach to buckle them in. The wind whipped through the open van, sucking Kaiden's balloon up into sky. Kaiden, not yet buckled in, jumped from her seat and ran across the lawn screaming as she tried to reach the balloon, now 20 feet above her head. "Mommy, please, make it come back."

Filled with rage and grief, Kaiden sobbed in my arms as the balloon whisked around the corner of a house. Mommy, can't you make it come back. No, Kaidi, that is what balloons are meant to do. If we don't hold on to them tightly they will fly away. The balloon is doing what it is supposed to do.

As we drove home, Kaiden still quietly crying, I wished I hadn't opened both doors of the van. I remembered watching the balloon begin to move with the breeze and knowing it was about to be lost - but my thoughts were slower than the wind and I couldn't think fast enough to stop the balloon from escaping.

I didn't really understand Kaiden's grief that day. I knew she was sad, but in my attempt to be a rational parent and end her tantrum, I just couldn't be sad with her. After all, balloons are supposed to float away, right?

Since Lia died, my own grief is causing me to think a lot more about how my children mourn. Did I do the right thing by keeping my response to Kaiden so factual? Or should I have helped her rejoice in her sorrow - by helping her see the joy of the balloon no longer tied down in a van but instead dancing in the wind?

The simple honest open grief of my three year old daughter is so much like my own silent grief. She was so excited to be bringing home a balloon, I was excited to be bringing another life into our home. Just a few minutes from home, her balloon was suddenly taken from her. Just a few days before her birth, my daughter was suddenly taken from me. Just like I regret opening the doors of the van, I constantly question and regret choices I made that may have affected the health of my baby. And just like Kaiden, I cried out watching my dream float away.

If someone had come to me the day Lia died and said - well, this is just how it is. Babies die. If we don't monitor them constantly, something can go wrong and they might die. I would have socked them in the face! Instead, through friends, through God's word, and through the gentle whispers of His Spirit, God was saying I know this is hard to understand, but look at her dancing in the wind. She is free of the pain of this earth. She is where I intend for her to be.

God is so gentle and good with us in our grief. I only hope that I can be as gentle with my daughters in their sorrows as the Lord has been to me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Amazing Grace

We sang Amazing Grace last night at a women's event. The 2nd verse has become my favorite - whenever I sing it, I think of the amazing sufficiency of God's grace and how I have come to know it so deeply through loving my daughter Lia Grace.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.

I am so thankful for all the amazing songs that have ministered to me these past months. Perhaps I should post my "soundtrack of godly grieving" for all to enjoy!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Celebrating Every Day

Today is Jordan's birthday. She is 2 years old, although, if you ask her, she says she is 4. At first, I wasn't in the mood to plan a party for her. While most of life feels "normal" I have a hard time getting in the mood for holidays and celebrations. Unfortunately, Jordan's birthday began to feel like more of a burden than a celebration.

That's the horrible irony of grief. Loss shows you how precious each day is, encouraging you to make the most of every moment. But it also takes from you the desire and energy to celebrate, leaving you to feel that any form of celebration is vanity.

As I thought about Jordan's birthday this year, my desire was not to find her the perfect gift and have the perfect party. Instead, my heart has been drawn to think about how to be a better mom for her. Gifts and party hats are so much less than she deserves. On this birthday, I want to give her the best of me. I want to give her joy and laughter and a passion for living every day of life that God gives us.

I guess it isn't that I don't want to celebrate, I just don't want my celebration of life to be confined to only special days on the calendar. I want to celebrate my children, and all the blessings I have been given, every day of life.

Lord, I pray Your blessing upon Jordan's life. Continue to raise her into a beautiful young woman who can love and serve You with all her heart. I thank You Lord for all my girls, Kaiden, Jordan, and Lia, and for the unique things You have taught me through each of them. Lord please help me to cherish each day, to seek You and Your will for each day, and to live at peace with You and with others.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Attention to Detail

On Thursday, my friend emailed me a beautiful video about a newborn with Trisomy18 who only lived 99 days. A friend of hers just had a baby with the same condition and it was unknown how long the baby would live. Carolyn wanted to share the video with me, knowing I would enjoy it - it is simply beautiful - a wonderful tribute to a tiny precious life.

But God intended much more with this video in my life than just tears shed one afternoon. That evening Carolyn and I attended the Abilene Pregnancy Resource Center's annual banquet. During the banquet, the Center introduced a new ministries to parents whose unborn children have a terminal disease such as Trisomy18. They showed an amazing video of a family whose daughter, born with Trisomy18, lived only 8 days. It was a moving and heartwrenching memoir of a family's few days with their wonderful baby girl.

Another friend came to me after the banquet to make sure I was okay after viewing such a difficult video. With a smile on my face I shared with her how God had prepared my heart by showing me a very similar video only a few hours before.

God was in the details. Once again, I am completely amazed how the God of the Universe, holding all things in place, cares enough to prepare me for an emotional moment at a fund-raising event. But He does care. Oh He does care.

I highly recommend you watch 99 Balloons, Eliot's story.

Quieting My Spirit

Each day in our home, at 1pm, we enter into a time of great uncertainty - afternoon naps. Will Jordan peacefully fall asleep while holding her favorite book, or will she toss and turn and cry, fighting the sleep she desires. Will Kaiden snuggle up beside me for a gentle backrub or sit crosslegged on the floor and scream "NO". I love and I hate our afternoon quiet times. I love to watch my children sleeping peacefully, I love to see their shining faces after they wake, I love to sit by their beds reading, I love to rub backs and help them relax. What I don't love is the feeling of helplessness on the rough days - when I speak softly, encouraging them to close their eyes and not be afraid of sleep, but they just keep fighting.

I realized today that God and I have something in common - frustration with our children's need for quiet times. I am sure that just as it breaks my heart to see my children fighting sleep and rest, it must break God's heart when I fight the stillness so necessary for my soul. How often do I wrestle in my mind through the night with questions that will not have answers? How often do I toss and turn longing for sleep yet defeating it with my own anxiety? God sits there quietly beside me, whispering softly, urging me to be still.

I wish that I had a magic word that would instantly calm my children's fears and help them to rest. But my Heavenly Father, the God of the Universe, who called all of creation into being does not have a magic word to put me to sleep. So here the two of us sit, the Father beside me and I beside my children, being a still small voice inviting them to be at peace.

Friday, April 4, 2008


A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29:11

This verse came to my attention 2 months ago and I have been struggling over it ever since. At first, I welcomed the verse as confirmation of the need to have self control, even in our grief. I had read books encouraging me to allow myself to grieve completely, to not hold back any emotion. Such counsel seemed wrong and dangerous - should I really be allowed to give full vent to my emotions. I can see it now, plates flying across the kitchen, smashing against the wall. Or driving my van full speed into a light pole - just because that is what I desired to do at the moment. Giving full vent to my emotions would destroy me and my family.

But as I have been thinking about this verse and examining my life, I realize that instead of venting in extreme manners, I am giving full vent to emotion in more socially acceptable ways. I justify eating the whole bag of chips, drinking too many cherry cokes, and staying up way past midnight. All of them justified because "I have been through so much and I deserve this right now, so just leave me alone and let me have this indulgence." And don't try to get in my way as I am pursuing the full expression of my "grief". Just ask my daughters.

I think I understood this verse to a degree, understanding that there is a time and place and appropriate nature for expressions of emotion and grief. But what I missed is that while the wise man holds it back, it doesn't go away. To take this verse alone as the sole counsel concerning grief, anger, and emotion is as foolish as allowing full vent to your spirit. Step one is to have wisdom in holding back at times, but step two, the step I seem to keep missing, is to go to God instead, allowing Him to receive all that my spirit is bearing.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Psalm 119:28 My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.