I have been struggling with some hard things lately, and I have felt very alone in the midst of it. It was while I was checking in on social media that it suddenly became so apparent why I feel alone. I was reading a post from someone who I know is having a very hard, very messy time at home right now. The posts they chose to write though were all sunshine and rainbows and gushing about how to love on people and praise Jesus. It hit me like the sharp sting of a hand across the face. Why can’t we just be real?
I /know/ that I am not the only parent struggling to find my way with the ups and downs of having 3 teenagers. I /know/ I am not the only one struggling with feeling like a failure because my body will not let me keep up with the things I want to do. I /know/ that I am not the only one who sometimes questions if I am doing my best to love my husband in the ways that he needs. I /know/ I am not the only one crying in bed at night over big, weighty decisions that need to be made.
Why then do we hold our cards so close? Why do we paste on a smile and pretend that everything is peaches when what we really need is the camaraderie of the souls who are also walking in our shoes? We need each other! We need to know we are not alone not the only ones walking these barren trails. The only way that is going to happen is for us to let our guards down a little bit and be willing to put our real selves out there. I know it feels uncomfortable, but think of what will happen when we join arms with each other and be willing to say, “me too.”
Someone recently asked how long it would be until we “got over” the death of our youngest daughter. As if it were an obstacle course to leap over. As shocked as I was, it shed some light on an area where maybe people need help to understand. Perhaps for those who have never walked through something like that it truly is something they can’t comprehend. I think I know the answer to the question, and I’m going to share it with you.
When will we get over the passing of our daughter?
That’s right; I said never. If “getting over it” means when we will we stop talking about our beautiful blue-eyed little girl, stop sharing her pictures, stop acknowledging that she was a part of our lives, then that will never happen.
Last week would have been our Ellie’s 10th birthday. It has been most of a decade since we held her in our arms. Did we check the box; “10 years, now you can move on, stop bringing her up.” No. We did what we always do on Ellie’s birthday. We celebrated.
We celebrated because we are grateful for the 4 1/2 months of pure joy of having her here with us. We celebrated because her short life has changed us in ways we needed to be changed. We celebrated because if she were here we would be celebrating her, so why not still celebrate? Also we never pass up an opportunity to have cake! We reminisced over cake and then carried on our tradition of doing something helpful and kind for someone else in need.
Are you familiar with muscle memory? How your body automatically remembers how to do certain things because you have done them so many times? Well 10 years later my arms still have the muscle memory of what it felt like to hold my girl close against my chest. I can close my eyes and remember her smell and how her fine hair tickled my lips when I kissed her on the head.
These things will forever be treasured in my heart, and we will always find ways to honor her on special days, and that does not mean we are not “over it.” It means we loved someone so deeply we gave pieces of our hearts away and those holes will never be filled by anything else.
There will always be triggers of grief; when she would have started school, graduated, gotten married, etc. No matter how long it has been we will allow ourselves to grieve those things; that is a normal, appropriate, and necessary part of our healing process.
I am aware that some people are uncomfortable because, well, sad things are uncomfortable and they want us to get back to the happy baseline as soon as possible. We are not stuck in the deep mourning of our daughter, but as far as getting over it, we will never get over it, nor would we want to. We want to honor her life, her place in our family, and her spirit, which is still very much alive.
My sweet little love. How is it possible that today is already your 10th birthday? A whole decade! It seems just yesterday I was feeling the warm weight of you on my chest, your delicate fingers wrapped around mine.
We talk about you often around here. Reminiscing over sweet memories with you, and wondering over so many things. What your laugh would sound like. If your eyes would have stayed that piercing blue. If you would have my sense of humor or your daddy’s quiet strength.
It still hurts, missing you. There will always be an Ellianna-shaped hole in our lives. That hole has brought about so many amazing things though. I am thankful for that. We have formed deep and lasting relationships built around the scars of losing you. We have reached out and filed gaps and met needs and made magic happen all in the name of honoring you and the impact your mighty life had on us.
On this momentous birthday of yours I am eternally thankful that I was chosen to be your mama. I’m thankful for the scars that have pushed me closer to Christ and helped me stand in the shoes of the hurting. I’m thankful for the people we have gotten to love on because we’ve been there and we get to pay it forward. I’m thankful for all the ways that your life and death has opened our hands to trusting in God’s plan, and has opened so many doors for us to spread love and support in your honor.
We love you, Ellie Grace! Happy birthday!
6 months ago my hospice doctor signed a paper that said if my disease continued at the current progression my life expectancy was 6 months or less. Welp, surprise! Here I am! Seriously though… I know that no man can put a number on my days and only God knows when that time will be. And it will be the perfect number of days, because He planned it that way.
Does it weigh heavily sometimes having that kind of thing spoken over you? Yes absolutely, but I have to choose to continually give my fears and anxieties over to my Heavenly Father, because I’m not meant to carry that kind of weight.
With the help of some insanely wonderful friends and even people I have not gotten to meet yet I have been able to try some more natural treatments for my body, and while I do not know for sure how they will work I know they are a gift from God and they do my body good. I know that I’m still here.
I am so thankful for more time. There are days when things seem scary and overwhelming, but we keep taking each next day and making it the best it can be, because it is truly a gift. The gift of time. The gift of more snuggles with my littles. The gift of more smiles, more memories, more treasured conversations with my people. It is not lost on me what an incredible blessing this is.
I remain in hospice care at home, and my team members are the most compassionate people you have ever met. I’m so blessed.
Some of my favorite people have moved mountains to span miles and spend time with me and check in on me and love me in all the ways. My home is a revolving door of my local tribe encouraging me, entertaining me, bringing me sweet love. After a long and hard period of extreme isolation and many prayers for community we have been surrounded in the most amazing ways.
Sometimes I look into my eyes and I see that it’s changing me and I get afraid. I wonder what’s going on in there and what my future days will look like. Then I remember I have not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and of power and a sound mind. That’s all I need.
People warn you that the newborn stage and the toddler stage are hard and exhausting, but no one tells you that the actual process of them growing into older kids and young adults will simultaneously make your heart explode with pride and rip it out with grief for the things of the younger years. What a crazy wild journey it is! This week three, THREE of my children will be teenagers. How did this happen?!
Though my heart sometimes aches with longing for the days of binkies and Eskimo kisses, there are also so many amazing things I am experiencing as I watch my older babes blossom into who they are going to be. I’ve decided to share a few of these important and often amusing things you can expect to experience, so you will be less surprised than I was.
ONE. They clean their sneakers incessantly with baby wipes. They often choose all-white shoes despite my urging that a different color would be better, and then they panic over dirt and scuffs and are found with little piles of dirt covered baby wipes as they fervently scrub and buff their shoes back to an acceptable appearance. So, shoes are meant to be worn, but never look lived in. Who knew?
TWO. They will start calling you “bruh.” At first I was wildly offended by this and tried frantically to disallow it, but I soon learned that it is actually rather insightful into the emotions they are feeling but refuse to ever talk about. If you get a “bruh” they are likely to be displeased or annoyed at something or someone and it is best to let them vent it out. You are welcome.
THREE. They sleep. A LOT. Like all day if you let them. I remember being a teen and feeling exhausted all the time but I was not allowed to sleep in and I never understood it. I decided then that I would remember what that felt like and I would let my teenagers sleep when they wanted to sleep. And I do. Within reason.
FOUR. They will still sleep with their favorite childhood stuffed animal and then hide it when their friends come over which is just the cutest most heart-melting thing you could see from these strange people who most of the time seem tough and hard and perfectly disinterested in anything sentimental. I have more than one teen still sleeping with their childhood stuffie, and it twists my heart every time I see it. I got permission from one of them to post this picture.
FIVE. Seventh grade is literally the worst. Whoever invented it should be punished. At the end of sixth grade they should all be granted a hibernation that lasts until about the second quarter of eighth grade, and then they can reemerge. For the sake of them. And us. And world peace.
SIX. They eat an astonishing amount of food and your grocery bill will become the first priority on your budget as you strive to provide a constant flow of generous meals, hearty snacks, and midnight munching. Teach them to like eggs and Ramen because those things will become staples when you are scraping for pennies for the ninth trip to the grocery each month. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just the teenage boys. Oh no, the girls are equally capable of becoming human garbage disposals, and you’ll just stare at them and wonder where on their bony little bodies they are hiding it.
SEVEN. It is a wonderful thing when your children start driving on their own and can A) go do things for you, and B) take themselves to their events. From picking up dinner to taking another sibling to their practice to picking up a gallon of milk for the fourth time that week, you will savor the ability to simply stay in your slippers and actually read a book or something because you don’t have to live behind the wheel of your minivan anymore. Life-changing.
EIGHT. Teenagers are the most interesting species on the planet. Their physical bodies transform frequently, they start having their own soapboxes and quests, they sometimes give you a fake hug and other times want to snuggle like a four year old, and they walk around making strange noises and generally being confusing. However, they will become like a really cool friend and they will still say “I love you” every time before they hang up the phone with you, and you will be proud of seeing them do all the adult things only maybe on a smaller scale because let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Baby steps. They were just newborns like, yesterday!
**My teens previewed this post and ok’d it (and giggled reading it) before I posted**
If you are usually on our Christmas list and thought we forgot you this year, there’s a very good explanation, and no, we didn’t cross you off our friend list. We decided as a family this year that instead of giving gifts to each other we wanted to find a way to give to someone who wouldn’t otherwise get anything. We are abundantly blessed all year long, and wanted to find a way to bless someone else. We planned to adopt a family, providing their gifts and groceries for Christmas, but there was continued lack of communication and I began to worry it was not going to happen. We racked our minds for other ideas; taking stars off of a giving tree, handing out comfort packages to those experiencing homelessness… and we prayed that God would use us right where we were needed most. As I began to worry we weren’t going to find a place to serve, an email showed up in my inbox. It was a foster care agency I had been in touch with, and they had an urgent situation. They had already completed their gift drive for children in foster care; they had collected wishlists and sponsoring families had shopped for each child. Well now just a few days before Christmas an emergency placement was happening, and there would be 12 and 14 year old sisters brand new to the foster care system without Christmas gifts. She asked if we would be willing to sponsor them. I couldn’t think of a more perfect “yes!”
In a rare occurrence, we made sure everyone was off work and off school and we squished all 6 of us into the car and set off to go shopping. Mark’s parents also donated to the cause, and since we had a 12 year old and 15 year old girl of our own, we were well equipped to choose just what these sweet girls wanted and needed. We were given a short wishlist by the foster care agency, so we made sure to make a few of those wishes come true.
It brought so much joy to see my children excited about helping someone else, and instead of being sad there aren’t gifts under our tree, the absence has been a positive reminder that we got to do something wonderful for someone else. So if you didn’t get a Christmas gift from us this year, please smile in knowing you were a part of something so much bigger.