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The Long Goodbye

Today I am remembering my pastor’s wife, and sweet friend Kara, on the day she left this world for the Heaven she so joyfully believed in. She is missed, and the legacy she left behind is one of great encouragement and grace. I know I was honored to learn from her about life, family, and faith.

Today her documentary came out. I encourage you to watch it and learn what made this woman such an inspiring friend. I am still challenged by many of our conversations, and always striving to love big like she did.

Click here for a link to the trailer.

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Vacancy

After another night of tossing and turning, I woke this morning with my heart feeling heavy, raw. A strange, sick-butterfly feeling tumbled in my stomach. It’s funny what the heart remembers before the mind even has a chance to catch up. Today it has been five years since I was woken by the call that my little brother had unexpectedly passed away.

I suppose it still feels so raw because in the years that have passed there have been many curveballs to handle, which have left little time for the grieving process that I know is still to come. Even so, my chest squeezes tight and my eyes pool with watery thoughts as I ponder back on the special friendship I shared with my brother. There is so much I wish and need to talk to him about right now, and it’s crushing that I can’t.

I want to work on the streets again with him side by side. I want to drive to Kansas to cheer through his epic fourth of July firework extravaganzas. I want my youngest to know his Uncle Ben as he grows. All these things in a beautiful, painful tangle of joy and heartbreak and anticipation of an eternity.

The rhythm of life continues to ebb and flow, even with these hole-shaped pieces of my heart unfilled. Someday, all will be new, but while I am waiting I’ll never stop missing him here.

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Cheering You On

This brave beauty of mine, she has something to teach all of us. During her time in her new middle school, she has tried out for many things. Student council, solos in choir, cheerleading. Each time she has been turned away, and yet I have never heard a word of complaint on her lips. She simply picks herself up and keeps going. She has learned something most of us adults still struggle to grasp; our identity is not in what we do, but in who we are.

She has been pushing herself hard for months in anticipation of trying out to be a cheerleader when she starts her freshman year of high school next year. She’s been working daily in physical therapy, in tumbling, and at home to learn the skills she needs to have, and to push back physical limitations that the other contenders don’t have.

She’s been at clinics and tryouts every evening this week, giving it her all. Friday she will find out who has been chosen. I’m so dang proud of her. I’m pulling so hard for her to make the team this time, but regardless of the outcome I’m fiercely proud of who she is and how she teaches me to always keep pressing forward.

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Glimpses

If you’ve known me very long, you know how special purple, rainbows, and butterflies are to me. Purple was our Ellie’s color, and on the day we buried her, her sister’s butterflies hatched way earlier than expected under the most perfect full rainbow painted across the gray July sky. Every time we see these things now, they are like a sweet hug from our girl, reminding us of her footprint on our lives.

As we celebrated her 8th birthday a few days ago, the mundane parts of a winter day were punctuated amazingly by the sweetest gifts, seeming to be perfectly placed just for us.

As I lay watching a movie with my loves, we all turned to grin at each other knowingly as a conversation about rainbows erupted in the middle of a suspenseful plot. My husband turned to me. “How many movies do you suppose they start talking about rainbows in,” he grinned. It was true. Specific, beautiful reminders of Ellianna Grace were purposely left in plain view for us on the anniversary of her birth. The others I was able to capture, to look back and remind myself of the goodness.

Purple and rainbow, in a dress fit for a princess!

A photo that popped up in my Instagram feed from Pitter Patter Art.

Life is sweet indeed.

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Brave Beginnings

Today we are celebrating the 8th birthday of Ellianna Grace, and I can’t help but smile. Four and a half months seems like such a short time to get to have a person in your life, but eight years later, she is still making a difference and changing lives. From the relationships we have formed because of our journey with her, to the hearts we have gotten to relate to and bring comfort to because we have been there. Her story reaches on.

This week for her birthday we raised money for Brave Beginnings, an organization which provides life sustaining medical equipment to NICUs in order to support these tiniest of babies. With the generous help of our family and friends, we surpassed our fundraising goal within hours. Our little girl, making waves and bringing change. Couldn’t be more proud. My Jesus who promises to hold her, also promised that her story didn’t end with her death, and it most certainty hasn’t.

Happy birthday, baby girl!

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Big Adventuring

I am deliciously exhausted and nursing pain in new places, and it is wonderful. My heart has struggled throughout this summer to send my loves off to do things that I no longer can. For awhile I tried to tag along and keep up, but reality was that my limitations became an anchor for them, and it made me sad to see my little ones have to miss out because of their sick mama. Eventually I started insisting they go along and enjoy themselves without me. My sweet babes graciously offer to stay behind with me, but I know in their hearts they will feel disappointed. I smile big, tell them I will enjoy the chance to rest, and send them on their way to enjoy roller coasters, baseball games, and long walks through special events. This weekend however, I went all in.

I have missed our summer camping trips and been hungering for the fresh peacefulness of escaping from the city to soak in nature’s quiet. No sooner had I mentioned how much I wanted to camp was my man working hard to find us the perfect spot, and getting our camper ready for our first-last summer camping trip. I am usually excellent at planning and preparing these things, so it was frustrating that as the weekend grew near I was making my list of things to prepare smaller and smaller with hopes of actually accomplishing something. I had to choose easy instead of the usual fun and unique camping meals, and I may have completely forgotten a few things we needed, like towels, but I kept reminding myself the prize was just getting to be present, even if that meant pop tarts instead of bacon and eggs over the campfire.

We surprised the kids and had everything ready to go for the weekend when they got home from school Friday. And by /we/, I mostly mean Mark, who took my lists and bustled around to make it happen while I mostly stared at the ceiling and willed my recent surgery scars to stop screaming for attention. The joy on their faces was worth the fight.

It was a different experience, checking and double checking that the bags of medicines and medical supplies were all accounted for, and the heaps of pillows and blankets and bedding foam that took up half the space were all for my little spot, but no one complained about having to drive slowly because of the bumps, or having to spend extra time to find a fishing spot that was accessible for me. Everyone chipped in to help, and we had the most amazing time.

The weekend was filled with spooky stories, wiggly night crawlers, sunscreen, firewood, and a giant canvas of beautiful stars. I pushed myself to every limit to get to cast my line in the water as many times as possible, and snuggled up with my dog to rest while everyone else enjoyed hiking and geocaching. It was a simple weekend, and one I will treasure for the incredible satisfaction of getting to spend time with my tribe, doing what we love, and for a little while feeling like the mama adventurer I used to be.

I have been slow to move today, and struggled through some extras aches, but for the best reason. I will never stop hungering for more days making beautiful memories with my people.

Oh yeah… and next time my goal is to get my hard working hunk in front of the camera more!

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Weekend Lifelines

It feels like this week just chewed us up and spit us right out. It’s easy to forget to count the beautiful things when it feels like you’re fighting a cold dark riptide, but it’s the snapshot moments of beautiful life-gifts that help us pick ourselves back up, dust off, and try again.

Here’s to the strangers gifting homemade ice cream cake, the beauty in the humming of the clumsy bumblebees, and the quiet peace of holding a sleepy, feverish hand. The things that tug our heartstrings right out and make us want to stand taller, fight braver, do better. Here’s to the weekend of snuggling close with our loves, refilling our heart-tanks, and showing up ready for a new week without truly knowing how we are gonna make it.

Warrior on.

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Red Footie Pajamas

I distinctly remember my first time visiting the childrens’ unit at Cedar Springs Hospital. I was new to the city as an EMT, and while I had run my fair share of adult psychiatric calls, this was my first child.  Actually, in my naivety, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a psych unit for kids up to that point.

There I was, walking into the building for a boy under the age of 6 with an arm injury… thinking he must have been the son of someone who happened to be visiting.  I’m certain there was an audible squeak of my boots stopping abruptly against the hard floor as I turned the corner to find the entire wing of the building occupied by children of various ages. A staff member began rattling off the details of how he fallen out of bed, and my mind was searching for the inexplicable reason that he had been sleeping in a tasteless wooden bed in a duplicated room with hard sterile floors instead of tucked into the shelter of his parents’ hugs and kisses in his own familiar bedroom.  I was silently trying to piece together this mystery when another staff member ushered my patient into the hallway; a dark-haired little guy, hardly taller than my hips, padding silently in red footie pajamas.

That night I learned one of those hard life-truths that you don’t learn little by little; one of those truths that smack you in the face like the concrete-sting of a belly flop into icy water.  Though I lost that bit of innocence on that call I still had many questions bouncing around between my mind and the soul that stared out at me from those young brown eyes.

It wasn’t long before running psych calls for youngsters wasn’t unusual for me.  I ran the frantic 9 year old who pleaded with his grandma to give him one more chance after tearing apart the whole house.  I ran the 15 year old cutter who had run away from home, and the 13 year old boy who successfully took his own life.  I saw a new world of confusion and pain and I struggled to understand it.  There were those who were vocal about their opinions; it was easy to assume that a lack of parenting or responsibility had created this brokenness, or that these were just bratty children needing firmer discipline.  While I was never one to say it out loud, I suppose in some ways I thought the same thing.  I wondered if the guardians were just tired of dealing with the hard work of parenting, and wanted to pass the adversity off to someone else.  I wondered if these kids felt so invisible that their gashes and outlandish displays of defiance were the only means left to spark some flames of attention from the people they craved it from.  While I refrained from joining in the open toxic banter of judgement, I still pondered these questions because some things you just can’t understand until you’ve tasted them more personally.

Fast forward several years to my own boy standing at the dawning of teen-hood.  Two parents who loved him unconditionally, a stable home in which all his needs were met, a routine of discipline and appropriate freedom, and yet his soul was changing, darkness clouding his once crystal blue eyes. Despite all the good things in his life my young boy had experienced tragedy that he was never meant to have to bear.  His normal had been ripped and shaken by such affliction over a short amount of time his soul halted in shock from the uprooting of all he knew to be true and safe.  So began this terrible and frightening battle of his entire being trying to reconcile things that his young soul was not created to understand.  He learned to build impenetrable walls to guard his bleeding wounds from further pain.  He forced himself to not feel so that he would never again know the devastation of a hurting heart.

Somewhere between watching his destruction from an utterly helpless distance, and screaming helpless tears into starlight night after night I came to understand the full story of that boy in the red footie pajamas.

It’s not for anyone to judge why these kids are the way they are, because the truth in all of them is that at some point they experienced a hurt that was more than they knew what to do with.  There are insecurities and scars and genetic dispositions, and I guarantee you not one of these kids suddenly woke up one day with a desire to be angry or dangerous or out of control or truthfully, an outcast. There is a world of hurting young people who need not our judgement and our assumptions, but our understanding and our unbiased desire to reach out to them and help fill those gaps and holes that created their unbalance to begin with.  What would the world look like if all the adults stepped up to give the attention and meet the needs that these kids so desperately need met?

It is with greatest sincerity that I say thank you to the adults that have stepped in, or even been forced in, to stand in the gap for my son.  I get it, I do.  I know that your 25th patient contact of the day is exhausting.  I know that you came in not feeling well to begin with, or with your own trouble going on, and yet you still showed up to give of yourself to help my boy, and so many others, with his healing.  I know that in the big scheme of things, the little issues these kids are making monstrous seems so outrageously ridiculous that’s it’s tempting to give a shoulder-shake of reality.  I know that after a long day, 2am was not the time you felt most compassionate when you had to get up and deal with a new admission, or a meltdown,  or a half-hearted suicide attempt for attention, or an all-out brawl.  I know that there are a lot of days you wonder why you chose this, or you think about moving on.  I know that it may seem thankless and pointless some days, and that you may question whether you are even making a difference.  The truth is you are some of the bravest, most selfless, most compassionate people to walk this earth.  This world does need you, and you are making differences, even if they are tiny baby ant steps.  In our universe, those ant steps are huge.

So thank you for what you do day in and day out; for the sacrifices you make and the things you endure so that every story has a chance at a happy ending, and that every hurting young heart that crosses your threshold knows that someone fought for them, even the boy in the red footie pajamas.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!