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Memories in the Making

We’ve had some difficult conversations as a family about what our future may look like. Mostly to be forthcoming with the kids, because even though we never can truly know the days ahead, it’s fair for them to be prepared based on what we do know. These conversations have opened up a lot of dialogue about the here and now. I know we all wish to be kind and loving and live our best lives every day, but sadly it often seems to become most poignant once you have a scary unknown on the horizon. I wish we could all start sooner, but I know firsthand how easily we get caught up in ourselves.

As a family, we continue to talk about the importance of letting the little things go, and making memories that are rich in kindness and large in love. We talk about making choices that will leave us with important experiences rather than things. We talk about what will be left behind when each of us are gone.

This train of thought is what spurred us to get away for some fun and relaxing family time together. We needed to just be us and focus on enjoying each other and spending time together in some of our favorite ways. Our everyday consists of a lot of time with me in bed, or laced with doctors and medicines, so we went for the opposite and ran for the sun and sand of the beach in Boca Raton Florida. It was glorious!

We had two extra daughters along with us, and all the kids were troopers for the two day car ride squished into our Pilot. They passed the hours with pipe cleaner creations, jewelry-making, mad libs, and tons of snacks. Add a little fighting and a lot of giggling, and it was a road trip for the books. We were rewarded with a week of sun-kissed skin, sandy toes, scuba diving, snorkeling, go kart races, bumper boats, and late night swims. It did my heart so good to see the kids able to just be kids; playing and laughing and enjoying all the things a young one should be enjoying.

It was a little bit intimidating at first to think about leaving my comfort zone of home. I had to push back fears of getting stuck in a hospital far from home. We don’t always travel, but when we do we make sure to check out at least one local hospital… this time for a terrible allergic reaction I had to some antibiotics on our drive to Florida. I received the best possible care though, and it hardly put a wrinkle in our trip. The rest of the week I felt rested and relaxed and enjoyed days of less pain and more energy after drenching myself in the salty waters. My family was helpful and patient with my pace, and never complained when the time came for a recovery nap.

We returned home with tan lines and a sandy car and hearts full with memories of a wonderful week just being us. No worries. No doctors. No scary talks. Just fun and sun and ice cream and enjoying each other’s company. It was worth it. Every bit.

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Waves of Today

Lying in bed with big medicine, praying the deep throbbing would settle down, but still reveling in the amazing of today. It was such a good day. I was met by the prayers of my people, and it was wonderful to feel wonderful for awhile. We basked in the sun and rolled in the sand and splashed for endless hours in the big salty ocean. My body felt at peace and so relieved in the cool, clear waves. Visions of sand castles and beautiful shells and tiny fish and a giant stingray dance when I close my eyes, and I’m so grateful for the lasting grace of this day.

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An Open Letter to my Grieving Friends

Dear Mark and Stephanie,

You have just joined a club no one ever wanted to be a member of. How I wish no one has to wear the label of grieving parent. It’s one thing I wish we didn’t have in common, but because we are both here together, I’ll be here.

When you walk slowly out of the hospital into the sunshine with empty arms, wondering where to go from here, I’ll be here.

When guilt creeps in and tries to make you question your decisions, I’ll be here.

When you walk by her bedroom door and break down at the sight of all that was hers, I’ll be here.

When you struggle through all the “what-ifs,” I’ll be here.

When you numbly stumble through the surreality of laying her to rest, I’ll be here.

When you have to put your own grieving on hold to help her siblings in their grief, I’ll be here.

When school starts back up and her backpack still hangs on the hook, I’ll be here.

When people ask you how many kids you have and you struggle with what to say, I’ll be here.

When her birthday rolls around and you’re ripped apart by her not growing a year older, I’ll be here.

When the days and months and years tick by and your grief ebbs and flows like the ocean waves, I’ll still be here.

I will walk with you when you find new memories that make you smile, and I will sit with you when the sadness is too crushing to function. I’ll support you as you forge through the future, finding a new kind of normal. I will help you remember the good times, and I will never stop saying her name. I will be here as the landscape of your life takes on a new shape; one that you never hoped for or imagined, but one that is now reality. I will be here as you bravely pick yourself up and keep going, with all these precious pieces tucked away in your hearts. When you wake up each morning still a member of this new club, I will be here.

All my love,

Hannah

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A Rock and a Hard Place

Sweet Hailie Marie. This girl has shown me more about perseverance than most adults I know. This world is going to feel more empty without her.

Hailie’s father, Mark, and I first became friends in middle school. Thankfully technology has allowed us to maintain our friendship through many moves and life changes. There is a quote from Harry Potter, however, that I feel explains the foundation of our friendship even better.

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a 12-foot mountain troll is one of them.” -JK Rowling

Our 12-foot mountain troll came in the summer of 2011. Mark tragically lost his wife while giving birth to their son. I tried to be a supportive friend without really having any idea how to walk with someone through that. Several weeks later, I unexpectedly lost my baby girl, and entered a whole new world of understanding the hurting. Going through those great losses helped give my friend Mark and I an understanding of each other, and forged a friendship of encouraging each other through a pain we both now knew very well.

I’ll never forget the phone call which seemed only a short time later. Mark’s daughter Hailie had brain cancer. It was an extremely hard thing for me understand, but I watched the family take this new challenge with strength and calm.

This is when I became privileged to know a little girl with fight and determination that is awe-inspiring. Three times over the next few years she fought this beast. She bravely faced the treatments that stole much of her childhood, and she pressed on. She’s fierce, and she’s gentle, and that girl always has a smile. It’s been tough watching her family walk through this suffering, but seeing how they handle it with such calm perseverance and deep trust has been inspiring to me.

Now we know that the time to fight has come to an end. That beautiful, courageous girl is not going to be with us much longer. It’s excruciating. It’s confusing. I know I have argued with God many time over allowing so much heartache in this family’s life. Answers to questions we’ll never know, but I do know that Hailie, as well as her family have given us all a lesson in perseverance, the importance of family, and the hope that can never be squelched by the darkness.

Will you keep them in your thoughts and prayers with me? These days ahead promise to be heart-crushing, and sometimes I lose the words to pray within the searing of watching my friend walk this path of suffering.

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daily graces

Being Present

I am hurting in too many places to name; exhausted beyond staying awake for a few hours, and sapped of all my energy. What a gift to be so. I spent it all this weekend, and it was worth it.

I play a constant juggling game of shifting what things I can do, and how long I will need to recover. Any activity at all takes a pretty great amount of effort. This past weekend I did less calculating and more doing. Missing the days of doing projects around my house, I worked hard to make my front porch a welcome landing pad. Tending to plants, arranging welcomes, and repainting a forlorn mailbox left me tired, hurting, and so fulfilled. It was an accomplishment for myself, and it was a gesture of love I could provide my people.

At the end of the day, covered in soil and spray paint, I pushed myself even further to clean up and go out with my loves for dinner. I didn’t think I could do it, but the delicious food and sweet company spurred me through a wonderful evening. The following night, I pushed hard again to spend time with kind friends who invited us over. It would have been easier to retreat to the cool quiet of my bedroom refuge, but I fought to stay up and enjoy the company of loving friends. It was a beautiful evening together.

By Sunday my body was done being pushed, and I had to give in to the haven of my bed for some extra sleep, fluids, and help with my breathing. My bones and muscles complained at all I had done, but my heart was light. I’m so thankful for the opportunities to fight for more, and the strength Jesus has given me to keep taking them. Remind me when I need a push! These times are surely a gift I don’t ever want to take for granted.

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