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Blue House

This hot summer has been brimming with opportunities, and through my delight in seeing my littlest having grown into shoes big enough for some life-changing new experiences I did not even realize that the very thing that brought so much joy and revival for him would be the thing to send my head swirling under the tepid waters of another grief wave unexpected.

Finally old enough for church camp we excitedly rolled tshirts and shorts into the duffel bag as big as he is, and lingered in the aisles of the dollar store choosing just the right snacks to share with the other campers who would become friends. We watched videos of what to expect, and excitedly counted down the days to when he would set out on his big adventure. My heart bubbled with anticipation for him as I prayed over the days ahead.

Finally it was time to drive him the 40 minutes out to where camp was being held, and he was ready as ever. As I heaved his bag into the back of the car I felt a surge of emotion I could not put my finger on. I pushed it out of my mind and slid into the car to see him grinning in the back seat. He looked solid and strong, a maturity I had seen blooming in the preceding weeks. His face was already tanned from days spent playing in the sun; a smattering of freckles beneath his fluffy shock of dark blonde hair. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm, and it was the smile he flashed at me that poked that emotion I had pushed away, and sent it raging to the surface. It filled my insides with gravel and sent my thoughts spinning. I knew exactly what had me feeling a little “off.”

Looking over my shoulder into the back seat I was staring at the carbon copy of his older brother, blonde and freckle-faced also at the age of 9 going off to his first faith-based summer camp. When we dropped our firstborn off for a week at camp we had the same joyful anticipation for him, but that week was the one that changed our lives in the most painful way, tearing from us something so sacred. The last time I picked my 9 year old up from camp I had to tell him his little sister had died unexpectedly, and I watched his whole world turn on its axis and shake every foundation he had believed in.

Somehow, without me even realizing it my subconscious had put all of these signs together, and the unease I had felt was a full blown terrifying fear that when 9 year olds go away to camp, terrible things happen. I was in fight or flight mode; my memories having strung together a warning of perceived danger.

I prayed silently across the stretches of tar specked pavement that cut through swaying wheat fields and sleepy towns. I prayed for protection, for freedom, for healing. I knew my thoughts were just tricking me, so I pushed them down and smiled as I helped my littlest man choose the top bunk and unpack his belongings for the week. As he stood tall for the obligatory first day of camp photo, I could not believe how grown up and how tender and small he looked all at once. We prayed again as I hugged him goodbye and all the way home I sung loud with the truth on the radio to drown out my anxieties.

Each night that I got to talk to my boy that week was such a balm to my soul, and this time I was the one counting days. Camp ended on a sweltering Friday morning, and I arrived right on time, fiercely ready to pull my little bird back under my wing. The parents all waited in scattered patches in the burning sun until we heard it; the low buzz of a large group of children walking toward us, smiling and skipping and hugging each other. It took me a minute to pick my boy’s face out of the crowd, but as soon as I did I let out a huge exhale I had unknowingly been holding; perhaps all week? I tried to control the tears that swelled at the rims of my eyes and pricked at my throat. Some part of me had still been waiting to know that everything was going to be ok.

I talked with my counselor about these events this week, and she shared something so enlightening with me. She put it this way: If you walk by a blue house and a dog comes out and bites you, it’s going to make you leery of blue houses. The next time you see a blue house you are going to feel afraid, palms sweating, anticipating the ferocious beast you met before. But not every blue house has a dog that bites. We can learn to pick out those blue houses, call them what they are or are not, and confidently walk by with our heads high because we know; this blue house is different.

Glancing in the mirror at my suntanned and thoroughly exhausted 9 year old, I thanked God to be bringing him home with joyful celebration, and I thanked him for the lessons of the last blue house, and the blessings of this one.

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The Feeling of Fading

When I was given a terminal diagnosis I chose to fight for life. For time, for moments, for memories. Some days it is easy to do, and sometimes I am clawing and grasping at something that seems so pointless and out of reach.

Yesterday put me in a dark place. I had a doctor appointment about an issue that is fixable. Any healthy person would have walked in that office and been given hope for healing and a better quality of life. My third time in this office to plead for relief was met with the same disconcerted answers as before, even with the new information I brought. A doctor I have seen 3 times now, and he has not even laid a finger on me to understand what I’m going through because it is obvious he has already made up his mind that it is not worth it. I am not worth it. My condition is too advanced, there is not enough life to live to make it worth his time to help me. That tore me apart in ways I cannot describe.

I am weary. Every single day is so much fight, and sometimes it is hard to remember what I am fighting for. The memory loss from my brain surgery continues to torment me. It frustrates my family to the point of anger, and then leaves me feeling like I have done something wrong when really my mind is just tricking me into believing something different than everyone else. More and more I hold my tongue to avoid the embarrassment and the conflict of not remembering things. I nod my head and pretend to remember when I really have no idea, but it is the more peaceful path. That is not me. I do not hide.

My body is tired of the battle. My mind is tired of the battle. Some weeks that propels me to fight harder. This week it finds me burrowed under my blankets, hot tears burning scars down my cheeks. I do not know what the rest of my days look like. The only thing I know for certain is I have Jesus, and he is the one who has given me these days, so through my tears I pray he helps me to use them well. Feeling myself fading is frightening, and I don’t feel like I am courageous enough for the path ahead of me. I do know I am held though. Held on the easy days, and held on the days that seem impossible. Held in my determination and my hope, and held in my fear and my disappointment. He promises to carry me through the deep waters, so I pray he will carry me further than I can even imagine.

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Forgetting

I tried to have a guest post because this is difficult for me to explain, but I will do my best.

When I had brain surgery in March I suffered an injury that has left my memory severely impaired. We met with neuro specialists last week after extensive testing, and the results were grim. My short-term memory barely lets me see a word and then write it down.

This situation has caused the confident, sure-footed version of myself to curl up and withdraw from situations where I may need to draw on my memory. Friends, hobbies, activities that kept me going have only served as a reminder of how out of touch I am. Important things like birthdays and promotion dates and even that a friend has a hard thing coming up are all things that I grasp aimlessly for now; unable to remember long enough to follow up and follow through. It’s embarrassing and it’s crushing; taking the very essence of my talents and gifts. The only way I have known how to cope with this new limp is to pull back and retreat. I have hidden away, afraid that my “forgetfulness” will be perceived as uncaring and dismissive. Being the people person that I am, I just can’t bear the thought.

Supplements and mind exercises stretch from days into weeks as I try to find anything that will help support my memory coming back to me.

I hope that my people remember the me that could remember, and know that my heart is still there, longing to be that girl again.

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Open Hands

I am facing a hard new corner of my story. If it is analyzed too much it quickly becomes scary, unmanageable, a mountain too big to climb. I am choosing to face this one differently though; with open hands. Hands open to whatever God has for me and /knowing/ He will make good come of it.

In a beautiful song, Open My Hands, Sara Groves sings the words that ring true in the depths of me right now.

“I believe in a blessing I don’t understand. I’ve seen rain fall on the wicked and the just. Rain is no measure of His Faithfulness. He withholds no good thing from us.”

-Sara Groves

I covet your prayers this week for peace and comfort over my family as we have hard talks and make tough decisions that I don’t feel ready for. Jesus will meet us there.

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Reality Check

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.”

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Never

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?

Never.

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.

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Susan 🦋

My heart feels crushed every time I remember that a hard goodbye is just around the corner. I am grieving having to say goodbye to an incredible woman. An Angel among us. I have been so blessed in life to have been given friends who leave such important footprints on my heart.

I met Sue in a roundabout kind of way; we were both following the same blog, and the blog author had asked for prayers for Susan’s granddaughter, Delainey, who was having complications from Trisomy 18. In the end, we lost our daughter Ellianna, and she lost her granddaughter Delainy just a few months apart. Thus began an unexpected friendship; raw, real, beautiful, and based on the bare bones truth of treating people gently when they need to be loved.

Sue and I carried the heaviness of grieving our little ones side by side even though we were states apart. She was always accepting of whatever stage I was in, and gave me space to feel and express all that I needed to. Do y’all know how rare that is? It is an indescribable gift to have a person like that! Even in her own grieving, Sue found ways to speak to my hurts and mend my broken pieces with her gentle words and kind heart.

From right: Susan, Delainey, Delainey’s mom Christy

Susan is a relentless encourager. If I look at my “friendship” on Facebook I will be scrolling through page after page of scripture, encouraging quotes, and meaningful articles she would send on to me. And that woman must have liked and commented on every one of my pictures for like five years. She was always looking for ways to build me up.

I only got to be with Sue in person one time, and that makes me a little sad. She was traveling near my town and made it a point to stop and meet up with us so we could finally meet in the flesh and have a good meal together. It is a treasured memory, an experience that really made me realize how gentle and kind of a person she is. She is calm and sure of herself, content in the moment, unlike how I sometimes come roaring in in a hot frazzled mess.

How blessed I am to have shared in such an uplifting and encouraging friendship at a time we both so deeply needed it. My heart aches that this world will not have Sue anymore, but my soul rejoices wildly at the thought of her scooping up her Delainey once again, and snuggling her close for all of eternity. How happy she will be. Once again she will be paving the way for me through a new unknown.

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The End

All things must come to an end. Except suffering maybe. The verdict is still out on that one. I do not know anymore why I am so candidly sharing my heart-thoughts with a world unknown to me. When I first starting blogging, when our daughter died, I found it therapeutic. Getting my thoughts out and also believing they might help someone else who was going through trials somehow eased a bit of my grief. Then my life carried on and this horrible disease struck, and I kept putting it all out there. The good, the bad, and a lot of the ugly. What I’ve come to realize is I don’t know what the purpose for that is anymore. I am blaring my deep hurts, vicious disappointments, and strongest hopes to an audience who can neither see nor hear me, and the void of comforting souls doing life beside me remains vacant.

Perhaps one day my children will read my words and gain an understanding of the storyline that played in my head, hidden beneath the brave face I tried to put on for them, and they will learn the truth-depth that is woven in the coming and going of our every day.

Thank you each for being here to follow along and cheer me forward. For now it is time for me to step away, to let my silence be the echo of the words I have clung to for so long; Choose Hope.

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Empty Stockings

I opened Facebook this week, and it didn’t take but a couple of swipes to see a pattern. 

The Christmas season is upon us, and with the joy and anticipation, there are many people feeling heavier emotions as the day of wonder draws near.  There are people having their first Christmas since the death of someone they love, and there are people who years later are still feeling the sting of someone’s absence.

For those who have lost a loved one, the celebration of Christmas will always have painful spaces that are difficult to fill.  There will be an empty stocking, a missing ornament, a lonely heart.  Please don’t ignore what is all around you; you can help make the holidays more bearable for grieving hearts.  Help them remember, say their names, do something to let them know their loved ones are not forgotten. 

We are all trying to find ways to include our people, even when they’re no longer here. Knowing that our family and friends remember our loss is a healing part of moving through grief. 

Take the time to think through your friend list today, see who you can reach out to with a bit of encouragement as you remind them that you see their grief, remember their loved ones, and choose to help fill those empty spaces during this time of year.

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

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Missing…

“They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad…”

I am still going to bed having filled out my gratitude journal. I’m still whispering thanks for my multitude of blessings. I know tomorrow is a new day with new promise… but tonight, tonight it just doesn’t feel fair.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone.
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone.”

-Mercy Me “Even If”

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