Sweet 16

Our only daughter is turning 16. A milestone birthday, it has been celebrated in our society with cars and keys, and in movies and books. For me, it is a bittersweet event because of what my special gift to my girl is…

Every birthday since I was born, my mom gave me birthday angels. They are very fragile, delicate figurines with a number and a symbolic item for each year; a small girl holding a teddy bear, a teenager holding a phone, etc.

I have an angel for every year from birth to 16. This is where they stop.

On my birthdays, I always knew there would be a small, square box, light as a feather. I always opened it last partially because I was anxious to see what else I got and partially because I knew it could easily break in the festivities.

My mom was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer one month before I turned 16, and died eleven months later.

On my 17th birthday, my grandparents, whom I lived with after she died, did what they could to wish me a happy birthday. However, they had just buried my mom, their daughter. None of us were in the mood to celebrate. A small, square box was missing.

I can count on one hand items I have from my mom, literally. That season of life was absolute chaos and sadness. My sister and I lost our home and our stuff. My cat ran away and I had to put my dog of 13 years, my very best friend who was my 4th birthday present, down. She couldn’t handle the stress of everything and stopped eating. There was nothing we could do to help. My house of cards came down with a crash within a couple of weeks of Mom’s death, including a car accident I was involved in that totaled her car the night before her funeral. It was all too much.

I remember sparse pieces of those days. I do remember sitting in my mom’s bedroom, emptying out drawers of photographs into black trash bags and hauling them to the curb thinking, That life is over now. How I wish I hadn’t done that. My stuffed animal collection, bedroom furniture, everything went. My life as I knew it was erased and I was left numb inside and out.

My precious grandmother saved my birthday angels, though I didn’t know it for years. When she gave them to me, it was like opening a time capsule. There they were, all in one piece sans one. They still had thick dust on them. For the eleven months my mom fiercely battled cancer, we lived between two homes – my grandparents and ours. Nothing in our home was maintained between long school days and hospital stays. To see and touch the dust was like touching a piece of my living history. Surreal.

As soon as I found out my husband and I were having a girl, I thought about those angels. I would have a daughter to pass them on to.

Each year commemorating our daughter’s birth, I quietly travel to a secret part of our home where they sit in silence. Like a museum, they rest in a box with a toothbrush and all that dust. Holding them in my hand, I feel the grit of the dust. My heart can only handle cleaning one angel per year. What seems like a mundane task reaches to the bottom of my heart. Touching the dust feels like my hand has slipped through time and space. I am touching a piece of my old life, literally. That was dust from my room – the room stripped and taken from me before I was grown. With the toothbrush and warm, soapy water, I carefully clean each angel year-by-year. It’s a symbolic ceremony of one as I say goodbye to the old and welcome the new, preparing to give them away to my daughter.


For the past twenty-eight years (hoping since I was a child that I’d be a mom one day), I have wondered what would it feel like to give my daughter my last birthday angel.

The pain I feel rests in the decision I must make: Do I continue the tradition by scouring eBay (they aren’t sold in stores anymore) for years 17 to 21, and I even saw a marriage angel once, or do I let the tradition peacefully end with my daughter’s 16th birthday, however heart-wrenching it abruptly stopped with my mom?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

There’s no right or wrong, but I don’t know what is the best decision. For anyone reading, I would deeply appreciate your input.

On one hand, I would love to continue the tradition and search the world over to find the missing angels. On the other hand, I am passing down a tradition that my mom began and couldn’t finish, and a part of my heart feels guilty at the thought of leaving her behind for the renaming years.

Honestly, I’m not sure either decision will ever feel 100% right, but then again few things in life do. Decisions are often a leap of faith, and we don’t know how they’ll turn out until the dust settles.

After touching the settled dust on my birthday angels, either decision still hurts. A decision I don’t take lightly. The point of keeping these birthday angels has been to pass a piece of my mom onto our daughter, who never had the opportunity to know her. If I buy her ones from me, it seems like my mom (her grandmother) would be left out and that makes me sad.

I have a piece of stone art in my office that sums up many thoughts in one sentence…


Anyone who had to finish growing up without a mom understands this. A grown daughter struggling to be her own person also understands this.

Hopefully, I have successfully retained and implemented much of my mother’s wisdom. It’s been so many years, and although I cannot remember specific conversations she and I must have had (or the sound of her voice), the fabric of who she was is woven into who I am. Leaving childhood and entering adulthood has offered the opportunity to see what that will look like for the rest of my life.

In most areas, I have found my own gardens. She tilled the soil through discipline and planted seeds of God, love, laughter and forgiveness deep out of reach from the evil things in this world that would dig them up and and harsh weather that would scorch and starve them.

Her beautiful life watered the gardens in my heart in ways she’ll never know.

I was at my grandparents one afternoon right before she died when my ex-stepdad came to visit her. She was very ill and unable to leave the hospital bed Hospice had brought her. We lived at my grandparents’ home full-time at that point so they could care for her. I still showered and dressed every morning back at our home. The best way to explain what that felt like was to be “in between addresses.” On high school forms, I didn’t know which house address to write.

I didn’t want to see my ex-stepdad. He was a very scary man who left many deep emotional scars on me. But I knew he was there and, even at 16, I knew why. It was that visit that helped shape my relationships ever since. She allowed him to come, despite the traumatizing wrecking ball with which he destroyed her life and my childhood, and she allowed herself to have closure.

It takes a woman who has made peace with God and with herself to do that. I knew then that’s the kind of woman I wanted to be.

Where do birthday angels 17 to 21, and the married one, fit in my gardens? Where do they fit in my daughter’s gardens as she approaches adulthood?

Lord willing I get to celebrate many, many, many more of her birthdays, I will have to make this decision. A decision twenty-eight years in the making.

On her 16th birthday, there will be a small, lightweight gift that she will open last – just like I did and just like she has done all these years. When the box opens, memories will flood my heart of the day Mom gave this birthday angel to me, and how I secretly worried (only two months into her cancer battle) if this would be the last. I remember where I was sitting, what the weather felt like, and the nervous smile she gave me as, I believe, she worried the same thing. I drew no attention to the tears that I saw well up in her eyes because I didn’t want to ruin the moment for her.

I am blessed that my daughter and I have made it to this milestone. With every milestone in our children’s lives be it walking, talking, starting school, losing a tooth, making the team, learning to drive, SATs, etc. I turn my face toward heaven and thank my Father for letting me be a part of each one – for myself and for our children.

This birthday, I will focus on celebrating the life my daughter has been blessed to live, and will continue to dream with her, laugh with her and love her as she graces each milestone one at a time. We will sing, and she will blow out candles, and we will eat something fabulous and filled with sugar. We will dine at her favorite restaurant and we will make the night all about her.

A party of five that we are, we are often seated at a table for six. The extra seat at the birthday table is a visual reminder to me that my mom is still a part of our lives as she lives on in memory and legacy.

These days, I often find myself asking, What would Mom do? as we duck and weave through teen waters times three. This time I am asking, What seeds were planted in her garden that were meant to take root in mine? 



Happy New Year of Life

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. ~ Psalm 139:16

Last week, I began the week in so much pain from a recent back injury that I didn’t even realize my birthday was approaching.  After 4 doctors, 5 doctor appointments, a heating pad, a cold pack, pain medications and very little sleep sitting straight up in a chair for over a week, I wandered around in a dazed fog – unable to keep up with the days of the week – much less the date.  This is why I’ve been off the grid from posting.  I was just trying to get up and down out of chair. :O

However, I have an amazing family and awesome friends who would not let my birthday go unnoticed nor let the excruciating back pain spoil the fun.  I have a great, big God who went out of His way to show me He didn’t forget the day He began our love story decades ago.

My last post, Today, was the worst day of the pain.  Back pain so bad that my skin has broken out in hives all week where the injury occurred.  Doctors said it was my back’s way of relieving the stress from the pain.  I didn’t even know that was possible.  I jokingly said that I must be allergic to pain.  Not!  Three childbirths, 5 surgeries and 2 severe car accidents have proven otherwise.

Anyway, today I simply want to post a huge, sincere THANK YOU to everyone who made this year one of the most loving, special, memorable birthdays I have ever had in my life.

To my husband and children, thank you for making me smile and laugh (the back pain from laughing was totally worth it!) and taking the time to treat me like a queen.  Bruce, you work so hard for our family.  I know you wanted to be home with me, but what you do makes our family life possible.  Your card, flowers, balloons, gifts and mostly your calls and texts made me feel like you were right by my side all day.  I love you!

Kids – you guys rock.  You got up on your summer morning at 6:30am, voluntarily, to make me breakfast!  That was the best egg white omlette I’ve ever had; the little dude made out of toast and jam – complete with wings and feet – was delicious; the fruit salad – with its professional presentation – was perfect; and homemade chocolate milk, something I afford myself only on my birthday and Mother’s Day meant so much that you remembered.  What can I say about the hand-dipped chocolate covered strawberries?  For breakfast!  I am utterly spoiled, and they were scrumptious.  It was enough for all 5 of us!

On my way to the 5th doctor’s appointment, I received a text from one of my best friends telling me to go check my front door.  I did, and below is what I found!!!  What an incredibly nice surprise!!!!!!!!  Seeing as our country is in a helium shortage (weird, huh?), I can’t believe you guys found some.  Frances and Ann, your two families are family to us always and forever.  You know me well, and filled this basket with my favorite things – most touching was the cards signed be each and everyone of you.  Thank you guys so much!  Ya’ll are kind, generous and loving – and I want the world to know. 🙂

After the appointment, I was treated to lunch by not one, but two friends at a favorite Italian restaurant.  Their hugs, smiles and fun conversation was priceless time with women I think the world of.  Your gifts, cards and fellowship is more than I could ask for.  Pam and Renee, you are beautiful blessings to me.  Thank you for lunch and the tiaramisu.  It was delicious, but even better sharing it with you.

Renee, you surprised me with dinner the night before my birthday just to help out with my back, and completely surprised me with birthday cupcakes!  BUT, not just any cupcakes, made-from-scratch chocolate sunflower cupcakes!!! They were adorable!  Too cute to eat, but we managed. 😉  We enjoyed every last crumb.  You took so much time out of your day to do this special gift for me, and I am so thankful.  God had such a big surprise in store for me when He brought us together, and it feels like I’ve known you a lifetime.  Thank you, Friend.

Going out with my family last night  was such fun!  Bruce wanted to pull out all of the stops.  When we got home, we played family games and, one of the cutest surprises, was the musical arrangement the kids put on.  My daughter pulled popular songs from each decade of my life and we all danced (well, I swayed) to the music.  That was so creative!!

My Facebook, voicemail and email were absolutely flooded with birthday wishes from so many wonderful people from Kenya to Ukraine to the United States.  Oh my!  I never ever expected that.  I thought my heart would burst from feeling so loved and remembered.  I read and re-read each and every one.  I LOVE the way my sweet Ukrainian friend worded her message to me, Happy new year of your life.  Indeed, God makes all things new. 🙂  I just love that!  To me, a birthday message is priceless.  Someone I care about took the time to stop their day and think of me.  Wow.  Being remembered is a beautiful thing.

All day long, I loved hanging out with my kids, enjoying long face-to-face as well as phone conversations with friends, and anticipating celebrating with my man.  I’m not so much about gifts, though who doesn’t’ like to receive a present? 🙂 I deeply treasure time and things from the heart the most.  My cup was overflowing with both…and very thoughtful presents I might add!

All 3 children gave me precious cards – each special in their own way.  This is the card my sixteen year-old son made for me…

This is part of my youngest’s card.  It’s the signature picture he draws of us every year.  I love it!!!!

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He meets us right where we are and in ways only He knows is in our best interest.  He is so good.  I have a story about one of the gifts God gave me for my birthday and would love to share it.

On Tuesday, as I mentioned above my worst pain day, a house guest came over.  I was hiding out in my pajamas upstairs.  Clear instructions were given by those downstairs not to touch my camera.  My nice, expensive one I use for ministry.  (I’m oblivious to all of this happening downstairs.)  I guess the temptation was too much and hands picked it up…and dropped it.  Dropped it so hard the filter cracked in half and lens busted.

When I found out the news hours later, I was deflated more than anything.  Just 3 months ago, different hands accidentally knocked my old camera off of a table onto concrete and killed it.  Now this one, my new replacement.  Are you kidding me?  I cannot be without my camera, and when traveling there isn’t always a place to pick up another lens if this broken lens doesn’t get fixed and stay fixed.

Warily, Wednesday afternoon I hobbled into a big box electronic store where I bought it and dreaded the whole waranttee process.  I know it well and it is long and laborious.

I explained the whole thing to the gentleman, shifting my weight to find a comfortable standing position, and he was unmoved to say the least.  Another employee stood silently on the sidelines.  He called up a third employee, and I explained the saga to her.  I had told my daughter when I parked the car I would need God’s self control to get through this because of the back pain and the fact that this was camera #2 that I was left to deal with.  An expensive problem.

Another employee, fixing someone’s hard drive nearby, chimed in and borderline lectured me on the warantee process and how I am not special and do not have a choice to repair or replace.  Yeah yeah yeah.  I got it.

I was now going to be without a camera for an indefinite amount of time for an upcoming trip and milestones like visiting family, the first day of school, etc.  The whole thing gave me a headache.

Suddenly, the woman who came over from a different department placed a box on the counter.  She opened it (while the other guy was lecturing me unsolicited)  and with four simple words then entire issue ended…Here’s your new camera.

What? I responded, completley baffled.

This is your new camera, enjoy it! 🙂

Seriously? I questioned.

Yes, she said as she packed up the box.

Just like that? I asked.

Just like that, she replied.

Really? I asked again.  I know the waranttee process and this isn’t typical by a long shot.

Yes, she simply replied.

I’m not one to cry in front of others, but it was hard to choke back the lump in my throat.

This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time.  You have no idea what a blessing this is, I said while the other employees stood by speechless.

This wasn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t have to bear the stress of it.  Photography is what you do, and you should be able to do it, she said.

I’ll be honest.  This is the first time using a large company to buy my camera, and I was wary about the follow-up customer service.

Maybe this will help, she smiled.

Yes, indeed it does! Do I need to do anything?  Sign anything? 

Nope.  Just enjoy it.

Just like that, I had a brand new camera, new lens and a new battery.  Life simply doesn’t resolve itself like that usually.  I was so discouraged one moment, and in an instant the problem vanished.  Done.

Tears streamed underneath my sunglasses as my daughter and I left the store.  I was mostly relieved to have a working camera in my hands so I can do what God calls me to do with it.  No wondering if the repaired lens will flake out on me overseas, or if the body was affected in a way that won’t show up for some time.  It was new.  A brand new camera.

As we walked to the car, God spoke to me and said, You see your life broken in many ways, much like your camera.  But, like this camera, I can fix anything.  I can fix you.  Your life.  I can.

I have to say, He unearthed doubt that had built up in my heart over some things.  I felt physically broken with my back, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually broken over some heart issues.

Driving home, I wondered why this whole thing happened with my camera.  It was so random and bizarre!  But, God showed me that He allowed this to happen to prove a point with me.  That nothing is irreparable with God.  All things are possible.  He can make a way where there is no way.  And sometimes, the process doesn’t have to be long and laborious.

He gave me hope.  Hope for my back and my heart.  He wrapped it in a camera and every time I pick this new one up, I see Him saying, I love you.  I see.  I know.  I hear.  I am at work for your best interest.  What a beautiful, generous birthday present.

I will never forget this birthday.  And, it’s not over yet.  I look forward to going out with one of my favorite friends, Lisa, soon.  And, we are partying on with more family very soon.  Everything we celebrate is only what God has done in my life – a sinner saved by grace.  His faithfulness, mercy, grace and love.  He is eternally good.  All years combined, the good, the bad and the ugly, I write today that God is sovereign.  He is beautiful.  He is worthy.  Here’s to as many more days on this earth that He allows – for His glory.

My heart is full.

Rest for the Divided Heart

The calla lily in our backyard resembles a heart – very appropriate for today. 

Today, I am mixed with emotions.  It is the Sabbath.  God’s blessed day of rest.  However, my heart feels more restless than restful.  Our family begins the day with worship.  That’s typical for our Sundays.

However, the afternoon straddles an array of emotions as we attend the memorial service for a dear, young friend who suffered a tragic loss of his father and celebrate our oldest’s milestone birthday.

A birthday and a memorial service.  The recognition and honor of both life and death.  My heart is pulled in opposite directions.

In the midst of the vast spectrum of life, I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8…

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Through laughter and tears, memories will be shared at both, and in every moment I seek God’s peace.  His selah.  His pause.  He is my tether. My anchor. The only One who can make sense of it all.

Thankful for selah,