Making peace with Mother’s Day

mothers dya blog
Mother’s Day is coming soon. Since 1987 I have wrestled over this day. For years I just couldn’t even think about it. I wanted to erase it from the calendar – or at least from my mind. I loved celebrating my mom when she was alive. But losing her at sixteen changes every holiday – especially the one in honor of her.
I went through every stage of grief after she died. My body suffered from IBS for an agonizingly long time because it didn’t know how to process such tremendous loss. Migraines. Nervous ticks. Depression. Isolation. Losing the will to live. Hopelessness. So many pebbles in my shoes on this uphill journey.
Then, one year while shopping in Hallmark (I am a card junky), I passed by the Mother’s Day card section. It’s pink. It’s flowery. It’s all-things-mom. I so badly missed participating in this day for a mother I loved and longed to simply give a card to.
It is though God whispered in my ear that, even though she is not here to receive it, I could still buy her a card in hopes that it would somehow heal another piece of my heart. So I walked down that aisle slowly, unsure of what this experience might do to me and my journey.
I read dozens of cards, each one bringing back a memory of her – of us. I pulled several and spread them all over the carpet and sat down, in the middle of the aisle. I lost myself in this moment. Time stood still. The joy of her being my mom bubbled up in my heart for the first time in years. I had the BEST time reading, searching, pondering, remembering and finding the perfect card.
There it was. The. Perfect. Card.
A huge lump swelled in my throat as I proudly escorted the card to checkout. I wanted to share this journey with the clerk. Moreover, I wanted to keep it private just between Mom and me.
This experience was extremely healing. I felt like where I had been excommunicated from the beloved mothers and daughters club, I was brought back in, on my terms.
I still have this card. I never wrote in it.
Fast forward to this week. I’m in the store looking for a few needed household items and there it was. The pink, flowery and all-things-mom card section.
Because I braved my heart’s hurt all those years ago, I am able to shop for Mother’s Day cards again. I buy them for family and friends and my treasured mother-in-law.
But this day I just couldn’t. So much is swirling around in life right now that my heart is weary. Literally, they’ve put me on blood pressure meds. (If only they had such an easy fix for our emotional heart as they do our physical one.)
I stopped and looked at the cards. I looked at the other woman reading them. I reached for a card, but before I opened it I put it back.
Today was not the day to shop for Mother’s Day cards. There will be other days, but this one wasn’t it.
As I walked away from this card aisle, pangs of guilt seared my heart. But then, I stopped and told myself it was okay. Not shopping for them today out of spontaneous convenience doesn’t mean I don’t care about the moms in my life. It simply means I’ve traveled this path long enough, and felt every possible emotion of all of the pebbles in my shoes over living with loss, that I’m in a new pace now.
A place that is much more sure-footed. Solid ground. I am not persuaded by guilt nor am I running from emotions stronger than I can face. I’ve come to a place in this journey where her loss is a part of me that softens me. A part that reminds me to enjoy life and not take the simplest of blessings for granted. To appreciate not just the beautiful, but to seek the beauty in everything.
The momentum of strength that has built over time with each passing holiday or memory that comes to mind gives me passion to fully love, fully forgive, fully embrace life and those God has put in it.
Walking into the Mother’s Day card aisle all those years ago was the best thing I could’ve done for who I was then. Walking away from it the other day was the best thing I could’ve done for who I am now. It shows just how far my heart has come on this journey of living with loss.
I’ll be back. I look forward to card-shopping for the moms in my life to let them know what fabulous moms they are. But, it will be when I’m ready and it will be joyful. Until then, I’m going to stop and take a breath on this most difficult journey and thank God for how far He has brought this baby girl who misses her mom. ❤

Walmart, Rod Stewart and Valentine’s Day

I had the perfect storm today of an unexpected kind. After a wonderful weekend of glorious weather and lots of hugs and laughs around the house from our teens, Monday came and it was time to get back to work.
I went to Walmart, my other office, and caught myself meandering down the Valentine’s aisle. Valentine’s is my FAVORITE holiday to celebrate, and although I wasn’t looking to buy anything it just makes me happy to be surrounded by lovey stuff. I turned the corner and found myself in the children’s Valentine’s section. Gazing at the selection of Valentines, I was transported back to another time.
A time when I had one child walking beside me, one sitting in the basket of the cart, and a little one in the child seat. We scoured this aisle forever looking for just the right Valentines that encompassed their interest, but would also be cool enough for their friends. I remember their homemade “mail boxes” that held their friends’ wishes and how they raced home from school to pour them out all over the kitchen table.
They read every card (quickly and only because Mom made them), carefully sorted the candy, then ate all of it in one fail swoop. That time of life was magical. As I choked down the lump in my throat at the memories, Rod Stewart sang over the store speakers, “Have I told you lately that I love you?”
I lost it. In the middle of Walmart. I cried, in public. With the dichotomy of the swell of sweet, lingering memories of the past and the warp speed at which the future races toward us with one chick out of the nest and two quickly on their way, this mama’s heart broke. But, it’s a brokenness out of gratitude for the growing years and hope and optimism for the years yet to come. Gratefulness to love so deeply it hurts. Gratefulness that my college son loves where he is and is embracing independence, which is the goal of parenting, after all. Thankfulness that our teenage daughter is excited about her dreams and goals and isn’t afraid to make them a reality. Gratitude that our youngest teen has so many plans, with the drive and ambition to match.
So why is it that when they start to stand on their own two feet I miss holding them? And as they share more of themselves with the world, I want them all to myself? I’ve told them countless times over the years, “You can grow up, but you’re not allowed to outgrow your Mom.”
No matter how old they get or where they live or what they do with their lives, this mama’s heart is a homemade mailbox that keeps every tender moment tucked inside. Life is changing. They are changing. I am changing. But one thing is for sure, I will never outgrow their love.
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An unexpected college blessing

My last few posts have been about sending our firstborn to college. There are many emotions surrounding this experience and I have been bracing myself for them pretty much since I found out of was pregnant all those years ago.

However, within this first week of him being gone, our family has been touched twice in a very personal way.

Two friends of ours have intentionally asked me for his mailing address so they can send a note of encouragement or a care package.

That in itself is very kind and we are grateful for their generosity. But their backstory is what melts my heart.

One friend lost her husband last year about this time. It was an extremely traumatic day as he had taken his own life. And, as God would design it, my firstborn and his sister were first on the scene, by my asking.

The short version of that day is we saw something was very wrong, but I was detained, so I asked my two oldest teens to see what they could do to help. None of us ever, ever imagined what they would walk into.

As my friend was called from work to come, among the myriad of emergency vehicles, etc. she arrived to see my two kids waiting.

In the midst of the many emergency responders, there stood my teens–barefoot in shorts and t-shirts.

They stayed with my friend for over an hour, offering her a hug and shoulder to lean on.

A while later, to my utter amazement, I turned to see my two teens sitting in a tight circle linked together arm-and-arm with my friend and her daughter, praying. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, my son (who had asked them to pray and led the prayer), gently wiped the tears from my friend’s face.

In the weeks and months that followed, they attended his memorial and helped with dogsitting, meals, etc. A friendship between my kids and my friend organically grew out of a situation no one how to handle.

So when I ran into her at the post office this week, and she asked for my son’s address, it deeply touched me because this time she wants to encourage him.

There is a bond between them that formed from brokenness.

We all waded in unfamiliar waters with this tragedy, and none of us acted like we knew what we were doing. My kids’ genuine humility and hurt for this family was a blessing, and now she wants to bless him back as he lives away from home for the first time.

Her thoughtfulness is powerful. Sacrificial. Healing…for everyone.

I didn’t know my friend well before this event. We were casual acquaintances. Now, there is a cord that cannot be broken, a cord that holds broken people together.

Another dear friend of mine also asked me recently for his address. I was overwhelmed and deeply touched when she did. In fact, when I read her Facebook message I burst into tears–not because of how much I miss my boy, but because of how much she misses hers.

Two years ago, six weeks into her youngest son’s freshmen year of college, he died in a tragic accident. Our entire church deeply mourned for this precious family.

My friend is one of the kindest, sweetest people you’ll ever know. She is always giving and doing for others.

I have thought of her often during this new season of school and can only imagine how hard it must be to see another year begin. My heart stays broken for her.

She and her husband have done many wonderful things to honor their son’s life. It’s been amazing to watch them continue his legacy of faith and friendship.

But mother to mother, I don’t know how she does it. By the grace of God she gets up every day and chooses to walk toward the light and not toward the dark (as one friend said).

Every day she chooses life and I stand in awe of her strength.

Knowing what a giving, tenderhearted person she is, this would be the time she would be sending a care package to her own son. From one care-package sender to another, this thought brings me to tears.

The fact that she remembered my son, as she remembers hers, floods my heart with emotions I don’t know how to process. To say I feel blessed is an understatement. To say I am thankful and grateful isn’t enough.

This beautiful soul, who has grieved in a way that only one can who walks the road of losing a child, has chosen to gather her grief in her arms and turn it into a blessing for someone else.

She is a living testimony of God’s love for this world.

Our family is very blessed that we have family and friends who want to encourage our son while he is away at college. Each and every person holds a special place in our hearts.

But for these two women, who have chosen to give out of their grief, pain and loss, I have no words.

These women come from the most broken of places, yet have determined in their hearts to allow God to make something beautiful out of it.

They have no idea that they also help fill a huge hole in this mama’s heart. Both of my parents are deceased and aren’t here to walk this new season of life with our family–to give our son an atta-boy! in his new journey or us a hug as we adapt to his absence at home.

I highly admire and respect these amazing women. Their joy is contagious in a home that misses our guy very much. They are an inspiration.

Our son may be the one who receives the card or package, but it is all of us who are healed a little bit more by their kindness. ❤

 

Photo credit here

 

Father’s Day Hangover

Sunday was Father’s Day. A thousand times I thought of writing this post, then stopped.

Just let the day pass quietly, I thought to myself. You’re not unlike millions of others who don’t like this day. Just get it over with and move on already.

Then it dawned on me that it is because so many of us share the same feelings about Father’s Day that I decided to post.

Fast-forwarding through the dramatic story of an unstable, fear-filled, anxiety-ridden childhood, here I sit as a wife of twenty-five years and mom to three teenagers. I glance back at my life and think about how some dreams became reality just like I had hoped – and others haven’t.

The father thing being a big one.

My stepfather walked out of our house and out of my life when I was twelve. It was the first time I felt safe in my own home.

My biological father and mother divorced when I was a baby. I met him when I was twelve, spent two weeks with him and his family when I was thirteen, then proceeded to have years of anger, bitterness and all things negative toward him long after I buried my mom when I was sixteen.

As a grown adult I told him, You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.

In my world, I had no use for a father. None. Fathers were unreliable.

Unloving.

Selfish.

Unkind.

Scary.

Hurtful.

Monsters.

Mean.

Promise-breakers.

Unpredictable.

Unsafe.

Over-powering.

Aloof.

Unstable.

Untrustworthy.

Liars.

Fronters.

Self-serving.

Forgetful.

Stingy.

Inconsiderate.

They were the bad guy.

I know what it’s like to live with the enemy while wishing for a hero to rescue me.

I also know what it’s like when that hero doesn’t come.

Yeah, my whole life I’ve had no use for fathers.

To give credit where it is due, God performed a miracle between my biological father and me. There was an unspoken truce between us, but no healing. That’s when I told him about not being a father to me. After all, I was far too old to be his little girl. That window closed a long time ago.

However, on one particular visit to our home, my father, his wife and I talked deep into the night. We agreed on one thing – we can’t do this relationship on our own. We’re too emotional. Too human. We kept getting in the way of ourselves.

So we prayed together and gave whatever relationship we had to God and asked him to be the foundation of something new between us.

Like a master surgeon, God healed our hearts. We had eight great years together before my dad died from cancer.

I often think to myself, If I had to choose between eight great years, or a lifetime of surface-level mediocrity, I’m thankful I got eight great years. Many people never get that with their fathers.

The day before he died, I sat at his bedside in the hospital and got to tell him that I loved him. Not everyone gets that opportunity. I am grateful.

But here’s the thing, Father’s Day never gets easier. More than a day on a calendar and endless greeting cards about tools and grilling and ties, this father thing is really hard with God.

This past Sunday, while responding to a text message I typed God, but my phone auto-corrected it to dad. That has never happened before, and I thought it was very ironic it happened on Father’s Day. My heart skipped a nervous beat.

My mom once gave my grandfather a plaque that read, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.” Que sweaty palms over Siri’s mistake.

The Bible tells us over and over that God is our Good Father, Heavenly Father, Abba Father.

That’s like telling me, Sure, the last time you touched fire it was hot and burned you, but this fire is different, it won’t burn you. 

Seriously?

Fire is fire, right?

Fathers are fathers, right?

What’s more frustrating is that I totally know better. I have been walking with God since I was fourteen and have loved him since I was a little girl.

I should get it by now.

Hence, the feelings of self-imposed guilt drive a wedge deeper between God and me.

I am so sorry for the times I have said, in not so many words, the same thing to God that I did to my biological father, You can be a Father to my children, but not to me.

You can be Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Potter, Friend, Provider, Redeemer, Rock, Refuge, and my God. But Father? Here comes the list I named above of just some of my opinions about fathers.

I desperately don’t want to lump God into any of that because I know it’s not true. But my heart stings, even all these years later, over the topic of fathers and to avoid insulting God I exclude him from it.

Then Father’s Day comes around again and here comes the plethora of Facebook posts. Ug.

It seems everyone else has the best father in the world!

I tried. I really tried to be happy for them. I “liked” throwback photos of daddies and children (now my grown friends) doing all kinds of fun things together.

I “liked” heartfelt, borderline poetic, sentiments from my friends to their dads.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t look at one more smiley photo of warm embraces or read one more post about all of the unconditional love and support their fathers gave them.

My toes inched dangerously close to a line I try not to cross – the why me line.

I really try to live my life thankful for each day and for all of the blessings I have been given. But, never having a healthy father-child relationship messes children up.

Contrary to what this broken society wants people to believe, there are lifelong repercussions for children whose fathers walked away from their families or never showed up in the first place.

I’m not talking about illness and death and things out of people’s control. Rather fathers who choose to not engage in their children’s lives, even if they share the same home address.

Silence is deafening. Absence is suffocating. A lack of effort on a father’s part is like a sucker-punch to a child’s gut – to matter their age. Rejection from a father, spoken or not, intentional or the result of a lack of words or action, is indescribable.

We were created for family. It’s how God designed this world to keep spinning. And fathers have a unique role that fills a unique place in a child’s heart.

When that hole doesn’t get filled, children look for other things to fill it.

It must be filled.

For me, after realizing nothing tangible in this world can fill it, I looked to God. But again, that’s where I start blurring the line and transpose everything I feel about human fathers onto God and the next thing I know I’m running from him, too.

I read blogs that have happy endings, or at least an end with some amount of closure.

This one is open-ended. It seems a bit depressing because we’re used to life’s biggest problems being solved in a thirty-minute sitcom.

But life is more than splices of thirty minutes and there certainly isn’t a laugh track to fill in the awkward pauses.

I’m just saying that Father’s Day is hard. Seeing God as my Good Father is hard. I don’t have this figured out yet and feel I’m not alone in the journey.

The days since Sunday seem to pass in slow motion. I’m hard on myself for not having this all figured out after so long. I’m jealous of those who have had great relationships with their fathers. It leaves a gnawing in my heart and a pit in my stomach that is only relieved by the thought that it’s over for another year and the hope that by next year I’ll be different, changed, healed.

I resist the pessimist in me which reminds me that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, I intentionally stay open to the truth that God is my Good Father. I choose to not have a hard heart toward him. I continue to learn about him and his character.

Mostly, I daily rely on his mercy and grace and understanding as I wander through this desert.

Deep down, past the walls and barriers and fortresses I have locked my heart behind, I know God is the opposite from the list above. But believing it and living it out are two different things.

With everything God is to me, and knowing he is who he is despite what I may feel, a flicker of hope remains in my heart that one day I will fully accept him as my Good Father.

Through it all, I am forever grateful he unconditionally accepts me as his child.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. ~ Psalm 68:5

 

Photo source here

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.

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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…

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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? 

 

 

10 Thank You’s

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest had an interesting school assignment.  He had to tell something about his life using the numbers 1-10.  Pretty cool!

As we near Thanksgiving, I’d like to share ten things about life I am thankful for using the numbers 1-10.

#10 – My great-grandmother gave me, for my 10th birthday, a 110 Instamatic camera.  As soon as I held it, I was hooked for life.  Someone once told me photography is my voice to the world.  Nailed it!  Although my cameras have changed over the years, it’s been an unending love affair ever since.

#9 –  God has richly blessed my life with nine fantastic girlfriends.  These are women I deeply admire and respect.  They are funny, smart, godly, and irreplaceable.  They are women who I know I can call anytime of day for anything – and they me.  We laugh till it hurts, pray for and with each other, and love sharing life together.  They never cease to amaze me with the bottomless love, grace and mercy they weave into their lives.  I want to be like them when I grow up!  We may have many friends and acquaintances, but I am spoiled with these nine women who generously let me in their worlds and love me back.  You know who you are!

#8 –  This Thanksgiving I am thankful for eight years with my dad.  With his permission, I published a devotion about our story (click here) , and today I find myself sitting here thinking about him.  This will be the first Thanksgiving since he died last December.  This time last fall, we were traveling back and forth almost every weekend crossing state lines to visit him in the hospital.  Every time we went, he was a little weaker.  On the fifth trip, we received the call to hurry and say goodbye, and so we dropped everything and went.  I am so glad we did.  When I was in his hospital room, a different kind of sadness overtook my heart.  It seems most people have a hard time letting go of a loved one because of how much history they share and how deeply they have loved.  I found myself mourning not what we had, but what we won’t have.  Over the past year, I have mourned the lack of a future together rather than a past.  Our history involved decades of silence and hurt.  But, once we reconciled, with Christ as our mediator, we got 8 great years together.  Driving home from saying goodbye to him for the final time, I said to Bruce, Life is messy.  People aren’t perfect, but many people live their whole lives with family only on the surface level.  Ray and I may have only had 8 years together, but they were deep.  I would have rather had 8 years of fulling loving each other than a lifetime of staying merely relatives.  I miss him a lot.  I continue to miss what we won’t get to have this side of heaven.  But, I look forward to the day I will see him again – cancer free – and this time we have eternity to look forward to spending together.  No more goodbyes.

#7 – My family is blessed to spend Thanksgiving with seven family members, in addition to our party of five, this year.  We love our extended family and cherish the tradition of getting together.  Cousins, grandmother, uncles, aunts, and in-laws – we have a great time together!  We are blessed that everyone gets along great and is as excited as we are to be together.  The family game of football, Black Friday shopping, and leftover turkey sandwiches are great times, but it’s an extra blessing to be with people who share life together not just on the holidays.  Although we all live in different places, we have so much in common.  Whether it be old memories of times we’ve shared or fond stories about people we miss, no one understands it like those who lived it, too.  I am very thankful for the blessing of family.

#6 – My dog turned six this year.  She is my 4th child.  Although I’ve had pets all my life, I always dreamed of a dog who wanted to be with me.  A dog I can let off the leash and not worry about her running away because she actually wants to stay with me.  This is my dog.  She is my shadow, my friend.  Yesterday, she had some oral surgery leaving her very sore and quite loopy from the anesthesia.  When we got home from the vet, she followed behind me making the most pitiful moans and groans.  I thought she was hungry because of the fast for surgery so I gave her a small amount of food.  She ate it all up, but followed me still.  I caved in and gave her more.  Gobbled it up, but followed me still.  She stood at my feet while I washed dishes in the kitchen, begging with her glassy eyes and shaved I.V. leg.  I remembered her favorite treats, so I cut up a couple really small.  She loved them, but returned under foot.  She had such a longing in her eyes.  I turned off the faucet, looked at her and said, I don’t know what you want?  What it is?  She cocked her head to the side like she usually does when trying to tell me something.  We have this special bond, and it was in that moment I said, Do you just want me?  She cocked her head again and raised her paw to me.  So, I left the kitchen and sat down on the couch.  She jumped up on my lap and snuggled down.  Within just a minute or two, she was fast asleep in my arms.  Content.  Comfortable.  Loved.

#5 – God hand-picked five incredible people to be a part of my life – through an unusual way.  Three of them (plus a brother in-law!) come by way of my dad’s third marriage.  I have two step-sisters and one step-brother.  From the day I first met them when I was 13 years old, they all welcomed me into their family and although we don’t get to see each other much, I love them and am honored to call them friends.  They are really good people.  You know what I mean?  Honest, sincere, funny and witty.  They love their country, family and never met a stranger.  The other two people are newer to me and are nothing short of a gift from God.  They are…my half brothers!  From my dad’s first marriage (we were marriage #2), these guys remained a mystery to me until last December.  When my dad died, they both came to his celebration of life service.  Oh my!  I was instantly smitten with the idea of having these two men in my life.  They are kind, genuine and want me in their life!  How about that?  Whereas we went to honor the loss of our mutual father, it was in his death that new life sprang up between theses guys and me.  We live long-distance, but it is an enormous blessing to share emails and Facebook with them.  Our dad would be so happy!  Also, I got to meet their mom and she is wonderful!  Actually, all 3 wives would get along great if my mom were alive today.  The peace and harmony in our colorful family is Christ.  Everyone single one of us are believers, and that is what makes this unique situation – not just work – but be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  I LOVE having two half-brothers and am forever grateful they have room in their hearts for me.  Life, no – God, is full of surprises!

#4 – I am thankful for four words – blessing, honor, glory & power.  One of my favorite worship songs is Philips, Craig & Dean’s When the Stars Burn Down.  What a great song about what is to come!  In the meantime, these four words usurp everything this world can throw at us.  Whether we are at our peak or in the deepest valley, it all pales in comparison to the majesty of the God we serve.  If I am shouting praise or crying His name through pain, who God is covers all.  The mere shadow of the train of His robe dwarfs the problems of this world as well as sets me up for the anticipation of the very real world that awaits.  With a word, the sun will fade, the moon will hide and the world as we know it will be changed.  In all of the seasons of life, my heart claims again and again and again blessing, honor, glory & power.  There is strength, healing and grace in the Name that saves.

#3 – I am blessed with three amazing kids!!!!!  Each one of them was born with a different love language and communication style, unique talents and gifts – life is never boring with them!  They are so much fun.  They love their family deeply and show it in their own way.  I never thought I’d have 3 kids.  Never thought I’d have boys – and I have two.  Never thought I’d have a daughter who is so much like her mother. 🙂  In the mornings while I sleepily gather lunchboxes, my oldest son tells me often how pretty he thinks I am.  To me, there nothing pretty about morning stick-up hair, my husband’s robe I stole from him long ago 😉 or my less-than-enthusiastic attitude pre-sunrise, but he says he sees a mom who is willing to get up and make breakfast and lunch and see him off for the day and that he thinks that’s beautiful.  My teenage daughter, when asked in a survey at a girls retreat who her best friend is, listed me!!  Need I say more?  My youngest, a tween, still hugs me every single time he leaves for any activity – and he doesn’t care who sees.  Even at school, in the middle of tons of cars and kids, he’ll give me a hug and a kiss.  I’m never going to turn it down.  I am blessed beyond measure with awesome kids and I never, ever take that granted.

#2 – Two surgical boots.  That’s right!  I am thankful for this season of healing for Bruce and me.  Although it is crazy, stressful, choatic and literally painful, this season has brought me such beautiful blessings of: having my husband work from home (I get to see him more!), some stolen lunches together (something we otherwise never get to have), and a renewed compassion for each other.  First, I was down for the count after surgery and he cared for me.  Then, he fell from 20′ and has been quite injured and it’s my turn to care for him – even as I hobble to do it.  Watching ourselves limp in tandem around the house, hearing the loud velcro strips from our boots either coming off or putting them on, sharing the ice machine – and even the shower seat (EWW!!) has slowed our pace, let us laugh at life, and has reminded us that in the daily grind of the week we are people, not machines.  Nursing our medical issues has also given us permission to simply go to bed earlier with no guilt.  Something both of us needed.

#1 – There is one Name that saves.  Only one.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He is my true love, hope, salvation, joy, purpose, friend, brother, King, Lord, Prince of Peace, manager, coach, cheerleader, encourager, my Savior – my everything!  I will give Him thanks today and always.  To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25)

What is your top ten? 🙂

Legacy of a Letter

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. ~ Deuteronomy 10:17-20

I received a letter in the mail a couple of months ago.  A letter that hasn’t left my mind ever since its words lifted from the page and inscribed themselves on my heart.  We have a sponsored daughter through Compassion International.  The letter we received from them announced her impending graduation from the program.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want to think about it.  For her, this is incredible news!  This means she made it! She has survived severely impoverished, third-world conditions and is now skilled in a job that will serve her for the rest of her life.

For me, however, it means letting her go.  As I’ve written before, I have a hard time with change, and this year has seen a lot of it.  My father died nine months ago.  Our senior pastor, who is my mentor and friend and someone I highly admire and respect, retired after twenty-one years of faithful service to our congregation.  My husband’s aunt died suddenly, and her memorial service marked a new chapter in our family’s history.  I closed a three-year chapter of homeschooling two of our children, and find myself missing my lunch buddies, their jokes, camaraderie and company in my days now.  We finally sold my husband’s car – a 1997 Honda Odyssey.  It was good to us, crossing 300,000 miles on the odometer, but it was time to acquire something that meets our current needs.  Our eBay car purchase served us well for six years. Silly, I know.  It’s just a car – especially for people who don’t place an unhealthy value on “things.”  But, it was familiar.

Perhaps that’s what’s hard about change for me…losing the familiar.

Compassion’s letter to our family was a request to write our Compassion daughter one…last…time. Ug.  My heart sank.  I kept that request on my desk for four months.  I simply couldn’t bring myself to write it.  This is the last communication I will have with her this side of heaven.  What do I say?

Compassion suggested we write words of wisdom, encouragement and Scripture.  These are the last words our beautiful daughter will carry from us for the rest of her life.  No pressure.  She who can’t ever stop talking sat speechless at my computer with our daughter’s picture smiling at me while the curser impatiently blinked on the blank page.

Dear God, I don’t know what to say.  Where do I begin?  How do I end?  Please help me give her the words You want her to hear.

As I began the letter, my mind flashed back over the 14 years she has been with us.  I remember the night we found her.  My husband and I were at a Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant Christmas concert in 1998.  During intermission, we strolled through the arena, curious as to what this Compassion thing that Amy Grant spoke of on stage was all about.  We came to a table and spread out on it were many children’s profiles.  My eyes scanned their sweet faces; many of them revealing a deep hopelessness in their expressions and thin bodies clothed in rags.

My eyes wandered to a beautiful girl.  Seven years old.  Across the sea from us in a land filled with conflict – dangerous for any female.  I picked up her card and read her story.  Her mother dead, her father removed, she lives with her grandmother and brother.  My breath caught in my chest and eyes stung with salty tears.  This was my story – this side of the ocean.  Replace the brother with a sister and she is me.  Captivated, I held her card close to my chest and knew she was meant to be a part of our family.  I wanted to offer her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that God gave me in my darkest hours of trauma and loss as a child.

Through Compassion, we could pay for her medical needs, clothes, food and education.  Christian education.  If she couldn’t live with us, this was the next best thing.  We signed up immediately, knowing that we were committed to this for the long haul.

Over the years, we loved receiving her letters.  We learned about her culture and landscape, farming and weather seasons.  We learned about her life.  We prayed her through the dry seasons and rainy seasons.  We prayed every time her brother became ill and when she had trouble in math.  She wrote her favorite Scriptures to us and told us about her friends.

Each Christmas and birthday, we were given the opportunity to send her a monetary gift.  By American standards it wasn’t much at all, but it is reasonable for their economic geography.  Every time we sent a gift, she wrote us and enthusiastically told us what she bought with it.  It was always the same.  She bought: a new dress for herself, a goat for the family and sweets for her friends.

Her purchases sparked great conversation in our family throughout the years about giving and receiving, thankfulness and kindness.  The fact that she always shared her gifts with her family and friends touched our hearts in inexpressible ways.  She was thankful.  Can we say the same?

We told her about where we live, too.  We shared favorite school subjects, hobbies, pets and what we do in a regular day.  We shared our prayer requests with her, too.  Having a pen pal across the world was priceless to my children.

One day, when she was about 15 years old, she wrote and told us that a preacher was visiting their village to evangelize in their community.  She was asked to go along with him to preach the Gospel.  I will never forget how I felt reading her words.  Choking back happy tears, I said to myself, She’s got it.  She has her own faith and is now able to share it with others.  She’s going to be okay.

This news gave me so much joy and peace!  Despite her bleak circumstances, she accepted Christ as her Savior and knows there is an eternal home waiting for her.

When Compassion expanded its ministry to include online writing, versus handwriting, I was so excited!  Handwritten letters are always best, but not as practical as writing something online that could be sent immediately for translation.  I remember writing to her telling her this news of online writing.  I will never, ever forget her response.  I was excited that this would be quick and easy, no need to hunt for a stamp and was technologically up with the times.  Her response?

I thank our God that He has provided you a job so you can have the money to buy a computer to write me.

Talk about perspective!!!  Think about her response for a moment.  Deeply ponder it.  Without knowing it, she continually taught us so much about life, love, thankfulness, contentment and commitment.

When my husband lost his job in 2001, a week before 9/11 and in the middle of the .com crash (of which his job was directly affected), we had no idea how we were going to feed our babies 1, 3, and 5 years old.  We had no health insurance, no gas money, no savings.  We had nothing but our vehicles and our house – that we feared we could lose in a heartbeat.  We never once considered stopping our sponsorship of our Compassion daughter.  This is no kudos to us.  Through sponsoring her, we learned even more what commitment looked like and what trust in God felt like.  We could no more stop feeding and clothing her than we could our own children, because like our own children, if we didn’t meet her basic needs – who would?  We totally relied on God to provide for us, and for her, and He did.  She never knew any of this.  Her life is one of great struggle and hardship, and even in our most dire straight, we were still wealthy beyond measure simply because of the longitude and latitude in which we live.

In her last years with us, she wrote about graduating high school.  This was quite an accomplishment!  The letter came announcing she was accepted into nursing school.  Nursing school!  I remember jumping up and down and cheering with my children.

This meant, not only will she have a job she can be proud of, but she will be able to financially support herself and her family, AND it saves her from a dangerous and demoralizing future so many young women face trying to earn money to survive.  Wow!  Her future has never looked brighter.

She is truly a part of our family, and this final letter literally pained my heart to write.  How do I tell her words of wisdom as a mother, when my own mother never had a chance to speak them over me?  I feel like the blind leading the blind.  I don’t know where to go with this.

As I struggled with my letter, my heart brought to mind a very special book* by Susan Polis Schultz. This book has priceless value to me.  It is a book written by a mother to her daughter.  It is full of letters, encouragement, love and advice.  This is the last gift given to me by my mother.  She gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, 1987, three months before she died of breast cancer when I was sixteen.

She wrote on the inside cover that she had a hard time putting into her own words what she wanted me to know, so she used this book to say it for her.  In it, she starred, underlined – double underlined – words and phrases.  These are what matter most to me.  These are her words to me.  However, I have only read this book a few times in 26 years.

I am unable to express my hesitation in words.  It hurts to go back to the most painful time of my life.  It hurts to hear her speak to me through writing, because once I finish reading it, I am again left with an emptiness that she is no longer here.  The process of reading her words is emotionally draining, yet healing at the same time.  That’s the best I can do to explain my feelings.

While writing to my Compassion daughter, my mind drifted to this precious book and with my mom’s inspiration I began to write.  Space online is limited.  It took me three letters to get it all in.  Oh, I could have written more, but knew at some point, the end of the letter was inevitable – as hard as it was to admit.

I wrote how beautiful she is, and to never neglect herself as she cares for her patients.  To love deeply, laugh a lot, and stay close to God.  I quoted my favorite Scriptures and spoke blessings over her.  I gave her practical advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom.  I promised that, just as we have done for 14 years, we will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of our lives.

Wrapping up the third letter in the series, I told her:

I don’t like goodbyes.  I won’t say it to you.  Although we may never see each other on this earth, we are both Christians and will have eternity to spend with each other.  Life on this earth is very short.  So, instead of goodbye, I will say I’ll see you soon.  Whoever makes it to heaven first, wait for the other at the gate. 

I paused writing and broke down and cried.  I cried happy tears for all she has accomplished and overcome, and sad tears because the season of her life entwining with ours has come to a close.  However, Christians have a unique relationship.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are related by blood not of this world.  Christ’s sacrificial blood pumps through our spirit, and this bond is something no one can take away.  We are family indeed, and no amount of time or circumstance can separate us from one another – even if we are physically apart.

My children are still in my nest.  She is the first one to launch into the world and follow her dreams and the destiny that God has prepared for her.  I’m new at this launching thing.  I have no idea what to say.  I told her how much we love her and how incredibly proud we are of her.

It seemed that telling her how proud I am of her was a repetitive theme.  Perhaps it’s something I long to hear myself.  Both of my parents are gone and my biological father was only in my life for the past 8 short years.  Maybe I spoke to her some of the words I have been starving to hear.

Upon finishing her letter, my heart was nudged to pull my mom’s book off of the shelf.  I sat down and gazed at the simple artwork on the cover.  I gently turned the yellowed pages and read every word she marked for me.

I have felt a little lost with my writing lately.  Perhaps recovering from surgery has dimmed my creative juices, and I am physically more tired as I heal.  Ironically, my eyes fixed on one particular passage she underlined…

“Write your feelings down.  Create something based on your feelings, but do not keep them inside.”*

I soaked in her encouragement and let it penetrate my soul.  Her words were perfect timing for my life.

Through committing to child sponsorship, I thought we were rescuing a child and offering her opportunities to realize her dreams.  I hope we did just that, but I can tell you that this journey has rescued me and sparked hope for my dreams.  Even down to the last letter, when I was drawn to the words my mom left for me so many years ago for a time today when I really needed to hear her voice.

My mom left a legacy of a letter in the book she gave me.  We left a legacy to our Compassion daughter through the letters we wrote to her.  She left a legacy to us in her letters.  Her perseverance and hard work inspired us to continue with Compassion.

In her honor, we now have two more sponsored children each in a different part of the world.  They are young, sweet children who have their whole lives ahead of them.  I close my eyes and imagine the years of letters we will, Lord-willing, have to share with each other.  I look forward to expanding our family across the seas and investing spiritually, financially and emotionally into these two lives.  I smile with anticipation of all we will share.

It is easy to be discouraged from sponsoring a child because the financial commitment seems scary in this economy or we believe one person can’t make a lasting difference.  However, I know firsthand that our family can’t afford not to.  I am hopeful we made a difference in her life – but I am absolutely certain she made the world of difference in ours.  We are changed by her selflessness, love and tender spirit.  We are challenged by her resolve, strength, optimism and determination.  We will champion these same qualities in our new Compassion son and daughter.

If our paths do not cross in this lifetime and I reach heaven first, I will eagerly wait at the gate for my Compassion daughter.  I have a big hug I’ve been saving up a lifetime to give her.