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

 

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? 

 

 

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,

Kristi