Making peace with Mother’s Day

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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. ❤

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

In the past week, I’ve had two friends lose their fathers and one friend lose her mother. I’ve congratulated a dear friend on his engagement and received news of a friend’s health concerns. I’ve sent our oldest child to college, and feel like I’ve sent a dozen more young friends off to begin their freshmen years. Our other two teens prepare to change schools while my husband and I seek new employment options. So much change! Thought I’d repost this as an encouragement to all who are going through change… ~ Kristi

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Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

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birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

The last, best gift my mom gave me

It’s Mother’s Day. A nationally recognized holiday in America since 1914. For me, it’s a bittersweet day, celebrating the children I have and remembering my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who have passed away.

I lost my mom to breast cancer when she was 44 and I was 16. That was twenty-eight years ago. Right now I am the same age she was when she died.

This age brings new somberness to my yearly mammogram. I wrestle with thankfulness and guilt from tipping the calendar to a new season of having outlived her.

Her battle was short – eleven months from diagnosis to death. One minute we were like countless single-parent families squeezing out a living, sharing laughs and tears along the way. The next minute I am standing beside her coffin in a borrowed dress, not sure where I would live or how I would survive.

In those last months, my mom gave me three gifts I hold more dearly than anything else: a book of poetry written by a mother to her daughter in which my mom underlined words and sentences that she could not speak to me; a “Sweet 16” birthday angel, an annual tradition since my first birthday; and the last night of her life.

It was Valentine’s Day, 1987. My boyfriend at the time made plans to take me to dinner and a movie. My mom and him had a great relationship, once she got passed the fact that he was six years older than me.

She was alone on Valentine’s, with cancer. Neither my boyfriend nor I could reconcile that, so we invited her to join us. He brought each of us a bouquet of flowers. Those are the last flowers she ever received. We enjoyed a nice dinner, then a movie, in which he sat between us and put his arms around both of us. I was so appreciative of his compassion and thoughtfulness toward her. After the movie, he took the sides and top off of his Suzuki Samurai and took her on the ride of her life. I sat in the back, smiling and savoring every squeal, holler and giggle she made as he took her on a joyride down quiet, street-lit streets.

It is a night I will never forget, because it was the last time I saw her let go and really enjoy the moment.

She always gave my sister and me a little something for Valentine’s Day, and this book of poetry is something I would grab if my house ever caught fire. It’s her last words to me. I am thankful and grateful that, although she couldn’t speak them to me, she left them in print so I can read them whenever I want or need to, studying the lines of ink that she drew under special words and phrases. No one has ever seen this book except me.

I am passing down my collection of birthday angels to my only daughter. On her most recent birthday I gave her the last one, the Sweet 16 angel. I’m not sure what I’ll do about year seventeen and address this struggle in my post Sweet 16.

The last gift is one I’m not sure at the time she would have thought of as a gift. She was very sick, but I had plans to go out with some friends. Don’t judge. It’s an impossible world to live in for a teenager – trying to be everything to a dying parent while still trying to live like a normal teenager. Straddling the two is impossible and only winds up tearing the teenager in two.

My family didn’t have the heart to tell me that she wasn’t expected to live through the night. I had no idea, so I kissed her on the forehead, looked into her pale blue, jaundice eyes and whispered, “I love you. I’ll be back.” My grandmother stood crying a few feet away. What a burden she must have carried knowing a reality that she couldn’t bear to tell me as the sound of the oxygen tank rhythmically rumbled near Mom’s Hospice bed.

It was only a few weeks before that I came home from school and knew something had radically changed in Mom. We were living at my grandparents’ home by then, as Mom was unable to care for herself. I made my way to the back of their small, ranch home to the bedroom where Mom was resting.

She had spent weeks listening to Dr. Freddy Price’s cassette tapes on healing. She was the hardest fighter I’ve ever known – in cancer, as a single mom, and in countless ways that no one outside the family knew.

On this day, however, I walked into her room and saw a small cardboard box sitting on the floor by the dresser. Glancing down, I noticed all of Price’s tapes stacked neatly in the box, ready to go.

At sixteen, I didn’t know how to talk about what I saw, but I understood what it meant. She had given up, or accepted that, she wouldn’t be miraculously healed.

My childlike perspective couldn’t wrap my head around it. To me, Mom was still invincible and death was nowhere near an option. She had to heal. She had to live. She had to finish raising me.

On what would be her last night, I returned to my grandparents’ home late with a friend who was spending the night. Looking back, I can’t imagine having a friend spend the night in this situation, and can only reason that my grandparents were trying to protect me from the truth about her impending death and were completely numb at the whole situation which would be why they allowed this.

She and I were sleeping on the living room floor when I awoke at 2 a.m. and had to go to the bathroom. I stumbled down the hall, trying not to squeak the parquet floors which had been damaged in three separate floods from past hurricanes.

I went to the bathroom and as I left I looked to my right. The door to my mom’s bedroom was within arm’s reach. I wondered how she was doing and thought it would be good to check on her.

I pressed my ear to the door and heard the familiar rumbling of the oxygen tank and grasped the doorknob to enter.

Suddenly, I heard the strongest, most fierce “NO!” I’ve ever heard in my life. I couldn’t tell if I heard it with my ears or in my mind. Stunned and sleepy, I stood there for a second, paralyzed to move or make a decision.

This NO! was so sure, so concrete, I could do nothing but obey it.

I released the doorknob and crept back to the living room and went back to sleep.

At 7 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of an ambulance and fire truck. Groggy, I sat up and tried to collect my thoughts. Next, I heard the sound of heavy footsteps of men in uniforms walking in a group on the squeaky parquet floors, headed toward Mom’s room.

Right then I knew she had died.

Later, our beloved youth pastor told me that at exactly 2 a.m., his wife sat up in bed and said, “Alice just died.”

How could she know that?

I spent years processing that night – the guilt over going out with friends; the guilt of having a friend spend the night; anger at my family for not telling me how sick she really was; and the strange events of 2 a.m. I am thankful for counselors who sojourneyed with me through the grief and pain of her loss.

There was a time in her battle with cancer when Mom looked at me and said, “I’m only living for you and your sister. Ya’ll are the only reason I am living.”

I had to work through the irrational logic that told me at some point along the way we became not worth the fight and that is why she gave up and died. That voice didn’t sound at all like what my mom would do. She gave everything she had to raise us. She sacrificed her time, energy, and money to pour into us. This couldn’t have been what happened.

A few years ago, God unraveled the mystery of that night for me.

I knew that night it was God’s voice who told me NO! but I had no idea why. To me, I was simply going to check on her like I did so many times in the evenings at the hospital where I did my homework after school, often falling asleep in the hard, pleather chair by her bed.

But I had heard that voice once before. I was fourteen on a youth retreat with my church. God called me to Himself in an unexpected moment. His voice was so loud, so clear, I turned to my friends to see if they had heard it, too.

His voice is like no other. There is absolutely no mistaking it. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, my palms sweat and commands full attention of my heart, mind and soul. There is one God and one voice, and once it is heard it is unmistakable.

As sure as I write, knowing my mom and my God, I know exactly what happened at 2 a.m. in that bedroom. He had come to take her home…and she didn’t want to go.

She was the kind of mom who cheered for, fought for, laughed with, protected, nurtured and loved us. We had already survived two broken marriages, one of which was extremely scary. She endured a dead-end job in an oppressive atmosphere to put food on the table. She volunteered for any position that kept her involved in our lives. She hid her personal agony from us so we wouldn’t bear her pain.

I know my mom. She would never have given up without a fight.

I also know my God. He is caring and compassionate. He is trustworthy and faithful.

I can only imagine that conversation between the two of them. I would love to know what He said to her to convince her to leave us without a mom or dad and me still in high school with no money or anything tangible to survive on.

Something happened in that bedroom at 2 a.m. Something so extraordinary, she (who had told me we were her reason to live) had permission to die.

That something is her last, best gift to me. It has a name.

Faith.

What I believe with all my heart is that she wrestled with God over staying in unfathomable pain and suffering for us, or leaving with God, trusting He would care for my sister and me.

I do not believe she hopped the first plane to heaven, finally escaping eleven months of pure agony. She would still choose to suffer today if it meant she didn’t have to leave us.

But, whatever God said, whatever He promised, she believed. She chose to have faith that He would watch over us. He would be our Heavenly Father. He would care for us. Provide for us. And, knowing Mom and how much of her time and herself she gave to us, He promised her He would stay with us.

Could she trust God with us? Could she surrender to His plan to heal her in heaven and not forget about two daughters left on earth?

Could she inhale one last time, knowing her next breath would be in a supernatural body? Could she accept the fact that she would miss the majority of our lives – my high school graduation, our college graduations, our weddings, the birth of our children (her grandchildren), and all of the joys and triumphs, falls and failures in between?

The only way a mother, who is wholly and completely committed to her children, could leave them is if she trusts the hands she is leaving them in.

She chose to have faith in God and His promises in the most difficult, painful moments of her life. When He took her home, I’m not sure if the cause of death was cancer or her heart literally breaking for all she was leaving.

But somewhere in those moments at 2 a.m. she chose to believe God and trust Him.

Being a mother myself, I would have fought Him with everything I had to stay for my children. It would not have been an easy battle. I would have gone kicking and screaming, at least proverbially if not literally.

However, I hold her faith in my hands, her last gift, and think, “Could I do the same? Can I trust God that much to step out of this life, believing He is already here walking with my children?”

Can I have that same kind of faith that surrenders to God and trusts that He is trustworthy?

I can because He fulfills His promises to her every day. He has never left me. He holds me in the hard moments. He picks me up when life kicks me down. He laughs with me. Cries with me. Fights for me. Stays with me. Tends to me. Shows me mercy. Celebrates with me. Calms me down and talks me off my ledges. He loves me with an everlasting love and goes out of His way to show me in the most creative, unexpected and timely people, places and experiences.

He is fulfilling His promise to her. I know that full well because I am the receiver of that promise. I am living proof.

So on this Mother’s Day, I think about what gift, what legacy I am leaving my children.

I want to leave them the gift of faith. Not just some sense of a trending spirituality.

A timeless faith. A faith that has been fire-tested, tires bald, rode hard and hung up wet. Faith that has gotten dirty, been stepped on and doubted. Faith that does not swerve with circumstance and will not be diluted with false doctrine. Faith that stands its ground in the face of adversity and persecution. Faith that protects. Hopes. And overflows with joy that cannot be shaken.

My mom was strong. She was beautiful inside and out. She loved to laugh. She put others first, to a fault. She never stopped trying to help, to please, to give.

In all of the moments that made her the best mom in the world to me, it was her last night at 2 a.m. when the culmination of her life and belief in the One true God intersected and she chose to respond to Him in faith.

This is the last, and best, gift she gave me. I carry her inspiration in my heart and seek to have that same kind of audacious faith in God in my own life.

More than anything tangible I could leave my children, my heart’s desire is to leave them the legacy of faith in God through Christ Jesus because He is faithful and trustworthy. He’s proven Himself to both my mom and me. He is good all the time, especially on Mother’s Day.

I love you, Mom. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

bird nest 2014 with eggs-001What could be better than two eggs? Five eggs!

birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

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? 

 

 

You’ve got my attention

For a few days now, I have noticed a huge blimp flying over my neck of the woods advertising this and that. It’s funny, I remember the visual of the blimp way more than I recall what it was promoting because, well, blimps are cool and it’s not every day we get to see one hoovering over the earth.

Last night, in an unusual evening of watching some television, my daughter and I shook our heads at what companies are doing these days to try to get us to buy their stuff. I looked at her and said, “Do they really think we are so dumb that this is all they think we’ll understand?”

I walked away from the experience of watching ridiculously watered-down, unintelligent, sexist (could they please give the men in ads half a brain??) commercials feeling frustrated and insulted. I cannot recall one single product they were selling.

Driving between cities this week on a long stretch of highway, billboards screamed at me it seemed every 10 feet. Everything one can imagine was either plastered in paper, boasted neon blinking lights or had 3D statues strung up for all to see. So sad that these overshadow the simple beauty and serenity of green landscapes of trees, cow fields, and farms.

In the midst of so much visual clutter, there was someone in pursuit of my attention for the past week. He wasn’t selling anything. He wasn’t trying to manipulate my emotions, compulsions or cravings. He didn’t set me up to believe a mirage of quick fixes. He didn’t make empty promises of fulfillment. He had a laser-focused message He wanted me to get – and get it good.

God has been incredibly intentional these past seven days to show me one truth – I am not alone.

Several days ago, there was a difficult day that I could barely muddle through. I was at the third grocery store of the day trying to gather everything we needed to host three dinners back-to-back in three days, including Easter. My oldest son and I were filing out of the store with the scores of other people shopping for their weekends when beautiful flowers caught my eye.

What is it about flowers and females? We just can’t help ourselves. We love them!

Years ago, I reconciled that is perfectly fine to buy myself flowers. I am worth it. But, this particularly hard day struck me with wave after wave of despair. I believed the lie being whispered in my ear that I, in fact, wasn’t worth it after all.

My son tried to convince me to buy them, but I didn’t. This wasn’t a pit party or woe-is-me moment, it was a seriously dark day for good reason and I couldn’t find a silver lining in the thunderous clouds looming overhead no matter how many hours I looked for it.

The very next day, my doorbell rang. I had no earthly idea who it was.

I opened the door to find one of my closest friends smiling, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers!  Her heart felt God’s tug, and out of her love for me and obedience to Him she stopped her day to bless mine.

Here is what happened the MOMENT I saw her and the bouquet. God instantly brought back the flowers I wouldn’t buy – and why I wouldn’t buy them – and He whispered to me, Yes you are worth it. 

Only God could have known.

I had been cruising along with cooking, cleaning etc, in preparation for hosting Easter weekend and had not given the flowers I saw the day before another thought. But, God was watching. He saw that, although I tried to hide my broken heart from my son, I couldn’t hide it from my Father. Oh how I love Him!

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* * * * * * * * * *

Fast-forward a few days. I was unexpectedly involved in a helping a tragedy that left me extremely shaken. Dazed and numb, I continue to coast through the hours and days doing my daily work. Inside, I am a wreck. Flashbacks, sounds of it ringing in my ears and sights of it every time I close my eyes leaves me with an inner tremor I can’t control. It was 2 days before I could shed a single tear. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It’s only been four days and the tears keep flowing…

During this time, my husband and youngest son went to the grocery store for just a couple of things after karate lessons one night, and the sight I beheld when they walked through the door stole my heart.

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I asked my favorite middle schooler why he was giving me these gorgeous roses. He smiled real big and replied, Because I love you and for what you went through. I thought you could use some cheering up. 

I know without a doubt he loves me, and am grateful my teenage son would take the time to show me.  In my heart, I heard God tell me, I see. I know. You can trust your pain to me and I will take care of you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday was an ordinary morning of racing the sunrise to get everybody to where they needed to be. I stumbled into our bathroom to brush my teeth and saw something out of the corner of my eye.

I reached for it and discovered a small yellow Post-it stuck under my medicine cabinet. Then another near my make-up. And another one inside the cabinet. And still another…

Although they were unsigned, I knew exactly who they were from – my daughter. Each member of our family has distinct handwriting, and there was no doubt at all these was from her.

How did she know I needed encouragement so desperately this particular morning? She has a very giving heart and a sense of intuition beyond her high school age.  She, like my friend and my son, felt God’s tug on her heart and responded.

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Lately, stress has been high octane around here for many reasons – some completely out of our control. Like a small boat on the ocean, I feel like our family is being tossed around by ominous, bullying waves. I am seasick from it all and wake up every morning with a pit in my stomach. This pit is the first feeling of the day – not ideal. Only God knows this, and He prepared all of these love notes, with my daughter’s help, to help me exhale through the early mornings.

Does life seem to have the upper hand for you right now? Do you feel lost, tossed, tired or forgotten?

There is one God, one true God, who knows everything about your life. Talking to Him through prayer is awesome because, unlike family and friends, we never have to catch Him up. He has been in every moment. When life takes our breath away, and we feel sucker-punched, we don’t have to muster strength to relive, retell and feel everything all over again.

He knows. He sees. He cares.

Even if you have never, ever called on Him for help – He has loved you all you along, never more – never less. His love is not conditional and does not depend on our performance or lack thereof.

He. Just. Loves. You. Period.

Tap into His love today. He’s shouting it from the mountains, singing it over you while you sleep, and painting it in brilliant colors that flowers only dream of.  He is leaving love notes all over your life.  His signature is distinct, just like my daughter’s.  He is pursing you in ways that only you can deeply grasp, like my friend’s and son’s flowers.

Ask God to help you recognize His handwriting in your life. He is writing His love story on your heart to you, about you, and for you.  Take a moment and read it today. It’s amazing what His perspective can bring to our lives – truth, peace, hope and joy – even in the midst of dark days and frightening waves.

Yes, sometimes life absolutely has the upper hand. But, as a believer, I rest in complete peace knowing God’s hands are bigger and He’s got the whole world in them. He’s got you, too. Let Him carry you today.

 

A Different Silent Night

Christmas.  A time that comes once a year.  We decorate our homes, exchange gifts, dance to familiar tunes, watch It’s a Wonderful Life and enjoy tasty treats, but there is something else paralleling this season…it is reality.

Reality is often far from the picture-perfect Hallmark cards we mail to family and friends.

There is one Christmas I’d like to share. Years after my mom’s death, on Christmas Eve, I was a young bride enjoying my modest kitchen while preparing food for the family Christmas dinner always held at my grandparent’s home.  Vegetables simmered on the stove and a pie bubbled in the oven.  Without realizing it, I let my guard down.

See, I have this wall.  It’s a wall that was created when my life as a teenager was annihilated by reality.  Forced to grow up far too soon, my coping/defense mechanism was to build a fortress around my heart.  Walls so thick that nothing – absolutely nothing – could penetrate them and ever destroy me like I had already been.

But, in this particular holiday season, I wanted so badly to enjoy the experience of Christmas with all of the happiness it entails.  I let my guard down while standing at the stove, with flickering twinkle lights on the tree in the living room and stockings hung with care beside it.

This would be the Christmas I would actually let myself enjoy as I tended to my baking and cooking.

The phone rang.

It was my sister.

Granddad’s been taken to the hospital.  Meet us there.

I felt sucker-punched.  Breath flew out of my body and I couldn’t inhale.  I dropped the large, wooden spoon I was using and immediately turned off the burners and oven.

A cold, prickly sensation felt like an electrical shock all over my body.

My first response?  The wall came up.

My husband and I raced to the hospital.  Memories of just a few days before of my granddad throwing up blood from his lung cancer, and how my husband was the hands and feet in that crisis, replayed over and over and over.

The sound of my grandmother crying out in reflexive, desperate prayer in the panic, Jesus!  Lord Jesus! haunted my mind.

We reached the hospital and found him in ICU.  The prognosis – grim.

After being there for hours, taking our one-person turn in visitation with him, we were told to go home for the night and get some rest because there was nothing anyone could do.

I sat in the ICU waiting room feeling numb and helpless.  It was Christmas Eve.  My only prayer was this – Dear God, please do not let Granddad die on Christmas day.  Please.  I beg You.  After everything our family has been through, we couldn’t handle this.  Please don’t let his death overshadow Christ’s birth for the rest of our lives.

I was the peace-maker in the family.  This time would be no different.  My husband and I went home to gather a few things.  I grabbed the Christmas-printed napkins I bought earlier that week, some muffins I had baked, the music cassette recorder/player and a Christmas cassette, and my Bible.

We dashed back up to the hospital and I laid these things on the coffee table in the ICU waiting room.  It was a cold, sterile room.  The pleather furniture was stiff and squeaked, white walls void of warmth, no windows, the florescent lighting stung my eyes, and the stale air made me sick to my stomach.

The clock struck midnight and it was now Christmas – and we would celebrate it in remembrance of Christ and in honor of my granddad.

While we took turns checking on Granddad, I played the music very softly and offered muffins on the Christmas napkins to my grandmother, husband, sister and her husband.  I read Christ’s birth in Luke.

Every hour that passed, I never stopped begging and pleading with God not to take Granddad on Christmas day.

After a very long 24 hours, the clock struck midnight again.  It was December 26th. At 10am, the nurse came into the waiting room and said two words, It’s time.

All 5 of us jumped up and ran down the hall, holding my grandmother’s hands as we hurried.

The nurse tried to explain what was physically happening to Granddad, and that he wasn’t in any pain, but I couldn’t understand any of it.  There was something much more pressing on my mind.

I wasn’t sure if my granddad was saved.

He was a good man.  A great man.  Loving.  Kind.  Respectful.  Generous.  Funny.  Never missed church.  Tithed.  Blessed every meal.  Read the devotional, The Upper Room, every day of his life.

But still, I never, ever heard him profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

He did all of the things a Christian would do, but never having heard him share his personal faith in any way, I didn’t know for sure where he would spend eternity.  It is impossible to earn our way to heaven.  If that were the case, none of us would ever be enough, or do enough, to be good enough to make it there.

I stood beside Granddad’s bed and looked deep into his face.

The Holy Spirit prompted me to ask him about his faith.

Oh no.  No way.  I was the baby of the family.  My family already thought I was way too involved in my faith.  It was a touchy subject and I was a bit of the black sheep in this area.

No.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m not going to stir up anything while he is dying.  I can’t do it in front my family.  It will upset them to hear me questioning his faith.  No.  Just no.

Do it.  You don’t have much time, the Holy Spirit urged me.

I just can’t!!!!!  I screamed in my heart in frustration, fear and anxiety.

Do it now, He pushed back.

There we were.  My granddad, my husband and me.  The other family members mysteriously stepped out of the room – I believe God miraculously led them out so we could have this moment.

I looked at Granddad, unable to speak, and thought about how crystal blue and beautiful his eyes were.  I rested my hand gently on his arm, careful not to disturb the I.V.’s sticking out in all directions.

Taking in a huge breath, the air caught in my throat.  I swallowed it down hard.  With hands shaking and the back of my neck sweating, I didn’t know how to ask a man of such character if he had accepted Christ in his heart as Lord and Savior.

Give me the words, God, please, I begged.

I tried again.  Granddad, I have to ask you something, I began as my heart pounded in my chest.  Would you like to dedicate your life to Christ?  I know you cannot speak, so just nod your head if you would like to.

With wide eyes, I watched for the slightest movement of his weary body.

He never took his eyes off of me, and to my utter shock and surprise, he ever-so-slightly nodded his head yes.  I couldn’t believe it!

Um, I said trying to remain calm having never been in this situation before, I will say the prayer for you, and you nod your head in agreement, okay Granddad?

He gently nodded again.

I said a prayer of salvation as if I were him, and when finished, he nodded in agreement.

Just a couple of minutes later – he died.

I stood by his bed stunned in bewildering belief that he nearly missed his chance to enter an eternity of life and blessing.

He was just a moment or two away from eternal separation from God.

Had I given into the tremendous fear of our family’s dynamics, or fear of presenting the Gospel, or any of the multitude of fears I felt at that moment, it would have cost him eternity.

It was a near miss and it terrified me.

I have no recollection of opening any gifts that year, but the best gift I received is knowing exactly where he is now.  With Jesus.  Perfect.  Healed.  Whole. Enjoying his daughter’s (my mom’s) company once again – never to say goodbye.

I am forever grateful that God honored my request and kept Christmas day about Jesus’ birth, and not my granddad’s death.

Christmas Eve and Christmas night were silent indeed.  But, they weren’t silent as in all is calm, all is bright.

All was very frantic.  Panicked.  Anxiety-filled.  All was dark.  Grim.  Hopeless for a happy ending this side of heaven.

This time of year, people are torn between trying to celebrate the season as best they can as loved ones lay dying in hospitals, husbands leave their wives, children rebel against their parents, threats against world peace fracture peace of mind, children are ruthlessly murdered at school, drunk drivers rob families of their precious ones, thieves break into homes and steal Christmas presents, companies lay people off two weeks before Christmas, medical reports come back positive, houses burn down from Christmas trees, and personal debt keeps on racking up.

It’s no wonder that depression and suicide rates leap this time of year.  Still, as I drove the streets of my city late last night picking up my child from a friend’s house, lights twinkle, inflatable snowmen wave, wreaths are hung and even a manger can be seen in some yards.

Why?

Why do all of this?  Go through all of this?  Play the role of Christmas?  No one can financially afford it anyway.  More homes are broken than not, so why try to pretend otherwise?  Marriage beds are defiled while jewelry companies advertise their diamonds as the perfect gift.  Friends aren’t speaking to each other, yet Christmas cards are exchanged between them.  People are desperately lonely and hide behind busyness to try to prove otherwise.

There are silent nights alright.  But, not all is calm and not all is bright.  The silence is deafening.  Behind closed doors parents cry themselves to sleep and husbands and wives give up and families settle for less, friends adapt to chilly relations, people avoid the credit companies’ phone calls, and most are wondering why they are even left on this planet.

Why have Christmas?

In the midst of the festivities all around me, even sharing it with my husband and children, today I stood in church singing Christmas songs while tears streamed down my cheeks.

Christmas, in America at least, has become so much about what we want that we have forgotten what we’ve already been given.

For me, my tears were because yesterday we went to a Christmas exhibit at a hotel, and I wasn’t prepared for how busy the hotel would be with guests.  It was packed with families reuniting.  Cousins, grandparents, in-laws, etc.  The little children were in their Christmas best.  One mom wanted to take her daughter’s picture by some pretty garland, and just as the mom snapped the camera, the beautiful little girl, wearing a plaid dress and hair pulled up in curls, stuck her finger up her nose.

Walking around the hotel, I felt a wave of grief hit me all over again of what I’ve lost over my lifetime.  Death, sickness, death, abandonment, death.  My heart sank.

Today in church, it was so crowded I’m not sure everyone found a seat.  Again, multiple generations sat together with grandpa’s holding babies while tired parents held each others’ hands.

So, my wishlist isn’t tangible.  Never has been.  Stuff is stuff and we can’t take any of it with us.  I miss my mom, grandparents, great-grandmother,  dad and father-in-law who are all waiting for me in heaven. I miss my husband’s family who is spread out across states, and my dad’s wife’s family who is also spread out across multiple states.

I mourn the loss of my childhood that was prematurely taken from me.  I miss the idea of having fond memories of growing up – of which there are very few.  I miss the loud homes filled with close and distant relatives and all of the craziness that brings.  It makes me want to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding again.

However, if I allow myself to stay in that dark place, I will miss Christmas this year as well.

God reminded me that I am, indeed, missing 2 important truths.

One, the day will come when I will have exactly what I have longed for my entire life – a huge family reunion.  It won’t be in this lifetime, but once it begins it will never end.  A party for eternity.  That’s worth waiting for.

Second, we’ve already been given the opportunity to make this reunion party possible.  Still, every year I almost miss the real meaning of Christmas.  I am so quick to be sad that my life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting, or Hallmark movie, that I get hung up on what I don’t have.

What I do have is a Savior that made an eternity with my Abba Father possible.  Without Christ’s birth, He wouldn’t have been able to die in my place for my sins.  I would be cursed forever to separation from Him.  But, because Christ robed Himself in flesh and became 100% man while still being 100% God, He lived a life that led to the cross.  Every day He traversed this earth was a day closer to bearing the worst punishment of all history – and He willingly did this for you and for me because God loves the world that much.

The first silent night of Christmas 2,000 years ago wasn’t filled with world peace and perfection.  Rather, it was tainted with Roman oppression.  A crazy Herod ruled and reigned.  There was political turmoil.  Community turmoil.  Family turmoil. Personal crisis.  Christ came to us anyway.

As I stood in church today singing, my tears of sadness were replaced with a peace that I don’t understand.  My husband had his arm around me, but Jesus’ hands were holding my heart.

Without shame or guilt, He gently nudged me back to the Father’s side so I could rest in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91).  As I let Him peel away layers of hurt from my broken heart, He gave me new eyes to see the heart of Christmas.  God’s heart.  I was caught in a moment where everything was okay.  All of it.

Why?

Because Jesus reminded me He is in all of it with me.  There is nothing that separates us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39).  And, He is enough.  Every blessing in life is icing on the cake.  What we are not given, He is still sufficient for us.

This Christmas, I am choosing to look not at what is missing from my life, but what has been given – a lifetime walking with God and a future with Him that will outlast time.

And, I will appreciate those blessings – like celebrating His birth with friends who are family to us.

May I challenge you as I challenge myself?  Will you place your wishlist in the hands of the Father and enjoy this Christmas simply for what it is?  Whether our lists are made up of jobs, good health, a baby, better finances, mended relationships, a mate, a home, a meal or presents for our children, can you join with me in knowing that the gift of Christ is enough?  More than enough?  That if nothing else in our worlds change by Christmas, or into next year, we will still thank Jesus for being the best gift of all?

It’s audacious alright.  Some may even call it ridiculous.

God gave up His only Son because He loves us that much.  We can come to Him with empty hands, even if they are stained with pain, and receive His love overflowing once again.

The best part is His love isn’t only given once a year like the presents under the tree.  It’s available 24/7/365.

I wish I could’ve ended this post with a big, happy finish and tied a virtual red bow around it.  But, life doesn’t always work like that.  However, just like my granddad who is now enjoying paradise, our happy ending is something believers can look forward to because Jesus defeated death and opened the only Way to eternal life.  Until that day comes, we can be grateful and thankful for the blessings, big and small, that God gives to make the journey’s load a little lighter and rest in the promise that we are never in it alone.

Peace to you today,

Kristi