2020 Seniors, You Can Do This

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I’ve enjoyed looking at everyone’s senior photos from back in the day trending on social media. I also understand that although the intent is to encourage the Class of 2020 amidst the coronavirus quarantine, with a laugh at our expense, it could end up hurting as well as helping. In an effort to help, I’m adding my senior photo to the worldwide yearbook to offer hope for today’s graduating seniors.

Seniors, you can do this. You can graduate (however that looks) and go on to live a full and productive life reaching your goals and realizing your dreams.

Looking at myself in the photo, I don’t even remember my senior year — or 10th or 11th grade. I never attended one high school dance, including prom, due to crippling social anxiety. Pep rallies, extra-curricular activities, field trips, and basically anything outside of structured class time sent my anxiety into a tailspin.

Bucking tradition, I did not attend my high school graduation. Rather, I walked into the school office that summer and picked it up from the secretary who found it tucked away in a file cabinet.

Why did I skip it? I could not emotionally handle hearing classmates’ family and friends clap for them as they walked the stage; or seeing everyone take photos afterwards and enjoy parties for themselves and their friends knowing I didn’t have an audience for me. I was merely trying to find the strength to get out of bed and take a shower every day.

My mom was dying of breast cancer my entire junior year. I spent as much time at the hospital as I did in class. She passed away the summer before senior year, and twice divorced, there was no father in my life.

My grandparents and sister were grieving the loss of my mom as much as I was in their own ways. Frankly, I spent any extra energy apart from daily survival on trying not to fail math.

Years later, I found a letter from the principal congratulating me on my academic success of my senior year. I have zero memory of those days, so seeing I made honor roll was a shock. The letter was addressed and written to “The parents of…”

I was one of those students who fell through the cracks. The school evidently did not realize I had no parents and that my grandparents signed on as legal guardians to keep me out of foster care my senior year since I didn’t turn 18 until August after graduation.

My boyfriend broke up with me to date my best friend during my mom’s illness. Within a week of her death, life began to free fall and all I could do was watch frozen in horror.

As a minor, I had to legally vacate my childhood home and our belongings had to be sold in an estate sale to pay off family debt. I was forced to put down my 13 year-old dog (my 4th birthday present and BFF) because the stress of everything caused her to starve herself. She was emaciated beyond help and having to end her suffering was one of the worst moments of my life. My cat ran away, and the only mentor I had in the whole world announced they were moving out-of-state for a new job. Friends told me my life was a trainwreck and they didn’t know what to do with me.

I totaled my ’74 car (which had been my grandmother’s, then my mom’s, then mine), which meant losing my driver’s license and gaining a probation officer with community service hours to work off — the night before my mom’s funeral.

All of this happened the summer before senior year. I had nothing and no one except Christ, my sister’s hand-me-downs, and ironically, an empty hope chest.

I was devastatingly lonely, had no college fund to rely on, and began to struggle with an eating disorder as a result my mom’s death — with which I still wrestle.

There is always a story behind the smile.


I read a Facebook post regarding ancient senior photos floating around the world wide web which said today’s seniors don’t want to see others’ senior years in tact. *In tact* is a huge assumption.

No life is perfect. Every life has a story. It’s what we do with our story that paves our journey forward.


2020 Seniors, your grief is real. Your feelings are valid. Do not deny yourself working through the loss of your senior year. In your grieving, I encourage you to stay there only as long as necessary to heal.

Use grieving to help you take the next step forward. 

From someone who spent more time wanting to die than live because of trauma upon trauma, with no coping skills or outside help, I can tell you that you get to choose what you do with this senior season.

You can let it destroy you, or you can tap into strength you did not know you have and lean on God in ways you did not think possible.
Not only can you make it through this, but you can emerge stronger, more determined and more focused than you ever imagined on what you want for your next chapter.

Want to know what I chose to do instead of attending my graduation? I got on an airplane with my (then) boyfriend and flew from Florida to New York to meet his family. Four years my senior, he served in the Air Force and his mandated leave time overlapped with my graduation.

I had a choice. I could either attend graduation, which highlighted what I didn’t have while unresolved grief & social anxiety swallowed me alive walking across a silent stage, or forego tradition and take a leap into my future to meet a family who I already knew would be my future family.

He and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month. My decision then was absolutely the right call and I would make the same decision a million times again. They welcomed me into their family when I was 17 and I married at 19.

We worked hard. He worked day, swing, and midshifts full-time with full class loads and I worked two jobs and took day and night classes. We put ourselves through college debt-free with every cent we had plus scholarships and grants we earned. I completed my B.A. four years later. He completed his B.S. the year after.

We bought our first home when I was 21. A tiny foreclosure on a cul-de-sac, our nicotine-drenched, ripped wallpaper, nasty bathrooms, abandoned house needed a lot of love. It was our little nest, and we slowly remodeled it room-by-room while working and going to school.

If someone had told me only four years earlier at 17, when I didn’t know what home address to put on my high school contact card, that I would own my own home — I wouldn’t have believed it.

If someone had told me when I skipped my high school graduation that I would go on to earn my bachelor’s degree and graduate on time — I couldn’t have believed it.

What I knew that night, donning a black silky robe and balancing a mortar board on my head, as I waited to take my turn to walk the university stage with my husband, grandparents, sister and her then boyfriend (now husband) and our best friends cheering for me in the stands, is that God can most certainly redeem what was lost.

The loss may be irreplaceable — as nothing could bring back my mom or replace everyone and everything ripped from my life — but if we stay in a posture of being willing to receive the gifts God has planned for us, and we continue to take a new step forward each day, then our hearts and lives can be genuinely full to overflowing with good things. Soul-filling, goal-accomplishing, dream-realizing things. Things beyond what we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

An awesome, fulfilling and rewarding life is possible after traumatic loss. 

During my junior year of college, someone I highly respected flat out told me that I would never graduate. They genuinely did not believe in me and it broke my heart in ways that silently hemorrhaged for years. I chose to extend forgiveness toward that person, and felt a personal cathartic release proving them wrong, as I shook hands with faculty on the stage that night.

Moving my tassel from right to left was a symbol that I did it. God gave me the strength and work ethic and I used all of it to run through that finish line.

I skipped my high school graduation because I was embarrassed and overwhelmed that I didn’t have a traditional posse cheering for me. One thing I’ve since learned is me cheering for me was enough. Accomplishing a goal is personal. And when I walked the stage to receive my college diploma, I was eternally grateful for those who came to cheer me on, but most of all I looked to heaven and gave thanks to God that he completed a work in me and we did it together. (Phil. 1:6)

Everyone’s journeys looks different. My husband and I were blessed to rear three kids who have grown into amazing adult children whom I highly admire. They have my heart.

One out-of-state move, three houses, multiple jobs, and being blessed to live out our heartbeat for international missions and relief work, I never could have dreamed that God would raise up beauty from ashes in the brokenness of my life. All glory goes to him.

He is absolutely the God of the impossible and only asks we trust him and take the next step that he puts in front of us.


2020 Seniors, I know inconsolable grief. Overwhelming loss. Desperate disappointment. Uncertain futures. Gripping fear. Unquenchable loneliness. Paralyzing hopelessness. Catastrophic helplessness.

I also know that you have the choice to allow how much this surreal season affects your present and future. I know there is purpose for you. I know there is an entire world waiting for you. A world who needs you to do what you were born to do. And I know that you have the power to choose whether this season breaks or benefits you.

If you’re quarantining in your home with those you call family; food in your pantry; an education to continue online or otherwise; and you have one friend who misses you; and a sport, club, volunteering or work that you miss, then you already have everything you need to graduate abundantly blessed.

Embrace what you have. Trust God that he can work for your good if you give it all to him, including your grief. Choose to let this season make you better, not bitter.

Keep looking ahead. Keep stepping forward. Take Bruce Lee’s advice and “Be water, my friend.” You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Phil. 4:13) And keep smiling, knowing the best is yet to come.

Lessons from Nana…Lean in

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I’ve been thinking about the last couple of months we had with Nana and am grateful that the Lord led us through those extremely emotional weeks, days and moments. I’ve grieved loved ones before, too many, and didn’t handle it well after they passed. I was a wreck after each one then and still feel the hemorrhaging in my heart over certain tender memories.

So why is this time different? Why do I still feel emotionally intact in a time of loss? Even with dealing with the stress of coronavirus all over the world (so far we are healthy, thank the Lord), I truly believe the peace and strength I have has a lot to do with preparing for her loss even before she died.

There are five stages of grieving in a time of loss be it a person, a job, a pet, a relationship, our health, a season of life, a sense of normalcy amidst our current coronavirus pandemic, or anything we value.

Loss = grieving. These are the five general stages of grief:
1. Shock and denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Yet, if only life looked so ordered. The reality is that in grieving these five stages we work through in our loss, they don’t necessarily follow this order. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions can bounce around; we may feel more than one of these stages at the same time; we can get stuck in one stage and perhaps never move through it. But these are five stages commonly known to people when living through loss.

However, I’d like to take it a bit farther. I believe there is the option for pre-loss grieving…if we take hold of it. In order to pre-loss grieve, we must be open to it. We must face our own limits and be willing to push ourselves past them to see the larger picture of what is happening even while the storm is still on the horizon.

This is easier said than done. For most of us, stage one – shock and denial – sinks our head and hearts like emotional quicksand. We simply cannot accept the reality of what is happening. “This can’t be happening!” are familiar words to us all. However, I challenge us to begin to consider the fact that it is, in fact, happening. If we let our minds and hearts be open to the notion “it” is happening, then we can start to process the remaining stages of grief.

Why would we want to grieve something before it’s even happened? Why not hold on to life as we knew it for as long as possible before it’s ripped from our hands? Why not put off the inevitable? Because if we can acknowledge what is really going on, that the storm does exist no matter how hard we wish it away, then we can maximize the moments in preparation for what’s coming.

We can do this over a loss of job, home, relationships, friends, our health, etc. I am writing in the context of pre-grieving Nana’s death. I’d like to offer some steps I intentionally took to help me pre-grieve her loss and that can be applied to any type of loss.

1. Shock & Denial – This stage is very important for a huge purpose: It buffers our heart and minds from the full weight and measure of reality that is slamming into our lives like a fiery asteroid. We’re left with an enormous crater in our souls and we have no idea how to begin to process what just happened. Shock and denial run interference between us and the situation. God built this first line of defense in us so we can continue to breathe while we’re stunned by this gaping, smoldering hole (the reality of impending loss) in our hearts, minds and lives as we prepare for the loss itself.

One way to work through shock and denial is to ask questions – Everyone is different and we have different thresholds of what we can endure and when. For me, it was very valuable to attend her doctor’s appointments. I asked a million questions and being able to talk to the doctors helped me process the nature of her health. It forced me to see her new reality and acknowledge its existence. It led me to wrap my head around the shocking prognosis that her cancer had returned and it was going to take her life.

Even still, aftershocks remained as the months passed. Moments of, “I can’t believe we’re at this point,” still broadsided me when I least expected it as her illness progressed. I allowed myself to have that moment but wouldn’t let my thoughts stay here. Forcing myself to have eyes wide open to what was happening opened the other doors of my heart and head to pre-loss grieving which greatly helped me take care of her.

There may be moments when we block out what’s happening altogether (which is okay unless you are responsible for the safety or medical help of yourself or someone else). Do what you need to do to have as few regrets later as possible; but do everything within reason.

If you’re having debilitating difficulty recognizing what’s happening, get help. Staying stuck in shock and denial robs you of the opportunity to prepare for the impending loss. It also robs you of moments that could otherwise be made to maximize time left to make memories, mend hearts, make things right and find peace with what we never wanted.

2. Anger – Anger is perfectly natural. It gives us adrenalin to energize us for the task of accepting what we do not want to accept. It helps us channel the physical and emotional responses to loss. Picture a frying pan on the stove heating on high. Without adding something to the pan, the heat would eventually harm the pan or worse burn the house down. Now picture adding butter, oil or water to the pan. Instantly the pan channels the energy from the heat to the element added to it. Anger over loss is the same. It’s our water, oil or butter. Releasing anger in healthy, productive ways diffuses the thoughts, emotions and physical responses to not only accept the loss that is coming, but also the loss that is already in play.

When my mom was dying of cancer when I was 16, we moved into my grandparents’ home so they could take care of her. I felt angry that she was getting so much attention. Did I mention I was 16? Most teenagers are extremely myopic on a good day, and factor in I couldn’t begin to accept that I was going to lose my only parent, yeah, I was a hot mess. One morning I opened the refrigerator to get something to drink. I reached for the carton of orange juice when a family member said to me, “Don’t drink that. That’s your mom’s.” I replied with sarcasm in an effort for much-needed attention, “Of course it is, everything is hers.” My words and attitude didn’t go over well at all and were sharply chastised. Looking back, I see two people who both weren’t handling her illness well and took it out on each other.

This time with Nana, I allowed myself to feel angry. Anger towards the disease; anger for the loss over moments we weren’t going to enjoy; anger about ways I felt her illness cheated us out of time and experiences; anger that she had to endure this horrific, awful type of cancer; anger at watching my husband’s (her son) heart break for her; anger at the constant needs cancer demands to have met.

Be real. Be honest. Be raw. Acknowledge the anger. If not, your pan will only keep heating up until it either melts, busts into two, or catches everything around it on fire. Be responsible in your anger. My husband and I agreed in the beginning of this journey that we may not always have patience or tolerance for life or each other. We acknowledged we were going to need grace for each other. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin…” If you do, make it right. We’re not perfect, but we do have to own our actions and words.

Some ways to release anger:

A. Vent – There were times I had to get words out of my heart and head. I needed freedom to express all kinds of thoughts – empathetic and selfish – to a few trusted sources. Tell them first that you’re venting. Say, “I just need to say this. I don’t want you to fix anything or offer advice. I don’t need you to encourage me or tell me it’s going to be okay; I just need you to listen.” That helps them understand their role. They aren’t the fixer; they are the listener. Trust me, it will save you countless arguments. If you don’t have anyone you can vomit your thoughts and feelings to, look for a grief support group in your community or online that deals with your type of loss.

B. Journal – Need to say some thoughts that you don’t want anyone else to hear? Write them down then throw them away. Ripping them up gives even more satisfaction. Or keep them in a private place to revisit as you move through the stages of grief.

C. Physical exercise – is a great stress and anger reliver. Not only does it channel all that penned up energy, but it also releases endorphins that help boost our mood. Outdoor exercise is even better as fresh air and sunshine truly does a mind and body good.

D. Play music – Granted I may have given myself slight hearing loss over the course of her illness because I played my music a bit loud to drown out my thoughts, the music hit notes, kept the beat and offered a rhythm that struck a chord with my heart and head. It can be our voice in expressing emotions for which we have no words or energy to express them.

E. Know your limits – Need a minute? Take one…or two. Responsibly take more if needed. We all need an escape hatch for momentarily solitude, a time to collect our thoughts, clear our minds, and re-center ourselves. It is not selfish to take time alone. It’s necessary to maintain your mental and emotional health. Think of time alone as gas for the car. When you feel your tank is empty, you need to put some alone time in it or eventually the car won’t move until you do.

F. Pray – Last, but most important, pray. Yes, pray when you’re angry. There’s no one who understands what you’re saying better than the One who created you and understands you even better than you understand yourself. Praying when I’m angry isn’t pretty. It’s a word scramble of disjointed thoughts, opinions and feelings. It’s emotional. It can be downright ugly. My fits can rival that of a nuclear two-year old. But the best part about praying through anger with God is there is zero judgment.

Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” God wants to help us. He’s not looking for moments to strike us with lightning, but he does help keep us from going too far. When we give it ALL to him, the Holy Spirit acts as our guard rails to keep us from driving our mental car right over our emotional cliff.
Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one (Jesus) who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

3. Bargaining – This is when we try to make deals with life, God, ourselves, others, and even the situation to try to change the circumstance or outcome. Again, God built this into us to help buffer the weight of the reality that has broadsided our lives. It’s a coping skill for when we are trapped between shock & anger and depression & acceptance of what is happening. It’s the halfway point, if you will, of grieving. It is natural. It is normal. It is our mind’s defense mechanism to keep hope alive that there is another outcome other than the loss that is coming which in turn keeps us alive, literally. It keeps us fighting for the future, keeps us eating, sleeping and doing the next thing. Bargaining keeps us looking forward, and we need that when reality is screaming at us that there is no future or forward anywhere to be seen.

In this pre-loss grieving stage, we may scour the internet for medicinal and homeopathic cures and 100th opinions. We may seek other professional opinions in person. We talk to as many people as possible until they share a story that has the outcome we want for our own lives. “If it’s possible for them, it can be possible for my situation, too!” We may be willing to try anything on earth to stop or delay the inevitable outcome.
I asked for more than one conference call with our oncologist and family spread across multiple states so we could hear his input to help understand the options, or lack thereof, that Nana had in fighting her cancer.

We may cling to a “good day,” gains on Wall Street, new data to support our hope, or other positive markers that tempts us to believe things are on the upswing at the moment. That is normal. But so is the emotional crash afterwards when we realize it was only that, a moment. Bargaining can play with our emotions and put our thoughts into a tailspin. It almost seems cruel. But, this is the way we are, knowingly or not, working out the avalanche of loss that is just beginning to rumble. Go with it. Let yourself feel the emotions that come with bargaining. Embrace the ups and downs of the process. If your heart’s equilibrium becomes too imbalanced to cope in a healthy way, get help. Talk to someone. You’ll need to get right-side up again before the loss hits so you can begin the grieving process all over again, this time post-loss.

4. Depression – Now it’s getting raw. This stage of pre-loss can cast a trajectory on where the rest of our journey of pre-loss and post-loss grieving take us. Picture the ocean. You’re on a boat and your impending loss throws you overboard. That’s bad enough and it takes all the strength we can muster to keep our heads above water while waves of emotion and a million thoughts crash over us. Depression can feel like weights tied to our arms and legs as we struggle to breathe. Suddenly, we’re sinking to the bottom of the sea and have no way to resurface.

Depression is a beast. It has a unique way of simultaneously sinking us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically – sometimes at the same time! It’s ruthless and unfair. Nonetheless, it’s a very important part of pre-loss grieving.
• It makes us pull our head out of the sands of shock and denial and look at reality.
• It makes us acknowledge where this road of loss leading.
• It drains the energy from being angry.
• It quiets the bargaining voice in our heads.
• It is, in fact, the preparation we need to accept that loss is indeed coming.

Depression can look like many different things. We can withdraw or overcompensate with out loud behavior. We may cry, or not. We may seem angry, moody or temperamental, or not. We may pick up unhealthy habits and behaviors to try to escape feeling depressed. Watch out for this!

We may feel more tired and sleepy which is very normal as our bodies shut down extra physical energy it doesn’t need to conserve it for the emotional energy we need, and will continue to need, in the days, weeks and months to come.
Depression can trigger anxiety and the two together are the perfect storm. They can spin us into a vicious cycle and many people, like being stuck in a house of mirrors, never find their way out.

Again, if you feel depression is interrupting your daily life and responsibilities, or makes you think about harming yourself or others, or causes your quality of life to suffer to a crippling extent, or you hear worried voices of friends, coworkers and family and see the worry on their faces concerning you, get help. Sometimes we can’t see the forest through the trees.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (free & confidential) @ 800-273-8255.

Call Focus on the Family Crisis line for free 8am-10pm EST @ 877-233-4455.

Call your home church. Call your insurance company to find an in-network counselor. Call the counselor. Call a friend. Call family. Call someone you trust. Call a support group or local ministry that deals with your type of loss. Just don’t buy into the lie that you must go through this alone. You don’t.

Here is some practical advice for dealing with depression on a daily basis:

* Get enough rest – at least 7 hours a day. But if you’re sleeping more hours than you’re awake, that’s a problem. Rest = repair. When we go to sleep, our bodies go to work to repair the wear and tear from the day. You need this to happen to have the strength to face impending loss. You need to be at your strongest, or at least not run down. Sleep = repair. Give your body time to repair every single night.

* Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin B complex for more energy, better brain function (including mood lifter) and promoting healthy cell growth. My favorite is “Country Life Coenzyme B-Complex Caps.” Brain fog can be a sign of depression. If you are in a high-stress season of preparing for loss, vitamin B (preferably complex which covers multiple B’s) can be an awesome natural way to help you mentally function and maintain quality of life. It is water soluble and does not store up in the body.

* Talk to your doctor about having your vitamin D level tested. Don’t just start taking vitamin D as it is fat soluble and too much can hurt you if it accumulates in the body. But a simple finger stick blood sample can reveal whether you’re low, and 98% of Americans are low because we spend most of our time indoors and use sunscreen when we’re outdoors. Your doctor will recommend an amount that’s right for you.

Are there mental and emotional benefits of vitamin D? Among it being necessary for many key physical components, “Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms.” (Healthline.com)

* Hydrate! Drink lots and lots of water. Even a 1-2% reduction in total body water can make us think less clearly. It can flush out viruses, increases our digestive functions, and keeps our energy up. Our bodies are mostly made up of water, and seriously, if you don’t drink enough water in this stage of pre-loss grieving your mind and body will tell you. Try for 8, 8oz glasses per day.

* Exercise – See a pattern with some of these reoccurring options? Exercise is a mood lifter. It helps us purge excess nervous energy. It gives us something to focus on for a break from the stress we are enduring in a season of loss. It makes us stronger and healthier which helps us feel stronger to face the loss that is ahead. Exercise is like creating a savings account for your body. Treat your body well and when your loss happens, you can draw on your savings account, a healthy body, to give you strength to endure. Talk to your doctor about exercise that’s right for you.

* Reduce sugar – Sugar is the staple ingredient in many comfort foods, but it provides no real comfort itself. However, it can give heart palpitations, emotionally instability with euphoric highs and awful lows, as well as lead to weight gain which helps almost no one for all obvious reasons. Stress already plagues us with these symptoms, so why add more reasons to feel bad?

* Increase protein – Most American diets are high carb and low protein. Protein reduces appetite and hunger levels; increases muscle mass and strength; is a bone-builder for better skeletal health; reduces cravings and desires for late-night snacking; boosts metabolism and reduces blood pressure; helps maintain weight loss; and helps your body repair itself after injury (Healthline.com). All of these are beneficial in keeping depression from spiraling out of control.

* Find joy every day/Enjoy healthy vices – play with your pet, take a walk, practice a hobby, sign up for an online joke-of-the-day, watch a funny movie or tv show, laugh, think positive, humorous, silly, creative thoughts. Dream! Never stop dreaming. Play with your kids. Go to nature. Count your blessings. Put thankful and positive sticky notes around your house. Pray for peace and strength. My favorite Scripture for this is Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” I have it written on an index card by my keyboard, so it is in my peripheral every moment I’m at my computer.

* Allow yourself to feel depressed (Isn’t that what sad songs and movies are for?) as it’s a natural human emotion but be able to see red flags if they pop up, and take action. Depression can take us to dark places. Learn its potholes on your path so you can process feeling depressed in a healthy way (as a vehicle to take you to acceptance), without falling into the bottomless pit of depression. You’ll need to stay on your path of pre-loss grieving, without being stuck in depression, for when your loss comes and you begin the second leg of this race, post-loss grieving.

* Acknowledge your depressing thoughts. Be honest with yourself. Journal if that helps. Sit and stare at the sky. Allow empty space in your head and heart. If we’re always thinking, feeling and doing, we’ll never have time to just be. Create moments of quiet. It’s only then our bodies and minds can leach out the pain we’re holding in.

Almost every time in yoga, at the end of practice during savasana, tears stream down my face. Sometimes I know why and sometimes I don’t. But what I do know is that pain was stored in my body and giving myself time to be quiet and still, not thinking about anything, eyes closed, emotions I may not even be aware of rise to the surface of my heart and streams out in tears. I’ve talked to instructors about this and they say it’s normal and expected. The same is true with simply sitting with the Lord. Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know I that am God.” Try it today. Just be still knowing he is God. Start with 5 minutes.

* Help someone else – Sometimes the best thing to do to cheer ourselves up is to help someone else. It gets us out of our own heads. It reminds us there is someone else going through hard times, too. It helps us feel useful even when we can’t change our own circumstances. Whenever I’m feeling low, the first thing I think is, “How can I help someone?”

Helping brings optimism and positivity to the day, as well as literally helping someone’s else world be a little easier, brighter and cheerful. One of the best things we can do to recalibrate our thoughts is to realize that although OUR world may be crashing down around us, the rest of the world isn’t. Widen your lens to regain perspective and find hope for the future.

* Let others help you – We don’t always need to be the superhero in our story. Let someone else save the day. If they’re offering to help, let them. People care and everyone needs to feel cared for sometimes.

5. Acceptance – “This stage is about accepting the fact that a new reality cannot be changed. It is about seeing how the new reality will impact life and relationships.” (econdolence.com) Like we said in the beginning, stages of grief can bounce around, blur together and seem to feel utterly random. Although acceptance is the final stage, there are parts of our story we accept at different times.

Like pieces of a puzzle, we might find peace with one issue and how it fits into our lives while the whole puzzle may be far from completed. That’s okay because that is progress. And with pre-loss grieving, we are only accepting the point of the journey to which we have come. We haven’t even begun to digest the entire happening of the loss as it has yet to come. We’re only getting ourselves in position to be able to healthfully cope and grieve the loss when it does occur. Accepting our grief thus far. Accepting the pieces of loss thus far. Accepting our dealing with it, or not, thus far.

Pre-loss grieving through the lens of acceptance is a great heart checkup.

Ask ourselves questions like, “How am I doing so far?” “What can’t I let go of at this point?” “Do I need to seek the help of others?” “Am I coping in healthy ways?” “Do I feel red flags rising in my heart or head?” “What part of this journey has been the hardest for me so far?” “Knowing I am about to grieve the loss I’m anticipating; do I have the tools in my emotional toolbelt for this?” “If not, where can I find healthy resources to have at the ready when I need them?” “How is my world? My family? My coworkers? How are those who are going to incur this loss as I will doing?” “How can I help them?” “What are my biggest strengths and weaknesses in dealing with this loss?”

Accepting the reality of unwanted change, however it’s packaged, is sobering. Humbling. It makes us feel small and it all-powerful.

But acceptance can also make us feel strong! We can be encouraged that we’ve made it this far and can finish this journey to the end. We find we’ve discovered strengths we didn’t know we had. We’ve worked through issues and forgiven and asked for forgiveness. We’ve learned to let go of what wasn’t worth our energy and reconciled what we cannot fix thus far. We’ve made peace with ourselves and the fact that the looming loss will happen. We’ve learned God isn’t the bad guy; he’s actually good all the time despite the bad stuff happening. We’ve discovered our limits and how to respect them. We’ve picked up healthy habits through grieving.

All of these things give us the momentum we need to push forward and keep running our race when the loss descends on our lives and ravages our world. It may plunder everything around us, but we’ve come too far and worked too hard through grieving pre-loss and feel the tenacity burn within us to never give up; to keep pushing; to keep striving for a healthy new normal, no matter how long it takes.

Through acceptance, we allow new things about us and our relationships to bloom new buds. Yes, they may look different, but they are no less beautiful. I’ll never forget seeing a photo of Australia after the raging, devastating and all-consuming fires they suffered. It was a heartbreaking photo of a blackened and charred forest with absolutely no life left standing. It looked like hell had come to earth and breathed its curse on a once vibrant, active and gorgeous land.

However, in the middle of photo was the most spectacular, neon-green new plant that you’ve ever seen. It looked almost like a light was shining on it, it was so brilliantly colored. A dayglow green plant standing tall and healthy among the backdrop of charred death. It was magnificent. This photo is acceptance visualized.

We take all of the bad, the dead, the charred and the once-was and allow it to feed and fertilize the roots of something new and beautiful. We allow our landscape to change, knowing it will never look the same. But, because the new growth that blooms in our hearts and lives is fed by what was, and its sacrifice now nourishes the what-is, a new forest grows. A forest stronger and healthier than before. A forest where life will bud and bloom and seed and sprout, fed by the forest of what-was.

Accepting doesn’t mean we have to forget what once-was; erasing it like it never happened. It means we allow the root of the new buds to be forever fed by the what-was. Two timelines, two landscapes, working in tandem together so lovely only God could create such beauty from ashes.

Accepting isn’t forsaking what was, it is understanding how God can work it, and we can allow him work it, for the good of our lives going forward. The less we fight him on this, the quicker new buds can take root and we can make peace with, and even enjoy, the new landscape.

After all these things come to pass, the loss indeed happens. Like a game of Chutes & Ladders, we find ourselves at start all over again. Maybe the loss didn’t happen the way we expected. Maybe it was less horrible than we anticipated, maybe it was more.

Nonetheless, we shake off our running shoes, brush off our bruised knees and tighten our laces. Looking ahead, we rally a deep breath and take the first step in working the five stages of grief, post-loss this time. Godspeed in your journey, friend. May it be well with your soul.

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!

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

 

 

 

 

 

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?