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.

An unexpected college blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a bond between them that formed from brokenness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo credit here


10 things I won’t do as our son leaves for college


Lately I have been stuck on an emotional roller coaster. Life has been changing at warp speed and most of it is out of my control. What I do control is how I react respond to all of it.

I was involved in a high-speed chase today. While driving to the grocery store for a few simple dinner items, a tsunami of disjointed thoughts racing through my mind chased me down and caught up to me at a red light. Next thing I knew I couldn’t remember what I went to the store for and was inundated with a million fractured thoughts, snipets swirling around me like a tornado about our son leaving for college, employment, new schools for our other teens, and a thousand other things. I felt unglued.

That’s when it hit me. I had to get a hold of my heart and my head. I decided, for the sake of my sanity, I would set up boundaries for my thoughts and feelings during this changing season as I prepare for my firstborn to leave for college.

10 boundaries of what I won’t allow myself to do:

  • I won’t replay regrets of what I did wrong in the past as a parent. If forgiveness was necessary, I asked for it and we both let it go. It helps no one for me to hang on to something both of us already put behind us. If it was just my own unattainable bar of expectations that let me down, I will let myself off the hook and realize I am a super mother, not Superwoman. 😉
  • I won’t beat myself up for what I didn’t do as a mother. I didn’t try every art & craft project online. I couldn’t attend every single function in which my son was involved. I didn’t always know what was trending about the latest and greatest everything relating to parenthood. But, every single night as I laid my head on my pillow I knew I had given the day everything I had. Whether that everything was 10% or 105% I had to give that day, I gave it. Did I do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But I tried my best and that’s the best I can do.
  • I won’t let the busyness of this rapidly changing season rob me of stolen moments of what matters. If our son walks into my home office and spontaneously needs to tell me how much he’s going to miss his family (like he did yesterday), I will stop what I’m doing, look at him and listen (which I did). The little things are the big things, and a never-ending to-do list will not hold these precious moments hostage. I will put what who matters most first.
  • I won’t compare my family or my mothering to anyone else. At this stage of parenting, it’s easy to look around and judge myself by using others’ lives as a measuring stick. That only brings everyone down. We aren’t the same as any other family out there, nor should we be. It’s the uniqueness of family that makes life interesting. Instead of comparing, I will remember fondly all of the moments, days, weeks, months and years that write the story we call family.
  • I won’t stop the tears. It may happen in the canned vegetable aisle, while driving or walking by his darkened bedroom, but make no mistake I will burst into spontaneous tears. Part of my heart is being ripped out of me and moving to another state. To pretend that doesn’t hurt is not being authentic with myself or anyone else. No, I’m not fine right now, but I will be – and every tear shed out of love over missing my boy will help me get there.
  • I won’t stay in the pit too long. I’d love to say I won’t even go into the pit, but as our firstborn flies away, this mama needs to go down into the valley for a little bit. But, I will also be kind to myself and not stay there too long. I have a husband and two teens who need me to not stay there too long. And, I have a future that God has planned for me, so be patient with me. And if I’m having a hard time finding my footing climbing out of the pit, I will ask for a helping hand.
  • I won’t miss the beauty of this season. The fact is, our son graduated high school and is taking a giant step toward becoming an independent adult, a productive member of society. This is, after all, what the plan has been since he was born. As much as this transition of him sort of being on his own and sort of not is uncomfortable and painful for me as his mother, we are blessed to have made it this far and will celebrate that victory! I will look forward to watching him continue to grow and will continue to celebrate all the milestones we have ahead of us as a family.
  • I won’t try to do this alone. I am a lone ranger by nature, but this is too much to process by myself. I will allow myself to be vulnerable with those I feel safe and let my guard down about how I’m really doing. I will link arms with those who love me and we walk this journey together. After all, if they love me then they are probably grieving him going away in their own way as well. Together, we will be a strong team for each other.
  • I won’t stop laughing. Life needs laughter. Hearts need laughter. The body needs laughter. In the midst of grieving our beloved son’s new opportunity, through the tears and “new normals” of him not being at home, I will purpose in my heart to see joy in life. I will keep grieving in its place and welcome the moments in life that make me snicker, giggle, laugh and laugh some more. There is a healthy balance in allowing grieving and laughter to share the same soul.
  • I won’t be hard on myself if I fail everything listed above. I am a hormonal, middle-aged woman. I am a mother whose firstborn is leaving the nest. I am emotional. I have a lot on my plate, my mind and my heart. There will be days when I’ve got nothing. No words. No sense of humor. No logical thought. No feeling percolating in my soul. Life is like that when we miss someone so deeply. Sometimes there aren’t words or actions, thoughts or feelings that make it all better. And that’s okay. That’s why, Lord willing, there is always tomorrow. ❤

I ironed his pillowcase


In two days our firstborn will be college-bound. In the midst of a busy summer, he and I have had to carve out intentional time to shop for dorm supplies, of which I know nothing about.

My husband and I got married young, real young. I was 19. He was 23. We were married on spring break and bought our first home when I was 21. That tiny foreclosure was the perfect place to learn power tools, how to be married students, and realize my own independence.

This dorm thing is new to me. I have fought the urge to over buy. Our son doesn’t want any bells and whistles, so when the school’s packing list mentioned house plants – well, he and I laughed out loud at that one.

He can certainly prepare for college on his own, but for me it’s extra time I get to spend with just him whether we’re in Target, Wal-Mart or beyond. We’ve shared laughs and memories on these shopping escapades that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’ll do anything to steal time away with my kids.

Minus a couple of technical items, like finding the dreaded required calculator, he’s all set.

Today, however, it hit me. He’s leaving home.

Over the last few weeks I’ve washed his two plastic cups, cheap silverware and his one glass bowl for microwaving and packed them in his plastic college tub. I’ve also washed his sheets and towels and repacked them with the small arsenal of dorm items huddled in the family room.

As I went to tuck the crisp, white sheets in the bag with the other bedding, I noticed the pillowcases were wrinkled beyond repair from the dryer.

The looked like giant, used handkerchiefs.

I tried flattening them with my hands but it was no use.

I tried to just let it go, but I couldn’t. Before I knew it I was setting up our creaky ironing board and plugging in the iron.

I hate loathe abhor ironing and avoid it at all costs, ask anyone who knows me – especially my family.

I’m neither patient enough nor good enough at it. For me, I’ve solved this problem by not owning anything that needs to be ironed.

So why on earth would I tackle horrendously wrinkled pillowcases that a steamroller couldn’t fix?

It’s my way of nesting a home I won’t live in for a boy I love with all my heart.

As the iron whistled and blew steam I thought of my firstborn lying down after a long day in a different state and resting his head on these pillowcases.

The same head that I oohed over in his sonogram when I was only 8 weeks pregnant. He had the cutest tiny bobble head with little nubs for arms and legs, but there he was, my baby.

The same head I cradled in the palm of my hand when he was born; that I watched my husband cradle as he swayed side-to-side in the hospital room, singing our baby boy to sleep.

The same head that turned away from baby food he refused to eat, donned silly Halloween costumes and proudly displayed lost baby teeth.

The same head that I held my breath over as he tumbled headlong into the opposing football player’s helmet in the game; that ducked and weaved through soccer players, using his head to launch the ball to his teammates; and that poured over the keys of the piano late into the night.

The same head that suffered a major concussion in Africa on mission and endured an injury at school that could have killed him. The same head I watched proudly drive away with his brand new license.

The same head that towered above the voting booth at his first election. Talk about making a mama proud!

I’ve watched my boy become a man and have learned a lot over the years about when to hold on and when to let go. Knowing time is short, I’ve not taken the days with my son for granted. I’ve counted each and every blessing of raising him.

And after a grueling senior year, we were both so happy to have it over with I shed no tears at graduation.

It’s time to let him fly.

Yes, the same little pumpkin that couldn’t reach the faucet on his own has grown into a tall body that stoops to hug me. As he rests his head on my shoulder, I am taken back to the days of rocking him to sleep in my arms. His long arms now wrap around me and I melt.

He has so many gifts, talents as strengths (most of which he doesn’t even see in himself, yet). I am thrilled he gets to enter this new phase of self-discovery.

But how I will miss him.

Fully able to fend for himself, I will miss kissing that sweet head goodnight.

Mothers grow and grieve in their own way. I never thought I’d feel so many mixed emotions about him leaving, nor find myself looking at him, holding his hand and leaning my head on his shoulder so much as I have this summer.

For me, a mom with a grateful, grieving heart, ironing the pillowcases that will soften his sleep is my way of wishing him sweet dreams – not only for a good night’s sleep, but as he works hard to make those dreams a reality.

And in his pursuit of this crazy thing we call life, I’ll be right here waiting to feel his precious head rest on my shoulders and tell him once again, You can grow up, but please don’t outgrow your mama.

A Different Silent Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phone rang.

It was my sister.

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

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

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

My first response?  The wall came up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t sure if my granddad was saved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it now, He pushed back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gently nodded again.

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

Just a couple of minutes later – he died.

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

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

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

It was a near miss and it terrified me.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why have Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you today,



Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. ~ Psalm 71:17

We’ve spent several days talking about the life of a teen – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve offered up some personal examples in hope that, in some small way, someone else can relate.  Before ending this series, I would be remiss if I didn’t give God a shout-out for the amazing things He did in the midst of tragedy.  Today, I simply want to say thank you to Him by telling of His good works.

All of the events in my teen life (which only some have been shared on this blog for the sake of time) were shocking to me.  Most of them I never saw coming.  I was emotionally startled at every turn.  God knew how hyper-sensitive I had become to the instability in my life, and He stepped in one day in a most unique way.  I had a dream.  I was in a room with pale blue walls and dark brown furniture.  It had a big window.  It was quiet.  I didn’t know where I was, but it was calming and unsettling at the same time.  In my dream, I walked around the room looking at everything in detail.  I turned to close the door, and behind the door there was a cross with Christ hanging on it.  I thought to myself in the dream, Jesus is here – He is in this room.

Shortly after the dream, my mom had surgery.  I’ll never forget the moment we were told they couldn’t get all of the cancer, and her long-term prognosis was grim.  She was placed in a hospital room post-op.  I walked down the sterile maze of halls to find her room and entered it.  I had not just entered a hospital room, but a new phase with my mom.  Everything rode on her surgery.  We were waiting for the good news that she was on the other side of this.  That we were on the other side of cancer.  Such was not the case.  This phase was dark and terrifying.  Oddly, however, the room felt familiar to me.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt like I had been there before.  As she lay in bed, unaware of our presence, I scanned the room with quizzical curiosity.  Then it dawned on me.  Perhaps I had been here before – in my dream? I walked to the door and slowly began to look behind it thinking there was no way.  Yes way.  There it was…the same exact cross with Christ hanging on it. I knew then the gift God had given me.  He absorbed the shock value for me by letting me walk the new room, the new phase of life,  in my dream first.  Most importantly, through the same cross, Jesus reminded me that I was not alone – He was there with us.

Months later, on what would be my mom’s last Valentine’s Day, a guy I was dating at the time, (he was a bit older than me and was in the service) and I talked about how she was going to be all alone.  My sister had gone out for the evening, and I felt terribly guilty for leaving Mom to go out with him.  He surprised both my mom and me with a change in plans.  He came to our door with not one, but two huge bouquets of flowers – one for her and one for me.  He surprised us and told us that he’d be taking both of us to dinner and a movie!  And he did.  Even in the movie, he sat in the middle of us with an arm around each of us.  She had not felt that in a long time.  Afterwards, he took down the top of his JEEP and took my mom on the ride of her life.  He had her laughing and screaming and hanging on tight.  She had so much fun, and I enjoyed every second of watching her smile more than she had in many months.  He is a Christian, and truly the love of Christ shone through him.  It is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for our family.  God really was my mom’s Valentine that year.

A few years later, I was in college and wasn’t sure what major would be best for me.  Therefore, I took a variety of different courses.  As an undergraduate, I was given special permission to take some graduate-level courses.  Besides the full load of social work courses I took that semester, I also took a graduate class in the sociology of emotion.  It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken.  I was able to learn how emotions affect the human body.  It was fascinating and helped me understand myself better.  Moreover, I was granted the opportunity to take a graduate class in rehabilitative counseling.

At that point in my life, I had not received any personal counseling for what I had endured.  This class, for me, was like school and therapy all rolled into one.  It was there I learned the 5 stages of grief in depth, as well as other issues common to trauma and suffering.  I could not get enough of this class.  So much of what I was feeling about everything that had happened to me made much more sense.  God made a way for me to take both of these classes not normally available to undergrads.  This class changed my life.  And, it led me to the next blessing.

While taking rehab counseling, I suffered from strong chest pains, rapid heart rate, sweating, panic, shortness of breath, etc.  Every time it happened, I thought I was having a heart attack.  My newlywed husband drove me to the ER each time.  The last time it happened, my doctor was on call in the ER at the time.  He had already performed an EKG and other tests on me in his office and concluded I was fine.  But, here I was in the ER again with the same scary symptoms.  He came out to the waiting room (to my surprise) and squatted down in front of me.  I thought I was special to receive such personal treatment.  With hands clasped together, he looked at me through his glasses and firmly said – loud enough for the entire room to hear – Kristi, you are not sick.  There is nothing wrong with you.  If you want to see sick people, come in the back with me and I’ll show them to you.  I refuse to treat you.  What you need is counseling.  Now go home!  What?  How could he?  How DARE he!  I was mortified as I sat there wide-eyed in the hard, plastic chair.  I watched his white coat disappear behind the double doors and that was that.  Everyone in the waiting room stared at me as I got up and left.

I was spitting mad!  He did not have the right to chastise me in front of everyone.  He refused treatment for me.  He yelled at me!  His words…were right.  After days of replaying the embarrassing scene over in my mind, his words about counseling kept coming back.  I swallowed a large dose of pride and called my church to see what was available.  Sure enough, a social worker was assigned to our church.  The first time I met with her, I gave her the rundown of the many things that had happened in my life.  She very calmly responded, I think we have something to work with here.  However, I told her I could only afford $5/session.  (I was a newlywed at 19 and my young husband and I were working our way through college.)  She said that was okay.  I met with her every other day for an entire year.  I don’t remember the sessions, but I know that they played a HUGE part in getting me through grieving and helping me heal.  Kind of like running.  A runner can train for a year, and not remember every step, path or trail.  However, she still trains for the finish line.  The sessions are a blur, but each one of them got me one step closer to healing.

Sometimes we think nothing good can come of something bad.  The way my doctor treated me was humiliating, unfair and disrespectful.  But, it took that difficult moment for me to realize it wasn’t my physical heart that needed treating.  Indeed, God brought something very good out of a bad moment.

There are so many blessings God gave me through those difficult years.  How I wish I could keep writing and writing to share them with you.  Sometimes they were obvious, and other times I had to really search to find them.  But, He promised to never leave me and He never has.  For teens, parents, caregivers and friends, remember this…God is good all the time – even when life isn’t.  He’s working for the best interest of His children, for His glory, and His covenant promises to never abandon us even if we abandon Him.  Don’t give up…you have a life story, too.  What will you write?

Psalm 71:14-18

But as for me, I will always have hope;
   I will praise you more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteousness,
   of your salvation all day long,
   though I know not its measure.
16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD;
   I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.
17 Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
   and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
18 Even when I am old and gray,
   do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
   your might to all who are to come.  

Untangle the web of lies – What a teenager won’t tell you

As I prepare to speak to teen girls about brutal lies and cultural myths that we get so easily caught up in, writing about some of them on this blog has really helped me organize my thoughts.  I hope it has been beneficial to your journey as well.  Revisiting memories has been understandably painful at times, but it’s also been a huge blessing to see just how far God will go to rescue someone; that everyone is valuable to Him; and sticking through the rough times reaps beautiful blessings on the other side.

Two cents.  That’s all I have in my pockets today.  I want to offer my two cents with some tips that may help smooth some rough spots with teenagers when life gets hard.  I am not a trained professional.  My opinions are based on my experience, what I’ve learned in college and as a volunteer.  What works for some may not work for others.  Always consult a qualified professional before making significant changes in a teen’s life who has suffered loss.

* When dealing with a teen who has a sick or dying parent, don’t take I’m fine as an answer.  Certainly don’t push the teen to talk, but understand that those two words have little to no value.  If you hear them, let it be a red flag that you may want to follow-up on.  Sometimes they may not be up to talking, but they can also be testing you to see if your inquiry to their well-being is genuine or if it is really just to ease your own conscious.  Don’t ask them how they are doing.  How do you think they are doing?  Instead, ask how they are holding up.

* Familiarize yourself with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Website of grief stages and their explanations.

Understand that everyone grieves differently.  People should never compare grieving!  We are unique, as are our experiences and how we process them, and it is completely unfair to place our own expectations on someone else.  Judge not – it’s like kicking them when their down.

Understand that the first 12 months are extremely important in grieving.  This doesn’t mean we count the months beginning in January, it means 365 days from the day the parent died.  Think about it, there are so many things that happen in a year (holidays, school events, social events, big and small moments in life that surround a particular date or memory), a full cycle needs to be lived out in order to understand life is never going to be the way it used to be.  Quirky family traditions for April Fool’s Day may change, first-day-of-school dinner may not happen, you know, family stuff – it’s all different now.  Be patient with the teen as they try to live through a year of firsts so they can begin to find a new sense of normal.  Yes, a full year.  I believe productive grieving can take place during that year, but life needs a year just to walk through each of the 365 days of being and feeling different.

The Hospice website is an excellent resource for the whole family.  They offer priceless words of wisdom for teens, as well as a host of other resources for children, parents and caregivers.  I highly recommend this site for caregivers, family and close friends.

* Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  Don’t be so quick to offer a resolution, solution, or fix.  Just listen to them.  It’s amazing what can surface when a teen actually gets to have our undivided attention.

* For trusted friends and family – be there.  You don’t have to say anything, just offer a presence.  Teens who have suffered significant loss are waiting for everyone else to leave, too.  Find something the teen likes to do and offer your time with permission (i.e., watch sports, walk the dog, go to the movies).

* You can’t replace the loved one they’ve lost, but you can help ease the pain.  Remember back-to-school shopping I wrote about?  Perhaps offer to fill in a gap when the teen doesn’t know how to ask for help.

* Make your home a safe place.  Teens go through a lot every day – even on the best day hormones are raging and emotions can be unpredictable.  In a safe environment (not just physical, but emotionally safe meaning they feel free to be themselves without judgement) the teen can drop their guard and may just open their heart.

* Say the name of, and talk about, the parent who died.  One of the most painful aspects of grieving is that the loved one becomes invisible – as if he or she never existed.  People are either too uncomfortable or too worried they’ll upset the teen if they mention the parent, therefore nothing gets said.  For me, it was literally years before anyone ever said my mom’s name (my own family never even mentioned her).  It was an old friend of my mom’s who approached me.  She didn’t know that my mom had died.  This friend asked how she was doing.  I told her, and the friend immediately began apologizing up and down.  I interrupted her and said, Thank you.  You’re the first person to say her name to me in years.  It’s feels good to hear others remember her.  It was about 5 years after my mom died when I realized I had forgotten what her voice sounded like.  It absolutely devastated me!  I cried and cried.  Their legacy, memories and media (photos, video) are really all we have left.  Give the teen the chance to relive good memories when they’re ready.  It can be very healing.

* Offer to help.  There may be large needs you may or may not be able to help with, but I can promise you there are a myriad of small needs beloved friends and family can help meet.  If the teen is in sports, drama, music or any performance activity, offer to attend.  Empty seats are a heart-breaker.  Remember the teen’s birthday with a card or phone call.  Remember the deceased parent’s birthday with a card or phone call.  Offer to help rake the leaves in the fall, plant flowers in the spring, or go for ice cream on a Saturday afternoon.  Just being there is so helpful.  Offering a hand and sharing a smile in the everyday moments of life make the big milestones (holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) more bearable.  If everyone close to the teen each did one thing, just think about what a difference that would make to remind them they are valuable, loved, and remembered.

Consider letting the teen make some decisions about their life when appropriate.  One of the best gifts my grandparents ever gave me was the freedom to let me choose whether or not to attend my high school graduation.  I DID NOT want to attend for various valid reasons.  They didn’t push the issue with me.  Today, I still don’t regret it.  Situations are different for everyone, but if a teen feels adamant about something that isn’t earth-shattering or life-changing, at least be patient and listen to their side. Teens in grief may appreciate feeling a little bit of control over their life in times of unrest.  My decision came almost a year after my mom’s death.  Careful consideration should be made concerning the 5 stages of grief and the teen.

* If you have pictures of the parent, scan copies and compose a small photo book for the teen.  Maybe add some short text about a funny story or memory; or what was special about the parent or how they positively impacted your life. People have different roles in each other’s lives. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have photos of my mom at work, out with girlfriends, etc. in roles other than as I knew her – Mom.  Online printing companies and superstores print these photo books for little cost nowadays.  It may take a few hours of your life to do this, but it will give the teen a lifelong treasure.  Wait for the appropriate time to give this gift to the teen.

* If I haven’t stressed this point enough already, make yourself available.  It may take days, weeks or months for a teen to be ready to talk, share or do stuff together, but just knowing you are willing to invest in their life can help talk a teen down from their proverbial ledge.  In the meantime, keep a watchful eye on symptoms that need to be addressed by a professional.  Offer a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, a heart to feel and hands to help, but know when to encourage the teen to seek professional help.  They are trained in the most appropriate ways to assist the teen to work through their grieving.  Our best attempt at “counseling” may prove to hurt the situation more than it would help.


I hope these suggestions have helped shed some light on an issue too dimly lit.  Teens are far too often swept under the rug because adults don’t give teens enough credit that they have thoughts, opinions, feelings, questions, and words that need to purged.  Most teens are profoundly affected by parent loss.  Literally, the teen’s future hangs in the balance of how healthy the grieving process has been.  Research is downright scary for teens who are unheard, ignored, and not helped through every stage of grieving.  It could be the beginning of a downward spiral, or, with proper attention and care, the teen can come through the entire experience with hope, optimism, healing and strength.

Give the teen in your life every opportunity to grieve, mourn, heal and realize their full potential.  They have the rest of their lives ahead of them.  May they experience the abundant life Jesus calls them to in John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.


Spittin’ image

It was a hot, hurried day.  I needed to get in and get out of the large store quickly in order to meet a deadline.  At long last, I found a coveted parking space.  Pulling in, I looked up and saw a man walking to his car.  I turned off my engine and stared at him.  He never saw me.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…he looked just like my dad.  So many different emotions stirred in my heart.  I lost my dad to cancer a couple of months ago.

I simply watched this man load his car and drive away – wide-eyed at how much they look alike both physcially and in their mannerisms.  Seeing this person put my mind back in the hosptial during the last 2 days of my dad’s life.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  We brought the kids, though we had many offers to let them stay back.  It was our 4th trip to see him in 3 months – shortening the window with every declining turn of his health.  We received an email from family saying, “Come now.”  We knew this was it.   On a Tuesday afternoon, I threw some clothes together, called my dear friend to take the dog, Bruce literally stood up from his desk at work and left for home.  I ran carpool from school, and in an hour we were out the door and on the highway.

All of us stood around my dad’s hospital bed and tried to think of positive things to say.  He labored with every struggling breath.  I tried to understand the medcial jargon about his condition, but much of it just rolled off.  We knew the inevitable.  I had something else I wanted to talk about with him.

My mom was only in my life for the first sixteen years before she died.  My dad – just the last eight.  It’s a God-story of redemption, forgiveness, and re-do’s.  For now, I will say we’ve had a wonderfully close relationship for these eight years, and I can’t imagine them being over so quickly.

The kids held his hands, maneuvering around the tubes and needles attached to them.  My daughter put on her granddaddy’s beloved baseball cap on her head and it made him smile.  Our first visit with him was pretty good.  He was able to speak a word or two between heavy breaths and could at least mentally track with the chatter in the room.  We stayed until 11pm and were so tired after a full day, a highway’s drive, and several hours of visiting; so we left to find a hotel for a little sleep.  Finally, we found one with availability.  We got to bed around 12:30am and were back at the hospital that morning.

We arrived to find out he had almost passed during the night.  This was a totally different person lying in the hospital bed.  He was much worse.  The kids knew, too.  They kissed him on the cheek, held his hand, and spoke softy to him.  The oygen machines rumbled loudly in the background.  Although some of us were fighting colds, the nurse said we needn’t wear the safety mask so we could spend some priceless face-to-face time with him.

What do you say to a dying man – who is your dad?  I was at a loss for words as I choked back tears.  I prayed that God would give me the right words.  After my prayer, I looked up and saw my dad’s Bible on the bed tray.  That was the answer.  I picked it up and thumbed through it to any highlighted passages he may have noted.  Indeed, we found some.  I read as many as I could find, standing over my limp, quiet dad.  God spoke to my heart to read Psalm 23.  After reading it, his wife looked at me with wet eyes and said, That is my favorite Scripture.  I didn’t know that, but God did.  He even met her need in that tender moment.  It was precious time.  God is good.

With my husband, kids and one stepsister in the room, I asked everyone if I could have a moment alone with my dad.  They were much obliged.  I sat on the edge of his bed, trying hard to not let his labored breathing get the best of me, and leaned in close to his ear so he could hear me.  This would be the last time I would get to talk with him this side of heaven, thus, I was tied up in knots and didn’t know what to say.  God spoke to my heart and encouraged me to say what I needed to.  So I did – respectfully, to a dying man.

I gently placed my hand on his arm and said, I’m so sorry this is happening to you.  I’m sorry I can’t fix this.  He raised his head, turned toward me, and looked at me with crystal clear eyes.  Though all morning he could not show a repsonse, in that moment, he was all there.  Our eyes caught, mine welling with tears.  I continued, No one knows how long they have on this earth.  But, I need to ask a favor of you.  If you get to heaven before me, will you please tell Mom that I love her?  I burst into tears (something I rarely do) and began to beg.  This is really important.  I need you to do this for me.  Will you promise?  He nodded his head yes.  Thank you, I replied with relief under my breath.  There was something else I needed to say.  I love you.  It was the first time I had ever said it eye-to-eye, with heartfelt sincerity.  He nodded again and mouthed, I love you, too, back to me. He passed away just hours later.

As I sat in my van in the large parking lot, staring at a stranger, the door to my grief began to rattle.  After my dad died, we came back for his memorial service, then it was one thing after the next including Christmas, New Year’s, my husband’s surgery, another family death, pneumonia for one of our children, our car broke down, a back injury for me, etc.  Literally, every day was a new crisis.  We are coming out of crisis mode, thankfully, but I am left with the stark realization that I haven’t even begun to morn his death.  I’m stuck in phase one of grief – shock & denial.  He was sick for a short time, and I am dazed and stunned at the fact that he’s gone.  He was just teaching our children how to give the car a tune-up under the hood a couple of months before.  He was wrestling, being silly, winning in chess, and enjoying Mexican food and hot sauce – his favorite.  Now there is a quietness that can’t be shaken.  His name is still on my emails and on my cell phone.  I can’t seem to bring myself to change them.

Eight short years.  My tears are not over the past and what was, they are over the future and what will never be in this lifetime.  Seeing that man, who could’ve been my dad’s twin, created a fault line in my heart that cannot be denied.  Yes, I will grieve.  It will take time.  A lot of time.  My family history is complicated, but God is the Master Healer and He can make sense of the things in this world that make no sense.  I may not ever understand it all, but that’s okay.  I find peace resting in God’s hands as my dad rejoices in His presence.

Scripture to ponder…

1 Corinthians 13:12, Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know in full, even as I am fully known. 

Revelation 7:17, For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

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