Walmart, Rod Stewart and Valentine’s Day

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

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Twenty-five years ago, God told my husband, Bruce, and me His vision for our marriage in the most unexpected, nearly unbelievable, way. To skip to the spoiler, His message was that our marriage is to be an extension of His open hand.

Huh? Not sure what that meant.

In the last two and a half decades, we both graduated from college, celebrated weddings, retirements, births & baby dedications, buried loved ones, moved, changed jobs, honored anniversaries, graduated our firstborn from high school and sent him off to college (with two more teens right behind him), endured surgeries and illness, learned a lot of lessons and made a million memories along the way.

We did not understand what God meant all those years ago about being an extension of His open hand as we just did our best at living life.

We were cruising along to the rhythm of the American dream of the house with a picket fence, kids running barefoot on the lawn with the family dog, and saving for retirement while planning the next annual vacation.

Then, five summers ago God rocked our world through several very significant moments placing us at life-changing crossroads.

He was totally setting us up for a one-way ticket from a life and future we worked hard for to a life He had planned for us since before the beginning of time.

Cut to the chase again, and we found ourselves on our first mission trip (and first trip out of the country sans the Bahamas for our honeymoon) with our 10, 12, and 14 year old children in tow.

Are you kidding me? Bring our children? This mama bear was hyper-vigilant, anxiety-ridden, and fear-filled about doing this at all, much less as a family, much less to Africa. I felt utterly unequipped to handle being a chaperon with school to the local museum (stressful!) to taking my kids so far out of our comfort zone I can’t even describe the angst that churned inside me. Our trip leader stills says that he really didn’t think I’d actually get on the plane.

But I did! We did! And, our family has never been the same.

God blew our hearts away with a bursting love for this world in a way we could never conceive. He took us to four more countries around the world over the past four summers on mission, and we have never been so in love with a world He so loves.

This love continues to multiple in our hearts every single day as we laugh with, cry over and pray for those from every walk of life around the world who we now consider family.

Fast forward to this past December 29th. Bruce went in for simple shoulder surgery, which proved to be anything but.

After a full tear was reattached and repaired, he had some serious, and extremely painful, recovery waiting for him.

Four months into recovery, after not having been able to return to work due to the pain, he was unexpectedly laid off. We felt like we were kicked when we were down.

However, God reminded us of a conversation Bruce and I had a year ago. Bruce said to me, “I’ll be honest. I’m never going to have the courage to leave this job. It’s too stable.” To which I replied, “Since we’re being candid, I’ll never have the courage to tell you to jump. It’s too stable of a job. The most stable company you’ve ever worked for.”

Bruce then said, “If God ever wants us to make a change, He’s going to have to take this job from me.”

So when he came to me on a regular ol’ Tuesday morning, after almost nine years with the company, and sat down at our son’s desk and looked at me, I should not have been surprised when he said, “Well, God took it.”

We both knew exactly what he meant.

Ever since then, Bruce has looked for work.

Nothing.

He told me in the beginning of his job search there is nothing for him in this city.

Then came an interest in him, but it involved relocating. I’ll save that story for a blog post, but here we are. No relocating. No more job prospects.

All the while, he was meeting weekly with a dear friend in albeit a different kind of work situation, the end result was the same – unemployed.

They began meeting as encouragement to each other over coffee.

Like a good pot of coffee, their hearts began to percolate an idea that brought both of their long-term visions into one plan.

NEED POINT, Inc. was born.

Nothing quite like this exists in America, much less the world. As God has brought people across their path over the past few months, something beautiful began to take shape. Something neither of them could have ever imagined.

NEED POINT combines our team’s passions for both global and local missions in new and innovative ways that meets individual needs on a community level.

NEED POINT is a non-profit that connects people in need with people in local churches and faith-based businesses to help meet their needs. From needing lawns mowed, to helping with medical bills, to befriending the lonely and beyond, NEED POINT is the liaison to match the person in need with someone who can help meet it.

The vision is to expand this blueprint to local communities all over the world!

Curious as to how this all works? CLICK HERE to visit the website.

This grassroots movement is swelling as folks get excited about how they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Our team is stoked about this opportunity and trusting God for every step of the way.

Between global missions and NEED POINT, Bruce and I are beginning to understand what God meant by our marriage being an extension of His open hand. We only wish I didn’t take twenty years to get there. But, better late than never, right?! 🙂

We would LOVE to have you join us in the journey. Check out NeedPoint.org and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/needpoint. Let’s get going!

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

 

Mourning Sickness

We took our firstborn to college yesterday. This is a first for our family, so we’re not sure what to expect, feel or think.

Leading up to taking him, I was busy helping tie up loose ends at home. He and I shopped for dorm items. My husband and I went over a myriad of business details relating to school and before we knew it, it was the night before he was supposed to leave.

That’s when it hit me–like a brick. Nausea overcame me.

No matter how many Tums I chewed, Prilosec pills I swallowed, or Saltine crackers I munched on, nothing worked.

After mindlessly chomping my way through an entire sleeve of crackers, I realized something…this felt familiar.

I had horrendous morning sickness when I was pregnant with our son. Just ask my husband.

It took literally hours for me to be able to get out of bed each day. He had to leave a cooler with orange juice and grapes by my side of the bed. It was all I could possibly tolerate in the beginning.

He could not use the oven or the microwave, and anything he ate had to be consumed outside. One whiff of any food and there I went running to the bathroom, again.

Brushing my teeth made me gag.

I laid in bed most of the first three months, getting up only to throw up or dry heave over the toilet.

At eight weeks, I caught a stomach bug on top of the morning sickness. Great.

This landed me in the hospital.

The upside? I got to see our boy way before I normally would have as they ordered a sonogram to make sure he was okay despite how sick I was.

Oh my goodness! What a treat! He was the cutest little human I’d ever laid my eyes on. Look at this lil’ pumpkin! Eight weeks!!

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After the hospital escapade, I was back to waffling between throwing up, eating nothing and craving McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwiches, Boston Market’s creamed spinach, Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms and cherry Now & Laters.

I joke that I can’t believe he wasn’t born with two heads with that meal line-up. :O

The gnawing nausea of morning sickness is like nothing else in the world. My grandmother used to say, “It’s a sick, sick.”

She was right.

With each doctor’s visit during those months, I only lost weight. I remember crying in the mirror, longing to have a baby bump.

But, I kept pushing through the tears and weakness, knowing it was all completely worth it because soon I was going to get to hold my little baby boy.

Two days ago, when the nausea began I realized that what I was feeling was so much like when I was pregnant. But this time, it was mourning sickness.

Even though I thought I had handled it pretty well up to this point, our bodies can’t lie. Stress, pain and grieving find their way out, no matter how hard our minds try to suppress the weight of reality.

When I was pregnant, and the first contractions came, I put on make up, double-checked my hospital bag and celebrated the impending excitement with my husband.

After 56 hours of grueling labor (28 hours when contractions were 5 minutes apart and 28 hours of them 2 minutes apart), my husband grabbed the hospital bag and ran every red light to get me there in time.

On the way I thought to myself, “It feels like we’re packing for a trip from which we’ll never return.”

I was right. Parenthood has a one-way ticket. Once a parent, always a parent, no matter our children’s ages or circumstance.

As we loaded up our van with our son’s college things, I recalled the same thought, “We’re packing again, but this time it is a return trip–without him.”

It’s not a forever goodbye, Lord willing, but goodbye to a season of parenting. He’s still our son, but no longer a child.

There is nothing that really prepares a parent for this experience. Whether it’s college, the military, a gap year or the workforce, change closes the chapter on all we new as normal.

I felt like I was going to throw up all the way to the school. However, once we arrived adrenaline coursed my veins and I was in full business mode.

Much like showtime for giving birth, a second wind rushes in and we moms do what we have to do to survive.

I am a relentless nester, so I was in the zone. I didn’t want to overstep my role and set up his room for him, but I wanted to help a guy who was a bit overwhelmed himself.

I parked myself at his closet in the corner and hung up all his clothes. That was a great place to settle. I wasn’t thinking for him or making dorm decisions for him, but I was indeed helping him – and that made me feel good and connected and productive.

His dad and he wrestled with all of the computer technical stuff, of which I was very fine to not get involved.

No matter how many times we thought through the packing list, cross-referencing the school’s list with stores’ lists, he was still short a few necessities so off we flew to the closest store. We were on a time schedule to get our daughter to work back home. Stressful!

I was not prepared for the hoards of people at this store! It made Black Friday look like a regular old Tuesday morning. Never have I seen a store so ransacked, nearly looted. There was not a pair of nail clippers to be found. Trust me–I looked.

And check out the checkout line–all for college shopping, judging by the cartloads. This is only a third of it!!

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Tick toc! Thank goodness our youngest stood in line while we flew through the store like we were on a game show racing the clock to find a number of disjointed items in the least amount of time.

Walking into the bright sunlight in the parking lot, the adrenaline that had peaked in me while in the store crashed in me like a sugar-buzzed child riding home from the circus.

The nausea returned in full force because I knew the next item on the to-do list was…to say goodbye.

We were in a hurry to get back home, but my heart so badly wanted to stay, just a little longer.

Anyone need to go to the bathroom? Thirsty? Hungry? All of the well-worn procrastinations of childhood were now full throttle in me.

Now that our son is an adult, I can say that he is one of my best friends. It was ripping my heart out to think of leaving him.

We unpacked the last of the bags and he walked me back to the van to give everyone one last hug.

Like being pregnant, we had planned and prepared his whole life for this moment. The moment when new plans and dreams and passions would give birth to a bright future full of adventure, hard work and great memories waiting to be made.

He couldn’t stay inside me forever, nor could the dreams he has be fulfilled if he stayed home.

I know this in my head, but tell that to my heart.

And then the day was done. He was unpacked. Our job was complete.

I pulled him close, like when he was born, and held him in my arms and whispered to him how much I love him.

I looked him in the eyes and told him how proud I am of him, all the while my gut is twisting inside me knowing I’ll have to face his empty bedroom and chair at the table.

The rest of us piled into the van, sans our oldest. He stood on the sidewalk, eyes filling with tears as he tried to manage a smile to make us feel better.

It just didn’t feel right. My whole motherhood I’ve always made sure our children were safe, knowing at all times where they were.

Now I’m just going to leave him on the sidewalk? It felt like I was committing treason against his heart.

It felt the same as the first day I dropped him off at preschool. He was crying for me while the teachers smiled and reassured me he’d be fine.

They told me that, for his good, I needed to just walk away, and that the longer I stood there the worse it would be for him.

I remembered those words as I fastened my seat belt, not wanting to leave, yet feeling I needed to go, for his sake.

I plastered on a wide smile, choking on the lump welling up in my throat. I could hardly breathe, but had to push through the tears and weakness of heart so I could let my baby boy go.

The smile stayed frozen on my face as we cheered for him out the windows, waving all the way down the street.

He stood in the middle of the street, watching us drive away until he could see us no more.

That plastered smile quickly faded when my husband immediately broke into an ugly cry. His tears were contagious, and as we drove onto the highway we just cried and cried.

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The hole in this cloud on the way home reminded me of the hole I feel in my heart.

When we went to the hospital all those years ago, it was my journey as a mother that was beginning. My bag was packed and I was ready for a one-way road into motherhood, just as my husband was for fatherhood.

Yesterday, it is our son’s journey that is beginning. His bags were packed and he is ready for his one-way ticket to the plans God has for him.

It was a silent ride home.

Today, I awoke praying for him. I spent two hours waking up and going back to sleep, each time praying for him with all of my heart. Praying that God would show Himself in a personal way to my boy who feels very alone among thousands of people.

We hardly ever miss church, but I couldn’t do it today. I couldn’t shower, get ready and absorb a sermon and talk to people. Today, I needed solitude. And that’s okay.

I ventured out to Target, again, and in doing so I accidentally left my returns at home, forgot the shopping list in the van, and left the store without the very thing I went to get – printed photos I spent hours compiling for our boy. And that’s okay.

Things are not normal today.

We are exhausted from all the activity and needed a day to rebound. And that’s okay.

I put on my walking clothes when I got up and still haven’t walked. I just don’t have it in me today. And that’s okay.

My husband has cried off and on throughout the day. Not me. My tears will come when the last of the adrenaline wears off and I’m setting a table for four beloveds instead of five; when my other two teens come home and tell me how their days were and he doesn’t come home; when I watch our dog wait for him by the back door.

For now, I’ve channeled the last bit of emotional energy left in me into beginning a care package for our boy. It’s one way I feel like I’m still involved in this new chapter of his life.

It seems like just yesterday we were buckling him into his infant car seat. However, yesterday we were strapping down all of his belongings to a trailer.

We were just breaking in a new crib, trying to figure out how it worked. We were trying to find wi-fi and ether net cables and shuttled routes.

I was hanging his matching Gymboree baby outfits in his baby wardrobe. I was hanging his adult medium, trendy button-downs and pants in a rented old closet with a lock.

We were finishing reading “What to expect when you’re expecting” and beginning to read, “What to expect the first year.” We were reading, “Welcome college parents” and “Navigating the first year of college.”

We were taking a ton of photographs of him sleeping and us holding him in his nursery. We were taking photographs of him setting up his stuff and with his new roommate in their dorm room.

We were calling family to tell them how he was settling in. I was texting family and friends telling them how he was settling in.

We had a baby monitor on the nightstand. We have our cell phones on our nightstand, just for him–just in case.

We were crying tears of joy that this little guy was ours to have and hold forever. We are crying tears of thankfulness for the last 19 years, knowing now he was never ours to keep, rather God has big plans for him and it’s time to share him with the world.

We were praying blessings over his baby days. We are praying blessings over all of his days to come.

He’ll be fine. Not sure about me for a while.

Morning sickness was hard, but I knew it was just for a season.

Mourning sickness is hard because I know this is the beginning of the rest of his life.

I am looking forward to all of the ways in which our family will grow through this change. But for today, no Saltines, Tums or Prilosec will help this mama’s heart. There is grieving to do. And that’s okay because I have the privilege of watching him become the man he was born to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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. ❤

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devotion published today!

Just wanted to post that a devotion of mine was published today. I began writing for these great folks years ago, but it’s been a while since I submitted anything so I was a bit nervous submitting a piece. It’s always a privilege to serve with them. To God be the glory!

Here is the devotion url – http://www.christiandevotions.us/viewblogentry/221

Sweet Dreams

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  1 John 3:16-18 NIV

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kconnors.)Our youngest son’s bunk beds are gone. His bedroom feels so different now. This was no ordinary event; this was God on a mission. I remember years ago when we assembled our son’s new beds. There was much excitement about moving into his big-boy bed. His bunk beds hosted sleepovers with family and friends for years. Now, the top bunk is rarely used and our youngest one isn’t so little. His teenage body outgrew his bed, but his heart had not—sentimental as he is.

It breaks my heart to think of children in our city sleeping on the floor every night. A year ago, I asked our son if he would consider donating his beds. He wasn’t ready. How does a mother take her son’s bed right out from under him? I let it go.

Recently, the same tug came back to my heart. With the top bunk unused, and our son’s body still growing, God made it clear that giving them away was His plan. We read today’s verse in 1 John and I explained to him that, as believers, we have a responsibility to help others—even when it costs us personally. I asked our son to pray about it and wait for God’s reply. The next morning, smiling, he said God gave him a peace about giving them away. I immediately called for a pickup from a local ministry which specializes in beds for children.

That same day, our van broke down. The repair came with a hefty bill. Reluctantly, I postponed the donation because we couldn’t afford to replace the bed and fix our van. Days later, we made a family decision not to replace his bed. Instead, we bought a simple frame for his mattress so both the donation and van repair could continue. I asked our son to give up his bed, not old clothes or discarded toys. I wrestled with my heart over this as his mom, but God’s patient persistence gave us peace and joy that He has a plan for those beds.

We should share what we can live without, but we should keep our hearts open and look for ways to freely give—even when it hurts. This is the generosity Jesus gave us through His sacrifice on the cross. When we give out of excess, that’s great. But when we give out of sacrifice, we become God’s heartbeat for the world.

Don’t hesitate. Give.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kconnors.)

(For more devotions, visit us at http://www.christiandevotions.us.)


Kristi Buttles

Kristi Buttles has been married for twenty-five years to her best friend and is the mother ot three amazing teenagers. She writes devotions for http://www.christiandevotions.us and is a contributor to the book Faith & Finances: In God We Trust. Her blog, http://www.RealDeepStuff.com walks the journey of a woman saved by grace and captivated by God’s mercy and hu

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