Sunday, March 6, 2016

Things I Love...

Home-made bread, fresh from the oven, with a thick layer of good butter.

New buds peeking through rich, dark soil.

Dancing in the kitchen with my sons.

The delicate beauty and precious promise wrapped up in the gift of a baby.

Late-night heart-to-hearts with my amazing kids, when they let me have a glimpse into their souls.

Knowing that my heart is completely safe in my husband’s arms.

A tattered, well-marked, well-loved Bible.

A good novel that leaves its mark upon my heart forever.

Seeing a look of happiness on someone’s face when they truly enjoy a meal I made them.

Hearing my husband pray from the depth of his heart.

Laughter and tears with a dear friend.

The legacy of a loving family.

A well-seasoned, cast iron skillet.

A good summer thunderstorm.

The majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

A long, peaceful trip in my kayak.

A gentle breeze blowing through the open windows of my house.

A good road-trip.

A perfectly timed song that hits its mark deep in my heart.

Encouraging and strengthening other women in their roles as wives and mothers.

Getting a window seat on the plane.

Having my teenager confide in me.

My husband’s arms wrapped securely around me. 

Hearing a good belly-laugh bubble up from deep inside one of my kids.

My middle-man’s shockingly-good British accent.

Planting seeds, knowing with absolute certainty that God will bring about a harvest in due time.

A front-porch swing on a little yellow house.

The pure joy that exudes from my baby (AKA “My Sunshine”) in the form of perpetual dancing and whistling.
A good game of cards filled with laughter and tears, and just a little smack-talk.

Freshly laundered sheets.

Family heirlooms.

The sound of my husband walking through the front door.

The unique us-ness of my family.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

There but for the grace of God, go I

My heart is breaking.  There seems to be wave upon wave of emotion crashing over me, weighing me down.

Even though it causes me anger and frustration, I cannot seem to stop watching the news.  I’m not sure what I am looking for.  It’s not like I am going to stumble across breaking news that humanity has suddenly turned a corner for the good.

I am only going to find more heartbreaking stories.

More stories of hatred and violence.

More stories of lives shattered.

More stories of husbands that will never come home.

And now there are reports of celebrations.  Two NYPD officers were sitting in their patrol car when they were gunned down execution style.  And there are people celebrating!

I watch the news and I am angry.  I see the media scrambling to place blame.  I see the story turning into a political grudge-match.  I see thousands of horrendous comments on social media praising the gunman’s actions.  It makes me sick with anger.

But more than that, I am filled with a soul-jarring sorrow.   

Because the part of the story that reaches down into the depths of my being is the part that cannot be found on the news.  It is the story of the families.  Those wives and children and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and all the others who love those men for who they were.  The tragic story may be in the headlines for now, but the families are the ones who have to live the rest of their lives with the empty space no one else can ever fill.  

Tonight, a wife will go to bed and hug the pillow next to her that still smells like her husband.  

Tonight, a son will cry himself to sleep as he tries to comprehend that his dad will never be around to teach him how to become a man.

Tonight--the first of many such nights--the families will weep and scream until there are no more tears and their voices are hoarse, then they will weep some more.

Most people who watched the news today will go back to their normal lives tomorrow.  Within a month, many will have forgotten.  Even if this event adds more fuel to the already blazing tensions in this country, this day merely signifies another event, another story for most.  But for those families, this day will forever be that tragic, defining moment of their lives.  Everything in their lives from now on will fall into one of two categories:  before 12-20-14, or after.

Tonight, I am asking that you remember these families not just tonight, but tomorrow night and the next and the next.  I am asking that you lift them up to our Father in Heaven who sees all and who comforts us in all our troubles.  I am asking that you pray for God’s transcending peace to fill them in the many difficult days to come.

And I have one more thing to ask of you.  

I know you have heard it before, but I cannot emphasize it enough:  please go out of your way to thank a police officer, to encourage them and their families.  With all the hatred and anger and violence directed towards the police right now, a word of thanks and encouragement goes a long way.

For all of us along the thin blue line know that tomorrow the news story could be about us.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On my heart...

I have been struggling lately.

Struggling with my anger and hurt and sorrow.
Struggling with the realities of life on this planet.


Sometimes, the ache in my heart is just too heavy.  Knowing that humanity is not likely to change any time soon is overwhelming.

Innocent people will be attacked.

Innocent people will be accused.

People will judge others based on their actions, while they judge themselves based on their intentions.

Many will choose darkness over light.

People will turn to other people for answers and advice, when all they are truly seeking is validation of their own opinions and choices.

Entire groups will be judged based on the actions of a few. 

People will react out of ignorance rather than knowledge.

It infuriates me to hear others speak so harshly about people or beliefs that are dear to me, that are a part of me.  I take it as a personal attack.  I fluctuate between anger and sorrow, knowing there is nothing I can say or do to change anyone's mind.

And so, I pray.

"Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."   ~ Philippians 4:5-7

I pray for those who are blindly raging against a system they don't fully understand or appreciate.
I pray for those who are clinging to their anger and rage.
I pray for those who are lost in their own choices.
I pray for those who are desperate for light, yet refuse to let go of the darkness in which they find comfort.
I pray for those whose lives are controlled by hate.
I pray for those who do not know true Love.
I pray for those who have placed their hope in deception rather than Truth.
I pray for those who are trying desperately to fill the emptiness inside them.
I pray for those who are hurting others because they have been hurt.

And I pray for their victims.

I pray for us all, knowing that we will all find ourselves at different points of this spectrum at various times in our lives. 

I pray for Love and Truth to fill the hearts of each and every person.

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves....
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."   ~ Romans 12:9-21

I pray for Peace.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To Fear, or Not to Fear...

A few nights ago, I was awakened by my youngest son.  He had had a bad dream and was too scared to go back to sleep.  So he crawled into bed with me and snuggled up close.  Within minutes, he was sound asleep…

Every Friday night in our house is Family Movie Night.  With a house full of boys, more often than not, we choose an adventure movie.  When the action gets intense, my younger ones will jump up and run to my husband and me, curl up under our arms, hide their faces and peak out through their fingers.  Only then do they feel safe enough to watch and see what happens next…

I have always been terrified of heights.  As a child I could not go up stairs or cross wooden bridges that had gaps in them.  Even if the gaps were clearly too small for me to slip through (some were only an inch wide), fear would paralyze me.  I would cry out for my mother to pick me up and carry me across the fearsome obstacle.  As long as she had her arms around me, I felt safe…

As a small child, your fears feel so big…but the trust you have in your parents’ presence and protection is so much bigger.  More often than not, just being in their arms eases your anxieties.

Then you grow up.   

Gradually you become aware of more frightening things than bad dreams and “scary” movies.  The realities of life in this fallen world come crashing in.  When you are awakened to the fact that bad things happen to good people, it can become very difficult to keep your fears in check.

My first recollection of deep, crippling fear was in January of my senior year in high school.  I was 17.  I came home from a friend’s house to find my mom sitting in my room.  She proceeded to tell me that one of my close friends had died suddenly.  He was sick with cold symptoms one week and dead the next.  I was overwhelmed with emotions.  Denial.  Sorrow.  Anger.  The pain I felt from my loss paled in comparison to the pain I felt for his family.  They were like family to me and the thought of what they were going through pierced me to the core. The pain was so intense, my heart physically hurt.  And to top it all off, a nagging sense of fear began to pour over me.  All I could think about was calling my brother, hearing his voice, making sure he was ok.  I must have called his number at college fifty times trying to get through, trying desperately to find him.  I was so scared that something might have happened to him as well.  It was an irrational fear, but no less real to me at the time.

Years later, something did happen to my brother.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I can’t really explain what it is like to get news like that.  Unfortunately, many of you know what I am talking about.  The unwanted diagnosis.  The unknown future.  The grim possibilities.  How quickly life can change.  After surgery, chemo and radiation, he was declared tumor-free.  Less than a year later, another one appeared.  More chemo.  More radiation.  This time, he was living with me and I was his care-giver.  I learned nursing skills I never wanted to learn.  One corner of my apartment was converted into our medical supply area.  Despite all I did to try to keep him strong and help him fight, he had complications and had to be rushed to the hospital.  I cried and begged God to heal him and bring him home to us.  For days I was useless.  Fear of losing him overwhelmed me.  This time, my fear was rational.  We could have lost him.  Thankfully, my fear was not realized.

Fast forward a few years.  My boys and I were on our yearly summer visit to Texas, lounging by the pool, swimming with a friend and her girls, when she got the phone call no one ever wants to get.  Her husband, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty.  Her greatest fear was realized.  I was by her side 24/7 for the next week and a half.  I watched her go through every emotion imaginable.  I watched her as she tried to wrap her mind around this new, unwanted life as a widowed mother of two.  

When we got back home from our trip, a subtle undertone of fear began to invade my life.  Each day that my husband put on his uniform and walked out our front door, my fear grew.  I had always known the risks he faced each day, but it hadn’t been real to me before then.  It all came to a head one year later, when a major political event came to town.  The city was expecting massive protests.  Groups were threatening extreme violence against the police.  All officers were told to anticipate working long hours in riot gear for days on end.   

That was one of the longest weeks of my life.  I sat on my couch all day, every day, flipping from one news channel to the next, desperately trying to find news coverage of the event.  I only stepped away from the television long enough to see if the internet had any new information or pictures of the thousands of angry protestors.  I had no way to contact him.  I never knew what time he would be home.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t function.  I was paralyzed with fear…fear that I knew could so easily become a reality.  How incredibly grateful I was when that week came to an end!

Over the course of my adult life, especially since marrying a cop, I have thought a lot about fear.  I have spent hours pondering the “what if’s” of life.  What if my husband dies?  What if something happens to one of my children?  What if my health rapidly declines?  What if I lose someone I love dearly?  What if tragedy strikes?  We all like to live in our happy world of “that will never happen to me,” but the reality is it will at some point.  We are not promised an easy life.  Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

At first, in the face of seemingly insurmountable fears, this verse didn’t have a comforting effect on me.  I knew that Jesus had overcome the world.  I knew that my Father loved me more than I could fathom.  I knew that the Creator of the universe knew my future.  What scared me was the possibility that my future might not be the one I wanted.  My fears have always seemed to be centered on the fact that there are things in my future that will be heart-breaking.  There will be unbearably difficult times.  There will be sorrow and pain.  There will be unspeakable losses.  I know this because I have lived long enough to experience such things and see many others do so as well.  Bad things happen to good people.   That is a fact of life on this earth.

So how do we keep the fear from consuming us?  I found the answer in God’s truth.

The phrases “do not fear” and “fear not” are found frequently in the Bible.  But try as we might, we simply cannot will ourselves to not be afraid.  Trust me, I’ve tried.   As I studied the various verses trying to figure out how to rid my life of fear, I noticed something significant.  It is not just that He knows what the future holds.  It is not just that God can and has conquered evil, although that plays a very important part.  It is that He is here with us.  Time and again God tells us this.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  ~Isaiah 43:5

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  ~Deuteronomy 31:6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  ~ Isaiah 41:10

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”   ~ Isaiah 41:13

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”   ~ Psalm 23:4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you,
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   ~Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my personal favorites.  It doesn’t gloss over the difficulties we will face.  But it does give us the reason for hope: God will be with us.  

The fact is that we will have to face many heart-wrenching things in this life.  The TRUTH is that God will be with us every step of the way. 

Just like a child runs to his mother’s arms for safety and comfort, just as baby birds will seek shelter under their mother’s wing, so we should rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  ~1 Peter 5:7

Whatever it is that you are facing, He is with you.  He loves you and promises to never leave you.  I witnessed this firsthand when my friend was forced to live out her worst fear.  Looking back on those two weeks that summer, I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere…from the fact that I was with her when she found out, to the overwhelming generosity of hundreds of people, many of whom were strangers.  I got to see God’s Provision for her and her girls.  I got to see His love displayed through so many people.  Yes, it was a horrible tragedy for her family.  But in the midst of her darkest days, God was there. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 4:6-7
One year ago tonight I was trying desperately to get all my boys in bed.  During the "just one more drink of water" and the "I have a question" routines, my phone began ringing.  There was no hurrying the boys along, so I let the call go to voicemail.  Immediately, it began ringing again.  I figured it was my husband, as he usually called me on his way home from work.  When I finally got the kids settled, I went to answer the phone that was still ringing non-stop.  Indeed, it was my husband’s number on the caller id.  When I answered it, however, it was not my husband on the other end.  It was another police officer telling me that my husband had been badly injured at work and was in the ER.  What I had feared had come true.  They sent a car for me and I spent the night sitting next to my bruised and swollen husband in the ER, praying that he would be ok.  But despite all the time I had spent worrying about this day, I felt an overwhelming calm.  I could feel God there in that room with me.  I knew that no matter what the future held, God would not leave my side.  I knew in the depths of my soul that I would be ok.  I have never felt so peaceful in my life.  Peace that passes all understanding, indeed.

So when you find yourself overcome with fear and focusing on the “what ifs” of life, my advice to you is to sit in His presence. 

Snuggle up to your Father.   

Then you will have the strength--and peace--to face whatever may come your way.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Thanks Giving

November is upon us.  We are less than two weeks away from the day we have set aside as a time to give thanks.  Rather than posting one item a day that I am thankful for, as many are doing, I decided to take a day and really ponder the think back on all that has transpired over the past year or so and let it really seep in.  So, for anyone who may be interested, here is my list.

I am thankful for:

1. the abundant blessings God has poured out in my life... 
There are too many to list them all, so I will just try to elaborate on a few below.

2. the difficult trials God has graciously brought me through...not just this year, but all my life.  The mountain-tops of life have been great, but it is the valleys that have truly shaped me and refined me.  For that, I am truly grateful.

3. 35 years with a loving, gentle father who lived out his faith daily...who fully embraced the role of a servant-leader...who loved me no matter what, even when I was living a life of self-destruction...who was a quiet man that had the best laugh when you really got him going...who never seemed to understand why I always have a pile of dirty dishes in my sink...who debated me and frustrated me on a regular basis...who would do anything for those he loved...who could be a very difficult man...who I miss terribly.

4. my mother, who not only has been a great mom, but also a dear friend...who has listened to my drama patiently throughout the years and shared wisdom with me...who taught me how to crochet, how to play Liverpool Rummy (I swear she makes up the rules as she goes!), and how to be a mom...who has been such a support to me in the difficult times and a companion in the good times...whose strength over the past year and a half has astounded me...who is so much a part of who I am that I could never properly express to her how much she means to me.

5. growing up with a large, close family.  The older I get and the more people's stories I hear, the more I realize how rare it is to have grown up with so many aunts and uncles and cousins close-by.  We spent weekends together, took vacations together...we were involved in one another's lives.  We were raised with the idea that family takes care of family, that you show up when it counts.  This legacy lives on with my siblings and I, as was evidenced last year in the weeks leading up to my father's death...what a sacred time that was...  I pray that we can instill these same values in our children.

6. an amazing husband, who has loved and put up with me for over a decade...who is a phenomenal father...who sees me at my worst and still thinks I'm sexy...who works long hours at a difficult job six days a week to provide above and beyond what we need...who makes me laugh daily...who loves to serve in creative and unconventional ways...who supports me and my aspirations...who is all I ever dreamed of and more than I could have ever imagined!

7. three unique, smart, funny, noisy, awesome hooligans who call me mommy...who daily make my head nearly explode with frustration...who often make my heart physically ache with the overflowing of love...who are growing into incredible young men right before my eyes.

8. my friends! Friends that are more like family to me...friends that get me...friends that see the ugly and love me anyway...friends that challenge me...friends that take care of me...friends that make me a better person...friends that have changed my life.  Man, I have some amazing friends!

9. seasons.  Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall.  The beauty that each season brings.  The newness.  The crisp air.  The bright, shimmering white of winter.  The hundreds of bold colors of spring.  The warm greens of summer.  The rich, golden hues of fall.  The activities and traditions of each.  The familiar rhythm of life on earth.

10. seasons in my life.  Each season of my life has brought its own mix of joys and sorrows, blessings and trials.  Even the most difficult seasons I can look back upon with gratitude.  Sometimes it is gratitude for the lessons learned, sometimes it is gratitude that I survived it, but usually it is a balance of both.  Last year was a particularly difficult season.  But even in the midst of all that was happening, I knew it was merely a season.  I knew that even though it was cold and gray out, spring WAS coming!  The beautiful, complex, familiar rhythm of life on earth.

11. the peace that comes from saying no.  I spent a few years saying yes to everything.  Yes, I will do that for you.  Yes, I can work there.  Yes, I can join that group.  Yes, I can watch your kids.  Yes, I can. Yes. Yes. Yes... But, I learned that I am not that good.  I cannot do 100 things well.  I cannot do 50 things well.  In fact, when I try, I end up unable to do anything at all.  I learned, albeit a difficult and exhausting lesson, that I MUST say no to many good things.  I have found a comfortable balance for my family and I.  That balance shifts constantly.  But I have learned that for the sake of my family and my sanity, I can only do so much.  Being able to say no to some things allows me to say yes to some other things and brings so much peace to our home.

12. the opportunities in front of me...The opportunity to serve.  The opportunity to make a difference.  The opportunity to love on others.  The opportunity to show my children how to serve and practically love others.

13. the ability to homeschool.  I am so grateful that I get to do this, that I get to teach my children and guide my children...that I get to have some awesome real-life conversations with my kids during our day...that I get to challenge them daily...that they are challenging me daily...that homeschooling is the sandpaper that is smoothing out my rough edges.  This is a crazy, wild, exciting, challenging, wonderful ride that I wouldn't trade for the world.

14. memory foam mattress toppers.  It's like sleeping on a cloud!

15. my kitchen and all its gadgets that allow me to cook.  I love cooking and baking.  I love it.  Few things are better than a delicious, homemade dessert...or warm loaf of fresh-ground wheat bread...or a pot roast with veggies that have been slow-roasting all day long...or a spicy, cheesy chicken enchilada casserole...or stuffed poblano peppers...or a big pot of steaming-hot chili...or some good ol' fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and fried okra...or biscuits and gravy...or some flavorful red beans and rice...or huge pan of paella... Just to name a few.    

16.  the healing properties of food.  I am grateful that God has provided us with so many different fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices...that he has filled those foods with the nutrients our bodies need to not only sustain life, but to heal our sicknesses.

17.  my garden.  My beautiful garden.  My wonderful husband spent days, weeks even, building me the most wonderful garden.  Throughout this past year, it has served as my therapy.  Digging in the rich soil.  Planting tiny seeds.  Watering and nurturing them daily.  Watching those seeds sprout into a beautiful variety of plants...plants that nourish us.  I don't know that words can possibly do justice to the beauty of that process.  So many lessons and analogies.  So many gentle whispers from the Creator.  I LOVE my garden.

18.  Colorado.  I spent every spare moment of the first year I lived here gazing at the gorgeous mountains.  I'm surprised I didn't crash every day on my way to work!  I am still in awe of their majestic beauty.  Since then, I have fallen in love with all of this state.  I love the weather.  I love the outdoor lifestyle, no matter the season.  I love the character of the state.  I love the Colorado style.  I feel so at home, like I was always meant to be I have always been here.  I grew up in Texas.  But I AM a Coloradan!  I am so very grateful that the rollercoaster of life led me here.

19.  scars.  An odd thing to be grateful for, I know.  But I am grateful for all the scars I have, because each one represents a wound that has been healed.  Some wounds in life are deeper than others.  But I know from experience that God WILL bring healing.
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~Ps 147:3

20.  getting older.  Apparently, not many people agree with me on this one.  Aging is seen as a horrible disease in our culture.  Whether it is the 20-30 somethings that refuse to behave like adults or the mid-lifers that fight back with surgery and botox, it seems that no one wants to face the most basic fact about life:  You are growing older from the moment of conception till the moment of death.  It is what it is.  I choose to embrace it, rather than fight it.  With age comes wisdom and peace, comfort with your scars and with who you are, and an appreciation of life.  Those all sound like great things to me!  (You might want to check back in 10 years...hopefully, I will still say the same thing!)

21.  modern medicine.  With the physical issues my family and I have had over the past year or so, I am incredibly grateful that there are medicines that can help.  I am grateful for medicines that have cured and rid our society of diseases.  I am grateful for medicines that allow babies to live and adults to thrive.  

22.  "alternative" medicine.  I am oh-so grateful for what most consider "alternative" medicine, but I prefer to call "traditional" medicine...the healing qualities of herbs and water and massage and physical therapy and exercise...the methods of healing used from the beginning of time.  

23.   doctors.  I am grateful for doctors who treat you like a person, not a number...doctors who listen to your concerns, not just look at your chart...doctors who truly care about you and want to help you... I have been blessed with some spectacular doctors, and I am grateful.  

24.  good samaritans.  I am grateful for those who go out of their way or out of their comfort-zone to help someone in need.  When you are on the receiving end of the good-deed, it warms your heart.  (The giving end is even better, though!)

25.  the fact that my husband is alive.  I know that may seem like a very odd statement.  But you have no idea how grateful I am.  My husband is a police officer.  Every day that he comes home is a good day.  And I am not just saying that.  I was with a friend when she was told her husband would never come home.  I have been to numerous funerals of husbands that will never come home.  In January of this year, my husband came very close to never coming home.  Week after week of his recovery, as I watched him sleeping I cried and prayed, "Thank you, LORD, for bringing him home to me."  Every night now, almost a year later, I still pray that prayer.

26.  the many freedoms in this country that most people do not have.   We are blessed to live in a place where we can worship as we choose, where we can speak out for or against anything, where we can raise our children by our values...and so can everyone else.  It is a complex freedom that could be lost at any moment.  We need to not only appreciate it, but fiercely protect it as well.

27.   music.  I love music.  Good, bouncy bluegrass that makes you dance a jig... Soft, gentle piano music to soothe your nerves... Soulful, mournful words that pierce your heart... Bold praise songs to boost your spirit... So many options.  So much medicine to a weary soul.

28.  quiet time.  Now that my kids are a bit older, I get to have this much more often.  And boy, do I appreciate it!  Time to sit and think.  Time to read a book.  Time to study.  Time to listen to some good music.  Time to just rest and rejuvenate.

29.  the Bible.  The older I get, the more I appreciate and realize my deep need for God's Word.  I am weak.  Left to my own devices, I will watch tv all day long.  I will snap at my kids and be rude to my husband.  I am not a "saint".  But I know that the more time I spend with God in His Word, the less I am those things.  I am grateful for the refining powers of His Word and His Spirit.  I am grateful for the Truth that is not always comfortable.  I am grateful for the Bible that is full of stories of broken people whom God loves and uses.  I am grateful that those words of love and comfort and hope are readily available to me.  I am grateful that I have free access to numerous translations of the Bible...that I can carry it always with me and read it any time, any where.  

30.  grace.  "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him.'"  Lamentations 3:22-24

I am grateful.

"It is not the happy people who are thankful.  
It is the thankful people who are happy." 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Such a time as this

The beginning of the end came a month ago.

That's when my father began to rapidly fade from this life. We had pursued every treatment option from radiation and chemo to dietary changes and supplements to drugs still in the trial phases; no stone was left unturned.

After four years, we finally had to face the fact that the time had come for him to leave this life.

Our hearts began to break.

For the next few weeks, friends and family came to visit, to pay their respects and say goodbye. Stories of good times were swapped with dear friends; childhood memories shared between siblings.

 With each story shared, the crack in our hearts grew bigger.

We watched as each morning brought with it a drastic change in his abilities and comfort. We found ourselves getting an education we never wanted in hospice care and nursing. Large hospital equipment filled the home. Meds lined the countertop and filled the fridge. Papers stacked everywhere: spreadsheets to keep track of medicines, lists of doctors' contact info.

We adjusted to the steady hum and click of the oxygen machine.  Days quickly became an endless job of figuring out how to keep him the most comfortable. He spent less time in the living room recliner each day and more time in bed.  Our time was spent doling out meds, peeking in on him regularly, and trying to keep our hands busy and minds distracted.

Each day brought a new development and more heartache.

Our strong, healthy patriarch was now a frail shell struggling just to breathe.  Each night we went to bed knowing we may wake up to find him gone.  Day after day, we sat watching his chest rise and fall, filled with an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

That last week of his life was very difficult for us all.  But at the same time, it was a tremendous blessing.  The time we spent together, my mom and sisters and brother and I, was irreplacable.  I can't remember a time when all of us were together as we were then: talking, sharing, supporting one another, just walking through it together as a family.  Each of us has our own struggles in life right now, but that week we were together for the mere sake of being together, being a family, loving one another, and honoring our father and all he has meant to us.

There are so many moments that I will forever treasure:

~Seeing my 8 year old son handle that week with so much maturity and grace, as he insisted on staying there with me.

~Watching him hold his grandpa's hand and tell him that he loves him.

~Hearing my husband tearfully thank my father for all he was and all he gave to his family.

~My mom, sisters, brother and I all kneeling around my dad's bed in prayer.

~As soon as we said "Amen," my dad speaking up and praying for each of us.

~The time we spent as a family reminiscing as we thumbed through boxes of old pictures.

The outpouring of love and support from friends and family was overwhelming:

~My mom's sister coming from Texas, taking time away from her family and job to just be there with us.

~A dear friend of mine packing up her three kids and driving all the way from Georgia to stay at my house and take care of my kids so that I could be free to stay at my parents' house that week.

~My circle of friends here in town joining together with her to help care for my kids and house.

~All the delicious meals that were lovingly made and brought to us so that we didn't have to use what little brain-power we had trying to figure out what to fix for dinner.

~All the calls and visits from loved ones near and far.

So many blessings to treasure...

It helps to remember those, as I try to process through the difficult memories as well:

~Seeing each new piece of medical equipment and each new, stronger medication, knowing that each one led us one step closer to the end.

~Watching my father drift in and out of consciousness and delirium.

~The sound of him gasping for air and moaning with each breath.

~The speed with which he seemed to deteriorate, even as each day passed agonizingly slowly.

~The contradiction of praying for his suffering to end soon while wishing we had more time with him.

~The permeating feeling of being stuck in limbo, unable to begin the mourning process, unable to move on, unable to do anything but wait for the inevitable.

And then, the inevitable came.  Sunday evening around 6 o'clock, my mom went in to check on him before we sat down for dinner.

He was gone.

Calls were made.  Tears were shed, tears of utter sorrow for us, tears of relief for him.  We watched as the hospice nurse went through her routine of verification and paperwork.  We watched as the morticians wheeled his body out to their van.  We stood on the front porch, holding each other up as they drove away, feeling the reality of the fact that he would never be coming home again.  We went inside and sat in silence.  The moment we all had been anticipating for what seemed like forever had finally come, and it was surreal.

Our hearts were broken.

Then, in the midst of the shock we all felt, my amazingly strong mother gathered us into a circle, and with hands joined, she prayed and thanked our Heavenly Father.  In the midst of exhaustion and sorrow and the myriad of other emotions we all felt, she wanted the first step we took to be one of gratitude to God.

After a long restless night, what had been life in slow-motion quickly became days filled with appointments and arrangements and people and plans.

God provided us with a beautiful day that Wednesday to say goodbye and lay our father to rest.

As we look back on those days and weeks, words cannot do justice to the gratitude and love we feel for all of our friends and family who helped us through them.  We will never be able to repay you all for your gifts of kindness and love.  Many of you said you wish you could have done more.  I want you to know that what you did was such an incredible blessing to matter how little or insignificant you felt it was.  Each phone call, each meal, each card, each prayer, each visit, each card game and coloring page, each moment you spent caring for us in every small way meant the world to us.

So now we embark on the journey of walking through our grief and discovering our new normal, of processing all we experienced and readjusting to life without our father and husband.  We said goodbye to his body two weeks ago...each in our own way.
"Dear Grandpa, We're so happy that all of your pain is gone. But the sad part about it is that we will miss you for our life.
By: Christian Parks"

And we continue to say goodbye to his presence each day.  Each time we are in a situation where he would have been, each time we are faced with the emptiness of something he would have said or done, we must say goodbye again.

It is going to be a long road.

But we have the strength of Jesus to get us through.

And we have each other, the family God gave us for such a time as this.

We love you, Dad.

You will always be a part of us.

Till we see you again...