Sunday, October 23, 2016

The One in Which a Hurting Mama Tries to Help a Hurting Son

I wanted to get out of bed today. I did. It had been my plan all along. But when the time came, I couldn't lift my head. It was too heavy. Thoughts, maybe, or just the anchor of sorrow. Sometimes that happens... everything will be lovely... and then everything stops for no reason. An anchor dropping, the boat trying to continue just gives up.

Tomorrow will be hard. I planned on that. It will be the 4th year of Avery's death. I took the day off of work. It's hard to sit there and pretend to be normal when you're not. It's hard to commiserate with someone bemoaning the fact they can't remodel their guest house when your thoughts focus on an appropriate headstone. (I just can't seem to let go of her wooden cross. I think after her graduating year. The other moms will be shopping for dorm room decor and I'll pick out a rock with her name etched in it.)

Anyway, I planned for tomorrow to be utterly difficult so today threw me for a loop.

It started last night, really.

Matt had left to watch horror movies with his buddies. I tucked Brody into bed then made myself comfortable on the couch to watch another documentary, a lovely gardenia candle burning and a prayer shawl given to me after Avery passed away on my lap. Thirty minutes into the documentary, Brody stumbles into the room with a look on his face I can't decipher. Earlier in the day he had complained that his stomach hurt, and his tooth. I thought maybe he had gotten ill.

He threw his long lanky body into me, arms trying to get tight around me, and just started sobbing.

"Buddy! Buddy, hey! Hey, what's wrong? Talk to me?"

Tears streamed down his cheeks in spite of the fact his eyes were squeezed shut. He was trying everything in his power to stop them from forming. His shoulders started shaking. There was nothing to do except hold him until he could speak.

"I just want a brother or a sister! I don't know why God gave me a sister and then made it so I can't ever see her."

I am tired.

My soul exhausted.

I do not have the answers for this child.

I do not have the healing balm for his broken heart.

And that breaks mine even more.

He cried and I listened. He spoke and I held his hands. He looked up at me and I placed my hand on his cheek and told him the truth: I wish I knew why it was this way, too. And then we prayed.

We thanked God for the new brother or sister God would bring into Brody's life and we asked for patience while we waited and we prayed for acceptance for what that new brother or sister would look like. Maybe it would be a baby that would be placed in our arms tomorrow - a friend of a friend who knows of someone's neighbor's niece - but maybe it would look much different. A new friend met on the playground in 4th grade that would do life like a brother. Maybe it would be college, we said, or as a grown up dad himself, when he would meet the person who would feel like they were meant to do life together. Please, Lord, we pleaded, help us see joy and feel happiness while we wait, no matter how long it takes. 

And that seemed to help. So we both took deep breaths and decided maybe it was a special night, what with daddy being gone, that we could cuddle up in the big bed and watch a movie together!

That seemed like a lovely idea.

I watched his little boy body with the life-tired eyes scroll through Netflix movies and settle on The Little Prince.

Friends, as a warning, that is such a hard, hard movie for children who know what death tastes like. Who knows the depth of hurt death causes.

The movie was paused and more tears fell and I tried to comfort him but I thought what do I know of comfort? I am so lost myself?

And then his questions came: how did you know Avery died? Where was I? Did you tell me Avery died? Did I cry? Did you cry?

It soon dawned on me.... he was three when Avery died. He spent weeks asking when she was going to come home from gymnastics. He couldn't grasp the concept of death... he couldn't feel the weight of what that meant because he was too young. But he would grow older. Understand things. Understand how life is meant to be and how cruelly it can turn out for some.

He was grieving hard... just like I was four years ago.

It was my time then. It was his time now.

I spent a long time holding him. It was as if he had just been told for the first time that his sister had died.

Eventually, the movie started to play again and we made it through to the end.

"Mom," he asked quietly. "Can we just forget about earlier in the movie? It turned out good in the end. It's still a good movie even though it's really sad in the middle." 

"Yeah," I answered. "We can do that. That's kind of how life is, you know. There are parts in the middle that might really make us sad, but it always ends up turning out good."

"Hey!" I sat up, remembering. "I have that book downstairs!"

We ran through the house and down the stairs straight to the never ending titles. "Look for a skinny book!" I told him. "It'll be blue, right?" he asked.

Book after book we went through and I had just about gotten to the point where I was seriously considering how to save this moment when we found it! The Little Prince.

And next to it was another book - one about dragons, actually, but it had both Jadrian and Avery's name written in their childish script on the inside cover. "Mom? Can I have this one? Just for me? And do you think I could have a pen and write my name next to my sisters?"

Absolutely, buddy. You can have the world if I can get it for you.

We climbed the stairs which felt like mountains. My legs heavy, my soul parched.

It is so hard to do this sometimes; be the Mama to the child in heaven while also being the Mama to child who is living.

We crawled into bed together, this lanky 1st grader and his Mama who aged overnight and never was able to get back to where she once was, turning through the pages of a book that reminded him of loved ones dying.

"Mom?" he whispered. "Can we do a celebration for Avery on the day she died? I want to give her flowers and a scarf."

“What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 
'is that somewhere it hides a well...” 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I meant to get out of bed this morning. I had every intention. But I couldn't. My head was so heavy. I don't know if I'm answering the hard questions correctly. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing.

Matt believes that one ought to simply focus on the positive and stop dwelling on the negative. If something causes you pain or discomfort, simply avoid it.

But tomorrow, after school, right or wrong, I'll pick Brody up and we'll buy flowers and a scarf for his sister and we'll have a celebration.

Because maybe the positive is a brother being able to at least leave a gift for his sister at her grave... and maybe the negative is pretending there is no reason to hurt.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Taking Out the Rocks

When I was young, I remember hearing about this guy who lived every day of his life with a small pebble purposely put in his shoe. I remember thinking that was a pretty idiotic thing to do because everyone else on the planet who ended up with a pebble in their shoe stopped and took it out. No one I knew would want to walk around with a rock pressing uncomfortably into the bottom of their foot with each step. At least, not intentionally.

But this guy went on to say it was to remind him about how Jesus died for our sins. He didn't want to forget the pain and suffering that Jesus went through to forgive him for his sins; the anguish that was leveraged for eternal salvation. The least he could do was be mildly uncomfortable. As if taking on pain could somehow make the pain Jesus endured dying slowly on a cross make sense.

I understood why this guy wanted to remember such a tragic event, but why remember, with each passing step of the life we are given, only pain and anguish?

Why remember, all day every day, the despair, the fear, the torture and how there was nothing, absolutely nothing, anyone could do to stop the inevitable?

Why move through life focused solely on the single incident that took someone so beautiful, so perfect, so inspiring, away?

If I am to believe the words written in the Bible (which I personally do), Jesus was a man of great love, great compassion, great happiness, even. Jesus opened his arms and welcomed people in. He spread a message of hope and love. He encouraged people to give up the selfishness of their ways and focus instead on helping others. He taught us that love was everything.

He wanted his life to live on much longer than the day he died. He wanted his life to serve as an example to others... he wanted us to be influenced by him and choose live in the way he did. He wanted us to teach others what we had been taught.

I'm not so totally convinced that Jesus wanted us to spend every day on earth mourning his death, but rather he wanted us to spread joy and love and live with this awesome expectation that one day we'll be living eternally in heaven with him.

I don't mean to minimize the crucifixion. (If you know me at all, when Easter comes around, I spend a lot of days solemn, thinking about what it really would have been like to live during that time, to see the awfulness, to feel the devastation and despair of that fateful day when the world turned dark.) What I mean to say is, I think not only are we to remember and deeply respect Jesus dying - but in addition to honoring his death - we are to honor his life by living in a way that would make God proud.

Which gets me back to the rock in the shoe guy. What part about bruising the bottom of your foot honors the life lived?


October is a hard month for me. It's a hard month for a lot of people.

It was one of Avery's favorite times of year. She loved dressing up in costumes and she loved sharing candy. She was not having any part of the blood and gore and horror - rather she had this exceptional way of taking the good out of any situation, focusing on it and magnifying it. Living, instead, in a land of make believe and laughter.

She loved fall, the changing colors of the leaves, riding bikes, pulling out the blankets and cuddling on the couch. And she especially loved her birthday. Bringing in treats for friends and, even though the day was supposed to be about her, it was always more about the people she loved.

October is so beautiful with its hues of golds and reds; the way the sun wraps its arms tight right before the evening sky erupts in brilliant shades of pinks and purples, oranges and yellows like you've never seen.

Then comes the reminder of the day my world turned dark: October 24th.

And I can go through the steps of that day in powerful detail ---

--- waking up, getting ready for school. The shirt she chose (a light sweater of Jadrian's), the way she asked me to comb her hair. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, the way the brush slipped through her light brown hair. I swear I could see exactly what she would look like as a teenager. It was a quick glimpse but it was there.

I hear the music turned loud in the car as we belted out Jamie Grace's God Girl on the radio. The way she smiled as she sang - like she couldn't fit more happiness inside her if she tried! She was so beautiful.... she looked like an angel.

I can see the spot in the curb where I pulled over to drop her off at school.

I watch her hand as she opened the passenger door, her lankiness as she grabbed her back pack, and started toward the school.

How she turned back and looked at me, really, really looked at me... and said, "you know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

The way she smiled through to my soul. I could feel her smile kiss my soul.

And then she turned and skipped into school - yes, skipped! So light and full of life! And I smiled, watching her until she disappeared through the school doors, so oblivious that I would never, ever cast my eyes upon her again.


On my drive into work that morning I continued to let the Jamie Grace CD play. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot the CD started over. At its very start there is a sixty second, barely there, haunting prelude: there's a feather in my hair and a wing around my neck, I'm ready to fly away.

I remember thinking, these are the words of a child going home to Jesus; these are the words of a baby dying.  The thought so heavy on my heart I had to shake it away.

That song was played at Avery's funeral. Right before the men in dark suits wheeled my daughter in her casket away.


There are 19 days on the calendar that sit between the date of her birth and the date of her death. Nineteen days that must pass... building in sorrow until the night when I fall apart. And I always do. The clock taunting me the entire day....

8:17am.... you just dropped her off.

It's 3:40pm now... school would have been over.... she'd be in the car to Whitewater... 

She's on the mats now, laughing and talking during gymnastics.... 

6pm.... gymnastics is over.... 

6:08pm... she died. 

But you don't know that yet. 

6:20pm - where are they?

6:30pm - maybe she was dropped off at youth group....

6:40pm - all your calls have gone unanswered... drive to church and check for yourself....

She isn't there. 

She will never be there again.

But you still don't know that yet either....

... and you won't know that for more than another hour....  

The worry and rising panic of those hours intensifies today the exact same way it did on October 24, 2012. Branded and seared into my soul against my will. And I know that each year it will always hold me captive. I think, in a way, it's supposed to. Not everyday --- but just on this one day of each year. This day of bittersweet remembrance.

So, what do you do when you know you're about to walk into something overflowing with sorrow?

What do you do with the nineteen days that sit between the celebration of one of the greatest days of your life and the absolute worst?


There is a painful beauty when recalling my daughter's death. The worry, the fear, the pacing, standing face to face with that uniformed police officer.... my soul shattering into a million shards...but it's the life that came before, the love she shared that makes her death a tragedy, that makes remembering beautiful. Without the faith she exuded, the love she poured out, the compassion she gave, the service she felt called to --- her life would have amounted to just a few lines in an old newspaper, folded and soon forgotten, regardless of her years lived on earth.

The way she lived her life, the examples she gave, the God she talked so passionately about - these are what I crave to remember. These I desire to hold at the very front of my memory.

What good would it be for me to walk around with a pebble in my shoe? Remembering with each step I take only the dark? Using my time gifted on this earth to remember the awful moments of the most horrible day - the ring of the doorbell, the hand on my shoulder, the feeling that I was surely about to suffocate under the weight of my own heart... as if some continual daily hurt I could feel would somehow justify her sudden and tragic death? 

Maybe that's why I needed to take the hard month back. Make October about Avery's life instead of just her death.


We started The 19 Days for the kids. That first year, I just couldn't imagine their grief stricken faces. They were too young. Too innocent. I didn't want them hurting any more than they had to.

Each day for nineteen days, I said, do something nice for someone else. Take your mind off things. Focus on the good in our world. Spread kindness. Create happiness. Be the joy that comes each morning. Then, after The 19 Days, sure we'll remember that darkness but we'll also know that the darkness doesn't stay. We'll remember that the light does pierce through. We'll have proof. We will be the proof.

But, maybe these daily acts of kindnesses are more for me now.  Because every day I look online and see another post using the hashtag #the19days -- every time someone sends me a text, every time I'm invited in to witness another act of kindness I am able to bend over and take a pebble out of my shoe.

And a person walks lighter without rocks in their shoes. It almost makes you want to skip.

The last photo Avery took on her iPod. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Being Peter

One of the things we Christians hear over and over again is to live boldly for Christ. It's impressed upon us to courageously answer God's call - no matter how crazy it might seem - with a resounding yes! We're taught that God wants us to put our trust in Him, so even if we think what He's asking us to do is impossible or hard or scary or will take a whole lot of work, we should trust He's got us and will carry us through.

So we volunteer to teach Sunday School. And we volunteer to sing in the choir. And we take meals to the new mama and the new widow and we pat ourselves on the back and feel good about all that we are accomplishing in God's name.

And none of that is bad. In fact, it's all very good and very necessary and very appreciated. But, well, how radical is a chicken casserole really? How far out of our safe, comfortable life have we gone for Christ?

There's a story in the Bible where this guy, Peter, is out doing his job: fishing. Day in and day out Peter catches fish to pay the bills. He's got himself a boat and some nets - the things he needs to do his job. He's made his investment, now he's working on making his profit.

Jesus sees him, chats with him a bit and is like dude, man, you gotta trust me - if you quit your job, like this instant - and hang with me, your life is going to be more impactful and more purposeful than you could ever imagine... like radically different.

I'm kind of taking the liberty to paraphrase here.... but the point is, God asked him to choose to live boldly for Him; to take the comfort of everything he knew and just chuck it out the window to intentionally live uncomfortably, without much of a plan, without any visible or tangible safety net. The plan was for Peter to quit the business he built and walk around following some guy around (Jesus).

Somewhere along the way we have become crazy obsessed about safety. "Safety first!" I'd yell out to my kids in the car, my reminder for them to buckle up.

We check expiration dates and ingredient lists. We read hours of consumer reports before buying the safest stroller and argue intensely over the pros and cons of educational video games. We accept the job when we can be assured the pay and benefits are an improvement. We gather our nest egg and eat at the restaurant where we know the food is good. We go on a trip after all our vaccinations and after we check all the hotel reviews. And we always pay for the traveler's insurance.

We don't make a move until we know it's going to be safe. Until we can prove that our decision makes sense.

We need to be more Peter-ish.

Can you imagine that exchange in today's world? Can you imagine Jesus walking up to a modern day Peter and saying, got this great idea - give up your business and let's go walking. Peter would have to see how much he could get back on his investment - what the boat is worth, the nets, how much he could sell them for. Then he'd calculate out his missed wages, could he afford to follow Jesus and for how long? If the thing with Jesus didn't work out would he be able to buy his boat back? Or another comparable one? What about his house? He would need time to go through his belongings, figure out what to keep in storage, what to sell, what to give away. He'd have to announce it to his friends and family - surely there would be a going away party filled with friends giving cards and hugs and words of encouragement.

Shoot. Can you even picture Jesus waiting on all that nonsense? He'd be like look, if you don't want to follow me  just say so - clearly you're not ready.

Are you ready? Are you really ready?

I have a friend who answered God's call to adopt a child.... except she was 25.... and single.... and she had to navigate the Romanian government while not speaking a word of their language.

Nothing about that made sense.

Nothing about that was safe.

She was too young and it was too foolish to spend money like that and who would purposely want to be a single parent? Wouldn't it be better if she got a full time job and saved her money and found a nice man to marry and settle down and buy a house and then they could discuss adoption?

But God had a child in an orphanage whose life needed to be changed right then and there and He placed the call... will you follow me?

What would have happened to that beautiful child while the appropriate amount of money was being saved and the right man was being met and the right house was being found? What would have happened to her precious little body without proper medical attention? What would have happened to her heart without a mama's arms to wrap her up tight?

Sometimes our need to be safe has the harshest of consequences.

And another thing? We need to stop judging others when they actually do live boldly. See, there aren't a lot of Peter's anymore, so when we see one, we just don't know what to do with them.

You think Peter didn't walk away feeling good and hopeful but then, hours into the journey, when it got dark and quiet, all of a sudden reality hit him? There were probably times when he wondered if he had made the right choice. There were probably times when things got hard - real hard - and he thought what have I gotten myself into? I doubt he was 100% sure and 100% happy 100% of the time.

Answering God's call is never easy and rarely is it without experiencing the extremely hard and incredibly difficult. But that's kind of what makes it about God: this is hard - this is scary - but do you still trust me?

There are the beautiful few among us that boldly follow and keep following, no matter how hard and how scary it gets. We should be high fiving them in the street not shaking our heads behind their backs telling anyone who will listen how ridiculous we think they are.

My friend, the one who adopted as a young single mom? She went on to foster children as a young single mom with a newly adopted child. And she adopted another one. Because God asked her to.

I imagine there were days when she thought about what her friends were doing and compared it to her life. I imagine there were nights when she felt like she was too young to do what God had asked her to and she'd rather be enjoying dinner with her friends without having to spend hours arranging childcare and then feeling guilty that she wasn't home spending quality time with her kids. I imagine there were days when she looked over her messy house with the jelly smeared faces and wondered who would ever want to marry into this. I imagine there were a lot of people who figured she had created this hard life for herself so she kind of deserved to sleep in the proverbial bed she had made. Even if that meant feeling isolated and alone.

But she did marry. She married an amazing man who saw her goodness and her light and saw her courageous spirit and the boldness in her trust in God. Someone who wanted in. And they had two more children. And they continue to foster. And life is hard and sleep is fleeting and the issues that come with broken children and their broken childhoods sometimes seem insurmountable and threaten to consume them whole and sometimes it's the weakest of whispers, but still they say, we trust you God.

Meanwhile, the good, well meaning people of the village shake their heads while providing running commentary: they can't handle it, they took too much on, they should just focus on their own children, look how stressed they are, they never seem to get enough sleep, they're not doing this right, this can't be good for their marriage....

Judgment in the face of boldness. Cynicism in the face of radical obedience.

While God sits, smiling proudly from His throne, "well done, good and faithful servant. Well done."

We need more Peter's. To obey. To say yes. To follow without securing that earthly safety net first. To live boldly and radically for Christ - because that's where the radical difference in our world is going to come from.

We need to silence our judgments when the Peter's are revealed. We need to stop shaking our heads and trying to make the bold conform to our safe, comfortable, make sense lifestyles.

We need to use our voices and our actions to encourage the Peter's and support the Peter's and learn from the Peter's: how to be brave. How to take the hard step and how to keep taking the hard steps. How to live boldly for Christ even when it makes no sense to anyone else around us.

We need to cultivate and grow more Peter's - birthed from our own bold examples. Not try to snuff them out or make others think they'd be fools for considering to follow God's call.

Are you being Peter?

Are you living boldly and radically for Christ?

Or do you play it safe?


Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men (and women) instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
Matthew 4:18-20 [MSG]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Midwest Americana Bathed in Light

This is our everyday.
Surrounded by the calloused hands of early morning risers, the ones who vacation around mother nature and milk prices, the souls who give away their plenty because that's the way God intended.
Miles of corn and beans and wheat and hay stretched out wide waiting for the rains to quench their thirst.

The slow crunch of the much too late in the night truck wheels on gravel as the farmer finally makes it home, his children tucked in hours ago. Another meal missed and still another field to harvest and the margins are slim and the stress is high and the price of corn went down by .33 but there's a plate warming in the oven and cold milk in the fridge.

And sometimes he forgets and pays more attention to the Ag Market than the jelly stained cheeks around his breakfast table but his love runs deeper than any three-piece suit on the commuter train headed toward the city.

This life isn't easy but it is good and it is decent and one of the few places left where a handshake can make an honest deal and every one in town remembers your grandmama's cobbler.

It can be hard and tough and overflowing with loss - crops and livestock and babies and barns. But there's also blessings. Too many too count. Sunrises and births and neighbors coming together. Laughter recalling memories around big kitchen tables where elbows knock against each other because family isn't restricted by DNA. Where sunlight bathes in golden light reminding us of what truly matters in this world.

This is our everyday.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Waiting to See

Last week I was at an eye appointment where it was deemed necessary to dilate my eyes. I was assured that within two hours things would be back to normal.

Except they weren't.

My world remained fuzzy and out of focus throughout the majority of the day. My eyes were abnormally sensitive to light, even in the grey drizzle of the rain. I was uncomfortable and out of sorts.

And I was angry.

Angry because I hadn't planned on any of this. I had work waiting on my desk and I needed my eyes to review the plans and write the reports. I hadn't planned on not being able to see the computer screen and I could barely type out a text message complaining about my now aching head.

Nothing looked right or felt right or was right. I was frustrated because I felt so helpless -- I couldn't do anything to speed up the process of getting back to normal.

Then it dawned on me. I could be angry and rant and let my frustration boil over in epic proportions - or I could trust the doctor. He had assured me, hadn't he? That while my vision was going to get worse for a bit, that it would, in time, become clear once again. And all I had to do was wait. I had no guarantee other than the gentle, comforting promise of the one who knows.

So I waited to see. I waited in trust.

When Avery died, I heard it over and over: someday - not now, but one day, the haze will lift and your new normal will emerge. Just give it time. I was told not to fight it, but to roll with it. Cry when I needed to, talk when I needed to, stay still when I needed to, scream when I needed to. But don't force it. Don't try to snap your fingers for an immediate fix. Time was the only thing that would heal this shattered heart.

Our lives are filled with moments when everything suddenly shifts out of focus: a death. A divorce. A diagnosis. Unemployment, a fight with a treasured friend, a call in the middle of the night. A moment when we realize that the place we have stood in comfort for so long is suddenly unrecognizable. We become a stranger to our own lives. Nothing, no matter how hard we squint, looks the way it used to. And that can feel unbelievably scary.

In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Psalm 86:7

But we can put our trust in the One who knows. God promises us that He's going to get things back into focus. It might not look exactly the same way as we remember, but it's in focus.

I think about all the times my life has gone out of focus: an abusive relationship, custody dispute, a failed marriage, an unexpected death, a scary diagnosis.... and always, always, has the time come when I could see again. It just took time. And it meant that even though I desperately wanted things to get better this very second and even though I didn't feel anything was happening fast enough and even though I hated every uncomfortable, hurting moment I was experiencing and even though I was scared of what my future might look like, I had to trust that the One who holds my heart was the One who was going to make all things right and would do so in His time. I had to wait in trust. And waiting can be hard. But my heart always emerged more perceptive, more compassionate, more caring than it was before because now it focused on the things that matter.

There is a healing and growth that comes from the times when life is hazy.

There is a strength and courage that grows from the times when life is hazy.

There is a future and hope that emerges during the times when life is hazy.

Sure enough - although it was well into the night by the time it happened, it did happen. I don't know exactly when it did, only that around 7:00 that night I looked up and realized hey! I can see again! It had taken much longer than I expected, much longer than I had wanted, but my vision was where it needed to be and my surroundings became clear once again.