Posted in Faith, Grief

Death (my fear of it…and some hope)

Halloween is strange.

Skeletons decorate lawns.
Fear is prime real estate in the “fun to do.”
The “shadows” come out to play.
Death is paraded for the world to embrace.

I do not like thinking about death. Even on Halloween.

I like cute pumpkins.
Funny costumes.
Trick-or-treaters.

Guilt-free Kitkat bars.

NOT DEATH.

Perhaps this is why.

I am often held captive by my fear of death.
It’s where my anxiety heads on any given day.

At times, I am able to “keep it in its rightful place,” and move along.

[Get my work done.]
[Enjoy the beauty of life.]
[Have lots of hope.]

But at others, I feel fragile, afraid, and my heart is off to the races

[Text my family to see if they are okay.]
[Look on the internet for answers to my latest ailment.]
[Hunker down to protect myself.]

I would love to get to a place where I don’t fear death at all.
I’m not sure if that’s even possible.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t have to be a slave to this excruciating fear, wear it as a weighty chain around my neck, and allow it to lead me down the “not living anyway” path.

As of late, I have felt a few links come off and I wonder if this might be (at least some of) the reason:

I am leaning into it, instead of avoiding it.

Spending time and energy with those who are grieving and not trying to fix their pain (and thus, my own).

Asking questions about walking through it with a fiercely-loved one and being reminded again how God shows up in the middle of it all, and it’s one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth, awful and beautiful, but mostly exquisitely sacred.

It all seems to reveal, like nothing else can, that “LOVE is stronger than death.”

In fact (as my hubby often reminds me)…

I was born in LOVE. I’ve come from it.

I am currently held in LOVE. I’m safe.

And eventually, I will return to LOVE. Sigh.

Death (as scary as it is) cannot destroy the REAL ME. I will live forever, doused in and surrounded by LOVE.

It is much stronger (HE is much stronger) than Death.

I’ll still have my moments and days and seasons of slavery to fear.
Of taking chain links on and off.

I’m still in a “continuing to heal” place in this area.

Maybe we all are.

Posted in Family, Grief, Motherhood

For the Mom Whose Kid is Hurting

The back door opens. It’s late.

I’m awake because that’s just how it is as a mom. No sleep until every child of mine is home safe.

My recent college grad walks into the family room where I lay on the couch, eyes heavy.

“We broke up, Mom.”

I bolt upright, dumbfounded. I can’t compute the words I hear.


This boy of mine and his girlfriend have been together since they were kids.

Seven years.

Tears form in his green eyes.

I don’t know what to do. I haven’t seen him cry since he was little.

This is a girl he was going to propose to.
This is a girl I love. Her picture hangs on our family photo wall.

I want to fix it, make him okay.

I am sad. I am angry.

I want to send her a “please love my boy again” text.
I want to buy him a plane ticket to visit his sister.

My own eyes well up and I offer him the only thing I can: my presence.

This is how it is now. The older my kids get, what they need comforting for or help with are not things I can do much about,

I can’t make people like them.

I can’t (and shouldn’t) fight on their behalf for a grade or a promotion at work.
I can’t force someone to want to spend the rest of their lives with them.
I can’t stop the world from hurting them.

What am I to do?

Offer my presence.

In simple ways.

Answer their text with a simple “I love you.”
Listen when and if they want to talk.

Take them to a movie, complete with popcorn and candy.
Write a “you’ve got this” note.
Make their favorite cookies.


Remind them I am praying for them.

Offer my presence,

Their lives are going to be filled with problems I can’t solve and pain I can’t take away.

This might be the most difficult part of being a mom. But perhaps it’s also the most beautiful.

By offering my presence, I’m being God (with skin on) to them.

I’m not doing the work that’s theirs alone.

I’m not fixing the dilemmas they find themselves in.
I’m not concocting ways to ensure they are not in pain (try as I might).

I am being with them in the middle of the quagmire.
I am reminding them they are not left on their own.
I am here for them, worrying, trusting, cheering, praying and hoping.

There’s no place I’d rather be.

Posted in Faith, Grief, Motherhood

What Kind of World Are My Kids Growing Up In?

What kind of a world are my kids growing up in?

The question that plagued me on that dreadful morning 20 years ago.

I had four little ones scampering around at the time, one toddler half-naked and being potty trained (we all remember exactly what was going on that morning, right?).

Is it a world filled with consuming hate?

ONLY and awful hate?

How would I tell them that their friend’s dad had been killed?

How would I shake my own fear of it happening again and this time it would be their dad who had worked in NYC for most of their young lives?

How? How? How?

How will they know love?

ONLY and wonderful love?

The love that casts out fear in the form of a firefighter saying “I’ve got you. Come with me”?

The love that wins in the end as yellow ribbons don every mailbox for miles and miles and miles for months and months and months?

Today, my big kids are still scampering around, albeit fully-clothed, and the world still often seems consumed with hate.

ONLY and awful hate?

But it’s not true.

It’s not ONLY.

Both hate and love exist, intertwined in all of our hearts.

Along with a million other parts.

Mine. And theirs.

All I have to do is look back at these 20 years to see all the ways hate and love (and a million other parts) have shown up as I’ve raised my fearsome foursome.

They’ve brought harm.
Pain. Heartache.

But also…

They’ve brought joy.
Healing. Hope.

What kind of world are my kids growing up in?

The question that plagued me for a lot longer than that dreadful morning and still does often.

The answer is simple. And also super complicated.

It’s the wonderful, messy, awful, sacred, hateful, loving, broken, brave, and still healing world.

It’s a world filled with us.

Every single one of us.

Posted in Childhood, Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

Two Spoons

I could see that she was holding back tears as she walked down the steps of the school bus and into the passenger seat of our family minivan.

The words came tumbling out like a waterfall, “He broke up with me at lunch.”

My heart sank as I watched her body curl into a ball and her head flush against the window, tears flowing freely now.

“Oh honey. I’m so sorry. I know how much you liked him.”

I laid my hand on her arm for a moment and she wrapped herself further into a ball. Silence ensued for the rest of our drive home.

She bolted into the house and to her room, shutting the door. I followed her up the stairs, and as I rested my head on her closed door, I could barely make out muffled sobs.

My heart sank even more. My girl was hurting. And no matter what I did or said in that moment, it probably wouldn’t help at all. She was suffering the normal heartbreak that comes with first kisses, first crushes and first rejections.

I would just let her be for now, alone with her own heart and all the feelings that were new and confusing and downright difficult. It was the best and only thing I knew to do. It seemed to be what she wanted and needed the most.

I meandered to the kitchen, not sure what to do with myself. I wanted to run right back upstairs and wipe her tears away with a kiss, a hug, an emotional bandaid, an “I love you” or one of the other many mom tricks I had up my sleeve. Not this time. Instead, all I could do was pray (and I sure did) and feel awkward and start to make dinner.

Time seemed to march ever so slowly that afternoon, normal when pain is loud for us or someone we love. Time feels achingly long and almost cruel. Why can’t it pass quickly so that we are on the other side of loss and grief and back to our hopeful selves?

How I wished that for her that insufferable day.

Right before dinner, there was a knock at our front door. Odd at that time of day.

I glanced through the window and right in front of my own teary eyes, one of my daughter’s best friends was anxiously standing there, carrying two spoons and a huge container of my girl’s favorite ice cream flavor.

I opened the door, gave her a quick, thankful hug and whispered, “She’s up in her room.”

I heard another knock, footsteps, a door open and then shut again.

Talk about strange and hard for my mama self, yet somehow wonderful and what I hoped for all at the same time.

What I couldn’t do anymore as a mom (as much as I desperately wanted to), her friend was able to do. Listen. Relate. Comfort. Eat ice cream out of the container right before dinner.

All so normal for that season of her life.

I kept milling around the kitchen, gratitude welling up inside of me for this friendship that my daughter had.

The kind that goes to the grocery store instead of her dance practice.

The kind that shows up instead of stays away.

The kind that hangs out with the tears instead of just the laughs.

I heard the front door close and a car pull away.

In what seemed like only a few moments, her friend was gone again, just like that.

Had it been enough for that very miserable afternoon?

I wondered what would happen next.

Only moments went by when I heard the familiar creaking of my girl’s door opening and loud footsteps down the stairs.

She bounded into the kitchen, hair a mess, eyes all puffy, but the next words out of her mouth were priceless.

“I’m going to be okay, Mom, even if I’m not right now.”

She threw her arms around me and we hugged for a long time and as I held her close, I knew deep inside that it had all been enough.

“What’s for dinner?” she quietly asked.

As we unwrapped ourselves, I whispered one last thing into her ear, “I made your favorite.”

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

The Gifts of the Darkness

“What gifts?”

A question I have asked myself over and over and over again this week as I settled my mind on “springing ahead,” even the clock speaking of the hope of longer daylight and warmer spirits.

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

I am usually someone who rushes over the grief and wants to spring right to positivity and happy things. I like that. I’m definitely a “spring-forward” girl.

But I am learning that it does NOT work. I can’t just rush to JOY. Nor should I.

So when that question came, I paused. I really paused.

First, I need to speak of the darkness.
Of the soul.
Of the cocoony, wintery, messy, middle-of-the-muck-and-mire-stuff.
Of the death of life as I knew it almost exactly a year ago.
Of all the loss in every facet of society and in my little world.

Losing friends to this monster (youngish ones).
Not having family reunions on both sides.
Isolation and disconnection.
The tearing away of peace of mind.
All the complicated choices to see people safely.
The sheer exhaustion from the stress.
Judgment from everywhere, even my own, about all. the. things.
Lack of motivation.
The constant survival mode feeling.

It’s all been hard. Too hard in many ways. DARK. Really dark.

But my heart (my spring-forward heart) also sees the gifts that can only come as a result of the darkness.

Even the darkness of a horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad year.

The dark night of our collective souls.

I’ve been watching our rhododendron sleep through the winter, the buds closed tight, hunkering down.

At one point in the coldest and snowiest and darkest of days, the buds were covered with ice and the leaves were droopy and frozen.

I stood there looking at it through my big window, marveling that when the light and the warm and the spring finally comes, each frigid bud will burst forth into all the purple blooms that shout beauty and hope.

The blooms are the gifts of the darkness.

So right back to my question.

“What gifts?”

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

Then another, more clarifying question came as well.

“What gifts do I want to bring with me out of the darkness and into the “spring,” into the light?

To be honest, there are many.

Plenty of rest for this recovering-workaholic.
Moments to stare out the window at my sleeping rhododendron covered in snow.
The freedom from all the soul-killing expectations to be busy, busy, busy.
Deep connections with those most important to me.
White space that grants margin for creativity.
Extra time with the Tender Lover of my soul.
Long walks in every kind of weather and the appreciation of nature that comes with them.

Simple thankfulness for things like paper towels and meals with friends.
Discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known before and I now like (a lot).
The narrowing of priorities to what really matters.
Deep empathy from and for others in suffering.

There are more and more and more.

Life-changing “terrible gifts” (as CS Lewis calls them) that have only come as a result of the darkness.

Gifts I will continue to unwrap for the rest of my days.
Gifts I will hold onto like a treasure box only meant for me.

Gifts.

Terrible, beautiful, sacred, horrible, hard, holy, very very good gifts.

The gifts of the darkness.

Have I hated this year?
A resounding YES in many ways.

Do I wish it never happened?
A thousand times NO.

I’m peeking out an my rhododendron on this bright, sunny day.
It’s reaching for the light and its leaves are glorious.
The buds are still closed, not quite as tight, and I can see their faint color through the green.

Soon, the purple will unfurl into all of its goodness.

It won’t be for a few more weeks, but I can feel the gift of incredible beauty as if it is right now.

Posted in Faith, Grief

Deeper

Lots of us feel stuck in a pretty bad place.
It doesn’t seem like there is any way out.
It feels like no matter how hard we try, it’s like quicksand that might swallow us up.
It feels lonely and even black there, like a pit so deep that even if we climb and climb, we would slide back down into the darkness.
 
We might have jumped into this “pit” because of our own unwise decisions.
 
Perhaps we have been pushed in by someone else’s unkindness, even cruelty.
 
It could be overwhelming circumstances that aren’t going the way we think they should or hope they would.
 
It’s probably some odd combination of the three.
 
No matter what, we are in a very deep pit, longing to get out.
 
In those seemingly endless and desperate moments, the only sure thing is that we are not going to be able to climb out on our own, no matter how hard we try.
 
We may even wonder if we are in a hole so deep that we are beyond rescue. It feels hopeless.
 
THIS IS JUST NOT TRUE. It’s just not true at all.
 
There is great hope.
 
We are not alone.
We are loved.
 
We are never “in too deep” that God cannot rescue us. This goes for all those we love as well.
 
The son who is on the is suffering panic attacks.
The spouse who is enslaved by addiction.
The friend who is fighting a debilitating disease.
The person in the mirror who is not sure if God listens anymore.
 
No matter if the pit has been jumped, slipped or been pushed into.
 
The God who hears our cries and loves us beyond measure is right there in the midst of it.
 
His fierce love will make a way out.
 
He will come to the rescue.
None of us are ever beyond His reach.
 
We can rest in that safest of places today.
 
From my heart to yours.
Posted in Celebration, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Mustangs and Paper Chains

Once upon a time, a mom of an 18-year-old made a paper chain.
Just like the ones her kids made in preschool, but this one tucked neatly in her head.
She almost made a real one, but thought it would cause a ruckus in her home.
Why? Why? Why the paper chain?
Because she was counting down the days until her son left for college.
It all started in the middle of the winter.
This mental paper chain. 180 days.
It wasn’t because he was horrible, disrespectful teen
OR
that she was a terrible mom, even though she felt like it often (she had a paper chain after all).
It wasn’t because he was breaking curfew every day and doing all kinds of god-knows-what
OR
maybe she was just clueless…which is more likely.
It wasn’t because she didn’t love him, because moms just can’t help themselves and she loved this kid especially
OR
that he didn’t have friends or wasn’t enjoying high school.
It wasn’t because he bought a Mustang convertible and got in an accident with his younger brother in the back seat during the aftermath of a hurricane
OR
that she had told him not to go out more than a couple of times.
Why then? Why? Why? Why the paper chain?
It was because he was fighting to be himself, a grown-up
AND
she was confused about that and didn’t quite know what to do. And she was tired of the fighting.
It was because he wanted to be with his friends more than he wanted to be home for dinner
AND
that made her pretty sad and sometimes, even angry.
It was because he wanted to explore new scary out-of-the-box adventures
AND
she was freaking out inside and maybe it would be easier for her if he was out of her sight, not so much in her face.
It was (REALLY) in the end, because he was spreading his wings to fly on his own
AND
that she knew he would soar (or maybe fall to the ground, get back up again and then stumble along until he took flight).
It wasn’t very long until those 180 “circles” of paper were ripped completely off, with none remaining.
They were scattered all over the floor of her memories.
He left. She cried. She cried some more.
She went home and made another paper chain.
This one counting the days until he came back home.
Posted in Anxiety, Celebration, Faith, Grief, Health, Sabbath

Sisyphus…Sigh

There’s usually a stack of books on my beside table. Murder mysteries. Books about the sacred. Memoirs. One or two chapters at the most at the end of a long day send me to dreamland.

Books, for me, are spending a bit of time with another person, the writer. I might enjoy a completely entertaining story, hear another’s heart on a particular issue, or just walk beside someone through their life’s journey. I find connection in my jammies without any makeup on.

Fast forward to Sundays, my “take-a-break” day. I carve out at least SOME time alone, in the quiet. Self-help books shut. TV off. Phone on emergency-calls-only mode. Stop and stare out the window. Hash it all out with God. Often, something inexplicable happens way down deep, in the places I rarely venture.

It feels similar to what happens when I see a rainbow or a sunset or hear a beautiful piece of music. There is an unexplainable knowing that “all is well” despite all the swirling things in my life that are NOT. In fact, the silence actually magnifies the things that are not okay, perhaps because there is some space to explore them.

Mysteriously, as I sip my once-a-week cup of tea, watch birds flit by or the snow fall (which is happening as I write this), sorrow and joy, disruption and peace, the messy and the beautiful are able to walk side-by-side, neither one cancelling out the other.

The rest of the busy, hurried week, I fall into the trap of working hard and praying for ONLY the positive, happy, safe side of life. I keep my house organized, pay my bills on time, plant flowers and read self-help books.

Somehow, though, the negative, sad, and scary sides that are usually defined as bad by almost every voice around me, creep in no matter how hard I try to avoid them, stuff them down, or get all in a fit about them.

I’m like the Greek mythology character, Sisyphus, painstakingly rolling a huge rock up a mountain and just before I reach the top, it tumbles right back down to the bottom and I have to start all over again.

Anger. Confusion. Anxiety. Despair.

Thanks to those books on my nightstand and the authors who have “been there and done that,” I’m gently reminded that life is filled with both and believe it or not, both are necessary AND both are good.

Happiness celebrates the gifts given to us AND sadness brings honor to the loss of those gifts. Both are necessary AND both are good.

Back to that little bit of time when I stop the distractions once a week. It’s no wonder that I often find my true “all is well” place in those moments. Space to lean into the bad. A place to celebrate the good. God smack-dab in the middle of it, making breathing room for it ALL.

Peace. Hope.

Sigh.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Friendship, Grief

The Three Dots

Text one: “Please pray. It was a horrific day!”

Text two (about two minutes later): “GOOD NEWS! My husband found a job!”

I sat there staring at my screen. The three dots kept coming in two different places.

I waited anxiously, my feelings all over the place. Tears welled.

Strange tears. Filled with gratitude and grief all in the same moment.

Was that even allowed?

Could I cry for the pain and cry for the joy?

It didn’t matter the answer, because I was. Plain and simple.

I felt myself tossed around for the next several minutes as I went back-and-forth with these two people who I love.

Grief. Joy. Sadness. Relief. Anger. Gratitude.

A bouncing ball inside from one emotion to the next.

Then it all hit me. Right between the eyes (of my heart).

This is sacred ground I am walking on.

This is humanity at its fullest.

This is what I’ve wanted my whole life.

To not stuff it down. To not brush it aside. ANY.OF.IT.

To grieve with those who are grieving.
Like cry real tears for them.
To hold them in their pain and trust that somehow their sorrow is halved because I am sharing in it.

BUT also to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.
Like cry real tears for them.
To hold them in their joy and trust that somehow their delight is doubled because I am sharing in it.

I want it from others and I want to give it to others.

This is how I heal.
How I embrace my humanness.
How I come closer to Tender Lover of My Soul.
How I help to mend the world, right in front of me and all around me.

Welcome ALL.OF.IT.

Come close to EVERY.LITTLE.BIT.

Cheer.
Cry.
Laugh.
Text.
Hug.
Pray.

ALL.OF.IT.

Posted in Faith, Grief

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was sad.

About a year ago, she was skipping along, busy as a bee, marching to the beat of getting things done and getting ahead. She believed the new year held possibility and promise like every other year.  Why wouldn’t it?  It was the start of not only a year, but a whole new decade.  She was excited.

But right after her big party in her new house with all her friends, an ugly monster came.  It came and gobbled up all her normal, all the rhythms that held her and rocked her and told her that everything was okay.

Days went by.  MUNCH.
Weeks went by.  MUNCH MUNCH.
Months went by.  MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH.

The monster kept devouring her normal.  But not just hers.  The normal of everyone around her.  It ate up bank accounts and dreams and businesses and celebrations and hugs and peace-of-mind and worst of all, it gulped down lives.

She tried really hard to stay upbeat and hopeful and to “look on the bright side,” but it didn’t really work very long.

She was sad.

One day, she figured out that she had to do something about it.  But what?  What should she do about her sadness?

She could take Vitamin D.
She could binge watch TV.
She could eat a cookie.
She could work in her garden.
She could pretend the monster wasn’t there.
She could make a grateful journal.

If that helped, maybe then she could tell all her friends and family to do the same.

After making her “what-should-she-do-about-her-sadness” list and checking it twice, she tried hard for a really long time.

Guess what happened?  She was still really sad.

Oh no!  What should she do?

One morning as she was swallowing her Vitamin D for the 282nd time, she thought of a great idea!

She was going to STOP doing some things. They weren’t working anyway, no matter how hard she tried.
 
So she STOPPED making the monster smaller than it was. She actually said the word “monster” out loud. She told her friends and her family that it was scary and horrible and that she wanted it to go away.
 
That was really hard for her. She liked talking about rainbows and butterflies and happy things.
 
But it was really good for her too. She felt like she was finally telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God.
 
She also STOPPED trying to rush really fast to “happy,” even though Joy was her middle name and she had been told her whole life it wasn’t good to be sad.
 
She looked right in the mirror and said, “You are allowed to be sad right now. That’s the best thing to be when you lose a bunch of stuff that’s really great.”
 
And then she took a shower and cried for a long time.
 
That helped a bunch and she figured out that now she could START doing some things too. She had time and space (like more than ever before).
 
She STARTED to talk, talk, talk. To her friends. To her husband. To Jesus. To a counselor. To her journal. She got her sadness outside of the inside of her. She gave it really carefully to those who loved her and who she trusted to hold her all safe, like inside-her-heart safe.
 
She also STARTED to listen, listen, listen. To her friends. To her husband. To Jesus. To her kids. And guess what she found out. They were all sad too. Just like her. She was not all by herself. How about that?

The story is not over yet (even after 324 days) and sometimes, the woman still eats cookies, binge watches TV, and pretends the monster isn’t there.

But more often, she cries.  And prays.  And talks.  And listens.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was sad.

But she was not alone.

And it was the perfect place to be.