Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow

“Life’s too short” is a cliché that I hear often, usually when someone dies unexpectedly. And, I have to admit, that many times when I’ve heard someone mutter “life’s too short,” I have nodded my head in agreement and distractedly gone right back to my busy, unintentional living.

But in light of my grief-filled summer, all the recent headlines of hurricanes and earthquakes, and then Sunday’s terrible shooting in Las Vegas, I’ve been thinking more about the brevity of life. It seems that God is continually sending me little reminders that life is short, people are precious, and that I need to use my time here wisely.

I heard this quote Tuesday on the way home from my morning run: “Remember this today: life is just too short and too sweet to hold people at arm’s distance because of something that really doesn’t matter in the long term.” My mind sat with these words a little longer than usual.

Then, as if in confirmation, God has sent other little “gifts” my way this week:

-Tuesday evening, while reading Fahrenheit 451 (audible groan) with Alex, I came across these words: “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over” (71). Much to Alex’s dismay, I cried at the reminder that friendships should fill our hearts, and our friends’ hearts, to overflowing. In order for that to happen though, we have to be intentional to spend the time investing in “a series of kindnesses.” We can’t sit by passively, do nothing, or worse, mostly just take from our friends, and hope for the best.

-Yesterday, while studying for a test with one of my sweet students, we learned that the theme of the novel we were discussing (a novel about a girl who has to learn to accept her mom’s death) is to cherish the people in your life.

-This morning in my study Bible, I found an acrostic about time: Time is short, Life is a gift, Make time for what’s important, Everyone has the same 24 hours.

Psalm 90:4 says, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by or like a watch in the night.” So certainly, our lives are really just a tiny blip on the radar of history. We are only alive for just a short time.

The Bible also says that God knows the number of my days, and that He ordained them for me (Psalm 139:16, Job 14:5). So my life will be just as long as God has determined it to be. I firmly believe God has a plan for me, for each of us, and that plan includes when we die.

The thing about dying is that we just don’t know when it’s going to happen, to us or to others. So, in denial, we imagine that we have plenty of time to _________________.

Until more recently, I chose to avoid thinking about the fact of dying, or, when I did think about it, I imagined that I, and my loved ones, had plenty of time left. I figured I’d eventually get around to working on my issues that contribute to dysfunctional relationships, or asking someone I’ve hurt to forgive me, or making time to spend with people I love most, or making good on promises I’ve made, or choosing to partner with God and walk in the calling He has placed on my life, or living from a place of confidence, knowing I’m loved. And the list of shoulds and some days sat there, waiting for some indefinite time in the future. I put off until “tomorrow” what I ought to do today (Proverbs 6:4). Are you that way, too? James 4:17 is clear about this: “So then, if you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.” Wow. Me? Guilty.

Then wham! One ordinary day we are busy with our normal routine, just like always, and we receive that unexpected phone call or that knock on our door and suddenly we are propelled headlong into our worst nightmare. We are immediately filled with all the regrets of the things we did or didn’t do or the things we said or didn’t say-all the should haves, could haves, and if onlys.

But maybe life isn’t too short, really. Maybe we each have just enough time, and the problem is, we aren’t making good use of the time we do have. At least, I know that’s been my story.

This time last year, Mom had just been diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer, metastatic to the bones, and our family was working through our feelings and our fears. Once in a while, the panic would rise up. I knew her illness was terminal, and I didn’t know how or if I could do life without her. Occasionally, I would talk to one of my friends about the terrible sense of dread and foreboding in the pit of my stomach. But mostly I just kept my feelings to myself and tried not to think about it. Still, when I did allow myself to contemplate, I thought in terms of years, not months.

And let’s face it: a year or two seems like plenty of time to tie up loose ends. To work up our nerve to make the phone call. To knock on the door. To drop the letter in the mail. To have those awkward and uncomfortable conversations. To seek forgiveness for the things we’ve said or done that have cut to the quick. To forgive others for hurting us. To reconcile. To invest in our friends and family through not just our words but also through our actions. To quit making excuses and conquer our fears. To try the things we’ve always wanted to try. To find our passion, our calling, and run hard after it.

Yes, we think we are guaranteed tomorrow and so are our people.

Trouble is, we aren’t. They aren’t. None of us is.

Back in May, Mom and Dad left on a dream trip to Europe. They visited our house the evening before they left because Mom was always big on seeing us all before a trip, our trip or hers. We were all sitting on the back porch. My dad and a brother were involved in troubleshooting a technology issue (something that can take hours). It was getting later and later on a school night. Paul’s arms were still in casts, so he would need an hour’s worth of help before bedtime, and we still hadn’t eaten dinner. I was feeling overwhelmed and tired. With a pointed sigh, I impatiently left my parents and brother on the back porch, hurried my family inside to eat, and started our nightly routine. I had no idea that when I next saw Mom she would be in the hospital, two days away from dying, and the last words I would say to her while she was coherent would be, “Do you want to try to drink some Diet Coke?” If only I hadn’t been in such a hurry the night they visited. She only wanted some time with me, and instead of being in an impatient hurry to rush through life, I wish I would have lingered over her smile, her laughter, her words. Just that one last time. Instead, the Tuesday evening before she died found me standing over her hospital bed, my face pressed against hers, tears streaming as I told her all the things I needed her to hear. Stuff I wish I’d already said. And oh, how I pray she heard me.

Mom and I had a pretty amazing relationship. I don’t feel like we had collected in our hearts any hurts or unforgiveness toward each other. But still, there were intimate, important conversations I kept putting off, thinking I had more time. Can you relate?

I feel like this past year has been a proving ground of sorts for me, a test to see if this girl can live loved in spite of life’s circumstances. I am even now walking through some situations that have the potential, if I allow them, to leave me feeling less than, not enough, a failure. I’m guessing you, dear friend, are too.

A little over a year ago, I made a commitment to myself to start really living life. That commitment included working on my “stuff.” I made a choice to let my broken, messy, quirky self be truly seen and known and to bring my brokenness to My Father who loves me.

Gently, tenderly, God is bringing some of my “issues” to light. Painful as that has been, His shining a light on my darkness has been such a good thing. As I have begun to unpack my secrets from the dark, stuffy closet and expose them to the light-God’s light-holding them up against the truth of His word, I am beginning to find my healing and wholeness. One of my favorite verses is Song of Solomon 1:5. “Dark am I, yet lovely.” The secret for me is to remember that despite my flaws, I’m still lovely. It’s choosing to live loved even in the midst of my imperfections and flaws because the cross says I am lovable. Dark, but lovely. I am, and so are you.

I have such a long way to go, so many things I need to work on. That’s simply part of being human. We all have our “stuff.” But God is merciful and kind. He invites us to step out, take the risk, determine to truly live, and He promises to walk right with us, never leaving or forsaking us.

My challenge to you is to do life. Right now. Don’t wait. Tie up loose ends. Work up your nerve and make the phone call. Knock on the door. Drop the letter in the mail. Have that awkward, uncomfortable conversation. Ask forgiveness for the things you’ve said or done that have cut to the quick. Forgive others for hurting you. Reconcile. Find the time to invest in your friends and family, the people you love most, not just through your words but also through your actions. Do those things you have always wanted to try but keep putting off. Find the unique purpose for which God has created you and run after it.

Not long ago, I heard someone say, “Treat everyone you encounter each day, including yourself, as if that person will be dead by midnight.”

Yes, life is short. Those things you keep intending to do? Those people you love?

They won’t be around forever and neither will you.

What will you choose to do with the time you have left?

This picture was taken last October when Mom, Dad, and I took Alex to an airshow in Louisiana. It turned out to be the last trip I would take with Mom.
Last year, right after Mom was diagnosed, I painted my nails pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month.
A journal entry I created to remind myself that I am loved unconditionally by my Heavenly Father.

Respite

The other day, I read in a grief book that when we are grieving, we need lots of tender loving care, and it’s okay for us to give it to ourselves. Because, after all, who knows what we need better than we do?

Not so long ago, I would’ve thought this was selfishness.

Now I know better.

Now I know that taking good care of my needs and myself is honoring and valuing God’s creation.

Me.

A person made in His image.

One way I’ve been taking gentle, compassionate care of myself is by carving out time, as much as I need, for respite. The Oxford Dictionary defines respite as “a period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.”

Respite is Biblical. Jesus took breaks from the difficulties of His life to be alone with the Father (Luke 5:16). Other times, He encouraged the disciples to take a respite (Mark 6: 30-32). This time of rest and renewal helped Him deal with grief, strengthened Him, and empowered Him to continue in His hard work.

Grieving is difficult, unpleasant work. It vies for my thoughts, both sleeping and waking, with its ever-constant presence. And it wears me down unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

While grief is normal and necessary for healing, sometimes I just need a break from the sadness.

A distraction.

Respite.

My sweet sister-in-law was the first one to help me realize I desperately needed a respite.

“We’re going to Gibb’s Gardens!” she informed me. “Bring a good book and plan on staying for the evening concert.” She picked me up, and we made the two-hour trek. The gardens are indescribably beautiful, one of those things you need to see to believe. We meandered slowly around the grounds, just taking in the beauty and the coolness of a perfect fall-like day. We laughed, we enjoyed meaningful conversation, we lounged on the grass and read, and we ate chicken salad on cranberry-walnut bread as we listened to the peaceful melody of a local band.

Calm, quiet, restful-it was a day of just what my soul needed.

Respite.

Recently a sweet friend filled our freezer with meals. Another friend brought over homemade chicken enchiladas-the best I’ve ever eaten, I think.

Now usually I love to cook. My mom taught me, and it was something we often did together. Trying new recipes and perfecting old ones, all while feeding the people I love, is a source of pleasure.

But not since Mom died.

After spending a great deal of my summer napping twice a day, only to wake up and sit on my back deck for hours at a time, I simply haven’t had the physical or emotional energy to work and then come home and cook.

Cooking had become a dreaded chore. And these precious friends knew it. So they offered to help.

And instead of turning down their generous offers, I swallowed my pride and my fear of being perceived as needy, and I let them take care of me. A break from cooking that I think all of us need once in a while.

Respite.

Last weekend, Dad and I decided to drive to Asheville and fly in a hot air balloon.

We’d been talking about it for a while.

Three years to be exact.

We just hadn’t bothered to get it on the calendar.

Mom and I had been planning a beach trip for the last week in July.

A trip I’d been meaning to take with her for years but had never gotten around to.

An opportunity I’ve now lost forever.

If there is one lesson I’ve learned from losing a person so close to me, so cherished, it’s that life is short and relationships are precious. Whatever else is competing for my attention, I must stay focused on the most important things-the family and friends I love most.

Prioritize them and put them first.

Show up.

Follow through.

Do what I say I will do.

Make sure they know how loved and valued they are.

So I decided to schedule this balloon trip for my Dad and me and make it happen.

Time to spend together, just us.

Respite.

Hot air balloons fly at sunrise. The winds are calmest then. We launched in a large field in front of a white country church, the mountains and hills towering over us, the valley below shrouded in fog. There is something magical and intoxicating about stepping over and into a small wicker basket (four feet tall at its highest point and no more than five feet wide) attached to a huge, colorful balloon.

There is also something a little scary about it because…

I really don’t like elevators. Anyone who knows me well will tell you elevators make me nervous. I’ve embarrassed a few of my friends by “freaking out” in a hot, overcrowded elevator. Once I even pointed at the weight capacity sign and asked the last people who got on to get back off. I wish I were kidding.

I especially dislike going up in glass elevators that are attached to the outside of a building. Maybe I read Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory too many times as a kid, but I always feel this irrational fear that the elevator will keep speeding up and crash right through the top of the building. Also the feeling of leaving the ground and ascending rapidly, the earth falling away beneath me, leaves me light-headed and woozy.

I’ve ridden elevators to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, The Westin in Atlanta, and Willis Tower in Chicago.

But I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed the ride.

I called one of my brothers the day before the balloon trip.

“Do you think going up in a balloon will feel like an elevator?” I asked nervously?

“I don’t think so,” he replied confidently, in that way only a person with a better grasp of physics than me can. “The ascent should be gentle and gradual, so I don’t think you’ll feel it.”

Still, as I stood in that balloon basket and imagined riding in it thousands of feet above the ground, I felt a twinge in my belly.

4,500 feet feels sort of high when you’re only contained in a little basket!

I even wondered what my dad would do if I hopped back over the side and bailed.

Then I reminded myself that I control my fears, not the other way around. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that God knows the number of my days (Psalm 139:16). I find such comfort and reassurance in these truths. I’m not saying this gives me license to try any crazy, stupid stunt I want, but it does help me to take reasonable risks in my journey to live from a place of knowing I’m completely loved.

So I settled myself and found a place to hang on.

We gently lifted off the ground, first just a few feet, then a little more, over the top of the church, the other balloons, the trees. Far from the quick upward jerking of an elevator, there was only an occasional, almost imperceptible shift in the basket that quickly stabilized. The movement was less than that of plodding along slowly over flat ground on horseback.

As a little girl, I had always imagined floating just above the treetops in a little bubble, much like Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Or soaring up into the clouds in a hot air balloon like the wizard himself.

The experience was just as I’d hoped.

We floated freely along with the wind currents, bobbing gently up and down.

We dipped into the valleys, and then rose over the mountains.

Other than the bark of an occasional dog (apparently they don’t like the sound of the gas burner), we were surrounded by silence.

I was overcome with the quiet, the stillness, the solitude, and the breathtaking grandeur and majesty of creation.

Respite.

We landed just as gently as we had taken off, easing over a rooftop and setting down softly in a stranger’s front yard.

This weekend my respite will be baking. Maybe I’ll even decorate the house for the fall.

In a few weeks, I’ll take a quiet weekend trip to Highlands with a few intimate friends, just in time to see the leaves change and enjoy the cooler weather.

I’ve realized that right now, I need to take good care of myself.

I need to set time aside for the activities I enjoy.

I need to spend time with the people I love and need in my life.

Maybe you weren’t faced with the unexpected death of loved ones this summer. But I’m willing to bet you are weighed down by the burden of difficult circumstances.

Disease.

Chronic illness.

Divorce.

Financial issues.

Mental illness.

Rebellious children.

Infertility.

Friendship betrayal.

Family problems.

Exhaustion.

Busyness.

The list goes on and on.

If you need respite, I encourage you to give yourself permission today to find your respite.

Birthday

I will celebrate my birthday on Labor Day. Not an epic birthday this year.

But last year was.

Last year, I turned forty.

My sister-in-law, Dale, assured me that I would really start living at forty. I remember sitting with her in Starbucks, sipping on a coffee. “It’s when you’re in your forties that you really begin to live! You stop being so hung up on what other people think about you,” she assured me. “And not worrying what other people think is so freeing! Your forties is the perfect decade. You aren’t so young. You’ve lived a little and gained some life experience and are hopefully wiser because of it. But you aren’t decrepit either. Embrace forty!”

I resolved last year on my birthday that my fortieth year would be different. It would be the year I let go of my insecurities and really, truly started living.

And I have, more than any other year, I think.

There have been many triumphs, joys, and successes.

I’ve traveled to many new places.

I’ve run a marathon.

I’ve jumped out of a plane.

I’ve whitewater rafted one of the most notorious rivers in the world.

I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones.

There’s also been hardship, sadness, and unspeakable grief.

I’ve cared for Paul as he recovered from two broken arms, a difficult injury for anyone, but more complicated for someone who already has so many challenges.

I’ve stood beside my mama’s hospital bed and sobbed, holding her hand, kissing and stroking her face, trying desperately to memorize her features, praying for help and peace, as she went to be with Jesus.

I’ve held and rocked my tiny niece for the few hours she was alive in this world, loving on her, telling her all the things I’d miss about her.

I’ve lain with my head against the fur of my good dog Andy, stroking his back and whispering in his ear as he drew his last breath.

I’ve learned that grief is hard on relationships. It’s very messy and not at all fun. Grieving people can be needy, overly sensitive, and terribly sad. Holding tight to a grieving friend can be heavy a burden.

Last year Paul insisted on throwing me a rather large birthday party. Mama baked not one, but two cakes for me. I, thank goodness, took a picture of her cutting them.

Most of my closest friends were there, and we enjoyed sitting on the back deck, just talking, laughing, and loving.

At one point during the evening, I was standing next to Mom, and she put her arm around me, squeezed me against her, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “My beautiful girl.” I’ll never, as long as I live, forget it.

Instead of gifts, I asked everyone to just write me a letter. I LOVE letters! They are so much fun to receive, to open, to read. And they can be kept, reread, and cherished forever. (Letters are also nostalgic of my school days, when the communication of choice was to write a note and slip it to a friend or boyfriend when the teacher wasn’t looking!) So at my birthday party, friends and family gave me tons of beautiful, handwritten letters. I didn’t even realize it last year when I asked, but those letters were a special gift from God, and the timing was just right. I can go back and reread those sweet notes anytime I need encouragement, a reminder of who I am. And because so many of them are handwritten, I feel the person’s voice speaking to me.

One letter in particular is priceless. You see, my precious mama handwrote one of those letters to me. When I see her handwriting, read her sweet words to me, I can hear her voice and remember how much she loved me and how special our relationship was. I wouldn’t trade that letter for all the money in the world.

In fact, those letters, written for me by some of the most important people in my life, are a treasure, more valuable than any gift could ever be. They are words of love, encouragement, and special memories that will speak to me for the rest of my life.

Because those letters were so timely, precious, desperately needed-true heart and soul gifts-I’m inspired to write letters this year to the people I love most. It will be vulnerable and scary to open my heart and lay it completely bare, but after this past year, I’m willing to take the risk because I want to make sure the people I love know how important they are to me. I want to speak words of truth and love over them, words they can go back and look at as often as they want or need.

Wanna join me?

These are some cards I handmade a few months ago. I just need to fill them with words!

Gratitude and Thankfulness

I’ve been feeling sadder and sadder lately. The sadness is maybe even worse than it was two months ago when Mom first died. I think maybe the shock has worn off, and I’m getting down to the real business of every day life without her in it. Also, our family has several birthdays in August and September. Mom was central to the celebrations. It’s the same for Alex. His grief has finally hit, so there’s that, too.

Also, the baby would be due in ten days. So, on August 31st, instead of the anticipation, excitement, and joy of a new baby girl, there will be emptiness; an aching, unfulfilled longing.

You see, our family has never experienced the wonder and miracle of a baby.

Alex is the only child on my side of the family, and we adopted him as a toddler.

Yes. Adoption is a wonder and a miracle all its own. I know that full well.

But it’s different.

I thought surely this little girl was the answer to years of prayers that God would bless our family with children. Maybe it’s our struggle with infertility that has made this knife especially sharp.

And if this aunt’s heart feels as if a dagger has been sunk in deep, God bless my brother and Tori. I can’t even begin to imagine their suffering.

Most mornings, I want to keep with my routine of feeding Andy and taking him out. I swear I can still smell his sweet doggie scent. And the longing to bury my face in his fur and rub him on his favorite spot right behind his ears is almost overwhelming.

Last night was a night of fitful sleep. I had two unsettling dreams. One was sad, the other very scary. I overslept and missed my workout, which was okay because I didn’t have the energy anyway.

This morning, Alex saw the tears in my eyes. Sweet Alex. He’ll scoot over beside me on the couch, say, “Come here, Mom,” and just sit there with his arms tight around me, my head against his shoulder. I’d be hard-pressed to find a more tender, compassionate boy.

On his way out the door to school, Alex reminded me that God can use even our deepest hurts for His good. “We talked about it in youth group last night, Mama,” he told me.

I know this to be true. The Bible gives testimony after testimony of trials that were turned into triumph, of mourning that was turned into dancing, of beauty where there were once only ashes. And I’ve seen this truth play out in my own life time after time.

But right now, I am broken. Shattered into a jillion little pieces. And I wonder how I’ll ever be put back together again.

Fortunately, I don’t have to figure that part out. The Bible reminds us that while we are waiting on God’s deliverance, we can cry out to Him, rest in Him, draw on His strength, and remember His goodness and faithfulness toward us. (Jeremiah 3:21-23, Psalm 59:16)

That’s really what this post is about. It’s a testimony to all the ways God is showing me He loves me and He hasn’t forgotten me.

Because declaring God’s goodness and faithfulness, even in the midst of heartache and sorrow, strengthens and encourages us as well as others.

So here is my list of gratitude for all the ways God has loved me recently:

• Our Sunday school teacher’s timely word: When God gives us blessings, we must learn to hold them loosely, always willing to surrender them back to God. If we grasp too tightly, we don’t allow God to take those things and give us something else. Some things are just for a season, and sometimes we must be willing to let go. Maybe we don’t understand, but we just have to trust God.
• An invitation to Sunday dinner at a friend’s house. She made spaghetti (my absolute favorite!), and we enjoyed just talking and laughing.
• My husband, who lets me curl up in his lap and cry.
• Friends whose eyes fill with tears as they listen to my pain. I’m not sure there is anything quite so comforting as a friend who will say, “I’m so sad that you’re sad,” and then cry with you.
• A friend who shared her pain with me and let me comfort her.
• My mother-in-law, who brought me two devotional books on grief.
• My sister-in-law, who lets me call her up or come over anytime.
• A friend who gave me a sweet gift, a cross with an inscription, just because “I saw it and thought of you.”
• My friend who runs with me twice each week , always showing up with a sweet smile, conversation, and connection.
• A zip lining trip with family and a friend.
• A sweet note of encouragement from a coworker.
• A friend who volunteered to run an errand for me while she was out.
• My father-in-law teaming up with me in the TRI to Beat Cancer. I really wanted to participate this year but didn’t have time to train, so he volunteered to bike for me.
• The sweet neighbor kids, ages two and five, showing up on our doorstep with flowers and a sympathy card for Andy.
• The children I teach, whose sparkling eyes, bright smiles, warm hugs, and giggling laughter bring a special comfort.
• My group of friends who met yesterday to start a Bible study on friendship. (Let me know if you want to participate!)

And there are a million other ways God is loving me well in this sad place. He is loving me through the wonderful, beautiful people he has placed in my life. Alex is right. Good will come from all this suffering and pain. Maybe I don’t see the fruit quite yet. But one thing is for sure: I can keep looking forward to and thanking Him for those sweet little everyday reminders of His goodness and faithfulness to me while I wait.

Laughter: It Really is the Best Medicine

Mom loved to laugh. One of the greatest gifts she shared with our family was her laughter. Mom laughed easily and often, but when was really tickled, the corners of her merry blue eyes would crinkle, she would hold her stomach, and then the giggles would take over, rendering her speechless. She would attempt to get a few words out, only to shake her head in vain as she dissolved into another fit of laughter. This laughter was so contagious she would have all of us doubled over, shoulders shaking, bellies hurting, tears streaming down our faces, as we watched her attempt to tell us what was so funny in the first place! If you were ever blessed enough to be around Mom when she thought something was exceptionally funny, you know what I mean! Often, Mom would bring home a story or a joke someone else told her, only to be so overcome by laughter that she couldn’t deliver the punch line. It was sweet and adorable, and we loved her all the more because of it.

Family Game Nights were always a time of laughter.

One of Mom’s favorite stories involved a predicament that my poor dad found himself in one morning as he was rushing out the door to work. He was running late, and if you know anything about Dad, you know how much he values punctuality. Because his morning had gotten off to a late start, he was in what Mom would describe as “a tizzy.” Nothing was going right for him, he was frustrated, and so he was stomping around, rushing, and fussing as he gathered his briefcase and coffee and hurried to the car.

Now, both of my brothers loved BMX bikes back in the day. A favorite pastime of my older brother was building ramps and setting up jumps. (At one point, he even set up a quarter pipe at the end of our driveway.) Needless to say, as Jordan’s enthusiasm for bikes grew, so did Rob’s enthusiasm for building ramps for Jordan to jump. In the yard that morning, perfectly angled in my dad’s turnaround, was one of Rob’s latest creations, a fairly tall ramp made out of two-by-fours and plywood.

In his haste, Dad started the car (a tiny, bright blue Geo Metro belonging to the dealership where he worked), shoved the gear shift into reverse, and with nary a glance in the rearview mirror, he stomped on the gas and backed that little car into the turnaround and straight up that ramp. As the back wheels of the car dropped over the back edge of the ramp, the front wheels lifted off the ground, and the car was left teetering, rocking back and forth on the ramp, the wheels still spinning. It reminded me a lot of what a bug looks like when you pick it up by its middle, and its legs are moving but it isn’t going anywhere.

Mom, who had frantically run out the door to catch Dad and give him an item he’d left (probably his lunch), witnessed the entire spectacle. She claimed the best part was the expression of utter disbelief that crossed Dad’s face as his mind tried to make sense of what had just happened.

Mom, in a hysterical fit of laughter, crawled back into the house for reinforcements to help Dad lift the car off the ramp so he could be on his way. Rob and I were standing in the kitchen, and at first we thought something was terribly wrong, since Mom was so overcome we thought she was crying. Rob ran out to see, and I could hear his loud guffaws. When I ventured out and peeked around the corner of the garage, there was Dad, still sitting in the car, a look of utter bafflement on his face.

Mom could never hear or tell that story without dissolving into a fit of laughter as she relived that morning.

This summer, this entire year really, has been incredibly difficult and painful for our family. We have been wading through the thick, murky waters of unspeakable grief upon grief. No. Drowning in those waters would be more accurate. This year has been almost unbelievable; so awful, in fact, that I can’t seem to even wrap my mind around the truth and reality of everything that’s happened. It feels surreal, and I can’t figure out where to land to begin trying to sort through and start processing all the hurt.

Do you know how overwhelming it feels when you have a monumental task before you, like packing up your house for a move? You need to sort through all your stuff, deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and what to give to Goodwill. Just when you think you couldn’t possibly have anything else, you open up another closet and more stuff spills out. And you wonder, how is this possible? Stuff keeps multiplying! And you aren’t sure where, or how, to begin? That’s sort of how I feel about everything that has happened this year. I don’t even know where or how to begin sorting through the grief, and I’m drowning in it. Just like packing up and moving, this is one of those things I can’t do alone. It’s all too much, and I don’t even know where to begin.

Unless I have definite plans with friends or family, most days find me sitting on our porch, taking naps, or reading. I feel exhausted as soon as I wake up, and I just don’t have the motivation or the energy to do anything.

Tomatoes are finally ripening in Paul’s little garden box. Alex rolled his eyes and huffed, “Really?” when I announced dinner last night: BLTs. Again. I’m not sure how many times we’ve had BLT sandwiches recently. Let’s suffice it to say probably too many. But sandwiches take very little effort, almost no planning, and don’t mess up the kitchen.

I think getting back to work and my routine next week will work wonders.

Anyway, in the middle of all this grief, shock, and trauma, I have been thinking about laughter.

Almost everyone, I’m guessing, has heard the quote “Laughter is the best medicine.” Research studies have been conducted on the healing powers of laughter.

The Bible teaches us about the importance of laughter, especially in the midst of unbearable pain.

“…Blessed are ye that weep now; for ye shall laugh.” –Luke 6:21

“Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with joyful songs.” –Psalm 126:2

“He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” –Job 8:21

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
-Ecclesiastes 3:4

I know. Laughing in the face of the unimaginable seems almost counterintuitive. But there is wisdom and truth in the idea that laughter can help us heal.

Finding a reason to laugh, even when we’re desperately grieving, gives us hope and keeps us from turning bitter.

Laughter can also drive out fear, loneliness, and abandonment (all feelings and issues I’ve been struggling with lately).

Laughter and fun is a favorite and necessary part of friendships. Laughing together is what makes us want to keep showing up and coming back.Remembering the fun is what helps us make it through the hard stuff together.

On Friday, I spent the evening with Dale and her best friend, Kay. We ate-wait for it-yummy vegetable sandwiches and these ridiculously delicious brownies that Dale makes. We talked about Mom and cried, of course. But then we watched a movie that is kind of a tradition for us, and we laughed at the antics. Kay also shared a funny video with us, and we laughed some more. And it felt good.

Saturday, I drove to Atlanta to be with my friend, Diana. A baby shower for Tori and baby Melissa had originally been planned for that afternoon, and so the day was especially painful. We should have been celebrating new life, not mourning so many deaths. Sweet Diana had mapped out a fun day of eating and shopping. She took me to places I’d never been, and we ate amazing foods I’d never tried. But the best part of the day for me was all the laughter. We found funny greeting cards to read aloud to each other. We browsed clothing stores and found silly outfits to try on together. (My friends who shop with me know that we have to try on at least one crazy outfit together and take a picture!) There were also moments of sadness, and Diana held space for that too, but the part that stands out most is all the laughter. It felt so good.

Dressing alike and taking a picture is a tradition with my friends! It always involves laughter!

Yesterday after church, friends took Paul, Alex, and me out for lunch. We recounted funny stories, and we laughed. My friend Chastity came over later to hang out by the pool for the afternoon. She is one of the wittiest people I know. And although much of our conversation was serious, there was still space for laughter and silliness. And that felt good.

Mom knew the healing power of laughter well. She faced difficulties in her life. She lost her brother in a terrible car accident. She battled cancer off and on for thirteen years. And of course there were other hardships. But through it all, Mom always found a reason to smile, find joy, and laugh. She firmly believed that no matter what her circumstances, she could still smile, laugh, and find joy in life because her hope was firmly rooted in Jesus and His promises. Mom taught me invaluable lessons about laughter, a gift that will help immensely as I learn to do life without her.

I’m so thankful for the people in my life who are showing up, being here, and crying with me. But I’m also thankful those people aren’t afraid to laugh with me. Laughter is healing and hope. In fact, I think it may be just as important as the tears. What do you think?

My prayer for you today is that, no matter what you are going through, you can find a reason to laugh.

I leave you with some pictures to inspire you!

Baltic Vacation

My sweet in-laws took Paul, Alex, and me on a cruise to the Baltic Sea. The main purpose of this trip was to afford Alex the opportunity to see the beautiful city of his birth, St. Petersburg, Russia. Although we were only in St. Petersburg for ten hours, touring the city was nostalgic for me, and Alex was stunned by the beauty and richness of the history, architecture, and culture. Alex was unusually quiet and pensive throughout that day. I’m not exactly sure what his thoughts were, but I’m hoping one day he will share with me.

As we were running today, a friend asked me if I would post pictures of our trip. I promised her I would. Instead of writing a blog, I have decided to tell this story in pictures and captions. Sadly, Paul is absent from many of the pictures because he was unable to walk far enough to see most of the sights.

Paul and Alex are just settling in for the long flight to Amsterdam. Neither are thrilled.
My view as we arrive in Stockholm.
Our family seated for dinner on board the Silhouette.
Alex talked me into trying his frog legs. This is my vomit face.
Alex’s opinion of the frog legs was clearly much better than mine.
Church in the Rock-Helsinki, Finland
Catherine’s Palace-St. Petersburg, Russia
The gold inside Catherine’s Palace was unbelievable!
Alex gets his first look at Church of the Spilled Blood-St. Petersburg, Russia
Sweet boy in front of the church. It was so crowded that day!
Alex could not believe some of the color choices for cars-St. Petersburg, Russia
The Hermitage (Winter Palace) is behind us-St. Petersburg, Russia.
A view of the Hermitage across the Neva River.
Peter and Paul Cathedral-St. Petersburg, Russia
A picture inside the cathedral
Peter and Paul Cathedral is the burial place of many Russian emperors and empresses.
Tallinn’s Song Festival grounds-Tallinn, Estonia

Beautiful architecture in Riga, Latvia. If I could, I would paint my house that gorgeous blue and cream!
Riga, Latvia
Shopping in Riga, Latvia
In Riga, they use old airship hangars (think Hindenburg) as their meat and produce markets!
I don’t know exactly what is in it, but this liquor concoction unique to Riga is potent! After I drank it, I needed a few seconds to catch my breath!
If you’ve never heard of the Vassa, it is definitely worth doing a little research! This ship, which sank in Stockholm’s harbor in 1628 (long before America declared independence), is 98% preserved! Amazing!
A beautiful summer day in Stockholm, Sweden

Grief and Shame

Grief is not at all what I thought it would be. It is much, much worse. Last week, as I sat in my counselor’s office, I admitted to her, “I just don’t understand how to do this grief thing. I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“Angie,” she offered gently, “there is no right way to do grief. Grief is a process. You aren’t doing it wrong. It’s different for everyone. You aren’t going crazy. ”

She handed me a sheet outlining the different phases of grief and common manifestations for people in each phase. Seeing some of my issues on paper was decidedly helpful to me. In order for me to make sense of something, I often need to see it in writing. My thinking is usually along the lines of Let me read about it, decide how it applies to me personally, and then I’ll take action.

But grief just doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t make sense.

It isn’t scripted.

It doesn’t move neatly or predictably along.

I can’t just stick it on paper and move through the steps, checking each one off as I go, and then be done and move on.

Bummer.

Instead, grief bounces all around and catches me completely off guard and often at the most inopportune moments. It shows up as this messy, exhausted but sleepless, headachy monster that sucks every bit of my energy. I find myself behaving in ways that are completely new to me. Sometimes I wake up ridiculously early and then take naps during the day. I feel completely drained and exhausted. I have awful headaches. Sometimes I feel like I can’t catch my breath.
I eat complete junk (if I eat). I am not motivated to cook, clean, or shop. I do laundry out of necessity.

I can run if I know I am meeting a friend, but when I try to run on my own, I make it about three miles before I just quit. (Just a few short months ago, I was running as many as twenty miles at a time by myself!)

And the confusion! The other day, I decided to eat a Blizzard from Dairy Queen for lunch (Yep). I could not figure out how to open the doors to the restaurant. I actually walked back to my car and sat there, patiently waiting until another customer opened the door. Then I tried again, figuring if they could do it so could I. I am not making this story up, y’all.

On Friday night, my friend Emma and I were watching a movie. It was not a sad movie at all.

“Are you allergic to my cats, Angie?” she asked, undoubtedly baffled that I would be crying during a movie that was not sad. I had to explain to her that sometimes I just start crying for no real reason, a behavior she is definitely not used to seeing from me.

Today, I burst into tears in the bathroom of a restaurant. When I finally came back to the table, tears still shining in my eyes, the waitress looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Sweet Alex just put his arm around me. He does that a lot lately when he knows I’m feeling sad.

This not-at-all–like-me behavior happens several times every day. I can’t predict it. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Yesterday, my friend Penny and I met for lunch, something we try to do consistently. As I was leaving, she handed me a book she bought for me, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!) Upon arriving home, I immediately began to devour this book. The book is about living and loving wholeheartedly, one of my favorite topics.

A must-read!

As it turns out, shame is one of the big obstacles to living wholeheartedly. It is one of those ugly joy-suckers we all struggle with from time to time. Shame tells us we are not lovable, worthy, or enough. And to live wholeheartedly, to truly live loved, we have to believe we are lovable, worthy, and enough. Although the book isn’t about grief, it got me thinking about how shame has even crept into my grief.

As I was reading, a light bulb came on, and I realized I’ve been feeling shame at how I’m grieving.

I am not curled up in a ball in my closet, crying every minute of every day, which is what I thought I would be doing. I feel bad about that because I loved my mom so tremendously. I can’t even really wrap my mind or heart around life without her yet. I just know that when she died, she took a piece of me with her.

Some days, I take lots of naps, get confused, am exhausted and sad, and sit around while life goes on without some of the people (and dogs) I love most. I don’t have the strength or the energy to reach out as much (which is hard because I desperately need my friends), and my feelings are so sensitive and vulnerable. I feel like my world has stopped turning for a time, and I berate myself for not coping better, working harder, doing more.

Then there are the days when I want to have plans, laugh, play, and find joy. And I feel like I should be sadder.

And that’s shame.

Our family took a much-needed vacation recently.
Enjoying time with my sweet friend, Emma

I think maybe I’m not doing grief the right way. I feel scared that my friends will feel drained by being around my messy grief. And so they’ll distance themselves. I start to wonder if maybe I need to tone down the sad. If maybe I’m overreacting or being dramatic. I feel ridiculous for not being able to function or think normally. And I feel humiliated that the slightest affront will result in a meltdown on my end. Other times I think maybe I’m not sad enough. Since I’m not crying every second, I’m not really honoring the losses. No matter what I do, it’s either too much or not enough. So I feel shame.

Now, the old me would have taken the shame and retreated into a dark closet, attempted to go it alone, never speaking a word of this to anyone. The “everything-is-fine” mask would have definitely come out. That girl would have done her best to carry the burden single-handedly.

But this new me, the one who is much braver, who is learning to take the risks and live from a place of loved, knows that is not an option anymore. Although hiding feels safer and less risky, it also feels disconnected, cowardly, and inauthentic. Cheap.

Most importantly, God’s wisdom is that we need people, we are made for relationship, and we can face hardships much better if we face them together. The trick to dealing with shame is to realize when it has crept in and then bring it out into the light.

So, I put on my big-girl pants, and I told this shame story to a couple of my trusted people. After receiving the encouragement, compassion, and support I needed, my thinking changed.

I realized Hey! Wait a minute! In the span of five weeks (and just as Paul was recovering from his injuries), my mom, my niece, and my dog unexpectedly died. I’m watching my dad be completely lost without my mom. I’m trying to help a fourteen- year old kid deal with these tragedies. It would not be normal to pretend like these aren’t major, traumatic, devastating losses. My heart has every right to be broken. I need to give myself the same kindness, compassion, and care that I give to a friend who is hurting. I need to give myself permission and space to grieve however it is I need to grieve. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I think wholehearted living as it pertains to my current situation means grieving wholeheartedly. Rather than letting shame creep in and tell me I should be doing this a certain way, or that I should hurry up and get the grieving over with, or that I should suck it up and pretend I’m fine, I can lean into the pain, the discomfort, and the terrible grief. I can be brave and show up for myself. And I can open up my heart and let those who love me and have the courage to walk through this with me show up for me, too. I can allow myself to receive the support I need. I can trust that I am lovable and worthy. That the people in my life who really love me, love me enough to keep showing up. I can be vulnerable and take the risk that they will stick with me through this mess until we come out on the other side together. Because we will come out on the other side. And then one day, I will show up in their mess and do the same for them. After all, this showing up and sticking it out for each other is what doing life together is all about.

And shame should never be allowed to get in the way of that.

The Gifts of Imperfection (which I read in two days), along with a homemade chocolate peanut butter cake a friend made, and beautiful flowers in memory of our sweet Andy from another friend.

A Good Dog is a Friend, Indeed

I remember clearly the day I drove with Mama to Appling, Georgia and carefully picked Andy from a litter of four-week old chocolate and black labradoodle puppies. I sat on the ground in the middle of the wiggling, whining, squirming bunch. The sweet mother stood guard beside me, making sure I would not hurt her babies. I watched the puppies interact with each other, tumbling and nipping playfully, and I waited for them to notice me. I knew I didn’t want the first pup to come to me, as I had read that would likely be the alpha dog. I also didn’t want the timid, shy one who wouldn’t come. It didn’t take long for the first puppy, a bold little black one, to come strutting over and crawl up on me. Then came another and another. Somewhere in the middle of the pack, a sweet chocolate boy with deep blue eyes showed up, hopped in my lap, and settled down. As I stroked his soft, wavy fur, I fell instantly in love.

Five weeks later, Mom and I drove back to pick him up, and we didn’t even recognize him because he’d grown so much! He was carsick all the way home, and thus began our adventures with a family dog.

Andy was a gift to Alex on his fifth birthday. We stuck Andy in a box pre-wrapped with paw print paper, and Alex shrieked with delight when he pulled the lid off and a wet puppy tongue reached out to lick the remainder of the chocolate icing off his face. Alex squeezed the puppy to his chest, named him “Andrew” (after a classmate), and they fell into the grass, rolling, wrestling, laughing, and barking. For nine years, that didn’t change. It just got bigger and rowdier. (When they ripped a huge hole in an expensive comforter, I insisted that they take it outside from that point on!)

Although Andy was technically Alex’s dog, he really belonged to the whole family, and we all loved him dearly. He accompanied us to the lake, to visit our parents, to run errands (in winter), and sometimes to the mountains. When we piled in the car for a Dairy Queen Blizzard, Andy often came for a hamburger. Once, when my in-laws took him to Highlands, they stopped at the McDonald’s drive-through for coffee. As they pulled out, Andy flopped his head between their seats and sighed loudly.

“Did we do something wrong?” my father-in-law asked us, baffled, when they brought him home.

We explained, and from then on, Andy got his hamburger treat whenever they used a drive-through with him in the car!

As a puppy, Andy never chewed on anything other than his toys. We could never identify with the stories dog owners would tell of their pet chewing shoes, furniture, etc. However, Andy was a notorious counter surfer. Bread, cookies, muffins, cakes, chewing gum. If you left it on the counter and he saw an opportunity, he would snag it. There was the time I left eggs and a stick of butter on the counter for a cake. I came back just in time to see him polishing off the shell of a cracked egg. Another time I set our dinner, which was in a disposable aluminum pan, on the counter to cool and walked upstairs with Alex. By the time I came back, he had made short work of our dinner and the pan! But the funniest was when my father-in-law left his sandwich on the kitchen table while he walked to the mailbox. He came back inside, saw that his lunch was missing, and knew immediately who the guilty party was.

“Andy!” he yelled angrily.

Andy, head down and tail tucked between his legs, slinked off to hide.

We tried everything, including a blueberry muffin laced with hot sauce, but we never could break him of this bad habit!

One of the “Andy Antics” that our family and friends found most amusing was our dog’s love of TV. Not used to a TV-watching dog, everyone would laugh and comment as Andy stared at the TV, his head moving back and forth. If we were watching a movie, he watched as well. After dinner, we often watch the nightly news. Andy was always up to date on current events, too. His favorite show was Dr. Poll (about a country vet), and he loved horses best. But he would watch just about anything. In the evenings, after Paul kissed me goodnight, he and Andy would head into the media room to watch shows together.

My personal favorite “Andy Antic” was when Andy would come to me to be petted. If I stopped petting him, he would curl just his front lip and show me his teeth. On a dog with a snout as long as his, it was hysterical!

“Andy!” Paul would pretend to scold him. “No, sir!”

Andy would raise his eyebrows (yes, he did), shift his eyes to look at Paul, and watch until Paul looked the other way. Then he’d show me his teeth again. Paul would pretend to scold again, and this silliness would go on for several minutes. It was a game we’d play every day, and I loved it because it made me laugh.

Last night, a little after seven, as our kind-hearted vet (who cried, too) was giving Andy the shot of phenobarbital that would end his suffering, he told us, “You know, if Andy could talk, he would tell you all thank you. Thank you for the wonderful years. I was cared for, I knew I was loved. You gave me a great life. It was short, but I loved every minute of it. And I loved you.”

He also told us that we can really learn so much about doing life well from our animals, if we will just pay attention. This statement stuck with me, and I decided that he is absolutely right. So, here are six lessons on life and love, courtesy of our sweet Andy:

1)Play hard. Whether chasing a ball, roughhousing with Alex, or enjoying the company of other dogs, Andy gave it everything he had. He would run full speed until he wore out, and then he would fall over, exhausted.

2) Spend time with the people you love most. Andy loved to be where we were. He would follow us around the house or outside. He loved hopping in the car to go for a ride. Instead of sticking his head out the window, he would sit behind me and stick his nose between the driver’s seat and door. Anywhere we went, he wanted to be there, too. It didn’t matter what we were doing, just being with us was enough.

3)If someone you love is sad, lonely, sick, or hurting, your presence is often all they need. Sweet Andy just seemed to intuitively know when he might be needed. Right after Mom died, he would just come and sit with his head in my lap. One nice thing about a dog is he doesn’t give advice or speak platitudes. He just sits, curled up, head in your lap, offering a gentle nuzzle or a soft lick every so often. If you’re crying, he sighs in empathy. He knows to just be there, offering his presence, his touch, his support, and his comfort. And when I was sick, he stayed on the floor by my side of the bed, periodically sticking his nose in my face as if to check on me. One time, he even stuck it out in the bathroom with me when I was unfortunate enough to be suffering from a stomach bug!

4)Be friendly and kind. Andy loved everyone. Never a biter, he greeted family, friends, and strangers with a wagging tail and a nudge of his nose. If he really liked them, he would then take a big drink of water, come back, and stick his mouth against them! Eventually, he’d flop down in the floor, looking back and forth with those kind, gentle eyes while people talked, as if he understood the conversation completely.

5)Be loyal to those you love, and don’t ever let them wonder whether or not you really love them. There was no doubt: that dog loved us. When one of us walked in the door after being gone awhile, that person was always greeted at the door with a nuzzle and a tail wag. In fact, Andy’s favorite afternoon activity was to stand at the front window at four o’clock and look for Alex’s bus. As the big, lumbering bus turned down our street and came into view, he would start to whine. When the bus finally stopped in front of our house and Alex hopped off, Andy would bark happily, bound clumsily to the door, and wait expectantly, as if he could hardly contain his excitement at being reunited with his pal.Each of us was always greeted with this enthusiasm. And the longer we were away, the more energetic his greeting was. If we were away for a few days, his whole body would shake with excitement as he ran around and around, full of joy at again seeing his favorite people.

6)Peanut butter makes almost anything better. Enough said!

You were a true friend, sweet Andy. You lived from loved. We will miss you so much. But if all good dogs go to heaven, and I believe they do, then you are certainly there now, happy and whole.

These two were always into some kind of mischief!
When I dropped a table insert on my foot, this sweet dog stayed right with me!
He was always playful and sweet.
Christmas

Melissa

Recently, our family is learning lots of hard lessons about surrendering and letting go.

This past Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 9:41 a.m., my brother Jordan and sister-in-law Tori welcomed a precious baby girl into the world. Just under two pounds and only twelve inches long, baby Melissa was impossibly tiny. With her wisps of blonde peach fuzz, her tiny upturned nose, and her dimpled chin, she looked perfect in every way. We as a family had been excitedly anticipating her arrival for seven months. Dale and I had begun planning a baby shower. We had just chosen and ordered invitations. We had shopped for plates, napkins, and cups in pretty lavender, since Tori had decided on shades of purple for Melissa’s room. I bought a beautiful, soft blanket and had it monogrammed. A collection of adorable baby clothes in varying sizes had been accumulating in our guest bedroom for months. This baby, the first baby in our family, was desperately wanted. We fell in love with her immediately.

On Wednesday morning, June 14th, exactly one week after Mom died, Tori visited her obstetrician for a routine check up. After studying the sonogram, the doctor, tears streaming down his cheeks, told Tori that the baby was not going to live. Little Melissa only had one kidney, and it was no longer functioning. All the amniotic fluid was gone, so she was in respiratory distress. The doctor presented several options. None of them were good, and all resulted in the same outcome.

So Jordan and Tori asked our family to come be with them on Tuesday when sweet Melissa was born. We would both welcome her and say goodbye. We would do it as a family because doing life together, the happy as well as the sad, is just what we do. There is something so comforting about knowing that whatever it is, you won’t have to face it alone.

Jordan and Tori, two of the bravest, sweetest people I know.

The day was bittersweet. Births are such a joyous occasion, and this one was no exception. We were excited to meet her and to see who she looked like. But coupled with that was the overwhelming sadness that she would not be going home with her mom and dad. We would not watch her grow up. We would have precious little time, and then she would be gone from our lives forever. And of course, when you know you have but a moment, time seems to speed up.

As Tori was wheeled back into her room, Jordan, a proud smile on his face, beckoned us to the bedside to have a peek. Tiny little Melissa lay curled against Tori’s chest, skin to skin, sleeping peacefully. We oohed and ahhed over her tiny doll-like features. We counted her fingers, exclaiming over her itsy fingernails. We pulled back the blanket and giggled that her feet seemed large for such a small girl. We stroked her sticky-soft newborn skin with the lightest touch.

After a few minutes, the nurse checked the baby’s vital signs, then she wrapped Melissa in her blanket, and we each took a turn with her. We held her and rocked her, we talked to her, we kissed her, and we memorized her features. We said our hellos and our goodbyes. Looking back, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to sing a lullaby. But opening my mouth without sobbing was incredibly difficult.

Baby Melissa, so sick, didn’t do the things babies do. She didn’t cry or make noises, she didn’t wiggle, she didn’t suckle or nuzzle, she didn’t yawn or stretch. She lay in our arms, perfectly still and quiet. Beautiful. Precious. Innocent.

Jordan was so proud of his sweet baby girl.

Once we had all loved on her, we passed her back to Tori. At 12:40 in the afternoon, just three short hours after she came into this world, she passed from it into eternity.

Jordan, Dad, Tori’s mom, and I dressed her in a little white dress with angels embroidered on the hem. We put a white hat on her head. We wrapped her in her soft blanket. Then we placed her back in her mother’s arms.

The nurses placed a white rose on the hospital door.

Numb with grief and shock, I walked out of the hospital and drove home.

Over and over this past week, I have cried and prayed.

Lord, surrendering my mom and now my precious baby niece has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I trust you, I know you are good, but I feel let down and confused. My feelings are hurt. Please bring me the peace and comfort I need for this time.

The truth is, God is a mystery. Some things just don’t make sense. I can think about, analyze, question, and puzzle, holding on tightly and refusing to let go, and the pain will eventually eat me from the inside out.

Or I can surrender and choose to trust God and stand on His promises, even in the midst of my greatest burdens, heartaches, and sorrows. As much as I hurt, I know God will come through for me. He will not let me down. I can let go, believing in His goodness and faithfulness to me.

Now, don’t read this wrong. There are moments, and lots of them, when I question and puzzle, holding on tightly to the hurt feelings, the confusion, and the let down. I think that’s part of the grieving process, and it’s human. And I think God knows it and can handle it. He understands. After all, He endured the cross. But eventually I try to get back to that place of surrendering my will in trust, knowing that eventually the good will come. I am safe, my loved ones are safe, with God.

But, honestly, some days it’s just hard.

Especially right now, with my grief so raw. Most days, I feel like I’m in an impenetrable fog.

Today is one of those days.

I want my mama. Sometimes I’ll forget she’s gone, and I’ll think about calling her to talk through my grief and receive some comfort.Then I’ll remember, and the pain takes my breath. This happens several times a day. If she were here, we’d be helping each other through this. I miss her comfort when I’m sad. I miss resting my head on her chest. I miss her rubbing my back, kissing my cheek, and stroking my hair. I miss her voice. Some days, I just replay voicemail messages from her so I can hear her say, “I love you.” I’m so sad that I don’t have her love and comfort, her friendship, the peace of knowing she was walking with me, side by side, in the hard stuff.

I want baby Melissa back. I want to know her. I want to love on her. I want to enjoy watching her personality emerge. I want to watch her grow. I want to see her firsts. I want to play dolls. I want to spoil her rotten. I want. My heart hurts with missing her and with knowing that none of that will ever be for us.

The other day, I was saying, “God is good. All the time. In everything.”

“Mom,” Alex scolded, “you’ve been saying that constantly. I know already. You don’t have to keep repeating it.”

“Alex,” Paul chimed in, “she’s not saying it so you’ll believe it. She’s saying it to remind herself.”

Sometimes it’s good to say the truth out loud so our minds can remember it, even when our hearts don’t feel it.

Please continue to pray for our family during this heartache, especially for Jordan and Tori. I know how much I hurt over this loss, and it’s nothing compared to their pain. Their grief is immeasurable, more than anyone who hasn’t also lost a child can possibly understand.

And, as always, thank you all for being such wonderful, amazing ambassadors of God’s love. I’m honored to do life with you, my friends.

Thank You

My family and I are in the midst of the deepest pain of our lives. My mom’s passing has left a cavernous, aching void in our hearts.

But that isn’t all.

This week we were given some unbearable, unimaginable news that is right now too private, too tender, too raw to write about.

I’ve gone completely numb with shock and grief.

I can’t even cry.

And then, of course, on Wednesday our sweet Andy-dog sees a veterinary oncologist to see how far his bone cancer has spread and what, if anything, can be done.

I couldn’t write a fiction story and make it any more unbelievable than our lives are right now, I think.

My biggest fear right now is to be alone.

To feel abandoned.

Or forgotten.

I’m so terrified that friends will pull away when what I most need is for them to lean in. To reach for me. Because at the moment I can do very little reaching.

It’s all I can do to matter-of-factly state our current reality so they are aware.

Usually I’m very good at reaching, gathering, planning. I usually love to do it. But grief makes it hard to find energy-emotional or physical.

I barely have the energy to get through the day. I want to sleep.

I haven’t run in a week, if you could even call it a run. I haven’t exercised well in over two weeks. I can’t find the energy or the motivation.

Mom was a huge support system for me. I spent lots of time with her because I loved just being with her, and she loved being with me. We’d talk on the phone, meet for lunch, shop, plan get-togethers, cook, travel, run errands, or just meet up somewhere to talk for a few minutes. Alex also spent a night with her most weekends so Paul and I could have time together.

Now all that is suddenly gone.

Many people have asked me repeatedly what I need, what they can do, and I think what I need most is your presence.

Just call, visit, make plans with me, go for a walk or run, decide what you want to do and offer. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Your presence is enough. I just don’t want to do this grief thing alone because I don’t think I can.

Another thing I wanted to say is that so many of you have loved us so well, and we are grateful. I want to say thank you:

-to those who sat at the hospital with us for hours each day.
-to those who brought coffee, food, and drinks to us at the hospital.
-to those who came to see Mom; who sang to her, prayed over her, held her hand, and spoke words of comfort to her.
-to those who put their arms around us and cried with us.
-to those who were right outside the door when she passed, offering their presence and comfort.
-to those who helped us clean the house and put away Mom’s clothes and personal items.
-to those who brought food.
-to those who sent flowers and cards.
-to those who made donations in her memory to local cancer nonprofits.
-to those who spoke at her funeral.
-to those who sang at her funeral.
-to those who came to the funeral and/or visitation to love and support us.
-to those who came over after the funeral to bring food, service, support, and comfort.
-to my sweet cousins, who rubbed my neck and back when I had a headache that wouldn’t stop.
-to the doctors, nurses, and staff at Piedmont Athens Regional who provided such excellent, compassionate care and comfort.
-to her oncologist, Dr. Cynthia Shepherd, as well as all the nurses and staff at UCBC, who fought hard with her.
-to my in-laws, for taking care of Alex, bringing food, and driving home in the middle of the night to be at the hospital.
-to those who’ve left sweet comments on Facebook or who’ve messaged me to offer comfort.
-to all of you, our beloved family and friends.

Thank you.