God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

My husband and son recently rode through very long, cold, dark tunnels during a recent bike trip. When I heard about the mile long tunnels, my body tensed. My immediate thought, “I don’t think that I can ride through a tunnel that long. I’d feel trapped and claustrophobic.”

Well, they made the journey. No panic or bat attacks. Their tuned-up bikes and head flashlights made the ride enjoyable.

The pictures they took were pretty cool. I’m sharing them in this post. These specific tunnels were created to help cut through hills and terrain – making it easier for people to get from one side to the other side via train. No longer used for trains, these tunnels are part of a bike trail.

As I look at these pictures, I marvel at the visual symbolism of a tunnel.

In my life, entering seasons of hardship has been similar to stepping into a dark tunnel. I’ve stood at the opening of a hard season and was forced to move forward. The tragedies of child loss, severe parent illnesses and friendship endings took me from one reality to a new reality.

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As I look at this picture above, I identify with it. There is only one reason that I could enter. And that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is the one thing that would keep me calm and focused on moving forward.

Today, the light continues to call, “There’s a way out! Look straight ahead and keep your eyes on me. There’s an end to the darkness.”

Focusing on the light makes unpleasant journeys not as fearful or agonizing. As the light grows and gets closer, I can see more of my surroundings. And they aren’t so scary.

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As a note: There’s something that I didn’t know about the structure of mile long tunnels both in the past and present. They are created with safety niches/shelters. Just in case a train is coming and workers are inside the tunnel, the niches serve as step outs. These spaces save many lives I’m sure.

 

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I think about my safety niches along dark journeys – prayer, community of faithful family and friends who love me, hobbies, serving others, music, laughter, art, work, spiritual practices, etc. Each of these things protect me, rescue me and keep me moving forward.

With each step, as I get closer and closer to the end of the tunnel, the light gets brighter … and almost blinding.

Something new inside me grows. Hope.

Hope that there is an unexpected blessing or good change in me on its way.

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For me, the light, on which my eyes are fixed, is a loving God. Trusting Him keeps me moving forward and not feeling overwhelmed with the darkness.

Thoughts to consider:

  • What is a current tunnel in your life?
  • Have you entered it willingly or unwillingly?
  • What is your safety niche?
  • What is the light on which you are fixed?

Wishing you peace as you focus on the light at the end of your tunnel.

 


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What’s a friend to do?

“My friend is deeply hurting. She lost (fill in the blank.) I’m at a loss. What should I do?”

You’ve probably been in this situation. Someone for whom you care just had something very, very bad or sad happen to him or her. You want to help, but you feel frozen and don’t know how to respond. You care about your friend, but feel clueless.

You want to help and not hurt. What should you do?

In my life experience, I’ve been on both sides  – wanting to reach out to someone who is hurting or needing someone to reach out to me.  I’ve learned that there are three, key things to do when someone is in pain or suffering.

  1. Tell your friend that you care. Don’t assume that he/or she knows that you care. Tell your friend either in person, via a phone call, snail mail card, email or text. However you do it, tell her you care. (If your friend’s love languages are words and spending time with others, tell your friend that you care in person. A short visit will go a long way to someone who has these love languages.)
  2. Listen more than talk. You may feel pressure to say the “perfect” words to someone who is hurting. Don’t put this expectation on yourself. No one is perfect at handling hard life circumstances or major losses. Think of an open-ended question before you talk to your friend – a question that may get him to share what  he is thinking or feeling. Approaching the conversation with a listening heart frees you up to be both supportive and understanding.
  3. Just be there. Show up and be present during the hard times. Your loyal friendship and caring attitude may be what your friend most needs to move forward after a loss or during a difficult life season. You can’t fix your friend’s situation nor should you. Be present either physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Two things that I’ve learned not to do when a friend is hurting:

  1. Saying “I know just how you feel.” Your intent may be to use this phrase to show empathy, but it’s actually a hard thing for your friend to hear. No one knows exactly how another person feels, so this statement is not really a true, empathetic response. This statement also prevents a deep authentic conversation. Your friend won’t have anywhere to go in the conversation because if you already know how he feels, what more can he even begin to share?
  2. Promise to be present and not show up. Ouch. This one is hurtful. When your friend is hurting, he or she may really be leaning into your promises. If you make a commitment, it’s important to follow-through. If you don’t, your friend won’t trust your words and behavior. It’s probably better to not make promises that you can’t keep.

Life is truly a journey of learning how to best support our family, friends and loved ones during hard times. Not one of us is a perfect friend. I’m so grateful for the grace my friends have extended to me. I hope they feel that I’ve been gracious to them as well.

The important thing is to learn from each situation and grow to be kinder, more loving and compassionate to the people around us. Ultimately, as the saying goes, “Treat your friend the way that you’d want to be treated.” If we do, our relationships promise to grow in depth and impact.

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Your Light Will Never Be Forgotten

Since our final goodbye,

days turned into weeks and

now weeks have turned into years.

I can expect that: 

Every day the sun comes up.

Every night the stars shine bright.

The colors of the leaves change with the seasons.

School years start and end.

Favorite TV shows start and stop.

New songs and books hit the “top ten.”

Some friendships die;

New friendships are born.

Some memories of you grow faint, while

some memories of you shine brightly.

New challenges and celebrations arise.

A lot has changed in nearly four years – just the way many old stars have died

and new stars are born.

I do not expect that:

my love for you will ever lessen.

Never.

Ever.

My love for you is permanent.

It is as strong today as the day you were born.

I love you deeply; I grieve losing you deeply.

My love for you is now exquisitely fragile and sometimes complex.

A great sadness is married to a great joy when I think of you.

Just want you to know that I celebrate you every day.

Especially on holidays such as your upcoming birthday.

Nineteen years ago you came into the world and

lit up mine forever.

You are beautiful my sweet, courageous girl and

your light will never, ever be forgotten.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky.

Love always and forever,

Mom

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I celebrate my beautiful daughter Leah with joy and sadness on what would have been her 19th birthday this upcoming weekend. I encourage you to pause and celebrate your heavenly loved ones on their birthdays.

 

 


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Moving toward the uncomfortable – funerals and estate sales

Since my daughter died,

life feels much more temporary and fragile.

Sickness and death are in the forefront of my reality.

Not in a morbid way, but in an “inevitable part of life” way.

Having attended THE funeral that I never dreampt possible, my perspective on funerals has changed.

I’m embarrased to share that, before Leah died, I’d go to wakes, but many times didn’t make the effort to participate in funerals.

Wakes seem easier to attend …

run in, share sincere condolences and run out.

The long receiving line prohibits time spent with grievers so that I enter into the depth of  loss.

Funerals demand close encounters with the emotion of heartbreak.

Since Leah died, I more frequently attend funerals and memorial services.

Why? Because it matters to the person mourning.

Faces of the people who attended Leah’s funeral are etched in my mind.

While somber, funeral services are a time to hear personal stories, dwell on spiritual realities and sing songs of eternal hope.

Funerals, much more intimate, reflect beautiful stories of sorrow, joy and love.

They take us into a sacred space of searing pain, anguish, deep affection and hope.

(As I think forward, my sincere hope is that the people whose lives I touch will pause, remember and risk showing emotion at my funeral – laughter, tears, affection and celebration.)

And after respect is publicly shown, one of the next steps is to “go through things” that may have been cherished items of the person who passed away.

This experience is often either dreaded and causes family turmoil, jealousy, selfishness, anger and heartache or it becomes a treasured time of reflection and remembrance.

Attending estate sales are a good reminder of priorities.

And it’s not about accumulating stuff.

I attended an estate sale this past weekend where a woman left at least 10 large racks of clothes, 50 purses, boxes and boxes of glassware, antique toys and more. The home looked similar to a resale shop.

Walking away – a sadness hit me.

I left not knowing her story. What’s the reason she accumulated so many material items? Did she enjoy them? Was it a hobby? Did they make her happy? Why weren’t they given away to family members?

So much stuff accumulated and for what reason?

Her treasures will now be someone elses’.

Temporarily.

Until this person passes away.

Stuff doesn’t matter.

People do.

I know it.

Yet, it’s easy to fall prey to the desire for more and more material stuff.

I’m going to stop at estate sales to remind myself  how fleeting the enjoyment of earthly treasures are.

A true reality check.

(And I hope that when it is my time to leave this earth – that there isn’t much of “my stuff” left – that I’ve given it all away – spreading little remembrances of my affections to the people for whom I care.)

Funerals and estate sales – I no longer steer clear of them.

I encourage you to take the time to attend funerals and, at least once a year, pull the car over and stop at an estate sale.

There are deep lessons to be learned by spending time at both.

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“Do not lay up for yoursleves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yoursleves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Matt 6:19-21

 

 

 

 


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It’s Ok to Ask for Help

I see the pool’s checkered color tile, feel the ice cold water and smell the chlorine. Etched in my memory, I’m recalling private swimming lessons, that my parents forced me to take, at a YMCA.

Jumping in the deep end of the pool and learning to tread water were the worst. Feeling every muscle ache and the fear of not touching the bottom were awful. One time, I accidentally swallowed water while treading. I panicked. Even at 6 years old, I had some pride and hated saying the dreaded word HELP. When I started choking and couldn’t get to the edge of the pool, I finally caved and yelled, “Help me!”

My personality, as a first born, made it hard for me to ask for help. I have many of the stereotypical traits of being first in line – independent, reliable, responsible, conscientious, diligent, desire to be the best, etc. (Notice I’m not mentioning negative traits – probably a first born thing.)

When my world was turned upside down by my 14 year old daughter’s cancer diagnosis, my reaction was right in line with my first born temperament. I jumped into proactive, assertive and strategic mode. Momma bear also kicked in and I became my daughter’s protective advocate.

My deteriortating gallbladder and a painful case of the hives were the cold water splashed on my face that woke me up. I couldn’t do it all myself. And my husband and son couldn’t do it all themselves. Our family needed help.

Thinking about difficult situations that we all face, I’m pretty confident that many of us will ask for help when in physical danger. If we were to fall off a boat, most of us would quickly yell out “HELP” and accept a life preserver. Why is it so hard to yell out “HELP” when we are in emotional danger or difficult seasons of life?

There are probably lots of reasons it’s hard to signal an SOS, other than being a first born, that I won’t analyze in this post. I will share that it’s been quite a journey for me to accept help from others. The types of assistance that I’ve learned to receive include:

  • emotional: shoulders to cry on, offers by friend to walk alongside me in murky waters, counseling, support groups, unconditional acceptance and love from medical staff, online community of new friends/parents facing loss, amazing resources such as the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
  • physical: financial resources to pay medical and funeral expenses for my daughter, meals, gift cards and chores such as laundry and store runs from friends
  • spiritual: grace, latitude, forgiveness, prayers, prayers and more prayers from family, friends, church community and new friends

In the beginning of Leah’s illness, I wanted to shine as superwoman: the one confidently battling, serving and giving. The serious progression of my daughter’s cancer demanded that I accept, ask for and receive help so that my husband, son and I wouldn’t drown because of our exhaustion and devastating loss.

I hope that by receiving so much active compassion that I’ve grown in humility, understanding, perseverance, patience and sensitivity.

As time passes and my losses and tragedy are farther away, it continues to be hard to ask for assistance some days. Not wanting to burden or drain others continues to be something on my mind.

An observation for friends and family of someone coming out of a crisis or tragedy: Our instinct is to immediately help someone in the early stages of a tragedy. As months and years pass, look for opportunities to come alongside your friend who may look ok from a distance, but is actually struggling below the surface. We can only do this when we stay in contact and are in his or her life in some way. Even if you lose touch, most of us will gladly appreciate a hand extended with love, care and  friendship at any time.

An observation for those of us struggling after the initial crisis: Sometimes we hide our pain, needs, disappointments and challenges all too well. We need to realize other people may not see that we are not calmly floating through life, but thrashing below the surface. We need to yell out one word – HELP.

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Numbing Effects of Trauma

It was so lovely sitting outside a couple of nights ago. Wafting summer breezes create spectacular evenings. And, as I found out this morning, my annoying mosquito friends are also enjoying the night air – at my expense.

Last night, the itching started on my right calf, then my left foot, then the left side of my forehead. I started scratching my skin because it felt good. Temporarily. Now, I have four big welts and the bitten areas hurt; I didn’t even know I was a delicacy the other evening.

A revelation hit me as I was thinking about these little enemies  – robbers of summer peace and joy. Mosquitoes and their bites are metaphors for life trauma.

When a mosquito bites, I usually have no clue that it is coming for me. I don’t get much warning. Similarly, tragedies, more often than not, have hit me out of nowhere.

After a mosquito lands, it immediately secretes its paralyzing saliva – numbing me, so that I don’t know it’s probing around my skin.

Life trauma is similar. A life-altering, negative circumstance can come out of nowhere. When a trauma situation lands on me, it shocks, numbs and paralyzes my emotional, physical and spiritual system.

I may not realize for either days, weeks or years how deep the pain is. For trauma to “take” from me, it has to numb me.

It’s after time passes, the pain and agony increase. Just like the lingering result of a mosquito bite.

My natural reaction to relieve the pain is to focus on the wound – just as scratching an itchy mosquito bite brings temporary relief.

Some of the ways that I deal with trauma offer temporary comfort.

Some comfort comes when I:

  • Feel angry at the enemy that created the wound
  • Resent the wound itself
  • Pick at the wound
  • Analyze the situation
  • Ask “Why me?”
  • Curse the enemy
  • Ignore the injury
  • Succumb to results of the injury

As I look at the red, burning, near-bleeding welts on my leg, I think about the choice I have – either I keep scratching at these darn bites, or try to find a better way to deal with the pain – such as finding a truly, comforting salve.

Mosquito bites. Trauma.

Coincidence in pairing the two?

Hmmm. Something to consider.

My next step is to seriously think about the reason that I’m struggling with moving closer to a true, longer-term comfort. And dare I say healing?

I don’t have an immediate next revelation, but want to share this metaphor with you – just in case you can relate to it too.

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Note: Focusing on this verse today, “… your rod and your staff, they comfort me. “ Psalm 23:4

 


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The Gift of “Remembering” during Graduation Ceremony

I’m not at my personal best when I’m blind sided – especially, about personal matters. Most people are probably similar to me and aren’t comfortable when taken off guard. It seems that usually when I’m surprised by something – that “something” isn’t good.

In April, I had an unexpected call from the counselor at my kids’ high school. There’s no reason that I’d get a call from the counselor, especially since my son graduated 4 years ago and my daughter passed away 3+ years ago.

“Mrs. Guthrie, we know that Leah would have graduated this May. We’d like to do something to honor her during graduation ceremony; please call me and we can talk about it,” the counselor said.

Wow! I was stunned. Someone, other than me, is doing something to honor my daughter’s memory.

A grateful feeling came over me, especially as I knew graduation was around the corner. I didn’t know how I was going to react to the end of this school year. This spring would have been such a marker time in my daughter’s life. Some days it’s still so hard to believe that she’s not here to experience this right of passage toward college and adulthood.

When I talked with the counselor, she shared a list of ways that the school district wanted to honor Leah. I kept my emotions in check, but had a lump in my throat most of the conversation. The counselor kindly sought our approval.

My husband and I agreed to all the items planned. The big question was “Can we go to the actual graduation ceremony?” After discussing the possibility, we decided to attend. I really wanted to be there for Leah’s friends. She loved her friends so much. As I’ve gotten to know her “besties” more the last few years, I understand the reason that she loved them and I’ve grown to love them too. They are beautiful, smart, young women.

A few days before the ceremony, my husband and I were a bit anxious. It’s so hard to predict emotional reactions to these marker events without our daughter. We decided to arrive close to start time, so that we didn’t have to interact with all the excited families before the ceremony.

Sitting in silence most of the event, I tried to take in the whole experience. Having been a grade school volunteer for many years, it was nice to hear familiar names and see the “grown up” seniors.

Focusing on her friends and cheering for them (quite loudly), I got through the ceremony.

The gift the high school gave us included:

  • An empty seat where Leah would have sat
  • Flowers on the empty seat
  • Her name in the program
  • Her name on the scrolling marquee
  • Announcing her name in alpha order along with the other students as they  accepted their diplomas
  • Her cap
  • Her diploma

When the students left the stadium, the principal handed my husband and me the flowers, Leah’s diploma and cap. The whole experience almost felt – holy.

As we congratulated Leah’s friends, we also felt Leah was celebrated.

I’m so proud of our school district. I wish all parents who’ve lost children were treated with the respect and care that we were shown during graduation.

The high school gave us the gift of honoring Leah –  and we had the choice whether or not to accept it. We chose to accept. Some parents may have a difficult time accepting a similar gift.

My advice to anyone reading this post is: always choose to remember a child who passed away. It is far better to honor the child and his or her parents than to act as though the child never lived.

After a parent loses a child, one of the emotional fears is that people will forget your child or never speak his/her name again.

The fact that the school celebrated our daughter is priceless. Especially since she only attended six days of Freshman year.

So touched. So blessed. And incredibly grateful.

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The flowers given to us in Leah’s memory at the senior graduation ceremony.