God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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Save, Toss and Give away – Clearing out my Closet

I was brave yesterday. I decided to tackle the dreaded bedroom closet. Some people love clearing and purging junk. I avoid it at all costs. Actually, my mode of operation is to save and cherish. So, when I get in an “I gotta get rid of it” mode, I usually spend a whole day working on the task of cleaning. And then I can’t stop.

It’s amazing how much stuff can be lodged into one closet. As I began, I had three piles: save it, throw it away and give it away. Yesterday, I was much better at the “throw it away” and “give it away” piles. At one point, I had everything out of the closet and in my bedroom. It was such a disturbing sight that Mark couldn’t walk into the room. Slowly, ever so slowly, the task was accomplished for the day.

Throwing away the stuff that I thought “I might use someday” felt great. For example, it was freeing to throw away the mismatched socks that are never quite reunited with their partners, poor socks …. garbage.

Gems were found and gently held. On the far left, you see a butterfly rattle that was one of Grant’s first toys. Had me remembering how new and exciting it was to take care of my first baby. The gray haired lady in the white frame is me as I played “Grandma” for a team Christmas party two years ago. Had me remembering what a great group of people I worked with at Awana. On the far right is a navy blue, flowered dress of Leah’s from a daddy/daughter dance when she was about six. Corsage intact, but wilted. Had me remembering how Leah loved going to the daddy/daughter dances.

closet

Separating things into the three piles “save it”, “throw it away” and “give it away” has me thinking about emotional and spiritual items that I have accumulated over time as well. This morning, I am asking myself the questions: 1) “What does my heart need to hold onto and cherish?” 2) “What are the emotional and spiritual wounds that I need to release and throw out?” 3) “What love and actions do I withhold that can be given away and bless someone else?”

There’s a sense in my heart that these are very deep questions that are critical to answer. Top of mind, I know there are memories of Leah and my mom that I need to cherish forever such as my mom reading fairy tales to me when I was very small. And there are memories of many walks with Leah along Michigan beaches as we “oohed and ahhed” over beautifully colored rocks.

There are also feelings of inadequacy and guilt about serving both Leah and my mom at the end of their lives that I need to pitch. Memories of being so exhausted that there were days when I didn’t know what to do or say when they were both hurting and in emotional pain. All I could do at times was sit with them.

Then, there are ways that I need to move forward and “give away” my love to others. Even if it takes every ounce of emotional energy that I have to smile, encourage and laugh some days. Or, the “giving away” of forgiveness to those people who have wounded me deeply in the last few months with behavior that I would never expect.

As I dwell on this metaphor of deep cleaning, I had a sense that answering these questions may help you too.

What do you want to save, throw away and give away?

It seems that with the new year coming upon us, it is a timely reflection. Will you join me?

In the physical realm, I’ll continue clearing out. Since job search will be slow this week, my home office is next….and in the next few weeks, maybe even Leah’s room. Her room will be a challenge….but a time to reflect, remember and savor memories of her.

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yield better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.” Proverbs 3:13, 14


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Remembering the Angel Visit from Last Christmas

It was a cold December night almost exactly a year ago. There was a lot of snow on the ground. Because of the shiny white, all the neighborhood Christmas lights were really sparkling. Our family was in the front room. Leah was in her recliner watching TV. It was the only place she could sit because of the pressure in her stomach area. The angle made her comfortable.

A secret Santa was delivering Leah one present a day for the 12 days of Christmas. These deliveries caused quite a bit of drama. When the deliveries started, Leah was excited, then she got perplexed. She couldn’t figure out who was delivering the presents. Each evening she’d be anticipating the knock on the door – wanting us to catch whomever was dropping off the gift bags. We never did.

This particular evening was the same. Yet different. Leah didn’t know that a group of family and friends were gathering to sing us Christmas carols. My sister Kathy orchestrated the event. Several of our friends gathered on our block to spread Christmas cheer. Unfortunately, Leah was having an anxious night, so I asked Kathy to not sing right in front of the house for fear it would make Leah upset. I clearly remember Leah heard some laughing and said, “What’s that?” We still wanted them to sing, so they moved one block over to the home of one of Leah’s best friends.

Grant and I ran upstairs to my bathroom window and opened it. We could hear the carols very clearly. What a sweet sound.

Then I saw it. I looked up and saw a huge, white, misty cloud angel – directly above where the group was singing. I couldn’t believe my eyes. With excitement, I sent a text to my sister saying, “Look above you at the angel.” Grant and I just stared. It was so clear and beautiful as the moon shone right next to it. The angel held for several minutes and then started dissipating.

The thought finally hit me, “take a picture.” Here is what I captured.
angel

Because I waited, you can only see the angel faintly. Next to the moon, you can see one of the angel wings and the torso. What a gift that night. The angel joined the loving choir as if to say, “Heaven sees and joins in to bless your family.”

One year later, this memory brings me some comfort. But as the angel faded, so do some memories. I find that grief and stress have blocked memories before Leah’s illness. I’m thinking this temporary amnesia is normal. I vividly remember more about Leah’s illness than when she was well. This fact is painful because Leah was such a beautiful, bubbly girl for most of her life.

I ache for my girl and this Christmas is more about survival than joy. Unless a parent has lost a child, I imagine that it is hard to relate to the extreme void that the first Christmas brings. I am holding onto memories of last Christmas tightly. One favorite is that Leah and I made this gingerbread house. She was tired, but came to the dining room table and we made it together. She knows I loved anything gingerbread. I’ve saved the pieces to reconstruct it one day.
gingerbread house

My faith tells me that this is Leah’s first Christmas in heaven. I bet it will be spectacular. Being stuck here on earth, I am still figuring out how to cope with the loss of my only daughter. And I think of the white, billowy angel. And I think of God. And I think of the true meaning of Christmas. Not the commercial tradition, but the whole reason that we began celebrating Christmas 2000 years ago.

I understand in a fresh way, why it isn’t a coincidence that God calls himself Father and Jesus His only son.
This year, I can relate to the sacrifice of God letting go of His son and placing him in a manger. The agonizing pain of releasing your child, watching him or her suffer and die is indescribable. Either God wants us to see Him as a neglectful parent or He wants us to know that He is completely and totally – madly in love with us as humans.

So He sends angels. They are real. Human “angels” (metaphorically) in the form of friends and family and heavenly angels. Their role is to encourage, comfort, sing, share messages such as “Do not be afraid” and ultimately….point people to God.

God gave me a gift last year through the angel and choir. If I didn’t look up, I would have missed the heavenly angel.
I need to see God in these days of loss, so I will keep looking.

My wish for you this Christmas is that you have spiritual eyes – and that Biblical angels will point you to the One who loves you so much that He gives you the best Christmas present ever.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16


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Ebenezer Scrooge – My Hero, Villan, or both?

When you think of Ebenezer Scrooge, what is the first thing that you think about?  If someone calls you a “Scrooge,” do you feel complimented or insulted?  I imagine your knee-jerk reaction is to feel insulted.  After all, in the story A Christmas Carol – Scrooge is cranky, mean-spirited, self-absorbed and selfish.  At first glance, he’s just a bad person who doesn’t care about anyone, right?

Through the story we see Scrooge make choices with tunnel vision.  He dismisses people as an actor unengaged in the play he is assigned. Then through divine intervention, Scrooge has a personal awakening about his behavior and attitude. His tough heart melts and compassion for others grows too.  Scrooge is a kind person by the end of the story and we celebrate his transformation.  He smiles, gives away money and joins the party.  Happy ending.

Or is it?

This Christmas season, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is more multidimensional.  His character is complex.  We learn through the ghost of Christmas past that Scrooge suffered major losses in his youth.  His behavior resulted from deep pain.  Poor Scrooge never went to counseling or a support group to cope with his loss, so he stuffed it in.  What seeped out of him was toxic.

As my first Christmas season without Leah, I can relate to a deep sense of loss that casts a gray mist over all the Christmas sparkle.  I have new empathy for Scrooge.  I can understand why he wasn’t clicking his heals and dancing for many years in his life.

Approaching this season awakens many memories for me. Leah loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving 2013 was the last time Leah left our home for a visit anywhere other than to the hospital or doctor.  Christmas and New Year’s were spent at home, and they were her last significant holidays with us.

There are many emotions to navigate and I wonder if it is ok to be selfish this year.  For other people in my life this is a happy season.  For our family, it is a very bittersweet time.  I have decided to give myself permission to be protective, selfish and reflective this Christmas.

So what does this posture look like?

1) I am not making social plans weeks ahead of time.  Normally, I am a very proactive person.  Having “the plan” and calendar lined up are important to me.  Not this year.  I don’t plan more than a week ahead of time because I don’t know how I will feel emotionally and don’t want to make commitments that don’t give me the space to reflect and grieve.

2) I may or may not send out any Christmas cards this year and I’m not worried about it.  I normally would be.

3) I will not pretend it’s “Christmas as usual.”  We’ve had a major loss in our family and I won’t act like everything is ok.  I probably won’t be saying Merry Christmas to everyone in my path.

4) I am doing something special for myself throughout the month.  I’ve gotten into the habit of buying myself cut flowers in Leah’s memory.  It’s a bit of an extravagant expense, but the beauty of the flowers is uplifting.  They are beautiful just as Leah was beautiful.

5) I will probably talk about Leah to people – whether they initiate talking about her or not.

6) I will do tangible things that honor Leah.  Since she loved cupcakes, I am collecting cupcake ornaments and will put them on our tree in her honor.  We also bought a white stocking to put by the fireplace to honor her memory.  Putting up her usual one doesn’t feel right, but either does having no stocking to represent her.

7) I will give myself permission and space to dwell on the true meaning of Christmas. Other years, I’ve gotten caught up in the glitz and gift giving. This year, I plan to spend more time in meditation about the hope that Christmas symbolizes through Christ’s birth. Sadly, in our culture focusing on Christ at Christmas has become “politically incorrect.” I’m reading the encouraging book Appointments with Heaven which is filled with hope.

So, I don’t know if these things make me a bit “Scrooge-like,” but that’s me for this year. I hope you my dear friends understand. I do want to feel joy and be present in the moment, but this first year without Leah is tough, tough, tough. I encourage my friends who have had losses to give yourself permissions like these too. Don’t stuff your feelings as Scrooge did.

I like this quote from A Christmas Carol, “I wear the chain I forged in life…I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” It’s an honest perspective. We do have a free will and chose how to face our giants. This Christmas, I am giving myself some permissions that I haven’t needed to in the past. I trust as time goes on, it will be easier to focus on giving to others and blessings others again.

For now, I am going to keep buying myself lovely flowers such as these:
photo-1