Monday, January 24, 2011

And What Remains

This is my last blog on Above The Storm. The intensity of the storm has passed and though it has left an empty place at our table and our hearts tender to the touch, we have all come away from this season forever changed in many ways. Though I can't ever say I'm grateful to be without my daughter, I can truly say I'm grateful for the changes that have happened through this intensely painful experience.

For most of us, the family unit, in whatever shape or form yours looks like, is our world. Everything else permeates from that world. So, when you lose a piece of that world, you find yourself very vulnerable and rethinking everything you once took for granted. Sometimes, that is a very good thing.

After this storm, I can tell you now what remains.

1) Faith. God is who He says He is and will do much more than you could ever think, hope or imagine. In the darkest moments of your darkest days and darkest thoughts, He will be there. He is a safe place to land, the rock to hide behind, the ultimate shoulder to cry on, the grace that will carry you to the other side.

2) Love. It looks a little different to me now. It is wrapped in much more acceptance of other's weaknesses, differences and perspectives. My love holds much less judgment or critiquing than ever before.

3) A sense of mortality. We are only here for a brief time and I don't want to squander any more of it. Life is too short to keep accounts, waste time or stay in unfruitful places. It is also too short to not enjoy some of it! And death holds no mystery for me. If anything, I can be to quick to think about someone who is suffering, "Just let go, it looks mighty nice on the other side." Although I do understand, in all seriousness, that it is very difficult to leave people behind, especially mamas with children. But, truly, death has no sting for those who are of the household of faith. To be absent from the body  is to be present with the Lord...doesn't that sound wonderful? And to be reunited with my Jessica is an event I can only dream about.

4) Compassion. There is something about losing a child that leaves your heart forever broken, just a little. I am quicker to cry when others hurt, more passionate about injustice, especially involving children, more determined in my prayers to see the miracle for others that we didn't get and more understanding of people's actions who are in crisis.

5) Determined. And finally, there is a new strength and sense of purpose. When you combine all of the above, it is reasonable that we would want to move forward into a lifestyle that involves reaching the world around us, bringing hope and love to the hurting and lost.

And as for our family, we have found that "new normal" people always talk about. I worried that our memories of Jess would fade, but those memories, her laugh, her beauty are never forgotten. She is part of our life still. She invested a lot of herself into her siblings and I see her imprint on them every single day. That is quite to gift to us, I would say.

I think about what she would want and I know that moving forward would be on the top of her list. I would hope that she'd be proud of how we've persevered, even when it would've been easier to just give up and go back to bed. I know she'd have an extra hug for Kayla who's stepped into the big sister role that she was worried about leaving. She'd encourage Alex to continue growing in her faith and be patient in everything else. She'd tell Jordan to be a good "little man" and for Joy to keep up on her piano and to look out for Toby.
For Mark and I, she probably knows we still cry and probably always will when we it hits us, but I know her words would be, "it won't be long now, Mama. I'll see you soon, Daddy!" And that helps keep us going.

I am reminded of the scripture verse often said about Keith Green, whose life continued touching people long after his death and still does, John 12:24. "Truly, I tell all of you with certainty, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces a lot of grain." Our daughter's life and death has produced much fruit and will continue to do so as long as all of us who were somehow touched by her, continue on in the faith and love that she so beautifully demonstrated. For us, that is the plan!

Thanks for reading. I am starting a new blog on Wordpress in the next month or so on topics relevant to the Christian faith. If you're interested in following, shoot me a note on Facebook.

Blessings, Sharon

Friday, December 10, 2010

Going Beyond the Season

There's no doubt about it. This is a hard month for me, for all of us. On one hand, this past year went by so quickly but on the other, it seems like yesterday my sweet girl was here, loving us, laughing and making the best out of her impossible situation. I can still hear her laugh and her chatter and I still really miss it all.

The sights and sounds of Christmas remind me of the great sadness of last year, of the suffering Jessica endured day after day. Christmas hymns seem to trigger the most emotion. Songs of the joy and celebration of this season that were so hard to find last year are all reminders of the one who is missing from our family.
But in the midst of this, I'm determined to look a little harder for the joy this season. When it comes down to it, we have an unbelievable amount of things to be thankful for, moments to celebrate and reasons to rejoice.

It all begins and ends with the amazing gift of Christ Jesus. I have no words to express what my life would mean without His presence, His love, His perfect plan of an eternity together, all because of His ultimate, beautiful, matchless, gift of self sacrifice. Without it, I would never see my family again after death. Can you imagine that? Without His plan of filling the earth with a people that love and adore Him, we would have no children, no husbands, no mother, fathers, grandparents or friends. Our lives would have no connecting point centered on Him...the church, the body of Christ. We'd have no reason for it. We'd have no music, no art, no cuddly kittens, or playful pups. The tastes that delight us, the sounds that soothe us, the simple things that make us smile all originate from an amazing Creator. It is all His creation, His gifts to an undeserving people.
Any why? That is what is hardest to comprehend; this kind of love that is so amazingly unselfish, perfect and complete in every way and is bestowed unconditionally upon Yet, how much do we really embrace it? How much do we believe in it? That that love is for you, all of it. A love that never, ever leaves us. Even when we don't return it, it is there. When we're selfish, sinful and prideful, it is there. When we're feeling the shame of the past, or scared about the future, it is there. And in our darkest hours of sorrow and sadness, it is most definitely there.

Everything we are searching for in this season, no matter where you are in life, can be found in this love.The things to be thankful for, the reasons to celebrate and reasons to rejoice are found in the love of a perfect Saviour. All the we are lacking, all that we hope for, all the deepest longings of our heart can be filled by such a love.

holy family infant jesus blessed mother mary & saint joseph at mangerAs I reflect on that perfect, innocent child of God come to earth as a babe, I see His love manifested right before my eyes. It's been here since before time began and will exist into eternity, but the important thing is that it's here for us, today, right now, right where we are, right when we need it.

Love has done amazing things in our family this year, through the darkest days we've ever known. I hope and pray wherever you are, whatever is going on in your life, that you know and embrace the love of Emmanuel (God with us). It is a powerful, wonderful and amazing gift!

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" 1 John 4:9-10
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Things That Get You Through

One of the hardest things about taking care of sick child and then going through the grief process, is never feeling like you've adequately thanked everyone who has done something to help you through it all. You try to keep lists and get thank-you notes out, but honestly, there will be things that fall through the cracks. And even the thank-you notes that you do send out, seem completely inadequate....

I am absolutely convinced we are not meant to go through events like this alone. People gathering together in support of a hurting family is part of God's plan. The part of the plan that reveals God's love to a family that is in desperate need of His tangible love.

It may come in the form of a casserole or a ride or child-care. It may be as generous as a week in a time-share or at a lake. It may even be as practical as a refrigerator or money to pay bills. But the need that is met is so much more than the practical one. It is the love given behind the gift. That person is saying, "we can't fix this for you, although we'd like to", but maybe this gift will allow you more time with your loved one. 

I had so many friends say to me that they didn't know what to do or say ...and yet always said or did the perfect thing I needed for that moment. And that's because it's not complicated. It's simply love. If we love the family that way we would want to be loved in that crisis, the way Christ has taught us to love, we'll know exactly what to do. 

Everyone is busy. Everyone has their own live's challenges. That is the beauty of the body of believers. Each one doing the little thing that they can work into their schedule or budget makes up the whole of what is needed.

Sometimes, the greatest gift is a note or a phone call. I remember hearing from a pastor's wife of a church we attended years ago. Just to let us know that their church was praying. Had we kept in touch through the years? No. It wasn't about that. It was just compassion in action. Many, many churches came together to pray for Jessica. From many states, even other countries. They would send a note, or card or message on Caringbridge. We were absolutely humbled by the love and outpouring of prayers. And the thing I remember most is how much hope we'd get from those messages. When you're facing something as serious as Jessica was, you need as much hope as you can get. Everything she faced was negative. There was nothing positive happening for her physically or emotionally. All she had in the end was her spiritual life, and that was where hope made the difference.
You might think, what good was hope, when in the end, she still died? Well, I can tell you personally, it was everything. It was the difference between being completely depressed or finding something to laugh about. Hope was what made her get up everyday. It kept her trusting and believing that Jesus would do something wonderful for her. And He did. 

I know not very many people will see this post. There is no way it will reach all the people who reached out to us. But God knows. God knows every single effort of love that was sent our way. We'll never be able to give back to those who gave to us. But we will know how to pay it forward. And we'll know that it matters, no matter how large or small the cost. Because it is about being Jesus to people who need to see Him. We saw Him, over and over and over. It may have looked like dinners and care packages, but in the end, the finished product was a beautiful portrait of the loving hands of Jesus, nurturing us day by day.

Thank you friends, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Most Amazing Man

Today, Mark and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary! I cannot believe we are here (in a good way).
It is especially amazing me to me because 26 years ago, I never thought I'd find anyone to love me and stand by me like my husband has....never. And here we are, way down the road....still together, still in love. This blog is dedicated you, Mark, the love of my life.

We started out as next door neighbors, the only English speaking people in our Spanish inhabited building. One day, coming up the hallway stairs, I heard this music. I stood outside his door and listened, wondering who the musician was....seriously. It was so professional sounding, I did not know it was Mark singing and playing. He has been my absolute favorite singer ever since. :)

It did take a while for us to finally meet, though. I worked and partied nights, he had a day job. I'd catch glimpses of him, and he I, but it wasn't until a rug salesman pounded on both of our hardwood doors at 6 a.m., that we actually faced each other. The only reason either of us opened our doors  is because we thought the building was on fire!We have wondered if that was really a rug salesman or maybe an angel. He never did come back.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And You Shall Know the Truth really can set you free.....
   When your whole world comes crashing down on you, and you feel like you are free falling, where do you land? That is what grief feels like, and you wonder where it will end.
   It seems to be everywhere I look. Did I not notice it before, or does it seem to more prevalent these days? I'm not sure, but I find my heart broken a lot lately, especially for moms losing their babies of all ages.  And I wonder if they'll make it through, soul and spirit intact. Or will they continue the free fall?
   I spent my summer feeling suspended in the fall. Depression really took hold and honestly, I didn't recognize it for a long time. I was just going through the motions, spending my time keeping my kids occupied, hanging with Mark, and the rest of the time, pretty much unproductive and uninterested in much. Classic symptoms, I know. And it was obviously still connected to my grief. But lately, I can breathe again, really breathe. And laugh, and look forward to the future. Thankfully, thankfully, the Lord brought me out of the darkness. I just needed some of His truth.
   It is always, only truth that sets us free. John 8:32 "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
   My first truth came in a prayer spoken at the end of a service one night. A simple one line prayer-word against depression. The blessing of being at our church conference, where I was supposed to be. The lifting of heaviness began.
   Then the emails. There is wisdom in the abundance of counsel. The Griefshare emails I get daily have literally been my roadmap on this journey. They speak a biblical word of truth to each season you are coming into. One of them said simply, "Are you stuck in grief?" Then, "it's time to move forward. It's time to let go." Like a huge spiritual slap, I woke up. I started doing the things they recommended; writing a letter to Jess, emotionally letting areas go that I was holding on to...not even realizing I had been doing that; taking on new things. Of course, when you're in the dark place, that isn't even possible, but as the Lord has continued to touch my soul, I am able...once again.
   And then a friend, a very good friend, at the right time, called and said let's meet for coffee. Not usually a major life deal, but when you've been in a dark (and lonely) season, a simple gesture like that can be like opening a window that you have no energy to open yourself. I know I should've reached out more, but sometimes even that is not an option. If you've ever been really depressed, you know what I'm talking about.
Somehow I'd gotten stuck, and by facing the truth, accepting where I was, and receiving healing words, the darkness has lost it's grip. I still miss my girl, I still have tears, we all do, but we are truly moving forward.
   And now, I can even do some reaching out of my own. Like to the moms I mentioned. My heart just aches for the ones in the beginning of this unbelievable journey. There are still days I don't believe we've gone through this, that our daughter is gone from us. But that first heart wrenching pain no longer has a hold on any of us. Yet, you never forget it. The sleepless nights, the daze you walk around in, tears that are ready to fall at a random intersection, drugstore or restaurant. Songs you cannot listen to, clothes you'll never wear again, pictures you just stare at. No, we'll never forget those months....and hopefully those memories will be a bridge to offer hope to others. And through their journey, they'll have to choose what to believe and where to put their trust.
   For me, and I think my family feels the same, grace has carried us, love has blanketed us, but ultimately, we have to face the truth. That's where the free falling ends. Do we believe what we say we believe? Is God who He says He is? Is there more to this world than what we see? Do we lose all hope and faith because one we love returns to the home they were created to dwell in forever?
   The truth for me is that Jesus is who He says He is.We can be at peace, we can accept our loss, we can go on knowing that Jesus stands at every crossroad, every tragedy, every victory and weeps or rejoices with us. There has always been a plan, nothing is unseen or disregarded. He understands our anguish and anger, he carries our pain as His own. If we let Him, He will shine His light in the darkest corners of our souls....and do it with unfathomable love. There is always purpose and promise even in the most difficult trials. We may not see it all, but we can trust in the truth, because He is the truth.

 "I am the way and the truth and the life..." John 14:6a 


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Front and Center

That's where she is....all the time, it seems. It's a crazy, crazy life for me. You just keep going on, doing life, laughing, shopping, working. And yet, she's always there. In my thoughts, on my heart, in my memories. (Also in my wallet, so I can see her smile whenever I need). She's so alive in them, yet so absent. I wonder if the void will always feel this huge or will time make it smaller. I don't expect to have my whole heart back until we're reunited, but I wonder how much easier time will make this journey....
I've never connected with a grief group, not sure if that's a mistake or not. I'm not really a group share kind of person.And each person's journey is so unique. Although it might be nice to listen to people who understand this kind of loss, it won't fill the emptiness. 

Like many of life's harder trials, it is lonely, very lonely. But I am coming to understand that's where Christ does some of His greatest work in our lives. He wants to be the one we run to. He wants to meet us in that place, be the source of our comfort. And He knows loneliness like no other. I think of Him on earth as The Christ, so clear in His mission, identity, passion, perfection. Yet, who could He really relate to on earth? To leave His perfect, amazing home with His Father to abide here with us weak, doubting, prideful, impatient sinners? Even being surrounded by His children, whom He loved, He had to have times of longing for His Father and heavenly home. But you notice, it never says He was lonely. The bible does say He went away to lonely places and prayed. He went there and connected with His Father. He felt His Father's love and devotion to Him. He was never alone. He went to the source who sustained Him.  

"Abide in Me, and I in you." John 15:4 
"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love." John 15:9.
This place of abiding is where I feel the lifting of loneliness. Although, it is harder to do than it is to talk about.  Reading over Jesus' words about abiding, seeing His oneness with the Father and then realizing that's the kind of relationship He longs for with, humbling. It's much easier to base my relationship with Him on how much I did or didn't do for Him, how well I served Him that day, studied about Him, etc. But what He most longs for is just my presence, just to sit and abide with Him, in His love. He wants to be front and center. I have to believe the void in my life will become smaller and smaller as I keep on....abiding.

We sang "Abide in Me" at the Lutheran church I grew up's got some serious Old English, but how perfect are these words for all of us.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summertime Joy

   I  love summer. All of it. The smell of neighborhood bbq's, swimming pools and suntan lotion, the ice cream truck playing 30 year old songs, air conditioners humming, sprinklers sprinkling, catching lightning bugs on warm nights, sleeping's just a great time of the year.

And like everything else on this earth, summer too is a shadow of things to come. It's the season we play the most and enjoy the widest variety of activities. Isn't that what our life in heaven is going to be like? A variety of activities that bring amazing joy. Even when we're busy reigning and ruling, I bet they're will be times of play like we can't even imagine. No matter how much time we take off from work or try to rest and relax here on earth, it just isn't enough, is it? Heaven will completely satisfy all our needs for rest and refreshing and I can't wait!

      But in the meantime, summer or not, we are still here in the "shadowlands". And lately joy has been on my heart, or the lack of it. Though my season of grief is easing up a bit, I still long for that inner joy  I once knew. Life just seems to be one challenge after another, which seems true for most of the people I know right now. It is no easy thing to be a Christian these days (as if it ever was :)). That is why the rewards of heaven are so enticing. And they should be! Reminding ourselves of what awaits us when we remain faithful is a beautiful thing and can really give hope on tough days. Aside from the magnificence of heaven itself, there are numerous possible blessings (I found 38 eternal rewards so far) in the bible; the rewards for bringing souls into the kingdom, (we will shine like the stars forever), the crown of life(enduring testing and temptation), the crown of righteousness (faithfulness), the crown of glory (elders), the inheritance that awaits us, being joint-heirs with Christ, eternal rest, the incorruptible crown, etc., etc.
   All the way back to Daniel and the Psalms I found promises regarding eternity. That tells me that the Lord knew how much His people would need to hear what awaits us. But I think there's more. It's like my kids, asking me what I'll give them if they do this or that for me. Sometimes I tell them nothing above what we've already given or provided, it's just what's expected of them. However, if it's above and beyond normal chores or responsibilities, we really love rewarding them. I think it's that way with us and the Lord. He wants us to know what we can possibly receive above and beyond salvation, or basic entrance into heaven. It can challenges us to do more for Him, reach more people, excel in our spiritual growth.... reach for some of those rewards! Now if only my kids felt challenged to go above and beyond :). 
   I really am glad for all the bible teaches us about our future, of all that is to come, of all that is possible for us to receive. And I know that in that mix of blessings and rewards, there will be joy; immeasurable joy, in fact...the kind that will never fade. In the meantime, I will keep asking for some right here and now, even if it feels miles away. He said to ask, so I'm asking, Lord make my joy full. And help me to remember all the good things that lie ahead. My Jessica is already enjoying her rewards, and I know she'd want me to keep working toward my own. While enjoying summer, of course! ~