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! ~ 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Figuring Out the Future

It's been a long time since I've written, I know! May was just such a rough month. I don't want to keep writing about sad times, but that's probably dumb, because of course they're going to be around for a while. I was gearing up for May, and actually felt like Jessica's birthday on May 4th was pretty special, not so sad. Lots of people joined us in planting pink flowers or donating inspirational books to their local library in her honor. I received some beautiful pink lillies and a keepsake, of course! 

It was Mother's Day that took the wind right out of me. The night before I watched the video of Jessica's life that we played at the funeral. I hadn't watched it since then. It was actually therapeautic...just to remember all the stages of her life, her smile, her beauty. Even her personality shines through the pictures. 

The next day pretty much started and ended with tears and would've been all downhill, except for all the sweet things Mark and the kids did to make it special. But, I will say that Mother's Day took on a whole new perspective for me, even as I worked through my own pain of missing one of my children. I thought of the many others who find it a difficult day; all the mothers who know the pain of burying a child (or more than one), women who can't have children, mother's who lost their children serving our country, children of divorce who can't see their moms, children who never knew their mothers, children who lost their mothers early in life, etc., etc. When you think about it, it can be a very painful day for a whole lot of people.... It is always good to have your eyes opened to others' suffering.
My birthday was the following week, then Kayla's. Yah, we take care of most of our family celebrations in one month :). The good thing is that we now have a whole lot of "firsts" behind us.
The other difficult thing this month is our relationship with Cory. There have been things said, assumptions made, Facebook wars (which I try to stay away from and out of), etc. that just leave a very bitter taste. Making it more difficult is the fact that Cory doesn't seem to want anything to do with Christians or Christianity....that's a breakdown in our relationship right there.
None of us have any problem with Cory having a new relationship. In fact, I told him early on that would probably happen. I think the problems arose when communication broke down and we found ourselves in very different places in our grief, and felt like Jessica was no longer being honored or remembered, a little too early in the process for anyone to be okay with. Yet, somehow for peace, you have to accept painful situations and move on, and mostly...keep praying! The question I have to keep coming back to is, what does the Lord want from me in this? What can I learn? Where do we go from here? That is what we're all working on right now. 
One of the "wake-ups" for me are that life is really moving forward.....and quickly! A death does not slow life down, even if you feel like it all has come to a screeching halt. And moving forward is a healthy thing, if you move in the Lord's timing.
So, how do you reconcile the past...a life you had with an additional family member....with the season of sickness, death and grief ....and now with the present and the future? It is actually a process that requires some solid decision making and lots of wisdom and prayer.  But, I think, if you don't take the time to figure it out and process, someday it will all come crashing in on you.
We all know people who are letting the past keep them from their future...hung up on memories or hurts from their past. At the same time, it is the past and the people in it that mold us into who we are, flaws and qualities alike, so you can never really be separated from it. I want to find a healthy way to keep Jessica a part of our history and our lives, but also be able to accept that our lives here on earth with her are completely and totally over and we NEED to make the necessary adjustments to move forward. I tell you, this one is taking some time to work through. And I'm sure there's a grief book somewhere with a chapter dedicated to this issue :). 
I am just so thankful that the Lord keeps opening our eyes to what is necessary and healthy. That He is so emotionally, personally, and deeply committed to us, to our pain, to our healing, to our futures. I can hardly comprehend such a love.....
Many good things continue happening around here too. We're finding the joy of working on our music is back and seems to be coming together in a fresh way. We had our first real social event at our house since the funeral (Alex's bible college graduation), the girls are both making plans to start community college this fall and we've already gotten a zoo trip in as well as a few beach days! 

It's so good to feel the warmth of the summer sun and the salty breezes off the ocean once again, to watch my children continue maturing and finding their passions, to create new memories that will someday create a slideshow uniquely different from the one I watched a few weeks ago...there's a whole new chapter of our lives ready to be written and I think I'm ready for it.....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Feeling Like a Clay Pot

Yup, that's about it. Feeling like an old worn out clay pot these days. Last week was absurdly terrible. Nothing made sense. I had all these random emotions at once; anger, sadness, loneliness, more anger....
And I was all the more frustrated because I couldn't pray my way out of it, read my way out of it; even worship was dry, so I was really stuck.
I know I had some justifiable reasons to be there. Finding out my (former) son-in-law had his girlfriend move in with him not even 4 months after Jessica's death, conflicts with him and Kayla, with him putting her stuff (she had once stayed there with he and Jessica) out on the driveway and other little nips at our relationship.... It all just broke my heart. I had to release him into the life he chooses. You might think that's as it should be and you'd be right, except....for how much I love him. In spite of our many conflicts over the years, Cory and I had developed a fairly good relationship. To the point he could respect me, which wasn't easy for him. So, what should've been no big deal hit me harder than I expected.
I've also had some relationship conflicts with friends. And then there's the old "everyone is getting on with their lives, having babies, etc.etc." and so much of that is lost to me. Perhaps there was some self-pity rolling around there, I don't really know. It was just a dark place to be and hard to function.
Whenever weird stuff happens to me where I can't be my normal, positive, everyone means well kind of person, I try to think of who I can relate to.
Last week I was relating to people in depression. I've known several Christians who battle with it. They do all the right things, prayer, reading their bibles, trying to worship, listen to preachers, etc., but can't get out of it. Even well-known believers have been there. And it is certainly a part of the grief process.
So, relating, but without any real answers in this, I came to a magnificent conclusion. Ready? "Be still and know that I am God". Heavy, huh? :)
Job got some revelations, but never any real answers to why he went through what he did. Moses. Why couldn't he go into the promised land, I mean really....hitting a rock with his staff? I've done much worse. And on and on. We go through what we go through because He IS. Because He is all-powerful, all-knowing and is doing as He chooses in our lives. Can I really live with that kind of faith and trust?
Can I trust that if my daughter's destiny was never to have children, to only be on this earth 23 1/2 years, that it's part of a perfect plan? Can I live this life with dark days, sometimes weeks or months, not feeling an ounce of his presence, yet continue on in obedience and literal blind faith, trusting that He'll be on the other side when it's over (not ever really leaving me)? If I have to watch other people that I love die of cancer, will I be okay?
I think the answer is yes. Last week I felt like an empty, dried out, useless clay pot. I felt like I had nothing to give my family, my church, my jobs....just very empty. This week, some much needed refreshing came to me. Some of it from a dear friend who's walked through the fire of grief also, some of it came from a challenging teaching tape from Lisa Bevere, some of it came from hugs from my babies (my hubby was away in Chicago these two weeks), but ultimately Jesus decided it was time and lifted me up and out.
I think I feel like a broken clay pot this week, a little more brokenness, a little more compassion, a lot of thankfulness that I wasn't there longer, and even more understanding of my loss. I'll settle for that.
As long as it was His doing and He never leaves me. But I have that part in writing. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Always About Choices

The weekend was going pretty good, surprisingly so, I thought for our first Easter without Jess. Then I opened my Facebook.

There were pictures of my (I guess now former) son-in-law happily posing with his new girlfriend. Talk about a punch in the stomach! I realize I may have unwittingly gave him permission. Monday was his birthday and even though he's been phasing out of our life these past few months, I made him his favorite spaghetti dinner and brought it over to him with Jordan and Joy. We had also wanted to see his new puppy....or should I say new guard's part pit bull and already has quite a bite! My relationship with mean dogs is not a good one. I've been bitten once and cornered another time, so I won't be frequenting there too often. During our visit, we talked about the future and the dating subject came up. I said I understood if that was starting to happen and would never want him to feel he had to hide it. Ooops.

I had no idea he was already in a serious relationship. And they seem happy together from the pictures. Another time, down the road, I know I would be happy for him. But not this and not yet. We all think (the family here) that our girl deserved better, a little more time to be honored and that's just the way it is. No matter what the statistics say or grief counselors...that say this is common with men who were previously married....she deserved more.

He and I Facebooked (Webster is behind the times here)a bit, he and I. And he does love us. But ultimately, he's made his choice and will continue to do, that as we all do. Do I think he's ready and this will be a long and healthy relationship? No, not at all. But my prayers will go with them both. And our pain over this will ease in time.

He also brought over more of Jessica's stuff from her past. School papers, letters, cards and always, books! It was the books that made me cry the most. She loved Robin Gunn books and I was always looking for new ones for her. She loved all kinds of books, some deep and heavy, some light and romantic. We had the same taste in books which was fun. She would be so excited about the new Francine Rivers book that just came out! We'd be fighting over who would read it first :).

Anyways, in all this with Cory, I was thinking about all the choices that people make every day. We don't even realize how many we make. And how each one can affect the next.  Small bad choices easily lead to bigger ones. Even in the littlest ways. We choose to stay up too late and our next day is not as productive cause we're lagging. Then we're playing catch up all week. We eat that second piece of pie....and well, you know where that leads! We choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we wear, one decision after the other and they all have consequences. Some things will build up our spirits, others will bring it down. Some choices will show others our salt and light, others will cause us to just blend in. Maybe we skip church here and there. Soon it gets easier and easier to sleep in. Next thing you know the voice of the Holy Spirit has gotten quieter and quieter and we're listening to our own reasoning every area of life.. instead of God's word. How easy the trap is set when we don't make good choices. I feel bad that Cory had chosen to work out his grief without church and church support, without God, I'm supposing. I wish that all these choices wouldn't lead him to greater heartache down the road, but life without Jesus as Lord eventually does.

Right now, we're making choices here. To love, forgive, and pray, even when it hurts. And every day my first choice really needs to be to spend time with Jesus. Somehow when I do that, He feels invited to help me make all the rest of my choices for the day. Not that I always listen, but I'm working on it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Longing for Heaven

       I have got to start writing night, that is. I get on the computer and start looking at this and that, reading other people's blogs and suddenly it's 1 a.m.! I'm sure no one else does this....
     And of course, this is the week we're "getting back on schedule" (a common phrase used by homeschooling families approximately every 3 months). With the house tore up, school happened pretty sporadically this past month. I figured out early on in this journey not to beat myself up about schooling. We'll catch it up over summer. BUT, I was REALLY serious about this being the week to get back on track. The best laid plans.....
     We've had some pretty rough times this past month. I find it almost unbelievable how we're able to keep going forward with life. It's such a God thing. Tonight I was watching Jesus of Nazareth. If you've ever seen it, you'll agree the actor playing Jesus was one of the best TV Jesus' ever.  As I listened to his words, quoted from scripture, my heart just ached to be with Him. Such compassion, such love, such justice, such perfection. We are born with a sense of eternity in us and when we become Christians, that  longing only deepens.           I've always carried somewhat of a loneliness within my spirit, I think all of us do. But, since Jess has been gone, the loneliness is so much deeper. I long for her, I long for heaven, I long for the Creator of heaven.       
     I realize how much we were not created to be on this fallen planet. We were created to be with Him, in all that wonder we are never satisfied here... it's not our home.
I put this quote on my Facebook. It's from C.S. Lewis:
"There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often than not I find myself wondering whether in our hearts of hearts, we have ever desired anything is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want. It is the inconsolable longing" C.S. Lewis
     My prayer continues to be, knowing that my days are numbered (as are all of ours), help me to make the best of each one. Help me spend my time doing things that have eternal value. The distance between this world and that one is not so very far. I don't forget that as much as I used to.
     Tomorrow I'm hanging with Lee Penley. I've mentioned her on Caringbridge several times. She has been dealing with cancer for over 3 years and the reports coming in are not good. She and Jess were very close, sharing in the bond of suffering, unfortunately. Lee is another amazing woman; fighting this fight with faith and prayers, raising a family, always thinking of others, never complaining. Our time together is very special to me. We talk about Jess a lot, cancer, faith, families, life, death. It is another circumstance where the distance between this world and that one is very small. You just can't talk about what's going on in this life (with her), without talking about the one to come. It can be a painful place, but oddly, a comforting one as well. 
Lee is also going to let me do some writing for her, tell her story a bit. That is a real honor. 
     Well the necessities of living on this planet are calling out to me....and I must respond. 
    There's a lot I had wanted to say about this week, this very special Easter week, but perhaps I've said it. It is always a good thing to think about our eternal destination, the price that was paid for us to get there and how short the distance really is. Let's just remember that there are a lot of people out there who need to be shown the way. Bring someone to church this week, bring someone to Jesus and remember to live with eternity in your heart.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Here Comes the Spring

My goal is to not let more than 3 days go by without writing.....not so successful at that yet if you notice the dates! But I have had a different kind of therapy this week. It's called, "let's reorganize and makeover the entire house"...which has actually been going on since January. And it really is a type of therapy. Out with the old, the worn out, some of the things tied to painful memories. In with the new or different, fresh paint, fresh colors, a new beginning. The ironic thing is, this is the kind of thing Jessica loved. She would have been full of ideas for us! But her good taste has rubbed off on us a little, I hope. For instance, Jessica would not keep anything in her house that she didn't like. I thought that was so cool. She would rather have no furniture than ugly furniture. Me, on the other hand....if I could get it cheap and it met a need, well, I'd take it! But we are now adapting Jess's philosophy. Although, out of practicality, we have not yet arrived at having only things we love in our house, but we're getting there slowly. :)
Doing all this has been a huge undertaking, but a really necessary one. I wrote on my Facebook status that "it's been a long winter and we're ready to embrace the spring". It feels like a prophetic word from the Lord to us. Our "winter" began 3 months before Jessica left us, when we had the sense she would be leaving. We've had a long 6 months of  winter. Even our house seemed to be stuck in it. But now we are beginning to climb out of it, very slowly. It even feels like the grief is lifting a bit for some of us....As these scriptures say, and they are some of the ones I cling to......there is a spring

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.Psalm 126:5

.....I will turn their mourning into gladness Jeremiah 31:13
....weeping may remain for a night, 
 but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

It also feels like the Lord has purpose in all this that we need to move forward into these next few months. The good thing is, I know that anytime we are stepping into new and different areas of life, He is always merciful to move us gently! And in that purpose, I am even believing for some joyful blessings too. Those scriptures sure imply some good stuff is coming. And referring to seasons again, after the spring there is summer. I have always lived in a season mentality. That's what gets me through the tough ones. Winter has to end sometime!  

Recently someone told me that there is such a thing as a "spirit of grief". Meaning that if we are not careful(daily giving all our emotions to the Lord, staying in the word, etc.) grief can take a hold of us in deep and unhealthy ways, giving the enemy victory and keeping us from moving on in what the Lord has. And I believe that is what causes people to divorce, feel suicidal, etc.after a huge loss.
It breaks my heart to see people bound in grief. Although, there are times I see why it might be easier to just lie there and hurt. But that hurts the people around us. It hurts the Lord and ultimately hurts ourselves. All we can do is keep praying for them. 

In our family, I see the Lord's faithfulness to us. I am amazed at the resilience of our younger kids, the strength Mark has, the laughter and love between our girls. I do worry about Cory, I am sure I will until he's strong again. But today the Lord brought a beautiful word....Psalm 139:7-10
"Where can I go from your Spirit? 
 Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there
if I make my bed in the depths,  you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
 if I settle on the far side of the sea,

 even there your hand will guide me,
 your right hand will hold me fast.

The assurance that Christ is with us no matter how dark it gets, that wonderful people are praying, well, I have no doubt that will keep the spirit of grief off my family...and allow the spring to come in all it's fullness.... in Jesus name! 

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Hope Foundation

What a bittersweet weekend this turned out to be, truly the perfect word. Our church had it's annual Devoted Conference and they are always amazing. Worldwide speakers come and it's just a powerful time. But, of course, last year was when we received our gift from the Hope Foundation (a ministry of our church), the cruise. And Jessica was with me.

Going to church in general has been kind of hard for me. A few weeks ago, I couldn't even stay through the entire worship, as my emotions just overtook me, especially when we sang Yahweh. But I figured out it's not just the songs or the worship anointing. It's the building itself. So much of Jess's journey took place in that building. Subconsciously, she's around every corner, or some memory related to her sickness and passing. The cool thing is that our church also meets across town, closer to us, in a theater. One church, two locations is how they define it. So, we went there week before last and it was really right. Kind of a fresh start, but with our same wonderful team of leaders.

Then came time for the conference. Every part of my flesh did NOT want to go. I knew it would bring up lots of memories. But I felt strongly the Lord wanting me to go. And you know, He really poured into my spirit. All of the speakers spoke very strong words....getting into our purpose and destiny, counting the cost, choosing joy, being the lioness' that we are called to be, etc. Really took me out of myself and looking back toward the bigger picture. That's kind of the battle with grief, I think. Keeping your eyes on the eternal......
I was even blessed to meet Lisa Bevere. She's the husband of John, who I wrote about in last blog. All of their books will challenge you like none I've read... (Bait of Satan, Breaking Intimidation, Under Cover, Driven by Eternity,-I'm reading now-, to name a few....and Lisa's....Fight Like a Girl, Kissed the Girls and Made them Cry, Nurture....). Just fyi! Anyways, John and Lisa started the Pearl Alliance, which is one of the ministries we listed as giving donations to in lieu of flowers. They fight human trafficking and have a home for girls in Cambodia. Jessica left some money to that ministry and I was able to look at picture's on Lisa's phone of the actual beds her money purchased. Truly awesome!!!

But finally, on the last night, they did the Hope Foundation for this year. I thought I was prepared......It was wonderful how they blessed some women in need, truly awesome. And they also gave money to A21, which is another human trafficking ministry. But Jessica kept coming up. First in one pastors talk on giving. She shared on Jessica's generosity and giving spirit. She was one of the pastors there when Jess went to heaven. And at the end of the night, they sang a song and showed clips of all the women who had been blessed previously, ending in pictures of Jessica and some with all of us on the cruise.....and the words "In Loving Memory of Jessica Jean Snead".....

I have those same pictures. But the music, the large screen, her beautiful face smiling at us....the great memories that rushed in of that, overwhelming. She seemed more beautiful than I remember. I can't imagine her being more beautiful in heaven, but I bet she is. A friend of mine saw a vision of her in heaven during worship. Saw her in her perfection, laughing and singing. I imagine it, but it's not the same.

In the book "The Shack", he talks about the great sadness. I totally get that. It's so deep, it's deeper than deep, reaching into your soul. And you know inside that it will never, ever totally go away until heaven. That's the kind of emotions that came at me that night. And do every couple weeks, with smaller moments in between. I can push it aside most of the time. I can make choices that help. Like choosing joy, choosing life, receiving daily grace and love from my Saviour. Those are the ways I will get through this year. And believing that next year will be easier. Whether it's the Devoted Conference, her birthday, or the hundreds of reminders of her all around me, I'm looking forward to the day when I can be aware of  them and have a little smile.....without all the tears. That's my HOPE.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Extraordinary Life

I was listening to John Bevere on Life Today tonight. He has a new book out called "Extraordinary", talking about how we as Christians should be living extraordinary lives. I think it's going to be a great read! Paul and the apostles lived such extraordinary lives that people tried to worship them! And sure, we have our Christian "celebrities" today, leaders that have made huge strides in reaching the nations for Christ, but what about us regular folks? Can't we be extraordinary, too?

 I think Jessica was extraordinary. Of course as my daughter, but beyond that. The more I look back and see the choices she made early in her life (not without her mistakes)  and the lifestyle she insisted on living, the more I say, "wow"! She always wanted to take the higher ground, the road less traveled, and didn't seem to think that was unusual. But, as I look around me and watch this generation, I see how unusual it was. We are blessed to be part of a church that is challenging this generation to take the higher ground, but it isn't easy and can take years to desire that standard.

Early on Jessica desired a walk that included purity. She went to conferences, read books and listened to music that encouraged it, like Rebecca St. James. And even when she went through her season of trying to fit in, to be cool with her community college friends, she never got comfortable there. She'd talk to me on the phone and tell me how empty all that was. Her dream was simple; marriage and a family, and then some kind of ministry that would do amazing things. And even though she and Cory had some rough times in the beginning, (as do many young marrieds:)), they held tight with plans and dreams that they both shared....dreams of changing the world. I know the enemy hated those talks and plans and often tried to come between them. Cory would be the first to tell you that Jessica was the one who kept wanting more and more, more Jesus, more pure living, more adventures in Him. And that made him love her all the more, because she saw him through those same eyes. She believed in his potential and helped him believe in himself. They didn't hook up their TV the first year of marriage. I thought that was cool. They didn't watch R rated movies, didn't buy secular books, in fact, most of the books in their house were Christian. Jess wanted nice things, but was never really materialistic. Even her clothes passion was met with sales and thrift stores! And it's not because any of those things are terrible in themselves, it's just the way she wanted to live to guard her heart and mind. And yet, she kept life fun and interesting. No boring Christianity for her!

That girl had so many plans of what she would do when she was healed. The ideal life to Jessica would've been the two of them becoming missionaries overseas. Followed up by volunteering at the Children's Hospital, designing notecards to raise money for human trafficking, helping women who needed fashion input to get jobs, adopting orphans.... I could go on and on. Her heart was always bigger than her finances or free time! Even cancer couldn't quench that. As I've written before, she just wanted to do good in the midst of it all.

I have wondered, as I look back, why people are so touched by her story and her life. To me, she was just Jessica, full of life and love, anxious and scared sometimes,  an ordinary girl. But obviously, there was something that made people stop and take notice. An ordinary girl living her life in an extraordinary way perhaps?
Perhaps. And perhaps people are watching us, too. Perhaps they are saying, I love how that person is living their life, so full of life and love. I wonder why they are like that?
And then again, maybe the hard times of life have sucked the extraordinary out of us. I hope not. I hope that doesn't happen to me. In fact, I'm claiming right now, an extraordinary life. From this day forth, I'm going to look at ways to make my life a little more extraordinary. To be ex·traor·di·nar·y  adj.:

1. Beyond what is ordinary or usual:
2. Highly exceptional; remarkable: 
3. Employed or used for a special service, function, or occasion:
And I would add:
4. To be like Jesus, the perfect example.

This is our time to be more like Him, live like He did. Live in such a way that people take notice. Step out from our ordinary lives a bit.....just like a precious 23 year-old girl, who thought her life was very ordinary and has proved she was much more than that!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Holding Out for A Future

Well, the dog is on hold for a bit....good chance we'd lose him in our crazy house right now. We started doing some painting and then building closets and one thing led to another and now the whole house is a wreck, but in a good way! I feel like we're "setting our house in order". So much got out of order last year, because there just wasn't time and really, it wasn't regrets about that. But now it is time, time to prepare for whatever comes next. And if there's any lesson I've learned well, it's that we have no idea what the future holds. So it's best to be prepared. Not that I don't think about the future. In fact, I think about it a LOT. When I look to the future through the eyes of my pain, I can feel fear and dread. Dread of the coming months, all our birthdays, her birthday, mother's day, spring, summer, fall, winter....knowing that each season will bring us times of great sorrow and longing for Jessica, and many tears. Yet, those aren't the only eyes I am looking through. Through Christ's eyes, I can feel hope, anticipation, purpose, and His love leading us through.

Talking with our pastor this week, I feel greatly encouraged about how I'm handling this "journey". I had determined long ago, when I first came to terms with Jessica's imminent death, that I wanted to do this journey as healthy as I could. Selfishly, I admit. I want to come out of this deep grief stage as quickly as I can, who wouldn't? I know that grief will be my companion to some degree until Jesus comes, but I want to get on with my life and do things that help make Jessica's life and testimony count, even though I'm not sure what that is yet. I want to pick up my guitar and have it not feel like a chore. I want to make plans for family vacations. I don't want to avoid certain places, songs, and stores forever. I want to find joy on this earth, somehow.

I will have to keep looking at my future looking through both sets of eyes. That can't be avoided. Humanity and holiness. His holiness overshadowing my humanity? I'm counting on it. I'm counting on comfort and love and a great future....and maybe even some joy. With or without a dog. :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Puppy Garden

"So, they must not have read the book," I told a friend who recently lost someone and was getting a hard time because of the way she was grieving. The book, meaning any grief truths 101 book! I mean the first rule is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve (well, within reason).

Honestly, though, I'm not a big grief book reader. I tried, really! But the ones I'd look through spent a lot of time discussing anger (at God), denial, depression, etc. and I just felt like those were issues that were best addressed in the Word of God or in prayer. And I'm just not the "angry at God" kind of person. Especially with the all ways He's shown His great love for us this year. But I do have a couple I make myself read through, just because I should. And, the GriefShare emails are excellent.  So between reading what I must, talking with friends who have lost loved ones and pastors, I have learned some basic truths about grief that are just that, truths. Like there is no right way to grieve, each person's grief will "look" different.
Or the stages of way or another, you will go through them. Or how hard the "firsts" are going to be, first holidays, etc.

Well, the big "truth" for me right now is change...lots of it! This also seems to be part of the journey. A few months ago, I hated tattoos. A few months ago, driving to Tennessee alone would have been out of the question. Deep red/maroon highlights?? No problem! (I'll post a pic of those:))....which leads us to the Puppy Garden.

 I am not really a dog person. I've always had cats and we now have 2 large ones. Mine (Daisy) and Jess's (Toby). Yet, over the past few weeks, a dog has started sounding like a great idea! Anyone wants to stop me, feel free. Seriously, our friends in SC had the cutest little Yorkie named Sugar. A sweet (obviously) little thing who hardly barked and, I was told, had the smallest little poops so it wouldn't mess up your yard! Great things to know....I think. But I just loved how he brought such joy to their family.
Then I was thinking about Joy and Jordan and how it would help fill the Jessica void...just a little. And how much work could a little pup be?? We did fine with our pet Betta fish. Until it died.
So, armed with stats and puppy sites to browse, including the Puppy Garden, we're beginning our search for the perfect dog. And a Dog Training for Dummies book might be nice, too! We'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just Another Day

It's just another February day, cold and bleak. One more day I won't see my Jessica. These are the times when I need to renew my mind in prayer and in the word. How easy it would be to linger in the sadness, climb back in bed and just mourn. Yet, the word says that mourning will come, but joy comes in the morning. And I have to tell you, I do have Joy. Without a doubt, the Lord named my littlest girl. She still climbs in my bed and I hold her very close these days. Just by being herself, she helps me immeasurably! For her and my other children, for Mark and even for myself, I will get refreshed and find a word of comfort, read my daily email on grief and get on with my day.

The Lord has more for me than a year of deep sadness, I truly believe. Through this I am to keep moving forward in my destiny, doing those things that I love, that bring happiness, that I hope will make a difference. That is the best thing I can do for my Jessica. Keep telling her story, keep loving on this beautiful family I have, keep honoring Jesus in everything I do. I think that's what she'd want.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Big Adventure

Hard to believe it, but I endured a tattoo!! I read a book recently written by a lady who lost her daughter to cancer (a VERY similar journey to ours) where she talked about "altars of rememberance." When Noah (the bible one) finally was able to leave the ark, he built an altar of rememberance, an altar to remember the goodness of God to him and his family. Her altar is a foundation in her daughter's name. While I may do other things in the future, my tattoo is mine right now, something to remember the goodness of God. He allowed me 23 precious years with Jessica, who's name means "grace of God or God sees", He never left our side during those long 18 months, and He still walks with us through our valley of the shadow of death. Just a little mark to remember, not that I'll ever forget!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just Missing Her

It's coming up on a month since Jessica left us and I feel like reality is really settling in. And along with it, intense amounts of pain.

I can rejoice that she is in heaven. That's where I picture her most of the time. That's where I feel connected to her. I rejoice that she is cancer free and out of pain. All my memories of the last 2 years involve her at some stage of sickness and I hate that. Now, I picture her with her long, flowing natural hair (no wigs), a healthy beautiful body and laughter, lots of laughter and chatter. And that gives me peace.

But then I think of this new year. Without her. Without dinners, vacations, shopping, talking, talking, and more talking. I saw a preview of a movie tonight I knew we'd both love and thought how I'd tell her about it...

People talk about "shock". I don't think I've been in shock, I'm just really starting to miss her. You can go weeks or even months without seeing someone in your family and you do alright. But I am looking at years....and years and's too much.

It's hard for me to find space and time to cry, but I do, very late at night....and it hurts, but I hear that's how you heal. So, with all these tears, I am definitely on my way to healing....and yes, I know it takes time! :)

But there is grace, really. After a good cry, I feel somehow lifted.

I am meditating a lot on Psalm 23. ...."and even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Those are some pretty awesome promises for someone walking in the shadow of death. Focusing on them will help me get through.

And I will get through. But right now, there's a whole lot of pain. Missing my girl so very much.