Friday, April 22, 2011

Beyond Purpose

Good Friday feels different to me today in light of our experiences this last year. In December, we watched our daughter die. Day after day we sat next to her and silently pleaded with God to change His mind, to give her back, to take away her suffering. Our grief at her loss is at times overwhelming and can leave us emotionally naked. Last night on facebook I watched a video clip posted by a friend from the movie "Passion of the Christ". For most people I think the events of the day Jesus died are mostly an intellectual experience, something we can try to imagine for the sake of understanding and appreciation but something too big to really get our heads or hearts around. We get stuck in the phrases "died for our sins", "suffered on the cross", and "rose again". We hear it a zillion times and the words lose something in the repetition. As I watched that clip and saw the brutality and hatred taken out on Jesus body I nearly threw up. I shook. My mind spun. That was my best friend they were destroying. That was the one who held me in the darkest moments of this last year who was experiencing the utter loneliness of knowing the face of God turned away from him in that moment. It was my Jesus that chose to ask for forgiveness for the very ones who were inflicting his overwhelming pain. He chose to stay in that mind shattering experience of pain for me. I watched on the video as his mother Mary looked on in anguish. I realized that God only turned away because he had no other choice. How could He not sweep in and rescue Jesus if He continued to watch it all happen. I think He turned away from the cross to look at us. To see our faces and our utter hopelessness without the suffering of His only son. To remember the purpose and the plan of Jesus coming to earth in the first place.

Grief brings me closer to an understanding of Gods sacrifice. To the experience of God's separation from His son and Jesus endurance of extreme suffering. Sometimes we feel that God doesn't understand what we are going through in life. We question why God would allow suffering and pain and loss. But these experiences are something God & His Son understand intimately. I may not always understand His purpose for allowing things to happen the way they do... but I will trust Him. Today I am deeply thankful for Good Friday, for forgiveness of sins, and for the bridge the cross makes to heaven for anyone who receives the sacrificial gift. Because of it, today my daughter is with God's son.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beyond No's

Joe and I were talking last night about how we wish others could see the way God has been faithful during the trials we have had to face in life. Over and over we have seen His hand at work, even though so often it was during the hardest times. The following is the story of Grace's beginning, and how even then God was gifting us with glimpses of His plan.

We dreamed of Grace long before she came to be. We tried for over a year to conceive, and every month my heart sank when I realized it would be another month before we had another chance. My father in law had cancer at the time and as he got sicker we started spending more time out with them to help out. As he moved into hospice services we moved in with them to help to care for him at night. One night while everyone was sleeping, Canton and I were talking about our wanting a baby. He was so tired and the conversation only lasted a couple minutes. Just before he fell asleep he asked me, “What if God says no? Will you still trust Him?” I couldn’t respond. It was like I had been struck over the head by a fallen tree. What if God’s answer was no? Tears rolled down my face as I watched Canton sleep for another hour. Resounding in my heart through the searing pain, I kept answering over and over in my heart... “Yes, I will trust Him. I will always trust Him.”

Canton died just a couple days later. That conversation was the last we ever had. At his reviewal, Joe's cousin approached me asking if I was pregnant. Of course the question was jarring and left me feeling a little overweight. Amy said she had a very vivid dream in which I was playing with a little girl with brown hair who was laughing. She said she knew that it was my little girl. I thought, well maybe God is testing me. Or maybe He is giving me hope for the future. I wiped a tear away and said, “No, I’m not pregnant.” A couple hours later Joe’s sister approached giving me a big hug. “Hi, Annette. I just had to tell you about a dream I had the other night. She went on to tell me that in her dream I had a daughter with brown curly hair who was playing with another little girl who she felt was her daughter (although she did not have children yet either). Are you pregnant?” “No", I said, "but I’m a little freaked out!” I went on to tell Susie about the dream her cousin had just shared.

On the way home I was telling Joe about the strange questions and conversations at the reviewal. “Well, could you be pregnant?” Thinking back, I was a little late, but with the current circumstances of stress in my life wasn’t surprised about that. Besides we’d only been home once in the last month and a half to “do laundry”. After actively trying to get pregnant for a year, it seemed unlikely that the one time we weren’t trying I had gotten pregnant.

The funeral the next day was a wonderful testament to the amazing man Canton was, and the life of service to God he had led. We went to bed that night utterly exhausted... physically, emotionally and spiritually. The next day I couldn’t get the conversations at the reviewal out of my head, so I snuck off to the store for a test. I snuck it back in and couldn’t get into the bathroom fast enough. It was positive. I think I read and reread the package insert 5 times. Positive. Pregnant.

My sister, Alisa was living with us at the time and I got to share the news with both my husband and sister at the same time. My heart soared and I said a little thank you to Canton, for helping me realize that even if God had said no, I knew my answer back would have still been yes.

In the end, our journey with Grace brought us full circle, and back to the original question. When she was diagnosed with cancer and the treatment did not work and our prayers for healing came back as a no... again the question resounded. "What if God says no? Will you still trust him?" Through the pain wrenching at our hearts, we looked back over the evidence of God's presence in the journey of life and there was no other answer but the one that kept repeating in our hearts, "Yes I will trust Him. I will always trust Him".

I'm reading back though the caring bridge journal entries and there was so much I left out. But I will tell the stories as long as you'll listen. There is so much still to learn from it all.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beyond Winter

The sunshine and warmth of the last few days have melted the stubborn remnants of snow in our yard and the ice on a nearby lake is even giving way to sparking ripples of moving water. After such an emotionally and physically exhausting and never-ending winter, with spring comes a feeling of new beginnings and hope renewed. We've already been barbecuing most of our meals and have taken the girls to the park several times. I pruned the bushes to make room for new growth and cleaned up the straw from our manger scene in the front yard. The trees are budding and our grass is almost green. Ah, spring.

We plan to create a memorial garden in our backyard soon. I have an idea in my head of what I hope to do and am excited to get started on the landscaping we have to do before we can put the flowers and bushes in. There's something healing in doing something physical with pain. With creating a thing of beauty to replace the ugliness of the memories around cancer and loss. I think this garden will be a start. It will be wonderful to have a place to go to reflect and remember Grace and the lessons we learned in the short time she was ours to hold. But wish us luck. It's a big project.

Even with the beauty of spring, I'll admit it's still hard to move forward. I feel kind of guilty for not sinking into a deep dark hole... one that very realistically wants to suck me in. I've heard of mom's who after losing a child become deeply depressed, hopeless and in need of some serious medication. Part of me thinks "Wow. They must love their child more than me. I laughed at a nonsensical joke my 3 year old told me this morning and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face this afternoon. My heart soared as I heard a song on the radio and couldn't help but raise my voice with it praising God for his love and mercy." Knowing where Grace is right now makes the ability to move forward possible.... and only that knowledge. I just finished reading a book called "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo. It's about a boy who almost died just before he turned 4, then later started sharing with his parents about his experiences in heaven. In his childlike way he shares about sitting on Jesus lap, meeting family members who were there and many other things. I've never doubted the existence of heaven but this book really made me think more about what it must be like for Grace right now. She is alive! Not in the grave we put flowers on a few days ago. Not in the still cold two dimensional photos hanging on our walls. She is laughing and playing in the very presence of God. I can miss her, and I do so much it hurts. But to waste the rest of my life by allowing darkness to hide me? Grace would be so mad at us throwing away such a God given gift. Moving forward is the only direction we can go.

I recently came across these pictures from Grace's baptism. It brought me back to the wonder of watching her faith develop. She asked Jesus to be her Savior and Lord just before she turned 7. It was cool because for a couple months you could tell she was thinking about God and how He really fit in to her life. For awhile she said she didn't believe he was real, but she kept asking questions and we just tried to answer as simply and truthfully as we could. I never wanted to push her to believe... it had to be driven by God himself. Then one night before bed she told me she knew God was real and that she loved him. We talked about how God could be a part of her by asking Jesus into her heart. She said she really wanted that so we prayed together. When she was 8 she started asking us when she could be baptized. We'd never really talked about baptism with her before. I honestly thought she was too young to get it, but she kept bringing it up. None of her friends at church were doing it, so it wasn't peer pressure. It was the holy spirit in her prompting her to show the world her love for Jesus. So in September 2009 she followed her heart into Forest Lake and our pastor baptized her. She was so proud on that day.

It was only a month later when we learned she had stage 4 cancer and our world was flipped upside down. Grace told us the night before we went to that fateful doctor appointment that her "cancer hurt". She already knew. The holy spirit was whispering in her ear, preparing her for what was to come. You know, through everything she rarely complained. She found joy in everyday things and loved life. One day in the hospital she was sweating and feeling shaky while getting a really nasty chemotherapy. Instead of worrying about it (which I was at the time) she thought it would be cool to see what she could get to stick to her bald head. She managed a piece of paper, a plastic spoon and several other things sitting on her bedside table. The gift of the holy spirit gave her the ability to trust and deal with her reality. The faith of a child is such an amazing thing to see. There is no "junior" holy spirit, or "junior" faith. Kids get the real thing... in fact I think they understand the love of God more fully than we do. No wonder Jesus has a special place in his heart for kids.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Beyond a Suit of Armor

Sorry I haven't written in awhile. I work through things while writing that I don't seem to manage in any other way, but the process hurts andsometimes it's easier to just avoid the pain. I was ready to write about a week ago, but then our computer crashed. Good news is we didn't lose any pictures or videos. My free advise for the day... back up your digital pictures! Onething I realized this last week after a conversation with a teacher at school is that in my closing the caring bridge site many of you did lose pictures. Caring bridge was where you went to "see" Grace. So today I'll post a couple pictures with the blog so you can see and remember her whenever you want to.

Yesterday I got to work in tears. My friends at work seemed surprised at them. Confession time... anytime I get in the car alone I cry. So does Joe. There is something about being alone without distraction that makes a chink in the armor we so carefully try to keep on at all times. Armor of protection containing the hemorrhaging wound in our chest where Grace used to be. If I see you out and about we will exchange the customary "Hi... How are you's?", and I will say fine and smile. But that is not the truth. If I answer that question honestly the armor will crack and I will start to bleed. The tears that fall will have nothing holding them back and you will be left gaping in isle 3 wishing you had never asked the question. This hurt is deeper and more consuming than I ever could have imagined. Sometimes I get angry that the world just keeps rotating, that people keep rushing by in an effort to go... where? Shouldn't the world have stopped spinning the day Grace took her last breath? She's only been gone 115 days...
I wake up without her here. I go to bed after only being able to see the pictures containing her image. The house is missing her noise, her breath, her hugs, and laughter. I know she is having the time of her life... but I will never be the same.

Of course time moves forward and the world keeps spinning. My husband, and 2 beautiful girls will continue to need me to be present here and not give in to the all consuming hurt. I will laugh and find joy in things. My life is not over, and I will move forward. In sharing this today, I don't want anyone to feel like they have to tip toe around me to keep me from falling apart. Truth is (in a public setting anyway) the armor is usually pretty strong. I know several people who have lost children lately and I think it helps those who love them to understand a glimps of what they are going through... the profound loss they experience. It does not go away in 115 days, or 2 years or a lifetime. I will only be whole again when all of us are holding each other in a heavenly family hug. Until then I will be working hard on keeping my armor intact.