Monday, March 31, 2014

2 years Later

Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One 
who saves me and is my life

Psalm 42:5

Today is a hard day. 

I won't lie. 

Emotions get the best of me at the oddest moments. 

Looking back I have learned some hard lessons, and some good ones too.

I have experienced heart-wrenching pain that made me want to throw up and give up. 

Moments of such anger I could have punched a hole through a wall.  

Such sadness I never thought I would be able to cry again. 

The people I thought would be there - weren't. 

The people I never imagined would be - were. 

I had no idea how much I was loved by those around me - til then.

And I had no idea how selfish people could be when you are grieving, until then. 

I saw some of the most beautiful moments of God's love, grace, peace, and kindness. 

I also saw some of the most ugly, hurtful, and painful moments of humanity. 

Death doesn't always make sense.

And neither does the way we deal with it.  

One day I hope to look back on this tragedy and remember only the sweet moments.

The amazing people that held me up, that held my family up. 

People that reached out far and near. 

People that held my hand.

Hugged my neck.

Sent a card.

Made a phone call. 

People who expected nothing from me but grief.

People who listened to me cry.  

Who gave me permission to not smile.

People who didn't walk away from me - but towards me.

Even when they didn't know what to say or do. 

I ask God everyday to heal my heart. 

I ask God to help me forgive myself.

I ask God to help me forgive others. 

2 years later - I still don't understand.

2 years later and I still miss Ashley. 

2 years later and I still have lots of regrets. 

2 years later and I still grieve. 

2 years later and God is still God.

2 years later and the sun still shines.

2 years later and the rain still falls.

2 years later and my faith is strong.

Because God is still God. 

And in the end that is all that matters. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Robin Williams Taught Me About Faith

When my oldest daughter was 4 and 5 years old Peter Pan was her hero. We probably watched Peter Pan at least 100 times in that time, back when videos were still the "in" thing. She never tired of watching Peter, and Wendy, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook over and over again. We went to Disney World when she was 4 yrs old and she finally got to me Peter Pan in person. She was excited, and nervous, and thrilled, and embarrassed (especially when he kissed her on the cheek). It was a very special moment for this little girl who did "believe in fairies" and Neverland. I sometimes envied that child-like-faith. Camille is now almost 14 yrs old, and she still likes the story of Peter Pan and is now sharing that with our youngest Liam who is just about to turn 3 yrs old. But that innocent mesmerized magic of the Disney animated story, has now been replaced with a more realistic, practical understanding of just a sweet story.

We recently watched the movie "Hooked" - a more grown-up tale of Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell. Peter Pan is all grown up, and he's gotten married, has two kids of his own, and a very stressful job. He also has all the cares and burdens of a forty year old father, and husband. When Captain Hook kidnaps Peter's kids Peter has to go back to Neverland and get them. The problem is Peter has forgotten about Neverland, about Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, Fairy Dust, and "Happy Thoughts". He is the "lost man" in Neverland. The Lost Boys and Tinker Bell work tirerlessly to teach him how to believe again, to help him believe again - but they knew that unless Peter chooses to believe - he will never be able to fight Captain Hook and get his children.

There's a scene in the movie where the Lost Boys and Peter Pan are sitting down to a giant table to eat. Everyone is starved and the Lost Boys are making comments about how great everything looks and smells. But all Peter sees is an empty table. The Boys start digging, reaching over each other, filling their plates, chomping down. But all Peter sees are empty plates, empty hands, and nothing to eat. It becomes quickly apparent that because Peter doesn't "believe" - he can't eat. He can't see the bounty of overflowing foods, or smell the aromas of pies and desserts. Peter becomes quickly frustrated and even more hungry. The new Lost Boys' leader (Rufio) starts a "war of words", (pretty much a 10 year old's name calling battle) - and Peter Pan was losing. Finally out of desperation, frustration, and the encouragement of the Boys around him - Peter finds his "inner child". He wins the name calling battle, bringing the whole group to laughter - including Peter Pan. At that moment Peter looks around and sees a table covered in brightly colored foods, satisfying smells, the world of Neverland has come alive once again to Peter Pan - he finally believed. He had let go of the practical, of all he thought he knew - and just believed. 

As I sat there watching this scene with my kids I was struck by my Bible study earlier that day. I'm not sure I have ever had such a spiritual experience with a television show. God was speaking to my very soul - "See that table, my table is bigger, and my blessings overflow. See the bounty before them - mine is greater, and more beautiful. But without faith, as a child, you can't see it. Instead you hunger and you thirst, and go away hungry and frustrated. If you would only just trust, and believe - your eyes would be open to all I have set before you. I love you, and have only the best for you - good gifts, but you have to let go of the practical, and believe in the miracle. Faith to see the unseen." Tears fell from eyes, as Robin Williams had a food fight with a bunch of children. Wow God! Wow. Scripture came alive off the page as it flooded back to mind:

This is the truth: unless you change and become like little children, 
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:3

Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, 
the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen. 
Hebrews 11:1

Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. 
Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. 
All who ask receive. Those who seek, find what they seek. 
And he who knocks, will have the door opened.
 Think of it this way: if your son asked you for bread, would you give him a stone? 
Of course not—you would give him a loaf of bread. 
If your son asked for a fish, would you give him a snake? 
No, to be sure, you would give him a fish—the best fish you could find. 
So if you, who are sinful, know how to give your children good gifts, 
how much more so does your Father in heaven, 
who is perfect, know how to give great gifts to His children! 
Matthew 7:7-11

My faith was challenged, my heart convicted, and my soul overwhelmed with the love of God - there in my living room watching "Hook" with my kids. I wondered what I had been missing, what joy and peace I had pushed away trying to be the "grownup". Oh God, what bounty you have for those who just trust and believe - our tables are not empty - we just can't see. I don't want to sit at an empty table, I don't want to be so right - that I'm wrong. God give me eyes of a child, and faith to believe. Replace my worry with joy, and my fear with faith. Give me "happy thoughts" so I can soar on wings of eagles - and never be lost again. 

I tell you this: if you had even a faint spark of faith
even faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 
“Move from here to there,” and because of your faith, the mountain would move. 
If you had just a sliver of faith, you would find nothing impossible. 
Matthew 17:20

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March - my least favorite month of the year

Ugh! I watched the calendar and I knew that it was coming, I tried to prepare myself - thinking it wouldn't be so hard this time… and yet - it is.

Years ago, I never looked at the calendar with dislike - not even when my birthday came around. I looked forward to each new day, and new month, like a new challenge ahead. Now, that's all changed.    
March has become quite the dreaded month, in fact you could say it is my absolute least favorite month of all year. On March 31st, it will be 2 years - 2 years since my brother, Ashley, died. Two years of heartache, loss, pain, grief and despair. Two years of watching my family fall apart, my parents age overnight, and for me a battle of fear, anxiety, and depression. March 31st is a day I don't want to face, and yet internally it counts down inside my heart.

Unexpected death rocks your world, it shatters everything you thought you knew - and requires you to pick it up and figure out how it all fits together again. When your kid brother, who is 29 yrs old, passes away you just don't know how to process that. This baby of the family, who you thought you would see again - talk to again - is gone…. it's just something too hard to comprehend. Grief is a process, you don't get over it overnight, or even in 2 years, or even 20 years - you learn how to live through it - not get over it.

For me, March has now become a month of regret. I wish I had called Ashley more, made a trip down to Florida to see him - hugged his neck a thousand more times. I look at the 30 days before his death and see all the missed opportunities to just let him know how much I loved him. I struggle hard to remember his laugh, his smile, his jesters and phrases. I think about all the things I put between us, reasons why we couldn't get together and things I thought were so important at the time - and now see how worthless it all was - compared to one more time to see him. I kick myself a million times for not picking up the phone and calling him more - all I have left is a text. Why wasn't he worth a phone call that day?

Oh, I could wade in the waters of regret until I drown. I could keep walking into the sea of sorrow until I'm completely under - but I can't. I can't live in the past of "What if's" and "Whys?" I can't go deep in the dark murkiness of "words not said" and "things not done". I can't stop living because my brother is gone. Because - my purpose here on earth is not finished, even though Ashely's is. Wow, that hurt to say that - brings tears to my eyes, but I know it is true. For some reason unknown to me, one I may never understand - my brother's time here on earth is over. His life began on May 14, 1982 and ended on March 31, 2012. Ashley lived 29 years, 10 months, and 18 days, a total of 10,915 days.

Only God knows why his days were shorter than mine, and though I wish they were 10 thousand more - there aren't. I can't change that, and I can't change what happened 30 days before he died, 30 hours, or 30 minutes. What I can change is the way I live however, the days I have left. Though this world is not my home, it is where I am now - and my purpose is not finished here. As I trusted God with my pain and sorrow those first moments of finding out, and those first hours, and days, I still must trust God with everyday. As hard as some days are to face, it is one more day God has given me with my family, and loved ones around. There is still a purpose for me here - and I must not waste that - especially now, seeing how precious time is.

March is still hard. I will admit it. I am not Superwoman or Super-saint. I struggle, I cry. Grief is tough. Loss is tough. I envy those who handle it better than me. I wish I could be stronger some days. I feel like I should apologize ahead of time, in case my demeanor isn't quite up to par. But I have learned that weakness is not shame - it's surrender to the ONE who is stronger. I am not sure I would be able to function at all if not for God and the way He has carried me through these last few years.

My family would appreciate your prayers - this month weights heavy on all our hearts, and prayer lifts up that cloud of pain.

Let me also say - that you don't upset someone when you mention their loss. Sometimes when you are in a tunnel of grief it feels like everyone around you has forgotten and moved on. So it's OK to mention the name of their loved one gone, it's OK to send them a card, it's OK to give them a call. Just grab their hand and say - I know this month is hard for you - and I'm praying for you. You don't have to act like you understand all they are going through - but just letting them know they are not ALONE - makes a HUGE difference. Be the hands and feet of Jesus - don't wait for someone else to be.

 Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; 
help us to spend them as we should. 
Psalm 90:12 TLB