A Bookish Update–2019

Just prior to last New Year’s, I had joined Goodreads on the recommendation of a friend.  I really like the app and especially love that you can set your own reading challenge.  Last year, I chose to set my goal to a lofty twelve books (don’t laugh.  I hadn’t read a whole lot in awhile because of having babies in the house and working on my Master’s degree).  Low and behold, I doubled that goal by the end of last year, reading 24 books.  I was actually surprised I had read that many.  I had planned to up my goal to at least twenty for 2019, but when last year went dark on me at the end, I knew I should maybe pull that number back a little.  So, I set my goal to fifteen.  (There are several people I’m “friends” with on Goodreads that have reading goals of 45+ books!  I don’t know how a person does that with kids!  I am super impressed…and very curious.)

So, when January came, I tried to read.  I could not comprehend or retain anything I read. I experimented with several different genres.  Aside from one book that I struggled to get through in January, I could not read.  I knew it was the grief.  So, I shelved my books and stuck with crossword puzzles for awhile.  Once March hit, I guess my mind opened back up again.  I read four books.  April may see me beat that, as I just started my fourth book tonight.  Anyway, below are the books I’ve read this year and a quick synopsis on my thoughts.

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I read Haley Stewart’s book in January.  I had been eyeing it for awhile, and when the Kindle version went on super sale I downloaded it.  I really enjoyed reading it.  This has where, I believe, God has been calling my family for awhile–to pare down in multiple facets of our family life and focus on what matters.  Her story fascinated me and I enjoyed reading about the huge leap of faith her family took.  I did think it was definitely geared towards Catholic families, as one of the last chapters talks in depth about using NFP (natural family planning) as opposed to birth control (which as a Catholic and a pro-life person, I totally support).  I really loved the messages and ideas in this book.

 

 

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Okay, this book left me speechless.  Father Stinnissen’s book is so small, but so incredibly deep.  and I would recommend this highly to any Christian or Catholic.  He breaks down abandonment to God’s will into three steps or phases.  Each phase takes you further towards total abandonment to His will.  His descriptions and passages were so inspiring and beautifully written, I kept having to stop and just steep in it in my head.  I underlined so many passages and then lent it to a friend because everyone should read this book.  Absolutely amazing.

 

 

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I really enjoy watching Chip and Joanna on television.  I was really sad when they decided to step back from their reality television series (even though I totally get their reasons).  So, the Christmas after his book came about (I believe it was 2017), I got this for my husband as a gift.  I had been meaning to read it and finally opened it in March.  I have to say, the first half was really good!  I read through it really fast.  But, the second half just dragged.  For me, I feel like Joanna is the story teller and Chip is the motivational speaker.  This was difficult for me to finish.

 

 

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I actually blogged about Kristin Hannah’s book, so I will try not to rave endlessly about this book.  I started it in the fall of last year, when my dad got sick.  I spent a lot of time reading it next to his hospital bed while he was sedated or sleeping.  I was nearly done when I turned it back into the library in December.  I needed some time, but checked it back out and finished it in March.  This was a very stirring account of the atrocities of World War II.  It was dark and very intense at times, but it was such an incredible read.  I really struggled with it in the last few chapters but made myself finish it.  I cannot recommend this book enough and will be re-reading it at some point in the future.

 

img_3582This was on the new releases table at my library and my friend actually picked it up and handed it to me (my love of classic literature is no secret).  I read it in three days.  It’s an easy read about the life of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.  My only complaint at times is that the sentence structure and descriptions were very simple and that bugged me a little.  But the book itself was fascinating and I truly feel sorry for Shelley.  When I studied her in college, I remember my dad telling me that she lived with the poet Shelley for years while he was still married!  She really had a tough life, though she didn’t really make the best choices.  This was a fun, easy read.

 

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My sister gave me this book back in 2011.  But, because I was working on my Master’s degree and pregnant with my second baby, I didn’t ever get to finish it.  While perusing my shelves after finishing my last book, I pulled this one off and decided to finally read the entire book.  I read it in two days.  What a sweet (and true) account of a couple’s lives during World War II.  The woman was a headstrong, determined person set on finishing her degree even if it meant not getting married for awhile; her eventual husband waited years for her, writing her letters to convince her to marry him.  Such a sweet read accounting their life story.

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Anyone who knows me at all, knows I am a huge Flannery O’Connor fan.  I first read her in college and found her delightfully dark and beautifully spiritual.  Several years later, when I was preparing to write my Master’s thesis, I decided I wanted to do at least a chapter on her.  Hers ended up being my longest chapter.  While I was writing it, I ordered this book but never read the whole thing.  I just used a few chapters in my research.  I decided to read it cover to cover this week, and just loved it.  She was a deeply religious but hilarious person and learning more about the spiritual/religious side of her life was such a joy.  Last year, I read her Prayer Journal, so this just added to my knowledge regarding her spirituality.  I would highly recommend this book to any Southern Lit or Flannery O’Connor fan.

I’m looking forward to finishing some fun books on my To Be Read list.  I just started Anne Bogel’s book I’d Rather Be Reading, which I have been wanting to read since it was published.  Also, I am really excited for Mary Lenaburg’s book to be released in May.  I have had my copy on pre-order since she first announced it. Another goal is to read a few more historical books; I have really enjoyed delving further into World War II’s history over the last couple of years.  I am really enjoying checking out books from the library that are outside my comfort zone and learning to expand my reading breadth.  Here’s to reading more books and my next book-ish update!  Who knows? Maybe I’ll beat March’s record of four books.  Regardless, as I have read more, I have seen my children reading more.  And that is a beautiful thing to come from the love of books.

 

The Power of Hatred

I cannot watch people suffer.  I cannot watch movies with violence, I cannot read the news constantly full of people being attacked and murdered.  I cannot stand my Facebook feed, filled with posts about children dying of cancer or families who’s mother or father just were killed in a car accident, or people spewing insults arguing over issues.  It took every ounce of my self control at times to stand at my father’s bed side while terrible, deep physical, mental, and emotional suffering slowly deteriorated his body in what would be his last seven weeks.

I had no idea.  I read my history lessons as a child–so that’s what I based my understanding on.  The concentration camps, the rounding up of Jews and other “types” of people.  But how clean and under represented it was, I had no idea.  Of course it would be.  We were children.  Children cannot mentally process the true, deep sense of horror and violence that was World War II.  The physical and emotional suffering they endured.   The men.  The women.  And, oh, the children.

My little ones will have the sweetest of childhoods.  Yes, they have suffered loss.  Most of my children vividly remember losing their sweet brother halfway through the pregnancy.  My children were robbed of a lifetime of memories with my father.  My five year old will have fuzzy, abstract memories at best.  And my son–he will have no memories at all.  But overall?  They will have a beautiful, innocent clean childhood.

Last summer, I read The War That Saved My Life.  It was while reading that book that I first learned about Black Out curtains.  I now wince every time we close our children’s black out curtains in their room.  Oh what a different meaning!  It was in that book that I also learned that children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to live with, in a sense, foster families in “safer” parts of the country.  Some of these children never saw their parents again.  This book is “young adult” novel, but I admit it was a slightly difficult read for me.

In a desire to learn more about World War II and after hearing so many people rave about it, I checked out The Nightingale from my library.  Ironically, it was that book that I read next to my father as he suffered so terribly in his last weeks.  I sped through the first half of the book.  It was addicting and fast-paced, an easy read; I grew terribly attached to the characters and the story played visually out in my head.  Then, the book turned dark.  More deeply and more raw than The War That Saved My Life, this book revealed more graphic, more awful details of World War II than I had ever known.  I had no idea the extent to which people suffered during that terrible war.  And I know–it’s because I have been sheltered and protected from the awful truth.

The more pages I turned, the worse it became.  As my own father’s health continued to decline, as more humiliating and terrible sufferings racked his body, the book became increasingly more violent and detailed.  I’d read a few pages, put it down, not sure I’d be able to finish the book.  I stood for hours one afternoon, as my father slept through sedation, my hand in his limp hand, as I read from the book that lay on his hospital bed.  My legs grew tired as I stood, not wanting to leave his side.  My back ached, my head spun as reality grew bleaker.  But I kept standing.  And I kept reading.

I have no right to continue to shelter myself from the atrocities of what people suffered during World War II.  Those who do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it.  My mother always said this to us, encouraging us to read as much as we could about history even with its raw and violent injustices.  So, I kept turning each page of The Nightingale, soaking in every horrific detail that people–children of God–suffered.  But it was not–is not–just the physical and emotional suffering that struck me.  We did this to each other.  Because of hate, because of pride, one group of arrogant people subjected other people–Jews, homosexuals, Catholics, the list goes on–to horrific suffering.  Families were separated, people suffered more than what should have been physically and mentally possible, millions of people were killed.  Slowly, with as much intended suffering as possible, nearly a generation of people were wiped out.

I took the book with me the night my mother called us home.  It was in my bag.  I took it out once, at my father’s bedside the night before we lost him.  I stared at the cover.  The blue-black with the blue and golden writing.  The rose bush and golden bird lighting onto the bush.  And I put it back in my bag.  I stood up, walked to my father’s bedside.

Dad.  Dad.  Daddy! 

He was so agitated.  It was so hard to watch.  Not even close to the giant of a man who had entered the hospital.  He was almost unrecognizable.  But those eyes.  I knew those eyes.

Daddy!

He looked at me, his eyes settling on mine one final time.  The flash of recognition.

It’s Addie–your Sprite!

That precious nod.

I love you.  You know that?  I love you so very much, Daddy!  

The last nod, his eyes lost connection with mine.  I watched the them grow distant, and he looked away. It was the last time his eyes would settle on mine in this life.  The next 24 hours were hell.  And had he not been my father, I’m not sure I could have stood and watched what I did.  Maybe we did, we seven people, because we took strength from one another.  I could feel myself taking strength from my brothers, my sisters, my mom.  We were holding each other up by being together.

Once I got home, the book went back to the library for awhile.  Not because I wasn’t going to finish it.  But, because every time I tried, the cover took me right back to the days where we hoped beyond reality that he would live.  The days spent sitting in a hospital chair for hours, looking often at his sweet face.  The days we prayed he’d be spared.  The nights I spent weeping next to my bedside with a candle lit, praying him through another complication, as his body suffered another physical blow that we were not sure he would survive.

Suffering.  Human suffering.  So universal.  So constant.  So inescapable.  So painful.  But, sometimes so intentional.  We shelter ourselves so much.  I had no idea what it looked like to watch a strong, giant of a man waste away so quickly.  What deep bodily and mental suffering looked like.  Everything is cleaned.  History books–cleaned.  Reality of war–cleaned.  Human injustice–cleaned.  Illness and death–cleaned.

I finished the book this morning.  It was so hard to turn each page by the end.  It took great force.  I had to force myself to finish a book about World War II.  How pathetic and shameful to admit.  People lived that.  And I struggle to finish a fictional book written about it.

As I shut the back cover, I can’t help but think.  The sheltering, the cleansing of history–what is it doing for us?  The sterilization of suffering and death–what is this accomplishing?  We are weaker than previous generations, our stomachs unable to handle the truth, our minds unable to process such atrocities.  Many of us struggler to witness and process true pain and loss.  But even more, we hide what hatred sown by human beings can do.  An army of men rose to power all over Europe and caused indescribably suffering and killed millions of people.

And I look at Facebook today, the news, my own corner of the world.  The hatred.  Oh, the hatred.  Mosques and Catholic Churches bombed, with so many lives lost.  Wars still fought, terrorists still mutilating and killing.  So much hatred, so much violence, so much death.  And people are the victims.  Precious souls from God.  But we can’t–won’t, maybe–comprehend that.  Because we are sheltered.  We see words, read numbers.  And that’s all they are.  Words and numbers.  Because most of us haven’t personally lived through the effects of this hatred.

My father was spared no suffering by the end.  What a tragedy it was for us.  To watch the pillar of our family fight so hard, spend his days in torture.  Never rising from that awful bed.  That book that I read page by page by his bedside, the same copy, sits next to me now.  I thumb the pages.  Page 129, he was still alive.  Page 273, still here.  Page 319, gone.  But, he was never alone.  He was never not watched over by someone who loved him deeply.  Because he taught us how to love.

All those people who suffered.  I had no idea how much.  Who struggled to stay alive in camps and bunkers and homes, only to die a horrible death.  To you–I am sorry.

Oh, what power hatred has.  But what greater power love has.  An entire generation whose lives were destroyed by hatred.  While I have been sheltered from the violence, the graphic details, I have realized this: In subsequent generations, those who were taught how to love, what real love looks like, that’s the undoing of the hatred.  My father loved until the end.  And he was loved until the end.  In his final weeks, he showed us what faithful, Godly loved looked like.  My mother showed us what sacrificial love was–even making the most difficult decision of her life.  Letting him go.

It is love–sacrificial, Christly love that will quench the hatred.  It is teaching each other, our children, our families and friends, what the opposite of that kind of hatred can do.  Not only learning about the historical periods of hatred, but the power of love, every small or large act of kindness, will spare us a repeat of that history.  Every time you have to slow down to hold open the door, smile at a stranger, leave a note for someone.  Every time we love those with whom we disagree, embrace those with different beliefs, welcome those of different color.  We undo and keep at bay the hatred.

Mother Teresa said it best:

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

I promise to my children, the keepers of the future, that I will gradually teach them the effects of hatred but emphasize and live out the power of love.  Because love is infinitely more powerful than hate.

The Grace of Flexibility

I had plans this morning.  Definitive plans.  I was going to get up, get the kids ready, and drive to post to (finally) jump back into the women’s fellowship group at the Post Chapel. I had it all planned out in my head.  I knew we’d be rushing, I knew it would be tight.  Getting four kids out the door to make it twenty minutes away by nine is always tight.  But I had plans to do it.

They, however, had other plans.  They ate their breakfast slower than molasses in January and talked so much!  I kept reminding them to eat quickly, but it did no good.  Finally, after finishing, we ran (correction, I ran while they meandered) upstairs to get dressed.  I asked my oldest to do the five year old’s hair and the seven year old to put her hair in a pony tail.  After getting myself ready, I came out to find the five year old in lounge pants and shirt playing outside with her now soaked brother and the seven year old playing in the hallway…hair undone. “Mommy, I just really want you to do my hair.”    Their backpacks were not packed and the diaper bag still needed loading.  I felt my body tensing up and could hear my voice rising.  “Let’s go! We have to hurry up or we will be late.”  Still, crises kept occurring and kids kept slowing down.

And then I realized it.  I could yell and scream us out the door.  That would definitely have gotten everyone moving a lot faster.  Bags would have been packed, shoes finally put on, and hair done.  To the constant sound of Mommy yelling.  But we would have gotten to my fellowship group on time.  Or we could just change plans. Instead of yelling, I could simply accept that, while they were doing (mostly) they best they could, we just needed to shift gears.  I could just admit we were not going it to make it this week–and that’s ok. Maybe instead of rushing out the door, I thought, we simply need some quality time as a family.

I struggle with changing plans last minute.  I’m a person who thrives on consistency and routine.  I need something on the calendar ahead of time so I can mentally prepare.  I am not a spontaneous person with my schedule.  So this morning was really good for me; it taught me to bend a little.  Reminded me of the grace to be found in being flexible.

Instead of heading into the post, we drove to the library.  As my nine year old entertained the youngest two and the seven year old worked on schoolwork, I was able to slowly peruse the stacks for some books.  I came back with a handful.  We headed into the children’s area, where the kids settled into playing, reading, and searching for their own books.  My nine year old grabbed a stack of National Geographics and began reading; I love watching her interest in science and specifically oceanography deepen.  My five and seven year old started picking princess books.  I looked over to see my little dude making friends with a few other toddlers by the toys.

Unexpectedly, my friend showed up and joined us.  As the children mostly entertained themselves, we took turns picking out (more) books for ourselves and chatting.  It was so nice and so relaxing just sitting together.

And of course we couldn’t let the morning pass without a rite of passage.  In our house, it’s a huge deal to get your own library card.  My sweet Anne (the five year old) has been asking since we moved here to have her own card.  But, she wasn’t quite old enough.  This morning, while she was choosing her last few books to put in the bag, I decided it was time. I took her over to the Circulation desk and she got her very own library card.  She was thrilled!

img_3349We moved the party to Chik-fil-a for awhile and the kids played some more.  My friend and I continued to chat and sometimes just lapsed into silence.  And I had a thought.  You know you’ve got a great friend when the silence isn’t awkward;l, that it’s just nice to sit together and not feel the pressure to fill the void with forced words.

God taught me a good lesson today.  Find grace in flexibility and He will bless you abundantly.  In listening to four sweet voices, I realized we needed to slow down and just be together.  I need to just not feel the pressure to fill the void, and God will fill it with His blessings.  There’s always next Tuesday to try to jump back into other things.  Today, I just sat back and let Him lead.  And what a beautiful morning He gave me.

 

 

 

 

Four Years…

Four years.  Four years since I was growing new life, four years since my bump was growing and was obvious to everyone.  Four years since I could feel his kicks from the outside.  Four years since I felt his kicks getting weaker and weaker.  Four years since I was telling them that something was wrong.  Four years since they didn’t listen.  Four years since that dream where he was born and glowing, nursing then getting bigger and farther away, then he stopped and smiled at me…then he disappeared.  Four years since I woke up from that dream, and felt one last kick and knew he was gone.  Four years since I went into the OB clinic and they couldn’t find a heartbeat.  Again.  Four years since I clutched at my husband’s chest, sobbing loudly.  Four years since I lost my second son halfway through my pregnancy. Four years since my world crashed down.

Four years since I held my sleeping James.

Some years, it’s happier than it’s sad.  Some years, I hardly notice.  I’m noticing this year.  Maybe it’s because I just lost my father.  Maybe it’s because all the abortion talk floating all over social media, where people think it’s ok to kill unborn and just born children.  Maybe it’s because I should have a four year old running around and causing ruckus with his brother.  It’s likely all of these.

Whatever it is, it hurts this year.  So much.

Of all my pregnancies, that one felt so different.  It had an ethereal, divine sense to it.  And there was so much God in it.  The roses that inexplicably starting appearing everywhere on our wedding anniversary.  Hearing that still small voice the entire pregnancy.  Knowing he was a boy because I was more intertwined with him than I had been with any other baby, as though he started out already half saint.

The sitting in the hospital bed, fretting over a name.  Something that had to go well with John.  Because my first son now had a brother with him in heaven.  Opening my email that night and seeing the devotion from Blessed is She.

Then the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

James.  James and John.  My sons of thunder.

The priest came in that night, while I labored, on the last night of my 54-day rosary novena, after I told God I wasn’t finishing it that night since my baby was gone.  The priest sat down and asked if he could pray with me.  I agreed.  He then sat next to me and prayed an entire rosary.  When a nurse came in later, I asked who the priest was.  She said there hadn’t been any priests on the ward that night and was confused.

The next morning when Father James came in to baptize my sleeping son, with his deep Irish accent, and he leaned over my bed.  “I heard he put up quite a fight.”  “Excuse me, Father?”  He leaned in closer.  “I heard he put up quite a fight.  But, God wanted him home.”  I wept.  Later I would learn that it was nothing short of a miracle our James held on so long…if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have known about the clotting disorder and would not have our Joseph.

I held him so long.  I slept with him on my chest.  I didn’t want to let him go.  I didn’t want to walk out of that hospital room empty-handed and empty inside.  But we did.  And then a few days later, we laid his sweet body to rest.  My oldest daughter ran around, gathering up the rose petals that perfectly circled the burial shelter.  So many rose petals.

Four years since that dark and terrible Lent.  My stomach small, my heart shattered, my heart so empty.  Four years since I spent a dark Good Friday feeling acutely the pain of His passion and death.  Darkness enveloped me deeply, and I prayed for a glimpse of the resurrection on Easter.

Four years since that Easter Sunday when, during Holy Communion, a priest I’d never met put his hand on my shoulder as everything about him glowed.  “Jesus will bless your family again!”  I leaned in.  Again.  “Jesus will bless your family again!”  I thanked him after Mass, his glow gone, and he had no idea what I was talking about.  A year later, my Joseph was laid on my chest, screaming.  I wept for an hour, too scared to move.  Too scared to make sure he was a boy.  I kept asking my husband to make sure, kept asking the doctors if he was indeed healthy.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

Darkness subdued by the light.  Grief overtaken by eternal joy.  Death overcome by life.  Suffering survivable by redemption.

Four years ago, I wept as my son flew to Heaven.  Today, he and his siblings rejoice with my father at the feet of Jesus.  Four years ago, death and suffering brought me to my knees and could have destroyed me.  But He reached down, took me by the hand, and walked me through it.  Four years ago, I held my sleeping son.  Two thousand years ago, He came to die for us so that death would not win.  Four years ago, I was crushed by death, but saw His the glory of His resurrection.

Four years ago, Heaven gained a saint, I lost my son, by my faith was strengthened.  Four years ago, I came closer to God, mourned my son, and rejoiced for eternal life.  For, he is not gone.  James, John, Josephine.  My father.  They are not gone.  Just gone from me.  They are Home.  God’s goodness always outweighs the suffering.  He redeemed all loss, all death.  I see it.  I saw it.

Rest in peace, my sweet sons of thunder.  Happy Heavenly birthday, James.  Hug my dad for me.

     Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Live in the Moment

I’m so ready for Spring.  The sun here in Texas has been absent a long time, except for glimpses here and there long enough to tease us.  Yesterday, for the first time in days, the sun shone and the temperature was 75.  We basked in  the glory and soaked up the rays…only to wake up today to gloom and temperatures in the thirties again.

This time of year is notoriously hard for me.  The holidays are over, the adrenaline from the new year rush long died.  It seems there’s nothing to look forward to and the monotony of the everyday turns to drudgery.  I then begin to struggle with the lack of sunshine and over-done routine.  This year is especially hard.  Grief still suffocates my soul, his absence seems to be growing more keen instead of easing.  People forget your heartache; they stop checking in.  After all, life moves on for them.  I keep just wanting one person to ask, one person to remember.

And then there’s Lent next week.  Lent is also a hard liturgical season for me.  I struggle with being far too hard on myself and making myself miserable for over forty days.  I pile on mortification after sacrifice until I’m trudging through Lent even more depressed than I started.  Lent, traditionally, is a dark season that focuses on Christ’s time in the desert and ends with His Passion.  Since I am a melancholic, it really can wear me down.  Lent also comes with the two anniversaries of our sweet John and James.  In fact, next week marks four years since we lost our James.  It’s a very difficult anniversary for me every year.  I don’t set out to remind myself, but the day just kind of seems rooted in my head.

I usually combat this dark time of year with working out.  But, I’ve had a nagging cough for weeks that keeps me from anything too strenuous.  I miss the endorphins and the victory of sweating (I never thought I’d say that until I started consistently working out a year ago), the competition against myself and pushing myself just a little farther each time.

I have this sudden desire to run away.  I am not a spontaneous person.  If something isn’t on my calendar weeks in advance, I struggle with doing it even if we are technically free.  I need things planned out so I can plan for them.  Uncharacteristically, I want to pack my bags and run away this weekend to somewhere out of town.  I want to travel somewhere close for a happy reason and replace the sad reasons.  I want to go laugh and unwind and just be free.  I am finding myself dreaming, too, of the beach.  I miss our vacation in September of last year to Corpus, just before my world turned upside down forever.  But we can’t travel this weekend.  And the beach is unrealistic right now.

So, I have to figure out how to put joy back into my day.  I need to figure out a way to shake myself out of this monotony and drudgery of the dark days of winter; I must find a way out of the spiraling.  I have to figure out a way to be spontaneous and live in the moment without jumping in the car and leaving last minute.  I need to refresh my weary soul and ease my aching and tired heart.

Above my computer, taped to the wall, is a picture that says, “Live in the moment.”  I’ve forgotten how to do that.  For months, I was living phone call to phone call, hour to hour.  And then it all came crashing down and I went into some sort of numb shock.  The plague hit and we entered survival mode.  Now, we are mending and reality is hitting harder than it did in December, and I’m finding I’ve forgotten how to live in the moment.  I’ve forgotten how to stop and look into those four sweet faces, and soak in the joy they exude just from me locking eyes with them.  I’ve forgotten how to just…sit with them, enjoy them, and not have to think about anything else.  I’ve forgotten how to find peace in the moment and not worry about what’s to come.  Oh, the fear of what’s to come.

But, these sweet tiny souls are growing up before my eyes.  One has her ears pierced and has an incredibly witty sense of humor.  One has a huge heart and reminds me so much of myself that it steals my breath.  One is aptly called Tigger by my mother and keeps us all laughing with her perspective on life.  And him–my tiny boy who has a piece of my heart that I thought would never be stolen this side of paradise.  They are getting longer and leaner and bigger everyday.

Live in the moment.

Time to get out of this rut, somehow, and get back to living in the moment.  Time to remember how to just sit. To stop worrying.  Stop panicking.  Stop aching and hurting…that part will come over a long time.  His race is done, his work here finished.  And I know he would be lecturing me and telling me to stop worrying, stop fretting because the children need me.  But the irony?  I get all those tendencies from him.

How? How do I get back to peace and joy?  I don’t know.  But I pray to God He will help me.  Part of it is building the habit, stopping the worry and panic; building the habit of quieting my soul and just being still.  Building the habit to once again live in the moment.

Until then, here’s to Spring coming someday.  Here’s to, hopefully, the light I desperately need cracking into my soul.  Here’s to building habits of choosing peace and healing hearts.  Here’s to now, this moment, given to us by Him.

 

 

Ten Years

Honestly?  I always worried I’d be too afraid to go through actually getting married.  Not because I am afraid of that kind of commitment.  And not because I have trust issues.  I am seriously introverted.  I hate standing in front of large crowds, and I hate all the attention on me.  But that day was so different.

Ten years ago today, right this very moment, I was preparing to make the great walk down the aisle.  I was so excited, but also suddenly terribly nervous.  I remember sending bridesmaids out to make sure you weren’t standing around in the parking lot or hanging in the back of the Church.  Once I got the all clear, we all traipsed across the parking, wind blowing, as my dress and especially my veil fluttered in the wind.  As I walked into the vestibule, my dad was standing there and his grin said it all.  I remember him saying how beautiful I looked, calling me Sprite and Addie-Paddie, and saying how hard this was for him but how happy he was for me.  We shared a moment of tears and held each other.

 

Then the music started, my dad took my arm, and we walked.  A third of the way down, I tugged his arm and through tears begged him to slow down.  “We only get to make this walk once, Daddy.”  He looked at me with glassy eyes, and slowed way down.  We got to the steps of the altar, and my dad gave me to you.

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Ten years.  That’s a long time!  I look at pictures that girl standing next to you, promising her life and heart to you, and I see how innocent and naïve she was.  So full of only good visions of the future.  Brimming with only hope of joy and peace.  I failed to imagine the hardships that would inevitably befall us.  But, you were always strong enough to keep us afloat.

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Ten years.  Full of unimaginable joy and heartbreaking suffering.  Off we flew to our honeymoon, and unbeknownst to us, came home with a tiny tag-along growing within me.  Our first child.  Oh, how happy I was to give you a child.  Nine months later, I gave birth and we took her home.  I never told you how badly I struggled with postpartum depression, how black and dark life became for six months.  But you were still strong enough to keep me going, even if you didn’t know how badly I suffered.

Two months after her birth, another positive test and lots of fear.  Thirteen weeks later, we lost our first son.  I fell into swirling hole of depression.  Life moved on, but I could not.  Between the PPD and our first miscarriage, life was rough.  You knew.  And you kept me going, held me up, and loved me through our first loss together.

The orders came, you left for a year; six days later, we found out she was tagging along.  My sweet happy thought that got me through our first deployment.  On the phone and through Skype, you talked me through my fears of another miscarriage, of giving birth alone.  Just as labor was starting, you were surprisingly sent home for her birth.  You arrived just in time.  And our second sweet daughter was placed in our arms after a scary labor; how happy we were.  We took her home and you left again to finish your deployment.  Two months later, you returned home.  Our family was whole again.  Ah, sweet victory of surviving our first deployment.

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Such a sweet season we were in.  Filling our home with babies, learning how to love each other, and soaking up every moment in a home filled with tiny children.  In April of 2013, another positive pregnancy test, and in December of the same year, a third daughter.  Our sweet girls, your tiny princesses.

Another deployment in 2014, and very unexpected.  You left within a month of finding out you were going. Our youngest was so small.  I was terrified.  During that time apart, I weathered two hospital admissions of our newborn, our second daughter’s kidney infection, a giant busted pipe in our home forcing us to leave the home for several days, and many other hardships.  But we survived.  You were my rock even so far away.  And you came home.  We were whole again.  And, oh, the joy.

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Another positive pregnancy test in November of 2014.  We were shocked, but so thrilled.  That pregnancy was so joyous, I still feel joy as I look back on it.  A divine sort of happiness laced that pregnancy, as though something about it was straight from heaven.  But halfway through the pregnancy, at a routine OB appointment for which I went alone, they couldn’t find the heartbeat.  You rushed there, but still, the silence reigned.  Our second sweet boy had flown home.  Oh the heartbreak.  Oh how much he looked like you.  Things were hard for a long time after that.

But the light broke through eventually, and joy returned. You held me up, helped me heal, and together we found happiness again. We soaked up our precious girls, even stronger than because we knew how fragile life is.  Life was full of messy crayon gifts, manicures on tiny nails, dance parties before bed.  Our life was still beautiful.  And then, he came.  Our ribbon of blue amidst the pink and glitter.  A huge answer to prayers; a son to hold here.  Our tiny dude.

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The last two years have been so full of hardship.  Terrible job news twice over, health issues that led to sudden treatment that meant no more children.  A car accident that totaled our paid off van.  More time apart.  Growing pains in our family.  Huge health scares with our children.  And then all of it culminating in the worst way possible: watching my daddy struggle with sepsis, and then losing him.  Oh the grief that fills our family right now.   I cry to God for a season of peace.  I can only hope He grants our prayers.

My love, our life has been full of great joy and great suffering.  The last two years, admittedly, have not been easy. We are tired, we are weary.  During the last ten years, we have seen new life and walked through death several times each.  We have held our healthy babies and laid sleeping ones to rest.  We have personally suffered heartache that made us question our masculinity and femininity respectively.  We have seen that adversely affect our sweet family and struggled to pull together again.  We lost a man who was so special to both of us, watching him suffer terribly and then laying him to rest long before we thought we’d have to.

Ten years.  We have gained new life and lost sweet children.  We have been apart and we have clung to each other.  We have praised God for blessings and hit our knees in darkness.  We have seen each other at our worst and at our best.  We have had seasons of innocent joy and chapters of suffocating darkness.   We have lost and we have gained. We have cried and we have laughed.  We have fallen and we have grown.  We have questioned and we have answered.  We have praised and we have begged.  We have hurt and we have healed.

But we have never stopped loving.

Ten years ago, when I said “I do” to you, I said it to God, too.  Our marriage has always been a vow to each other and to Him.  You have been my earthly rock, my constant comfort, my forever best friend.  You know how to make me laugh when I am weeping, how to keep grounded when I’m spiraling into worry, and to just hold me when we have no words.  I am so very grateful for your constant love, your quiet heart, and your deep faith.  I’m grateful for your daily prayers and your constant support. Our lives together in the last ten years have been constantly beautiful in the joy and in the suffering.  I wouldn’t want to do this crazy life with anyone else.

Thank you for asking me to marry you.  Thank you for promising your life to me.  Thank you, sweetheart, for making all of my dreams, all my naïve hopes, come to life.  And thank you for holding me up when our lives get tough.  I praise Jesus that He put you into my life.

Ten years, my love.  Ten crazy, beautiful, happily-ever-after years with a man who still looks crazy handsome, gives me butterflies, and is a daily inspiration to me.  Here’s to at least seventy more.

I love you.

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I did it…

I did it.  I was dreading it.  My husband couldn’t come because he had a meeting at the same time, so I was forced to take our son alone.  My stomach was in knots this morning, and I was so anxious.  But I did it.  I walked into a hospital by myself for the first time since that horrible December day.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.  My youngest son had surgery on both of his lower eyelids.  While we had originally been told that he would be a candidate for the less invasive surgery on his left eye (which was the only one we were originally planning on doing even though both were a problem), the doctor threw us a curve ball two days before surgery saying our son needed the much more invasive surgery.  It involved general anesthesia and taking him to the children’s hospital, rather than doing it in the doctor’s office.  Then, the morning of surgery, he threw us another curveball just before taking our son back: “Do you want to do both eyes?”   My knees buckled.

The morning of surgery fell smack in the middle of the Plague 2.0 that hit our family, knocking three of us down hard for a month.  It came on like the flu, suddenly, and kept us down for four weeks with horrible muscle aches, fatigue, fevers, and misery.  Just as I was rising, we had my little guy’s surgery.  Within a week, because of the intensity of the symptoms, two of us (including me) ended up with bronchitis.

I’ve been praying for healing for weeks; I guess He decided I needed some extra time down.  Trying to manage a two-year old after major facial surgery while battling bronchitis was crazy.  I’m grateful for the help we had.  Grandparents flew in to watch the other children while I focused those first few days on my little dude.  In the process, some incredible memories were made with my children and their grandparents, which was such salve to my still deeply grieving heart. We received much-needed help with meals.  I let myself be helped, something I find deeply difficult.  For two weeks, we have kept our son home, letting him heal and protecting his face constantly. And trying to get well again.

So, today was a victory on several fronts.  I felt well enough to go solo to my son’s appointment, which was a huge blessing.  But so was walking into a hospital alone for the first time.  I was unable to keep it together when I took my little guy to his appointment to request a referral not even a month after my dad passed, nor at the consult appointment a week later.  I fell apart during the surgery, because I was so overwhelmed waiting in a hospital room again.  Fear, triggers, and grief washed over me every time.  But today, he and I walked in, we waited, got blessedly good news, and walked out smiling.  No tears shed, no consuming anxiety.  Just a much-needed good appointment with only positive news about his recovery.  

I did it.

Sometimes, the hard things are not “big” things.  Sometimes the hard things seem small or meaningless at face value.  Sometimes, it’s the getting out of bed each morning, the taking of each next breath.  Sometimes it’s surviving the day or just doing the bare minimum.  And if you’ve done that today, well done!  If not, well done!  You tried.  Just the trying can be hard in tough seasons.

Today, the hard thing was walking into those doors by myself.  And it was really hard!  But, as I got into my car to drive home, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

And I thought, Well done! 

It’s Never Fifty-Fifty…

I remember standing in her bedroom and she was making her bed and talking to me.  I was probably in middle school the first time–of many times–I would hear her say it.  I don’t remember what ignited the conversation, but my mother shared wise words that I would never forget.

“You know, they say that marriage is fifty-fifty.  He gives fifty percent, you give fifty percent.  But you need to know that marriage isn’t always fifty-fifty.  Sometimes, it’s ninety-ten; he’s giving ten because he’s going through a lot, so you compensate by giving ninety percent.  Sometimes, it’s the other way around.  You’re struggling, so you can only give thirty percent.  If you marry right, he will give the seventy percent.  Marry someone who will always give that extra, if need be.”

And I did marry well, partially in thanks to her wise words.  There have been times, even recently, that he could only give so much.  So, I stepped up and gave extra.  It was hard and it hurt, but I compensated for him as he struggled.  But recently, I’ve struggled greatly.  For the last five months, my heart has been torn in so many directions.  First, between my sweet sick father and my own family.  Part of my heart was in Birmingham with my dad and mom as we struggled through a sudden and terrible illness.  There was a roller coaster of hope then complication, and the emotional ups and downs were taking a toll on us all.  Then, despite rallying, I was called home one cold December night.  And in the next 24 hours, my life fell apart as my dad went to be with Jesus.  Then the grieving.  Oh the searing pain, the sudden triggers.  The constant drive to “keep it together” for the sake of the children.

It’s been so hard.  I have not been great at meal planning or making; the housework suffered as I flew back and forth for over two months.  Only through the help of others did the homeschooling barely stay on track.  There are moments I am not my best self; I snap and yell, I get overwhelmed and I cry.  I worry about my mom and wish I could be closer to help her through this.  My heart aches for my five brothers and sisters, knowing they are carrying this deep pain as well.

I’ve not been my best self.

But he has compensated.

My husband drove me to the airport in an hour’s notice so I could go be with my family for the second of what would be five trips.  He watched and schooled our four children, scrubbed the house, and pulled off Halloween all so I could go be with my family.  He helped me pack three times when we thought it was Dad’s time, only to find out that he’d miraculously pulled through.  Again.  My husband drove out with me for Thanksgiving with our children and watched them alone while I drove back and forth from the hospital during the greatest week Dad had.  Though the many complications had taken their toll, he was sitting up, doing physical therapy, and talking.  Oh what a sweet blessing in light of what would come two weeks later.  My husband snagged what would be the last picture with my dad and his grandchildren.  I had no idea until we got home.

When the call came to come home, my husband helped me find a flight from work, encouraged me to get out that night, and kept vigil at home with our children so I could stand and pray with my siblings and mother in our darkest hours.  He kept vigil at home, praying unceasingly, until it was time for him to come.  He then drove two days with four children alone to come stand at my side as we laid my father to rest.

He has patiently endured my uglier moments, tempered me when I snap at the children, and has forgiven me when he takes the brunt of my grief.  I am not proud of those moments, and I’ve tried to avoid them.  But grief is quiet and sneaky; it consumes us in a second and suddenly we are not our best selves.  He has loved me anyway.  He has brought home dinner, helped with cleaning the house.  He has left me vulnerable voicemails and held me as I fell apart.  Again.  He has respected the purposefully empty calendar, and understood my need for quiet and home.  More than all of that, he has wept unashamedly with me.  We have held each other and cried multiple times during the nightmare of the last five months.

Just like any other couple, we’ve had seasons of struggle.  We’ve had times of suddenly seeing our glaring flaws and having to take the time and pain of fixing them.  This man, my husband, has stood by me in my darkest hours and become my greatest hero.  As I’ve struggled to give much lately, he has over-compensated in our marriage and family.  He has grown and learned and loved more each day.  He begrudged me nothing as I endured the final weeks of my father’s life.  He has picked up where I could not provide and did my work with much love.  I know it was a lot on him, on top of his full time job.  I am sure it was exhausting.  Yet he never complained.  He just worked harder.

I am not sure I’ll ever be able to make him fully comprehend how grateful I am for all he’s given me these last few months.  The extra time with my dad, my mom, my siblings.  The encouragement to keep going.  The love to keep me standing.  The work to keep our house and family afloat.  Those sweet moments next to my dad’s bedside at Thanksgiving, when I got my final pep talk.  The final hours, when I was able to tell my dad, just one more time, how much I loved him–and get that last nod before he went to Jesus.

That’s love–learning from our mistakes, fixing our flaws.  Loving more, encouraging more.  Praying harder, working harder.  Even if it hurts.  Doing it all because it hurts.  It’s giving, as my mom has always said, that extra percent when the other person can barely give at all.

And oh my husband has given, continues to give.  He is a good, loving man.  And I’m so blessed by his extra percent and that big heart.

A Tilted Perspective

“I just don’t understand.  We prayed for your dad’s healing so hard.  We prayed every day.  And it didn’t come.  Do you know what I mean?”

I sat on those words for several days.  Honestly, they had not yet crossed my mind.  This very dear person and I were processing the grief.  I had to let those words just sink in for a little while.  And then I finally could verbalize what I was feeling.

How small, how childlike we must seem to God.  This merciful, omnipotent Father who can stand back and see all of his moving tapestry.  He can see how every thread he has woven into salvation history, even the dark, course ones, still bring great beauty to the whole picture.

But us.  We are the tiny threads.  We are inside of the moving tapestry.  We cannot stand back, until our time on earth is through, and see what God has fashioned.  Our perspectives are flawed and our desires sometimes misplaced.

We live in a fallen world mired in nearly perpetual suffering.  No day goes by without some suffering tucked inside, even if it’s a stubbed toe as we are heading for bed.  Often, the suffering is greater and much more painful.  Through these times, we have our faith and our people to get us through.  We vent to our friends, we call our moms…or dads.  We text our siblings, lean on our spouses.

And then, all of a sudden, someone’s presence is threatened.  Their health is failing or there’s a medical emergency.  And we hit our knees and pray.  “Lord, spare them.  Let them heal.  Let them get better.”   Because we are selfish and we love them.  We cannot imagine our path to Heaven without them.  The thought of their absence chokes us with fear.  We bargain. “Please, God, I’ll pray everyday for an hour if you save them.”  We beg.  “Please, please God save them.”

But sometimes He doesn’t.  Sometimes, He doesn’t spare them death.  Sometimes, even if we think it can’t possibly happen to me, our person dies.  We watch them struggle in their last breaths, we blink and they are gone.  And life, as we have known it, is over.  We are left with a gaping hole through our chest, hot tears falling down our faces, and questions of “Lord, why didn’t you heal him?”

Our perspective is off.

We beg and plead for God to spare them.  To heal them.  Why?  So they can stay in a world mired in suffering, experiencing pain and struggle everyday.  So they can stay with us.  So we don’t have to live a life without them.  So we don’t have to redefine our normal, go without the phone calls;  so we don’t have to stop saying their name, or hearing their voice.

He is healed.

I begged God to heal my dad.  I bargained, I admit it.  I pleaded, I wept.  I begged Him to let my dad recover.  I asked him to heal his many wounds, to stop the constant complications.  I asked if He would please make my dad whole again.

And God did.

God took my dad to Heaven and healed him more than he ever was in life.  God made my father whole in a way he was not on earth.  He eased his pain and stopped the complications.  God gave my father a joy that he never felt here.  A joy he prayed he’d one day to see.  None of us thought it would come so soon.

We pray for healing and for the easing of suffering.  And, even in death, especially in death, He gave it to my father.

The grief that makes me weep every night is only because my dad is gone from my sight.  Because he has left us, and we are alone.  We now lack his advice, his humor, his kissing the top of my head every time I saw him.  We can’t see his radiating smile anymore.  I cannot call him, I cannot converse with him anymore.  There is a gaping hole so wide and so empty that it sometimes hurts to breathe.

But, God healed him.  Somehow, the grief is eased knowing that my dad sits at the feet of Jesus no longer in pain.  And after seven weeks of what I saw, that alone is a relief.  His beautiful faith, his life of prayer, his daily intercession for a happy death, all his prayers–and ours–were answered.  The great divine Physician dropped down His merciful Hand and scooped him home, healing my dad as He lifted him away.

How much more radiant must his smile be. How much more joyful is my dad.  How pain free, how simply happy.

He was healed.  In the most beautiful way possible, he is well again.

Her

Every one is talking about how inspiring he is was.  His staff from the administration suite at the VA said they still cry in the office daily.  No one sits in his chair.  The acting director works from a different office.  His sisters speak of how funny he was, that he knew how to make people’s hearts lighter.  He’s still with us, they say.  I talk about how faithful he was to her, how he stood by her always.

But let’s not forget her.

Her.  She stood by him for 39 years.  She stayed with him joyfully for richer for poorer.  She supported him as he taught high school, then made a sudden switch and went active duty Army.  She has encouraged him as he retired and started working with the VA to “serve those with whom he served.” Two and a half years ago, when his heart needed help, she held him up.  She held us all up.  She spoke words of strength, that he would be ok.  She infused courage into us all.  And she was right.  God gave us a little more time with him.

Then he got sick.  And sicker.  And then she called us that quiet October evening.  And when I talked to her, I could hear the fear in her voice.  I could nearly touch the worry.  And I flew home.

I never saw her waver.  

She stayed by him for 53 days.  For 53 days, she never lost hope.  When we siblings would whisper dark worries on the phone or in consult or waiting rooms, she refused to hear it.  Every night for 53 nights, she slept next to his bed.  A few nights, she slept with her head on his hand, never letting go.  She fought his fights, demanding the very best care for him.  When we weren’t sure one course of treatment was the right path, she would ask the hard questions.

He fought so hard for his family.  For over 35 years, he provided and sustained, he fought and he prayed.  And when he couldn’t, she took over his fight.  She comforted and sustained her children despite their fears.  She fought for his best care, his comfort, his best outcome.  She prayed so hard, begged so hard.  She never lost hope.

She refused to lose hope that he would come home and everything would be ok.  Until that Friday.  And the phone rang again.  I got that call I’ve dreaded my whole life.

It’s time to come home, Adrienne.

She was so selfless.  She knew.  She made a call I’m not sure I could have ever made and she made it bravely and rightly.  I am in awe at the strength and selflessness it took to make a decision no wife should have to make.  I went as fast as I could to her side to support her, but it was she who supported us.  She was our rock during those hellish hours on December 8th.

In the moments that Dad could not give us strength and faith, Mom did.  She was brave and steadfast.  She exuded faithfulness to our father and bravery in the right path.  She cried in vulnerability and held our hands in love.  In those last moments, their strong love stood the ultimate test.  She let him go because that was the best thing for him.  Even if it was the hardest thing for her.

Oh that I could love like her. 

And now I worry about her.  I pray hard for her.  I know our father, her husband, sits at the feet of Christ praying for us all.  But most especially he intercedes for his strong, faithful, loving bride.

Mom, if you see this, know that you are loved.  I am inspired by the strength and faithfulness that you have shown to my father and our family in the last three months.  You are strong and selfless, you are unwavering and faithful.  Thank you for loving my dad the way you did–the way that you still do.

Mom, he is not gone.  Just gone from our sight.  He doesn’t love you as much as he did in life–he loves you even more.  His already incredible love for you is perfected by eternal life.  And you still love him, still honor him.  You still cherish him.  And you still are so faithful to him.

Mom, you have inspired me to a higher level of love and faithfulness.  I hope that I could be as strong and selfless as you.  Thank you for giving me an example of selfless spousal love.  Thank you for always putting Dad first, even to the last.  Thank you for never losing hope, even when the vision of that hope changed.

Mom, I love you now more than I ever did.  And you are never alone.  In your openness to life, you surrounded yourself with six people who love you beyond comprehension.  And we will never let you be alone.  We have stepped into Dad’s stead and will sustain you and hold you always.  And, bigger than us, God loves you beyond any of our understandings.

Mom, thank you for loving Dad the way you did.  The way you do.  I am so darn proud of you.  Know that.

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