My Simons and Splinters

I don’t know why I bother planning my Lenten sacrifices.  Every year, I sit and think and pray for a long time leading up to Ash Wednesday.   Every year, even though I know it will go totally differently, I plan my Lenten fasts, almsgiving, and prayers.  Because, I think, maybe this will be the one year that the Lord doesn’t heave His own precious but heavy plan upon me.  And every year, within a week of Lent starting, I’m chuckling to myself again that I bothered planning.

Lent, almost always, has been an incredibly difficult time for me.  Nearly every year, some sort of life altering cross befalls me.  Usually, it’s a very isolating, lonely cross that I try to carry myself.  Deep shame and humiliation accompany those crosses, even though I bear them through no fault of my own.  There was the year that my husband deployed, I was unexpectedly pregnant, and scared to death I was going to miscarry a second time in a row; I was left home alone with just my young toddler to drown in my worries.  There was the year that I was pregnant only three months after giving birth to my first child; we were not at all planning a second baby so soon and I was already mired in severe postpartum depression.  Then there was the year that, right around Ash Wednesday, we found out our baby had gone to be with Jesus halfway through the pregnancy; I was admitted and induced in Labor and Delivery and spent the rest of Lent in deep, dark, isolating grief and shame.  There was the year that I unexpectedly and permanently lost my fertility and was thrown into long-term grief and soul-consuming shame.

This year is no exception.  I discerned my areas for improvement and set a plan for Lent, all while knowing that the Lord was going to create my Lent for me.  And, oh, did He deliver.  While still consumed with intense grief for my father, another huge cross has been thrown upon me.  The weight is unbearable most of the time, and I struggle daily with all of this to keep standing.  I have fallen a lot under the pressure of isolation and deep grief and darkness.

But the Lord calls us to step out with our crosses just before He sends our St. Simons.

My cross this year is deeply personal and private.  And also deeply painful.  (Nothing health related.)  I kept it to myself, eaten up with shame, for as long as I could.  But, one thing I tell my friends on this path of salvation when they apologize for “unloading” on me: “We are never meant to carry our crosses alone.  Even Jesus had the help of St. Simon.”  I’m always deeply grateful to relieve a friend of the pressure of their cross, even if for a few minutes.  What a blessing!

I must allow others to be that blessing to me.  And so I have.  I have been so blessed by a few people who have heard me fall and weep.  They have seen me in brokenness and shame.  They have climbed up under my dirty, bloody cross, placed their shoulder in the crook, and helped me lift it back up.  They have helped me rise, steady my gait, and carry on down the dirt road to my Calvary.  They have listened to the ugly details of my sufferings, without judgment, and prayed with me.  They have encouraged me and given me advice to keep my soul from crumbling. They have loved me.

God has asked great suffering of me the last few years.  I have spent more time in valleys than I have in green pastures.  For a long time, my soul thirsted for days of peace, now my soul lies in parched trust.

When I was a child, my dad would sit and do Catechism studies with us when we didn’t have access to formalized Catholic Catechism classes (CCD).  He would sit with us after Mass, a convert himself, and read chapters of the Baltimore Catechism.  I vividly remember him teaching us one day about Christ’s Passion. He said that all the suffering  of every person that has lived or will ever live  was contained within Christ’s suffering.  Every pain and struggle we will face was contained in Christ’s cross.  I was meditating on my dad’s lesson one afternoon years later.  All my sufferings, all my pains, all my losses and struggles, all of them are splinters in His precious Cross that He shouldered to Calvary.  All the pain brought about from my sin, all the pain that befalls me from living in a fallen world, all of those were grains of wood in that Cross.  As I shoulder those crosses, those splinters, I spiritually stand under the Cross with Jesus holding the wood where my all my splinters form my part of His cross.

When my dear friends come under my Cross with me, they are not just lightening my load.  They lighten Christ’s load.  We are then all walking with our sufferings and others’ sufferings, simultaneously lightening all of our loads and that of Christ’s on the way to Calvary.  Truly, the selfless love of prayer and encouragement outweigh the intense weight and ugliness of sin.  Love, then, truly begins to overcome suffering and sin even before Christ arrived at Calvary.

I struggle feeling like a burden accepting the help and love of others.  I feel immense guilt reaching out and leaning on their shoulders.  I feel panic when they climb under my dirty portion of wood to help me heave it back up.  But, we all shoulder some piece of the Cross.  In accepting the help and helping others, we allow ourselves and our friends to further progress down the road of salvation.

Thank you, Lord, for shouldering my pain at your Passion.  Thank you for allowing St. Simon to help you, God.  Thank you for heaving portions of your cross upon me during my life and allowing me to help you on your walk to Calvary.  And thank you for also giving me St Simons to help me walk further to my eternal Glory with you.

img_3599

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.

img_3585

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.

 

 

img_3580

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.

 

 

img_3581

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.

 

 

img_3367

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.

 

img_3583

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.

img_3584-1

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.

8798a-img_6493

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.

img_2822
img_2824

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.

img_7928

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.

img_2826

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.

img_2830

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.

img_2835

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.

img_2823