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.

img_1548

Keep Fighting…

I stood by his bed for weeks.  I flew in and out of Birmingham in the middle of the night or so early in the morning it felt I was the only one in the world awake.  I knelt on hospital floors, as rosary beads moved through my hands.  I whispered pleas of desperation, begging Him for healing.

And then it looked like healing, in a different form, was finally coming.

Daddy, do you know who I am?

Oh that grin.  Addie Paddie.  Sprite. 

Keeping fighting.  Keep up the strength.  

“I know, Dad.  We all are.  We are supporting each other. Taking care of Mom.”

He put his hand on my cheek.

No.  Keep fighting!  Keep up the strength.  Keep fighting…keep up the strength.  I love you.

And that was the last time I saw him awake.

Healing came, but not in the form any of us were praying for.  Not in the way we envisioned when we made hundreds of bargains with God or let numerous prayers fall from our lips.

Grief is deep and suffocating now.  I feel no joy.  I feel parched, I feel like I’m walking through a desert seeking water that isn’t there.  Sometimes, in the darkest moments, terrible questions plague my mind, race through my soul.  I feel the devil nipping at my heels, trying to make me fall as I stumble through the days.

He will not win. 

I do not understand God’s reasons right now.  I do not understand why He had to make it end this way.  I wish I had a indisputable sign that my father worships now at the feet of Jesus.  That all of the hellish pain and suffering he endured in a brief seven weeks secured him a fast pass to Heaven.

I do know that the prayers we prayed were not wasted.  I do know that, even if I do not feel it, my God is sustaining me right now.  I know that, despite the nightmares and exhaustion, my father’s suffering has ended.  I know that no suffering is wasted.  I know that my God uses it for good.  The greater the suffering and the more undeserved, the greater beauty He brings from it.

I remember.

I remember when he was coming out of his initial coma but before he opened his eyes, my father was bowing his head at every Jesus we said aloud during the Hail Mary in our rosaries.  I remember when he asked us to pray with him.  I remember when I was leaving the last time he was awake, I offered to say a Hail Mary with him to which he responded, “As long as it’s a short Hail Mary.”  And I laughed through tears. I remember that my father had great faith.  I know it was something we bonded deeply over.  I know he had a great devotion to the Holy Family.  I know he died on a Marian feast day, during the hour of Christ’s mercy, at 3:19 pm which is St. Joseph’s feast day.  I know this was his final reminder to hold fast to our faith, even in the midst of the terrible suffering and grief we would inevitably face.

I remember.

I remember when he visited with my mom last January, he went everyday to the guest room and sat on the couch, as rosary beads moved through his strong fingers.  I remember that I confessed that my daily rosary habit that had previously lasted years, had lapsed.  I know I told him I needed to get back into the habit.  I still remember his quiet but firm reply: “Yes, you do.”  I know I will.  I am.

I remember.

I remember every time I was enduring any sort of suffering or difficulty, I would call him.  I remember he would give me the best advice, offer such love.  Then he would finish off with his favorite Scripture verse.  That became our code, our favorite verse.  I know he would say it to me now, as I struggle to breathe and move through the days.

I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.

I remember how he would always tell me how proud he was of me.  I have so many notes I in my keepsake boxes dating back years, finishing off the same way: I am so proud of you. I remember how much inflection he put into that.  I remember the underlines in the notes.  I know he’d say it now.

The devil will not win.

The questions invade, I cannot help it.  But I remember his faith, and I turn them away.  I feel the fatigue in prayer, I cannot help it.  But I remember his devout prayer life and I keep up the groans of prayer.  I have stopped my rosary habit again, I cannot help it.  But I remember his words to pick it back up, “Yes, you do.” I have struggled to keep reading my Scripture, I cannot help it.  But, I remember his love for God’s holy Word, and I will keep reading.

My heart hurts, my mind struggles, my faith shakes.  But the devil will not win.  Because my faith and my God are greater than all of this.  Because my father, the man who loved people deep and hard, loved God harder.  And I want to keep making him proud.  I want keep the faith, I want keep fighting.

My faith will not be destroyed, my resolve not shaken.  My God sustains me in my grief.  And when it all seems too much, I will hear my father’s words again:

Keep fighting….Keep up the strength…I love you.  

I am, Daddy.  With your prayers and God’s grace, I will.

Pointless Prayers

Tomorrow will be seven weeks.  Seven weeks since my dad went from, “I don’t feel well,” to being rushed to the hospital.  Seven weeks from, “It’s just the flu shot…” to, “I’m sorry, but it’s sepsis.”  Tomorrow will be seven weeks since I went from feeling that last nagging, “You really should call your dad…” to “I miss being able to call my dad!”  Seven weeks from my father being a healthy, active, kind hearted man to a man fighting hourly for his life.  Seven weeks from dropping in on my mom’s Echo dot in the evenings so I could chat with my parents while cooking to calling my mother a few times a day not just to check on my father but also make sure she and my sister are doing ok.  Seven weeks from everything in our family finally calming down…to that pealing phone ring because my brother was calling with devastating news.  Seven weeks from, “Is he going to make it through the night?!” to “Is he going to make it through this latest complication??”

Seven weeks.

But it was only a few hours that changed everything that I understood about prayer.  How pointless my prayers were.

As I boarded the plane on the 17th of October, I prayed hard. “Please Lord, don’t take him until I get there.  Please don’t take him at all.  It’s not his time, Lord.”  “Hang on, Daddy, at least until I get there…”  My six siblings and I stood vigil at his bedside for nearly a week during the initial sepsis diagnosis, praying one rosary after another.  Begging for his healing, making promises with God.  At different points, any one of us hit our breaking point and broke down into desperate tears, still begging for his healing; we literally hit our knees in his dark hospital room, asking for this man’s healing.

And my prayers were so pointless.

I have long been guilty of asking God for what I wanted.  I have long thought that if I say my prayers phrased a certain way, I will get exactly what I want.  I have literally spent upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes perfectly wording then rewording my intentions during a novena or rosary.  This is how I want it, God. Neatly wrapped and just as I ask.  As prayers have inevitably gone unanswered in the past, I have blamed myself for not choosing the right prayers, not picking the right words, not phrasing my intentions the right way.  I have cried to friends in my darker moments, asking, What am I saying wrong?  Why is He not answering me?

My prayers were so pointless.

Multiple times in the last seven weeks, I have walked out of my father’s hospital room knowing he may not make it through the night…or the next few moments.  I have hyperventilated in my sisters’ arms, or held another sibling up as tears fell down my own cheeks.  I have lit candles in the loneliest, quietest hours of the night, saying rosary after rosary that this latest complication would not take him from our lives.  That the Lord would heal him.  That God would let him stay here.

But, my prayers were so pointless.

Prayer is not a hostage demand to Jesus.  “Listen….if you fork over my will, I will give you five first Saturdays of Mass….and a huge donation to charity….and no more ice cream for six months…”  If you grant me my answers, I will continue to pray…

That kind of prayer is so pointless.

Recently, as I was making dinner for my family (and it was going to be an especially amazing dinner), my four year old sidled up next to me.

“Mommy? May I have a cookie?”

“Um…no.  I’m making dinner.”

“Please, Mommy!  Please!  What if I do a chore for you?  Will you give me a cookie?”

In that moment, my young daughter thought that a cookie was the best thing for her.  She was willing to barter a chore just to get that precious cookie.  Because she couldn’t see.  She couldn’t see that I was cooking fresh vegetables, healthy protein, a balanced meal for her.  All she saw was that that cookie tasted really good, that she was hungry, and she wanted that cookie.  And I, knowing a better good for her, said no.

Sometimes, oftentimes, our prayers are answered differently.  Sometimes, God says, no.  Because God has a greater good for us. Yes, it’s hard to see.  Yes, sometimes we won’t ever fully understand his no, his different answers.  But there is faith, just like in our young children, that God knows far better than us.

Prayer is not hostage negotiations.  It is not bartering.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer is indeed telling our heavenly Father our wants, our needs, our desires.  It is not the expectation that those will be answered exactly as we have meticulously phrased them.  Instead, it is trusting that the Lord knows better.  Trusting that, even though we wanted the ultrasound to show a heartbeat, that His will for that baby to live with Him in glory is a better good.  Sometimes, it’s the dark moments of an unpaid bill, the loss of a job, the loss of a family member,  that we trust Jesus’s will is so different, but oh so much better, than our own will.

This hit me early on, as I was on my knees at the foot of my father’s hospital bed, begging for “his full and uncomplicated healing.”  It hit me each time the phone rang and my sister or my mother wept with more dire, life-threatening news.  It hits me daily as I realize that, we can’t lose.  None of us.  Ultimately, the Lord wishes our complete good.  He wishes for us to join Him in heavenly glory.  Sometimes, the things we desire–that longed-for baby, the better paying job, the boyfriend right now, the survival of an ill family member–sometimes our desires are in line with His, and He blessedly grants our prayers.  And sometimes, He has to say no to the four year old in us who wants a cookie at dinner time.  Sometimes, our desires are not the best for us, and that won’t make sense.

More than anything, when prayer makes sense, it’s an act of trusting conversation.  It’s saying, “Lord, would you please heal my father?  Would you please heal his heart, heal his blood, heal his body?  But, if its’ not your will Lord, I trust you.  I thank you.”

How hard it is to form these words, when life isn’t our idea of perfect.

But, very simply, He is our Father.  The Father who can see and understand the bigger picture far better than we can.  He is a loving Father who wants us all to join Him in glory.  And He wants us to want that.  Most of the time we do.  Some of the time, though, that cookie looks like the better good.

Prayer is trusting Him, even when he says no.  Even when He says not yet. Prayer is still praising Him, still loving Him, still talking to Him, even as he’s saying that no;  prayer is trusting Him even as he whispers into our souls, Not yet.

Lord, please answer my prayers.  But Your will, not mine, be done.  

I Had No Idea…

We had committed to two previous trips with my parents in Birmingham.  First in September, for Labor Day.  But the Army changed trips for my husband and he got back only a few days prior…so we had to reschedule.  Then, we committed to mid-October.  And then my dad was supposed to be gone for a trip, so we rescheduled for Thanksgiving.  I was so excited.  I had not been with my family during the holidays in several years.  I was so looking forward to chatting with my mom and cooking the turkey with my dad.  The holidays are big in my family; there are lots of traditions and family time is so important to us.

And then sepsis hit.  Sepsis is something I knew very little about.  I didn’t know how horrible it is.  How it can, and usually does, kill a person within 48 hours.  I had no idea how it would take my capable, loving father and knock him down hard.  So hard.   I had no idea that it would destroy what I had envisioned for Thanksgiving.  The traditional Thanksgiving Smith Walk, always first thing in the morning, the day spent cooking together, talking over coffee or wine.  I had no idea it would rob us of a home cooked meal at my parents’ house.  I had no idea we would nearly–very nearly–lose my father not once, not twice, but four times since October 15th.  It destroyed everything I had planned.  All the time with my dad.  All the conversation, all the catching up.  All the family time.

I had no idea.

I had no idea that Thanksgiving can be beautiful in an abandoned cafeteria on the third floor of the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital.  I had no idea how happy, relieved we would feel today.  I thought we’d be eating in a grief stricken fog.  Forcing the holiday meal.  During a few moments, I thought we’d not be celebrating at all.  I had no idea how glad I could be celebrating with pre-made food in a place that felt nothing like home.  How I wouldn’t care as my children ran and explored that old cafeteria, sat in aunts’, uncles’, Gramy’s laps.  I had no idea how much we would laugh.  Or cry desperately grateful tears.

I had no idea.

I had no idea that there are no limits on God’s mercy.  I had no idea that every time I nearly lost my father and thought, “There’s no way he will pull through this time…” that he would.  That God would pull him through.  I had no idea, when we drove into Birmingham this weekend, that my father would be extubated, talking, sitting up, and seeing my children all before Thanksgiving this week.

I had no idea.

I had no idea how wonderful it would be to sneak up to his room an hour before shift change.  How exciting to walk into his room and still find him awake.  To stand next to his bed.  To talk to him.  I had no idea how much I would miss hearing his voice, seeing his twinkling eyes.  Soaking in that grin.  I had no idea–none–how sweet, how glorious to hear him say my name tonight.

What’s my name, Dad?

Adrienne….

I had no idea how much the last five weeks, the last 38 days, would make me realize all I’d taken for granted.  I had no idea how much I loved my father, how much I needed my  family.  I had no idea how much we would learn to lean on each other.  And not take each other for granted.  I had no idea how terrible, gaping, gripping, and deep fear can feel.  It can suck you down, make you collapse, shake, hyperventilate.  I had no idea how real death can feel, how real permanent and irreversible bodily damage can be.  I had no idea how big and wide God’s mercy and plans are.  I still don’t.

He said my name.  He said he loved me.

I didn’t think I would hear him say those things.  I thought I would lose him, this pillar of our family.  This man who has moved and inspired hearts all over this country.  I thought I’d never hear him again, talk to him again.  And tonight, while my sister and I stood at his bedside, he said my name.  He squeezed my hand.  This week, he has told me he loved me again and again.

Tonight, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  This week, my dad spoke to me; my dad and I have talked.  Today, he said my name.

I had no idea how wonderful that is.  

img_1163

The Beauty in Suffering

I’m a deeply spiritual person (I know, that’s probably obvious).  Everything in my life somehow becomes a reflection of faith and God’s presence.  Even suffering.  Because I believe that God always brings great good out of any suffering; that good is always greater than the suffering.  I have seen that good surface and I have also been left hungering to see that good.  But I have always believed it.

Life literally changed in a moment.  One moment, in my head he was the five foot, eleven inch man that had the biggest heart of anyone I know; he was the towering man of strength, capability, and love.  In the next moment, the phone rang, and my father was reduced to his back in a hospital bed fighting for his life.  In a matter of hours, I was packed and on a plane, praying each flight that he would hang on…at least until I got there.  Sepsis is a nightmare, and when major complications enter stage left, the nightmare becomes unbearable.  We will all walk this path.  We will all suffer the nightmare of our parents fighting an awful illness.  I pray God that my strong, gentle father survives this, but time still will only tell.  Not a day has passed that I haven’t cried in fear, frustration, or grief.  There have been moments, one especially so, that I found myself worried that this was it; that it was his time to enter heavenly glory.  And I have been scared, sad, and so very angry.

But, I have seen, even in this dark period, great good surface.  I witnessed great love flourish.  Even in the midst of this terrible, unending nightmare of my father fighting daily for his life, I have seen the great love and mercy of my God.

Within 48 hours, we were all standing at his bedside.  All six of us Smith children stood vigil around his bed.  Flying and driving from literally all over the world, we traveled to him.  From Texas and South Dakota, from North Carolina and Egypt, we covered the miles as quickly as modern travel and money would allow.  All for him.  Despite the financial strain, with our some of our spouses sacrificing time off work and solo-parenting, we came.  And stood around his bed and prayed.  Hard.  We looked into my father’s precious face, and encouraged him.  We took shifts for over 48 hours, rubbing and willing the blood back into his extremities.  We hit our knees and begged God to spare this man.  When, during one of the darkest hours, my hope started to falter, my oldest brother scooped me into his arms and let me weep.  I saw deep grief and pain pass over my siblings’ faces, and saw that grief manifest itself in the comfort of others.

I saw my mother truly mirror the tenderness of Christ.  As my father lay in a coma, then slowly wake after each complication, she held his head and stared so lovingly into his face.  Encouraging words spoken softly into his ears, some of which none of us could hear.  She has remained at his bedside, her vigil nearly nonstop.  As one of us grown children would buckle under the stress, she would come and hold us.  She has stayed so strong!  I’m not sure I could be that strong in her shoes.  When I left the second time, she offered to drive me to the airport.  As she helped me unload my bags onto the curb, I saw her strength falter for one moment.  “I will not cry…I will not cry…” And then we cried together.  Her vulnerability during this time has inspired me greatly.

He must be in so much pain.  I had the flu last year, or some other terrible virus.  It turned into a never ending bout of pneumonia.  I remember being so tired.  Just walking from the downstairs up to my bed seemed too far.  Walking from the back patio to the swing set seemed impossible.  I think of that time often and how much sicker he is.  How I sat in my bed and was so frustrated with God.  And how I watched my father, as he came out of his first coma, say one Hail Mary after another, his head bowing with each Jesus.  He keeps praying, even now, as he says aloud the Fatima prayer.  Despite his great suffering, physical and mental, he keeps praying; he continues his conversation with God.  What great trust!

My sister moved her entire life back to Birmingham to be with my mother and father.  She had just moved to Arlington, Texas to start her life there, to put down roots, and to wait for my parents to move back within a few months.  But she left and went back home to help my mother.  She spends everyday at the hospital with my mom; wakes at an obscene hour to hold her in her tougher moments.  She helps my dad with his daily physical therapy and sends out updates and answers any questions.  I thought recently, while I had yet another moment of crying, that I had not seen her cry very much the two times I visited.  Even in that dark moment at the end of the hall, she stood tall, her face set, while we prayed hard.  She has been stronger in her constant presence there than I could have ever predicted.

I have had people send priests in the wee hours of the night for anointing of the sick.  I have had friends watch my children while I ran to my father.  I have had people make us meals, offer Masses, and pray constantly for my father.  I have seen people weep at my father’s kindness and express awe at my mother’s strength.  I have seen the grace and love surface in a marriage tested by time and now by sickness.  I have seen my own marriage flourish, my own sweet husband step up in love and constancy.  He has watched our children so I could fly out a second time, he has cooked meals, prayed with me.  He wept with me as we waited in the middle of the night to hear whether my father would survive his first major complication.  He has bore patiently my days of sadness and moments of anger.

Suffering, alone, is a terrible and painful thing.  It saps and hurts, destroys and kills.  But suffering, when united with love, when endured knowing Christ is bringing great good out of it, becomes healing and restorative.  Suffering, when endured knowing Christ is redeeming the pain, becomes life-giving and even beautiful.  The only way I have been able to endure the darkest periods of my life, this time included, has been to look for the restorative grace taking root during the suffering.  I see it.  And it’s beautiful. 

Suffering is the price of love.  The hardest but the inevitable thing in the suffering of every individual is that he must inflict his own suffering on those who love him.  It is love that redeems, love that can heal the world, love that can save it. Suffering has no power in itself; it is only powerful to save when it is caused by love, and when it is the expression of love.  ~Caryll Houselander

My Atticus Finch

The call came at 7:40 pm.  The time will be forever seared in my brain.  I had just finished putting the youngest three down and was in my room changing into my lounge pants.  My shoulders were relaxing; I could feel myself winding down. Most of the kids were in bed and the next morning, my husband would be home from his most recent Army trip.  Victory was mine.

The caller ID called out, “Call from Justin.”  I ran for the phone.  A call from him truly is a treat.  He’s a great father and husband and holds down a very hard and time-consuming job as a lawyer.  I picked up.

“Adrienne….something has happened…”

Time stopped, the room swirled around me.  Which of his precious children, I wondered, praying it was only a broken arm…nothing more serious.  I was wrong.

“It’s Dad…”

No! No! I have been dreading these phone calls for my entire adult life.  Not my dad.

To me, my father has always been equal parts Atticus Finch and St. Joseph.  Yes, my father has his faults, but I’ve never met a man more dedicated to working on himself than him.  He sees the value of each person and relishes them, regardless of their job, race, creed.  Regardless of anything.  He loves each person truly as a child of God.  He sees the value of each human being that he meets.  He has always worked hard and selflessly to provide for his family.

Back in 2004, my family moved to Temple, Texas; my parents lived there until 2013, when my father took a job in Birmingham, Alabama.  While in Temple, my father was the associate director, then director of the VA hospital.  His schedule was very busy and he left for work very early every morning.  But, still, every morning, he stopped by the little chapel on the way to work to pray and invoke St. Joseph.  I had no idea until I spotted his car in the parking lot while I was on my way to work one morning.  I mentioned it to him that night.  And he humbly admitted he went each morning so that he could start each work day with prayer.  It was he who inspired me to start saying a daily rosary.  Long before I started, I noticed he had a daily habit of sitting, mouthing each prayer as each bead slipped through his strong, loving hands.

He’s fixed hospitals that were broken in the inside and on their surface.  He spent 23 years in the Army.  He changed the oil in the family cars for years, long after they were finally able to afford to do otherwise.  He knew the value of hard work and taking care of your belongings.  He once told me that you can tell a lot about a person in how well they take care of their car.

He would fight tears as he told me over the years, usually to playfully guilt me, about how he held me when I was a  three pound, five ounce sickly newborn and beg me to finish just three ounces.  My mom has told me that he would spend as long as it took for me to finish that bottle, worrying that I’d not drink enough.

We had our moments where we’d butt heads.  He had a fierce temper, one that struck the fear of God in us.  But, slowly, over the years he corrected that.  I don’t see that temper much anymore.  There were sweet moments with him, too.  He and I would run off on Friday nights when I was in high school to go watch the local high school football games.  He knew my love for writing and encouraged me; one night he said, “You have to write what your passionate about.  You’ll find it.  Keep looking.”  He was right.  So right.

He has led soldiers in the Army, rallied staff in the hospitals.  He has loved people at work and at home deep and hard, even those who others found nearly impossible to love.

And now he lies in a hospital bed.  None of us know what tomorrow will bring, much less next week.  It’s literally minute by minute, day by day.  This man, who has led, loved, and changed now lies in a hospital bed being loved and kept alive.  There have been moments where I’ve waited and wondered if this was it. It’s a nightmare seeing my father suffer like this.

But they’ve come.  All those people who he’s loved.  His children have and continue to rally around his bed, keep covering him in prayer. The wife he has cherished stands vigil at his bedside, refusing to leave.  His sisters came, waited with us, and left their love.  The staff from his administration suite in the Birmingham VA hospital visit daily, leaving gifts and cards every time they come.  His staff have told me repeatedly how utterly proud he was of his children and grandchildren, the way he talked about us constantly.  One day, the engineers, laughingly referred to by the rest of the hospital as “bottom feeders,” came to visit him.  These giant, burly men stood outside of his hospital room and wept to the doctors about how my dad came all the way down to the basement to visit them.  Every week.  And he knew each of their names.  A woman in his office cried to me about how he knew her daughter’s driver’s test was coming up, and remembered to ask how it went after the test.

I keep telling God that we need him here.  The world needs men like my father.  That his time is not up.  I still need him.  His soft heart, his wise and loving words.  My children need their Grampy, the giant of a man who gives the best hugs.  I keep crying out that the world starves for the love and legacy of men like my father.  But my plans are not His plans and my ways are not His ways.  Truly, all I can do is stand back and trust.  Trust that there is a God greater than all of this.  Greater than all of this suffering, terror, and repeated setbacks.  Bigger than the suffering of him and of my mother, my siblings, and me.  Larger than the fear that eats constantly at my heart.  He is a loving and merciful Father.  He loves my dad bigger and harder and more completely than any of us Smith children or my mother ever could.

I need him here.  I need more conversation, more hugs, more advice from this man who  silently moves mountains with his love.  I need more time with this man who loves deeply each person he meets.  I need him at Thanksgiving this year, at Christmas; I need him at my children’s weddings.

I can just hope he keeps fighting.  I can just keep praying God will be merciful and let him stay.  I can let this mold my trust and faith more perfectly.  I’m completely out of control this time.  But He is in control.  And I just keep choosing trust with each anxious breath I take.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 

Silently Aching Hearts

“So how many children do you have?”

She knew.  I was confused.  Then I realized what she was asking.  And my heart exploded.  

It was the first time I’ve ever been asked how many children we truly have.  It was the first time someone included all of them. 

Seven.  I have carried seven precious children within me.  I don’t count them in normal conversation.  Because it’s awkward and makes people feel unsure of how to respond.  And they went home to be with Jesus.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So, every October, whether I am ready or not, my feeds on social media are filled with reminders of that.  Usually, they are tame, just a picture advertising it.  But with it, comes another woman, another friend, I had no idea carries this cross.  This horrible grief.

Our first was in 2010, and we found out he was along for the ride when I was 3 months post partum with my first.  I was neck-deep in the throes of postpartum depression and was five days late.  I called my sister, panicking.  Begging her to tell me I wasn’t pregnant.  But she knew.  And I knew.  The next morning, at 5 am, I couldn’t stand the fear anymore.  I took a test.  Two pink lines. At thirteen weeks, he died only 24 hours before my regular OB appointment.  I had felt him kick.  I had felt his life.  And then he was gone.

I was only five weeks along when I lost the next one.  I was in denial for a long time because my husband had just deployed.  I could not handle grieving another loss, especially alone.  So, I told myself it was just a false positive.  Until a year later, when I realized it couldn’t have been.

There was no denying his loss.  He came unexpectedly.  Thanksgiving morning I had a hunch, took a digital test.  Pregnant.  I had a Masters I was finishing, a thesis I was writing and getting ready to defend.  We were getting ready to move.  But that Thanksgiving morning, I was so grateful.  Another life, another child to love.  That pregnancy had a holier, more divine feeling to it than any of my others pregnancies.  A few months later, we were almost halfway through the pregnancy.  We were on our way to a family friends’ house for dinner.  I could feel his strong, energetic kicks on the outside.  It’s a boy, our friend predicted.  I knew he was right.  Over the course of the next few days, those sweet baby kicks grew weaker.  From felt on the outside to just inside to just flutters.  Someone was pushing rewind.  I was going to be empty again.  I panicked.  No one would listen.  I went to sleep the night before the routine OB appointment and I dreamt he was born–a sweet, blonde haired boy who smiled at me.  He grew quickly and as he grew, he got further and further away.  Until he was gone.  I woke up and felt one last, small kick.  And then he was gone.   The next morning, the dopplers were silent, the ultrasounds still.

They mattered.  That’s the comfort of October.  That there is a month, at least, that acknowledges my children–all of them–matter.  I have two tombstones, three saints, and seven children I have grown.  And they mattered.

I had people tell me It was just a miscarriage–get over it.  I had people walk away for awhile because we buried him.  It’s fine.  My children mattered more than that.  They were people, beautiful people, with souls.  They were made by God.  Fashioned by His merciful hands.  Just as much as my living children.

And your children matter, too.  The ones that are here and the ones that are gone.  All of these sweet, beautiful people gifted from God matter.

October 15th is Infertility, Pregnancy, and Infant Loss Day.  At 7pm, we will be lighting a candle for our babies we lost.  I will include candles for the babies lost by those in my family as well.  There will be lots of candles on our table.  But there are lots of saints in Heaven for it, too.

As I push through October, I remember those struggling under the crushing weight of infertility.  Those who have no children to hold, to love.  I have endured the cross of pregnancy loss.  I struggled hard to keep the babies alive within me.  Sometimes I did, and other times, I wept with empty arms and a deflated tummy.  I had never struggled with infertility.  That has changed.  Forever.  And my heart aches terribly, and has always ached for those who yearn for children and cannot fill that hole.  What comes so easily to other women, has not come at all for others.  Remember them.  Love them.  Pray for them.  Children are not a right, are not deserved.  They are a blessing.  And they are hard to get and to keep for some.

If you have lost a child or have never had a child at all, I see you.  I am praying for you.  If your arms yearn for months and years to have your own sweet baby, I am covering you in prayer.  If you have lost your babies before they opened their sweet eyes to you, I am holding you in prayer.  If you held your baby briefly, so briefly, and then they went away, I keep you in my daily prayer.  They all mattered.  Each child wished for, each child held for a few days, weeks, months–they mattered.  They still matter.

Your aching heart matters.

Elizabeth
John +
Mary
Anne
Josephine+
James+
Joseph

Beauty from the Ashes

I am a deeply spiritual person.  It’s fair to say that everything in my life, for me, has a deeply spiritual facet to it.  Everything.  I see God and His merciful handiwork everywhere.  I am always searching for His mark or presence in everything in my life.  Driving by giant fields on road trips, where the grass stretches for miles in a number of shades of green–I praise God for His beauty and thank Him for my sight.  I smell the sweet scent of my baby boy while nibbling him–I praise God for him and thank Him for my smell.  I give Him my days, every moment, and if I wake at night, I ask for His help to fall asleep again.

Lately, I have struggled with a surprisingly cliché question: Why do bad things happen?  And I don’t mean struggled in a passing, I should probably read about this type of way.  I mean, deeply and constantly.

To clarify, I know bad things happen.  I stub my toe on a toy…again…it happens.  A violent cold knocks us down after months of health…we hunker down and push through.  This month’s expenses creeped up more than normal…we tighten up for a bit until it passes.

But, when bad things just keep happening.  Over and over.  With no break.  Why?  I know it’s wrong to compare, but it seems like some hardly suffer.  Occasionally, sometimes minimal or sometimes gut wrenching, crosses hit other people.  But, they get seasons of peace.  They get a period of time to recover, decompress.  Rest.  Strengthen back up for the next season of difficulty.  That period might be a few months.  It might be a few years.  But they have peace.

What about those who suffer constantly?  When one period of gut-wrenching loss or pain or death has not even ended before the next blow comes.  Why?

To be honest, that’s been us for a few years now.  Literally one thing after another.  And I’m not talking about a stubbed toe or an inconvenient cold.  I’m talking consistent loss, pain, and yes death.  Why is it that some suffer incessantly while others have long, verdant periods of rest in their lives?  Why, specifically, does God allow that?

I don’t know.

I will probably never know.  None of us will ever fully understand His holy and equally confusing plan.

But, I remind myself that, regardless of the pain, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter whom we’ve laid to rest, there will always be redemption.

Back in 2008, in three weeks, my life changed dramatically in three ways.  One week, after having my boss sign my affirmation of employment, I moved into my first apartment.  I had just finished paying off my college loans within a year, so I was drained financially.  Fortunately, I was still going to be able to beef up my bank account and live in my apartment.  The next week, I got engaged.  The following week, my boss laid me off.  Yes, he knew when he signed that paper that he was going to fire me.  Yes, I was scared and so angry.  Money was tight and my now husband had to help me buy groceries and gas.  We had to move our wedding up from the following May to February, three months early.  I stood looking, in the worst part of trying to find a job and pay my bills, out my back window, questioning Him.  Wondering why He’d allow this.  I was a really good teacher!  I needed money!  February came, I had $75 in my account the day I said I do.  Two weeks later, two pink lines.  Not a day goes by that I don’t look into the face of my honeymoon baby girl, now nearing nine years old, and thank God I lost my job.  Praise Him for the struggle.  Because she is here.  And, oh Lord, how fiercely I love that girl.

There can be no resurrection without death.

I didn’t know why we lost him.  Halfway through the pregnancy, I was more attached to him than I had been with any previous pregnancy.  There was something different about that baby.  Something holy.  Something divine.  Peace invaded my soul.  And, through a week, I felt his kicks grow weaker.  No one listened as I pleaded that something was wrong.  Until my routine appointment halfway through. Too late.  He was gone.  I went home, packed a bag, and headed back into Labor and Delivery.  I got the room next door to the woman who was yelling through her labor.  All night long.  All night, I heard the heart beat monitor of her baby.  Mine was silent.  In the morning, he came.  Sleeping.  His eyes first opened to Great Glory.  Not to mine.  My second son.  Both of whom I lost.

Why, God, why?!

I wept.  That afternoon a priest came in.  With the same name we’d given our son.  He leaned in close.  I heard he put up quite a fight.  “What?!” I asked. I heard he put up quite a fight, he looked upward, but the Good Lord needed him home.

Why, God, why?!

A few months later, I got the diagnosis.  Clotting disorder.  Endometriosis.  Both of these enemies took three of my children too soon.  And very nearly my daughter.  Without the diagnoses, any future children would have died in utero.  They wouldn’t have done the testing, they said, if my son hadn’t held on for 18 months.  Because they don’t normally do that testing without other factors.  Four months later, two pink lines.  Nine months later, a healthy beautiful son.  So beautiful.  Without his death, there wouldn’t have been his birth.

Without a death, their can be no resurrection.

I don’t fully know why good people must suffer.  I don’t know why beautiful, loving mothers have to fight through breast cancer as their children watch.  I don’t know why children must be abused.  I don’t know why parents reject their children.  I don’t know why babies have to leave so soon.  I don’t know.

But I know, deeply within me, that great good will come from that suffering.  I know that our God will bring redemption from the pain.  We might not live to see it.  We may not understand it until the next life, but I know it.  Life is full of death.  Suffering. Loss.  Pain.  Great pain.  Ashes.  Life is full of awful ashes.  But, He always bring beauty from the ashes.

I am not done with you yet, Beautiful.

He whispers it to me.  To you.  He is not done with me.  And he’s not done with you.  Because even as I, even as you, are crushed with suffering, to others we radiate His beauty.  We reflect His great love.  To you, dear one, suffering great loss, great illness, great pain.  I see Jesus in you.  I see His great love shining through your resilience.  Through your heart.  Through your getting up, every morning, and living each day–I see Him.

He is not done with you yet.  Not with me.

There is still beauty rising from the ashes.

 

Bookish Update, 2.0

I last updated about my bookish endeavors in May.  I just finished another six books and September is quickly closing out, so it seemed like an ideal time to update about the last six books that I read.  Here goes!   

First, it bears mentioning that I added a little something to my reading stash.  I’d asked for one for Christmas last year, but after talking it over with my husband we decided to wait.  I was worried I wouldn’t use it.  But, Prime Day approached this year, and I decided that really wanted one.  So, my husband had me order one as a gift for making it through lengthy Army trip (six weeks).  He’s the best.  img_0010Here’s my Kindle!  I have to say that, while I prefer the feel of a real book in my hand, I love my e-reader.  With having kids and my active mom-life, I have found I really love my e-reader.  Out of the six books that I read since my last update, three of them were on the Kindle.  I really like it.  And I’m in love with that case!

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

img_0004

I am a huge Flannery fan.  I wrote my M.A. thesis partially on her and finally understood her.  I love anything written by her.  I had not, up until June, read Wise Blood.  I had started it years ago and never finished it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The symbolism and literary genius had me turning page after page and unable to put it down.  I highly recommend it.

Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orzcy

img_0006This was my first Kindle book, and it cost me all of 99 cents.  My sister and I swapped recommendations on books for our challenge, and this was what she gave me.  I absolutely loved it!  Another page turner, which was great since I started this just after my husband left.  I loved the historical fiction and the sweet love story in it as well.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

img_0007I read this one because several of my friends had read it and it kept surfacing on my Goodreads feed.  I liked the book, but it wasn’t the page-turner that my previous two books were.  It was slow at times, but very sweet.  I loved following along on the adventures of the priests.

Cultivate, Lara Casey

img_0003A very dear friend of mine sent this to me, as my goal this year was to refocus my priorities for both my family and myself.  This was an amazing book.  I appreciated the biblical perspective and the encouragement and affirmation to focus on cultivating yourself and your goals.  This is a great read for anyone re-examining  their goals and priorities.

The War That Saved my Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

img_0005Yes, I know this is a YA novel.  To be fair, I did not know that when I downloaded the book to my Kindle.  Regardless, this was a really great book.  It’s historical fiction and is set during World War II.  At times it was very emotional, as the relationship between the mother and daughter was painful.  I could not put this book down, and I definitely recommend it!

Getting Past Perfect, Kate Wicker

img_0002This had been on my to-read stack for a few months.  I had ordered it a few months ago, but just recently was able to start it.  I am not sure how Kate Wicker knows me so well, but she practically wrote this book about me.  Kidding aside, this book was a game-changer for me.  It helped me readjust personal perspectives about myself that I had been struggling for years to change.  Her deeply personal stories within the book touched me.  I laughed and I cried.  I think that every Catholic/Christian mother should read this book.

So far this year, I have read 16 books.  I know that sounds to some like a pretty lame number; some of my Goodreads friends have read upwards of 45.  Life goals.  But, in the past several years, I’ve averaged less than one.  It’s proof that I’m making time this year to do things that I enjoy again, which is something I’ve struggled with in the past.  I haven’t read sixteen books in a year since I was working towards a degree.  It feels really good!  I’ve surpassed my goal of 12!

So what’s on my To-Read stack for the coming weeks and months?  I just ordered Read Aloud Family.  I started to read it on the Kindle, and realized quickly this would be one I would reference for years to come.  I am already pulling out my post-its.  And I’m only a few pages in.  I’m also going to try to finish Only Love Today, which I’ve been slowly working through the last few months.  I also would love to do one more historical fiction book before the year closes out.  Any suggestions?  What are some of the books you’re reading?  What books have you enjoyed reading lately?

Happy reading, friends!