You Say It’s Your Birthday

Funny thing before we delve into this week’s blog – first, I’m late again. Thankfully, I might be the only one keeping track. Second – I’m early. Yep, this is the blog that I had in mind for next week – when my daughter, Megan, turns 21. Due to a twisted turn of events – namely that I am wholly unable to keep proper track of time these days – I present next week’s blog this week:

Do you remember what you did for your 21st birthday? Or your 18th? 10th? 30? 50? – pick your milestone poison. You likely have fond memories of that day, unless you landed in jail, in which case I hope enough time has passed that you can look back and laugh.

What if something worse (much worse) than jail happened on your birthday?  My mother’s oldest brother, Mike, died of a heart attack – on his daughter’s birthday. Yes, there isn’t much worse that can happen on your birthday than for your dad to die of a heart attack.  It’s awfully hard after that to look forward to another birthday much less ever to look upon that particular day with anything other than heartbreak. Or is there?

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Holiday Hangover

“Happy New Year!” How many woke up on January 1stwith a touch of “rockin’ pneumonia” from ringing in the New Year? When you’ve been through (or are still dealing with) a tough time, the holidays bring a different kind of “hangover.”

“They” expect us to be happy during the holidays. Thanksgiving is a time focused on gratitude. Christmas is an expectant time to celebrate the gift of the birth of Christ. New Year’s ushers in fresh starts and excitement for what the new year will unfold.

“They” underestimate the amount of energy required to get from November to January. Mustering the drive needed to make that holiday haul can zap us – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we do arrive at January still intact, we are kinda left wondering, “what next?”

When one year has been tough, hitting the reset button on a fresh year can be a welcome relief. New year, new job. New year, new gym. New year, new house. New year, new you!You name it. Whatever held you back in the prior year can be wiped clean allowing you to move forward.

Other times – even when a year has been unrelenting – we don’t want to let go. Sometimes, we’d rather time stand still. Sometimes, we’d rather rewind the days to a time when things made more sense. The holidays have already left us hungover and now “they” are saying that we need to “move forward.”

Time becomes warped when you are in fresh grief. [“Fresh” is a relative term as grief really has no shelf-life on this earth.] When I hear “Last Christmas” or “Last summer,” my mind immediately meanders to 2016. My heart harkens to the last time that my little family made sense. My soul is stuck in an era when Brooke was physically with us. 

Last New Year’s (when we ushered in 2018) may have been the worse New Year ever. My prior experience with loss did very little to prepare me for the realization that we would make no new memories in 2018 that begin with “Remember when Brooke [fill-in the blank].” 

Of course, I already knew this. Yet, one of the blessings and curses of how the mind warps with grief is that you don’t know everything at once. It’s as if the mind spoon feeds new realities to you as it thinks you are ready. Other times, it’s as if the mind breaks like a bloated levee no longer able to hold back. That’s what happened on January 1, 2018. My mind held back as long as it could from telling my heart and soul that there’d be no new memories. Then, it was almost as if the holiday fireworks were bomb blasts exploding away a dam of emotion. The realization hit hard.

So, you’d think that having come to appreciate this new reality that it would be easier “moving forward.” You would think that sailing into 2019 would be smooth. Not so much. As I scrolled through posts in some of the online support groups, I found (somewhat relieved that I was not alone) that other parents who had lost children were also reeling from the holidays and feeling angst about the new year – even those who had many “new years” under their belts.

There are a couple of takeaways. First, no matter how “well” it might appear that a grieving parent (or sibling or spouse or child or whomever) may be handling a loss – grief does not move in logical, linear progression. Grief looks a lot more like a pile of tangled Christmas lights than neatly hung party lights. 

Second, any event or “celebration” that spotlights the loss will sting – no matter how joyous that occasion may be. We – the bereaved – can celebrate joy, but it is just a little different. That “before and after” date splits us into two halves. As we piece back our new existence, the halves don’t quite line up. One half praises the blessings – because there are still so many blessings. Memories of our lost loved ones are a treasured blessing, and we are ever grateful for new blessings as they come. Our other half curses the injustice of living “without” and wages an all-out war against anything joyful.

Life – as if it were not already – becomes a constant battle to remain faithful to God, to our families, and to ourselves.

The good news is that the battle is already won. If we can only “sweat out” the lies that keep us focused on our hurt and loss, we’d see that even in the midst of unspeakable hurt, we are not alone. Our God stands victorious between us and the enemy. He stands beside us in comfort. He stands behind us in strength. When time passes from this life, God will wipe away every tear.

Dear Heavenly Father, help us not to fear the passing of time here on earth. Send your Spirit to untangle our wounded souls. Hold us in your victorious right hand. With your Son as our model, fill us with faith so that our battered hearts beat only for You. Shake off the forces that seek to drain our faith. Make our spirits drunk with joy for You, and may your unfailing hope displace our hurtful hangovers. May we overflow with delight as we look forward to a day when there will be NO MORE TEARS. Amen.

SDG

Half-hearted

My daddy gave me a pair of gloves for Christmas 2000. There was nothing special about them. Just a simple (but warm) pair of black gloves with fleece lining. Two months later, my daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer – aggressive and sinister. By the time the cancer was detected, it was too late. Two months after his diagnosis, he passed away at age 56.

All of a sudden, those Christmas gloves became special. Seriously, I placed so much emphasis on those gloves as the last little connection between me and my daddy. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have placed so much importance on something physical and fleeting, but I did. So, you can just imagine how sick I became when the gloves became separated. 

At first, I didn’t believe one was lost. I was convinced that I would find the missing glove. Time passed. No reunion. More time passed. Still no reunion. 

Years went by. Yes, I carried the found glove around for years.

I slowly became to accept that perhaps, the gloves would not be together again as soon I would have hoped and I might have to learn how to survive with just the one glove. It’s the same realization that slowly settles into your bones after losing someone you love. Like gloves work better in pairs, the heart works better whole. Yet, you come to learn how to survive half-hearted.

Over the years, the “found” glove (or was it the “missing” one) played tricks with my mind. As I’d go through drawers or boxes of winter things, it would seem as if it played a slight of hand. One time, I would swear that it was the right glove that was found, but I would be holding the left one. Other times, I would find the right glove and spend days looking for the left because I could have sworn that I had “just seen it.” Eventually, I just played the cruel game of hide-and-seek off as my own wishful thinking.

When you are grieving an unfathomable loss, the heart and mind play similar games. A swing of blonde hair catches your eye before you recall that she’s not there. A familiar laugh lands on your ear catching you for a moment as you ponder whether these are the left chambers reuniting with the right or vice versa. Then you realize that you are not even sure which chambers are lost and which still beat within your chest.

Sure, you couldlive with just one glove. The one glove is still useful, but it just isn’t the same. Life is livable but sometimes it feels like – oreos without milk, a kingcake with no baby, or red beans with no rice. Like Batman without Robin, SpongeBob without Patrick, or Lilo without Stitch, life just isn’t the same. The needle pierces the memory adding to the tapestry of your life; yet, it is missing a thread. There is a blank space that runs through every new memory regardless of how glorious that memory is.

Amidst a world that is fraught with milkless oreos and babyless kingcakes, there is only one thing that keeps my chest beating half-heartedly and reminds me each day is still worth living. There will come a day when our hearts beat again. Not half-heartedly but full and nearly bursting in a way in which today – we can only imagine. 

“Really,” you ask, “Are we really going to be reunited in heaven with our Lord and our loved ones?” Yes, and it is just as simple and complicated as believing that God sent His only Son to make that day possible. 

“But it is so hard to hold onto that belief in this world of tangled threads and plates of beans without rice,” you say. I can’t disagree. It is hard. No way around the fact that it can be hard, but daily I am reminded of God’s infinite love and I cannot escape the draw of eternity.

About a week or so ago, I was unpacking a box of winter things and I saw a black glove. It looked so much like the “missing” glove (or was it the “found” glove). My heart had been tricked by this game so many times and I really didn’t have the energy to play another round. Yet, I carried it to the drawer where I had last seen the “found” glove (or was it the “missing” glove). Fully anticipating another disappointment, imagine my surprise when the “found” glove lay in my right hand and the “missing” glove in my left – both hands literally trembling and my half-heart pounding profusely.

After years of waiting and holding onto what felt like a silly expectation and wishful thinking, my gloves are together again. While it might seem like a trivial reminder, it is a reminder nonetheless that faith in the “lost” years will lead to reunion in eternity. 

No more half-hearted happiness over reunited gloves. We can look forward to full-hearted joy over a glorious and eternal reunion with the ones we love. More importantly, there will come a day when we will come face-to-face with our Lord and our God. 

And . . . thatis the true gift of Christmas. 

SDG

Gone Too Soon

Over the last week, our nation and the world became a little less dignified. A little less civil. A little less honorable.  A little less humble. A little less colorful. Well . . . it just became a little less. Our former president, George H. W. Bush (a/k/a “Bush 41″), has “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (borrowing the eloquent words of another former president) After ninety-four full years, Bush 41 joined his beloved, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who passed at age three nearly sixty-five years ago.

Even though the Bush family is obviously saddened by their loss, it is so evident that they are also celebrating a long life, well-lived. As well, they should. President Bush’s life was filled with humility, humor, service, love, and so much more.

Celebrating life is so much easier when someone passes away just shy of a century. Read more

Half-Way Home

Until last year when my husband and I moved to Minneapolis, I had never lived more than a few hours from “home” – meaning the place where I was born and raised. To be honest, Minneapolis would have been pretty far down a list of choice relocations. No offense to Minnesota, but locales like Key West, San Diego, or Honolulu would have been more prominent in my imagination. Those were not options.

So, I suited up with my best “let’s-make-the-best-of-it” attitude and bought a heavy coat and a pair of snow boots. Confession – my “let’s-make-the-best-of-it” attitude was really more of a “let’s-get-through-this-as-quickly-as-possible-and-get-back-home” attitude until I received a great piece of advice from someone who had moved around a lot – “Make Minneapolis home.” Essentially, make friends and build relationships even though you know that you may not have all of the time you’d like to build those relationships fully. Read more

Clouds of Joy

When it comes to art (paintings, sculptures, etc.), I am quite unsophisticated. As college wound down, I was searching for a more “grown-up” and “sophisticated” look for my apartment. So naturally, I headed straight the cheap wall poster section of Michael’s. And, since I didn’t have a clue about art, I settled for what someone in the eighties thought would have commercial value. Enter Water Lilies (Claude Monet) and Starry Night (Vincent Van Gogh) complete with flimsy, pop together, plastic wall frames.

As time went on, I grew more sophisticated in taste – enter Jazz Fest Posters. Hey – unlike the mass-produced variety, these are actual art. And, while we own a few (unsigned, unnamed) originals, we’ve also collected a few giclées (the adult version of cheesy wall posters) of pieces that we love but didn’t have an option for obtaining the original. Read more

Are We There Yet?

If I was behind the wheel on a road trip, it typically meant that I was headed either to a concert (usually One Direction) or a horse show. This also meant that Brooke was in tow. Road trips with Brooke were very much unlike the ones I’ve taken with her older sister. Trips with Megan generally comprise of short talks with music filling the gap. There were no gaps with Brooke. A background of music was overlaid with non-stop chatter.

What if I get nervous and throw up in the ring? Did I tell you about so-and-so? What if it rains and my saddle gets wet? Who’s my favorite this concert – Zayne or Harry? But what about Niall? What if the hotel smells? What if I can’t sell these tickets for better ones? Where are we going to see One D next summer? How much longer? Are we there yet?

These little journeys were peppered with little worries. Life’s journey is bigger and infused with bigger worries. Read more