3 weeks ago… A Thankful Heart

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So much has happened within the past several weeks. I am just now getting to a place where I can actually sit down and write something other than, “hey guys, a little busy here!” There are so many thoughts going through my mind right now as I think back over these past weeks. I feel emotions ranging from sadness, disappointment, frustration, to joy, and gladness. I understand more how much life is a painful journey of letting go and allowing God to mold the hardest parts of my will. These past weeks have felt like a glorious breaking of every part of who I am.


 

We have gone from one big event to another major transition, all while being sick 4 out of the 6 weeks. Stress does that to your body after having endured so many long days. I have to admit that I am ready to be back to “normal” and actually get some rest. In the meantime, let me share with you a little part of my journey from 3 weeks ago.


 

I had 9 minutes left until I had to go on stage. I was doing my best to work through the vast majority of my nerves and excitement before Kids Convention was to officially begin. Earlier that day I had run into the arms of Jesus as a wave of extreme sadness and longing for my Mom came upon me. Kids Convention has been the closest to a personal dream coming true in my life. As a child I sang as often as I could. I had dreams of being a professional singer on tour around the world. When my world crumbled down on me with my own tragedy in high school, all my dreams were buried in their own graveyard. It was not until about 4-5 years ago, God was showing me how he wanted to take back from the enemy what he had stolen. My Savior, and Lord helped me take back my voice!


 

8 minutes were left before I needed to go on stage. There I was going to find my water bottle and put a cough drop in my mouth when an amazing woman asked me if I had any significant prayer points. It was then that the floodgates opened. In that moment, the longing for my Mom was beyond what I could hold within myself. My sciatica was also really causing me pain. As I cried and told her how I felt she put her arms around me.


 

7 minutes left before I needed to go on stage. As the tears fell, she anointed me with oil and prayed for my aching heart and hurting body. 6 minutes left and she still was not done. Inside I was thinking how my timing could not have been any worse. But the waves of grief do not ever come in good timing. I have had to work through feelings of guilt when it strikes at the worst of times. I made a conscious choice to cast the guilt aside from feeling this grief.


 

5 minutes were left and her prayer ended. It was in a sense a perfect timed prayer as I was able to run to my position and begin a weekend I will treasure in my heart forever. The tears were gone. Strength was renewed within my mind and body. And there I was using my voice against the enemy once again. I know that my amazing Mom was celebrating. I could imagine her doing her air punches with her lips firmly pressed together followed by a victory dance.


 

I am so thankful that I do not have to walk this life alone. Healing and grieving is a painful journey. There are times that it can feel dark. Other times you can feel overwhelmed. I am learning that even in the grief, and even in the pain, God is so much stronger. His goodness surpasses anything. His love furiously invades every aspect of life. Because of God there is so much beauty in the journey.


 

Thank you God for walking this journey with me. Thank you for the beauty.

 

 

 

2015: Not Losing Hope

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As usual, a new year brings about reflection and resolutions. I found myself annoyed while I was on social media on New Years Eve. I was annoyed because so many mark a new year to change without really ever doing anything differently. I was annoyed because 2015 would mark the year, my first year, without my Mom in it.


I was also annoyed because I lacked any vision for what 2015 would hold. This is not in itself a bad thing. For me it has been the first time that I have not known what direction God will be taking us as a family. Through this God has been teaching me that it is okay to not always see a glimmer of what is to come (although he often shows us what steps to take). He cares more about the day to day and at times the hour-by-hour trust in him more.


I have always been the one to dream these big impossible dreams that could only be explained by God orchestrating them. There came a time in my life though that I realized my own selfishness. Too often our culture, as well as our human nature, is so inwardly focused, that we do not even realize that we expect God to fit into our life, our dreams and our expectations without really ever changing. We think that a magic prayer or even remaining stagnant, proclaiming that we follow God, is good enough. News flash. If you claim to follow Jesus Christ good fruit will be evident in your life. This means joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, love and self control will grow more and more a part of who you are on a consistent basis (look at Galatians 5:22-23). It does not mean that you can speak all of the right words and get into heaven, while all the evidence in your life dishonors God.


We tend to be a selfish nation and humankind tends to be inward focused. We can make self a god. Instead what needs to take place is to allow God to have complete control over every aspect of our lives. We must allow him to ravage our hearts with his holy love. We must allow him to change and transform us. This is the only way that any lasting change will ever occur.


He has much bigger plans for us than we could ever come up with on our own. When we choose him everyday, life will often look so much different than you ever expected, in a good way. When I realize my selfish tendencies it helps me to surrender to God daily. This dying of self can be painful at times. The death of my Mom greatly shed light on several things in my own life. Habits, thinking processes and even how I communicated and dealt with my emotions were all things God brought to my attention. It was not that I had been doing anything wrong but these things needed refining in me. And I am so thankful!


I am thankful I listened to him in those moments because I would not be here today sharing this blog. My fear of being fully myself around others is slowly melting away. Too often I let the worries of ministry, family members, friends, and even strangers keep me from being fully honest in my writing. There was always this desire in me to speak the truth but I often let the opinions of others keep me from writing them out. God is so gracious to us in moments like these. He is so patient.


He knows what is best every time. His timing is also perfect. Usually, the dreams and plans we thought we would have, take a much different turn because he wants more for us than we ever could do for ourselves. He loves us so much that he uses everything along our journey to get us to the place we wanted to be all along. That place is directly in his will, having gone on a miraculous, love consuming journey filled with sorrow and joy. All of the things in this life, the heartache and the pain are all worth it when you realize that the best place is in full surrender, laying your life into Gods hands. Because once you do that a whole new world is opened up to you. It is beyond description. In giving up of yourself, dying to your selfish ways, you gain everything.


I see many holding on to other things. People gravitate to sex, money, food, fads, and even double lives. The death of my Mom has shown me this more. I have seen how some choose to hold on when letting go is actually much healthier. This is a process for each of us in life. Too often we try to hold onto our life when the greatest freedom and joy is in letting go and bowing before God. We are not promised tomorrow. We do not deserve the grace God gives us everyday. We do not deserve such patience when our sin splatters over everyone in our lives. And if you think you are good at hiding it, or justifying it, think again. The foolish ones never know how evident it is to those around them. And all of us have been foolish in our lives. We were just too prideful to take a serious look at ourselves at the time. We thought that by controlling our own lives, we could achieve everything we ever wanted or at least be able to hide our own sinful, dark secrets.


But one thing that I never fully connected until many years ago, is that dying to self means that you must be willing to give up everything in your life, even what you considered good and maybe even godly. This includes your dreams. Too often I would hold onto certain dreams and expectations of how my life would go because I assumed that I did not need to give these up as well. This reality came crashing down on me when I married my husband. Marrying Jeremy was a huge dream come true! It was not my original dream of what I thought getting married would look like. In fact, I ate a lot of my own words because I never realized the power of God unifying two hearts together after a complete transformation had taken place in both of our hearts. For this I am thankful.


But I never knew that marrying Jeremy would mean that I would lose one of the most precious relationships to me. I never realized that others would hate Gods truth and unifying love between two hearts so much in my life. I never realized until after several years of going without this relationship that I tried to hold onto the dream that this person was going to be my confidant, and best friend for life. See, my dream looked a lot different than it has actually been like. Even though this lack of relationship still breaks me to pieces, and I cry often about it, I would not trade the life that God has given me. Because I know and trust that God loves me and loves to reconcile relationships every day, I have hope that the dream I let go for this relationship (yet fought to keep for so long), will one day be so much better than I ever thought possible, because instead of my dream, it will be Gods dream for us. In the waiting I still get to enjoy love and joy in its fullest measure because I chose God and he gave me one amazing husband!


I have to apply this hope to so many other dreams in my life. And it is with this that I choose to begin the year 2015: Never losing hope for the desires that God has placed in my heart, knowing that one day, everything will come together so much better than I ever imagined, despite the pain and heartache along the way. This is how I begin 2015.


Thank you God for 2014. Thank you for loving me so much that you desire me to change and grow and thrive even though it can be excruciating at times. Please continue to give me the strength I need to continue on without giving up hope. Thank you for the joy you give everyday when I choose you.

Thanksgiving: Beauty Amidst Sorrow

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I will be perfectly honest with you and tell you that for me, the anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday was much more difficult than the actual day. Questions would go through my mind about how we were going to be able to handle the day without our Mom. Initially, Mom and Dad were not going to be able to be a part of Thanksgiving this year due to serving in Dominica. But it was the reality that we would never have this day with Mom as a part of it that created such turmoil. I cried everyday prior to Thursday. I would wake up in a deep sadness and go to bed with a similar ache. But Thanksgiving morning came and I was doing much better than I had anticipated.


There was joy in being able to pick up our 6-year-old daughter knowing that we were going to bake in the kitchen together. Some of my fondest memories with my Mom were in the kitchen. Not every Mom or woman in the kitchen would do such a thing. The kitchen for my Mom was a place of love not a place of ownership. Because these times with her were so precious, my dream was to do the same with my daughter. And I have to say that this year it was so healing for us to bake pumpkin pies. My daughter would ask me, “Did Grandma Carrie teach you this?” and I would reply, “Yes, she did. And that is why I want to teach you.” Her eyes would light up and she would smile from ear to ear.


It is moments like these that help all of us to be able to grieve in a healthy way.


Thanksgiving week seemed to be a refining time for my heart. The past several months have presented challenges and other heartaches. God has somehow increased his measure of love within my heart for others, especially those who have hurt me during this journey. I know that there are many who simply say things because they do not understand. But there is such a thing as empathy and compassion for others who are grieving and doing their best to work through the grief while living their lives. This Thanksgiving God was able to bring me around full circle. He helped me to realize that most often, those who inflict pain upon others have hidden wounds and pains themselves. This is not a new fact for me. But God gave me a deeper understanding of such things.


God has been teaching me so much about the hurting. Because of what I have been experiencing through my own journey of grief, God has been helping me walk others through similar pain. I never would have these new tools and insights had I not been on this journey. There can be so much beauty amidst such sorrow.


My Mom was an amazing gift. She graced this earth with obedience and love to God that many would never be willing to give simply because of their own selfishness. Through her death, we saw the ultimate sacrifice. Even though there is pain in the separation, there still is so much beauty.


Having made it through Thanksgiving, gratefulness overflows out of my heart for God. He has blessed us so much. He has taken care of us in our time of need. He has given us many more moments with our Dad whom, had things gone differently, would still have been serving on the island of Dominica. God continues to reveal through our mess that life is still so beautiful!


There is so much to be thankful for.


Thank you God!


We love you!

Candles. Grieving #2 and #3

I just lit candles all over my house. This is something that always reminds me of Mom.


We grew up with a Mom who had an addiction to candles. I remember going to stores with her and both of us saying that we would not even look down the candle aisle knowing that if we did, we would come away with more candles than we needed. In fact, Mom would have candles in a storage container in a closet that she always had ready. This candle addiction meant that most chilly nights the lights would be turned out and candles lit everywhere. Happy memories come from the soft glow and wonderful scents of candles. Sometimes, as I light them, I will cry. Other times I smile. Most of the time it is a mingling of both.


As we continue to live our lives without our beautiful Mom, I continue to learn from this journey. It is a painful yet beautiful journey.


It puts life into perspective. It has shown me a part of God that touches my heart so deeply that no words can describe it.


Here are #2 and #3 of my notes for grieving:


  • Take time to focus on yourself. Because of what happens in the grieving process, taking care of your body, and spiritual well-being is of vital importance. I am constantly learning what this looks like. I often have to say, “no, thank you” to invites especially when I have not had time to process and decompress from the week. Long showers, drinking more water, putting on special lotion, and heating up a neck wrap are all ways that make me feel like I am taking care of myself.

  • Cry and cry some more. Have Kleenex boxes all over the house. It is okay. Just let the tears flow and go eat a little bit of dark chocolate.

God is what makes life beautiful. He grieves with you. Let him hold you today. Go light some candles on these cold, wet, dreary days. Hope.

Meeting with the Doctor.

In the past week and a half I have felt like all the words and emotions have been stuck inside of me. I have realized that I have had a difficult time putting all of the pieces together of the past several months. Because of this I must apologize as time literally has taken on a whole new meaning. I feel much older than I actually am after these past 4 months. Exhaustion has become a steady part of life. Swollen eyes from crying for hours and headaches to follow are all normal. I am uncertain of what my soul will look like after the brunt of this pain has dulled. I know that I am a daughter of the King and He is teaching me how to learn a new dance. He is using every ache in my heart to mold me and to teach me more about His great love. He is making me stronger.


The days in the hospital at Fort Pierce seemed much longer than they actually were. My accounts are pieced together and are somewhat difficult to filter through. The meeting with the Doctor finally happened after waiting for several days. Some of Mom’s nurses and care team were a part of this family meeting. I have to point this out because these people were rock stars. The love and care that they gave to my Mom was phenomenal. I wanted to hug them so tight in gratefulness each time that I saw them. We could not say thank you enough. They were caring for the most amazing woman we had known as Mom, confidant, friend, counselor, doctor, and comforter. They were caring for her in ways that we were unable to.


The air was thick with tension. There was a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball (at least it felt that way) and I had to tell myself to breathe. I did my best to put on a brave face, although, I have often been told that my face looks angry even when I think that I have a smirk on. My face is a horrible liar of what I attempt so hard for it to portray. I really do not know why this is and it can be very frustrating at times.


The Doctor had finalized looking over all of the recent test results, and brain scans. He came into the room and summarized what had happened to Mom’s brain and what was currently going on. To sum it up, Mom’s brain had such a big clot in it that her brain matter had literally been moved over. The stroke was likely due to her Lupus attacking her brain. Any small bump to her head that would move this brain clot further would kill her. She would never regain the use of her left side, as the damage was already too severe. This news was not of any alarm to me. I had enough education about the body to see and understand what was going on. I saw the swelling in her hands and the drooping of her left side, as well as the awkward position she was in, and knew that if there was ever a chance she came back awake, she would never, ever be the same. The Doctor confirmed this when he gave us our choices for what was to come next.


Because he saw how much my Dad loved and cared for my Mom, he knew that she was deeply loved. He said that sometimes scenarios would come up where he has to look at other reasons for procedures other than just for the patient. He saw how much we loved our Mom and that he was willing to do a procedure to remove the blood clot in hopes that the bleeding would stop, and the swelling in her brain would go down enough that her brain matter could heal. The chances of her surviving this procedure were very slim as her other brain cells were very weak and could cause another cataclysmic stroke in a different area of her brain. If she did survive this procedure, the best scenario was that she would be paralyzed. She would most likely not even be able to speak. She would need constant care for the rest of her life. Rehab would be very difficult.


Anyone that knows my Mom knows how much she never let her illness define her. She had been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus for over 20 years and had lived in immeasurable pain everyday. Each year I would say that the pain and issues worsened. Many times she would have to go on special medications just to be able to have the energy and endurance to enjoy family events and important outreaches. So many people never fully realized the sacrifices that she would make to her health and her body just to be given the honor to serve them. She never wanted a handout. She always wanted to do for others.


For those of you who took her for granted and talked bad about her; to those who judged her on the sidelines because you justified your apathy; to all those who abandoned her when she needed a cheerleader, know that she loved you despite it all. Might I also add that I need to say this: I forgive you. It is one of the most painful things to see such a hardworking, loving, tough woman who made the sacrifices that she did, get beat up by backstabbers, gossipers, and slanderers who masked themselves as friends and leaders. I pray that someday you will be known by another name. I pray that you will understand that my Mom only wanted you to know how much Jesus loves you. I desire this for you as well. I need to tell you again: I forgive you. Please do not be held back by any shame or guilt. None of us want that for you. Embrace forgiveness from Jesus and change. Be like Jesus. Be love to the world.


To all of those who prayed for her, bought her coffee, gave her an extra sweater, or turned up the heat in your house because she was cold; to those who baked a meal, gave her candles, and told her “thank you”, know that she never took your simple gestures and kind words for granted. She loved so many of you. It was this love that somehow was still shining even  on the hospital bed. It was this love that motivated her to give her life for Jesus as she did.


For that love, we knew that she would suffer even greater knowing that she could not do anything on her own if she survived the procedure her Doctor offered for her. We were devastated. As I was holding back tears, I realized that I was also holding my breath. My younger brother started to cry, the pain evident on his face. Then my older sister started to hand out Kleenexes. By that time I could no longer keep the tears inside and I had to remind myself to breathe. As reality hit each of us differently, my older brother started to ask questions that I could not even think of at that time. These questions helped lead us to talking out the next steps for our beautiful Mom.


The conversation that followed made the Doctor and nurses cry. They knew what this meant for us. They saw our struggle. They wanted our Mom to get better. Every little thing that they did was in an effort to restore our Mom back to us. So, in those minutes, each one of us was unified. Love was in that room. Love for a woman that each of us had known in our own personal way, whether she was wife, friend, sister, Mom, Mother-in-law, or patient.


Yes, Love met us in the room that night. In the mess of us, love was what made this night beautiful. Love was still alive. It was what helped us make the decisions before us.

The Journey Continues: My prayer the night of July 30th

I am not yet ready to write out the next part of the journey where we talked with the Doctor. What I would like to share is a journal entry that I wrote on July 30th late at night when I was unable to sleep. Journaling is a process. I often write down many different thoughts as well as what God shows me in that moment. This night was a special one as I was able to see just how much God longs for our complete healing and reconciliation with Him in the physical sense of entering Heaven.


Please note that my journal entries are unedited. Anything that you read is pure, raw emotion and an honest portrayal of how my mind often works through everything that I am going through.


Here is my Journal entry to God July 30th in Fort Pierce, Florida Holiday Inn:



“I really don’t have the words enough right now to say what is going on inside of me. Seeing Mom in the hospital bed all hooked up makes my heart hurt. She doesn’t deserve this. She hasn’t deserved such pain that she has endured for so long. I understand that many do not view death as a positive thing but you oh Lord see it as a glorious beginning to eternity with you! It is selfish of us to want to keep her here in a state of pain and hardship, especially when Heaven is our true home. You also long for us… You are selfish of us… You want us to be with you.


I know how much Mom loves you. I know that for many years her longing for Heaven has grown. It naturally should for any follower of you. Now, Lord we ask that you would guide us in these moments. If your will is to heal her here on earth we ask that you would do so. Please have her awaken, brain healed, lupus gone and body fully functioning. Essentially we are asking you to raise her from the dead. If not on this earth at this time Lord then please take her peacefully home into your arms. And may those who are a little distant from you come to an understanding of how much you love Mom! And just because of this separation it does not mean that you do not love us.


Oh, Lord please meet her in her sleep. Walk with her, talk with her. Please come to her aid. Help us to let her go. She has been beaten and broken down for so long. Please rescue her! Please pick her up and take her home… Right now that is what looks best. It is what is least selfish unless you reveal to us that you still have plans for her here. Please guide us… Show us your will.


“Through the process. Through the waiting. You’re making melodies over me.” Oh Lord, you love us so greatly. Each of us is special to you. Thank you for your promises! You long for us… You long for us more than I ever fully realized until today. It’s more than just giving a part of ourselves to you but our entire being. That will never be fully complete until we joyfully run into your arms in Heaven. You long for that day we enter Heaven, our home that you prepared for us! It’s crystal clear to me now… Wow, such love! Such love!!! Why on earth would we keep your children here so long? We do everything we can to make them stay on this earth. Yes we will miss them but honestly, who would ever keep a child from going home who truly loved that person? Heaven is our home.”



As you can see, there are thoughts here that are in pieces. Currently, I am thankful that God longs for us as He does. I am glad that my Mom no longer suffers but the separation seems so far. I have been angry that she had to be in the hospital like she did. I do not understand why she had to go through that part. But I also realize that sometimes the process is needed for multiple reasons. These reasons I will probably never fully know until I enter Heaven. By that time, the only thing that will matter is meeting the several nurses and doctors that may have come to Jesus because of that time.


As the holidays are starting to loom before us, and life goes on, the ache for my Mom only deepens. It has not yet been 3 months since she entered Heaven and somehow I expect myself to not feel such a deep ache for her. There are some days I do not know how to make it through the next hour. But God is always there to give me the strength that I need in those moments.


If you are currently going through your own loss please know that there is hope. God understands your grief. He is more gracious to you than you probably are to yourself. Go ahead and cry. Give yourself permission to grieve. Cling to God as He carries you through this journey. Never give up. He will show you the beauty in this mess.

Journey Part 3: Waiting and a Moment to Treasure Forever.

The remaining days were filled with many unanswered questions. Long hospital visits make one day feel like it is a week long. We would take turns staying with Mom. When we were not with her, we were down in the cold waiting area. The first couple of days went by without talking with the Doctor. He was in emergency brain surgery attempting to save a life of a man who had been shot in the head several blocks down the road. The wait to hear from the Doctor literally was one of the most torturous things for me. I wanted answers. Every single one of us did.


Each time we would all go see Mom, someone would be looking for positive signs of recovery for her. I would feel this sense of denial mixed with hope. Deep within myself, I prayed that God would heal her here on earth. But to be perfectly honest, deep down, I knew before even flying out to Florida that I would never see my Mom alive on this earth again. It was on the flight to Florida that I finally realized that the last hug I gave her in the airport to see them off to Dominica, would be my last hug from her. It was the reason why I was adamant that I made the trip to see my parents off, even though I had been up the previous night and into the early morning with the worst flu I had since the swine flu.


I remember one particular day where my Dad needed to go purchase clothes as well as other items. My husband, Uncle Nate and myself stayed at the hospital while everyone else went to help Dad. I wanted to spend as much time with my Mom as I possibly could. She could not speak. She was not even awake. When she moved it was random. Each moment that I had with her felt like a precious gift even though the conversation was one sided. But on this particular day, I remember seeing the nurses care for her in ways I had not seen before. They would check the monitors, take blood, turn her over to a different side, and move her tubes down her throat. This was all hard to see as she would cough and gasp for breath. Every beep of the monitor would make my heart race. Because of this I learned how to take long, deep breaths.  Sometimes the room would spin but I was determined to stay as long as I could with my Mom. God was holding me, for I had already collapsed into his loving arms.


Something about this day with her felt different to me. I felt God’s peace in the room more heavily. I began to read more of her favorite passages of scripture. I would read anywhere from 10-20 minutes at a time out loud hoping that she could hear every word. She loved reading her Bible. She loved her precious Savior. After reading to her for some time, the nurses rotated her again. After they left I felt prompted to start talking to her just like the times we would have together over a cup of coffee. Gently placing my hand into her right hand, I felt a squeeze after I told her how much I loved her. The timing was perfect. Some people would say that this was just a coincidence but I know that it was not, and I will forever treasure that moment.


For that one moment felt as if my Mom was hugging my heart.


For that one moment, God was showing me the beauty within the mess of us. He knew exactly what I needed to help get me through what was to come.