Friday, July 15, 2016

when summer is over you before it's over

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to get a hip replacement I go.*

The first half of my summer has been completely amazing. Tons of time with the littles, lots of chances to go pickin' with Greg - treasure hunting of the most magnificent kind. (We have this hobby where we have a booth in a vintage store and we go find stuff to put in it.)

As of this coming Tuesday, I have used up all the amazing this summer has to offer me.

This surgery has been scheduled for months, and I keep telling Greg I don't think I really need it so maybe I'll just skip it for awhile. In return he keeps giving me a look that is a smile of indulgence because I'm talking utter foolishness. Which I am.

I've been in a general malaise while I've waited, to be sure, but that's not the same feeling as being RIGHT ON TOP OF IT. When I woke up this morning I actually felt panic. Heart pounding, stomach flutters, sweating, the whole ball of wax. 

Because only two more nights to sleep well. Two more days to hang out in my basement in my recliner with my hubby. One more chance to go pickin' with him. No more "going out for coffee," going swimming with the kiddos, no more running my household well. (Greg is an excellent household runner, so it is in good hands.)

And the obvious, two more days to move freely. Two more days until I'm in a ton-load of pain. Two days until I can't take a shower for s.i.x.t.e.e.n doggone days.

Of course, it's not "only two more days" for the ever and ever, it's until about three months are over. But you would surely agree that there are going to be ZERO THINGS fun about this.

There's something else, though. 

The "general malaise" and panic I mentioned? 

There's more to it.

My heart is broken for my country. As much as I try my mind can't wrap around what's happening here. I mean, I understand the facts just fine. But my soul cries out that there must be a better way than this. And for our brothers and sisters around the world, battered and baffled. I don't have any answers, I just have grief and confusion, but I think almost all of us might feel a little bit that way?

What makes it harder is that we talk a lot about the facts and the opinions of all the terrible things, but not so much about how it all makes you feel. How you feel about the whole forest, not just the trees. Could we not, just for a little bit, debate or even discuss, but instead just acknowledge and share our fear and sadness and perhaps anxiety and dread? Our heartbrokenness?

The forest is on fire. Let's help it to heal.

Praying for us all,

P.S. I probably won't be around here for awhile, seeing as how I'll be having pain and physical therapy and such. But if I do drop in, I can't be held responsible for any posts made while I'm on pain medicine. It makes me weird.

*Yes it's terrible. I cannot poet.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

five things I learned in April

Every month I learn new stuff. Stuff that's fun, and stuff that matters.

So here's a quick reflection on April.

1. Grade school orchestra concerts are beautifully terrible.

My older grandson plays the bass. He's the only kid in the orchestra that plays it, and he loves and is quite good at it. For real, not just my Nini-pride talking I promise. So of course we go to all his concerts and I have eyes only for him even as my ears are completely assaulted with all the learners.

Actually I knew this fact once upon a time, when my own kids took their turn at learning new instruments, but I had forgotten the magnitude of terrible awe of a concert.

2. I have to have a hip replacement in July.

OK so this is bad news. I didn't want to hear it. I resisted going to the doctor because I knew it was coming. And since I had my other hip replaced about three years ago, I don't have the bliss of ignorance this time. Recovery will be easier because I know what to expect, and it will be awful because I know what's coming. Boo.

3. Re-reading Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman has been really good for me

The truth is that I flipped back to the beginning and immediately started over because I just knew that I had missed stuff. That I needed to ruminate more slowly on much of what she has to say there, because I devoured it the first time.

 Simply Tuesday

And indeed I was right. I'm learning the depths of moving small through this world that wants big and exciting and fast.

4. My youngest grandson's growing vocabulary is increasingly hilarious.

Suffice it to say he gets some of his consonants wrong. And he loves trucks.

5. Sometimes grief hits you like a ton of bricks when you least expect it.

Like, 11 years later. And it's confusing and exhausting and I'm pretty sure I'm processing the loss of "my" children in a way I never have and so the delayed grief is coming in waves.




Mary Ann

All these beautiful children found then lost. I was deeply connected to each one and I am so so sad.

And that's some of what I found out in April. It was a wonderful and difficult month.

How about you? What did you learn in April?


Monday, April 18, 2016

on grief ... for when someone is missing

This weekend was the prom in a little town in Iowa. A time of excitement and joy, for the prom-goers and for their families.

But for my friend Sara, it was a time of grief and longing and loss. Because Anna was missing.

Last August, Anna went for a ride with a friend. That's all. But what she didn't do is put on her seat belt. And a sheriff's deputy came knocking on Sara's door, with the worst possible news, news that ushered Sara and her family into a storm of grief and pain.

Anna was on the cusp of her senior year in high school, had turned 17 only a couple of weeks before. She was thriving and full of life and no one could have imagined life without her.

When I talk to her mama, she remembers the good and weeps in her pain. Her life is a mixture of the mundane and the impossible, a life of missing what was and what never will be, now.

No prom.

No graduation.

No college, marriage, children.

No growing into that special mother and adult-daughter relationship that I take for granted and she can never experience.

Anna and Sara

Because no seat belt.

A seat belt could have saved her life and the life of the friend she was with.

A few weeks ago, Sara wrote me a long letter detailing the events of last summer. Her oldest son graduated from Air Force boot camp on July 23rd, Anna celebrated her 17th birthday on July 28th by going out bowling with her friends. She was on the fast track to her senior year in high school.

She died a week later. At the scene. Because no seat belt.

With Sara's letter came a box full of beautiful things, cool stuff that I love, a gift that I was expecting but yet one that I could never have expected.

She writes:

"I have started this letter several times, get started and decide NO too much info and throw it away, throw it away and start over."

I couldn't have been more honored to read that letter. Although I never met her Anna, Sara shared the essence of this sweet girl with me, and I am grateful.

She goes on with an account of the summer, the high of seeing her son Nathan graduate from high school and boot camp. The celebrations, the birthdays, the joy, the promise. And the devastation of August. 

Then she says this:

"Anna and I always liked to play with junk type stuff ... we went to several shows to sell it ... so this is my/our stuff that I am sending you. I don't have the heart right now to continue with that so I am hoping that it will be useful to you and your husband!"

You see, my hubby and I have a little booth at an antique store, and she was sending me some cool stuff that we might be able to use. But I was stunned at the magnitude of the gift.

She gave me a piece of herself, and a piece of Anna. She entrusted me with memories, memories of joy and memories of pain.

I was overwhelmed and I wept desperately for her loss. I called her, and inexplicably, she comforted me.

When we talk, now, she explains how alone she feels, how it's hard to accept that life has just gone on. That the sun keeps shining and other people have moved back into their own worlds and she is left longing, wanting what she can't have.

She goes to concerts that are dedicated to Anna.

She went to the prom march that Anna's friends were in.

She has planned a gathering on graduation weekend.

She weeps.

And yet, she realizes that even in her own grief, others are also grieving. 

Her sons.

Marshall and Nathan

Anna's friends "shouldn't have to go through this. It's too hard." And so she continues to reach out to them, ministering to them with a strength I can't begin to understand.

And we agree that our only hope is heaven. Outside of the great sacrifice of Jesus, outside of the resurrection that ushers us into eternal life when we believe, there is no hope at all.

Even still, she regrets not having a chance to say goodbye. Not painting Anna's fingernails before the funeral. Sometimes she's angry. Often she's overwhelmed. 

Because no seat belt.

A seat belt could have saved her life.

I'm begging you. Kids, don't put the car in gear without your seat belt. Parents, watch to be sure. Friends, don't let your friends move an inch without snapping it into place.

Please, buckle up for Anna. Always. The time is now.

Please, get to know Jesus. The time is now.

For Sara,

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

for when beauty is missing

Maybe you're living in the ashes, just now.

Ashes of loss and grief.
Ashes of depression, sickness.
Ashes of failure.
Ashes of hurt.

And you can't see a way out, over or through them. Sometimes we sit in the ashes, heads down, emotions swirling, pain winning the battle for our souls.

There's nothing beautiful about ashes. They are remnants of what once was, never to be again, because ashes can't be remade into any resemblance of what was. Ashes are always ashes.

But look at what I just learned:

Ashes improve root health and strengthen plants, helping them resist all kinds of stresses. But only if theyre buried first.

Ashes clean silver jewelry. But only if they are remade into paste first.

Beauty doesn't rise from the ashes, but ashes can be exchanged for beauty.

The Old Testament promised that Jesus will bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. He will comfort all those who mourn, "giving them a garland of beauty instead of ashes." (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The Hebrew word for ashes is "epher." The Hebrew word for beauty is "pheer."

Can you see it? If you move just one letter, ashes are replaced with beauty.

An exchange.

Probably this will take time. Certainly it won't be easy. Sometimes the ashes are all we see. But there's hope, there. A hope we can cling to, a truth that cannot be shaken. A promise from the God who loves us like crazy that He can and will redeem even the most painful pasts, presents, and futures.

With love,

Saturday, April 2, 2016

well hello April! Some stuff happened in March.

Whew! March flew by me like a flash, and here we are in April.

What was I up to?

Here's the best part of the month, by heaps and mounds: Spring Break.

I had dates and hung out with these beauties for days and I can't think of any other way I'd rather spend my time.

And then this happened, which might have taken a fair amount of my time this month:

It's a BOOK, ya'll! A little one that I put together from a lot of the material I've written on here over the past year-ish. Look back up there in the top right corner, and there's even an official looking badge! You can click on it to get more information.

And last but not least, this is on the not-too-distant horizon:


Actually, it's my left hip this time. I'm not all that surprised, but still. It's a bit of a bummer. And I think maybe ignorance was bliss the first time around.  But hey, bright side, silver lining, and all that - I bet I'll get some good writing time in while I'm recovering.

There was lots more stuff in March, of course, little stuff and bigger stuff, just like you had. Warmer weather (sort of, it's Kansas for heaven's sake) and extra daylight has done me good. 

What did March look like for you?

Back soon,

Sunday, February 28, 2016

so long, February!

I think it's safe to conclude that February was an emotional bust. I gave myself a thankfulness challenge this morning and the best I can do is to be thankful I survived it. I'm not given to drama, so I for real mean that I am not just glad it's (almost) over, I'm truly thankful that the tide didn't take me under.

This month has just been ... rough. What an inadequate word, yet if I don't choose the one, I may let loose with the millions and you don't need to hear them and I'm pretty sure it would not be helpful to me to give them voice. Suffice it to say that it's been dark around here, as it is every February, and even though I should know by now, somehow it catches me off guard each year.

Seasonal depression is a real thing. I have so few words to give right now, but I hope it's ok that I whisper out loud that I have struggled. And if you are my fellow traveler I want you to know that I see you and I understand and can I just say that this part of our lives sucks?

If I took the thankfulness challenge in February it would look something like this:

Day 1. I am thankful for cold cereal. Because dinner.
Day 2. I am thankful for Law & Order reruns. They entertain me between naps.
Day 3. I am thankful that my pajamas look like workout clothes because I don't have to change if I don't want to and I can pretend I, like, worked out.
Day 4. I'm thankful that what I was thankful for on Day 3 means a lot less laundry.
Day 5. I'm thankful that HyVee delivers groceries so I don't have to leave my house. Because it's so peopley out there. (Not even kidding, they bring them right to your door! Best February discovery ever.)
Day 6. I'm thankful for voicemail. 'Nuff said on that one.
Day 7. I'm thankful for coffee. Duh.
Day 8. I'm thankful for sunshine. Or I would be if I ever saw any.

And so on.

Truly I AM thankful for a husband and family and friends that love me and "get" me and shore me up in the storm and never give up on me. You peeps are the reason that the tide never wins the battle.

Here's to March!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

overcoming insecurity

Let me just burst your bubble now: There is no to-do list, no step-by-step program, no quick fix.

Dr. Charles Stanley says this: "Drifting into security is impossible; we must work toward it." ("In Touch" magazine, January 27)

Don't stop reading though, because ...

There is hope. There IS a fix. Insecurity can be overcome. For real.

Don't we all struggle with feelings of insecurity somewhere in our lives? Maybe it's our appearance. Maybe it's our parenting skills. Maybe it's our job. Maybe it's our home. Maybe it's our marriage. Maybe for you it's (fill in the blank). Regardless, we have that feeling that we just.don't.measure.up.

Insecurity is destructive. It wounds and maims us on the inside. It leaves us sad, or mad, or paralyzed, or striving. And it usually (always?) comes from comparison. We compare ourselves to that skinny friend, that mom with the perfectly behaved, always dressed just right kids, that person that excels at (whatever) effortlessly. Or that beautiful, always clean home, or that joyous loving wonderful couple that never struggles in their marriage.

So let's look at all those perfect people to whom we compare ourselves.

Newsflash: no one's perfect. I promise you that those kids are brats sometimes, that house is messy sometimes, that couple fights from time to time. Even if the outside veneer looks amazing, behind closed doors is reality.

And in reality, I can almost promise you that those same people are feeling the insecurity struggle somewhere in their lives.

So if nearly all of us are facing this hopeless feeling of not being good enough, what's the answer? I want there to be an answer, because I'm tired of feeling less-than, weary of wasting time and emotion trying to fix myself and always always falling short of the other [wife mom house co-worker] no matter how hard I try.

If Dr. Stanley says that security is something we must work for, and I'm working so hard to measure up, then what? WHAT am I missing? How do I shake this feeling?

For me, I will confess that most of my insecurities revolve around writing. I feel anxious when I read other people's books or blogs. They blow me away with their insight and wisdom and I can't imagine how I can ever be that good.

Where does that leave me? Defeated. And afraid to try. Wondering what in the world I have to say that hasn't already been said (better than I ever could) before. In-se-cure.

So I try harder, I set a writing schedule, I fail to keep it, I search for topics and can't find anything that seems important, I DO write something and then fear no one is reading.

I want to just drift into feeling secure in my own skin, with my own abilities, just like God made me, comfortable and sure of myself in a way that's not arrogant or prideful.

That's my deal. I think we all have a "deal" that is making us feel we are missing the mark and we don't have the skills to hit the bullseye and asking for help will admit failure and just NO THANK YOU. I will keep hiding it from you and keep pulling myself together for you and anyone else that's watching.

But here's a question. 

Is it possible that by the way we handle our own insecurity might make OTHER PEOPLE feel insecure?

If we hide it and fake it and pretend we are the most secure women God ever made, not only is that untrue but maybe, just maybe, we are the mark others try to live up to. Maybe other people see our abilities better than we can and they see our fake facade and think we have it all together and they feel insecure because of how we present ourselves. They feel less-than us, and have we ever thought about insecurity that way before?

So where's the hope? What's the fix? I want to feel authentically and truly secure without causing anyone else to feel less-than.

Here's the gut-level, honest truth. It takes work. And it takes time. And it takes honesty, with ourselves and others, and sometimes you have to be broken before you can heal.

First and most of all, you must know the truth about who you are. And not compare you to the truth about who someone else is or might be.

The truth is, you are the only you God made. The ONLY ONE. For real, think hard on this. It's only five words but once you grasp it, it can be life changing.

Because if I am the only me, that means no one else can be me and more importantly, I can't be anyone else. If I am the only me, trying to be you will probably be a disaster. And if I'm comparing me to you, I won't take the time to learn how to be the me I was made to be.

Read that paragraph again, real slow. It's lots of me's and you's and it's all a bit confusing but when you read it twice can you hear the ring of truth there? That's hope you hear. 

We are also called individually. I am not called to write like [insert any of about 500 names of great writers here]. Just because someone else has already said "it" doesn't mean I don't have a different perspective to share that will resonate with just one person. 

We have to ask, what does God see in us? Because THAT'S the fix. Really and truly seeing ourselves in the light of the One who made us, just like we are, with our abilities and our limitations and our faults and our difficulties He made us. He loves us with an everlasting love (check out just about any Psalm in the Old Testament if you don't believe me). He loves the "me" he created and my security will only come from believing that in His eyes. 

Where is my focus if I'm comparing myself to others? It is on others, and on myself, and how I don't measure up, and yes, on my insecurity, if I'm honest.

If I believe the truth, that God made me to just be ME and He loves the ME he made, then my focus changes and my eyes clear and I am secure in the knowledge that I am enough. That even if I'm not sure yet what He plans for me to be when I grow up, He DOES have a plan, and it's good for me, and it's good for others, and it is just for me based on just the way He made me.

Can I just drift into this new focus, drift into believing this truth, drift away from focusing around me and comparing myself to others and into the marvelous security we are offered, free of charge?

I don't think so. I think it takes practice, and reminding, and it takes reading the words of this God who loves me desperately, so much that He wrote a whole book about that love. It takes a gradual shifting of my attention from myself and my shortcomings to God and His promise that He loves me and He will keep loving me until finally, finally I believe Him. 

This is not striving to be better. This is accepting the truth of who I am and being A-ok with it. I think we move in and out of this place of security (at best), but I also know that the more I know about the truth of me the less insecure I feel. Some areas are easier and some are harder, but I will keep working to learn and live the truth about me. 

That's security.

Here's to accepting,

Friday, January 15, 2016

on grief ... for if you're waiting in the dark

Let's face it, waiting is just hard. And if the waiting feels dark, and scary, and impossible, it's harder than if you are waiting with the sort of happy anticipation of better things right around the corner.

Waiting in grief is perhaps the hardest kind of painful. And the darkest and scariest and impossible-seeming cloud is looming large over your head.

I write a lot about grief here, and usually it has been about those suffering and lamenting the final earthly loss of a loved one. Impossible grief.

But there are plenty of other kinds of grief. And dark, scary places. Places where we grieve the loss of the future, the being-trapped-in-the-present, the ending of once-wonderful relationships, the longing of things hoped for, the absence of which leaves you feeling hopeless. Sometimes overwhelmed. Often in the dark. Wondering whether the hope will ever return, wondering why it feels like God has turned a deaf ear and moved away.

These are real-life, reality-based, legitimate kinds of grief. There is loss. Any loss can be accompanied by this kind of darkness, and this feeling of alone-ness, and this perception that we are living solitary. These kinds of losses often seem too private to share. Maybe because of shame, guilt, wrong thinking, believing lies, listening to our inner critic.

And here's a truth: sometimes grief has to be a solitary journey. For a time, for pieces of time, for lengths of time.

But here's another truth: unless we can find people, Jesus with hands and feet kinds of people, the ones who love us during (and maybe in spite of) that dark scary place, we will likely suffer more intensely. We need each other all.the.time, but especially when the burden seems too much to bear.

The Bible tells us of the difference between a burden and a load. We each have our own load, a backpack that belongs solely to us, that we are meant to take responsibility for, that we are not to foist upon others. It's important to know what belongs to us, what is not meant to be shared.

But here's the thing.

Burdens are absolutely meant to be shared, for they are too heavy to carry alone. We need to know that Jesus has offered to not only share but carry that burden. We must believe, also, that there are people, real life come-as-you-are people, loving you even in the dark people, that are meant to help us share our burdens. The burden of things like grief. The things that weigh so heavy that our very bodies feel unable to carry it alone.

When these burdens are shared, something sort of amazing happens. Those burdens feel lighter, hope can blossom in the dark, and comfort that has seemed gone forever is recovered. When we weep with those who weep, there will be a time when we can rejoice with them when they rejoice.

Rejoicing comes in the morning, when the dark is lifted and the sun has risen and even if it's still cloudy and gloomy the sun does indeed rise.

Let's be burden-sharers. Let's not be afraid to be honest in our pain, and let's be willing to help carry that which is impossible for our friends to carry alone. Let's remember that joy and grief are not mutually exclusive, and even in the pain there can be rejoicing. Let's gently be reminders that the sun will come up. And that whether the day is gloomy or bright, light dispels darkness.

We are meant to be light. Let's wait patiently and lovingly in the dark places with our dear ones, and let's be the ones to gently point out the light when it peeks over the horizon.

Gently. Because they can't always see what we see. But whether seen or unseen, it is there, and the light of day allows us to see the full-ness of the burdens they carry, and we can shoulder some of that for them and with them and keep walking them toward the sunrise. At whatever pace they are walking. Don't run ahead of them. Don't blind them. They need you present right where they are. But we must not lose sight of the morning that is coming, the daylight that will return, and the time when we can again rejoice with them.

And if you're the griever, let someone in. Open the door to let in the ones who can lovingly share your burden. And realize, please know, that those are the ones who can reveal light to you even in the darkest of times.

Love one another. No matter whether it's a season that is as black as the night or as bright as the day, whether it's a cloudy gloomy day or a sunshiny day, we are to love. And love will give a glimmer of hope. We can give a piece of ourselves, can't we? We can choose to enter into the dark with the one who feels hopeless, knowing that as we share the burden we can help them to see that the door is not locked forever, and joy will come in the morning.

Are you living in a dark hopeless place? Can you choose to let the safe people in?

Is a loved one in a pit where the door seems locked? Will you open the door and join them?

Love. Share. Weep. And believe in the joy that will come.

Much love to the grievers,

Thursday, January 7, 2016

on grief ... the day after THE day

I intended to write this post yesterday. January 6, 2016. The one-year anniversary of the day Emilie died.

But I just couldn't do it. Instead, I spent time with Elaine, Emilie's mama, and spent time being sad. Remembering the journey of this last year.

Time has flown by and crept by all at once. A year seems inconceivable, but sometimes one single minute feels impossible.

I have learned so so much this year, but I would give it all back in a heartbeat if it could change the circumstances through which I learned.

Since I can't, I thought I'd recap some of the most important things I know now that I didn't before January 6, 2015.

  • I personally have experienced grief. Even though I didn't lose my daughter, the tears run down my cheeks often for the loss of this brave girl, and the pain in her mama's heart. Elaine tells me often that my tears matter.
  • A sense of humor is not inappropriate. Elaine and I shared much laughter before Emilie died, and we still crack each other up. Lightheartedness does not take away from the grieving process.
  • The minutes are the most precious. When we are together on Wednesday mornings the minutes fly by but they are important because we are real with each other on the most basic level, and whether we're laughing or crying or listening or sharing sacred silence, our relationship deepens every.single.week.
  • Sometimes the waves crash in from out of nowhere. A placid sea turns dark and churning when a squall erupts. Squalls are unpredictable and sometimes unexplainable and they catch you off guard and the grief comes in heavy and quick. 
  • Sometimes you know the waves are coming. Birth dates, death dates, holidays. Those days, grief is expected but even though you know they are approaching, waves are still waves and they crash in.
  • Finding a common interest (ok, maybe obsession) has been really fun. We are now adult color-ers, and we've started making cards out of what we color, and there is beauty.
  • Nothing looks the same anymore. I have been forever and fundamentally changed. I hold on to moments and let myself feel deeply and have compassion like I've never had before. I don't try to manage circumstances but instead let them take their course, dependent on Jesus to light just the next step on my path. There's something very freeing there, even though I do still peer ahead into the darkness.
Oh, so much more. My heart hurt, desperately it hurt, yesterday. It feels bruised today. I can't fathom the agony in the hearts of Emilie's family and friends. My sadness is for them, and my wish for them today is peace in the storm.

My wish for myself is that I would continue to grow in compassion for the hurt that's all around me, and that I will gently and carefully hold the hearts of those who are lamenting. 

It is a costly privilege to walk side by side with someone who is in the throes of grief, but don't be afraid. You will be refilled, probably by that person. You will offer much and probably feel like you have received more. Your presence, quiet and true, will be a comfort. 

We are meant to share burdens, those heavy heavy burdens that are too much for one person to bear. That means I share out my own even as I am sharing in another's. Brokenness is ok, for it is all around us and we are needy and that's ok too. That is real, and it matters and we are in this together after all.

And we long for the day that the clouds part. Come Lord Jesus.

Amen and amen,
Author's note:
This is the fifth post in an ongoing conversation about grief. The first four can be found here:

what planet are you living on?
it's ok to eat a box of donuts
down the road
when it doesn't look like you expect it to