A Year of Blessings

 

In the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am on gift number 548.  I started writing down God’s gifts last fall.  I have asked myself repeatedly why I haven’t reached 1000.  I admit that over the last year I have had a tendency to complain instead of offering praise to the Lord for His many gifts.

I did not fully understand the meaning of bittersweet until we lost our boy.  He suffered for the last year of his life and I felt relief (for him) mixed with profound heartache (for me) when he passed away.  Christian spent the last year of his life tilted back in his wheelchair to relieve his chronic pain.  He was able to read books on his iPhone because it was so lightweight and he played video games for limited amounts of time every day.  He lost the ability to play video games the night before he passed away.  He drove into the kitchen, held up his hands and said “Mom, my hands are not working.”  He didn’t want to be resuscitated or to live with a breathing tube and he hated hospitals.  Christian told me weeks before his passing that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed with his bird, Kiwi, in the room.

The pain we endured during the weeks and months that followed was unimaginable.  How was it possible that I experienced joy when I looked at the sky as it turned red and orange at sunset?  Why did everything look so much more beautiful after I lost my son?  It was like a layer was peeled away from my soul and everything that looked beautiful before now brought tears to my eyes.

Being thankful makes the pain more bearable – the pain of losing a loved one, of the violence in the world, the constant stream of negativity in the media – the pain of living in a broken world.  God gives us little presents each and every day and if we open our hearts and our eyes we will find them:  the chitter of a chickadee, the glint of sunlight on a soapy plate, steam rising from a hot cup of tea or an unexpected call from a loved one.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am making more of an effort to focus on blessings instead of burdens.  The Lord has given me strength to put one foot in front of the other on days when the loss feels fresh, He has blessed me with a loving husband and son, with an accessible home for Drew, a wonderful job, and a long awaited trip to California this past summer (thanks to my sister who came up from Wyoming to care for Drew).  God continues to bless us with His love, grace and healing.  He blesses me with the guidance and strength contained in His Word each and every morning.  As we thank the Lord for His goodness we become lights in a dark world and we give hope to those who are suffering.

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Goodbye Summer

Fall is by far my favorite season.  It brings golden leaves, bluer skies, and cool breezes.  After a summer dominated by smoke and fire, it was a great relief to see two days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I looked out the window and noticed something different along with seeing a blue sky – the trees were swaying.  It took me a while to realize that we barely had any wind since the heat and drought set in late June.  The wind usually blows so much that we practically fall over when it doesn’t, so welcome back wind!  I will try not to complain when you blow my hair all over the place!

With summer coming to a close and fall approaching fast, I wanted to share the highlights of my summer in photos.  I went for a visit to Lewistown in June and enjoyed taking Mom to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.  I enjoyed several walks with my family, before the smoke rolled in, on the River’s Edge Trail.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to San Jose and San Francisco.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and it was exhilarating.  Finally, in August I was thrilled to see Drew in a tuxedo for the first time for my niece’s wedding.

I admit that the smokey skies made their way into my spirit.  I forgot that the smallest of gifts are the most important:  a mourning dove perched outside of the dining room window, the chatter of chickadees on my way back to the office, golden spots of sun on the floor, ceramic pigs strategically placed around my house by my neighbor for me to find, time with my husband on the couch watching Suits, and a smile from a coworker.

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I came across the quote in the picture above during one of my morning meditation sessions.  When we live in our heads, our lives can pass by unnoticed.  We miss the bird placed on a branch in the perfect place for us to look up and see him.  We miss the cloud in the sky shaped like a heart or the uplifting lyrics of a song.  It’s better to let our fearful thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky than to end up underneath them for months, even years.  Remember the cartoons when a character had a raining cloud over his head wherever he went?  That is exactly what it is like to live in our heads.  This is something I am guilty of and I have realized that life is far too precious to go by unnoticed for even a moment.

Next month will be three years since Christian passed away.  The turning leaves take me back to the months before his passing and it can be very painful – like it just happened.  As the day approaches I want to see the world as I would want Christian to see it – a miracle in process, given to us by a God who loves us.

 

Lift Up your Eyes

“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had left him, Lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are.” -Genesis 13:14

Lot and Abram had to separate because the land was not big enough to sustain all of their herds, helpers and goods.  Abram gave Lot the first choice on whether to choose the better land in the Jordan Valley or the less desirable land of Canaan.  Lot chose the Jordan Valley.

This story has great meaning in my life today.  It is far too easy to become discouraged because my sons were born with a life threatening disease without a cure.  God doesn’t want us to focus on everything we have lost.  He wants us to lift up our eyes and trust that He will lead us into a bright future filled with possibilities and joy.  It is impossible to notice His blessings and miracles when our eyes are focused on the ground or when our hearts and minds are stuck in the past.  God wants us to lift up our eyes and focus on everything we have, not on what we do not have.  When we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will see that He has plans to bless us.

Only when we lift up our eyes can we see the blueness of the sky, the way the white clouds effortlessly float past the window, the bird on the branch, or the flower on the windowsill. When we thank the Lord for a new day the minute we open our eyes each morning, we invite His blessings into our daily lives.

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Looking up can bring us out of a state of depression and discouragement, and even help us to feel confident.  Today, I encourage you to believe that no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, God wants to bless you and prosper you.

The Small Things

When I was a youngster, Thanksgiving meant Ritz crackers and cheese, mince meat and pumpkin pie made from scratch by my grandma, cranberry sauce, yams, turkey, rolls, olives and movie marathons.  I always looked forward to my grandpa stopping by to drop off the pies and chatting with my mom over a cup of coffee.  We never had any large family get togethers but it always included mom, dad, myself and my two younger sisters.

Over the years, as my nieces and nephews have grown and my sisters have moved away, we have had a few big gatherings.  We would have a houseful – people sleeping in the spare bedroom, on the couch, air mattress and the floor.  These were Christian’s favorite Thanksgivings.

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The boys’ favorite Thanksgivings were spent with their cousins.
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Not even a month after he lost his older brother, Drew found comfort in spending time with his cousins during Thanksgiving.

For the last 2 years, the three of us have had a quiet meal while the fourth chair remains empty.  We will visit the cemetery tomorrow morning and do our best to enjoy another Thanksgiving without our boy.  Christian always loved and appreciated his Thanksgiving meal.  He also remained thankful for the smallest of things until his last breath.

Every time I see something beautiful, I wonder if Christian is showing me what he always appreciated while he was on this earth.

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I am thankful each and every day that I was able to take care of Christian for 21 years.  I am thankful for the conversations we had while I cared for him, the things he did to make me smile and for the strength I had to care for my boys with little to no help.  I am thankful for everything Christian taught me and for the things I continue to learn as I care for Andrew.  When you care for someone who cannot leave the house because of their failing health, you learn just what we should truly be thankful for – a dove on the sidewalk, the warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, a short visit from a dear friend, music, hugs, a birdsong, the smell of fresh coffee, a clean house or hearing the sound of the warm air flowing through the vents on a chilly winter night.  The more I become thankful for, the more reasons I find to praise God.  Praising God for the small miracles opens our hearts to the bigger gifts.  Our lives become filled with peace and unexplainable joy as we carry Thankgiving into our everyday lives.

1000 Miracles

Two years ago today, we laid our son to rest.  We witnessed the love and support of many – our loving family, friends we hadn’t seen in years, and friends who traveled over mountain passes to say goodbye to our boy.  A bouquet of flowers sits on my kitchen table – an array of orange roses along with white, orange and purple flowers I cannot name.  When I awoke and walked into the dining room, the scent of the flowers made a picture of Christian’s room filled with flowers after the funeral flash into my mind.  I felt the hollowness and the ache of my boy being away from this earth.

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I took on a challenge of sorts and decided to begin this last Thursday – the day our boy passed away.  I am writing down at least 10 things a day that I am thankful for along with reading and reflecting on a devotional by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts.  After 3 days, I have learned more than I have in months, maybe even years.

I learned why my mind darkened and my heart closed to God’s grace.

My husband and I went through some old photographs – pictures of my sons when they could walk and stand.  Swimming, vacations to Disneyworld and Las Vegas, horseback riding and spending time doing so many fun, simple things in Lewistown with my parents, sisters, brother-in-law and cousins.  Those were the days when my heart was full of light.  I felt, witnessed and lived God’s grace.

As the boys lost the ability to walk, brush their teeth or even feed themselves, my heart slowing darkened.  When I needed God’s grace the most I closed myself off from it.  I didn’t realize at the time why it became harder for me to notice the miracles I always noticed before Christian’s health really started to decline.

Yesterday, I read these verses:

“For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain to their inner consciousness…For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made.  So men are without excuse…they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks…and their senseless minds were darkened.” -Romans 1:19-21

My heart began to hollow out when I stopped expressing my thankfulness to God for His gifts big and small.  He gave us so much to praise Him for and continues to each and every day.  When we notice and confess the goodness He so readily gives to us, our eyes open to His divinity which surrounds us all of the time.  I know now why I began to see an extra layer to life after Christian passed away.  I began to notice things that made my heart want to burst – colors in the sky I hadn’t noticed before, sunlight on a sparrow’s face as he enjoyed seeds from my feeder, the sounds of the wind blowing autumn leaves still attached to a cottonwood.

I went on a walk yesterday and noticed things I had not noticed weeks ago.  I am sure I looked funny because I stared in amazement at the Missouri River and the way the moving lines in the water reminded me of an orchestra, the golden leaves gently fluttering on the trees, and dogs with happy faces running in the dog park.

The more thankful I become, the more I see, feel and live God’s grace.

Light Pierces the Darkness

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It has been several weeks since my last post and since then, we have gone on vacation and survived the spring forward time change.  The robins are back and the trees are blooming.  I have put off writing again and again because admittedly, I have been depressed.  Not just the “I’m having a bad day” kind of depression, but the kind that makes your bones ache or   feels like a heavy weight is on your chest and you have to talk yourself into getting out of  bed a lot more than usual.  This is not easy for me to admit.  I had the hardest time trying to pinpoint the cause or event that triggered this cloud that has been hanging over my head – is it grief, lack of exercise or fun, my diet?  Although all of these things can contribute to depression, the antidote that makes a world of difference in finding the light again is contained in one word:  GRATITUDE.

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Years ago, I started a gratitude journal.  I kept it on my nightstand and made myself write down 5 things I was thankful for from that day.  Despite the prognosis of my sons’ disease, I was able to find the joy in life almost every day.  As the surgeries increased and the care took longer and became harder, and as I had to watch my oldest son endure pain and loss that was completely unfair, I stopped writing in it.  A few months after we lost Christian, I bought a new gratitude journal.  I may write down something big like “I am thankful for receiving an unexpected refund in the mail today” or something small like “I am thankful for the chickadees singing outside of my window.”  Anything big or small that we can find to be grateful for can lift us up.  We literally have to lift up our heads and look around so we can notice the beauty of God’s creation, which in turn lifts up our hearts.  A heart of gratitude sets the stage for God’s blessings and His favor.  It also opens windows and doors for goodness to flow into our lives and invites joy into our hearts.

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