This past week I listened to some great Christian music. The song that has been in my head is What Faith Can Do by Kutlass. This song started playing on my Pandora feed just when I needed to hear it. I was feeling some pain and loneliness as I thought about Christian and I was doubting my strength to do all God had given me to do that day.
We all come to places in our lives when we fall on our faces, face health issues or financial uncertainty, or we lose loved ones and face unspeakable heartache. This song is about rising from the ashes to find beauty, never giving up, and not being afraid to take that first step to make a new beginning. God is always by our side and He hears our prayers, even the silent prayer from the heart.
Our valleys may seem deep and unending but the sun will eventually shine. God gives us strength to keep going and because of this we are much stronger than we know. He helps us get through difficulties to get to the side of victory.
Faith gave me courage to get out of bed every morning of the first year after our son passed away. I barely had the strength to pray, but I still did even if it was a simple “God, help me!” Faith gave me the strength to continue caring for my family even though I thought the weight of grief would crush me. Faith helps us see the silver lining during a health challenge and gives us never ending hope. Faith can move the mountains in our lives if we trust God completely.
I hope you enjoy the video. I enjoy almost all of their music and this song will always have a special place in my heart.
The year after Christian passed away was extremely painful, but thanks to the strength and comfort of God, we made it through a day at a time. Dave’s job became extremely demanding in the following month after we lost our boy. He went with the flow for the next several months but by summer, working 14 hour days was not enough for the company, so he had to leave. The following September, Dave suggested I call the company that I worked at before leaving in 2005 to care for the boys’ increasing needs. I called them, dropped off my resume, and everything fell into place. I was terrified because I had been out of the work force for so long but I was also thrilled and very thankful for the opportunity to work for my family again.
About a week into my return to work came the first anniversary of Christian’s passing. Dave suggested that I go to work because the distraction might be good for me. I lasted about five minutes. Over the first few months I experienced a lot of nervousness each morning before I left for work and I started to experience slight anxiety when I performed certain job duties. I thought nothing of it because all jobs come with stress and anxiety. By summer, my anxiety increased and depression started to weigh me down. I started becoming emotional about things that normally would not make me so upset. I began to worry about the most ridiculous things, which fed my anxiety.
I took the second anniversary of Christian’s passing off along with what would be his 22nd birthday. I spent the greater part of that fall in a state of sadness as I remembered the days leading up to his passing. By Christmas my emotional problems worsened and the anxiety led to panic episodes the following spring. I took a few days off and started seeing a counselor. This slowly started to help and I really thought I was going to start feeling like myself again.
About two months later, I started to experience tightness in my neck. I associated it with ergonomics at work and tried carrying things differently, sitting up straighter, etc.. By fall, my neck worsened and the spasms set in. I kept working hard and doing everything I could to keep up with the workload. I also started acupuncture and massage therapy. My condition worsened to such an extent that I was having trouble eating, driving, and putting my makeup on. I did not receive a diagnosis and treatment until March of this year. I was confident that the treatment would help and things would go back to normal again.
The first set of injections only made my condition worse and I had to take a month long medical leave. Before I requested the medical leave I had a major panic episode and my good friend and neighbor stayed with me for a few hours. Before she dropped me off at home she looked at me and said that “my kettle blew.” She said that at the botton of the kettle was grief and stacked on top of that was my illness, worry for my son and husband, and the stress of my career. She said I needed to deal with the loss of my son by joining a grief group and learning about the stages of grief. It was at that point that I realized that I hadn’t been grieving since I returned to work. The fear, anxiety, and massive change I went through interruped the grieving process. I ended up leaving my job shortly after my medical leave.
It is easy to associate depression with loss – losing a child is devastating and I experienced days and moments of sadness that I thought would crush me. Ongoing depression that does not let up, however, is a sign that a person is not grieving in a healthy way. I had days that were harder – the pain felt more raw and I would cry, but I really thought I was moving forward and healing from the loss. There was so much going on in my life, so much change, that the grief and pain ended up buried underneath of it all. Unfortunately, it took an illness to open my eyes and see that I still have some grief work to do. Perhaps this blog post is a way of moving forward.
It may seem easier at the time to run away from the pain, bury it by keeping busy, or to tell everyone we are fine, but in the long run it can have devastating effects on our emotional, physical and spiritual health. I encourage you to reach out to friends, family, your pastor, grief counselors, or write it all down in a journal. Don’t bury your pain. Go through it so the pain doesn’t end up being wasted. Perhaps making it to the other side of difficulties makes us stronger so we can in turn help others who are hurting. Christian was my son, friend, and my teacher. I love him too much to waste the pain of losing him.
My grandmother, Joan Juanita Peterson, was laid to rest last Saturday. When we walked into the funeral home, one of the first things I noticed was her casket – pine green with gold pine trees along the edges. The first thing that came to mind was, “that matches her.”
Once we were all seated and the pastor started the services, the first of 3 songs started playing that grandma had picked out months before – all classical pieces. As I sat next to my dad with tears streaming down my face, I remembered the cassette tape she gave me when I was younger. It was by Mantovani. At the time, I was listening to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi but I remember enjoying and appreciating the cassette in private. I wish I would have kept it. The pastor shared great stories and memories of grandma and my heart ached for her three sons as well as my sister. Sherry took care of grandma in her later years, mending fences and roofs, painting, and replacing floors. She always bought grandma cotton candy at the fair. She also took care of my grandma in her final days until the end.
The graveside services were beautiful – warm weather, blue skies with soft clouds drifting by, and cows quietly grazing in the distance. I commented that it was a beautiful place to be laid to rest. The funeral director agreed, saying he also enjoyed going up to the cemetery for moments of peace at the end of the day.
At the end of the services I gently patted grandma’s casket and told her I loved her. There is a beautiful crab tree in bloom right over grandma and grandpa’s grave and it was full of pink flowers. I plucked one of the blooms and set it on her casket before I walked away to join my husband and son.
Everyone was hungry at the luncheon and I was humbled by the church and everything they did to help my family. They provided a huge table of food and a kind woman plated up my mother’s food so she could keep both of her hands on her walker. My two-year old nephew, who has also been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ran around the church basement in his little suit with a mischievous grin on his face. Despite the sadness in my dad’s heart, this little fella did not fail to make Dad smile.
That evening a storm rolled in. When the rain started to fall a double rainbow formed. It stretched from the edge of the Judith Mountains to the front of the house. Over the edge of the mountains, lightning started to strike. The Judith’s took on an otherworldy, orange color and they lightly glowed in the setting sun. The closing of the day we said goodbye to grandma could not have been more beautiful.
The next day, my son said “Mom, the lightning was there along with the rainbows because great grandma was sassy.” Well said son, I thought. I cannot think of a better closing to the great novel of my grandma’s full life. You have inspired me to live more, love more and fear less; to be bold and be myself; and to refuse to take a backseat in life. Rest in peace grandma – you were a warrior and an artist who painted the most vivid picture of life.
I read a story about four seeds in a book by Rev J. Martin called God’s Grace Is On The Way: Let go, embrace love. To sum it up, four seeds were taken up by the wind and dropped into a clearing in the jungle. Their dream was to grow to be beautiful trees, towering over the jungle. Three monkeys also lived in the clearing that liked to amuse themselves by throwing bananas at any plant that tried to grow. This made it very difficult for the seeds to take root. The seeds agreed that it would be better to wait for the group of monkeys to move on before they attempted to grow.
Weeks passed and one seed thought she should at least attempt it. When she tried to grow, the monkeys pelted her with bananas. She tried and tried, even after the other seeds asked her to stop trying. She didn’t give up but kept trying harder and harder as the monkeys continued to attack the plant.
Then, one day, the monkeys hit her with bananas but none made her stoop over. The little tree had taken so many blows that she was now full of hard knots and scars. Her slim trunk had gotten thicker and more resistant and could now withstand the impact of a banana. The monkeys were unable to uproot her. She grew until she became the most majestic tree in the jungle.
When we are dealt a bad hand in life or end up facing all sorts of difficulties, it is easy to give up on our dreams and goals. It could be bad news from the doctor, the loss of a loved one or financial difficulty that puts us in the middle of one of life’s storms. The storms can be so bad that it is difficult to see the other side of the lake and we wonder how we will ever make it across to the other side.
After recently being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I wasn’t sure if I could pursue my dreams any longer. I thought about the loss of my son, Christian, his brother, Andrew, who continues to fight his muscular dystrophy and my husband who lives with a heart condition. After being pelted with several bunches of bananas I set my dreams aside.
When we make it to the other side of life’s storms we become more resilient and strong. God can use us in amazing ways when we let Him give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life gets hard. We can then be an inspiration to others who are dealing with their own difficulties.
We are all given gifts from God to make the world a better place. Some of us sing, play instruments, serve, sew, write or draw. Some of us are given the gift of inspiration. It is amazing what a kind word or a little encouragement can do for the spirit of another. No matter what difficulties come our way, we must never give up on the gifts that God graces us with. He knows how important our gifts are so He will give us the strength we need to make it through life’s storms.
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.
“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.
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.
As 2016 came to a close, I made a choice to let go of the past and keep my sights on what lies ahead. I decided to do my best to only look back if I needed to smile or laugh. I always love the prospect of a new beginning, a fresh start to the new year. I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions; however, I believe in the power of intention and adopting new and empowering beliefs.
When we make a resolution for the new year or a new intention, what if we were to begin by believing that we are enough just as we are, that we are loved more than we could ever imagine or that we are worthy of the best things in life?
Rather than focus on the pain and difficulty of 2016, I want to take the lessons learned as well as the joyful memories. I have learned the importance of gratitude, acceptance and compassion. With each passing day without my son, I realize more and more how precious life is – a gift to be cherished and enjoyed.
The other morning, I came across the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. I decided that the words of this prayer would mirror my New Year’s resolution.
This prayer is an antidote to depression because it helps us to look outside of ourselves and in doing so, we may realize that our problems are not as monumental as they seem. It also reminds us that by serving and loving others, we become God’s hands and feet.
Thank you for reading my blog in 2016. I hope to post more frequently and most of all I hope to bring a ray of sunshine to someone’s day. I hope you had a wonderful New Years and wish you a prosperous 2017!
It is one of the most humbling yet empowering experiences ever to truly open our hearts and receive God’s love for us. Sending His Son to us on Christmas day so long ago is ultimate proof of God’s love.
Why do our hearts break? Because we have loved. We love so much that our hearts feel that they could burst. After Christian passed away, I felt my heart break. Anyone who has lost a loved one or who has been separated from someone they love knows this pain.
When we accept God’s love for us, our hearts fill and when they break, perhaps this is how our love can flow out of our hearts to others. We love others and ourselves with the love God gives to us so abundantly. How would we live our lives if we truly accepted God’s love? How much more would we be willing to serve others? How much more would we invest in our God given talents and eventually use them to bless others?
God loves us for who we are. God loves us despite our mistakes and failures.
The greatest gift we can receive this Christmas and every single day of our lives is God’s love. The greatest gift we can give back is our hearts.
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.
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.
Christian at the petting zoo at the Lewistown Fair.
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.
Fall had always been my favorite season. The beauty of the changing leaves and the flight of the starlings amazed me. Since losing my son however, the arrival of Fall has brought with it a sense of dread. Now, seeing the flowers wilt and the branches become bare make my heart ache. This Thursday will be 2 years since we lost Christian. As the yellow and orange leaves scattered my front lawn, I remembered going outside to take his photo on his last birthday.
When they came to pick up the signs we rented for Christian’s birthday, I felt an ache in my heart and I didn’t know why. The fact that we would lose him 15 days later was the furthest thing from my mind.
As the 27th approaches, I want to remember God’s grace. I want to remember the kind things people did and said after Christian passed away. Sure, the pain will be there but God’s grace can be in my heart too. We literally had a roomful of flowers and a stack of sympathy cards – some from people I had never met such as a woman in Lewistown who gave us $100. I remember my friends, Tracy and Amanda, coming over to the house and offering to help with the food after the services. A woman from Kalispell who lost her son to the same disease just weeks prior drew me a picture of Christian. My dad drew a picture and my mother helped as much as she could. Another woman who lost her son to Duchenne MD flew in from Columbia Falls to attend the services. Sara from Infinity Lofts set up a dove release for us at the graveside and let my son Andrew hold and release the first dove. My good friend Michelle drove up from Lewistown and brought me something vegan to eat. Our friends Mike and Monica brought us our groceries for a couple of months until I was ready to go to the store myself. We received care packages from friends in Wyoming and Hawaii as well as family in Montana.
A man my husband went to high school with sent us kona coffee from Hawaii.
I continue to read these cards for comfort.
My sister and her family sent us a care package that gave us so much comfort.
My dad drew this photo of Christian
April from Kalispell drew this photo
The pain was unimaginable but God’s grace kept us from completely breaking. Remembering the love and kindness of others makes the pain a little more bearable and gives me comfort even today.