Scars Strengthen Us

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.

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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.

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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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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.

Remembering 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.

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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.

 

 

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We went back up to the cemetery a few days later to release more doves.  Drew was able to hold and release Sirius again.

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.

God’s grace for the Race

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Yesterday, I completed my first Island Challenge.  The event took place in Lewistown at the Half Moon Ranch and it featured different events – a half-marathon, overnight bike ride and 8K/11K hikes.  I signed up for the 11K hike.  I am a natural introvert so engaging on such an adventure solo stirred up feelings of fear and doubt.  I had thoughts of backing out more than once.

I woke up early and made the hour-long drive so I could have plenty of time to check in.  I was not disappointed by the beauty of the ranch.  There were cows greeting passing cars on the dirt road leading to the ranch and the rising sun brought everything to life.  I arrived at the pavilion to the smell of bacon and pancakes.  I checked in, pinned on my number along with the memorial pin of my son.  The ranch is surrounded by mountains and wildlife so I enjoyed the views while I waited for the hike to begin.

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When it was time to gather around the starting line I made sure to listen to the directions, especially pertaining to the split between the two hikes.  The horn went off and I began my  journey.  We started on a hill and I slowly ended up in the back.  I told myself that all I want to do is finish, even if I am last.  I was looking forward to the solitude of being in the back.

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We went uphill for over a mile and my heart was racing.  My legs started to burn in places they usually don’t and the terrain became very rugged.  I had to watch where I was stepping so I wouldn’t fall or roll my ankle.  As we started to spread out more, I could hear the wind blowing through the tops of the pines.  Everything around me was beautiful and so full of life and color, even the rocks and foliage along the side of the road.  I made it to the first water station and was happy they had kleenex and fresh fruit.  The oatmeal I ate for breakfast wore off before I even started the hike.  We had a brief respite from walking uphill but another hill waited after the rest station.  I attacked it with vigor and pumped my arms to give me a boost.  Tendons I didn’t know existed were sore and I  began to feel the weakness caused by the muscular dystrophy.  I wasn’t about to let it stop me.

 

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I thought of Christian and how he and his brother were never able to hike because their bodies became too weak once they were old enough.  I thought of my mother and the pain she has endured from her legs giving out.  I also thought of a co-worker who is battling cancer.  I felt that second wind come along and I kept it up.  I walked alone for a good part of the hike except for the marathon runners that passed occasionally.  I came up on the 6K sign and realized I was over half way through.  The second water station came a short time later and they said I had one mile left.  I thought the nice man didn’t know what he was talking about.  How could I only have one mile left?  I pressed on further and approached a downhill slope that made me hesitate.  I pictured myself trying to run down it and tumbling down for eternity like Chris Farley in one of his movies.  I eased my way down and felt my quads burn like fire.  When I was closer to the bottom, I let gravity help me and ran a short way.  I slowed, went through a gate and I could hear cheering.  I thought that was odd because I still had a way to go.  The pavilion came into view and I knew something was off.  I felt like I had accomplished something great, but 11k in a little under 2 hours?  I crossed the finish line with a smile and a feeling of completion.  It didn’t dawn on me that I went the wrong way until I noticed hikers with the 11K blue race bibs on cross the line that were in front of me earlier.

I have to admit that I felt disappointed because I signed up for the longer hike.  I beat myself up a bit for making a mistake and missing that turn.  I was very tired and sore after completing the shorter hike so I thought that maybe it was for the best.  Next year I can try the longer hike.

I opened my devotional this afternoon and read about the grace of God.  Grace is the evidence of his love for us which is freely given.  It comes to us as talents, through other people or in ways totally unexpected and most needed whether we realize it or not.  God wants for us what is best and sometimes it seems unfair.  Although my hike ended up being 3K shorter than planned, perhaps He knew that I started off too big.  My legs ached like they haven’t in years and I really cannot imagine how they would feel had I completed the longer hike.

I cannot change the fact that my legs are not as strong as I would like but God has given me the ability to keep walking and hiking, just not marathon distances.  He has blessed me with a loving husband and a son who despite his prognosis, continues to do everything he can with what he has.  He also blessed me with a son who kept fighting until his last breath.

Christian was with me on my hike walking beside me and he knows I gave it my all.  For everything he lost and everything Andrew continues to fight for I will not give up, even if it means taking a path I didn’t expect to take.

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The Big Sky

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This photo was taken from Hansen reservoir by Lewistown, MT

I woke up to something I hadn’t seen in what seems like weeks – a sunrise!  For the last while, a good portion of Montana has been covered with a blanket of hazardous air from forest fires.  The sky was a funny grey color and it smelled like a campfire outside.  When the sun shined into the house it was an alien, orange shade.  Thankfully cooler weather blew in last night and the air is no longer at a hazardous level.  I have found myself pausing throughout the day to watch the white pillows in the sky float by, wondering which one my Christian is on.

I noticed some trees around town were already turning yellow.  It is the end of August but it still seems too soon.  One of my favorite sounds on days like today is the rustling of leaves as the wind blows and the sound of Eurasian doves cooing in the evening light.

This is the last photo taken of Christian and me together.
This is the last photo taken of Christian and me together.

Fall is my favorite season and already I am looking forward to the changing leaves and cooler winds.  This will be a difficult season to pass through because October 27th will be the one year anniversary of Christian’s passing.  October 12 would have been his 22nd birthday.  The good Lord has helped us through the most difficult first year and I know the pain will never fully go away.  I will miss Christian and long to see him for the rest of my time on this earth.

On the evening before Christian passed away, he said that he wished his pain would stop so he could just sit still, look at things and really enjoy them.  Now, in heaven, he can see things far more beautiful.  When I hear the leaves blowing down the sidewalk this fall and see the beautiful, autumn hued, blue sky, I will enjoy it all the more because of Christian’s grace.

Someone we would most like to have met

I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  Christian’s passing was just before the holiday season began and it was a lot to process.  I was happy to have my mother and sister here for Thanksgiving and it did help things to not be as overwhelmingly painful.  We shed more tears around Christmas but did find great comfort looking at the lights on the tree.  It was a different kind of Christmas all right.  It did help to go the the cemetery.  A friend of ours beat us to it and left a couple of gifts for Christian.

IMG_0306And my mother had a company in her town make a Darth Vader decoration for the grave.  Christian was very passionate about Star Wars and had a lot of empathy for Darth Vader (a post on that later).

IMG_0489Thanks to the comfort and strength of the Lord and the love and generosity of family and friends, we made it through our first holiday without our oldest son.

Around New Years, I picked up the paper and saw a headline called Montana heroes lost in 2014.  The article link is http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2014/12/30/montana-heroes-lost/21076535/ .  I decided to read through the article and thought in my mind that Christian was our hero in so many ways.  I was in disbelief when I saw Christian listed in the article!  I was touched, I cried,  posted it on social media and let my family know.

My husband did the best job ever in writing the obituary.  Christian cared for others, he loved others, he was kind, courageous and intelligent.  He also had a great sense of humor and had the best laugh.  His smile.  I could write about his smile alone.  It’s impossible not to smile when you see the light radiating from his face.

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There are so many people that changed the lives of those they were close to just by being themselves.  Christian was one of them.  He wasn’t able to fly a plane or publish a novel but he did many smaller things that meant just as much.  He made us laugh, he received an art award in 2010, he helped out his grandparents with groceries and he always bought us the best gifts.  He made an impact on so many people with his love, grace and humor.  If there was any way he could help, he would do so to the fullest of his physical ability.  Christian inspired everyone he came into contact with, even if it was just once a few years ago.  I miss him and hurt in a way I cannot put into words, but I feel tremendously grateful to have had him in my life.  He left me many of his traits and as I heal, I will honor him by continuing his love, kindness, humor, courage and grace.

My son

DSCN0086It has been well over a year since my last post.  So much has changed, especially of late.  On October 27, in the early hours of the morning, my oldest son, Christian, went to heaven.  My heart broke into a million pieces that day.

These past weeks have been a blur.  I have felt more pain and emotion than I ever thought possible, sometimes in the span of 5 minutes. I have also felt parts of my soul stir that I didn’t even know existed.  For the first few days, I couldn’t even think straight enough to pray or read scripture.  Thankfully I have been able to focus more and I have made sure to keep God’s Word close by.  I have relied on God more heavily than I have ever before and prayed more than ever.

They say that when we lose someone we love, we are never the same.  We have to adjust to a new normal.  I can honestly say I am not the same. I am broken, tired, confused, angry and lost.  On the other hand, I have felt love grow in my heart – love for Christian, God, my husband and my younger son, Andrew.  You see, Christian was more than a son.  He was my best friend (wow, I just cried for the first time in public).  He was also my rock, my inspiration.  He left me everything that was good about him – good and perfect.  He left me his courage, love, more love, his beautiful smile, his humor and his love of music.  I can hardly listen to a song without thinking of him.

The past year has been difficult but I am thankful for all of it – the constant caregiving, sore legs and feet from standing all day, the fear, aggravation.  It all made me a better person and taught me to enjoy the little, often overlooked things in life – a sparrow on the feeder, the full moon, a funny shaped cloud in the sky or sunlight on the wall.  Christian made me realize that I do not need material possessions to be happy and satisfied.  In Christian’s last year of his life, he only spent less than $100 on himself.  He enjoyed buying gifts for others and watching their expressions when they opened them.  Christian was in a lot of pain the last year and a half of his life and wasn’t able to go out of the house much.  As a result, he read books on his iPhone, played video games (Metroid and racing games were his favorites), listened to some good music and watched movies.  Tom Cruise was his favorite actor and he watched Live, Die, Repeat the weekend before he passed.  His love of NASCAR inspired me to love it too.  I so wanted his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, to win the Chase but instead I bawled as he duked it out with my driver, Brad Keslowski.  What a mess.

I know that eventually, I will cross the stormy sea of grief and I will surely lean into the storm so I can keep moving ahead.  God will be with me every step of the way.  As I heal, I will be inspired by Christian.  He will always be with me until I see him again.  He is inspiring me to keep listening to music, especially vinyl, start drawing and painting and play the piano again.  He inspires me to continue taking care of myself and my husband and son.  He inspires me to help others and bless others, just as he did every single day of his life.  Not a person came away from Christian without being moved my his love, grace and smile.  I will love him for all time.  I will be posting on my blog more and I hope I will inspire you and move you.  I love you and thank you for reading and I hope a part of Christian will also be with you.