New Roads Ahead

th-2

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.

francis-of-assisi_lr-2-900This 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!

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.

theonething

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.

1598669_4759157473157_2777026773840137019_o

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.

 

 

img_0268
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.

Light at the end of the Tunnel

img_1775

I went for a walk this morning on the River’s Edge Trail, which runs along the bank of the Missouri River.  The leaves were glowing a brilliant yellow and several birds flew ahead of me along the way – a magpie, a robin and a chickadee.  The way the sun hit the trees on top of the hill and how it caused the foilage at the side of the trail to glow took my breath away.  I am almost overwhelmed at times with the beauty of God’s creation.  Since losing my son in 2014, I see things with different eyes.  I went on a walk with a friend who also lost a son, and we agreed that it’s almost like layers have been peeled away and everything we see is blindingly beautiful compared to how we saw it before.

img_1769

There have been many days over the last year, however, when I have been engulfed in darkness.  I have experienced the dark night of the soul and experienced pain so intense that I just couldn’t stand being me.  During the first year after losing Christian, I did what one of my grief books recommended, which was to lean into the grief.  This meant that I cried the tears I needed to cry and felt what I needed to feel.  I leaned on God constantly, read His word more than once a day for a while, and prayed often.  He has done a great healing in me that I will never forget.

The darkness set in during the second year.  Taking care of my youngest son, Andrew, although difficult to do while processing the tragedy of losing Christian, gave me purpose and something to focus on.  I still felt important and needed.  When I returned to work after over 10 years, everything I had ever believed about myself was dramatically changed. All of a sudden my husband was taking care of Drew, cooking meals and cleaning the house – things I have done since we married in 1992.  Suddenly I had no idea who I was.

Rather than turning to God in prayer and to His Word and reaching out to supportive friends, I turned inward and started defining myself by how the world viewed me and by what I did each day.  I felt unimportant and lost.  I stopped blogging because of the fear of what people would think if they knew I was in so much pain.  I didn’t want to be a downer by writing about the darkness and sadness.

The truth is that without darkness, we are unable to learn what needs to be brought into the light and healed.  The pain and difficulty we endure becomes life experience, and although we would rather aviod it, we can use it to help others.  Sharing my broken heart can actually help someone else who is going through their own personal tragedy.

As much as I want to be done grieving, I am not.  As Marianne Williamson states in Tears to Triumph, “it (grief) is a process – not an event- best served when we surrender to it fully.  Grief allows us to process incrementally what might be too shocking to the system to have to process all at once.”  Tears are nothing to be ashamed of, especially when they are for someone we cherished and loved so much who is not longer with us.  They wash away layers from the heart and help us to see everything with new eyes.  As I continue to cross this vast sea of grief, I will share the lessons learned and the things that God wants to show me in hopes that I can help others know that no matter how deep the sadness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Angie

IMG_1511
Angie sent me many photos over the years

Angie and I met at college in Rapid City, SD.  She and her roommate were just down the hall from me.  At the time, I was a huge Slaughter fan – if you listened to hard rock before Nirvana changed it all you know who I am talking about.  Angie also enjoyed listening to them.  We became good friends and she ended up inviting me to go with her to visit her dad in Iowa.  We had a great trip – lots of loud singing and Diet Coke on the road.  We played pool and her dad let us smoke in the basement.  We jammed the Wayne’s World soundtrack and roasted marshmallows in her backyard to the Dream a Little Dream soundtrack.  We also practiced doing the Electric Slide in her dad’s driveway.  I remember us finding out we both made straight A’s and her dad taking us out to dinner.  We also drove to Ames to watch Wayne’s World again.

When I got married, Angie drove all the way from Florida to be in my wedding.  We stayed in touch – writing letters and talking on the phone occasionally.  Over the years our communications became less seldom but I still thought of her often.  One February morning, her husband called me.  I had never spoken to him before so I knew something wasn’t right.  Regrettably, I was not able to pay the same favor back to her by driving down to Florida to be in her wedding.  Scott said that he received my card but in a thick voice, he informed me that Angie had passed away from a massive heart attack the year past.  He cried and told me how strong their girls were trying to be for him and the last things they said to each other.  Angie lost her father not too long before she passed away from a heart condition she inherited.  She was one of the best people I have ever known – a deacon for her church, loving mother and wife, faithful friend, caring daughter and sister.  She was at her father’s side when he took his last breath.

I only have a handful of pictures of her and several handwritten letters.  Angie is part of the reason why I write letters and mail greeting cards.  I can see her handwriting and the little smiley faces she made.  I can hear her voice and her laugh in the loops and curves of her cursive letters.  In the age of social media, letters from a friend who I loved and cared for are priceless.  I encourage you to write a letter a week to a family member or a friend.  It is so much more exciting to receive snail mail from a loved one than a bill.  Have a lovely Memorial weekend everyone and be safe!

A Tune in my Heart

After work today, I met my husband and son for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  I think we all have one of those.  Our favorite restaurant serves authentic cuisine and  warm corn chips.  Afterward, they were off to play poker and I reluctantly headed home.  Alone isn’t a bad thing, but coming home to a quiet, empty house is a painful reminder of the loss.  Over Christian’s life, the most time he ever spent away from me was during MDA summer camp which lasted for a week.  When you care for a child with special needs, you develop a deeper connection, especially when you physically care for them 24/7.  When Christian passed away I felt like I was thrown into an alternate universe.  After 16 months I have become used to the new normal, but I still have moments when the realization that Christian isn’t with us makes my world turn on it’s side for a bit.  Over time the dizzying effect doesn’t last as long but it will never be easy, just bearable.

Almost every time I have found myself alone in the house missing my boy, I turn on the music.  Christian had so much passion for music.  He enjoyed 90’s rap like NAS, current rap like Wiz Khalifa and Kid Cudi, and classics such as the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney.  He talked me into buying several vinyls during the last year of his life.  He encouraged me to buy the vinyl even though I had the CD because the quality would be worth it.  Christian even talked me into buying music that he knew I enjoyed but he didn’t much care for either way.  He grew to enjoy a lot of my favorite alternative bands like Interpol and Bare Hands.

IMG_0031
One of my prettier vinyls by Blondefire

They say that it changes a person when someone you love dies.  That is an understatement.  I felt hollowed out for the longest time and had to rediscover who I was.  I was a caregiver for both boys for over 10 years.  It took me weeks, even months, to stop setting out two sets of pills at mealtime.  Not all of the changes have been negative.  I would never have believed it if someone told me I would gain anything from losing someone who was as much a part of me as Christian was.

IMG_0433
I took this photo at Crystal Lake last summer.

When I see a beautiful sunset, I see so much more than what I used to see.  I see something amazing and holy.  I feel a stirring inside of me that I have never felt.  I see and feel God when I see the rays shining through the clouds, the chickadee in the pine tree, the beautiful pattern on the carpet at work from the sun shining through the window or when I see the stars in the sky.  I feel a joy inside that I can’t explain when I look at things that to another person, may seem like nothing.  It makes me feel guilty at times.  How can I have moments of joy after losing my son and watching Andrew deal with the same complications as Christian did?

When we lean on the Lord, the amazing happens.  The journey of grief is far from easy but we do not have to endure it alone.  God heals us.  God loves us.

As I listened to a song by Deathcab for Cutie, which Christian also enjoyed, I heard guitar melodies I didn’t hear before.  Music touches me at a deeper level, bringing me to tears or making me want to get up and dance (listen to Stolen Dance by Milky Chance and you’ll know what I mean).  Just knowing Christian and caring for him has given me a deep appreciation for life.  I want to reach out and help those who have lost a loved one and I pray and I cry for them.  I will not waste my pain.  Instead I will find a way to help in a way that I know Christian would be proud of.  I hope my posts offer a bit of hope and remind you that you are never alone.

 

 

Blog mania

Media_939717811970960904_1430562234

Hello blog world.  I hope everyone is having a good weekend!  The weather cooled off some in Montana but things are creeping back up into the 90’s again.  I filled the bird feeders this morning along with the bird bath and it wasn’t long before I witnessed some sparrows taking a dip.

I wanted to share with you a new format I want to try on my blog.  I have wanted to write regularly but sometimes it can be hard to come up with a topic.  It seems like the ideas pop into my head when I have nothing to jot them down on – like when I go to the store and forget what I came for.  I thought it would be fun to focus on a particular topic on certain days such as Throwback Thursdays or Photography Fridays – just something to dust the cobwebs off of the dark, unused corners of my mind and start being creative again.  Later this week I want to share with you how my blog is hopefully going to fit in with a larger goal I have in mind – something people have been encouraging me to do but I have been terrified of.  It involves writing a book.  That’s all I will say for now.

We are going through quite a bit of change in our household with my husband changing jobs and it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of fear and negativity.  I admit that my thinking and my words have not been too positive lately.  I miss Christian terribly and going through a major life change almost makes my heart ache more.  One thing that helps me through difficult times is to remember all of the good things God has done for us over the years.  He has provided us with all of the medical supplies for the boys, the right doctors and resources to ensure that my sons would have the best quality of life we could offer them.  The verse I want to share is from John 10:10 (NLT), one of my favorites.  Jesus said “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”  God’s goodness and abundance is limitless and so is His love for us.  He knows we are not perfect but yet He provides.  Jesus said himself that He wants us to live a full, satisfying life and He will provide all that we need and more.

I hope you will enjoy my new platform.  Some days are busier with doctor appointments and caregiving for my son but I will do my best to say a few words or make sure to the next day.  Thank you for reading my blog and have a wonderful week!