“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras

“A Boxer’s greeting is a joy to behold. They jump into the air in such a jubilee of delight, it’s as if your return to hearth and home were the most noteworthy event of the century when all you’ve done, say, is walk to the mailbox and back. Return after an hour or more and you’ll get backflips, trumpets and a procession of drum-beating pageantry befitting a king.” —Thom Jones

Last year, when our beloved #HollyTheBoxer turned 13, I penned the following blog that really says more to me right now than I’m capable of saying: https://cassidyscommentary.com/2018/09/04/for-the-love-of-a-dog/

Holly was diagnosed with an unknown kind of cancer just a few days after her fourteenth birthday (14!!!  That’s unheard of for a boxer.)…Her hips and legs had become weaker and weaker, until last week, we finally knew that it was time to say goodbye.

On Friday, I gave her the last bath, and did her nails for the last time. She had trouble standing, and I found myself having to hold her up by one arm while I scrubbed with the other (it’s been rainy, and she had the muddiest paws–I swear, it’s like she packed some in from the outside to save for wallerin’ later on!). I sang her silly songs & used the expensive shampoo for once.  I lifted her out of the tub, and of course, she shook off the displeasure of the watery inconvenience; I couldn’t even complain. I just laughed at her, because at least this time, she waited until AFTER the bath to shake, as opposed to doing it midway through.

I dried her off, clipped her nails, and let her walk out with her usual post-bath annoyance…except this time, it was far more subdued than in her younger days, almost as if she had finally come to terms with the indignity of the fact that she’d had to endure such a scrub-down. That’s one of the things I was always rather proud of: David had trained her to follow commands, but I trained her to let me give her a bath and to do her nails. I always thought of it as our girl-bonding time. 🙂

On Saturday, we did one last photo shoot as a family, at Suson Farm. I know David didn’t want to do it; there’s something really intense about the bond between a man and his dog, and I could see that he was struggling. Also, Holly had lost a good part of her hearing, and did some uncharacteristically-disobedient things that we were not expecting….like, run off and try to get a drink out of the lake…except she couldn’t keep her balance…and David & Holly both almost fell into the lake, on a cold, November morning. I knew we would laugh about it later, but at the time, it was scary and sad. Our girl would NEVER run off like that…then again, she’d also NEVER drink out of the toilet (that started a few months ago) or pee on the floor (that started a year ago….we’re going to deep-clean the house over the next few weeks, yikes) or bark in her crate (that started a few weeks ago). She was declining, and neither David nor I wanted to admit it…until we had to, and Saturday was that day.

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We took pictures as a family, because that dang dog was a huge part of our family for 14 years. I was NEVER a dog person–I was a confirmed cat person–until David brought her home right before our first Christmas as a married couple. She made me a dog lover, and now I can’t pass one up without scratching its head. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my weekends….Every weekend morning, since I got to sleep in, she’d come around to my side of the bed and put her head under whatever body part I had dangling off (usually my hand, but every now and then, she’d get my foot and I’d jump out of my skin!). Every night, she’d sit at the “L” juncture of our couch, right where I couldn’t get out of my seat without her knowing. I missed her so bad last night that I sat there watching “Great British Bake-Off” and bawled my way through three episodes. I miss my friend.

At our photo shoot, I dressed her up in a pink tutu that I’d bought for the occasion. When I bought it, I didn’t know it would be for the Last Pictures, but it seemed perfect. I dressed her up in my favorite vintage pearls, and a costume jewelry necklace that I’d put on her for her 12th birthday. She looks thrilled in the pictures, LOL, but given how many times I’ve made that poor dog suffer the indignity of girlie accessories, I felt like we had to give it one more go.

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Our vet was amazing…I (for some stupid reason) didn’t think our son would be as upset as he was. He was DEVASTATED, and let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than a kid that’s about to say goodbye to the dog they’ve known their entire life. He didn’t know what to do with himself; one minute, he was crying and scared; the next minute, he was telling the vet a cow joke out of a book he’s reading. He made all of us laugh at the worst possible time, but again, that’s something we’ll laugh about later. I’m glad he did it.

Our vet (who was amazing) took the time to tell Jericho that dogs are a creation of God…and that He loves all of His creation. I firmly believe there are dogs in Heaven (I mean, why not–there’s horses, right? That’s what my Mama pointed out to me many years ago, and it makes perfect sense). I also believe that Hannah-girl has her dog back.  David told her that Holly would be “her” dog, and now they’re together.

It still hurts, though.

Just 6 days ago, we celebrated (weird term, loose interpretation) Hannah’s 13th birthday. 4 days after that, we lost our dog. This is a difficult season, and I’m struggling with feeling overwhelmed with everything…work, grief, loss, social requirements, parenthood…I feel like I failed my son by not giving him enough credit to understand the loss of our dog.  I feel like I failed my husband because I’m the one that made the veterinary appointment. I feel like I failed my dog because we had to let her go…it’s the second time in my life that I’ve had to make the decision to let someone I love go, and I know it’s different when one is your child and the other is a dog, but those decisions are incredibly, intensely, intimately painful and foreign, yet familiar…Holly was family, and now she’s gone. I’ve never lost a pet like this before. I’m alternating between feeling cried out, and chastising myself for not having it together. It’s hardly the worst thing I’ve been through, but dang…

We loved that dog.

As she was getting sleepy from the first shot, I picked her up and put her head on my shoulder, and held her like a baby (like I’d done until she got too heavy for my old-lady back). When we laid her on the table, I put my head on her head, and whispered to her…The last thing she heard us say was that we loved her, and that she was a good dog. I hope that she understood…I believe (I want to believe) that she did.

I read a blog where a guy wrote from his dog’s perspective, as his dog was declining…it broke my heart all over again, but it’s so beautiful that I’m linking it. Don’t read it if you don’t want a good cry…

This will take some time to heal.

“A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.” – Robert Wagner

 

“Dogs die. But dogs live, too. Right up until they die, they live. They live brave, beautiful lives. They protect their families. And love us, and make our lives a little brighter, and they don’t waste time being afraid of tomorrow.” – Dan Gemeinhart

 

 

 

 

“Jesus Wept.”

This phrase has been on my mind a lot lately.

Sure, it’s “that” time of the year…October is on its way, temperatures are “finally” supposed to drop at the end of this week, and fall is officially about to happen in St. Louis. With the change of weather and the crunch of leaves, my heart spontaneously turns toward that October in the hospital, and the love and loss thereafter…

Autumn is bittersweet in so many ways, and as time has gone on, there’s more sweet than melancholy, but that is the blessing of both time and grace.

My daughter would be turning 13 next month—can you believe it? I’d have a teenager!! It’s crazy.

This journey has been long, strange, completely unexpected, and so incredibly beautiful, even in the worst parts. I look back at when I realized I was pregnant with her—David and I were just about to have our first anniversary—and all of the moments we had throughout my pregnancy, hospitalization, and the Life-&-Death aftermath. Even in those painful things, I think about the way our families and our church families supported us and loved us. There is beauty in those memories, even as they came during such darkness.

When you’re going through absolute hell, and you’re willing to speak out about your situation (or in my case, unable to shut up about it), people that love you will come. I don’t think that’s altruistic; in today’s world, we’re connected in SO many ways.  If you’re going through trauma, there isn’t a reason to go through it without support and love. Share your pain with your trusted friends that love you and that most importantly, love Jesus. You’re not meant to be alone—I can’t imagine how much more difficult the days and months after Hannah’s death would have been, had we tried to stay silent and undercover. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel like it’s so important: my pastors were AMAZING in allowing us to grieve in our Body of believers…they never shut us down, and they never told us we should “suck it up” or “just pray harder.”

They let us mourn….

They let us mourn, because they believe, and because we believe, that Jesus Wept.

Those two little words have comforted me so much in my life…They gave me permission to grieve. They gave me permission to be honest with myself and with my leaders about how broken I was. Jesus knew Lazarus was going to rise from the dead—He knew it was going to be okay, and that the separation wasn’t for long, but He still wept. It doesn’t say that “Jesus sniffled.”

It doesn’t say that “Jesus cried.”

It says that JESUS. WEPT.

When I think of weeping, I think of those deep, guttural cries that come up from the depths of your spirit when you’re so heavily grieved that you don’t even have words. You can’t speak; you can’t breathe. You’re broken on a spiritual level, and you feel entirely cut off from anything or anyone that could be a solace.

Jesus wept. He wept from the depths of His soul for His friend, for the sisters, and for the fact that this was a separation from His friend, but it was also just a foreshadowing of the separation He was about to feel from His Father when He was on the Cross. He wept because He loved, and He wept because He knew it was important, both physically and spiritually, to excise that grief.

As Christians, we spend way too much time focusing on getting “better,” and not enough time focusing on where we are right now. The process of weeping is imporant in that you’re wrapped up in the moment you’re in, and you really can’t see anything before or after that pinnacle emotion that is sweeping you in. The critical issue is that you have that moment; you hold it in your hand and in your heart; you “get it out;” and then you have to let it go.

You absolutely, 100% have to make a decision to let it go.

We see this when Jesus wept, in that He has His moment—we don’t know how long He cried for—and then He went to work.  He refocused, He did what He knew He was going to do all along, and He kept moving.  Grief is such a difficult thing, because it’s so, so heavy. If we don’t make ourselves process and move, it will weigh us down and we’ll never get through it. It will latch on to us, and it will affect our every movement until we finally take the time to deal with it. Please know that no matter what you think, grief WILL be dealt with. You can’t let it go until you’ve acknowledged it, and started processing it, and then gotten up off of the floor to take those first steps (which can require some assistance, for real).

Jesus wept…and then shortly after that, He said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Are. You. KIDDING?!?!?

Please, oh please, tell me how in the world God can be glorified in the death of an infant. Please tell me how God can be glorified in the middle of a cancer diagnosis, or in the loss of a parent. Please tell me how God can be glorified in the middle of an unfaithful marriage, or in the middle of a church that’s been shaken to its core, or in the middle of the loss of a ministry?

I can’t answer that.

I can tell you it took a few years, but there are bright memories in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that I am grateful for. I can tell you that I remember every bowl of soup that was brought to us… I can remember the strangers that came to the hospital to pray with us, because they’d been where we were.  I can remember hearing that prayers were being rallied for Hannah at multiple churches across the world (!). I can remember the grain of the carpet, and the pleated pants on the knees of those who knelt with us on hospital floors.

I can tell you that after the first rush of hand-holding that comes in the days following death, when things quieted down, that we still had no shortage of people who prayed for us or who checked in on us. They didn’t always say the “right” things (seriously, some of it was flat-out hilarious), but their hearts were there, and they loved us even when it got awkward.

I can tell you that in the darkness, there were moments of glory that I didn’t understand, but I can see them when I look back.

And I can tell you that on my 13-years-and-going journey of grief, that there is so much beauty in remembering how Jesus loved David & I with such kindness…with so much grace, even when we were screaming at Him…I can tell you that my faith was built up in the midst of being shattered, and that even when it’s tested, I can go back to the floor of a hospital room and remember where He met me…

And I can tell you that when He met me, He wept, too.

He loves us so very much…He loves us in our joy, and He loves us through our grief. He welcomes our tears; He welcomes our absolute honesty, and He is faithful to love us on this journey, regardless of where we are.

If you’re in that process of grieving…if you’re in that position of weeping, and of not knowing if the tears will ever stop, please know that Jesus understands. He truly does—this isn’t some, “pie-in-the-sky” kind of Christianese foolishness. God is real; Jesus has deep, deep love for your heart; and this season of darkness has an expiration date. You won’t be here forever, even if it feels like it.

I can’t tell you that you’re going to wake up one day and “feel better.”  I can tell you that if you allow yourself the first specks of trust, that those specks will turn into pieces, and that eventually, those pieces will come together to form a new chapter in your life. And you know what? Grief may color the ink on a few of the pages in those chapters, and that’s okay.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to deny our grief or our emotions. He tells us not to be ruled by them, but He doesn’t say to act like they’re not real. He wept because even the Son of God knows grief. He wept because even though the Son of God knows the end of the story, hurt is valid of respect, and hurt is worthy of acknowledgement.

Grief is real, & He welcomes the chance to help us carry it. He welcomes the day when we’re able to shift the burden completely to Him, and He understands when we want to hang onto it for a short time. Letting go of grief doesn’t mean we don’t love and cherish what we’re grieving…letting go of grief just means that we love and cherish what we lost, enough to fully trust Him with it. We love and cherish what we lost enough to understand that we can’t carry it alone.

Jesus wept to show us that He understands…He wept to show us that He is worthy of our grief, and that He is worthy of our broken hearts. When you’re broken and grieving, your tendency is to want to protect that pain. You want to avoid anyone that you don’t think can understand you; you isolate, to deal with your brokenness on your own. Jesus wept to show you and I that He IS able to empathize and to handle that grief for you…you don’t need to isolate or to protect yourself from Him.

And when we come to that place of understanding, of letting Him take our burden and our heaviness, then we finally begin our journey of healing…

Jesus wept.

He wept for Lazarus; He wept for me. And you know what? He wept for you, too.

Pour out your heart to Him today; understand that there’s nothing you can say to Him that He doesn’t want to hear, or that He doesn’t understand. Let Him carry your burden; let Him open up the roadblock that’s weighing you down. You were not meant to bear your pain alone.

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“Somebody Burned Down My She-Shed!”

Oh, the “She-Shed” commercial–you know the one!! Since we don’t have “regular” TV (the downside of living in a valley), the only time I ever hear the commercial is on the radio. When I Googled it to link it here, I decided that the “She-Shed” in the commercial is kinda glorious, you know?

I mean, just the concept–A She-Shed!!!  A quiet place, all my very own, to decorate how I want, and to do with what I want—GLORIOUS.  I think the concept of a private place that is unblemished by little fingerprints or man-boots…a place with perfect lighting and ambient music, with gentle motifs and plush carpet…oooh, okay, that sounds glorious.  My She-Shed would be devoted to crafts; the thermostat would never be above or below 65; I’d have inlaid bookcases, & no one would make me watch YouTube videos about Legos or camera lenses…aaaaaahhhhhhh….Oh, and it would smell of lavender & chocolate chip cookies. Always.

And I’d never leave. 🙂

Cue the music…”in my own little corner, in my own little world.….”

We have this unrequited need to have our Very Own Space in this world, and yes, even though our HOUSE is supposed to be that place, as we grow up we find that it’s not. No, our house gets taken over by stuff, or by the people, or by The Legos, or by the whatevers. It’s hard to maintain the upkeep of keeping your home a place of peace in a world that cranks out materialist must-haves at an alarming rate. Every time I Marie-Kondo my house, I make these wonderful spaces that fill back up again in spite of my promises to myself that it’s not going to happen. I’ve pared down and pared down and pared down, and recent events mean that nope–I’m not filling ANYTHING back up again, and it’s okay.

Learning to make do, and to be okay with making do, is an adventure. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we should all be good at by the age that I’m at (I’m not). The more we pare down or get used to telling ourselves, “no,” the more resourceful we find we are. The more we miss going and doing “the things,” the more I’m appreciating the quiet weekends at home. It takes more creativity to stay busy on the weekends when you don’t have the resources to do what you want (truth be told, we’re not really doing anything on the weekends right now. The weather is crap, and blankets are awesome. It’s an issue). In this process, I’m realizing there were a lot of ruts we were stuck in; there were a lot of patterns we were set in that needed to break. It’s not a fun process, truth be told, but the longer we’re in this boat, the more I realize we’re floating. It’s rough waters, but we’re together.

Last week, we faced some scary decisions…At one point, I was laying on the couch, and David had his head on my lap. My son took the opportunity to make a “DAD SANDWICH!” and pounced on top of him; meanwhile, the dog laid at the foot of the couch so that I couldn’t have got off of the couch if I tried.

I looked down at all of my happiness…my husband, my son, my dog…I know it probably sounds cheesy, but with these decisions looming over my head, in that moment, I felt like I could physically shove the anxiety off of my shoulders. Regardless of what happens…regardless of the outcome…this little group of 4 is everything to me. Everyone in that little circle–even the dog–is an answer to prayer and a reminder of how faithful the Lord is.

I’m choosing joy.

I’m choosing contentment.

I’m choosing to Consider the Lilies, and I’m choosing to stay in the room with this tribe.

I’m not going to lie–I’d love to retreat to my mental She-Shed and just check out. But it’s not what we do. It’s not what Jesus does. He dives in and surrounds the four of us–even the dog–and He wraps us in His arms.  He holds us. He has more of a reason to mentally check out than anyone, yet He stays involved. He’s never distant.

When I was in high school, we studied a book about world views, and one of them discussed the concept of Deism. My understanding of Deism is that God basically set everything in motion in some way–the Big Bang, Intelligent Design, whatever–and then He just steps back and watches us do whatever. He doesn’t intervene; He gives us passing interest, but He lets us live our lives while He does His Own thing. This view of God always struck me as the saddest, because why should we love a Father Who’s checked out?  Why should we care about the “will” of a God Who sits back in His Celestial Man Cave while we run around in the rat traps of earth?

It’s the same kind of philosophy that inspires us to want to hide in She-Sheds or Man-Caves or under a blanket in our bedrooms until the drama subsides. It solves nothing, it helps no one, and it’s entirely narcissistic. Granted, everyone needs some time alone sometimes. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, and if you have the means to make a She-Shed, Sheryl, BUILD THE THING, OKAY?!? 🙂

Just don’t be surprised if it gets struck by lightning.

I’m kidding!  But seriously, we’re so inundated with noise and drama–my last blog discusses the beauty of getting small, and the appreciation for the quiet. There’s a time for noise and a time for drama, but there’s also a time for being involved and for community. Families aren’t made of individuals who hide and ignore each other. They’re made in the side-by-side, day-to-day relationships we form when we work together. They’re solidified by relationships with our ever-involved God, and with each other. They take constant work, but there’s a constant reward that it so worth it–I have to remind myself of that, because as I age I get more inclined to hide under that blanket.

If I hid in my She-Shed, or under that blanket, I’d miss the peace I found in the family picture of the four of us crowded around/on the couch. I’d miss that gentle reminder from the Lord of all that He’s done and will do, and is doing. I’d miss the reminders in church on Sunday of the people He’s placed in my life, and of the people in who’s lives He’s placed me.

He surrounds us with reminders of His love in the midst of every storm. Sometimes, we don’t see them until we’re through to the other side, and that’s okay. Sometimes, though, they’re undeniably present…as long as we’re present, and don’t check out into our mental She-Sheds or Man Caves.

Stay present. I love the cheesy saying that “it’s called The Present for a reason.” It really is a gift, albeit an occasionally frightening one. Storms don’t go away just because we find a place to hide–we have to face them. But when we face them and when we get present with those storms, we know that He is present WITH us–we’re not alone.

The world tells us to hide and to isolate; it glamorizes the concept a place of our own, but Jesus tells us to Go Out Into All of the World. He tells us to be open and to engage…He tells us He will be with us. He tells us we’re never alone, and that we always have a place of our own, in His Kingdom, in His time. Now is not the time for the She Shed or the Man Cave….Now is the time to change the world, and we do that by building relationships and by celebrating the relationships that we have.

Now, if only I could convince myself to get off of this dang couch….. 🙂

 

3am…

I don’t want to be awake right now.

Steroids do funny things. I’m on Day 4, & I know they’re doing what they need to do, but I’m tired…but jumpy…and honestly, emotional.

Her birthday is this week….it’s Tuesday. If you ask me specifically why it hits me differently every year, I couldn’t tell you. Everything was running along smoothly, except for, same as last year, when I realized that life was running along so quickly that I wouldn’t have time this week to take that “pause” to honor her….to reflect on her life….and I hate that.

I had to say the words last night out loud, “Hey, I get this. We need this. She was real, she was a person, and she is part of who we are, so even in this crazy, busy week, we make time.”

I don’t know how that is going to happen, but it IS going to happen.

We move along in life so quickly….we have our routines and schedules. We don’t take time to sit and reflect, so it feels unnatural, but it needs to be done. Pain and sadness need to be recognized, so they can be processed….so that they don’t get buried….because we all know they don’t STAY buried.

For me, if I don’t take this time now, these feelings and frustrations will manifest themselves in a couple of ways. I’ll cry or fly off of the handle about something innocuous. I’ll sulk or withdraw. I won’t sleep. I will carry around unnecessary guilt and shame. I’ll get sick. My family will suffer, & it will all be fallout from my failure to listen to that still, small voice that says, “Stop. Breathe. Remember.”

My daughter…my beautiful winter butterfly…would be 12 years old this week. We’d be going through “the change” that all of the women in my family went thru at 12, and OMG HOW WOULD WE DEAL?!?!? I imagine we’d be having arguments about social media & boys, & junior-high drama…there would be the introduction to makeup, or maybe a CCW class with Auntie, & Lord knows what else. We’d be starting the conversation about college, and I would be internally freaking out about how much information about LIFE, & HOW do parents maintain that balance? I think my Hannah & I would have a good relationship, & that I would be finding myself on my knees more than ever before as we enter the last year before TEENAGERDOME. 🙂

My little girl passed away before too much of her personality could be established, but there are some things I know for certain: She loved music. She loved songs with soul & excitement. 🙂 She smelled like Cheerios, & she knew her Daddy’s voice. She was a happy baby, which is amazing, considering the duress by which she came into the world…

And she made me into someone I’ve wanted to be, for as long as I can remember: She made me a Mom.

I will always, always be grateful to God for blessing us with her. I will always be grateful for our 29 days on this earth together, & I have absolutely no regrets. We had a gift that changed the course of our lives, our marriage, & our faith, & we are eternally impacted by 29 days with the most precious princess this world has ever seen.

I love that our journey with Hannah isn’t over. I love knowing that because of Jesus, it’s only on “pause,” until we are together in eternity. I love that He gives us that level of hope, and that He takes our despair & turns it into a beautiful anticipation of what is to come….

Happy birthday, Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. You’ve made my world more amazing and beautiful, just because I had the chance to call you mine.

3am isn’t so bad, after all.

Sunday morning and Florida…

I am heartsick. 

Beyond the politics,  beyond the spin….beyond the pundits and the blaming, and the mistakes that led to the deaths of 17 people….

There is the death of a group of 17 people.

Reality: 30-34 parents are devastated. Countless kids, friends, relatives, and co-workers are devastated.

Yet here we are in mid-America, singing about the Reckless Love of God. 

There is nothing harder than singing about the love of God after you’ve buried your child. 

We jump into worship like it’s second nature, without pause, because it didn’t happen to us, but what about those 17 families? What about those friends and colleagues? 

I look at the kids at our church, and I wonder about them…Jeremiah, Nia, Aiden, Lila, Ruby…I think about Jack, and Scout, and Temple, about the families I know and love.  I think about my son…my Jericho…and his pending first day of school.

We trust Him with them. 

He loves us, yes. But when you’ve buried your child, you bury your hope, and even though it is only for a season, it feels like an eternity. His love is excruciatingly hard to see in that place. 

I am past that season in the valley, but I remember how difficult in that place it was to say, “You are Good.” It crushed me.

Eventually, I got there.

But there are 17 families taking their first steps into that valley, and my heart aches with an understanding of the journey they have unwillingly embarked upon….

Yet here I am, on a stage, singing about the Reckless Love of God in Mid-America….like everything is okay.

It’s not okay.

When Hannah died, I felt like the world should stop & take notice; of course, it didn’t. The earth spins, and our routines (those of us that are blissfully unaffected) don’t stop. Some pastors aren’t even mentioning Florida today,  which feels so wrong, to me…We just keep going, maybe because we’ve found out how difficult it is to get going again after we’ve faced the heartache. 

We have to stop. We have to acknowledge, we have to intercede and lift these families up on a corporate level, as a body of believers. We have to accept the very power of prayer we say we have, and put it to use. We have a nation that is SICK, and the time has come for us to stop ignoring it on Sunday morning, and to do something about it on a spiritual level.

17 families, people. Look at your kids. Imagine the journey back to saying, “God is good,” after they’re gone. 

Now worship like you’re not affected.  

I can’t “act” like I’m okay. I can’t pretend to be in a “safe” place in regards to worship when old questions raise their hands, when that pestering, “Why?” nags the back of my skull. I remember finally getting to a place where I understood that God is not obligated to explain Himself to me, but I am obligated to trust Him. I still do, and I always will, but I remember the ache of that question, and the stupid things people said to me, to assuage their own version of that question. I remember, and I have such a deep compassion for these 17 families that I cannot help but to pray for an avalanche of grace…

Would you please pray with me, for these lives? For these hearts and minds? Pray for connections and networking, for church bodies and hearts to reach out of the unexpected places to bring comfort and love  to these people.  Pray for an influx of the Holy Spirit to flood that school with hope and with a passion for an abundant life…Pray that for the next year, for this critical year after such a loss, that they would encounter, radically encounter, renewed and restored faith and purpose….

There is a way out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death….coming up out of the wilderness, leaning on our Beloved. 

His mercies, His grace, are renewed every morning, and I pray that He pours it over Florida and our nation.

Grief, Gratitude, and the Grace of Pumpkin Spice

4 years ago, I wrote the following (thank you, Timehop):

“I’m in a season of celebrating one new life, while remembering the short life of one gone far too soon. It’s conflicting, celebratory, sad, & a beautiful dichotomy that is not lost on me, even in my current chaos. Hello, Autumn-you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

If you’re new to my blog and haven’t read the “About Me” section, then you may not have picked up on the fact that my husband David & I lost our first daughter, Hannah, at 29 days of age, to late-onset Group B Strep with Bacterial Meningitis. I could wax loquacious about the details, but I will spare you (and me), and stick with the general, “Google It” response that I tend to give in order to stop reliving the worst 5 days of my life.  Our daughter was a preemie (34 weeks), and could not fight off the flukiest-of fluke diseases (even though she was born completely healthy). My pregnancy with her basically wrecked my heart (physically and emotionally), and it was nothing short of a miracle that we conceived and successfully delivered our rainbow baby, Jericho, 7 years later. My pregnancy with Jericho was spent partially in the peripartum “spa” (if you’ve been “incarcerated” into peripartum care long-term, you know I’m joking) of the amazing Missouri Baptist Hospital, under the care of phenomenal doctors (shout-out to Michael Paul, MD, life-saving and baby-loving perinatologist) and nurses that I couldn’t have survived (physically and emotionally) without.

Bringing home a newborn after losing one, is a strange, difficult, conflicting process…For Jericho’s first month of life, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep (which led to some serious post-partum issues, that I am neither ashamed of nor silent about. Post-partum depression is real, and if you’re suffering from it, save yourself and your family, and get help), and I’m not so sure my husband did, either. I had a full 8 weeks at home with my little guy, and I think I spent most of my time crying happy tears, crying sad tears, swearing about a lousy milk supply, praying that I didn’t screw this up, and thanking God for how He keeps His promises….while also praying with everything within me that we could just get through the first 30 days. I think when Day 30 hit, I finally took my first post-partum breath. It felt like the oceans receded (proceeded? Words are hard) after being held back for a month…like all of the tension flew out of my body with that breath, and I finally, finally, could rest.

I didn’t, of course—hello, sleep training!—but I knew that I COULD, and that made a huge difference. After 30 days, I think I finally went from handling motherhood like a Swarovski crystal spider-web, and began to actually embrace that this really was my life now…he was ours, and he was everything I prayed for. The reality of the answer to years of prayers was staring me in the face, and he wasn’t going away. He was real…my precious boy…and I could truly, sincerely be happy.

After that first 30 days, through the spring and summer, I began to struggle with the “we nevers.” Jericho would have a milestone moment, and I’d think, “We never got to see Hannah do that.” I tried to turn it off, tried to celebrate what was happening, but the thoughts would creep back…”He giggled…I never got to hear her laugh.” “David, he flipped over…we never got to see Hannah do that.”

At one point, I dreamt that Jericho was lying on my bed, and a little red-haired girl was sitting there with him. Even now, as I type this, I can feel the tears at the back of my eyelids…that image was so, so powerful, as was the sentiment with it: “I will never, in this life, have a picture of my children together. What has happened to us? We will never be a normal family.” I woke up from that dream absolutely hysterical…I was deeply, deeply grieved. I can remember that intensity as if I’d dreamt it last night. Family pictures with one boy, one girl? They are still hard for me to see, even amongst friends…You just never have that sense of completion. You learn to accept it, to view it as your “normal,” but as a parent? You will always recognize that missing person in your family picture.

Anyway, the first year with Jericho was tough, as it is for all parents: You’re learning how to be a mom, learning how to juggle a full work-week, and finding trustworthy childcare. I had further complications that first year; my heart still wasn’t functioning correctly, my gall bladder required 2 different surgeries to remove, and my recovery post-C-section caused scar tissue to develop that would later result in a full hysterectomy just one year after having my son.

However, one of the greatest joys of that year was how often David & I would look at each other, or look at Jericho, and just know how great was the love of Jesus? How amazing was it that this tiny little person came about because of healing, grace, and love? We could look at this child and see tangible evidence that when you have a dream in your heart, and you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is NOT finished with you, despite what modern healthcare says– He can make miracles happen!  We could look at this child and know that you cannot accept the things men say, when you hear in your spirit the things God says!!  My son is nothing short of a breathing miracle, and frankly, I am, too. He has that legacy—that legacy of prayer, of hope, of determination. There is nothing in this world I am more grateful for, except my husband and my salvation.

Yep—I’m officially crying now. Jesus, I am so thankful! You can’t know how my heart blows up at just writing these words…I am grateful, with every cell of my body.

Even as I write this, though, I come back to how this blog started, with that quote from 2013: “Hello, Autumn—you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

The spring and summer of 2013 were full of new-mom fog, surgery, work, etc. We were just trying to get our feet back under us to charge ahead on our new life together as a Party of 3. But then….

Then came Autumn.

And then came The Hardest Part.

When I went into Missouri Baptist Hospital in October, 2006, the fall leaves were still on the trees. My room overlooked the highway, so I really didn’t get a good handle on watching the season change to winter; when I left my hospital room in November, 2006, winter had come, and the world was bare.  I missed the entire season in a 4-week span, and we brought our little girl home the week before Thanksgiving. By the day after Thanksgiving, she was in a coma, and then she was gone…we buried her on December 1st, the day after one of the worst ice storms Missouri has ever seen. The sun shone, and the world was crystallized for my winter princess.  I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the day my child was buried…it was like the Lord decided to cover the trees in diamonds in her honor. It was stunning, even in the darkness of our grief.

But that year, 2006, I missed the fall. So when the leaves turned in 2007, something hit my heart, and I could only think of that Fall I Had Missed…and every year, I am reminded as such.

In 2013, the reminders came as I was looking into the eyes of my son…my miracle boy…and I was so totally conflicted in ways I hadn’t realized were possible. I had so much, but had lost so much, and the season reminded me of all of it, combined with gutting guilt. HOW dare I mourn, when I had so much to be thankful for?

How could I not, when that world was staring me in the face every day I walked out of my door?

I found myself not necessarily regressing in my grieving process, but really struggling with the dichotomy of grief and gratitude. And I’m writing this not to say that I have ever found an answer to that conflict, but to say that every year, I’m reminded of Hannah’s precious life in so many stronger ways than in my usual daily thoughts.

There is no season like Autumn, in all of its symbolism and glory…it’s a season of death, but a season where colors come alive….where we breath in the dust of the trees as they make their fiery curtain call for the year. It’s a season of living at bonfires and parks, a season where photographers revel in making memories, and where families gather to celebrate all things together…

We know death is coming…that winter is coming…but there is no day like today, and today, we celebrate the abundance of the harvest.  Are we near-sighted, to not hunker down and prepare for the winter? Or do we understand the breath/breadth of life, and own the day with its undeniable charm?

We cram our calendars with activities to take in every moment. That first year? We did it all. And we did the second year, and the third, and I’m getting ready to do it all again in the fourth year with our Rico-Bean. We celebrate the Fall, and we run ourselves ragged with the memories we make…and we make no apologies. I celebrate the Fall season with my little guy, and I never let on that I am internally fighting the conflict of that grief and that gratitude.

And I realize through it all, that there is no “conflict.”

There is only cohabitation.

I miss my little girl. Fall reminds me of her birth, of her death, and of the 29 days we had between…of the crunching of the leaves as I walked into the hospital, and the Christmas decorations as we came out…of that first day home from the hospital with her in our arms…and of the last day, where home was a place I never wanted to go back to…I wish I could separate her birth and her death, but her death came so quickly that I simply cannot. It all happened in the same season…this season…and every day is a reminder…

But every day is also a gift.

Every day, I look at Jericho and marvel at who he is, who he was born as, and what possibilities are to come…Every day, I am so grateful, and so genuinely happy. Every day, I praise God that I get to be that boy’s mother…Every. Single. Day.

This fall, we have adventures planned…it’s his first year in Pre-K, so there are school events (field trips!), fall festivals, our annual events with Parents-As-Teachers, and my favorite, Halloween!!!!!!!! This year, he’s going as Harry Potter for at least one event (he wears glasses, so it’s perfect!).  We celebrate this season; don’t be surprised to see me in my Uggs with my leggings and some S’mores, cradling a Pumpkin Spice Latte in my monogrammed fleece jacket,  as a shining example of Suburban White Chick Bliss (that’s an entire other blog).

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I love this season. I love that it has multiple meanings, deep significance, and a beautiful, melancholy soul. I love the constant reminders of grace, which hovers over the grief and the gratitude. Grace envelopes both feelings, and makes them walk side-by-side instead of in mental conflict.

Grace is how we had our Hannah…how we said goodbye…and ultimately, how we will say “hello,” again…

Grace is how we had our Jericho…how we said “hello” for the very first time…and how we embrace each new day and sleep peacefully each night.

Grace is what brought David & I together in this crazy world—two kids with no idea of what was to come, and no idea how to engage on this life or on this journey—

Grace is what keeps us together, and is what pulls us through the tough times. It pushes us constantly toward the Father Who bestows it in abundance, and works in us independently to keep us engaged…to keep us from throwing up our hands and breaking our hearts in this process.

Grace is what binds our hearts, and binds our hearts to each other.

And Grace is what leads us home…

There is a beautiful loss in the season of Autumn, but it is part of the journey to a beautiful rebirth…and we are constantly on that journey, surrounded by grace, with eternity in our hearts….<3

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

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