Saying Goodbye to Santa…

I always knew this day would come, but I thought it would be more like, 9 or 10.

I knew that even barely introducing the concept of Santa Claus would have its consequences, but at some point I decided that cuteness and imagination outweighed whatever those would be….and now it’s time to pay the piper. My son has announced that “Santa isn’t real.”

Telling Kids the Truth About Santa | POPSUGAR Family
This might be the most fearsome Santa I have ever seen. Get this guy outta here!

Now, I have never confirmed or denied this fact. I’ve simply given him a response that is inspired by my life mentor, C. S. Lewis: “Is that a gamble you want to take?” This is loosely based on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma, of whether or not you want to live your life in such a way that believes Jesus was real, or that He was a madman….It’s a pretty big gamble, and it makes perfect sense to me to utilize this logic when it came to the possibilities of Saint Nick, who is, as we know, based on a true story. But I digress…

The facts are the facts, and now my son is calling me on my bluff. In the interest of never again undermining my parental truths, this is the year that we metaphorically end Santa in our household…but how to do it in a way that spares imagination? In a way that keeps Christmas full of childlike wonder? IN A WAY THAT GETS ME MY GOSH-DARNED PICTURES AT CABELAS OR BASS PRO EVERY FLIPPING YEAR FOR THE SAKE OF CONTINUITY!!!! IT’S FOR POSTERITY, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahem….

So, this year, I have a plan….Okay, it’s not much of a plan, but I thought I’d share it with you. Here goes:

  1. Jericho has only ever received 1-3 gifts from Santa. I think that’s only fair, since we work our butts off and deserve most of the credit. He’s not used to getting giant gifts from Mr. Claus, because Mr. Claus didn’t slave over an overflowing desk for the previous 11 months.
  2. Jericho has gotten a letter from Santa several times, including one which contained a gift certificate to Goodwill. Yep–at that point, Goodwill didn’t even MAKE gift certificates…but I know a fluffy lil’ elf who’s handy with clip art, thanks to years of yearbook editing.
  3. I got one gift for Jericho that’s earmarked from Santa, and it’s something he knows I would NEVER in a million years buy him. Really, I just did it to mess with him. I’ll pay for the therapy later.
  4. Finally, I wrote him the Last Letter from Santa that he will ever receive. I think I’m sending him out with a bang; I’m including it below. Feel free to borrow it if you need to.

Although I have a few regrets about introducing my kiddo to Santa in the first place, I don’t feel bad about how he’s ending. I think I have successfully brought the focus full circle, and that I’ve managed to write something that keeps the wonder and miracle of Christmas in a child’s reality, as opposed to something that’s magical and unattainable. Santa may not be real, but hope and joy are, when they are founded in the Reason for the Season.

It’s Jericho’s last Christmas with Santa, and it’s mostly sweet as opposed to bitter. He’s growing up…why does it happen so fast? I’m nostalgic, but I have so much hope for his beautiful future, and for the destiny God has for him. It’s an honor to get to watch this kiddo grow up.

Make beautiful Christmas memories, y’all. For those hearts that are hurting this season–and I know far, far too many–may His peace fall over your hearts and souls, and may His Love be the healing you need. Merry Christmas to all…..

Dear Jericho:

Merry Christmas!!!!! I see that you’re doing so well this year: You’re getting good grades, you’re learning about Jesus & the Bible, and you’re learning new things! You’re growing so much…you’re growing up, and that’s why I’m writing you this letter.

You see, when little boys and girls start growing up, certain things lose their “sparkle.” Stories about Santa Claus and reindeer are replaced with Mario and video games, and books about the North Pole are replaced with YouTube. It’s all part of getting older, and since I’m over a thousand years old (yes, over a thousand!!), I’ve watched generations of boys and girls grow up and move past believing in me.

And that’s okay.

You see, Christmas isn’t about me—it never was. In fact, all I do, and all any of my workers do (my workers—you know, the guys in the stores that dress like me, that Mom makes you take pictures with? Yeah, they work for me—but you’re right, they’re not me!) is to try and represent the truth of Christmas to a world that needs love and hope far more than it needs toys or games. When I lived in Europe (waaaaaay back in the day), I would see people in need and I would try to help them get food and shelter. Many people lived in poverty, and had no homes. I would try to get toys to the children, to bring joy to their lives, because many of them lived in sickness & in sadness. Jesus says that “the poor you will always have with you,” & it’s true. There are many, many poor & homeless people that live on this earth—even in Arnold or in Imperial!….And for every person that is poor or homeless in their body, thousands more are poor in spirit, living a life without Jesus in their hearts.

I know that you know “Santa Claus” as the TV and movies show him, is not real.  But the hope & joy that people feel when they see me is VERY real, & it’s a bright light to their soul that shines this season—almost like that beautiful Star of Bethlehem that shown over the stable where Jesus was born! THAT’s why we celebrate Christmas—not because of me, Santa Claus. We celebrate the Birth of the Baby that would save us from our sins, & Who would give us love, hope, & life forever. He’s a Reason to celebrate all year long!!!

So, you’re grown now…you’re 7, & you’re very, very smart. You’ve learned my secret…that no, I’m not real, but that I represent things that are very, very real: Hope, Joy, & Love. These are things that can only be found in Jesus, & I lived my life on earth in a way that celebrated Him to all of the people I knew.

Jericho, this will be my last letter to you, & my last present to you, so I decided to make it count…your mom might get mad at me over this, but she knows if she says too much about it, she’ll wake up with coal under her pillow!!! May your Christmas always be full of the hope, joy, and Love that comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Always Your Friend,

Santa

Overflow…

After losing my Uncle Charlie last week, my Aunt Bonnie passed away this week. I wasn’t “close” to either of them, but they were still people in my circle, and still people that I knew and laughed with at family functions. I’m not going to be falsely dramatic and say that I’m devastated, etc., because it’s not true; however, any time you lose someone in your circle….someone you’re connected to, in any way…there’s a sadness and a sense of loss. Both my aunt and my uncle were on different sides of my family (my maternal uncle, and my biologically-paternal aunt). They both had wicked senses of humor (I still remember my Uncle Charlie making fun of my parents’ Christian bumper stickers on the “church van” one Christmas, LOL), and my Aunt Bonnie had a laugh you could hear 3 houses down. I think we may have had that in common. Family relationships can be complicated and tangled, and hard to explain–but they’re still family, regardless of whether you see them every few years, or every day.

My family, like many others (but few that I know of, directly) contains adopted family members, step-family members, biological family members, and a few people that we aren’t technically related to, but may as well be. We’re a mid-western melting pot. I remember being so sad about it when I was a kid; everyone in my tiny school had one mom, and one dad, and 2 sets of grandparents, and “normal.” What the heck is “normal,” now? I was sad because I was 7 or 8, and I didn’t understand what a blessing it was, to have so much variety in the definition of that word: “Family.”

“Family” means a lot of different things (and it sure as heck isn’t defined by blood, because that doesn’t BEGIN to make sense in many families). For me, it’s primarily that nuclear group that’s “in my bubble,” thanks to COVID: Mom, Dad, Sister, Husband, Son, Extra Parents. My in-laws, whom I haven’t seen since March because of COVID, are in that group, and I miss them. I miss all of them.

I think that missing friends and family magnifies any loss, even when you’re not that close to someone. This crazy COVID world has us all on edge, all isolated and spread apart, and all feeling the tinges of loneliness (for some, it’s much more than “tinges”). I had a moment yesterday where I was almost in tears, because I miss my friends; I miss spending my Friday afternoons having lunch with friends, getting things off of my chest and/or listening to them do the same.

I miss planning play dates with my kiddo (WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK?!?!?!?!?!). I miss calling someone and saying, “Hey, can we come over?” (Let’s be truthful–I almost never call anyone and say, “hey, come over to my house!!” because I have no parking and I feel self-conscious about the mess of having 3 people crammed into a very small space. But if I COULD call someone and say, “Hey, wanna come over?” I’M AT THE POINT WHERE I WOULD.).

So, this is a short blog (for me). I’m sort of “in the mullygrubs,” as we say (but not at the point where I’m sobbing into my morning coffee. Maybe this blog is a way to get it out of my system before I get that far?). I know of a few people that are really struggling in this season–from loss, from the election issues, from winter blahs, whatever. This tends to be a season where many have a hard time finding their joy in a “normal year,” but this year? There are some dark struggles happening, and the spiritual/mental battles being waged are MAJOR. We’re a world in need of Hope, more than ever.

Writing is one of the ways that I refocus, and that’s what I’m doing here. Yes, you’re basically reading my personal therapy session and I have little-to-no concerns about oversharing–but you probably know that by now! 🙂 I choose Hope…I choose Joy. It doesn’t mean I’m not sad; it just means that I’m leaning on Jesus and pushing through….like a lot of people.

Please pray for Connie, Tammy, Travis, Tiffany, Alvin, Sabrina, Richard, Dena, & their families; they’re missing someone they loved so much, so close to Christmas. There are a lot of families really hurting right now, and all any of us can do, is pray. Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and family right now; stay safe, but stay sensitive to those nudges from the Holy Spirit to not forget those that need to hear kindness and concern right now.

We’re gonna get thru this year, people. We’re allllllllmost there…. 🙂

The Beautiful Moments…

I think I reiterate this every year, but I. Love. Christmas!!!! I’ll spare you all of the things I love about it, but I think I love it more every year.

I really, really love Christmas songs–the Name of Jesus is proclaimed on virtually EVERY radio station, every TV station, all over Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, EVERYWHERE, and music is constant! Sad Christmas songs make me like, three times more emotional than any other sad song–can we NOT?!?! I like happy Christmas songs, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I usually start the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, but I started early this year because COVID is sucking my will to live. Thanksgiving bummed me out a bit, and I don’t know what our Christmas is going to look like this year (I miss my church homies, and I miss baking for them!), but in the meanwhile, there is-and-always-will-be, Christmas music.

Our church is meeting in home groups for the foreseeable future, and has for some time now. It’s taken some time to adjust to, but interestingly enough, we no longer meet on Sunday mornings (GASP! It almost feels blasphemous to say it out loud). Once a month, we meet corporately on Sunday afternoon (we livestreamed the last meeting, since we’re being uber-careful about ‘Rona), but weekly, we’re meeting on Friday nights (currently on Zoom, again, due to COVID). This means that Sundays are…wait for it…FREE. Wait, let me retype that as how I truly feel: FFFFFFFFRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (said in my Adam Sandler/Bedtime Stories voice)

I’m usually doing laundry or stuff around the house, since it’s the only time I’m not cramming full of other household things. This week, though, outside of a 7:30pm meeting (again, Zoom), our whole day was blank like canvas. I slept in, we had soup, there were Wii games and yelling, and it was nice. “You’re rambling, Cass. Where does this tie into Christmas?!?” you ask…

I found a YouTube Channel that plays Christmas music on a livestream. To my surprise, it’s pretty good!

The scene above was on our TV in the living room. If you look at it full-screen, you’ll see the details, down to the little dog parked down by the threshold of the fireplace. This is such a cozy scene; it reminds me of my parents’ house, and their best friends’ house, and the house I imagine for myself when I can’t sleep at night (what, you don’t play Imaginary Decorator when you can’t sleep?), and interestingly enough, it matches my Christmas decor.

David & Jericho were in the kitchen building a Christmas present for “someone,” and I was listening to their conversation…I was sitting on the couch, reading a book (!). None of us were out of our pajamas, and the Christmas music was playing in the background. I was suddenly struck by the beauty of this simple moment. I had such a breath of gratitude in my spirit.

I can remember being in a friend’s house and seeing their family together…the dad and one of the daughters was singing in the kitchen, working on dinner, while the mom and the other daughters & their husbands were milling about, talking about various subjects. Grandkids were running up-&-down the stairs in their beautiful home, and I had a moment of awe that was spiked with a bit of jealousy. This was AMAZING! Like, this is the kind of scene that TV tells us is normal, but that life says is anything but! I felt like I was on a 90’s TGIF sitcom, in one of those sappy “aw-shucks-hug-the-dog” moments. What was this?!?!?

I can remember being in the kitchen in the house that I grew up in, and I don’t remember what we were doing, but my mom, my sister, & I were all singing Gatlin Brothers’ songs. That’s one of those moments where everything was happy, and harmonious (literally–my mom’s a killer harmony singer), & I remember breathing it in and sealing it in my brain (BTW, click the link to hear the GBs if you’ve never heard of them). They’re still awesome).

The moments we get to stop and build a metaphorical monument in our brains–where we take a bit to breathe in what we’re seeing and feeling, and we seal that memory–are so precious. I have a ton of amazing memories of life in general, but especially at Christmas. I’m learning that no matter what gift you have for someone, you can’t force those moments. Those moments happen by the grace & love of Jesus–those moments are in & of themselves, like spontaneous worship. Those moments hit us in our spirit–they catch our attention and remind us to stop and to thank God for the life that He’s given us. They’re completely genuine, without pretense; they probably happen far more often than we know, because we’re so busy. Having that blank Sunday to rest and stop allowed me to remember what I was surrounded with, and to be so, so thankful.

Maybe that’s a blessing in all of this COVID garbage–maybe it’s giving us time to stop and think, to stop and appreciate who we have and what moments we’re surrounded by.

I’m so thankful for the Beautiful Moments…I know this little blog doesn’t go very far, but one thing it does do is serve as a marker for the memories I want to keep. I want to remember seeing the Christmas lights, the sappy scene on the TV, the silly pajamas and the paint on the kitchen table. I want to remember a lazy Sunday full of cozy blankets and soup, & a good book.

I want to remember that feeling of gratitude, and to go back to it on the days where I’ve lost my focus and have let the Hamster Wheel of Life detour my emotions. I want to hold onto the Beautiful Moments, and to pay attention so that when they come along, I’m ready to take that deep breath and to seal it in, to give thanks to God for making it all possible.

May this Christmas be a time of Beautiful Moments for you and all of your family…if I don’t see you until the New Year, may your 2021 be (and this is where I don’t say, “less of a dumpster fire than 2020”) a year that brings you closer to God, and closer to each other. Peace and Love to you and yours!

This is a small collection of the COVID photo shoots….the picture in the bottom center is the only one taken by a professional. We literally shot the rest ourselves with cell phones because we couldn’t be bothered with real equipment…which we have…but 2020. Also, based on these pictures, which were taken 3 completely different times, I am dubbing 2020 the “Year of Denim,” because I evidently couldn’t get away from some incarnation of a denim shirt in Every. Single. Picture. 🙂 Photos taken at Strawberry Nature Reserve and at Bee Tree Park, by David Cooley and Emmybee Photography

Suddenlys and Falling Leaves…

One of the Millennials that I work with said something very interesting to me a few weeks ago…

[Please note that when I say, “one of the Millennials,” it’s with a surprising amount of love and respect. I say, “surprising,” because a lot of people in the “millennial” demographic have honestly bugged the holy heck out of me. This girl though (this young woman, excuse me)–she continually surprises me with words of self-empowerment and wisdom that I WISH I had at her age (or at MY age), and I learn a lot from her. When I turned 40, I told myself I was going to stop making apologies over everything. Emma has been a very influential voice that has echoed that sentiment, and even though we don’t always agree, I can’t help but to admire her strength and almost-frightening level of self-acceptance. Her story is encouraging and beautiful, and tough and scary, and it’s not mine to tell…but what I can say, is that she’s still standing, and that she has so much more becoming to do…There is so much beauty in her, and she doesn’t know it, but one day I will tell her just how much she’s taught me. I just want to sit on the sidelines and watch her bloom; there’s such a richness in her soul…she’s amazing.]

I digress.

Anyway, Emma looked at my Instagram feed, and said something to the effect of, “You guys LIVE for weekends.” It’s so true. My house is a wreck, I’d hire a housecleaner to bulldoze the kitchen in a second, and I barely stay on top of the laundry, but you know what? No one talks about a clean house when they tell the stories of their childhood. David & I are two very busy adults trying to keep a roof over our heads and raise a kiddo while working full-time and not abandoning either our families or our marriage, and it gets challenging. Monday through Friday, we barely seem to have time to carry on a full conversation, but on Saturday and Sunday? We refuel and burn it up in laughter.

Every weekend isn’t awesome, for sure. We’re far from rich, so we’re always doing things on the cheap; by the end of this hot summer, we’re sick of parks and tired of sweating to death…but October? Oh, you sweet, beautiful, melancholy month, how I love you!!!

I used to face the end of October like Grover in the “Monster at the End of This Book.” Hannah’s birthday is on the 30th, so every fall, I’d watch the days change on the calendar, and with every leaf that fell, my heart would break. For five long years, the month of October was crushing…but then, we were given the gift of making new memories, and of filling those painful places with peace and joy and anticipation…I have the greatest gift of having been given beauty for ashes, and for that, I can only sit back and praise God.

October still comes with “suddenlys….” I still have moments where my breath will catch, as a memory comes back, or with different realizations (I think I mentioned in my last blog that I realized out of nowhere that Hannah would be turning 13 this year. I’m still coming to grips with that one). Today, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a picture taken at Thee Abbey in Arcadia Valley. The owner had posted a picture of her two children with puppies, and I suddenly remembered that we had been pregnant with our daughters at the same time. She was baking cinnamon rolls in the restaurant, and I was working long hours doing makeup on a film project. We were pregnant at the same time, and there was her beautiful girl, showing up on my social media feed. I doubt they remember me, or that we were pregnant at the same time…Thee Abbey holds a very special place in my heart, for multiple reasons, and we go back there several times a year, but it’s not like we’re friends with the owners or anything. We were just two women with dreams of families, who had very different outcomes from the same seasons in our lives.

It’s in those moments that I still make conscious decisions. Those are the “sink or swim” moments, those “suddenlys.” Do they become a noose or a beacon? Do I drown in the waves? Do I pause, take a breath, and let the tears fall? Oh, my Jesus….how many bottles in Heaven are marked with my name? He knows, because He cares about every tear that’s fallen on this journey and beyond…

Do I rush through the thoughts that hit, ignoring them even as I know they’ll come back to me later, when I finally have some quiet time to process them?

Should I even be affected by these moments anymore?

Those moments…some of those moments are huge, while others are minute, but they do still happen. When they do, it’s a conscious decision to move forward, to pause, or even to fall apart (which doesn’t happen very often, thankfully). There are conscious decisions to remain hopeful and wholehearted, to not become bitter or faithless. Sometimes, I hear other women tell their birth stories, and it gets hard to not be angry or hateful. Sometimes even now, old pieces of things I thought I forgave, as far as my medical care went, come up and I get mad. Two women in line next to me in a resale shop were bragging about how they had their babies out in public at 1-and-2 days old. I said, “Wow, you’re brave.” They laughed and said, “well, that’s how you GOT to do it!” One of them went on her way, but I quietly said to the other, “We lost our first from something very common…I didn’t leave the house with my second, except to go to the doctor, for 6 weeks.” The look on her face said it all–perspective. When other moms look at you like you’re some kind of germ-phobic freak or a helicopter mom, it’s hard not to lash out. There’s a conscious decision that’s made, to either tell the story in kindness, say silent and put up with the awkwardness and feel completely inauthentic, or to tell the story in a way to slap them upside their heads for judging your parenting. I’ve done all of the above, and I’m not proud of that fact.

There are conscious decisions made that people who haven’t walked this road will never understand, and that’s perfectly fine. I refuse to apologize for the fact that I am a woman who has given birth and said “goodbye,” and that this is the season where those memories and dreams are the closest to the surface….

So, like Emma said, we “LIVE for the weekends,” ESPECIALLY in the fall. October is full of everything beautiful…the trees are putting on their finest colors just before they blaze out into their rest, and I want to celebrate every one of them. I want the “basic” life of pumpkins and spice and bonfires. I want my (second-hand) UGGs and my leggings, and I want to jump into every pile of leaves I can find. I’m not a huge fan of corn mazes (I did my first one last week; it was a kids’ version, and it freaked me OUT), but I dig pumpkin patches! We didn’t do that kind of stuff when I was a kid, but we’re sure enjoying them now.

When the second lady in line at the store was talking to me about Hannah, Jericho jumped into the conversation: “I’m a rainbow baby!” I don’t know if she knew what he meant, but I laughed because it was the first time I’ve ever heard him tell a stranger that fact. It kind of blew me away–what does it mean, to grow up, knowing that about yourself? I had a friend chime in on an Instagram post that she was a rainbow baby, and that she loved knowing about what that meant; she said she loved that her parents never hid the truth from her, and that blessed me. I never wanted to keep it from him, but I also never wanted it to be a burden, so we always want to paint his birth as the miracle to us that it truly was. He knows he’s special (maybe a little TOO well, LOL).

We have this chance–we have this GIFT–to LIVE, and to live well. We have this opportunity to seriously carpe diem–to seize the day (can you tell I grew up in the 90’s?)–and to make amazing memories of each season. Jericho is no doubt spoiled. He hates the weekends where we’ve stayed home, and I get it. We don’t stay home on the weekends very often (although to be fair, we don’t go anywhere during the week. Total hermits.), and he expects an adventure. When he doesn’t get it? He’s kind of a punk, and I can say that as his mother. 🙂 And even today, after we drove for 2 hours, did a cool hayride, got lost in a maze, shoveled pizza in our faces in the car, and ate something amazing called a “cinnamon chimney,” he STILL had some bratty moments–he’s 6, and there was a LOT of walking–and I found myself wondering why I try to do cool stuff. Um, kiddo, I’m going to admit that sometimes, I am the one that wants to do the cool stuff, and you’re along for the ride. I want to make these memories with you, so stop whining and smile for the camera (“You will smile for this picture, or SO HELP ME GOD!” #TheStruggleIsReal). I want to make the cool memories, and I want to look back at that awesome photo book that I make at the end of every year, and look at this amazing life that God has given us.

I know that life in pictures is only part of the story…but what a beautiful part of the story it is. I have to laugh–when I was 8, my mom took my sister and I to Disneyworld. There’s a really cute photo album somewhere that shows us in all of our glory in Florida…but do you know what we still laugh about to this day? The fact that my sister and I were absolute MONSTERS on that trip. OHMYGOSH, I can’t–we whined so much, and my mom had to have busted her rear to pay for that trip; we were SUCH punks, I can’t even…AND I AM REMINDED OF THAT TRIP, EVERY TIME I TAKE MY SON TO DO SOMETHING COOL, AND HE WHINES. Like, #KARMA. I have to laugh. We have the pictures, and we have the memories, and oh, what a life we get to experience!!!!

Life is hard. It is–it’s a struggle for so many of us. But we have each day to start over, to make new memories and to make the conscious decisions to breathe, to move forward, to celebrate and to grieve. We have the opportunity to celebrate the sweet and to not become bitter…we have the chance to stop apologizing when we’re doing our best, and to accept the love Jesus offers us. We have the choice to pick grace, and to put one foot in front of the other on this journey, and to help others to do the same. Fall is the season of such incomparable beauty. I hope and pray that you get to embrace it and the changes that come along in it. “LIVE for your weekends,” and if you can, let the dishes wait a bit while you make some memories–and don’t make any apologies for it, dang it. You carpe that diem, dangit, and light up your Instagram feed!!!!

Seriously, though–take every chance you can to enjoy this season. May your “suddenlys” and your fall leaves remind you that you are loved by our Creator who made all of the beauty that you see, just to bring you closer to Him. ❤

“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.

lazarus

Giving Your Kid Weird Names is Fun…AKA The Promises of God…

My name is Cassidy.

Cassidy Sarah, to be precise.

I’m named thus, in part because of my paternal grandmother (who I never got to meet; I understand she was short & plump, and that’s all I know), and in part, because nobody liked my mom’s other suggestion: Bethany.

By the time I came along in my parents’ marriage, things were NOT going well. My biological father hadn’t really proven to be overly interested in my pending birth, so he didn’t have any input into the name I wound up with. “Cassidy” came from a person who said “hello” to their daughter Cassidy on a game show, that my mother happened to see. The rest is, as they say, history.

I’ve only ever met one Cassidy who is my age. The name had a surge in popularity in the late 80’s or early 90’s, thanks to Kathie Lee Gifford. She named her daughter Cassidy, and then nicknamed her “Casserole,” so if I ever see her, I won’t need a reminder to slap her silly.  Other Cassidys that I’ve met have all been younger, and Lord knows, there’s a TON of spelling variations on the name (Kassidee? Kasidy? Casidy? Cassadee? Some of those hurt to type).

The name “Cassidy” has a few different interpretations. It’s undeniably Irish-Gaelic, and was traditionally a boy’s name. It can mean “clever,” “inventive,” or “Curly-Haired (yes, I’m serious),” and in some cases, it’s defined as meaning, “sly.” That’s flattering, right?

I’ve always believed that whatever you name your child is a proclamation over them for the rest of their lives. When I first looked up my name and saw that it meant “clever,” I wasn’t a fan. Further research made me reconsider; I definitely qualify as “crafty,” given my love of my glue gun (yes, I know, that’s not what “crafty” is inferring, but work with me), and “curly haired?” Really? Shut up. 🙂 I can’t imagine myself with any other name. I’m glad that my mama took a chance on this crazy name, and I’ve slowly gotten over feeling slighted because I can’t find anything personalized.

I recently received an e-mail from my son’s kindergarten teacher. He’s getting ready to graduate (sniff!!), and she does something with the meaning of their names every year in the ceremony. She asked me if there was any special definition we knew that she couldn’t find, because the only definitions she could find were “fragrant” or “City of the Moon.” I had to laugh–it’s come full circle, that the girl with the odd name would, after years of swearing off of odd names for her children, name her son something that’s not going to show up in a Christmas ornament kiosk. So, I had to expound a tiny bit on why we gave our child the unusual moniker shared with a city that got destroyed (and that had a curse attached to it, were it to ever be rebuilt…which it was….and bad things happened).

Even without researching the definition of the name, “Jericho” seemed like a perfect name for my son. It wasn’t just a city that was destroyed for the glory of God and the progression of His people.

It was a city that seemed indestructible.

It was a city that seemed overwhelmingly unstoppable, incredibly protected and well-armed, and like an impenetrable fortress. It was sophisticated, metropolitan, and and a place of great value. When the Israelites looked on the city of Jericho, they knew they didn’t stand a chance….but God said to take it.

He said it was theirs.

He promised them.

And they believed.

By now, you know the story–Jericho’s older sister died, and my heart failed. We were told we’d have no more children, unless I was ready to be too dead to raise them. Doctors told us “no” so many times that my husband was ready to stop asking; I begged for one last appointment, and that doctor (Michael Paul, MD, Missouri Baptist Hospital perinatology) said “yes.” We got pregnant in 2012, and I will never forget the spiritual battles that took place for the entire 36 weeks (okay, 35) that I was pregnant. The first 30 days of my child’s life were some of the toughest days I have ever known (post-partum piled onto everything else), and I was in the fight of my life…but we won.

We all won.

The people of Israel were told to march around the city of Jericho, silently, for 6 days. Only the trumpets could be played (how annoying would THAT be?!?!  I sense a strategy…). On the 7th day, they were told to march around Jericho 7 times, and on the last time, to deliver a mighty roar. When they did this, God moved and the walls of Jericho fell down. The battle was won! The people of Jericho had put all of their faith into those walls–they didn’t have an army that could fight. I’m guessing their army was untrained, because they were so secure in believing those walls would never come down. They were wrong.

God moved, walls fell, and His people took the city.

They took what He promised them.

So did we.

“Jericho” has a few different interpretations in history, but the ones my son’s teacher found are the most common: “Fragrant.” “City of the Moon.” There’s also “City of Palms” (a place of respite?), or these definitions, which talk about “breath,” “way,” or “width.” Those are less common, and I tend to stick to the definition of “fragrant.”

Fragrance is a powerful word in the Bible; it’s mentioned quite a bit, and evokes a lot of sentiment. It’s used by itself and in conjunction with the word, “incense,” which was always used as part of the sanctification processes in the Tabernacle, and symbolized faith that our praises and prayers are heard. Psalms 141:2 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (NIV) In the Book of Revelations, it talks about incense rising with the prayers of the saints before the Lord.

The fact that my son’s name means something that seems so mundane, but has such a powerful connotation, is not lost on David & I. Every time we speak his name, we’re pouring out over him the fact that he is like a fragrance of worship before the Lord. Day and night, even when we’re in terrible moods, even when times are tough, no matter what happens, he is an answer to prayer and a testimony that resounds in our lives and evokes worship–that’s a powerful name. The kid was born out of prayers and trust, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he has a destiny to worship the Lord.

No pressure, kiddo.

So, yes, Jericho’s teacher, his name means, “fragrance.” And sure, he’s a stinky boy (are all boys stinky? Is that just part of it?!?!), but his heart was formed in the fires of intercession and prayer.

Our son is a living testimony to the promises of God that many people told us were not achievable (you know who told us they were wrong? Joe LoRusso.). We were told “no.” God said, “yes,” and we obeyed Him. Jericho was delivered to us, and our praises and prayers before, during, and after, are the least we can give a God Who kept His promises and blessed our socks off.

There’s a song called, “Worthy of It All” by David Brymer. It became a cornerstone song in my life during my pregnancy with Jericho, even before he got his name. My pregnancy was tough…really, really tough…and I’d sing this song to remind myself that God’s plan was worthy of all of it. I needed to anchor myself and remember that He is GOOD, and that He doesn’t fail, regardless of the past, regardless of the future, and regardless of the fears. He is WORTHY, even if you can’t see the outcome.

There’s a section of the song that says, “Day and night, night and day, let incense arise.” There is worship around the throne of God for infinity–it doesn’t stop. My prayer for my son is that he would learn the significance of his name…that he would know the power of God in his life, and that he would live to point others toward worshiping the Lord….that his life would be like that fragrance that rises before the throne, dedicated to Him and knowing His love…of knowing wholeheartedly that Jesus is Worthy of it All…

We’ve named our child well.

Oh, and if you’re curious, his middle name is “Daniel,” which means, “God is my Judge.” To this day, every time I think of the meaning of his middle name, I think of Tupac….but I never told my husband that when we were choosing names. 🙂

 

 

Mommy Bloggers & the White Women of Hope (in the Real World)

Dear Mommy Bloggers and White-Chick-Motivational-Speakers:

Hi.

I wanted to be like you, more than you could possibly know.

I wanted the Pinterest life, the 2.5 kids, the I-Can-Bake-Sugar-Cookies-And-Not-Get-Flour-Anywhere perfection that’s gorgeously-photographed-with-a-perfect-filter persona.

I wanted to have the right Bible verse at the right time, to show you and everyone that I. Am. A. Good. Christian. Wife.

I wanted the en-pointe brow, the Jenner-worthy highlight, and the Hatmaker-moxie that makes everyone love me and want to be like me…Just. Like. You.

I wanted to be Candace.

I wanted to be Jen.

I wanted to be Glennon.

 

I can’t.

 

Am I the only one that sees these “normal” women and weeps because they feel like their life is wasted in a reality that is NOTHING like what they read? Am I the only one that can’t listen to someone tell me, “Girl, Wash Your Face,’ because at this point, there aren’t any bootstraps to pull myself up by? Am I the only one that had a dream that keeps getting derailed by illness or finances or a million other obstacles that just keep coming, one after another, without a break?

 

Am I the only one that’s about to give it all up?

 

There are things in my life that I was told would never happen—my son, first and foremost—and they DID happen, so I know it’s possible. I know it CAN happen, but what does it take? Why am I not good enough, if I truly am giving my best?

 

How much more of myself do I have to pour out, before there is that promised refreshing of the Spirit? Before the “potential” is the realized present?

 

I’m not whining or indulging in defeat. These are honest questions that we as Christians need to be willing to ask with open hearts. These are questions that are very easy to slap a Bible verse and a Snapchat filter on, along with a “Cheer up, Charlie!”  response, but all that does is create impressions of a Martha-Stewart Reality. Jesus doesn’t listen to hurting hearts and say, “Girl, get yourself up and out of that funk, right now!”

Jesus says, “You’re hurting, and I know it. I feel it, and I’m here. You won’t be in this place forever, daughter, but you’re here now, and I’m here, too. Today, we rest. Rest in Me. I know you feel defeated. I know you feel like you’re at the bottom. I know you want to give up.

I know you’re broken.

I’m here to make you whole.

But it’s going to take a while.”

The Song of Solomon says, “Do not awaken Love before its time.” (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) It actually says it like, 3 times in the book, so that tells me it’s important. The dangers of focusing on the Mommy Bloggers and the White Women of Hope are that the image and the promises are instantaneous, although I do not think that’s their intention. We see the Glennons and the Jens and we see beautiful faces and gorgeous honesty…we see the aftermath, and we think our redemption and the answer to our problems is RIGHT NOW.

 

Well, I’m here to tell myself and to remind myself (and you, maybe) that we don’t want to awaken Love before its time. The statement tells us, it reminds us, that everything has a TIME—everything has a designated time and a designated process, and we (I) always hurt the most when my time frame and His time frame don’t match up.

 

He has a plan for my life.

I can’t see it, right now.

Right now, I’m an internal ball of electrified yarn, and every time I try to untangle it, I get shocked by the situation I’m in, and wounded even further.

I have to wait this out, and as I once told a friend of mine, “there is breaking in the waiting.”

 

I’m not pretty right now.

I’m not Pinterest-worthy (not that I ever was).

I don’t have pithy sayings and roll-script placards to hang in my foyer (LOL—like I have a foyer).

I want to awaken Love, and see the end of this story, because THIS CHAPTER SUCKS. (Underlined, italics, all-caps—get it?!?!?!?!?!??  I really, REALLY mean it. This chapter sucks. Completely.)

 

I am going out on a limb and saying that I need prayer right now. My family needs prayer. I hate saying that, because I feel like there’ve been so many times where we’ve had a “dramatic” thing happen and have needed prayer; it’s very hard for me to suck up my pride and just admit it right now. My little family is broken, and our hearts are hurting. We need supernatural provision and for doors to open in unforeseen ways.

 

I need peace that passes all understanding, and the physical capability to cope with the stress that we’re under. I need a refreshing in my heart that pushes past the things I see—the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces—and seals in my heart the love and value that God sees in me, because I can’t see it right now.

 

The disappointment that is choking me is usurping my ability to find the joy in every situation, which is something I’ve always said I wanted to maintain. I can’t laugh, and that’s not like me, so this has to lift. I’m being transparent, here—the depression/anxiety that is always on the brink is threatening much more than just my sanity this time, and I’m struggling to fight through it (and yes, I’m medicated, but that only goes so far). This year is ending on the battlefield, and we’re wounded.

 

So, I can try to read the words of the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces (and even the Voskamps), but they’re bouncing off, because all I taste is the bitterness of a sanitized presentation.

Then again, who wants to read the words written from the middle of Ground Zero?

 

Sometimes, I look back on what I wrote in the thick of it, in other times in my life.

I look back on the things I said from Ground Zero, and I remember the journey out of that valley.

 

I’ve been here before.

 

It’s different, but familiar

And I know that God is faithful,

Even when I’m broken.

 

I’m not going to awaken Love before its time.

I’m not going to read someone else’s words about how they went from nothing-to-something, or from broken-to-whole.

They’re not me, and the more I think about them, the more I sink into a pit of jealousy and frustration.

 

I’m going to read the words of eternal Life,

And I’m going to cry, and break, and be a snotty, un-Snapchattable, Pinterest-failure of a person, and I’m going to (eventually) accept that it’s okay.

 

I’m going to put one foot in front of another, and most likely, trip and fall flat on my face…again…and again….and again…

But eventually,

I’ll get back up, as will my household.

 

For right now, though, we are in yet-another valley, & there aren’t enough pithy sayings from the White Women of Hope that can pull us out.

 

We will not awaken Love before its time…we will go through this process, and we will embrace the hurting; we will learn the lessons we need to learn, and we will be as transparent as we need to be, even when it breaks our pride & makes us feel raw & exposed. We will accept the failure on our own, & we will not whitewash it in Magnolia paints or Pinterest craft boards. We will live in this moment, and maintain the hope that we have that it’s not forever. It’s a time, and there isn’t a fast-forward button on this one.

 

And someday, He will make the exchange of Beauty for Ashes, and we will see how His hand worked through it all…because He is Who He says He is, and through it all, we believe.