One year later

A year ago this past week our life changed forever.  While it is indisputable that the parents we know and love will eventually die, at our age I think it’s normal to assume or expect that they’ll still be around a while.  And when they do pass on, we hope we’ll know it’s coming and have the chance to say goodbye.

When Chris’ dad didn’t return from his hunting trip last January, I waited for the logical explanation.  His mom and I prayed on the phone and talked to pass the time as the evening got later.  I was certain, in my optimism, that he’d pull in her driveway any minute.  Logical answers didn’t come and neither did his dad.  As I watched my husband throw warm clothes on and packed him food for the long drive to join the search, fear crept in.  I hugged him long and hard and tried not to cry.

I tucked kids in their beds and started to ponder the possibilities.  My sister, then pregnant with my niece, offered to come over and sit with me.  I did what I tend to do and said no, that I was sure I’d be fine and everything would be okay.  Two hours later, past midnight I said yes, please come.  She tucked herself into my bed and we sat.  We waited as sleep eluded us.  We prayed in silence.  Mine sounded more like pleading, begging for just two things…..Let his dad be okay….If he’s not okay, please don’t let Christopher be the one who finds him. I whispered and whimpered the same prayers all night long.  My sister had to leave in the morning to get back to her son.

And shortly after she did, a five word text message (that was the only way he could communicate with me at the moment) told me that both my prayers had gone unanswered.  It was the most gut wrenching moment of my life.

The ache that followed for all of us was unbearable, we were overtaken by the shock of loss.  The hole that had been blasted open in one moment was a gaping one.

People cared for us and loved us in every imaginable way in those following days.  My parents who’d been at my ill grandmother’s bedside, not expecting her to live, were across the country.  They flew home immediately.  Incapacitated completely, I watched in a cloud as other people stepped in and ran life for me.

The months that followed were walked out in a tender, raw way.  We both knew that our hearts were in pieces and we could not tolerate harsh words or bursts of anger – so there simply were none.  We process loss in very different ways so we held one another with mutual respect and did our best to let each walk the journey as needed.  We’re still doing that because it just seems the only way.

It was in those months, knee deep in grief, that I began this gratitude list on Monday’s.  As I questioned my faith and really the very nature of God for the first time in my adult life, I began to read a blog that pointed my heart in a different direction.  I took her challenge to join in and to start keeping track of what I could choose be grateful for.

#339 – learning how to say yes to help

#340 – resolving that there will be some questions left unanswered for the rest of my life

#341 – the beauty of memories

#342 – the sovereignty of God in all things at all times

#343 – the extra year my grandma was gifted (and the gift it was to all of our family in turn)

#344 – living out the choice to embrace the small moments of greatness

#345 – how it feels to be loved well

#346 – the way tears cleanse the soul

#347 – the way pain can open your heart to so much more love when you let it

A gift beyond measure

She’s not missed any big life event despite living a couple thousand miles across the country.  In fact to look through my stack of photo albums you’d think she lived here.  And you’d also think she sure has been some neat places.  And that she has a great smile, a truly great one.  She has delighted in so much of life with us.  She surprised me by flying in for my first baby’s shower.  Thus she was also here when, a few hours after that baby shower, my water broke and my first babe came 5 weeks early.  It is her name that we gave as our daughter’s middle name.

She came out just as often as the “great-grands” started to arrive.  She snuggled and enjoyed them and we relished watching our children have the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents.  Though they’d traveled most the world over, dined with dignitaries and stood boldly for causes they believed in…these time watching her love my kids have been my favorite.

Last January we thought she would soon be gone, literally as we walked through the sudden loss of Chris’ dad, she faced tremendous health challenges that seemed insurmountable.  Truly beyond anyone’s expectations, she made it through.  A bonafide miracle I’d argue.   Not able to travel however, we wondered when we’d see her again.

When my mom told me she was flying back east to bring Grandma out for the month of December, it seemed too good to be true.  I think we all held our breath till she got here.  But she did.  “My soul needed to be here” she told Grandpa on the phone shortly after she arrived.  Not highly mobile, we knew we’d need to drive to her and plan our gatherings around what would work for her.  We did.

Tea parties, gingerbread house decorating, Christmas cookie making, present-opening, lots of great food and just as many wonderful smiles.  Crazy boys running around or building legos by her feet.  Dressing up like princesses or Rylee sitting reading to her.  The weeks were packed with sweetness.  My advent plans along with many other holiday plans fell by the wayside.  But somehow it was okay, it was more than okay it was a treasure.  Talk about treasure, she told me shortly after she’d arrived and was talking about her family “I am so rich, to have all of this, all of you”.

The day after Christmas we spent the evening with Chris’ family, our first altogether gathering since his dad’s been gone.  Hard.  So good to be with one another but emotions were barely below the surface.  My mom called on our drive home that night to tell me that Grandma had had a stroke.  She was in the hospital but stable.

The next morning things changed quickly and I called my husband in tears to come home right away so I could go be with her and my family.  We sat around her bed and the moments that followed were holy ones.  My mom read her favorite Psalms.  We sang her hymns.  I could not utter a word but just stroked her silver hair and wept as I watched love pour from Grandpa that I’d never seen but known existed.

Things stabilized again for a couple days but it was clear the end was very near.  I asked my grandpa at one point how long they’d been married.  While many things are foggy for him at the moment, this was crystal clear, he exclaimed before I’d finished asking “Why 63 years and 2 months!” and then shared little bits about their early life together in Kansas.  I bit my lip to not cry and thought I want to know the months and years when I’ve been married that long…goodness, I just want to be married that long! What a legacy.

We all took turns sitting at the hospital with her, holding her soft hand and sharing memories.  Looking across the bed at my own mama, more than once I thought about how someday I will have to do this with her…then realized, someday I hope I get to do this with her.  To sit with someone so very close to the door of heaven, truly felt like hallowed ground.

Thursday morning as my kids and I were just heading to Costco, my mom called.  “She’s gone, it happened so fast.  I was here with her, just me.”  I sat outside my car in 25 degree coldness crying warm tears into the snow.  I drove home, passed the kids all off quickly and went to my parent’s house.  Eyes kept filling up and voices were broken but oh the hope and peace of knowing she is in the perfect place.

Grandpa kept saying “She was where she wanted to be…what a place to spend her last 3 weeks!”.  Though not at all what we expected or planned, I can’t help but feel like we were just given the most precious, sacred gift in getting to share this last bit of time with her.  We just didn’t know exactly the gift we were receiving until now.  What a joy-filled sendoff to eternity!  What a load of sweet memories we have stored up!

If there’s been any theme for us this year, the year that I declared the “year of JOY” as I rang in the New Year, it is this:

Life is fleeting.  We do not live with some guarantee of tomorrow.  Today is a gift.  Don’t wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for to treasure the life you’ve been given.  It will always be complicated and it will always hurt.  But there is beauty in the unlikeliest of places and there IS joy to be had even when nothing seems to be working out.

The joy of creating

In this stage of mom life many things get started, few are finished and much of life requires doing the same things over and over and over again.  Pondering this and also wanting to be as economical and thrifty as possible for the holidays, I decided to host a mom craft morning.  Four uninterrupted kid-free hours, a sewing machine, all our collective ideas and supplies and plenty of food!  Not only did we have a delightful time with one another, it felt wonderful to make some lovely things that we can give as gifts for Christmas.

When your days consist of diapers, discipline and dishes it is, in my opinion and experience, extremely important for survival to have time set aside that fills your cup and allows you a break from regular life.  I believe that ‘regular life’ is profoundly important and valuable and that pouring out my life for my family and others is the way I want to live.  Investing in the lives of my children is exactly how I want to spend my days.  But I also think it’s my job to find ways to step back and intentionally take care of myself so that I can do my primary job with excellence.

With that said, in the midst of a week of unusually out of control behavior from one child and more than normal busy days, here is my continuing list of gratitude:

#312 – time to create and craft

#313 – beautiful things

#314 – slipper socks

#315 – first dentist visit in 3 years…the feel of clean teeth!

#316 – pulling out sunscreen in November

#317 – hot pink toes ready for sand

#318 – tears poured out on behalf of a child

#319 – a husband willing to take 4 kids out for 4 hours

#320 – being ready to go back to church after…a very long time

#321 – hearing my transformed husband share a piece of his story with others

#322 – marveling at all God can do with our broken hearts

14 ounces of love

From the moment we found out we were expecting this fifth baby, I was gripped with fear.  It was beyond what I could understand.  I was not willing to speak it out loud as that made it more real to me.  So it has been carefully tucked away in my heart for nearly 5 months.  In our 8 years as parents, we’ve walked through big changes and encountered many different kinds of loss.  These of course culminated with the incredibly tragic death of my husband’s father in January of this year.

The fragile and uncertain nature of human life stared me in the face like it never has.  It left my heart broken and my legs shaky and all of me uncertain how life would move on.   The whole world moved forward and I felt like our life stood still.  For months.

Debating if I would still believe in the God I claimed to love, I wondered how He could have let so much hurt seep into our life.  Some seen and some completely unseen.  In tender and quiet places filled with puddles of my tears, I chose Him.  I chose to believe the truths that were crashing around in my head even though my heart said it was all too much and it would be understandable if I was done.

We took life one day at a time.  We still do.  We held onto each other for dear life when just 2 years ago we were grasping for straws and trying to put a broken marriage back together.

So I suppose with the freshness of loss still lingering in my heart, I was strangely pessimistic and felt like this gift of new life might just slip between my fingers.  Earlier in the week, I wept out the words as I prayed “No matter what happens, you need to know that I know you are still good.  I don’t want anything to be wrong, but I trust you, you have never failed me.”

I could hardly breathe as the technician scanned my belly and gave us our first glimpse at this little baby.   Though I had felt for weeks certain and sure movement every day that told me “I’m in here!”, I still struggled to believe it was for real.

Weighing just 14 ounces, this babe moved so much it was hard to get everything measured.  We counted fingers and toes.  We watched a tiny perfect mouth open and close.   I breathed in and out and did not pass out like I’d imagined I might.  Peace overcame.  My heart slowed down.

I was undone and spilling over with thankfulness…

#258 – a healthy growing fifth baby blessing

#259 – sunshine for days on end

#260 – a perfect pumpkin patch adventure

#261 – frosty cold mornings

#262 – warm pumpkin scones

#263 – an empty washer, first time in 6 months or so being caught up on laundry!

#264 – peace

#265 – believing He is the same regardless of my days, my attitude, my success or my failure

#266 – a cousin kiss

#267 – a baby on a baby bump

#268 – making applesauce

#269 -being married

…yes, I know it’s not Monday, but I decided that was okay!

Keeping on counting

#242 – all six of us spending half a Sunday in our pajamas

#243 – resting instead of working

#244 – a fluttery tiny baby making himself/herself known

#245 – the halfway mark of pregnancy…and knowing the hard part is to come

#246 – flannel sheets and cold nights

#247 – crisp fall days

#248 – listening to little readers

#249 – learning to be flexible with what isn’t working

#250 – an early morning wake-up friend, accountability is good!

#251 – watching my parents be radical and refuse to ‘check out’ during their golden years

#252 – living close enough to those parents for mid-week park dates

#253 – giving up coffee…again

#254 – dinners in the freezer

#255 – blushing as I walk at the same park with my kids where a lifetime ago I once kissed a boy in those trees and dreamed big dreams…now his sons climb the very same trees

#256 – a house to call our own

#257 – the love that happens here

The gift of together time

We booked a campsite many weeks ago and it wasn’t refundable, so when the weather forecast turned to rain, we went back and forth about going or not.   Since we’ve talked for several years about camping in the San Juan Islands and had never done it, we opted to call it adventure and go for it.   There is so much that I used to take for granted when Chris worked at his old job.  One of the biggest was simply time together.

Nearly two years into his new position, family time is now of utmost value.  It is a little sad it took the loss of it for us to realize how precious it is.  But better than not at all.  It’s all part of the journey, I know.

On a lighter note, we learned many good things camping with four little people.   Like “EZ setup” might mean nearly two hours of hard work and the use of bandaids to hold poles together….and that a big pot of chili is not the best camping fare when all six share one tent…and that the term “quiet hours” doesn’t apply at some campgrounds.

Since it’s Monday here is the continuation of my list of 1000 gifts joining the gratitude community combined with some shots from our trip:

#211 – the delight of memory-making

#212 – surprising Daddy with birthday brownies while we camped on his special day

#213 – learning yet again that so much of life is all about how you look at it

#214 – hiking/climbing the kids’ first mountain, Turtleback Mountain on a spectacular sunny day

#215 – long ferry rides and trying to explain what archipelago means

#216 – being windblown

#217 – being up so early together that clouds were still sitting on many of the islands!

#218 – boys who don’t always like eachother but can sure act like it sometimes

#219 – four imperfect children who continue to refine and change us

#220 – coming ‘home’ from our great hike to see this fella in our campsite – incredible!

#221 – sleeping snug and dry while rain poured all night over our tent

#222 – the end of belly sleeping for mama till springtime

#223 – how it feels to do something you’ve so long wanted to do

#224 – the way I was able to breathe again after calling to cancel a certain 4 year old’s attendance at preschool

#225 – the massive challenge and blessing of homeschool

A beating heart

#182 – hearing a baby heartbeat for the first time…still an utter miracle, even though it’s our fifth

#183 – the mess that comes from having too much fun for weeks on end

#184 – energy to reclaim the home and conquer said mess

#185 – new ideas

#186 – getting ready for starting school

#187 – time alone in the quiet before anyone is awake

#188 – my new laminator, how did I live without one?!

#189 – a daughter who sets the table just like her mama

#190 –  a date with the one I love

#191 – time to look at his face and love him just a little bit more

The list continues…

#139 – surviving a wicked ‘crash’ from a 5 day sugar high

#140 – realizing I don’t live a daily high/low dependence on sugar anymore…it’s only taken 5 months

#141 – the first 5 days straight we’ve spent with Daddy in almost 2 years

#142 – last minute bringing our AC unit on our ‘camping’ cabin adventure, it was 105 where we were!

#143 – the bliss of sleeping in one tiny room with 4 small kids for 5 days

#144 – learning again that less is more, simple leaves more room to enjoy life

#145 – heart pain and tears shed when Daddy had to go back to work

#146 – how sweet it is to miss someone that you live everyday with

#147 – treasuring each day of summer despite it passing too fast

#148 – freshly picked fruit

#149 – naptime

#150 – a scrumptious new niece who’s won all our hearts

#151 – courage to go through more of Chris’ dad’s things

#152 – tears mixed in with laughter and stories

#153 – the constant learning of silence and when to say nothing

#154 – grace for myself after completely falling off the exercise bandwagon

#155 – being totally blessed by another mama’s offer to watch my 4 kids (and her 4 kids) for 4 hours

#156 – a huge box of amazing books for our upcoming homeschool year

#157 – fuzzy baby kittens

#158 – redemption and all that God can do with the mess I make of life some days

#159 – being able to weep with someone and bear a piece of their pain

The way life mixes up

Though sometimes I think it would be nice for life to stay peachy and lovely for a long, long time…it never does.  Every single day life is a mixed up mess of good, extraordinary, crummy and terrible.  At least mine is.  Sure there are long seasons of darkness and heartbreak that seem like they won’t end.  And there are several days in a row where kids don’t argue and calamity hides.  But mostly, it’s just a big mix of everything.  Every single day.

Part of the way I’m finding my way past the ‘months long night’ that I wondered if it would ever pass – is in a daily decision to be grateful.  Grateful for what has been.  For what is.  And for what’s to come.  Joining in with Anne Voskamp in the practice of thankful list-making has radically changed my perspective on  this wife/mama/teacher/cook/driver/planner/mediator life of mine.

Upon opening his birthday card yesterday from my grandparents, our 4 year old shrieked with glee “He’s alive?  Really?  Grampy isn’t gone?”.  I gently explained, again, that it was from his great-grandparents, not from Grampy.  But no words can express the heart pain in trying to make that make sense to a hope-filled little boy.  I wept and his face crumbled.  Grampy is still gone.  And it is no less tragic today than it was that cold, rainy January day when our life changed forever.

My wise mother did her own gentle explaining to me last month over coffee.  As I questioned and doubted most of what I believed, which she assured me was okay, she said:

I think you’re waiting for it to make sense.  For answers.  You want to understand.  You need to understand in order to move forward.  But things like this kind of loss will never, ever make sense.  You won’t find the answers and you won’t understand.  You have to let go and trust what you know to be true about who God is.

That is, in essence, just what I’ve done.  It’s sort of like of  learning to walk with a limp I would imagine.  There is a piece of us that is forever altered by the deep mark of pain.  Every life is marked with some kind of very hard thing that shapes and molds – either for good or for bad.  I read in a magazine just this afternoon that suffering is a universal language.  So after spending months in a place of waiting for some grand epiphany, with timid and slow steps, I am choosing to walk again.

Even if it’s a different walk.  Even if it still feels foggy some days and I still wonder why.  Even if little moments that come from nowhere bring me to my knees.

Life, in all sorts of forms around here, beckons me onward.

The hope of the God who has been nothing but faithful to me for many years, beckons me to walk with Him.

#109 – promises, beautiful promises

#110 – plans and prospects

#111 – the exhilaration of saying yes

#112 – time to have a real conversation after children are all sleeping

#113 – God’s continued provision

#114 – the sweetness of a secret kept

#115 – watermelon juices dripping from all appendages of a clothes-less little girl

#116 – one cool room in one sweltering house

#117 – being called a princess by two little boys in one day

#118 – the utter, complete miracle of this verse and how it’s becoming real to me in a whole new way:

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3

Looking up today

Just so it’s no secret, this list is changing my life.  Choosing, even in the midst of the constant flow of life’s hard things, to find something to be thankful for…and to learn that the hard things can be the good things.

#72 – being awake early, alone, on a Monday

#73 – anticipation of seeing old friends again

#74 – first sunburn of the year

#75 – three uninterrupted hours of gardening

#76 – an impromptu adventure

#77 – courage to finally order photos from Christmas

#78 – the smell of coconut oil

#79 – baby spiders

#80 – baby birds

#81 – watching lambs frolic

#82 – learning one painful step at a time that God is my audience…not people

#83 – tender hearts of little boys

#84 – sacred moments unpacking fishing gear that was Grampy’s

#85 – breathtaking beauty in the mountains

#86 – finishing up school work for summer

#87 – watching God do what I myself told Him He could not do

#88 – my children have a father to celebrate this weekend

#89 – somehow Grace will carry my husband through losing his