Remembering Grandpa

It’s hard to break a six month writing silence.  So many stories unfold in a half a year.  There really isn’t anything else I can write of before acknowledging a monumental loss in our life.  I’ve written before about our beloved Grandpa.  We’ve been crazy blessed to spend most Sunday afternoons with him for the past couple years.  It has meant driving two cars to church weekly, so half our family could go sit with him at the lunch table in his memory care facility.  Our time couldn’t possibly have been spent in any better way.  One Sunday in September we went to see him and then by the following Saturday he was gone.  Deleting the recurring calendar event that said “Sunday lunch with Gpa” was harder than I could put to words.  When you love big, it means feeling the “bigness” of loss as well.

Here are the words I shared at his memorial in October back east in Virginia.  I flew with our oldest five children to be a part of honoring him in this way. There is nothing more fitting I could write today than to share those words here….

Good morning friends, I happen to be the eldest of the 9 grandchildren but just because I’ve been blessed under our grandpa’s love and leadership longer than my cousins and sisters doesn’t make me any more qualified to share today.  We all have our own list of memories tucked in our hearts.  The list of contributions of every sort our grandfather made in his lifetime would be impossible for any of us here today to sum up.  And as with most of life, it’s the intangible things that can’t be touched or measured that mattered more than any other.  

It was his “whatey” that he brought with him when he flew to Seattle or visited grandkids in Virginia.  I don’t even know how it started but as little girls as soon as we saw his face, we said “Gpa!” and he said “whatey!”.  We came to expect the “whatey” and we would ask him to make sure and bring it when he came.  The whatey always came with a smile and that’s what made it so grand.

It was their heart to share what they deemed “one of the most stunning places in the world” coupled with their radical generosity that took our whole extended Larson family to New Zealand 14 years ago this Christmas.  They had seen nearly the whole world over and told us we all had to experience together the beauty and breadth of a place they had so enjoyed.  If there’s anything more wonderful than being overcome by an incredible land, it’s sharing that wonder with the ones you love most.  It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us.

It was also his faithful presence, despite having to travel cross country to see any of us in the Sween family at least – he was always there, cheering us on at every big life moment, celebrating graduations and weddings and eventually the births of some 14 great-grandchildren.  He and Grandma were intentionally invested in the lives of their family in a way that communicated our value in their eyes and we were all better for it.

It was an unwavering commitment to building family relationships despite distance that brought us all together time and time again from Fort Casey, Washington to Estes Park, Colorado to the Outer Banks, North Carolina and many others in between.  This left us feeling connected and like we belonged to something special, even if we lived cross country from our cousins.

It was the fervor and passion and deepest pride he had when he talked about politics and education and great leaders and history and America.  He told stories of growing up in the Great Depression and having a tumbleweed for a Christmas tree with a stern face and I knew he still remembered just how unbearable some of those days had been.  

It was the constant encouragement that he offered to me every single time he saw me and my six children the past decade or so.  He was one of my greatest cheerleaders.  These last three years with him living nearby for the first time in my life, my children and I had the privilege of Sunday lunches.  After sharing our grandfather with Right to Work, with presidents and Senators, with our nation really, it was this last season of his that will always be of greatest treasure to me.  He faithfully, dare I say relentlessly, spurned me onward in the daily, sometimes quite monotonous work of educating our children at home, cultivating character and of serving those around us in ways we were able.  His consistent mantra to me as we parted every week was, “You keep up the good work”.  It was fitting to me that the night before he passed away when I went to say goodbye for the evening, he managed to say quietly “You do good work”.

It was Grandpa’s steady, rooted faith in Jesus that was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Larson clan and to an immeasurable many who don’t share our family name.  His extreme generosity to people and to organizations who were committed to furthering the message of Christ and his Gospel in the world has undoubtedly had impact in ways we will never grasp or fully know on this side of heaven.  

There really isn’t a role in the world quite like a grandparent.  And an adult  who fills that unique role with excellence is one in a million in the eyes of their grandchild.  Grandpa was indeed, one in a million and the void he leaves is certainly an impossible one to fill.  

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Both ends of love

The dichotomy of our life right now is not lost on me.  We are knee deep in goat babies and new life.  Then last night we sat with our beloved grandpa (great grandfather to our children).  For the third time this week.  At his hospital bedside after taking a big nose-dive in his health in a very short time.  Less than two weeks ago we were sitting in the warm sun at Dairy Queen eating french fries and ice cream cones.   Then one rough night and suddenly he’s laid up in the hospital for a week now.  Things can change fast when you are 93 years old.  We returned home at dusk and tucked ourselves (and goats) into warm beds with full hearts.

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Loving extravagantly comes at a high price.  Make no mistake.

The potential of losing what you hold most dear is the byproduct of big love.  Crazy love.  The kind of love that is brave enough to ask hard questions when it would be easier to say nothing.  The kind of love that puts all of life on hold because sometimes you don’t get second chances to love right, love in the moment, love completely.  The kind of love that keeps coming back and pressing in, against all reason, simply because a promise made is meant to be kept.

When you love much, the door is flung wide open to scores of abundance and richness that to some remain a lifelong mystery.  But the door is also open to hard goodbyes and loss.  Loving wildly means experiencing loss in most visceral ways.

Audrey read stories to Grandpa and my phone buzzed with texts updating on a soon-to-deliver goat mama at home with the rest of our crew.  Fresh beginnings of life and the inching towards end of life.  All mixed up in one beautiful, perfect day.  If our grandpa hadn’t moved cross country three years ago, we wouldn’t have this gift we have.  This we-love-you-so-much-it-hurts gift.  This constant awareness that our present with him is just that.  To be received, treasured.  Which is just what we’ve done, are doing.  In the best way we know how.

In the quiet sitting, holding hands….”Am I squeezing you to tight?” he asks.  My eyes well up and I tell him not at all, keenly aware that when one day his weathered hands aren’t here to squeeze mine, I will feel a hole in my heart.  The kind of hole that only love leaves.

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The sacred curtain

There is a sort of unseen sacred curtain that exists in life’s defining moments.  Often people are unwilling or simply unable to pull back the curtain.  It is uncomfortable.  Entering in to someone else’s deepest heart pain requires something unique and visceral.  It cannot be contrived.  It is impossible to guess what will unfold, after being brave enough to go there.  It can be ugly.  It can hurt even more.  It can make you angry.  It may not feel “safe” and for sure it won’t feel comfortable.

Just about exactly six years ago, our life forever changed and we encountered devastating loss.  The kind you don’t plan for.  The kind that punches you in the stomach and leaves you face down on the floor.  The kind that paralyzes and forces life to a complete standstill.  Chris’ dad left on a hunting trip as he had countless times.  But he never came home.  A frozen mountain pond took his life on a bitterly cold Wednesday in January of that year.  Chris and a dozen searching ones would look and find him.  His beloved hunting dog still sitting point on the shore, waiting for his master to return.

Loss like this takes years to come back from.  If ever.  I’ve said it before I think, but its rather akin to learning to walk with a limp.  Only it’s your heart that limps instead.  The impact of living through this kind of thing reaches into every corner of your being and changes you forever.  For better or for worse. You decide.  You decide your comeback.  It is terrifying and beautiful it its’ own right.

Part of the fruit that I see, these years later, is a continually growing willingness to sit with others in places that are hard.  When you have been the one to be met and loved in the midst of tragedy, you eventually are able should you choose, to be the one who meets, who loves when others are not able to go there.  Last month I had a friend shoved into a life position she did not anticipate or ask for.  But there she was.  So I sat.  Listened.  Cried.  Loved.  Reached hands out across a table and held.  Just as seven years ago she had held me when my husband was asked to find a new job and the economy was in the toilet and we had a new baby and life felt absolutely too much to bear.  How amazing and stunning is that gift?  To get to love back, give back?  I had no words for it…just an awestruck grateful heart.

Then it was last Friday and I was buzzing around my kitchen.  I was putting food together for a busy weekend and thinking still again of the neighbors just down the hill from here who lost their toddler son the Friday before to the creek that rests between their home and ours.  I knew his funeral was that afternoon and I mourned with them even though I did not know their name.  There is a comradery that exists between mothers and I felt such pain in my heart for her.  As I measured and scooped and cooked, I found myself turning on an extra pot and making another big pot of soup.  This would be for her.  Unknown mother whose name I knew not, whose loss I could not fathom, whose house I drive past every time I go to town.

I would write her a letter…and this is what it would say:

Dear neighbors who live down the hill…I know we’ve never met you, but we wept with you on Friday when they found your son.  I have a daughter the same age as your boy. We cannot begin to fathom your pain.  I hope you are overwhelmed by the kindness and love of friends and family.  I hope you are held up by people who love you, both known and unknown.  I didn’t know what else I could possibly do but make you food.  So here is our favorite soup and our phone number.  If we can do anything for you, please call.

But the writing would be the easy part.  And the making of soup.  The not-easy-at-all part was the finding a brave enough heart to actually get in my car and knock on their door.  What if 15 strangers had already brought them soup and they wanted to be left alone?  What if they had friends and family stopping in all day, each day?  Then came a searing thought.  What if they don’t?  What if everyone is guessing that someone else is making soup and stopping in?  So I grabbed my keys and bag of food and packed up the two kids still at home waiting for us to head to church.  I drove past the house the first time.  Then circled back around and pulled in.  He met me at the door before I could knock.  I told him I lived up the hill, that I’d made them dinner and looked him in the eye and told him I was so sorry for such a great loss as this.  Hands trembling I handed him my love gift over and saw his wife sitting inside.  He said thank you and I said goodbye.  I got in the car shaking and wept all the way to church.

The curtain had been pulled aside and it was scary and holy and precious.  I had come face to face with unspeakable grief so sacred it was almost untouchable.  I could hardly speak.  Chris held me as I choked out the words in the church parking lot.

There is no guidebook for pain like this, no how-to for facing such tragic loss.  But the power of the presence of people and pure kindness offered in the midst of it can sometimes make all the difference in the world.  Being brave enough to enter in and dwell with someone who hurts deeply, is one of the great riches of life.

A far away love

I handed her the paper in the living room after dinner, “You need to read this” I simply said.  I’d been waiting for hours to give it to her, knowing full well what it would mean to her, how the words would make their mark, knowing I had no choice but to show it to her.  She glanced at it and knew right away.  She didn’t even finish reading it.

Rylee has been writing Fatuma, her sponsored Compassion child,  for seven years.  They almost share a birthday but they’ve shared many words, colored pictures and family photos over the last several years.  In the beginning I wrote the letters.  She dictated to me what to say and I wrote.  She would color or sign her name.  But these past few years, she writes herself and shares life and love with her precious “sister” in Kenya.

A year and a half ago she came to me and asked if she could forego birthday and Christmas gifts and save money towards her years long dream of going to visit Fatuma and meet her face to face.  And that’s exactly what she’s done.  She opened a bank account and together with her brother also started an egg selling business to save enough money for a ticket to Kenya.  She is close to the amount required for a ticket.  Next year was the year we planned to go.

So when the letter came, the one that said Fatuma’s parents had taken her out of the program and she could no longer be our sponsor child, it absolutely broke her sweet heart.  She started to cry and she did not stop for the rest of the evening.  I even made her favorite cookies.  She tried to smile and said a quiet “thank you”.  But then returned to her spot on the couch where she rested her head for the evening.  On her own initiative her little sister brought her out a birthday gift, one she’d bought with her own money, three weeks early, to give in hopes it would ease the sadness.

Who will make sure she is ok?  Can we still go see her next year?  The questions came through the tears.  Will she have enough to eat?   Why did they take her out of the program?  Is there any way we can find her?

Hard questions.  Ones I couldn’t answer.  It took me two days to think I was ready to call Compassion and ask them for any more info they might have.  Turns out I wasn’t ready at all.  Our hearts are so intertwined with this sweet girl far away.  I choked out questions and the young thing on the phone had no idea what to do with my tender heart.  She read from the file on the computer.  She answered the same questions twice.  She listened.

There was nothing that could be done.  The workers had gone to her house, she was well but her parents simply had made a decision.  We could write one final letter.  And that would be all.  Rylee’s trip in September of next year that she had painstakingly saved for, would not look like the in-person reunion she had dreamed of.   And she would have to wonder if her friend across the world was finding her way all right.

As we brushed shoulders in the kitchen and she crumbled in my arms again,  I got this beautiful, heart-twisting glimpse of what real love looks like.  And just like I wrote in my last post, it hurts.  It hurts to love hard.  There is cost beyond what you can possibly calculate to loving with abandon.

“God’s still good right?”  I whispered.  Yes.  All the time.  Always good.  Not the good I’d choose of course.  But always good.  “If we didn’t care about her so much, this wouldn’t be such a loss.  Don’t doubt for a minute that God has a plan for you, for your journey, for everything.  We just have to ask and wait.  He’ll show us.”

Love and loss go together.  Today at lunch as kids admired my pendant necklace, the one with one of Grampy’s ties encased in it, they asked about him.  It’s been five years this month.  Five years since my husband returned from the search and rescue mission to find his father in the mountains.  Audrey was a baby then.  She asked lots of questions and pondered how very hard it must have been for her daddy to find his father frozen by the lake.  I’ve held the necklace between my fingers dozens of times today.  Wishing he were here to do silly things with our kids, to be proud of who his son is, to love my cooking and pour me another glass of sparkling cider.

Looking back to summer

Yesterday it seemed like the sun might set at 3:30 in the afternoon, the sky was black and ominous and promised showers but it was bone dry outside.  I nuzzled a soft baby head and felt a pang of nostalgia wash over me.  It feels like summer just ended last week, then our daughter was born and here I am knee deep in dark, wet days.  Some quick math tell me Liberty is almost 10 weeks old so I must be off somewhere…oh how my mind wants to cheat and steal when it comes to time.

Just before the actual sunset, spectacular beams of light burst through the trees and lit up our patch of land.  The sky was still so dark.  But somehow light was finding its way through.  It was so dramatic and so stunning, I made the kids come outside and see it before the light disappeared.  Writing about it makes me think of sweet friends who we were privileged to share life with last year at church and in our home group.  They abruptly moved to Arizona in August in pursuit of treatments that might help Bryan’s aggressive melanoma.  The road they are walking, at just freshly past 30 years old and with two young kids, makes my face pale.  Talk about darkness in the light of day.  Talk about needing light to burst through and find its way.  Talk about wanting to steal time.  Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder why things like that happen.  It is anything but fair.

My reaction to thinking about them yet again is twofold…first prayers for the miracles they need.  And second is calculating all that lies around me – a sacred, precious, puking mess.  Three days in with a wicked stomach virus that has completely taken over.  As I sat with Finn yesterday on my lap, killing time until bedtime by watching tractor movies on youtube, I breathed his smell in deep.  I rested my weary head on his sweaty neck and remembered the highlight of his summer as he chatters on about each John Deere he sees on the screen.  It was this:

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He could sit on my lap and stare at that picture for ten minutes.  And believe me, there isn’t much that keeps him busy for ten minutes!  Its been two and a half months and he still asks every time we drive that directions, “Can we go to the fair mama?”.  I thought doing the fair, nine months pregnant, with five other children might just do me in.  And it may have come close.  But oh the happy in his voice when he talks about it, remembers with me, the insane crazy fun we had practically living at the fairgrounds for six straight days.

Bedtime finally came and we did the same heartbreaking routine every night these days:

Mama (at his bedside): Finn, what song should I sing with you?

Finn:  No, I don’t want you to go mama, I want to sleep WITH you.

Mama:  How about I pick a song?  (I do, and I start to sing)

Finn (big brown eyes brimming with sadness): Oh mama, no, please don’t leave me.

Over and over again.  If I start to cry, like I did tonight, I leave sooner than later because there is a baby to feed and other kids that need tucking in.  I promise him that I’ll see him in the morning and that when the sun comes up, I will be there.  And I think again of our friends in Arizona and how much I want their sun to come up and their too-long-night to be over.  Every single day – even our puke-filled ones or the ones where all your kids are in hysterics at the grocery checkout or the ones where all your life’s efforts don’t seem to count for anything or any other kind of less than lovely day – is such a tender gift.  To be prized, tucked away and treasured.  Tomorrow is not promised to us, today is what we have.

The day Charlie ate my Bible

It was Fajita Friday.  I had emailed my mom requesting Taco Friday (since it was already Wednesday when I asked for the impromptu convening of our extended family over Mexican food) but she said Taco Friday didn’t sound nearly as fun as Taco Tuesday and since it was Friday she would have to rename it Fajita Friday.  I was happy to oblige especially if it meant seeing my sisters and parents.

We managed to leave the house 20 minutes early and still somehow got to dinner 30 minutes late.  Friday night traffic was dismal.  But then there were cousins and fajitas and all was wonderful.  We left before anyone had a giant meltdown and no one broke anything.

I shoved our front door open, loaded with random bags and a purse and two sweatshirts and various other things we did the inevitable dump on the floor, run to the bathroom, throw on jammies, grab a quick snack, pretend to brush our teeth….all the required happenings when we get home past bed time.  It was then I noticed the school room door was shut.  That was odd, it’s always open with the baby gate shut.

Timidly, I nudged the door open.  My hand covered my mouth without thinking and I walked away.  Our 10 month old (60 pound) teenager of a dog, Charlie had been locked (by a child who shall remain nameless) in the school room for several hours.  He is never left unattended inside the home.  And he had been very bored.  Obviously.  I beckoned Caleb to come see, the carpet was barely visible through the carnage.

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The day after…

As Caleb and I peered in over the baby gate unwilling to even enter the mess, I saw for just a fraction of a second what looked to be the empty cover of my Bible surrounded by shreds of paper in all directions.  My head spun around and the rest of me followed running up the stairs in a desperate plea for back-up.

I shut myself in my bedroom while everyone inspected the dismal situation of our “older kids and adults only” school room.  The room where I tuck myself on the short, squat couch every morning in the dark and give my day, my life, my everything to Jesus and trust that He’ll meet me there.

The weeping that ensued was unlike tears I have shed for several years.  While you may wonder why I was completely out of my mind over a book that I can replace at my leisure you must first understand that it was not just a book.  For the first time in my life, over this past season, that brown soft book with paper thin pages has been more alive than I have ever known it to be.  I’ve wondered why that is, having grown up with it always near and hearing it every Sunday.  But the wondering hasn’t answered any questions and I’ve simply resolved that maybe it is only my desperate need for it to BE alive that it finally is.  I don’t really know.

My kids walked timidly toward my bed and even upon their entrance I couldn’t pull myself together one iota.  They whispered quiet words, they so sensed the sacred.  Indeed, it was the sacrilege of seeing the words of the title page “the Holy Bible” ripped and wrinkled and lying in a heap of what only looked like trash, that so undid me.  But far beyond that was the reality that I’d purchased that specific, one column Bible so I could write in the margins, bought special pens that wouldn’t leach through the fragile paper.

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And write I had.  Every insight that God spoke to my heart all those dark mornings, every verse that inspired awe or the like was carefully underlined, the major themes I was seeing emerge were circled in a special color.  I choked out what I could to a glassy eyed daughter who rested her hand on my back,

Those words, that book, it is life to me.

Hence the sting so deep.  It wasn’t replaceable.  It cannot be bought.  It has come at a price that I’ve paid morning after morning fighting the strong urge to stay in my warm bed but getting up anyway because I was learning there was something I needed more than sleep, something that would seep into the marrow of my life and not leave me unchanged.

An hour passed before I could catch my breath.  Fajitas were a distant memory and my sleeves were soaked with mascara and tears.  It had so completely caught me off guard.  It was happy low-key Friday one minute and the next minute the whole evening had unraveled.  Even a year ago I would have been bummed and felt bad but my reaction would never have been even close to similar.

This train of thought started me down the “well then, why couldn’t this have happened last year and my new Bible been spared along with all my tenderly penned words?”.  That train never takes me anywhere good, so I hopped off quick.  Upon further thought, maybe my takeaway is simply this…

Perhaps those words that are life are meant to be written on my heart instead.   And my guess is that if I come back and start over with fresh, new, un-chewed pages…He will still have things to show me that will change my life.

I am counting on it.  That is my life theme this season.  Counting on God to do all I can’t, fill in where I lack so much, to do impossible things in the lives of people I love so deeply, to come through for me in my great need for Him.  He does not disappoint.  He does not fail to come through.  For that I am exceedingly grateful.

When Christmas is sad

It’s impossible not to feel a pang of guilt getting to wake up this morning, snuggle my kids on the couch and spend the morning making Christmas treat bags for our neighbors when there are parents planning funerals for their kids who are the same ages as these pajama-clad ones around my living room.  Impossible.

A decade or so ago I remember being twenty-something and pondering with a fairly light, optimistic heart that indeed Christmas must be sad for many but it surely was only joy for me.  I would think kind thoughts, do kind things and pray for those who must know sadness this time of year.  But the people I loved that were synonymous with holiday tradition, happy moments and love were all still alive….my parents weren’t divorced so I didn’t know what “splitting Christmas” or “trading off” looked like….I’d never truly gone without a basic need met.

As the years passed though, beloved grandparents died, friends dear to me had to navigate the challenges of broken families and so many different places to go every December to appease everyone, and our growing family made it just till payday on our food stamps balance more than once.

Then just a few years ago only 4 weeks after Christmas, Chris’ dad died on a hunting trip.  Our whole-family-Christmas photos were fresh from the photography studio and I was sure we had at least another decade or two of our Christmas Eve traditions.  Eleven months later my oh-so-precious Grandma who’d flown in for the festivities had a stroke the day after Christmas and passed away just before New Year’s.

The heavy weight of loss, the burden of sadness that threatens to completely overwhelm has so many times seemed just too much.  I can only imagine it seems that way to mama’s in Connecticut who already had gifts wrapped to put under the tree for their sons or daughters.

Just too much.

The brightness of the season dims a little (or maybe a lot).  And though we celebrate fully and delight in the gift of Jesus, sometimes the night is a little too silent.  Sometimes there is a face we want so badly to behold, a lame joke told that we’d love the chance to laugh at, a velvet soft Grandma-hand that we long to squeeze, a giggle we would give anything to hear, a baby-belly that was supposed to be growing – and that these things are missing?  Deep sadness.  There’s just no way around it.

Last night the weight pressed so heavy and I took so many deep breaths, kids stung with words and I ate dinner alone in my room.  I tucked myself in under the covers as if that would ease the hurt, take away the sense of loss I felt so acutely.  But it didn’t.  Nothing does.

Nothing but a quiet whisper under the darkness, under the sadness.  A whisper of love.  His words that are life to me, ringing in my mind “The Lord is near to the broken  hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)  It’s all I can do to believe those words for the families across the nation attending memorial services instead of Christmas parties.  And to believe it for me in my own sense of loss.

There is no way to know if the people who live on my street or the ones who live on yours have their own stories of sadness, but I’m pretty sure most of us do.  And one way I’m learning to lift my heart up is to love, to do something thoughtful or fun no matter how much I don’t feel like it.  Today it was putting together Christmas treat bags with goodies we made and cards the kids drew themselves, for each house on our street.  Most we’ve met, some we know.  There is something lovely and beautiful about spreading kindness.  In the process of blessing, we are blessed.

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When church hurts

My sister is nearing the home stretch in her third pregnancy, I guess I could certainly count on her to give me a good description of uncomfortable.  But I’ve been mulling over a different sort of uncomfortable.

It has been close to four years (gasp, really?  is that possible?) since our decade long stint serving and working full time in the church setting came to a close.  Our family and friends, our whole life truly was wrapped up in a place that we loved.  We were known.  We belonged and it felt good.

Dealing with the grief and loss in and after that season was very onion-like, we would deal with one thing only to realize there was still more.  Some of it I hated because my heart hurt so bad I couldn’t see straight and some was so sacred, so holy that I relished it for what it was.  After a hiatus from church altogether, we visited a dozen church one summer anticipating ‘fun’ and ‘variety’.  Hmmmm, there would be many words to describe it but fun it was not.  We were strangers, visitors, unknown nobodies.  Sometimes we were welcomed and directed and sometimes we were chastised for sitting in the wrong spot.

When we left our long time church home, our place of comfort and community, one of the whispers that God kept speaking to my heart was this:

You will never again be as comfortable as you were here.

I was tempted to be bitter and angry.  But I had done bitter and angry plenty already and the fruit was sour.  I refused to sign up for more on purpose.  I let the words sit in my heart and simply waited.  As the months passed and the fog of sadness lifted a bit I began to see the down side of being comfortable…

  • it was special and felt good to walk into a place and know that everyone knew who I was but somehow I forgot that not everyone felt that way
  • it was hard to find the courage to try new things or dream different dreams because the draw of stability when you have kids in your life is a very strong draw
  • staying put is (often) easier than stepping out
  • living in a nest-like cocoon of community can be a bubble that leaves you out of touch with the world around you

I began to understand that my comfort had often brought along with it complacency.  In order for me to realize that a change was imperative, my world needed to fall apart.

And it did.  What first felt like I-can’t-breathe gave way to maybe-I-can-get-dressed-today which later led to we-all-might-survive-this-just-possibly.  But the sense that we were headed for a different walk, a different sort of path was something I could not shake as we moved forward.

In the past two years we’ve been part of a new place of fellowship.  It has felt like home.  It’s been precious and encouraging and has built us up.  We know we are supposed to be there.  But like any place where a bunch of imperfect people get together, there is hard stuff.  There are challenges that are uncomfortable.

This time however, I am determined to do better at living in that middle place where I can “take my shoes off” but I’m not so at ease that I don’t see the needs all around me.  I have been gifted with children who don’t all perfectly fit in with their peers and this is indeed a monumental gift.  It forces me to be sensitive and aware in ways I would not normally be.  I am learning to welcome the feeling that things aren’t quite right because that means there is room for improvement and that means that I get to watch things happen that are beyond my ability.  I love that.

Why mess is worth it

Ten months ago following the oh-so-sudden and tragic loss of Chris’ dad the year before, his mom moved across the country to live with his sister.  The reasons were many and they were good.  But no amount of good reasons made it easy, for her or us.

That’s the thing about change.  It hurts.  Even when you understand it and know it has to be that way.  Life has kept her there and us here over almost a year now.  And when she’d been a brief drive away for our entire marriage, that feels like an eternity some days.

Add into the mix our five kids, us moving, her getting sick and so on and so on…..it’s been hard to get a moment on the phone to catch up.  Phone time for me is scarce.  The time change is one more dynamic.  I actually set my alarm to get up an hour early today so I could call her and my grandpa back east before the kids were up.  But one quick snooze button later and I was snoring away until a little voice beckoned me for breakfast.

Usually I keep my crew of learners reigned in until they’ve completed at least some of their school work.  But I felt this burning need to have a conversation with the mother of my husband more than my duty as teacher.  So I grabbed my coffee, went somewhere quiet and talked.  To say it was what both our hearts needed is an understatement.

All that transpired elsewhere in the house and yard during that half hour seemed a pitifully small price to pay for time well spent.  Her voice was lighter when we said goodbye.

I tallied up the damage and all told, I still say it was worth it.  Sometimes that’s the nature of life and learning and love and little people…..

A huge bowl of dog food AND dog water all dumped and mixed onto the kitchen floor by a crafty one-year-old.

A little girl outside in footie jammies without boots leaving permanently mud colored feet.

A pile of puppy poo on my favorite rug.

A baby toy gnawed to bits by same puppy.

A bathroom door left open and a little boy who just can’t help but throw toys into the toilet.

The remains of my mug of coffee poured out onto white carpet AND into a box of puzzle pieces.

A box of dumped out and unattended toys.

Jelly remnants on the counter from self-serve breakfast goers.

Yes, all that.  And yes, still so totally worth it.

We have today

Its an early Friday morning and I wish I could press fast forward and skip the emotions that I know are coming my way.  I feel like the day is going to take me and probably kicking and screaming (inside).

I’ve planned every detail, lined up a new babysitter to help us, said yes to my mom’s offer to help and packed snacks and lunch.  I wake them up early and we get on the road.  It’s not like we haven’t done the drive before, the one to Grammy and Grampy’s.

But we haven’t done it enough.  And that’s the reality that grinding into my heart.  Though it isn’t really sudden, more like a year in the making since Grampy didn’t come home from hunting last January, it feels like it came out of no where.

As we make the hour-long drive, Rylee asks out of the blue “Why didn’t we ever walk on the trail with Grammy and Grampy?  You know, the one that goes behind their house?”.  I can almost hear my own heart break and wait to speak until I can trust that my voice will work.

“We didn’t ever find a time – it never worked out.  We figured we’d do it eventually but then…”  My words trail off and choke out because I can’t find the right ones and there are no words just tears.  Silent ones as I hold it together while the babysitter sits next to me in the van and probably wonders what on earth I’m talking about.

Grammy moved across the country last week.  The house is bare and empty when I walk in alone to feed baby Finn.  Its a shell that used to hold our family.  Our memories.  I sit on the carpet and snuggle the only baby we’ve had that he never met, never kissed, never held.

And now all I see is how the walls are white and I never noticed that before.  A view of the mountain that I swear I hadn’t fully taken in until today.  More trees for boy climbing than I remember.

We sort through the last loads of belongings and put them all where they need to go.  Kids find treasures, climb trees and go for a walk.  I just keep breathing.  Until I find something that takes my breath away, which happens more than once.  Is he really gone?  Do we really not get another chance to talk, to laugh, to eat, to love?

We don’t.  And the sting of death, of loss and of I-wish-we-would-have________, presses hard on my heart and I literally feel like I’m gasping for air.  I was sure we had dozens more Christmas Eve’s to spend there drinking endless sparkling cider and sharing gifts.  But this December someone else will live there and make those memories with their own family.  And ours will be spread out over a couple thousand miles.

Pat phrases and empty lines don’t seem to really cut it.  Chin up, press on, don’t waste your time looking back.  Can’t change the past.  Only thing you can change is the future.  Make the most of today. While they may be true, they don’t fill in the empty places.

I know its not lovely to say, but sometimes I think we’re supposed to hurt.  We’re supposed to look back and grieve that we didn’t do something just right.  That we missed a chance to love.  It’s the hurt that changes our today. We get another chance today to do life just a bit different even if we can’t go back and make yesterday better.

It truly is utterly beautiful the way it works.  God is so good, inherently, completely good in the way he orchestrates all of life.  But there are days like my Friday that force me to look hard for that truth.  And I think that’s okay.

It’s been hard to keep counting.  But even if the list is small, I’m still trying…

#473 – beautiful berries

#474 – the privilege of carrying someone else’s burden

#475 – rain and water and green everywhere…even though its supposed to be summer

#476 – today