My Word for 2018. Renew.

For the last few years, instead of setting specific resolutions, I have chosen a word.  That word becomes my focus for the year.  For 2017 my word was hope.  And, oh, how I needed that word.  There were so many moments that I needed to make a very conscious decision to not become hopeless.

It has been a month since Daddy died.  Also, a month since I learned some hard truths. It is also the holiday season.  To say that all of this has been a lot is an understatement.  My head is still spinning.  And so, it has been more of a challenge to choose a word for 2018 than previous years.  Leaving 2017 behind also means leaving behind the last year I had my Dad here with me on earth.  That’s overwhelming.  I haven’t fully processed everything that has happened.  Although I am still full of big hope, I am also still very broken.  So words like “healing” or “restoration” continued to pop in my head as possibilities.  But they didn’t feel right.  Restoration was close.  But not quite.

I reached out to Mom and Gynny and shared my issue with the word restore.  Restore is a great word.  Except restore means to bring back to former condition.  I will never again be the person I was before Dad got sick.  I am forever changed.  Mom responded back with a word.  And like moms tend to be from time to time ;-), she was right.

RENEW.

I read through the definitions of the word renew and they were beautiful.  To resume after an interruption.  Yes.  To give fresh life or strength to.  Yes.  To replace something that is worn out or broken.  YES.  All of those things.  That is what I need to focus on in 2018.

2017 held the most intense losses and gains.  I’m coming out of it a little dazed.  Kevin shared an analogy with the kids to help them understand.  He said, “Imagine if you were in a deep sleep in the middle of the night, and we abruptly came in your room, turned on bright lights, shook you awake and asked you loud questions.  It would be hard to give answers.  Because you would be tired, and you would be confused about what just happened.  You’d need a minute to gather yourself so you could focus.  That’s what just happened to Mommy.  She’s going to need some time to gather herself after all that has happened.”  He described it perfectly.  That’s exactly where I’m at.

In 2018, I will hold on to the hope I chose in 2017 and also focus on a time of a renewal.  I don’t know what surprises 2018 will hold.  I’m actually sort of hoping for a really boring year.  I could use one of those! I do know that nothing that happens will be a surprise to God.  I also know He is sufficient.  And that’s all I really need to know.

2 Corinthians 4:16, “That’s why we are not discouraged. No, even if outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are being renewed each and every day.”

Happy New Year, friends.  What’s your word?

 

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Let’s put it all out there…

All right, friends.  Imagine me inviting you to plop down on my worn out couch in front of the Christmas tree.  You’ve got your blanket.  You’ve got your coffee.  Make yourself at home.  Are you imagining it?  Good.  Because we need to have a chat.  It’s going to feel a little like ripping a band-aid on my end, but for as long as I’ve been blogging I’ve had strong convictions about transparency.  That hasn’t changed.  I need to put all of this out there, shunning the temptation to keep secrets, because there is no way I can move forward until I’ve done it.

Monday, November 27th, after driving 18 hours straight, we arrived in Tampa to be with Dad.  I knew time was short, but I had no idea when we showed up at the hospice house that night that he would be with Jesus just about 28 hours later.  He was in rough shape and completely non-verbal, but the kids still got to see Grandpa one last time.  I will forever be grateful God gave them that moment.  I told him I was there.  He had his girls all together just like he liked it.  I told him we were going to Gynny’s to sleep and would be back in the morning.

Tuesday, November 28th we got a text from Mom.  She let us know the nurse said it was a “Call into work sick.” Kind of day.  She couldn’t give a timeline, but it was certainly time to call in the family.  Gynafer ran to work to let them know what was going on and Kevin dropped me off at the hospice house while he entertained the kids.  I walked in the door wearing my Incredible Hulk shirt.  The one so many of us wore 32 months before, the day of dad’s brain surgery.  Mom was wearing hers, too.  I’ll always think it was so fitting that we wore those shirts when Dad went to surgery and then again when he went to heaven.  I sat down and grabbed Daddy’s hand.

“You did everything right by your Dad, Jesika,” Mom said to me, “But we didn’t do everything right by you.  He’s not your biological father.”

I tried to catch my breath.  She began to explain missing puzzle pieces of my life that I didn’t even know were missing.  I tried to take it all in, but there was no time to really process.  What I knew was that my Daddy was dying.  That he needed to know I would be okay.  So I told him.  I told him I wasn’t mad and that I love him.  I told him that he was the best Daddy.  I told him that I loved him even more knowing that he chose me when he didn’t have to.  That he signed my birth certificate, and gave me a last name.  That he showered me with the kind of love that only the very best dads give, and that it all meant that much more knowing he didn’t have any obligation to.  We just knew that’s why he had been holding on.  Fighting.  He just needed the truth to come out.  But he didn’t die, friends.  He got worse.

The day continued and people filtered in and out.  I whispered words to my husband that I hadn’t even yet accepted for myself.  I told him we would deal with it later.  I needed to stay put.  But, oh, my sister.  I can’t begin to explain the anxiousness I felt wanting her to know what was going on.  The heavy burden I felt that day, knowing something she needed to know, was brutal.  And that was one day.  I can’t imagine the weight my parents felt keeping that secret for so many years.  Day turned into night and Daddy’s condition continued to deteriorate.  It was so hard to watch.  He just kept fighting.  He would not let go.  Even the nurses were baffled.  “Are you sure he doesn’t have ANY unfinished business?”  They asked us over and over again.  We thought the hard thing had been done and we couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t rest.

Late in the evening as the hospice house quieted the nurse asked us if we would consider stepping out.  She said sometimes people don’t want to die in front of their loved ones.  They want privacy.  Off to the common area we went.  Still nothing.  We were broken.  Of course we didn’t want to ever let Dad go.  But we didn’t want him to be in the condition he was in either.  And we knew a place with no more cancer and no more pain awaited him.

Mom went back in to be with Dad.  Later I followed.  Mom’s entire outlook had changed.  She said she felt hope that this could still turn out beautiful.  We could still have a good ending.  She had big faith.  We talked a little about Gynny still not knowing the whole truth.  Mom said, “Go get her.”  So I did.  I can’t tell you Gynny’s story in all of this because it’s Gynny’s story to tell.  But I can tell you the admiration I had for her as we sat around Dad’s bedside and mom told her the hardest truths.  She had so much grace to give.  And finally together, no secrets kept, we sat around Daddy, the whole feeling in the room having changed.  Gynafer grabbed one of his hands, I grabbed another, Mom sat at his feet rubbing his legs.  And everything suddenly became beautiful.  We said to Dad, “You did it, Daddy.  You did a good job.  You go get your healing now.”  We told him he was the best, and he just really, really was.  I told Dad that we’ve got this.  We can take it from here.  But it’s only because of everything he instilled in us.  I thanked him for changing my life.  Mom told him that even if it was less time than she wanted, the love they shared was more than some ever experience and she was grateful.  Gynny told him that she was afraid to do life without him, but she was going to do it afraid.  Because that’s what he would want.  We sang to the Lord.  We thanked God for Daddy’s life and the legacy he would leave behind.  Daddy’s color changed.  His face changed.  His breathing changed from frantic to slow.  Slower and slower.  And then no more.  And friends, I’m so sorry if this sounds morbid, but it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  The nurse was right, he did have unfinished business.  In true Pete fashion, Daddy needed to know all three of his girls would really be okay before he let go.  Always, always taking care of us.  What a privilege to be loved that way.

In an effort to prepare myself, I had imagined a lot of scenarios for how all of this would play out.  I imagined a scenario in which I felt inconsolable.  I imagined a scenario in which I felt afraid.  I imagined a scenario in which I felt peace.  But it never occurred to me that in my Daddy’s going home I would feel joy.  Since Dad got sick I struggled with the scripture that said, “Oh death where is your sting?” Because Daddy’s decline was devastating.  But I get it now.  No sting.  None.  There was nothing more true in that moment than the fact that my Dad was in heaven. Cancer free.  Rejoicing.  Even the nurse commented on the feeling in the room when she walked in.

This is where I’m at now.  Daddy is irreplaceable and he is gone from this earth.  I am grieving that.  A lot.  Especially at Christmas.  I will never again experience the type of relationship I had with my dad.  I will have to wait until we reunite in heaven.  There has not been a day since November that I have gone a full day without crying because I miss him so much.  If you have adopted, or have been adopted, then you know that DNA differences didn’t make Pete Ortiz not enough.  I have no Daddy-shaped voids in my heart that need filling.  My heart is full.  He was more than sufficient and there is nothing I would change.  I am so thankful God let me be his daughter.  That being said, there is a biological family out there who I have been in contact with.  To my surprise, they have all known about me, all wondered about me, and they have been incredibly patient and kind in riding this roller coaster with me these past few days.  I am going to find space in my heart and in my life for them.  I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet.  That’s okay, too.  We’ll get there.

As time has gone on, I’ve had more opportunity to process all of this.  It has been hard.  I’m nowhere near okay yet.  But I have great confidence that God will make it beautiful because He always, always does.  And that great faith is the reason why I didn’t want to wait and share all of this until after I’ve come out okay on the other end.  I wanted to share this while I still don’t have it all figured out so that people can watch God do what only He can do.  I have a lot of questions, a lot of things I need to work out.  In a lot of ways I’m unsure of who I am.  But I know exactly WHOSE I am.  I know that none of this surprises God.  I know that He is good and so whatever He allows is also good.

Thank you for sticking it out with me and letting me share my truth.  I want to continue to be transparent, open, and honest about what is happening.  But I also hope you’ll be patient with me as I continue to process and move forward.  Our family covets your prayers and appreciates your support!

 

Christmas without Daddy

Dad died right in between my birthday and my sister’s birthday.  Crazy, right?  Almost like, if he knew it was going to have to happen around this time, he wanted to make sure it was as fair as possible.  It has made for some weird moments.  Like my sister’s birthday lunch- Mom, Gynny, and I accompanied by an empty chair at our table for four that screamed reminders that things will never be the same.  Like coming home from Florida with a Happy Birthday sign still hung up in my house.

I am stumbling my way through the holidays without an earthly father.  I am finding an odd combination of Christmas cards and sympathy cards in the mailbox each day.  I am listening to the kids squeal with joy when we drive by Christmas lights and then suddenly sobbing because Dad would have loved that someone had an Incredible Hulk inflatable in their yard and I can’t even text him a picture of it.  There is a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about the approaching new year and what it will mean to enter into it with Dad only in it as a memory.  There are so many things to work through.  And right now, Dad’s the only one I want to talk to about any of it.

It has been almost three years since the doctor said the word incurable.  We have had so much time to prepare.  But navigating grief has been more complicated than I imagined, especially during this time of year.  I suppose though, it would have been hard no matter what time of year it happened.  I also suppose that there is something beautiful about it happening during a time that is full of reminders that there is hope.  That my weary world can rejoice.  That the birth of a Savior meant death would lose it’s sting.  That God, who sent His son into the world with an audience of stinky animals and awkward shepherds, certainly isn’t afraid of my awkward mess.

It is hard to Christmas shop and wrap presents.  It is hard to put myself in social situations or even to make eye contact with the Walmart cashier, really.  It is hard to remember to wash my hair or to stay on top of the kids’ homework.  But it is not hard to remember these simple truths:  God is good.  God is enough.  He was faithful to take my Dad’s pain away and make him whole in heaven.  He will be faithful to walk me through the rest of the way.  I am unsure of so much….but I am so incredibly sure of God’s sufficiency.  I’m leaning into that confidence and taking one slow, unsteady step at a time.

 

Daddy

On November 29, 2017 at 3:52 a.m. Daddy went to be with Jesus.  There are so many stories about this past couple of weeks that prove that God has been with our family every step of the way.  I am full of gratitude, full of hope, and I even feel deep joy.  But I’m also sad and tired and I miss my daddy terribly.  So I’ll just leave this blog with the words I had the privilege of nervously speaking at his Celebration of Life Service:

 

In April of 2015 I flew to Tampa to see my dad in the hospital.  He had just had a seizure.  He was preparing to have brain surgery.  But there was not a drop of despair in that room.  The joy of the Lord was my daddy’s strength.  It was his great faith and confidence in the Lord that peaked a nurse’s curiosity.  She said she couldn’t understand how my dad continued to have so much joy.  He told her about God’s goodness.  He told her that no matter how it turned out, it was a win/win situation, because to live is Christ and to die is to gain.  Because of Daddy, that nurse accepted Jesus, right there in the hospital room.  Even from a hospital bed, God was changing people’s lives through my dad.  What happened with that nurse wasn’t even a surprise.  Because stuff like that happened all the time with Dad.  There are a million stories just like that one.  It was just who my father was.

Not only did my dad have great faith, he also reflected great love.  It was never difficult for me and Gynny to grasp God’s unconditional love, because Dad did such a good job of being that representation in our lives.  If God had not put us together as a family, I know I would not be who I am today.  So many people have that in common with me, Dad’s love changing them for the better.  He made everyone he knew feel like family.  He was always ready to offer care, support and encouragement.  He was so easy to love in return.

Scripture shares an account of Moses and the Israelites wandering through the desert.  They had been liberated from Egypt and knew a promised land awaited them but they didn’t know when or how they’d arrive.  I’m sure it was a longer journey than any of them initially imagined.  But God was enough.  Every single day he provided enough manna for the Israelites to eat.  Every single day they would wake up and have to trust Him to sustain them again.  That is what God has done for our family.  In these last 2.5 years God has sustained us in such a beautiful way.  Each day he gave us just enough and NOTHING less.  And we have learned what it means to go to bed each night with nothing extra left to give, but still full of confidence that God would provide again when morning came.  I am thankful for the way God sustained my dad until the day he finally entered the Promised Land.  I am confident that God’s goodness will continue to sustain our family until we meet dad in the Promised Land.

Because my dad was such a great man, because he loved us all so well, his absence is profound and hard and we grieve deeply.  But because of who Jesus is, we grieve with great hope.  We know that heaven is coming.  Before my Dad died he told me not to worry because we would all be together soon.  And because of Jesus, that is true.  As Revelation 21:4 says, One day He will wipe every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the old things have passed away.”  And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  For my dad it is now true that the old things have passed away and God has made things new.  As his daughter, I ache.  But as his sister in Christ, I rejoice.

 

 

 

Bryson’s 9th Birthday Letter

Bryson Alexander,

I was only five weeks pregnant when we told Grandma and Grandpa that you were on your way.  They were both so excited! No sooner had I gotten the word “pregnant” out of my mouth did Grandpa started talking about his big love for his grandson.  He just knew you were a boy.  There were no doubts in his mind that you were the answer to his prayers.

Bryson's Birth (120) (2014_02_28 06_27_15 UTC)

After 9 months of Grandpa constantly feeding me so his grandson would be born big and strong, you made your appearance.  You were almost 9 pounds! That made him super proud.  You guys were best buds instantly.  Joined at the hip.  Meant to be.  All the cliches.  Every one.  All true.  Bryson, you were born into so much love.  I know right now you’re young enough to think our family is the norm.  But one day you will understand what a blessing it is to be apart of a family that cares for each other the way our family does.   It is rare.

 

I remember those moments.  I remember Grandpa rocking you to sleep in his blue recliner.  I remember him walking hand in hand with you as you toddled along.  I remember you guys playing at the park.  I can still see it.  You tell me all the time that you miss those moments.  I miss those moments for you.  I wish I could make a million more of those moments possible.  I promise to help you remember them.  And I promise you that that kind of love never just disappears.  Love lives on, sweet boy.

You are going into another year as a very loved little boy.  And you give love away just as well as you receive it.  You are full of compassion and kindness.  You are always thinking.   Unless a conversation pertains to video games, you are often quiet.  But when Daddy and I sit you down and ask you about your thoughts, you blow us away.  You’re so insightful.  You think through hard things with great courage.  You speak about the needs of those around us and how we can help fill them with such conviction.  You speak of your dreams to pastor a church with enough property that you can build tiny homes for the homeless members of your church to live.  It is inspiring to watch you dream.  Keep dreaming.

Daddy always says that you look just like him, but your personality is just like me. And he’s right.  The older you get the more you look like your handsome daddy.  Be proud of that.  He’s a good man to look like.  But you are analytical, you have big feelings, and you need time to yourself to process things.  That is just like Mommy.  The truth is, though, you are so much more brave at age 9 than I was.  I admire that deeply.  May your courage and compassion grow with each birthday you have.

Every parent believes their child will grow up to be  a world-changer.  I’m no different.  The thing is, Bryson, if you never accomplish another thing, you have already changed my world for the better.  You’ve changed daddy’s world for the better.  You will be a world-changer, but you also already are.  Thank you for your kindness, for your sweetness, for your strength and for your love.  As a Mommy, I am so grateful that I get to call you son.  And as a daughter to your Grandpa, I am so grateful for the joy you’ve brought to his life.  I’m so thankful for the bond you two have shared.

Thank you for being who you are, Bryson.  I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea.  Happy Birthday, buddy.

Psalm 100:5

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”  -C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It has been two and a half years since grief fell into our family’s lap in the form of my father’s glioblastoma.  The blessing of time in this process has not been taken for granted.  We are thankful.  But also very weary.

In two and a half years I have said way too much, said not enough, said yes when I should have said no, said no when I should have said yes.  I have showed up when I probably should have just stayed home.  I have stayed home and hid when I really should have just showed up.  When your heart is aching, the simple act of making eye contact can be painful.  So, I have spent a lot of time alone.  Except that I’m never really alone.

The thing about this messy process is that it has put a magnifying glass over what I’m made of, how I cope, where I put my trust.  I’ve not always liked what I’ve seen.  But it has also shown me God’s goodness in a way I’ve never seen before.  And that has been beautiful.  I have never been more sure of God’s great love for us.  I have never been more certain of His presence in my life.  I have learned so much and I’m doubtful I would have learned these things without walking through the hard.  There is much to be gained in loss.  God’s kingdom is so beautifully upside down in that way.

There are days that every single phone call is a sad one.  Every bit of news is bad news.  And I have all the big feelings, even on the best days.  It’s the way I’m wired.  So my stomach starts to hurt, my head starts to pound.  My body gets achy and tired.  The weight of grief is something I experience so physically that I often want to crawl in bed and not get up again until this is all over.  My body shuts down.  It says, “Nope.  Too stressful.  Not doing it.”  But you know what my soul does?  It sings.  It confidently declares the goodness of God without fail.  Almost like that’s exactly what it was made to do.  Almost like I don’t even really have a choice in the matter.

We take hit after hit, and it would be easy to wonder where God is in all of this.  To be mad at him.  To decide I have created Him in my mind as a way of coping and turn away completely.  But even when my mind screams that this is bad, even when I’m so weary that my own flesh begins to fail, deep inside of me whispers over and over, “You are good, God.  I’m keeping my eyes on you because you are good.”

I couldn’t doubt His goodness if I tried.

I am so sad about this broken world, but I can’t stop remembering God’s sufficiency.  I don’t wonder where He is in all of this.  I know exactly where He is.  He is in our midst.  Right in the middle of all of this. Even in cancer.  Even in mass shootings.  Even in hurricanes.  When He doesn’t calm the actual storm, He speaks “Peace, be still” to our souls, instead.  If you listen, I promise you’ll hear it.  You’ll hear the reassurance that this isn’t all there is and that we don’t have to handle it by ourselves.  We don’t take one step alone.  Not one.  To sum it all up, I’d make a terrible atheist.

God is in this.  God is for us.  And God is good.

 

Jordyn’s 7th Birthday Letter

Jordy,

We made a very serious pact when you turned four that you wouldn’t get any bigger than you already had.  Enough was enough.  And, somehow, we have found ourselves here.  In four short days, you, my love, are turning seven! Because you are the baby in our home, it is extra hard to let  you go and grow.  You, sweet girl, are one of the best surprises this family has ever received.

In just a week, Jordyn, you will officially be a 2nd grader.  I remember being a 2nd grader, too.  I remember best friends, kids’ choir, trips to the library.  I remember getting to class in a hurry so I could tell my teacher I got baptized.  I remember having my first real argument with a friend- the way hot tears streamed down my face when she stomped on a pretzel in the hallway and announced that was our friendship.  (Don’t worry Jord, we were BFFs again before the day was over.  Girls are complicated.  You’ll see.)  I can’t believe that you are old enough now to have your very own experiences.  Experiences that you may remember when you’re an adult.  I want you to have so many happy memories to look back on.  I cringe when I think of the sad memories you might have, too.  I want so much to give you all of the good things and none of the bad.  Still, I know how important it is to experience both.

There are so many conflicting feelings in motherhood.  Everything inside of me wants to hold on so tight.  I want to keep you close to me.  Keep you safe.  Keep your ears full of kind words only.  Keep your heart unbroken.  And yet, I let you go.  Because I have to.  Because it’s my job to.  Because I would be failing you if I didn’t.  Because there is someone amazing God is growing you into and I will not get in the way of that.  It’s the strangest thing to feel sad in the letting go and, at the same time, to be full of such pride in watching how strong and independent you are becoming.  I love every part of who you are becoming.  I still can’t believe I get to be your mommy.

Jordyn, Daddy and I found out that we were expecting you during a hard season of our lives.  It was so scary to have two toddlers, to find out that we were moving to a state where we didn’t know a single person, and to have to figure out how to do life without our extended family right up the street.  It was even harder to do that with morning sickness.  But you were the most precious gift from God.  Your sweet face made all of that other stuff seem small.  You and your sister and brother were the reason why we were determined to figure out the new life we had been thrown into so quickly.  Seven years ago you were born.  And these seven years have been so much richer because you have been in them.  When you were born, you made every single step  we took just a little brighter.

You still do that. 

You make every sweet moment sweeter.  You make hard moments sting a little less.  And not just for me and Daddy, but for so many other people, too.  You are so good at being compassionate.  You give out love like you have an endless supply of it.  Keep doing that, okay?  If all you accomplish in this life is loving God and loving others well, I will be the proudest mommy ever.  I already am.  No one can convince me otherwise.  Daddy and I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea, Jordyn Elizabeth.  Happy Birthday.DSC_5154-2