Anticipatory Grief is a Selfish Toddler

When I awoke this morning I had exactly zero desire to talk about hard things.  That’s been pretty common lately.  Besides the word vomit my sister and I exchange by phone (how’s that for a visual?!), my mouth stays shut.  When someone says, “How are you?”  My response is usually “Good!”  Not because I’m a liar, but because I am still, in fact, breathing and if someone was able to ask me how I’m doing, it means I managed to make it out of the house to join the real world.  So that IS good.

But anyway, yeah- I had zero desire to talk about hard things.  I’m going to do it anyway.  Let’s discuss anticipatory grief.  Which basically means that you get to experience all the grief that comes with loss before loss actually happens.  You may not have heard of it, especially if you haven’t been in therapy.  You may have heard of it, but not spent a whole mess of time thinking about it.  That was me.  Until 2015.  And if you are a part of my life, you probably know way more about 2015 than I currently wish you did.  It is so important to be vulnerable, to tell the truth, to not walk through things alone.  But that doesn’t mean some times I absolutely hate that people know so much about the ugly in my life.  I’d love to just share the pretty.  But that’s not realistic.

I can’t tell you my daddy’s story the way I want to.  I can’t chronicle his doctor’s appointments or share what happens behind closed doors.  It’s not my story to tell.  But his story is forever interwoven with mine.  And the only way I know to make sense of all this mess is to share my part in it.  Because you might be dealing with hard things, too.  And you might need to remember you’re not alone.  I need that reminder, too.

Along with terms like “anticipatory grief,” I have gained a lot from sitting and saying all the things on a big comfy couch, in a quiet office, sound machine in the background, tissue on the table.  One of the phrases I’ve heard over and over is this- “If you do not deal with your grief, your grief will deal with you.”  I know this to be true.  But I still avoid dealing with it.  It’s been two long years and I’m sick of dealing, so I try to put it away in a box or pretend it’s not there.

But grief, anticipatory or otherwise, demands to be felt.

     Of all the feelings, it’s my least favorite one.  Love isn’t pushy, but even if it was, it feels so great that who cares. Joy is sometimes evasive, needing to be searched for or chosen, but it is never an inconvenience.  Even sorrow can be soothed and rocked quietly back to sleep.  But not grief.  Nope.  Grief is a selfish toddler in full on meltdown mode.  It throws itself on the ground, kicking and screaming because it wants to be heard.  And those tantrums- well, you don’t often see them coming.

I haven’t been dealing with my grief.  And today, my grief dealt with me.  I walked the aisles slowly because it’s not often I get to walk aisles alone.  I thought about the editing I needed to do for a photosession.  I thought about finding time to get some files done for work. I thought about trying to make the popsicle stick bracelets that Layla and I had found a tutorial for.  I did not think about anyone’s cancer or doctor’s appointments or anything else.  I made my way to check out and the cashier said, “A Hulk fan, huh?” as she noticed the bright green bracelet around my wrist.  The one my sister made while Dad was still in the hospital.  The one I wore as he fought through chemo and radiation.  The one I fidgeted with as he told us he had decided not to go that route anymore.  It is so much apart of me that I don’t always notice it’s there- just like my grief.  But as she noticed my bracelet, I noticed my heart ache.  Oh, it hurt.  I shook inside, but smiled and laughed and said “Oh yeah.”  The tears were unavoidable.  But I didn’t want to make this poor lady feel the heaviness of it all.  It’s not her fault I don’t just deal with this stuff.  So I put my head down when I grabbed my bag, made a bee line for the car, and sobbed.

All that to say, I still believe Jesus is the big answer to all this.  It’s just different from what I expected.  Instead of taking it all away, he beckons me to come sit awhile with Him and tell Him all about it.  (Sometimes in a parked car in a parking lot when grief throws it’s latest tantrum.)  Instead of offering me a shortcut through the grieving, he challenges me to feel it, to experience it, and to trust that He is enough in all of it.  There is a lot to learn, but the lessons don’t come easy.  Here’s what I do know though- I call my grief a toddler.  And in watching my own  babies grow at rapid speed, I know that toddlers don’t stay toddlers for long.  They grow, they mature, and they learn how to use their words instead of losing their junk in public.  I’m holding onto hope that my grief will do the same.

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Bryson’s 8th Birthday Letter

Oh Bryson. How did this happen?! You’re so big now!

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I can’t even stand it! In one week you’ll be an 8-year-old and you are growing at a rate that far exceeds my ability to memorize every moment. But I wish I could. Because every moment with you is a gift. You are a gift, bud. Here are some things I want to make sure I don’t forget about your almost 8-year-old self:

-Fridays are your favorite day of the week. Mostly because of your love for video games. You aren’t allowed to play video games on school nights. But on “Fun Fridays” as we’ve begun to call them, we pick up a fun treat on the way home for school and then you get to turn on your Xbox and have at it! It makes you so happy. You’re very gracious about explaining how to play when Mommy grabs a controller and you are good at sharing the games with your sisters, too. You’ve even beat Daddy a couple times! And not even because he let you! You’re just getting really good!

-You like to protect people. Your big sister has come home from school a few times this year feeling frustrated. When you hear that someone has hurt Layla’s feelings, it is unacceptable to you. You say encouraging things to her and then every. single. time. you tell her you want to talk to the people giving her trouble. She gets flustered and says “Bryson, relax, I’ve got  this!” and you say “I’m your brother. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. You tell me if they don’t stop and I’m going to talk to them, Layla!” You are gentle with Jordyn because you recognize she is smaller than you. You use your quiet happy voice when we are taking care of babies. When we cross the street you put your hand on my back and say you’re “keeping an eye” on me.  It comes naturally to you to look after others. That makes my heart so full. The world needs more compassion and compassion just flows out of you. I pray that trait will strengthen and grow the older you get.

-You are brave. When I was your age, I would get nervous when I had to talk to adults.  Daddy was the same way. But not you. The other day at Target you realized someone dropped an ID card on the floor. I told you we should turn it in. You said “I’ll take care of it!” and then walked right up to the woman working in the pharmacy and said “Excuse me, ma’am. I found this card on the floor. Someone lost it. May I give it to you?” and she chuckled at such grown up words coming out of such a little boy. I admire your confidence.

-You are bright. Sometimes you tell me about stories in the Bible that I had no idea you had even read. You come home from school and complete your homework with ease. You race through your work because it all seems to click so well and we are constantly reminding you to slow down when your brain works faster than your pencil. You are learning so much and starting to have your own ideas and thoughts. Never stop sharing them with me. I love listening to you.

-You are still my baby. And I’m thankful for that. You still love hugs and kisses. You aren’t yet awkward about showing affection in front of your friends. I know that won’t last forever, so I am savoring it. A couple of months ago I told you that when you were a baby there was a song that would put you to sleep if I rocked you and sang it quietly. So now, at bedtime, you’ll occasionally ask me if I can sing it to you again. I kneel down at your bed and you grab my hand and put it on your head. I pet your hair and sing you the same song I sang all those years ago. Without fail your eyes get heavy and your arms go limp. If I look hard enough, I can still see the little baby boy I rocked in my arms in the sleepy face of the great big boy that you’ve become. I treasure that.

-You have big dreams. You don’t just say you want to be a Pastor when you grow up. You talk about how your church will have a Lego center for the kids to build anything they want. And there will be a wrestling center close by so that you can still find time to be a pro-wrestler on the side. And if someone needs a place to stay, they can sleep at your church. And you will feed them. And no one will be allowed to say mean things to each other. Those are awesome dreams to have, sweetheart.

Bryson, I love you. But I also like you so, so much. Of course as your Mommy I’m proud of your achievements, but that pride dims in comparison to what I feel when I think about your character and who you are becoming as a person. I pray that more than being bright or successful or safe in your life choices that you will be brave. That you will do bold things without fear. That you will continue to stand up for what is right. That you will always remember that you are so richly blessed so that you may richly bless others in return. That you will love and serve others even when it comes at a high cost. And listen, I realize I’m asking you to live a sacrificial life when as your Mommy my gut instinct is to want to beg God to give you all the things and make your life easy and safe. But the narrow way is better, bud. Trust me on this one. And I promise you’ll never walk it alone. I will never stop being overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to walk with you. Daddy and I love you so much, Bryson. Happy Birthday!

Dear North American Church

Your silence is deafening today.

I am not so much admonishing (I have no place to) as I am begging. I am a part of your body and I am for you, Church. I love and accept you, flaws and all, and you have embraced me from the time I walked into your doors as a child. Sure we made each other uncomfortable at times, but that’s just family. You are my family. So today I am asking you to help.

Our brothers and sisters scream injustice. With tears and anger and fear they declare that they are abused and discriminated against and that their burden here in the United States is heavy. And we, North American church….we are silent.

We do not say “Come!! We are for you! We are with you! Our God is love! The One we serve says that you can leave Him your heavy burdens and that He will give you rest! Let us show you how! Let us go with you!”

We are silent.

And let me tell you what our silence means…

  • We will ignore our God’s command to mourn with those who mourn if we don’t yet have all the evidence.
  • We will not affirm you or your feelings because it might be viewed as anti-police.
  • Your burdens don’t qualify because you have a criminal record, because you have a foul mouth, because your son resisted arrest. We aren’t sure you’re entitled to your feelings.

Have we forgotten the Jesus who saved the woman who was about to be stoned to death by her accusers? Have we forgotten that what he DIDN’T say was “Look, you screwed this one up….it would be awkward for me to defend you now…I mean, your character is questionable…”? Have we forgotten that the cross is full on evidence that sometimes society doesn’t get it right? That sometimes we punish in the name of justice when it is in fact anything but? Have we forgotten that we ourselves are saved by grace, deserving to be cast off and forsaken but instead met with love and mercy? How did we get to this place?

North American Church-one day God will sit on His throne of judgement and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. But right now-He sits on a mercy seat, wanting no man to perish.

Are we reflecting that? Or are we just keeping our mouths shut? Worse-are we requiring people to qualify their pain? Are we saying that their pain doesn’t matter if we cannot relate to it?

Can we stop being silent? Can we be a safe place for the weary to come and lay their heavy burdens? Even the weary black woman who lost her son violently? Even the weary police officer unsure of where they stand? Even the weary felon? Even the weary single mother? Even if you disagree with them? Even if they are messy?

Please?

 

 

 

 

 

He Knows

Once upon a time there was a two week old baby girl who Kevin and I wept for and prayed over while pregnant with our son. We loved her fiercely and longed to provide for her the stability that we knew she needed. “Lord, show us what you want us to do and make a way for us to do it.”

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And He did show us. He did make a way. Because He knew. He knew Layla while she was in her birthmother’s womb. Long before Kevin and I dreamed about building a family, God knew what our family would look like. He knew he would prepare our hearts to be her parents. He knew that, though our abilities were limited, our faith in Him was big and none of what would come after that would ever, ever surprise him.

 

Once God did open the door for us to adopt Layla, it was time for us to take action. We had to step out in faith that He would provide. That He had prepared us. That He would continue to guide us. It was one of the best yeses we have ever said.

That same baby that we wept over and prayed for made her own decision today. Like the decision we made to take a leap of faith and say yes, Layla took a leap of faith and said yes to Jesus. She took action and we are so proud of her.

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I’ll be honest, when Layla told us she wanted to be baptized, I was hesitant. Although I was the same age as Layla when I was baptized, it was different. My family had gone from not serving the Lord to finding Jesus and it changed everything. There was a clear line between before we were saved and after. We were baptized at the same time, shortly after accepting Jesus and it was easy to understand because I knew what it was like to not know Jesus. But from the day Layla came to stay we have told her about who Jesus is to us. How we believe he had perfect plans that lead her to us. Layla doesn’t know that clear before and clear after. Her Mommy and Daddy have known Jesus much longer than she has been alive. She didn’t get to see the way that God changed our lives when we accepted him. I was afraid that because of that, she wouldn’t fully understand what she was doing. And I didn’t want her to make the choice to be baptized simply to please us.

My fears were all for nothing. That sweet girl loves Jesus for herself. She started telling me about how hard it gets when her brain goes too fast and she feels like she needs to calm down and that she talks to Jesus and He always calms her down. She told me how she sings to him in her room at night because she just loves him so much. She has her very own relationship with God. And while I hope we have modeled it well, I am confident that we have not forced it. Today Layla said her very own yes. She was just a tiny baby in need of stability and now she is a big girl making her very own choice to follow Jesus. And I can’t even explain how beautiful it was to watch her Daddy, who became her Daddy because of adoption, participate in Layla’s baptism symbolizing that she is adopted into the family of Christ. Wow.

Recently a hailstorm ripped through our small town leaving softball sized holes in roofs and windows. Our home is not livable and we’ve lost a lot of our belongings. We are in an extended stay for what we hope will only be a month. It has been a roller coaster. But all I can think about is the way heaven is rejoicing today. Nothing else matters in comparison. All I can think about is how important it is to live this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

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God knew her. And God knows us. He knew that the vivacious little girl who grew in our hearts instead of my tummy would make the big choice to follow Him and He knows the plans He has for her. He also knew exactly where my family would be on this day. He knows all about our current trials and current victories.He knows what is coming next. As we continue to strive to store up our treasures in heaven, as we continue to walk alongside our kiddos showing them that God is always, always enough, we find peace in the promise that He knows. Nothing surprises Him. And He is good.

The One Year Mark

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There are these defining moments that happen in life. You don’t have any say over when or how they come. The only thing you can control is your perspective on them. These defining moments change everything and suddenly your life becomes divided into two categories: before this moment and after this moment.

Exactly one year ago today, our family experienced one of those moments.

I sat in the Suburban waiting to pick Layla and Bryson up from school. Jordyn hadn’t yet started school and so her and one of our little Safe Families friends napped in the back. I remember everything. The sky was bright blue and absent of clouds. It was warm until you hit the shade and then there was a tiny chill. The breeze was strong and cool, but the sun shining brightly meant Spring. I was parked in front of the church and waiting for dismissal. There was an extra pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment that I would be extremely relieved to find once the tears started falling. But before the tears, everything was normal. Then my phone rang. It was my sister.

Gynafer and I had a habit of sending each other pins from Pinterest. Sometimes they were silly. Sometimes ridiculously sarcastic. Sometimes mildly inappropriate…sorry….we just think we’re funny. But they were always entertaining. Like this:

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You may not laugh so hard you cry when you read this like my sister and I did. You could be thinking that this just isn’t that funny. But you would be wrong. Gynafer and I wheezed over the phone together with no words exchanged for at least five minutes upon sharing this pin. Just laughter. Pain in your gut, breathtaking, body shaking laughter. Because sisters.

 

 

Obviously when her number flashed across my phone I just knew that she was calling to laugh about the most recent pins exchanged. But that wasn’t what this call was about. This was one of those moments.

Before there were sleepless nights in prayer for Dad or lunches in the hospital. Before oncologists and radiologists. Before HulkStrong hashtags and Faith Over Fear fundraisers. Before all of that, there was the call from my sister. Boom. My life was split between life before that call and life after that call.

I couldn’t will myself back to normalcy. I couldn’t claim my father’s cancer into nonexistence. I couldn’t talk my way or write my way out of this season. Like I said before, you don’t get to choose when or how these life altering moments happen. But you DO get to choose your perspective.

And the perspective that I’m choosing is joy.

One year ago today everything changed. And I am not the same person. I don’t think any of us are. But serving a God who NEVER changes (who is never unprepared or caught off guard) means that, no matter the outcome, it is well. I know this to be true when not an inch of my flesh is in agreement with me.

I have learned so much this year about living in the present and about how there is always something to be grateful for. I’ve learned about God’s sufficiency and life’s fragility. But mostly I have learned that joy isn’t contingent on circumstances. That you can choose joy even in the midst of your deepest sorrows. That joy can exist right in the center of your immense grief.  God has been so generous with joy in this season. He has been so faithful and so near. In this entire year there has not been one moment that He has abandoned us or forsaken us. And for that reason, it’s been a very good year.

It has been exactly one year since that defining moment. I am grateful for every single one of the days that happened between then and now. And I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But I guess the point of all of this is just to say that I know WHO holds tomorrow. And He is good. Whatever our lot, I am more confident than ever that He is good.

 

Hosting #21

Tomorrow marks 4 months since we picked up our current little house guest, baby R. She is our 21st hosting (CRAZY!) in the almost 3 years we have been with Safe Families. Our time as her host family is coming to a close and we are so excited about watching this family reunify! We are also excited to show her mommy, A, that we meant business when we said we would stick around long after the hosting.

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Baby R was 5 months old when we met her young mommy in a Starbuck’s and became fast friends. At that time, A did not have a stable place to live, spending much of her time in her car. She did not have any form of income, she was overwhelmed and teetering on the edge of sanity as she tried to juggle homelessness, family tensions, past abuse, full time college courses and a baby with literally no stable support system.

Fast forward and baby R is now 9 months old! She is pulling up on everything, scaling furniture, saying “mama” “dada” and “banana!” She has grown in size while her mommy has grown as a woman. For every milestone we have watch Baby R achieve, we have seen development in A as well.

Baby R will go home to an apartment that her Mommy worked hard to get. A will get her associate’s degree this summer. She has learned valuable lessons about managing money, about raising a baby, about the importance of taking care of your spiritual and mental health in addition to your physical health. But most importantly, we have been able to give her the gift of an extended family and she has given us the gift of growing our ever expanding circle of loved ones.

Has it been perfect? No. Has it been easy? Not even a little easy, friends. Has it been worth it? YES. YES. YES. For every second that fear has struck my heart because of the drama that inevitably comes with serving those in crisis, there have been many more seconds of my heart filling with pride and joy watching Baby R grow into a big girl and watching her Mommy grow into a woman.

There have been late nights and frantic phone calls and tears in these last 4 months. And we couldn’t have done it without our “people.” Our tribe. Our safety net and support. The ones who give us grace when we just can’t seem to get out of the house in time because our house guest just isn’t having it. The ones who respond to the “please pray right now” group texts. The ones who pick up extra clothes for a baby they’ve never seen or buy Christmas presents for a young mommy they will never know. You know who you are. But there is no way you could ever know how much you bless us over and over again. You are just as much a part of our work with Safe Families as we are. We could not do it without your selfless service and dedicated prayers. My heart will forever be grateful. Just thank you. Yes, YOU!

Will you join me in praying that this reunification is a successful one? That sweet A will feel confident in her ability to parent full-time again, that baby R will continue to grow and learn and develop close bonds with her mommy? We are so excited to see what God has in store for A and her baby girl and I hope that in a couple of years I’m able to update you guys on the huge progress that I have big hope they will continue to make!

Until the next blog…be blessed!

 

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas! I wait all year long for this time of year. I love the lights and the music. I love the quiet reflection of Advent. I love the way my living room smells with a Douglas fir in the corner. I love our deeply rooted family traditions and the reminder they serve that we are so blessed to get to do these things together. And the cookies y’all. Everyone talks about dreading putting on an extra 5 lbs during the holidays and I’m over here like “BRING. IT. ON.” Life is short, so just whatever.

The introvert in me can get overwhelmed with all of the social gatherings, the long lines at the stores and the running around for the kids’ events. All of the hustle and bustle has been that much more intense this year with an extra little in our home through Safe Families who’s teething something fierce and only sits still when she’s asleep (but my goodness, she’s adorable). Even with the added crazy that can come along with Christmas-I love the way that stress is so easily remedied for me with the reminders everywhere…Peace on earth…The weary world rejoices…All is calm, all is bright…Some of us are in a season of mourning or season of pain and, for me, I’ve found that at Christmas all of that hurt somehow finds a way to coexist with joy and gratefulness and love. It makes my heart so happy.

Are you swooning about this time of year? It’s cool if you aren’t. But I am.

Something that’s been fun this year has been listening to my dad talk about Christmas. I have great childhood memories of Christmas time. It’s always been a special time for our family-but in so many ways it’s like he’s rediscovered how amazing it all is. The other day he called me to talk about the song “Mary Did You Know” and how meaningful it is to us as Christians. I casually mentioned another song (One Child by Natalie Grant if you’re curious) that I thought he might like because it had sort of the same premise. I told him how there was this one lyric that I have spent a lot of time thinking about.

“This baby cries, and for the first time the world hears the voice of God weep. Mary sings a lullaby as the hope of the nations gently falls asleep.”

My Dad just gasped. And then he said, “Jesika-do you know how far that is from our comprehension? We aren’t able to even fathom what that moment must have been like. We just can’t. It’s crazy.”

And he’s right. This is the reason why we “Christmas” so joyfully. We can criticize how Christmas began or debate what relevance December 25th and the actual birth date of Jesus Christ have- but really, I just don’t care. I just want to rejoice. Because I am weary. Working in crisis-care and loving hard sometimes leaves me a little shell shocked. Life is tough y’all.  Everywhere we look there is ugly to be found. People hurting people. Loved ones dying. Injustice everywhere. Homeless single moms and hungry babies. Discouragement and frustration. And this little nagging feeling that what you have to offer is insignificant and insufficient.

But Jesus, you guys. It’s so pertinent that He came to the earth as something helpless and small and fragile. That God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  I love that Jesus’ extended family tree was full of drama and that instead of coming as a king with a big scary voice that he came as a carpenter with a servant’s heart. I love that this is Christmas. Because you know what it means? It means that the last will be first and the weak will be strong. It means that we are not insignificant. It means that we are seen and loved and that we have access to the one who can take our insufficient effort and make it enough. His birth was nothing short of a miracle and He hasn’t stopped with the miracle-doing since. He’s forever making miracles of the mess of my life.

All are welcome at the manger. I hope you’ll join me in quiet contemplation of that lowly, beautiful place and in turn feel gratefulness for your lowly, beautiful life. Merry Christmas friends. May you know Love this season.