Yes, I AM a Cat Lady

I confess:  I AM a cat lady.

Not the one with the dozens living in the house and stinking up the place but the one who relies on her furry pal to get her through hard days.

I raised Roosevelt from the day he was born.  

His mom was a sickly outdoor cat that had never made it through a successful pregnancy and was not a candidate for being spayed because she wouldn’t have survived the anesthesia.

So the day I heard a tiny “mew” outside my window I hardly expected the sight I beheld. Here was mama kitty utterly amazed that she had birthed a baby, walking off the edge of the porch with a tiny black something still attached by the umbilical cord.

She could have cared less.

I grabbed scissors and a towel and rescued the little darling without much hope of his surviving.

But he did.

That was seven hospitalizations, two surgeries and one giant heartache ago.

He has become my comfort companion, my purring pal, the one who knows before I do that my RA is flaring, my heart breaking.

I am thankful for this oasis of comfort in a desert of hurt.

I am thankful that the God Who made me also made animals to bring healing in the midst of heartache.  Oh, so thankful for a husband that puts up with my crazy “save everything that breathes” personality and doesn’t mind if a cat sneaks up the side of the bed in the middle of the night to get cozy in the covers..

When Dominic died, I remember sitting in my chair as the parade of sweet friends and family came over to cry with us.  Roosevelt sat with me the entire time.  His warm body reminded me that I was still here even when my limbs seemed to float away into the ether and my mind wasn’t entirely certain that what I saw or heard was real.

I have learned to count my blessings.

And while the majority of them walk on two legs, at least one has four.

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Repost: What if My Testimony is Endurance?

Clearly marked boundaries, categories and rules make things easier.

But life rarely fits in the tidy boxes I like to create.

And when it doesn’t I’m tempted to ignore the parts that don’t fit-tempted to pretend they don’t exist-so I can maintain the world I’ve created for myself. I would rather march on in ignorance than drag out my underlying assumptions to figure out if they are true or false.

That takes a lot of work.

Read the rest here:  What if My Testimony is Endurance?

Who Can See the Wind?

I’m a stickler for accurate theology.

While that might make for interesting and lively debate with fellow believers, force of habit limits my imagination when it comes to what I believe with certainty about Heaven.

So on the other side of sending my child ahead of me to live with Jesus, I find I wish I were more free to make up scenes of what he might be doing there.  But I cannot, no matter how hard I try, create a movie-style narrative that includes him and the saints that have gone before.

And that leaves a gaping hole in addition to the unfillable abyss in my heart of where Dominic used to be.

I also do not believe my son sends me signs from heaven.  I wrote about that here a few months ago.  Although I do believe that God Himself can and does use the natural world to encourage my heart and give me hope.

And approaching the third anniversary of Dominic’s leaving, I need a little encouragement to hope.

So a few weeks ago I did something for myself that I probably should have done long before.  I bought six beautiful sets of windchimes-different lengths, different tones-and hung them all around my house under the porch eaves where even the slightest breeze sets them swaying.

They help me remember what Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows all around us as if it has a will of its own; we feel and hear it, but we do not understand where it has come from or where it will end up. Life in the Spirit is as if it were the wind of God.” ( John 3:8 VOICE)

They help me remember that God drew Dominic to Himself by His Spirit when he was a little boy in ways I can’t see or fully understand.

They help me remember that God was present and working on the day He called him Home.

They help me remember that God is working right now to hold my heart steady and help me rest firmly on His promise that we will be together one day for eternity.

God has not abandoned me.

Every tinkling sings hope to my heart.

fatih sees the invisible sun and flowers

 

 

 

Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted~by Brene Brown

I am thankful for Brene Brown.

She has helped me put words to my feelings, helped me see a way forward when I felt there was none and helped me own my story even though it is hard.

I keep her quotes around to encourage my heart and remind me that I am brave.

This is one of my favorites:

manifesto of the brave and brokenhearted

I Don’t Get to Be Ugly

It’s easy to justify bad behavior when I am hurting.  

As the saying goes, “Hurt people, hurt people”.

But if I know Jesus, I don’t get a pass.  I don’t get to act ugly or pretend I don’t know better or have His Spirit to help me BE better.

Sometimes I AM ugly.  Sometimes I do act badly.  I am ashamed that even though I am fully aware of my own desperate need for grace and mercy I sometimes withhold it from others.

I’m also ashamed that I can be judgmental and hateful and short-tempered and short-sighted. I can exclude others and run out of patience and choose to turn away when I should be tuning in.

And I’m really, really sorry.

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I’m trying to lean more fully on the grace available to me through God’s Holy Spirit.  I am trying to pause so that the first thing that springs to mind doesn’t always fly out of my mouth.  I am learning to wait before returning phone calls, emails and text messages.

I try to take a walk when my heart is twisted ugly so that the ugly doesn’t spill out onto others and ruin THEIR day.

I don’t get to lay aside the calling to love because I’ve laid a child to rest.  

I’m working hard to remember that.  

love God love others rocks

 

 

Just Plain Hard

Today is full of tears.

No real reason-other than the obvious one-but so many things coming together to remind me this life is hard, hard, hard.

I find on this side of burying Dominic that when two or three other stressful events pile one atop the other I crumble.  Sometimes it’s other family members  doing the best they can to muddle through and sometimes it’s physical pain or disappointment or the random “ya-ya” stuff of life in community with other people  Whatever it is, the weight-in addition to grief-just absolutely overwhelms me.

I used to be stronger.  

Or at least I thought I was stronger.  But maybe the truth was the burden I was carrying wasn’t nearly as heavy as I thought it was and I just didn’t have anything to compare it to.

Now I do.

And I am oh, so weary!  I want to curl up in a ball and wish for it all to be over. I want to hide in a hole and hope the world passes me by.  I want to wait out my years unnoticed and unchallenged and pass peacefully to eternal rest and the joyful fullness of what has been promised.

Not an option.

So I hang in and hold on.  I cling to hope and I climb the mountain.  I crawl when I can’t walk. I beg for mercy when my mind grows dark and all I see is the long years stretching before me like a prison sentence.

And I cry.

I let the tears roll down my cheeks and fall into the corners of my mouth.  I taste their salty sweetness and let them remind me that Dominic matters. That even when other folks have forgotten and moved on, he’s still part of my every day. My heart is still in pieces. My family circle has been torn apart.

Some days I can push it down and forget a little.  But today I can’t.

It’s just plain hard.

 

 

 

Limping Along

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know I have rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s something I’ve been living with three times as long as the years I’ve lived without Dominic and I find strange parallels in the twin journey of chronic disease and chronic heartache.

Both are crippling in their own way, both force me to work around the pain.  Both have changed me in ways I could not have imagined and certainly wouldn’t have wished on myself or my family.

Both have taught me to endure.

Both have taught me many other things as well:  

I have learned to be more compassionate.  With pain as my constant companion, it reminds me this life is hard and that it’s hard for others too.

I have learned not to take a good day for granted.  I never know when I will wake to an RA flare, I am constantly surprised by random heavy grief days and I can’t tell when I go to bed at night what tomorrow will bring.  So when a day is good, I grab hold of every moment.  I laugh, I move, I do things that make my heart sing.  And I store the memory for days that aren’t so good.

I have learned to be gentle to myself.  I can only do what I can do.  And what I can’t do today will just have to wait for tomorrow-or maybe wait for forever-and that’s OK.

I have learned to say, “no” graciously, without making excuses.  I try very hard to live up to commitments so I am selective in taking on new ones.  I know that if I take on too many, I’m sure to have to let someone down in the end.  I can’t make others outside my disease or my grief understand so I’m learning to not try.  Their disappointment or disapproval is something they have to carry, not me. (I wrote more about this here:  No. It’s a Complete Sentence.)

I have learned to create “work arounds” for the things that I have to do but are very hard to do. For my RA that means unloading the dishwasher two plates at a time instead of lifting the whole stack at once.  For my grieving heart that means spreading out the hard things over a week instead of a few hours.  It means not feeling compelled to answer every message, phone call or text right away if my mind is unclear or my heart too heavy.

I’ve learned to wear what’s comfortable.  Whether that is shoes that accommodate my crooked toes or refusing to put on a “happy face” mask in public-I am who I am.  I certainly don’t mope around or try to draw attention to myself.  But I’m just not responsible for making other people feel comfortable with my disease or my grief.

I have learned to plan “rest stops” on my daily journey.  It may be a moment to sit down or a moment to do something creative or a moment to watch a funny video-but each thing is designed to help me recharge for the next few hours.  If I try to soldier on I end up too tired and emotionally spent to do anything.  One day of that and I may lose a whole week.  So I pace myself.

I have learned that appropriate medical intervention and treatment is not a crutch, it’s a pathway to a more productive life.  I resisted taking medication for my RA for a long time-the potential side effects are frightening.  But when the swelling, pain and joint deformity became too much to bear, I gave in.  I shouldn’t have waited so long.  It was foolish. I will never be free of the disease, but my life can be better with appropriate intervention.  It’s the same with grief.  Anti-depressants and anxiety medicine do not remove the pain of grief but they can make space in a heart and mind to do the work grief requires.  There is NO SHAME in using whatever tools are available to make it through.

I have learned to ask for help. There are a number of things I just can’t do alone.  I used to be able to do them.  But not anymore.  Asking for help is not defeat.  I have to remind myself of that.  At the end of the day what matters is that what matters gets done-I don’t get “extra credit” for struggling through alone.

I have learned to speak my truth.  (This is one I’m still working on!)  If I am having a bad pain day or a bad grief day, I don’t try to hide it.  I just tell those who ask and those closest to me the truth. The energy I have to expend to keep it covered up means less energy to work on the underlying factors contributing to the bad day.  It’s just NOT worth it.  And I’m not good at hiding it anyway.

I have learned that walking (literally or figuratively) with a limp is not a defect.  It’s simply my life.  I won’t apologize for it.  If someone asks, I’ll share.  But if not, I just go limping along, making my way forward.  I might be slow, but I’m moving.

And that’s what counts in the end.

I will walk with an emotional limp for the rest of my life … But I don’t want it to just remind me of the struggle and the pain; I want it to remind me of a place of surrender, a place where God met me and blessed me. Otherwise, it is just wasted pain.

~Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Hope, p. 332

Do I Measure Up?

How can I measure how far I’ve come in this grief journey?

Distance traveled or hours endured?

Do I set my heart next to that of another grieving mother and see which of us has managed to piece together more or less of what was left after losing our child?

I want to be able to give myself a grade-to place my experience on a ladder of “success” and determine just where I rank.

That sounds ridiculous, and really, it IS.

Yet I am constantly bombarded with cues that declare: “You need to be making progress;” “You need to get ‘better’;” “You need to ‘get over’ Dominic’s death;” “You need to ‘move on'”.

As a stay at home mom, I’ve lived most of my life in the shadows of behind-the-scenes support to my husband and children.  My hours were spent doing necessary tasks rarely considered “amazing” or “noteworthy”.

So I had to learn not to measure my worth based on what others thought I should be doing but instead on whether or not I was living in obedience to what God had called me to do.

My list of accomplishments is short, but my living legacy is large.  My children are my curriculum vitae:

You are our letter, every word burned onto our[a] hearts to be read by everyone. You are the living letter of the Anointed One, the Liberating King, nurtured by us and inscribed, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God—a letter too passionate to be chiseled onto stone tablets, but emblazoned upon the human heart.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 VOICE

As a bereaved mom, I’m now living in longer shadows.  Shadows I never imagined. Shadows I would never have chosen.  I can’t see the end, I can’t mend my heart or undo the sorrow and pain.

I often feel like a failure because I can’t point to the “good” from this terrible tragedy.  I often feel like I don’t measure up to the standard of a victorious Christian life.

We love a good “beauty from ashes” story.  We send videos viral when they illustrate that the human spirit can conquer any challenge when someone is committed to success and refuses to give up.

The underlying assumption is that we are always in a position to declare victory or understand endurance or measure strength.

But  we aren’t.

Some victories are invisible. Some strength unknowable.  And some endurance won’t be revealed until our last breath.

So I am learning again not to measure my worth or my progress by what others think I should be doing or feeling but instead on whether or not I am living in obedience to what God has called me to do.

I don’t have to be an “overcomer”  to be worthy of God’s love and care.

I don’t have to declare “victory” to enjoy His grace and mercy.

All I have to do is rest in His perfect, faithful love-leading and guiding-guaranteeing that I will not fail, because my “success” doesn’t depend on ME, it depends on HIM.

coming home to the truth

 

 

 

For The Good

This sister speaks my heart. It may seem a subtle difference to some who have yet to face unspeakable horror and pain-but it is an important one. Thank you Susie for your faithful witness and your prayerful heart in sharing what God is showing you.

Susie Stewart

I don’t believe

that when God says

He works

all things

for the good,

that He means

He gives us brokenness

and then calls it good

I don’t believe that

I believe that

when God says

He works

all things

for the good

He means

that for those who love Him,

He takes our brokenness

in this broken world

and He uses it for good

He redeems it

He uses

difficult

and harsh

and sad

and awful

and changes hearts

heals wounds

teaches

and makes something beautiful

He wraps His loving arms

around the worst

and when He opens His arms

we find that the worst

looks like good

– Susie Stewart

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

– Romans 8:28 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” says…

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Facing My Inner Pharisee

 

In centuries past it was common for Christ followers to fast.

They fasted for many reasons:  to consecrate themselves for a task; to seek answers to prayer; observance of seasons on the church calendar; or for strength to overcome besetting sin.

Today, fasting has fallen out of favor in most western churches-deemed unnecessary or an attempt to gain favor with God by “works”.

That’s unfortunate.  

Because fasting has never been about making points with God, it’s been about removing self-reliance from our spiritual vocabulary.

It’s not about demonstrating personal fortitude or displaying self-righteousness, it’s about recognizing my weakness and desperate dependence on Christ.  

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are – dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon.

~Hudson Taylor

Like the Pharisees, though, I am apt to make much of my “sacrifice” and little of Christ’s sufficiency.  I want to bargain with God and rise in the ranks of His favor because I’m so “good”.

It doesn’t work like that.  

I was almost to the end of a 40 day fast when Dominic was killed.

I am physically unable to fast 40 days consecutively so, for several years, I had done an every-other-day fast so that it equaled 40 days.

At some point in the first week after Dom ran ahead to heaven I remember crying out to God, “What exactly do You want from me??? I’ve done all that I know to do in an attempt to live up to Your expectations, and yet it is never enough!”

And (not then, certainly!) but at some point in the nearly 3 years since, He answered, “Your righteous acts are as filthy rags. The only sufficient sacrifice is My own Son’s blood.”

THAT was humbling.

Because even though I would have given the same answer to anyone else who thought they could “work” their way into God’s good graces, obviously the truth of it had not seeped into the fabric of my being.

I WAS trying to make points with God.  And I was angry He hadn’t taken that into consideration and spared me the pain of burying my son.

We often mock the Pharisees for thinking that “getting it right” means “being righteous”, but I understand the temptation to substitute acts of righteousness for relying on relationship through Jesus Christ.

The one means I am in control, the other means I have to follow and give up control.

If there is one thing I’ve learned through child loss that I cannot forget for even a millisecond is: I am NOT in control.

I am utterly dependent on Him for life, for breath, for saving AND sustaining grace.  

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

Ephesians 2:8-9 VOICE

Fasting from food is relatively easy.  Fasting from my tendency toward self-righteousness is much harder.  

This year, as I observe Lent,

as I fast,

as I add in holy habits,

I am asking God to help me remember that I am not trying to win His favor,

I am making room to hear His heart.

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