Thankful But Broken

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

I love the colors of fall, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, the freedom from gift-giving pressures that lets me focus on the people in my life.

A few years ago, Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was published sparking a renewed interest in the Christian community to focus on thankfulness as a way to open our hearts to the goodness and faithfulness of God and to open our hands and lives to serve others from our bounty.

An invitation to trust and not be afraid.

Across social media, people began to post , “Today I am thankful for___________.” Instagram.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Good stuff, and good reminders.

And I am thankful.

Really.

I am thankful that my family has managed to survive the loss of Dominic without going crazy  or becoming bitter or running away. We continue to support, love and care for one another.

I am thankful for the few, special friends who have made it a priority to visit me, love me and give me a safe space to vent my grief.

I am thankful that I have food to eat, a place to live and clothes to wear.

I am thankful for my Bible, the one I got while carrying Dominic beneath my heart-the one filled with notes, prayers and underlined passages-because it reminds me that God is still God even when I can’t feel Him.

But I am broken.

Truly.

Losing a child, not being able to save the life your love created, not being there when he breathed his last, not holding his hand as he entered eternity-that is humbling.

My November and Thanksgiving will be quieter than in years past.

No daily posts.  No long lists.

I will lean in and listen hard for the whispered promises that one day heartache will end.

I will open my heart and hand to a hurting world.

I will trust and not be afraid.

Walking The Balance Beam

One reason grief is so exhausting is that every step I take is on a balance beam of faith and hope.

I must navigate every necessary task without falling off.

According to one sports writer, “The balance beam is often regarded as the most difficult event in women’s gymnastics at any level of competition. At only four inches wide and four feet off the ground, there’s barely enough space for a person’s foot to fit on the beam let alone enough room to flip and dance.”

But an average competitive routine lasts only 30 to 90 seconds.

I will have to walk this narrow way the rest of my life.

Despair lies in wait on my left.  One misstep and I’m lost.  Down on the ground, hurting and hopeless.  Doubt, guilt, anger and grief threaten to drag me into a pit so deep there’s no way out.

Delusion calls from the right.

Singing a lullaby to my wounded heart-he’s not really gone.  “Can’t you feel him in the wind?  See him in the clouds?” It would be so easy to just step off the rational and faithful path and embrace some fluffy facsimile of biblical truth.

The solid beam is my faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That what He said is true.

That what He promises will come to pass.

That even though I cannot see proof of life after death, it exists and Dominic is experiencing it.

That, like David said when his baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.”

It takes every fiber of my being to focus my will and to direct my attention to the Truth.

Many nights I fall asleep reciting Scripture.  Many mornings I wake before the sun and remind myself that even in the dark, God reigns.

So when you see me and I look tired-I am.

But I wait in hope for the LORD…

   We wait in hope for the LORD;  He is our help and our shield.
 In Him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in His holy name.
 May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
    even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22 NIV

Broken Hearts Still Beat

When Dominic was born by c-section, they placed the epidural too high and I was unable to feel my chest rise and fall as I continued to breathe.  It was a frightening experience.  But I WANTED to keep breathing-because I wanted to touch this new life coming into the world and into our family.

When the sheriff came to tell us that Dominic had been killed, I was sure that I wasn’t breathing and my heart stopped beating. I wanted to escape the pain that filled my heart, my soul, my bones.

I think most bereaved mothers will tell you they have absolutely NO IDEA how their bodies continue to live and carry this heavy burden.  We do it for those still here and because having felt the pain of being left behind, our mama hearts want to spare the ones we love as long as we can. But rest assured, it is a daily struggle to decide that we will go on.

I’m not breathing.
They assure me that I am.
My heartbeat thumps the truth for all to hear.
A welcome wail ushers his life into the spotlight of this wide world.
I’m not breathing.
They assure me that I am.
My lungs draw air against my will and my better judgment.
An anguished cry marks the end of his earthly life.
I am breathing.
My body refusing to keep pace with my broken heart.

november 7, 2014

Oaks of Righteousness

We love to see majestic oaks and drink in the beauty of the curving branches and sit beneath the shade of their spreading canopy.  It takes decades for these mighty trees to grow large enough to command attention.  Harsh weather forms the branches into lovely shapes pleasing to the eye.

They stand as a testimony to endurance and strength.

Thirteen years before Dominic’s accident and death, God gave me this scripture when naming our farm-Isaiah 61:1-3:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

At the time, I focused on the glorious picture of finished oaks of righteousness.

In these months after our son’s death, I have begun to understand that the path to displaying the splendor of the faithfulness and father-heart of God is one of mourning, ashes and despair.  Unless I am willing to die to my idea of what life should be and what God should do, I can’t be transformed into the fruit-bearing vessel of grace He intends me to be.

It isn’t easy.  I’m still working to embrace this every day-I continue to rail against the fact that this is my life-but grace is seeping into the broken places.

I trust that God will continue to sustain me by His unfailing love and that one day I will be able to stand as a testimony to faithful endurance and the power of His strength.

Minus More Than One

No child grows up in the SAME family because the addition of another child CHANGES the family. So does the subtraction…

We all miss him.

But each in our own way.

A family isn’t just the sum of its parts.

It isn’t a simple equation that can be worked out on a chalkboard or around a dinner table-this person plus that person equals two persons.

A family is an organic mixture of personalities, relationships, strengths and weaknesses that exponentially influence one another.

I always joked that our family was a ready-made committee.  Wherever we went we brought a fully staffed, action-ready army of six that spread out and triumphed over whatever challenge we faced.

The last great task we conquered together was burying Dominic.

Our family has been diminished by more than one person.  

We have lost the unique relationship that each of us had with him, lost the added strength that those relationships wove into the fabric of our lives.  There are gaping holes everywhere.

Some people say that on earth we can only see the ugly underneath of the beautiful tapestry God is making of our lives.

That’s probably true.

But I long to get a glimpse of what loveliness is to be wrought from these threads.


The Good, the Hard and the Ugly

Sundays are both good and hard…good because I am with other people who believe that this life is not all there is and hard because to many of them it is still only a belief, not the lifeline they cling to for the next breath, the next heartbeat and the next step.

I’m thankful that in our country, relatively few parents bury children, but burying mine has put an invisible wall between those that can quote “all things work together for good” because they found a parking place close to the store in the rain, and me-who will have to wait until I reach heaven to see the ultimate good of my son’s untimely death.

The ugly truth is that while I wait in hope and with faith, I want my son back.  I want my family restored.  I long to see all four of my children once again around the table-laughing, fussing and sharing life together.

I trust in the Lord’s promise of redemption and restoration.

But the valley I walk in the meantime is hard and lonely.  His Word sheds light on my path but does not fully dispel the inky darkness of grief and pain.  I walk in half-lit places, stumbling on, clinging to Him.  I long for the sunshine of heaven.

“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

John 6:68

A Life in Scraps

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Just a few months before Dominic was killed, this hoarding homeschool mama decided that it was time to finally give up some of the thousands of pages of handwritten, color-crayoned papers stacked in the attic, the storage building and floating in corners and crevices throughout the house.

Four children and twenty-two years of teaching them at home had produced a mountain of memories.  I began to sort through the ones I deemed “most important to keep” and “everything else”.  

Several loads were taken to the dump and tossed unceremoniously onto the trash pile.

It felt like freedom.

Now it feels like regret and longing.

Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.

I hear his voice in the tweets– his wit and wisdom, cynicism and societal critique.

Sometimes I hold them and think of the boy,the teen,the man who wrote them.

Sometimes I hurry past because thinking of who he was and feeling the absence of who he would be right now is too great to bear.

I wish he had left more voice mails-

I don’t erase them anymore.