God met me in Tennessee


I purposely did not write before we left about the retreat my husband and I recently attended, not because it was any big secret, but because I wasn't sure what to write.  The few weeks before we left had been especially hard for me for a myriad of reasons.  Preparing to be away from home for several days and making arrangements for my older daughters brought back memories of doing the same as we prepared for Kristen's birth, then doing it again just 14 weeks later as we prepared for her surgery.  My heart was just heavy as I missed my baby girl.  And, of course, there was some anxiety about the long trip and uncertainties of what to expect at the retreat.

When February 16th rolled around and we prepared to leave, I was so ready for a change of scenery.  I looked forward to some time away with my husband.  Even so, I cried as we left the girls at my sister-in-law's house.  I knew they would have fun and would be well cared for, but the tears came anyway.  On our way through Kansas City, we drove near the same route we had taken to Children's Mercy a year and a half ago, and the tears came again.  I hadn't thought through the fact that we would be driving that near to CMH.  It caught me completely off-guard and melted me into a puddle.

Being able to meet Wendy, one of my "Kristen friends" (people I would never have met had it not been for Kristen), the next night was such a sweet blessing.  This dear lady was my phone nurse during my pregnancy.  We spoke every month, and despite the fact that she could have been fired for telling me so, she prayed for me and for my baby during those uncertain months before Kristen arrived.  She grieved the loss of my daughter with me when she learned of Kristen's death.  We've stayed in touch via e-mail since, and it was such a wonderful joy to get to meet this sweet lady in person.

We drove the next afternoon to "The Hiding Place," a very aptly named lodge located northwest of Nashville.  This beautiful facility would be "home" for the next couple of days for us and 11 other couples.  The common thread?  We each have experienced the death of a child.

We shared our stories and our hearts, lots of tears, gentle hugs, even laughter.  Our stories are all different.  Our children range in age from infant to young adult.  We come from different parts of the country.  Some had watched their children battle illnesses, others had been struck by sudden tragedy.  For some, it had been years; for others, only months.  Some had packed a lifetime into a few short weeks, others were caught completely unaware.  All were left with shattered hopes and dreams.  None of us ever pictured ourselves on this road.  It's a road certainly no one wants to be traveling.  We found a strange comfort in sharing the burdens of our hearts with people who understand.  After feeling like a stranger in a strange land for so long, I felt safe and secure in this place where everyone there "gets" what I'm going through.  We left with renewed spirits, with hope, with e-mail addresses for our 22 new friends and one last bite of some amazing chicken enchiladas. :)

Our new friend, Jon, summed it up so wonderfully: 
"It's the best retreat you never want to go to."

David & Nancy Guthrie were our hosts for this Respite Retreat, the fifth one they've organized.  They've been on this road longer than the rest of us and have used their own sorrow to reach out and minister to others.  The Guthries are amazing...a beautiful couple we are so blessed to have met.

The weekend was truly a respite for me.  I am grateful for the opportunity to attend, for a husband who drove all 1700+ miles himself, for the fellowship with new friends, and for the many ways God met me in Tennessee.

Dying to self


I don't know if these thoughts make any sense together, but they've been on my heart for several days now.  The last couple of Sundays have been doozies!  I'm praying for a gentler day tomorrow...

The sudden deaths of both Kristen and my mom were events for which I was not prepared.  They were not wanted or welcomed, but rather thrust upon me in heartbreaking succession.  I am not silly enough to think that I am, or ever was, in control—I know Who is, and it’s not me.  My recent frustrations are not the result of trying to exert control over anything in my turned-upside-down life.  Rather, I think that they are directly related to a heightened sensitivity to order.  I am (mostly) an organized person, but I’m not a fanatic about it.  I don’t have to have my finger on every tiny detail, but I do like to know what’s going on.  I like to be "in the loop."

My involvement with many things outside of home and (home) school has been scaled back a lot over the last couple of years.  Initially, it was due to a difficult pregnancy, then because I had a new baby, then there was the anticipation of Kristen’s surgery, then her subsequent death.  It's been a blur of emotional events.  I am grateful for others who were (and still are) so very willing and capable to take up my slack.  As I’ve tried to work my way back into the swing of things, I have felt much like an outsider – a puzzle piece that no longer fits.  I suppose that’s to be expected.  I am not the person I was two years ago.

Perhaps because I've felt like I had so little order (or at least, not the order of my choosing) in my life over these past 17 months, I seem to be seeking it all the more.

Last Sunday morning, my pastor referenced the following text from John MacArthur's writing:
“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult of the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ—that is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient loving silence—that is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it—that is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God—that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown—that is dying to self.

When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances—that is dying to self.

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart—that is dying to self.” —Anonymous

Based on just the first part of that, I have a very long way to go in dying to self.  Even last week, I was stung and hurt with the insult of an oversight and my heart was NOT happy.  Following times when I have taken things in patient (though not necessarily loving) silence, I HAVE let anger rise in my heart.  That anger was a temporary guest, but one that seems to return now and again.

This molding of me that God is doing is very uncomfortable, even painful at times.  It would certainly seem that losing my daughter is loss enough; also losing the "me" I knew seems to add insult to injury.  I know it must be necessary, but oh, is it hard.

I know it won't always feel this way.  This heaviness in my heart won't always be such a shroud over me.  I am trying to see the joy and embrace the beauty in my life, I really am.  And I see glimpses.  I'm just missing my youngest daughter so very much right now.

Tightly in His grasp


I truly appreciate all the comments and personal messages that my last post prompted.  Each one has given me things to think about.  I've spent much of this week praying and pondering the conversation that caused me to wonder if I was truly relying on God as I should be.

As much as my life sometimes feels out of control, I know Who holds my hand through it all.  I am grateful for a heavenly Father who cares for me in spite of myself, who continues to love me in my most unlovable moments, who never tires of listening to me.

Much of what I heard from you sweet ladies is nothing I haven't heard before.  Goodness, I've even written about it myself!  I guess I just needed to be reminded.  There are, indeed, many layers of grief, and no one's journey through them is exactly like anyone else's.  No one, no matter how prettily they package it, can tell me how I should be doing this.  Even the most well-intentioned words can cause pain.  It's when they come from someone you trust and care about that they can become a stumbling block.

If I pull back the focus, however, and zoom in on the most important relationship, the one I have with God, those words just don't have any weight.

And just so I'm clear on the whole "people are watching" subject...my only concern is that I allow Christ to be seen through my actions.  My tears of grief fall freely.  I don't apologize for them.  Sometimes, I don't even wipe them away.  There's no facade here.  My pastor's warning was really a message to "keep it real," even as messy and ugly and uncomfortable as "real" is sometimes.

Should I ever again feel like I'm being judged or rushed through my grief, I have a simple reply:  "Thank you for your concern, but I am right where I need to be...tightly in His grasp."

Perhaps this week was all about solidifying that for me.  My husband's fancy GPS can tell me in one of several different voices where I'm located, but it can't tell me where I AM.  Thankfully, I already know.

Through another's eyes


I had an interesting conversation with someone over the weekend.  I was a little taken aback at first, even a tiny bit angry.  As I've pondered it over the last few days, however, I have to wonder if God is trying to tell me something.

I walked away from the conversation feeling like I was being judged.  Someone with a limited look into my life basically expressed that I wasn't letting God carry me through my grief, that I was (apparently, not very successfully) trying to get through it on my own.  It wasn't done in a mean or malicious manner, and frankly, I'm having a hard time truly believing that was the intention.  Nevertheless, that is how it came across.  (I come back to some of the very best advice I received not long after Kristen's death...Listen for what people MEAN, not necessarily to what they SAY.)

It's very hard to know how I'm supposed to act.  I've spent the last 17 months being bossed around by my emotions.  They have been so raw and so overwhelming, I feel like I haven't had much, if any control over them.  There are days I feel like I'm doing better.  The "crushing" days are fewer and farther in between.  They've turned into moments (sometimes very long moments) rather than days.  There's an ebb and flow to my grief, but it never fully recedes.

I have been letting God carry me.  Goodness knows I certainly can't make this journey on my own.  Maybe my reliance on my Lord isn't apparent to anyone else.  Even with Him, I am sad --beyond sad-- that I don't have Kristen with me right now.  I miss her to my very core, and I will until I draw my last breath on this earth.

God is still very much right here with me.  I talk to Him throughout each and every day and am doing my best to listen more intently.  I've wrestled with Him over forgiving some family members for some very deep hurts.  My grudges are gone, but those tender spots still sting sometimes.  I would have never gotten to that place without Him!

My pastor cautioned me months ago that people would be watching to see how I respond in the face of the tragic loss of my daughter.  I've known that, and I've done my best to be the person God intends for me to be.  I want nothing more than to allow Christ to show Himself through me.  Perhaps this glimpse through another set of eyes will help me to look deeper into my own heart.