A note to my daughter

Dear Katie Grace,

I am breathing today. My lungs are expanding and closing yet it doesn’t seem like they are ever quite filling up with enough oxygen. There is a sadness that is dampening their process, taking some oxygen for itself, leaving me just the slightest bit suffocated. I know it’s you, I know it’s my bodies way of feeling the emotion. I want to find you, you know. I want to search this world far and wide to find you, to be able to hold you again. I want lay face to face, nose to nose, to match my breath to the sound of your oxygen machine, to brush my eyelashes against yours…..to steal more moments. My mind knows you’re not here, it knows that you weren’t stolen, I just want to pretend so that I can fool my mind and clasp onto counterfeit hope.

You know what else I know. I know this sadness is stealing away inside because I am coming alive. I promised you, Katie Grace, when you came into this world and stood your ground of love and destiny that I would do everything within my power to be the best me. That I would fight for emotional health and freedom. I planted my feet daughter, deep into the ground, drawing a line that declared I would not stop until I became who I know you saw me as. Your presence relentlessly pursued me, like an announcer on a megaphone yelling volumes of my value and death never silenced that.

Today as I sit here, I see what you saw. The me without the pain, the me without fear, the me without doubt or reserve. I understand now more than ever why you came. I am slowly grasping the pieces of the bigger picture, gently putting together the me I saw in your eyes. The me, who you trusted your broken body with. The me who you knew would draw the line, who would plant her feet deep into the ground, and I want to hold you. I want to wrap you up in my arms squeezing you with gratitude. I want to kiss your cheeks and let my tears speak their thank you. I want to share in this with you. You are not here though. You are running the fields of freedom in heaven….probably giving the Lord a high-five and celebrating with Him.

This note is my squeeze. The words are my tears speaking their gratitude. Daughter, there will be no amount of thank you’s or I love you’s that could ever adequately convey my adoration and gratefulness for you. For how you came into this world, for your tenacity while you stayed in it, or for your resoluteness in who I am.
I love you

Momma

Boxes

If you told me 375 days ago when my family ended their journey from California to Georgia, that God was going to slow our pace down to snails speed and everyday was going to be about identity finding, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have kindly received your words, pushed them aside in my mind, stuffing them into that place where you put random things people tell you that you either don’t want to believe or you have no grid to understand.

Yet here we are. Here I am once again wrought with realization of the depths in which identity has eluded me all these years.

I am a fan of emotional boxes, or as most people say compartmentalizing, one could even call it rules. I love the emotional feeling of safe lines drawn into the ground of life. Those lines act like a guide of so many things, they reveal right and wrong, good and not good, safe and not safe. They tell me how to act, what to think, and how to know if I am doing a good job. Guess saying I am a fan could be an understatement, I am more of a devotee. Allowing these lines that make up the boxes to shape my ability to know whether or not I am succeeding in life, giving me the peace I need to know that I am doing a good job. And here, this morning, I am finding that, to actually be a predicament. I am realizing I am not the one whose hand has been using the marker to draw these lines that make up the boxes. As a collector of people, of friends, of environments, of community’s, it has been incredibly easy for me to let the environment be the hand which holds the marker which draws the boxes. They have been the artists who have drawn the line of the construct of my boxes, yet here, now I find that very uncomfortable.

This discomfort has left me in a tailspin. A healthy plunging at a high rate in which all the lines of my boxes are becoming blurry. I can see where I have have stood with simple acceptance, pleasurably relishing in the peace and safety of not being the artist holding the marker making the construct of the box. The pressure of discomfort is causing me to question the authority I have given the lines, to ponder why I so easily and pleasurably allow other artists to be the line makers of my boxes.

As my eyes and heart searched for answers this morning, I found myself again taken back to my identity. Have you ever met someone who just kind of knows who they are. Making decisions about what they like and don’t like comes easy to them. Having deep conversations about what they think, agree with, don’t agree seems uncomplicated and straightforward. I have always been envious of those people. It’s like they were born with the marker in their hands and they have always known it, and known how to draw with it. The only predicament they might get in is if someone comes along and raises enough reason for them to maybe change a line here or there, and then just as simply as they made the first line, they erase and re-draw. I have not ever been one of those people. I was born acutely aware of my surroundings and the people in them susceptible to the construct of their boxes made up by the markers in their hands. It is consistently easier for me to lean into my surroundings and use those lines instead of finding my own. You see using the marker placed in your hand, is discovering yourself. It is thinking and deep conversing with the one who dreamed of you about callings, beliefs, values, and temperament. The lines are conversation pieces of you, they are things to lean into when to make sure you are doing a good job. They are the boundaries that help define you. If I don’t know what those lines should be within my heart, if I am not the hand making the marks, then I am just a leaning into the lines of others, using their constructs to measure myself by.

This morning I was overcome with insecurity. Overwhelmed by the blurred lines I am finding in this tailspin so I threw myself at the Lord in worship, pouring out to Him all the insecurity like oil at his feet. He pulled me into his chest quickly, His arms wrapped around me, and his breaths began to breathe me in. That wasn’t what my humanity wanted though, I wanted a box checked, a you’re doing good, or doing bad, so I began whispering what I thought would be my transgressions, reminding Him of the boxes and how I am possibly failing, subconsciously begging him to rebuke me, to check a box, and remove me from His chest. In response I hear:

“You know I love how you live all out for me. How you lay bare all that you are for me. How you face every discomfort and hard thing just to be close to me. My heart can trust you to come to me open and vulnerable. Do you even know how much I love you?”

And I am done….there is nothing I can say…..not that I don’t protest because I really want him to check a box, to tell me good or bad but he doesn’t. He doesn’t even acknowledge my list in our conversation. He simply takes me back to where it all begins, to love, to identity. He neither said yes or no to my list of possible transgressions, instead He took me back to who I am, firm in His stance of love. A person who loves with all that she is. Who lives all out for the Lord. Who faces the hard things of life to be close to him. I stood taller when I leaned up from His chest, not because I had answers but because I a grabbed a piece of myself. I picked up a marker in my hand, and placed my hand in his and together we drew a line to form a box.

The invitation is made, the gesture of his words stating all that I will need in this journey. The promise that this uncomfortable tailspin is the promise that in this life, He wants to be the one who holds my hand as we make the marker lines of my box construct. Please don’t hear any devaluing of people, their constructs, or community. Please don’t hear any disrespect of authority, leadership or the voice of those with wisdom beyond me. That is not what I am preaching. Those people and community, those words, they hold value beyond compare. I believe in the body of Christ. I am coming to believe even more they should be used as a way to sharpen who you are, like a blade upon a sharpener. You have to know who you are, what YOUR construct is before you can be sharpened by another. If not I am afraid what I am seeing, is that you just replace one construct for another, easily tossed around by the beliefs and constructs of others.

I am a lover of boxes and although in the desperate pressing tailspin of blurred former lines, I am finding my love for markers.

Tap..Tap….Um Hello is anybody listening?

I don’t know how all of ya’ll’s 2017 has started out, I can tell you though mine has started with some serious heart revelation that I was not prepared for and to be on the level, it is wrecking me to the literally core of my heart. It started with this simple prayer, that I can genuinely tell you I am not 100% percent sure where it originated from. It was loud though, demanding to be prayed without understanding. As if my physically body was compelled to cry out for my heart no matter what my feelings could understand. Every morning for the last 30 days I have at some point sat and quietly breathed, “Lord, help me to become someone who listens to hear, and no longer listens to be heard.” I had always considered myself to be a fairly decent listener and friend, but as I began praying this prayer, I understood what I thought was not actually the possible truth. That instead my factual capacity to listen to people without forming a response in my mind, or already answering any question, was not as good as I have believed. I don’t know what change I was expecting to see with that prayer; well that isn’t 100% true… in the movie scene that played out in my mind all of a sudden I became someone was focused only on the words being spoken in the conversation. I would be this person who sat still and quiet, simply nodding, full engaged in what the other person was saying not just with their words but with their bodies and then I would respond beautifully with my own opinion after the appropriate amount of time. What I didn’t expect to comprehend is how much wanting to learn to listen to others would reveal a lack of identity within my own heart. That in order to be the person in that movie scene patiently and safely listening, I would need to look within the identity of my heart and see a gaping wound.

Prayer has many purposes, in this case, not only were my words a conversation starter between the Lord and I but it also drove the concept to the forefront of my every thought. I am now acutely aware of me with every conversation I start; am I listening, am I hearing…or just formulating my response. That awareness was like a hand pulling back the blanket of bravado so carefully placed over my heart. What I saw was not a spit-fire woman full of opinions formed bravely in safe places; instead there was fear. A roaring combination of loud words and restricted thoughts caught in the categories of right and wrong, good and bad, leaving me unable to hear a person from where they stood if it didn’t fit the safety of my restrictions. It shielded a tender void of identity. In all honesty it took me a moment to let the realization penetrate, and when it did, I found myself grieving…..it is possible that I have missed a lifetime of truly hearing the hearts of people I have loved, simply because I didn’t know who I was and I felt the need to defend that vulnerability. Grieved that I have missed out on true fruit of deep conversations steeped in differing opinions and experiences. I quite possibly have mis-understood precious friends experiences, their joys, their pains, their losses, and their victories because the lack of identity in my heart calls for protection and protection that looks like iron walls of ‘I am right’ and finite thoughts that forge a false sense of safety.

What happened was the more I listened without forming a thought in my mind, without tempering the words I was hearing with the “beliefs” of my heart, the more I silenced me, the louder fear became. It sounded like the ocean at night when the tide is rushing in, as the water pulls back and then silently builds up, then WHOSH….the wave comes, crashing on the shores. I had to ask myself, what is this fear crashing on the shores of my heart? Why am I afraid listening to another person? What about being silent makes me afraid of their opinions, their experiences, their beliefs? What do I believe I am giving up by simply listening with no immediate response? The Message Version of 1 John 4:18 says:

To Love, to Be Loved
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
I had to dive into why fear was possibly crippling my conversations, stunting my ability to hear what someone was saying. I mean I love people, I love hearing about them, their lives, their experiences, yet here I was truly listening without forming a response and I was scared.

That’s when I saw it…..when I saw that void in my heart. When my finite thoughts and loud words were silenced by me, it was noticeable, like the rocks in the sand as the ocean water is pulling back from the shore preparing to build up. That void told me if my thoughts weren’t the same as another person’s thoughts, then mine weren’t valid. As a matter of fact that person’s thoughts/beliefs/experiences actually had the power to make me unimportant. The void, that lack of knowing who I am, that lack of identity, said you are not safe unless you are in agreement. I do not know if there is anything that is farther from the truth of who Jesus is, than that. His example of loving people was not one steeped in fear, unsure of who He was and his place in the world. Instead His example was of one who courageously stepped into the uncomfortable and loved. Who walked with those who opposed him, hated him, argued with him, and he loved. He met those broken emotionally, physically, wrought with sin, beliefs varying from his own, and He loved, unafraid. He was the champion of loving without fear….. the Lord of loving without fear.

As I sit today, processing this out on the pages of my computer screen, lifting up that blanket of bravado that has been over my heart, showing you the inner depths, all I can do is feel hopeful. Hopeful that in this vulnerability, my feet with find this path that Jesus paved, that my ears will continue to do more listening, that void will do less talking, and fear now exposed will slowly find its way out of my heart, as identity begins to seep in.

This forging friendship in appreciating people’s different experiences and beliefs isn’t not a black and white affair. It isn’t simple in its’ manner. It is messy, full of passionate emotions, probably many misunderstandings, a willingness to mature, to see your shortcomings, to see other’s shortcomings and embrace them in love anyway. It requires you to be comfortable with not knowing, and knowing that doesn’t change who you are. It calls you to ask questions, to search out the heart of the Father, and to see how your design (temperate, preferences, etc.) fit into each situation. It demands that you bury you head in his chest and find yourself in His eyes to see what He saw when He created you. When you can see what He saw, it is possible your feet have found their way to the path Jesus walked. The one where He loved unafraid.

This is a journey I am just beginning, a conversation I am just starting. I have more questions than I do answers, I feel insecure most of the time, and I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Standing here open wide, I am finally really listening

Welcome 2017

I have pondered about these next 48 hours since we celebrated since December 16th.  What to do, what not to do, do we celebrate, do we not, do we stay quiet, do we go loud, what do we do.  In about 28 hours, it will have been two years since we sat huddled around that olive-green love seat that held my mom, cradled that red-headed 4-year-old, watching her breathe her last breath.  Although my brain has run wild with the what to do thought, my body made the decision this morning when I woke up with the stomach bug.

Staying quiet it is.

Between my short naps and brief reprieves, I find myself scrolling through all the Facebook memories and Timehops I can.  I read and re-read the moments we shared and the comments that came after allowing them to take me back to that time. I have noticed that as I sit here, my perspective has changed, the walls of my heart have expanded. Notes left by friends expressed so much love, so much compassion and caring, but I was in survival mode and could only comprehend a fraction of what was poured out. As I read these thoughts now, I can feel the tenderness, the devotion, the love more than ever. Katie Grace didn’t just give me a chance to be loved by her, but she gave me the chance to be loved by my community.

We seriously underestimate the value of letting people love us, God didn’t though; He never has. I wonder if God the Father looks at Jesus, the way I look at Katie Grace, in awe of what her sacrifice gave me. When Jesus walked into the fullness of his destiny and sacrificed his life, he opened the door for us to the Father. He gave us the ability to expand our hearts, and in that He exposed the vastness of God the Father’s heart for us. It allowed us to walk in the fullness of God the Father; to grab revelations of freedom, of wisdom, and of love. Jesus’s sacrifice didn’t just give the Father to us, it gave us to the Father. It opened the door for Him to receive our love freely, and for us to receive His love freely. I can no longer look at the sacrifice of Jesus, without seeing the greater sacrifice of the Father. Much like Katie Grace and her sacrifice gave me the chance to be loved by community in a way not all have the opportunity to be. Will we ever be able to fully comprehend the sacrifice of God the Father in the laying down of His son’s life, so that we can share in a mutually loving relationship? Will we ever be able to grasp the love The Father looks upon his Son with, as he relishes in relationship with us? As he hears our worship and chats with us in our prayers, knowing that that door is open because His son said yes to laying down his life. I don’t know but as I look upon Katie Grace’s picture and reflect on what her life gave me in the ways of love and relationship, I can say I think I have a glimpse, and that glimpse simply easily stops me in my tracks and fills me with emotion that there is no words for.
Tomorrow I will wake up in 2017 and it will be the day my daughter breathed her last breath, and I will be grateful. That is my word for 2016, grateful. Grateful that Jesus’s sacrifice didn’t just give the Father to us, it gave us to the Father. Grateful for Katie Grace and what her sacrifice gave us, a community of people who said yes to love, and expanded my heart in understanding value, worth, and the depth in relationship. A love that stood during my inability to comprehend and stands today as a reminder. As I look at 2017 and the word that it will bring, I will carry the gratefulness of 2016 with me into it. I will hold onto the revelations and my expanded heart, full of gratitude.

Today you are 6

Dear Katie Grace,

Today you are 6.

This day 6 years ago you blew into our world, according to us you were 2 weeks late, however you were perfectly on your time.  A time frame we continued to live on all the days we had you.

If I were being forthright I am not quite sure how to celebrate you today.  Last year was simply the 1st year and it was so mixed with the beauty and sadness of your graduation, I think we just got by.  This second year seems to demand something different from me, its like a call from within to know how we are going to remember you every year.  You  know what would be the most like you, is to make the tradition a thing we revisit every year.  To be consistently inconsistent.  I mean for all who knew you, they know, that was your MO in life.  Grammie and I always said if you were anything but tenacious, it was consistently inconsistent.

We miss you here.  Although we are joyful always in where you are and who you are with, our flesh can’t help but miss your presence.  Your brother misses you sooo much.  He is continually asking us for another sibling,  we are doing our best but maybe you and the Lord can send us some help on that one.  You left an imprint on his heart that I don’t know if we will ever see the fullness of until he is grown.

This year has held a lot of changes for us, we have rested in a way we haven’t in years.  Our little family of three has connected and grown in who we are.  We have you to thank for that on many levels.  I believe a part of your destiny was to come and love us until death with every piece of you so that we had the opportunity to step into who we are.  You are ingrained into us, and as much as we try we can’t help but talk about you.  About who we are because of you, about what we know because of you, about how we were and are loved because of you. If you hadn’t said yes, and let this day be your birthday, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

Thank you baby girl for saying yes to life today.  To coming on your own time and doing life on your own terms.  For choosing us as your family and gracing us with your presence.

We love you with all of us.

Momma, Daddy and Isaac.

 

When Grief invites himself to Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving is coming up, in about 4 days to be exact, and man my heart is slowly unraveling at the seams. This is my second Thanksgiving without her. My second year of being a family of three instead of a family of 4, and it is possible that this is my hardest year. Grief surprises you like that, its like one day you hear a knock on the door of your heart so you open it and you see grief there. As you watch him walk in, you realize he actually has always been there, he is just demanding a little more attention. Grief is knocking pretty loudly this year, and I have chosen to welcome him; giving him the attention he is demanding.

I want to run though. I want to bury myself in another family and enjoy the festivities of their function. I want to hide away in their dynamics and pretend for a day that we aren’t simply a family of 3. I had that luxury last year. My community in Redding were aloe to my soul, a buffer in the best way to the magnitude of life without Katie Grace. They held memories of her in their hearts, I could see her legacy in them and it made her closer. Last year at Thanksgiving I hosted at my house, which really meant my Rebekah hosted, we just had it at my house, and at some point it all became too much. I got a little edgy, so I hide away in my room, laid in my bed and just missed her. Not long after, someone came in and just sat at the edge of the bed. It was simple. I am not even sure what we talked about, there wasn’t any demand for a reason, it was a simple don’t forget your loved in the pain check in. Aloe for this heart on that first Thanksgiving without her.

This year though we are thousands of miles away from that community and although we are building community and have had friends offer a place for us, I hear this knocking on my heart. I hear this quiet pounding, calling me to take the time to open the door, invite in the grief, and sit with him. You see, we are a family of 3 here on earth, I cannot get away from that. It is what it is. I will either accept it or I will continue to try to fight it, never at peace with what is.

The question: How do you make peace and move on with something you don’t allow yourself the ability to accept?

Answer: You can’t.

Well maybe you can, I can’t. It is in the making peace with grief that I am able to receive not just the healing power of God’s love but also the ability to keep living to the fullness in which I was created and Katie Grace came for.

Growing up my family had a tradition of spending Thanksgiving with my mom’s family. We would drive to Northern California and spend it with them. When Katie Grace was with us, I kept that tradition because I didn’t know how long we had with her, and that was the only time that extended part of my family got to see her. It kind of became our tradition. Now that we are here in Georgia I have a blank slate. This is the time for Charles and I to decide what are we going to do for our family, the three of us. How do we want to spend our Thanksgiving? What traditions do we want to put into place so that one day when Isaac has children he tells stories of what we did every year and his children get to experience a piece of his childhood when they experience that same thing. In order to do that though, I have to stay. I can’t run into the arms of another family and their traditions, I can’t use the sweet aloe of my community. It is time to open the door to grief, to acknowledge his presence, to spend time with him, and then usher him out the door.

When grief came knocking last Thanksgiving he suggested he was larger than my heart could handle, this year, after a year of rest, of learning to lean into all that God has taught us and showed us, I know better. The aloe of love from my community oozed into my pores and has taken residence in my heart, the beliefs that have become facts of who God is are the chairs in which grief and I sit and speak. They hold me; mind, body and spirit, and I know grief will only be there for a while, but that love, those chairs, they stay always. It is with those things I want to build the traditions of my family. The three of us.

This year I am making my first Turkey and drinking a glass of wine or two. Our family will piece together a puzzle, play some games, try to figure out how to watch football without cable, and we will laugh. We will think about our girl, talk about her red hair, and the littles things she used to do that made her ours. When the day winds down, in the quiet I will have made peace with grief and I will gently usher him out the door from which he came.

Brittle Whispers

Charles and I attended church this morning. We have found this church that is literally 5 minutes from our house, and it’s wonderful. We were worshipping and the worship crew was leading us in “One Thing Remains,” by Jesus Culture. The room was filled with voices singing out:

Your love never fails, it never gives up
It never runs out on me

As my voice sang out blending in with the ones around me, something switched in my heart. It was as if my heartbeat pounded so hard that it awoke a revelation within; and I realized I wasn’t singing out of belief of who God is. I was singing out of a knowing of who God is. My words were no longer simple beliefs that I hoped He would prove true instead they were steadfast facts birthed out of experiences where He proved himself to be true.

My memory quickly took me back to the days when Katie Grace was born and my heart was reeling with the understanding of what life was going to be, and how painful it quite possibly was going to be. I remembered the word curse spoke over Charles and I. The one that said if we ever left this family we served, we would have children of unsound minds and unsound bodies. I remember how lost I felt. How hopeless it all seemed. How confused my heart was as to how we were in the place we were in. I also remember the decision we made to not be mad at God. Bill Johnson, our church’s pastor at the time,  would commonly say while teaching, God is in a good mood. Charles and I decided we were going to believe that. Despite our circumstance, God is a good mood, and those who are in a good mood, they don’t do mean things. Such a simple decision we made. My heart was not leaning on facts or a huge list of experiences. It was a decision I made with my mind, and I would whisper to my heart, “God is in a good mood”, “He doesn’t do mean things to his kids”. “I am not being punished”. “My daughter and whatever life she has is not a punishment”. That was all I had, those whispers. They were not your normal I don’t want anybody to hear because they seem ridiculous whispers. Instead they were those I don’t want anyone to hear because I can barely believe myself and this belief is so brittle that I have to guard it with my whispers. Everyday was a decision about what I would believe. What I didn’t know at that time was that God was taking me up on my belief. He was holding my whispers with all the tenderness that his love carries, and stepping into my belief. The stories of where He proved himself on my journey with Katie Grace are countless. I guess if you read through my blog, you will find the stories there. Stories about the moments when heaven touched earth through my daughter and life was better. Those moments came because I offered the Lord a brittle belief and He proved himself. Luke 17:6 says:

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

This is also true for the matters of our hearts. My frail and shatterable belief that God is in a good mood was my mustard seed. Through my quiet whispers and his tender hands, it was planted deep in my heart and as we journeyed together, He showed up. He showed up in her smile, in her laugh, in her pain, and in the opportunity to love her until death. I also showed up. I invited him into the pain, because believing He is good meant that I could trust him with the hurt. It was true, I could. He loved me, showed me where I had faulty beliefs, lead me to truth, and it matured me in him. My heart is a garden of words that I use to help shape life around me, and together he and I planted a fragile belief and together we grew a sustainable knowledge fertilized in the soil of experience where His goodness and his unfailing love proved true.

Today as I stood in that church joining with fellow believers, my words were changed. They were no long quiet brittle whispers, they were instead healthy shouts of praise, strong in their declaration, proven in experience and isn’t that point of this all. This journey with the Lord, to become more than when we started. That as we walk with him, and allow Him deeper and deeper into our hearts and life, that our beliefs about who he is change. That we open ourselves up so much, even with brittle mustard seed like belief, that He is allowed to prove himself. To give us experiences that flips that switch in our heart so our words were no longer beliefs we hope He would prove true but instead they are facts birthed out of experiences where He proved himself to be true.