MY PERFECT, UNPINNABLE, REVOLUTIONARY CHRISTMAS

Here’s a post a wrote for my dear friend Abby’s Sane For The Holidays Series. I love her and her brave, honest writing. If you don’t follow her in all the places you truly wouldn’t regret doing so. 

My Christmas tree is perfect, absolutely perfect.. and completely un-pinnable. I am writing this blog post in it’s light as it stands all fat and wedged in the corner between our entertainment stand and fireplace.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we loaded up our high-mileage mini-van and headed to a local tree farm, to meet Santa, drink cocoa and cut down The 2015 Penny Family Christmas Tree.

When we arrived, we got the low-down, grabbed a saw and looked over the price list/ tree farm map. The average tree on the lot ran from $30- $85 dollars, which is a lot of money for something we’ll to kick to the curb in 5 weeks. So, off we went, on the hunt for a cheap, scotch pine, sure to cover my house in needles while saving my budget.

We soon realized that we were not the only ones with this mentality and that most of the cheap trees were utter crap. It was at this moment that our 4 year old son fell in love with a Frasier Fir, a tree of the $85 variety.

 

He plopped down next to it, proud that he was able to spot THE PERFECT tree for his mama. When we suggested another tree his lip came out and he promptly burst into tears. So, like good parents who don’t cater to their kids… we promptly wrote a check for $85 and strapped his dream tree to the top of the mini-van.

Hey, you pick your battles, right?

Behold the holidays in all their glory.

Behold the holidays in all their glory.

So we get the Gucci Tree home and prop it up in the tree stand. I logged onto Pinterest to see what they have to say about stringing lights and garland, maybe I’ve been doing it wrong.

Then I realized something, rather profound. 2015 is not going to be the year of the Pinnable christmas tree.

In fact, I don’t know that any Christmas ever will be.

Head on over to accidental devotional to finish it up and see a wicked awesome picture of my kids in front of the Christmas Tree that is crazy unpinnable as well.

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For Those Stuck in Good Friday

Do you remember when Saturdays were always about church planting updates? They will be again, soon, next week even… 

easter People

The year my Dad died Easter came early, March 27, only about a week after his heart attack and the Sunday after his funeral.

Because of this, a church decorated in purple crosses and white lilies doesn’t feel like Easter morning to me, it still loudly echoes the throes of Good Friday.

Every year, no matter when Easter falls in relation to the anniversary of my Father’s death, the songs and smells of Easter are deeply reminiscent of his funeral.

Faith gets real when you’re faced with Easter morning and your heart feels firmly rooted in the worst hours of Good Friday.

Sometimes Easter Sunday doesn’t happen in three days

Because in life, our Good Fridays last longer than a day, longer than the hour of a church service or the time it takes to reflect upon the stations of the cross. There are, in fact, entire seasons, even years of our lives that take place on Holy Saturday.

The day in between the ripping of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb. A day of waiting, of wondering, a seemingly hopeless day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I remember visiting my fathers grave before the funeral flowers had a chance to wither and shrivel, begging God for some sort of miracle. Bring him back now, fix this now, I want my Easter Sunday healing now, please.

Make this all go away, cause me to awake in my bed back home, awash in relief that this was all a nightmare.

Please God, bring me an Easter miracle today or Surely the depth of this grief will be the thing that defines my life, that undoes me. I cannot live in a world where this is my reality.

But we do, don’t we? We live in a world with awful realities. 

We live seasons, even years stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where we wake up on Holy Saturday wondering if our hearts can weather another day of waiting and wondering.

Anne Lammott put it perfectly when she said “we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it’s excruciating, whether it’s Japan, or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God.”

So for all of us who feel the weight of the Good Fridays, the Holy Saturdays, who will experience Easter Sunday with more than a few bones to pick with God, with a laundry list of “but hows.”

To all of you I just want to say: “Hi and me too.”

I understand and it’s okay to lament more than you rejoice on Easter Sunday.

I understand how suicide, depression, infertility, hate, hunger and abuse can make you feel stuck, make you wonder if Easter Sunday is a real

Wonder where God is in light of this unspeakable pain.

For those of us who are kneeling of the grave of someone or something, skeptical that the pure light of the empty tomb could touch us.

For you I pray light, small, grace-filled light that sustains gently.

I pray God send gracious friends, able to sit with you in your black, Holy Saturday questions.

I pray God a spring breeze to remind your senses that there are miracles all around you, and they will meet you in your anger and all your “how could you Gods?” 

I pray that something about this weekend brings you all the hope you can handle, and no more.

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It’s not easy to live between the two, to be Easter people in a Good Friday world, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

I pray that you may experience Easter Sunday for what it is: A promise of healing that brings hope for our right now, a set it all right someday vow that isn’t always easy to to hold on to, but true and life changing regardless. 

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Waiting Tables: Lenten Baptism Post for Megan Tietz at SortaCrunchy

Today I’m honored to be writing about my family and the promises of Baptism for my dear friend Megan Tietz of Sorta Crunchy. I’ll start you off here, then you can head over to her place to finish on up. And while you’re there, do dig into what she’s doing to observe Lent this year through her Waiting Tables series. It’s been profoundly helpful and encouraging for me in this season.

flickr.com user antique nature

flickr.com user antique nature

I was baptized as an infant in February of 1982, with my family gathered in the pews of the stained glass church on Baldwin Street. The same church where my parents were married and my grandparents were founding members.

I was baptized as an adult in late August, 2003 in the center of a large church, surrounded by plastic grey chairs with a few friends and family members scattered in the midst of thousands of others.

It was a profound day, full of awkwardness and freedom. There is nothing comfortable about standing in front of a crowd in cotton baptismal shorts, being submerged in a hot tub by someone you only know a little. There is nothing commonplace about leaving soggy footprints on church carpet as you tearfully make your way through the aisles. But for me this mess a thing of wonder, a miracle. After all, faith is not comfortable and baptism is such a profound gift that the dripping mess fits the radical newness it represents.

Dead with Christ and Alive in his resurrection, leaving the old behind in the water, grabbing breath as a new creation.

Imagine how much baggage has been left at the bottom of baptismal hot tubs.

As I mentioned above, I’ve technically been baptized twice which is a real church taboo. So, while my adult baptism was freeing and beautiful, it somehow felt a bit subversive. My entire family is Reformed and believes in infant baptism, so when it came to this evening I worried they would think I was invalidating the beautiful gift they’d given me as an infant.

It was out of this concern that I decided not to invite any family beyond my parents to the baptism, I worried it would cause an issue and I didn’t want them to fuss over it in the first place. So that evening, while spirit-led and memorable to me, went unobserved by most people in my life.

Please head over to Megan’s place to finish the story. 

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God, I don’t give this to you.

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It was past midnight, maybe three AM when I found myself face down on our dingy comforter silently sobbing these words:

God I give this to you, I give it to you, I give it to you.

I sat up. I got honest.

God I don’t give this you, not today. I fully acknowledge that it IS IN FACT yours right now but my fingers won’t unclench. They will not release. Today I cannot let this drop into your hands where I fully understand that it already rests.

Today I am grasping, today I lack the faith, today I am fully of reasons not to trust you but God… will you help me? 

Could you love me, even now when my fear and faithlessness gather into piles of reasons why you shouldn’t? 

God I am through pretending that I leave my endeavors, my people, my life, my plans in your hands because I think we both see me scrambling for control, for the reigns, for the false hope that I was ever in charge in the first place.

I wonder if the only way to get somewhere in all of this is to sit up straight, walk out of bed, turn on the lamp and confess to you plainly that I do not trust you. That I do not give this to you… but that I want to, deeply, with a desperation kin a deep, desert thirst.

Continue to romance me? To pry my fingers open one by one saying “dear one, dear one… I got this. I got it love, please let go, drop it into the hands that have never stopped holding it. I know you are wounded, I know that you have questions and reasons why the only person who can make things okay is you but I promised you freedom and I will never stop calling you thusly.

He cannot promise he that everything will be okay
That there will not be additional pain, even loss.
That promise does not exist friends.

So tonight I sit up in the midnight hour and confess honestly the heart space in which I find myself.

God I do not trust with you my children and I do not trust you with my husband.
I do not trust you with our provision and I do not trust that you go before.

But God? I want to.

Can you spare a bit more patience? Go with me a while longer while I point out all the ways in which you have let my prayers fall through the cracks or be answered with the worst possible ends?

Will you forgive me my faithlessness a bit longer while I come to terms with it and beg a bit more forgiveness? A bit more love, a bit more time on our journey back to trust.

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What Mental Health Isn’t

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In my life “Mental Health” has been an elusive thing.

Until just this past year every doctor I’ve seen has said something to the effect of: “Have you considered… <insert trendy new pill here>”

Just this past year I had a doctor tell me: “With your case history and the way your mom passed I don’t ever see you off an anti-depressant. If we had a pill to cure breast cancer and your mom had died of that, wouldn’t you take it?”

Sure, but it’s not really the same, is it? My mom didn’t just die because she was sick, it was this messy cluster of pain and problems.

Like losing my dad to a heart attack and losing parts of her daughter in a car/train accident while struggling with depression.

And this is the point at which mental health becomes really hard to figure out. Am I struggling because I’m sick or am I struggling because this is hard, because Life. Is. Hard?

I would never dream of deciding that for another person. Ever.

It is never my place to say “Here is where your life issues and baggage stop and your chemical imbalance begins so this is what you should or should not do.”

I can’t even figure that out for myself.

But I have figured out one thing in this past year of counseling and life and delving deep into past to discover some foundation core beliefs that are throwing me off.

I have figured out what Mental Health is not.

I always thought that mentally healthy people, people upon whom doctors would never dream of handing a Rx for antidepressants must ooze sanity, logical thought and even keeled temperaments.

But that’s not mental health… and that’s not humanity.

Here is what mental health isn’t, what it doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean you never yell at your spouse.
It doesn’t mean you don’t need to make lists to get things done.
It doesn’t mean you never sob for no particular reason over the state of things.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like hiding when the world feels too big.
It doesn’t mean you never get overwhelmed when life feels unstable.
It doesn’t mean you never need to call a friend, right now just to unload and vent.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like walking around with an L on your forehead because you feel like such a mess you may as well proclaim it.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like finding the bottom of a tub of ice cream

These things are not signs of mental illness, they’re just part of being human. Yet for so long I thought that they were things that were categorizing me as “not quite right” when they were normal, human reactions to the big feels of life.

I’ve come to realize that my old idea of what mental health looks like involved two things

1) Not really needing people.
2) Not feeling big feelings out loud.

This is not mental health, this is not human. 

Mental health involves healthy coping skills and healthy coping involves living well in community and feeling your feelings even when they’re really inconvenient.

And they’re going to be inconvenient.

It would be so nice if grief, jealousy, insecurity, sadness, fear, anger and frustration would only come out at the appropriate times but that’s not life, at least it’s not my experience of life on pills or otherwise.

Life happens at messy and inopportune moments and so does it’s corresponding feelings.

If I could share one thing on this topic, it would be this: It is good to feel your feelings. It is healthy, needed and natural…. normal even.

Life is a roller coaster of big feelings and we are meant to be stretched and grown and stressed and sad and thrilled. It’s terribly inconvenient but it’s really important to feel these and go there and know what’s really going on inside us.

We learn how to identify and express emotions in preschool and then sometimes it feels like we try to undo all that as grown-ups.

When your feelings get to a point where you can’t cope or where they are having a negative impact on those around you, then it may be time to seek help, but don’t feel all wrong just for having them.

It’s not my place to speak to anything you’ve discussed with your doctor. You will only ever find me supportive of your choices in that respect.

The only thing I really have to say is don’t assume that your big feelings and inconvenient emotions mean that you’re sick, feel what you need to feel, go to counseling, get to the bottom of it.

The journey to understand your feelings and negative beliefs about yourself, the world and God is worth every moment and penny you invest in it.

It’s the most worthwhile time and money I’ve invested in years and I suspect I will continue to invest in my mental health so I can be the big feels, slightly unpredictable wife, mother, writer and human person God created me to be.

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Just last month I went to a doctor who has seen me for the better part of my life and she told me this: “If you feel like the anxiety is too much, then call me and we will talk through it and figure out the best plan. But you seem to be really self-aware and stable,you’re doing really well.”

As I drove home, I sobbed, because in the journey of living my life and not following in my mother’s footsteps, those were some of the most beautiful words anyone has ever said to me.

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My Elf-piphany (or why the Elf on the shelf bugs me)

I’m a bit of a joiner, when other people are doing something cool I tend to get excited and pull a “ooh something new and shiny, let’s do it!”

This is how we came into possession of an Elf on the Shelf.  It looked like so much fun online that I wanted a piece of the Christmas whimsy. I still wasn’t sure how we would do Santa with our two young kids, but I was going for it on the elf front.

I marched into the Hallmark store and marched right back out with $30 less in my bank account and a bag full of Elf.  In a shockingly large box.

If you don’t know the whole concept behind the Elf on the Shelf, here it is: you pay $30 for a little doll who is Santa’s is secret spy for your family. You tell your kids that he’s watching them, that he’ll let Santa know if they’re good or bad. Then you move him every evening (or frantically in the morning because you forgot) to fun and quirky new places in the house. The kids are instructed NOT to touch him or he will lose his magic.  

I got into it for the whimsy, for the hope of a fun tradition our children would remember and smile on years later.

But this year, it’s bothered me endlessly, I resent that little red bugger. Something doesn’t feel right about it in the pit of my stomach.

IMG_1086 Sometimes when our two year old son was extra obnoxiously naughty and hitting his sister in the head with matchbox cars or smearing the table in oatmeal, I’d pull the elf card. “Caedmon, do you want Santa to see you being naughty? You could lose a present. The Elf is seeing you do that.”

Then emotional vomit would come up in my throat and I’d walk away feeling like a horrible person and parent.

And I couldn’t figure out why.

Then two nights ago I had an Elf-piphany.

It started when I decided to have the Elf, who by the way we named Mr. BoJingles, write our children a note that my four year old super star, starting to read daughter Noelle could practice on in the morning.

So I scrambled for some green paper and a nice pen and wrote out this:

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“Dear Noelle and Caedmon, Christmas is only three days away, so be good!  Love Mr BoJingles.”

Then I got a little of the ol’ Elf nausea (this could be because I had the stomach bug at the time) “This isn’t right, this is bothering me… why?”

Then I had a true lightbulb of a moment.

“Oh my God, GRACE!”  I shouted at myself in the quiet of the dining room.  But you know, not so loud as to wake up the kids because, priorities.

The Elf on the shelf, as done by the book, flies in the face of grace because we can’t tell our children both these things:

1) Jesus is the whole reason behind Christmas, it’s the day we celebrate that God sent him to the Earth to save us. We give presents to each other to celebrate the fact that Jesus was the best gift ever given.
AND
2) If you’re not good, a magical fat man will take away your presents.

You can’t have both grace and works.  It is out of LOVE we were sent Christ, it is by GRACE we are saved, it is because of this LOVE and GRACE that my (mostly) healthy heart loves to give my children good gifts.

Gifts they do not have to earn. Gifts it would break my heart to take away from them.  Gifts I poured myself into and cannot wait to delight them with.

The Elf on the Shelf concept can’t coexist with the freely given love and grace of the nativity without creating dissonance.

The same dissonance I’d been hearing all season bust just now finally identified.

Do I want my children to live in the ways of Scripture? Absolutely.  But not because they’re afraid of lightening bolts from heaven or a God who will swoop in and steal the good things from their lives.

I want them to long for their Father because they trust him, love him, believe that in his word is the key to the richest, deepest, best possible life on Earth.

So Elf, you can stay for the next two days, but I’m watching both you and my own words. We will rethink you for next year.  You may get the boot, you may be repurposed into another tradition.

But you won’t steal the grace we’re cultivating in these walls, you won’t cause my children to doubt the depth of the love I have from them or the deep beauty that is mingled between the nativity scene.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel (printable and reflection)

(I’m an ENFP which means I have 375% more ideas than I have time for.  Yesterday I owed you a hymn reflection and printable, today I owe you a church planting post.  Our family has been down with the stomach bug all week so you’re getting the hymn because it’s what I need to write.  I promise to follow through more in 2014, refer back to line one of the this post and believe accordingly.)

We’re 4 days out from Christmas and I don’t know about you but I’m already sick of it. Not the Jesus part. The Rest of it.

The shopping, to do list, grocery run, stomach bug, mall frenzy, 72 email ads, cheap plastic side of it.

The part where you stop and go “wait, isn’t this supposed to be about Jesus?  Where’s my silent night?”

The part where you wonder how so much hate and division can be flying around between people who claim to celebrate the same baby this whole season is supposed to be about.

The part where you’re doing too much in the hopes that it will make everything feel okay.

The part where you can’t even fathom a holiday gathering without someone you’ve lost, where the thing you want for Christmas is certainly not going to happen.

The parts where our hearts are still in exile for either a healing that hasn’t come or a truth we’re sorely missing.

These are the parts that weigh on me while I’m standing in line at the store wondering why someone would pay an extra $5 for a gift card holder that will get immediately thrown away or while I’m sitting on my couch picturing Christmas scenes I want but can’t have.

These are the parts into which I need to pray this hymn. (listen to it here)

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And Ransom Captive Israel
That mourns in Lowly Exile here
Until the son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad division cease
And be thyself our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel

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  A background of pain underneath the cry of the weary world, some of our most painful words with our cry scrawled over top, digital art that made me shake as I created it. You can print this out as an 8×10 or do what I’m going to do, save it as the home screen on your phone to remind you that Jesus is the cry of our most broken places. 

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t always my favorite Christmas hymn, but it is now.  It’s an aching, a cry for salvation that has already, but not yet happened.

It speaks of a nation in exile, unable to sing it’s songs in a foreign land where they are aching and stuck.

It was originally written in latin during the middle ages and over the past 800 years everything and nothing has changed.  We still ache, we still observe advent and recognize that while the baby has been born to us, there is so much he has yet to set right.  

The other day I was talking with my daughter Noelle about advent and getting ready for Jesus to be born.

“But Mom, Jesus already has been born.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Why would we wait for something that already happened.”

I let her win that one for now, because is confusing, isn’t it?  He came already yet still there is so much ache we don’t understand.

We mourn, we wail, we burry our faces in our hands some days and ache his his return, now, yesterday, sooner.

There is so much wrong with the world, but we have to remember something crucial, something hopeful. Many of the places that cry out for Emmanuel are places into which we can be the bearers of his love.  We cannot ourselves undo death, take away the memory of abuse or unsay hurtful words yet we are not powerless in the darkness.

But we can feed the hungry
We can invite the homeless in
We can speak love into hate
We can sit with the grieving and meet their needs
So many of the ways in which Emmanuel will come to us, is through the hands of his people.

And as easy as it is to get discouraged, there is hope.  There is reason to rejoice, may it not be all grief for you, not all aching, may there be hope and very real places in which he comes to you as we celebrate the day that changed the world forever.

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Love Showed Up: Held Up and Held Together

Last week I introduced a new series here entitled “Love Showed Up: The best of People on the Worst of Days.” The idea here is that the best thing we can do to defuse grief clichés is to share stories of times in our lives when everything fell apart and we were loved well and held closely.  

Today my dear amazing friend Jillian Burden is kicking off the series for us by sharing a story from her life that will leave you breathless but hopeful. Simply put Jill is one of my favorite people on the planet, she’s classy and thoughtful with a faith that challenges and encourages me in the best of ways.  Let’s read this story and store it up in our hearts as an example of holding together our loved one in seasons of falling apart.

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it.

This went on for months. Hellish is the best way to describe it. I continued with my education, driving back to Ontario from my college in Michigan with my fiance at every available opportunity. I lived as normally as I possibly could, but every minute of every day had a terrifying footnote under it: *Your mom might be dead.

When I called my dad from my dorm each night, adrenaline rushed through my body. What would he say? Was she any better? Was she worse? Was she still alive?

And how was he? My brother? My teenage sister? Were they eating? Working? Going to school? How do you continue living when your wife or mom is dying?

I felt like I was falling apart.

Here’s what kept me together: community.

From the moment they learned that my mom was sick, my community was there. My friends, my family’s friends, my home church in Ontario, my Bible college peers and professors in Michigan, and my relatives all over the world reached out to put their hands on me and hold me together.

At first, they prayed. Then they started bringing meals to my dad and sister still living at home in Ontario. They offered to drive me six hours from my dorm to my mom’s ICU room. They paid for the gas. They cleaned my parents’ house every week for weeks on end. They raked leaves. Pulled weeds. Shoveled snow. At school my professors changed due dates and gave me extensions. They asked how I was doing. Friends and family gathered time and again in the ICU waiting room to sit with my dad. With my siblings. With me. They brought pizza. They prayed. They made small talk. They were quiet.

As my mom crept closer and closer to death, my 300 person bible college together with my parents’ church and friends and family from around the world fasted and prayed for two days. My inbox was flooded with words of support. Someone we knew in Jerusalem placed a prayer for my mom on the Western Wall. At the end of the fast, I stood in a circle among dozens of my peers and took communion. When we had all chewed our bread and swallowed our wine, each student came one by one to embrace me. I left wet marks on their necks and shoulders from my tears. I was so scared, so sad, so sick at the thought of loosing my mom. But I was never one thing: alone.

My story has happy ending. After those days of prayer and fasting, my mom slowly began to improve. Her damaged, infected lungs, began to heal. Her blood saturation levels improved. Her sepsis subsided. She was weaned out of her coma. It was late October- two months after her original surgery- when my dad was finally able to tell her what happened… and how much time had past since her last memory. Unable to speak because of the ventilator she simply mouthed the word, “Wow.”

On November 1- her 48th birthday- she was able to sit up for the first time since August, with the help of a giant sling. Her doctor- who had only weeks earlier described her as “the sickest person in Canada-” called her a medical miracle.

Mom on her birthday.

She was eventually transferred back to a smaller hospital near my parents’ home where she was weaned off the ventilator and started physical therapy. At this point, my fiancé John and I were planning to get married in the hospital (so my mom could be present); I remember watching her barely able to turn the page of a wedding planning magazine. She was so weak.

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As she healed and we approached the wedding, our community gave their love and support as generously as they had in her weakest hours. My hair stylist aunt came to the ICU with her scissors and combs in hand to give my mom’s short-hair gone shaggy a trim. A coworker of my dad baked up a cupcake “tree” to serve as our wedding cake and my mom’s best friend cooked up a spread of appetizers for us to enjoy with our dozen or so guests after a short ceremony. My childhood pastor agreed to officiate and the church secretary designed and printed a stack of special programs just for the event. My greenhouse-owning cousin made us boutonnieres and corsages while her parents uncle drove a van filled with poinsettias all the way to the hospital so we could decorate.

In Dember my mom had been moved out of ICU to a long-term recovery floor and we used the floor’s community room for our wedding. The night before the wedding, we set up chairs with an aisle down the middle and went home to rest. While we slept, the nurses on my mom’s floor covered every chair with a white bed sheet and hung Christmas ornaments on the back. It was beautiful.

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On January 2, 2008 I stood outside that hospital community room with my mom and dad, waiting to walk down the aisle after them and get married. My mom smiled at me from her wheelchair as the CD wedding music began to play. She stood, shakily, and held on to me for support as my dad wheeled her empty chair down the makeshift aisle. Then, to the surprised and tear-filled eyes of our friends and loved ones, she took hold of my dad’s arm and, slowly but surely, put one foot ahead of the other…. and walked.

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 Six months after my mom took those first feeble steps, John and I had a big party to celebrate our marriage with all our friends and family, outside those hospital walls. We laughed and cried a lot that day; for us, for my mom, for our family, for our friends… for our whole community who collectively held us up and held us together through

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that last year. We were finally able to fall apart, but this time it was only in the very best of ways. After dinner as the music played my brother took my mom out to the center floor and- surrounded by the loving hearts and glowing faces of our unfailing community- she danced.

 

 

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Jillian Burden loves nothing better than hearing and telling great stories. She chronicles her own story of adoption, infertility, faith, family life and her journey to joy over at her blog addingaburden.com

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with my via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Love showed up (a story and a series announcement)

Today I want to tell you a story, talk about light and then introduce a new series I’ll be hosting here for the foreseeable future.  

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It all felt like a nightmare, one I half believed I would wake up from.  Denial at it’s finest, or worst rather.

I stared down at my ruffled ballet flats pressed together on the funeral home carpet and marveled at the turn my life had taken. Just days before I had been laughing with my Dad on the phone and now I was standing 5 yards away from his body, laid out in a casket.

I couldn’t find the strength to approach it, to see him in his stillness, his glasses still and speckled with paint. As I stood there I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was my Grandpa, the one who had stepped up to pay for the costs of my Dad’s funeral.

It’s all a blur in hindsight, but I know I heard something like this: “I think it would be really nice if you and your siblings pitched in to cover your Dad’s headstone.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a stone to go visit.”

I told him that yes, I would take care of it. Silently I wondered how I’d pull it off, I was in college, my brother was in High School and my sister lived in a group home in Texas, not a lot of money in that equation.

A few days after the funeral Kel (at that time my boyfriend who’d flown in to support me) and I headed up to the monument place recommended by the funeral home to figure out our options, headstone-wise.  The worst shopping trip ever.

Over the next few weeks my mom and I decided on a black granite stone with the words of Romans 8:28 etched along the bottom.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

I chose a scripty, non deathlike font for the main text along the top and a pond scene with loons to be etched across the entire front.  I took great care to make it something that didn’t feel like anything I’d seen in the cemetery before, something that felt more like life than of death.

It would be pricier than expected, but it was what I needed to do, it was the only design I could deal with. Continue reading

Praying Songs and Fighting On

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I walked out of the grocery store discouraged, pushing my half empty cart to our dusty mini van with one hand as I grasped my daughter, Noelle’s hand with the other.

When I finally got it loaded up I plunked my head onto the steering wheel inadvertently causing the horn to blare and startle a passing shopper while my four year old burst into laughter in the back seat.

As I put the van into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot I started to chastise myself for overspending as I reviewed the receipt in my head.  “Where did I go wrong? Am I ever going to go out grocery shopping without leaving the store feeling so guilty?”

Thought trains like this can quickly escalate to a session of beating the crap out of myself so I began to look for footholds that would help me stop the downward spiral.

“One grocery trip doesn’t define your life, neither does one morning of writing work.  You are more than this snapshot.”

Suddenly Noelle called out: “Hey mom!  How ’bout some music?”

Yes music!  Something grounding, foundational.  I made my request to Siri and miraculously she understood and cued up the appropriate track, Come to Me by Bethel Loft.

“I am the Lord your God.  I go before you now.  I stand beside you, I’m all around you.  Though you feel I’m far away, I am closer than your breath.  I am with you, more than you know.”

I started to sing these words, belt them out like a prayer my life depended on.  Suddenly, instantly, I was transported back in time to my mother’s car, myself a little girl in the back seat.

I was years away watching her sing along to powerful music, dancing with her hands and drumming on the steering wheel with a passion that spoke to the depth of her need to cling, to hold on tight.

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was praying through music, unintentionally teaching me to lean into the power of lyrics when my own prayers weren’t flowing.  When I was losing my way again.

She was teaching me that when you feel too weak to speak truth into your own life, find a song that will do it for you and sing. Sing loud and squeaky and off key.  Sing like your life depends on it, because right now, it does.  

For all the times I saw my mother give up, there were twice as many times that I saw her fight on.

Through her depression, her fear, her crippling anxiety.

Whatever people may think about those who take their own lives, there is depth beneath that one choice that goes unknown to those on the outside.  There is more to a life than that final choice.  Yes, it speaks to sickness, weariness and defeat but it doesn’t tell the story of all the other times when they prayed a song and fought on.  

It started with a shopping trip, it almost turned into session of despair, but instead it became a prayer through song.

A moment to remember the good practices that my mother left behind.

Ultimately it ended in passing this practice onto my own daughter, who stepped out of the van singing…  “Come to me, I’m all you need.”

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There’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts. Join the conversation on all fronts, that’s my favorite.