Love Showed Up: Be The Miracle

Today’s post rings true and beautiful and comes to us from the Lovely Bethany Suckrow. Enjoy!6787489939_7ed586fe31_b

I have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus really performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels. It’s just that my own story is marked by the miracle that never came: my mother’s healing.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old. My memories of that time in our lives are still vivid nearly two decades later. I remember seeing her bandaged chest after her mastectomy. I remember her waist-length curtain of dark brown hair falling out in handfuls, and the way she looked the morning after she made dad shave her head. I remember walking into their bedroom to see her laying in the darkness, spent with sickness after another chemo treatment. I remember the prayers I prayed – God, please help mom feel better. God, please make her hair grow back. God, please don’t take her away. God, please. Please. 

I remember other things too, memories that I look back on with deep gratitude and love. I remember the stack of cards that came in the mail, from everyone we knew, it seemed. So many times mom would open them and a slip of paper would fall out onto the kitchen counter – a check to help us make ends’ meet. I remember the people that showed up on our doorstep, arms full of food. Some of these people were flesh-and-blood family, but most of them were our church family. We attended the same small Baptist church in my rural hometown in Michigan for my whole life, and my mother’s whole life. They are a congregation of real salt-of-the-earth people, mostly farmers and their families that have lived in the area for several generations. With the same steadfastness (some might say stubbornness) that survives Michigan winters and plows the hard ground year after year, the parishioners attend that same First Baptist Church on Cochran Road. And with that same steadfastness, they rally around one another in seasons of hardship. At the time of mom’s first diagnosis, and again five years later when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, they were ever-present with prayer and encouragement and meals and cards and childcare.

Mom lived with metastatic breast cancer for nearly 10 years after she received the second diagnosis in 2002. Considering that her doctors gave her three years maximum prognosis, this was miraculous. Most of that time, she didn’t even look sick. It wasn’t until it spread to her soft tissue in those last three years that things started to change. As her conditioned worsened, mine did too; my faith felt toxic.  I felt like what hope I had left was dying inside of me. The community and meals and financial support were great and all, but God, wouldn’t it just be better if you healed her so that we wouldn’t need it anymore? 

I wanted total healing for my mother, but God refused to give it. I prayed for the miracle, longed for the miracle, tried to will myself into believing hard enough that if I knocked, the door would be opened. It didn’t. In the final year of mom’s life, everything felt desperate and desolate. Mom was in and out of the hospital every other week and every part of her body seemed to be failing her. At home, things were just as dire; my parents were swamped with medical debt and no one had the time or mental where-with-all to keep track of anything.

And that’s when Love showed up in a big way for us. A few friends from church and some members of our family decided to plan a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to help raise funds for my parents. Hundreds of helping hands joined the effort with donations for the meal and the auction, and on the night of the event, hundreds more showed up. Despite how physically weak she was after another stint in the hospital, Mom was able to attend. They sat her in a chair by the door to the auditorium where the dinner was being held and friend after friend came to her with hugs and words of encouragement. All in all, more than 800 people came and raised more than $14,000.

Some days, I still have a hard time believing in miracles. I can’t sugar-coat the reality that the one I spent a lifetime praying for never came. My mom died when I was 24, and every day I miss her. Every day I battle my bitterness and anger. Every day I ask God why. Every day I ask God to prove to me that Love is real. And every day, the memories fall like manna – I remember the friends that showed up with arms full of food, the cards that came in the mail, the funds tucked inside them that helped our family make ends’ meet. And I remember the night of the spaghetti dinner and silent auction as its own miracle – all those people showing up for us, all of them sharing their resources and moving one another toward compassion and generosity – it was the feeding of five thousand, it was water turned to wine, it was Love made flesh and dwelling among us.

Screen shot 2014-06-01 at 2.34.02 PM Bethany Suckrow is a writer and blogger at at www.bethanysuckrow.com, where she shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about losing her mother to cancer. She and her musician-husband, Matt, live in the Chicago suburbs.

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Love Showed Up: Bridal Showers, The Gift of Support

Today’s Love Showed Up Post comes to us from blogger Heather Tenzeca, I hope you enjoy her gracious story of support and love. If you’re interested in contributing, getcha some more info below. 

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It was a few months before our wedding. Between my parents’ impending divorce, our own relationship struggles, and the stress of finding jobs for our after-college life, it wasn’t what I had pictured. In fact, I was so busy student teaching and applying for jobs that cake testing and dress fittings seemed overwhelming, and I outsourced many tasks to my mom.

And then there were the fears. Had the harshness that had crept into our relationship become too much? We fought a lot about silly things and about bigger things. And with every fight, I thought that things were falling totally apart. Should we actually be married? I felt a deep sense of certainty about marrying him, but we both brought a lot of our own baggage to a relationship that seemed so scarred. It wasn’t the perfect path to the altar I had pictured. Jealousy, stress, fears and our own family situations had taken their toll. Our relationship’s age often seemed less like the new beginnings of a rosy-cheeked baby and more like a rebellious teenager.

My second bridal shower was a warm day in May. It was hosted by friends of my mom–women who had played a crucial role in my own life too as Sunday School teachers, a mom of the children I babysat, moms of friends.

And as I walked into the home full of good food and smiling women, I thought, “What did I do to deserve this love and this support? Why were people so happy for us when things often seemed so dark–when we had seen the ugliness of each other and ourselves more clearly through our relationship already?” “How could people be so happy when the divorce rate was something like 50%?”

They gave their gifts extravagantly. I couldn’t believe the generosity given to two kids who might turn out to be irresponsible and not enough. But more importantly, they gave their support. They gave best wishes. I felt bolstered, all afloat in the love of a community–a community who had worked in my life up until this point and was gently pushing us forward.

On our wedding day, I distinctly remember standing at the altar and thinking, “I’ve messed up so much. So much.” But there were the faces–of our bridesmaids and groomsmen and family members and professors and friends all saying, “You can do this! This is good, and we believe in it. And you.”

Getting to the altar may be easier for some than it was for us, but marriage itself is hard work. And at some point most of us wonder whether we should and can make such a commitment. It takes the love of a community, their encouragement and stories and gifts and confidence to make it work.

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I use their gifts every day–the silverware I put on the table, my most-used cookbook, our duvet cover. And behind those gifts, I see their faces and hear their own stories. I don’t deserve this. We aren’t the couple they might think. They don’t know our struggles and sins and the pain we’ve caused one another. They don’t know how often we’ve fought and argued.

But the fact is, it’s not that I don’t deserve this generosity because of the state of our relationship but because none of us can deserve love so freely given. Nothing I did made them love me, and nothing we did earned their support. But there it was.

When I think of love showing up, I see that undeserved, beautiful bridal shower foreshadowing an undeserved, beautiful marriage where love shows up time and time again. And I think of a baby shower–just about two years later–where many of those same women came again to give their gifts, love, and support and say again, “This is good,” giving me confidence to walk into the unknown and pointing to a God who gives even more abundantly than I could ask or imagine.

IMG_8639 Heather Tencza is an English teacher turned mom who writes about faith, parenting, wellness, and life with her husband and son. She blogs at Pilgrim Sandals

 

 

Interested in contributing to the Love Showed Up series? Send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and let’s have a chat about it. 

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Love Showed Up: Friendship Overpowers Shame

Today’s brave and breathtaking post comes from my friend Lisa. Kel and I were Lisa’s Youth Pastors almost 10 years ago and I’m so humbled and honored to have reconnected with her so she can share her brave story, which I still cannot read without tears. 

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The ribbon included with my post is simple, but that simple ribbon means so much to me. That simple ribbon gives meaning to all I have been through…all I have overcome and all I will overcome. That teal ribbon stands for surviving sexual abuse.

“You haven’t beat me down. I may have fallen before but I will stand tall now.”

Those words were the last ones I said aloud in a very emotional speech on sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my father.  This is the first time I have ever written those words for the public to read.

I looked up to the small audience of close friends in my living room after speaking those words one close friend in particular overcome with emotion. I understood then that I was truly “loved”…love showed up. You see…the girl I was didn’t believe those words yet. I was brave enough to speak them again the following night at a Take Back The Night event, but that girl was desperate for acceptance. That girl was so strong that she was afraid to admit that she was actually weak.

The night I practiced my speech I shared this for the first time:

“From about age four to age six I was sexually abused by my father…In those two years he did the worst things you can imagine to a little girl. The abuse pretty much set the tone for the rest of my childhood. The effects were far reaching. I wasn’t confident. I didn’t feel pretty”.

I am 24 years old today and this speech took place about 4 years ago. I can say with confidence that this event was the first time in my entire life that “love showed up” for me (at least that I recognize). I shared such a vulnerable piece of my life with more people than my husband (boyfriend at the time) and expected to be turned away. Instead I was greeted with tears of compassion and quiet support from good friends.

A lot of survivors of sexual abuse wait for the proverbial “anvil” to drop on their heads. I was no different. This was the first time I got that people have the capacity to care…to care about me. Also in that moment I felt God’s presence. Love showed up has dual meanings in this event. I got that people cared for me, and I got that God cares for me…always. His presence was just a flicker… and to this day I struggle with trusting a heavenly father when my earthly one treated me so horribly. It was this event that made me understand that I truly had a family in these people. To this day I can count on them for anything that I need. If it’s a phone call after a hard day or lunch just to socialize…I can count on them. I also understand that I can bring anything to God. It’s just laying my problems (or especially myself) at his feet that I struggle with.

Through good friends, an awesome husband and an equally as awesome therapist I am closer to believing these words I wrote in my speech:

“For me taking back the night means taking back all I lost…taking back the world [I] had begun to fear. To say to [the person] who assaulted me. You will not stop me from living my life to the fullest. You will not stop me from becoming the woman I want to become. Strong, confident, poised. My head held high, you haven’t beat me down. I may have fallen before but I will stand tall now.”

419534_10151195673834275_311131210_n Lisa Smith is a devoted wife and student. She strives to move beyond her experiences and eventually become a licensed therapist. Lisa hopes to be an inspiration to others both that share her history and those who don’t. Lisa is passionate about bringing women’s issues to the forefront and out of the shadows of shame and silence. Her hobbies are far reaching…everything from singing and playing the guitar to writing stories and reading. If you find yourself wandering Barnes and Noble you can find Lisa in the psychology section, the reference section, or the fiction section (P.S. you should look in that order). Lisa hopes that she can touch others with her experience and for those who share her history she most wants you to know you are not alone. 

Interested in contributing to the Love Showed Up series? Send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and let’s have a chat about it. 

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Love Showed Up With a Simple Offer

Today’s post comes to us from one of my dear friends, Brenna D’Ambrosio. Her words are always water for my thirsty soul and her gracious, soulful approach to life never fails to stop me in my tracks. Enjoy, I dare you not to. 014

If you’ve left a church you’ve been part of for a long time, you know the emotions that go with it. And if the circumstances are less than ideal, the pain is even worse. My story centers around the day I walked through new sanctuary doors carrying heartache and sadness.

I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of our time at our old church, the one I had been part of for almost a decade. The relationships changed due to distance. The people who had become my family were now gone. The people I did life with were all a plane ride away.

I was grieving the atmosphere when we left – it was all bittersweet. We had gone through what I can only describe as walking through mud up to my waist. It was painful and exhausting and all I wanted was relief.

Tears were quick to flow in those weeks and months and I couldn’t even tell why – too many emotions coursing through a nine-month pregnant woman.

I walked into the new sanctuary, the one thousands of miles away, with a swollen belly and my head hanging low. We had just moved from the East Coast to the Midwest. I was 37 weeks pregnant and carrying my 18 month old with me. I was tired. My feet hurt. I just wanted to finish unpacking and then curl up on a couch with my family and rest until it was time to have our baby. But I knew that if we didn’t visit a church that week, I’d run the risk of not going back for a very long time. I was so physically tired. I was even more emotionally and spiritually tired.  But we went that Sunday morning, hesitantly yet determinedly.

I kept my eyes down; I had no energy for small talk. I silently prayed that this wasn’t one of those churches that made you raise your hand if you were new or talk to people during long drawn out greeting periods. In and out. I needed an easy win. I just wanted to say that I made it to church. Continue reading

Love Showed Up- When Grief Unites

 

Today’s Love Showed Up post comes from the lovely Rachel Haas and it’s a topic that I hope you identify, that of grief binding together in love and memory rather than tearing apart. 

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Two days before I turned 23, my grandmother passed away. The circumstances surrounding her death were a whirlwind. It wasn’t expected, it all happened so fast.

 

I stood in our brand-new kitchen and clung to my husband while I sobbed. We had just talked on the phone the week before, Grandma and I. She had asked about my daughter and we had laughed over an inside joke. There was no goodbye, there never was one when our phone calls ended. Only a “see you soon, love you much.”  

 

I texted my sister that night and we shared memories while tears dripped onto the screen. Everything ached. Grandpa had died when I was a teenager, and now Grandma was gone too. It was the end of an era. Nothing felt the same without her. I wanted to call her and tell her how sad I was. The missing was agonizing.

 

She wanted to be cremated. It had always been her wish. Grandpa had stayed on the top of the curio cabinet, among all the other pictures of loved ones. But now he and Grandma’s urns were placed side-by-side in the ground. Just their dust. Their souls were walking the beach with Jesus.

 

And so we gathered, all of us. All five of her children, all ten of their children, and their fifteen children too. Only six of us were missing. I wrapped my arms around my cousin’s wife for the first time and chased their toddler around the lobby. My one year old daughter met all her little cousins, who could not get enough of the littlest family member. My poor husband was dizzy with all the names and faces.

 

We were all there to remember Grandma.

 

At the end of the service, the family all stood together to sing the first verse of How Great Thou Art. It had become tradition at the funerals in our family. We’re a musical family, somehow, and it always seems to fit. We celebrate with song. We mourn with melody. It was just the voices, no piano in the background.

 

The love was tangible as it filled that auditorium. It was Holy Hands reaching down from Heaven to wrap us all up and hold us close. It was the most beautiful, the most heartbreaking, the most sacred celebration of life I have ever experienced.

 

Love showed up in the fingers of my family as we looped them together around the graveside, the air cool enough for coats. We stood around the plot and laughed. We must have been such an odd sight, the humor echoing off the stones. Love showed up for us that cold October day with tears streaming down our cheeks but smiling so big it hurt.

 

Love showed up in a cemetery filled with laughing mourners. Love showed up in a family gathered for the first time in years. Love showed up in connections and family love growing in bigger circles, like ripples in a lake from the stone Grandma and Grandpa dropped. Their legacy is still spiraling out.

 

Love showed up because there was no goodbye. There never was any goodbye.

 

See you soon, Grandma
Love you much. 

10264512_10152757894163642_1349287236_nRachel Haas is a Story-writing, caffeine-consuming, paint-flinging, wild-at-heart Jesus craver. She is married to Jonathon, as she has been for the past four years, momma to Marian, and wrangler of an oversized Great Dane and two cats who are relatively bonkers. She dwells in between Midwestern cornfields where she pours her heart out in lowercase abandon. You can connect with her on twitter, Instagram and her blog 

Love Showed Up: Love that Doesn’t Need You To Say It Back

Today’s post comes form the lovely Sarah Siders, who I happen to know because she works with my brother on an Army Base in Kansas. I hope you enjoy her lovely words today.

“I think we’re going to break up,” I announced to my new boyfriend after everyone else left the church that night. “I break up with all my boyfriends.” 

We’d only been dating two days, yet my previous relationships told me everything I needed to know about this one. Relationships with me end badly. I figured it was only fair to let this new guy in on my secret.

Ironically, I started this relationship believing it would end. But on the other side of my inner cynic was a hopeless romantic, one who hoped someday a man and I could love each other with a true and lasting affection. I’d just never seen it done. Not in my life anyway.

I don’t remember how he responded to my anxious forecast, but I have no doubt he calmed the storm with his trademark patience I would come to expect over the years. I do remember we left in the same car that night. And the next day, we were still together.

After barely a month of dating, or in my world, after 30 days of not breaking up, we curled up beside each other on a crusty, aged couch along his living room window. It was already dark, but we wouldn’t say goodbye for hours. I never wanted to leave him, even though he terrified me. No matter how dim my pessimistic predictions, I couldn’t make him go away.

As we lay there talking, he whispered the three scariest words, words I knew meant we were over. “I love you,” he said, his voice tender and sincere. But they sounded like the end to me.

I couldn’t say it back. I didn’t know how I felt. My mind flooded with all the fearful thoughts. It was too soon for the L word. Why was he being so pushy? Doesn’t he know you’re supposed to wait on those words, like a year or something? The men who said “I love you” before wanted me to say it back. And then we broke up. The L word is a break-up precursor. Doesn’t he know the rules? Now we’re doomed.

As the anxiety whirlwind spun a dervish in my mind, I sealed the words inside my mouth. Eventually I mustered, “I can’t say it back yet.” I braced myself for the awkward guilt I knew would follow my confession.

“I’m not saying it for me,” he consoled. “I’m saying it for you. I don’t need you to say it back.”

What? Who was this guy? I didn’t know, but in that moment, he was the man who loved me, and he didn’t need me to love him back. I decided maybe I did not need to break up with him.

He exuded a disconcerting confidence, the kind that could give love without leaving behind a gaping hole in need of a refill. He didn’t need to coerce me into saying something I didn’t mean.

He was a strange man indeed.

He loved me with a thick, rugged kind of love, gently and slowly burrowing beneath the scales of my soul. His squinty eyes beamed affection and admiration at me, but his romance never showed up grandiose. It just showed up. And kept showing up.

During the coming months, I stormed, nearly ending our relationship on a monthly basis. I tried to find good reasons to write him off like the other men, but I couldn’t deny this one was different. His persistent love rendered me uncomfortably vulnerable. I wanted to crawl away to save myself from the inevitable pain, but every time I tried, he talked me off the ledge. Calmly, relentlessly. And down I came.

All the while, he showed me he wanted a grown-up life with me. He quit his job at the grocery store and took a new job at a bank, a job with potential for growth, something that could support a family. He bought a new car. He met my parents. At first, it didn’t go well.

At our gregarious family dinner table, he was awkwardly introverted. We all wanted him to crack jokes like the rest of us. Instead, he sat quietly with his thoughts, not competing for attention’s center. He drove me crazy, yet his quiet confidence was what I needed so desperately in a man.

His love persevered, present but never fancy. A love

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with nothing to prove. It confused me, but drew me at the same time.

We dated only eight months before we learned my brother would leave for his second deployment in May. It was less than four months away. We considered a wedding after he returned, but suddenly I knew. I wanted to marry this man, this sturdy, bearded man who I couldn’t convince to stop loving me. So why wait?

There was no time for the romantic proposal I’d dreamed of, an evening full of surprises recreating our relationship or a knee drop in a four-star restaurant. We started planning the wedding immediately, without a ring on my finger, and part of me felt cheated. But there was no time for doubt.

One night only weeks before the wedding, he whispered to me in the dark again. “Sarah, will you marry me?” His voice was timid this time, but still sure. And finally, I felt sure too. “Yes,” I replied as the ring slipped around my finger.

We married in the middle of May, a year and a day after our adventure began. After nearly six years of marriage, I doubt his love less and less each day. His love shows up in sickness and in health, in childbirth and mortgage payments, in diaper changing and lawn mowing. His love shows up even when mine doesn’t, just like he promised.

 

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Bio: Sarah Siders is a social-working writer in a Midwestern college town, where she unsuccessfully tries to keep her chocolate stash secret from her husband and son. Sarah is the author of the eBook, My Birthright For Soup, and is currently working on her biggest project yet, Dream or Die, a primer on recovering dreams and vision for our lives. She laughs and thinks out loud on dreaming, relationships and the hilarity of parenthood at her blog home, www.sarahsiders.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @sarahsiders.

Interested in contributing to the Love Showed Up series? Send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and let’s have a chat about it. 

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Love Showed Up: When People Say They are Hurting, Believe Them

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Abby Norman is a brave, dear friend with a voice that makes one feel stronger for bearing witness to it, I hope you enjoy her wise words today.

But you seem fine.

From 1997-2009  my body was not fine. I was tired and achy and just didn’t feel good. For hours, for days, for months at a time. I for sure was not fine.

But you look fine.

But I looked fine. I looked totally normal. I was tallish and thinish and smiled and laughed a lot . I was participating in class discussions and marching the tenor drums in the marching band and trying out for the school plays. I was bringing home trophies from the speech tournaments and dating boys.

Then, I would just up and disappear.

For a day, for two days, on a really bad stretch for a week. In my Junior Year of High school I missed most of the month of October. But I looked totally fine. I got my diagnoses a month after that terrible October, about 4 years after the whole ordeal started.  I got my miraculous healing 9 years later.

But in between? I got a lot of people questioning whether or not I was telling them the truth. What do you mean muscle disorder? You look totally fine. I get that you are tired Abby, but I am tired too. We are all tired, all of us have feet that hurt. What do you mean you can’t eat that? My mom has fibromyalgia too, but she doesn’t react this way.  I didn’t even hit you that hard, it was in fun, on the back. Stop crying.

Here is a piece of advice that is overlooked because it seems so basic: When people tell you that they are suffering, believe them.

With a cancer diagnoses, a parent dying, a baby coming, there are obvious signs that people are in need. But what about when it is a little less obvious, a little more constant. Is there space in your life for suffering that seems hard to understand? Or the kind a quick google says not all doctors can agree on?

When people tell you they are suffering, believe them.

Believe them when it is incomprehensible. Even when it feels like they are lying, when they tell you they are sick and 24 hours later show up to an event seemingly totally fine. Just because you don’t see the suffering, because it is happening in rooms that are behind closed doors, doesn’t mean the suffering doesn’t exist. Even if you don’t understand it, believe them.

There were a million moments where my suffering was invalidated, my pain not believed, my decisions about how to use my energy to have as normal a life as possible were scoffed at. That part sucked.

But love showed up a million times over.

In the ways my college roommate and my friend upstairs would just quietly go get my lunch or dinner when I told them I couldn’t really get out of bed.

When my speech teammates would quietly take the bag off of my slightly shaking arm, get up from their seat and quietly insist that I sit down. Now.

When the pastor of my church not only didn’t tell me I was a distraction, but thanked me for being willing to show up to my church with a yoga mat in hand when it was just too painful to sit in the pews. He said I was a visual sign to guests that everyone was invited.

Love showed up in the seventh grade when my friend noticed that I had been gone for a school for a month and showed up on Valentines day with a teddy-bear and a box of candy that let me know I wasn’t forgotten.

Love showed up in the forms of teachers who tutored me during lunch, excused a couple of quizzes, stayed after school to let me make up a test. Then, they applauded and congratulated me for the success I was having on the speech team. They didn’t question why I could show up for that and not class.

There were a million ways that people were the hands and feet of Jesus to me when I was chronically and somewhat mysteriously ill.

But it all started here: They believed me.

The most painful thing that happened to me during those years was being ignored, and not being believed.

Love showed up every time my pain wasn’t questioned. Every time how can I help was uttered instead of “why do you need that?”

I’m not the first or only to have an invisible illness. I am not the only one I know whose pleas for help have been met with an eye roll, a shoulder shrug, a why? There are things people suffer that we understand and can relate to, and there are things we just don’t get. (Mental health issues often fall into the second category.) I don’t know why some suffering is easier for me to dismiss than others. But I do know this:

Love showed up for me when people believed I was in pain. Even when I didn’t look like it. Even when I didn’t act like it. If you want to love someone who is suffering, believe them.

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Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.

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Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it.

Love Showed Up: Breathe in, breathe out

Elora Ramirez has been a friend, role model and lovely presence in my life for a while now. She’s the founder of Story Sessions, a community of women (of which I am a part) who support and encourage each other in their lives and writing journeys. Her leadership is changing lives friends, in the most tangible ways.

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She texted me one morning in June.

“I don’t know exactly what you need, but I’m praying for you and am here. Whether that’s bringing you lunch or picking you up to escape—let me know?” 

It was two days after receiving the call that the birth mother would be keeping her son. This was the second broken placement and in so many ways, hurt far more than the first one. We’d seen the picture, held the hope, created the space and laid open our hearts. And now, ashes. That’s all that remained.

I remember getting the notification of my friend’s text and then staring at the baby clothes hanging in the closet in front of me, the numbness overtaking every limb like a heavy liquid.

“I guess lunch sounds good. I should probably eat something.” I replied, burying myself deeper into the covers on my bed and closing my eyes. Closing my eyes, I didn’t have to remember. Closing my eyes, all I saw is what I felt: darkness.

Within an hour, she was at my door with cheeseburgers and milkshakes. She put the bags and the cups on the counter and then pulled me close for a hug. I couldn’t say anything, hadn’t been able to articulate any phrases or sentences or words for days, and so I just stood there. She didn’t let go, she just kept breathing.

Almost like she was trying to remind me how to move forward: breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

I ate lunch and made small talk, but soon I just needed the quiet darkness of my room. I told her I was going to take a nap, and she just smiled. I whispered on my way out of the room, “thank you—for bringing lunch. I don’t know if you’ll be here when I come out or not, but it was good seeing you.” 

She didn’t leave until almost midnight.

She stayed and read on my couch while I tried to rest, and held my hand when I gave up on the silence and walked back into the living room with tears in my eyes. We painted our nails, I asked about the book she was reading, and by the time my husband came home I felt more like myself than I had in days.

And then, as if sitting me in the midst of sackcloth and ashes wasn’t enough to remind me of hope, she went home and penned a blog post that still brings immediate tears to my eyes.

I know most people don’t know how to respond in the midst of heavy grief, but in this moment, love came down and showed up in the form of someone who is now one of my best friends and people. It’s more than acknowledging the heavy days are heavy—it’s coming over and offering to carry the load for a bit, even when the person doesn’t even know how to move out from under the weight of grief. And in this moment—I felt seen. Loved. Held.

2014-03-06 09.03.37What if your story could change the world? Elora believes it can. The one you’ve been hiding under your heart’s bed, afraid that a little air will make it a monster you can’t escape? That’s the story she wants to hear. That’s the story you’ve got to tell before it sucks the air right out of your lungs. It was this belief that prompted Elora to launch Story Unfolding, a respite for tired artists aching to be heard. She also runs Story Sessions, a community for women who create. She’s written a novel and writes out her thoughts and the holy & broken on her blog

Don’t miss a post in the Love Showed Up Series, there is so much goodness here Use this handy box below to subscribe over email, or click the bloglovin icon on the top left to sign up that way.

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Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it.

Love Showed Up: Best Friends Know Better

Leigh Kramer is a longtime blog-friend. Her writing, compassion and zest for life never cease to astound me any time we cross (digital) paths. I hope you enjoy and resonate with her story today, that it ignites gratitude and bittersweet memories in your heart as it did mine. 7023751359

I don’t remember if she picked me up or if we met at the restaurant. I do remember putting up a fuss at first. I wanted to stay in my cave. It was cozy, didn’t require energy, and my tears could arrive as they pleased.

But best friends often know better than we do. Erin told me we were going out for dinner, which is how I found myself sitting on the patio of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants a couple of weeks after my grandmother died.

I see us there perfectly but I have no idea what we talked about or whether I had a margarita that night. Grief’s blur covers almost all my memories from that time. I know we went to dinner. I know it was good for me. I know I never would have realized that apart from Erin’s insistence.

I had lost other loved ones, throughout my life really. Losing Grandma the summer of 2007 rocked me to my core. We were close and I was involved in her care during her last weeks. Our family changed dramatically in the course of four months. Or a little less than a year, depending on where we start the story. My great-aunt was on hospice for about 10 months. Grandma was a valiant caregiver but family had to step up more and more as her own health troubles began. In the week after my great-aunt died, Grandma received her own terminal diagnosis. She started on hospice and died almost two months later to the day.

I worked for that same hospice as a social worker. I picked the team for these two women I held dear. I walked alongside and pitched in as much as I could, ever mindful I was a great-niece, a granddaughter. After they died, I tried to resume the old routines but found I couldn’t.

There was no escaping my grief at work. I would do my best to make it through each day, stuffing down tears as families walked down the same path I’d just traveled. When the work day ended, I’d collapse on to the couch in my living room and crack open a book. Book after book after book. Not even good books. I turned to Christian fiction. While I insist good Christian fiction exists (it does!), it is not always easy to find and the series I turned toward in those days would not qualify as “good.” Now it wasn’t Amish fiction or the drivel I had regularly sold while working at The Christian Bookstore- I still had some standards- but it was sure to have easily solvable crises and happy endings. I needed predictability in the midst of my fallen world.

Before this loss, I was the quintessential social butterfly. Afterward, I stopped planning parties and turned down invitations. The energy that had powered me through the last few months deflated suddenly and quickly. I had nothing left to give and I didn’t know how to receive. Books required little of me. I could lose myself in the pages.

Erin let me be. At first. But when Erin decides something, it’s going to happen. We were going to dinner. She ignored my excuses. She told me to decide when and where.

It was a bright moment of normalcy. I’m sure the conversation meandered through all manner of topics because that’s how our conversations go. I’m sure she asked how I was doing- how I was really doing- because Erin is compassionate and caring. I’m sure she also let me decide how much I wanted to talk about the loss, for the same reasons.

I needed to stow the books away for one night. I could return to my grief cave the next day. The dinner was a line in the sand, not forcing me to change but opening my eyes to life again. In the weeks and months that followed, I’d start picking better books and re-engaging with my closest friends. The loss changed me more than I realized possible and set down a map for how I would navigate future loss.

Erin showed up in ways big and small during that time, as did other friends and colleagues. I didn’t need listening ears per se but I needed people to draw near when I didn’t have the strength to reach out. When I didn’t have words for what I needed.

Thank God they showed up.

Bio picture Bio: Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Story. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.

 

Don’t miss a post in the Love Showed Up Series, there is so much goodness here Use this handy box below to subscribe over email, or click the bloglovin icon on the top left to sign up that way.

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Love Showed Up: Leave Room for Yes

Amanda Williams and I have been connecting online for what seems like forever. We actually got to have a date a few weeks ago after which I fell asleep with a full heart because the gift of deep connection and an evening of “me too” doesn’t happen every ol’ day. Today she is sharing some of that lovely heart with you and I hope you’ll walk away with that very same deep, full, “me too” feeling. 

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“We’re coming up. We leave tomorrow.”

I tried to object but ended up crying and didn’t bother trying again. The truth was I was relieved. So. Very. Relieved. The truth was I needed exactly what they were offering. Not a task to be done, not a meal in the crockpot, not another sincere I’m Sorry. I needed all of it at once. I needed them.

They were two of my very best life-friends and they still lived in the town where we went to college. They would leave their families the next morning to drive six hours north on a day’s notice to do nothing other than carry my burdens. They were coming there to be me. 

The 18 months prior had been tremendously hard, and I’d never before been more aware of the separate and distinct life roles we each hold, the way they overlap and bump into each other in the course of everyday life. But the day before this phone call – the day my daddy’s struggle ended and he went Home for good – on that day the roles collided hard, loud and jarring like an interstate pileup. He was gone, really gone, and all four of me – the daughter, the sister, the wife, the mother – we all needed our room to grieve.

And so they arrived just as they said they would. They appeared at our door when the kids needed watching and disappeared when it was time to sleep. They’d made arrangements to stay with a friend in town so we wouldn’t have to entertain, and they brought sandwiches to my mom’s house on that awkward day in the middle, when the myriad of planning is done and all that’s left is to say goodbye. They thought of everything and did it so quietly, so effortlessly that it hardly allowed me any space for guilt, one of my go-to feelings in helpless situations.

There was a magic about this, come to think of it. They gracefully toed the line between asking and doing, not waiting for my permission yet allowing room my yeses.

My two friends gave so much in those four days it still fills my eyes with tears. They fed my little people and changed my twin boys’ diapers. They swept my dusty floors and did my piled up laundry. I’d not prepared for them at all, of course – cleaning house was not on the priority list in those last months – but they entered our mess as if they didn’t notice, picking up where I left off and doing whatever needed to be done. They bought me feminine products, for crying out loud. They did it all just so I wouldn’t have to.

It was love in action, love with no hope of payback.

When we decided it best not to take the littlest two to the burial – an overnight trip to East Tennessee – they made phone calls. They called their own husbands and checked in on their own small children – 4 between the 2 of them – and they stayed another night so we could go without worry.

For four days they filled in for me as Mom so I could be fully present as Daughter. It was an invaluable, unspeakable gift, and I will never forget.

People always ask what you need when you’re grieving, but it’s such an impossible question to answer. You need nothing and everything, you need companionship and space, you need room to feel all the joy and the anger and the sorrow and the stillness all at once. It is an impossible question to answer.

Sometimes, in the worst times, you just need someone to be you so you can just be. 

In the weeks that followed we sent out the thank you notes the funeral home gave us, the ones with Dad’s name embossed on the front. I procrastinated sending theirs because, well, procrastination is what I do. But also, how do you say thank you for a blessing flung that wide? I finally found some “Up a creek… That’s where I’d be without you” cards – because inserting humor into tense situations is also what I do – and I sent them with a movie gift card tucked inside. It was lame, but it was something. And I had to do something.

They entered the rawness of my grief and tackled the enormity of my need, and I sent them to the movies. It was a Lloyd Dobler moment (“I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.”), but I knew they’d understand.

Friends like those always understand.

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Amanda Williams lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and three busy children — twin 4 year old boys and spunky 6 year old girl. She is a writer, a procrastinator (just ask Leanne) and a lover of coffee, grace and wine. Amanda shares stories of imperfect motherhood, faith and writing on her blog, Life. Edited., and is Editorial Director of the online devotional community She Reads Truth.

 

Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it. 

Don’t miss a post in the Love Showed Up Series! Use this helpful box below to subscribe over email, or click the bloglovin icon on the top left to sign up that way.

Enter your email address:Delivered by FeedBurner

You can also find me on twitter and Facebook as well. Join the conversation on all fronts! That’s my recommendation…