Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Snapshot of Buggy Sunglasses

Proverbs 15:15 All the days of those who are crushed are filled with pain and suffering. But a cheerful heart enjoys a good time that never ends.

When asked how he was blessed today, Christian answered, "My blessing is that I have my shirt off and Mom surprised me with Macaroni and Cheese because I was good at school today. So it reminds me of my birthday when I got the buggy sunglasses and my cousins and Daddy were here."

Remember those split moments of childhood where you can recall EVERYTHING about the scene? Details like- who you were with, what you were wearing, and the sense of excitement? Everything seemed so magical that, as a child, you took an emotional snapshot to keep in your heart forever.

A snapshot that you pull out now and again, when a certain smell or breeze or situation brings a rush of cheer that takes you right back to that split moment in time when you felt nothing but joy.

That’s the blessing that Christian described tonight.

I decided to give it a whirl. I closed my eyes and remembered that moment- he’s right – in both moments, Christian was special – birthday boy or boy who did well with school, he was being celebrated. In both moments he was surrounded by his favorite people. And, in both moments, he had his shirt off. I suddenly felt the joy of both moments as if it will last forever. And it can!

There are times when I feel so crushed by the heartache of loosing Tom. It takes a child's perspective sometimes to remind us that we can choose to recall cheer and keep it forever.

Christ tells us to have the heart of a child. We were given that heart- our challenge is to recapture that cheer and enjoy a good time that never ends.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Continuing Family Traditions in the Midst of Loss

Proverbs 1:8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction…

He wasn’t there. And strangely, the name "Dad" didn’t come up as often as I had thought it would. And when it did, it was in joyful remembrance, with not an ounce of deep sorrow, just an occasional moment of thoughtful, "I wish he were here". It was our week in the cabin.

And yet, Tom was there. We honored him by continuing in his instruction. He was in every routine played out in "Dad" tradition- from how he looked after the security in the cabin, to how he balanced playtime with clean up time. He was in the new games invented by us this week, for each new inventive fun was a variation on the pureness of Tom’s nature.

I contentedly watched all four boys- seeing glimpses of Tom in each of them- Joe’s breezy logic, Brian’s serious creativity, Carter’s puppy-like frolic, and Christian’s wacky commentary. That cabin wrapped all of the children’s individualized reflections of Dad together into one small compact space where I could observe and relish them as a single unit that revealed the love of my life!

I felt surrounded by the warmth of him, and I knew that Christ was providing that security for me- allowing me to continue our traditional vacation in New England, in our cabin, the way we always had.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the beauty of New England. Thank you for Tom’s wisdom of keeping our vacation traditions simple, so that the fun we have is truly centered on enjoying each other- not on being entertained. This time with the children was incredibly relaxed, spontaneous, and full of Your character- exactly as Tom would have had it. Thank you for helping us honor him by continuing in his instructions and turning his traditions into ours. Because we focused on You, our vacation felt whole and complete, knowing that the boys’ father happily sleeps in You as we play the way he had instructed us to.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Silencing a Storm – Dealing with Heartache Surrounding Tom’s Birthday

It would have been Tom's 50th birthday. Before saying anything about it, I must share with you this unbelievable card, made by Christian, 6 years old, for his daddy. I had to share this first, because if you read no further, you must know how intensely these boys get what life and death mean at a gut level.

Two cliffs – one with Daddy on it, the other with Christian on top. A bridge that supposed to connect the two cliffs drops down into the chasm and the railings of the bridge spell out, "HaPP bthday dbddeey". To fill in the gaping depth that separates Christian from Dad, Christian drew a huge cross.

Now I can continue with the details of that day. One of my friends who checked in on me that day told me, "Most widows would spend the day trying to forget about it.... you're always so different! So I never know if I should be thinking that it was all roses for you, or if I should be worried about you??!!!"

Absolutely there are roses- with thorns of pain- but there is joy in knowing that I'm embracing challenges as they come up.

In Matthew 8:26, Jesus reprimanded the disciples, "Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?" Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: "Silence!" The sea became smooth as glass.

Can you imagine a simple birthday making a coward of me? But it could.

I so get why a widow would prefer to just forget about her husband’s birthday. Daunting feelings of loss leap out at you, stinging you just the way it did when you first found out that you’ve lost him forever.

And by now, I'm so tired of firsts. First Trick or Treat, first vacation, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday. It seems like an endless train of ceremony that I want to just "forget" about it.

But Christ asks us not to be faint of heart. He shows us by standing up and telling the wind to be silent.

Forgetting about a significant day doesn't work for kids or for me - it just pushes the terror of loneliness beneath the surface where it will bubble up in other ways.

As I looked at my four boys, who so loved to celebrate life with Dad, I knew exactly what I needed to do. Not run from that storm – silence it! Deal with it openly and honestly.

So the boys and I had a plan. We included crafts, a visit to the grave site, a hike and pizzeria outing, a bike ride, and a movie rental.

The day started very sad and awkward. The boys were acting so weird that I had to cut short our morning devotion, and get started on making cards and crafts for Dad. At first even that was awkward- some of the boys breaking into tears at the smallest of their errors, as though the entire work of art was now unworthy of Dad’s approval. We all knew what the tears were about – what was ruined wasn’t the card or craft, but the reality of having Dad with them here on earth.

Their tears dried and they became more resolute in their artwork when convinced that Dad sees everything through the eyes of Christ now. Imperfections in the artwork are simply evidence of the love and joy in the children’s hearts.

We brought the crafts to the site where Tom is buried and flew a model airplane there. There were also silly string battles and bubbles and a round of "Happy Birthday to You" to celebrate.
We went hiking about a mile away from our house to a pizza restaurant. This was something Tom did with them a lot. They had a blast getting muddy in the red clay "quick sand" and climbing mud hills.

We rented Spiderman II at Blockbuster and got Krispy Kreme Donuts at Harris Teeter and hiked back home.

Then it was time to pull out the bikes. We had them all repaired just for Tom's birthday. And Christian taught himself to ride a bike just this weekend. We rode on our neighborhood trail and on our cul-de-sac. Something so simple, but the kids LOVED it!

Then we settled down with the movie and sang Happy Birthday once more with the Krispy Kreme donuts in place of a cake.

The kids went to bed content that we honored Dad in a Tom kind of way.

The storm was silenced.

Thank you, Lord, for answering our obedience to celebrate with joy rather than to cower in defeat.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rescue Me From Snakes!

Matthew 11:30 "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

You know the quality of a friend when she is willing to chop the head off of a snake for you!

Okay, it wasn't a copperhead. But it could have been! I could explain the whole story, but Michelle already has on her blog right here.

What I love about Michelle is her integrity, which shows through every thoughtful comment and action. When she heard my voice on the phone, and probably figured that I’m not the type of gal who freaks out about critters, Michelle seemed to recognize that what I really needed at that moment was just a reassuring hug.

There is something very emotional about seeing a snake – it drums up anxieties that you may not have realized are there.

I surprised myself when tears welled up. But the tears weren’t really about a snake. They were about me missing my knight in shining armor who would rescue me from snakes!

At that moment I just needed someone at my side as I experienced a rush of missing Tom.

It’s a strange new role I have, figuring out how to be the bugs and snakes and backyard parent too!

L. B. Cowman says to "flee every symptom of the deadly foe of discouragement as you would run from a snake. Never be slow to turn your back on it, unless you desire to eat the dust of bitter defeat."

Seeing that snake helped me recognize subtle snakes of discouragement that were beginning to form in my life.

What a wake up call! I realized just in time how I was missing Tom even more recently. With the change in weather, the boys are adding new demands on me to be outside and do what Tom used to do on top of managing the home. Grieving Tom is healthy, but only if I’m doing it by leaning on the Lord.

Lord, thank you for showing me that snake before discouragement set in. Thanks to You, I recognize that I started to carry my burden by myself, and now I've turned it over to You. Thank you for placing Michelle there at that moment as Your Hand, helping to carry the burden. You never fail in Your promises, and Your yoke is light.

I will flee the snakes of discouragement and choose to be honored that You consider me ready for snakes and spiders!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Assembly Required – Role Modeling Joy as a Single Mom

"Mom, can you help me fly my airplane?" Carter asked this weekend on his 8th birthday.

Here’s something that hadn’t occurred to me. After the party guests go home, after the house is tidied up and we all take that breather from the pounding noise at the Chuck E Cheese equivalent we just experienced, Carter would want to share his sweet gifts with me.

I have a college education, and believe it or not, an engineering degree. But still I get a bit daunted by this type of request. "Remote control", "kit", "assembly required" - these were buzzwords that translated to Dad’s job! After a while, it became convenient for me to rely on Tom for tackling these projects while I tended to our home.

Today I let the laundry sit. Carter needed help with his airplane, so I sat with him at the table. Carter watched me with eyes that anticipated, "Mom knows what she’s doing". Taking a deep breath to relax my butterflies, I carefully read the instructions with him and we assembled, charged the batteries, and took the plane for its virgin flight.

I had forgotten what a feeling of success these types of toys can bring. With every successful flight, I felt a zing of confidence building in me. If I can handle this, I might be able to handle the hovercraft he got, and then the trebuchet model kit the boys have waiting to be assembled. Perhaps I might even graduate to the Snap Circuits integrated circuit board kit (okay, even with an engineering degree- that might be pushing it!).

It occurred to me that what’s really being assembled is my heart. It’s not a sacrifice to handle Tom’s traditional role of toy assembly parent; it’s an honor. I now know why Tom gladly jumped at this job- it was one of his ways of teaching joy, his greatest legacy, to our boys.

Tom was so good at having fun that like many married couples, we tended to allow that fun role to go to him, while I carried on with some of the necessary household duties. Now the Lord is challenging me to find that right balance of tasks versus fun with the kids.

Lord, help me to continue to assemble the pieces of Tom magical formula for building Your joy into these boys' hearts. Because I got so practiced at the tasks of the household while Tom enthusiastically embraced fun at a minute-by-minute basis, I now find that I need to adjust. As strange as it sounds, I thank you for the situation I’m in. There is joy in the struggle of missing Tom, but knowing that without Your will allowing me to walk without him, I may never have allowed myself to get out of the task mode enough to fully experience the joy of Carter’s eighth birthday.

You’ve prepared me with everything I need to raise these children in Your grace to become men who will glorify You throughout their lives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When Pain Outweighs the Joy

It doesn't happen often, so when it does, I grab hold of the Lord and remember that it will pass.

That night was one of those rough nights. I wasn’t really aware that I was headed for a rough night until I actually got there and sat in that auditorium as the kids started playing their violins.

Up to that point there were warning signs that my heart knew what my conscious mind wouldn’t admit – that there was a pending reminder that Tom was missing.

Early in the day I found I couldn’t get anything done. I piddled around the house and lectured myself at how much I had to do and why was I wasting time. I just couldn’t get myself motivated. Something was bothering me.

When I got to the auditorium I found myself snapping at the kids. Why was I angry when Christian wanted to use the bathroom and then resisted using the ladies room? Why was I impatiently rushing him, or shushing Carter when he asked perfectly normal questions about the recital?

The music started and the wave of memory flooded over me. I was alone. We had been in this same auditorium a dozen times in the past two years watching the children play, and Tom was always at my side.

I was so lonely. So lonely. These four precious boys being so cute and skillful and I had no one to share it with. I suddenly missed the way Tom would smile with that twinkle in his eye that said, "all that time I would make jokes about violins versus guitars was all just kidding, you’re doing a great job, Kitty, getting these boys trained on the violin."

The other moms gathered around me afterwards. I had forgotten about them. How they would want to welcome us back into this routine. It was sweet and uplifting. It was also awful. I wanted him. I just wanted to get this first over with so that I could rejoin these ladies and really enjoy them.

But tonight wasn’t the night for getting over it.

Because even after the recital, it wasn’t over. "Mom, remember the french fries!" they gleefully shouted as we climbed in the car. Oh yeah, the french fries. Tom always celebrated their performances with a huge order of McDonalds french fries. It’s a tradition that dates back to Tom’s childhood when his dad couldn’t afford the hamburgers, so their family’s "going out to eat" was a celebrated dinner of french fries at McDonalds.

I’m so grateful that He gives the boys a break from grief while it hits me hard. If it hit us all like that at the same time, we’d be a mess.

But the whole recital-McDonald process was grueling for me. Joyfully grueling. We laughed – the kids were cute and kind and fun and I laughed so hard. But inside I felt this deep wound surfacing. I just wanted to get home and get them in bed – no just skip getting them in bed – just have them asleep and me away from them so that I can get by myself and grieve.

Obediently, they got ready and prayed and shut the lights out. I thought the coast was clear and I could just be alone. Then footsteps. Carter approached in complete tears, "Mom, I can’t remember anything Dad said to me. I can’t remember any sentences."

My heart broke for him. And for me.

This is one of those moments that you just chuck your own agenda and your own feelings and put your kid first. I climbed into bed with him as though every ounce of me wasn’t screaming inside, "I just wanna be alone!" Together, we pulled out my laptop and watched every bit of Tom’s memorial DVD together.

Carter talked about that awful day. About how everyone cried at the funeral. About how he looked for Dad this morning in the house because he wanted to ask Dad to build a tent for him outside, and then remembered that Dad was dead.

We cried together and laughed together. I reminded Carter that he’s so much like Dad that Carter’s now my "Captain Sunshine".

My prayer is that Carter continues to smile the way he does - and especially the way he did with Tom. That these rough nights are the exception, not the rule.

Lord, I will trust You that Carter learns that he will be okay, that joy can always be a normal part of his life even without Dad. And I ask you to bring me back to that settled place where I can relax and be more in the moment with Carter. That I can help him experience joy the way Tom helped him experience joy. That You slow me down so that I am really there with Carter - building that legacy of joy - moment by moment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God’s Special Way of Carrying Amy (comforting another widow)

I was so relieved to see the peace and strength in Amy’s eyes.

I had prayed that He carry her the way He lifted me over the past six months. I prayed believing, but I had to see for myself.

My initial prayers prompted me to write to her within days of the accident, asking her to trust in the Lord and offering to just sit and listen, having been where she is now. Bringing the letter to her home, I felt déjà vu washing over me with every emotion I had felt in my own home those first days after Tom had died. The beautiful friends and neighbors all over her home cleaning, straightening, preparing meals, making arrangements. My mind automatically blended the faces of these kind women in Amy’s home to the faces that were in my home, Celeste, Debbie, Kate, Cindy, Edie, Stephanie, Nicole and many others. They were all over my home- loving on me – trying to do something at a time when cleaning is about all you can do.

Each day when I pass the accident site, my heart skips in prayer for Amy. As Valentines Day came and went, and heart shaped balloons danced over the accident site, I whispered, "please carry her, Lord". I am, He answered.

To see Amy stand, with conviction in her eyes, before an audience memorializing her husband, was an answer to prayer. "Tell people what an impact they have on your life," she spoke, "they probably don’t really know."

That’s the peace I was looking for. Amy is being carried. When her focus shifts from her grief to helping others grow spiritually, even for a short moment, that’s peace. That’s being carried. When Amy dedicates donations being made on Brian’s behalf to charity, that’s trust that He’s in control of her greater purpose.

Thank you, Lord, for carrying another widow as You have carried me.