Friday, December 25, 2009

Florida 2009

We almost didn't make it here. Not because of car trouble, not because of kid trouble, not because of weather trouble. No, we almost didn't make it because after 22 hours of straight traveling in a car with three kids, after over 1300 miles of road behind us, after countless hours of "Are we at Florida yet?", and "I wanna snack!", and "Can we watch another movie?", within ten miles of reaching our destination I almost turned us back around and took us right back home.

In those few moments I couldn't imagine what had made me think that I could be here, and be okay. What had made me think that this would be in any way manageable. There was not a doubt in my mind that I had made a huge mistake, and I needed to reconcile it immediately.

But those few moments of suffocating irrationality ran their course, and we drove the last ten miles. The last ten miles to the one place on earth that will always and forever be, "my Dad's".

Not that he owns the place where we are staying, not that this little island paradise in any way, shape, or form belongs to him, but it might as well. No amount of money or paperwork could ever change the fact that in my eyes, and the eyes of my family, this tiny little oceanfront resort in this tiny little Florida community is as much my Dad's as if he had singlehandedly discovered it and staked it as his own. If I am being honest, I see him more here than I even do back in Holland.

We've been coming here for decades. It started out as heading down for a week over Thanksgiving, and quickly turned into two weeks over Christmas. I missed a couple years in college and when I met Jason, but other than that I have been here approximately 25 times in the last 32 years. Twenty-five trips to this one point on the map. And never has there been one day that I have been here without my Dad. If I add up how much time I have spent here over the course of my life it would add up to just short of a year. One whole year.

This may not seem like alot in comparison with all the many years I spent with my Dad in Michigan, but our time here was so different, it had so much more quality to it, so much more meaning. Back home we would go about our daily activities with him heading off to work and me off to school, living our lives side by side but not face to face. We would chit-chat with each other, he would father me and I would torment him, he would keep tabs on me and make sure I was okay, and check in every now and again to still make sure he knew what kind of child he was raising.

But every year that changed once we piled into the car and started our annual Florida vacation. The images in my head change as I think back over the years... there was my years as a young girl, where my time with him was spent playing in the pool, trying to catch lizards, and looking for seashells. Then in my teenage years it was him and I walking down the beach together, playing tennis together, and doing our crossword puzzles next to each other. In my late high school and early college years I see him and I laying out at the pool together, going to see the manatees together, and at the close of the day playing cards together. After I had become the proper age we would enjoy a glass of wine together while we played, and he could always be counted on to affectionately tease my Mom about her card playing skills and how her glass of wine would somehow disappear before we had even started ours.

It was here that we would play together, and explore together, and get to know each other better. For two weeks out of the year my Dad was all ours, and he was glad to be so.

He loved it here. This was his haven, his rest, his reward for all of his hard work. Whenever he had any extra vacation this would be the first place he would make it a point to come to. It was here that he felt truly able to relax and enjoy the blessings that God had given to him.

It's hard for me to think about the last two times I was here with my Dad. The first one was two years ago, and a special trip that he invited me on to spend ten days with just him, my Mom, and my two little girls. We had such a wonderful, wonderful time together. I felt spoiled by all the attention I got from him, as I was used to sharing him with a few other siblings and countless grandchildren. We walked together and talked together, we hung out at the pool together and shared life together. I got to know him more on this trip than I had in all the years prior.

It was also on the way home from this vacation that he mentioned to my Mom that he had a pain in his side that wouldn't go away, and he thought he should have it checked out. We know how that turned out.

And then the last time I was here with him was the year after that, just one year ago. It was a completely different man that made the trek down here this time. He was old, he was weak, he was in so much pain. The man who used to spend his days running, and walking, and golfing three times a day could now barely make it around the course once, and only on a good day. The man who never wore a shirt if he didn't have to never took off his shirt even once, probably in order to hide his emaciated frame and the scar that wrapped around his chest where his lung used to be. The man who would walk miles and miles down the beach on a daily basis now would just walk over the steps to the bottom of the bridge, where he could still see the ocean, still hear it's power, still breathe in it's salty air.

There were no more long talks at night, no more card games, no more of his daily walks to the jetty for exercise. What I remember most about this trip is the morning recaps of how he had slept (or not slept) the night before, the waiting for his cellphone to ring with the latest instructions from the Pain Clinic on how to cease his chronic, excruciating pain, the constant worrying about him, and the continuous mourning of the man he had been just one year before.

Needless to say, it's hard to be here now. Everytime we leave the condo to go to the pool, or the ocean, or even around the corner to the condo where my Mom is staying I see him. I see him on every path. Every place my foot falls I know that his has fallen there countless times before, and I can picture it. The Dad from my childhood, the Dad from my adolescence, the Dad from my adult years, he is here. And it overwhelms me that, really, he is not. And I will never see him here again.

And so it is in this place more than anywhere else on earth that I find myself thinking that none of this makes sense. It is here that every picture I have of him, up until last year, portrays him as the picture of strength, the epitome of power, the embodiment of good, clean healthy living. I can still see the muscle definition in his stomach, his calves, his arms, and his tanned, fit body running towards me on the pathway just two short years ago. How did cancer destroy him so easily? He seemed to me a tower incapable of falling, impossible to take down.

Today as I was looking out over the golf course where I had literally seen him play hundreds of times, I felt an unexpected sense of peace come over me. In my heart I knew that he would be happy we had returned here. He would be happy we had decided to come back to this place that he loved so much, he would want us to continue to enjoy this sanctuary he had led us to over and over again.

But the peace soon faded once again into sadness, and a longing to see him in his red golf short and khaki shorts waving to me from the course, smiling his big, happy, vacation smile. And the magic this place always held for me faded a little bit, and turned into just another part of my life that lost some of it's meaning when I lost my father.

I pray that someday in the future the magic returns, that the magnetism this place always had for me draws me back in as it has every other year. I pray that we can make new memories here with our own family, and be able to look back at the years spent here with my father with joy and happiness. But this place will still always be his place. He will always be here. Every time I drive in the gates I will do so honoring him, and honoring the legacy and tradition he started when he brought us here the very first time. I will remember fondly the years and years we spent here together as a family, and most likely shed a tear for the years and years that our family will be spending here without him.

But we will keep coming back, knowing that the time will come when we will be longing to be in a place where we can remember him as we used to, and knowing that his beautiful presence can always be found here.

We miss you, Dad, so very, very much. Thank you for the memories you made it possible for our family to make together here. They are carried with us everyday, everywhere, and are held in our hearts where we keep our most treasured ones.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day once again confused as to how my Dad left us so easily. I know this is all in Your master plan, I trust there is a reason behind it, but it just makes no sense to me. How could this happen? And happen so quickly? The only answer is You, Lord. You are the only one who could have taken him. And in an odd way that comforts me. It comforts me to know that he was always under Your control, in Your care, even in the worst moments of his life.

I find myself often feeling as if I am in the worst moments of mine right now, Lord, and I ask that You be with me too. We miss him so much. Everyday, all day, he is still so much a part of our lives, still a huge hole incapable of being healed. We're struggling down here without him. Show us Your mercy, Lord. Show us Your peace. Especially during this holy time of year help us to keep our eyes on You, and know that this Christmas our husband and father gets to sit at the feet of the newborn King, and hear the story of Your birth firsthand.

Today, Lord, help us focus on where he is, instead of where he isn't. Help us remember Who he is spending these sacred days alongside. Help us to focus on Who is with, instead of who is without him.

I can't even imagine the Christmas he will be celebrating this year. Spending Christmas with the Christ-child, talking one-on-one with the Reason for the season, hearing the Story from the perspective of Mary, and Joseph, the Shepherds and the Wisemen. Finding out how it felt to follow a star and have it lead you not to a Prince in a palace, but a baby in a barn. It makes me joyful, picturing him there. Help me, Lord, to cling to that joy when I feel the weight of his loss threatening to consume me. He is with You, Lord. He is not here with us, and that saddens me to no end, but He is with You. And he is happy, and about to enjoy the most merry Christmas he has ever known.

Tell him we said Merry Christmas, that we miss him and love him, but we are celebrating You down here, too, just as he is. It fills my heart to know we still have something in common.

Happy Birthday to You, my beloved, precious Jesus.

In Your Holy Name I pray,
Amen

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Today has not been a good day. It has actually been quite rotten. Not ten minutes ago I found myself sweeping glass into the trash while reassuring my four year old that yes, Mommy still does, in fact, love her. About an hour before that I was sweeping more glass into the trash, while simultaneously feeding Cora and kissing the "owie" on Eliza's forehead that she received when Dana tipped over the chair she was (not supposed to be) standing on, landed on top of Eliza, and broke said two-year old's new Christmas ornament. About an hour before that I was upstairs in the attic, trying to regain my composure so that I could head down with an armful of Christmas decorations and not let on to my girls that this was going to be a very, very hard day for Mommy.

My nerves are shot, I am totally on edge, and I just completely lost it in front of my two oldest girls. It's been that kind of day.

It began this morning when I was looking at our Christmas tree, trying to figure out my plan of attack. Decorate now or later? Kids or no kids? Baby or no baby? Before lunch or after lunch? I figured I'd just dive in head first, let the girls help me in whatever way they wanted to, and see how things went. So I headed upstairs to collect some decorations, and upon reaching the corner where we "keep Christmas" was hit face first with memories of years gone by with my Dad.

Today would have been our day. Or, at least until about five years ago, today was always our day. From the time I was around twelve years old until I married Jason at the age of 27 it was my job and my job alone to deck my parent's halls for Christmas. I'm not sure how it happened, or where anyone else was, but it just became expected that on the day after Thanksgiving I would put up the stockings, trim the tree, and set out the annual decorations. It became tradition for me to hear my father ask when I woke up on Friday morning, "Do you think you'll have time to put up the tree today?", knowing that of course I would say yes. And he would proceed to bring the tree up from downstairs (we were never a "real tree" kind of household), string on the lights, help me bring up the rest of the boxes, and then retire to his favorite chair with his crossword puzzle in hand, newspaper next to him, ready and willing to help me out if I needed it. I would put on Amy Grant's Christmas CD, turn up the volume as high as I thought he could stand it, and start plugging away. He would look up every once in awhile to admire my progress, or tell me how nice it was looking, and then go back to his puzzle, or maybe nod off for a few minutes while I kept at it. And when I was finished I would announce my completion, and he would, without fail, get up from his chair, take a look around the tree, give me his famous grin and tell me how great it looked and thank me for doing all the work.

It was never any work at all for me. I loved this time. I loved the stillness of the house, as for some reason it always ended up being just my Dad and me at home during these few hours. I loved the peacefulness in which we kept each other company, speaking only when necessary, otherwise just enjoying the comfortable silence that can only be had in the presence of those who know you best, and love you most. For one afternoon, every year, I had the knowledge of exactly what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, and who was going to be there to help me make it happen.

I missed this time together with my Dad after Jason and I got married. Every year since then I would still reminisce about those afternoons we spent with each other. I would find myself putting up my tree, by myself since Jason was usually gone hunting, missing the quiet company of my father, not getting the satisfaction out of the Amy Grant Christmas CD that I had always felt in years prior, with the finishing of the final touches being pretty anticlimatic with no one around to share them with. I would find myself wondering if my Dad was remembering these days gone by, too, and would make a point to ask him the next time I saw him if he wanted any help with his own tree. But by this time my Mom and Dad had moved into a condo, and had taken to just keeping a fully decorated tree down in the basement to be brought up without any fuss or fanfare whenever the spirit moved one of them.

Well, today my Dad's spirit has been all around me. I feel him everywhere, and I miss him. Today I find myself having to periodically retreat to the kitchen, out of eyesight of my kids, while I weep for these todays gone by. Today I just want to see his warm smile again, hear his gentle voice, look into his kind eyes, and know I did something that made him happy.

Instead, today I have spent more time being a bad mother to my own kids as I try to reconcile the loss of my father. I have spent more time raising my voice, more time trying to distract them so I can be alone with these thoughts, more time wishing this day would end, more time wasted in reliving traditions past instead of building traditions for the future.

And so when Dana, in all of her four year old gracefulness, dropped the brand new glass snowglobe which my mother-in-law had given our family as a gift last Christmas and I saw glass shatter all around her, I lost it. My hands went over my mouth, my eyes welled up with tears, I sank to the ground, and started crying.

Now I sit here devastated that this is the memory Dana will most likely remember when she thinks back to the day she helped Mommy set up the Christmas tree. When she thinks back to this day, instead of recalling stories about all the different ornaments, or how she helped me set up the nativity scene, or how we read a story about the first Christmas, she will just go back to the picture of her mother, sitting on the floor, head in her hands, watching as her tears mingle with the spilled water on the floor.

Like I said, today has not been a good day.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day clinging to your promise of grace. I need it today, Lord. I have been reminded at every turn that I am fragile, I am human, I am weak, and I need Your help.

I need Your help as I strive to be good parent while I am mourning the death of my own. I need Your help in those moments, in those split seconds where I can choose to keep my cool, or to crumple. I need Your help to make good decisions, decisions which result in value, and strength, and progress in my life and in the life of my children.

I feel my Dad's spirit everywhere today, Lord, but I know if I let myself I will be able to feel Yours, too.

Fill me with Your Spirit. Calm me with Your presence. Remind me, again, that I need only rely on You being here and everything will be okay. Remind me that it's not a matter of counting to ten, it's just a matter of counting on You.

I ask for comfort in the middle of this sorrow, and a renewed confidence to face the future You have so carefully laid out for me.

Thank You for being a God I know I can ask these things of, and they will be given to me.

In Your Holy Spirit's Name I pray,
Amen

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holding Out For Happy

Sometimes I wonder what God's motive was when He gave humans the capacity to feel grief. I understand that without sorrow there can be no joy, without feeling sad we wouldn't know what it feels like to be happy, but grief in and of itself is just such a strange emotion.

For instance, in the last eight months since my Dad died I have yet to experience the same grief twice. It is ever-changing, ever-shifting, even taking up residence in different parts of my body. There are the days when it hits suddenly, like a semi-truck to the solar plexus, while other days it is a never-ending ache in my heart. One day the intensity of it will make my knees buckle, while the next day it is restricted to the burning behind my eyes, indicating the tears are about to fall. It comes fast, or it comes on slow, it lessens quickly, or it doesn't seem to lessen at all. The only thing that doesn't change is that it changes, and it will keep coming back. It is never duplicated, never replicated, yet it is always there. Even when I am happy, I am sad. Even when I am excited, I am still mourning. Even while I continue to live out the day to day of my life, the longing to be with my father never goes away. My grief has become just as much a part of me as any other physical part of my being. It is part of my definition. If I were to introduce myself to someone, it would be hard to leave out the phrase, "Grieving my Dad" at the end of my list of characteristics. This loss has changed me, more so than I ever thought it could.

What makes me even more sad is that while my Dad was alive he would often comment on my happiness. By nature I have always been an optimist, a lover of life, able to go with the flow, finding the positive in every situation. On a few occasions he told me that seeing me always happy made him happy, and he wished he had more of that in himself. I was so flattered to know that there was something in me that he admired, and what can I say? It made me happy.

But without him here that innate lightheartedness which was always so easy for me to tap into has disappeared. I still feel joy, I still laugh, I still can find good around me, but now it is all tainted with this burning hole in my heart that he left behind. A part of me died when he did. A part that he appreciated in me. A part that was tied up in him being in my life. A part that I very much miss, but don't expect to ever return, as I think alot of it was born of naivete and inexperience as to what this life can hold (or take away).

Eight months ago today my dear, beloved, treasured Dad died. It has been eight months since I've heard him laugh, since I've played him in a card game, since I've seen him walk in my door, since we've enjoyed a meal together.

In this time I have put my house up for sale, bought a new car, and given him another grandchild. My daughters have turned another year older. My life goes on, even without him here. I don't know how it does, but night keeps turning to day and the sun keeps rising, neverminding the fact that I just want time to go backwards, to a place when I can see him and touch him again.

Obviously, I know this is not possible. So instead I will try to look forward. I will look forward to the very second when I will lay eyes on him again, look forward to that first embrace, look forward to being with him forever, knowing that nothing will never, can never, separate us again.

And that makes me happy.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day wishing he was still here. You know how I miss him, how my life forever feels as if it's empty of something significant, how I feel I am being robbed over, and over, and over again. But, Lord, if he must be gone, it only makes me appreciate and love You more. You are unable to leave me. You are unable to be stolen from me. You love me as he loved me, even more than he loved me, and that love can never be destroyed by cancer, conquered by death, buried in a grave. It is Your love, Lord, which makes losing him okay. It is this love alone that makes the pain bearable, and makes it even hopeful. Only You, Lord, are capable of turning grieving into glad expectation.

Thank You, for being the Lord of life. You are Power. You are Strength. You are Comfort. You are Peace.

You are Joy. And in that I will continue to find my happiness.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Friday, November 6, 2009

Don't Mess With Me

For the past few years I have been stalked by a bookmark. This bookmark turns up everywhere. My house, my Mom's house, my friend's houses, just when I think I may have escaped it for good there it is again, in all of it's challenging and soul-searching glory.

It is a bookmark which was handed out in our church about two years ago. I vividly remember the sermon that morning, receiving the bookmark as we were leaving, reading it, and hearing God clearly asking me if I was ready to do what this bookmark requires.

I have yet to comply.

Let me write down the words for you, and maybe then you will understand my hesitation.

"Dear Jesus,
I encourage you to mess with me.
Feel free to mess with my comfortable lifestyle,
my predictable patterns,
my long-held convictions.
Do not allow me to settle into safe, status quo Christianity.
Mess with me until I think like you think,
act like you act,
love like you love.
Persistently,
patiently,
powerfully -
MESS WITH ME!
Amen"

Is it just me, or do these words seem like an open invitation for God to turn the person who prays them into a modern-day Job?

And to make matters horribly, infinitely worse, after hearing and receiving these words my Mom and Dad proceeded to take them to heart. They prayed this prayer that very day to God, trusting that no matter what came their way He would use it to make them stronger in their faith.

Well, my Mom lost her husband, and my Dad lost his life.

And I'm scared.

I want nothing more than to be able to recite these words back to God in all honesty. I want to be able to lift myself, my job, my house, my husband, my children, everything I hold dear up to Him for Him to do with as He sees fit, willing to sacrifice any or all of it if that's what it would take to bring Him glory. In my heart I want so badly to be used by Him, to bring people to Him, to get to know Him better myself. But then in my heart of hearts, way down deep, I am just not there yet, and I am ashamed.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day ashamed to come before You, knowing that we both know I am not coming before You with all of me. I am so sorry, Lord, that my need to be in control, and my need to hold onto certain parts of my life continue to separate me from You.

I will continue to try, can that be good enough for right now? Because I do want to get there, get to that place in our relationship where no matter what happens I can handle it because I can still see You in it. It's just so hard, Lord... No matter how much I love You, no matter how much I tell myself I will do whatever it takes to get other people to love You too, there's that part of me that's still mine, only mine, standing in the way of what could be between You and me.

Will You help me? Will You break through my stubborn human streak and convince me that You are always in control, and that You have a purpose for my life and the life of my loved ones? I lost a little bit of that faith when my Dad died, Lord, but I know I don't need to tell You that.

At the very center of my soul I do love You, and want to do all You ask of me. I just ask that You help me live from my center, when it's so easy to stay on the surface. I need You to get me to the place where I will trust You to mess with me. To persistently, patiently, and powerfully mess with me. Don't give up on me, Lord, and I won't either.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

These Days of Elijah

The song "Days of Elijah" by Twila Paris has always reminded me of my Mom. It's upbeat, it's joyful, it's uplifting, it's just like her. And it has always been one of her favorites. Whenever we hear it in church I know I can glance to the side and see her singing, lost inside the words, arms lifted in praise, experiencing God.

Seven months ago this song also became a song that will forever tie me to my father and the night we lost him. This was the song which was on the radio after we had gotten the call that he was nearing the end, and we were on our way to see him for the last time. This was the song that was playing in the car during that long, painful drive, when we were not sure what would be waiting for us when we would finally make it to his side.

I remember thinking how inappropriate that song felt when it came on. I was broken, beaten, shattered by the thought of losing my Dad. There should have been a song of sorrow being played, or even just silence. But not one of joy. No, not joy. Joy was the farthest thing from me in that moment.

When we finally arrived at the Hospice House, we found out we were just a few minutes too late. My Dad was already gone. I remember asking if he was still with us, the nurse sadly shaking her head at me, and then literally doubling over in pain, my breath stolen from me, a cry of despair leaving my body. It was hands-down the worst minute of my life.

But I wonder now if God gave that song as a gift to me. I wonder if while I was in my car, driving to see my dying father, if he was experiencing the words this song sings about, and God was giving me a glimpse of what my Dad had just seen, what he has since become a part of, and what is waiting for me someday.

And so now this song will forever remind me of both of my parents. One of whom is still here with me and who sings these words as a promise of what's to come, and the other, who's promises have been fulfilled, and who has personally experienced what it is to have Christ draw near to take him Home.

"Behold, He comes!
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet's call.
Lift your voice,
It's the year of Jubilee.
Out of Zion 'till salvation comes!"

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day amazed at how even seven months later I am still finding ways in which You showed You were caring for me during those toughest days of my life.
You were always there, weren't You? Even when I couldn't feel You, when I couldn't see You, when I couldn't find You, You were still orchestrating Your world to be kind to me, to comfort me, and to point me to You.

How awesome, Lord, that I have just a small visual of what my father was witnessing that night You came to take him with You. I love listening to those lyrics and picturing You as You approach him. Sometimes You're on a blazing chariot, sometimes You're surrounded by angels, and sometimes it's just You, quietly touching my father's cheek, waking him to his new Life, telling him he had done well and his rewards are waiting for him up in heaven, with You.

It makes me excited for when my own time to meet You face to face will finally be here. It makes me long to see Your glory, to see Your face, to see Your smile, to finally, finally hear Your voice as You whisper in my ear, "It's time to come Home with me, my beloved daughter".

Thank You, Lord, for taking the fear out of the unknown. For we know that at the end of it all, waiting with wide open arms, is going to be You.

It is as the song goes on to say, "There's no God like Jehovah".

Amen to that.

And Amen to You, my Beloved Lord.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Asking the Almighty's Advice

Can I just tell you how much I despise touching old food? I think it stems from working in a restaurant back in my high school and college days, and night after night coming in constant contact with someone else's leftovers. It was like a never-ending parade of half-eaten potatoes, cold and withered vegetables, and discarded steak fat. Just thinking about it is enough to send shivers down my spine and send me looking for the nearest bottle of Purell.

Couple this with how I absolutely detest having my hands wet without the rest of me being wet, and my poor husband ends up doing alot of dishes. I have been trying to get better though, and have pretty much taken on the whole daily "bottle-washing" routine, which simple as that may sound is actually a huge step in overcoming some OCD tendencies over here.

So anyway, this morning I found myself face to face with a big jar of moldy applesauce that had been forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. I had actually discovered it last night, and put it in a very prominent position on the counter hoping my husband would take the hint (and take pity on me) and discard of it himself, but lo and behold when I got up and went to make the kids breakfast there it was, all shiny and picture perfect on the outside, but hiding a whole host of nasty, smelly, skin-eating bacteria on the inside.

And do you know what my first inclination was? Obviously, to just get rid of it! Don my gloves, grab the tongs out of the drawer, and throw it out with the morning trash. (I should take this moment to apologize to my recycling-passionate husband, who I'm sure is absolutely appalled this thought ever entered my mind, and is wondering what happened to the environmentally-conscious woman he married.) And I actually did have this nasty jar on the way out to the nearest garbage can, when I heard a little voice inside my head, asking me if this was really the right thing to do.

Now, I'm pretty sure that God is not overly concerned with how I handle my rotten applesauce containers. I do feel it is our responsibility to tend to this creation He has appointed us over, and to that end I do recycle, and reuse, and reduce the amount of waste that my household generates. But come on, what difference was one little (disgusting) glass jar going to make in the long run, right? (I know, I know, terrible attitude. You're absolutely right. I do feel ashamed that this thought even crossed my mind.)

Well, this morning I had a feeling it wasn't so much about what I did with my applesauce, it was more about if I was choosing to consult Him and obey Him in the little things.

There are so many choices I make every minute of every day that I plow through without thinking twice. Things such as what to make my kid's for breakfast, what to wear, whether or not I let the dog out to terrorize my children right now or in ten minutes, the list goes on and on and on. But what if I started turning to Him and seeking His guidance in everything, instead of just in the major decisions that I face? What if along with asking Him to give us wisdom involving whether or not to sell our house, I also asked Him to give us wisdom in how to better organize what's within it? This may seem insignificant, but it could lead to the purging of things we no longer need being given to people who do. It would help us to become a better steward of the possessions He has given us. And it would lend itself to just an overall sense of orderliness and calm, resulting in a peaceful mind which is more ready and more able to listen to Him.

And what if it even went beyond that, and us going through our attic turned into these items we've parted with being an answer to prayer for someone who was looking for a reason to believe there really is a God who cares, and then he or she meets Him face to face for the first time? We will never know the ways in which God will use us to reach His children when we choose to obey Him.

This is just one small example, but my life is full of seemingly trivial areas that I tend to take care of on my own without even thinking of consulting the Creator of the Universe. I wonder how different my day would be if I turned to Him for everything. My initial thought is, "Oh my, He would get soooo sick of me. He has much better things to do then answering my questions about whether now is a good time to scrub the floors, or if I should wait to do it until after the kids go to sleep". But you know what? He wants to be involved in these decisions. As it says in His Word, "Pray without ceasing". And I'm sure that any request I make of Him which results in any answer He would give me would no doubt result in my glorifying Him for being a God who is with me. A God who listens. A God who is faithful to me in handling the small things when I am faithful in releasing them to Him. A God worthy of my praise.

And that's what we're here for, right? To glorify and praise His worthy, His excellent, His most holy name.

So what happened to the dreaded applesauce jar, you ask? You will be happy to know that is clean, mold-free, and sitting in the recycling bag awaiting a pickup.

And now I'm off to get my girl's a snack. Hmmmm.... what to make for them to eat.... Dear Jesus, what nourishment do my little one's need right now?


Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day seeking your guidance in all the little things. These seemingly unimportant decisions which somehow end up determining whether my day will end up chaotic or calm. I praise You, Lord, for being a God who is not only interested in the mindless activities and choices that make up our lives, but wanting to be smack dab in the middle of them all. Who could blame You for wanting nothing to do with the bland routine of our everyday lives? And yet You are here, just waiting for me to ask You for advice so that I may find delight in my days, and find peace, and find satisfaction, and find You.

You are a great God. A loving God. A God who truly understands how sometimes it's the little things that can be the most overwhelming, and the little things that will most easily distract us from what's important. Namely, You.

I give to You today my dinner menu, and my checkbook, and my children's bedtime, trusting that You will oversee it all, and leave me with time to spend joyfully in Your presence with a mind that is free from all unnecessary worry.

Thank You for showing me today that I will always have You right there beside me, even when my kitchen smells of old applesauce.

I love You, Lord.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Sunday, October 18, 2009

To Love Like Him

I went and saw my Dad yesterday. His headstone is now set up, which just seems to make his death that much more official. I don't think I'll ever get used to being there in that place, knowing his body is so close to me, yet also knowing he could not be further away. I found myself tending to his little plot, picking up an errant piece of paper that had blown over, wiping away the leaves and pieces of grass that had fallen onto his stone marker, making sure all the grooves and crevices were free of debris. Just still trying to take care of him and show him that I love him in the only way that's left for me to do.

I sat down upon his headstone (is that frowned upon? Sacrilegious? I don't know the in's and out's of graveyard etiquette. I just didn't want to get my pants wet.), and started talking to him. It felt good, telling him of the things that were going on in my life. I talked to him about Cora, and how much he would have loved watching her grow into the beautiful little baby that she is. I told him how just that morning Eliza had looked at a picture of him and said to me, "I love Papa so much". (She has never said this to or about anyone else that I'm aware of.) I informed him that Dana had been given her first bow and arrow set, and told him how hard he would have laughed at seeing her shooting her little suction cup arrows at her little plastic target. And every one of these recollections made me cry as I came to terms with the knowledge that our dialogue would forevermore be one way.

I cried alot. I wept like I wept the first day we lost him. And like I did at the four month anniversary of his death. And on his birthday. And when I held Cora and for the first time realized that he never would be able to know her snuggly, sweet-smelling newborn perfection. And the million other times I have cried in the last seven months when I thought of him, and remembered him, and longed for him to still be a part of my life.

And then today I watched his memorial service video. I haven't been able to play it since I watched it the week after he died. It seems as if the pain would have made more sense then. It was more raw, it was more recent, it was more wrenching. Until today I just couldn't bear to be so close again to the agony of those first few days. I was afraid I would get caught up in a downward spiral of depression, be suffocated by his absence, and become unable to breathe when once again brought face to face with that initial onset of his loss.

But I watched it anyway. It was just as hard as I thought it might be. I sobbed inconsolably as I saw pictures of him which I haven't seen since those first few days after his death. I literally felt my throat close up for a second as he was brought so close to me again, so close I could almost hear him, smell him, feel him, and then realized again that he was gone. My heart ached as I saw footage of our family from the service, almost unrecognizable in our grief, just trying to make it through to the next minute knowing that it was one more minute we would not have to live through again.

It was hard to watch, hard to sit through, hard to go through again. Now I feel spent, and worn, and sad. But there is one thing that I realized when it was over. I realized that I have been trying so hard in the last few weeks to feel close to my Dad again. I have been terrified of losing sight of the man he was, the father he was, and the servant of Christ that he was. I visited him at his graveside, looked at old pictures of him, and watched his funeral because I just needed to remember who he was to me, to others, and to his Lord.

And then another thing hit me. If I want to feel close to my Dad again, what I need to do is continue to love the person whom he loved the most. I need to follow in his footsteps, those footsteps that day after day took him to the foot of the cross. If I want to continue to know and remember my father, I just need to continue getting to know his Savior. Because that's who he was, that's all he ever wanted to be. A man after God's own heart. The times when I feel most near to my Dad are the times when I get a glimpse of the Christ he knew so well. Because he tried so hard, every day of his life, to be just like Him. The more I strive to learn about our Lord, and the more I delve into His Word and get to know His heart, I will be reminded of my own father's heart. My father's tender, compassionate, gentle heart, which so closely resembled the One who he tried everyday to model it after. This heart which loved me unconditionally, which concerned itself with every aspect of my life, which took joy in me, and encouraged me to find my purpose in life is not lost to me forever. It is found in the One who is the embodiment of Perfect Love, of Love Everlasting, in the Love of the One who loved my father, and continues to love me.

And loving Jesus like my Dad loved Jesus is something I can do. There are so many things I cannot do anymore. I can't call him on the phone, I can't email him, I can't hold his hand, or give him a kiss, or smother him with a hug. But I can love how he loved, and love Who he loved. And I know that this will bring me closer to him than anything else. It will remind me of his heart, it will remind me of his mission here on earth, and it will most of all remind me of where he is, that I can get there too, and that our future together is far from over.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray today thankful for showing me that my father is not lost to me, but rather can be found again in You. You continue to be so faithful to me, revealing truths to me when You feel I am ready to embrace them, learn from them, and appreciate all You have to teach me.

Thank You, Lord, for continuing to teach me. With every bit I learn, every new aspect of Your character I see, I realize how much more there is for me to be taught, and what a wonderful lesson is in store for me.

I see more clearly now than I have in a long time just how much You loved my father. You took such good care of him, until the very last breath he took. But it was because he loved You, too. It was because he took the time, everyday, to invest in his relationship with You. He showed up to listen to You, and read about You, and learn from You, because he knew it was worth it. He knew You would never disappoint, never not be there, never not be willing to bless him with Your wisdom and grace.

Help me learn to love You like he loved You, Lord. Give me the discipline to set aside time everyday to spend with You. Give me the desire to work on our relationship, knowing that it is the one investment I can make which is sure to give back eternally. Give me the drive to study You, and study what was important to You. Help me decide to make what was close to Your heart close to my own, and the dedication to put what I have learned into practice.

I am thankful, Lord, that You gave me an earthly example to observe and follow for so many years. He did a good job loving You, didn't he? Help me as I learn to love You like that, too.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Regroup

I'm still here!

Things have been very busy around here lately, what with the onset of preschool for Dana, the start of Bible Study Fellowship for me, and Round One of cold and flu season for everyone else in my household other than me (fingers crossed, salt thrown over the shoulder, knocking on wood, etc.). These days have taken on a quick (and sometimes frantic!) pace as the hours go by, the sun comes up and the sun goes down, and the day turns into night once again. However, the busyness that seemed so overwhelming to me just a few short weeks ago has finally settled into a somewhat predictable (although rapid) routine, and I am can say in all honesty that I am enjoying my life now more than I ever thought I would (temper tantrums, runny noses and sibling rivalry aside!).

The fact that I can write those words down without immediately hearing my husband or someone else yell out, "Liar, liar, pants on fire" can only (only) be attributed to God's goodness being played out in my life.

But other than the fact that my daily schedule has been pretty void of any free time, there is another reason I have been holding out on updating this blog. It is a quite simple reason, yet a very big one, and it is one which I know I will feel liberated from once I get it off of my chest.

And that reason is that I owe you all such a huge, huge apology, and I have been waiting for God to give me the right words to say to express my regret over what I have done.

You see, I did the one thing I promised myself, and all of you, I would never do in relation to this site.

I unapologetically hijacked this blog from the One who it belonged to, and I completely, and without remorse, made it my own.

I turned this blog into my own place for releasing frustration and anger, for venting my bitterness and my sorrow, and I turned all of you into my own personal therapists. I stopped listening to what Christ wanted me to say here, and instead just put down whatever dark, negative emotions that had made themselves at home in my heart on that particular day. I stopped pointing you to Him, and kept your eyes on myself.

And I am so, so sorry.

I feel terrible that I wasted so much of your time, and my time, and His time focusing on things that do not matter, things that He could have taken care of had I let Him, things that had nothing to do with Him, these things that had everything to do with me. Even the prayers at the end of my entries were just a mere facade, still only revolving around my issues, my problems, and my quest for happiness.

And I forgot that no matter how hard I looked, my joy could never be found anywhere other than in the center of His will. He is the only one capable of healing me, of satisfying me, of growing me, of changing me, of teaching me, of filling every hole and every void in my life. Yes, I lost my father to cancer, and yes, I miss him everyday more than words could ever express, but his death does not have to rule my life. I have only one Ruler, and I must learn once again to submit to His authority. I have to trust that He is sufficient for me. I have to believe that my happiness lies well within my reach, as long as I am reaching in the right direction.

Today I come before you humbly asking for your forgiveness, and asking that you trust me that I will do my best not to fail you (and Him) again.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day renewed. I feel as if a burden has been lifted off my shoulders now that I remember I no longer have to take care of me all by myself anymore.

Forgive me for not trusting in Your ability to be everything I needed You to be. Forgive me for disregarding Your promise to never leave me or forsake me. Forgive me for looking You straight in the eye and telling You that You were just not enough.

I was wrong, Lord. So wrong. You are more than enough for me. You are everything I will ever need, and so much more. You ground me, You refresh me, You calm me, and You simply just allow me to know, with all certainty, that everything is going to be okay. Who else but You could keep such a promise? No one, Lord, no one. Only You.

I ask for Your help in keeping my eyes trained on You. I have seen how quickly they can be turned in any other direction, and I have seen how easy, how fast, and how hard I can fall. But You are still there to catch me. You are always there to catch me.

Thank You, Lord, for Your wide open arms. I fall into them now with no hesitation, and with no looking back. You are my haven, You are my sanctuary, You are my welcome home.

It's good to be home.

In your Name I pray,
Amen

Friday, September 11, 2009

Before I Go

It's just short of two hours before I leave for a cottage for the weekend with some of my girlfriends. But I can't go like this.

My grief is burning a hole through me. My heart aches, my chest throbs, my whole body is in physical pain right now as I am sitting here, longing for my father.

It wouldn't be fair to burden my friends with this darkness, so I will try to purge some of it here before I go.

Next week marks six months since my Dad passed away. I can't believe it has been that long. It hurts to think how many days, weeks, months have passed since I've seen him, touched him, heard him... Every part of me wants to put my hands over my ears, cover my eyes, and just yell out, "NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!". With every hour that passes I am pulled further away from my last moments with him, and right now it's too much for me to bear. I want to be kept close to him, and every second that ticks by is stealing me away from him, away from our past together, and into this future that seems so empty without him.

Days like today it's just too hard, and my life can be boiled down to a few short sentences.

"My Dad died. He's not coming back. I will not see his face again in this lifetime."

Days like today it's hard to look beyond my earthly home to the heavenly home where I know he is waiting for me.

Because today I need him here.

I miss you, Dad. My heart is broken here without you. In a million years I never could have dreamed it would be this hard...

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day with nothing in me but pain. I'm hurting, Lord, and I don't see a way out of this crushing sadness. I just want him back here. I know he's up there with You. I know someday I will see him again. I know he wouldn't even come back here if I asked him too. I know he's perfect, living in a perfect place, with his perfect Savior.

But forgive me, because today that's just not enough. Today I just can't see beyond this imperfect human desire to see him again. Today I don't feel Your comfort surrounding me, Your peace calming me, Your love making everything okay. Today I only feel agony, and misery.

I know You are here, Lord. But right now it feels like it's just me, my heavy heart, and the vast hole which my father left behind.

I don't even know what to ask for, Lord. I'm just going to trust that You'll give me what it is You know that I need, even if that means suffering alone with this grief awhile longer.

Teach me through this pain. If nothing else, let some good come of this sorrow. If he can't be here, let me see how that can make something, anything better.

For Your glory. Let all this heartache somehow be made perfect for Your glory.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Continuing Chaos

In case you're wondering why I'm not posting very often, please reference the above picture. While Cora has the face of an angel, as we all know looks can be deceiving. This is what I get whenever I feel as if I just may be getting a few minutes for myself, or to spend with Dana and Eliza. It's like she has a sixth sense or something. "What? Mommy's got a minute? I think I might just want to be snuggled!" Lucky for you this picture doesn't have audio, or you would be reaching for the nearest set of earplugs.
While the crying itself doesn't bother me too much, (have my other two kids left me so jaded that I can listen to screaming for hours on end without batting an eye?) it is the feeling that I am neglecting Dana and Eliza's needs while constantly catering to Cora's that has me against the ropes, about ready to surrender. My "Mom-guilt" is here in full effect, and as I am holding my crying newborn, looking into the eyes of her two older sisters who just want a few minutes of Mommy's time, it is hard for me to feel as if I am doing anybody any good at all.

Does anyone out there have any words of encouragement for a frazzled, slightly overwhelmed mother of three? Or any good things that I can do with Dana and Eliza while still maintaining my high-maintenance baby? I have found if left to their own devices my two oldest little girls have discovered the joy that comes with consistently and intentionally pushing each others buttons. Apparently this has a two-fold reward system. Not only do they succeed in making the other one cry, but it gets Mommy's attention for a couple minutes, even if the result is being parked on the naughty chair (again). I'm pretty sure the seat of all of Eliza's pants are nearly worn through from the amount of time she spends sitting on her stool. I half expect to find her drawing lines on the wall next to her, marking down the number of minutes/hours/days she has endured on her little wooden prison.

What's a well-intentioned, yet limited by two arms and one fussy baby Mom to do? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated (by both me and Eliza's bottom...).

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day struggling with balancing it all. I know this time in my life is finite, and that this season will end, but right now I feel as if I'm drowning in it. I don't want to wish these days away. I don't want them to pass me by without me even taking note of them. I don't want to merely survive them... I want to enjoy them. I want to be present for them. I want to make the most of them.

I know that with your help I can still nurture these beautiful girls and mold them into the young women you intend for them to be, but right now I have no idea how to do it, and whatever I try seems to fail. I am tired of feeling as if I spend the day nagging them, or disciplining them, or just trying to find a way to occupy them so they aren't nagging me. I can't imagine that this is the picture of a godly mother who You would want to raise Your children. Help me, Lord, learn to balance my time so that every one of my children still gets the best of me. Help me to still reflect Your love to them, Your patience, Your kindness, and Your goodness. When I fall short, Lord, and when I have said the same words to them over and over again, please open their hearts to still hear them. Speak to their spirits when I cannot. Stir their souls, giving them the desire to be kind to each other, and to love each other with their words and deeds.
And most of all, Lord, protect their small hearts from feeling as if their Momma doesn't have time for them. Let every positive word I have for them speak volumes more than I could ever say. Let the good things I do for them show them just how much I love and adore them, even if my time is not only their own anymore. And though I normally ask that I may be Your hands and feet to them, I ask that You be my hands and feet to them, too.

Thank You, Lord, for loving them so much that I know I can ask these things of You with complete confidence that You will listen, and respond. I already feel better knowing that they are resting and flourishing in Your tender care.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One More Day

Dear Friends,
I'm writing to ask you for your prayers for me and my family tomorrow, as it would have been my Dad's 66th birthday.

I'm starting to get used to the anxiety and trepidation that precedes any big day that would have normally included him. By "getting used to", I mean I have become an expert at avoiding thinking about it and dealing with it until either the night before, or the day of, and then being hit with it like a ton of bricks.

Tomorrow's going to be a bad one. It's so hard knowing in advance the sorrow you're going to have to go through. Knowing how much you're going to hurt. Knowing how hard you're going to cry. Knowing there's no escaping the pain, no tucking it away for another time.

Tomorrow I will have to face it. I will grieve. I will weep. I will suffer. There's just no other way.

I can feel the tightness in my chest already, the burning in my nose that always comes right before a big tearshed. The thought of going to church in the morning fills me with foreboding, as that is the place where his absence can always be felt.

Tomorrow should be a good day. I should be able to walk into church and give my Dad a huge, huge hug, holding on tighter and longer than normal as I wish him a very happy birthday. We should be able to joke around about old he's getting, how young he looks, and how he can still outrun, outbike, out-anything me even though he's 34 years older than me. We should all be getting together as a family to celebrate his birth, and celebrate his life. He should be opening up a present from us, one that would be useful to him either on the golf course, or on the Appalachian Trail, or on the bike path. I should be able to watch his smile light up his eyes, as it was always the small things that made him the happiest, and just being among family would have counted as one of those things. There should be tons of grandkids running past him, crawling all over him, and laying kisses on him, one by one offering him their own versions of "Happy Birthday". We should all be with him, wishing him many, many, many more.

Instead, tomorrow I will be getting together with my Mom and my sisters for lunch and carrot cake (his favorite) for dessert. I will be listening to Hymns By Request, his Sunday afternoon radio ritual, waiting for a song to be played over the airways dedicated to him by my heartbroken mother. I will be going to Kollen's Park, a place that him and my Mom used to frequent on nice Sunday afternoons, and I will picture him there soaking up the sunshine, engrossed in his latest read, holding hands with his wife. I will be going home, longing to see him for just a moment on this day that has belonged to him since before I was born. And I will cry more tears, realizing that his day is now just one more day we have to survive without him.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day already feeling the sadness that tomorrow will hold. I simply ask today, Lord, that you be near to all of us. Be near to my mother when she wakes up alone, be near to us kids as we remember the years of his birthdays past, be near to us in those minutes when all we can do is mourn him, and miss him, and make the most of the memories we have left of him.

Give us laughter tomorrow, Lord. Amidst the pain, give us reasons to smile as we remember him. Bring to our minds stories we may have forgotten, which will bring us untold joy when we think of them once more. Let us have him back in this way that allows us to feel close to him again. Grant us images of him healthy, and happy, and here with us. Fill our time together with the warmth and happiness we felt when he walked among us.

Be near to us, Lord. And bring him near to us with You.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Creator Confusion

Today I'm having a hard time comprehending two of the drastically different sides of this God I serve. I am completely divided and torn in half by my God of life, and my God who rules over death.

Life and Death. Two opposing states which have made themselves well known to me in these last few months, and which are governed over by the same God who created them both at the very beginning of time.

One evokes joy in me, the other deep despair. One fills me with love, the other with pain. One prompts me to praise, the other leaves me swirling in doubt.

At church Sunday morning we sang the song, "Mighty To Save", which I'm sure is familiar to some of you. This song invariably brings me back to the days when my father was alive and we would be singing this song together, filled with hope for his future, and confident in our Lord who we knew was mighty to save him. Tears would stream down our cheeks as we stood there, recognizing the power of our risen Savior in the life of my Dad, sure that He would intervene and heal him of the cancer and pain that had wracked his body.

But God chose not to save my father from his earthly struggles. Our God is mighty to save, but He opted not to. His plan for His people involved taking my Dad from this world and bringing him Home.

And today that makes me mad.

Do I still implicitly trust that His plan is perfect? Yes.

Do I know, deep down, that He has a reason for allowing my Dad to die? I do.

But right now I am still so, so angry with Him for taking my father away from me, and my children, and the rest of my family.

I couldn't sing the words to that song Sunday morning, as the angst that lives inside of me just got too big to stifle. I couldn't utter even a note. I was mad at Him for not letting me understand, for keeping His reasons from me, for allowing me to go through this pain with no explanation as to why He chose to not save my father.

And then, in the middle of trying to hold back my tears of frustration and bitterness, I looked down, and saw the sleeping babe in my arms. Absolute perfection in newborn form. Peace in a pink blanket. His love revealed to me all wrapped up in the tiny figure of this little one.

And my anger instantly dissipated into awe, and gratefulness, and humbleness in the presence of His majesty.

My God created Life! And I was holding this life in my arms. Again, the moment was much bigger than me as I tried to wrap my head around the conflicting emotions I had just experienced in those few short seconds.

And then I was brought back to a memory I had of my father and me, just the two of us, sitting at my dining room table. It was before he had been diagnosed with cancer, and he had stopped by my house on his way home from work to check on me, as I had just received some potentially scary news at the doctor's office myself. (Which turned out to be nothing serious.) We were rehashing the finer points of the well-known and oft-discussed argument, "Why do bad things happen to good people?". And at the end of our talk he summed it up best by quoting Scripture, as he so often did. He referenced Isaiah 55:9, which states, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts".

And I guess I'm going to just have to let that sum it up for me today. I will never understand Him. I will never get why He does the things He does, or doesn't do the things I want Him to do.

But He understands me.

He understands me when one minute I am so angry Him I can't even see straight, and the next I am so overcome with love for Him my heart feels as if it will burst.

He knows what I'm going through when I shake my fists at Him, and when I raise those same hands in praise.

He doesn't judge me when I can't pray to Him because of the darkness that has taken over my heart, and when in the next instant I fall on my knees in supplication before Him, so overwhelmed by His goodness.

So today I will just accept that He is bigger than me. I will try to reconcile that I cannot know Him the way I want to, and the way (in my human mind) I feel I need to and deserve to. And I will just try to be thankful that He lets me know Him at all.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day with so many mixed emotions towards You. This comes as no surprise, as You are the first one to witness my resentment and my doubt, while also experiencing my love and my gratefulness to You. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with all the different reactions I have to You that I choose to not react at all anymore, and I ask Your forgiveness for that as well. Let me never get so blinded by the greatness of You that I lose complete sight of You.

Today I ask that no matter how angry I am at You, no matter how badly I want to throw in the towel of our relationship, no matter how many times I curse the fact that I cannot know Your reasons why, and no matter how betrayed I sometimes feel, that in the end I always find a reason to praise You. A reason to love You. A reason to keep coming back to You.

You are a God of many things. The God of Life, the God of Death, the God of my father, and the God of me.

Keep me centered in You, oh God. You are bigger than my anger. You understand my bitterness. You can handle my fears. You welcome my doubt. All of these things just give You the opportunity to show how great You truly are... by taking them in, and releasing me from them.

I love You because...
I love You still...
I will love You always.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kiss From Papa


So it turns out that Cora and her Papa will be indelibly linked in this lifetime, even though they never had the chance to meet face to face.

Moments after Cora was born, Jason and I were poring over every inch of her, staring in amazement at this wonder of God that had been placed into our arms, and just drinking in the sheer perfection of her. We both noticed that on the pinkie of her right hand she has a decent size "mark" that wraps around her knuckle. (See picture above)

None of the doctors that we asked about it have been able to come up with a definitive answer as to what it may be. We've heard everything from a sucking blister, to some sort of vascular spot, to runaway iodine, but none of them are sure exactly what they are looking at, and the mark is showing no signs of diminishing or disappearing.

When my Mom saw Cora she took one look at it and said, as matter of fact as if she were the medical expert, that it was "Papa's claim on her", and that "this shows she belongs to Papa".

I think I've mentioned in other posts the fascination that my Dad had with his grandchildren's hands. He loved those hands. We have picture upon picture of him staring at them in awe, holding them delicately in his own, marveling at the smallness and fragility of them compared to the strength and size of his own. It is one of the images I have of him that remains so strong in my mind... him rubbing them, kissing them, holding them...

Right now I'm thinking back to one of the last Sundays we were all in church together. Eliza was making her way past me to her Nana, which meant she had to cross in front of my Dad. It was the middle of the sermon, but the moment she placed her hand on his leg to pass him he instantly and instinctively covered it with his own, stroked her little fingers, grabbed ahold of her tiny palm and escorted her on by with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Man, he loved those hands.

And so it makes sense that Cora would have a mark on her own hands that cannot be explained away. I had prayed and prayed for God to give me a glimpse of my father in the hospital room that day, asked for knowledge that my father was there, pleaded for the assurance that he could see the both of us, that he would be able to see his newest grandchild. God answered my prayer tenfold by letting him place a kiss on her finger, before we even met her, where I can so easily envision him kissing her for real.

My sister Cyndy said it best when she looked at Cora's birthmark and said, "From Papa's arms to ours".

It's much harder than I thought it would be, having her here without him. Everyday I imagine what it would look like to see him holding her in his arms, wrapping up her little hand in his own, smiling down into her perfect angel face. I grieve deeply in my heart of hearts the love lost that she will never know from him. But I know that God answers prayers. He sees my tears. He loves me, He loves little Cora, and He made sure that we both have a visual reminder that her Papa is part of her, and always will be.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day overwhelmed by your love for me. You knew how hard Cora's birth in the wake of my father's death was going to be, and you tended to me. What a beautiful way to show that You are always here, always listening, always looking for ways to show Your unending compassion and undying love for us.
Thank You, Lord, for once again not only being right where I needed You to be, but in such a creative way that it leaves no other explanation than that it was only You. Thank You for a tangible display of Your goodness in the midst of sorrow, Your presence in the face of pain.
You are Almighty, Lord, and every time I gaze down at the miracle that is Cora, and look upon the mark on her hand placed with loving care by You, I will not only be reminded of my beloved father and the tenderness in which he showed to his grandchildren, but also Your desire to be in our lives, to show us that You listen and that You care, and that if we are faithful to You, You will be faithful in return.
Thank You for giving me a way to link my father and my daughter together forever. Thank You for giving me a jumping off point to use when I tell Cora about her Papa, his love for You, and Your love for us. I really needed that, and You came through. Just like always.
I love You, Lord.
In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Proof of Blessing




We couldn't ask for anything more.
Thank You, Jesus, for You, and for Your ability and willingness to give Life.
Your humble and grateful servants,
The Alberda's

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Wait is Over!

We are the proud parents of a beautiful, healthy daughter!

Cora Dean Alberda
6 pounds, 14 ounces
19 inches long

Perfect in every way...

Stay tuned for pictures tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers and support!!!

Love,
Jason, Susan, Dana, Eliza and Cora

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Countdown Continues

Hello Friends and Family,
I thought I would update one more time before it's time for us to jet off to the hospital and turn this family of four into a family of five. I have a cesarean section scheduled for Monday morning, and so unless something crazy should happen before then, Sweet Baby A. will be making his or her appearance in less then 48 hours! (Dana was breech, hence the need for subsequent c-sections. A stinker from the beginning, that one!)

I continue to be a bag of mixed emotions with the arrival of this baby. Of course, joy and gratefulness to God reign supreme when I really sit back and evaluate how I am feeling, but also thrown in there is apprehension and anxiety over mothering three little ones (especially during the surgery recovery period), fear that I will do such a bad job of helping Dana and Eliza adjust to their new sibling that I will scar them for life, and, most of all, a heavy, suffocating sorrow whenever I remember that I will not be able to introduce this child to my father.

I have been praying that God would give me a glimpse of my Dad on Monday somehow, in some way, and also that He would allow my Dad to look down upon the latest addition to his family and then give me the peace that he has seen him or her. Is this a strange request? I don't even know. I just know that I need to feel my Dad there that day, I need to be confident that he has seen us, and I need to be assured that he is showering me and this child with his love. I figure this isn't too much for the Creator of the Universe to handle, right? :)

I was hoping to ask a few prayer requests of all of you, if you'd be willing. Nothing too crazy, but it would bring so much comfort knowing that we are being supported and lifted up to the King during these next few days.

1. Pray for a smooth surgery which results in a healthy baby!
2. Pray that Dana and Eliza will do well during the days I am in the hospital and they are staying with family. Pray that they do not feel confused about what's happening (especially Eliza), that they feel secure and loved, and that this baby is a source of joy for them, too.
3. Pray for no thunderstorms! Dana is almost as scared of them as her Momma, and I don't want to burden my Mom or sister with having to share their bed with a frightened, squirmy four year old.
4. Pray that the difficulty of not being able to share these moments with my Dad will not weigh too heavily on my heart or the hearts of my family, as his absence will surely be felt by all of us.
5. Pray for an easy recovery, and energy and patience for Jason as he plays Mr. Mom for the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for being friends I can turn to and rely on. I feel better already knowing that all of us are in your thoughts and prayers.

I will be sure to update at some point on Monday, letting you know how everything went, and introducing you to the newest member of the Alberda clan.

Peace and love to you all,
Susan

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day excited for what the future holds, and excited to meet this baby with whom you have chosen to bless us. I love knowing that you know him or her intimately already, and decided long ago that he or she would be the perfect addition to our family.

You are the God of Life, and I thank you for entrusting this little life into our hands. Make our hands capable, Lord. Make them loving, make them dependable, make them nurturing, make them gentle, and make them open to giving this child back to You.

Help me to not get overwhelmed with the everyday doubts and fears that threaten to plague me when I think of these next few weeks, but instead trust that you have ordained every one of these days since before time began, and You are Lord over every moment of them. Raise my eyes to search for You when my human frailties begin to get the better of me, and steady me in Your mighty hands. You are a God who is in control, and I am ever-grateful for this.

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this child, of Your child. We are humbled by Your decision to bring him or her into our lives, and pledge to honor Your trust in us by daily placing this blessing back in Your arms.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Four Months Later

Dear Dad,
It was four months ago today that you breathed your last breath here on earth and went on to your home in heaven. I think of you often there, wondering what you're doing, wondering if you see me, contemplating what your new life must be like.

I know you are with Jesus, I know you are happy, and I know you are pain-free. It is these things alone which make your leaving possible to bear.

It is so hard down here without you, though. I keep waiting for the day to come where every Wednesday I won't wake up counting how many weeks it's been since you passed away. I have become accustomed to the pictures of you I have around my house, but when I come across one I haven't seen in awhile the tears and longing are instantaneous, the pain still crippling. My grief has changed in that it is not a constant, minute-by-minute battle, but it still strikes every day, and the intensity of it is the same as it has always been.

I miss you, Dad. I miss your smile, I miss your voice, I miss you telling me you love me, I miss hearing you say my name, I miss watching you with your grandchildren, I miss talking about the weather with you, I miss you asking me about my job, I miss your fatherly concern over every aspect of my life.

No one else can give that to me. No one can love me like you loved me. No one else will ever have the same vested interest in my life that you did. You were my father, my counselor, my cornerstone, my friend, my invincible, powerful, strong and mighty Dad. My rock.

People keep telling all of us kids and Mom that a day will come when it won't hurt so bad. That there will be a time when we can look at pictures of you and feel happiness instead of hurt. That life will go on, and your memory will still be alive, it just won't be so painful to remember you.

I can't even fathom what that will feel like, or when that will ever be. Today, Dad, I still miss you more than ever. Even more than I did on the day you died. With life continuing on without you it feels more wrong than it did before. I expect to see you, or hear you again. So much time has passed that it seems only right that you should be walking through my door, as if you were just on an extended vacation.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to accept the finality of your loss in my life. I feel like I'll always be on the lookout for you, just waiting for you to turn up again. Eliza thought she saw you in Walgreen's the other day, and I did too. I heard her say, "Papa! Papa! Papa!", while pointing to a man who had your same build, your same gait, and was wearing clothes similar to what you would wear. Before reality came crashing down on me I thought to myself, "He's come back!", and before I could stop it from happening, hope and joy filled every ounce of my being, and for a millisecond I was about to make a mad dash into your arms.

Needless to say, you weren't in Walgreen's that day.

I don't know if you can read any of these words I write to you. That is another thing I've had to adjust to since you've been gone. For almost a year and a half I was able to write all about you and write for you, knowing that you were on the other end reading every word I wrote down. You were always so gracious and complimentary. You would remark to me about how well I knew you, how perceptive I was when it came to you, how you couldn't hide any of your feelings from me.

That's what I miss most of all, Dad. The closeness we had come to share. I relied on it more than I knew. Your approval meant so much to me. I just wanted to be a daughter you respected, and admired, and were proud to call your own...

Four months has passed, and it could just as easily be four days, or four years. I have come to realize that grief has no timetable, no calendar, no set amount of days before it runs it's course. You are just as much on my heart now as you were in March, and I don't foresee that changing anytime soon.

You were so wonderful, Dad. I would give anything for just one more day with you here. But a good friend said to me this week, "If he was given the chance to come back here, he wouldn't. He would just say, 'Bring my family to me someday.' "

And so I'm on my way back to you. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or in the next few years, but I will see you again. Until then, my beloved, treasured father, you are never far from my heart.

All my love forever,
Susan

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day envious that you are with my Dad. Please tell him we love him and miss him. Tell him his legacy of loving You still lives on through all of us who knew him.
Please give him a hug, and tell him it's from me. Tell him that there will be plenty more where that came from someday.
You've got a good man up there with You, Lord. Thanks for letting us have him for a little while. What a gift You gave to us all...
In your Name I pray,
Amen

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hanging In There

It feels as if a long time has passed since I've written anything here, when in fact it has only been about a week. In the past, I would still usually write "drafts" in the meantime that may or may not ever get posted, but lately I haven't even been doing that. Alot of factors have gone into my lack of writing. First, with trying to get everything ready for the new baby my free time has dwindled down to almost nothing, and what few moments are left I find I am too tired to get motivated to do much besides lose myself in a good book or simply just try to go to sleep.

Secondly, I generally write during my girl's rest time in the afternoon, but now that Eliza has moved into Dana's bedroom, Dana gets to have her hour of down time in the family room, which doesn't lead to alot of peace and quiet for me! I've gotten used to her little munchkin voice as "background music" during this precious hour that I used to be able to call my own, but the constant barrage of questions, comments, and requests she sends my way doesn't lend itself to any serious soul-searching.

And third, to be honest, I have almost welcomed the excuse to not sit down and sort out what I am feeling. This site has become very much a form of therapy for me, a way to vent my thoughts and ideas, and in the last couple of weeks it seems much easier to go through my days in an oblivious state of numbness without having to confront any of those unfavorable emotions that are trying to creep their way to the surface and find their way out.

I can sense those rough and tough feelings hovering around me, and there's so many of them that I have made a conscious choice to simply not deal with them. There are many things in my life which bring me joy, and to focus on them has been a much easier and gentler path for me to follow lately. However, I am always aware of the ever-present grief that circles my heart, my throat, and my tearducts, just waiting for the first chance for release. I can sense the anger that has become this grief's constant companion, lying in wait for the opportunity to pounce on the nearest unsuspecting victim. An almost paralyzing anxiety grabs hold of me when I realize that I am going to be adding another child to this family in just over two weeks, and a feeling of helplessness overcomes me, telling me that there is no way I can be a good mother to three children, when I already feel as if I am making enough mistakes with just two. And I can feel the onslaught of "Mom-guilt" already settling into my heart of hearts when I look at my two daughters and ponder how they are going to adjust to this new disruption to their lives. I realize that alot of their reaction depends on me, and the urge to just give up and give in to the thoughts that I will soon be in way over my head threatens to settle in.

And then, the one thing that has been plaguing me the most... the guilt that has found me over and over again recently when I take stock of my relationship with Christ and realize that I have almost completely, and quite willingly, let His influence in my life go by the wayside.

It is this, more than anything else, that has finally brought me in front of this keyboard today. I miss Him. I miss the closeness I shared with Him. I miss the desire I once had (not that long ago) to devote every minute of every day to becoming a better disciple of His. I miss His inspiration, His affirmation, His confirmation, His presence everywhere I turned.

And what makes it worse is that it's me that left Him. And it's me that continues to leave Him every day. It's a terrible feeling, and the hardest part is that I feel as if I can't even help myself from doing it. Every night it's the same scenario. I sit down to do my devotions, open my Bible hoping against hope to be inspired by just the right words, become overwhelmed with the process of finding said passage, flip through page after page, book after book, lose hope, dishearteningly close my Bible, fold my hands to pray, become awash with longing for Him and guilt for having been rejecting Him, succumb to my weariness and sadness, unfold my hands, lay down, and try to ignore feeling like the failure that I must surely have become in His sight.

A couple nights ago, as I was "book-hopping" in my Bible, trying to focus on any verse that might bring me out of these devotional doldrums, my pages fell open to 2 Timothy 2:13. The words struck me, and brought about a sense of comfort and calm that has alluded me for a long, long time. The verse is this:

"If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself."

I needed to hear this. I needed to be reminded that during the days, weeks, or even months where I just don't have it in me to be on fire for Him that not only will He not leave me, but He cannot leave me. He is a part of me, and I am a part of Him, and nothing can or will ever change this. Not my exhaustion, not my pain, not my constant putting on hold of my time with Him, nothing. I have spent so much of my time lately concentrating on all the ways in which I have let Him down, and thinking about how fed up with me He must be that I completely discounted His never-ending love for me, and His desire for me to share as much of myself with Him as I am able. He will take whatever I will offer Him. He knows how empty I feel right now, He knows that the only things that seem to spark any reaction out of me are those things I'm trying to ignore, He knows that at the end of the day I just want to escape into dreamland out of sheer exhaustion, and He has promised to stick with me, and wait for me, and care for me in any way that I will let Him.

What an awesome, awesome guy, who deserves so much more from me.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day so, so sorry. I'm having a rough time right now with everything that has happened in the past, and the things that will be happening in the near future. And to top it all off I find myself pushing away the only person that will absolve me of these things... You.

You see me, Lord. You know I am scared, I am anxious, I am tired, I am sad, and I am overwhelmed. I also have decided to go this road alone, shutting You out of my life, convincing myself that I have fallen so far from You that it is my job and my job only to pull myself up again.

Thank You, for reminding me that I never fall so far as to fall out of Your grasp. You are near to me now, I can feel You. Help me to trust You again, and forgive me for allowing myself to lose that trust to begin with. I thought it would be easier to do this by myself. I was wrong.

I need You now, Lord, to help me prepare for what's ahead of me and to deal with what has happened in my past. Only You help me keep things in perspective, only You have the ability to transform my anxiousness into peace, my anger into understanding, my guilt into the knowledge that I am forgiven, and my longing for You back into a relationship with You.

I don't know how long it's going to take for me to get back to where I was, but I know that You are here with me, and you also are already there ahead of me, ready to help me in any way possible, encouraging me, loving me, and willing to take any part of me that I am able to give.

Thank You for your promises, Lord, my promise to You is that I will keep trying...

I love You, Lord. That is the one thing that has never, and will never change. Thank You for reciprocating that love with absolutely no strings attached. You are a good friend, You are my good friend. I need that right now, even if I have been doing a not-so-good job of showing it. I am so grateful for your inability and your unwillingness to ever leave me. I rely on this, and I will rely on You.

In Your Name I pray,
Amen