Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Giving Thanks in the Thick of It

I have re-written this post countless times in hopes that these words would find just the right balance of truth, grace, and hope. Because the thing is? The holidays can be really hard. They come every year. And those who are well acquainted with grief have come to learn that the holidays always bring with them waves of emotion. Complex emotion. Co-existing yet polarizing emotions. Still, the unwritten expectation remains: Smile. Just be glad for what you do have. Look around you... this is a time to be happy. If I am going to be honest, in the seven holiday seasons since losing Isaac, including last year's first round of holidays after very suddenly and horrifically losing my Dad, there have been years where managing both my grief and others' expectations has felt almost impossible to bear. And I have a feeling, I'm not the only one. So as Thanksgiving prepares to dawn, I wanted to share my heart on a couple of things.

Recently, some of you reading have experienced great loss. The loss of a job.  A marriage. A friend. A parent. A child. You've wondered how you are going to even put a nice meal on the table tomorrow. You've wept by a graveside, longing for more time... or even any time at all.

Others of you have experienced unwanted gain. A diagnosis. One of a friend. A family member. Or even your own. You wonder if your will get to spend next Thanksgiving with that person you hold so dear... or whether you may be here yourself.

The holidays have a way of doing that. They magnify everything. Everything. They magnify joy, and excitement and expectation. And they magnify sorrow and hurt and grief.

Our pastor shared this past weekend about the difference between being thankful and giving thanks. Most often, we think of giving thanks as the visible expression of a thankful heart... the action that occurs as an out pouring of feeling thankful.

But what about when you're in the thick of it? In the thick of the hard, the hurtful, and the horrifying... that heart-wrenching thing that won't seem to loosen its grip?

Give thanks.

1 Thes. 5:18 encourages us to "give thanks in all circumstances."

So, to those of you walking through the thick of it right now,  whose heart may be heavy this holiday season... who wants so much to feel thankful, and holly and jolly... but perhaps you just don't. Give thanks. You may not feel thankful. And hear me when I say, that's ok. Or maybe you do... but it's thankful, and yet....

Thankful, and yet missing someone you love.

Thankful, and yet scared for what next Thanksgiving may look like.

Thankful, and yet sorrowful.

Give thanks. Find that thing. Even if it's just one... and utter words of thanks. It likely won't make everything better... or maybe anything at all. But those words of thanks? They are words of hope.
Because He who has promised is faithful. Always.

And to those of you who can't in the least relate to what I am saying... who are full of joy and expectation and excitement? Be gentle and extend grace to those who just may not be there and may not be felling that way. Those "thankful, and yets" can be so hard, and so often misunderstood. Have the eyes to see them... their hearts... and lovingly, without judgement, let them know that you care.

This Thanksgiving, and in the Christmas season to follow... let's be gentle with one another, uttering words of thanks as much as we can, and extending grace whenever possible. And even in the thick of it, give thanks in all circumstances.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Blindside

It's been nearly a year, and just now can I even make sense of it all to pen the words for which I have been so desperately searching. There are few times in life that blindside you to the point of feeling completely surreal, often leaving you shattered and shaken and requiring time to put the piece back together.

Through our journey with Isaac, there were experiences from which I knew to expect deep difficulty... walking into a funeral home, eight months pregnant, to select my soon-to-be-born son's casket being one of them. While surreal and my mind full of disbelief that this was actually my life, it was... expected.

But that call. The one where the phone rings at a time it rarely does. And deep in your soul you know something isn't right. You dread even walking to the phone to see who is calling, only to have your suspicion confirmed. As you answer, you hear your name... followed by a deep sigh, and panic sets it. Rightfully so. Those words... "Your dad.... his heart..."


And so, as focused as possible, I threw clothes, basic necessities, and diapers into a bag, woke my sleeping baby, and embarked on what has undoubtedly been the longest one-hour drive of my life. One hour. A chasm of space and time that just couldn't be handled any other way but to allow it to pass... all the while praying that on the other side, he would be alert and conscious and... alive.

Another call on the way eased my fears... "He's alert. Talking to the doctors. I think we're out of danger now."

Sweet relief. A dose of hope.

So once inside, bag thrown over one shoulder and baby in her carrier on the other arm, I found may way to the emergency department, through security, and down the hall to triage. And the sight before me was anything besides free of danger.

Blindsided. Again.

And this is were it all turns surreal... living what must be someone else's life. Consciousness lost moments before my arrival. Doctors rushing and racing. Everywhere. I ran... not because the distance down that corridor was far; but because there was no way not to.

There were so many machines. And nurses. And a surgeon helping us to try, in the midst of complete shock and disbelief, make sense of it all. "Heart. Aorta. Rupture. Emergency surgery. Now."

Can you please sign here, on the consent form?

Questions swirled in my mind...  How did this happen? What if it doesn't work?

But they had to. It was their hail mary.

Those moments... it felt like an eternity. So much information in such little time. Watching my Dad... the one who was always, always, there... laying completely helpless.

One of his nurses.... a former student of his who pursued a nursing degree because of the paramedic biology course he had taught. It came full circle.

Another nurse... looked at me and said, He said 'thank you.' Thank you. To who? For what? I longed to know more...

That night... that awful, horrific night... it changed me.

Our hope hung so delicately in the balance for the next ten hours. Updates, though promised, rarely came. And then the surgeon came in... He made it through. But it's bad. Uncontrolled bleeding. May need to operate again. 

And they did. And he made it through. Again.

But the surgeries... they took their toll. His heart stopped several times during surgery, he said. We were able to bring him back... but we're unsure right now as to the extent of the damage. 

Damage. That word... all that it means and all that implies. Deep down, I knew. I believed what the doctor said. It's bad.

My Dad... my poor Dad... his body accosted by this horrific series of events rendering him completely helpless and fully dependent on external means of keeping his body going.

Minutes... hours passed as the juggling act of trying to help him heal left all of us waiting with bated breath, hanging on every word... every detail one of the doctors shared. Time... that chasm. No way to hurry it, and yet somehow this became the most excruciating combination of sudden and prolonged. One kind of horrible juxtaposed against the other. It was just that: horrible.

Days passed... and in the horrible some of the sweetest moments were found. Hours... just sitting with my Dad and holding his hand. Walking down memory lane, sharing scripture and singing to him. The nurses told me that hearing is the last sense to go... and I hoped it was true.

Eventually, that time came. The one that no one can ever prepare for. How can you really know when it is time to say goodbye? How do you surrender your hope of a miracle and give in to the reality before you? I remember asking myself that same thing with Isaac. That balance of walking the line of hope for the miracle and the reality of the situation.

The only answer I can give is this: peace.

Please don't misunderstand... I can safely say that none of us felt peaceFUL in those moments. But there was peace in knowing that this is what my Dad had wanted... his handwriting on that dreadful form said so.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

I've experienced the to-be-expected out of order loss of my son. And I have experienced the too-soon, sudden in-order loss of a parent... my Dad. Whether expected or when it completely blindsides you... whether in order or out, the truth is this: when you love deeply, you hurt... deeply.

So we have almost completed a "year of firsts" without my Dad, and his absence has been so pronounced. And I think the reality of the fact that our kids being so young... they will likely not remember much about their time with him. My nephew will be born this December... and he will not ever meet his G-Dad. That is excruciatingly heartbreaking to me.

I am again reminded that there is simply no timetable or expiration date on grief... that it is hard, it's messy, it's surprising, and it will never leave you unchanged. And through it, we find ourselves relying on what it is that anchors us.


Oswald Chambers has said, "Faith is the deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways we don't understand at the time." 

I love that. Because admittedly, I don't understand. And quite honestly, I don't like it.

But I have confidence and hope in the One who knows all things... who sees all things... and who doesn't change in the face of horrific circumstances. He is a sure foundation, an ever-present help in trouble. He is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

For Him, there is no blindside.

I love you, Dad...