Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Mouths of Babes

Dancer poked me insistently during the Lord's Supper. Eventually realizing that she was just not going to give up, I turned my head and quietly hissed, "What?!"

She pointed to the front of the church, where an artist's charcoal of Jesus on the cross was projected, and asked...

"Why are his eyes open?"

I glanced up and sure enough...Jesus' eyes were open, lifted heavenward.

"Didn't Jesus die on the cross?" she asked in a puzzled voice.

"Yes, baby," I said. "But he was alive when they nailed him up there.

She looked at the picture for a minute and then turned to me. Her eyes had rounded and were full of tears.

And then she whispered, "But, Mommy....why?"

Diva chimed in with, "It was for us, right Mommy? He died for us."

I nodded slowly, and Dancer leaned over to rest her head on my shoulder, still upset.

The whole conversation took only moments, but for the rest of the service my mind was occupied - not with the lesson on Abraham - but with the knowledge that somewhere along the way I became inured to the absolute barbarity of what our Savior endured to offer us the gift of grace.

Somehow, in my readings on the the many sermons and cinematic a lifetime of knowing what has been given to me - I lost track of the sacrifice and the pain and the loss in the cross.

I became so conditioned to focus on the resurrection and the joy that brings - that I forgot to let my heart be pierced by what my sin did to my savior.

Acts 2: 36, 37
"God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

Many of you have already responded to Peter's and the apostles' instructions of "repent and be baptized." You have already acknowledged what God has given you. But it cannot hurt even you to be reminded - sometimes unexpectedly - not to lose the heart of the matter.

I did that. I put Him there. My sin, my failings. And He did it anyway...for me. Because He loves me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The FEAR and The Failing

The other mommies do not understand. They do  not see.

Behind my smiles and laughter - kisses and hugs - how hard it is to let go of my daughter's hand and watch her walk away.

Through the crosswalk and down the sidewalk. To her classroom, her dance class, her friend's house right down the street.

No one sees how hard I work to let her go, to give her the independence she needs...that I want her to have. I need to be confident in her strength and her will...because I cannot always be there.

But that knowledge plays tug-of-war with my heart - a heart that knows the unnaturalness of a child's death - my child's death.

That very unnaturalness is what has intensified this struggle beyond what I felt before. Beyond a mother's natural nervousness and concern as she watches her child's stumbling first steps...or ruefully contemplates sports tryouts or first dates.

My only advantage is I know it is stronger now - I know the reason, the cause. I fight it - I have to think...Am I being overprotective? Is this because I fear losing her? 

Sometimes, I have to take a deep breath and let it go. I think about her in one year or two. Would I be as worried, I ask myself, if she were just a little older? 

I think I master this...mostly. That I succeed...almost all the time.

There are some women who understand. We talk about it - our successes...and failures. When we held them too tight. Or checked on them one time too many at night. Maybe we called our sitter or even the grandparents too soon after leaving the house. It is a compulsion - sometimes far stronger than our ability to resist.

We don't, though, want our failings to be our children's. We try not to let our fear and worry show - because we don't want to infect them with it. Though we know all too well that life is uncertain and the world a dangerous place - we want them to have that same innocence we did before tragedy struck. As much as they can, anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Blind Leading the Blind

Many people assume that Dancer and Diva are simply unaware of what has happened in our family - that they are unaffected. That could not be farther from the truth. If I have learned anything, it is that children know and understand far more than we give them credit for.

They proved that to me once again a few nights ago. Daddy went to run an errand and they climbed up in my lap (what's left of it). Dancer cuddled on my left and Diva on my right....they hugged, kissed, and stroked "our baby," as they call it.

Dancer took the lead, asking me to talk about "all our babies." She wanted to know what each one looked like, whether they looked more like her or Diva.

And then she told me, "Mommy, I love all our babies, even if they are in heaven with God and Jesus. And I will always remember their names and I will always be their big sister. Always."

Diva chimed in, "Mommy, I'm their big sister too....right?" And I told her, "Yes, baby, of course you are."

We laughed together at the idea that baby Kasey had hair just like Diva's, dark and fluffy. And that baby Kayla was like Dancer...born with nothing but peach fuzz. We talked about how long and skinny Isaac's feet and hands were. They were sad that their brothers and sisters were gone, and they told me how much they wanted this baby to make it. But, as bittersweet as the moment was also beautiful.

Because I have learned that the best way to help them understand (as much as anyone can understand such things) is to let them lead me.

They say some of the most beautiful things...and ask some of the toughest questions. The thing they have the most trouble understanding is the lack of answers. For children, there is the perpetual question of why, and they are never truly satisfied that they have the full explanation. So sometimes, they have to ask the same question periodically. And that, too, is OK.

My philosophy has been to be honest, be willing to listen, and be willing to talk to them...because we cannot afford to hide this. Our family, including Dancer and Diva, has been altered. And one of the worse things I could do is make them (or myself) feel that our children...any of them...are something to be hidden or ignored.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Civilization is Just a Word Here

My dear Mr. Buttersworth has still  not learned - after six loooong years - one of the central tenets of parenting.

Never. EVER. In a million years, even if you are DYING OF CURIOSITY...

Ask those little heathens we call children why they did something.

Especially if you are fairly certain that the answer will:

1. Make absolutely NO SENSE.

2. In NO WAY excuse whatever the heck they just did.

3. Involve convoluted reasoning garaunteed to drive you UP THE WALL.

4. Or contain any version of shoulder shrugging, "I dunno," or "I just wasn't thinking." 

Now, when I point out (frequently) that asking them why is not a good idea, Mr. Buttersworth says:

"But I want them to think about why, so that maybe they'll actually think about whether or not it is a good idea."

I hate to break it to him - and to the world at large - but it's not working.

And, I'll admit, I have to work hard not to ask.

Sometimes I stand there in absolute and total disbelief that what I just witnessed actually occurred.

So I shake my head, bite my tongue until the urge to ask why has passed, and then I deal with the matter at hand.

If there was hitting, kicking, spitting, etc... Deal with that.

If the issue is Diva hiding toys in her underwear....Deal with that.

If crayons, markers, or paint have marked my walls....Grow horns, claws, and a tail and terrorize them.  

But...I never ask why. That is my secret to staying (mostly) sane.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Keeping it Together

I've been quiet. Mostly because what's been on my mind is...frightening. But, I had to remind myself again - it's OK to be honest. To share.  

Because I've been contemplating a very scary statistic.

I've read it in pamphlets, given to me in hospital care packages. In magazine articles and blogs. I've seen it over and over again.

Only 20% of marriages survive the loss of a child.

That means that 80% don't.


What a big number. Much more than half. More than two-thirds. More than three-fourths even.

I've met couples that have survived. And I've met some that haven't.

I can find no judgement in me for those who fell apart. There is a wealth of pain in them. Somehow, in their hurt over the blow dealt them....they simply lost their way to one another.

When life just has to keep going - when you have to go to work, keep paying bills, and just keep going - how much time is there to keep your oneness together?

How much effort would it take? 

Honestly, there is little support in this area. Doctors do not inquire after the state of your marriage when you go in for a checkup. Insurance agencies do not call and ask if they can help you navigate the complicated process of pursuing counseling.

Churches assume you can take care of your own marriage.

Families do their best to stay out of your marriage.

So, what do you do?

When the person next to you hurts just as much as you do....when they have no comfort to offer....

What do you do?

For some of us, we just keep going. We know we are not the same, either one of us. And we try to accept those differences, both in ourselves and our spouse.

We love and fight and laugh together. We cry together. And we pray.

God, please help me keep it together. Please help me not lose this.

We do the best we can.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our Gift

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 

Romans 12:15

How many times have I read that verse?

How many times have you?

It is easy, is it not? To rejoice with those who rejoice? To pat someone on the back, shake their hand, and laugh with them?

But how hard it is to face true mourning, true grief? There is something inside us that makes us want to turn away - hide our face.  We want it to not be real.

And if we do not truly mourn with them, then we are not truly touched by their sorrow. That, we think, is safer. Safer for our peace of mind and safer for our hearts.

Today is September 11, 2012.

Eleven years ago, I watched as the Twin Towers fell. I saw people sail from windows to escape the flames. I watched in disbelief as the Pentagon was attacked as well. Their faces, covered in soot and etched with horror...I will never forget.

Even at 17, I knew. I knew my generation would not come of age at college or in boardrooms, but at war. And I mourned.

Today, across our country, people are mourning. Real people, real families.....very real tragedies. We must have the courage to mourn with them. To read their stories, to shed a tear for and with them, and put our arms around them.

For there are children who have grown up without one of their parents or grandparents because of that awful day.

And spouses who have saved messages and notes that are the last words of their loved one.

There is a generation of men and women who have spent their entire adulthood fighting and dying half a world away.

There are families who will mourn the loss of loved ones today - not just from 9/11, but from the inexorable march of life...and death.

Some will mourn the loss of a job or house - and the death of dreams for their family.

Others will lose a child, a grief I am all too familiar with.

Who will mourn with these people?

We should.

Those of us called by God, saved by his Grace, filled with his love....we are told to mourn with those who mourn.

Do not turn your face away. Reach out your hand and clasp another. Open your eyes and your heart to those who grieve. Your gift to them is walking with them through their sorrow.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dreams Are What We're Made Of

I have a good friend who recently received life changing news. What it was doesn't matter - but what it did to her future and plans does.

It changed them irrevocably.

To what extent, we don't know. But dreams and plans she thought were (in some ways) concrete just...aren't anymore.

As we've talked, I've discovered an empathy for her situation that I didn't know I would have - because I've experienced the lost dreams as well.

When I was pregnant with Kasey, I thought that I knew what that reality would look like. Little girls, sisters....they play and pretend and fight and makeup. They laugh and sing and dress up. They beg mommy for popsicles and snacks, and they have very serious discussions about the most bizarre things. Sometimes I  listen and laugh. Sometimes I listen and my eyes sting - and I want to cry.

The point is - I dreamed every day of what fun they would have and how they would aggravate each other. 

And one day last summer, driving through the middle of town, I saw little boys signing up for pee-wee football. Five, six, or seven - they were tiny in their shoulder pads and jerseys. They played in a vacant lot, tossing a football back and forth while the parents manned the signup tables and laughed and talked together.

I pulled over and cried. Then I called my best friend. 

Because I was suddenly hit with the reality that my sons will never do those things. I will never sign them up for sports or watch them toss a ball back and forth. I will never see them show frogs or crickets to their big sisters...or plot truly diabolical revenge when they feel wronged.

I realized that I had lost unknown dreams. The things I have never experienced, but imagined I would have...with them.

When we lose dreams there is a vacant spot left behind. And there is nothing, really, that fills it up. I still have hopes and dreams for Dancer and Diva. They are a wonder that never ceases. But the mental picture I had of our family, and the dreams I had for each of those lost children are....gone.

Sometimes, if it's something simple - like a job or a degree - you can find a new dream. A better dream. The hard part for me is these are dreams that are not replaceable.

In fact, they are dreams that I have to say goodbye to over and over again.  Some dreams are like that - the loss hits you at odd moments. You realize that somewhere inside was still that want. Or, that you were holding a dream you didn't realize you even had.

We all, I think, have lost some dreams. For Casanova it was understanding that he should probably aspire higher than driving Jimmy Carter's peanut trucks (to be fair, he was 7). For others it might have been realizing that being an astronaut just wasn't in the cards.

I thought my dreams were fairly simple. Losing them though, however simple they seemed, has left a gaping hole. And I'm thinking of all the people I know - all the people I've met - whose dreams are just as shattered...just as lost.

I know that they, too, sometimes wonder who they are and where they're going. Because our dreams, in many ways, define us. And too many of ours are gone.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not Wrong, Just Different

There is something that has puzzled me in recent years.

Not just puzzled, but...disturbed.

I have seen our churches move towards this idea that.....nothing's wrong.

How difficult it is to raise my children in a world where nothing is wrong! Where people are just different, whatever feels good is OK, and our conscience or heart can be our guide.

And where are our churches?

Right, I'm afraid, in the thick of this.  

So, I'm going to stand up for something I believe in.

There is such a thing as right - and wrong.

The argument I see most often for the stubborn refusal of Christians to call out sin is that God (Jesus) tells us to Love and Not Judge. Words like tolerance and acceptance and humility abound in these discussions.

Now, aside from the fact that these verses are usually taken wildly out of context (especially Romans 10), there is some merit to the argument - just not precisely the one so many are using them for.

God does tell us to love one another! In fact, it is one of the few outright commands we are given in the new testament.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

                                                     John 13:35

The key here is that we are to love one another as Jesus loves us.

Is God's love free from correction? No, it most certainly is not! 

As any loving parent with their children, he disciplines those he loves.

When Jesus healed people, absolved them of guilt or defect...what did he do? 

To the woman caught in adultery...."go and sin no more."

To the paralyzed man lowered through the roof..."Son, your sins are forgiven."

Did he ignore the sins of the woman at the well? No, he didn't. He taught her, and she became an agent for change in her village.

People want to be loved and liked. I understand that. I am cursed (or blessed, depending) with this desire for everyone to be happy and fulfilled....and like me. But, that does not mean that I can ignore the wrong in people's lives or in our churches.

We are told to be a humble, loving, forgiving people.

But we are also told not to tolerate sin in our midst. We can speak the truth humbly, lovingly, and we can freely give forgiveness when true repentence in present.

We cannot, though, ignore sin because of our own discomfort.