Cheers.

Deep breathe in….and exhale. The last of the firsts is here. It has been 365 days since the passing of my mom. Thus, 365+ chances to weep, to laugh, to learn, to writhe, to grow, to reflect. I sat down to write this about 12 hours ago…and couldn’t bring myself to do it. The days leading up to this one seemed like an uphill and insurmountable battle. But this evening while talking to my roommate, it finally clicked that the date itself can hold no power over me. What happened, well, happened… No matter if today is January 30th or July 30th. Truth be told, I feel like I needed to write this post as a form of closure. Last year, I was so broken hearted and in shock I don’t believe I was fully able to honor Mama’s legacy. So here goes my “redo”- my opportunity to say what I would have wanted to say at her memorial, had I the words to speak them.

Dear Mom,
Oh Mama. How I long to have had more time. My deepest regret was not slowing down enough to savor the mundane with you. I long for the minutes: to have heard more about your adventures with Aunt Cheryl, to have traveled with you to Italy with Auntie Anne, to have just sat listening to the cadence of your breathing, to hear of your silly jokes with Pat, and to have figured out what on earth your coded measurements for beef stew are! So much of me hates all the open ended questions that remain hanging in the air… Like why you didn’t think highly enough of yourself to take care of yourself. I told you I was angry for not letting anyone know you were so sick, but the truth was I was angry at myself. Anger is toxic, and I will no longer let it rob my from all the joy.

You spent much of your life thinking your existence went unnoticed. I beg (on my knees pleading) to disagree. You are still one of the only people I know who could light up a room just by being in it. Your laughter was contagious and overflowing. You loved so passionately and intensely that your heart was (quite literally) bursting at the seams. You gave and gave and then somehow found a way to give more. You were always open to lend an ear, or a shoulder, or some food (no wonder why the Mortgage Master people loved you so much). You opened your home time and time again to friends and strangers alike. You almost never judged a book by its cover- trying your best when you were able to see others as God’s children. You labored in prayer for us, and you sought to know God as best as you were able. You always knew the right thing to say- even if that was to say nothing at all. You made yourself a mother and friend to every- and I mean every- friend and acquaintance Josh and I ever had. You were the first coach, cheerleader, advocate, and friend I ever had. You were faithful to a degree most only know exist in novels. I think what I loved most of all was that you were willing. You were a yielded heart that gave and gave until your heart could give no more.
So today, I want to thank you for the many gifts your life has imparted to me.

You gave me friendship: a model I wish to live out based on the principles of vigilant loyalty, forgiveness, and faithfulness. You set the bar so high. You would drop everything for anyone in a moments notice to be by their side. Story after story proves this. Most of all, I am so grateful you were my best friend.

You gave me the ability to dream: you believed in us and always taught us to work hard and fight for what we wanted.

You gave me gift of seeing value: everyone deserved to be valued and treated like family.

You taught me the importance of hospitality… And in doing so, possibly entertaining angels in our midst.

You imparted to me a love for Jesus, His Kingdom, and service- by teaching us from a very young age to love and live the Word…. Even if you struggled to believe it all the time yourself.

You showed me it’s okay to be vulnerable, because you showed me the damage one does if she is not vulnerable and honest with the people who love you.

You gave me the gift of appreciating the joy in life: the list could go on and on-
holding a baby, celebrating a birthday, watching a sunset, worshipping God as the tide moves in, laughing at the inane and innocuous.

You taught me the importance of taking care of yourself: I now have a renewed sense of urgency in taking care of my health due to the terrible example of neglect in your own life.

You illuminated the need to have right and healthy thinking: your record playing in your head was lie after lie after lie. You always thought you were alone, unworthy of love, and that you had no friends. All of these are lies. I was confronted with the need to constantly submit and check my thoughts with God’s and make certain what I feed myself is true, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy.

You gave me a snapshot into the true community I have: an outpouring of constant texts, emails, hugs, and phone calls all reminding me that I am surrounded by incredible people and that I am immeasurably blessed.

You showed me the beauty and power of love: fierce, devoted, focused love that only a mother could give. I hope I can emulate you someday in this. I was fortunate enough to know each and every moment of my life that I was loved unconditionally.

It was in your passing I learned many things I might not have known unless I was forced to confront my ugliness and my insufficiency. God used your death to teach me about a deep and abiding hope that far surpasses the relief I have at the thought of seeing you again someday. It was only in those many and numerous moments of utter loss I was able to see what it really means to depend on Christ. God has changed me so profoundly that I can honestly say I am a totally different person today.

Finally, you taught me life is short, and we must utilize every second we can before it slips past us.

So, my dear precious Mama. How could thanks ever be enough? How I long to hug you once more. For now, I will take heart in this:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Cheers to you, mama. Til we meet again.

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With Us.

If I am very still and concentrate really closely, I can hear my momma laughing. I can smell her perfume (as I could when it wafted out of her cookbook on the page of my favorite entry). I see her smile as I opened the gift she somehow knew I would want, and see her bubbling with joy as she welcomes Josh into her embrace after a long time apart. In these memories, all is calm and all is bright. She is very much still with us- in the joy, pain, comfort, and triumphs.

A few weeks back, I found myself talking about my mom to my middle school girls. I finished speaking and one of our new students commented back and spoke about my mom in present tense. It took me aback for a minute or two, weighing in my mind if I was stable enough to let her know Mom had died. Oddly enough, as I processed that moment, I found it very comforting to think that in this student’s reality, my mom was still alive and well. For a brief few minutes, I was so uniquely comforted by the idea that she was near.

As I look back on the last year of my life, I can truly say not a single thing went according to my plan. And at yesterday’s Christmas Eve service, I was reminded of just that. The Pastor was reminding us that not a single one of us can predict our days- some of us are in a much better place than this time last year, and others, well, have had plenty of experience at walking in untrodden paths of character defining. Food for thought since it is so easy to squander our days.

So today, I find the need to pause and reflect. Though my mother will live in our hearts, though she is near in memory, and though she remains an active standard for my life, she is not here. And that is okay. It hurts, but it’s okay. That’s not where the story ends, however, especially on a day like today. As I sift myself and allow God to comfort my broken heart, I am reminded of the greatest gift that ever could be given. A baby was born, and a son was given. And He was called Immanuel, here with us. He is present in our joy, present in our aching, and can, does, and will reside in the hearts of man. I have never understood the reality of God becoming man- it’s messy, illogical, and fairly impractical from a humanistic point of view. Thank you, God, for never finding need to be neat and tidy, conform to my limitations, or work within the confines of humanity.

He is with me, now, more than I ever realized before. God became flesh and made His dwelling among us. In the midst of messy ole me. Phew. Every time I am embraced, each time I find myself laughing, every gift given to me is a representation of Christ’s indwelling presence in my life. He is here for us all- the mighty and the meek, the loner and the people person, the sinner and the “saint”. I could find an excuse to cry the rest of the day away (which in truth was unintentionally what I have been doing)… Or I could rejoice that I am not alone.

Would you allow yourself room to consider this day that you have not been left behind? Through all the crud and all the muck, you are not by yourself. It will take time, but you, too could feel the tangible presence of a Heavenly Father who made a way for you and me.

Thank you, to all my friends and family who have gone above and beyond to make this a lovely and warm season of joy. I cherish each prayer, text, and hug, and I love you

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

(Please do not think I am saying that if you are finding yourself in a rough spot and season this Christmas that your pain isn’t legitimate. I am with you. If you need to talk or want prayer, allow me to be of use.)

I Can See The Sun Rising

“However long the night, the dawn will break.”  – African Proverb

Standing where I stood a few months ago meant standing on ground that appeared solid but felt like jello. It meant there were many, many moments of complete and unabashed sadness and heartbreak. At times, the longing in my chest was a physical heart ache that squeezed and clamped ahold of my ability to breathe. In those moments, I thought that quite possibly the sadness could overtake me and wash me out into the ocean of tears I cried. The moments, however, don’t make up the life. One day I woke, and things were a bit brighter. The night was beginning to break. Oh, what a glorious day. I could see the sun.

Today, I turn to survey the past few months and see a beautiful array of life defining moments-radiant wildflowers in a field punctuating the horizon. The darkness that I could have been stuck in became a venue for God to do what was necessary to do a mighty work in me. I see now that I am irrevocably different… and that without the experiences of the last few months, I couldn’t be walking where I am today. I am truly in awe of what God has done, His power, and His love for me.

Here’s what I can see from over here [and what I hope you can learn from my messiness]:

  • I now can stand on the authority that God remains firm through the storm. I knew God  was steady, firm, and strong. I always thought I knew God’s consistent nature, but I only knew about it in theory. Now I am confident that I know it in truth. I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.-Psalm 18:1-2

  • Brokenness does not have to be permanent.  There is a great deal of beauty in taking the shards of what once was and making them new. It was God who was able to restore once I submitted to His ability to be God.“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17; “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5

  • Your life has influence. People are watching. Of all ages, at all stages- people are always watching because you do not live in a vacuum. Like it or not, you choose the impact you make on others. For me, I had students and small group teens waiting to see how I’d react. What we will do with these moments? “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3

  • Worship breaks up the hopelessness. I needed to actively make a choice to do something with all my sorrow… and the choice had to be to hand it over to the Lord. What else was there to do? Spending time in the Word, talking to God, and actively seeking out moments of quiet were vital in preserving my soul because they connected me to the soul maker.  ”When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:3

  • Character is built when you walk through hard seasons. And seriously, who doesn’t need more character? Did I love it? Nope- but gold refined through a fire has to go.through.a.fire.  ”Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 I am not sure I would have chosen the phrase “we glory in our sufferings”-that seems a bit much… But, oh, hope… how I love thee.

  • I cannot spell perseverance. Seriously. Hooray for spellcheck.

  • What you think is what you become. I had to learn how to teach myself to think. How was meditating on and replaying situations I could not control going to be helpful? I had to be on guard for when the unhealthy thoughts would show and start replacing them with life giving thoughts… like this: “For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

  • Love conquers all. Honestly, this lesson was the most crucial of all.  For a person who struggled with self esteem to have an outpouring of support like our family experienced, this love was LOUD. My understanding of the power of love was but a faint whisper compared to what I have lived within over the past few months. I didn’t know it before (because I didn’t think I was worthy of it). I know now that though I am not worthy, love shouts louder still. Support from family and friends (messages, emails, letters, cards, hugs, tears, silences) and the powerful presence of the Author of Love was-for lack of a better term- incredible. “My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply  within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!.” 1 John 4:7-12

This isn’t to say that life has returned to normal. No, God has chosen to give me a new normal. Wikipedia says: “In the absence of light, perception is achromatic and ultimately, black. (see: darkness). But darkness isn’t the most prevalent perception any longer. Take heart, my friend. It will get easier to see. I can see the sun rising. And from here, the view is grand.

Welcome Home

Few things are more exciting than getting a chance to wrap one’s arms around someone whom time and distance has separated. There is inexplicable joy in seeing the person again- seeing them face to face. Joy wrapped up in expectation wrapped up in a soul reunited with its dear companion. The idea that we have been created with such an immense capacity to feel- to feel loss, to feel found, to feel disconnected, to feel at home- has recently captivated my thoughts. More specifically, the commercials and television shows of families reunited with their soldiers. I adore the unabashed and unashamed emotions that are displayed at the moments following their reunion- those feelings are so thick they are almost tangible.

I am so grateful we have been formed and fashioned with the ability to be so very- human. And yet, there is something very spiritual about the range of emotions we encounter. When I first watched this video, my flash mob loving, dance party having, inner teenage girl went crazy. I started crying just at the sheer majesty of it all. Recently, when I think of it, I imagine the reunion I will someday encounter with my Momma. The unbridled love and joy coupled with the longing my heart has been anticipating will all be quenched in an instant. But more glorious still, it points to the glorious meeting we will have with our Savior in heaven. Free, whole, complete, restored, redeemed, and reunited with the Author and Finisher of my faith. The Alpha and Omega who paved the way for me. No more darkness, no more tears, no more cancer, no more disease, no more pain, and no more death.

And we will dance. And we will sing. and We will be home.

Held Captive by my Feelings

[I write this 12 hours into a car ride to Florida, during a glorious piece of calendar heaven called April vacation. This year, I was blessed to join a family from my church on their trek to the panhandle to soak up some sun.]

This trip marks the first time since January 30th that I haven’t had to answer to all the competing urgencies of my life. My life is generally lived on warp speed and is very, very LOUD. In this car, suddenly life has gotten very quiet. In the quiet, I am confronted by emotions I haven’t had time to wrestle with… and I am finally able to start gaining some perspective.

Perspective changes everything.

A year ago, my Uncle Richard (Mom’s brother) was losing his fight with cancer. Mom needed to get to Virginia quickly. Her solution for this need was to take the trip together, since it just so happened that her urgency coincided with my solo trip to visit other family members in VA. Enter narcissistic and self centered Mandie- who was feeling crowded and ignorant of other’s feelings.

[Spoiler Alert! I can be a huge jerk. Here is where I become very vulnerable at the risk of trashing your opinion of me.]

Truthfully, there are few things I can remember that was redeeming about my behavior on this trip. Instead of seeing it as a bonding experience as Mother and Daughter and a chance for me to minister to her in her brokenness, I was angered she was crashing my trip! I didn’t want her to drive, pay, let alone choose music. I felt like she was over-mothering. I felt like I needed to prove I had become an adult. I felt like I deserved a trip by myself. I felt… like the world revolved around me, apparently. We fought so badly that at one point I had to pull the car over and spend some time separately. And then, after much joint deliberation, my crowning moment of glory: I dropped my beautiful, sacrificial Momma at a greyhound bus to take her to my Uncle.

Honestly, the behavior still horrifies me. In this current moment-as I have several times over already-I am crying. I’m crying for the missed quality time, for the lost memories, the unspoken conversations that could have been. I am embarrassed for being okay with dropping her off at a bus depot. I am disgusted by my selfishness. Most of all, I am deeply saddened by my inability to apologize to Mom about how I treated her. Add to those emotions my pain at not speaking with her the weekend before she passed, and I am feeling overwhelmed. As I am held captive in this vehicle right now, I have been held captive by this nagging and disgusting ghost of a memory. Perspective has made me realize I was labeling myself as a failure of a daughter.

Perspective affords us many things. It lifts us higher to see what has gone before. It allows us to learn from our mistakes. As I have gained perspective on this shameful part of my life, I have decided I have had enough. I have been held under the weight of this guilt too long. So I did the only thing I know how to do; I cried out to God to rescue me from this pain, and help me to set all this baggage down and walk away. I have to choose to let go and inform my feelings on truth (Cheri McCutchen). Yes, I was a complete and total jerk. Yes, it is good to acknowledge my mistakes. No, I cannot continue to be healthy while carrying the guilt of mistakes made and decisions poorly arrived on. I need to allow Jesus to clear away all that stuff I tell myself I should hang on to. I am deciding today that it has to be laid at the foot of the cross in order for there to be victory. In writing this, I believe it is already beginning.

Could it be, friend, that you have unreleased baggage you are allowing to define you, to hold you hostage? Life may have made you feel like you are lost, alone, and wandering. You might, like I did for awhile, feel more comfortable defining yourself by the hurt and mishaps along the way. We must remember that captives do not always need to be trapped by physical shackles to be bound. Some of this comes from confession… which is why I wrote the above. If you bring what’s kept in darkness to light, you diminish the power the secrecy held. In addition, try asking Someone greater than yourself to wash you clean of the blight. He’s more than equipped to handle it.

I will leave you with a quote that I have been meditating on while I am stuck traveling by writer Lysa TerKeurst:
“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift from Jesus.”

When Hope and Sorrow Meet

My Momma went to be with Jesus 2 months ago today.

60 days. 60 days and my whole world is different.

Before Momma went to Heaven, I had grieved with friends and relatives for the loss of others. I walked through close elderly family members, youth students, and peers passing away. I thought I understood what it feels like to have a loss this… monumental occur.

Today, with 60 days behind me, I can truly say I had no clue.

To those who might check out because you are concerned I am about to get preachy, please stick with me. It all correlates. The other day I was reading with C (who I nanny) the Jesus Calling version of the Last Supper, The Garden, the Betrayal, and the Denial. Jesus, the man who claimed to be the Son of God- God in flesh- came to earth. He lived a fairly normal life until He was given the green light to tell the world who He was. He chose men to walk with him- to be his inner circle, his “business partners”, his new family- his disciples. Jesus taught them every chance he had, and they did life together. As they traveled for the three (ish) years, I would imagine they became incredibly close. This small group of guys witnessed miracles at the hand of Jesus (lived his authenticity) , watched Him live what He spoke (saw his integrity), and heard his heart (heard his divinity). I can’t imagine a closer group of people. So, then, when it was time for Jesus to speak about his death, it stands to reason that the men must have thought it a joke. The hope of the world, the revolution He had begun- could it really have been for nothing? Crucified? Impossible.

But then, as Jesus took his closest friends to pray with/for him (consider for a moment being asked by the son of God to pray for him…), it all began to unravel. Most know how the story goes- Judas points Jesus out, Peter rages, Jesus submits to the authorities, and then, in a matter of hours, is found hanging on the cross. How could this be? Jesus’ friends MUST have been beside themselves.

As I read the storybible with C, I felt as though I was transported to those moments so long ago. The depth of grief they were smacked with as they stood in the streets and on the hill. I could tangibly feel the confusion, devastation, and the raw, seething pain they were immersed in. I could feel it because in the last few months the grief I have experienced has taken me there… and it was only my Momma. Before she died, I could imagine the confusion but never the unbearable heartache. Though I’ve heard the story all my life and read it with my own eyes, yesterday, it was made new.

For the disciples, it looked like the end- this could not be undone. Jesus told them what was coming but it didn’t prepare them for the gravity of it all. This was the promised Messiah. The hope for the nations rested in this Man- condemned to die, forever the permanent sacrifice. Oh, what a terrible sorrow.

Except that this event was just the beginning. The deepest sorrow and the greatest sacrifice was met with the greatest display of power the World had ever seen. What Jesus understood that no one could see was that this had to be done for HOPE to enter the equation. He makes all things new. And on that third day, He rose again- defeated both sin AND death. Which means We can hope for heaven. Which means we can hope for redemption. Which means we can be made new. Because of His sorrow, we can live.

Though 60 days later I am still broken hearted over the loss of Momma here on Earth, I can rejoice because she was able to participate in the realized hope of eternal life. Because of the crucifixion on Good Friday, I can be forgiven. Because of Easter Sunday, I can see my Mom again. All hope is not gone, and there is beauty in the broken. Through his scars my sorrow has been redeemed, and I can hope again.

Heavy and Raw.

“But tonight oh no… I am broken, oh. I’ve been cracked open wide. Anyone who wants can come inside”.- Andy Grammer

Tonight I feel like my flesh and my heart are failing me.

Ripped open wide, insecurities at their heights- battling the tragic truths and feeling

less than.

These are the times when I feel like jello. These are the moments when I feel like I am collapsing from the inside. These are the instances where there isn’t enough light in the room and air in the sky. I feel shattered- pieces of my heart and mind strewn about where there once was some semblance of order.

I’d like to say that in the midst of it there is a cure-all… but that’s a fallacy. There is no immediate fix for this pain. Plow through grief quickly, and you might have received the worst “comfort” possible.

Grief is like a snowstorm- fevorish and intense, unpredicatable and harsh. Once you think you are making headway and are beginning to see the ground, you realize that the storm has another four hours to wage war. You give in to the storm for a little while, thinking you have made your life easier over the long haul of the shoveling process. Alas, you are a fool. Why? Because the snow in all its fury will always trump you. It doesn’t matter how hard you work-if the sky wants to keep spitting, it will. If grief is the storm- you cannot wish it away. If the pain wants to keep spitting, it will. That doesn’t mean a person should give up and become a hermit. Or should they?

You have two options: you can ride out the storm and commit to doing the hard labor as the storm is ceasing, or you can sit inside and hide from it all.

If you want to leave the house, you must shovel. Arduous, obnoxious, backbreaking shoveling that makes you exhausted and completely worn through. But in the end, the one who does the hard work is the one who is no longer stuck {in the house, or in life}.

I hate being cut open wide for all to see… but I am willing to be raw if that’s what it will take to heal properly.

That doesn’t alleviate the pain… but it makes it a bit more bearable.

Andy Grammer wrote the following chorus as his mother was dying. I wish I had wrote it.

“It’s the green and the blue. It’s the purple and the black. When the heavy colors fall on you, you can not give them back. And I don’t think I’d trade the things that I now know…If there’s any way to learn on earth, I’m certain it’s the heavy and the slow”.-Heavy and the Slow

 

 

 

A test for which I was {un}prepared.

Image

Hello. My name is Mandie, and I am a control freak.

I’d like to say I wasn’t, but then I would be trying to control your perception of me. Let’s just call a spade a spade and acknowledge the truth together. Being a control freak takes control of a person. Anxiety, worry, stress, and fear tend to run rampant while the sane truths get squashed in a corner somewhere. And this, my friends, is no life. And yet, it’s been the life I have lived for so long.  It’s no surprise that I have struggled with anxiety all of my life. At its worst, it was crippling, and at its best, handicapping. But inch by inch I crawled…  into more fleeting attempts at control.

And then, as I attempted to genuinely learn how to trust God with my life, I got diagnosed with a Pituitary Tumor. Not all that big of a deal, since it’s most likely not cancer, but it caused me to face my mortality faster than I would have liked. Suddenly (if we were being truthful, it was not sudden to God), all of the fixed factors were ripped away from me- will I lose my sight? Will I need chemo? Will I ever be able to fix this? This was a test, that much I knew. Not from some high and mighty, evil character in the sky wanting me to fail, but a loving God wanting to move me deeper in my understanding of Him. So I was to stand at a precipice- would I trust that God, who CAN control my life, or would I trust my worry and fear?

I decided that it was time I put on my big girl pants and learn this new understanding of what walking by faith {and not by sight-2 corinthians 5:7} actually means. Finally, my faith was being put to the test. And things were slow, but steady. But God is never finished with us, and He certainly isn’t done with me. I know this because just when I was settling in on acing the test on trust, the bottom dropped out. My greatest advocate, my best friend, my hero was taken home- and taken away from here. Now I see what I could not see before-

I.am.not.in.control.

I.never.was.

Realizing this allowed me to face some hard truth. This test-living by faith and not by my control- is a test I will walk out for all my life. How do I go back to being normal, whole, or hopeful? I can choose to let the events cripple me or I can choose to rise. And rise I will. Though I do not think anyone can be “prepared” for something tragic, I believe God was walking me through it with every scripture I read, every song I sang, every conversation I had with Him. I say I was unprepared but I don’t really believe that, because God was {is} there. Truthfully, I think God was using the tumor all along to prepare me for the gravity of what was to come.

My brother and I were discussing fears the other day and in our conversation, he brought a solid point to light. He said the only thing we fear, truly, is the fear of the unknown. The unknown can take many shapes- the immediate present, the foreseeable future. But we can’t really prepare for the unknown, can we? We can. I believe that if our hope is set on things above, no storm can uproot us, and no wave can overtake us. Because my hope is in Christ, I can face another day. Because my hope is in Christ, I can learn to adapt to this new version of life. Because my hope is in Christ, I will not fade away or disappear. Because my hope is in Christ, I am sustained- and I am being made new. So- yes, I will still struggle with control. But since I have finally learned that I never actually had control , I am able to see clearly for the first time.

Friends, do not let your hope be in things that will evaporate. Consider that you will need someOne to walk through these tests with.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.1 Timothy 4:7-10

A beautiful, suffocating heartache.

What a torturous task we, the survivors, have to endure the grief of loss. The unmistakeable missing chasm – and I would have said hole but that just evokes a thought too small- within our lives. This chasm echoes the cries of my soul and reverberates every shattering of every piece of my heart.

Surprisingly, I am finding I miss Mama most not in the ideas of what could have been- marriage, children, messing up said children. the aching that takes trembling force of my very being is the idea that we are no longer sharing space and time. The little, seemingly mundane communications about teeth, car rides, grocery lists. The clearing of her throat that reminded me ever so reassuringly that she was still there.

And then, refreshingly, a flood of snapshots fill my mind.

Her smile. Her signing I love You as I pulled out of the driveway. Her calling just to hear my voice even if there was nothing new to say. Driving all over creation for performances, games. The way her eyes lit up when you showed her attention/ affection. Her desire to serve me and Josh with everything in her because she believed its truly what she was born to do. Her willingness to be overrun by teenagers and young adults alike all the while acting like she had always known each and every person. Her purposed resolve to shower love on anyone and everyone. The way she patiently listened to anyone- whether student or sojourner. Sacrificial. Driven. Purposed. Hard Working. Endlessly loving.

Oh, how thankful I am to have called such a woman Mom.

Happy 56th Birthday Mama. You are the best I could ever hope to have, to be, to emulate. If only you could know how much you are loved.