When everything you have is not enough

It's a crispy, almost-Fall evening, and the smells of the 28 jars of pizza sauce that are bubbling in my canner are filling the house. Busyness has been pulling at me from every side for weeks now, and in the free moments I've had, the quiet heart needed for thoughtful writing has been far from present.

The three blog posts that I started, and are now sitting in my draft folder are a clear testimony of what life has been lately. The earliest one starts out like this....

"Four gallons of chopped cauliflower sit in the fridge, waiting to be blanched and frozen. A bucket full of freshly gathered, pickle-sized cucumbers are on my steps, awaiting a vinegar dill treatment and water bath. I won't tell you how many e-mails are sitting in my inbox, letters that need to be responded to, and thank-you notes that should be written. Half-finished curtains hang un-hemmed in a window, while new ones are crumpled on the bed waiting for hardware to be installed in window frames.

It's Summer. The season where the work is always pressing around me in Titanic-sized proportions, and I dare not think too far ahead for the certainty of the overwhelming stress it is sure to bring. One day at a time, one canning jar on the shelf at a time, and one more safely tucked away freezer bag full of Summer deliciousness."

This has been the story of my last six weeks. It is by far the busiest part of the year in this short-summer-season part of the globe. As Summer reluctantly gives way to the first chilly breaths of Autumn, everything seems to be a mad, final dash of franticness before the outdoors is no longer conducive to activity. The last of the gardens are being harvested before killing frosts arrive, and social gatherings are at an all-time high.

In the few minutes I scrounge up for quiet reflection in-between this frantic pace, I find myself pondering the wisdom of the bygone era where those bereaved were expected to observe a period of mourning for at least a year. To withdraw from the gay part of society in a sense, and not only be allowed it, but expected to do so.

How things have changed. We are no longer obligated to wear black and grey for months on end, and a quick return to normal social life is not frowned upon. In the contrary, that seems to be the expectation now, and anything else is the oddity. We lead full and busy lives, and to not get back to normal quickly is frowned upon.

A big challenge comes with this. Though unspoken, we feel the necessity to "be strong" and to "get-over-it" pretty quickly. To take our few weeks of upheaval, and then to get back with the program quicker than not. My idealist personality has often tried to live up to this expectation.

It's been almost five months since we buried our son. In ways, the last month has felt easier as the busyness has pushed grief onto the back-burner, but almost without fail, a slow day that allows me time to think and be still reminds me how close the pain still is. In reality, it's just a hair's-breadth under the surface, and is triggered most often by completely unexpected things.  Things that take my breath away, leaving hurt so palpable I've wondered at times if my heart will physically survive the pain it feels.

In the last few months, so many have come to me, expressing how strong and brave they think I am. I shake my head, knowing that anything they think they see is most definitely not me, but simply the God that is carrying me. I've had to learn to lean hard, as I've been discovering through this that the absolute best that I have is just not enough to make it. To admit that I can't do it has been one of the biggest fights against my ingrained habits and personality.

You see, I'm the firstborn of seven children by nearly five years. I've been used to being the one that fixes everything. That fills in the gap when there are needs. For being the one that has it all together and can help when someone else's world imaginatively or in reality falls apart. For being strong.

I've been learning the hard way that it's pretty hard to pretend everything is fine when your hair is falling out by the fist-fulls, and your hormones and emotions are dancing around like the readings on a seismic monitor.

I've discovered that it's impossible to be strong when undiagnosable abdominal pain keeps you debilitated for six days, and the doctors have no answers. When the emergency room is rushed to frantically three times in those six days for unmanageable pain, only to be given stronger pain meds and no answers, and continued problems.

When normal life is yanked out from under you, and the journaling and alone time you so relied on before to make it through each day is replaced with visitors, phone calls, social obligations, trips, and child demands, something has got to take it's place to fill in those gaps.

It's been during some of these times, that I've lifted my tear-stained face to heaven, and said, "God, I'm through. I can't do this anymore. You picked the wrong person to walk through this. There is absolutely nothing left in me to go one more step."

And God has said, "That's ok."

And I've finally been ready to listen.

Does He step down from heaven right then and pour a jar of ointment on my aching heart that takes away the pain? It's not happened even one time.

Does a phone call come in that moment that gives me the answers I'm looking for? If it has, I haven't wanted to talk about the deep, dark pit I find myself in that instant.

God's grace has not at all looked like what I thought it would. The phone calls, the cards, the e-mails, the meals, the prayers, the hugs; they help and remind me that I am not in this alone, but they are not enough to face one of life's deepest sorrows with grace.

It's been during those times where I have everything I could want in the terms of human help yet found it insufficient. Where everything I have relied upon to get me through has been taken away.

What's remains then? It hardly needs to be written. In my utter weakness, God is not only there, but enough. Enough to take one more step, one more breath, and hug my girlie's owies away one more time. To face the next day with hope. Not the hope of a complete resolution of this pain here on earth, but a hope and anticipation of the beauty God has promised to bring out of it, and the eventual reuniting with our son.

Is every day hard? No. Are most days easy? Absolutely not. But every day is marked with grace. Grace to say "Yes, Lord," one more time. To desire His will. To walk in His ways. To embrace the path He has set before us, with hope in God's promised redemption. It will be worth it all. 

Leana's Birthday Party

Per tradition, (two times makes a tradition, right?) Leana's friend Nada and her had a birthday party together. These two were born right around 36 hours apart and have been inseparable friends since they were old enough to care. Living within a few blocks of each other makes their interactions quite frequent.

This year, I was in charge of the toddler desserts, and Nada's mom, Amanda, was in charge of the "adult" dessert. I chose ice-cream cupcakes, just cuz they are cute, easy, and so very, very kid-friendly. Leana had fun helping me decorate these.

We won't share with you how much chocolate icing, sprinkles, and candy topping were consumed while decorating these. Perfect Mommy/Daughter secret. ;-)

After supper, Leana got dressed up in her Chinese costume we bought when she was baby, just exactly for this occasion. Why Chinese? I don't know. It was cute, reasonably priced, and available. Whatever the reasons long ago, we didn't regret them, and Leana literally glowed in her "new" outfit all evening as the total girl that she is.

Joel also felt the need to get dressed up the shirt he bought in Ghana, West Africa long before we knew each other. I offered to get my Mexican outfit on to complete the ensemble, but ended up just sticking with what I had on. ;-)

These two really, really love each other. 

She knew just what to do with those candles. She begged over and over for them to be re-lit, and ended up blowing out enough to last her several more years. What are birthdays for anyway, but to have fun!

Nada's delight in the candles was not quite equal to Leana's, but she still managed to get them blown out. 

I think it's pretty safe to say she enjoyed the cake. ;-)

I didn't get any pictures of the present opening, because I was, in true party spirit, enjoying opening the gifts with my daughter. Seeing her eyes shine, and the excitement bubble forth from her little life was so heart-warming.

The next day she got to fully enjoy some of her new presents. I sure was glad I had bought extra-washable markers, because she had them ALL over! Oh my, the delights, and chores of toddler-hood!

I love this little girl from the depths of my heart. Though I'll be the first one to admit that parenting is MUCH harder than I ever dreamed, it also brings much more joy than I ever imagined. To stop and actually ponder that this child is a soul that will live for ever and ever, and will some day, Lord willing, be an adult on an equal level with myself is nearly more than I can process some time.

By God's grace, even on those tough days, I want her to know that she is more important to me than the longest to-do list imaginable,  and that I value time with her entering her little world. We all look forward to a wonderful new year together with this little person, growing, learning, and exploring this big ole' world!!

Shattered, yet Redeemed

I don't generally make a habit of just posting links, quotes, lyrics, etc., but today is one of those days where it's all that fits. Grief goes in such cycles, and extreme busyness has kept it much at bay lately. It only lasts so and so long, though, and then I start to realize that underneath the "put-together" outside, much still lays broken and deeply hurting in my heart.

At times I wonder and I ask the Lord how He can take so many shattered and broken heart pieces and put them together into anything beautiful, and during those times He brings along a reminder that keep me hanging onto hope one more day.

This song has ministered to me more than once over the past few months. The fact that the male singer (Todd Smith) lost an infant makes it the more touching and applicable to me, though I'm sure it could relate to many circumstances....

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But when anything that's shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

Happy Birthday, Leana!

Two years ago on this very evening, I was cuddling a fresh, newborn, petite little girl. I remember the wonder that caught at my heart as I gazed into the serene eyes of my firstborn. Amazed at the gift of life. That she was mine. That I was finally 'grown-up' enough to have a baby.

Now we have a spunky little two-year-old filling our house with bustle, laughs, noise, and an ever increasing curiosity in life.  Her energy is boundless, and I sometimes wish I could have just half-of it. Thankfully, she sleeps as hard as she plays, and gives mommy a few hours a day to catch her breath. :-)

This Summer has opened up a whole new world to her. Outside. One of her best buddies lives just a stone's throw away, and these two spend hours of nearly every day together. Their favorite things include popsicles, the sandbox, pushing the toy stroller madly from one end of the house to the other, and picking fresh snacks from the garden.

I don't know what they would do without each other. 

This Summer, Leana fully comprehended the significance of "THE Aunties." We have seen my family quite a bit these past several months, and that fact, coupled with Leana's age and increasing memory has forever endeared them in her heart. In her little mind, aunties mean fun, play, and endless attention.

In her solitary play time, this tea-set becomes her nearly constant companion. Given by a friend just a few months ago, it has already seen hours and hours of love and abuse. ;-) She's not the most gentle with it, but so far there have been no catastrophes, and the enjoyment she's getting out of it is worth the risk of it prematurely breaking. 

Her Daddy remains her favorite person. I'm already having to race to the door to beat her to the first kiss. He is her world, her hero, her love, her playmate, and her friend. The world is a brighter place when Daddy is home, and when the days stretch out too long without him, she begs me to call him on the phone. When she sees a picture of him on the fridge or computer, she waves hi with all her strength and blows kisses.

One thing I love about their relationship is that they simply delight in each others company doing the simplest things. There is nothing more special to Leana being by his side re-organizing his tools while working on a project, or hopping in the car for a trip to the neighbour's or the hardware store. I agree with her that he is a pretty special guy! :-D

Two years ago I never would have dreamed that in those first 12 months we would be traveling thousands of miles with her for two majorly invasive surgeries. Of the faith that would be built in our own lives through it, and the deep love it would instill in our hearts for our little miracle.

We thank God every day for our little girl, and pray that He would give us wisdom to train her to love Jesus early, and with her whole heart. Our responsibility is great, but thankfully, we serve a pretty big God!

We love you, Leana Rachelle!
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