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!

Season's Bounty

I haven't been around too much lately. Summer's craziness has hit, and my days have been more than full. Want a peek at what's been keeping me so busy??

I wonder how it is possible that before this I had never been wild blueberry picking in my life. SO much fun, and though labour intensive, the rewards are amazing. 

Though small, these little beauty's are PACKED full of flavour. Such a treasure for the freezer!

My beans didn't do so well this year, so a nearby friend offered to let me come pick from her sizeable path. These were just half of them!

Yes, I was snapping for a very. long. time. 

I was grateful to have a decent cauliflower crop from my garden this year. We love steamed broccoli and cauliflower together, and this was a lovely addition to our freezer stash of Summery goodness.

My cucumbers are late this year, and this was my first, very small batch of pickles. The garden is beckoning me this morning, and as soon as Leana is awake, we will venture outdoors to pick more of these. 

Last, but not least, these are a promise of things to come later this week. These are some of the juiciest, sweetest peaches I've ever eaten, and we will be getting a case on these on Thursday, and hopefully a case of apricots. Let the serious canning begin!

I'll be popping in again before too long. Tomorrow holds a very exciting event in our family!

Happy Summer from our family to yours!

A Room Transformed

Since our wedding day, almost three years ago now, I have been gradually working on making our little house a home. Transforming the white walled, white linoleumed mobile home has had it's challenges, including that of being unsure how much to put into it, knowing it is not a permanent home for us. 

All that said, paint is something I can do, and have done, despite the time consuming challenge of colouring these types of walls. Despite the remaining white flooring, painting has made a huge difference, and with some throw rugs here and there, has turned it into something very homey feeling. 

Last weekend Joel had to leave for three days for some work related training, and I took the opportunity to tackle a long desired project. Leana's room. It's been the only major room I haven't done anything with yet, and had become that catch-all place for every thing that didn't really have a good home. To even call it Leana's room was a stretch. The only thing in there belonging to her was her crib! Her changing table and hang up clothes were in our bedroom, and her dresser clothes in the guest room. It badly needing changing. 

So, armed with a couple paintbrushes, two colours of paint, and a hefty dose of motivation, I dove headfirst into the project. 

First, a few before pictures. 

From this angle, you would never even guess my almost two-year-old sleeps here! Looks like a sewing room...

And there's her poor little bed, stuffed in the corner, under that towering mountain of craft and sewing supplies. (Don't worry, the shelves are very sturdy and stable.)

And finally, the bookcase that had nowhere else to go, and the closet stuffed with more sewing supplies, bedding, and all the misc household stuff that has no better home. ;-)

I was too busy painting and running after a little girl to take any "in-progress" pictures, but here are the almost final results. I'd still like to put a quote on the wall above Leana's crib, and hang some curtains and pictures, but it will be a bit yet until that gets accomplished. 

Tada! Her changing table is now in an acceptable position, with all the necessary bum-changing equipment above and close at hand. 

A few little Hudson memos are tucked in as well. 

The "totally-doesn't-match" rocking chair outfitted with Leana's crib quilt. :-) We can't be quite perfect now, can we. ;-) I love the contrast of her white bed against the chocolate brown and pink walls, though. 

And finally, her own dresser, in her own room, with her very own clothes. No longer am I running to three separate rooms in the house to accomplish her morning routine of waking up and getting changed and dressed.

The before seen bookcase is now in our room which is now completely devoid of Leana's things. There should be no logical reason now why she has to hang out in our room, getting into everything that she's not supposed to. :-)

So, there's a peek into my last weekend. I've had sadly little time to write much lately.... Oh, Summer, with all it's outside glory and busyness! :-)

From My Bookshelf - Summer 2014

Sometimes the reading urge strikes me at the oddest times. Like now. It's the middle of Summer, and the absolute busiest time of year for all of us. Food preservation is in full swing, Joel's away quite a bit more with seasonal job commitments, and the weekends are packed full of visitors, family reunions, camping trips, and church functions. Somehow, I find myself with the largest stack of books EVER, and the least amount of time to read. :-) Despite my wish to share ALL of them with you now, I'll give you a peek at what I'm slowly working on this Summer.

The Gift of Pain - Phillip Yancey

This is one of those books where every page brings a delightful surprise in it's writing style. It's not the devotional I anticipated from the cover, but rather the biography of Paul Brand - a skilled surgeon who dedicated his life to working with lepers in India.

The book starts off with the story of a four-year-old girl who had a rare disease which made her completely insensible to pain. Sound like a dream come true? Not really. The author describes the multitudes of problems related to this with several examples, one of them being a sprained ankle. Because there is no system in place to warn the body of the injury, protection is not offered to the damaged member.  This simple injury then turns into dislocated and permanently damaged ligaments and tissues.

Leprosy patients are another in this category that live in a world of painlessness, and the result is devastating. Phillip Yancy draws examples from Dr. Brand's 50-years of medical work to prove that pain indeed is a gift. A gift nobody wants, but nevertheless a gift. The applications to life are endless...

Jesus Calling - Sarah Young

My sister-in-law sent this to me shortly after we lost Hudson, and it has been a comfort and blessing more than just a few times.

Inspired by the book "God Calling," the author set out to spend a portion of time each day, simply listening to what God would say to her, and writing it down in that form. What came forth was a beautiful set of letters, inspired by Scripture, straight from the heart of God.

The July 21st reading was a good reminder for me in this busy season of life.

"Rest in My presence when you need refreshment. Resting is not necessarily idleness, as people often perceive it. When you relax in my Company, you are demonstrating trust in me. Trust is a rich word, laden with meaning and direction for your life. I want you to lean on, trust, and be confident in me. When you lean on Me for support, I delight in your trusting confidence.

Many people turn away from Me when they are exhausted. They associate Me with duty and diligence, so they try to hide from My Presence when they need a break from work. How this saddens Me! As I spoke through My prophet Isaiah: In returning to Me and resting in me you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength."

Proverbs 3:5 (Amp); Isaiah 30:15 (Amp)

Legend of the Celtic Stone

And finally, the book I pick up when I need some lighter reading. Light, as in the sense of fiction, not necessarily in depth and quality. :-)

My favorite style of fiction is the historical variety, and through it I find myself putting many pieces together of what should have been interesting in school but simply was not. Michael Phillips is a master at that, despite the fact that his stories are the farthest thing from fast moving. They contain a lot of historical detail that could prove tedious to some people, or, like myself, be the goldmine of knowledge that I find so intriguing.

I have just started this book, so I can't give it a thorough review, but Michael Phillips is an author I trust and can therefore recommend. His moral standards are high, his writing style engaging and adept, and his history well researched. This particular almost 600-page volume on the history of Scotland was nearly ten years in the writing.

There is a small peek at some of the volumes I've been perusing lately. More will be added, I'm sure, and I plan on sharing future gems with you as well. Happy reading!

Random Thoughts on Grief and Expectations

The culture into which I married has a wonderful tradition. It's called 3:00 coffee break. It's that time of day when life slows down, you lay aside your projects for a short amount of time, and you revel in a period of rest. It's that time of day when you might expect visitors, or drop in on friends of your own. It's a tradition that has it's roots in community and sharing, and one that I've really grown to appreciate.

Lately, as my daughter has transitioned into afternoon naps vs. morning ones, I generally find 3:00 a quiet time in our house. As every mother I'm sure has battled with over the ages, the every-present question during those moments of quiet is whether to tackle housework, take a nap, or have some me-time. Today it's the latter. I'm savouring a cup of the invigorating brew that gives me daily delight, and indulging in a York mint patty - courtesy of a care package mailed to me by a dear friend. 

I'm feeling drawn here, not because I come with a lot of thoughts sorted out, but because I haven't taken enough time lately to sit, think and write, and yes, admittedly cry. To just be, and let God be Who He wants to be in my life.

Recently a few friends have asked me how I was doing and I have struggled to put into words what life has felt like lately. I've struggled to even put into sensible thought the complexity of this road we've been asked to travel. So, once again, I find myself wandering to paper and pen. It's how confusion is sorted out for me. It's how I find myself "thinking" the most clearly.

One thing I've realized is that emotional pain is a strange beast. It attacks when you least expect and want it, and hides unseen when you finally feel ready to face it. It's something you can temporarily run away from, but never with very satisfactory results. 

To be quite honest, there have been many times these past two-and-a-half months when I've wanted to run away. To keep myself so busy that I don't have time to think. To avoid each and every situation where I could face a baby, an expecting mother, or the tiniest reminder of the child that I have lost. To pack away the pictures, to not open the cards, to not write, to not talk. In essence, to isolate myself from reality itself, closing myself into a small world of my own making where pain does not exist.

It's possible for a season. I've seen it. You've seen it. Movies portray it. For the temporary relief it may bring, we all know that the end result is not very pretty.

In choosing and learning to face this pain head on, I've had to deal with a lot of confusing, and oftentimes conflicting feelings. I'm realizing that grief defies your expectations. It is not a neat little package that you can open when you choose, and close when the circumstances are not suitable to probe into it's painful depths. It's messy, it's involved, and it's demanding.

In thinking on this subject, I've realized that I have had many un-voiced and un-thought-through expectations in life. These inevitably came through books, Hollywood, culture, media, and through observing the experiences of others. Some of them came from unknown sources, but somehow became deeply influential in how I viewed myself, others, and life. It's the strength of those that surprise me the most when they surface through circumstances beyond my control, and the ones I have to battle the hardest to bring them under the truth of God's word. 

Grief has been like that. It touched me in small ways growing up, but was never the lasting throb that demanded attention day after day after long day. It never required me to give it much thought because it was something I watched others go through, not myself. I admittedly didn't understand it, yet somehow still had ideas of what it looked like and how it was supposed to be handled. 

It's taken walking through it now to show me how much of a mystery it really is. It's contradictions are many, and never cease, and I don't know if I will ever fully understand how it works. 

Recently I came across some writings by another mom of a stillborn that helped me sort out some of this confusion. She was so accurate in describing many of these emotions.

"When a tragic death occurs there’s a reaction that is supposed to follow it. We’ve all seen the movies, you’re supposed to burst into tears, wailing and screaming... You’re supposed to lose control having slipped immediately into madness; they would have to sedate you to subdue your hysteria. Right?"
"Grief isn't like the movies."
"Grief is an enigma. You’re prepared for the sadness and the breakdowns. You’re expecting the heartache and the devastation. What you aren’t prepared for is how you’re left feeling when you didn’t have the reactions you thought you would. When you didn’t cry when you thought you should."
"Once I began to know my grief I started to understand that it’s as predictable and consistent as a train-wreck."

In learning to walk through this, I'm having to trust God in a completely different way. I'm having to learn to accept and trust that the person He has made me to be is OK. To acknowledge that He made me a human being with emotions. To accept that the pain, the fears, the questions, the ups, the downs and the confusing conflict of everything is all right, and that they are part of this journey. To let those expectations of myself go.... 

Though the hard days are still tough, and the easier days confusing, little by little I'm find a freedom in letting God be God, and me be me. I'm learning that there's no right or wrong way to grieve, and that I need to ignore my own preconceived ideas of who I should be, and the perceived expectations I think that others have of who I should be and how I should act. 

It's a journey that overwhelms me if I try to look too far ahead, so by God's grace, I walk step by step, embracing each moment as it comes.... It's going to be a very long road, perhaps spanning a lifetime, but it's just the moment I'm in right now that God has promised strength for.

Contrary to how it may sound on here sometimes, there are many happy times amidst the trying ones. As soon as time allows, I'll be digging out my camera again, sorting pictures, and sharing some of those. :-) Till then.... 

Tiny Hands, Little Feet, Precious Memories

I just wanted to take a moment, and express public thanks to "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep." This is an organization that provides free, and prompt professional photography sessions to parents facing the bereavement of an infant. I had no clue such an organization existed until someone I didn't even know e-mailed me, explaining the process of getting in touch with them. I will be forever grateful to that person. 

As you can see, these beautiful images will be treasured for the rest of our lives, and are the most precious things in our possession in regards to our son. I would encourage anyone with photography skills, especially those leaning towards infants to consider volunteering their skills. You will have the amazing experience of being able to bless and interact with those facing a devastating time, and give them something they will cherish for the rest of their lives. 

The sensitivity and care of our photographer, and the beautiful gift she presented us with is something I will never forget...

Grace-Filled Thinking

I married a man who loves to garage sale. Maybe that sounds strange, but the fact of the matter is, my husband likes a good deal, and will often wait on purchases, knowing he will most likely find it used in one of the many front yards we find ourselves in during the warm months. 

Three of Winnipeg's community yard sales have become traditions for us, and I've grown rather addicted to them. We rise early in the morning, have our traditional coffee, sandwich and doughnut holes at Tim Horton's, and start furiously racing from house to house, at least 30 minutes before official opening time. We've got it down to a science. Shop our hearts out until 11:30 or so, do some needed errands while in the city, and go home and crash - usually with a vehicle full of treasures.

The last two events this year have been a much needed, long-anticipated get away for us as a family. They've also held the side benefit of providing many of the continuing clothing needs for our almost-two-year-old. They satisfy Joel's deal-hunting love, and provide our home with cheaply priced items we would not normally buy otherwise. As already mentioned, they are also the source of a fun family date. 

They've also held their painful moments for me this Spring. It's impossible to ignore the tables full of little baby boy clothing, the expectant mama's walking everyone, and the inevitable question of "how many children do you have?" Still sporting a bit of post-partum tummy, I was asked earlier this month if I had a boy or a girl. Upon telling this stranger a boy, she gushed out her congratulations, assured me how much fun I must be having, and wished me well. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I longed to be enjoying my son, but wasn't....

Walking through Costco later, my heart ached close to bursting, and tears were just beneath the surface. As I pondered the many comments made to me by unsuspecting people, my heart hurt. I did not blame them -  they didn't know, yet the pain was still there because of the close reality of my loss. As I observed the people swarming about me, it suddenly struck me that none of them knew how close I was to tears right then. They had no clue. All they saw was a rather sad looking woman, madly dashing around, perhaps even a bit rudely, trying so hard to keep myself busy just to keep from falling apart.

Then it hit me. I didn't know their stories either. Here we were, hundreds of people crammed into one store with one objective, but walking through a completely different set of circumstances. For the most part, our minds were consumed with ourselves and our priorities, and the other thoughts we gave others was most likely fleeting ones of assumptions, judgements, and perhaps even criticisms.

That mom with a 4-year old that's having a meltdown in the middle of the isle. We know what's wrong there, right? The old man in the wheelchair who looks like he's about to bite someone's head off. The moon-eyed teenage couple showing far too much affection for what's appropriate in public. The metal clad young man who's obviously had too much of the wrong experiences this world has to offer.

We humans are pretty good at assessing up mankind in a glance, and putting them in their rightful places in our minds.

In that moment, as I stopped to ponder what people's first assumption would be of me at that moment, I longed with all my heart to be shown grace. I wanted to stand up on a clothing rack, and shout, "Don't you all know that I just buried my son! Don't judge me now, just be gentle!" But of course I didn't. I continued my mad dash for the month's bulk groceries, while at the same time a yearning rose up within me to be a grace-filled person, responding by the Spirit to the unseen needs and hurts around me.

How could I know that the woman with the 4-year old acting up had just received her as a foster child after being rescued from an abusive situation?

How could I see inside the soul of that old man, and understand the current pain and rejection he was experiencing at that moment because of strained and torn family relationships?

That young couple? Had I stopped to ponder the fact that maybe both of them came from broken and unloving home situations, and that neither of them had ever felt full acceptance from another human being before?

And that young man? Could I grasp in my finite mind his soul hunger and thirst for something of more lasting meaning, but his failure as of yet to find truth, and the disinterest of all those he knew other than to use him for their own ends?

Of course I could not know these things, and never will. Perhaps in some of these situations, our assumptions are correct and their story doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. But the fact of the matter is, there is only One who has enough knowledge to make the judgments and labels we so quickly put on others. My current situation was a reminder to me that things are not always as they appear on the outside, and we can so easily and unknowingly inflict wounds by the careless words and assumptions we make.

In pondering the remedy for this, I've been reminded of the importance of being in tune with the Holy Spirit, letting Him guide my thoughts and attitudes, and then trusting that the words that come out of my mouth are the correct ones for the situation. He is the only One that knows the complete story of each individual, and can guide us in our responses to others.

Try it today. Think again of that person down the street with the overgrown yard, the paint-peeled house, and the snotty-nosed dirty kids. Consider the fact that their story and upbringing is different than yours, and ask God how you can be a beacon of light and love in their life. That attitude of compassion vs. judgment will open more doors than you ever dreamed possible... 

God's Goodness in a Hurting World

My breath caught as I drove into the hospital's parking lot. Again through those same doors, and into that ER waiting room. Memories came flooding back. That same drive just a few weeks before. The same receptionist. The same examination room. The same table where I heard my little boy's heartbeat for one of the very last times. This time, though, I was there for my daughter. Watching her sick little body deal with the ravages of a nasty virus that left her feverish and with a mouth full of bleeding ulcers for a week, made my heart ache with the desire to take her suffering from her.

During those hours I sat in that waiting room for her to be seen, the plethoric crowds of people in and out overwhelmed me. It struck me anew that each one of them had a story. They were there because they were suffering, or to see or accompany a loved one that was suffering. So much hurt, so much pain.... Tears lurked beneath the surface as I pondered my own aching heart, magnified by the labour and delivery room doors that were in my line of sight. Those doors that were supposed to be the pathway to joy a few weeks before, but instead left me with empty, aching arms, and memories I sometimes wish I could erase completely.

As I sat there my heart grappled with the whole concept of human suffering and the inevitable question of why? If we serve a loving, omnipotent God, why does life have to hurt so much for so many people? It's the age-old quandary that everybody faces at some time in their life.

One thing that I've realized in pondering this subject, is that if you aren't currently experiencing suffering in your own life right now, you don't have to look very far at all to find it. Whether it's from our North American sheltered perspective of observing starving children in Africa; the horrific religious and cultural oppression in Sudan;  or in that very moment when grief and pain comes knocking on your very doorstep, it's a reality that we all will wrestle with at some point. One well-known Christian speaker said correctly that in this life we are either just recovering from a trial, in the middle of one, or about to head into one. As much as that isn't what we want to hear, it pretty much sums up the experience of most.

I don't claim to have a very clear grasp on all of this, and through the last six weeks, I've had to make a conscious choice to cling to who God is, rather than of the circumstances I don't like and don't understand. Yet, though the times of painful questioning, God has been gently leading and teaching. I am so grateful that He is patient with me as I learn, cry, and try to wrap my mind around what His goodness and love really looks like and means during this time when life hurts so much.

I find it very providential that I had started a book series just a few weeks before Hudson's passing that had been recommended to me. Through it's four thick books, it deals intimately with this very subject. The foundation of God's goodness in the face of human suffering is a central theme, and in looking back, I see the providence of God in the timing of my reading. The week before Hudson's death, I was already being drawn by a sense of the author's grasp on the truths of God's character. Through the last weeks as I have found moments to read, I've been encouraged again and again to look to WHO God is rather than the why's of the circumstances I don't understand. 

So, instead of trying to write about my thus-far very limited experience in this subject matter, I will let Michael Phillips speak. In this particular section, a woman is describing her journey of faith in embracing God's goodness after the double loss of her husband and child on the mission field....

"What if, I thought, God's goodness and God's love don't necessarily remove the cruelty and suffering and injustice and pain from the world?
"What if they were never intended to?
"What if goodness still exists even though life is hard and cruel, and even though people suffer? What if God's goodness was never meant to take away the world's suffering, but was rather to provide a refuge in the midst of it?
"It was such a shocking idea. It made me realize that I had been expecting life to be good and pleasant and happy because I was a Christian. Now I began to wonder if I had been wrong.
"If these realizations were true, then the only thing that God's goodness would eliminate...was hopelessness.  Because if God is good, there can always be hope..though there may continue to be pain and suffering and injustice and cruelty and heartbreak. 
"I believe the Gospels teach nothing else than this truth....that God is good. Only that, and nothing more - God is good.
"It does not mean that things in my life will always be good...but that God is good. It does not mean that my prayers will always be answered in the way I would like...but that God is good. It does not mean that tragedy may not visit me... but that God is good. It does not mean that the human struggle is not difficult...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not always be suffering in the world...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not be times when I am so overcome by sadness at memories in my life that I must go outside and find a place to be alone and just cry for an hour...but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not continue to be many who will deny His very existence because of the pain and seeming unfairness of life they see all around them..but that God is good. It does not mean that there will not always be many questions for which we have no answers..but that God is good.
We cannot see to the bottom of such things. So we foolish creatures look at the world's suffering and say God must not exist, or if he does he must not care, or must be a cruel God. Yet I suspect that when we are one day able to see all the way into it, we will see that Goodness and Love lie at the root even of all the suffering that was ever borne by this fallen humanity of which we are part. The devil is presently having his brief illusion of triumph, but God's goodness will reign in the end.
In short, the circumstances of life do not always seem to be good, but God Himself is always good. Thus, though there may not always be happiness, there is always hope. That must be the basis for our faith - not that God gives us a happy life.'
Michael Phillips - Heathersleigh Homecoming pp 141-143

A refuge in the midst of trouble.... We won't be able to escape pain in this life, but we be able to find a deeper place of experiencing God through it. That is the hope I find myself clinging to...

Not a waste

One thing I struggled with initially upon learning of Hudson's passing, was the feeling of being used by God, and that those eight months of carrying my son were a waste.

Though my pregnancies are nothing to complain about compared to some, there are still multitudes of sacrifices. 

Those first three months of sickness, utter exhaustion, and the emotional ups and downs make anything extra in life seem overwhelming. 

The second trimester's joys of feeling the baby move, coupled with a greater awkwardness, stretching, growing, and learning to accept the multitude of bodily changes that you have no control over - not all of them completely desirable! 

Then that third trimester of returning exhaustion, the inability to bend over without great effort, the perpetual waddle, the back pain, the swelling, the carpal tunnel, the sleepless nights, the bathroom stops every 10 minutes, and the impossibility of doing much of anything without great huffing and puffing...

It all takes a toll. It takes a toll on me, on my daughter, and on Joel. We all have to learn to give "me" up in a multitude of ways....

And then there's the feelings of joys wasted. Joy brings anticipation, that anticipation births dreams, and when those dreams root and plant itself so deeply into our hearts, having it ripped away feels like a partial death.

How much easier it would be if we had never hoped. Never dreamed. Never planned. Never loved.

If there was no love involved, there would be no pain in saying goodbye.

If there were no dreams nurtured, it wouldn't hurt so much to go and visit that flower-laden mound of dirt just a mile outside of town.

If there was no hope of another little person gracing our household, that empty corner in our room where a crib should have stood with a new little boy in it right now would not taunt us with it's painful absence every night.

As hard as it has been for me to accept at times, I am learning to rest in the truth that Hudson's short 8-month life was part of God's plan, and that somehow, none of His plans are a waste.

This truth hit me in a new way the other day as I was reading Psalm 139 - providentially placed by God in the middle of my daily Bible reading plan.

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb...My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (Excerpts of vs. 13-16 ESV)

Here again is where truth makes it's stand against my fluctuating emotions. Before Hudson was conceived, God's purposes for his life were numbered, planned, and written out. Though my heart at times questions the "why" of those hopes being ripped away from us, I cannot deny the truth of God's word, and call those eight months a waste.

I think only eternity will reveal God's entire purpose for those precious months I got to carry my son close to my heart. It's then we'll understand fully that there is another soul there that would not have been had we not loved and sacrificed. We'll see with our eyes the full purpose God had for his short little life. While much of that purpose is still veiled to my heart, God's word declares emphatically that there is no waste in His plans, and in that promise I'm choosing to place my faith. 

Hope and the Passing of Time

Feelings and emotions are a very real, yet a very fickle thing. They often fluctuate more frequently than the tide of the ocean, and can range from peaceful, sunset serenity, to the cruelest fury that a storm can ravage on the wide open seas. When those emotions are raging strong, truth can sometimes be blurred. Sometimes the waves of a seemingly hopeless and endless tear-filled future can feel overwhelming, and that I'm drowning under the pain and fears that taunt relentlessly, day after day.

It's during those times that God's faithfulness is the most clearly shown. Whether it's through the timely call of a friend, a note in my e-mail inbox, a truth filled text, or simply time alone in the Word, God brings faith back to my heart. And did I mention hope?

Sometimes that very word has seemed to mock me. My heart wrestles with the painful question. "Hope in what?" A lifetime of remembered anniversaries; of memories that should of been; of aching arms; of the ever-present desire to watch my son grow up; all mixed with the terrifying fear of this continued, painful grieving process. What kind of hope is that? Death is not reversible. It snatches away what is most precious to you, and leaves you with a gaping hole that at times looks endless and incurable. It leaves you flat on your face so often, wondering what normal looks like, and how you're supposed to move forward.

I'm not trying to be morbid here - just real. It's what some of my days look like in my human weakness, and the reason I have to keep fleeing back to what God calls hope in His word. It's the rock I have to cling to when those emotions sweep away faith like the tide does the sand.

Hope says that God is a healer. People tell me that time helps too. It's the promise I have to cling to the most, because healing for the most part feels scary and undesirable right now. That may sound strange, but as much as I dislike the pain of life at this moment, it's what keep me feeling connected to my son. The passing of time pulls me farther and farther away from those eight months of carrying him close to my heart, of those last kicks, of those precious, but painful hours we had with him after his birth. It's the fear of forgetting.

Hope says that despite my conflicting and oftentimes contrasting emotions, there is a promise of renewed life, joy, peace, and ultimate healing. Healing in part here, and a finally joyous healing when that long-awaited for reunion with our Lord and all of our loved ones will happen

Hope looks toward eternity. It's the reminder that life is more than just the here and now. It's the heavenward pull of the heart when you have a treasure waiting there for you. It's one of the few reasons (right now) that I can honestly say thank-you to God for this trial. The things of this world do grow much dimmer in the face of losing something that really matters, and that is waiting for you in glory.

Hope finds rest, not in the understanding or enjoyment of circumstances, but in the acknowledgement and belief in the character of God. He's good, and He gives good gifts to His children. We don't like those gifts that hurt so much, but the reality is that they are part of life. God's Word promises that if we love Him and accept these trials as God intended, we will see the sweetness in them later.

Hope looks at that pile of dirt over Hudson's earthly resting place, and proclaims, "This is not the end." There is more than this temporary life of pain and suffering. I am living for something so much greater! It revels in that passing of time as one step closer to the eternity where we will finally get to know our little boy. 

These are truths I have to remind myself of on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. And honestly, sometimes others have to remind me of them when my faith is too weak. To point me back to the fact that it's the unseen things of eternity that matter, and that in all reality, the pain and trials of this life are a temporary thing, meant to change us into the image of Christ, and prepare us for an eternity with Him and a reuniting with those dear ones who have gone before...

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