Free

I went shopping last night to buy a graduation dress. Bought a Fleetwood Mac CD instead.

What can I say? The voice of Stevie Nicks singing Landslide, waxing about handling the seasons of her life, the ocean tide, “children get older….and I’m getting older, too”…just seemed right.

I know, not my typical music these days. Or years.

When I was a teenager, there were few dares I wouldn’t take. I loved the feeling of my hair blowing wild in the wind on the back of a motorcycle. Loved taking the stage. Loved being outrageous, young, and alive. Loved being…what I thought was free.

In my 20s, I was a full-fledged mama. Safe. I thought I wanted to be Amish. I dressed in jumpers, and longed for a brood of children to fill our home. We stood by tiny graves, instead, and held tightly to the little hand of our oldest son.

In our 30s, time is flying. I watched cancer steal my young, beautiful mama. We work hard, building businesses and a ministry. Children grow and change. Lots of running about. And, as the seasons are about to shift, and the tiny hand we once held so tightly is set free, there is an awakening of the crazy girl I once was. I wonder if there’s room for her in my buttoned up life. She is there…in late night impromptu shopping trips, and singing 80s songs on the turnpike, driving home from a trip to Chicago with a car full of boys. She is also there, when she takes the stage to lift her voice in worship beside the boy she has loved since she was that girl.

Aren’t there all types of wild and free? Can we love  and worship Jesus with freedom and abandon, bathing in the grace he showers on us? Can we love the people we meet…where ever they are with wild abandon? There’s nothing more risky than wearing your heart on your sleeve, and loving someone with the crazy love God puts in our hearts. The kind of risk worth taking.

 

We went to Chicago last weekend. I took the boys….Timothy, his friend Ian (who’s really more like family), and James. (Tim was working, so unable to join us…but we’ll have to go back soon, and bring him along!) We stayed with my father and his sweet wife, Carol. I laughed through most of it, as I do with those boys that I will miss so much when they graduate soon. Carol said that I’ve taken to swooping like my father. He swoops in and out of my life. I think I may swoop in more often from now on. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen my dad laugh so hard, as he did in a discussion with our Ian. It’s funny the unexpected gifts some people bring to our lives. The laughing. The freedom. It has been therapy…music to my soul. Healing for my heart. Restoration, in unlikely places. In meeting other people where they are, I’m learning to embrace the woman I am. Weird, huh? My view of how we walk this walk is changing. More love. More grace.

 

 

The boys played guitar at an eclectic little coffee shop called Katie’s Cup in Rockford. A trio played a beautiful song on an upright bass, while the singer sang words about taking her heart if you don’t mind things that are broken, with a voice that caressed my heart. They sang about Jesus…and when we get to heaven…while ladies of the night stood on the corner outside, and people from all walks of life filled the audience. Another read poetry…and one poem was gruesome and hideous. Enough that I felt James’ ears were safer outside until it was finished, despite the ladies on the corner. I stood with him, smiling kindly at the ladies, one of whom complimented my jacket. She had a beautiful smile, and a short spiky hair cut with a short skirt to match. I thought of the lovely song followed later by the horrible poem. The contrast of beauty and ugly not lost on me. It’s the world we live in. Then Ian took the stage, as if he was born to be there. Talking easily into the microphone…being him. He sang and played his guitar with his usual grace. Timothy took the stage next, and I watched my father smile as he listened to the music of my boy, filling the place with beauty. Nothing else mattered. I counted the gifts, feeling the fullness of the moment.

 

I love the piece above. It was donated to the SGM auction, by Ian, (young man of many talents). To me, it captures a woman who is free. She is free to live, and be the person God created her to be. She is free from the legalism we impart on ourselves. Free from the opinions of others. Free from the worries of this life. She is dancing barefoot, like my friend Lynnette Kraft. Or pursuing her Savior like my friend, Joye. She is dancing every dance with her high school sweetheart at prom….or planning a graduation party for her oldest boy. She is worshipping her Savior with complete abandon. Maybe even climbing on the back of a motorcycle. At least that’s what I see when I look at this picture.

John 8: 32 - And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

John 8: 36 – Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

Galatians 5:1 - Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

Maybe, I’m more free than I’ve ever been. Maybe clinging to my Savior, as we fly through life, encountering people who cross our path and finding ways to reach out with unleashed love…maybe that’s even more wild and free than riding a motorcycle without a helmet, hair blowing in the wind. Maybe letting go of the stuff that holds us back and makes us less than we were meant to be is the true adventure. Maybe I still am that girl…only better. Wiser. Freer. (Is that a word?)

And, maybe…just maybe, I will give in to Mr. Gerken’s pleas for a motorcycle. Someday. After all, he does need something to ride in the Ride4Grace run that supports SGM. Then I could feel the wind in my hair and embrace the adventure of chasing my Savior.

You never know.

 

Women Gathering in Kitchens

I hate those parties with the catalogs selling something high priced, with the sales person giving her spiel. Abhor baby showers, bridal showers, pretty much any gathering with the word shower and/or any event that may include pastel mints or some cheesy game no one wants to play. Most of the time I avoid the tupperware-type extravaganzas. Unless of course, I’m doing someone a favor. Then I will begrudgingly attend.

Last night, it was the perfect storm for such an occasion. I had an empty house, and a bad case of procrastination with a long to-do list staring me in the face. That’s what drove me to go to my friend Raechel’s Scentsy party. (Actually, I walked…since she lives two doors down.) Yes, I know. Scentsy. Even the name makes me shudder a little. Not to disgust or offend my lovely friends who may take the time to melt wax in really expensive containers to make your house smell pretty. Nothing wrong with that at all, if it’s your thing. Lighting a candle is as high maintenance as I get with the scented stuff. A cheap candle…from WalMart. I don’t have time to worry about more than that, nor money to spend on maintaining the scent level of my home with packages of wax.

Raechel was a lovely hostess, offering us a delicious array of appetizers and fun conversation. I smelled the samples until my nose couldn’t smell anymore. We laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Ok, so it wasn’t half bad for a catalog party! I even bought some car fresheners for the Tims and me. And, some body spray. Sorry…no chance I was buying the melty pot things and bars of wax to melt.

But, after the party…

The women were gathered in the kitchen. Most of the ladies in attendance were Raechel’s family. Mom, sister, aunt,, daughters. For a moment, I stood by the table, watching them laugh and chide one another with a familiar exchange. Bantering back and forth like we do with those we love…the ones we are most comfortable with…the ones who get us. And, there it was…sweeping in unexpectedly, as it always comes. The missing. The longing. I watched Raechel with her mom, an easy exchange between a mother and daughter. What I miss most about my mother is gathering in the kitchen. To laugh, joke, tease, share a tidbit of the days. I miss when I was young and Grandma and Aunt Cheryl would gather with us in Mom’s kitchen. We had the same easy way amongst ourselves. Same banter. Same safe place that only exists with those who truly know you…and get your silly quirks… and love you just the way you are.

I miss gathering with my childhood friend, Nicki, in her Aunt Linda’s kitchen while generations of women baked delectable Christmas goodies. I ache to gather in Dinah’s marvelously eclectic kitchen…to laugh, to pray, to delve further into a morsel of His Word and chew on it a bit, to cry together…to feel at home. I miss gathering in Ginny’s kitchen with a brood of young children climbing all over the denim jumpers we spent our 20s wearing, covered in flour as we baked sugar cookies. And, I miss the bible studies in her dining room, when a blue haired, droopy pants-ed teenager named Amos took care of our brood of young ones so we could discuss passages in Corinthians.

My mother, Aunt Linda, and Dinah no longer walk this Earth. Someone else fills their kitchens. Or maybe they sit empty, echoing silently with the years of laughter and memories that once reverberated off the walls. Ginny, Nicki, and I have our own kitchens. Our own busy lives that prevent most kitchen gathering moments. And, I suppose there will be times when my kitchen serves as a gathering place for women. My favorite times now are those when my house is filled with people I love, and the sounds of laughter as we gather in the kitchen. Gerken Baking Day. Holiday gatherings. The missing I feel for the women who met together once in the kitchen with me, is so intense. No one knows you like your mom…it’s true. Sometimes I feel so desperate to laugh with her in the kitchen, I’ve even dreamed about it. But, perhaps the time has come for me to fill my own kitchen…with whomever I can. I am limited on the women who fill my kitchen. Most of time, if my kitchen is full, it’s filled with boys. That makes me happy too. Listening to their stories…offering a place where someone “gets them”….and loves them just as they are. Maybe someday, those boys will bring wives to my kitchen, and we can gather and laugh and make new memories. Maybe their young ones will climb all over in the flour as we bake. (I can promise you, though, I will not be donning a denim jumper. Ever again.) Maybe it doesn’t have to be just women in the kitchen. Maybe it’s about family. And, not just the family that exists by blood…but those who are family in our hearts.

In the busyness of life, it’s good to stop and remember that the things that make the most lasting impression on our lives and hearts aren’t the elaborate plans we make, or big trips we take, or even the ball games and other activities in which our children participate. It’s the simple gathering as a family in the kitchen. Or where ever. To laugh with the people who see us as we are…and love us anyway. My mother always said, in the simplest of times…when things were going well, or when they fell apart…”We’re making a memory.” She was right. My most precious memories will always be the daily moments we spent, gathering in her kitchen.

I Heard Her Voice and Other Mid-Life Crisis Induced Randomness

So, I started looking through the pictures. The first box was a blend of my own high school pictures and Timothy’s baby pictures. The two events…his beautiful beginning and the ending of that era in my life, are blended together. It’s impossible to separate them, in the tempest of emotions. And, unfortunately for the few still reading here, words are my therapy. Prayer…and words on a page.

My facebook wall is now covered with pictures from almost twenty years ago. I believe it’s official. Some sort of mid-life crisis has ensued and it’s now evident publicly. Don’t worry…it’s a Kelly-style mid-life crisis. Hopefully the worst that will happen is some heavy doses of nostalgia, some laughing with old friends over shenanigans from years ago, and a facebook wall full of  pictures from the big-haired glory days of the 90s. I won’t lie, I miss my young-pre-pregnancy hair. It was fabulous. Although our 10 year old, James said it was actually fuzzy, not fabulous. Oh well…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

I found this beauty among the pictures. My mother and I: young, carefree, happy. No cancer. Life still ahead, full of possibility. On a good day, she and I were unstoppable.

This week, my son’s high school performed Bye, Bye Birdie…the play in which I performed the lead role during my senior year…nineteen years ago. I haven’t been to a musical in 19 years, but our “adopted by friendship” son, Ian, has a way of talking me into things. I went. Nostalgia flooded my senses as I watched the beautiful young lady play the role of Spanish Rose.

After the play, I was telling Timothy and Hannah about the differences in the play when we performed it years ago. We were looking at old pictures and watching some of my old musical performances on VHS. I loved playing a part on the stage. It has been so long. But, in those days, it was the only time I felt free and at home in my skin…ironically while not being me. Playing the part of someone else gave me confidence to sing with abandon. I threw myself into every role. It was the only time I wasn’t plagued with stage fright. Well, then, and when I sang in church. No coincidence there, I’m sure.

We came across a video labeled Homecoming 1992. I don’t know if I’ve ever watched it before, but I wasn’t prepared at all for what was on the tape. It opened with a cheerleader fixing a sign with my name on it to a red convertible. And, then, she appeared…a mother carrying the pillow she made with her hands, red, white, and blue ribbon hanging from the sides…the pillow that would hold my crown. She smiled a youthful smile, and said to the camera, “Kelly is, of course, late.”

As I heard my grandmother’s voice from behind the camera, taping the exchange, so proud of her first granddaughter who would be crowned queen that evening, and as I watched our mother-daughter exchange, the tears fell. I haven’t seen her face or heard her voice, or watched her move around with the busy, purposefulness of a mother in over five years.

“Mom”…I said through the tears, sounding more like a little girl than the mother of a grown-up man.

I longed for the camera to focus off my youthful face, the sash neatly hanging to the side of my red Homecoming suit, and on to my sweet mother. I strained for a glimpse of her, listened for her voice, desperate to soak in any nugget of her presence. I watched the procession, listened to the words of the announcer as I walked down the football field, while he spoke of all my high school accomplishments and the bright future plans ahead. The recorder picked up my mother squeezing in to take a picture of her daughter. I heard my grandpa call me a ham into the recorder as newspapers snapped our picture, and one of the nicest football players in the school placed a crown on my head. It flashed to the dance, where my mom walked by the camera, beautiful in her pixie hair cut, flawless and young. I danced with the king in my red suit.

I made Timothy rewind and play it again so I could hear her voice…see her face, one more time. Oh, how I long for the sweet day when I will never have to live with the ache of missing that beautiful face and hearing her voice. It’s funny how crazy she made me back then. And how much I long for her now.

In the midst of the mid-life crisis nostalgia, I am soaking in every moment with my grown up boy. Today I watched him run his first track meet. In previous years, he began to prepare for the golf tournament season in the spring, so track was out of the question. I am excited to watch him participate in one more high school activity before it’s all over.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer adrenaline induced joy I experienced watching him race around the track. I loved it, and cannot wait to go again. In the spirit of randomness and my new-found love of race-watching, because as you can tell, there is a perfect storm of random emotion from every angle raining down in this woman’s psyche these days (and because it seems like there should be something of spiritual value in this post!), I’ll leave you with this verse:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Seems fitting…crowns and races and such. Running in such a way that we will receive the prize…the imperishable crown. Not the rhinestone encrusted homecoming crown this world full of things that will surely perish offers…but the true prize of eternal life with Him. When I get there, I’m going to hug my mom and listen to her talk to me, basking in the promise of no more goodbyes, and eternal life with the Savior of my soul.

For now…we run the race.

He…(with a prayer request)

I prefer to write about things after the Lord has made beauty from the ashes, when they can be tied up in a neat bow. I often feel convicted otherwise, revealing the mess beneath the picture we are supposed to show as Christians. The mess that doesn’t have it all figured out. The mess that has emotions swirling, and questions unanswered. I used to think that meant a lack of faith, but God used the life of our Thomas to teach me that the opposite is true. Having questions doesn’t indicate a lack of faith, anymore than being a mess makes one less a follower of Jesus. On the contrary, questions are the birth place of faith, when we ask the right One for the answer. And, being a mess…well that just means all the more grace for me…and for you, if you happen to be a mess, too.

Still I like to write here after the mess is all cleaned up.

This isn’t one of those times. This is one of the times when it’s 1:09 am and I am awake with the words and feelings that I’m not sure if I have any right feeling, while he lies in a hospital bed needing our prayers.

He is the father to my brothers.

He is a person I called dad from preschool until I was thirteen.

He made my mother laugh for many years.

My favorite pictures of her are the ones he took. I loved her smile, and her laugh. It was evident that the person on the other end of the camera adored her. He did.

He is the reason I love the Cleveland Browns, because I grew up watching the game with him. (I’m not sure if I should thank him for that.)

He is the one who taught me to sing and helped me prepare for my very first musical audition.

He helped us with our homework while mom worked second shift at the factory.

His parents were among those I have called Grandma and Grandpa, and we ate dinner with them many Sundays of my childhood. Until I was thirteen.

He probably has no idea that I still think of him, and I have no idea if he ever wonders about me. It’s much easier to sit behind the computer screen and pour it out here. Even easier than that, to not so much as graze the places of my heart that remember those years.

Love says to see others the way the Lord sees them…to look for the beauty and redemption in each person who crosses our path. To do that, I suppose we have to look. We aren’t allowed to close our eyes or our hearts, even if we think doing so will protect us from all the feelings. They really just get hidden under one of our stinky onion layers anyway, only to ooze out later in one form of self-destruction or another. Better to look, better to feel, better to take it all to the only One big enough to heal the broken places.

He is the father of my brothers, two of the most precious gifts given to my mother.

And, he is in the hospital, awaiting open heart surgery in the morning. Please pray for him, and for all those who love him.

 

Eighteen

In about a week, I will be the mother of a grown up man.

The one who made me a mother, almost grown, making future plans…big plans…plans that will take him into his first steps away from here.

To say that a myriad of emotions swarm my heart and mind every day would be an understatement.

Mothers do this. That’s the goal. Training up our children, loving them, and praying as they grow into adults… hopefully lovers of Jesus and good citizens.

Mothers do it everyday. Everyday babies become men.

And…while I rejoice at the qualities in this person who was sent into my life when I was walking a dark path…a person whose first cries changed the course of my own life and the desires of my heart forever…the one God used to save me when I was just the tender age that he is about to be…the one whose life led me to the Rock that is higher than I…the one who has been here, filling our house with life for all the days we’ve been grown ups ourselves…

Qualities I admire and respect…beautiful parts of his character…answers to prayer. He is a fine young man, with a tender heart and a strong resolve to be the person he was created to be, a determination to pursue and achieve whatever he sets his mind to.

These are exciting times indeed. Time for him to soar. A time of beginnings for sure. I know that…and outwardly I embrace it. Even inwardly…for him, I embrace it. I encourage him to soar…with confidence, knowing that God is big enough for all of it.

But the letting go. I cannot even tell you what that is like. The letting go of life as it has always been. The letting go of listening to him strum his guitar, filling my house with hungry, noisy boy- men I’ve come to love as my own,  driving me crazy with his arguing, hearing  his man voice, annoyed with his brother, dealing with his teasing…because no one gets my goat quite like him. The letting go of the guarantee of holidays with a house full of my people. The knowledge that he is safe at home, and sleeping in the room next door every night. Those are the things carried in my mama heart even as I encourage him to go…to pursue…to be the amazing person he is meant to be.

I imagine this letting go is intense for every mom. And, I have to wonder if there is an extra dose of intensity, an extra bit of tearing for the mamas who hold on just a little tighter, because they’ve already had to let go of so much…because they know the fleetingness of this life, and the fragility of it…because they have stood by the grave and said impossible goodbyes. Maybe I would be this way…even if. Maybe.

I have cherished every season of motherhood. Found precious gifts in all of it. Each one holds something special….moments to soak in…lessons, joy, laughter, tears, growing pains…all of it, filled with blessings, if we’re looking. And, no doubt, there are gifts in the seasons that are coming. I look forward to them, and will embrace them with joy, even as I’m waxing nostalgic for a bit.

We aren’t perfect by any means, and God isn’t finished writing our stories. Still, on this side of motherhood, as I reflect on the seasons so far, it’s important to share, for those of you who aren’t here quite yet…

Some of what I thought mattered so much, didn’t matter at all. What mattered most are the authentic moments we shared…laughing together as a family, the consistency of knowing that home is a safe haven, where love and grace is always found, planting seeds of truth and faith with his Word, going to church, walking the walk. The most important, life-shaping lessons our children learn from us, are not the ones we tell them with our words, but the way we live when we think no one is watching. And, when I say that….I don’t mean we are required to be perfect. I don’t mean it’s about our performance as a parent or a Christian. Quite the opposite.

It’s amazing, really…the way our God is able to transform. You see, some of our biggest “mistakes” or “failures” have been the very things God has used the most to teach our children about Who He is and His ability to make something beautiful out of the biggest of messes. I couldn’t teach my sons any better about grace, redemption, salvation, and clinging to Him no matter what, than the story that has unfolded before them in our own lives. That’s the stuff they will carry with them. Just love, be with them, pray for them, enjoy them, embrace who they are, and walk humbly before your God.

He will take care of the rest…

 

A Hodge Podge: Christmas, Updates, and Sharing Your Words

It’s been awhile since we had a good hodge podge post. So here goes…

My in real life friends know that my husband and I just completed the December 2011 Trifecta of Weddings. For the first time in my “wedding singer” career, I had the privilege of performing in three back to back weddings…in December of all months! Tim accompanied with his beautiful guitar music in two of them. The third was my baby brother’s wedding, in which I also helped a bit with the planning and preparing (although his beautiful bride Megan did most of it and pulled it all off beautifully, I must say), and served as matron of honor. The wedding trifecta was followed by Christmas, of course…which brings about it’s own whirlwind of busy. Somehow, there were moments of stillness and beauty in all of it. There also may be some pictures of me “dancing like no one is watching”, which could quite possibly discourage me from ever dancing again once I see them!

James and I took some time to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I had been bothering Tim to watch it with us, and he replied, “We don’t have to watch it. We’re living it.” After watching the movie, I realized that he was right. We are living it, and whether he realizes it or not, I married George Bailey…the kind of guy who lays it all down day after day for those he loves, doing the hard thing, helping others, often setting aside his own dreams and plans. I love my George Bailey.

It was a lovely Christmas, filled with laughter and love and time with family. And…some Just Dance 3 and Zumba! (Have I mentioned I joined a Zumba class…overcoming my fear and aversion to exercising in public?! It’s actually way fun!)

We had to have Gerken Baking Day 2011 early due to all the wedding madness. We made some super cute Gingerbread aprons and also welcomed Timothy’s girlfriend Hannah to the Gerken kitchen for some goodie baking fun. (FYI…I wore my apron to school and the kids loved it! One gave me a hug and said, “Mrs. Gerken, I love your apron. You look like like a giant gingerbread cookie!”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a wonderful time during the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2011. Winners were announced, but we haven’t heard from a few of you. Please email your address and other information so we can ship your items if you haven’t already done so! Speaking of Giveaways, my sweet in-real-life friend, Shannon is hosting a blog giveaway for a total of 12 days. She makes adorable, unique, handmade cards and is giving away one a day, for 12 days. Stop over and leave her a comment. She is as sweet as she is talented, and it would really bless her if you enter her giveaway!

Many of the comments (a record number of comments were left on some posts, by the way!) left on the SGM Christmas Extravaganza giveaway posts tugged at my heart. I loved the thoughts and memories you shared. So, I wanted to include some of your words in this post. As we go through our celebrations of Christmas and look toward a New Year, we realize that many are missing someone they love. I’m so grateful for the best gift of all…our Savior, Jesus, born on that holy night to a peasant girl and her betrothed and laid gently in a manger. So unlikely in the world’s eyes…a king to save us all, in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. He is the God of the unlikely…the One who makes the impossible, possible…the One who chooses the lost and broken…the ignored and forgotten…the failures, the lonely, the grieving hearts. The miracle that He came for me…and for you…never gets old. And, for that reason, even in the missing, we have great hope…because He came.

In response to sharing a time when the Lord carried you:

Gina: i feel that the Lord has carried me through MANY times, but particularly when i lost my son in 1994 at 20 weeks gestation .I am in a different place today, i would like to say stronger and am now helping out on a Facebook page called Angels of the Heart which helps those who have experienced a loss.We remember our angels there as well

Deanna: This is one of my favorite quotes, “Friends are God’s way of taking care of us,” since River’s death people have come into my life that have literally picked me up so many times. I could not keep my head above water alone and God has helped me through friends among many other ways.

Tina: The Lord is carrying me now as I am grieving the loss of my baby girl.

In response to your thoughts on heaven:

Brandie: Just the thought of heaven comforts me because I know I have 4 beautiful daughters to hold when I get there. 2 of them I never got the chance to hold. While I know once I get there I will never want to let them go, I’ll know I will have forever to make up for our lost time.

Julie: My Mamaw is in Heaven and I miss her terribly. I have sappy wonderful memories with her…she was such a fun and amazing woman. She was always willing to go…didn’t matter where we were going, if we called her she’d always say, “sure! I’ll be ready when you get here.” She was always making me laugh and doing for her family. Can’t wait to see her and hug her again!

Karla Sheehan: I would love to be entered for the Heaven is for Real for kids. I read Heaven is for Real and listened to it on audio book. It was such an amazing book! A friend of our family read Heaven is for Real to my mother and father while my mother was on hospice this past year. My mother passed exactly 13 months to the day of my son Brendan. That book created such a beautiful visual for us and my mother of what she would experience with my son and other loved ones once God called her home.

Alison: I daydream about talking to my son, William, in Heaven. I want to know even more about him than what I was able to learn here on Earth. I want to see his eyes open and hear his voice. I want to embrace him so much. I pray that all these things are possible in Heaven.

Jenn: Since my son Noah died, Heaven is a lot more real to me. I find myself wondering what his days are like & longing for the return of Jesus so we can be reunited as a family again. I was thankful for the glimpse of Heaven given through the book Heaven is for Real. SO comforting!!!

Sarita: One of my favorite thoughts about Heaven is that I will finally get to hold & touch Meredith and i will see my loved ones who have gone on. I miss my parents especially at Christmas.

Holly: I look forward to Heaven so much more now that Carleigh is there. I can only imagine what Heaven is really like even with the descriptions the Bible gives us and the stories of people who have been there. My mind can’t wrap around the true glory of it. I just know it’s beyond what we can even imagine but yet I try because I want to know what it’s like for my daughter there. I imagine her and Jordan holding hands and running and playing. Even sitting on Jesus’ lap :)

Stephanie D.: Along with the many family members and friends in Heaven, I have three babies waiting for me. It hurts my brain to even try to imagine all they have seen. I know it is beyond my most beautiful thought of what it could be. I strive to live my life in a way that makes them proud of me. I believe they are always with me and there are no secrets that I can hide from them so a good and faithful life is what I strive for.

Karen: I look forward that there will be no more tears in Heaven!!!

Hopewhat gives me hope about heaven is of course once and for all being with all my children and Christ all at the same time, what an amazing reunion it will be! heaven is more precious to me as each day passes xx

Cecilia: I think the most comforting thing to me about Heaven is that I knew saying goodbye to him here wasn’t forever. Knowing God valued his life and we will be reunited one day.

Tina: I imagine that my dear Nana is taking care of my baby girl in heaven, and it brings me great comfort to know that I will see them both again someday.

Your thoughts about truly loving others…the laying it all down kind of love: 

Stephanie D: As baby lost mommas, we have known the deepest of pain and the purest of love all in the same moment. We are blessed to know that kind of love.

Aupera: Love is precious and should not be taken lightly. In my life with all my losses I have learned that you should always tell the people that you love that you love then every chance you can because you don’t know if it will be your last time with them.

Megan: Love comes into our lives unexpectedly and stays and grows. Like a seed blown on the wind that settles on good soil. Like the love that I have for my son who is in heaven. Love for him was planted the moment I found I was pregnant and although he grows in heaven now, my love for him continues to grow.

Deanna: Through River I learned to love with my whole heart. I learned to love like there is no tomorrow. We know all to well what can happen in the blink of an eye and I do not ever want to be a person who wishes I had loved more. I learned the intensity of love. This is a beautiful thing to be part of, thank you so much. 

Jessica: When my Nana passed away it was easy to see how much everyone truly loved her. I learned what you can go through when you truly love someone. When she passed I believe she chose to do so when she knew my Papa was half asleep (holding her hand) and when my mom has left the room. I believe she didn’t want the two of them to see her take her last breath. My cousin and I were holding her hands and telling her it was okay to go as she took her last breath. Along with losing my three babies it was one of the hardest times in my life but I am glad that love made it possible to be there for her.

Adrianna: I have never known a love like the love I felt for my son. I never understood what it meant to be a parent until I had my son and felt what every mother feels for their child. I never understood wholly the love God has for us until I knew the pain of loosing my only son. I am not a strong enough person to willingly give up my child for anyone else.

Mary: My daughter taught me that love is doing best for her, even when I feel like it might destroy me. That kind of love is real, painful, deep, and sacrificial. It is hard to say you “want” that kind of love, but it is the way Christ loved me. And I never deserved it.

Angie: I experienced the purest, deepest, love, with both of my children. I would have gladly died if it would had saved our daughter and it took me a long time to get over my anger that I was alive when she isn’t. And then our son was born, and every day he heals my heart a little more and brings us so much joy.

Melanie: Since losing my baby girl in July I have learnt that it is so important to cherish true friends. The ones that stand by your side and love you unconditionally, the ones who chose to weather the storm with you no matter how painful it may be for them also. I now know what kind of friend I will be in return to these special people.

Carrie Konig: Love is a powerful weapon! Love is amazing whenever it is extended, but it is particularly powerful when it is love extended, not when it’s easy, but when it is hard. It is love like that which costs you something. But that is the most powerful kind….

Jenn:  Through my sons short life & then death, I learned a lot about selfless love and was able to better understand God’s love for us. Noah also taught me to treasure each & every moment w/our kids & not to take life for granted.

Tina: My Nana was a great example of truly loving others. After my Papo had a stroke and was unable to care for himself, my Nana decided that the nursing home was not adequately meeting his needs. She brought him home and cared for him around the clock for almost a year. All of her wants and needs were second to caring for him. Truly loving others, I think, is something one DOES, not just a feeling. It is sacrificing one’s own desires for the well-being of another.

Cynthia:Like most women who follow your blog, I have learned the greatest lessons of love through the life and loss of our daughter Olivia. Love has been a continual theme throughout this year for me also. We have been called to love others and the only way to become closer to God is to show love. It’s easy to love our husbands and children but showing love to people we would normally reject is not always natural. My prayer has been to learn to show love in everyday life, in and out of my home.

Sarita: I learned my first lessons of love from my parents. They would have done anything for me. I was a late in life baby – mother & daddy had been married for 20 years ( they had a stillborn baby before my brother was born 10 years before me). I was always loved & cherished.

Your Christmas Memories: 

Jennifer Ross: In memory of Isaiah, we lay his little blue stocking along with his brothers, and decorate our Christmas tree with his ornaments first. It really gives us a moment to have a special time for just Isaiah.

Adrianna: Growing up, my mom would buy us a special ornament each year, and when I turned 18 I got to take my ornaments with me to put up on my own tree. Now that I have a son, even if he isn’t here with me on Earth, I will buy him an ornament every year and display it on my tree. As we give him brothers and sisters, they will know their big brother.

Nikki: In memory of Aiden Joshua. I never got to make any memories with him, as I said goodbye before I ever got to say hello, but I do have a memory after he was gone. We released balloons for him, and they disappeared right away. My friend did the same, and they disappeared again, very quickly. So we joke now that he must be very grabby, like his daddy.

Brandie: This year we are going to buy toys for the age my daughters should be & donate them to children in need. My son is looking forward to picking them out. :’)

Maryann: I adore all the ornaments but I especially fell in love with number 1 and number 4.
There is not a day or night that goes by that I don’t think of our beloved angel Erin Lee. For whatever reason God called you home before mommy had a chance to deliver you for all to see.. We find comfort in knowing that we will all see you when we too make our way home. Mommy keeps your little fireman boots on the tree in your memory. They are always the first to go on the tree. I know you will have a wonderful Christmas again this year with our Beloved Father!!

Sarita: My favorite Christmas memories are of growing up in the ’50s & ’60s with my Mother & Daddy & my brother. We cut a cedar tree & holly bows from our land, Mother cooked so many good things and she loved putting apples, oranges, & nuts in our stockings. The times were simpler, we were not well off but didn’t know it! I still have some of my dolls – my favorite is a rubber baby doll given to me by Santa in 1955 when i was 2. Church was a big part of our lives. It was just a small country church, but had a huge impact on my life.

Abi: This will be our first Christmas without our son Corbin. My husband and I decided that we are going to give each of our extended family members a gift in his memory. This year’s gift will be a copy of Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You. They will be purchased from Kohl’s where part of the proceeds go to a charity to help children’s literacy. I love the message of the book and knowing that my purchase will help children… And I love that my son will still be included in our family celebrations in a tangible way.

Thank you all for making that week so special…and for sharing your hearts so beautifully. Your words brought tears to my eyes many times. You are all beautiful mothers, and I’m grateful to know you.

We are going to be starting a new segment for Walking With You soon on this blog…similar to the original WWY. We are hoping that many of you who are new to loss will be able to take part and find hope and encouragement knowing that you do not walk this path alone. I’ll be posting soon with details.

Lessons from A Christmas Carol

We watched the latest version of A Christmas Carol last night…by far the scariest version, and definitely not for the faint of heart or for young children. It has become sort of a tradition for James and I to watch the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge each year, and while we’ve seen several versions we prefer the older one. I am struck each time we watch it by the spiritual implications and the importance of loving those around us…while we are still able.

In the beginning of the movie, I find myself disgusted and angry at Uncle Scrooge, as he appears to be a heartless, cold miser obsessed with money, unkind to those around him, full of bitterness and hatred. He is the epitome of one completely consumed with the ways of the world…a worshipper of money, enshrouded in fear. He has lost everyone in his life who may have permeated the wall he has built around his heart with warmth and love…driven away by his greed and constant lust for more. I relate the character to those I have encountered in my own life, with a similar hardness. When Scrooge denies Bob Cratchet, kind-hearted, hardworking, honest, father-to-sweet-Tiny-Tim Bob Cratchet, heat to do his work, and chastises him for wanting to enjoy Christmas with his family instead of working in the miserable office, I am appalled and want to shout out in defense of Bob. Oh Scrooge, you are a horrible, miserable man!

But then….

The ghost of his greedy old partner, Jacob Marley (I always want to refer to him as Bob Marley instead…and sometimes accidentally do.), shrouded with chains and misery he must carry for eternity, comes to tell him that he will be visited by three spirits: The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. When I see Scrooge sitting alone in the schoolhouse waiting for the approval of his father, no family to celebrate with him, unlike all of his fellow classmates, my heart melts toward Old Scrooge. I watch the events of his life unfold, realizing that he didn’t start out this way, hard-hearted and hopeless. He started like my boys and the students I work with at school….a precious, tender-hearted person, with hopes and dreams. A person with a need to love and be loved, affirmed, accepted, nurtured, and encouraged.

The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge the fruitlessness and hopelessness of his current way of living. He has lost everyone because of his greed. Christmas Future reveals that because Scrooge would not pay Bob Cratchet enough to support his family, his sickly son Tiny Tim will die. And, Scrooge himself will meet with a similar fate…only a fiery pit awaits Ebeneezer for the way he chose to live his life on this earth. At the sight of his own grave, Scrooge cries out for another chance…

He awakens on Christmas morning, grateful to be alive, and renewed with a spirit of love and generosity. A changed man, he will now give to the poor, vows to give Bob Cratchet a raise and help pay for the medical expenses of caring for Tiny Tim. He makes peace with his family, and his misery turns to joy. At first, the people around him are shocked. It reminds me of what it must have been like when Saul, chief persecutor and murderer of Christians suddenly became Paul, follower of Jesus, preacher of the gospel, friend to Christians.

Throughout the movie, there are teachable moments. What does the love of the world get you? What does greed look like? The most important thing is to love those around us, while we are here…with the love of Jesus. And, finally, as we see Scrooge’s Christmas Miracle Conversion, we see a picture of grace and salvation. He received a second chance, just as we receive a second chance because of Jesus. His sins were forgiven and redeemed as he turned from his wicked ways. And, joy replaced his misery.

I am reminded anew that we never know the circumstances that created the hardness in the hearts of those around us. God wants the same restoring redemption in the lives of every heart. And, each person we encounter started out the same….a little boy or girl in need of love. A person, broken along the way, in need of mending. Isn’t that true for all of us? We are on this earth for a brief blip of time, and while we are here, we are to love and pray for every soul we encounter in whatever way we are called. If we meet some Scrooge’s along the way, and we’re sure to see some…especially at Christmas….and they are behaving in an exceptionally unloveable manner, picture that little boy, desperate for love and completely alone. For deep inside each hurting, lost soul beats that same desperate, lonely heart.  In need of love…in need of a Savior.

Coming Soon….A Giant Plethora of Christmas Fun!!! Join us for the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2011 starting Monday December 5, 2011!!

Musings and Happenings (and Puppies-Oh My!)

This morning, I’m finally working on some overdue Dreams of You Shipments and SGM thank yous. It has been difficult to keep up in this busy season, but if you are waiting to hear from us, please know you have not been forgotten. Shipments continue to go out to families all over the United States and beyond. If you are a supporter of this ministry, we thank you for your continued support and ask for your prayers for us as we reach out to grieving families, and for the beautiful families we serve as they walk this difficult path.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, with a special Remembrance Day on October 15th. Sufficient Grace Ministries will once again honor the lives of the precious babies who leave this earth too soon, as we have in the past. Candles will be lit, and prayers will be lifted on behalf of each family. We will also be hosting some giveaways to bless a few mamas in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned for more information. We’ve listed names for the past couple years here: October 15th Remembrance Page. Information coming soon about how you can add your child/family to the list.

Franchesca from Small Bird Studios has been working on a redesign of the Sufficient Grace website and this blog. I’m excited to reveal those changes when they are complete. The process included a photo shoot, (once again in the pouring rain) with Raechel Feehan (who was such a trooper to give her time and stand in the pouring rain with us…coaxing smiles out of my not-loving-getting-their-picture-taken guys). She does an excellent job of “capturing” our family. So excited to get an updated family picture on our wall…and to update the blog as well! Thank you beautiful Raechel…love you, girl!

I’ve been adjusting to a new school year, and loving spending time with the fourth grade students I work with each day. James is acclimating to middle school, and Timothy is well into his Senior year. Time is flying, golf clubs are clink-clanking, I’m following behind…sometimes a sappy puddle, acutely aware of the endings this year brings…even as we anticipate the adventure of beginnings. It has been a gift to watch him achieve some accomplishments on the course the past few weeks, and I’m missing my mom (who would relish every inch of it all). You know, you can’t freely brag on your kids with anyone except your mama…at least it doesn’t seem acceptable to do so. Only our mamas love them like we do. But, it has been a blessing to see his hard work bring some fruit this year (including his first hole in one last week, which was a fun surprise!). I’m looking forward to watching him compete at the district tournament this Thursday.

Our band One Way has been preparing for an upcoming performance at Oakdale United Methodist Church. We will be sharing some praise songs, and I will be speaking briefly about Sufficient Grace on Sunday, October 9th. Please keep that upcoming event in prayer.

After working as a concrete/excavating foreman for more than 16 years, my husband started his own business last month. He has been quite busy, and it has been such a blessing to see him use his gifts and abilities in new and creative ways. You can check out his website here: Gerken Construction. Stop over and give him a word of encouragement. He does beautiful work…and I would say that, even if he wasn’t my husband. =)

Oh…and in the midst of it all, our beagle had puppies on the first day of school. She had a litter of eight, but two did not make it. So, it has been a roly-poly, tumble-bumpling romp of puppy goodness and cuteness around these parts…James has been in heaven! =)

They are seriously so cute, I cannot even deal!

Senior Pictures…and Mama Confessions

This is my senior boy. I know you’ve been hearing a bit about our first born lately around these blog-parts, and I promise I will post about something else soon. But truthfully, I’m a bit consumed by this fleeting time.
My sweet friend Dawn Marshall took his senior pictures last month and she let us share one here. They turned out great, don’t you think?
She also emailed me a copy of a pic she snapped before the one above. When Timothy took his guitar out of his case, it was a bit dusty. So, without skipping a beat, I did what mamas do. I dusted it off with the bottom of my skirt. Dawn, being a mama herself, was amused by the gesture. (Please ignore the fact that it was not my best side!)

Speaking of not my best side, I’ve been doing some thinking on the stuff we mamas do…the schedules we juggle, the guilt we carry, the things we forget, the things we’ll never forget, the things we wish we could forget, and the things we want to remember forever, the things we mess up, and the moments when God’s grace shines through and we breathe a satisfied sigh.I’ve been pondering the passing of time…the way everyone says that it will go so fast. 
They are so right.
I returned to my job as a paraprofessional at a local elementary school last week, and Timothy is in the thick of his very last high school golf season ever. SGM is busy and growing. Tim started his own business. And, James started middle school. I can feel the pull of my heart’s desire to be the “keeper of my home” and the reality of the everyday demands of life. While I need to work, and enjoy my job working with special needs students, there are days when I would love to focus solely on the needs of my family…and bake some cookies. I’ve never felt like one of those people who could do it all. I try, but I mess it up.
I forget things, miss appointments, and constantly feel like I’m juggling and about to drop all the balls hanging in the air. A co-worker and fellow mama was sharing at lunch about  her child’s homework, and forgetting something.
I looked up and said, “I don’t know how other working mothers do it. Some seem to have it all together. I stink at it!”
And, I was thinking maybe I’m not the only mom who feels that way sometimes…whether we work outside of the home, or not. Maybe we all have moments when we feel like we are messing it all up. 
But, then, I look at my boy…almost all grown up. I remember the prayers I’ve prayed for his life…and the answers I’ve seen so far. I think about God’s faithfulness, reflecting on all He has already done. Surely He isn’t finished yet. His promises are the same for both my boys.
And, let me tell you…God hears the prayers of a mother.
I love that God is always big enough for everything that weighs on my mama-heart. I love that it’s about His faithfulness…not my inability to get it right. It’s about His strength…made perfect through my weakness. Always and without fail.
I’m so grateful…and now if you’ll excuse me…I think I’ll go bake some cookies.

I’m Gonna Miss This

It’s funny the things we notice when we’re looking. The things that get our attention and stop time for a moment. Sights, sounds, smells that whisper, “This is something to stop and soak into the depths
 of who you are…something to remember.”
For me, it’s the rhythmic clink-clack of golf clubs slung on the backs of my boys as they walk the course. They walk, and I follow, clubs clink-clacking…me, breathing it all in.
It’s the sound of summer…the sound of fall…the sound of boys – young, healthy, and strong for this moment…doing what they love.

It’s the sound of little brothers looking up to big brothers…and dads walking alongside.
It’s the sound of me, following behind…soaking it in.