The Broken Stuff

It’s been awhile since I’ve waxed poetic in the wee hours. High time for some heart ramblings. They usually flow so easily, begging for release. Tonight, they are tumbling around in this head and heart of mine, in a nonsensical dance.

The past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m living in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read it, do so. It is one of the most accurate pictures of spiritual warfare I’ve experienced. The same taunting themes dangled in front of me again and again, a parade of mockery and discouragement. I find that speaking truth aloud steals the power from lies. Fleeing the one tempting you toward destruction quiets the noise…for a bit, anyway. Until the next wave.

“Take every thought captive into the obedience of Christ.” I cling to the reminder, run to the truth like a desperate, starving escaped prisoner, finally free.

On Monday, we started our first in a series of weekly bible studies we will be doing on the book Anchored by Erin Cushman. (If you’re local, please join us in person Mondays at 6:30pm EST at SGM…and if you’re anywhere in the world, the study will be streamed live and recorded. Week One video displayed here. You can join the discussion and find other support in our Walking With You Facebook Group.)

Anyway, as the part of the study we had to choose five words that would maybe describe us 10 years from now as a woman…after walking through loss. One of my words was brave. I shared during the study that I think my definition of the word brave has changed over the years as I’ve walked through grief and healing and life. I used to think brave meant…looking strong and tough, not being afraid. Now I find vulnerability and realness and often tears or the sharing of struggles to be brave…more courageous than hiding behind a façade. Doing something anyway when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and fear.

After a long couple weeks filled with struggles on all fronts, I was preparing to go to lead an after school program where SGM talks with high school and middle school students about healthy ways to grieve and express emotions. I was feeling kind of broken today as I prepared to leave. Kind of emptied and unsure what was left to give. It’s often when I feel that way the most that the loaves and fishes flow from my not enough.

I had forgotten once again, in my weary, about God’s extraordinary math…the way He fills in the pouring out.

Today’s activity was to use the acknowledgment pages from my book, Sufficient Grace, to share about the ways that people influence our lives. And, how even the painful relationships or the broken things in our lives can shape us for good and can be part of the acknowledgment pages of our lives. Then, each student would take some time to write their own acknowledgment page. Who would they thank for making them who they are today?

It’s seriously a soul-searching thing that everyone should do at least once. I’ve mentioned before, it was the hardest thing for me to write in the entire book. It’s a powerful thing to do. Even to reflect on those who may have hurt us the most. Those who left some of the broken stuff we carry around in our hearts. Or the people who were there for us when no one else was, the people who believed we could and the ones who doubted our worth and abilities.

So, as I stood before them in my secret weariness, loaves and fishes came forth. They displayed the brave that few know. They with their broken stuff oozing real and beautiful. They who sometimes have been forgotten, cast aside, treated with ugliness, abuse, and neglect. They who wonder if anyone sees…if anyone hears. Finding hope in knowing that they matter. Finding hope by standing together. Finding hope by searching through the rubble of all the broken pieces for the beauty that shines forth beneath the destruction. The beauty God places in the depths of a human heart, beating hope with each defiant breath. Hope that fights to survive and shine light in the dark places. They with all the brave and beautiful broken left me with tears hanging in the corners of my eyes. Thankful once again that I didn’t miss this divine appointment. This work that matters throughout eternity. Because my God is the one who seeks to save that which was lost. My God is the King of finding beauty in the broken…of hope rising eternal…of survival…of light in the dark places…of the brave of vulnerability. And, He will hunt us down with His love.

As I see them, He whispers, “I see you.”

And, I am a puddle of humbled small thinking how I was just hours before wrestling with my need to know that the work I do is relevant or worthy or blah…blah…blah. Somehow whatever seemed so pressing disappears in the face of the raw beauty of realness and courage to speak about the hard things…the heart things. Most of the time we who teach are actually the ones learning. Suddenly all that was weighing on my heart before I walked in seemed so inconsequential in the presence of their brave, beautiful, broken offerings. The fact that they allow me to see a glimpse into those sacred places a gift of unspeakable value.

It’s easy to get distracted from the real work…the work that matters…the purpose God has laid out for us. Before we know it, our energy has been wasted on something that will never matter in the grand scheme of eternity. While fighting the good fight to resist the temptation to allow discouragement to take over and steal my focus from the sacred work there is an ongoing battle to remember to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and serving others by pouring out His love. Not to look at results or measure the worth or relevance or the number of people who will stand with you or acknowledge your efforts….but to be truly hidden in Christ…so free from being swayed by the constant distractions or whispers of doubt because I’m just His and the “me” part just doesn’t matter. It is a constant battle to die to self.

The verse below was a good reminder. Do what matters. Do what will last. Do it for the right reasons. Don’t look at anyone else. Spend your time on the precious stones, the gold and silver…and forget the wood, hay, and straw. Leave that to someone else.

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
I Corinthians 3:11-13

broken stuff

Why Can’t You Just Get Past It?

“I don’t understand mothers who lose a child. Why can’t you just get past it?”

People have whispered these words about me in conversation, especially in the early days after losing our babies, measuring grief “performance” by how much I spoke of my children or how easily tears came, or whether or not I was out in public functioning at a “normal” capacity. She will be ok when she is “herself” again. Always happy to comply and perform, I learned quickly to put on a face for them. To not make anyone uncomfortable by speaking of those dead babies. I put their pictures away. I tried to look as “normal” as possible to everyone but a few who could handle my remembering, my speaking their names. A few who were willing to remember them with me. Without squirming in the chair.

For eight years, I was quiet. I’m an excellent performer. An astute pleaser of people. Never wanting to be an inconvenience, an annoyance.

And, then….God, the One much bigger than all the people I know, spoke to my heart, breathing truth in the broken places, blowing off the layers of dust, the words laying dormant, surprisingly still desperate to be written or spoken aloud…and He gave me a voice. It’s the same voice He gave me in my mother’s womb. The one with words that demand to be expressed, and flow through my fingers like liquid therapy. It’s the voice that sings worship songs while babies are ushered to heaven from their mother’s arms. My voice crackled and wavered, trembling as I remembered how to speak. Mustering courage I cannot explain. Because He is bigger than anyone else…bigger than what they may think…bigger than displeasing someone….bigger than being understood or misunderstood…bigger than our comfort levels.

And, He said…speak. Tell this story.

I have never in the seventeen years since burying my children heard those whispered words from others spoken directly to me. Until recent months. Family members questioned an article I had written for a well known magazine for bereaved mothers (Still Standing), because if you talk about missing your babies or your mother or your husband, or anyone who has died (although society may place a bit more value on the loss if that person breathed breath and lived life on planet earth for a designated number of years. I’m not sure how much time must pass before a life is worthy or grieving, remembering, mentioning, recognizing, or missing. I’ve never really been good at rules like that. You’ll have to consult the experts who deem themselves worthy to decide such things.), if you speak of the missing…something must be wrong with you. The more that I speak outwardly about babies in heaven, and supporting families who grieve. The more I write or talk about the experience of returning again and again into raw grief to walk with another family, the more others feel it necessary to form an opinion, to judge my performance. (Which in all instances, I would think is an indicator that I’ve experienced a great deal of full circle, “healing” to be in a healthy enough place to enter in to support someone else. You know…as opposed to wallowing in grief.)

But, it is interesting. The more I talk about the reality of grief and missing, the more people step away, uncomfortable. Or, like the acquaintance who recently asked me on Facebook why I couldn’t get past it (losing babies) and what my children think of me for not getting past it. Not that my children are anyone’s concern other than my own, as you know…their mother…but what they think is that they have two sisters and a brother in heaven. Two sisters and a brother who lived, who’re worth mentioning. They don’t dwell on it, and in fact, we don’t speak of them often in our home. But, we do occasionally. Because, they’re worth mentioning. And, my children know that every life matters. My children know that Jesus cares about the brokenhearted, and if we can do something to help someone else walking through loss, we ought to. My children know how much time and sacrifice is poured into walking with another family. They know that their mother would do almost anything to help carry that burden alongside another broken heart. My children stuff bears and set up tables and the older one stays with me when I’m working at the office late at night, to help walk me safely to my car. They and their friends paint walls, carry trash, dig weeds, and stuff endless Comfort Bears. College students, boys who grew up in my kitchen, and girls who sewed bears at SGM…bravely stand in front of their peers to speak about baby loss…and the work Sufficient Grace Ministries does. Not only are my children just fine with their mother’s line of work…and her insistence on mentioning that there are people walking through grief and babies worth remembering….I would go so far as to say that they wholeheartedly support it.

Like my thirteen year old said, when the woman’s questioning prompted me to ask him his thoughts: He said very definitively, “No! Why would I think that?! We lost kids in our family. Nothing weird about helping other people who lose kids.”

So, here’s the thing. We as a society are not very good at respecting and understanding bereavement, or loss of any kind. We get uncomfortable when someone speaks of missing someone they love. We are uncomfortable by many emotions. And, often confuse a person’s mentioning of a memory as not “adequately healing or getting past it”. Those words kind of make me want to vomit, if you’re wondering. It is part of the way that we support others at SGM, being real about the missing. Giving a voice to it. Making it ok to speak it aloud. The missing never goes away. You don’t get past that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t functioning just fine as a healthy member of society. It doesn’t mean you’re wallowing in grief. It doesn’t mean you spend your days crippled by emotion and will never laugh again. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t leaning on and trusting in God to carry you. For the love of Pete…if you weren’t, you may not get out of bed at all. Life on planet earth is tough.

I laugh and cry more than anyone I know. It took me so many years to speak their names. To stop worrying about if it made someone uncomfortable or caused them to question my sanity or whether I was “moving on” well enough. I used to hate that I cried easily, felt deeply. I hated it because other people didn’t understand it. My strong mother, other women in my family…and most people. Most people think showing emotion is weak, or an indicator of some unhealthy part of you that needs fixing….a cry for help…or, my least favorite, an invitation for advice. I don’t need a reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given…the preciousness of the people I love is not lost on me. I am one of the healthiest people emotionally that I know…and I cry and laugh every single day. Part of being healthy for me, is being ok with that. There is nothing wrong with having a heart brave enough to feel. Do you have any idea the courage it takes to keep a heart soft in this cruel, broken world, to resist the urge to cover feelings with layers of walls, to resist the safety numbness offers?

I speak about the missing, not because I spend every moment crippled and overcome by it. Not because I am wallowing in death and unable to function in the land of the living. There is nothing meant to invite anyone to fix or be concerned about. I speak of the missing, so that others quietly carrying this weight know they aren’t alone, and that it’s ok to miss someone. It’s ok to remember them. Mentioning a memory is not wallowing in grief. I will remember and mention my babies, my mother, my grandparents, my dear friend Dinah, and anyone else who goes on to glory ahead of me until we’re reunited in heaven. Because they’re worth mentioning. They’re worth missing. They’re worth remembering. They’re worth honoring. Their lives matter. And, I gave up being afraid to speak of what makes someone else uncomfortable, because it’s more valuable to be free to offer comfort and hope in the speaking…than to concern myself with the comfort level of someone else who is choosing to judge what they do not know…and who themselves may likely being carrying unexpressed pain. Just because emotion scares someone else, doesn’t mean I have to be afraid to speak…and neither do the mothers I know, missing their children, everyday….as they drive to carpool, make peanut butter sandwiches, watch school programs, and sit down at the dinner table, living life fully…but always with one (or more) missing.

A dear friend and beautiful mother spoke these words recently in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion on mothers “getting past it”. Leigh Ann’s words are an excellent answer to anyone wondering what it’s like for a mother and family, missing children, and they were and are a great blessing, honor and encouragement to me:

“I so admire Kelly and the work she does on behalf of other grieving families. I have wanted and contacted Kelly to physically help at her ministry and then when it comes right down to it I can not. You see I am not as brave as her. God gives her grace to step into other’s lives and minister to them in their darkest hour. Her work through her grief ministry puts her in situations that can only trigger feelings of sadness at losing not only 1 child but 3 beautiful children, but yet she has the strength to do it. We all grieve so differently…and I am so thankful the Lord lays it on Kelly’s heart as well as other brave parents who come along side her. I only wished in December of 1996 that our family been on the receiving end of such a wonderful ministry.

What would you say to your 6 year old daughter when she asks how her baby brother will go to Heaven, when he was to little to ask Jesus in his heart himself? Or the 11 year old brother who asks if he didn’t pray correctly because his brother died? Or the 9 year old brother who tells you not to cry because Jess is in a better place? Or to the husband who comes home from work defeated because no one seems to realize how hard it is on Dad’s to lose a child? What do you say to yourself when you wake up sobbing even years later because of a dream you had about your son and the suffering he went through, and you don’t want to share those feelings with someone else because it has been 17 years ago and my goodness….probably for fear that someone may think your crazy and you should be over it. Please let me explain, my older children have been wonderful and the Lord blessed us with another beautiful daughter after Jess passed away, whom, by the way, never took Jess’s place but brought much joy and healing back into our family, but there is not a family event, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and just plain ordinary days that I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t pout about it or even speak it out loud at the time, but it is an awareness that he is not with me physically.

I am thankful to know that I will be reunited with him in Heaven some day. So you see, although some of us, like Kelly, are in the day to day trenches helping others, some of us are silently in the background praying, and yet others help out her Ministry with finances, time and donations. But rest assured, we never get past it….my prayer for you is for further understanding in this area and to be gentle with those who you felt responded harshly…maybe now you could be one of those who could be strong enough to come along beside and support a truly wonderful ministry in a way the Lord would lead you to do so?….I hope my rambling helps you to understand our feelings a bit better….love and prayers….”

For more information about Sufficient Grace Ministries and the services they offer to bereaved parents visit: www.sufficientgraceministries.org

Plenty

I stood in the paint aisle of the hardware store two days ago, scanning the prices, kicking myself for not buying enough for the conference room a couple months before when it was on sale…for less than half the price.

I knew what was in the budget….the budget that had been stretched, like the oil in the lamp, so many times in the past few months. Every time I looked, seeing “not enough”, somehow there would be “just enough”, still. A generous heart would donate time, skills, finances. A ridiculous sale on fabric would lead to 70 yards of fleece on the shelves of our storage room and boxes of stuffing, books on the shelves. And, we would fill the boxes, shipping tiny offerings of comfort to empty arms and broken hearts.

“Plenty”, He would answer in that still, small voice of certainty and gentleness. “Plenty”, He answers to my every “not enough”.

So, I negotiated the price with the store clerk, who consulted the owner, who discounted my purchase by $40.

I left, wondering if I bought enough paint.

Yesterday, bones aching from the reaching and stretching, breathing in the fresh coats of paint, I looked at the unopened gallon of paint sitting next to the additional half gallon leftover. The large conference room was covered with two generous coats of paint, using only two-and-a-half gallons of the four we had purchased. Abundance…

“Plenty”, He spoke in the silence of the freshly painted conference room at the SGM building.

I closed my eyes, picturing the boys rolling paint on the walls, and my friend Nancy, still healing from surgery pushing a chair along to lean on as she added paint to our wall, old country hymns crooning from her iPad, her voice and mine lifting quietly to How Great Thou Art, brushes swishing in rhythm. My little Lynette, smoothing on the trim, noticing how far the paint stretched…noticing His plenty, walking in for round two, that evening, with her grown-up boys to finish the job, just when I thought I would be painting the rest alone.

“Plenty”, He whispered. I can see His face spread into a smile, eyes sparkling with delight, as He shows me. Again and again.

I brushed my hand over the full paint can. Knowing it was so much more than leftover paint.

As we ate lunch, I marveled at His love for the broken people. My son, and his friend (another son in my heart) spending the day, covering the walls of a place meant to minister to brokenness with beauty. Painting over the dirt with clean…the old with new. Only hearts tender from the breaking can listen, with gentleness, to mothers remembering, while eating lunch and painting walls. Strong arms, soft hearts. Hearts that have known loss. They gather here, the people, with the broken pieces. I smiled, thinking of the gifts they have at the tender age of eighteen…gifts many never know. The full that comes from emptying.

“See”, He says, smile widening, eyes gleaming…”Plenty”.

Even still, as I schedule a time to meet with the grant committee review board, I feel the tugging of “not enough”, my inadequacies screaming small in the face of His big.

He smiles again, reminding me of His faithfulness. “Haven’t I always given plenty? I will cover your not enoughs with my grace. All of them. I will go before You, speak through you.”

My phone blinked blue. I wiped the paint off my hands and read a message from one of my top 3 favorite authors of all time, a woman God has used to speak grace into so many of my not enoughs, teaching me to count the gifts and see so much that I had missed…so much full in the emptying. I typed hastily in reply, blessed that Ann Voskamp knew my name.

Days before, I left a comment to enter a contest on her blog, hoping to win an amazing camera to use for SGM’s perinatal hospice. We are planning to add photography services for the local families we serve, in addition to the support and materials we currently offer…capturing precious moments with babies whose lives are brief.

I submitted my entry later than intended, noticing my comment was number 400-something in the midst of a mounting list. I shared my heart in the comments and offered a whispered thought to my Father, the One with the smiling eyes. Then, the next day I bought the paint and went back to work.

Until the light flashed blue.

And, later green…with a touching email from Ann, fellow lover of grace…telling me I had been randomly (although we know that nothing is random with our God!) chosen from a list of I don’t know how many. Last check, there were over a thousand comments on her blog post. Laughter and overwhelmed sobs emerged from my depths as I shared the news with my youngest and looked up to praise God for the plenty. Grace, sweet grace, always filling my empty, covering “not enough” with plenty. Abundance. Overflowing beauty I don’t deserve…sweet mercy. Humbling…on my face grateful.

Sufficient Grace Ministries will now have access to a  Nikon D90 {& 18-105 mm f/3.5-5.6G Zoom Lens to photograph tiny lives and capture grace.

“Anticipate”, He whispers, smiling still. “Anticipate my faithfulness, daughter, to do more than you could ask or imagine.”

In the morning O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. ~ Psalm 5:3

Experiencing the Miracle of Gratefulness…Some Sort of Perfect Storm…Clinging

I have hesitated to write this post…knowing the minute I speak of this publicly, I open myself up for spiritual attack or to fall miserably on my face. Probably both.

But, I’m too encouraged…

invigorated…

full of peace and joy…

strengthened…

in awe…

and grateful…

…not to share this.

Over the past few weeks, something miraculous has occurred in my heart. God is changing me, and I am in awe. I’m not sure if it’s an answer to prayers being lifted up on my behalf….or if it’s the miracle of learning eucharisteo as I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts…the simplicity of offering a steady stream of thanksgiving directly to the Lord, in everything, watching my own list growing each day…embracing the gift of right now. Gratefulness is a powerful thing. How could something so simple bring such unlimited joy and cover our lives with such grace?

It could also be the fact that my friend Dinah seems to have left behind pieces of her legacy within me and others who love her…inspiring me to be more, to be free, to be the person He created me to be. I can see her now, among the “cloud of witnesses”, encouraging us from heaven, cheering the loudest. Strange how in the midst of the missing, something else has risen….inspiration, strength, courage, grace, freedom. How can that even be?

Perhaps it’s the perfect storm of all of the above. After all, He makes all things beautiful in His time. Perhaps it’s all coming together just as He planned it.

All I know is that, while the circumstances of this imperfect life have remained the same, I am changing.

A heavy burden is lifting. Granted, it’s only been a recent change. But for right now…I’m going to embrace this gift and give thanks for it.

I am sleeping at night and have all week (This hasn’t happened much in the past four years). Good sleep. Enough sleep.

I am resisting the temptation to eat unhealthy foods, and not complaining about it.

The gratefulness is replacing all desire to complain and wallow. It’s taking away the attitude of “I don’t wanna” and replacing it with “I get to”…taking away the desire to resist what I know I should be doing, replacing it with a big “Cowboy up, Chicken Little, and do the next thing!” (In case this message wasn’t clear enough, my pastor threw in a bit in last week’s message about how we look like two year olds throwing a temper tantrum when we whine and don’t do what we know we should do…and God looks down and says, “Get over it!” Don’t get me wrong…I love me some grace and mercy…and God gives both generously. But there is a time when a loving Father says…Let’s move on…it will do no good to stay here and wallow. In other words, “Get over it!”) I’m not speaking about grief. That’s a different thing all together. I am talking about the things I make excuses for…not giving Him all of me, not doing my devotions, having wrong attitudes, going to other things, like food, for comfort.

I didn’t even consider how powerful simply focusing on the gifts God has given in each moment would be in every area of my life. In high school, I had an Algebra teacher who used to always say, “It’s a great day! You get to do Algebra! You don’t have to…you get to.” When I was a teenager, it was a bit annoying. That man, a lover of Jesus, who was also my pastor back in my baby Christian days, knew the gift of gratefulness. He had the right attitude. I feel that same fervor for life seeping into my heart, renewing me. When I feel tempted to say, “I don’t wanna”…it is quickly replaced with “I get to…live this day, go to my job, cook for this family, help this child with his homework, listen to that child play his guitar, wash these dishes, settle into this bed at the end of the day beside this man that I love.” I get to!

Another day…really?

Is being transformed to…

Another day! Really!! What a gift!

Crazy, huh?

I’m embracing it.

——————–

One more thing…on the subject of “clinging”…

Have you ever considered the word “cling” in The Old Rugged Cross? I never had…until the day we stood side by side, singing at Dinah’s funeral. Tim’s guitar music gently guided, and I sang the words. And, when I reached the chorus, my voice quivered for a moment as I sang,

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

“I will cling to the old rugged cross…and exchange it some day
                                             for a crown.”

A crown which I will lay at His feet. I remember when Dinah and I talked about how He will turn our struggles, and our clinging to Him into crowns one day. Crowns we can lay at His feet in an act of worship. She had just gone Home, and I stood in  her church, singing about the crowns and the clinging. And..He met me there.

You know, He always meets us there. Where ever He asks us to go, He is faithful to meet us there.

And, He’s here, right now…in the laying down of my trophies, in the learning to cling to the cross ever closer.

In all of it, He is there.

Becoming One And…Being Full

A long time ago when our marriage was still new, I wrote an article about “Becoming One”. Someday when I have a little more time, I will dig it out and reprint it, because I’m sure it was written with more thought and effort than I have to give tonight. But, for now, I’d like to do a little reflecting on the idea of two people becoming one in marriage. The original article conveyed the message that it takes time for two people from different families, backgrounds, values/belief systems, etc. to become one. It is not something that happens the moment two people say “I do”. Rather, it is a process that is so amazing and beautiful, it is almost like magic. Only, it isn’t magic at all. It is a work of the Holy Spirit…a beautiful evidence of the hand of God. It really is one of my favorite things to watch…the shaping and molding of two people into one. God is able to teach us (if we are teachable) so many things through marriage…He is willing to gift us with unspeakable joys and grow us in ways we never could grow on our own. I will share more on this later…but for now, let me just share a little story with you that goes along with the idea of becoming one, quite nicely, in my humble opinion.

When Tim and I were married less than a year, I opened the door to my refrigerator one morning and what to my wondering eyes did appear…but a headless, skinless squirrel soaking, uncovered in a bowl of salt water. In my refrigerator. Along with the food. That I eat. And, I am a town girl in every sense of the word. In my house, squirrels were rodents, NOT dinner! Well, needless to say, the screams could be heard for miles! I just stood there, screaming…wondering what was the matter with this person I married! Oh my word…

Fast forward fifteen and a half years…to Thanksgiving Eve, 2009

My kitchen was turned into a butcher shop, and I spent Thanksgiving Eve 2009 with my hands in a tub of freshly ground venison, helping Tim package the meat that he literally provided for our family with his own hands. The bountiful reward from a successful hunt. I wasn’t screaming. In fact, I was happily working alongside him to get the job done, grateful that he was willing to provide for our family so faithfully and a little proud of him.(I’m almost like Pioneer Woman- O.K., maybe not!) It feels good to be working together with one heart and one mind, as God intended…not that we always do, but we certainly have come a long way from those early years.

And when I think of all the places we have walked together…and all the shaping and molding, breaking and rebuilding that God has done to get us here, my heart is full of thanks…

————————————————————————————
Thanksgiving is all about focusing on our “fullness”. And, I don’t just mean the fullness of our bellies (which definitely applies at the Gerken household!). It’s about being full…about recognizing all the ways we are filled by the faithfulness of our loving God. It is about looking back and remembering what He has done for us…and it is about looking around at all we have been given right now. It is about being thankful…for all the ways He provides, for the storms He carries us through, for the memories filling our minds, and the love held in our hearts, for the laughter and joy, for the tears He keeps in a bottle, and for the future He promises will be filled with hope and good plans for us.

What abundance we enjoy…a bounty of blessings…

I am thankful for…

our little house…

the rowdy boy sounds that fill aforementioned little house…

the tired, dirty-from-a-hard-day’s-work man that will soon walk in the back door after wrestling the stinky dogs that live in the garage and faithfully guard our little house…

the dreams we dream for those who dance in heaven, the dreams that fill this little house…

the God who is served by those who live, love, and dream in this little house.

Walking With You ~ Thankful…

Updated to add The Secret Garden ~ October


I am cheating a little adding this update to my Walking With You post. But, the truth is: thirteen years after saying good-bye to my Faith and Grace, and eleven years since sweet Thomas went home, what I am feeling most is thankful. Continue reading below for further explanation…

Walking With You is an outreach of Sufficient Grace Ministries, led by Kelly Gerken. Walking With You is a group of mothers who have lost a baby or child who gather together each month to share our stories, to encourage, and pray for one another as we walk this path together. Our hope is that you will be comforted when you join us here…and maybe that we can offer some grace for the journey as we look to the Lord for comfort and strength.

Thank you to everyone who joined us last month for October 15th Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. If you haven’t listed your baby’s name, and would like to, please add your family’s information to the comments on this post. I would like to keep this as an ongoing list to refer to and also to pray for each family frequently. All of our babies are precious and should be remembered.

This month we are focusing on our gratefulness for the gifts we were given and the ways our lives were changed by the lives of our babies. I know that many people are busy, so this can be as simple or in-depth as you wish. I hope you will link your own post with us, sharing ways that you are thankful. I do think that reflecting on gratefulness is very valuable…especially in the throes of grief. Grief is big and consuming. The simplicity of counting our blessings refocuses a grieving heart from the giants of pain, sorrow, and hopelessness to the hope, comfort, peace, and eventually joy that waits for us on the other side of the valley. The comfort that waits for us in the arms of our Savior.

For the Lord will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
~Isaiah 51:3

I am thankful…that I have been comforted by the Lord.

I am thankful…that His grace is sufficient.

I am thankful…that my wilderness has become like Eden, my desert like the garden of the Lord.

I am thankful…that joy has been restored, that morning has come.

I am thankful…for every moment I watched Faith and Grace and Thomas on the ultrasound screen.

I am thankful…for every hiccup, every movement, every kick, every stretching pain, (not-so-much the nausea and vomiting:).

I am thankful…for every dream that we shared together for your lives.

I am thankful…for every conversation that held your names…and for all the times your names have yet to be spoken or written.

I am thankful…that I was chosen to be your mother…for the blessing and privilege of that amazing gift.

I am thankful…that all of my children, in heaven and earth, have their daddy’s dark eyes and cute nose.

I am thankful…for prayers prayed over you, songs sung to you, tears wept for you, and the love that spills from the hearts that loved you…and continue to love you.

I am thankful…that Thomas opened his eyes to look up at me and a picture captured that moment of bliss.

I am thankful…that my babies lived on Earth…and that they live in heaven.

I am thankful…Faith, Grace, and Thomas…that I carried you in my womb, held you in my arms, and forever hold you in my heart.

I am thankful…for the promise that I will hold my sweet babies once more in heaven’s glory and we will never say good-bye again.

I am thankful…that because our babies lived, many families are comforted in the midst of their sorrow.

I am thankful…that our mourning has been turned into dancing…that our love has sustained the storms of grief…that our God is able to carry us through this life and keep us together as we walk with Him.

I am thankful…that God has blessed me with the boys who remain here with us, filling our house with boisterous noise and the husband who continues to make me laugh, and fills my heart with songs of joy.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
~Psalm 30:11-12

Snow Days

Today was a blessed event at our house. You may have heard the whoops and hollers of glee as we jumped on our beds this morning. It was a Snow Day! One of life’s most glorious gifts. Time to sleep in. Time to snuggle in. Time to make snow angels in the snow…(even if there’s barely two inches on the ground and the grass is peeking out). Time to sled down the reservoir hills (I still scream and laugh all the way down!) Time for snow ice cream. And time for hot chocolate with marshmallows on top and the special mugs with the snowman lids reserved for just such an occasion. Time to do whatever we want.
Time…

So often, I’m rushing around saying…”We don’t have time” for this or that. We have… Rushed time. Scheduled time. Church time. Ministry time. Practice time. Work time. School time. Homework time. Tee time. Chores time. Story/Devotional time. Prayer time. And Bedtime. Sometimes it feels like… No time!

But a snow day stops the world at our house. A snow day means…Free time, Family time, Fun time. Time to stop and watch the snowflakes, and maybe catch a few on our tongues as we marvel at the creativity of our Creator. Time to allow the sound of our children’s laughter to soak into our soul, cherishing the moment and thanking God for the gift of their lives. Time to referee their arguments and realize that the time will come when I will have a quiet house and will miss even the chaos that I too quickly wish away and grow irritated with. Time for teachable moments. Time for rest. Time to care for our home and keep some semblance of order. Time to think, to dream, to reflect, to remember. Time to pray and worship with a grateful heart. Ahh…time.

Thank you Lord, for the gift of Snow Days…thank you Lord, for today.

Give Thanks

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In everything, give thanks. In. Every. Thing.

In the valley of sorrow…give thanks. In the sea of grief…give thanks. In the storm…give thanks. Weeping may endure for a night…give thanks. Ashes in the brokenness…give thanks. Mountains of laundry and cleaning to do in the next 24 hours…give thanks. A turkey that may or may not be thawed by tomorrow morning…give thanks. A less-than-perfect family holiday picture…give thanks. A little house that desperately needs cleaning (as I sit blogging instead)…give thanks.

Jesus came and He will come again…give thanks. He brings comfort for the sorrow…give thanks. He holds on to us in the sea of grief…give thanks. He shelters from the storm, and He tells the storm “Be still” when it’s time…give thanks. Joy comes in the morning…give thanks. Beauty is born in the ashes of brokenness…give thanks. There’s a family that belongs to this mountain of laundry, giggling, wrestling, ornery-grinning boys filling my house with life…give thanks. There will be turkey and other delicacies in abundance to fill us…give thanks. And there will be football, oh yes…there will be football…give thanks. There are people in that less-than-perfect holiday picture – people Jesus came for, people He died for, people He loves, people He’s given us to love…give thanks. This little house is warm and filled with joy and love, and the people I am blessed to walk through this life with…give thanks.

This year, especially, I give thanks…

For my Jesus and His daily gift of sufficient grace.

For my husband’s hands rough from years of hard work, folded in prayer on Sunday morning…teaching Timothy to hunt and hold a golf club, showing James how to cast the fishing pole in the perfect spot, playing his guitar, playing catch with both boys…his hands, holding on to mine.

For our boys as they grow and enter new seasons of life…what a blessing and privilege to witness it all…to be their mama. For the young men they are and the young men they will become. For the promises God gives us in His word for their future. For their laughter…the music that fills our home. (When not being drowned out by the sound of their arguing, of course.)For their health. For the joy in their victories and the lessons in their losses. For the lessons I’ve learned as I peek into the window of boy world.

For our church…and the body of Christ in general. For the love of Jesus displayed in His people…for the beauty of seeing the way God uses the body of believers to work together to fulfill His purposes.

For Sufficient Grace Ministries…the privilege of being used in whatever capacity the Lord allows to offer His comfort and hope to the broken-hearted. For the lives of Faith and Grace and Thomas…for the lives of all the little ones whose mommies and daddies still dream of until they meet again…lives that mattered…lives with a purpose. For the mothers I’ve met…the mothers who are walking the journey…mothers we are honored to walk with through the valley of sorrow. For those who serve with us, using their gifts…their time…their resources to bless and comfort bereaved parents. For those who support us with their prayers, encouragement, and resources. For God’s hand leading, guiding, growing, nurturing, and providing for every step of the journey. What a mighty God we serve!

For friends…friends I’ve known since I was twelve, friends I pray with, friends I eat Chinese with, friends I shop with, friends in blog world and in real life, friends I’ve met in the valleys, friends who’ve come and gone, friends who come back, friends I work with, phone friends, friends who laugh, friends who will walk with us through sorrow and joy…friends who already have.

For family…the family that fills this home, my haven. For the family related by blood, and the “extras” who’ve entered into this fold. For the scattered pieces and for the pieces He has put back together again. For the ones who are with us, and for the ones who are Home with the Lord.

For an overflowing cup…give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving…may your cup overflow with the beauty of His grace.

Cardboard Testimony

On Amy’s amazing blog, Chapters, she recently posted about Cardboard Testimonies. I want to share the video with you, but due to my extreme lack of bloggy-techno savvy, I will just direct you to the link below, so that you can view the video on Amy’s blog. Please take a moment to watch this beautiful video…you may want to grab some tissues first.

Amy’s Cardboard Testimony

My Cardboard Testimony


Broken…Restored and Redeemed

My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:8

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
Job 19:25

Held Captive…Forever Free, Forgiven, and Loved

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.

Bring back our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy. (some versions say…”with songs of joy”)
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
Psalm 126

Lost in the Ashes of our Grief…Found in His Beautiful, Sufficient Grace

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12

His name is Jesus…and He came for me.
His name is Jesus…and He came for you.

I’d love to hear from you…What’s your cardboard testimony?

I’m Just Gonna

It’s happening again. The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting cooler. The smell of fresh school supplies is in the air. That can mean only one thing… Back to school. For those of you who don’t know, that means back to work for me. I work at my youngest son’s elementary school as an educational paraprofessional assisting special needs students with one-on-one support.

As we prepare to return to our school year schedule, I am looking back over the summer to assess how we spent our time. The assessment leaves me unimpressed and a little disgusted with myself. Yes, we were very busy driving Timothy to baseball and golf. Yes, we did squeeze in James’ T-Ball and swimming lessons and vacation bible school. There were bike rides and stolen moments skipping stones at the reservoir. And let’s not forget the Cedar Point trip, the County Fair and the Corn City Festival. But what happened to my project list? What happened to organizing my house before the next school year so I don’t waste endless minutes looking for socks…or a bill…or my glasses…or whatever essential item is lost in one of my piles.

Organization…not my strong point. Not because I don’t appreciate the benefits and wisdom of organization. Not because I don’t want a clean house. Lately, I’m just tired. Tired of running and full of thoughts in a thousand directions of things I would like to do or things that need done. There are household chores, ministry needs, paperwork, bills, the kids’ activity schedules, speaking engagements to prepare for, writing deadlines, and preparing to return to work. Of course, what am I doing right now? Blogging. That’s what happens. I look at the To-Do List, and quickly grow overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin. And there’s only so much time in the day. Sometimes, I feel like I have ADD when I look at the list, because it certainly doesn’t take a lot to distract me. I grow discouraged by the size of the tasks, and often do something that isn’t even on the list, rather than choosing one of the dreaded items.

Don’t think I’m proud of my failures in this area. The bible tells us to “do all things without complaining”. Again, recently, I have fallen miserably short. I have been full of complaints about almost everything. And if I’m not complaining out loud, I’ve been doing it in my heart. My attitude can be summed up with one sentence: “I don’t wanna!”. From the time I get up, I’ve been filled with the “I-don’t-wannas”. I don’t wanna get up. I don’t wanna clean the house. I don’t wanna go anywhere. You name it.

I know…it’s disgusting. And, it’s enough. Enough wallowing in laziness and self-pity over nothing. I have nothing to complain about. I am loved by a wonderful man, well-fed (which is proven by the extra ten pounds I carry with me where ever I go), privileged to serve the Lord in a growing ministry, healthy, have healthy kids, a great church family, have a good job, great friends, a nice little house in a free country, a life filled with laughter, music, and purpose. I could go on and on. My list of things to be grateful for is endless. So, enough complaining. Enough, putting off my duties. Enough.

From now on, I have a new theme. I’m sharing these windows into my weak spots with all of you so that if I’m once again overtaken with the “I don’t wanna’s” you can feel free to remind me of the new theme. Here it is:

No More I Don’t Wanna…
From Now On: I’m Just Gonna…

Lord, please help me give up my procrastinating, my whining, my complaining, my ungratefulness. Please lift me out of the pit I’ve dug for myself. No more dwelling. No more wallowing. Help me, Lord. Help me to joyfully do what I’ve been given to do each day…”to work at everything with all my heart as unto the Lord.” Amen

So, today is a new day filled with possibilities. Everything is still waiting on my to-do list. And today is not enough time to accomplish it all. But maybe I could start with just one thing. So, here we go…whatever it is before us…however pleasant or unpleasant the task, the answer is the same: I’m Just Gonna… fill in the blank. It’s time for some transformation…some inspiration…time to start walking and talking like a new creation… It’s time for me to stop avoiding it and get to work…to just do it.

I’m ready…Here I go…Just gonna do it…Now if I could just find the Windex…