A Special Day: Hopes and Dreams

My post today is dedicated to my daughter, Melanie, on her 40th Birthday.

The day a child is born is a day a parent never forgets. We remember it all. The hours of labor and all it takes to bring a child into this world. And finally, that last push when our child comes into this world. The birth of a child is a miracle like no other!

“I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb; before you were born I sanctified you and appointed you as my spokesman to the world” Jeremiah 1:5

On that day there are so many hopes and dreams. Who will they look like? Who will they take after? What will they be when they grow up? It’s like playing a reel from a film, where we can picture taking them to school for the first time. Prom. First heartbreak. Graduation Day. Their wedding, and maybe even a grandchild.

No parent ever dreams their child will die before them. Among all the dreams we hold close in our heart, this is unimaginable.

One of the things we grieve along this journey is the loss of all the hopes and dreams that went with them when they died.

I always promised Melanie I would make her a special video of her life when she turned 40. Oh, how I wish I had done this for her 30th or 35th! Why do we wait for these milestone days when every birthday is special and meant to be celebrated?

So, today as I remember my beautiful girl and all the birthdays, we were able to celebrate together, I want to share Melanie’s 40th birthday video with each of you. Each member of my immediate family had a hand in making this and for that I am so thankful.

Melanie, we love you to the moon and back! While Jesus has you in heaven, we will always hold you in our hearts. Happy Birthday, my beautiful girl!

The Chain-Breaker

As I was eating breakfast the song, Chain Breaker by Zach Williams came on. I was immediately taken back to a place about 2 years ago when I watched Melanie perform an interpretive dance routine to this song.

The dance was part of her graduation after completing a very tough and rigorous, long-term rehab program. She was so happy, so carefree. The dance simulated being held in bondage, being pushed and pulled, back and forth, down to the ground and back up again. Finally, in the end she raised her arms where her wrists appeared locked and threw them wide open, above her head, breaking free from the chains around her. She was so proud of herself that day and so was I. While going through the program she told me, “This is the best-worst thing I’ve ever done, Mom. I wish I’d done it years ago.”

I remained sitting there, remembering, but as I continued to listen to Zach sing, each word felt as if it was meant for me this time:

If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost, He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you got chains, He’s a chain breaker

Silhouettes of hands are breaking chain. Freedom concept. Silhouettes of hands are breaking chain. Freedom concept. chain breaker stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Even though I’ve heard this song dozens of times before, on this particular morning I could see how these words could apply to me now as well.

We’ve all searched for the light of day in the dead of night
We’ve all found ourselves worn out from the same old fight
We’ve all run to things we know just ain’t right
When there’s a better life, there’s a better life

The grief journey can feel like an uphill walk with heavy weights tied to your limbs. There are some days when the weight of it feels as if I’m carrying another person on my back. And I probably am – I’m carrying my child with me.

But I know living with the heaviness is not God’s best, and it’s not what loved ones would want either. While some days may be easier said than done, we cannot give up! I know we are all worthy of that same freedom and happiness Melanie experienced during her dance.

As we begin this Holy Week let us try to push off the weight that holds us captive, instead trading it in exchange for the life God has freely given to us through his son, Jesus. Imagine the heaviness Mary felt seeing her son on the cross, dying a cruel and torturous death. Now imagine how she must have felt 3 days later when the tomb was empty.

Our tomb is empty, my friends! We have been set free!

He is Risen. Empty Tomb With Shroud. Crucifixion at Sunrise. -3d rendering. - Illustration. He is Risen. Empty Tomb With Shroud. Crucifixion at Sunrise. -3d rendering. - Illustration. empty tomb stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

For me, I know my daughter is in heaven, happy, free, and finally at peace. Instead of carrying around the weight of her old life on my back, heaviness on my heart, I’ll focus instead on the new life she has, which will also help me to be set free indeed. There is hope during loss and I hope you will be encouraged to lift your hands high above your head and let those chains break free.

The Anchor

I have close friends who are avid sailors.  They love going out on the water, feeling the rush of the wind through the sails and the warmth of the sun on their faces.  Sometimes they take friends with them.  As close as we are, I inwardly pray they never ask us to be their guests. 

I’m not the best swimmer and the thought of being out on the open sea terrifies me.  Even though I will likely never be in that position I found myself thinking about the “what ifs”.  What would I do if we found ourselves on a boat in the middle of the ocean?  What if a storm came? What if we couldn’t find land? What if we kept drifting further out into deeper waters never to found again?  

Then I started thinking about the anchor. Could it help me?

Every anchor I’ve seen is a huge, heavy, sturdy, unbreakable piece of iron attached to a long, long rope or chain.  When my friends settle in for the night, I imagine they throw that heavy anchor overboard confidently knowing it will do what it’s supposed to do, which is keeping them in one general area instead of drifting out to sea while they are sleeping.

As my mind continued to wander, I began to think about the rope the anchor is tied to. What if the rope broke away from the anchor? What would happen then? As heavy as the anchor may be what good will it do if the rope is not strong and sturdy? If the rope breaks then the anchor, even though it’s made from a heavy piece of iron, would sink, and be entrenched in the bottom of the ocean and we would be left adrift.

The more I contemplated this I realized it is not only important to have a heavy anchor, but you need to be certain the anchor is attached to an equally strong piece of rope that can withstand the rough seas. Suddenly this became a lightbulb moment for me.

How much is the anchor and the rope just like us and our relationship with Jesus?

For me, during this grief journey I’ve said repeatedly that Jesus is my anchor. He’s the one thing that has kept me afloat during the stormy days of grief. Jesus promised to send us his Spirit to be our Helper and our Comforter (John 14:14 – 31). So, if Jesus is our anchor, then the Holy Spirit is our rope. We cannot have one without the other.

During times of overwhelming darkness when you are so tired from fighting the heaviness of grief, your anchor should strengthen you, but you should also be encouraged by the rope.

While I may never physically be out on the ocean waters, it’s become more clear to me that if I cling to my anchor, Jesus, then I will also be tethered to the Holy Spirit – the strongest rope we could ever dream of having and one that will never fray or break.

The Other Shoe

I don’t know about you but I have found this to be so true. When my dad died in a tragic car accident I was just 17 yrs. old. It rocked my whole world. It brought on fear and anxiety about so many different things. I lived under the weight of that fear for years until I someone shared this scripture with me. It opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t have to live this way. “I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

When Melanie went to heaven at the young age of 38 once again my world was rocked and that old familiar feeling began to creep in. Fear. Anxiety. Dread. On the inside I began to ask myself, “What was going to happen next”? Every time my husband left the house I realized I became so tense and anxious, that even my breathing changed. All the while he was gone I was unconsciously waiting for the phone to ring with bad news. Then one day, I read that this was indeed part of the grief process. It’s a normal feeling. Not a good one, but at least normal. That’s when I remembered the scripture that saved me after my dad’s passing. I wrote it down on an index card and when that old familiar stirring came I reminded myself I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and a sound mind. Wishing you all a blessed, peaceful day!

Peace

In a world that can be wrought with heartache, sadness and difficulty I long for peace. I’ve traded the “Why’s” for acceptance, and place my trust in the one who holds all the answers. I continually keep my heart and eyes focused on what I can control – me! We cannot control others or what is happening around us. My strength comes from above and it’s where I focus my heart and mind. Every day I take my girl along with me. Talking with her, sharing a thought or memory of something. Today I put her favorite pair of sneakers on my feet and smiled as I pictured her face when I surprised her with them! Our love and memories live on forever. #hopeduringloss #memoriesforlife #lovealways

May be an image of text that says 'My mind still talks to you and my heart still looks for you. But my Soul knows you're at peace.'

Looking Through the Lens Toward Healing and Restoration

Let me begin by saying that I know each one of us is in a different place on our journey. Each of our stories though similar, is also unique. As I continue walking along this path and moving through the grief journey, I learn something new every day. The Lord continues to heal my broken heart and even on those days when I feel the weight and heaviness from missing my girl, I run to my Heavenly Father. The words to the song, “Run to the Father” by Cody Carnes resonate so deeply within me:

I run to the Father
I fall into grace
I’m done with the hiding
No reason to wait
My heart needs a surgeon
My soul needs a friend
So I’ll run to the Father
Again and again and again and again

I’m discovering when you suffer a loss and the grief is so deep, healing and restoration can seem so far off and unattainable. Walking through the early days, weeks, and months of grief I found it was hard to concentrate on much. Sometimes the only thing I could focus on was breathing – literally one breath at a time.

However, I do believe in healing and restoration. I believe when you lose a loved one you begin to think differently. I know for me my eyes are more focused on heaven and the life after this. As a believer in Christ I have always known this is not our home, yet it never became more alive to me until Melanie died. When my only daughter’s home became heaven the lens through which I viewed things became very different. It pulled my thoughts away from superficial things and took my mind behind the veil. I also found it removed me from my own little comfortable bubble and made me laser focused on more important things in life.

God is a god of healing and deliverance. Is it easy? Not always. Will it take time? Definitely. I didn’t wake up one day with my heart totally healed and restored. He’s restoring me piece by piece, day by day.

As I’ve been thinking about healing and restoration it reminded me of a time about 20 years ago when my mother-in-law gifted my husband and me with two antique pieces of furniture which have been in his family for over 130 years. We were in the middle of building a new house and my mother-in-law wanted so much for us to have these pieces to add to our new home. It was such a sweet and generous gesture, and while we didn’t want to disappoint her, when we saw the condition they were in we couldn’t imagine them in our brand-new home. Each piece had beautiful stained, leaded glass in the shape of intricate diamonds on the doors, however, they hadn’t been properly cared for in many years and the wood had a heavy layer of what appeared as dark black lacquer. Not wanting to offend her we took the pieces home and put them in the garage. After several weeks and many hours of research we decided to try and restore the pieces ourselves. As we tackled the first piece, we spent every waking hour, every weekend for 6 weeks with steel wool in hand, cleaning, stripping, and scrubbing repeatedly. Slowly, we began to remove the black layer that had accumulated over many years of neglect. Around the fourth week into the project, and just about the time I was ready to give up, I began to see some light shining through from the heavy darkness on the buffet. I started getting a little excited as I saw the beauty beneath the surface. Below the thick black covering was a tiger oak wood in beautiful condition. This gave me the incentive I needed to continue scrubbing and sanding. Although the project wasn’t easy and took months of our time and energy the result made it was so worthwhile. If we can take a piece of furniture that was so dark and ugly and turn it into a thing of beauty, it makes me think of what God can do for us, his children. It reminds me of the verse of scripture in Isaiah 61:3 where God “gives beauty for ashes”.

I realize these are inanimate objects which mean nothing to God, but just like the beauty that was hidden under the surface of the dark, black wood it is the same with our Heavenly Father. He longs to remove the heavy darkness that has settled over our broken hearts and wants to bring restoration and healing to us. I miss my daughter so very much, but I’ve never doubted for a moment that she wouldn’t want me to remain steeped in depression and despair over her death.

After the loss of a loved one, it’s easy for our hearts to become so dark like the pieces of furniture which were not properly cared for. If you yearn for your heart to be healed, the first step in doing so is just to ask Him. Jesus is a gentleman and will not barge into your life uninvited. Simply invite Him in and ask Him to heal your hurting heart and begin to restore your joy.

“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. 29 Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. 30 For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” Matthew 11:28-30 TPT

As I continue this grief journey, I am confident there is hope after loss. It’s not an instantaneous restoration, but a gradual healing – at least that’s how it’s been for me. Some days I take a few stumbling steps backward, but I continue to look heavenward, to the place my girl is and know when it’s my time, that’s the place I long to be.

One Year Later: The Grief Journey – Remembering Melanie

Never forget. We are all familiar with this phrase as it represents 9/11, and a time of great tragedy and sorrow in our world. Well, one year ago today those two words took on a different and more personal meaning for me. It was a day of tragedy and sorrow. It was the day my girl ran ahead to heaven. It’s a day which I will, never forget.

I’ll never forget where I was, what I was doing or who I was with. I remember every. single. detail of that day. I know that my dad was there to guide her safely into the arms of Jesus. One day I will share how I know this as it’s an amazing testimony to the greatest love of all – the love of Jesus and the lengths He will go to for His children.

Without a doubt, it’s been the harshest 365 days of my life. I’ve cried more tears than I thought were possible. Suffered physical illnesses and experienced symptoms that I didn’t know were conceivable due to stress. I developed crushing anxiety that on some days felt as if it would take me under from the weight of it all.

Death is hard and the loss of a child is a loss like no other on this earth.

Yet, here I am today. Still standing, still breathing, and walking this grief journey one day at a time. The tears still flow, and I expect they always will because there will never be a day I don’t miss my girl. The good news is they don’t come in the torrential, crashing waves like the tsunami they were in the earlier months, when my heart was so utterly broken. One of God’s promises I so tightly held on to is, “He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 38:14). My faith is what has sustained me and even on those days when I was crawling through the valley, Jesus was right there beside me. He never once left my side. What the enemy meant for evil, God has turned it for His good (Genesis 50:20).

The days of crushing anxiety are fewer and for that I am grateful. Sure, my mind has wandered back to the day I learned of Melanie’s death and all the horror that comes with hearing the words no parent should ever hear. There have been times I have re-lived every moment, over and over again. But today, when I think about Melanie I am choosing to look back at how I have been brought through the last 365 days of losing my only girl.

PEACE: Within the first 24 hours after learning of Melanie’s death I have felt an overwhelming, powerful, all-encompassing sense of peace that could only come from God. There is nothing and no one who can give peace like Him. “And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Phil 4:6

ENCOURAGEMENT: My Heavenly Father has encouraged and strengthened me in ways that I never felt as strongly as I do now. He delivered His words of love and reassurance deep into my spirit on so many nights. “No one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night” Job 35:10

HOPE: Even during that first and darkest night, I never once doubted where my hope and strength would come from. He is my deliverer. My hope. My strength. My rock. My promise keeper. My way maker. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” Psalm 56:8

Even the saddest experiences we go through in life can become a source of wisdom and strength once we have made peace within our hearts about it. I could write about all the sadness that surrounded the loss of my beautiful girl, but I choose to remember the good. I am choosing to remember the love. This day is not a day I wish to celebrate, but I had to acknowledge the day my girl ran ahead to heaven. For me, it was the worst day of my life. For Melanie, it was the best day of hers. I continually strive to reflect on the good that has come from a very tragic situation.

On this day, one year ago, my beautiful girl transitioned to her real home – Heaven. If you too are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will once again see your loved one. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4. I take comfort in the fact that I will get to see my daughter again one day. I look forward to wrapping my arms around her and telling her how much I’ve missed her. Until then my love for her will never end.

The Double A’s: Anticipation and Anguish

It’s so hard to believe we are already heading into late January.  Where does the time go? Since Melanie ran ahead to heaven the concept of time means something entirely different to me now.  I have a much greater appreciation of time, especially time spent love ones.

As unbelievable as it seems I am nearing the end of my “Year of Firsts” and am feeling reflective. Somehow I made it through the birthdays and then what I dreaded most – the holidays. If you were anything like me, I spent weeks and weeks in high anticipation of what the holidays were going to be like for us this year.   Considering it would be the first ones without my girl it wasn’t anticipation in the happy, positive way Carly Simon sings about. No, instead it was the overwhelming, nerve-wracking, anxiety-filled type of anticipation. What would these holidays be like knowing we wouldn’t hear Melanie’s voice or see her smile? She had run ahead to heaven and we were all left here. What would she be doing there?  Would she be able to see us, hear us, or know that we missed her? I comforted myself knowing she would be in heaven with Jesus, the reason for this season. How amazing must that celebration be?!

Many months before Thanksgiving arrived I began to wonder how I’d survive knowing she was in heaven and not here with us.  On top of that due to Covid we weren’t sure our son and daughter-in-love would be able to join us since they live in another state.  I anguished over this and let it eat away at me for weeks which eventually turned into months.  Anguish and anticipation over Every. Little. Thing! I wanted to climb into bed and wake up on December 26th!

Well, friends, guess what? We made it!  We somehow managed to survive the entire holiday season! I’m still standing. Still breathing. Still holding tight to The One who helped make the way straight. Yes, it was quieter, definitely more sad than years past, but we celebrated the 2020 way – via Zoom! I shed tears several times throughout the day as I remembered the beautiful Christmas we had together the year before when Melanie was with us and we were all together. This was also my first birthday without my girl. Two firsts at once. Sigh.

Now here I am once again beginning to feel the familiar rumbles of anguish and anticipation knocking at the door to my heart. My reprieve was brief as this started again right after I made it through Christmas. I found myself starting to move into that high alert, heavy anticipation mode as the silent countdown of the next and last “First” approaches.   

In less than 4 weeks my daughter will have been in heaven for 1 year!!  How did that happen?  Some days it feels like she was just here sitting at the big island in my kitchen talking about her hopes and plans for the future. Dreams that will never be realized.  

As I’ve been praying about this first angelversary, I began to think about what I just walked through now that the 2020 holidays are behind me.

I realized that the anticipation of what was coming was much more difficult than the actual day itself

I let that settle deep into my spirit, and then asked the Lord to continue to hold my wounded heart close and give me that same undeniable peace that he has covered me with over the last 11 months. Other grieving parents have asked me how I am managing to walk this grief journey with such strength? I’m not always strong. Hardly. I take it one moment, one hour, one day at a time, but the main reason I’m able to walk this path is because of my faith in Jesus. My hope is in Him. My Rock. My fortress. Just because 365 days will soon be approaching doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. Grief never ends. I am discovering it becomes a part of who you are. Some days are better than others, then there are those days which are more like a wet, heavy blanket. Whether I’m making my way to the mountain top or down in the valley I’m confident my God isn’t going to fail me.  

As I look forward on the calendar to that day that changed the course of this mother’s heart and life, I’m so grateful that we will all be able to be together as a family during this time of remembrance.  A mother, father, brother, and son, remembering our beautiful Melanie with all the love we have.  So, for now, I’m going to do my best to chase away the anticipation and anguish of re-living the day she went to heaven and hold on tight to The One who continues to hold me.

Goodbye 2020: A Few Thoughts

I’m not a person who typically makes resolutions. Instead, my husband and I use this time of year as a time of reflection and planning for the new year. We take time to think about all that has happened over the course of the year, the places we have been, the things we have done, and the many ways God has touched our lives. Even with all the difficulties and ups and downs this year has brought, we still have so very much to be thankful for.

For us, the year 2020 will always be remembered as the year we lost our daughter, Melanie, to the disease of addiction. We barely began the year and on February 19th she was gone. So, yes, it’s been a long year full of many twists and turns. There were some days as I walked this grief journey when the waves were like a tsunami that threatened to take me under. But my life and heart were long ago given to the Lord and I clung to him like the life preserver he was for me. I leaned into him, and never dared turn away. The day I received the news Melanie had gone to heaven I determined in my heart that I was not going to let this tragedy turn me away from my only hope – Jesus. You see, God’s promises are just as true when you’re on the mountain, as they are when you’re in the valley – especially in the valley! He promised to never leave me, nor forsake me and he hasn’t. He didn’t mean just through the easy times. His promise to “heal the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit” has held true for me each day and particularly on those days when I lay in a heap on the floor weeping for the loss of my girl.

So, for this year, as we look at 2020 in our rearview mirror and kick it goodbye, I will focus on two things:

As a result of Melanie’s death, I am stronger than I was before. My spiritual muscle has been exercised in a way I never thought possible. Would l wish this road on anyone? Never! However, the love Jesus has shown me, at every turn, is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my lifetime. It is unfailing and it never ends.

I will also never forget how God has surrounded me and my family over the past 317 days. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91).

I pray God’s blessings and peace will surround you today and as you head into this new year. May 2021 find you closer to the one who can carry you through the waves of this crushing journey and may He touch your heart as never before 💜💜💜 Pat

Christmas in Heaven

While listening to the radio, an old Christmas song came on and I suddenly found myself focusing on the familiar words, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Hmm…is it really? Oh, I’m not being a Scrooge. I remember feeling that way. Just not today. Not this year. Sure, I know it can be the happiest time of year but for many it can also be one of the saddest and most stressful times. For those who have lost a loved one this season brings about a myriad of emotions. We may reflect on Christmases past, while thinking about the ones we will no longer be able to share together. For our family this is the first Christmas when our daughter (sister/cousin/niece/friend) will be in heaven.

While we continue walking this grief journey, there is a void in our hearts that Melanie’s absence has left behind. There is nothing and no one that can fill this empty space. We will miss her presence, and the sound of her laughter. We will miss how she used to like to “play Santa” and hand out the presents to everyone. The real reason she liked doing this is because she could count how many gifts she and her brother received. Lord help us if it wasn’t an even amount! 😊 Leading up to this week we have reminisced about the Christmases we did have together, sharing laughter in the midst of our tears.

What I have found to be so true is that we can experience great sorrow and joy at the same time.

As we get ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I would like to share with you a message I received from a very dear friend. One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, “What will Melanie be doing in heaven on Christmas? What will it be like for her?” Little did my friend know what was stirring in my heart when I received this message last week, but our Heavenly Father knew, and He provided me with what I call a beautiful Godwink.

May this bring you some comfort and touch your heart as deeply as it did mine.

From Melanie’s perspective ♥️

I see the countless Christmas trees
Around the world below,
With tiny lights, like heaven’s stars,
Reflecting on the snow.

The sight is so spectacular,
Please wipe away that tear-
’cause you know, I’m spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year!

I’m hearing all the Christmas songs-
They’re ringing loud and clear,
But the earthly music can’t compare
With the Christmas choir up here

I have no words to tell you
The joy these voices bring,
For it is beyond description
To hear an angel sing!

I can’t tell you of the splendor
Or the peace here in this place;
Can you just imagine Christmas
With our Savior, face to face?

I’ll ask Him to lift your spirit
As I tell Him of your love,
And you pray for one another
As you lift your eyes above.

Please let your hearts be joyful,
And let your spirit sing,
For I am spending Christmas in heaven,
And I’m walking with the King.

Her Safe Place

There was the day when I was always her safe place. Her harbor. The place she would run to when troubled. I was always the one she called when there was a concern, a problem, or a question. We were connected, she and I. When she was in trouble I knew before she told me. It didn’t matter how easy or difficult the situation, I was the person she counted on and ran to. I was her cheering squad, her defender, her home.

This weekend during my quiet time with the Lord these thoughts and memories began to swirl around in my heart and mind. Then that still small voice quietly rose up within me…

Jesus is her safe place now. He is her Prince of Peace. Her Counselor. Her Almighty Father.

Once again, the Father knew what I needed to hear.

As I began to wrap gifts this weekend I came across several holiday bags with Melanie’s name on them. There was an automatic catch in my throat as the tears began to gather in my eyes. For a moment I began to think about all the holidays we would never share, all the gifts for her that would never fill those pretty bags. I was no longer her safe harbor. My arms were no longer the ones she would run to.

It was then I realized that although I was no longer Melanie’s safe harbor, she was in the safest harbor of all. Heaven. Who better than the Prince of Peace to take care of my girl until we meet again?

When missing her begins to overwhelm my heart I remind myself that God has never left my side. He is walking with me through the valley and is lifting me up along the way. I know my girl is smiling down on me, cheering me on. Her voice reassuring me, “I’m alright Momma. I’m happy and at peace. One day you’ll see. Please don’t be so sad. I’m OK.”

She’s truly home now, in her safe place where there is no fear, no doubt, no sadness, no feelings of unworthiness. She’s getting ready to celebrate Christmas with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. How amazing will that be?

The First Christmas

Here we are in this “Year of Firsts” getting ready to experience Christmas without Melanie. Have I ever had a Christmas without Melanie? Unfortunately, yes. We experienced several without her but this one will be entirely different. During those times when we could not celebrate together we would always speak by phone and visit on a day before the actual holiday. I would still be able to see her, hear her voice, hug her deeply and she would let me pray over her most times we were together. Since she has run ahead to heaven there will be an obvious and distinct difference between those past Christmases without her, and the one I am about to experience without my only girl.

I’m continuing to learn how deeply grief can affect your life. I took the last month off from blogging so I could concentrate on my own self-care. It was a much-needed time to focus on myself – my physical, spiritual and emotional well-being desperately needed attention. The heaviness and weight of losing a loved one creates stress and anxiety that often lead to actual physical illness. It is debilitating and if left untreated can often lead to serious consequences. Friends, it’s so important to take care of ourselves while we are walking this grief journey as we cannot be there for our other family members and loved ones if we don’t take care of ourselves. Just like the flight attendant says, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting it on anyone else.”

Ever since I was a little girl Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe that’s also because it’s my birthday as well. 😊 My mom always made Christmas very special and was certain to keep my birthday celebration separate from our Christmas celebration. I love everything about Christmas – the lights, the tree, the music, the special recipes shared, getting together with family and friends and I’ll admit I am one of those who love watching Hallmark Christmas movies!! But do you know what has always been my favorite thing? Deep in my heart I have always loved that I shared the same birthday as my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the real reason for this season.

Last year at this time our home was so full of joy, laughter, and excitement. It was a special Christmas because it was the first time we would all be together as a family in many years. I spent weeks planning the special meals to be cooked, including favorite family recipes from my mom that have been passed down for many generations. Everyone’s room was decorated, gifts were wrapped and stockings with special treats were filled. I was excited about having Melanie participate in our annual gingerbread house contest later in the day and laughed when Cameron said he just couldn’t decide whose team he wanted to be on! So many memories, a lot of laughter and even a few joyful tears.

This year it will only be the 3 of us. Like many other families it’s not safe for our son and daughter-in-love to travel due to Covid. This will be only the second Christmas in our oldest son’s lifetime when we have not been together. Sigh. It’s the right thing to do, however, so we can have many more Christmases throughout our lifetime. Instead, we will celebrate together the 2020 way – via Zoom! My son suggested we reschedule our in-person Christmas for June 25th so that’s what we will look forward to! I’ve already shed my share of tears and sadness over not being able to be together, piled on top of Melanie being in heaven and not here with us. I also decided I will have no expectations of myself or plan how the day will go. What I do know is I will do the best I can.

There is no doubt in my mind that this Christmas will be a bittersweet, emotionally challenging day. Yet, as I think about my girl I also have no doubt that Melanie will be celebrating the birth of Christ unlike anything our minds or heart can fathom. I know she is healed and living in a peace that passes my own understanding. As I learn to focus on her happiness and not my own loss, God continues to comfort my heart in a way that only He can. I will be forever thankful for the beautiful memories from our last Christmas together, and for the many others before then. Melanie was a girl who loved Christmas, just like her Momma. She would be the one to count all the gifts making sure there was an even number divided up between her and her brother. She would also vigorously shake each one trying to guess what was inside! The funny thing was most of the time she was always correct! I was amazed by her ability to guess, until one year I found out she opened all the gifts and wrapped them back up again! Yes, she was a bit mischievous for sure!

In honor of my girl and how much she loved this holiday, I am choosing to honor her memory through gifting to other women who face the same challenges that she did. There are many organizations out there who help support those in recovery along with those who are still struggling with the disease of addiction. I found one group who helps homeless women by filling backpacks with much needed items for those living on the street. Each backpack has a special patch sewn on to the front of it with the name of your loved one. They also require you to write a letter about your loved one which is included inside each backpack. Very special!!

Melanie had a big heart and was always giving of the little she had. I look forward to blessing some other young ladies like Melanie this Christmas and in that way it will be just like loving on my own girl. If you’re feeling sad today and missing someone perhaps you may want to consider doing something in honor of your loved one. It does make your heart feel good when you are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Last picture of me and my girl, Christmas Eve 2019

Nine Months

Melanie went on to heaven 9 months ago today.  I’ve been thinking about what a difference 9 months can make in a life. 

It takes 9 months to bring a child into this world.  Oh, how elated I was when my girl was born!  It was a beautiful Saturday in April.  Once she decided it was time for her to enter this world, she didn’t waste a second!  One moment I’m rocking back and forth in the rocking chair watching Denny Terrio on Dance Fever, and the next moment the nurses are yelling for me to climb back into the bed!  😊  Melanie was born with a head full of beautiful dark hair and eyes that sparkled with a little bit of mischief even from the start!  As the years passed by, she was like another appendage.  She would hang on to my leg and never want me to go anywhere without her.  My sister used to distract her while I slipped out the door!  She was all girl and loved to dress up in my shoes and wear my makeup.  Right up until the day she went to heaven she had a gift for expertly applying eye makeup and it made her eyes shine deep into her soul.

Today I’m imagining what 9 months in heaven has been like. The beauty, the peace, the reconnection with family and friends who went on before her.  I see her beautiful long hair flowing down her back, her lovely smile and those beautiful sparkling eyes.  Oh, I miss her like crazy and there is still not a day that goes by where she isn’t the first thing I think about when my eyes open or the last thing before I finally drift off to sleep.  But, in my heart of hearts I know that she is happier and more at peace than she has ever been.  Love and miss you, Mel-Mel.  Always and forever. 

Putting Our Broken Pieces Back Together

Hello Friends, I know I’ve been pretty quiet recently. God’s been doing some much needed work in my heart and I’ve been using this time for self-care.

The last few weeks have left me feeling a lot like a jigsaw puzzle, and I’m not talking about that moment when you triumphantly put the last few pieces into place. No, I’ve been feeling more like the 1000 piece puzzle you dump out in the middle of your table and then begin the task of sorting through the big messy pile of broken pieces.

This grief journey is no walk in the park, though I sure wish it was. Some days it’s hard to remember the person I was before Melanie went on to heaven. Thankfully, I serve a God who is gracious, loving and merciful. He is the one that formed me in my mother’s womb and says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Because He made me He alone knows how to put me back together. I’ve been spending a lot of my time with Him, journaling, reading the word, walking and just being still. Sometimes pulling back into a quiet place and being still is the best thing to heal one’s heart. (Psalm 46:11).

Just like the puzzle, I have found that I can sometimes be a jumbled mess, but I am confident it will all become beautiful again one day. Melanie wrote a poem last year that she was so excited to share with me. The first line says, “I am broken but beautifully made.” Yes, my sweet girl, we all certainly are.

Self-Care or Selfish?

As is typical of most women and especially mothers, we are always running around taking care of everyone else.  We have many roles and juggle so many things I think we could easily work for Barnum & Bailey!  Cook.  Taxi driver.  Social director.  Wife.  Mother.  Lover.  Friend.  Teacher.  Nurse.  Cleaning lady.  The list goes on and on, and in many cases, this is all on top of holding down a full-time job.  With responsibilities like this, it’s not surprising that taking care of ourselves falls to the bottom (the way, way bottom) of the list. 

As I’m finally beginning to see some light at the end of what’s been a few long weeks of darkness, I’ve had a few “A-Ha” moments. 

My 1st A-Ha moment:

It’s OK if you are not strong, and it’s OK to cry!

Really, it is!!  No more swallowing tears and no more Wonder Woman routines!

I read a fabulous article based on the Bible’s shortest scripture – Jesus wept.  The following is an excerpt taken from, “Why It’s So Important that Jesus Wept”, by Bethany Verrett.

Jesus knew the will of God and that Lazarus would be returned to life. He did not weep because He was uncertain of His ability to do this miracle or because He feared Lazarus would stay dead. Jesus wept because He experienced and understood the same feelings as the people around Him.

The Lord Jesus lived a perfect life, overcoming sin, suffering, and even death itself despite being clothed in flesh and subject to human weaknesses. Despite living a perfect life, standing before a tomb, He cried. For people, it does show that it is okay to grieve, to process strong emotions and terrible situations, and to cry.

Even though Jesus knew Lazarus would rise up and live he cried because he was grieving for his friends.  He mourned.  He knew what it meant to be heartbroken and crushed in spirit.  If crying is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!  If you see me and I shed a tear, it’s all good.  

My 2nd A-Ha moment: 

I’m no longer going to worry about whether my crying, sadness and grief makes others uncomfortable.  If you have not experienced child loss, I understand why you have no idea why I’m still sad, crying or grieving and you know what?  I am so happy you have no idea why I feel this way.

My 3rd A-Ha moment: 

It’s OK to take time for YOU!

Instead of being the last person on your list, we must intentionally focus on ourselves.  This means different things to each of us.  I have been ignoring my own well-being since Melanie went on to heaven and if I want to be here for my youngest son and family it’s time for some changes.  

For me, starting small is always best.  At this point I can’t do big anything right now… hard for me to admit when I have always been an avid juggler!!  These are the few things I’ve committed to do:

  • Walking each day for 30 minutes. My pace may be slow but I’m not in a race.
  • Drink 64 oz. of water.
  • Take 5 minutes to meditate.  I’m not sure how good I’ll be at this but I’m trying to learn how to breathe deeply using the Calm app. It is rather amazing what slowing down and just breathing can do for you!  I’ve also started using this app when I can’t sleep at night.  It has some nice relaxing music.
  • Make Cameron his own “blanket of love” as I did for each of my older kids. Crocheting is something that is peaceful and calming for me.  I can sit and do this while listening to music, a podcast or simply nothing at all.  I made a Blanket of Love for Melanie last Christmas and it meant the world to her. I’m so thankful I have it and although her scent is beginning to fade from the pretty pink wool, when I wrap myself up in it for a moment it’s like she’s right there giving me a sweet hug.

Please remember, I am no expert.  I’m just another woman and momma, walking this rocky road of grief alongside each of you and sharing my story along the way.  It’s important for us to use self-care. It is not an act of selfishness. It’s an act of trying to preserve what is left of us as we walk the valley of the shadow of death.

My faith is what continues to sustain me and the time I spend throughout the day with my Heavenly Father is what gives me the strength to face each day.  For today, it’s one step and one breath at a time.  💜💜💜

Halloween Memories or Signs?

Although Fall is my favorite season, we are not a family that makes a big celebration out of Halloween. But, during this grief journey every memory that pops up on my timeline touches my heart in a special way, like this picture of Melanie with our son, Cameron. Oh, how I love those smiles!! I remember this day like it was yesterday instead of 11 yrs. ago!

As I was prepping for dinner last night I received a message from Shutterfly telling me I had memories! I want to say upfront that I haven’t used Shutterfly in about 9 years but since Melanie passed away all of a sudden I have begun receiving these emails periodically. Strange, don’t you think?! Some people call it a sign. I’m not certain about that, but before Melanie went on to heaven I never received these messages. Now every time I receive one and open it up, a beautiful picture of my girl pops up on my screen! Every, single memory revolves around her! Yes, I’ll take it as a sign!

For those of us walking this grief journey oftentimes the road is filled with much sadness, so on these rare and beautiful days where we can find small snapshots of happiness I wanted to share them with you. I hope these will add a small touch of sunshine to your day, as there is nothing like a child’s smile or laughter to raise our spirits.

This monkey business is scary stuff!
Toothless Grins are the Best

Wishing you all a beautiful Saturday. May God’s peace and comfort surround you today.

The Return of the Mask

When Melanie went to heaven I stepped out in faith and removed the mask I’d been wearing for many years. It was a giant step for me, but it was one full of fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shunned. Fear of tarnishing her memory. Fear of just about everything. At the time it felt good to remove the mask. Freeing. It was heavier than I had ever realized.

Over the last few weeks I sensed that familiar feeling begin to creep back in. Here I am 8.5 months down the road and I’m still stumbling around on this grief journey. The waves have been crashing down all around me this week and I feel overwhelmed and crushed in spirit. Again.

Unfortunately, this mask and it’s weight have started to take it’s toll on me – physically and emotionally. As my physical self begins to break down, it only invites my old friend, Fear, in. Fear begets stress and stress begets anxiety. It’s like being on the worst merry-go-round ride ever!

Someone I respect, who is helping me walk this path, told me I need to stop being strong and take my mask off! Stop trying to handle it all. Stop swallowing the tears and sadness. Let them flow. Be who you are in this season of your grief journey. It’s okay to let people see your tears – even my young son, who I have been “protecting.” As The Beatles said, Let it Be.

I’ve often said, tears are cleansing and I truly believe that. However, there has also been that little voice inside my head that says, “You’re a cry baby! Get over it – people die! And, the loudest voice I have been hearing is, “No one wants to hear you crying about Melanie any more. You’re going to lose all of your friends and family if you keep this up!”

So this week when I was told I need to take my mask off and be who I am in this moment of time, I swallowed hard and cried. Tears that I’ve been keeping pent up flowed. Tears for the loss of my girl who I love and miss terribly. Tears for all that will never be. There were also tears of gratitude to God for giving me my girl for 38 years. For some parents that is a lifetime longer than what they had.

For today, I will remember that taking good care of myself is not selfish. Self-care is healthy and good for me. Each day my goal will be to remember that I am truly not alone. God is always with me, walking beside me and lifting my head. All I need to do is look up!

Speak Life

Isn’t it amazing how one of the smallest parts of our body is both the strongest and the deadliest. Some may think it’s the heart, or perhaps the lungs. Those certainly are major parts of our body that give us life and strength, but it is not the part I am referring to. The smallest and strongest part is…

The tongue.

Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: The tongue has the power of life and death.

Do you realize that your words can either speak life or they can speak death? Our tongues and the words that so easily roll off it can help build others up, or they can tear them down. Just a few simple words can destroy a life, a friendship, a family.

The power of the tongue and the words we say do not just impact others. The words we speak about ourselves can have life altering repercussions. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” What you think and ultimately say about yourself can breathe life or death into existence.

When you’re feeling down it’s so easy to say things like: I’m so depressed. I’m so sick. I hate this life. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I give up! My friend, these are words of death you’re speaking over yourself! The next time you’re feeling down, raise your head a little higher and look up! Even if you don’t feel it, speak out loud and into your own heart. Speak life into your dry bones and watch them begin to awaken!

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to one of my favorite artists, Toby Mac. He’ll get your day moving in a positive direction and hopefully he’ll get your heart to begin speaking life over yourself. 💜 💜 💜

Some days the tongue gets twisted
Other day my thoughts just fall apart
I do, I don’t, I will, I won’t
It’s like I’m drowning in the deep
Well, it’s crazy to imagine
Words from my lips as the arms of compassion
Mountains crumble with every syllable
Hope can live or die
So speak life, speak life
To the deadest darkest night
Speak life, speak life

Can We Have A Retake?

So You Want To Be A Photographer… - YouTube

This week I received an email from my son’s school reminding us of the date we could retake this year’s school picture.  It got me thinking.  A retake. A do over.  How awesome would it be if we could manage life’s challenges in such a simplistic way?

Recently a friend asked if I relived the day Melanie went to heaven.  Did I think about it over and over again? This question opened the door for a deep-hearted conversation about those last hours before I was certain she was gone from this world. But more importantly, we talked about what I had learned that day and how it continued to impact my heart and mind. 

As much as I wish it were possible, you can’t unhear or unsee things, no matter how much time passes.  After reading police and autopsy reports, which were graphic enough for any James Patterson novel, I have formed a picture in my mind of my girl’s last moments.  It’s not of the beautiful girl I knew and loved. 

I’ve heard from many bereaved parents, especially those who suffered from SUD and learned their heartbreaking stories, to know this is true for so many.  What enters our mind, eyes and heart then creates images which we are oftentimes haunted by. 

Why has it taken me this long to realize that I don’t have to allow the enemy to torture my mind and heart this way?  I don’t have to relive those memories! I have other pictures and memories to draw from that are so much more beautiful!  

As a Believer we can bring our heartfelt prayers and requests to the feet of our Heavenly Father.  Prayer is our greatest weapon!  

I have asked the Lord to give me a retake.  If you would also like to retake the current picture you hold of your loved one, please join me in this simple prayer and allow God to renew your heart and mind.

“Father, in Jesus name I thank you that we can come to you anywhere and at any time.  You are our greatest weapon, Lord. You hear our heart’s cry and we know that nothing is impossible with you. I am asking you to renew my mind and heart. Thank you for giving me the retake I need to live this life peacefully.  Instead of dwelling on the last moments of my child’s life I thank you for giving me a retake, a new picture. One of the beautiful young woman she was in you. Thank you that the picture I will now hold near to my heart is of beauty and the happy moments she lived, not died.  No matter how I may feel, your word and promises are true. You are creating a path through the wilderness and streams through the desert. Thank you for loving me and healing my heart and mind, in Jesus name.”

Dry Bones Rattle

Yesterday marked eight months since Melanie went on to heaven. As each month passes by, I find myself taking 3 steps forward then 2 steps back.  It’s a dance I play with myself. 

Oh, there are days I’m feeling strong and healthy.  Then there are those days when I feel nothing. 

Broken.  Empty.  Dry Bones rattling.

This is me.  Is it you, too?

On those days I’m not strong. Grief has removed all life from these bones.  All happiness from this heart. 

Nothing about this grief journey is right.  Nothing about this walk is easy.  One moment I’m (seemingly) fine, and strong. Encouraging. Reassuring. Inspiring others. Hopeful. Pouring out my heart here for all the world to see, yet I still feel sad, grief-stricken, anxious. The enemy tries to tell me I’m a fraud.  A hypocrite. “How can you feel hopeful during loss?” he whispers. “How can you encourage others when you’re still grieving?” he taunts. “Melanie is still in heaven.  You’re still here.  You’re own family is still suffering the loss of your girl.”

I’ve never claimed to be a Superhero and even though my little boy thinks I’m Wonder Woman 😉, I do have one Super Power to extinguish those fiery darts of the enemy. Prayer and the mighty, powerful name of Jesus. When I begin to get beat down and believe the lies being thrown at me, that’s when I run back into my Daddy’s arms. I fall on my knees seeking out the only one who can ease the ache of these dry bones and help restore my soul.

In Ezekiel 4:6-7, the Lord shows him a valley of dry, dead, brittle bones. Not a speck of movement. Nothing! “Then he told me to speak to the bones and say: “O dry bones, listen to the words of God, for the Lord God says, ‘See! I am going to make you live and breathe again! I will replace the flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you shall live and know I am the Lord.’”

Yes, even though these dry bones are rattling, I will stand and praise Jesus for the life I’ve been given.  I may not understand it all, but one day when I see Him face to face I’ll know.  When I see my girl, these dry bones will dance again.   Until then, I’ll press on knowing it’s going to be OK.

If you’re being challenged and feel empty and walking around with rattling dry bones, take a moment to listen to the song below from Tasha Leyton, Into the Sea, (It’s Gonna Be Ok”). Your dry bones will begin to have life breathed back into them.

My heart is breaking
In a way I never thought it could
My mind is racing
With the question, “Are you still good?”
Can you make something
From the wreckage
Would you take this heart and make it whole again?

Though the mountains may be moved into the sea
Though the ground beneath might crumble and give way
I can hear my Father singing over me
“It’s gonna be OK, it’s gonna be OK”

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