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”

Ashes and Grace

Questions, questions, and more questions!  I’ve had plenty of them since Melanie went to heaven.  “Is this it? Is this the end of her story?  Am I supposed to be filled with this sadness and grief for the rest of my life? Is this what’s become of me? What now? Surely, there must be some reason or purpose, Lord.”  

It’s taken some time but I’m finally coming to a place of peace with most of my questions. As a self-proclaimed control freak, I have found myself wanting to reclaim what little control I actually have left of my own life.  Which begs another question, “Do we really have control at all?”

Over many months as I continued to contemplate all the changes and upheaval this grief journey has brought to my life a song by Tauren Wells, God’s Not Done With You, seemed to always find its way to me.  Whether on the car radio, Alexa, YouTube or even in a store, the song appeared to follow me everywhere! As I listened to the words, I began to see a reflection of what was being stirred deep within my heart, along with what began to feel like answers to some of those remaining questions.

Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
Truth is that you’re not forgotten
‘Cause grace knows your name

Have you felt lost and forgotten?  Friends and family seem to go on with their lives when your life has taken a major detour into a dark ditch. When you find yourself on this grief journey it’s easy to focus on the ashes and what’s left of your heart. Loss and death are devastating.  But there is hope during loss. We will never be the same as before, but God can and will create a new path. If all you see are the ashes, LOOK UP!  Grace knows your name!! You have not been forgotten!

God’s not done with you
Even with your broken heart and your wounds and your scars
God’s not done with you
Even when you’re lost and it’s hard and you’re falling apart

Even on the hardest of days and in the middle of the tears, I encourage you to cling to God who promises us He will turn this into something good. (Romans 8:28). There are so many people like me and you.  Grieving. Hurting. Questioning.  I have found I’ve been able to walk this grief journey in a more peaceful manner when I stop trying to control everything and relinquish control to the One I can trust.  Doing so allows Him to truly lead me beside the still and quiet waters.

There’s a light you don’t notice
Until you’re standing in the dark
And there’s a strength that’s growing
Inside your shattered heart

I encourage you today to lean in. 

God’s not done with you
Even when you’re lost and it’s hard and you’re falling apart
He’s not done writing your story…He’s not done with you

A Broken Vessel

It’s been said you cannot draw from an empty vessel. True words, my friends!

No matter what our specific story, if you’re on this grief journey you are sure to find yourself feeling broken. I’m still feeling a bit beaten up by my grief this week.  My mind understands how and why I’m feeling this way, but, the rest of me is another story.  

We can look at the grief chart and have an understanding that we are going to go through each step of the grief cycle. But, what is frustrating to me is that we can end up going through some of the steps, over and over again.  You think you’re doing so well and WHAM! out of nowhere you’re back underwater again.

As I sat down to write my post one of my dear friends called. We spoke about how the stress of grief has been affecting us physically. It’s so unbelievable how the body literally breaks down under the weight of grief and the stress that accompanies it. We talked about how important it is for us to care for ourselves during this time. I know, some days are easier said than done, but we must never give up trying.

My friend is also walking through grief, albeit a different type than I am but it’s grief and it hurts terribly.  She didn’t have a loved one die, at least not in the physical sense, but she is mourning the loss of her child. It’s so sad that we can mourn the loss of someone who still lives, and it affects us just as deeply as when our loved ones are no longer here on this Earth.

I realized after talking with my dear friend that I’m not as empty as I thought I was. She reminded me of how strong we are and all we have been through. 

We’ve done life together.  We’ve been there for one another through life’s ups and downs. Even though we haven’t lived in the same city for many years, the miles between us haven’t lessened the bond of our friendship or the strength of our joined faith in God.  Prayer is a powerful thing and my friend is a mighty prayer warrior! She is one of my life’s greatest blessings.  No matter where we are, no matter what’s happening in our lives we can lift one another up to our Heavenly Father who is always with us.  It’s my faith that keeps me going day after dark day until the sun begins to shine once again.

So, if you’re feeling empty today, I encourage you to fill yourself up. Call a friend. Read an uplifting devotion or verse.  Turn on some music and let the words lift your heart. Go outside and just breathe in and out. Sometimes that may be all you have the energy to do. But never forget this – you are never alone. If you need someone to pray for you leave me a comment or send me a private message.  There is Hope During Loss and we will lift you up.

Remind Me You’re Here

I won’t ask you for reasons … I don’t need all the answersThese were the words from a song in the night (Job 35:10) that I found myself tapping into my phone at 2:30 this morning. When I got up and plugged them into YouTube up popped the song, Remind Me You’re Here, by Jason Gray.  As I hit play and let the words seep into my spirit it was just like someone was reading my mail, and you know what?  Someone was.  His name is Jesus.

It’s been a tough week, my friends.  I’m just being real here. My husband had some medical issues crop up.  Nothing life threatening yet I found my anxiety going through the roof.  Since Melanie went on to heaven, I discovered that my stress level is high and my tolerance for things is very low. The things I used to take in stride have now become like mountains instead of molehills.  

If you’re walking this grief journey, then you know how fragile life is and how it can change in the blink of an eye. (If you haven’t read my post In the Blink of An Eye, check it out here.)  I wasn’t expecting my daughter to die, yet here I am, part of a group no one ever wants to join. As I thought about my husband’s medical situation my thoughts took me back to the day Melanie died. I spent 1.5 hrs. on the phone as it was passed from one police officer to another before they could confirm it was my daughter they found.  Praying. Hoping against hope it would not be true even though in my gut I knew. The Holy Spirit was preparing me for the inevitable words I would soon hear, “This is the medical examiner, are you the mother of Melanie…”

A non-life-threatening medical situation and this is where I found myself. Back there. Reliving every horrific word and moment.  Pictures in my mind that cannot be erased.  Walking this grief journey is no joke and as much I wish it weren’t true, no amount of time will ever make it completely disappear.

No, these memories won’t ever go away, but I’ve also found something else that will never go away.  Not.For.ONE.Moment.  My faith in the Lord.  Even during those first dark, devastating hours the one thing I felt more than the overwhelming sadness and disbelief that my girl was gone from this earth was the holy presence of my Heavenly Father.  I felt His arms wrapped around me in a way I had never, ever felt before.  They lifted me up and held me close.  It made me realize that God isn’t just in the high places, like Heaven.  He is in the low, dark places.  He is on the ground with us. Weeping. Hugging. Holding and lifting us up in His arms.  I could never have made it this far without Him and without my faith in Him.  I still don’t have any answers to the “Why now, God?” but I trust him with my whole heart even when I can’t see Him. (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

When God dropped the words to this song in my heart it only further confirmed how close He truly is.  He continues to be my Comforter, Encourager and Healer. I hope you will take a few moments to listen and allow Him to remind you that he is here.

And I won’t ask you for reasons
‘Cause the reason can’t wipe away tears
No, I don’t need all the answers
Just be here beside me
Father, remind me you’re here

Who’s Your Daddy?

Remember the Titans is one of my all-time favorite movies for so many reasons. It’s based on the true story of African American coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington and his attempt to integrate a high school football team in 1970’s Alexandria, VA.  There are so many reasons to love this movie the least of which is the amazing soundtrack featuring Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Spirit in the Sky, and I Want to Take You Higher. If you’ve been following my blog, you all know how much I love music, and this is some of the old-time “feel good” music that lifts me up!  But enough about the tunes. 

There is one line in the movie where Coach Boone asks one of the main characters, “Who’s Your Daddy?”  The line crossed my mind recently when my son received an assignment in his discipleship class to list 20 names to describe Jesus.  He came up with about 8 of them pretty quickly but the first one was Father. After the year my sweet boy has had it touched my heart deeply that this was the first name he thought of.  It wasn’t that long ago when he asked me, “Why didn’t God intervene and stop Melanie from dying?” Whoa! Very valid question, isn’t it? If you’ve lost a loved one and are on this grief journey with us I’m certain you and your family have asked the same question, haven’t you?  

W.H.Y. It may only be 3 little letters, but they hold a powerful punch.  My friends, we can make a choice and hold on to the why, or we can hold out our hand to The One who holds the key to our heart.

I am thankful that we already had a firm foundation in our faith when Melanie went on to heaven.  This hasn’t eliminated us from asking the question why, but it has helped sustain us during this tough grief journey.

Shortly after that school assignment as we drove down the road a song called, You’ve Always Been by Unspoken came on the radio. We all looked at one another as we heard the words:    

You’ve been my Savior, Sustainer, when I’m at my end
My Healer, Redeemer, again and again
My Mother and my Father, Brother, Sister, and Friend
Everything I’ve needed Lord, you’ve always been

Sometimes in life we’ll never receive an answer to the question “Why?” on this side of heaven. But, if you know who your Daddy is, rest assured He will remain right by your side during the highs, and especially during the lows.  As Austin French says in his song, Why God, when we ask “why?” it doesn’t make you a bad Christian, it makes you a kid asking your Daddy a valid question.

Soothing the Savage Beast

I can’t believe it’s the beginning of October! Where has the time gone? It’s been the longest, shortest year of my life.  The year started off with such hope, then within a matter of a few weeks my life took a turn I didn’t see coming and changed the course of it forever.  I didn’t know it then but deep inside lurked what I refer to as “The Savage Beast: Grief.”

This morning was not much different from most.  As I opened my eyes my girl was the first thing I thought of. I think somewhere in the recesses of my mind I don’t believe she is really gone. Her pictures are everywhere, and we speak of her throughout each day. We share memories. Funny ones. Sweet ones. Sad ones. 

Last week I had a chance to catch up on the phone with a longtime friend. Interestingly, when the topic turned to Melanie and my sadness over her loss she said, “Really? You’re still feeling this way?”  Wow! It was the first time anyone had spoken those words out loud to me.  Let me say that it was not said nor meant in a negative way. She was being sincere in asking.  It gave me the opportunity to share that there will be no amount of time that will ever go by where I will not grieve my child. She is a part of me. Flesh of my flesh.  I will forever miss her and grieve the fact that she is not here to share our lives together. I was also able to share that thankfully, I now have sad moments in a day, instead of full days or weeks.  Yes, the savage beast still rears its ugly head and hits me out of nowhere, but I continue to walk through it, hand in hand with God leading the way. It’s my faith that sustains me every single day. 

When you suffer a loss, of any kind, I think it’s important that you allow yourself to feel it. Experience it.  Equally as important you should find those things which help lift you up. What gives your heart, mind and body peace and relief?  Here are a few things I’ve been doing to help walk through this grief journey:

Grief counseling – I didn’t do this right away. I’ve never been one that is fond of counseling or therapy, but in this instance, I have found it to be quite helpful. I encourage you to find someone you can speak with on a regular basis.

Music – I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying “music soothes the savage beast?”  Well, it really does!  Grief is a beast like no other!  I listen to music that uplifts me, which is also why I post songs so frequently.  Oftentimes the Lord will give me songs in the night (Job 35:10).  With each song the words are full of hope and encouragement.  Where you may feel heaviness, music and the words within make your heart feel lighter. Give it a try.

Me-Time – Now this can mean different things to different people, but when I’m overwhelmed or feeling stressed, I need a little “me-time.”  I may just need to go for a short walk by myself.  Other times, I go to another part of the house and read quietly for a while.  Now that more stores have opened up since Covid began I went for a massage. Best thing ever!  Each time I go I wonder why I don’t schedule these on a regular basis!? Once a month would be perfect!  Some people like to go shopping.  Hey, a little retail therapy never hurt anyone!  One of my favorite things I began doing was going to my local Yankee Candle Shop.  When Melanie passed away my dear friend, Lisa, bought me two beautiful candles with Melanie’s picture on it.  These personalized candles were so very special!  Each day when I get up in the early morning hours to spend my quiet time with the Lord, I light them. The ones my friend bought me have long since burned out, but as soon as the stores opened up, I found myself there getting another candle with my girl’s picture on it! My favorite scent is Autumn Leaves and I select different pictures of Melanie to put on each candle. Whatever brings you a little peace, calm or happiness is what you should do.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for yourself as you walk this grief journey. What music lifts you? What do you do to bring calm and peace to your soul? We are all in this together and I’d love to hear from you. Wishing you all a peace-filled day!

Let the Truth Be Told

Lie number one: You’re supposed to have it all together
When they ask how you’re doing, just smile and tell them, “Never better”
Lie number two: Everybody’s life is perfect except yours
So, keep your messes and your wounds and your secrets safe with you behind closed doors
But truth be told, the truth is rarely told …
I say, “I’m fine, yeah, I’m fine, oh, I’m fine, Hey, I’m fine”
But I’m not. I’m broken
And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control
But’s it not and you know it
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When being honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall. There’s no sin you don’t already know
So, let the truth be told
~ Matthew West

Do you remember the old kids rhyme, “Liar, liar, pants on fire?”  Oh, I’m sure we’ve all repeated that in our little 5-year-old sing-song-y voice to one friend or another at some time.  Even now when I think about it the word liar is still cringe-worthy.  I’ve always considered myself to be a truth teller and have raised our children to be honest and have integrity.  It wasn’t until recently when I heard the words to the song, Truth Be Told by Matthew West that I began to feel a bit like a fraud. Did I always tell the truth?  Was I always honest when asked a question?  I thought when I finally “removed my mask” I no longer had to fake it and began living a more authentic life (check out my post, Calling All Maskateers here). Now here I am wondering if that’s really true.

Before I get carried away and send out the condemnation police, I decided to cut myself a little slack here.  I don’t know how you were raised, but I was told “never air your dirty laundry in public.”  Does that phrase sound familiar to you?  Or how about, “always keep a stiff upper lip?”  I was raised not to discuss anything negative or tell anyone outside of our home about any problems we may be having.  Anytime someone asked how I was I quickly responded, “I’m doing GREEEAAAAT!” Oh, I probably sounded a little like Tony the Tiger – I’m sorry if you have no idea who that is! 😊  Having been raised this way I had plenty of years to perfect my response and plaster that big smile on my face, before spending more than 10 yrs. hiding the fact that my daughter battled the disease of addiction.

My friends, when someone you love dies it’s kind of hard to fake the smile, and if you’ve been raised like I was it’s equally as difficult to just let your emotions flow naturally.  One of the things I’ve learned during this grief journey is to be honest – both with myself and those who are in my life.  I’ve come across some people who I know would have wished I’d made it easier or more comfortable for them had I simply said I was “fine” when asked. But, that’s not what is best for us.  Afterall, we are the ones walking this winding road called grief where among the quiet streams, could be a pitfall just around the corner. No matter where you are on this grief journey – whether it’s days, months or even years, this road in life is hard and it hurts. There are moments when the tears can come out of nowhere.  Guess what?  It’s OK to not be ok!!  Tears are truly healing and cleansing.  So instead of bottling all of that up inside you, feel the freedom to no longer be strong or stoic.  Being sad or shedding tears is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of strength.  

I absolutely love this verse, “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 NLT.  Even Jesus wept.  Take a moment and let Matthew’s words sink deep into your heart. Beginning today give yourself permission to no longer keep that “stiff upper lip” and allow yourself to Let the Truth Be Told.

Another in the Fire

On these challenging days when my heart is so heavy from missing my girl and the tears are falling down my face I just want to crawl back into the safety of my bed, throwing the covers over my head.  I grow tired of the palpitations of my heart beating like a steel drum. Anxiety and fear have become the soul-sisters I never knew I had.  Recently, during my quiet time as I thought about how fear and anxiety continue to try to take me down I thought about a song I heard that made me think about the Bible story from the Book of Daniel.

There were 3 Hebrew men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When they wouldn’t bow down to the king’s image, King Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into the fiery furnace.  He even had the guards heat it up seven times hotter before they threw them in! Can you imagine the king’s surprise when he peeked in the furnace and saw four figures walking around unharmed in the flames, with the fourth one who looked like the son of God! If that were me I would have started running for my life.  What the heck was happening in there? How did another person get in that furnace and most importantly, why weren’t they all burned up instead of dancing around???

I started thinking about the faith and courage it must have taken for the 3 of them to even walk into the furnace!! Oh, the faith they must have had! When things start to get out of control, uncomfortable or quite frankly too much to bear sometimes our first instinct is to run the other way, instead of hanging in there trying to figure out how we can deal with things.

As I heard the song, Another in the Fire, I thought about where I’m at in my grief journey.  The words were a wonderful reminder that I am not alone. We are not alone. Not in the fire. Not in the ocean. Remember the fourth man in the fire – the Son of God!  Just like he was there for 3 men in the fiery furnace back then, He is still here today. I’m not saying we won’t go through the fire or feel like we are being overtaken by the waves but hold on to The One that is holding you. 

King of My Heart

As the Fall begins to usher in cool, crisp mornings I’ve been thinking of years past.  For some reason there is something about the changing of the season that is causing me to become more reflective. Many thoughts and memories have been flooding my mind. Both the good and the challenging. I’m sure some of you may be thinking, “Challenging!!! Girl, I’ve gone through some downright horrible, terrible, bad things in my life.”  Yes, I’m sure you have.  I have too, but bear with me for a moment.

When I looked up the definition of the word challenge, specifically, “what is the meaning of challenges in life?” it says:

challenge noun (DIFFICULT JOB) – (the situation of being faced with) something that needs great mental or physical effort in order to be done successfully and therefore tests a person’s ability

When Melanie went on to Heaven, I couldn’t think of anything worse that could have happened in my life or to our family. There was no doubt that I would need the greatest amount of physical and mental effort ever required of me if I was going to survive this. To say that walking this grief journey is something that tests my ability is an understatement. On some days my ability to simply put one foot in front of the other is more than I can manage.  However, I decided early on that I would not allow the enemy to steal anything further from me and I would meet this challenge head-on.  The only way I knew how to fight this battle was spiritually (Ephesians 6: 12 – 13). My faith and trust in God were all that I had left, and I knew in my heart that God can and will turn this around – somehow, someday for His good. 

Just like many of you, I’m walking this grief journey day by day.  It’s taken my breath away and left me moving like one of the zombies from The Walking Dead.  There have been days when I’ve been curled up in a ball on the couch staring out the window, and other days when I’m walking like a warrior.  Friends, God is a God of light, love and life!  My sister recently reminded me of this – thank you, Jeanne! Our Heavenly Father is Life and He has already taken the keys of death from the enemy.  On those days when the challenges try to take over my heart and mind, I turn to the only one who can lift me like no other – The King of My Heart. So it’s no surprise to me that the words to this song have ministered so greatly to my spirit for months. I want to share them with you today. If you’re feeling challenged, depressed, uncertain, scared, lonely, worn out, and wondering where God is please hit the play button and listen to the words of this song.  Let the King of My Heart, Jesus, touch your life today. You’ll never be the same.

Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh He is my Song
You are good, good, oh

Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my Song

He Knows

I sit here in the early morning listening to the sound of the wind chimes gently swinging off the back deck.  My Amazon Echo begins playing in the background. This morning she greets me with an email message from my girl, “I was just thinking of you today Mom and wanted to tell you that I LOVE YOU!”  Oh, what a beautiful morning greeting this is at 5:00 a.m.  Moments later another email pops up, “I love you, Mom!”  The emails that sporadically pop-up are loaded on here among over 18K pictures. Somehow, out of all those thousands of memories she knows my heart needs to hear from her today.  Or, truth be told, God knows.  He knows that tomorrow is the 7th month since my girl went on to heaven. He knows I’m still wrestling within.  He knows that perhaps I always will. Yes, I know she’s safe. I know she’s at peace. I know she is no longer struggling, but still … my momma’s heart wrestles with her simply being gone from this earth. But He knows.

God knows that I have already spent years mourning the death of my girl.  This was long before she went to heaven.  The child I knew and loved slowly disappeared in front of my eyes as the drugs overtook her mind and body.  After I learned that addiction was a disease, I was able to view things through a different lense, but it still didn’t take the sadness away.  The same is true today.

As I sit here the Lord brings to my mind the words to a song by Jeremy Camp, He Knows.  They resonate within my heart and remind me once again – He truly does know the pain we are suffering missing our loved ones. Especially on the days when the waves try to take me under, I will run to Him. I will seek His face and His heart of love and compassion. He Knows.

Every time that you feel forsaken, Every time that you feel alone, He is near to the brokenhearted. Every tear. He Knows.

Pandemic Grief

Who would have ever imagined in the year 2020 we would have experienced a worldwide pandemic? Wasn’t that something that only happened in the “old days”?

I’ve been thinking about the strangeness of this year, specifically, how different it is walking through this grief journey in the middle of a pandemic. Walking through grief is tough enough under normal circumstances but trying to manage all of this during a pandemic is on a completely different level. It’s been heartbreaking for those who couldn’t honor and celebrate the life of their loved one due to the Covid restrictions put into place. Heartache and grief lingering, left in limbo.  

Yes, grief is like the waves in the ocean but I’m finding out it’s also like a long hike through the wilderness, too.  The path has many twists and turns and is often laden with rocks, some so big that I have a hard time maneuvering around them. Then, there are other paths that are scattered with small stones which are much more manageable. One of the hard things for me is how we’re left to figure out how to best manage through the waves, the wilderness, the mountains and valleys without the direct support of those in our tribe who we love most. I so miss my dearest friends and family who don’t live near me. The time when we most need to be together – hugging, holding, sharing, or simply, just being together, has been prohibited.

Hurdling the boulders of Pandemic Grief has been the hardest, most challenging thing I’ve ever encountered. Each of these boulders have names and some I know better than others:  Sadness, Anger, Anxiety, Disbelief, Lethargy, Foggy Brain, Numbness, just to name a few.  Some of these big boulders are behind me, but I’m not foolish enough to think I may never encounter them again.  I’m sure as I continue moving forward, I will likely go around a corner and there will be yet another one staring me in the face.

With so many unknowns in this world right now I cling to the things I am certain of. I know there is hope during loss.  I know that we can grieve with hope.  It doesn’t mean I won’t be sad sometimes, and it doesn’t mean I won’t cry because I surely will.  My hope and my trust rest in Jesus. There is no other I can run to in the dark of the night with my questions, worries and fears. He’s the one I turn to in the early mornings as I’m looking at the picture of my beautiful girl, next to an urn of ashes. His word is true, and He is my promise-keeper. The Lord is my strength and my shield. In him my heart trusts, and I am helped. (Psalm 28:7). Whether I feel up or down, in the valley or on the mountain top I am going to trust in the Lord with all my heart (Proverbs 3:5-6).  I hope you will let him carry you through this time, too.

I Will Remember You

September 11, 2001. A day in history we will never forget. Ask anyone over the age of 13 and I’m certain they will be able to recall every detail of where they were, what they were doing and who they were with.

When I heard, my friend Carol and I were meeting for breakfast at IHOP. We immediately left and drove to my place where we watched in utter disbelief and horror the atrocities that were happening before our very eyes. At the time, we both worked for a major airline and had no idea if the planes were ours or not. I remember so many emotions – shock, numbness, fear and panic. The same emotions I’m much more familiar with today, which are those anyone walking through grief would feel. I’ll forever be thankful I was able to sit there with my dear friend and not be alone during that time. Our hearts and prayers joined together for the families who were affected.

I have often thought about the heroism of Todd Beamer and the others on Flight 93. In the days following my thoughts often drifted to Lisa Beamer, Todd’s wife and their young family. Yes, her husband died a hero, but I can better understand how she may have felt that day after losing a loved one so young and unexpectedly. She handled herself with such grace under pressure and told of her faith in God, which is how she was able to stand before everyone that day.

Today we will remember each of the heroes and in honor of Todd Beamer, I hope that you will reach out and touch someone’s life. Let them know how much you love them, honor them, and support them. A short text, even if only 2 or 3 words, may make all the difference in a person’s life today. In the words of Todd Beamer, “Let’s Roll.”

Ready or Not…

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thinking about the upcoming holidays.  A lot. It’s only September yet here I am being inundated by thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Under normal circumstances this would not be entirely unusual for me.  I’m a planner.  I’m one of those people who typically buys Christmas presents throughout the year. My goal has always been to have all shopping completed before Thanksgiving.  While we’re talking about it, I’m also one of those who has the house decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving!  My rationale in doing things in this way is so I can have everything completed and enjoy the true reason for the season. Yeah, it’s kind of nuts, but since I continue to do this somewhere in there, I must think the benefits far outweigh the stress and pressure I put on myself.  Now that I’ve given you a little peak into my Type-A personality, I guess it’s not too difficult to understand why my mind is fast forwarding to the holidays. 

Unfortunately, this year is not a normal year, for me and so many others.  Due to Covid, I’m sure it will be a very different year for countless numbers of people.  There are thousands who have been out of work for months, and just as many who have lost loved ones for various reasons.  For me and my family, it will be the first time Melanie will not be here.  Sure, there have been years that we didn’t celebrate the holidays together.  Especially during the hard years when she was in active addiction. But she was here, on this earth, where I could drive to see her. We would plan to meet before the actual day. I’d pick up lunch which was usually Chick-fil-A, maybe bring her some warm socks or a hoodie to be sure she wasn’t cold.  Not this year.  No socks. No Chick-fil-A deluxe sandwich with fries.  Nothing.  Which is why I have been pushing down the thoughts of all things holiday, every day, for weeks.

Last year Melanie was walking strong in her sobriety and we were able to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas together as a family.  A first in 7 long years.  We cooked all the family favorites, including baking my mom’s Italian Anise cookies and pizzelles. We laughed and yes, we even cried. I bought fun matching pajamas for all of us and took plenty of silly pictures in our matchy-matchy jams!  I’m thankful for these memories and I’ll forever be thankful God gave us this time together.  Yet, this doesn’t remove the missing and the sadness, knowing that she will not be here with us.  It hangs there like a heavy weight upon my back.  But, ready or not, here it comes.  There is no stopping time and for the sake of the rest of my family members I am left trying to figure out how best to balance all of this.  My little boy deserves a fun, happy Christmas and it is exactly what Melanie would want for him.  I’m positive of this!  She loved the holidays and she wouldn’t want me to be overwhelmed with sadness.  So, I went to the place where I know I can go, day or night, and lay my heart on the alter.

During the early morning as I lifted this care up to my Heavenly Father, He reminded me of the parable in Matthew 6:26 – 34 about the birds of the field. My paraphrase, “if God cares about the birds and the flowers and grass, does he not care more about us?”  The last verse is what really got me, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34 MSG.  For this year I have a new goal. I’m not going to worry about the fact that I haven’t bought one gift and I’m not going to worry about what we will or will not do.  I don’t have any answers, but I’m going to do my best to trust in my Heavenly Father who cares so much more for me than the birds of the field. I don’t want to fear and I don’t want to worry. I don’t know what this year’s holiday season will look like without my girl, but I am certain of one thing – I’m going to place my hope and trust in God who will pave the way for me as He always has. Let the words to this song by Lauren Daigle wash over you, and as she sings, “Even when my eyes can’t see, I will trust the voice that speaks” may you begin to feel the strength of the One who can calm the storm and worries within.

Calling All Maskateers

Mask.  A simple 4 letter word, yet today it’s one that can evoke such strong feelings about a simple piece of fabric. We see them everywhere in a myriad of colors and designs, and of course, there is rarely a day that goes by when we don’t hear about the controversy over whether one should wear one, or not.  I recently read something where the person addressed a group of individuals as “Maskateers”!  I’d never heard that term before, but as they say, if the shoe fits wear it!  In fact, at one point I’m sure I could have qualified as the head of The Maskateer Club, boldly introducing myself with confidence, “Hi, my name is Pat and I’m a Maskateer!”  Oh, but hold on a minute!  I’m not the Maskateer you may be thinking I am.  I’m a Maskateer alright, but one that has nothing to do with Covid and the pretty little cloths that cover my nose and mouth.  Let me explain.

Long before there was such a thing as Covid I was already a Maskateer.  For more than 10 years I applied my mask expertly every morning.  Just as I finished applying my Bobbi Brown foundation over my face, and just after the last brush of mascara across my eyelashes, I would carefully slip my mask on.  This was a full-on mask, my friends, not just one covering my nose and mouth!  It didn’t have pretty colors or designs but was invisible to those around me, which was the best part of all.  It was exactly what I needed at the time and I considered myself an expert in this area.  When I looked up the definition of expert it says: “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area”.   Yes, that described me, and it was also something I was proud to be skilled in!  No one could see it, which meant they couldn’t see the real me.  I could go into my office each day and no one would be the wiser. I bet if I had the chance to speak with you, that many of you would also be a member of The Maskateer Club, too.  I’d find that each of you were also experts in this field, having perfected your skill in this area. In fact, many of you are still active members today.  

The day that my girl went on to heaven I realized I could no longer be a member of this club.  My epiphany occurred as I sat at my kitchen island at 4:00a.m. writing Melanie’s eulogy.  When the realization hit me that I would no longer be a member of The Maskateer Club I was beyond scared. This was a part of me, even if just a façade. But deep down inside I had something else pushing me forward.  Some people call it “your knower”, others call it “intuition or your gut”.  I call it The Holy Spirit.  God was leading me to write my girl’s eulogy and I was believing that He would give me the strength to stand up in front of everyone and share what He had placed on my heart.  I’d like to share a small part of that with you today.   

“As we celebrate Melanie’s life and I considered what I wanted to share with you, I realized in order to do so I would have to be willing to be vulnerable – which is akin to being naked before you all.  Whew, Lord Jesus, now that is a scary thought on many levels!!  The naked I’m referring to is of the heart – full and total transparency.  You see, every day for the past 10+ yrs. I wouldn’t leave my house without putting on my mask.  As time went on, I became an expert at it, applying it each morning, just like my makeup.  Well, unfortunately, since we’re all here in this room I guess I can’t hide behind that mask any longer. The reason for wearing that mask is because Melanie had the disease of addiction.  Addiction is ugly.  It’s raw.  It has a stigma attached to it that brings about judgment, shame and most of all misunderstanding – of you and your loved one!!  I’ll admit for a long time I had quite a different outlook on what addiction was.  But I want you to know that first and foremost, addiction is in fact a disease!  A brain disease.  It’s not something you can just “get over”, “stop using”, “be strong” or “suck it up buttercup”.  It’s not that easy.  I found out early on that if you know someone who has the disease of cancer you would bring a meal, see what you could do to help.  Not so with the disease of addiction.  Addiction doesn’t only affect the addict – it affects the entire family.  About 4-5 yrs. ago as I was praying for Melanie, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and filled me with an overwhelming compassion for her. The anger and resentment that I felt was replaced with compassion for my daughter. It was also a turning point in how I viewed this terrible disease that is an epidemic in our society today.  Thankfully, this was just a piece of Melanie’s life and although she struggled on and off for many years it wasn’t WHO she was at the very core and heart of her being. She was made by God, in His image and with His heart!  And that heart is who Melanie really was!  She was a loving, caring daughter, sister, cousin, and friend, and most of all, she loved Cameron with her whole heart.

Friends, I felt moved to share this very personal piece of my life with you today in the hope that you too may have the courage to remove your mask.  I want you to know that although it’s scary, it is also very freeing!!!   There is so much that comes with having a loved one who fights the disease of addiction – isolation, fear, anger, hurt, and anxiety, just to name a few.  We have been bound by these things for so long and I believe that if they could, our loved ones would encourage us to walk a life of freedom, which will in turn lead to peace.  The day I delivered this I stood in front of more than 125 people, with a great percentage of those being co-workers who were mostly the ones I wore my mask for.  After the service, and in the weeks following I had several people share their own stories with me.  They told me how sharing about removing my mask had encouraged them to do the same.  Friends let me encourage you today to set yourself free and resign from The Maskateer’s Club.  You won’t regret it and I’ll be here to hold your hand as you do. 

Overdose Awareness Day

This post is dedicated to each of you who have lost a loved one to overdose. I see you and I care. I’ve watched the videos, looked at hundreds of photos, and read countless heartbreaking stories of love, loss and grief. Today many will post pictures of our loved ones on social media, fly beautiful purple balloons from our homes, porches will be filled with beautifully hand-painted chairs, candles will be lit and in some states flags will fly at half-staff. We will continue to fight on behalf of others, so they will not have to walk this same road. You are stronger than you think and I am in awe of each of you.

Sending each of you much love and prayers that this disease will be recognized for what it is, and in the days to come awareness and support will be provided to help others.

The Sunflower

There is something about the sunflower that makes me happy. It’s upturned face seems surrounded by joy!  Maybe it’s the bright yellow color, or perhaps it just reminds me of those giant yellow smiley faces that were popular in the 70’s! 😊  Melanie’s favorite flower is the sunflower.  I have found it interesting that since she’s been gone, I see sunflowers everywhere. In the grocery store, on the side of the road and even on my social media page!  Two weeks ago, I received a message on Facebook from someone who was conducting mini photo shoots – in a sunflower field!  I couldn’t believe it was located less than half a mile up the road from where I’ve lived for years!  How did I not notice this before? I’ll take it as a sign of my girl smiling down on me.

Did you know that sunflowers draw their strength from the sun?  On sunny days they will turn their face upward and follow the sun from east to west.  As the sun sets, it will return to its normal position then start all over again the next day.  I think we can all take a lesson from the sunflower.  Let’s turn our faces upward, toward The Son.

Most of us are familiar with the movie, The Lion King.  Oh, there are so many wonderful life lessons in this movie.  One of my favorite moments is when Mufasa is showing his young son, Simba, the big, beautiful countryside in front of him.  He shares with him something his own father told him, “the day will come when I will no longer be with you (physically) but I will always be there, watching over you, guiding you.”  He’s talking about the Circle of Life and if you are a Believer, then you know that God is always there, watching over us. We are never alone. (Heb 13:5)

At some point in our Circle of Life we will lose someone or something we love and treasure.  It may be a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a best friend, or maybe even your lifelong job. There are so many kinds of loss, yet regardless of the specific relationship or set of circumstances the feelings are the same.  Heartache. Sadness. Missing. Numb. Disbelief. Anger.  All very valid feelings we must walk through if we hope to get to the other side.

I’ve learned that life can change in the blink of an eye.  If you’re grieving a loss today, my heart is joined with yours.  We can still so greatly miss and love what is no longer a part of this earthly life.  But just because someone is not on this side of heaven doesn’t mean that your loved one is no longer a part of you.  We can carry them in our hearts, everywhere we go.  In another blink of your eye the sun will rise, and we are gifted with a new day.  I would suggest that even in our sadness and grief, let us walk down this road together and lift one another up.  

Each day, no matter how I feel, I lean in toward the One who lifts me up and pushes me forward, knowing the Son is watching over me, guiding my every step. I like to think that He allows the veil to be pulled back and my girl will see her Momma giving it all she has to honor her. If you’d like to leave me a comment below, it would be my honor to pray for you.  May you be like the sunflower today and lift your face up toward The Son and feel the warmth of His presence along with a peace that surpasses all understanding.

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