A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Story of Random Acts of Kindness

Soothing balm for the headlines in the news these days comes to us courtesy of six teenage boys in Colorado.  Some of our Advent activities have been centered around random acts of kindness.  Fill your heart with the story found at this link   A Random Act of Snow Shoveling Link.

Colorado shoveling

Share your stories of random acts of kindness.  As we share our stories, we encourage each other and fill each other’s hearts with the joy of the love that enfolds us during the Advent season.

 

Advent Devotional Dedication and Gratitude

Advent 5Each year, I write the Advent devotional as my way of giving back to my faith community that fills my life with so much love, peace, hope and joy.  Last year we did excerpts from the devotion each day on this blog.  This year, each day’s entire devotion will be posted here.  The devotion in its entirety can be found at Complete Advent Devotional Link

This year I have dedicated the devotional to three friends whose journeys have embodied everything that goes in the container called faith .  I also have to say thank you to the people who help me along my devotional way.  Below is the dedication and gratitude pages from the devotional.

Dedication

“I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;
With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.”

***

Gratitude walks with me every day.  I think it always has because I can’t remember a time without it.

Okay, maybe the year my mom insisted I be a Dutch girl for Halloween, wooden shoes and all. I wanted to be Superman.  My fingers got slammed in the car door as I tried to get that crazy multi-layered skirt in the door without the shoes falling off my feet.  I may not have been hand in hand with gratitude that day.

I have a sign in my writing room that says, “You cannot be grateful and bitter.  You cannot be grateful and unhappy.  You cannot be grateful and without hope.  You cannot be grateful and unloving.  So just be grateful.”  The author is unknown but I’m pretty sure it was scripted by God.

He will be our peaceThis year, I have been blown away by the upbeat spirits of three friends faced with harrowing winds.  Their smiles are not manufactured, their peace is not manmade, their steady faithfulness tethered by a strong belief in prayer is powerfully real.  Micah 5:5 says in part, “And he will be our peace.”   I know this is true because I have seen it in the eyes of my friends.  These three have been my stalwarts of grace, a bottomless sea of buoyant belief that has made my own faith bolder and are my sweet inspiration for this devotional.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jen and I

Jennifer has been a friend for a long time.  She lives in California, I’m in Minnesota.  We don’t talk daily.  Often we go months without speaking.  She gave me a figurine many years ago that sits on my kitchen counter.  It’s an angel, tiredly leaning into the crook of a star that says, “Believe in your dreams.”  It nudges me when I’m slipping in the muddiness of life.   There is a scripture in Thessalonians that says that we should encourage each other and build one other up.  That’s Jen – everybody’s cheerleader.  Even when we tease her about it, she refuses to be any different.

Her breast cancer diagnosis in her mid 40’s last year was a sucker punch for us all.  The woman is vivacious, spirited and energetic.  Cancer tried to take that away from her just as her husband tried to take away her cell phone when she was in the hospital.  Cancer and her husband had a lesson to learn.  She has discovered how to fight for herself, for her health, for her life, for her family.  But it’s not a bitter battle.  Her battle plan is her faith, laced with a strong conviction in the power of prayer.  Part of the plan rests in a gentle acceptance of every possibility.  Her cancer will not define her and she resists every limit it tries to put on her.  She has a robust family life, raising three teen boys and filling her home with extended family.  Her career is manifested by helping people, teaching people, inspiring people.  I have loved this woman for years but this last year has given me a keen appreciation of what she means to me.  The depth of her faith has powered mine deeper.

***

Greg and I have been friends for a long time too but I’m convinced we met in heaven before we were born.  To look at us, you’d never know we shared a soul.  He is a black, married, gay man from Louisiana.  I’m a white, married, straight woman from the Yankee netherlands.  We finish each other sentences as we teach together, can share ideas with a look and know each other’s heart intimately.

Greg and Paul

Paul and Greg

When I learned he had stage 4 colon cancer, I wept.  Then he told me how this was going to go.  Replace my tears with prayers.  Firmly focus on his recovery as nothing else was acceptable.  His mom, his grandmama, his kids, his husband and his siblings had all agreed that a large part of his treatment was going to be positivity and powerful prayer.  The doctors could bring on the medicine for his body but we were doing all the soul work.  His sister started a GoFundMe Page and sold t-shirts that read, “Life Him Up!”   When you look him in the eye, you know his belief in the power of prayer and God’s healing strength goes all the way to the inside of his big toe.   When fundraising became critical so he could get into a highly expensive treatment, we all prayed and shared his story endlessly.  An anonymous donor contributed all the necessary money for the treatment.   When he told me the news, his smile, the joyfulness in his voice, the gratitude for a stranger’s generosity, the sense of God, resonated in my soul and brought chills to my skin.

***

We have known Amber since she was a teen.  She took a GED and turned it into a law degree as a single parent and a captain in the Army.  Last year at this time, she was thrilled to pass the bar and begin her law career.  Tonight, she is sitting in a Denver hospital in the NICU, watching over her daughter Hannah and grieving the loss of Hannah’s conjoined twin Olivia.

Amber Tristan Savannah

Amber, her son Tristan and daughter Hannah

The unexpected pregnancy last winter didn’t change her plans to build a law firm and a great life for her and her 6 year old son.  She was prepared to go forward, with or without the baby’s father.  When the baby became babies became conjoined twins, the father favored termination of the pregnancy.  Amber soldiered on alone, despite medical diagnoses that said her daughters would never be viable, that she was endangering her own health and the proclamation that they wouldn’t deliver her babies in their hospitals.  Her inquisitive, brilliant mind allowed her to understand all the medical terminology flung around by doctors all across the country, comprehend the legalities and ethics of the decisions the medical community had to make and find the one place in the country that was willing to give her daughters a shot at life.  But one abiding belief carried her beyond it all.  Amber believes pugnaciously in the power of prayer.

When she was no longer able to work and terrified she wouldn’t be able to support her son, she launched her GoFundMe page.  We shared her story with our own circles.  And the power of God swirled up a miracle on my Facebook page.  Once Greg learned that the anonymous donor was going to cover the cost of his treatment, he chose to shut down his own GoFundMe page.  Upon learning about Amber and her babies, he turned the spigot of his circle’s prayers and funds onto Amber.

His loving and happy generosity, in the midst of his own crisis, reminded me of a scripture a Sunday school teacher taught me in elementary school.  I could only remember part of it but the internet remembered the rest for me.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Greg’s spirit, joyfulness and quiet peace has brought me to my knees in gratitude for his presence in my life.  In days, Amber’s fund grew from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.  The love and caring of strangers for this young woman we love like a daughter filled me with a joyful hope.  God, again, proving to us that love shows up when we believe and pray.

Amber’s tenacious belief in the power of prayer and her soft spoken gratitude brings fortitude to my own faith.  I really thought my faith was lock, stock and barreled solid.  Her gracious example, in the face of every parents’ worst fears and then some, caused me to challenge myself to go to a deeper place with God and allow my vulnerabilities to live in that relationship.  In turn, it has brought me to a more candid place with the world about my faith and my heart.

***

This devotional is dedicated to Jen, Greg and Amber whose commanding faith has graced my heart.  It is in memory of Olivia, whose face I came to know and Dedicationrecognize in sonograms and who sits on the crook of a star in the heavens, watching her sister, brother and mom, whispering, “Believe in your dreams.”  It is in honor of Hannah, a feisty little spirit whose determination to live should propel us all to gather up piles of gratitude for each breath we take.  I am blessed to have them in my world, to inspire and challenge me in my faith and how I show up in the world.  They have changed me, changed my heart, changed my life.

 

In Deepest Gratitude

Gratitude 3“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

A tremendous thanks to Pastor Kris for believing in me enough to let me continue to do this Advent devotional.  I have no formal education in religion or ministry.  Yet, she agrees to my doing this work of love each year.  Her example this last year, celebrating and grieving her mom, teaches much about grace and grief.  Easter is tremendously fortunate to have a woman of her insight, faith, compassion and joie de vivre to lead us.

And to Cindy Wilson, who does so much more than make this devotional be a printed page or a web link.  Even when facing her own hurdles this year, she championed me through the writing.   Her photos, her humor, her gentle spirit encouraged me in ways big and small.  To know Cindy is to smile.  The God in her is amazing.

Lastly, to my husband Chris, who journeys with me, ever supportive and always kind.  He makes strangers laugh and inspires those who know him with his gentle and helpful heart.  When you look in his soul, only love resides.  This fall, as I undertook the writing of this devotional, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  Every day he was there, filling the sterile hospital room with his warm strength.  When I was home, he cared for me with a heart only God could plant.

Each year I learn how much I don’t know in the writing of this devotional.  I discover songs and artists that slam my heart with love.  (Don’t miss Christmas Eve’s song.)  It strengthens my faith, builds my commitment to letting the God in me see the God in others and opens my eyes and soul to the many ordinary miracles that fill my each and every day.  It changes the eyes through which I see this world.

With much love and a humble thanks to all.  May you have a blessed and rich Advent.

thank you

Thank You Lord”  Thank You Lord song link

I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

For all you’ve done in my life,
You took my darkness and gave me your light
Thank you, Lord
You took my sin and my shame,
You took my sickness and healed all my pain
Thank you, Lord

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.