Dreams

I do not dream about her.

Or at least I don’t remember if I do. I rarely remember what happens in my dream world.

But one morning I wake with a sense of lingering fear. My heart is pounding and the dream is still with me. I am in a beautiful forest and there is a glistening lake in front of me. My children are scattered. I don’t actually see any of them, but I know they are there. Some in the water, some on the shore. It should be a pleasant place, but I feel uneasy. Then I see why–a large bear is swimming in the shadows. I can only see his head, and he is swimming silently, but I know to be afraid. I know the danger. I stand up to shout a warning. But I have no voice.

This great danger and I have no voice.

And I cannot find my children.

The dream stays with me through the day. Later that night my daughter comes into my room at bedtime. My husband is already asleep next to me, but she has had a hard day and so she climbs into the bed beside me. She is mourning some new, hard thing. And I am whispering assurances and truths and comfort. I am reminding her to be brave.

But as we lay there in the dark with our hair interwoven on my pillow, I begin thinking of all the hard things. I am thinking of youthful yearnings and all that is unsure and unknown. I am remembering some achingly somber moments. I am thinking of all the battles, won and lost and yet to be.

I am remembering Marissa.

And then I think of my dream and the bear swimming so close to my children.

I hold her hand tightly, and I try not to cry.

I try not to be afraid.

A gradual, gentle light arises in this darkness, this palpable darkness. God speaks into my heart. He soothes my fears by reminding me of the truth of Him. He whispers peace.

All of the new, hard things are His. He will be there, always present. I can rest in His promises. I can trust in Him. I can surrender all of my cares, all of my burdens to His heart.

He carries my burdens, the burdens of my children.

He will not let me go.

It is an every day faith. An every day surrender. An every day trust.

I feel the weight and strength of it. The praise of it. Its sureness.

Faith. A gift and a promise. A truth.

I lift this knowing into the darkness.

And when she leaves, I turn and move very close to the warmth of my husband. The moon gives just a breath of light, but it is not the only light I see.

I close my eyes and sleep.

I sleep soundly, and I do not dream at all.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting

Grief has its own rhythm. Always present but sometimes silent. Sometimes still.

The sudden crescendos still surprise me.

But if I wait, I know now that it will fall again into an easier pattern. If I wait, I remember enough about morning joy. I remember how it follows even the darkest night.

So much of life is waiting, and sometimes it is the waiting that changes us most.

Is it hope that allows us to wait well? Hope–the seed sitting down in the darkest, coldest dirt. The winter bulb, dormant and unseen.

This winter feels harsh in many ways. Life goes on, but the memories gather like an unruly crowd that refuses to disperse.

It grieves me to remember. It grieves me to forget.

My heart feels cold and hard some days, like winter soil. I’m grateful for the pulsing warmth I know is there. I count on hope to remind me of spring.

I love to think of God as the Gardener. The Planner. The Overseer.

He works the soil with patient foresight. He understands the process of bringing forth something beautiful from its depths. He plants and prunes and rearranges.

Our view is darkness and struggle. His view is bountiful fruitfulness. Our view is coldness and stagnation. His view is warm beauty.

He sees the spring.

If we could only open our eyes in the winter harshness to the coming spring. If we could stop resisting the difficult, stretching work that is being done deep inside.

If we could wait. Wait patiently.

The Gardener knows. His gentle hands are not weary with the work of it. He sees in His mind’s eye all the glory of the harvest, all the lushness of the finished rows. He sees His finished work.

He makes it good.

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1

 

 

 

 

 

Fear less

The year is rolling forward.

As much as I would have liked to stay in the hazy glow of December, the January days are passing. The calendar is filling up with events and appointments. Lists are being made, and we have reluctantly started back to school and work and activities.

Life moves along and takes us with it, however sluggish we feel. Like a branch floating on the river, bumping into rocks and getting sidetracked and even stuck on the way to a place it doesn’t know.

This new year is filled with places we don’t know.

I’m always a little slow embracing it, slow to jump on the wagon of new things. It overwhelms me–the thought of improving every weakness. I am weary just thinking about lists and charts and organizational tasks–they are not my strength.

I wait awhile.

I know where my soul is going. I know what my heart needs. I know that I don’t want my time or my energy spent on things that are not eternal.

I want my treasures to be heavenly.

I know God intends to continue conforming me to the image of His Son. There is so much work to do, but there is also this staggering, encouraging truth.

That work is God’s. He has promised to complete it.

I try to have a focus word for each year. I have been resisting the word that keeps coming to me.

Fearless.

How can I be fearless when I know the worst can happen? How can I not be afraid of the dark places that I have known and that might come again? How can I live without fear of pain in this life?

But the word keeps whispering to me. Fearless. And in the darkness of a cold, foggy morning, it comes to me. If I cannot be fearless, I can fear less. Trust more.

And it feels like a good word. A good theme for this new year. I will not be afraid of my story. Even though it has not always been happy, and the chapters are sometimes hard to read.

Even though the monsters under the bed can be real sometimes.

Even though this last chapter has me weeping.

I can choose to trust. I can settle my heart in truth.

I can keep moving along, keep walking my path.

I can even smile at the future.

Because I trust God with the story and all of its details.

I will not be afraid.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. Proverbs 31:25

 

 

 

 

 

Shadowing wings

Christmas was full of grace.

Grace can mean an enabling, a strengthening. But I think in grief it is sometimes simply a dulling of the senses. Like being surrounded by a foggy haze where nothing is outlined sharply, nothing felt keenly. Both joy and sadness muted with a mostly pleasant kind of lull.

Christmas was candle-lit and dream-like, the sharp corners of it hidden or ignored.

I’ve wondered if this is partly what is meant by being under the shadow of His wings.

I was able to think of Marissa’s joy, to picture her in an atmosphere of praise. To imagine her singing alongside saints and angels with a full realization of what the Christ-child’s coming meant.

I was able to be grateful that she is safe and happy and healed.

The end of the year brings some vivid memories and feelings. It was on this last weekend of 2016 that Marissa began the downward spiral that would end in her death at the beginning of March. A period of trauma and suffering and dark shadows. I remember a kind of helpless exhaustion, repeatedly standing up only to be struck down again.

In 2017 I remember watching my daughter die.

But I also remember a sustaining grace. I remember that always, in every moment, we were under the shadow of His wings. He was always present. He was always near. He carried and helped us. He strengthened and enabled.

He was always loving us.

This new year is beginning, and not one of us knows what it will hold. For most of us it will be a whole lot of normal with some joy and hardship sprinkled in. We will meet some goals and learn new things and live out our story.

But here is a sobering truth. Some of us will face unimagined heartache. Some will face the saddest news, the hardest day. Some of us will even breathe our last breath or say good-bye to a cherished one with tears.

How do we move forward without fear?

We trace His hand of goodness. We remember the truth of grace in hard places. We recall the refuge of His shadowing wings.

We believe in His covenant love.

We have confidence that He will make all things right. That He will redeem and restore and renew.

We trust that He will always love us, always be God to us.

We trust that not one of His words will fail.

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63:7

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:45

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of Christmas

There is a stocking hanging on my mantle that will not get filled this year.

There are presents I do not have to buy and secrets I do not have to keep.

There is an empty place at our table, an empty place in my heart.

Scattered spaces all around.

I miss my girl.

Mamas are the memory keepers, so I hold them close. I protect them. But lately I have kept the box locked up tightly so the sharp edges will not hurt so much.

A treasure box I am afraid to open.

When the contents spill out unexpectedly, there are smells and sights and feelings–both precious and grievous. Some days I cannot close it fast enough.

But some days I linger long. I sit with grief awhile. I let the warm tears fall.

Christmas carols play in the background, and it is surprising how somber they sound. Mournful even, and I suppose it should not surprise me. God in flesh–a glorious occasion and the beginning of salvation. But there is also a sober acknowledgement of betrayal and suffering and a cross to come.

It is humbling to think that the angels rejoiced. That God so willingly gave His most precious Son for us with hearts so unwilling to love Him.

It is an astounding choice, really. To choose suffering instead of comfort. A stable instead of a throne.

I have this new awareness of suffering, and it seems like there are aching hearts all around this year. There is truth in this suffering, and it can be the only truth you feel some days.

Those are the days when you cannot close the box. Those are the days the tears will fall.

The joy of Christmas would be a shallow happiness without the truth of a Savior’s death and resurrection. The sunrise would not be so glorious without the blackness of the night.

We experience sorrow, but we are waiting for joy. Death’s shadow cannot obliterate the rising light. Though tears may fall, a day of such gladness is coming.

Hold fast, friend. It is coming.

The deepest sorrow may be your truth this day, this year. But it is not the only truth. It is not the final truth.

Because of God and His amazing love. Because of His glorious sacrifice. Because of His willingness to come.

Because of Christmas.

To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:77-79

 

 

Where are you, Christmas?

December.

Twinkling lights and carols and manger scenes. Crackling fires and candlelight and sugar cookies. Packages and whispered secrets. Advent readings and hope held softly.

Where are you, Christmas?

The memories of last year haunt me, and I am holding back from stirring all that up in my heart. Sometimes it is just easier to stay in the shallow places.

But there is a stubborn joy that summons me. Calls me out of my sadness, hums when I am least inclined to listen. It rises gently, like the sun rising after a long and stormy night.

It stills my soul and softens grief.

Because I remember Christmas.

I remember delighted children and stories read by Christmas tree light. I remember kitchen messes and sticky fingers and the lingering smell of cinnamon.

I remember the warmth of love, how it would catch in the back of my throat, tears filling my eyes at the most mundane of moments.

I remember chaos and laughter and joy.

That is what I remember.

But I know without question there were other emotions present, other happenings. I know there were arguments and melt-downs and impatience. Stress and pressure and exhaustion.

I know that I was often overwhelmed. That calm felt far away at times.

And I feel that now. A searching for peace in this grief that threatens to swallow me. A need for renewal of joy and a contented heart. For truthful worshipping.

Searching for Christmas. Searching for Christ.

And remembering why He came.

Because He came to rescue from all the doing and trying and failing. To rescue from all the darkness and sin inside of us. The sin that separates us from God and never leaves us–selfishness and pride and unbelief. The sin of falling short and never doing enough, never being enough.

Infant child and mighty God–He came to save us.

And He is the only one who can fill that empty place in us. Bring light to our hearts and minds. Give us hope and a future. Provide a way to peace with God.

He is the one who can hold us up, carry us in our weakness. He can put our feet on a rock and make our paths straight. He can revive and restore and bring peace.

He can heal all of the broken places inside of us. The churning and the doubting and the grasping. The longing for more or for different. The disquiet. The sorrow.

He can satisfy. He can penetrate all the hurting places. He can make all things new.

He can still the sadness, speak peace into the not-so-silent night.

Won’t you let Him?

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering praise

He could have written the story very differently.

I believe that with all my heart.

Any one of a thousand details could have altered the course. We could be celebrating this Thanksgiving week with Marissa healed and well. We could be proclaiming God’s goodness in the victory of successful treatment and answered prayer.

That was the story we longed for and the one we thought would bring Him the most glory.

That is how I would have written the story.

God’s sovereignty is perhaps the most confusing of all of His attributes. We rest in it, but we never fully understand it. We seek peace in it, but we feel vulnerable when suffering.

We believe, but we wonder.

It is the promise of His goodness that comforts us.

God is good. What He does is good. And somehow through His sovereign, guiding hand, He brings all suffering to a place of goodness.

It is the highlight of the story. It is the emotional ending, the satisfying sigh. It is the drama and the climax and the happy conclusion.

It is there on every page if we look for it.

I am looking for it. I am remembering. I am letting the remembrance of God’s goodness surround me.

I am remembering praise. For His sheltering wings. For abundant help in the day of trouble. For grace in every moment. For mercy and salvation. For the keeping power of Christ.

I am remembering all of you. Your prayers that carried us and your many kindnesses that encouraged us.

I am remembering the gifts He has given–shelter and abundant provision. My people. Warmth and joy. Wealth of soul. Peace and beauty.

I am remembering the goodness in Marissa’s story. I remember that she is right now alive. Safe. Kept. Forever healed.

I am remembering the goodness of the Author. I am trusting Him to make everything right, to straighten all the paths. I am anxiously waiting for the sequel.

It will be filled with good lines, and I trust Him with the story.

This I know–the ending will be good because of who He is.

The ending will be glorious.

O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. Isaiah 25:1

O, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty from ashes

I went to the cemetery this week and sat awhile among the stones and the fading flowers and the quiet. I sat there for the longest time.

A strange feeling of anticipation came as I was driving there. Almost as if I were going for a visit. As if I were getting closer to her somehow.

But she was not there. And though there was a whole world of comfort in knowing she was not, I cried. I let myself remember how much I miss her. I let the sadness sweep over me.

I let the weariness of grief sink down in me.

I listened to it, let it sing its silent song.

Life has been busy and noisy, pulsing with activity. My teenagers were at a fine arts festival this past week, and it was joy to watch the young ones sing and play and create. I see their shining faces, all aglow with youth and inspiration and longing.

Marissa was there as a teenager, too. She sang and she laughed and she told stories. I remember her face as she sang. I remember her exuberant joy. She was just living her life, and not one of us knew how short it would be.

Indeed, there was only One who knew.

The leaves have turned beautiful shades of color. It seemed sudden–green and then vibrant. Plain and then beautiful. And already they are blowing to the ground. Already some are damp and brown.

Some beauty is given for only a little while. We hold on to it while it is here. We grasp it imperfectly. We weep when it is gone.

God tells us that this life is a vapor, a breath. A mist. Like smoke that rises from a blackened fire. Like a song that is fading away.

But this life is not the only one.

And the Author of every good thing, each kind of beauty, calls us. He invites us through His Son to spend eternity with Him. He reminds us through pain, through suffering, to let go of this world and its temporary pleasure. To invest in the forever things. To believe.

He invites us to know the source of beauty. To know the forever One.

The One who turns ashes into beauty in His forever world.

His world without end.

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:50

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. Isaiah 51:6

To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The warmth of His love

There is finally a chill in the air.

It seemed as if summer would just carry on, friendly and warm. Even as I pulled the fall decorations out of the attic and filled my house with yellows and oranges and reds, the grass was still green, the afternoons hot.

In some ways it was a gift to wait. The slowing is often a treasure, because time can soften the sharp edges of grief.

But now the mornings are dark and cool. The days are shorter. And it’s time to make friends with the cold again. Time to make friends with the dark.

“Don’t doubt in the dark what you once believed in the light.”

That, friends, is our faith walk. We must believe in the warmth when we are cold. We must believe in the light when it is dark. It is not faith if we can always understand. It is not faith if we always know the way.

It is not faith if we are always warm.

God sometimes calls us deeper in. He calls us higher up. Where the air stays cold and thin and the view is filled with foggy mist. He calls us where we wouldn’t choose to go. Where we cannot find the way, and we cannot see His face. We are chilled and lonely and frightened.

But we are not alone.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus. It follows us. It surrounds us. It covers us. Even in the coldest place, its warmth protects us and fills us. Its light is enough to brighten the darkest cave. It is a rescuing, pursuing love.

It brings a settling, an aligning, a comforting.

His love always finds me. It helps me wait.

It is deeper than the deepest place.

It blankets me, and I am warmed.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

 

Forever 26

For Rissa

So this is the first birthday we cannot buy gifts for you, cannot celebrate another year with you, cannot spoil you with chocolate or run to the mountains with you. This is the first year we remember you instead of make memories with you.

There are so many things I want to tell you, and you are so far away.

I know how much you love fall. (Are there seasons in heaven? Do you love it still? Can you smell pumpkin and cinnamon and a warm fire burning?) I’ve been slow to pull out the autumn decorations, slow to move into this season with all of its memories.

We’re going to spend your birthday doing things you loved. We’ll go to your school and read to your children. Visit the beautiful bench and tree placed there in your honor. Go to the mountains and pick some apples. Take a few family pictures, and I’m sure we will smile.

But there will be tears behind the smiles. We will be remembering you.

In the evening, we will all walk around the block together as you loved to do. We will sit around the fire pit. We’ve been avoiding that, so it will be the first time since you’ve been gone.

We will share stories of you. We will talk about your spark, your spunk, your smile. We will laugh, and we will cry. We are putting all the stories in a memory book so we will always remember.

And we will. We will always remember.

Because your story matters, Beanie. God wrote it and you lived it well. You responded joyfully to your trial. You took what God gave you, and you ran with it. Even in the middle of sickness, sorrow, and pain, you gave Him glory. You trusted Him. You loved Him.

And that makes it one of the good stories, the kind you read over and over again.

I remember every medical test, every doctor’s visit, every treatment. I remember all the pain and bad news. I remember some very dark places, some very raw fear.

And I want to say thank you for being a faithful warrior. Thank you for walking in truth through every dark valley. It was an honor to walk with you, Rissa. It was an honor to fight beside you.

It is an honor to be your mom.

I doubt you read blogs in heaven–man’s musings are of no account there. But I hope you still know how much we love you. I hope you know we are doing ok. That God is faithfully leading us along. That we think constantly about heaven–its realities and its joys.

That we love our Savior more. That we are trudging through our own valleys with steadfast hearts. That we are still in the battle, still reaching forward, still walking by faith.

And rejoicing that your faith is now sight.

I am praising the God who formed you and measured all your days. The One who loved you and gave His Son to ransom you. The One who gave you breath and life, the One who carried you and holds you still.

Today should be a day of celebration, so I am reaching back for all of the happy memories. All of the good things, all of the pleasures of knowing you. On your birthday, I am remembering the gift of you, the joy of you. I am remembering my curly-headed sunshine.

I am remembering all of your moments.

I am remembering you.

I love you, Rissa. Happy birthday.