Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On A Day of Hope...Grace Beyond the Realm of Reasoning

Today, many families around the world celebrated their children in a most unique and precious way--a WORLDwide memorial service held live online. The dear CarlyMarie invited me to be a ceremony speaker, and if honest, I felt very much like a little fish in a very big pond.  I read a passage from Gerald Stittser's   A Grace Disguised; How the Soul Grows Through Loss, and couldn't have meant each word I read more. Gifts of grace come to all of us. But we must be ready to see and willing to receive these gifts. It will require a kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of believing that, however painful our losses, life can still be good — good in a different way then before, but nevertheless good. I will never recover from my loss and I will never got over missing the ones I lost. But I still cherish life. . . . I will always want the ones I lost back again. I long for them with all my soul. But I still celebrate the life I have found because they are gone. I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace. That grace has enabled me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment.” 

When my dear friends sent that book to me very shortly after Matthew died, it was hard to read.  One of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital was to order every book I could find that I thought would answer, "WHY?"

Friends, please know.  There aren't any such books.

I know, I know, many of you are in your head saying, "But there is!  The Bible!"

Show me.

Because what the Bible tells ME  is that His ways are not mine.  His thoughts are not mine.  In fact, Solomon, who some would say was the wisest man on earth said this in Ecclesiastes: "When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night- then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

Did you catch that?  Even if a wise man claims he knows it, he cannot really comprehend it.

Which is why that passage I read is so important.  I lost, but oh how I have gained.

(And, for the record, I do not believe I lost SO I could gain.  I think ALL things can be worked for good and that there is beauty to be found regardless of whether or not a lesson is behind that found beauty.)

I've not ever been a big memorializer. I wish I was, and then again, I find less anxiety in not being one.  To participate in this ceremony was really nothing that I thought it would be, but everything I didn't know I'd love it to be.

I shared with other women who have lost children and are Still Standing.  Still Breathing.  Still Surviving.

And best?  Would even say they were thriving. This ceremony was one that allowed people all over the world to see that devastation happens...randomly and recklessly and ruthlessly.

But beauty can and does rise, and I never end a day without expressing my gratitude for that.

Part of the ceremony was the sharing of prayer flags that honored and remembered our dead children. I'm pretty sure that those of you who know me in real life would say a lot of really nice things about me if asked, but that I was creative?  No, that would not be one of them!  I was going to do a flag this year, because I was inspired by Carly and Fran, but wasn't able to because Grandma got sick and really between visiting her and our friends visit, I had no time.

So let me tell you how precious these two "flags" that were made for me are.

The miraculous twins of my friends (who have suffered miscarriages themselves) made these beautiful 'flags' for me and shared with me on social media.  B wrote a lovely passage about the need to break the taboo on speaking of our dead children, and used these powerful words when talking about the two lives she'd lost to miscarriages:  "Those are two lives lost. And those lives weren't taken so that other lives would be born. They were taken for reason beyond us. Beyond our realm of thinking."


It is a fact that had Matthew survived, we would not done another IVF cycle so quickly.  Heck, based on his birth injuries, we may never done another cycle.  It's pretty much a fact that Luke would not live if Matthew had survived.

And while I really do, if for no other reasons but those backed by properties of physics, believe that everything happens for a reason, it is not ours to say why.

My faith and my beliefs are not really a big secret.  If you read this blog or my articles on Still Standing or follow me on Facebook or Instagram (God help you if you follow me on Twitter or Pinterest because I am CLUELESS as to how to use either)--you have a good idea of who I am and what I believe.

I bristle every time I see this quote: "If God tells you, 'No,' it's because He has something better planned for you."

Really, friends.  I'm a Christian, for Pete's sake, and if someone were to tell me that to answer why the response to my DESPERATE prayer to keep Matthew alive was, "No," I think I'd go on ahead and just leave the church.  Surely, I'd leave that friendship. 

I understand that we feel like we have to have reasons for things.  I AM *that* girl.  But there are simply some things that are beyond our understanding, and when people try to comprehend that which is incomprehensible?

Well, that's when you see me check out.  Smile and nod, but bite my teeth and think, "You have no clue. You just don't."

Luke is amazing.  He is wonderful.  I know I am biased, but seriously, he is truly an extraordinary little boy and I don't even have the words to describe the joy he brings to my life.

But he is not, not, not, not, NOT under any circumstances the "Something Better" God had planned when He told me, "No, Matthew will not live."  Say those words out loud.  Then try being me and reconciling that concept.

The last sentence of the passage I read in the ceremony says that GRACE has allowed me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment. You can better believe that I cherish the wonder of the present moment. I will fiercely protect and cling to this beautiful, messy, sorrow-woven life that I am so grateful to live, and am able to do so because I just.won't.allow people to attempt to explain the unexplainable to me.

I beg of you who read...especially those of faith.  Don't try to do that to others, either.  While intentions are probably good, and there is power in sharing Jesus's love with a hug, a good cry, toilet scrubbing, meal making, grocery buying, grass cutting or an assortment of other things grieving parents may need but probably won't ask for, don't try to reason the unreasonable.

Years later, if they seem 'better' and 'normal' and 'happy', don't ask them, "But see, wasn't it all worth it?"

Because I promise you, if they are at a place where Grace and gratitude sustain them, they fought long and hard to get there.  Their footing there wobbles regularly as they are desperately trying to balance between the life they lost and the beautiful life they celebrate.

Celebrate with them.  Remember with them.  Cry with them. Laugh with them.  

Leave that which is beyond our understanding out of it.  
You have no idea what a special gift that will be.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What I've Learned About Death...and Love

You know what?

There is just no good time to die.  Period.

I always bristle because people will say of the elderly who pass, "Well, at least they had a long, good life." (Oh, how I hate any sentence that starts with, "At least...")

The truth is, the dead don't really care one way or the other, do they?

It's those of us who are left behind to live without them that really suffer.  Miss them.  Wish we could give them that one.last.hug.

No matter what, death stings. Becomes embedded in a part of your heart that isn't really ever the same after. By the grace of God, that part doesn't have to win, nor does it have to destroy you, but man...It sure does put up a good battle sometimes.

And whether death is a shock and surprise, or was expected and prayed for to come peacefully, it brings tears.

Tears of sorrow for what will be no more, but hopefully, tears of gratitude for what was and you were privileged enough to be a part of.

Over 25 years ago, I was given a very special gift.  It came in an unusual way, and still probably today makes people scratch their heads, but reminds me regularly that loving someone does not require the sharing of blood or DNA.  I was given a "bonus family."

For over half my life, I have had the privilege of calling two very special people "Mom" and "Dad" and they've treated me as their own daughter.  As extra bonus, I've gotten to call a very precious woman "Grandma" for just as long.  They all love Luke, and he adores them.  For the past three years, we've lived near enough to visit often, and I've been thankful for the relationship that Luke has been able to share in.

Grandma was 91 on her last birthday.  Up until just about a month ago, she was still as sharp as ever, always commenting on Facebook (ALL CAPS, ha ha) and spoiling.Luke.rotten.  Whenever we'd visit, she'd give him candy and a bag of coins.  It didn't take but one visit for Luke to realize that "Grandma 'Neider" was a great gal and that he and she would be very good friends!  For a period, when Luke would ask for something in a store and I'd ask him if he had any money, he'd reply, "Grandma 'Neider money!"

Earlier last week, I hastily packed Luke up and he and I flew up to visit her.  She'd been diagnosed with dementia, and hospice had been called in.  There was no telling how much longer she had, but her ability to remember people was fading quickly and I wanted her to know we were there.  When we last saw her in June before we moved here, I promised her I'd bring Luke back to visit her for her birthday in November.  When we got there last week, though not entirely clear in her thinking, she very much remembered I'd promised that, but was glad I was there then.  Several times she told me she was glad I came.  Several times she talked about Luke and was able to recognize him and smile at some silly antic. Several times I was given a most precious gift in hearing her tell me that she loved me.  Without question, she knew us and remembered us, even though if not all the time.

I'd hesitated in going so quickly.  Since May, Luke and I have not slept in the same place for more than 11 days in a row.  We had friends coming in this week, and John picked us ALL up from the airport as Luke and I returned from Myrtle Beach.  Life has been chaotic, and I thought it might be best to wait until yesterday to go.

She passed away very early this morning.  In just a few days, her health declined so, so rapidly.  She went from asking me to have a cup of coffee with her on Monday to Heaven five days later.  I am so glad I decided to go when I did.  Instead of looking at this week with regret, I am now forever able to look at her last days as a gift. Selfish, I know, because really, going was more for me than anyone else, but still...a gift.  I've had a lot of thoughts rambling in my head this week about how much of a blessing it is to be there in those last, sacred days.  That may sound weird, and maybe a little morbid, but it's not. Holding her hand, hugging her...massaging her hands and feet and helping fix her hair so she still felt like as much herself as she could?  Just plain grateful.

Knowing she had lived a long, happy life and that she would be reunited our beloved Poppy makes her passing easier, but still, not easy.

Because death just isn't easy.  Death means we can no longer make memories with our loved one, and that loss hurts and leaves us feeling lonely, regardless of how many we may have been able to make (or, sadly, not).  Death of a loved one often feels like the death of love, doesn't it?

That's what it boils down to.  The dead cannot actively love us anymore.

But we still actively love them.

Today, I'm giving thanks for the presence of an amazing woman in our lives.  Giving thanks for the selfless and abundant love that she's always shown me and giving thanks for her joyous reunion with so many she loved and had to watch leave this world before her.

Today, death may claim a small victory, but I'm grateful that in the end, it does not win.

Love never fails.
Love always wins.