2014 Wrap Up

It’s time to bring this pondering process to a close.  I had two more items to address: things I focused on and things I forgot but I believe I covered those in my other posts so no point being redundant.  Now for what I always call the “so what”.  How does all this reflection inform my plans for 2015?

I generally don’t make new year resolutions but I do create plans in my head of what I would like to focus on for the year.  I have lots of ideas floating around but the top priority continues to be my health.  I am vastly improved from where I was in January of 2014.  That progress is precious to me and I need to hold on to it.  I have to vigilantly watch for the danger of falling into the same merry-go-round lifestyle that got me into trouble.  My energy level is not as great as I expected it to be after all the changes I made, so I will continue to work on that.  I am in the middle of a neuro-stimulation research study right now so I cannot make any major lifestyle changes until that is over.  The treatments have made a significant difference in my sleep and I hope that the improvement is permanent.  Once I am free to move forward, I plan to start chiropractic treatment and yoga classes.  I will wade into the essential oils craze and will meet with a personal trainer to figure out what I can safely do to build strength.

I don’t know what the future holds for me professionally.  Under normal circumstances, I would have a plan for advancement in full force by now but I currently do not have one and am only mildly concerned with that fact.  I know that God has gifted me with leadership skills but I am determined to be much more discerning about what opportunities I take.  I have been thoroughly enjoying using my gifts behind the scenes.  It’s a lot of fun :)  I believe I have grown into my own when it comes to this issue.  In the past, I waited for leadership to be foisted upon me.  I finally accept that I truly do have strength in this area and am confident I can rise to the occasion should I need to.  It’s a gift from God, honed over the years by a long line of amazing mentors.  I am blessed.  I feel secure enough to actually pursue something if I really wanted it, rather that waiting for it to come to me.  However, I am in no hurry.  I believe with every ounce of my being that leadership = sacrifice.  Leadership, as I believe God designed it, is about sacrificing oneself for the good of the cause and one’s followers.  I’m not sure if the timing is right for that just yet.  Whatever the case, I don’t feel pressured to chase anything but have an open heart to consider what may come my way, especially if I get to stay with my beloveds.  It’s not very professionally savvy but right now, staying with the ones I love matters more to me than position.

I want to take full advantage of what may be my last time teaching in Greece.  I am currently racking my brain trying to figure out how to stay longer in Europe.  I have family in England that I might go and stay with.  Whatever I do, I want to be present in every moment over there, to truly enjoy the experience to its fullest.

I will likely return to counseling near the end of this year.  By then, the relational situation I’m facing should have settled into something or another that I will need to process.  I know I will need all the help I can get to move forward with openness and faith.

Facing the IRS and Sallie Mae remain on the dreaded list.  I feel disingenuous claiming any commitment to tackling them but at the same time, I don’t have a choice.  We shall see.  I have a few projects to complete at work and then I will turn my attention to writing.  Seriously.  I’m talking, go-into-hiding-if-I-have-to, serious.

I have decisions to make about how involved I want to get with the CF community.  I believe I have something to say but I just don’t know if emotionally, I have it to give.  I am presenting at the CAPS conference in April on helping families with adolescents who have a chronic illness.  I will see how that experience goes for me.  Overall, I want to continue paying close attention to who God created me to be, learning about my history and letting all of that inform an authentic life.  When all is said and done, I want to be true to myself because in so doing, I am most effectively living out my purpose.  There are moments I miss her so deeply and simply want to discard this world but most days, I am willing to be used by Him.  Willing to look forward to what He has in store.  I have less patience for a whole lot of things which makes me surprisingly ornery sometimes and there are elements of my life filled with excruciatingly chronic longing but I am the most content on many levels I’ve ever been.  I’ll take it.

My favorite - spending time in nature.  Looking for more of this in 2015!

My favorite – spending time in nature. Looking for more of this in 2015!

What are your hopes and dreams for this year?  Share in the comment section!

2014 Game Changers

I should probably get going on this 2014 recap series so I’m done by January, right?  I find it so very interesting that my last post had one of the highest views of all the posts I’ve done since I started this blog almost three years ago.  Hmmm…guess that just goes to show that folks are craving perhaps a tad more realism?

Now on to the unexpected events that shifted my priorities:

My body launching a mutiny against me.  I was forced to bring many things to a screeching halt.  I had to intentionally let go of perfectionism at work.  This radically changed the way I viewed my colleagues and thus, how I related to them.  I experienced a richness in my work relationships when I began to define myself by intimacy versus productivity.  A whole new world opened up for me that has changed me forever.  Never have I been so profoundly impacted by people I work with and while it was incredibly difficult to leave my last beloved crew, I cannot fathom living my life without the current ones!  While recovering from surgery, I had luxurious stretches of time to reflect and examine my inner world.  I discovered so much about who I am, who I am not, what has shaped me and some of the effects of the bizarre family story I have lived.  In many ways, I found grace to accept parts of myself that I had always marginalized but I also found areas of my life which needed confronting.  I now approach life from a completely different paradigm and I’m much more satisfied with it.  I love being so very comfortable in my own skin, even as I have become more aware of my frailties.

A new Provost.  I met this man when I shadowed one of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever met.  He was working for her at the time and I spent time with him discussing his views on leadership.  He has brought a fresh perspective to our university, an understanding of our uniqueness as a satellite campus and a tremendous excitement and hope for the future.  In studying higher ed, I’ve learned that it takes, on the average, about three years to change a campus’ culture so nothing happens overnight.  His enthusiastic and optimistic presence belie the complexity of issues he faces.  As he wades through the process of building his legacy, I must honestly admit I haven’t cheered every move but I trust him and greatly respect the challenges with which he must wrestle.

Accepting leadership of women’s ministry and committing to a new church home.  I’ve been in ministry for a “million” years but I’ve never facilitated women’s ministry before.  This is stretching me but at the same time, it feels so natural.  Committing to a new fellowship has been comforting and terrifying at the same time.  I’m used to well-established and well-resourced.  This fellowship is brand new and thus, barely getting by.  I’ve hitched my heart to a wagon pulled by an untamed colt.  I’m pretty far out of my comfort zone but somehow, it’s working.  It is one more beloved group that ties me to this city I have not yet grown to love.  God specifically surrounded me with people I can’t do without in order to keep me here because He knows how much I miss my hometown.  Every time I go back, I feel like I am visiting a piece of my soul but then I return to Orlando and I settle back into this rhythm that inexplicably matches my heartbeat.  Before this year, I readily said I was not staying long.  That game has changed.

2014 Disappointments

Disappointments?!! Who writes publicly about those?  Well…if you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you know its purpose is to document life in all its glory – the good, bad and the ugly.  In revealing the scars, I offer proof that God heals.

In facing my limitations and learning to do less, I succumbed to total paralysis in a couple areas of my life that I found simply too stressful to face: our IRS fiasco and my student loans.  I made a couple of vain attempts here and there but quickly lost steam, effectively leaving them unaddressed.  Instead, I prayed regularly for God to have mercy on me because I simply could not bring myself to face them.  As we move into 2015, I have this looming sense of doom hanging over my head…

For the first time in my professional career, I completely gave up on email.  I’ve never been great with phone contact (oh, won’t my friends go on and on about that!) but I’ve always been an email ninja.  That inbox was down to “zero” on a regular basis and emails were filed in appropriate archive folders too.  Somewhere around February, I stopped trying to maintain this perfection and mentally lowered my standards to simply catching up on reading them all.  By November, I was scanning my inbox only for student names and red exclamation points.  While I still marvel at how far I have fallen, I find I am desensitized to the horror of it all.  In fact, I now take great pleasure in creating screen-shots of my phone notification numbers and sending them to my perfectionist friends. I actually made plans to attack the problem over Christmas break but that didn’t happen and I’m OK with it.

I published absolutely nothing academic.  Not even a newsletter article.  I love to write.  I have no idea what my block is.

At the same time – a few weeks ago, I was proudly reporting how well I had done this year taking things off my plate when my friend gently listed the four or five major projects that I had agreed to take on that I didn’t necessarily need to.  Wow, so my penchant for doing is not as conquered as I had thought.  Sigh.

I did not exercise my creative gifts  as I had planned.  I had hoped that by removing things from my life, I would have more time to draw, write, craft and create.  That did not happen.  I borrowed a drawing DVD from the library last fall and it is still sitting in my art room unopened and racking up fines.  I did do an impressive job of adding to my “Creative Inspiration” Pinterest board though – ha!  This is a key part of who I am and I am not sure why I am being so lazy about engaging it.  Part of the problem is that the room was not organized.  I finally got that done in December so perhaps there is hope…

Some of my growth took me in directions I did not anticipate and created dilemmas I was not prepared for.  I always say ignorance (aka denial) is bliss because it is so much easier to coast along blissfully blocking out mis-alignments in our relationships.  As my eyes were opened, I was disturbed.  That disturbance required action and I stewed for months over how I would move forward.  When I finally did, the reaction was not what I had braced myself for and now I find myself in this awkward, messy unfolding clearly orchestrated by God, but in which my heart is apathetic.  Thankfully, I have prayer warriors with whom I am honest and a grudging willingness to see what God can do but it is humbling to recognize how stubborn and cynical I can be :(

So there you have it – the bad and the ugly.  Care to share any of your disappointments?  I promise we won’t stay here long…

2014 Highlights

Wow – what a year it has been!  I’ve been pretty quiet here on the blog so I decided to do a series while I’m home this week that recaps the year and looks forward.  I’ll start with the highlights:

Moving into a rental home with plenty of space for guests and a garage for Mark.  What a difference this has made in my life!  It has done my heart good to be able to invite people over and to have folks be able to stay in our home.  Sometimes, I lament that we did not have this for much of Christina’s adolescence but I try not to allow that to steal the joy of now and I determine afresh to appreciate and utilize what God has blessed us with at this point in time.

Making the decision to cut back my doing and focus more on being so that my body could recover.  It has been a difficult adjustment and I cannot say I’ve done it as well as I would have liked but it has made a difference in my health.  I have made progress and that is what matters.

Seeing a therapist for much of the year.  She helped me process the above decision as well as the various issues that cropped up once I wasn’t too busy to notice them.  I am stronger and wiser for it.

The CAPS conference.  My boss introduced me to this and it was a great experience.  I enjoyed Atlanta and the conference workshops were so informative.  The theme was Trauma so we were completely wiped on the plane home but my understanding and skill in dealing with trauma were greatly enhanced.

Great Strides.  It means so much to me – the people who walk with us and who financially support finding a cure for CF.  Words cannot describe how healing the experience is.

Teaching in Greece.  What’s not to love?  I get to teach a class in a format unlike any of my others – more intimacy and way more experiential material to draw from.  I get to be in a gorgeous country rich with biblical history.  I get to travel with a boss I actually enjoy, who works his butt off to make sure the trip is everything it should be.  And guess what?  I get to teach it one more time next year!

The Global Leadership Summit.  This conference refills my leadership tank every year and makes me want to go out and conquer things :).  Watch this short video for a small taste of what I experienced and consider registering for it next year.

 

 

Starting a women’s ministry at my church.  We’ve completed one study together now – a study of the Psalms and how it informs our emotional health.  It was great!  It’s been such a pleasure to get to know these women and to serve them.  While I wasn’t supposed to take anything on this year, I have no regrets.  God is using me and I am humbled by that.

The SACES conference.  I am a better counselor educator for having gone.  I had the opportunity to mentor a couple of doc students and pass on the social media presence I had built for the organization to the next crew.

The relationships I’ve built here in Orlando.  I am continually amazed at how God has blessed me with great people to connect with.  I try not to take that for granted, remembering how many folks in our world today are incredibly lonely.  I am surrounded by special ones who care for me, challenge me, pray for me and are fun to be with too.  I could not ask for more!

Three Years

Post your favorite memories and/or pictures on her tribute page:
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Christina description

 

Home

Hard to believe that it has been two years since I moved to Orlando! One of the things I dreaded most about the move was finding a church home. It was 1993, shortly after my mother’s death – when my friend asked me to visit a new church with her. She was recovering from a divorce, pursuing a closer relationship with the Lord…searching for a church home in which to start over. Mark and I were perfectly happy at a church close to home but I agreed to visit with her for support – it’s not easy walking into a new church alone. As I looked around in this new place, I was struck by the number of men actively serving. I began to understand this rare phenomenon when the pastor spoke. He was a former football coach – his manner and message were so relatable to the average male. I thought Mark might find this more enjoyable and I invited him to return with me. Also in that first service, I learned about counseling services the church was offering. ‘Counseling’ was not present within the culture I grew up. Despite the nebulousness of the concept, something stirred inside of me and I determined to check it out. I was not handling my mother’s death well and I knew I had no one in my life who could help me in the way I needed. Perhaps this “counseling” business might be a good thing? Pastor Brian Benjamin became God’s shepherd in my life: teaching me about grief and exposing me to a new career path. Mark did end up loving the church and we made the move to settle in. He joined me in counseling and he served in the children’s ministry in which Christina blossomed and thrived.

Christina appeared in the church's first picture directory

Christina appeared in the church’s first picture directory

Pastor Brian led me as I joined the lay counseling ministry. Ten years after hearing God’s call, he validated God’s work in my life as I finally collected the degree that would allow me to enter into that call. For nineteen years, this church was the central stability of our many moves, our multiple relationship dramas, and Christina’s volatile journey through adolescence. Not a year went by that I wasn’t serving with folks who became my spiritual family – whether singing in the choir or facilitating a Grief Share group (oh the irony). When the worst happened, the Senior Pastor of this now mega-church (son of the football coach) ran the service himself. He had watched Christina grow up along with him. His wife had directed the children’s choir where Christina tried to grab the microphone during the Christmas concert :)  The pastor of the 20’s and 30’s ministry – J1TEN – came to tell stories of the lives she had brought into his fellowship. Words cannot describe how much this spiritual family was completely entangled in every aspect of my heart and soul. How on earth could I ever start over? The task seemed impossible and so for months after the move, I attended my church through its online campus. I knew I needed to be in a live fellowship but justified my decision by saying that until Mark joined me, I had no idea where we would settle and so there was no sense in getting attached to a place that might not end up being convenient to involvement.

Around the same time I took this job, my boss, David started a new church.  It all sounded nice but I had no desire to check it out for a variety of reasons.  As the months marched on, I listened with distant interest to the details of his new venture.

Mark joined me a year ago and four months later, we settled into our rental home.  I identified several churches we could check out (all similar in style to the one we left) and made plans as to how we would narrow our choices.  However, it seemed every time I had plans for us to attend, something would deter us: Mark would have to work or one of us would not be feeling well.  I honestly wasn’t all that motivated so it wasn’t too difficult for me to say each week, “forget it”.  In the meantime, my interest in David’s endeavors had grown and I decided to visit his church.  I didn’t think it sounded like my kind of place but I wanted to show my support for something he clearly cared deeply for.  I remember talking with him about our ‘church shopping’ process (or lack thereof) and realizing that I could not fathom being in a church fellowship of which Christina had not been a part.  It had already been difficult enough to move to a workplace where she was unknown.  I was no longer surrounded by folks who had known and loved her.  Every time I imagined having to do that at a church, it depressed me.  I began to understand my lack of motivation.  Visiting David’s church was awkward for me because it was so very different from what I left behind, but I enjoyed aspects of it.  I left with mixed feelings and determined that I would return occasionally ‘as an encouragement to him’ I told myself.  I certainly could not consider committing to it since it met on Saturday nights and Mark always worked then.  (Mind you, Mark had given me no such restrictions).  Well, things continued to fall apart in terms of attending somewhere with Mark and I found myself returning to Renew more often than I had intended.  By the end of Spring, as Renew became more and more comfortable, I realized I might as well settle in until Mark voiced otherwise and there was always the chance his schedule would change.

Over the summer, I began to hear God’s urging to return to ministry.  I had not served in any ongoing capacity for five years.  Though I had committed not to take on anything new for the entire year, there was a need and I felt permission to meet it.  Thus, I agreed to start a women’s ministry which kicked off a week ago.  My “welcome home” totally snuck up on me!  If you had told me this outcome two years ago, I would have called you crazy.

As David preached on Leaders this weekend, it fully dawned on me that I was home.  Part of me trembles because I don’t know for how long.  I would like it to be for another 19 years at least as I despise the leavings, but I cannot predict and I cannot live in fear.  I must jump in with both feet and see where God takes me.  He is sending me confirmation from multiple sources which has been this incredibly tender comfort.  My heart is so grateful for this place.  I think about Christina a lot when I am there.  I know she would have jumped right in to working with the children.  The core vision of the place aligns with her favorite verse:   Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8  Tears overflow when I sit in the deep longing I have for her to be with me in this new season.  I so wish she could meet these ones I am coming to love but I will have to wait for that meeting.  In the meantime, I collect the stories I will tell when I make the introductions.

fatherless

Seven years ago today, the only father I “knew” died. This loss has always been a surreal one to me…one that has barely hit my radar these past few years. If it weren’t for the reminder on my calendar, I wouldn’t probably be consciously aware. After the reading and processing I’ve done this summer, I realize that this impacts me more than I realize. So, I returned to an old private blog I kept at the time to see what I had written. It’s the first time I’ve visited that blog in years so in general, it was a bit of an emotional whollop to read what I was thinking, especially in the year 2011. But I digress…. My words a week after his death rang with the greater depth of time and reflection:

Dad's graveyard

Dad’s graveyard

I’ll spare the gory details of trying to travel to Canada without a passport. Suffice it to say, I made it to the funeral, feeling all the while an imposter of sorts. I hadn’t seen the man in 13 years and had spoken with him on the phone perhaps 3 times in the past year. I had worked through so much emotional turmoil when we first parted ways. So many times I had examined myself with the question of “what if he died tonight – any regrets?” and had come up empty every time. Death had hung over his head for so long that by now, I felt numb. I had convinced myself that I lost my father a long time ago – there was nothing left to mourn…In the morning, I met his son for the second time. It was like looking into his face many years ago. I met his daughter for the first time. As I sat in the church, I felt like an outsider like never before. I had never absorbed the reality of being “the adopted one”. How could I, when I hadn’t known for most of my life and had never had any context for comparison until now? As his son gave a eulogy for someone I did not recognize, I began to question everything all over again.

The long list of questions I then listed still remain which only confirms what I already decided this summer: I must seek the answers. Not that these answers define me but I am tired of moving through life as a drawing with incomplete shading. There is a richness to my history that I am missing. A biological father who never claimed me, yet served as the pastor of my formative years – dying before I knew who he really was. Another father who loved me dearly but for whatever reason, was removed from my life and his memory erased until I found the evidence in middle school (he too died before I understood his significance) and finally, this father who raised me but as I read this summer, “might as well occupy the outer rings of Saturn” (Erickson). He did the best he knew how – especially within his culture – but I have had to face the fact that his emotional unavailability took its toll on me. As Bill Loman, Arthur Miller’s character in the play Death of a Salesman, said after experiencing both literal and emotional abandonment by his father, “Attention must be paid!”

I hardly have the emotional energy for this quest into the lives of three different men. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how one little girl could be so bereft in the father department. Three different chances…three different failures. Sigh. It seems so significant but my experience of it has been so strange (not even knowing about the first two for much of my life) that I’ve never gotten a handle on what it all means to me. The only plan I can come up with is to seek answers to the million and one questions I have about these three men and see where those answers take me in terms of understanding myself better…filling in the shades and textures of my life story.

And so today, I take a moment in a very busy day of prepping for the new semester to reflect on my father, his loss and the sad legacy he left. I try to conjure up what was good – his intelligence, his years of provision, his quiet care and I thank the Lord that while I may be fatherless, I am not without a Father.

Winds of Change

It started with A Million Little Ways which I began just before Greece and finished shortly after returning.  It elicited the first conscious realization of what I needed to do differently.  How I needed to be brave.  I finished Longing for Dad which I started last spring break and I was reminded of the impact of three father losses and the answers I still need to seek.  I had surgery on July 7th which went as beautifully as possible.  My friend Kim came to stay post-op, despite my cavalier attitude about needing help.  I had no idea how much I needed her and I am blessed that she followed through despite my clueless-ness.  Not only did she take care of me physically, but she was a mirror – providing confirmation of truths I recently wrote to myself about.  I am forever grateful for this woman of God and I smile as I come across the sticky notes of love she left behind for me to find.  I moved on to Things Your Mother Never Told You, processing epiphanies which only served to fill in details of the picture that started in June.  Yes, the message is clear but the process is completely fuzzy.  I have started down the path and already there have been tears but there’s no turning back now.

Summer has been full of the seeds of change.  I’ve spent much of it resting physically, yet doing a tremendous amount of emotional and mental work.  Highlights include:

  • A new Provost.  He is a man I knew beforehand and greatly respect!  I am excited for what the future holds.
  • My return to Greece without a shopping list and with a determination to simply live each moment.  We took our niece Sierra with us which was a huge blessing.  We always called her Christina’s clone so her presence was a taste of having our little girl with us again.
  • Not pursuing an opportunity to advance professionally for the first time in my career life….choosing instead to bloom where I am planted.
  • Letting go of any physical possibility of another child.  I had long let go of such an idea emotionally.
  • Deciding to re-enter ministry after the longest break in memory.
  • Spending time with my (honorary) grand-babies.
  • Hosting multiple visitors in my home….something I was unable to do for so long.

I’m still having trouble mustering energy for tasks I’m not excited about.  I love checking my online class for their discussions but dread the grading I must begin as the semester comes to a close.  I have tax returns to complete and social media for my professional association to update.

I’ve settled into a “normal” that includes the black hole she left behind as a permanent presence.  I’ve become accustomed to it now…automatically swerving around it as I move through life.  Sometimes it hits me like when I inhaled the smell of school supplies in Target last week.  I wanted to cry as I missed the mundane process of picking out new notebooks with her but the tears didn’t come because it is what it is.  And so the winds change, I adjust my sails, and continue on this journey with far less of an idea of where I’m going than when I started.

Seen

One thing I have noticed about my grief is that I don’t seem to react to special days.  The anniversary of her death, her birthday, Christmas, etc. don’t seem harder for me than any other day without her.  The one day that has hit me hard is Mother’s Day.  Perhaps because the day so blatantly highlights the end of what I consider to be my most important job.  I don’t see anything prior or in my years to come that exceeds that role in significance.  I wrote about it the first year from a place of deep pain.  Last year, I spent the day in hiding – completely overwhelmed by the Psychopathology courses I was teaching while prepping for an unknown teaching abroad experience.

I tell my students of my loss in their first semester as it is an important part of my identity.  I talk about Christina as it relates to our course content but lately, I haven’t discussed my grief process all that much and the newer students have never seen a picture of her.  This year, I don’t feel like I am at the edge of my sanity but I have the same workload, so as the week prior to Mother’s Day approached…I had given zero attention to what I was feeling or thinking (subconsciously) about it.  However, God was moving behind the scenes to orchestrate a divine demonstration of His love and comfort.  Unbeknownst to me, one of my students felt burdened by the pain I had not yet recognized and was praying for me.  She felt the Holy Spirit urging her to write to me but she felt awkward.  What would she say?  Would her professor think she was strange?  She finally could take it no longer and at the end of a long, hard Wednesday – the following email appeared.  I was packing up my desk to head home and saw the subject line, “Sending my love” which intrigued me enough to open one more email before I left.  Best decision of my day:

Dr. Dyben,

As I write this, I’m not too sure what to say. But I want you to know that I’ve been praying over you this Mother’s Day…

I pray the Lord would truly envelop you this Mother’s Day. You are an incredible woman. You are strong, passionate and full of a powerful love for people. Christina was incredibly blessed to have you as a mother; I am so blessed to know you now. I trust that every moment you had with her was such a treasure. I pray you never forget her sweet words, the smell of her hair, the glimmer of life in her eyes. I pray this season the Lord would just continue to wash over you and refresh you. I pray that you and Mark would know an unsurpassable peace as Mother’s Day cards and celebrations are seemingly everywhere.

My heart is grieved for your loss. I am sorry that you lost your precious Christina. I cannot imagine the hurt and pain you experienced when shadows seemed to creep in. But I do just pray the hope and light of Jesus Christ would fill your mind and heart as you remember her. I pray that somehow the Lord would continue to use this as a weapon of warfare in your life and not as an area of attack. I pray that this would be something would allow you to rise with a strength you never knew was in you. As you continue to process and grieve the loss of your precious daughter, I pray the Lord would flood your heart and mind with His peace. I pray that it wash over you like fresh rain, somehow bringing life to seeds planted long ago; words spoken and promises given. May the Lord continue to breathe life into you, a newness, a hope. I am thankful for you. I am thankful for your life and for your example as a counselor, as a professor, and as a woman. You are so intelligent, joyful, and exude confidence. You’re a rock, but not in a way that’s tough or impenetrable, but in a way that is unshakable. I don’t think we will ever understand why beautiful people like Christina are taken before we are ready, but I stand together with you as you trust God through it all. If there is anything I can pray for specifically, please let me know. I pray this Mother’s Day would be extremely special to you as you remember Christina’s life that was given through you and Mark as a special blessing, a sweet flower, to all she met.

I pray if these were timely words they would sink deep into your heart reminding you that you are heard and seen by our faithful God. If not, let them fall to the ground. Either way, please know the Lord has never departed from you and His promises for you continue!

Happy Mother’s Day

In Christ…

*Deep breath*  Timely words?  Can we say, “understatement”?!  I was completely stunned.  I sat there at my desk with tears in my eyes just letting those beautiful words soak in.  I sent her a response which explained why her words came straight from the heart of God and how much I appreciated them.  It’s not about her wonderful compliments.  What strikes me is the fact that the God of the universe SAW me, knew me and knew exactly what I needed before I was even aware of the need (Psalm 8:4).  The next evening, I came back into the classroom from a class break to find these items sitting on my table at the front:

Cohort Mom

All of the students had signed the card with words of love and encouragement for me – their cohort mom.  I thanked them with tears again in my eyes and there was a moment of silence as I collected my emotions before continuing the class.  I cannot begin to describe how much this meant to me.

The next day, I finished grading my Spring courses and headed out of town to see a dear friend I had not seen in ages.  Over dinner at a beach-side restaurant, we caught up on each other’s lives.  Saturday brought a wonderful lunch with colleagues and a graduation ceremony filled with students from both campuses whose journeys I had the privilege of sharing.  Two graduation parties later, I was back at my friend’s home for a final sleepover.  Mother’s Day found me on the beach that Christina and I used to frequent, sitting with my friend and my sorrow.  I noticed that the sorrow did not feel as searing as it has in the past.  The day was overcast, which felt appropriate.  I left the beach and headed north to see my grand-babies for a short while.

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Ezekiel

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Titus

It wasn’t long before I had to keep going in order to attend another graduation party – this time in Orlando.  Another affirming event at which I stayed longer than I intended as I connected with the graduate’s sister who had also lost a child.  It is bittersweet, the bond that bereft mothers share.  It was not too far from midnight when I finally arrived home to a cup of tea and a long list of texts and Facebook messages that had been sent throughout the day.  I just kept marveling in my head at how blessed I am.  How could the day have been any more perfect?  Through absolutely no effort on my part, I had some time for reflection but the day was filled with gifts which made it easy not to wallow in grief.  It was unlike the previous two Mother’s Days in every way.

I am left with simple eucharisteo….and a sense of awe that God would take notice of me in such an intimate way.  I am amazed at how far I have come in this grief journey.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know there are days ahead when I will fail to accept that I really do have to live the rest of my life without my heart.  For now however, I take joy in her glory and I move forward in my own journey with an attitude of acceptance and hope in the resurrection.  I could not ask for more.

Restless

The trouble with recovery is it involves reconstruction.  Take it from me, that’s not fun.  Watch Renovation Reality on DIY and you’ll see what I mean.  Trauma can be God’s renovation project.  When it happens, that’s the demolition stage.  You then have the task of figuring out what exactly has changed and what those changes mean since He doesn’t bother to share the blueprints for the job.  Letting go of work as a driving force has left much room for me to look around in wonder at the holes left behind.  While I am slowly gaining ability to do without a life plan, I’m struggling to also do without a defined self.  For the past 26 years I was well-defined by the needs of my family.  I was perfectly content to allow that since the moment Christina arrived on earth, it would be my pleasure to lay my life down for her.  Now that she is gone, I realize I’ve lost my tether.  When you’ve done the unnatural for so long and then you suddenly don’t have to, that leaves a strange vertigo feeling and that’s where I am.  I have time to examine who I was before this all began and that person is not necessarily compatible with where I am today.  Well crap…what does one do with that?  Too much time, energy and resources invested at this point to turn back now I’m thinking.

You dwell in the songs that we are singing,
Rising to the Heavens, rising to Your heart, Your heart.
Our praises filling up the spaces
In between our frailty and everything You are
You are the keeper of my heart

My frailty, my flightiness, my selfishness, my child-like curiosity and wonder are emerging in ways I am finding hard to contain.  I shared with a friend recently that I am used to much more control over my cognitive processing than I’m experiencing right now which is unsettling.  Many years ago, after a long run of trying to play junior holy spirit, I let go of control over my loved ones but I never let go of the need to be in control of every aspect of me, myself and I.  I am being challenged to loosen my grip and it is making me grumpy.

Oh, speak now for my soul is listening
Say that You have saved me, whisper in the dark, the dark.
‘Cause I know You’re more than my salvation
Without you I am hopeless, tell me who You are
You are the keeper of my heart
You are the keeper of my heart

I read my “Recovery” post to my counselor and she was visibly struck by the language I used to describe my 5th grade self.  She pointed out that to her, I sounded like a perfectly healthy, developmentally appropriate child.  This made me realize just how powerful the cultural expectations of my childhood still are…that I still judge myself by those standards with little patience (just as my mother) for anything else.  However, I cannot deny what was natural of me then and probably still is deep down.  How has it affected me that those qualities were shamed, chastised and beaten into submission?  For so long, I’ve greatly appreciated the ways in which my mom pushed me because it equipped me to provide for a sick child but now that the mission is complete, I am left confused.  I’ve never learned to comfortably love and appreciate who I really was as a girl because what was expected of me often did not align with what I felt like doing so I simply became what I was “supposed” to be.  Meanwhile, God created me specifically how He wanted me to be.  What does it mean that aspects of his imago dei were denied and suppressed?  If they emerge with a vengeance, what happens?  When developmental tasks happen outside the normal timeline, it is messy.  How do I go back and re-incorporate what was lost without a whole lot of turmoil?  Did He forget that I’m tired?  I want to muster up the energy to control the process but I can’t and that scares me.  I could go back to just ignoring it but I suspect that horse has already left the barn.  My friend ominously warned of how that would do me harm.  I am left with simply the choice to trust the keeper of my heart to walk this path with me and let the chips fall where they may.

Still my heart, hold me close
Let me hear, a still small voice
Let it grow, let it rise
Into a shout, into a cry

It always makes me squirm when those with psychological understanding hear my family story and look at me sharply with wild concern as they ask, “have you worked through all of that?!”  Oh Lord have mercy, how does one work through all of that complexity…truths that I continue to discover even as I am well into my forties?  Time and space has made it obvious to me that I have done really good work with mentally processing an unreasonable number of stressors, losses, and earth-shattering revelations but that the full understanding of exactly what all of that has done to me body and soul will take a lifetime.  Meanwhile, I’m really needing His voice to be a shout.

And I am restless, I’m restless
‘Til I rest in You, let me rest in You
And I am restless, so restless
‘Til I rest in You, ’til I rest in You, Oh God
Let me rest in You.

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