Monday, August 13, 2018

A Welcome Balm

Thump, thump, thump.

I could hear the balls hit our basketball hoop and then the ground. I couldn't see them from my kitchen table a few feet away, because I'd taped temporary paper shades on the glass in the door and over all the windows.

One by one, my new friends-- friends who had each had a son die-- turned the handle and came inside. They'd parked in the crowded driveway we shared with our neighbors, dodged the basketballs in our carport, and come to our grief support group.

"I don't know how you do it!" they each said to me.

This was a phrase they'd likely heard themselves many times. How did they make it through multiple rounds of chemo with their precious boys? How did they tell their sons they weren't going back to school? How did one go into her son's bedroom to wake him, but find him dead?

They knew they were not made of stronger stuff than other moms. They'd just been thrust into unwelcome, nearly untenable situations that they couldn't run away from. They knew that grieving moms are just people doing the best we can.

But that night they said it to me, quickly piecing together that the boys playing outside my door were the ones who were with Jack when he had his accident. While I'd never experienced hospitals, blood draws, invasive tests, toxic treatments, and having Jack lose his beautiful hair, I was experiencing something excruciating as I saw Jack's best friend, and his new best friend, bond and live and play right in front of me, day in and day out. The stark contrast between these living children and my dead son was almost too much to take, and these mothers' hearts recognized that in an instant.

I talked about this with my pastor and friend, Glenda. I felt terrible for feeling angry and uncharitable toward children-- so jealous and petty. My magical thinking would have one of them die, while Jack would live. This was so far from how I wanted to be-- Anna The Super Griever who spread her love and warmth like fairy dust-- but it was real, and raw, and exactly where I was.

There would be no warm and fuzzy tv special about how I'd taken the boys in as my own, cultivating a surrogate mom role to make up for losing Jack.  Nope. So, I piled guilt on top of my anger and grief.

But I wanted to feel my pain and anger and not cover it up by pretending like everything was okay--faking kindness and compassion that wasn't yet there. Grieving Jack felt too holy for anything other than truth and light and 100% honesty.

After hearing all of this, Glenda touched my hand and rubbed it gently. She said, "If your hand is raw and in pain, there is nothing wrong with finding a balm to soothe it. To coat and protect it as it heals. That's not weakness. You don't need to feel guilty. That's just taking care of yourself."

I honestly couldn't think of one thing that could be a balm in the colossal missing and longing for Jack. But as those early days turned into months, and then into almost 2 years, a balm came into view.

I was healing, I could tell, but the pain of seeing the two boys multiple times a day continued to be incredibly painful. I made the difficult decision to move our family to a new house, even if it meant dragging Tim and Margaret along with me. It was not a savvy financial decision. It was very hard on Margaret as it represented her leaving her childhood behind. It meant driving over the creek where Jack was found multiple times a day. It meant leaving Jack's room behind.

But it was a balm.

Of course I still felt grief and pain while I healed, but that rawness, that fresh pain anew every single day, was coated by a bit of distance, just as ointment buffers and protects a wound.

This month it will be 5 years since we moved. Our windows are bare and the light streams in.

I was not a bad griever, or a bad person, for recognizing my need and doing something about it. For letting myself off the hook of being the comforter for everyone else, including my neighbors.

If you are hurting right now, feeling the sting of loss and disappointment or dreams unrealized, perhaps you, too, could find a balm. Something unexpected and sweet that doesn't numb you from your experience, but gives you a bit of a buffer of protection.

Is your balm to decline from going to baby showers or weddings? Is it to walk away from a friendship that causes you nothing but pain? Is it to log off social media for a good long while?

I don't know, but I send you love as you consider it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Help Grieving Kids and Comfort Your Heart Too

As you know, I've had a bunch of t-shirt ideas bumping around in my head. I created a few awesome shirts to sell on Amazon, and while the shirts are gorgeous, I've been less than thrilled with my ability to communicate with the company when the need has arisen.

So when I got a new t-shirt idea, this one VERY CLOSE TO MY HEART, I decided to look into alternatives. I chose to use a fantastic company, Custom Ink, and it has been the perfect fit.

My friends and I have used Custom Ink for years to design cool shirts for sports teams, family reunions, and concerts, and it has been a 100% awesome experience. I remember last year when we were on a time crunch to get Margaret's field hockey T's ready for Senior Night, and a real live person at Custom Ink made sure they arrived with a few days to spare.

But what I didn't know was that Custom Ink also has a fundraising platform

I could design a t-shirt (or have Custom Ink's artists do it for me) and have people purchase it online as a way to raise funds for a cause I believe in. I wouldn't have to worry about inventory or shipping either, because Custom Ink would take care of all of that for me. Thank goodness.

In honor of my children's book about grief coming out this fall (A Hug from Heaven), I knew I wanted to raise money to help grieving kids. 

I chose Comfort Zone Camp as the recipient of any profit these shirts make. Comfort Zone was a safe place of healing and growth for Margaret and our whole family after Jack died, and being with other grieving kids helped Margaret feel less strange and alone. There are so many grieving kids who need our support. Did you know that one in five kids experience the death of a close loved one before age 18?

Many, many of my readers have experienced the death of a loved one, and I hope this simple t-shirt speaks right to your heart the way it does to me. Love Never Dies. 



It comes in a variety of colors and styles, including kids' sizes, and is super soft and comfy. 

If you decide to purchase it for yourself, or for someone else, may it be an encouragement to you that death ends a life but not a relationship. Your purchase will help spread hope to the kids aged 7-17 who attend Comfort Zone Camps each year. 

Thank you for your support of this campaign! And if you are looking for an easy and enjoyable way to spread your message and raise funds for an important cause in your life, check out Custom Ink. They made this process a breeze.

This post is sponsored by Custom Ink. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Shoulder Taps

I shared a short video on Facebook about "Shoulder Taps" last week.

Generally,  I DO NOT LIKE strange men coming up to me and commenting on my appearance-- ICK-- but I believe this man was moved by the Holy Spirit to approach an elderly woman, and it ended up being exactly what she needed to comfort her in her grief.

Several times in my life I have felt a strong urging to say something to someone, to pay for someone's meal, to give a word of encouragement, and I pushed through the discomfort because somehow I knew the urge did not come from me.

I thought I'd share an example of someone reaching out to me, that I don't think I've written about before.

Lady Jennie, a writer who lives in Paris, supported me big-time following Jack's death. She is now a dear friend, and we've had the opportunity to spend time together in NY and in my home (alas, not Paris-- yet!)

Shortly after Jack died, Jennie was studying her Bible and praying when she felt a nudge to share something with me.

It was a rather obscure Bible verse from the book of Isaiah. Weir-d.

But not so weird that I wasn't open to it.

Remember when my little Margaret felt a similar prompting? If you go back and read this post from before the accident you will be BLOWN AWAY when you consider it in light of what happened a few weeks later. (Note: I used to call Jack and Margaret Jake and Molly on the blog for privacy)


This is what Lady Jennie sent to me, a stranger, after feeling the strong urge to do so:

"Though you were ruined and made desolate
and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
and those who devoured you will be far away.
The children born during your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing,
'This place is too small for us;
give us more space to live in.'"

Isaiah 49:21


Lady Jennie and I didn't know that within two years we would move, an action that was painful and would make zero financial sense but would get us out of a difficult living situation and allow us space to heal. No, our house isn't much bigger-- but our world has grown to include new friends and new opportunities.

She and I didn't know that in 4 1/2 years I would have an unplanned geriatric pregnancy that would result in sweet Andrew joining the family. And yes, in light of this verse I did wonder if Andrew would be twins!

While the verse didn't make sense to me at the time, it helped reinforce what was becoming clear even in, no, especially in, those early days of raw grief-- there was more going on than I could see and understand. In Virginia, in Paris, in Heaven. In many ways this helped me stay still and just TRUST, even when life felt desolate and ruined.

Trust that the right people would reach out to comfort me.
Trust that there was a plan for my life, even to expand it when it felt so diminished and depleted. Trust that somehow the deep, deep pain I felt would not always be so sharp.
Trust that the same God who told Margaret "You are MINE" and kept her safe by the creek, attentively loved and cared for Jack just as much.

We hear a lot about people making unsolicited comments to others, especially about parenting.

Ugh.

I think a good test could be whether we feel compelled to say something because it makes us feel superior, powerful, or it serves us somehow. Believe me, now that I have a toddler again, I am in situations regularly for people to HOLD THIER TONGUES when they see me parent in public.

I'm guessing Jennie didn't feel superior when she sent these verses to me. She probably felt vulnerable and a bit weird.  But she reached out anyway.

Whether you want to call it a nudge, a shoulder tap, or a prompting of the Spirit, I'm so glad she paid attention.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Children's Book Cover!

Introducing the cover to my new book for grieving children, A Hug from Heaven!


I hope you LOVE IT! The artist, Andrea Alemanno, is from Italy. I picked him from hundreds of illustrators, and am so pleased with how the illustrations throughout the book turned out. In the coming weeks I will be sharing Facebook live videos about how the whole process has been such as:

Deciding to go with a hybrid publisher
Choosing an illustrator
Deciding how to translate the words into pictures (harder than I thought!)

I pray that this book will fill a real need for the "forgotten grievers"-- children. When I managed a church bookstore, I kept searching for good grief books for kids, but kept coming up short. Then, of course, I wished there had been one for my own family when Jack died.

One of the neatest things about A Hug from Heaven is that it is told from the point of view of the person who died, speaking directly to the grieving child! A child experiencing the loss of any loved one, from grandparent, parent, friend, sibling (born or unborn) will be able to find comfort in these pages.

Can't wait to share more with you!

I'll let you know the actual release date as soon as I know it myself. It's looking like mid to late September. There will be opportunities to PRE-ORDER, which is extremely helpful in positioning the book to "find" more people, and to leave reviews. In the meantime, please start thinking about someone in your life who might be helped by this book.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Camping Round-up




Last weekend we made our annual trek to the mountains of WV for our family camping trip. This is Andrew's 3rd trip, even though he's not yet 2 1/2.

I had more concerns this year as Andrew is more mobile, more curious, and more vocal than ever.  Fortunately, he had a wonderful time and we avoided the numerous hazards all around us such as ticks, hornets, the river, boiling oil, etc. He kept saying he had to sit on the potty, when the potty was a fly-filled latrine, and I was reminded of how fun potty training is going to be. A huge bonus was that I didn't have to milk myself like a cow the way I did on Andrew's first trip.

Andrew LOVES being around people, and having space to run around. He was already thrilled with being outside, so the throwing rocks in the river, staying up late, and eating all manner of junk were the icing on the cake for him.








Speaking of cake/food, we had our annual Fry-day Fried Food Fest, but we added some healthier options this year as well.

Some favorite deep fried items:

Dill pickles (cut into thin rounds)
Shrimp
Wild Turkey
Potstickers
Fish (for fish tacos with cilantro mayo)
Mozzarella sticks
Sweet potato fries
Okra
Chicken strips
Nutter Butter cookies (OH MY, YUM!)

Some favorite healthier items:
Cole slaw
Black bean and rice salad
Chipotle Corn Salsa (copycat version) RECIPE HERE
Pasta salad

6 dogs at our campsite provided entertainment, and my sister's addition of a brand-new camper was a great place for Andrew to nap, or as he says, "Have a moment."





My Aunt was able to drive over and see us for the afternoon:


And, of course, we had a great rare bird sighting with this bald eagle:


It was a lot of prep work and schlepping for 2 days of fun, but I'm grateful for time with family.

p.s. If you've never tired a honeybun cooked over a griddle, you are missing out.


Monday, July 9, 2018

What if the Underdog is your Under-WEAR?

I've always rooted for the underdog.

Maybe that's why I like sports' movies so much, even though I'm not into sports at all. I know it's why I brought a handful of flowers to the creepy shirtless guy who hung out in his yard next to my elementary school watching the children come and go. I'd heard he once had a job and a family, but now he just had his great dane, my crooked smile that was sure to make his day, and a lack of shirts.

I remember my mom telling me that while my gesture was nice, I didn't need to do it again.

My whole life I've had a heart for the bruised and lonely and a way of putting myself in others' shoes. Like a heat-seeking missile, I can foist myself on someone who looks uncomfortable at a party, whether or not they really need or want the attention I give. Even thrifting furniture is a small way of rescuing something from the dump and giving it one more chance.

Today I took this love of the underdog to a new level.

A new low, that is.

I've gained 15 lbs this year, mainly from M&M's and Netflix, and today I decided to suck it up and buy new underwear that fits. I grabbed a pack from a peg at Walmart, because I'm fancy that way. One pair had been pulled out and unceremoniously shoved back in. I pulled it out again, held it up to see if this new, improved size would work for me, then dropped the whole pack in my cart. The Undie-Rumpler had done me a favor by taking the guesswork out of sizing. I could have then looked for a neat, intact pack to purchase, but I was concerned no one would buy this rumpled one, and it would be relegated to the clearance bin or worse.

I'm home now, and I just pulled all 7 pairs out. The crumpled pair still looks like the right size, but the other 6 are gigantic. HUGE. Someone must have done some swapping in the store, and not only did not worry about leaving a disheveled pack as the underdog, didn't give a hoot about some poor shopper like me ending up with the wrong sizes. Sure, I've opened a pack or two in my time, to check sizes, but mix packs? Never. Clearly, this person is heartless and has watched neither Radio, Rudy, nor Remember the Titans.

With the high cost of babysitting, and my desire to never take a toddler shopping with me again, I guess I'll just keep them all. Shoving them back in the pack now would all but guarantee no one would buy them. Besides, I did just purchase two family size bags of Peanut M&M's, so I'm guessing  the undies won't be too big for long.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Generosity of Spirit

We enjoyed spending last week at our friends' vacation home in the Northern Neck of Virginia. My brother, sister and their families joined us. Andrew became a proficient driveway scooter-er, and blueberry picker, Margaret caught her first fish (and threw it back!), and we basked in the generosity of our friends opening their home to us yet again.





As you may remember, this was the first place we vacationed after Jack's death, when we couldn't bear doing our usual beach trip without him. It's also where I started writing Rare Bird on a cold winter's day, and experienced the radical generosity of a local tow truck driver.

If you don't remember that story, please read it here! It continues to inspire me, and convict me, years later.

I want to be generous, too.

But what if I don't have a beautiful vacation home to share, or a powder blue Volkswagen to lend to a complete stranger? How can I be generous to others, especially when it doesn't come naturally to me?

What about showing a generosity of spirit?

Our world seems so angry and ugly right now. Lots of yelling. Name calling. Divisive, dehumanizing language. Unfiltered thoughts coming out in ALL CAPS. It's almost too depressing to write about, so it quiets my voice sometimes, when I want to speak up, when I need to speak up. It's easy to feel helpless in a world that seems topsy turvy.

The phrase generosity of spirit made me think of the fruits of the spirit in the Bible. I think they are a very good measure to hold up against our leaders, our policies, and ourselves:

But the fruit of the spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.