Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Thankful Book

I thought I would share one of our family’s Thanksgiving traditions with you. We travel every Thanksgiving, and I wanted a way to document some of the things we were thankful for, but I didn’t want to cart around anything bulky on our road trips. In 2007 I ran across a little book at The One Spot in Target. I threw it in my purse and carried it around for a full week, knowing that if I took it out, I’d most certainly forget to pack it for Thanksgiving.

This will be the 7th year we will pass the little book around the table at my aunt’s house and each write something in it we are thankful for. Each year that I’ve remembered to bring it has been a little Thanksgiving miracle in itself. But I’m so glad I did, especially since our son Jack is no longer here to write in the book.

Two and a half months after the accident, we were faced with our first Thanksgiving without him. We brought out the little striped book, realizing that although we still had things to be thankful for, our loss was so enormous, so painful, so staggering, that we had to dig really deep to even sit at the table with his empty chair, let alone write in the book. My sister, Liz, wrote the only thing she could muster up that day, being thankful for “modern transportation” so we could be together in our grief.

We laughed and cried as we looked back over Jack’s entries, as each year he spelled it “thankfull” instead of thankful. I saw the years he was “thankfull” for Legos, and family, and even ‘dough,’ a little joke he started making when he was in kindergarten. Jack was quirky. He rarely had an answer you would expect. I asked him why he had said dough. Was he talking about money, a la the Welcome Back Kotter era? No, the kid was really just thankful for dough-- you know, the kind they hand out to play with at Italian restaurants while you wait. Ok. Then there was the year he was thankful for Prester John, a legendary Christian King from the 12th Century whom none of us had ever heard of. Quirky, right?

I treasure the little book, and love looking back over it.

The entries aren’t long and detailed. On year my nephew just wrote, “you people” as his contribution. Last year our daughter Margaret wrote, “I’m thankful for Shadow (our dog), family, cousins, grammar, and a house/food.”

This Thanksgiving, two years after our horrible loss, I am able to consider many more things that I’m thankful for, including the inexplicable joy that creeps into our days as I realize that 12 short years mothering my son were preferable to a lifetime of never knowing him at all. I am thankful I am able to breathe more easily and see the years in front of me not as a bleak, miserable life sentence, but as a time for more memories to be made and more growth to come as time marches me closer to being with him once again.

When I was getting out the Thanksgiving book this year, I saw a craft Jack had made in school. And I was grateful for whichever teacher or room mother forced him to do it. You know, the good old, ‘trace your hand and turn it into a turkey’ craft where you write down things you are thankful for? It says,


Dear Mom and Dad

Thank you for:

            Being great parents,

            Taking care of me,

            Loving me forever.


I think the word choice is perfect, because that’s how it is, isn’t it? Even though times will change and certain cherished ones no longer sit in the chairs around the table, our love for them never ends. It truly is forever.


Happy Thanksgiving.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Giveaway Holly Lane Designs

Tiffany, of Holly Lane Designs, has given me a beautiful sterling silver Birds of the Air Pendant to give away today as a Thanksgiving Thank You to my wonderful readers. The design is based on Matthew 6:26  "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

I met Tiffany a few years ago and carried her line of beautiful jewelry in the Christian bookstore where I worked until a few months ago. When Jack died, Tiffany was very touched, especially because one of her sons is exactly Jack's age. You probably remember when she designed the Jack's Promise pendant that speaks to his love of puzzles and includes his favorite Bible verse, Luke 1:37. I wear it on a silver chain almost every day.


Here are some other examples of her work.

To enter the giveaway, please head over to and sign up for Tiffany's email list. She promises not to share your email with anyone and will only send out emails about  Holly Lane Designs specials.  Leave me a comment here to let me know you have entered.
Get an additional entry by liking An Inch of Gray on Facebook and letting me know with an additional comment.
For a third entry, like Holly Lane Designs on Facebook and let me know about it.
Giveaway closes Friday morning at 10 am.
Also, if your name doesn't connect me to an email address, please make sure you leave one so I can let you know if you win! Thanks!
Blessings and Love to you this Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


“I don’t want you to think this is weird, Anna, but I know of a baby who needs a home. Is that something you and Tim would be interested in doing? my friend Brenda asks. “My sister was in the shower praying about a family for a baby that will be born in March and needs a home, and your family kept coming to mind. She called me first to see if it would be too freaky to ask you.”

My two best friends from childhood sit on the couch in the living room. It has been just one year since we lost Jack. They both look at me, wondering if they have crossed into forbidden grieving mom territory by mentioning a new baby. After all, they know that suggesting that Jack can somehow be replaced is ludicrous.

I answer immediately, “Of course we’re interested!” I talk to Tim the next day as we walk down the sidewalk, Margaret a few steps ahead of us, “Absolutely.” He says, without hesitation. Considering it takes us longer to by a new humidifier than it takes some people we know to marry, divorce, and remarry, it’s astounding that he and I are immediately on the same page.

“What are you two whispering about?  I know you’re talking about me!” Margaret interrupts, turning around. I say, “Actually, there’s a teenager who is pregnant and is not married. We’re talking about possibly adopting her baby. Is that something you think our family should consider?” “Consider? Let’s do it!” she answers.

Tim and I always assumed we’d have more than two kids. We are each the youngest of three, so if our moms had stopped at two, well, where would this world be? But then life and babyhood came around it was a lot harder and more tiring than it seemed like it would be. Tim worked long hours first in graduate school and then at work and only saw the kids on weekends for the first few years. When he was home, he was absolutely “on” as a daddy, but he wasn’t home all that often. I didn’t have a mom around to help me make it through the weeds or give me a break. Even at the time I knew I was on holy ground, pouring myself into Jack and Margaret day after day, but it was so hard to imagine being able to add one more to the mix.

So they grew. And things got so much easier. And it got increasingly more difficult to want to disrupt the tender dynamic our family formed. One thing Tim and I noticed was that kids do not necessarily add strength to a marriage. At least not ours. They were huge balls of need in baby and toddler packages. They accentuated our already big differences, they sucked our extra money away, and they robbed us of any precious sleep that could serve as a balm for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

We would come close. Once, during a period of rampant baby discussion, we took a trip to the beach with friends. “What are you guys talking about?” Tim asked as he approached my two friends and me. “Well, I was explaining how Baby Fever has hit our house yet again,” I replied. “Baby Fever? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his response. I was pissed and embarrassed. I didn’t like the implication that I was just making stuff up to entertain my friends.

Later, in our bedroom, I told Tim how hurt and unsupported I felt when he denied knowing what I was talking about. “Oh, you mean how we’ve been talking about having a baby? I was thrown off by the words ‘Baby Fever.”  Sheesh. He’s analyzing my words? Any desire I had to procreate with him shriveled up on the spot. I didn’t care if we were in a nice rented beach house with a king sized bed!

And so it went for years. First it was the lack of time together. Then the weeds of baby and toddlerhood. Then we had a glimpse of freedom as Jack and Margaret became more independent. We just never had another.

Jack would ask during snuggle time, “When are you having another baby? Please. Please. Please.” “Jack, I think I’m too old.” “You aren’t too old, mom!” Just think. You thought you were too old when you were 35. If’ you had had one then, you could have a 2 year old by now. Don’t make the same mistake again.”

Then,“Mom, what if you had had one when you were 38?”

And, “Mom, what if you had had one when you were 40?”

On and on it went. The last time Jack asked me I had just turned 41, and he wasn’t with us much longer after that.

I wasn’t sure what my big issue was. I’d ask myself, if we accidentally became pregnant would I be happy? Yes. Always yes. But we couldn’t seem to take the plunge. Standing in the bathroom of a Florida bar, celebrating the 40th birthdays of my college girlfriends, I tried to explain how I felt to my friend Kathy as we washed our hands. “I’ve always wanted another one, Kathy.” My eyes got teary. “I guess I’m just afraid. Afraid that I’m asking too much.” Jack and Margaret were such a blessing, and I was afraid that maybe I’d hit my limit on blessings.
Maybe another child would either be the straw that would break the back of our marriage, or would break me of the patience and love I’d been able to give my kids for more than a decade. Or maybe we'd be given a baby with needs so great that it would be too much for me. I didn't feel strong enough. It just felt like asking for one more was pushing things. I think, as I had done my whole life, I was trying to stay under the radar. Not flying too high.  Not asking for too much. Hoping that I could somehow get the life I wanted by being agreeable and not making a fuss.

And then I wonder. Was Jack’s begging for another sibling his way of trying to make sure that Margaret would not be alone? I don’t know.

But I do know that Tim, Margaret, and I each answered without a second’s hesitation, that we would gladly adopt a baby who needed a home. And this baby was practically falling in our laps! I was surprised it felt so good to think about this baby. To reach outside of our grief.

A week later we got the phone call. The girl’s family had picked someone else, before they had even heard of our family. We were very, very disappointed but not devastated. There was something so positive in the “Yes” -- in the opening ourselves up to the future. To having enough confidence in ourselves as a family, despite the shame and horror of losing Jack, to think that even in our depleted state we could make a difference in someone else’s life. There was hope there.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Sweet Surprise

Six or seven years ago, I was thinking of going back to work part-time after being home with the kids. But I was lost. I didn't know where to start. I knew I didn't want to teach English full-time like I had before Jack was born, because I didn't think I could handle the intense workload and also be able to parent Jack and Margaret. Plus, my confidence was shot. I used to be a pretty good teacher, but what if I didn't know how to do anything anymore?

It was easy to forget what I had done in the past and also discount any wisdom and experience that came from almost a decade of volunteering in the community and stumbling my way through parenting.

This was around the time the term "Sweet Spot" started being thrown around a lot. At first I thought it was something racy, which I guess it could be but there is no way I'm googling it, but then I found out it refers to the place on a racquet or a bat that produces the best results. I tried to think about it in terms of what I liked and what I could do fairly well, and scribbled a list called,

"What is my Sweet Spot?"

I found that list again when I was packing for our move this past August. This is what it says:

-Teaching a group
-Organizing (parties, projects, events)
-Writing and speaking
-Problem solving in classes and meetings
-Making people laugh
-Bringing people together

At the time I was disappointed that my list was so short, and that it didn't contain anything like "XYZ computer language" that would impress a boss. Instead of specifics, my list was more like, "Okay, if I'm going to try figure out how to manage home and work, what sorts of things would I enjoy doing and be able to do fairly well?"

It would be another year before I found a part-time job as the manager of a small, Christian bookstore. It didn't check off my entire list, but it turned out to be a lovely, fulfilling job for almost 5 years. Right around that same time, I started blogging, even though I didn't really even know what a blog was.

Looking back on that list today, I see how blogging has fulfilled more items on that list than a paying job did. It nurtured my writing and ignited in me a passion I didn't even know I had. I can see how it has brought people together in friendship and support. True, I thought I'd be the one bringing people together, never that people would be coming together to support my hurting heart after a tragedy, but that is what has happened. Hopefully, I've made you laugh sometimes. I'm pretty sure I've made you cry, even though we all know that was never my intention.

Your support has helped me feel brave enough to keep showing up, to keep writing, and even to try to write a book at a time when I've never been more personally rocked or depleted.

I just want to thank you that. For being community. For caring.

In thinking about the words "Sweet Spot" again today, I realize that you, my friends, have made this place, this blog, into a sweet spot. It's a sweet space to laugh, cry, be real, and give and get support, and that comes from you, not anything inside of me.

I could never have guessed that when I wrote that list so long ago.

Have you thought about what your "sweet spot" may be?

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's All in the Jeans

(photo from JAG jeans website)
I've put on a few lbs lately, and my jeans protested being stretched to the limit. So I ventured out to the mall to buy a new pair. Yeah, super fun. After mucho humiliation in the young, cool department, I decided to give the older ladies' department a try.

After loading my arms with skinny jeans, because apparently older ladies are expected to shoehorn themselves into skinny jeans like the rest of us, something caught my eye.

First I thought it was a rack of  maternity jeans, which didn't make sense because I was in the older ladies' department, but no, they were something called JAG jeans-- high waisted, pull-on stretch jeans with no zipper or belt loops. I thought it would be hi-larious to try them on and possibly make fun of them here on the blog.

I mean, they looked like they'd come up not quite to boob level, but bra-less boob level for sure. The wide fabric band on top was like one of those belly bands that pregnant women wear, except I was pregnant like a million years ago and missed out on that whole thing.

Sure that I was in for a good laugh, I pulled them on and felt... comfortable!

What had started as a joke suddenly got real, Dude.

Sure, there was the risk that all of that lycra could give way to mid-day crotch sag, making me look like Justin Bieber, but maybe it was worth the risk. They felt so good. Then I wondered if it makes any sense to buy jeans when you've gained a little weight; isn't it better to stay uncomfortable as a motivator?  Shouldn't I keep my jeans  "aspirational?" 

Oh my. I wanted the jeans. I tried to justify that I could promise myself I'd never wear them out of the house, since I work from home now, but I've tried that line of reasoning with slippers, yoga pants, and my banana clip, and my resolve never lasts. What starts as a quick trip to the mailbox soon becomes a milk run to the grocery store, then who knows? If I bought these jeans I'd have to be willing to wear them out and about with high-waisted pride.

I was not ready to commit to that.

So, I stripped them off and started trying on the stack of "real" jeans,  you know the ones with zippers. Let's just call them Chafey, Scratchy, and Squeezy. It was like putting on pantyhose immediately after taking off flannel pj's. I was in trouble.

I put the un-jeans back on and looked at my rear. Could I really make these things work? In the car world, a Jag might conjure up the terms "streamlined and sexy," but these Jags were not doing my butt any favors, that's for sure.

But what about the convenience?  If I had a pee emergency, there would be no belt to fumble with, nothing to slow me down. Can I get an Amen on that one?  I would always wear a long shirt or sweater. NO ONE would have to know I lacked a zipper.

So after ten minutes of internal debate, I decided to buy them, even though I am terrified that Margaret will find out. At age 12, she looks with scorn upon all of my clothes and claims I invented the fact that I was "Best Dressed of the Class of 1987."  The first time I bend down and she sees the stretchy fabric reaching toward my clavicles I'll be discovered. 

I got to the cash register and handed them to the older lady working there, along with a coupon clipped out of the newspaper, because that's how I roll. Her response, "Oh? High waistband? I had a pair of pants like this once!"


Judge all you want, but I'm super comfy right now.

Turning in my "Best Dressed Card" momentarily.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Help a Sister Out?

So, I'm still struggling with the title. I love all of the suggestions you made on the An Inch of Gray Facebook page! Thank you for the thought and care you put into your suggestions. That means a lot to me.

My favorite has got to be:

If Legos Could Build a Stairway to Heaven, I'd Rock That Sh*t

But I have a feeling that one wouldn't go over too well with the publisher, so I'm asking you if you want to weigh in on some of the other options below.

This does NOT mean the one we pick will be the one selected, because there are a lot of other factors that go into the decision that I don't know much about. Like people really do judge a book by its cover (title!). Sheesh! I thought that was just an expression.

So please, if none of these get picked and you hate whatever title the book ends up with, please buy it anyway. I'm already terrified enough that by the time it's published people won't be reading books anymore and we'll just be getting little electric shocks via our cell phones that implant info directly into our brains. 

You can always use construction paper, Sharpies, and duct tape to make your own cover and title if you don't like the one that's picked. I'll help, I promise!

Okay, so here are some thoughts just to give you a little background on these ideas.

Rare Bird and When Love Grows Wings are a nod to Jack's first word, "bird," the poem my friend wrote about Jack called "rara avis" or "rare bird," and to all of the ways God has used birds to show us Jack is okay. It also ties in with bird imagery in the book as Tim and I read our speech to Jack a few months before the accident saying, "Jack, soon you will be flying on your own..."

I like So Close and This Close because they have two meanings. I was so close or this close to saving Jack down by the creek, but I didn't. Jack's and my relationship was so close. In the aftermath, I have realized the surprising fact that God and Jack are So Close/ This Close to us in our grief, and that Heaven is much closer than I ever thought.

Falling Water refers to the rain that took Jack from us. It also references a scene when I took Jack to summer camp one day too early, so we spent special time together at Fallingwater, a home designed by Frank Llyod Wright in PA.

The Loved Ones refers to how relatives of someone who died are always called, "the loved ones" but we don't give it much thought. During our grief we come to realize we really are the loved ones. Jack loves us still. God loves us and takes care of us in our pain.

More refers to the way my mind and heart have been opened to more pain, more grief, more love, more community, more God, and more mystery since Jack died.
THANK YOU for your help with this! I appreciate you.

Which Title Do You Like Best?
Rare Bird
So Close
This Close
The Loved Ones
When Love Grows Wings
Please Specify:
Poll Maker

Which Subtitle Do You Like Best?
A mother's story of sudden loss and surprising hope
A mother's story of incredible loss and impossible hope
A memoir of early grief
A story about a boy in the rain and what comes next
A spiritual memoir of life, death, and what comes next
A story of a boy who flew too soon
The surprising power of hope in loss
Please Specify:

Poll Maker