Friday, November 21, 2014

Dear Mom, Two Years Without You


There sits a tree just outside my front window that is a powerfully-bright orange color. I've been watching it for weeks, as the changing color started at the top of the tree, and has now cascaded all the way to the bottom. It sits among some other trees that too have changed colors, but they seem dull and boring compared to this staggering bright orange.

Two years; some days it feels like decades and some days it feels like seconds.  My heart has been unusually in tune with the changes of the season. The fall season so poignantly reflects what's going on internally; everything begins to slow down, and inch by inch the chlorophyll of life is drained. I watch the trees release the leaves and they dance their way to a soft landing, "Hey leaf! That journey you are on as you linger between the breezes, I FEEL THAT!" It's actually, incredibly peaceful to watch the world around me fall into a season of stillness and rest. The cicadas give up their dominant and piercing song, while the gentle crunch of leaves begins to fill in.

Year two was so different for me. It wasn't so smart of me to move just months after you died. I think it intensified my grief, loneliness, and isolation significantly. But hindsight is 20/20. I think year two was automatically more bearable because my life here in French Camp began to settle and become more familiar. Year one felt merely like a survival in the fog. This year felt like survival without the fog, and a little more like living in the raw. More real feelings surfaced during year two that I had to combat without the protection of the fog.

Memories of you are like that bright orange tree. Since you died, parts of me have been hibernating. Hibernating out of survival. Just this month, for the first time in years, a familiar twinge of excitement pulsed through my body when I thought about Christmas. Excitement about Christmas? For two years, it has felt like betrayal to be excited about anything let alone a holiday your fingerprints are all over. But I felt it and I embraced it as a gift.

The kids are so big and so full of life. You would not believe the amazing creatures they are becoming. You would praise them often for being so deeply-wise and staggeringly-kind. Like you always told me, they are raising me. They would be the honor in your crown! So many times this year I wanted to call and talk to you about them as I sipped my amaretto and coffee and wept. We've entered a completely different season and I need your advice; I need you. Sometimes I need to hear you tell me it's all going to be ok and I am not the worst mother ever, because so often I feel like I'm screwing it all up entirely. Sometimes I need the affirmation only a mother can give. Sometimes I need to hear your laughter and your calm. Sometimes I need a safe place to go where I am fully known, a place without judgement, rules, and expectations. Sometimes I need you to speak to my heart in a way only you could and whisper, "let it go, Sara!" Sometimes I do not want to do this without you any more, and my anger comes up and out. Sometimes I become so deeply jealous of all the people whose mothers are alive, and I want to shut them out. Selfish, I know.


I miss you most when I least expect it. Like when Daddy calls to sing "happy birthday" and my ears naturally listen for your voice.  I miss you when people say things like, "you were so blessed to have a great mom and a great relationship with her" and I want to hit them, as if having a great mom some how nullifies the pain of losing you.  Maybe it would be easier if you wouldn't have been so great :)
The other day Anderson said from the back seat of the van, "Mom, I miss Grammy. I miss her voice. I miss when she would sing to me. She is our family, I want her back!"

Over these two years, (and so many years before then) I've been so grateful for those who were willing to just sit in the uncomfortable with me. I'm more aware than ever how people run from the uncomfortable. You were really good at sitting in the uncomfortable with people; over the phone, in a hospital waiting room, in a Sunday school class, at a funeral home, a nursing home, a women's meeting, and more often than not, in the sweet solace of your warm home.    

How you and daddy chose to deal with your sickness and your death, taught me just as much, if not more, than your healthy lives did. Any time I encounter someone whose suffering any type of loss I feel like my heart is automatically softened and likened towards them, and then I pull a Val and tell them how shitty it can be. 100% of the time I get tears and/or smiles of complete agreement. People are always drawn to someone who uses real words about real pain. Sometimes "shitty" is the only word appropriate for the pain and suffering on this side of Jesus. Thank you for giving me permission, freedom, and grace to use it. There is power in a well placed expletive.

There are moments of stillness when I am sipping my coffee..... or merlot, and I envision you with Jesus. Sitting at His banqueting table and being fully satisfied in His glorious presence. You do not limp, you do not wince, you do not question, you do not wonder aimlessly, you do not function under the weight of flesh and guilt any longer. You do not struggle, long or desire. You do not feel insecure, unworthy, or without.  You exude abundant light. You possess abundant LIFE! I know on my darkest, hardest days of sojourning with Sorrow, that you are more alive than you have EVER been. It's one of the few ways I have chosen to combat the despair. The hope of knowing that even though you are absent from us you are FULLY with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You know them in a way that is still mysterious to me. You revel in their unique and delicious personalities. You reside in the Holy of Holies! You, in all I knew of you and all that you are, comfortably abide with the Almighty AND.....AND..... the saints. Those who have gone before you. A great multitude of precious friends and family who dine with you, do eternal life with you, worship with you, and wait for the next weary warrior to arrive in glory.

Oh I miss you beyond words, but I would not have you back. I would not steal you away from the wholeness that indwells you. And with every ounce of hope and joy that fills the cracks of the worn road of pilgrims, I KNOW you wait for me.

So to Him and HIM ALONE, who is able to keep me from falling apart, and who will present me before His GLORIOUS presence without fault.... AND He'll do it with GREAT JOY!! To the ONLY God our Savior be glory, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:24 &25

A dear friend posted this prayer to my time-line yesterday. It's just PERFECT!

Dear heavenly Father, though Isaiah used the image somewhat metaphorically, mothers and fathers do forget the children they have brought into the world. I know this quite well, having lived through the journey of watching my dad forgetting my name, then my face, then everything about me. The process was very painful, yet you met us time and again, with your mercy and grace.
I am so thankful that the gospel is a living hope, not sentimental hype. I am so thankful that long after dad forgot you, you never forgot him. I am so thankful that dad’s memory has been healed, and that he now knows and remembers perfectly. Above all, I am envious that he now knows you perfectly, while I am bound to the world of knowing-in-part.
As someone who found you to be the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, in a story of dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s an honor to pray for others in that same painful journey. Father, grant spouses and children, family members and friends, a profound sense of your presence, and courage to love well.
Grant them freedom to grieve their mounting sense of loss; the grace to accept the changes in their loved one; and power to stay as present as possible, when doing so becomes increasingly difficult. Grant them wisdom for each stage of the journey, trustworthy and compassionate medical care, and the necessary financial and emotional resources.
Lastly, Father, I pray you will help all of us, impacted by memory loss, to treasure being known and remembered by you. If we should forget you, in our journey to life in the new heaven and new earth, we will never outlive your love and grace for us. The only things you’re not going to remember, is our sins against us. Hallelujah, many times over. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name. ~Scotty Smith

Friday, November 14, 2014

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, ISN'T!

I felt it roll over me when the calendar flipped to November. I was trying to plan a meal with my life group before the end of the year craziness ensued. November 13th , was the last possible date we could meet until January.  I called to make reservations for a Thursday night for five people, the restaurant was already full. "What is happening?" I thought.  It wasn't like I was trying to make a reservation for DECEMBER 13th, but somehow December is rewinding its bossy, insane pace into November.

The day after Halloween, Walmart was packed to the brim with Christmas, Starbucks switched to the holiday cups,  and 98.3 started playing Christmas music. I LOVE CHRISTMAS! I DO! I love so many, many things about it. But every year, I feel the increase of SO MANY expectations threaten to rob us of these VERY sweet moments. I don't want to get to December 26th, and feel like a worn out, drowning rat. I know, I know that might be too much to ask, but a girl has got to at least try.

Over the years, Mark and I have found a few helpful tricks along the way that seem to provide more savoring and less souring during the season.

When the kids were little-little, I came across one of the most BRILLIANT parenting ideas EVER! And my heart just KNEW it was something I wanted to implement with our kids. The idea was to only give each of our children 3 gifts at Christmas; a need, a want, and a book. The idea mimicked the 3 gifts Jesus received from the wise men; gold, frankincense and myrrh. I loved this idea for a million different reasons! One, this naturally has allowed our family more time and space to process and marinate the life altering truth; God came to be with us. He left HIS GLORY to slip on humanity for eternity, so that in doing so He could communicate to our individual hearts this incredible love letter; YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! Each of my children will face loneliness, isolation, pain, betrayal, boredom, and bondage, and I want nothing more than this truth to rise to the top when those waves of despair come knocking.  Two, it was a clear and simple expectation from an early age for our children to KNOW that they would receive 3 gifts from Mark and I each Christmas. Three, it has forced Mark and I to be extremely thoughtful and aware as we purchased each item. We want each gift to be intentional. I have already spent hours thinking about just the PERFECT book to buy each kiddo at the current stage they're in. Katie is totally into biographies, Julia cannot get enough of Jack and Annie, Lucy is loving some science, and Anderson is rocking Dick and Jane. Over the years we've switched "book" for other themes like games.

I cannot tell you how PRECIOUS it has been to experience Christmas this way. While some day my children might sit on a couch and tell their therapist how neglected they were, I can testify that my children have not gone without, their current joy has not been diminished, and their hearts have learned something.

My father-in-law likes to ask my kids each Christmas what they received LAST Christmas, I LOVE THIS! It makes them think, it makes them remember, it makes them TREASURE what was, and was is coming.

I AM FOR GIFTS! I love them!! I think they are such a special way to communicate the way we feel. And I know that I have some readers who love to lavish people with TONS of gifts, and I am SO appreciative of you. I love that about you, and if that's how you choose to do Christmas, YOU GO!

But ten years ago, when that Mama blogged about her idea of 3 gifts, it unlocked a freedom for me that I CHERISH! Today, I'm just blogging my experience, and if it unlocks a freedom for another mama, daddy, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend then ROCK ON!

But for realz, whatever "it" is, try doing something that maximizes the joy this season and shut down the voices and avenues that suck out the life and meaning of such a glorious season.


The Ghost of Christmas Past: Circa 2009

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why People With Disabilities Make Other People Uncomfortable

We are a short 7 weeks from the conclusion of 2014. 7 weeks away from pausing and reflecting on the tracks 2014 will have left on our lives. Without a doubt, one of my highlights from 2014 was a quick but lingering trip to Houston, TX. I was hired as a creative writer to visit a non-profit facility and write their story. If Houston was a highlight, then the absolute necessity of story telling, has been the theme of my 2014.

The facility I visited in Houston, TX, is called The Center. The Center has dedicated its entire existence to helping people with mental and physical disabilities. For the last 65 years, The Center has zeroed in on working with people who have Down's Syndrome. However, as the rate of children born with Down's Syndrome decreases, The Center is beginning to assist clients with Asperger's and Autism.

My assignment was to tour the facility looking for stories that would clearly communicate the fulfilled and projected goals of The Center, motivate donors to give or continue to give, and remind each person who is apart of The Center, (whether by working there, living there, or giving to the cause) of their irreplaceable value and worth.

I feel like a MAJOR part of my own personal story has continually intersected with the lives of people who have a mental or physical disability. My oldest brother Jonathan, was born with Beckwith Wiedemann Syndrom. He was just hours old when the doctors told my parents to say their goodbyes to their first born child. Instead, my parents circled the wagons and begged the Lord to spare Jonathan's life. It was always an incredible story to hear my parents tell, and now it's an incredible story to see my brother live day after day. God wrote His story of FAITHFULNESS on Jonathan's infant, 3 pound body, and continues to whisper in his ear, "My name is I AM, my name is faithful!"

From the age of eleven on, I would often visit my grandfather in a nursing home. At first, it was incredibly awkward and disturbing, nursing homes are hard, gut-wrenchingly HARD! So I simply acted, said, and mirrored everything my mother and father did. My mom was always calm, deeply sincere, never appalled at what she saw and always pushing the envelope of what other's felt comfortable with, (especially when it came to her Jesus :).... So I just moved forward with the understanding that loving people meant loving people well.... even if it was messy and awkward. It especially meant loving those in a nursing home.

Now, at 33, I cannot count the number of visits I have had to nursing homes. The number of times I've said "no" to my natural inclination to run away from "different", but insist my soul embrace the raw beauty in front of me.

And then two years ago, you could not keep me from the nursing home that housed one my most my precious possessions: my Mama. There was not a hint of hesitation, not a moment of considering the alternative, come hell or high water I was going to take up residence in that nursing home with my Mama. And so we did. Day after day, week after week, month after month, we were drawn to her, to this place that many are appalled to enter, we couldn't say no.

In addition to my other experiences with people who have mental and physical disablities, my brother Zach spent numerous years working with children with mental, emotional and physical disabilities. To visit him, his co-workers, and their inspiring students was a life altering experience EACH TIME. You want to find a hero? Look no further, these people pour every ounce of life and brain power into elevating the place and position of these amazingly, often marginalized, spirits.

In so many ways this assignment of writing for people who literally could not write their own story, was one of the most professionally-altering experiences I've had. More often than not, it is smooth sailing to write my OWN story. To tell each of you about my own experiences is easy because I own them, I feel them, I walk through them, but to write what other's are living, feeling, and experiencing took some serious gut checks along the way. I very much feel like I have been walking on sacred territory these last few months, trying to piece together something worthy enough to represent them.

I spent one day with 600 men and women who are physically and mentally disabled, and it was by far one of my sweetest days of 2014. I sat and listened to The Center's employees laugh and cry when they would introduce me to their dear clients through personal stories. I never seen a group of people swear such deep allegiance to one another as co-workers, and an unwavering loyalty their CEO, Eva.
Eva, oh Eva, if every CEO exhibited her class and commitment the world would be a very different place. Eva is powerfully-confident and unspeakably-humble. One of the most inspiring women I have ever studied. Her employees and her clients flocked to her as we toured the facility. They wanted to hug her, wave at her from across the court yard, and tell her all the details about the 30 minutes they had gone without her. "EeeeeeVVVVVVaaaaaa" one sweet, little client yelled! "EEEEEEEvvvvvvvAAAAA!" "Yes, yes, Glenn how can I help you?!"

His arms stretched out and his lip curled, "Huuuuugggggg!"

Y'all I can not tell you the number of times my eyes filled with tears as I swore to myself I'd return to The Center, but next time my entire family was coming!

There are so many stories I wrote, so many stories I witnessed, so many moments that I wish the world could see. One blog post could not even GET CLOSE, to conveying the beauty my eyes and heart beheld that day. I am not who I was. I changed because of the single day I spent at The Center.

One of my favorite stories took place in the wee hours of the morning. The Center has a high-rise, hotel-like, building for their clients to be able to experience independent living. Most of them would never be able to live on their own, but The Center has mapped out a perfectly precise way for them to each have their own apartments. Each are the size a hotel room, decorated and lived in like any other 20 year old would want. I got to stay the night in this jaw dropping facility. I had my own room, but the coziness of the clients surrounded me. I sat in the beautiful designed lobby, and watched a group of 3 girls, all with Down's Syndrome, check out with the "hotel receptionist" because they were going out on the town. They were dressed to the nines and grinning ear to ear. I went to bed long before they returned, but around 1 am, just outside my room, I heard them return. I quietly got out of bed and sat leaning against my hotel door. I wanted to hear what the commotion was.

"He, he, he does..does..not lllliike me any more" one broken soul sobbed.
"It's. it's, it's OOOO.KKKK" her friend consoled. "If he do not like you for YOU, than NO, NO WAY!"
"But, I SOOOOO sad!!!!" the crying one replied.
"Then I BEAT him!" her faithful friend replied.

I could hardly soften my hysterical laughter as the tears slipped over my eyes and my head slid back to rest on the door. Men, broken hearts, fighting words, and total girl drama filling the hallways of a independent living center for the physically and mentally disabled. It's miraculous, it's the unattainable story attained. Most would never believe it was a possible. Most would never believe that these girls with "disabilities" had the capability to even hold this classic conversation that every woman in the world has had. It was so real, it was so sweet, it was so unforgettable.

Speaking of unforgettable, I'll end with this... As I sat with Eva and listened to her tell me her story, she said something that wrote itself on my heart forever, "After working for my clients, for as long as I have been working for them, I have decided that after all these years we might have it ALL wrong; I've decided that they are the "normal" ones and we are the disabled!"


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Personal Non-Revival

"Baptizing lost people and teaching them how to vote Republican is not a revival" Moore.

I'm so glad I'm not who I was, and I am so glad I will not stay who I am.

I've been digging through picture timelines, letters, bills, and art work of old. Something about walking through yesterday that helps us better face today. If you needed a headline for my digging it would be "SMH" (shaking my head)...

When my fingers ran over the tiny faces of my once tiny babies, I shook my head in disbelief as the years have been swallowed whole right in front of my eyes. Oh, those babies who sucked every ounce of life out of me for years, but THEY WERE MINE! And those were MY YEARS, and MY MOMENTS, and MY MEMORIES, and MY TRENCHES, and MY STORY! Now those babies are my BIG KIDS and I am hell bent on making these MY NEW YEARS, MY NEW MOMENTS, MY NEW MEMORIES, MY NEW TRENCHES, the NEXT STORY!

Then I sorted bills and shook my head as I remembered how God has been SO faithful to us all these years to meet our EVERY need. The first year Mark went back to full time engineering school, we had a 2 year old and I was 8 months pregnant with Julia. We remained committed to me staying at home with our kids while Mark pursued his career. While we did have a couple of partial scholarships to help with tuition and Mark worked a minimum wage job at a radio antenna station; our W2 for that year slid in at a whopping 12k. Twelve thousand dollars to pay rent, buy food, pay our electricity bill, put gas in the car, pay bills and live. We ate out once a week at Taco Bell for twelve bucks, and during November and December we didn't eat out at all. All of us, minus Mark, were on Medicaid and we rocked WIC like nobody's business. I spent hours sitting in the DHS building filling out paper and jumping through the complicated system. We went without fancy vacations, pedicures, cable, newer cars, new clothes, internet (we had dial up til 2010) retirement funds,  and other "luxuries" we now have an option to choose. We weren't victims of anything, those were ALL strategic decisions to accomplish two things; Mark's degree and me staying at home with the girls. And actually, they were some of the absolute most simple and precious years of our lives. Not once did I feel "deprived" of any good thing. Oh, we "struggled" and longed for less penny-pinching days....but we were exactly where we wanted to be, and there is not a price tag for that!

Then I came across old speaking notes for MOPS talks, bible study talks, and personal testimony talks.
Y'all I'm just so sorry!
So many formulas.
So many be-good, do-good behavior modifications for change. 
I'm just so sorry. 
So black and white.
So dogmatic.
So seemingly together and not nearly broken enough.
So, SO naive.
Bless it.

I read this quote today and realized how far I've come and how much further I have to go,
"We are soaked in an ocean of His (God's) grace, and we don't want to give a cup to anyone." 
Jim Daly

I'm not nearly where He wants me, but I am humbled God has determined to change me into a person who is filled with MORE grace. And He primarily used one tool to strip away my self righteousness and pride; pain, suffering, and grief. At times, it felt like an unbearable surgery of the heart. Like at some point I would cave under the weight of brokenness. But what He did with it, what He redeemed out of my pain, how he refined my horror into hallelujahs, is what makes me fall on my face before His throne in adoration.

Oh how we cling tightly to rules, laws, traditions, and methods instead of frolicking in His grace. Afraid others will abuse the freedom in Jesus, and commit and embrace lawlessness.  From one who speaks from experience, fear is NEVER a good counselor or motivator. But there is unspeakable freedom that awaits us there if we are willing to hand out a cup.

So come drink here friends, ALL friends! I have a cup for you because I live in the ocean!

Southern Belles
Breast fed
Bottle fed
Organic fed
Junk food fed
and in Remission....

There's a cup for YOU! And there is a cup for a wretched soul like mine. And so I live! 

My Jesus.
Oh! He is the sweetest thang that ever was or will be!
He changes hearts, lives, and stories.
Everyday He performs miracles before the eyes of those that are watching, and those that are not.
Everyday He meets every need for the desperate.
Everyday He is faithful to gently weave His way into our stubborn wills.
Everyday He is moving.
Everyday He is sailing His oceans of grace and letting us drink in life until we are satisfied.

You need a non-revival? I recommend grace, I recommend Jesus...
It's your own SMH kind of experience :)!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Don't Be Thankful Project: Part 1

Day 1-4

Who knew the absolute freedom one could possess with no dings and pings?! The first two days, out of habit, I caught myself looking down at my phone for new notifications, however, the blank screen was oddly relieving and comforting. My girls and I had a total chick-day-only on Saturday, and it was SO NICE to feel completely engaged with them ALL DAY LONG! (I did however check the football scores during the movie.) And this house? Well, it's never been more put together, well...... it's not now because we just got through with the manic Monday sprint, but yesterday it was like sparkling. I actually had time to download all 918 of my pictures to iCloud and make the definite decisions, next time I'm getting a Samsung! At one point yesterday, while Mark was napping off MAN TRIP 2K14 and the kids were chilling, I had this moment of complete boredom. I sat in my chair and stared out the window. I began to recover the ability to think in sentences as opposed to thinking in sound bites. I thought through some topics I needed to further discuss with Mark when he woke up, I thought through some decisions I needed to make this week, I updated our schedule for the entire months of November and December, and I met with my friend Barbara Duguid in the final chapters of her book.  OH!!! And I misplaced my phone numerous times over the weekend and it felt SO GOOD! 

Even the marriage bed has proven to benefit from a less distracted Sara. I'm just saying.

Not going to lie, at some point I caught myself wondering what everyone on social media was doing and thinking. I wondered if I had missed an engagement announcement, a "we're headed to the hospital" announcement, a relationships status change, a cute Halloween costume, a lively theological debate with a naive seminary student or an over-eager graduate, with zero people experience but a lot of head knowledge, that ends in pointless ramblings. I wondered what Armando's WOD was and if he put up a video for all to see (you know I only have love for you Mando!)  I wondered if Zach had posted a new dragon picture, I wondered if Jen had finally finished her book, I wondered what David Burge was tweeting about, I wanted to know how everyone was feeling about the MSU game, I wanted to know if Scott was going to survive the Ole' Miss game and if Tonya was selling some serious jewelry at her sell.  I wanted to make sure Liisa made it home safely from Florida with my little Spider Man in tow, and if my family was enjoying Lego Land. I was curious if Chris made it out of King George alive, who's baby rolled over, how much sleep everyone did/did not get, if everyone in KC was going to come through their World Series hangover, and OF COURSE..... I was totally anxious to see everyone's gym and food pictures :)

Ok, so maybe I'm over exaggerating a little, but really I LOVE my people!!! I enjoy knowing fun things about them. It makes all the miles shrink, and for someone who loves so many people across the globe; I LOVE the ability to connect with people on social media. It's why I'll never give it up. But I do feel even after 4 days I've struck a way better balance! In a very strange way it felt good to be unreachable. It felt good to say to my family through my actions, "I'm fully here! I'm fully yours!" But it also felt good Saturday night, after I put all the girls to bed, to come and find ya'll. It was nice to read through your posts and see your crazy, unreasonable, pot-stirring quotes and links, and realize that the world does continue to spin out of control without me having to be notified every time something goes down. It made my world feel small and manageable again.... and I like it here. So I remain.

Ok, I KNOW some of you are joining me on this project. Let me hear from you. How's it going? How's the detox? Are you twitching and sweating yet?! Or are you reclaiming moments that have been missing in your everyday life?!

Can't wait to hear from you! 
(when it's convenient for me to hear from you, not the other way around :)