You Make Me Brave

How do you let children grieve? The same way you do adults—by letting them feel what they need and work through it as the unique people God created them to be.

It was time. The weight of this task has rested heavy on me. Since planning Kraig’s funeral and deciding on cremation, the task of scattering his ashes has stood in my mind as an unwanted chore on my to-do list—never being crossed off, never vanishing. No one could decide how to do this for me. Friends had offered to help me or to simply scatter his remains without me if it was too painful. But no. This was a task I needed to complete.

As the anniversary of his death looms large on my calendar, I realized this should be done now. This activity could then lay inside The Year of Firsts, the year of grief, as another thing we survived, another terrible thing we had to do and lived through. Another thing behind us.

Months and months ago I decided that a cemetery plot was not the right choice. The kids would never want to visit it again. It was costly and cold, something Kraig wouldn’t have wanted. And in this transient world, there was no guarantee that we’d live near a cemetery here forever. No. We would scatter his ashes in the beautiful places where we had so many memories of him.

A song has played in my mind over the last few weeks: You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music. “You make me brave. You make me brave. You call me out beyond the shores into the waves.” I would be brave and tackle another fearsome thing.

I brought it up on the drive home from school when they were all trapped in the van and had to listen. Most had said they didn’t want to participate but this time, the answer was different and unified. They wanted to come. Jarod even had a brilliant idea of where to go. They didn’t want a spot we had loved going with him for fear it would ruin that location forever. But Jarod had an idea that was perfect. We had a plan.

You make me brave.

stones

One stone for each kid to remember dad. Engraving to come later.

Lucy was most excited about something I’d thought of as so much better than a gravestone. The kids would each get to pick a stone at a rock shop in Hill City suitable for engraving. We’d keep it in our garden. They could get anything they wanted carved on it. They could view it, touch it, visit it anytime they wanted to remember Dad. When they grew up, I told them, they could take it to their new homes if they wanted or leave it with me.

This was personal. This was customized to each. This was good.

You make me brave.

The night before, my sweet friend Kellie messaged me. She knew what our plans were for Saturday. She invited us afterward to join her family on a lake for pontoon boating and tubing. Perfect. Something, again, to look past the inescapable with anticipation.

You make me brave.

The search for the perfect stones was made easier by a nice lady at The Rock Shop. She’d helped many people do this. She was kind. Each child found the perfect stone. We’d decide on the engraving later. There were no tears. It was a good search.

You make me brave.

We found the perfect spot—off an established trail head near the campground where we’d spent our last weekend with him. It was secluded. We’d never been there with him. We found a landmark that would stand the test of time. I explained to the kids that while the thought of returning here now seems unfathomable, someday they might want to come back. This was a place they could find again. We all agreed this was the spot.

You make me brave.

I reminded them (mostly for Ryan’s and Lucy’s benefit) that Dad was in heaven. This was not him. It was only the remnants of his earthly body. I read from Romans 8:38-39 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-19. I let them feel the weight of the bag. Kati chose the exact spot, placing at it a cross she’d fashioned from twigs and yarn. She laid a tiny, smooth piece of white quartz at the base.

You make me brave.

None of them wanted to say anything. But they did want a moment to spread out and take in the view and be still. Lucy wanted to touch the ash. At her tender age of six maybe the tactile experience was what she needed. She promised to just use the tip of one finger. I smiled and let her. Ryan headed down the trail first, followed soon by Jarod taking Lucy by the hand. It was a sweet image. I let Kati take all the time she needed, promising her we could come back if she wanted. She nodded.

You make me brave.

And just like that, the task was done. It weighed no more on my mind or my heart. They all seemed quiet and peace-filled. It was not nearly as bad as the funeral. Probably the passing of time had made this easier.

We headed off to join Kellie at the lake and the drive between allowed the somber mood to slowly lift like a fog being burned off by sunrise. Kellie understood. She lost a baby a decade ago. Her hug was tear-filled, her smile understanding.

The afternoon became exciting. The kids had never been on a pontoon. They’d never been tubing or jet skiing. There were smiles as they stood and let the wind and spray batter them. There was laughing and normal bickering of whose turn it was to do what next. There was sunshine and freezing water. There was a race to the dock to beat the oncoming storm. Kellie’s family’s gift was the perfect end to this day.

You make me brave. You make me brave. You call me out beyond the shores into the waves. You make me brave. You make me brave. No fear can hinder now the promises You made.

I let my children grieve on this day in their own unique ways. I let the events of the day unfold on their own. I let myself feel what I needed to feel and surprisingly there were few tears. We accomplished a task that could have held the weight of another funeral but instead held the peace of God and calm. God makes me brave and I pray they see that in me each day.

 

Tears in Walmart

I was not fully aware of the emotional baggage of the item on my to-do list today until a stranger responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to say just the right thing.

All the kids were finally at school. I enjoyed some tea and breakfast over Facebook and tried to make a plan for what I should attempt to tackle today. The chaos of my move-in still surrounds me. I needed a plan. I needed attainable goals. But the sheer number of things needing to be done were looming large in front of me and all I wanted to do was shut down.

As I made the rounds to rooms and wrote down things we needed to make this house a home—shoe organizers, laundry baskets, a corner bookshelf in my son’s tiny bedroom—a realization dawned on me. Jarod had requested something his siblings had had for months. He wanted a picture in a frame of just him and dad.

When Kraig died I had one immediately of Lucy, taken two days before he died. That was easy. I then found one, at Kati’s request of her with him at Disney in 2011. A few months later, Ryan asked for one and I located one from the Halloween before he died. But try as I might, I could not find one from the past few years with just Jarod and his father.

My heart ached to find one. Jarod never said a word. I quietly berated myself for not making an intentional effort to get pics of them with him regularly. But how could I have known?

IMG_0428

Kraig & Jarod at Mt.Rushmore, 4/21/13

Two months ago, Jarod finally stepped forward and asked me to find one for him. I searched and finally discovered on my iPod pictures I had forgotten were there. Pictures that should have gone in our last family album with dad. But there sat one of them together on a fantastic day at Mt. Rushmore in the winter before he died. He had a snowball fight with the kids in the amphitheater. The mountain was shrouded in fog and invisible. We saw a mountain goat up close—less than 12 feet away. This picture captured a good day.

Today I would run a few errands and I would go print off this picture and buy a frame. Easier said than done.

Sam’s Club’s was having technical problems. After waiting 15 minutes at Walgreen’s I discovered their computer wouldn’t see the pictures in the separate file I’d moved them to on the card. I headed to Walmart, my stress level rising. The nice lady said she could print them in 20 minutes. Perfect. I had one more errand to do so I’d be back. This errand proved to be just as difficult and I ended up trying four places before finding what I needed. I did not realize how close to the surface my emotions were as I headed back to Walmart and grabbed a frame on the way to the photo counter.

A nice man with deep ebony skin smiled and offered to get my pictures. When I asked if I could pay for the frame there too, he said, “Yes.” I smiled and said, “I’m having a day full of “no’s” so that yes is appreciated.” As he rang up my sale, he replied, “Well here you go and I pray favor over the rest of your day.”

I burst into tears. I kid you not. Standing at Walmart, I could not even choke out the “thank you” that rose up from the bottom of my heart. This man had no idea I was retrieving a picture of my son and his late-father. I wanted to tell him but the words would not come.

He smiled, nodded his head, and said, “That’s ok. Just receive it in Jesus’ name.” I smiled and nodded harder as I turned to leave, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

I may write that man a thank you note and explain how his obedience to the words the Holy Spirit must have placed on his heart blessed me. It was a simple reminder that God knew this was a tough thing to tackle today. God understood why this was hard. God’s presence continues to walk through this with me as I quickly approach the awful anniversary next week.

Today, I encourage you, brothers and sisters in Christ, listen to that prompting of the Holy Spirit to say that simple encouragement, to hold that door open, to smile at that person looking sad. Take the chance to speak the words you might not otherwise have the courage to speak. You might be the blessing that brings hope and reminders of God’s love today. Your obedience to that gentle nudge in your spirit could make an amazing difference in someone’s day.

Someone was that for me today and it made me love Jesus all the more.

The Roller Coaster Returns

Has it really been three weeks since I’ve blogged? That time has been filled with moving, moving stress, more moving stuff around, and trying to turn my moving chaos into a home for my kids before school starts next week. This move has been unlike any other I’ve undertaken because I did it as the only adult in the family. His absence was more glaringly obvious than it has been in months. There was so much I relied on him to do that he was not here to take care of and the silence of his absence is deafening.

The move wasn’t just getting out of one house into another. It was counseling kids who suddenly were hit with the reality that we were leaving the last place we lived with him. It was trying to ask for help from friends and church family who were busy with their own lives when this long after his death that feels so much harder. It was trying to handle my own conflicting emotions between the new, better house and leaving the last one I shared with him.

Yeah, it’s been emotional. It’s been more than a move.

And yet time does not allow me the luxury of simply processing this at a leisurely pace. The first day of school looms large on the calendar and I must excavate from the boxes anything my children will need to start the new year. I must take time to buy supplies when we need them or simply cannot locate them. I must get them settled enough in their new home that this place becomes their refuge from the stress of starting anew.

I have been doing this little by little. I’ve been doing so-so. Until yesterday.

Yesterday it hit me that the roller coaster of grief had somehow loaded me into a seat when I hadn’t noticed. Yesterday as I stood in line to help Jarod register for tenth grade, it hit me. The realization that when I helped him do this last year Kraig was alive rested in my chest and made me fight for control.

As the day progressed and I headed to Meet the Teacher night for four kids at three schools, his absence screamed. I struggled with the realization that I am entering the anniversary of his last week with us. I am moving toward the one year anniversary of his death. Again, I felt the clacking of a roller coaster I hadn’t bought a ticket for pulling me forward beyond anything I can do to stop it.

Maybe it’s because this is the last “first” of this first year of grief. Maybe this was why I wisely scheduled our Disney trip just past this. Maybe there was wisdom in knowing we just needed to pass this awful anniversary and then life would have carried us past the first year of grief.

In a few weeks we will arrive at the end of this first, long year. Will scars have magically closed over the wounds that have brought us struggle and tears this year? Will Thanksgiving and Christmas and so many other milestones be easier this year? Or will the grief just be softer?

Throughout the past several months, I’ve tried to help Ryan, my child with autism, wrestle with his greatest question—why didn’t we know Dad’s death was coming? Autism demands advance notice. Autism becomes anxious, upset, and trapped in a circle of processing when the unexpected occurs. I’ve tried again and again to explain to him that God sees what we cannot. And God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that had we known what was coming, we could not have enjoyed that last camping trip with Dad. We could not have simply experienced that first week of school last year as a normal week.

But somewhere inside my heart, I feel as though I’m experiencing it in flashback, knowing how it will end. Like watching Titanic and not being able to change the outcome, each day the thoughts have risen unbidden, “This is what we did with him last year at this time.” It’s an unwelcome intrusion to an already stressful job of making a home for my kids alone. It’s a ride I’d like to exit now but I sense I must finish.

Today was filled with things I had to do. There was no chance to sit and sip tea while I processed and blogged. The stress of it all became so overwhelming that my need for a rest turned into an unplanned hour and half nap. God knew I needed the rest, I think. This roller coaster cannot be avoided and I will need my strength to keep my focus on Jesus through it all.

I woke from the nap at dinner time and decided to just take the kids out to eat. I would find a way to fit it in the budget. We needed this. I needed this. And again, God my provider stepped in. We found ourselves seated at the booth next to a MOPS friend I hadn’t seen all summer. Her family finished their meal and left before ours was served. When ours was done, I discovered they’d paid our check. God knew I needed this gift, this reminder He is still here with me.

This roller coaster of grief is not something I control. It’s not something I can plan for or always anticipate. The weight of it over the past few days has caught me off guard and rattled me with its intensity. But that does not lessen who God is or what He is capable of doing with it. This coming week will be bittersweet as I send kids off to a new year and try to help them embrace the adventure it contains. As I continue to try to make this house a home without his help, it will be hard. The ghosts of last year may raise their ugly heads but God’s presence is so much more solid than they are.

So as I head to bed tonight, I will ignore the clack, clack, clack of the coaster. I will focus instead on a God who has not left me once through this year. I will choose to rest in Him and pray tomorrow is a better day.

Grief, Take a Number

It’s been a while since grief was at the top of my list of things I need to write about. That’s a good thing. A healthy thing. It’s a good feeling that my focus has been on moving and writing and my kids and not on loss.

Until today.

Today I had to call tech support at our internet company and ask what equipment is theirs and what is ours. I had to explain again to a stranger, “I’m a widow. My husband was a geek and I don’t know what is mine and what is your company’s.” The tech support guy was kind. He said this was a great reason to call. As I described what I had in the basement, he explained what each thing was for and declared, “Yeah, your husband really was a geek.”

Tears rose once again to choke my words and try to escape my eyes. I thanked him for the help and rushed off the phone.

This move is bringing up emotions that should not surprise me. I’m leaving the last house we lived in together. I’m leaving the only home Lucy has ever known. I’m having to find a nice guy from church to pack up Kraig’s tools because I just can’t. No matter how many times Jarod asks me to stop calling them “Dad’s tools” and just call them “tools” that’s what they remain in my mind. I’m thankful for the church letting us use their truck to move for free and yet it is the same truck we used to move into this house. Its presence, I fear, will cast a shadow this weekend.

This move is stressful for so many reasons. It is not happening how I had hoped or planned. It’s happening two weeks before school starts. I’m doing this with four kids and no husband to help. I’m praying I put enough down on the new house to compensate for the extra driving we’ll do and the extra cost of heating a bigger house. I’m realizing that I have no idea how to hook up a stereo or get our wireless system working. Grief needs to get in line behind the other reasons this is stressful. Grief needs to take a number.

I’m now just over 11 months on this journey of grief. That’s both encouraging and shocking to me. The number of women at She Speaks Conference who were floored I was there this soon after this loss was surprising to me. God has walked this with me. He has given me strength and support in amazing ways so me going to this conference was the next logical step in serving Him, in my mind at least. Life goes on when we serve a God who goes with us.

So today I will let a few tears fall. Today I will focus on packing more boxes and helping my daughter find a pair of shorts. (She fears she packed them all and it’s going to be almost 90 today.) I will listen to music that focuses my heart on the God who called me to embrace the adventure of life without fear.

I will give thanks for friends who still offer to help even when, deep down, I fear there is some expiration date on what I should be asking. I will give thanks for being part of an incredible church and having a friend in my pastor’s wife who not only says “Yes!” to my request for help to move, but who says to me, “Thank you for letting us love you.” I will call grief’s number and let a few tears fall because this is truly the closing of a chapter and that is sad.

But then I will breathe. I will focus on the God who calls me to take the next step as He places it before me. I will trust in Him because He is trustworthy. I will move onto the other things I need to focus on to make an amazing adventure for my children. I will trust God to make me brave.

I hope that’s all the attention you needed today, grief, ‘cause it’s all you’re gonna get.

God’s Voice in a Flat Tire

conference friends close up

Chelsia, Jeanna, Molly, and me

Since I’ve been home from the incredible weekend I had at Proverbs 31 Ministry’s fantastic She Speaks Conference, I have been at a loss for how to blog about it. That’s right—Jenn couldn’t find any words. (Yes, I hear all my friends giggling in disbelief.) And since so many of you prayed, supported, and helped me prep, I wanted to give my best report.

stacie and i

Stacie & Me

How do I fully describe what an amazing, God-led, Spirit-infused, holy conference this was? How to take you to sit with me to the banquet hall as I listen to the hum of 700 women, called by God to speak or write His story in their lives, sharing their stories? Seriously, the sound of 700 women who love words is amazing. How do I do justice to the moments set-up by the God of all creation for women to come together with no competition or pettiness and cheer each other on? Even praying with random strangers when we discovered the other had a publisher meeting? That’s not even including the amazing women I met. Where to begin?!

So what helped me finally find the inspiration to begin sharing? A flat tire.

This conference was an amazing amount of information and encouragement. Its purpose was to equip us for the call God had placed on our lives—big or small. At the preconference opening session, speaker Lynn Cowell shared about her first time attending She Speaks. When she said she left early because she felt as though she’d drunk from a fire hose and could not take in any more, I thought she was nuts. Leave early? Are you kidding? I’m here to learn as much as I can! I was eating those thoughts on the last night when my brain turned to oatmeal.

I attended sessions on blogging and book writing, publishing books and honing my craft, building your platform and rediscovering your creativity, and so much more. In the keynote sessions, I was privileged to hear Lysa TerKeurst share from a place of vulnerability, the theme of her new book, The Best Yes, “Lord, unrush me!”

I heard from Christine Caine that we had better make sure God develops His image on us and accomplishes His will in our lives before we step into the spotlight or that spotlight will ruin us. Her talk was sobering in its spiritual depth.

Author Shaunti Feldhahn reminded us that we don’t have to figure out the next steps. God’s got that part. We just have to follow the stepping stones as He places them in our path. My notes from her talk include: “Don’t try to figure out HOW He’s going to do it. Go join Him and watch what He does.” She encouraged us, as did Glynnis Whitwer, that a “no” from a publisher was not necessarily a “no” from God. It may be “not now” or “rewrite” or even “not this publisher.”

So how is it I could feel so encouraged and equipped and at the same time return home and have no idea what to do next? How is it I could feel my blog needs so much work that I don’t even know where to begin or how I’ll pay for changes? How is it I can be armed with so much information and still feel like Ralphie sitting on Santa’s lap in A Christmas Story, unable to speak or move?

So I sat at home, snuggling kids in need to attention after a week away from mom, and rested. I waited. I gave a blog a stab and discarded it. Then today I took Jarod, my teen learning to drive, for a quick trip down the street, only to discover, he had a flat. Guess it’s time to teach him a life skill, I thought. And please, God, let me remember how since it’s been over 16 years.

As we began to tackle this task, I wrestled with calling someone to help. But deep down, I knew I could do this. I have done this. God had given me experience and knowledge to do this and jarod tireteach it. And there began the answer in my head about my writing.

God had given me the experience to do this. He had given me a way with words that is unique and a story to tell that glorifies Him. This past week He provided tools to begin and places to go for information. Most importantly, the words of Christine Caine from a recent Facebook pic came to mind: “If you can figure out a way to make it happen, you need to dream bigger.” His dreams are beyond me!

God is still the one directing my path. It is the path He already laid out for me and, as promised in Ephesians 2:10, He is preparing me to do the good works He’s already planned for me. There is release there. There is freedom in letting go and trusting Him for what’s next.

For those of you who prayed for my conference and publisher meetings, thank you! The first publisher was a sound no. The second was an open door. She took my proposal because I “intrigued” her. The third was another open door. She wasn’t sure about my format but is willing to make notes on how to alter it to become what they are looking for and return it to me for changes. Even that was encouraging. If God wants something else from me, Oh Lord, let me be willing to change!

For those unfamiliar with publishing, those are two maybes on a long road. They could turn into no’s. They could turn into “yes, but….” But figuring that out isn’t my job. It’s God’s. And as I taught my sixteen-year-old to change a flat (and welcomed the help of a passing stranger), I felt the peace of knowing God will set before me the steps I need to take next.

Funny how God can use even a flat tire.