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This Is Life

My chest feels tight with stress. My mind is fighting worry. Just when I manage to slow down my anxious heart, something else piles onto the load I’m carrying.

But this is life.

This is life when you’re about to have abdominal surgery and are told to expect a month-long recovery time (during which you’re not allowed to lift your babies). When your washing machine has been broken for going on three weeks with no end in sight. When all four tires need to be replaced unexpectedly. When you receive a letter less than a week before your surgery notifying you that your car has an urgent safety recall (again) and needs to be repaired now. When your kids roll from one illness into another, week after week. When your husband’s plane breaks down in another state and doesn’t come home the night you expect. When you spend your day cleaning up poop accidents and vomit. When someone tells you that the hospital where you’re about to have surgery in 7 days might have suddenly been dropped from your insurance. When you realize that by the time you recover from surgery, it will almost be time for another “see you soon” with your military hero. When you can’t even poor yourself a glass of wine after the kids go to bed because they suddenly refuse to fall asleep alone. When you wake up nauseous every morning because your gallbladder sucks at doing its job. When you fall asleep in pain because a hernia is pushing through a hole in your abdomen.  When you have a lot of unanswered questions and you hate unknowns. When all the people you would normally process your worries with live on the opposite side of the country in a different time zone. When you’ve agreed to write an article about prayer and grief for an editor, but get stuck in your own grief just trying to put words on paper. When you spend large portions of each day wiping urine off the bathroom walls, floor, and toilet (knowing full-well it will be covered with pee as soon as your son needs to go again). When toddler emotions bubble over and sibling fights seem never-ending. When your children freeze in the middle of their shenanigans to look at you like you’ve lost your mind because you’re praying out-loud for God to fill you with his patience. When you suspect your three-year-old sneaks off to law school in the middle of the night because his negotiation tactics and logic-based arguing are irritatingly impressive.  When you look at your day and choose to laugh because crying will take even more of your energy.

This is life. At least, that’s my life this week.

But life is also watching your toddler son strut around the local store decked out head-to-toe in the police uniform he created all on his own. Rocking your babies to sleep and brushing the hair out of their eyes in the middle of the night. Witnessing the enthusiasm in your 18-month-old’s face as she dances to her own tune. Snuggling with your kids under the biggest blanket you can find while reading the same books over and over again for an hour. Being your son’s copilot while he teaches you the ins and outs of the C-130, F-16, and American Airlines’ planes. Playing grocery store with your kids instead of doing dishes. Throwing a Firehouse Subs hat on your head and fighting imaginary fires with hoses made out of fishing poles instead of folding laundry. Holding back tears while your son asks his sister to dance and sings her a song about how much he loves her. Having your husband surprise you with roses and hold you in his arms. Having your mom and mother-in-law selflessly agree to come help you despite the distance, time, and cost. Receiving encouraging phone calls and texts from friends back home. Finding a surprise bag of clothes on your doorstep from another thoughtful friend. Breathing in the joys and blessings that abound in your life, and letting go of all the other stuff. Relaxing in your faith that God is ultimately in control and He will sustain you through your weary days.

This is life. And I am crazy thankful to be living it!

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Apology to My LGBT Friends

My heart is broken. My blood is boiling. Today when scrolling through the news, I stumbled across an article titled, “Pastor Praises Attack on Orlando Night Club.” Hoping I had misread the title, I clicked on the article.

To my disgust, I learned that there is in fact a “pastor” in Sacramento who can be seen on YouTube telling Christians that we don’t need to do anything to help in the wake of the deadly shooting, that now “Orlando is a little bit safer,” and that we should not be mourning the deaths of the victims. I will not repeat the names he used to refer to the victims. As if he hasn’t already caused enough pain with his words, he continues, “I wish the government would round them all up and put them up against a firing wall, and blow their brains out.”

I cannot be silent. I will not be silent.

I doubt enough people read my posts for this to really make much impact, but I cannot quietly sit by while a man fueled by evil uses the name of Christ to spread his own hatred and wickedness.

If even one person from the LGBT community reads this post, then I hope it is worth writing.

Brothers and sisters, please hear me when I say, this man’s words do NOT in any way reflect the heart of Christ. Jimenez is not representing the word of God. There is no biblical truth in his hate-filled statements. The message he is spreading is an utter disgrace to the love God has for his children.

Your life is no less valuable in the eyes of God. You are his masterpiece, his cherished and beloved child. You do not deserve to be targeted, attacked or belittled in any way. You are created in the image of God—a God who encompasses love, compassion, grace, mercy and justice. You are treasured by a God who grieves when his children die, a God who abhors hatred and self-righteousness, a God who laid down his life in an act of love for us all, and a God who weeps with you as you mourn.

Nothing I say can erase the pain this man and others like him have caused.

Nevertheless, I want to offer my sincerest apology on behalf of the Church for any pain you have suffered at the mouths or hands of people falsely claiming to be Christians.

I am so deeply sorry that anyone claiming to be a Christ-follower could even fathom saying such horrible things to another human being. Hateful words do not represent the heart of the Church. And I am sorry for the all times you have looked to the church to stand up against such hateful bigotry but have instead been met with silence and inaction.

As you grieve the loss of the victims in Orlando, please know that Christians across the country are grieving alongside you.

We grieve because 49 innocent people lost their lives at the hand’s of a man filled with hatred. We grieve because our nation has once again experienced an act of terrorism, a deadly hate crime, a senseless mass shooting. We grieve for those who lost their loved ones, and we grieve for those who are bearing the brunt of hateful speech in the wake of the shooting.

We stand with you, we mourn with you, and we lock arms with you. We vow to raise our voices and speak out against the injustices you face. We promise to treat you with the utmost respect and to do whatever we can to never allow anyone to carry out acts of brutality against you.

You are loved, you are valued, and may you never be treated as anything less.

My deepest sympathy & my utmost love,

Kimberly Carroll

 

A note to my fellow Christians: If you agree, please either take the time to share this post or write your own. This is not a time to be quiet. Please, I am begging you, do not be quiet. So many people are hurting and looking to see how people who claim to love Jesus will respond.  Your words matter. Choose love.

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When You Can’t Feel God

When a Christian dies, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Growing up, I always thought of this peace as a sense of warmth, calmness and nearness to God. It was something very tangible, supernaturally settling and emotionally comforting.

Then I sat in a hospital room and watched one of my best friends breathe her final breaths.

Over the next couple days as we prepared Katie’s funeral, I heard others describe the incredible warmth and tangible peace of God they experienced during those last hours in Katie’s hospital room. They described the overwhelming calmness and comfort that God provided in such a dark hour. Not just one, but multiple people recounted feeling the same overwhelming sense of peace as they said their goodbyes to sweet Katie.

I listened intently to their recollection of that night. I thought about my own experience of those very same hours. And then the brokenness in my heart pierced even deeper.

Why had I not felt the same presence of God? What was wrong with me? Was I less spiritually mature than them? Or even worse, was God turning me away?

I was too ashamed at the time to admit to anyone that not only had I not experienced those hours the same way they had, but almost everything I had felt that night was completely opposite of what they described.

 

Out of respect for Katie and others who were there during her final hours, I don’t want to go into much detail about all that I remember from her last day. But here are some things I don’t think Katie would mind me sharing.

The room was burning up. But even though I was physically sweating through my clothes, my bones felt cold as ice. It was a deep, shivering cold that coursed through my bones relentlessly.

I knew what was happening but I couldn’t cry. As long as Katie was still breathing, I couldn’t let my brain or my heart go to thoughts of her no longer being with us. I needed to stay focused on being present for her and her family. I could deal with my grief later, I told myself.

The afternoon turned into night. The darker it became outside, the colder by bones felt.

The changes in Katie’s state of health changed so drastically in just a few short hours. The images and sounds will never leave my memory. Some are more beautiful than I could ever put into words, like the way her husband and mother never left her side. Others are best left unvisited.

Late into the night, a pastor began leading us all in prayer. A few minutes into the prayer, my 9 month pregnant body hit its limit and the room started to spin. I hated the thought of leaving Katie, but I knew I needed to step out for a moment to breathe some fresh air and sit down. We had been in there for hours and I knew I needed a moment to take care of the precious little life kicking around inside me. I quietly slipped into the hall thinking I would just refresh and then go back in when my head felt more stable. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would never again be in the room with a living, breathing Katie.

While I was out in the hall, everyone said goodbye for the final time and left the room
so her family could have some much needed time alone Katie. While we were in the waiting room, Katie took her last breath. Her sister came back to the waiting room and let us know what had happened. At first I didn’t hear what she said. When someone later repeated the words, Katie is gone, it all came crashing down.

I couldn’t hold it together any longer. It didn’t matter if I was going to piss Katie off anymore, the tears were coming and there was absolutely nothing else I could do to keep them bottled up any longer.

Her family was so sweet and allowed us girls to go back in the room a final time to see Katie before we left the hospital. Holding her hand and looking at her in the same pink blanket we had given her just a few months earlier, I couldn’t hold back the sobs.

The room felt empty. It was still full of people. But it felt so empty without Katie breathing.

If I was supposed to feel God in that moment, I didn’t. Everything felt so wrong. This was not how things were supposed to be. No one is supposed to die a horrible death when they are a young newlywed. Peace was a nice thought, but it was not my reality.

Maybe I just needed to adjust my attitude, I told myself. But I knew that wasn’t true. I still believed that God was good. I still believed he had a greater purpose than anything we could understand in this life. I still believed that he loved us, I still saw evidence of his goodness and mercy all around me. But I couldn’t feel him.

When I had expected to feel his warmth, I felt cold. When I had expected to feel peace, I felt fear and anger. When I had expected to feel his presence, I felt emptiness.

 

Over two years have passed since Katie moved on from this life. The beauty and blessings that have poured into my life over the last two years have been remarkable. God has blessed me with two amazing kids who make every day a gift. I have a loving husband who sacrifices daily to take care of our family and protect our country. I have an incredibly supportive family and more genuine friends than I could ever deserve.

But even with all the good, even with the overwhelming gratefulness I have in my heart for all that God has redeemed in my life, I have still struggled to feel God’s presence since Katie left.

When I sit in church, I usually feel one of three things: numb, on the verge of tears, or burning anger. When I try attending women’s bible studies where some perfectly put together speaker refers to “bad days” as having the rain mess up her hair or having her water heater run out of gas on a cold snowy day, I want to scream. When I sit down to read my bible, I feel numb. When I pray for God’s protection over my children, a stab of fear often hits my stomach knowing that sometimes God’s ways are not our ways and I have absolutely no idea (and very little control over) what my kids’ futures will hold.

Perhaps it is wrong for me to share this with others. Perhaps some will view this as too negative and a poor testimony to the power of God.

But if I have felt this, there are likely others who are experiencing something similar in their own grief. And if there’s anything I want in this life, it’s for others to know they are not alone in their struggles.

If anyone is wrestling with similar feelings, I want them to know it doesn’t mean God is actually far away, or that something is wrong with them, or that he’s turning his back on them.

As long as we live on this Earth, shit is going to happen (sorry for the language, Mom). Deep, unbearable pain will hit, probably multiple times, in every person’s lifetime.

Some of those times the supernatural, all-consuming peace of God will wash over us in ways more tangible than words can explain. I promise that is real—I have experienced it before even if it wasn’t what I felt when we lost Katie. It’s not just some nice thought that Christians use to make each other feel better. It is a true peace that brings more stillness and comfort to my soul than any other comfort I’ve known.

But, is it possible that sometimes God might lead us through seasons where his presence is less emotionally and physically tangible in order to strengthen us and mature our faith in ways we might not otherwise experience if he always “felt” close?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found these spiritually colder seasons require much more intentionality from my faith.

Choosing to place my hope in Christ when the pain of grief far outweighs all the cliché things well-meaning Christians say when they haven’t yet walked through the trenches…

Choosing to rest in God’s sovereignty when I feel anxiety wreaking havoc on my body and mind…

Choosing to trust when my heart tells me it’s too dangerous…

Choosing to love when my wounds tell me to build walls…

Choosing to never give up when the enemy whispers that hope is pointless…

Choosing to believe God’s here with me even when the enemy tells me God’s turned his back on me…

Choosing to lean into Christ’s love even when I can’t feel him nearby…

Intentionally choosing faith in spite of everything I’m feeling, those are the moments my faith is made real. Those are the times my endurance grows. Those are the days my faith is stripped raw, my hope is tested, and the only thing that matters is knowing Christ conquered it all, this is not the end, and no matter what happens in this life, no matter how close or how far he “feels” today, my God wins in the end.

I may not always have piece in the moment, but at the end of the day I sleep knowing that no matter what happens tomorrow, Christ has overcome death and one day even my deepest sorrows will be made new in him.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:1-5

 

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Letting Go of Control

For the Worried Mom & the Anxious at Heart

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

Shortly after losing my sweet friend to cancer, I gave birth to an incredible baby boy. Matthew is a complete joy. He is full of bright smiles, giggly laughs and personality. He melts my heart and makes me wish I could freeze the clock a hundred times each day. So much of my heart is wrapped up in this tiny being.

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Receiving this precious bundle of new life right on the heels of witnessing death has been a constant reminder that every moment is a gift.

But with that also comes an acute awareness of the fragility of life. Nothing on Earth is guaranteed.

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Two days after Matthew’s birth, while we were preparing to leave the hospital, our sweet baby started choking in his sleep. Nurses rushed over to help him catch his breath and tears spilled over my worried eyes. Thankfully, the choking subsided and he only had to spend 24 hours hooked up to monitors in the nursery before we were able to take him home (turns out he just chokes easily on his reflux). But it was in that moment—watching my baby struggle for air—that I felt panic strip away my own ability to breathe deeply.

For the next two months, I felt like I was holding on for dear life—terrified to let go, breathe and “just be.” The tiniest love of my life was depending on me 24/7. His dad was away with the Air Force and, for better or worse, this sweet baby was stuck with me to take care of his every need.

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My anxiety hit an all-time high.

But what if I mess up? What if I close my eyes for just a second and something horrible happens to him? What if he chokes & I’m not there to help him? What if I miss something important? What if he gets sick? What if I lose him too?

Never in my life had I felt so much love for someone so tiny. The fear of losing him felt constant, unrelenting, and all-consuming.

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Two months later, we reunited with my husband at our new base.

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Life has calmed down a bit and the fear has begun to ease. But I still have moments when that fear starts to take hold.

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There are still times during each day when I find myself worrying about the endless list of possible dangers our son could face.

Sometimes those fears don’t seem too farfetched… choking, SIDS, dead bugs and other gunk on floor that he’s guaranteed to try eating one of these days…

Other times, I’m pretty sure I’ve passed the line of normal new-mom fears and crossed into the much dreaded helicopter parent zone, or even worse, the freaked-out-crazy-neurotic-mom that makes helicopter parents seem mild. Unable to sleep at night, I’ll catch myself worrying about fires, brain eating amoebas (the kid can’t even walk yet, let alone swim underwater in a lake), dry drowning, cancer, criminals, storms , wars, car accidents… and, good gracious, the list keeps going.

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But whether the fears are “normal” or a little on the crazy side, the underlying issue is the same—control. Never in my life have I felt the need to control every possible danger like I do now that I’m a mother.

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But here’s the thing…

No matter how hard I try to protect Matthew and no matter how responsible I try to be at parenting, I will never be able to control everything. Injuries, illness and heartache are all guaranteed to come in and out of his life. There will always be dangers lurking in the shadows and, despite my best attempts, I will not always be able to see them coming in time to intervene.

Furthermore, no matter how hard I try, I still will never be a perfect parent. I will make mistakes, many mistakes. And that’s okay, because let’s be honest…

I will never be able to supply all of my son’s needs. There will always be a need in his life for someone infinitely better than me.

Thankfully, that Someone actually is in control over everything. Not only that, but He loves my son with a love that is more perfect, more complete and more powerful than anything in this world.

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!” Psalm 139:15-18

It’s okay that I’ll never be a perfect parent, because our heavenly Father is the only who can fill that role.

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And so enters my daily need to choose faith over fear.

“He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.” Psalm 91:4-8

We decided to name our son Matthew because it means gift from God. The gift of his life brings me more joy than I can put into words and I will do everything in my power to provide him with the best life possible.

But part of giving him the best life possible means letting go. Letting go of fear. Letting go of control.

The other part of Matthew’s name means unwavering defender.

I long for our son to grow into a man who stands confidently in his faith in God, holds his head high and does not waver when storms come his way.

Passing on an anxious spirit will not serve him. But passing on a spirit of peace, courage and faith will take him further than my protective momma arms could ever reach.

So when I feel myself grasping for control and fearing the worst, may I set my eyes on the One who actually is control, trust in His sovereignty, release my clinched fists and embrace the peace that comes from remembering His love will never end.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27

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Post #3 in Refuge from the Ruins

Post #3 in Refuge from the Ruins—A Miniseries on Grief and Suffering

Below you will find a few journal entries from the last several months. These words were not written with the intention of being shared as posts on the blog. But instead of trying to fit the last 8 months into a neatly organized blog post that feels “nice” to read, I decided I’d just give you a real glimpse into what this process has actually been like for me. So, for better or worse, here you go.

January 2014

I still can’t believe this is real. I can, but I can’t. After eight months of watching her deteriorate and wondering during each hospital stay if she would ever come back home, it’s hard to believe it actually happened. She didn’t come home last time. Instead, she went to the home where she was ultimately created to be…

When we went to the hospital that day, we all knew what was happening, Katie included…It’s such a helpless feeling watching someone you love die. There is absolutely nothing you can do. So you try to speak as many comforting words to them as you can, with the hope that they can hear but no guarantee. You do whatever you think in the moment might make them more comfortable, but you really don’t know what they’re feeling because they can’t communicate with you. You try to read every sound, every grimace, every opening of the eyes. But the truth is you have no idea what they are conscious of, what they can feel, or what they can hear. You just do the best you can.

When they are still awake, what do you say to them? How do you communicate in minutes what they’ve meant to you in a lifetime? You can’t. So you hope that your relationship with them up to this point has let them know how dearly you love them. You hope that the words you’ve spoken throughout the years and final months of their life have communicated with them how deeply you appreciate them. You hope they know what a wonderful impact they’ve had on you and they will never be forgotten. But what do you say when all you have left are minutes before they fade out of consciousness? No matter how sweet or comforting your words might actually be, you can’t help but feel like they are simply not enough. Nothing you can say in those two minutes feels like it does justice to what your heart longs for your loved one to know. At least, that has been my experience these past four weeks.

Papa died December 10th. Katie died January 13th. One month, that’s all that separated them. Four short weeks with my husband leaving for training halfway in between.

This past month has stolen my breath. It has wrecked my heart. It has been grueling, exhausting and painstaking. There has been so much loss. But even in all of that, God has blessed with me gifts of joy. He has been there all along, and I still have so much to be grateful for in the midst of my pain.

So while I sit with the ache and sort through the grief, I will also look forward with hope and thanksgiving. Both Papa and Katie had mastered the specialty of being able to stay positive and thankful through even the toughest seasons of life. I hope I can do the same.

May 2014

Tomorrow marks one year since Katie called to tell me she had cancer. She was so calm on the phone and kept telling me she was fine. I remember telling myself to stay calm, cancer isn’t a death sentence. She was young—surely with a little surgery she’d be fine. A week later we found out there was no cure.

Her death still feels surreal. It still hurts so much. It still feels wrong. Life will never be the same, although we’re trying to continue forward the best we can.

Late May 2014

It has almost been 5 months since Katie passed away. It feels like it’s getting harder instead of easier. I think that’s because I was so busy the first four months with having a baby, moving to another state and settling into our new life. Now that things have calmed down, I have more alone time than I’ve had since she died. It hurts so much.

I hate that she’s gone. I hate that she suffered. I hate it all.

I miss her smile. I miss her sarcastic comments and eye rolls. I miss her craving sweet tea and sending us pictures of her making silly faces. I miss the joy on her face when she fell in love with Josh. I miss texting her all the time. I miss her soft voice. I miss listening to her lose her filter. I miss everything about her. I miss sitting by her bedside. I miss taking her smoothies. I miss hearing her say everything will be alright. I miss pretending to watch cooking shows with her. I miss hoping that it would end differently. I’m heartbroken that it didn’t.

I want her back. I want to find out she was never sick, she never died and she’s still living at the Reid’s house just waiting for me to get back to Richmond. I want things to be the way they were before she got sick. But nothing will ever be the same again. Ever.

This time last year she was just starting chemo. We were trying so hard to be optimistic. June 2—the day I found out I was pregnant with Matthew—we went to the beach so she could have one more beach day before starting chemo. As soon as she started chemo, everything changed…

Katie would always say, “No matter what, it will be OK. I’ll be OK. It will be alright.” She said that right up to and through the end. But it ended with the part of “no matter what” that we dreaded–her earthly death. So is it really OK? Is everything really alright now that she’s gone?

I wouldn’t necessarily say everything is alright, but this is what I do know:

Katie is better than OK. She’s great. She’s in the safest, most loving and beautiful place she could be–free from cancer, free from pain, and totally complete in the presence of the all-loving Jesus. Since death could not hold Christ down, it cannot hold Katie down–she is most certainly with him in paradise.

Furthermore, God is still here among us. He has not abandoned us. He is still holding us in the palm of his hand while we finish our part of the race. Just because Katie crossed the finish line 1st does not mean God is any less loving or present in our lives.

We are all going to cross the finish line at some point, so we better make the most of every moment along the way.

Cherish your loved ones, but don’t put your hope in them. Put your hope only in the One who conquered the grave, the One who can never be taken away–Jesus Christ.

It is only because of the hope we have in Christ that we can truly say, no matter what, it’s still OK–He’s still on His throne and we have nothing to fear. Our hope is in him alone.

 

June 2014

This isn’t easy to admit, but I think pieces of my heart are growing bitter. I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude about everything and I’ve tried to keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture. But, despite these efforts, I think I’m still growing bitter little bits at a time.

I notice it during prayer and when I listen to sermons. I notice it when I’m short with my husband for no reason. I notice it when I’m around bubbly super-energetic people.

There’s an underlying hardness that I try to mask, ignore and reason away. But just when I think it’s gone, it shows its ugly face again.

A pastor recently suggested that when people grow bitter from life’s trials, it’s just because they need to get their attitude in check. If they would just make up their minds to have a positive attitude and trust God, the problem would be solved (so he claimed).

But I don’t believe it’s that simple. In fact, I believe he’s missing something crucial to the healing process.

The message he’s declaring upon the church is the very message I once used as a reason to suppress my emotions, ignore my pain, invalidate my sadness, and validate my lifestyle of numbing out. Rather than letting myself acknowledge, confront and deal with my pain, I would tell myself to fix my attitude. I really believed that it was wrong and sinful to be angry, especially at God. Eventually I became so accustomed to suppressing my true feelings that I convinced myself I never even felt angry.

After years of working through recovery, however, I now know that belief was both misguided and false.

God is big enough to handle my anger.

When I choose to fall at God’s feet and enter into dialogue with him about my broken heart, I invite him into my brokenness and allow him to meet me just as I am—heartbroken, angry and afraid. If I pretend like the pain isn’t there, that opportunity is lost, the pain festers and the bitterness only grows.

So rather than ignoring my emotions, I’ve tried over the last seven years of recovery to say,

“Lord, I’m angry. I’m hurting. I’m disappointed. I’m confused. But I know you are all-loving and completely good. I believe that, even when I can’t feel you and even when it’s hard to see your hand at work, you have not abandoned me. You are still on your throne. Your redeeming love is still at work in my life and in this world. You have a plan in all of this and it is good. I am choosing to trust you. Help my unbelief. Here’s my broken heart. Thank you for taking me as I am. I love you, Lord.”

But the last several months were a complete whirlwind. So many things were happening all at once. There wasn’t time to process it all. Whenever I sat down to write or talk about it all, I fell into an exhausted daze and life continued unfolding faster than I could keep up with.

As a result, I rarely took the time to fully hand over my raw and broken heart to God. Of course, I pleaded with him daily to intervene and work miracles. But I never really talked to him about how it all was affecting me emotionally, spiritually, or mentally.

I wasn’t talking to God about it and I certainly wasn’t talking to anyone else about it.

So what happened? Emotions were suppressed and bitterness festered.

But that’s not what I want. I want things to change. It’s not about my attitude. It’s about being real, being honest and opening up with God about what’s really taking place in my heart. And I need to start today.

 

Lord,

You know my heart better than I do. You see my bitterness in its entirety. Father, I don’t want to grow cold. A bitter heart is not what I desire. I confess that I have not been fully placing my heart at your feet. But I’m here right now asking you in your tender mercy to meet me as I am—broken, disappointed, angry, hurt, heartbroken, fearful and confused. Please take this honest cry from my heart as an act of me reaching out to you, longing for you and laying my mask at your feet.

God, I’m angry that Katie got sick. I know she is complete with you now, but I’m angry that you allowed her to suffer so much. I am so grateful she isn’t suffering anymore and I’m so grateful for all the ways you provided for her needs while she was sick. But God, she got so sick. You saw her deteriorating. You saw her hurting. And despite our earnest and sincere pleas for your intervention, you allowed it to continue.

God, I know there is more to the big picture than I can see. I know you were still there for Katie. I know you heard our prayers and didn’t really ignore us. I know you are good, loving and faithful.

But it hurts, God. It doesn’t make sense. I know we live in a broken world and suffering is a part of living in a sinful world. I know you were with us in that room when she died. I know death isn’t really the end for us. But, oh God, I wish so desperately Katie had never gotten sick. I wish so badly she had never suffered.

Thank you for all the ways you did provide. Thank you for conquering death so we can confidently say this is not the end. Thank you for the joyous gift of Matthew’s life. Please take my heart and fill the pain with your healing, your love, your wisdom, your peace, your joy and your redemption. I need you, Jesus.

(The next day)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote yesterday. When I use the word bitter, it’s different than what I’d normally think of or associate with that emotion. I don’t walk around thinking I’m so angry or life is so unfair. Most of my days are spent laughing and playing with Matthew. I still feel grateful daily and consider myself abundantly blessed.

I guess that’s why I referred to it as “subtle hints” of bitterness. Because it’s not overt, in your face & lashing out bitterness, it can be easy to miss, dismiss and mistake for something else. When I’m impatient with my husband, I focus on his shortcomings and blame him. When I struggle to laugh or carry on an upbeat conversation with anyone other than Matthew, I assume it’s because I’m exhausted (which I usually am) or shy in new settings. But when I’m sitting in church, reading the Bible or spending time in prayer it’s harder to ignore.

Did the past year really happen? Did I really watch one of my best friends die? How is that possible? Why did God let her go through that?

I don’t know how to describe what it’s like to watch someone die. First, there were the 8 months of watching the cancer completely take over and eat away her body. Then there was that final day of watching her leave this world forever.

On one hand, there is a constant deep heartache that is always there. But in other ways, I feel detached–like I just watched the last year play out on a screen and there’s no way that was actually reality. It’s so hard to explain.

God,

Although I might not know how to put everything into words, I’m grateful that you see my heart, my mind and my life with total clarity. Thank you for loving me despite what you see in me. Lord, I surrender my heart and my life to you. You are in control and I’m choosing to place my trust in you alone–no matter what.

“As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

Thank you, sweet Jesus, that you remain forever. Please soften my heart. Mend the brokenness, heal the pain and melt away the bitterness. Fulfill your promises in Scripture to make beauty from these ashes.

July 2014

I’m out of words. I feel more than perhaps I’d like, but every time I try to put it all into words I stare blankly at my computer screen, type a few sentences and then hit backspace until all the words disappear (like somehow that’s going to help). I still don’t really know what to say or what to talk about.

On January 9th, my heart broke. It broke in a way unlike any time before and the pain pierced deeper than anything I’ve ever felt. Six months later, I’m still not sure life will ever be the same. How could it be?

Yes, it’s true that life carries on after someone you love dies. Time does not stand still while you sort through your grief. Days keep coming and going, and your busy life continues racing along. But then all of a sudden you realize 6 months have passed and your heart still has a gaping hole in it.

There is an undercurrent of heartache to most of my days. Sometimes it’s subtle—just a quiet ache that never fully dismisses itself. Other times, it’s not so subtle. The word “cancer” still makes me feel cold all over while a sense of panic freezes the life circulating within me. I’ll be going along with my day as usual and then, for seemingly no reason at all, my heart will attempt to pound out of my chest. One little reminder and my mind fills with images of waiting rooms, beeping monitors, shallow breaths and life-departing groans. Words that were said replay in my mind, and words that were never said (but maybe should’ve been) seep guilt into my bones. Then, as quickly as the memories flooded in, the reality of the here and now catches up to me. I remind myself that right now I’m actually just sipping coffee with friends or listening to my husband talk about his day. Taking a deep breath, I tell myself that everything is okay. Then I attempt to pick up wherever I left off and hope those around me don’t notice I’ve been MIA from the conversation for the past minute—a minute that felt like a year.

Losing a best friend to cancer is awful. There is no other way to put it—it completely sucks in every way. Yes, life is indeed carrying on; but there will forever be a hole where there was once an incredible friend…

Godspeed, Katie. I love and miss you terribly.

 

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Quick Update

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To those of you who have been checking the blog these last three months, I apologize for my absence. The day after my last post I went into labor with my son and the last 12 weeks have been taken up by spending every waking moment looking after him. When he turned two months, we moved across the country to join my husband at our new Air Force base. I haven’t forgotten about y’all, I just haven’t had time to write since he was born.

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More posts are on the way!

 

 

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Refuge from the Ruins: A Miniseries on Grief & Suffering

Three weeks ago I knelt by the bedside of one of my best friends while she faded away from this life. I am at a loss for words. I have replayed those final hours over and over again in my mind. I’ve picked up a pen so many times since then to try and put my thoughts on paper, but there really are no words. What words could possibly describe the sacredness of walking through the final moments of life with someone you love, but also convey the immense heartache that their physical absence leaves behind? What words could ever explain the relief of knowing their suffering is over, but also express the deep sense of loss that floods your heart in the days to follow? If there are words to describe times like this, I don’t know what they are yet.

What I do know is this:

First, Katie’s suffering was not in vain. There are countless lessons to be learned from the way she lived her life and handled her battle with cancer.

Second, grieving is a messy and ongoing process that is universal to the human race. It’s something we all go through at various points in our lives and it’s inescapable.

Third, I created this blog one year ago primarily as a resource for those of you who are struggling to overcome eating disorders, addictions and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, as well as a resource for those of you who are feeling hopeless and alone in your suffering. To those of you who fall into that category of readers, I fully understand how experiencing loss and grief can be extremely triggering. Fighting for recovery in the midst of such heartache can certainly feel like too much to handle. Please know that I fully understand, I hear you and I am still here to encourage you in your fight for freedom. When making this blog I agreed to be real and transparent. I agreed to share the raw and honest truths of my own story in hopes of encouraging you to never give up, no matter what. I agreed that I would not pretend to be perfect, but instead would let you see how I actively live out a fully recovered life in the midst of chaotic and triggering situations. My commitment to being there for you and being real with you has not changed now that I am dealing with this loss. If anything, it has provided one more opportunity for me to let you see that recovery is still completely worthwhile and hope still exists, even when life feels like it’s falling apart around you.

Refuge from the Ruins:

With all of that in mind, I have decided to create Refuge from the Ruins – a miniseries of posts in which I will tackle loss, grief and suffering. Throughout the series, you will essentially be invited to follow me along as I sort through the messiness of grief in my own life.

I don’t know how long this little series of posts will last (After all, I’ll be giving birth to our sweet little boy sometime over the next 5 days, so don’t expect new posts to be up every day). Maybe it will just mean writing a few entries and moving forward. Maybe it will take longer. I don’t have a set plan for how I will go about this new chapter in my life. But as it unfolds, I will do what I can to take you along.

As I reflect on the lessons that Katie’s life and death have taught me, I will do my best to share them with you so that you might feel encouraged. As I sift through the varying emotions of grieving the loss of such a great friend, I will be real with you so that you can see I’m just as human as the next and you are not alone in your pain. I will open up with you about how I’m coping and keeping old struggles from resurfacing so that you can see full recovery is still possible even in the face of life’s greatest trials. Additionally, I will take time to look for the beauty in all of this and to note the gifts of joy that God still brings my way.

Disclaimer: Katie was deeply loved by many, and I certainly am not the only one grieving the loss of her life. So please know ahead of time that this series will not be a place for pity. Its sole purpose will be to open up the door for discussion about a topic that is often difficult to talk about, to let those of you who are struggling see that recovery is still worth fighting for even when life feels unbearable, and to encourage those of you are dealing with grief to remember that hope, refuge and peace can still be yours even in the midst of unspeakable pain.

If you’re interested in following me along in this journey, stay tuned! The first post of the series is titled, Nothing Is Wasted, and it will be up shortly.

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Taking Leaps & Surrendering the Outcomes: Thoughts from a Military Wife

Growing up, I used to tell people I could never marry a man who was either A) in the military B) a police officer or C) a fire fighter. I was terrified of falling in love with someone who would regularly be in dangerous situations because I feared what might happen to him. When it came to the military I was especially afraid because not only did that mean a dangerous job for the man I loved, but it also meant spending significant time apart where I would have to do life largely on my own. So I made up my mind at an early age that I just wouldn’t let myself fall in love with someone who had any of those 3 careers in their future.

Well, God had other plans. At age 14, I met the man I would one day marry. And there was nothing “safe” about any of his life ambitions. I knew from the time I met him that whatever road he ended up taking in life, it would be a dangerous one. It’s in his DNA. A desk job would drive him crazy. He has to be right in the action. But more than that, he has to be doing something meaningful with his life. He is constantly looking for ways to improve the lives others, protect those who cannot protect themselves, and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. He is a man founded on courage and selflessness. He does not fear for his safety. All he can see is the need in front of him, and he can’t help but respond.

So naturally, I was scared to let my heart fall for this guy, who at age 14 was already fearless and more motivated than most adults I knew. But despite my young stubborn self, God began preparing my heart for what was to come. When I wasn’t so sure about this guy I had met in gym class and tried to talk myself out of my feelings for him, it was as if I could hear God whispering in my ear, “You don’t have to fall for him right now, but that is the guy you are going to marry one day.”

Over the next 6 years, we became best friends who were head over heels in love with each other. We were confident that marriage was in our future. But there was one not so little hurdle we needed to address: Will felt strongly that God was calling him to join the Air Force.

After a great deal of prayer and consideration, it became evident that God was definitely leading the man I loved more than anything into a career I had always feared. And I had to make a decision.

Would I let fear prevent me from continuing to walk forward with the man I loved? Or would I realize that a life led by fear was no life at all, that God was bigger than any of my fears, and that my love for this man outweighed my own fears and insecurities?

Looking at my options, I realized that I would much rather have Will as my husband and place my full trust in God than sacrifice a life with Will in order to hide away in my own little secure bubble—which, let’s be honest, was not invincible either.

It’s been a little over 3 ½ years since I took one of the greatest leaps of my life by saying “I do.”

Last week (the day after Christmas), Will moved across the country to our new duty station. After quickly setting up a new home for us, he will then leave on assignment with the Air Force.

Because I am just a few short weeks away from delivering our sweet son, I was unable to move with Will. Instead, I have stayed behind with family and friends to prepare for my next big adventure: giving birth to our first child while my husband is away.

At this point, we don’t know how long it will be before we see each other again. All we know is that the next time we’re together, I’ll be handing him our son for the first time and congratulating him on becoming a father.

This situation is a prime example of what I used to fear so strongly and why I had once been so determined to never marry a man in the military.

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade my life with Will for anything. Marrying him and following him on this journey was the absolute best decision I could have made, and I would do it all over again.

I’m not going to lie—sending my husband off and knowing he would be unable to be at the birth of our son was very difficult. For real y’all, this pregnant lady was an emotional mess. Everything in me wanted to go with him or have someone say, “Just kidding, he can actually stay with you, hold your hand while you give birth to your son and help you tackle the challenge of being a first time parent to a newborn.” But neither of those wishes were an option. My husband has been called to his own set of responsibilities and challenges, and now it is my responsibility to “hold down the fort” if you will & embrace my new role as a mother.

It’s not going to be easy, but God has placed this season in our lives for a reason. Rather than letting fear control me, I am going to take my grandfather’s advice and make a daily decision to approach this time with a positive attitude. I am going to look forward to the joys of motherhood and count down the days until I can hold our sweet baby in my arms. When the ache of missing Will becomes too difficult, I will lean on God & my wonderful support system to push forward. Mostly, I will remember that the rough moments are temporary and that they each hold something special for me to learn.

So to everyone who asks questions like: How do you do it? Aren’t you fearful for his safety? How are you going to handle deployments, because I could never do that? What if, what if, what if?! … (Trust me, this list can get quite long)… To all of you sweet and thoughtful friends, I would say this:

Rather than fearing the worst, join with me in faithful prayer for Will’s safety and God’s provision. Trust that no matter how long the two of us are apart, no matter what challenges come our way, no matter how much I have to tackle “on my own,”… trust that God is bigger than it all. Pray for him to equip each of us with the strength to face each challenge and pray that our marriage would continue to grow stronger. Pray for our precious son and that God would create special moments for him to connect with his dad, even if it’s from a distance.

Secondly, take time to examine your own life. Where are the places that fear holds you back? Are there things that perhaps God is calling you to do that you would rather turn down because taking the leap would be too terrifying? Does fear dictate the little choices you make in your daily life and prevent you from stepping outside of your comfort zone?

If there is one thing this past year has taught me, it’s that life is extremely unpredictable. Disasters happen. People get sick out of nowhere. People die when you least expect it. Jobs end suddenly. Relationships transform in ways you don’t expect. Life is short and it is uncertain. Having a “safe” job guarantees you nothing. And no matter how much you try to create a safety bubble around yourself, it is not invincible and it can and will be broken at some point.

If pain, death and hardships are all guaranteed to show up in our lives, what good is it to live a life controlled by fear?

So let it go already. Actually live your life. And trust God with the outcomes.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

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Peace in Remembering: This is Not the End

As many of you know by now, my grandfather passed away on December 10th. The days and hours leading up to his death were spent sitting by his side, saying goodbye, and crying tears of deep mournful sorrow. But they were also filled with prayers for his comfort, for relief from pain, and for a peaceful transition from this life into eternity with his greatest love, Jesus Christ.

Although I was not present the moment he actually passed away, the hours I spent by his side for the three days leading up to his passing were the closest I had ever been to witnessing the process of death. As you might imagine, watching someone you love fade away before your very eyes is difficult to say the least. It punches you in the chest, steals your breath, and leaves you feeling helpless. But when you’re saying goodbye to someone like my grandfather, there is also a rich and calming peace that reminds you this is not the end.

The hole my grandfather left in the hearts of his loved ones is too great to put into words. But if there is one thing we can be certain of, it’s that his suffering has ended and he is spending eternity in the greatest place imaginable. So although we grieve, we do so with the hope that this is not the end, he is in a better place and God has a plan that is bigger than even our deepest pain.

A couple years ago, my husband and I stumbled across a charmingly old book containing some of history’s greatest letters. One of the letters, written by Benjamin Franklin, offers the following depiction of death:

“I condole with you. We have lost a most dear and valuable relation. But it is the will of God and nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside when the soul is to enter into real life… Our friend and we were invited abroad on a party of pleasure which is to last forever. His chair was ready first and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together, and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow and know where to find him?”

My grandfather has gone before us, but I absolutely know where to find him.  

If any of you are looking back at 2013 and grieving the loss of someone you held close, remember this is not the end. Hold onto that hope and may God fill you with his peace that surpasses understanding.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared… I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’…”– Revelation 21: 1-5

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Tribute to Ned Parker

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Today our family is mourning the loss of our hero and our beloved patriarch, Ned Parker.

Ned Parker was known to many as a Richmond legend. But in our family, he was known as Papa—the best grandfather that six granddaughters could have ever dreamed of having.

Papa made every effort to be actively involved and invested in each of our lives. Whether it meant cheering on the sidelines at our sporting events, sitting through countless dance recitals, taking us with him to the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, letting us be on his radio show, inviting us to his speaking engagements, or letting all 6 of us have noisy sleep overs at his house even though he had to wake up at 4:00am the next morning, Papa always did everything he could to take part in our lives.

Papa never wanted to miss out on the action. I’ll never forget the time he decided to race down the water slide at the beach with us kids. Everyone in the waterpark knew when Papa was on the slide because the entire slide would shake back and forth as if it was about to topple over. But that didn’t stop Papa from running right back up to the top. By the end of the day, his elbows had been demolished. They were so swollen that they hung down several inches below the bone, bruised and battered. But it didn’t faze him in the least. All he could talk about was what a great time he had with his granddaughters.

When we were teenagers, he decided to get a new bicycle so he could stay active and go on biking adventures with his sons and grand-kids. But he didn’t just get a bike; he dove into this new activity with more enthusiasm and dedication than anyone else in their 70s might have dared. He went all in—we’re talking spandex biker shorts and everything. Papa wasn’t satisfied with easy flat trails, so he took his beloved new bike to the top of the steepest, rockiest hill at Belle Isle. When I realized what he was about to do, I yelled up the hill in a desperate attempt to convince him to walk his bike down the hill. But it was too late; he had already made up his mind. Papa stared down the rocky challenge and took off full speed. I closed my eyes in horror as he tumbled down the hill and sent his bike flying through the air. When the dust settled, Papa stood up, brushed the rocks off his scraped up legs, got back on his bike and laughed about much fun he’d just had.

In addition to being such an active grandfather, Papa also took the time to pour into the deeper aspects of our lives, especially spiritually. He genuinely cared about what was happening in each of our lives, as well as in the lives of our boyfriends and eventual husbands. Every time he would see us he would ask, “What’s the Lord doing in your life, Darling?” When we spoke, he would listen attentively with his hands crossed under his chin. If we said something he found exciting, he would exclaim, “Oh, how marvelous!” If we made him laugh, he would chuckle, “Oh mercy, oh my goodness.” At the end of every visit, he would find some word of encouragement to send us off with. Visiting Papa was always an uplifting experience. We never questioned his love for us and he always found a way to leave smiles on our faces.

While I am forever grateful for the time he took to leave us with such happy memories, what I am the most grateful for and will remember the most about my grandfather was his love for God. Papa loved the Lord with his whole heart. Whether I was sitting with him at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, listening to him give his testimony before hundreds of people, leaning on his shoulder on the front pew at church, or witnessing his daily interactions with the people around him, I always knew that my grandfather loved God more than anything. His love for God dictated every word that came out of his mouth and every decision he made with his life.

Papa couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone whose life he had forever impacted for the better. As a child, I couldn’t fully appreciate this. All I knew was that it took two hours to get out of the grocery store when we went with Papa because everyone wanted to stop and talk with him. But as I grew older, I began to realize that he was the most dearly loved man I had ever known.

He reached out to everyone. If he didn’t already have friends when he went into a building, you could guarantee that he would have friends by the time he left. He wasn’t just friendly. He genuinely loved people unconditionally. It didn’t matter if they were total strangers. He asked about what was taking place in their lives, shared the hope of God’s love with them and invested in their lives. No one was a stranger to Papa. They were someone to love, someone to encourage and someone to uplift.

With Papa’s love for the Lord came a determination to maintain a posture of positivity and gratefulness no matter what was going on in his life. One time I asked Papa whether or not he thought I would like life as a military wife. Without having to give it a second thought, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “That will completely depend on what attitude you go into it with. If you go into it with a positive attitude, you will love it. You will meet wonderful people and have great adventures. But if you go into it with a negative attitude, you will be miserable.”

That is the approach Papa took to all of life. He always found the positive side to every hardship and never once complained in front of me, even during his most difficult days.

A couple weeks ago, I sat beside Papa while he spoke about his deteriorating health. He had lost a substantial amount of independence and mobility, and he seemed to know that his time on Earth was drawing to a close. As he spoke about passing away, I told him, “If that is what’s happening, don’t you worry, Papa. God is preparing the most beautiful place for you.” He responded, “I don’t fear that. God has been so faithful and good to our family for all these years, it would be wrong to approach this time with anything other than gratefulness.” And grateful he was.

As we take time celebrate the life of this dearly loved man, may we remember him for the incredible leader he was—both in his family and his community—and may our own lives strive to honor the remarkable legacy he left behind. Thank you, Ned Parker, for being a leader to us all. Thank you for your unwavering faith in the Lord. Thank you for dedicating your life to loving others. And thank you for being the most wonderful grandfather to all six of your granddaughters.

I love you Papa, always and forever.

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