Do not cling too tightly

There is a little patch of dirt in my backyard, near the tree house, under the shade of a big tree that I often find myself staring at.

20 months ago, a little boy sat there with his collection of cars and drove them in hand-made tracks. By his face, I could see he was in a different world. A world with races and crashes and happy explosions.

He could sit there for hours. If I left him alone with his schoolwork, I would come back to an empty room with a sharpened pencil laying on a blank math worksheet and no kindergartner in sight.

He was outside, with the cars he had already hidden in his pocket, waiting for an opportunity like this.

In his pocket, mixed along with his favorites was at least one undesirable car, with chipped paint or a broken wheel. This he kept on hand for his 2 year-old shadow. Next to Mason, slightly apart from the land he claimed, was Griffin, making engine noises, muffled by his pacifier, copying everything Mason did.

There are numerous memories like this in my backyard. The tree Mason climbed, the hammock all my kids would pile into, the bike track back and forth on the long patio. I often sit out there and think of the laughter. There was much arguing and squeals of protest as well, but mostly, I remember the laughter.

This month I have to pack up this house and our family has to move to a new home where new memories await. New memories that will not include Mason. New adventures that will be beautiful of course, but will be, in this mommy’s heart, always a little incomplete. Always painted with a tint of sadness.

For the past 19 months I have prayed we would buy this house. That I would never leave the home where I last held Mason. That I could always sit and look out the same window where we would snuggle in the morning hours, watching the sunrise of a new day. The same spot where I rocked him at bedtime that final night, oblivious to the nightmare awaiting us on the horizon.

The other night when giving Griffin a bath, he said with a happy gleam in his eye, “Hey mom, ’member when Mason and me would take baths and the water came all the way up to here?” and he pointed to the top of the tub.

In my foolishness, I would often leave them unattended in the bathtub. And Mason would endeavor to fill the tub as high as he could before I came back. I would be irritated yet again with the water sloshing all over the bathroom floor. And Mason and Griffin would be laughing with giddiness as they did their own version of bathtub cannon balls.

Its funny how moments that made me want to scream become memories that make me smile.

He is still everywhere in this house to me.

His laughter still echoes down the hall.

This is not about not being able to let go or the need to “move on.” This is about the memories. The comfort I get in the sentimental.

It is why I take so many pictures and save my favorite baby outfits. It is why I do not like to throw away my kids tickets to Disneyland and why I save every single card they make me.

Moving feels like taking a box of all my most sacred, irreplaceable memories… and giving it away.

In the beautiful, well-meaning intentions of others to comfort, I often hear, “God has something better.” I smile and nod and appreciate the sentiment.

I mean, don’t we all want to think that? That when things are hard they will “get better.”

But really, the only “better” in my circumstances that is a certainty I can count on from God, is eternity.

God wants the best for me, yes. In eternity.

And our next home may exceed my expectations. It may have special surprises for my kids and a self-cleaning kitchen (if only!) and a huge yard. Because God is kind and delights in his children.

But it could also be another temporary stepping stone, with small closets and noisy neighbors and no backyard. And that could actually be what is best for us right now.

The more uncomfortable this life is, the more I long for eternity.

When the unexpected happens, I am reminded of the only truth I can count on.

When my son dies suddenly, I see and long for heaven and redemption and God’s presence like I long for water in the desert.

If we allow it, the painful things in this life bring eternity into better focus. Bring clarity to all that really matters.

And as I pack up the room where I last snuggled with Mason as he fell asleep and in not too many days from now when I, for the last time, close the door to this house, empty of furniture yet full of memories, I am reminded…

Do not cling too tightly to the things of this earth.

The memories will not fade no matter where home is. But more importantly, the beauty of my true home beckons so much more powerfully. I may not live again in a place on this earth filled with sweet memories from a time more simple, but I will live forever in an eternal home where Mason will laugh with me and there will be no more loss or pain or grief. No more saying goodbye.

The memories are beautiful gifts. And no matter the view from my new window, I will still never see a sunrise and not think of the beauty Mason beholds every second in the presence of Jesus.

And a reminder of where he is and where my true home is helps me let go of the things of this earth.

Do not cling too tightly, I hear God whisper. What is seen is temporary.

Let all that stuff go… because what I have, it is so much better.

Enjoy the blessings I send you but remember, the best things on this earth are mere shadows of what awaits. It is all a small hint of something far more grand. More beautiful. More lovely than your eyes could ever behold on this earth.

As I close the door on this temporary home, I am thankful to have had the memories here that I did. But I am also reminded of my permanent home. That 2,000 years ago Jesus told us He was going to prepare a place for us with our Father. For all this time, He has been perfecting my forever home.

So why would I want to cling to what this earth has?

The good things… the really, really good things… those are forever.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” C.S. Lewis

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Quiet whispers

Each of my kids have unique requests of me at bedtime. When I say goodnight to them in their beds, one will ask for my specific prayer over something, one asks for a back rub. I get requests to “way down wiff me?” or “wock me in the wocking chair?”

Mason’s request, as the house was quieting and calming at the end of the day, tucked in his bed with his favorite blankie, was to sing a song together.

As loudly as we possibly could.

He liked it to be really quiet first and then we would start by screaming out, “Go tell it on the mountain…!” And after coughing a bit after yelling the loudest at “Jesus Christ is Born!” we would do his all time favorite song. “Mom, now let’s sing New Day Dawning.”

I don’t ever hear that song now and not think of Mason. (Granted, I am never not thinking of him…) But when I hear it, I am transported back to that little boy’s bed, singing at the top of my lungs, hearing his satisfied, naughty laugh when, from down the hall we would hear, “Be quiet!” “I’m trying to sleep!” “Stop doing that! It’s so obnoxious!”

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I still hear him singing along any time it came on the radio or saying the chorus to someone when they would ask, “What song is New Day Dawning?”

“Bless the Lord Oh my soul. O. O. O. my soul? That one?” he would answer quickly with a duh look on his face. (After all, who doesn’t know New Day Dawning?)

When I hear that song, I also think of that Sunday morning Mason died. He left this earth as a new day dawned outside that hospital window. As the sun came up and we sat alone in that hospital room, I was overwhelmed with shock and disbelief and pain and emotions that do not even have words.

Sometimes, when a new day is dawning, I think, “How am I going to make it through another day?” and I hear Mason’s favorite song in my head and I pray, “Lord, please help me to still be singing when the evening comes.” And I am reminded that the Lord has been faithful each and every second since Mason left this earth and His name is great and His heart is kind. And His mercies are new everyday.

People often ask if it gets easier. That perhaps losing a child is similar to phasing out of an addiction. As time goes on, you crave that thing less and less. It becomes a distant memory from long ago.

But I think losing a child is more similar to needing water. The longer you go without it, the more you long for it. The thirst grows and the silence created by the absence becomes deafening.

The memories of Mason do not fade. I have not slowly adjusted into being ok with a family of 5. Every time I set the table or count out how many chairs we need at church, or when someone asks me, “How many kids do you have?” my heart physically hurts. There just is no new normal or being “ok” with Mason being gone. I do not forget him or get used to life without him.

But that absence in my heart, that missing part of my very being, has caused me to cling to Jesus more than ever before in my life. That in itself is a gift which brings beautiful clarity to the realities of this world.

This long journey of grief has brought along with it a necessity to slow down in life. There is no additional energy for things beyond the basics… just meeting my kids needs. And breathing.

I do not look to fill my days with activities or other interests. My schedule is: what do the kids need? And God gives me the strength for whatever that is.

Grief has forced me into a season of quiet. Of a season of being a homebody. And I am thankful for the slower pace. All I want most days is quiet and nothing on the calendar.

What has become so beautiful as a result of this quiet, is hearing God in the midst of it. An inability to fall back to sleep when anxiety wakes me in the pre-dawn hours, brings me out where I read God’s word and pour over truth. I journal the things God is teaching me, the memories He brings me of Mason. I spend much more focused time in prayer for the needs of my family and my own struggles.

God is not a supplement to my life. He is my life. His presence and power have sustained me, guided me, and protected me through this valley of the shadow of death. I have feared no evil because He has truly been with me.

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  

And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  1 Kings 19:11-13

Often the Lord’s power and presence is not what we expect. We want Him to move mightily, but instead He speaks gently, softly. So softly, we must be very still to hear Him.

Not just hear him, but to be in His presence. To know Him.

The still, scary quiet of life is actually a gift. It opens our ears to the whisper of God.

As I have sat in the quiet before the Lord this last year and half, through His word, I have heard God as never before. I know Him in a way I never expected.

In the stillness that has been created, my moments in the presence of God have multiplied. My reliance on the Lord has increased. My perspective of the things of the world has been refined and clarified. My faith has strengthened. My hope has grown.

My view of God and my understanding of His power has become richer and more meaningful than I could ever imagine.

Not because of a burning bush, His audible voice or the parting of a sea. But because His still quiet voice has breathed truth into my life.

Trials in life can bring us to a point of desperation. We cry out to God and sometimes, in our impatience, expect His quick and powerful answer. We want a burning bush, an explosive storm, an earthquake. We want to see loaves and fish multiplied and the walls of Jericho crumble before us.

But we often miss that God sometimes speaks most clearly and most powerfully when we are silent and still before Him, immersing ourselves in His word, waiting with the patience and confidence that comes from trusting in the assurance of His sovereignty.

The earth may not quake, lightning may not flash. But God speaks. God is at work.

For me, the last 18 months has been hearing the whispers of God in the silence. And I cannot imagine a more powerful way to hear him.

So… before this day dawned, I lay in bed, wide awake thinking of that day exactly 18 months ago. Griffin, who is a faithful, very welcome arrival every night into my bed, was snuggled next to me. I held him tight in the dark and felt his warm body and breathed in his skin and I thought, how has it been a year and a half? How have I made it each and every day of this awful journey?

No one signs up for this stuff. No one says, “Oh, I’m strong enough to handle the loss of a child. Pick me, God!” No one ever thinks it will be their story.

And yet, here I am.

And when I think back to my life before this horrific nightmare began, I see the old me. The blissfully ignorant woman whose greatest trial may or may not have been a decade of sleep deprivation. I loved the Lord. I trusted Him. I saw Him as sovereign over my life. But these past 18 months have changed me so beautifully.

Deep, searing pain opens the heart to a need for deep, soothing hope.

I have seen God in ways I never knew Him before. I have grown and as a result, my understanding of Him has grown. I never before knew these depths of His peace and kindness. I never experienced the heights of joy and strength that come only from God. And I have never before had such longing to quiet myself and expectantly wait for those whispers from a God who loves me so faithfully. I have learned, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me… to sing, like never before… bless the Lord, oh my soul.

wear the helmet, carry the sword

This morning, as I sat on my couch and watched the world come awake out my front window, I felt the weight of 17 months of grief.

I saw, for the first time, these beautiful purple flowers blooming in my front yard and realized I must have missed them last year. I heard happy birds and saw the promising signs of spring in front of me.

But then, I just so happened to glance at the clock at the exact minute, 17 months ago today, that Mason left this earth.

And I am instantly back in that room. His tiny little body, so full of laughter and naughtiness just hours before, lifeless in front of me.

Seventeen months completely evaporates and it feels like it just happened this morning. That it was just yesterday that I touched him, heard his little voice, watched him running at soccer practice, read books with him in the rocking chair.

There simply are not words that really express the depth of the ongoing pain, the void left behind at the sudden loss of a child.

I just want Jesus to come back already. Is that too much to ask?

As I have navigated this valley these past months, I have seen God guiding me, protecting me, equipping me. And when I haven’t seen him, when it has been too dark and suffocating to see anything, I have felt him.

He has never left me.

Not for a second does this mean it has not been painful. It has indeed been a horrific journey. But it does mean there is hope, there is comfort.

It means, in some supernatural way, when my heart is breaking and life is crumbling, there is still overwhelming peace.

Peace that doesn’t say, “Hey, everything is all ok!” But rather, peace that says, “It is not ok. None of it. But I am here.”

And now, almost a year and a half after losing my child, I am facing other things I do not want to face. Admittedly, nothing as severe as the death and pain I have tasted, but unwelcome nonetheless. Things that come attached with deep sadness and require sacrifice and faith amidst the uncertainty.

Things that make me want, much like most every day of the last 17 months, to just lock myself in my room and pretend that surely, this is not really happening.

But while I would like to live in denial and seclusion, this life keeps going. And my kids need me. And seasons change, and well, this world has troubles.

This life cannot be a pity party. Eternity hangs in the balance and there just is not time for it.

And I remember that what I tell my own children is true for me too.

This life is not about you. 

You have a purpose.

And it is not success, wealth or even comfort.

It is not your happiness or your accomplishments.

Your purpose is to glorify God.

He wants to use you for his kingdom.

And although this life feels impossibly long and the pain makes each day stretch into seemingly unending drudgery, in reality, in the scope of eternity, it is nothing.

It will not be that long before I find myself before the Almighty God. Where every moment of this life will be brought into focus… every choice, each sacrifice, the moments of deep pain and obedient perseverance.

And, as I tell my kids, the most important goal to have in this life is to hear in eternity, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want to see Mason. I long for an end to weariness and pain and tears. But the beautiful news is that it is coming. And I know I can hope for that with certainty.

But until that day, I persevere. Because in this life, trials and troubles will come. No matter the depth of present suffering, the pain of current circumstances, trials will continue to come.

What have I found persevering to mean practically?

It means I immerse myself in God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly.

And then repeat.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Do not think that as you grow in grace your path will become smoother and the sky calmer and clearer. Quite the contrary. As God gives you greater skill as a soldier of the cross, He will send you on more difficult missions. As He more fully equips your ship to sail in storms, He will send you on longer voyages to more boisterous seas, so that you may honor Him and increase in holy confidence.

You would think that in Abraham’s old age – after he had come to the land of Beulah, after the birth of Isaac, and especially after the expulsion of Ishmael – he would have had a time of rest. But “it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham” (Gen 22:1). Let Abraham’s story warn us to never plan on a rest from trials this side of the grave.

The trumpet still plays the notes of war. You cannot sit down and put the victory wreath on your head. You do not have a crown. You still must wear the helmet and carry the sword. You must watch, pray, and fight. Expect your last battle to be the most difficult, for the enemy’s fiercest charge is reserved for the end of the day.”

The trials of this life are weary. And at times, never-ending. But there is hope. And until that day, when Hope is ultimately victorious and all the tears have been dried… with God’s grace, I will persevere.

Read God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly. And then repeat.

Wear the helmet. Carry the sword.

Mason’s Place

On a special New Years trip to Mammoth in 2013, Anthony took Mason out for a “planning meeting” over candy and hot chocolate. He talked with him about setting goals for the year.12.27.12-5a copy

He was 5 years old. And we couldn’t possibly imagine we were looking at our final months with him.

During their time together, Anthony encouraged him with goals that would challenge him, develop character, help him to mature, and ultimately, to know God more.

Little did he know at the time, Mason would know God in perfect and beautiful ways in less than 10 months.

His goals that day contained a variety of things. Many things encouraged and directed by Anthony, such as finishing his Awana book and learning to play an instrument. But some of them were solely dreams of Mason’s. Out of nowhere, Mason added to the list, “And fly in a plane to India.”

Um, where did that come from?

Anthony fought back a smile, added it to the list and said, “I really don’t know how we will achieve this goal, but I’ll write it down and see what the Lord has planned.”

Days after Mason’s sudden death, dear friends of ours, completely unaware of Mason’s goals, approached us with a dream to establish a home for orphans in India, in honor of Mason. Generous donations were given, contacts were made and trips were planned.

And Anthony remembered a special time with Mason in a coffee shop in Mammoth and a dream that seemed so far from the realm of possibilities. And we just looked at each other and tears filled our eyes and we marveled at a plan bigger than we could ever imagine. A dream that had been planted in some small way in the heart of a 5 year old long before we knew what the future could possibly hold.

16 months after our lives changed forever that Sunday morning, after much planning and numerous trips by key decision makers, Anthony boarded a plane to India. A country he has never visited, one that I deeply love, and one that was placed on Mason’s heart before he left this earth.

As Anthony walked through the gates of a large compound named in honor of our son and as he looked into the eyes of orphans who are being loved and cared for, he was humbled by all God has done. He took pictures and video and as I watched them, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. Emotions felt so deeply there are not words to identify them. But the one emotion that bubbles to the surface, the one that overcomes that pain and heartache and reminders that Mason is gone…

… is Hope.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Is 43:19

God is doing something new. He has made a way for hope in a place that seemed too broken, too impossible. But as we have surrendered to God’s sovereignty, we have seen Him move in beautiful and amazing ways.

Mason’s Place is now home to these beautiful girls.

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It is located on more than 6 acres and includes a school with 170 students and a home for the elderly. There are plans for growth and expansion as well as improvement on some of the existing structures. (More information can be found here.)

(Every time I look at this picture now, my eye is drawn to the sassy girl in the top left… throwing down the “I love you” signs. Her spunk reminds me a bit of the boy her home is named for. And it makes me smile.)

In His goodness, God shows me over and over again what He is doing through our loss. On my darkest days and my most suffocating moments of ongoing pain, He brings me gifts. Glimpses of hope.

Meeting a new person and finding out they have been interceding for my family for the past 16 months. Seeing a nurse from CHLA who tells me about putting gifts from Mason’s birthday in the hands of patients and watching their parents cry grateful tears, so moved by Mason’s legacy. Emails about how Mason’s story has transformed the lives of people who never even met him. And now, seeing precious faces of children on the other side of the world, without parents, who are now not without hope.

When I pray over Mason’s Place, I am overwhelmed with awe. Awe at many things… the vision placed on the hearts of others, the generosity to make it a reality, those willing to give of their time and resources to travel and plan, the details of everything falling into place so quickly. I am in awe as I see these children living in a home established, not just in memory of my son, but in recognition of the Author of his short life and the plans He has that are greater than we can imagine.

I still deal with the shock of losing my child every day of my life. I wake up and realize all over again that this nightmare did indeed happen. I face the painful reality of only setting out 3 breakfast plates every morning. I see kids Mason’s age lose their first tooth and think about how the tooth fairy never came for Mason. The pain is still so, so raw. But yet,  I am still in awe that God has made so much beauty with such wretched pain.

I look at the faces of Mason’s Place and hear God’s reminders of hope and promises of redemption.1.23.16-4.jpg

I just finished reading through the book of Acts. More so than any other time I have read it, I really saw that it is not as much about the early church or the disciples or Paul or the spread of the gospel after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are all key players and important stories, but they really point to the main character of the book. The Holy Spirit. The healing, the powerful testimonies and sermons, the peace and joy… these things do not point to the men God was using, they point to the God who was working through the willing hearts of his people.

And as I read Acts these last few weeks, I began to pray that God would descend upon Mason’s Place as He did upon those early Christians. We serve the same God, the same Holy Spirit. His power is real and His promises are still true. And so I pray…

That Mason’s Place is not about the children, the orphans, the staff, the school, the elderly home… that it is not about the boy who inspired the name and whose tragic story inspired a movement.

I pray that Mason’s Place becomes, always and forever, about a sovereign God who makes beauty from ashes. Who answers prayer. Who heals the broken hearted. Who puts the lonely in families. Who is powerful and just. Who is loving and merciful and full of compassion.

I pray that the Holy Spirit fills the hearts and the minds of these precious children. And He fills the hearts and minds of those whom He would call to partner with us… through praying, or serving, or giving. That what is done at Mason’s Place has a beautiful impact not only today, in this generation, but that leaders would arise from this home who would go out and share the hope of Jesus in a dark and hurting country.

I pray for more children in need to come and find a home here. For healing and hope and love to transform their lives and a vision and purpose to be put in their hearts to share this hope with others. I pray that out of Mason’s Place, God would bring world changers and He would use them as instruments in the story He is writing.

I pray that God does more than we can possibly imagine. That someday in eternity, when I see my little boy again, with his huge smile and his energetic bounce, he will be pointing and saying, “Look! Look what God did! Look who is here! And look, all that pain, all that heartache, all that deep grief that you felt for so many years without me, He has redeemed it. All of it! And mommy, all your tears… He is here to wipe it all away.”

9.10.14-12a.jpgI pray with confidence that we will see in eternity how God redeemed all of this pain for so, so much more.

Everyday, when it still hurts to breathe, I remind myself with this truth: “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.” Eternal.

Eternity is my prayer for each of these kids.

hope

For Christmas two years ago, Mason asked for a matchbox car garage, a lego set with guns, and an American Girl doll.

(And yes, you better believe I would have bought my son a trendy, over-priced doll had I know it would be my last Christmas with him.)

It’s not that he actually loved dolls.

It was that he loved his sister. And she loved dolls. And she had just saved her money to buy her own American Girl doll and she absolutely loved everything about dolls at that moment.

So for Mason, having an American Girl doll was having something he could enjoy with his sister.

And legos were Bennett’s favorite thing. And Griffin was really getting into cars at the time and they played together, driving and racing cars, for hours (or as long as Griffin didn’t touch Mason’s special ones.)

Mason’s wish list was less reflective of what it was he wanted to play with. And really, more about who it was he wanted to play with.

(Not that I’m trying to misrepresent him as a selfless saint. But. He did sure love his siblings.)

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Christmas was brutal for me this year. What once brought me giddy happiness, now just makes my heart ache. I would sit in the quiet of night and look at the Christmas tree and see Mason’s ornaments through the years. I would see gifts under the tree that don’t have his name. And I wondered, what would have been on his wish list this year?

I made moose sugar cookies to honor the boy who isn’t sneaking cookie dough when I’m not looking. When we make our snowflakes and gingerbread houses, I picture Mason there, making gingerbread bombs and snowflake grenades. And out of all of us, he’d be the one most likely to help Griffin, sitting next to him, encouraging him with the profound patience I saw manifested absolutely nowhere except with his little brother.

This season, we did advent and tried to keep up with the traditions we established in happier days. And I do still enjoy these memories with my kids, but new memories are always missing someone. And that just isn’t easy. In fact, its unbearable.

I see the absence everywhere I look. I feel it every time I breathe.

I try to fake it for my kids. I would make Christmas cookies and ooh and ah over Christmas lights and decorate our tree and remember previous years memories.

But I also try to be honest. Because faking it through the sudden loss of a loved one doesn’t do anyone any favors. So along with our happy Christmas memories, there were also times of deep grief… sharing tears and acknowledging our pain.

Sometimes it’s the honesty and recognition of the darkness of our lives that makes the brightness of hope all the more necessary.

One night, when reading our advent, I heard this account of John the Baptist in a whole new way.

“Calling two of his disciples to him, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?’” Luke 7:19

John was in prison. For speaking truth and prophesying hope. It may have been dark. It was probably dismal and oppressive. It was most certainly lonely.

And so he asks the question of Jesus, are you the one?

I can’t help but think that John already knew the answer to this question. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. He was empowered, directly from a sovereign God, with prophetic messages about the Messiah. Not only was he there the day his cousin stepped into his ministry on this earth, preparing to die for our sins, but he baptized Jesus himself and heard the voice of the almighty God from heaven.

John already knew.

John’s life was devoted to preparing the world for the Savior. And what was once so clear when he could hear the voice of God and see the Holy Spirit descend from heaven, may have dimmed in the darkness of his prison cell.

And day after lonely day of enduring prison, maybe deep down, he knew Jesus was the Messiah. But maybe he didn’t necessarily feel it. Maybe he knew all the prophecy and he knew the power of the Holy Spirit and he knew the truth. But perhaps, he had grown weary in his chains. Perhaps what once felt so powerful standing in the Jordan River started to fade as he felt locked away and forgotten.

And maybe he was close enough to the God of the universe, maybe he knew his cousin well enough, to be honest with his emotions. Jesus accepted his honesty, his pain. “Are you the one?”

There was no end in sight to his imprisonment. No trial. No hope of release. And ultimately, it didn’t get any better for him. He was beheaded on the whim of a heinous woman and his head was paraded around a banquet hall. I mean, could this humiliating ending to a faithful life be worth it?

Are you the one?

This Christmas, I wasn’t really feeling it. I believe in the hope and in the Savior and the redemption of Christmas. With every part of my soul. But I wasn’t feeling it this year. Quite honestly, I was just ready for it to be over.

I would hear my favorite Christmas lyrics, “A thrill of hope… a weary world rejoices…”

And I would sigh.

Here’s the deal. I believe in the hope. I believe it is indeed a divine and holy night. Amazing really.

But I am just so, so weary. And I just didn’t really feel like rejoicing this year.

Because sometimes my own life feels dark and dismal. And the life-giving, exuberant emotions I have felt in response to absolute truth and powerful hope… can dim as grief wears on. The intensity of missing Mason doesn’t diminish over time. It increases. And that just makes this life so incredibly exhausting.

But because I know the Savior like I do, I know that he accepts my honesty. He doesn’t get angry when I say, “I’m not feeling it this year. It hurts. I’m sad. I’m so weary of this pain day after day after day. And really, will this all be redeemed? Really?”

We got boxing gloves for the boys for Christmas. There has been much laughter (and a few tears) as the boys pummel each other over and over. While I watch them and brush aside that nagging feeling that perhaps this was an unwise purchase and something is going to break, I can’t help but think about Mason. Shouldn’t he be here? Naughty laughter and rambunctious energy, in the middle of the melee? I try to picture him, to hear him. And then for some reason, all I see is images of him in the hospital instead. Final moments that I can’t erase.

Will this really be redeemed?

Sometimes, that’s my version of John’s question, Are you the one?

When I used to read Jesus’ response to John’s disciples, it often felt a little impersonal to me.

“And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.'” Luke 7:22

But now I see it different.

When Ella read Jesus’ response to John to our family that night, I no longer heard a generic, impersonal statement. He’s not saying, come on. You know better. Instead, I hear a longing in Jesus’ voice to encourage. And the compassion he has for the suffering. His understanding of John’s darkness.

I think he mourns that his cousin is in prison. And just maybe his heart hurts for the pain, the confusion, the grief, the injustice… the longing for hope.

The compassionate God I know welcomes the question. “Are you the one?

“It’s dark in here. It’s lonely. Will this really be redeemed?”

His answer wasn’t a resume of things he was doing. He was quoting prophecy from Isaiah. Prophecy that John would have known, prophecy that Jesus was fulfilling. Prophecy that defined everything about John’s own ministry. When Jesus stated this, I tend to think he was pointing John to other answers, more prophecies, more promises. More hope.

Because in that same reference to Isaiah, the prophecy he was assuring John he was fulfilling, John would be able to recall, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Isaiah 35:4

It was almost like he was speaking in code. Maybe in his answer Jesus is whispering:

You know the prophecy. Don’t forget truth. The Messiah will come to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk. Don’t forget what else it says. Don’t forget that there is so much more! I will redeem it all. I will redeem this fallen world. I will conquer death. I will bring hope!

It may be dark in your prison cell. And it may even get darker. But take heart, I will overcome the world!

Anthony took each kid out for a special time alone this past week. With each of them, he set goals for the New Year. And I admire that he always tells them to aim high. He encourages them that its better to try really hard and not obtain everything, than to just set things you can control and not really have to challenge yourself.

And so that makes me think of goals for myself. I’ve never really been someone who sets “resolutions.” (Probably something to do with that streak of rebellion I can’t quite suppress… the one that doesn’t like the idea of doing something just because you “should.”)

In many ways, I’m unable to look at the year as a whole. It truly takes everything in me to make it one more day. My new years resolution is: “Make it through January 1st.”

And then each day, one day at a time after that.

But each of those days, that I breathe in and out, I want the whispers of God to always bring me back to the promises of hope.

Not because of my circumstances, but in spite of them. Hope, not that my tears may ever cease on this earth, but because one glorious day they will all be wiped away by the same hands that hold Mason when I can’t.

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This year, I want my children to see and experience hope. Not because this life should be happy and perfect, but precisely because it isn’t.

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

The answer Jesus gave to John also points to this promise in Isaiah. A promise sent to me as a prayer earlier last year by my sister. A promise I cling to and pray over my children constantly.

 “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  Isaiah 61:2-3

There is redemption. Redemption not just for our own sins, but redemption for all the pain in this world. Redemption for the death of a little boy. Redemption for all the tears cried. And all the pain felt.

Redemption for unmet expectations and for years of incomplete memories.

Redemption, not actually for our happiness and comfort, but ultimately, that he may be glorified.

This year, I want to know truth so deeply that when hints of it are whispered at me in the dark, those whispers shine brighter light and remembrance of a much bigger promise.

Hope.

without ceasing

on the wall in my kitchen (which doubles as our homeschool room) there is a progression of first day of school pictures. 5 years. back to when ella was in kindergarten, all the kids together, mason with moose ears, griffin as a baby… all kinds of memories.

the first day of school for us is about pictures, donuts, and making a new “all about me” book.

one of my favorite pages of mason’s “all about me” book last year was what he wanted to do when he grew up:

all about me(“give my son spankings” with a picture of him spanking his son)

even if i wanted to, i don’t possess enough imagination to make this stuff up. mason was a unique little bundle of sassiness and laughter.

the first day of school is also usually about hope and excitement and the anticipation of a new year.

the first day of school for me this year was not easy. yet another milestone day captured in photographs, missing a huge chunk of my heart.

i felt a lot like griffin.

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he wanted donuts.

i wanted mason.

we don’t always get what we want.

september was full of incredibly difficult moments. starting a whole new school year without mason is a debilitating kind of pain.

and then the start of a new soccer season… every time i drive past the park where mason practiced, i fight back tears. every saturday when we drive past the fields where mason would be playing his games, i can’t help but long for those crazy, overwhelming days when we’d have to juggle 3 games and figure out how to be in 3 places at once.

Mason

so… september was enough to knock me off my feet.

as was october.

and now november.

and really, every month and every day of this past year.

i aint gonna lie. grief is hard, hard stuff, people.

i really, really miss him.

on occasion, a friend will open up to me about her experience when mason died. as odd as it may sound, this is incredibly helpful to me. it helps me process. and it helps me feel much less alone. when a friend tells me that mason’s death caused her to collapse on her floor, or cry out in pain, or hide in the kitchen at church and cry for hours, it puts identity to my own shock. my own disbelief. because while mason’s death would obviously be horrific to me, hearing of how those dear to us suffered also helps me realize that the magnitude of the loss was big, and so painful, so wide-reaching it affected others too. i feel validated. i feel like my son mattered. i feel less alone.

one friend told me how for weeks, and even months after mason died, she would wake up and this pit would form in her stomach. this sickening feeling of dread that just wouldn’t go away. she felt like she could barely meet the needs of her family as she processed mason’s death constantly. in her words, “it was so unreal. i just couldn’t believe it and i felt physically ill.”

this is how i still feel.

every single day.

i generally wake up when it is still dark. (i haven’t slept well in a really long time). and every sunrise reminds me of the sunrise outside that hospital room when my son was dying. when i looked one direction, my son was receiving chest compressions… when i looked the other direction, the sun was rising through the clouds over los angeles. i relive that weekend, that sunday morning, every day of my life.

now, a year later, there are many times, each and every day, that i still feel the shock of losing mason. i feel for a moment that i can’t breathe and shock seizes my mind and i look around and think, “wait. is he really gone? did this really happen to me?” and the grief will crash over me all over again, and my breath will get stuck in my throat and my heart will physically hurt.

i think a very compelling effect in movies is when a scene is completely chaotic… a crash, a battle, an explosion… and after the initial intense noise, it is suddenly and completely silent. the character is watching the horror of everything around him, almost as though it’s in slow motion. it’s too much to see, too much to take in all at once. all the senses can’t absorb the horror and so the silence captures very well the shock of the whole thing.

i find this technique very powerful because it is much how i view the last year. most of the last year felt a little numb. overwhelming. i was watching what was going on, believing it to be real, but sometimes, unable to absorb it completely.

we were very fortunately surrounded by many gracious friends and family who created a safe bubble for us to grieve. there were fewer expectations, generous financial help with bills, family trips and experiences… some amazing people did all they could to protect any sense they could from being completely overtaken by grief. so in many ways, the scene of my life was a terrifying accident but it was completely silent.

but eventually, the sound does return. and its loud. and the senses are overwhelmed. and reality sinks in a little deeper.

and its scary and its painful and there is no escaping.

through this last year, as the pain hasn’t lessened and reality hasn’t gotten easier, and the loss of mason is still massive, i have learned to be in constant conversation with God.

i have read the verse in 2 thessalonians before, “pray without ceasing.” but i used to always wonder… practically, how does this happen?

but when life became overwhelming (which it has been, virtually every moment of every day), i began to pray constantly. when i am overwhelmed by making a decision or simply the thought of getting out of bed, i turn it over to God. when i can’t figure out my kids emotions or when i can’t think clearly through conversations, i pray one word, “help.”

how should i teach this math concept?

i don’t feel like i can leave the house.

give me grace for a day of meaningless conversations.

what can i possibly feed my family for dinner tonight?

i don’t have the energy for this.

should i let my child go to this playdate?

it would really mean a lot to this child to score a goal today.

how should i respond to this text?

help me understand my kids today.

i miss him. so, so much.

this discipline, born from desperation, has done more than help me to just get through the day. it has transformed my life.

feeling overwhelmed is nothing new. i dealt with trying to figure out life when everything was pretty fantastic, back before mason died. but it wasn’t until my own strength was completely stripped away that i truly understood the need to rely on Jesus every moment of every day.

one of my favorite stories of Jesus is his first miracle, when he turned water into wine. it represents and points to many beautiful things about God. but the reason i like it so much is because it shows how Jesus delights in us.

i love to use this miracle to remind my kids that Jesus cares about the “little” things in our lives. He cares about our celebrations. He cares about the things that are important to us. He cares if there is enough wine at our wedding and our opportunity to feed dolphins on our birthday. He delights in our soccer games and our days at the beach.

He delights in us. He delights in the celebrations of our life. He delights in all that is special to us.

and so, i have learned to go to him with everything. the hard and painful, the mundane and exhausting, and the happy and joyful.

this habit, this constant pleading with God, has done so much more than providing an outlet for what is overwhelming me. it has opened conversation. its not just me listing my woes and worries, the best part is that he answers.

i hear the whispers of the Almighty God all throughout the day.

“it’s not important.”

“your kids need rest.”

“i am with you.”

“math doesn’t matter right now. your kids need hot chocolate and a good book.”

“stop. delight in this moment.”

“i will fill you today. just breathe.”

“they don’t understand. just love them.”

“i’m here. i’m never leaving.”

“this sunrise is for you. a glimpse of my beauty.”

and i see His answers, i see Him providing in the little things in life. anthony texting that he’ll pick up dinner on the way home. a soccer goal. a friend offering to take my kids on a field trip the day i need it most.

and when i miss him so much it hurts and i long to hold him and hear him laugh, i hear Jesus say over and over, “he’s with me.”

and when the memories overwhelm me and the hospital images won’t go away, i hear him remind me, “what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

and when the sweet memories break my heart… like the expression on his face when he would shrug his shoulders or the way he would run or how he’d say my name… or when i can still see that little gleam his eyes would have when he was hiding something naughty from me, i hear God say, “i gave him to you for his six years because i knew you’d notice those things. i knew you would appreciate the unique way i created him. those memories, although at times unbearably painful, are my gift to you.”

the Lord’s presence has been a blanket of comfort, a security from the searing pain of grief. just as the coziness of a blanket is felt so much more distinctly on a cold winter day, so the Lord’s goodness has been so much more powerful in the face of pain.

the God i have known all my life has become more real to me this past year than I ever thought possible. and that is a sacred, beautiful gift.

“my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” job 42:5

so when i look at the future laid out before me… days upon days without mason, years of holidays and birthdays and new seasons of school and soccer, it feels daunting. losing mason is nothing that i will overcome. and while the pain doesn’t ease and the future feels lonely and scary, i know i will continue on, one day, one moment, one whispered prayer at a time.

because He will never leave me and He will never forsake me.

Mason

mason, i will always miss you.

dear mason,

i should be planning your birthday party about now. i should be hiding presents from your eager eyes, negotiating how many things we can cram into one day and how many friends can participate. i should be explaining why you can’t get grenades for birthday gifts and agreeing that you shouldn’t have to do schoolwork on your special day.

Mason

i should be making yet another target run for balloons or streamers or the candy you want hidden in your cake. and while i often get overwhelmed trying to balance answering all of your demands with more realistic plans, i do truly enjoy making you feel special.

so obviously, there is a lot of emotion with this week. i can’t help but think about 7 years ago, waking up to contractions in the middle of the night, it becoming pretty obvious it was time to have a baby, calling a friend to come over and stay with our sleeping kids… and driving to the hospital (not nearly fast enough for me) and anticipating how much our world was about to change.

and then, watching the heartbeat monitors not recovering from contractions and listening to the nurses and doctor come rushing into my room time after time. that emergency c-section was scary. everyone moved so fast, so urgently.

you, of course, were fine. screaming your lungs out, but that was probably because surgery is a frigidly cold place. but you were fine.

i mean, you never slept, but you were fine. you were tiny and precious and completely perfect. i held you in that hospital room, thankful for you and thankful that in spite of a scary delivery, everything worked out ok. and i rode in the elevator, holding you on my lap and carried you out of the hospital and my world changed forever with your spunk and spirit and laughter.

we took you home to your older siblings who loved you fiercely and embraced you and delighted in you and just couldn’t get enough of you.Mason

and i thought, or i guess hoped, that you’d always be fine. that you might cry and you might not sleep, but ultimately, you’d always just be safe and fine.

and then 6 years later, you woke up with a bad stomachache. and i still thought you’d be just fine. i mean, with 4 kids, we’ve had plenty of stomach flu in our house, and we all get through it and everyone ends up… fine.

and then i carried you into a hospital, still thinking everything was fine, but you know, just wanting to check and make sure. and they wheeled you down the hall for an ultrasound and discovered appendicitis. and then you had an emergency surgery and everything looked like it would be fine…

but then, it wasn’t.

and we transferred to another hospital… and you weren’t fine. and for a brief eternity, i had to wait in the hall while they did all kinds of things like central lines and intubation, and i listened to people run back and forth down the hall, rushing into your room. that PICU was scary. everyone moving so fast, so urgently. but still, i thought you’d be fine.

and then it seemed pretty obvious that daddy needed to get there quick and so we called a friend to come over and stay with our sleeping kids and daddy sped to the hospital as fast as he could, reading my texts begging him to “hurry.” and we couldn’t possibly anticipate how much our world was about to change.

one more hospital transfer, one last look in your eyes before the medical team took over and did everything they possibly could. everything.

but you weren’t fine.

you were gone.

and i laid in the hospital bed with you and hugged you for what could never be long enough, and i talked with amazing doctors who couldn’t figure out how this all happened. and your daddy and i looked at each other over and over again wondering, absorbing, crying… suffocating in disbelief.

and we walked out of that hospital without you. and i stood in an elevator, clutching your quilt (which you called a “kilt”) (those q’s… so hard to pronounce), the only item you asked to bring with you to the hospital. i hugged it tight to my chest. and i watched a woman get on the elevator and push a button and i couldn’t help but think, she has no idea how much my life has changed forever.

and i thought back to my first elevator ride with you. how did this happen? you were once so tiny, so little and helpless.

and daddy and i walked through the parking garage, trying to find a car that was parked in a hurry, and paid a parking attendant who had no idea we just watched our child take his last breath, and drove home in a daze. i’m getting text reminders about soccer pictures and people are driving past me living completely normal lives. and i have to go home and tell your siblings that the brother they loved fiercely, the brother with whom they spent every day of their childhood… laughing, arguing, joking… the brother they expected to come walking through the door with us, had died. and their life will change forever.

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but before all of this… long before my first contraction, before my first ultrasound, before i ever even knew about you… before your first stomach pain that saturday morning, before your ultrasound discovering appendicitis, before i ever knew about septic shock, God wrote your story out in a book.

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.” psalm 139:16

God knew you would call yourself “motorhome” and “moose.” he knew you would spend the first year of your life crying and not sleeping. he knew you’d have a mohawk, and love cars and legos and explosions, and he put a special sparkle in your eyes that will live on in my memory every day on this earth.
Mason's Pre-service slide show - 045
he knew your entry into this world would feel traumatic and that your exit would feel premature and horrific. he knew how it would feel for me, but more importantly, he knew the truth. he knew the details of every day and the purpose in all of it. he knew that while i long to hold you longer and that while my first year without you is filled with more crying than sleeping, he would be calling you to heaven.

ultimately, i want what is best for you. no matter what, when the emotion and motherly desires are stripped away, the deepest part of me wants the very best for my kids.

and really, there is no better place for you. you are being held in the beautiful arms of Jesus, grasping the depth and beauty of an almighty God in ways i never could now, no matter how many days i spend on this fallen earth.

i see the parallels between your entry into this world and your exit from it. i see the juxtaposition of the joy and the heartache.

i long to see you again. i’m grateful for every sleepless moment i held you. and more importantly, i’m grateful for the arms that hold you now. the arms of a perfect Author who wrote a beautiful story.

so many things in this life are a mystery. and while i wish we were planning a birthday party and celebrating you, i’m thankful for the Author of your story, who gifted me with you for a time that wasn’t long enough, but was perfect nonetheless.

mason, you know what it is about your story that makes me the most grateful? that when the Author wrote out your 6 years and 18 days on this earth, he chose me to be your mommy.

He chose me.

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i wouldn’t trade in the crippling grief of the last year if it meant missing out on the laughter, the joy, the naughtiness, the sparkle… the memories, of the previous 6. you are a gift, mason. a beautiful gift. and while i never expected that your years in eternity would begin before mine, i just want you to know, someday i will be there with you. and we will celebrate together. and no matter how many years have passed before i join you, and no matter how many millions of years we spend together with Jesus, you will always be my little boy.

happy birthday, mason.

an uncommon core

as we wrap up our school year, i look at our unfinished math books and remaining spelling lessons and i can’t help but ask myself, “did we learn anything this year?”

it has obviously been the hardest season of my life. i think back to late august and of all the ideas I had for the school year… all the field trips and unit studies and planned projects we never began.

that was a lifetime ago. and this year ended up being far from ideal.

but sometimes, we don’t get ideal.

because sometimes your little brother dies unexpectedly on a sunday morning in september. and some days, your mom can barely breathe, let alone drill math facts or diagram sentences. and sometimes you don’t get to learn state history from an organized textbook. and unfortunately, you maybe won’t get to complete all the fun geography projects or science experiments your mom planned out in the lazy days of summer, back before unexpected tragedy hit us like a freight train and changed our perceived ideal into a much different and harsh reality.

and yet, in spite of the unmet expectations, i can see how God was with us every painful moment. and i can see that we learned.

sometime in the haze of late fall, my sister gave me the best advice (she often does). she told me of a homeschooling mom, going through a difficult season, who decided she would spend the year reading aloud to her kids and how she saw incredible benefits from doing so.

so… read aloud i did.

there were many days, and still are, when there isn’t a chance I’m getting out of my sweats or even brushing my hair. and so, we are often found gathered in our living room, with our blankies, coloring books, legos, or knitting… and I am reading. literary classics, missionary biographies, historical fiction…

i don’t think i’ve opened a history textbook in the last 7 months. but i’ve journeyed with my children through the pages of the biographies of some amazing people…

we’ve lived through the legacy of corrie ten boom and imagined the courage and bravery it takes to hide the hunted in your home and face the fear of encroaching evil in WW2 europe. we traveled in a cattle car and cringed over the flea ridden beds and inhumane conditions of concentration camps. and mostly, we were struck by a woman’s commitment to be thankful no matter her circumstances and her testimony in the epitome of despair brought hundreds of fellow captives into the knowledge of a gracious savior. and then, we learned about forgiveness. how corrie could watch her family members be tortured and killed and then ultimately forgive the very people who did it. what we learned, was the power of an almighty God at work in the willing hearts of his people.

we learned about the doolittle raid and horror of Japanese POW camps. again, the atrocities committed here made the contrast of forgiveness all the more powerful.

snuggled in our blankets on the couch, we read about other missionaries. and remote tribes of south america. and for a nice change from the standard history stories, we read how foreigners went to tribes without a desire to conquer and dominate or even control with superiority, but love and serve. and we saw how people groups were transformed for the better. how they stopped killing and started thriving.

we enjoyed thrilling accounts of sir francis drake and william wallace. we learned about courage and integrity and bravery.

and we experienced many magical adventures. we traveled all through narnia and middle earth and experienced true literature and the beauty of the written word. we enjoyed great symbolism and observed powerful depictions of the subtleties and deceptiveness of evil. and the courage and beauty of good. and we soaked in the beautiful allegory of heaven and tried to imagine through tears the inconceivable brilliance Mason is enjoying at this very moment.

we read God’s word. every year, i try to find some sort of bible curriculum, or devotional guide that will keep the interest of my kids and that we can enjoy as a family. after mason died, i just opened up my bible to matthew and started reading aloud from chapter 1. and my kids LOVE it. we spend our mornings reading the word of God and we’ll talk about what it would be like to spend time with Jesus and how impulsive peter is and how funny james and john are and then we fight back a little jealousy as we realize that mason is hanging out with these very men right now. and we had a little laugh when we pictured mason meeting the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus and imagined him saying, “woah, dude. that was a close one…”

this year has taught me that i don’t need to figure out the best way to make the word of God appealing to my kids. this is the work of the Holy Spirit and these last months I have learned his unfathomable power over and over again.

and while we didn’t study the geography of our great state in a textbook, we journeyed in a motorhome for 11 days, a beautiful gift to us in honor of mason and his obsession of motorhomes, and we explored california. we saw the majesty of Yosemite and stood in the mist of the tallest waterfall in the United States. we experienced the diversity and beauty of san francisco, the breathtaking splendor of big sur and serenity of the central coast.

and while i still feel i failed greatly at my responsibility of educating my 4th grader, i overheard my shy daughter, who prefers to never talk to people, asking the librarian if he could show her where the books on california’s history are found. and she came home with a large stack that i find her reading in the early morning or long after her brothers are asleep for the night. and i am reminded that the Lord answers prayer because my early request in our homeschooling adventure was that my children would develop a desire to learn. a desire to always obtain information is far more important than the need to check off a list of things to learn every year that may or may not ever be retained. at the end of our homeschooling years, i pray not that my kids know everything there is to know but that they desire to always continue learning, seek answers, and obtain wisdom.

sure, we missed many things on the state standard checklist, but I believe we checked off some pretty significant things that can’t be measured…

we learned the importance of community. because it takes a village to educate your child. and we couldn’t have made it through this year without an amazing classical conversations family who taught my kids the states and capitals and the periodic table of elements and encouraged them through grammar and writing skills. because most days, i don’t wanna leave my house. and even if i was physically in the room with everyone, my mind was preoccupied with the fact that in that same building is an empty seat that was once filled with my rambunctious little six year old and truthfully, the reality of that is so incredibly painful. so in the many moments i couldn’t function, there were loving, amazing moms around me who poured into me and poured into my kids and redeemed a year that at times felt shattered and impossible.

we learned how to love people. how to come alongside hurting and suffering people and just love them… because so many people did that for us. meals, trips, unexpected packages, goodie bags on the front porch… we learned that nothing could bring our brother back but a gift card in the mail for baskin robbins can sure put a smile on our face for the night. and that after a rough Christmas eve service where your mom has to leave because she’s crying too hard when we start singing the song that she and mason screamed for fun every night at bedtime, we can come home to a house that was mysteriously filled with gifts in our absence. filled! and we are reminded we aren’t alone and sometimes God brings comfort in the form of santa.

we have learned that there is no escaping pain, but there is also no escaping God’s love. he has been so, so good to us. he has never failed us. we are not promised a life of ease or free from suffering. and boy, have we felt the pain. but we’ve also seen the hope.

we have glimpsed the world beyond ourselves. and while we are broken over the little boy that our family is missing, we are made aware of those broken little boys missing a family and we pray with hope for the home being established in honor of mason for the orphans of india. and through tears we thank Jesus for making beauty out of our hideous ashes.

and maybe, years from now, my kids will look back at this time they spent with me every day, and realize they learned other things too. that sometimes, you just have to fake it. that sometimes, you don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. that going to yet another end of the year ceremony is so difficult you feel physically ill. but you just have to, so you put on a smile and take a deep breath to force the tears down deep, and you just go. and you can be thrilled for your children’s accomplishments and so proud of how they weathered the storm this year and completed awana books and school projects all while at the same time feeling a rumbling crushing earthquake in your soul as you watch mason’s class get their awards. and he’s not there. you can smile for honest joy at the accomplishments and at the same time you want to weep and crumble under the pain of this nightmare that never ends.

but along with learning to fake it, I hope they also learned that its ok to say no. they watched their mom say no to many, many things this year. sometimes for their sake, sometimes for her own sake. and its ok to not be at every church event or socialize with every wonderful person who asks. and its ok to skip family gatherings because sometimes, it’s just too hard to show up as a family of 5. and the weight of the hurt of every other family member who is still processing the sudden death of mason is just too much to pile on an already fragile heart.

i hope my kids will realize someday that bravery isn’t found only in the stories of warriors and missionaries and people who do the profound that makes the headlines and fills the history books. Sometimes, your greatest acts of courage in life can be getting out of bed in the morning and facing another day without your son. washing the breakfast dishes and folding the laundry and trying to keep life as normal as possible for your kids… hugging a crying child and not knowing any answers to the whys… and doing it day after day demands more courage than you ever thought possible. and it takes more bravery than any person has on her own.

bravery isn’t not being afraid. bravery is doing what you fear, moving forward when you don’t want to. trusting God and knowing he will provide the strength to take your next breath.

so ultimately, I pray that my kids have learned that we really can do nothing on our own. that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. and that our only hope in this life, and especially eternity, is in him.

we learned that there aren’t answers to every question. and that our many “whys?” asked through tears and deep pain may only be answered when the world has been redeemed and Jesus himself wipes every tear from our eye and takes away all the pain in our heart. we learned we can hope for this day with certainty.

my kids haven’t just learned. they have experienced. and that is more valuable than common core or ivy league acceptance or a lifetime of comfort and ease and straight A’s. my children have learned, i hope, wisdom to navigate the fire of life. and I pray, that above all else, they have truly experienced a God who will never fail them.

so, this year has been far from ideal. but ideal keeps us comfortable. it has an element of self reliance in it. when I can rely on my pinterest page, or my own skills, predictability, or my own perceived wisdom, I’m much less likely to cry out in desperation for the strength that comes only from a Creator who loves me.

this year was a lot of crying out.

and it was also a lot of answering.

we learned that we’ll never have enough strength for the suffering of this life, but we have a God who gives abundantly and loves extravagantly and his grace is sufficient for us.

only a glimpse

i woke up this morning acutely aware of where i was exactly 4 months ago.

four months ago, i was watching mason’s final moments on this earth. i heard the terrifying words “no pulse” and watched with horror as my son began to receive chest compressions. he was already on a ventilator and surrounded by nurses and doctors giving him meds, checking his vitals and helping him fight for his life.

at 7:13 am he entered eternity. i see that day through my eyes, a heartbroken hurting mother who looks back at the course of only a few precious hours and still wonders with shock, “wait… what happened?”

i finished reading The Last Battle with my kids this week. the final adventure in narnia ends with narnia itself ending and heaven beginning.

my poor kids had to, yet again, sit through the discomfort of their mother sobbing as I read the beauty and the glorious depiction of the perfection of heaven. (they are more than slightly used to my tears, but still…)

“‘isn’t it wonderful?’ said lucy. ‘have you noticed one can’t feel afraid, even if one wants to? try it.'”

at one point there was a description of fruit. and after trying and trying to explain how amazing it is, the author simply says, “if you had once eaten that fruit, all the nicest things in this world would taste like medicines after it. but i can’t describe it. you can’t find out what it is like unless you can get to that country and taste it for yourself.”

with tears filling my eyes I said to my kids, “imagine how great it is for mason today. imagine the delight!”

repeatedly, the newcomers to aslan’s country (heaven) are told to come “further up! further in!” but… how can you rush so quickly through the perfection and glory and beautiful detail of heaven? in fact, even as they try, they can run faster than ever imagined, never running out of breath, never running out of wonder and happiness to absorb.

today, mason is going further up and further in. exploring, enjoying, laughing.

i wouldn’t want him to come back to this earth. don’t get me wrong, i never, ever, ever would have chosen him to go in the first place. i do want him here. i ache for him. but now that he has seen Jesus, now that he as experienced true perfection, why would i make him suffer through this existence?

the chronicles of narnia have been a beautiful comfort these last months. while the reality of heaven is so far beyond our simple comprehension, c.s. lewis does a beautiful job creating a picture, a glimpse, a thought, of something spectacular.

and in narnia, death is never the ending. not for those who love aslan. its only the beginning!

griffin woke this morning at 6:44, yelling for daddy, disoriented after a night of sleep. i went in to get him and was met immediately with the question, “sun up?”

griffin has an obsession with day and night. everything revolves around “sun up.” he’ll ask for something at night… a snack, a trip to the park, a movie… and if the answer is no, he’ll respond with, “sun up?” which means, “can I have it tomorrow when the sun is up again?”

and if its “sun up,” it means he can get out of bed… a new day of hope and endless possibilities. i took him to the kitchen to look out the window, to show him “sun up” and saw the beginnings of the most glorious sunrise. the sky was bright red. glowing. the clouds varying in different degrees of crimson. even griffin lifted his head from my shoulder and breathed a surprised, “wow!”

we watched the sky for a moment and i looked at the clock. 6:47. at this moment 4 months ago i was watching a big, strong man doing chest compressions on my sweet, tiny boy. No pulse, no ability to breathe on his own. i was holding my own breath at each 2 minute break in compressions when they’d check yet again for a non-existent pulse and then yet another person would resume compressions for yet another 2 minutes.

i can still feel that room. i can see the worried glances of nurses in my direction. i can hear my husband whispering desperate prayers to God. i can hear the calmness of the doctor calling out orders. i can see the paramedic who transported us… with sirens wailing, sailing through red lights… standing in the hall, still next to his stretcher, wiping tears from his eyes.

i can easily see all these things. i live this moment over and over. but when I looked back from the clock to the beautiful radiant sky, i heard God tell me, “only a glimpse.”

this sunrise, this beauty and glory, is only a glimpse of what mason is seeing right now. while i see that hospital room as an ending, it really was a beginning. a beginning of such perfection and delight that i simply can’t even begin to imagine.

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

–CS Lewis, The Last Battle