Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Decade Later

Today I will have lived without Meredith for a decade. It’s been ten years since I have held that fair skinned, pretty in pink, happy girl. I’ve spent the day in bed watching videos of her. She was a delight--happy, smiley, and developing normally. Those were glorious moments watching her grow and change. I had so many hopes for her future- dreams that every mom has for her child.

Remembering Mer hurts, but I know I must take this time to walk through the memories and give myself time to grieve. The thought of forgetting her is unbearable. Remembering the past leads to heartache-- thinking about all the pain, all the questions, all the tough decisions that had to be made. Sometimes, I just want to forget it all because I cannot remember Meredith without also feeling pain and despair. My heart is as broken as it was all those years ago. You NEVER get over losing a child- EVER.

As this day has been approaching, I’ve been begging God for a word. I do this each year on Mer’s birthday and deathiversary. “God, give me something that brings clarity and focus to my life. Help me to not be floating along forgetting what is most important. Give me a vision for how to merge my past and my present!” Some themes have been emerging from my quiet times with the Lord...

I believe God wants me to remember the past so that I can be more grateful for His present gifts. While thinking of Meredith grieves me it also generates gratefulness- most of all, that I had her in the first place. And now, a decade later God has given me so much... not in place of Mer but adding to the gift of Mer. What a joy it has been to see God bless me with so much more than I could imagine- a gentle, patient and loving husband; two teenage stepsons, a ten year old passionate and risk taking Tyler and a fun loving, imaginative and sweet five year old, Sadie Grace. Not to mention, the most loving, committed and faithful immediate family. As I look at this broken world, I am reminded of the gift of my family. In these past ten years, I have much to be grateful for. Not only has God reminded me of the gift of my family, but of my friends. At every twist and turn, I have felt unconditionally loved and continuously cared for by my friends. I cannot believe the faithfulness of each of them. Good grief, what a gift I have in having this amazing inner and outer circle of friends. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Let me never forget the power of community.

Courage can be more infectious than fear. Do I live this way? Not really. I am often paralyzed by fear and anxiety, which manifests in me trying to prevent crisis by attempting to control my circumstances. I’ve been like this forever and even talk about this in my book! I have fallen into my old ways of trying to fix things or fretting about the future. How can it be that I have so little faith in God for I have seen the works and power of God in my life? During Mer’s life and death, I experienced God’s strength and power every second. I saw His faithfulness in meeting my every physical and spiritual need in the midst of a chaotic storm. I heard His voice as He promised me Meredith would be free of suffering on this very day ten years ago. Yet, I question Him on such basic levels these days. So, a decade after Mer’s death, God is saying, remember to be courageous-just as you were in the past. Joshua 1:19 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  There’s so much strength and courage in surrender.

Unanswered Prayer-
After losing Mer, the “why?” haunted me. I knew God had answered my prayers that Meredith be healed, but He did not use the method that I had hoped and prayed for. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now you see only a poor reflection as in a mirror, but then you will see face to Face.” This verse has been helpful to me because I have contemplated the why of Meredith’s death for many years. I came up with some really good stuff, like, she saved my life or many people came to faith because of her story or she died so that I would be able to help others through hard times. But, as I ponder these “explanations” none of them fill the void I feel without Mer by my side. My conclusion to the “why” after a decade, is even if the answer was written in the pages of scripture, it would still not satisfy my heart’s cry. Which leads me back to 1 Corinthians 13:12. Some things that happen on this earth I will never understand or comprehend. Some pain we have to just endure and live with until our dying day. It’s okay to ask why, even to be disappointed or angry at God. These feelings often cause me to lean in closer to God which gives me peace in the end.

I know that carrying Meredith’s memory with me and sharing it with others has been my life’s mission. There have been times when life has carried me away from her memory, but my heart always draws back to Mer. My heart will forever yearn to keep her memory alive. When I am speaking, writing or thinking on Meredith I feel truly alive. It doesn’t mean that all other things I do don’t have value, it just means that God gave me the gift and the calling to share her with the world until I get to see her again. One day when I reunite with my precious babe, the two of us will stand face to face and I will finally understand. Oh, what a celebration that will be!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Death to Life

One can never consent to crawl when one feels the impulse to soar ~Helen Keller

Nine years ago, this quote would have not resonated with me in any shape or form. At that point crawling was my only option. April 14 is a day I dread and I pray goes quickly. The events of that day nine years ago are seared into my mind. Mer took her last breathe in my arms. Then, I held her until I had to give her over. Next, I walked out of Duke with my Mom and sister without my baby forever.

Today my life is completely different. It is filled with so many joyful things. I no longer crawl through life. For the first time, I feel peace in all areas. At the same time, I feel God is asking me to look ahead. I believe what He has for me will use every gift He gave me and every experience I have walked through to the fullest. This year God has given me the impulse to soar rather than crawl.

I suppose a lot of us wonder what our lives would be like if a certain thing had not happened. I think of this often. I wonder what my life would look like if Mer hadn’t gotten sick and died. I know that I would have loved being Mer and Ty’s mom. I think I would have been a pretty good mom to them. But, I know I wouldn't have been the mom that I am today. I know for sure I wouldn’t have been the friend, sister, daughter and advocate for women that I am today. I strongly believe I would be going in a totally different direction professionally and personally if Mer had lived. Everything that I do today would not have been possible without my loss. 

Meredith’s life and death redefined my life. For many years, it defined me completely. It was all I thought about and all I wrote about. I remember being in the Dollar Tree with Tyler when he was a baby and a lady asked me if he was my only child. I said, “No, I had a daughter who was one year older than him and she just died.” Wow, that poor woman! I bet she never asked that question to a stranger again. But, I think back on how I lived for so long- and it was in the shadow of Mer's death. It defined me. Today, I can meet you and until you get to really know me- you would never know about Meredith. As I write this, I feel guilt because I want her to still be known and I am not trying to hide her from anyone. But, it is because God has given me other defining people and activities that I am known for now. Today I am Tyler and Sadie Grace’s mom, Silas and Severin’s step-mom, Bryan’s wife, Providence’s Local Outreach Director, Summerfield North's Hospitality Team Leader, SNNA’s Swim Team Coordinator, friend, sister, daughter and Tucker’s Alpha. I’m laughing when I read this- I am on strict orders from Bryan not to join another “team” or become any group's Leader without his consent! These are the things that I do, where I spend my time, where I feel that God has really stretched and grown me. For years He grew me in my grief, but now the flourishing is taking place in these roles. 

Nine years without Mer have not been easy. Like most bereaved parents, I grieve all that I am missing- watching Mer grow into a pre-teen, talking to her about friendships, teaching her to be a godly woman, watching her perform in school plays, cheering for her as she swims or tumbles or dances, painting her nails, brushing her tangly hair, shopping for clothes, the list is endless. I miss these things. But, when God took Mer He didn’t leave me with nothing. He gave me two more precious children to love. He gave me the chance to watch them grow and to feel the joy of their accomplishments. So, at my saddest moments like today, even as I write this entry, my sweet Sadie Grace comes in periodically to chat, to show me what she has created and to just connect with me. Which is a reminder that I am no longer supposed to simply grow in my grief, but I am required to flourish in the midst of life!

Thank you for your prayers all these years. I am so grateful to be loved by you. As Mer’s Anniversary falls on Palm Sunday, I am reminded of how Christ suffered for my sins. How He suffered far more than I could ever comprehend and He did it all for us so that we could truly live. I pray you feel His mighty power and peace today as we meditate on the price he paid for our sins and anticipate His resurrection! 

"God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done (Ephesians 2:4-7)."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fear & Hope

The last few weeks have been extremely difficult. The numbness, stress and sadness that accompanies the weeks leading up to April 14th hit me like a freight train every single year. I walk through the past. I remember the goodness of God and the pain of disappointment. Something that always sets in during this time is fear. I begin to hyper focus on little things. Lately, Sadie Grace has been running and all the sudden she turns her right foot in a bit. She has done it several times at random. The first time I saw it, I panicked. Could she have some kind of neurological problem I have not caught? Am I am missing something? I quickly go down the road of  thinking about how I will not survive another catastrophic event. I’ll need to go straight to the mental institute because I just cannot take another tragedy. Last time Sadie Grace turned her foot in, Bryan saw it and the fear in my eyes. He assured me she was doing it on purpose. I was ready to get an MRI. I know it sounds extreme. I know it sounds irrational. But it is real fear. So, I have been pondering how to overcome this instead of focusing on it. I was reminded of this quote from President Snow from the Hunger Games movie,

“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.”

This quote comes to me often because I struggle with fear. The fear of losing someone. The fear of not doing what I am supposed to be doing. The fear of what is happening to my kids when I am not with them. The fear of forgetting Meredith as time goes on. Much of my fear is surrounded around my children because I have experienced a parent’s greatest fear- losing one.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I rarely learn anything new or life changing in movies, but I have to say that President Snow’s quote is not only true but inspiring. God promises me hope even in the midst of my grief. He promises He is with me and that He will not leave me until He has fulfilled His promises. As I look back over the last 8 years I am grateful for the hope that He has given me along the way and promises to me in the future.

In remembrance of Meredith’s 8th death anniversary, I have decided to donate my wedding dress to Angel Gowns. This non-profit makes beautiful dresses to give to bereaved parents. Seamstresses all around the nation create gowns that children can be buried in. I cannot wait to see my dress recreated into such an amazing gift. I will never forget a complete stranger buying and delivering the most gorgeous gown for my daughter. At the end of Mer’s life, her body was so bruised and she hardly looked like my baby anymore. I almost had a closed casket for her. But, then I saw her in the most amazing, white, delicate dress with a bonnet to cover her wounds and it was like she was back to being the baby I knew again. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. Peaceful and perfect. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mer this year than by giving another mom the most perfect dress for her little angel and maybe even a little bit of hope.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mer!

Eight years ago, I was handing over my newborn son to my sister and brother-in-law at Wake Medical. Kim got in the hospital bed, cuddled with Ty, ate my roast beef and enjoyed all the moments of being a new mom without birthing a child. She said it was the easiest birth ever!
On February 16, 2008, I slid into a wheelchair and was off to Duke Hospital. It was Meredith’s first birthday. She had a big surgery on Ty’s birthday and she was barely holding on. I could not wait to get back to her. I’ll never forget that day. She laid there in the PICU with tubes and machines connected to her while we sang Happy Birthday. I had no idea at that moment that this would be the only birthday I would ever have with her. I remember thanking God that I could hold her again that day. I had been so pregnant throughout her sickness and it was so hard to hold her. My back would hurt and I was so afraid I would mess up the machines or tubes. But, that day, I sat with her in my arms for four hours straight. She also opened her eyes that after 3 long days. It was just like the old days when we just cuddled on the couch and napped together. On Mer’s birthday, I held her, and loved on her. It was a joyous day indeed!

Today Meredith would be 9 years old. A friend asked me, “doesn’t it get easier as time goes on?” I don’t think easier is how I would describe it. Each year I remember my loss and her gain. On this day, I grieve and laugh. I wrestle with God and His plan. I wonder what she would be like--what we would all be like if she were alive.  

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3-5  (ESV)

Having Ty the day before Mer’s birthday was the brightest light God could have ever given me. I think about the moment that I looked in his precious little eyes and I knew I had to make it no matter what. He was going to need me to be strong and be whole. The day he was born was a physical reminder that God was good.

When I tell people my story now, they always say, “you are so strong! I could have never lived through that. I’m not like you. I can’t do it!” None of these statements are true. I am not strong and I am nothing special. Every obstacle I have overcome and every impactful step I have made has come from Jesus, the light in me. John 1:3-5 is a powerful reminder that in the midst of darkness there is still light. Every day of Meredith’s sickness and on this day every year I feel the tug of darkness. It comes on strong, but no amount of darkness can ever devour the light within me.  

Today, I celebrate the goodness of God, the mercy He showed me and the strength He has given me. I celebrate the restoration and refinement that has taken place in my life. But, more than anything, I celebrate the life of a little girl who was a light to so many.

Happy 9th Birthday my sweet Mer Mer. Someday I won’t shed a tear because I will be holding you in my arms again.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Auf Wiedersehen, English Oaks

In 2001, I bought my first home in Raleigh. After 14 years, I sold it. This might seem like no big deal, but as I stood in there putting on finishing touches, I cried. I remember I was a teacher when I bought English Oaks. It was my first place and I loved painting, decorating, and living in it. It was such a safe place to live. I loved the neighbors, the feel of community and having my very own space.

I lived at English Oaks for 4 years before I got married. I tried to sell it in 2004 and it turned out that I would need to spend a large sum of money to get it ready to sell. We decided to rent it. This was my first rental property and let me just tell you, being a landlord was not my forte. Our first tenants, wore stilettos on the hardwoods, were always late on rent and got drunk on the front lawn. What started off as an adventure quickly began to be a huge burden.

In 2008, after Mer and Ty, I was once again handed the keys to this house, not as a landlord but a resident. I didn’t want it, I had lived in a much bigger and better house. I didn’t want to go back there. It felt like if I moved there, I was going backward. So, I tried to sell it and it wouldn’t sell. I kept it on the market and looked at buying a new big house with a yard for Ty. I wanted to start fresh. But, God had different plans.

In October of 2008, after living with my sister for 9 months, I moved back into English Oaks. This was our new place- Ty and me. Immediately, it felt like home. It was perfect for the two of us- warm, cozy and safe. I grieved, wrote and recovered in this home. Most of the time, it was full of friends and family, all making sure we were okay. Ty rode his bike on the tennis courts, we swam in the summers and I began to slowly rebuild my life. At night, once Ty was in bed, I wept and wrote. God gave us a new start once again.

In 2011, I moved out of English Oaks for the final time. This time was to move in with my husband and his two boys. Ty and I went from a family of 2 to 5 in the blink of an eye. Once again, I tried to sell it and there was no interest. So, I got back into the landlord business. But, English Oaks became a kind of ministry house, where I let women stay who were struggling emotionally or financially. English Oaks continued to be a safe haven and a place of refuge for those who were hurting. I loved being able to provide for others what God had given me in the most difficult time of my life-a refuge.

But, as most landlords know, a property cannot sustain being a ministry house long-term and when we had Sadie Grace life became a lot more challenging logistically.  English Oaks became a burden to me once more. So, we decided to sell.

It seems kind of silly to write about a house. After all, it is just a thing. But, I am always intrigued to look back and see how God leads and how His timing is perfect. He knew that I would need my house in 2008, and then he allowed me to use it to help others for years. Overall, it has been a real blessing. But, it is time to part ways my dear home.

So, I am thankful for you English Oaks and what you have taught me but now is the time to part ways, Auf Wiedersehen. (German for Goodbye-- from one of my favorite shows, Project Runway)


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Band-aids Don’t Fix Bullet Holes

I hardly ever listen to pop radio. As I have gotten closer to 40 years of age, I find myself gravitating toward talk radio. I am so becoming my mother- ahhh! However, the other day, it had cooled down a bit so I put down the windows and Sadie Grace and I jammed out to some hip songs that the young kids dig. I was completely shocked while totally inspired when I heard the line “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes” from Taylor Swift’s song, Bad Blood. I am usually inspired by a scripture when it comes to writing, but this line goes perfectly with a Biblical truth and command I have been pondering over the last couple of weeks-- forgiveness.

I was recently prompted to write a blog on forgiveness. Primarily because this person thought that I struggle with it. Of course, when someone calls me out on something I immediately go on the defense and think, “I am not bitter” and “I totally forgive!” But, after the walls come down, I did start to ponder, “Have I truly forgiven this person? Do I struggle with unforgiveness?” The answer is ... YES, I have forgiven and ... YES, I struggle with forgiveness.

What I have realized about forgiveness is it is a process. I can honestly say that for years I have had to work through forgiving the people that have put bullet holes in me. And like Taylor Swift states in her song, I have put Band-aids on those holes but it doesn’t fix them. Every time another shot is made, that Band-aid is ripped off, and that wound is exposed. I feel the intense pain of the initial injury, then apply the Band-aid again. I'm not sure all wounds completely heal because in some situations shots continue to come. But, I will say that the time it takes to put the Band-aid is way faster for me these days. I used to hold on to my hurt and let it fester, but now I get mad, vent ask God to help me and move on. I am by no means a pro at the whole forgiveness thing but I am trying and it is hard.

I know without a doubt that forgiving is freeing. I’ll never forget the summer of 2014  I experienced an amazing moment of forgiveness. I will never forget it. When Meredith was on her death bed, an individual that was very close to me was angry and said the most horrific thing anyone can ever say to a mother whose child is dying. In so many words, she said it was my fault. I’m still shocked to this day that it was said to me. It took me a long time to recover from those words. Not that I ever believed that Meredith getting cancer and dying was my fault. But, when someone says that to you, it sticks. It was the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me, ever. Over the years, I have had to see this person. At first, I was repulsed by her--absolutely disgusted. I could not stand the sight of her. She was like a poison in my blood. I hated her. I was bitter. She haunted me. But, over time God began healing me, and I started to not feel repulsed or hatred-- just pity. Then, last year came, when the individual that wounded me so deeply was wounded herself, she cried on my shoulder. I stood there and felt nothing but compassion for her.

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”  ~ Corrie Ten Boom

It was at that moment that my bullet hole was healed up. In a million years, I could not have ever believed that I could forgive this person. But, I had, not by my own accord but through Christ who lives in me.  

If there is one thing that I know for a fact, is I will be hurt again. Maybe not as badly as before, but there are still people who are shooting things at me and just because I have forgiven before, doesn’t mean it is an immediate or easy response. As Corrie Ten Boom states above, sometimes I have to will myself to forgive by praying for God to “HELP ME” while other times it comes more easily. By no means does forgiveness mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing an offense. The process of forgiving can be slow and tedious, but it is worth it because with forgiveness comes a great reward--FREEDOM.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Remembering You Today

April 14, 2015 (Just now posting this...)

7 years ago, I said goodbye to my first born. Meredith Elisabeth was given to me 14 months earlier but taken to Heaven this very day. She would be 8 years old. I always visit her grave on the day of her death. I gaze at the spot where she is buried for hours. I sit and stare at the gravestone in disbelief. It feels like forever since I touched her skin, kissed her cheek and held her tight. What would she look like today? What would she be like? Would she be like me or wild and wonky like Ty? I miss her.

Every birthday and anniversary, God is so gracious to give me some kind of word or verse to encourage me as I remember Meredith.  Today was the first time I realized that Meredith is buried on Locust Avenue. As soon as I saw it, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible that speaks about the locust, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2:25 ESV). This is not the first time God has reminded me of this verse. If I looked back through my blog, I know I would see it in one of my writings. This verse has a promise of restoration and I have experienced this ten fold.

Prior to Mer’s anniversary, I was telling Bryan that I am the happiest, most content and most thankful I have ever been. My life is going so well and I have the most amazing and loving two children that are happy and healthy. I also have Bryan and his boys who just add so much more excitement and joy to my life too. Add in doing ministry for a living and things are just golden! I am so blessed. The only thing that is missing is Meredith. She is the missing puzzle piece of my life and soul.

Although Meredith’s death anniversary is extremely sad, God gave me such an encouraging verse to meditate on. Restoration is here and will continue and one day I will understand all that has taken place. My questions will be answered and the puzzle will be complete.

The Lord hath sent strength for thee:
To go on…He gives us power to tread the dead level, to walk the long lane that seems never to have a turning.
To go up… He is to me the power by which I can climb the hill of “difficulty” and not be afraid.
To go down...He is with us in the sultry spheres when our heart grows faint.
To sit still...He is with us even when we can’t hear.

Psalm 68:28