Saturday, May 9, 2015

When you have to trade in your red flower...

I grew up in a traditional church where women wore flowers pinned to their dresses on Mother's Day Sunday. I was always fascinated by this from a very young age. Red was pinned with joy in the knowledge that your mother was still living. White was pinned in grief and remembrance that your mother had passed away.

Although my mom's mother passed away long before I was ever born, I don't remember my mom ever wearing a white rose pinned to her choir robe.

I was pondering this tradition this weekend as Mother's Day approaches and I decided that I am not trading in my red flower for a white flower.

I'm not in denial. In fact, I have very much come to a place where I can speak those words and say that "my mom is dead" if someone asks. I hate it when the words leave my lips, but it is my reality.

But I'm still not trading my red flower in for white. I'm trading mine in for pink.

Do you know what happens when you mix red with white? You get pink. Pink is a much more accurate representation of where my mom is.

She is neither dead nor alive. Yes, she is dead in terms of her Earthly life, but she is still very much alive. She is alive because on May 21st, 2014, The Lord gave her a new body that He had promised her when she accepted Him as her Savior.

She is more alive than you and me.

I feel closest to my mother when I am singing worship music at church. I can imagine her standing at His feet and singing worship music to Him. So when I am worshipping the Lord...well, I just always feel this deep connection with her when I know we are both doing the same thing at the exact same moment. I know her worship looks different from mine. I am still a sinner while she has been made new. She has seen God in all His Glory. She knows more about God than I do.

So instead of skipping church on Mother's day like I had originally planned, I will wear my dress covered in pink flowers and honor and be near my mother. It may look different than the time you will spend with your mother. But when I feel the presence of God and think of my mom being completely and fully in His presence,'s the way I can be with her this Mother's Day. I am so thankful for how brave God can make us when we are so weak and broken.

So, I'm not trading in my red flower for white. No...I will proudly have pink and remember that my mother is very much alive.

Happy Mother's Day to you all. And for those of you wearing pink flowers, you are not alone. This life is our temporary home.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Glorious Unfolding: the gift of time

I rarely write in this little space anymore. It isn't because of lack of material, but rather, lack of time. One of the many things I truly realized and embraced after my mother died was just how fleeting our time is here. I'm convinced that even if we knew the number of our days from the very beginning, it still wouldn't feel like enough time. I rest in the peace that God knows the number of our days even before we were created, yet it still doesn't keep me from feeling like "it was just too soon, Lord."

I was reminded of time when I found myself in the mall a few days ago and was bombarded with "Mother's Days" advertisements everywhere. How has it already been almost a year? I can remember last Mother's Day like it was yesterday, yet it feels like a lifetime ago that I last saw my mother and felt her hugs.

I can remember feeling grumpy that I had to leave my own family to go see my mom on Mother's Day. I wanted to have a lazy day to myself (because I am selfish), but I decided I really needed to go see my mom. I can't explain it, but looking back I'm so glad I got over it would be my last Mother's Day and my last real conversation with my mom. I took her a dozen hot pink roses (her favorite) and a sub sandwich. My mom didn't even really like sub sandwiches now that I think about it.

I stayed for about 5 hours and left around dinner as she was not feeling well.  She would always walk me outside and wave as I pulled my car out of the driveway. But this time, my dad had put some water in the bathtub for her and I said my goodbyes then. Why didn't I stay and help her wash her hair? Why was I in such a rush that I couldn't wait a little longer and serve and help the person who brought me into this world?

The next weekend during Ella's ballet recital dress rehearsal was when I got the call. I still have her ticket in my wallet. It sits next to the EKG strip where she took her last breath. Maybe that is strange to some people, but grief is bizarre and makes you do seemingly strange things to outsiders. But that ticket and EKG strip are a reminder that you never know when your last breath is...and your only purpose is to serve the Lord while you are here. It's not about you.

I did get a chance to serve my mom her final few days here on Earth. I got to be with her as she left this world and entered Eternity. I had a chance to wash her feet and brush her hair. I am forever thankful that God gave me that second chance to serve my mother. 

This week, I watched my two girls practice their recital piece on stage.

It was brutal.

Just like the Mother's Day advertisements, it was a reminder that just when you think you are healing from this emotion of grief, you are still such a broken human being. God is so good in how He reveals himself when you are broken, but it doesn't change the fact that it is all so very painful. I've heard people say "grief is a journey, not a destination." It's so true. Time has made it easier to deal with the pain, but things like Mother's Day and ballet recitals will always be a reminder that my life was forever changed last May.

I stood behind the curtains and watched Ella dance to this song called "Glorious Unfolding". I had to hide my face behind the camera because the tears were getting too hard to hold back. The words to the song were just so applicable to where I am. Seeing those girls dance the emotions to the was just the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long time. I hate that my mom will never see them dance again on this side of eternity.

Lay your head down tonight

Take a rest from the fight

Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding

Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

Those words. 

They make me weep. They make me weep because though my heart aches for Heaven, I know God still has so much left for me here in this temporary home. He has given us all the gift of time to use  for His glory. It is such an honor and gift to be able to serve where God calls you. 

God’s plan from the start

For this world and your heart

Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
And the story has only begun

We were made to run through fields of forever

Singing songs to our Savior and King

So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning

So, while there are still days where grief sneaks in, I'm reminded of how much of my story He is still unfolding in front of my very eyes...even in that little girl in pink, who had low muscle tone and we thought may never walk...

One of God's many miracles! 

Not only does she walk, but she runs and dances and leaps and can stand on those little toes so perfectly. Speaking of miracles, I just spent two weeks with my dad and Europe and he climbed every step of the Arc de Triomphe where we watched the sunset over the entire city. While those on the ground could only see the beauty from their small view, I got to watch the sunset in all its beauty over Paris. I wonder if that is how Heaven will be? We see such tiny glimpses here to give us hope. How marvelous will it be when we see God in all His Glory! Moses wanted it...but God basically told him he couldn't handle it yet. 

Sometimes I feel beyond joyful when thinking of my mom seeing God in all His Glory. Her new body...I can't imagine her being more beautiful. She is friends with Moses, Noah, Mary, Esther...she's met them all by now. She sees the full story! 

I think if my mom was able to whisper in my ear, she would say "Sarah, if only you could see what I see. Just keep your eyes forward on The Lord. Keep loving people and serving the Lord. Keep showing the world the love of Jesus. This world you are in is over in the blink of an eye. Go and live and love the hurting and the lost."

We will watch and see and we will be amazed
If we just keep on believing the story is so far from over

And hold on to every promise God has made to us
We’ll see the glorious unfolding

Spending those two weeks with just my dad seeing the was priceless. That gift of time with him is something I will hold onto for forever. 

Time is so fleeting. 
Love and serve those around you.
At the end of the day, this time here on Earth is just temporary. 

This Mother's Day, I will celebrate my mother. Death does not change that she was my mother. And I will still take her hot pink roses...but, they won't be placed in a vase on her dining room table. 

And I will weep as I watch my daughters dance on stage: partly because I hurt knowing they will not remember my mother and partly because I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of God's hope and promise that He instills in my heart when it aches with grief. 

And I will mourn all over again as I remember her on the 1st anniversary of her death on May 21st. But, I hold on to the promise that God has made for me (and you): that this time here on Earth is just the beginning of the beginning. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Christmas Wrap Up and Happy 2015

My first holidays without my mother have come and gone and I feel a secret sigh of relief. We hurt and cried, but we survived and even had moments where we actually enjoyed these difficult holidays. One thing I learned about surviving your first holidays after a death (and still in the midst of grieving) is the importance of continuing traditions and bringing a few new ones to the table. It's so important to keep living! I hosted Christmas Eve and Christmas Day complete with our annual gingerbread making contest. The holidays are both sad and happy, but I'm hoping that as each year passes, it will be less sad and mostly just happy.

Here's a few pictures of our Holidays:

Three very excited little ones waiting to see Santa! 
We made it to see Santa the Saturday before Christmas. Miraculously, there was almost no line.
 I know people have various opinions on the Santa debate. We choose to spend the majority of our season talking about the birth of Christ, but we still enjoy a little magic of Santa. Santa does not generally bring our children lavish gifts. In fact, they are only allowed to ask for one sensible gift and any other requests are made to mommy and daddy. Luckily, our children have never presented us with some long list of demands...yet. 
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at our church: My absolute favorite tradition

 Here are a few pictures of my pretty table scape. I think it is quite lovely if I do say so myself. One of my New Year's resolutions is to use our fine china more often: to stop saving all our "special dishes" or even "special outfits" for that matter. If there is one thing I've learned in 2014 is that life is so very short. Every day that you wake up is a special occasion!

Complete with fresh garland and pine cones

Mommy's travel tree complete with an Eiffel Tower tree topper. The children had a live tree in the family room with their colored lights and homemade decor. But this tree is ALL MINE!
Andrew and I bought these Christmas dishes 12 years ago when we first got married. They are by Mikasa and called "Holiday Traditions". I just love them so much! I even pulled out the real crystal...because life is too short to eat on paper plates and drink out of red solo cups. 

 The garland on my table has a very sweet story that I have already shared with a few of you. I went to Home Depot two days before Christmas and asked a man if he had any tree scraps I could have. I explained I just needed a few to put on my table and mantel and didn't mind going through the trash. He asked me to follow him, which I did. After a couple minutes, he presents me with an actual Christmas tree. He said "this is my Christmas present to you. You don't need to go through the trash." I was a little confused at first and said "Are you serious? You're giving me this for free?" He replied that it wasn't a big deal because they were just going to throw them away and again said "this is my Christmas present to you." At this point, I have major tears in my eyes and told him he'll never know how much this meant to me. I told him it was my first Christmas without my mom and I had a child throwing up at home and I just wanted my house to look a little more festive. That act of kindness and the beauty the limbs made to my table and mantel were just what I needed: hope...a little bit of hope that there is still good in this world. You never know what little or big acts of kindness mean to someone.

Something new I did this year with the children was read the Christmas story out of the Jesus Storybook Bible in the morning. We've always read this in the past during the season, but this time I read it right before we opened gifts. Afterwards, we thanked The Lord for His many blessings He has given us this year. We also prayed that we would all have thankful hearts as we opened our gifts and that we would remember that this was a celebration of the birth of Jesus. This will definitely be a tradition we continue each year. I think it really did help them have good attitudes on Christmas morning.

Praying before opening gifts.

 New Years Eve, we headed to my dad's house to spend the night and celebrate the new year with him and my sisters family. We stayed up until almost 1am playing board games (just the adults and my sisters older kids of course). The next day we ate our black eyed peas and pork for good luck. Here's our attempt at our first family photo of 2015. Jacob has the 2, Ella the 0, Audrey the 1, and me the 5.

Happy 2015! Andrew wearing his Georgia Tech shirt with pride! Go Jackets!

A New Year and the fresh start it brings has brought a little happiness to my heart and hope for a better year. Happy New Year to you all! May it be a year of living life to the fullest.

And in case you were wondering...less than 3 months until Paris! Le sigh...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dancing with Jesus on Christmas

These days I often find myself walking outside at night, staring up at the few stars I can see and wondering if God lets those in Heaven take a glimpse at those they love still on Earth. Both literally and figuratively in the darkest of hours, I search and cling to the only hope we all have...the promise of Heaven for those who love the Lord.  He says he is near to the brokenhearted and I can attest that His words are so true. He takes your pain and leads you to the cross. It is the beauty amongst the heartache.
When the walls of our home went up during the same week as the crazy Atlanta snow storm of 2014, perhaps we should have taken that premonition as to what 2014 was to look like for our family.  That snowstorm was just the start of the torrential downpour that would happen over this year. Andrew slaved away after work each night working on our new home through the summer. The same week that we were moving and packing (and realizing our house was not ready for us to live in), my mother unexpectedly went into the hospital and passed away 4 days later. My dad called me that first night to tell me of my mothers condition as I was on my way home from our dress rehearsal for Ella’s ballet recital. The next day, I showed my mother (during her last lucid moment) a video of her beautiful granddaughter dancing on stage. I cried showing it to her because I knew in my heart that it would be the last dance she saw on Earth before she went to dance with Jesus. I have no doubt she will be dancing with Jesus when they celebrate His birthday this week: for she loved her Savior and He loved her.
In God’s perfect timing and tenderness, the children and I went to live with my dad for a month while Andrew continued to work until the wee hours of the night. In the midst of our heartache, we praised God for this truly precious month with my father. It proved to be just what we all needed during those early weeks of grieving and transitioning: a place of refuge and rest, a safe place to lay my burdens down. Our lives are forever changed, and we yearn for Heaven!
This season, I reflect on Christmases past and see the Lord has never forsaken us in our weakness. I think about those years we prayed for just one baby, about birthing twins at only 28 weeks, etc...and now I look at my mantel with five stockings and little fingerprints on everything. God has been so gracious and generous to our family. I can look back on these hard times and see that He went before us and never left us. The void of being motherless can never be filled except through Him. Just like He did not leave my womb barren, He has adopted me as His child and I am not alone...and He will always be enough.
We are soaking in these years with our “little” children. We know that they are only on loan to us and that they truly belong to Him. Ella, the baby we thought we’d never have, has grown to be the loveliest first grader and little ballerina. We truly feel touched watching God transform her heart as she seeks to know Him more.  What more could we ever desire as her Earthly parents? We are so blessed. And those 28 week preemies? They are now energetic and lively four year olds. Audrey is enjoying taking her first year of ballet while Jacob had his first season of soccer.

Thank you, our friends and family, for loving us when we needed love, for being silent when I just needed to weep, and for stepping in when we just needed a hand. We can never repay you for your kindness, but we thank God for you every day. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude: through a child's eyes

On this first holiday without my mother, God continues to be so good to our family. No doubt her absence was very much felt, but the traditions that we continue to embrace make these difficult days a little sweeter: making her favorite dishes, spending time with my grandfather (her father), etc...I realize now why traditions are so important.

I won't lie. Suddenly, the holiday season does seem less merry. However, I am thankful for all that God has taught me through the ache. In many ways, I feel like I am walking with my eyes a little more open: grasping for beauty when the days are hard.

Today, I am writing over at my favorite online boutique store called Sweet Praises and sharing a small bit of beauty that God has opened my eyes to recently. I hope you enjoy this season of thanksgiving and continue to focus on what is most important as we enter into the season of advent.

Click here to read the full article. I hope it will bless you on this day of Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Friends are like Puzzle Pieces

I've sat here tapping on my computer for more hours than I care to admit. I was awake until 2am last night (for the third night in a row) recapping this past weeks events as well as marveling at the amount of Godly people God has put in my path the past 16 or so years.

I am in yet another season of change. Although no one can replace true friends who have supported you through the good, bad, and ugly, moving to the other side of town has sort of forced me to find new friends who live day to day life with me. I am overwhelmed by the friendships the Lord immediately put in my life immediately after was something Andrew and I both prayed for daily for ourselves and especially for me. I once read that friends are like puzzle pieces. I think that quote originally was meant to be interpreted as each friend in your life plays an important part of who you are and each part plays a part in making you whole. After reflecting on friends from childhood, to college and now through adulthood, I would agree that each person is a piece of a puzzle in my life. 

Friendships that have value transcend time. This past week was proof of that as many of us gathered stricken with heartache and anguish as we sang and prayed at a vigil...what would be a sweet and dear young lady's last worship service here on Earth. Our hearts were full of sorrow as we watched her sweet young boys watch from the windows of their bedrooms and our lips trembled with sadness while thinking of her beloved husband whose pain we cannot even fathom.

Both the vigil and the funeral were a glimpse of Heaven (minus the tears). The gathering of dear friends, many of whom we have not seen in 14 years, made me forget for a moment that I was grieving and instead made me feel as if I had arrived home. Still recovering from the recent death of my mother, this gathering of believers was such a gift for me. Our college campus minister spoke of our sweet friend and how she must be loving meeting all the great warriors for Christ: Moses, Noah, David. I had never really thought about that before. Sometimes we are so caught up in our own hurt, we forget that Heaven is so amazing. I felt so much comfort thinking of how both my mother and now sweet Ashley must be standing in awe worshiping alongside those we have read about in the Bible. Both Ashley and my mother loved the lake, so I like to imagine the Lord made them neighbors in Heaven. Both super chatty, I'm sure they won't run out of things to talk about until we see them again.

But now what? What do you do when a piece of your puzzle is gone? This is something I'm still working through. I don't know the answer, but I do know one keep living.

After our friends funeral, many of us gathered for drinks and food and reminisced about the good ole days...those days of college where your responsibilities are few, but laughter is in abundance. Sharing old stories and laughing was the hugest release of grief that has been weighing me down these past few months. I sat next to the loveliest of young ladies who also lost a parent recently and we laughed. And it felt good. It felt good because I realized that although pieces of my puzzle are missing and my life here on Earth will never be the same, it is OK to keep on living.

The closer Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I admit my heart has been full of dread. What was once my favorite time of the year (and by love..I mean we start watching Christmas movies and decorating right after Halloween) has become a season I just wanted to pretend isn't happening. I think C. S. Lewis said it best when he said:

"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."

It is true. I feel overwhelmed thinking that grief never ends, but I know it changes and becomes more bearable. And admittedly, I have shaken my fist at God saying "it is one thing for you to take my mother. By why would you take a mother (Ashley) away from her children who are not even grown?" 

Yesterday, Andrew and I went to my parents dad's house to return his truck. Walking in that house full of old memories is always bittersweet. I found myself once again sitting on her side of the bed and thinking about how my father said the hardest part of his day is waking up each morning and not seeing her laying right there. I open her nightstand. I don't even know why...I just needed to see her not forget her and her five thousand tubes of chapstick she kept in that drawer. I pull out a notebook and find this scribbled note in her cursive writing. It read:

Then one day she slipped away. As he stood by her grave with much sorrow in his heart and tears in his eyes, the Lord reminded him she was by His side right now. He reminded him that one day, he would slip away and be with his beloved.

I have searched the Internet backwards and forwards trying to find where my mom heard this. Was it something she wrote? When, where, why did she write it? (I'd love to know if anyone has heard this quote and where it is from). My mother was many things, but a writer she was not. But seeing her written words were still so beautiful nevertheless.

That afternoon after searching my dad's basement high and low, I came home with an old and broken nativity scene from my childhood. I put it on my kitchen windowsill to remind myself that, although a piece of my puzzle is missing much like that nativity scene, it is OK to keep on living. The next morning Andrew and I listened to Christmas music as we folded laundry together and we watched "The Holiday" later that night. 

I think our friend Lori said it best the day of the funeral when she said "There is strength in numbers- today a group of old friends held each other up in a time of sorrow. And then we smiled and shared precious memories... Until we meet again..."

More than ever I have realized the importance of relationships. The strength that comes from friends who both grieve, laugh, and live life with you all form the puzzle of your life. They are perhaps the most important parts of your puzzle. And not just this life here on Earth, but they are part of your life in eternity. I can only imagine what that reunion will look like. But the glimpse I saw and felt this past week makes me yearn for Heaven even more.

But until then...We keep living. We keep lifting each other up, laughing and crying through this crazy world...until we all meet again...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And then she sighed

My baby girl started first grade last week. I gave birth to her just a few weeks ago (right?) and already she is school aged. She was in a rush to make her debut in the world, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised she has been in a rush to grow up. Everyone talks about growing pains, but no one said the only one who would feel the hurt of it would be the parents. This growing up stuff is no joke. You feel so proud and so sad all at the same time. You know how some people are jumping up and down when that school bus comes down their street??...I am not one of them. No judgement, no judgement. I'm pretty sure when the twins turn comes to go to school, I will be singing the Hallelujah chorus. (I kid...sort of...ahem.) But that firstborn girl of mine...I just want to bottle up her innocence and keep her 6 years old for forever.

We are so fortunate to be able to send Ella to a very sweet and wonderful Christ loving school that we feel like will be both a good fit for her as a student and us as the parents. She still only goes half days (8-12), which is such a sweet blessing to this hurting heart of mine. She can be such a ray of sunshine on those days when I'm missing my mama so very, very much...which is pretty much every hour of the day. The friends we have already made through the school...the outpouring of love from people who don't even know of my mom's recent's just been such a gift from the Lord.

I had a dream about my mama the other night. It was the second night in a row I have dreamed about her. Sadly, it wasn't this Hollywood version where you wake up and feel happy. They were sad dreams. Each dream she walked around in this fuchsia dress that she wore in my sisters wedding. She didn't say anything, she was just walking around and then she died. Both nights I had these weird dreams about seeing her body in a casket, but it was not the funeral she had in real life. It was just...weird. Not comforting at all. So, the past two days I've woken up just feeling really awful. Where are these sweet dreams that people have where their loved one comes back and say "you are going to be OK. Or I love you. Or anything happy"...but not reliving her funeral?

This morning I was so frustrated trying to put together a chandelier in this never ending construction zone we live in and just sobbed. And sobbed and sobbed. I dropped a crystal and it shattered into a million pieces. So there I sat on the top of a ladder with two toddlers staring at me from outside the room wondering what all the commotion was about. I look at my little boy who looks down at the box and starts handing me one crystal at a time and says "mommy, I help you. Don't cry. I help you."

And he and Audrey both did. They each took turns handing me crystals and I hung them where they needed to go. My focus changed from my mom to thinking about how these two little miracles will be 4 years old in just 11 more days. I thought about those those 3 months in the NICU, about watching 3 nurses do CPR on my little girl, about how the doctor told me she didn't know if I was going to be able to carry them long enough for them to survive. I thought about those months where we worried Audrey might have cerebral palsy and "would she ever walk"? And those years of worrying if Jacob would learn to talk well?

"Mommy, do you want a little crystal or a big crystal next?"

He talks. She walks. They are alive and well. And I have a first grader too!!...the baby who we prayed for for a really long time. My womb that God did not leave barren.

And I sighed.

That sigh that you release when your body is so built up with sorrow and pain. That sigh that says "I'm broken, but I'm going to be OK." That sigh that says "man, this life can be so very hard. But God has done miraculous things in my life. And He is good."

Sometimes in the midst of this grief, I have to look at old photos and remind myself of how much He has done for me. It will be difficult to celebrate these two miracle's birthday in a few days without her there. Normally she would call me at least 14 times to double check that she got exactly the right present. And then she would tell me some dramatic story about going to 4 different stores to find the best deal on it. My mom never quite embraced the beauty of amazon prime! And then she'd tell me "while I was there, you'll never believe what I found on the sales rack."I have a closet full of her dollar store finds!

On Thursday, it will be 3 months since we said goodbye to my mother. I often wonder what her new body looks like. She was so beautiful before, how could God have made anything more beautiful?

I read something the other day that said "Grief never ends, but it changes. It's a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love."

No person can ever replace the love of my mother. But, I am so thankful for these 3 little ones that God has loaned me that help me take a deep breath and sigh when the pain is too much. Never have I been more thankful for my three babies. Looking at that picture above is such a sweet reminder that He is good and He is faithful.