Good Friday Hope

Today is Good Friday, and my mind immediately goes to remembering Good Friday last year. The pain of losing my Mother was debilitating, but I knew I had to keep going.  The pain is not as fresh, but it is still there in many ways.  Good Friday in the life of a Christian is definitely a day of reflection.  As I reflect today, I am going to re-blog my post from one year ago.  The hope I spoke of last year seems brighter and much more evident today. We have learned much over this past year.  We have realized the importance of appreciating the current time we have together.  We have realized the importance of friends and family.  We have realized the things we used to complain about are things we would give anything for now.  During a hectic holiday, it is easy to complain about the many family functions we must attend.  When you lose someone you love so dearly, you would give anything to re-create those family functions, photo opportunities, hurried lunches after church, egg hunts etc.

While we are so very thankful for the time we all have together today, we must reflect on our past gatherings as well.  We are thankful for so very much, but we are especially thankful for the HOPE we have been given because of the message Good Friday brings.  –

As a Good Friday reflection, here is my blog post from last year. . .

Good Friday Hope Written Apr 6, 2012 4:37am

3 weeks can seem like 10 years when grief is so painfully present in every aspect of your life. My flesh wants to completely skip every holiday and special event for the next year. I am scared of the emotions we will feel going through them without Mom. Daddy and I were shopping for the children (as Mom would want us to do) and I looked at him – in the middle of the mall- and said “how are we going to get through Easter?”  His reply – “Amy, Easter is what gives us our hope to make it through all of this!”  Wow. His wisdom in the midst of grief spoke volumes to me.

It is Good Friday, and my Mother would be picking up Bread in the shape of bunnies from Good Harvest.  She would be running last minute errands to get just the right things to put in all of our Easter baskets.  (Yes, she still gave me my Easter basket from when I was small and would fill it with things I love now.)  She would call me and tell me her Easter menu over and over, making sure she did not leave one thing out.  She would drive to Strossner’s Bakery to pick up a special dessert for us then buy way too many Easter cupcakes for the children.  She would go to Moppets to pick up one more bow for Charlotte in case the other 3 she bought were not good enough choices.  She would continue to think of things to do for US to make sure Easter was as special as it could be.

So, in the spirit of my Mother, I am doing all of this today. But I will do it with a great sadness in my heart.  I find it so fitting that this looming sadness will be felt on Good Friday, the day we as Christians know as the day Jesus died for us.  The pain and sadness God felt is no comparison to mine. However, in my small, human mind, I can try to comprehend it.  In the midst of my sadness today, THERE IS HOPE.  There is hope I will see my Mother again because of what happened on Good Friday. There is hope for peace in the midst of our most painful circumstances.  Death comes laden with sadness.  So to be completely honest, I have no joy in the midst of thinking of Mother’s death today. But I do have hope.  I have hope that one day I will have joy again.  I have hope because of Good Friday. Actually, the hope comes from what happened AFTER Good Friday.  I believe in the resurrection of Christ, and I believe that one day I will be reunited with my Mother because of that.

…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” -Psalm 30:5

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The Gift of Presence

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.   -Henri Nouwen

My post this weekend was planned very differently until the moment I started to write.  It seems as if the world stops and people question everything when there is news of senseless violence like we had yesterday in Connecticut.  I sat in the quiet of the morning and tried to think about what my Mother would say about such a horrific day like yesterday.  I was so sad because I could not think of what she would say about it.  Then I realized, she probably would not say anything.  She would just hold me close for however long I needed it.  I was always the one to pull away first.  I was always the one in a hurry to be somewhere else. Oh how I would give anything to be able to hug her once more without pulling away so quickly and being in a hurry to get somewhere else.

So many things I read from thoughts of friends emulate the same sentiment.  They held their children closer last night.  They watched them sleep and felt gratitude for their every breath.  I held Will for what seemed like hours in the kitchen before he left to spend the night at a friend’s house.  I wanted to explain to him why Mommy was being so weird about letting go.  I just couldn’t find the words to explain to a 9 year old what happened in a school just like his, and I sure had no words to explain why.  So I just held him until he finally pushed me away.

Maybe that’s what God does with us.  He knows we will never understand, so he just holds us close until we push him away.

May we all hold tight to the things we love, as well as our Savior, during such a time as this.

Blessings

“The pain reminds this heart that this is not our home.” – Laura Story

My dear friend who teaches chorus with me at Gettys Middle School had her students sing a song at a school event last week called “Blessings”.  I actually used this song in a post on Mother’s caringbridge website when she was very sick a few months ago.  When I think of Thanksgiving and blessings this year, my thought process will definitely be different than ever before.  I am going to actually borrow Laura Story’s words (the composer of “Blessings”) as we enter this week of Thanksgiving.

Blessings.  The meaning just may be a little different from what we are accustomed to.

Taken from Laura Story’s website : laurastorymusic.com

The album that I did three to four years ago happened right after my husband went through surgery for a brain tumor. So a lot of the ideas that I was writing about then were just very fresh, about how do we worship in the midst of trials. So fast forwarding a few years later, a lot of things have changed. A lot of things have gotten better with his health, and a lot of things have not. We pray for God to bless us, but what does it look like when I spend four or so years praying for healing for my husband that never comes? I feel like we’ve kind of gotten to a place of having to make a choice. Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances that we don’t understand, or are we going to choose to judge our circumstances based on what we know to be true about God? Not that I choose the right thing every day, but I’m learning that every morning when I wake up to choose to trust God.

And that’s what “Blessings” is about. It’s just considering that maybe the blessing is actually found in the absence of the thing that I’m praying for. No one wants a brain tumor, and no one wants a severed marriage and these things that we pray that God will reconcile. But even though this situation is definitely nothing that we ever would have asked for or prayed for, there has been a depth of intimacy with the Lord that I’m not sure I would have known apart from such a hard road that we’ve walked. And in the end, if I’ve learned to cling to that old rugged cross all the more, I truly can say that I’m a blessed person.

November-The Month of Thanksgiving

I just scrolled through a very long facebook news feed with numerous people reflecting on things for which they are thankful.  It seems as if they are all going to write one thing they are thankful for each day of November as a lead up to Thanksgiving.

I’m not quite there yet.  Yes, I could make a list of things I am thankful for, but the feelings would not be authentic.  In all honesty, I do not feel like being thankful.  The feelings of dread and fear overshadow most other feelings when thinking about the upcoming holidays.  I can’t begin to imagine Thanksgiving without my Mother.  It is all too painful to write about as well so I will borrow a quote that sums up my feelings nicely.

Loss is the hardest thing, but it’s also the teacher that’s the most difficult to ignore. Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”
― Dean Koontz, Odd Hours

“The ache is always there.”  I think what strikes me most about this quote is the last line.  This is what my Mother would say to me.  “To nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

Maybe that is what I am looking for, a reason to stop “taking solace in the emptiness”.  I would never want to disrespect the gift of my Mother’s life.  I always want to celebrate it. Feelings of gratitude are very hard to list in the midst of realizing her presence is not here during one of our most favorite times of the year.

Even so, I can say with an honesty and certainty in my heart, today I am thankful for my family.  I am thankful for the 35 years I had with a mother like Judy King.  I am thankful for the man she married that I call Daddy.  I am thankful for the many Thanksgivings we put up a Christmas tree and made memories shopping on the Friday after.  I am thankful for my husband and how he helps us make our own memories with our children.  I am thankful for my children.  Will and Charlotte bring joy on days when we need it most.

I am thankful for family traditions, new and old. Will, Charlotte, and Papa made homemade decorations for their very own Christmas tree in the spare bedroom at Papa’s house last night.  They even made popcorn garland and a paper chain.  It does seem a little early to put up a Christmas tree, however, we have discussed maybe changing some traditions and taking care of them early may help ease the difficulty.

I do believe a new tradition was started last night, and I do believe a little girl and boy created a memory with their Papa that they will never forget.

Will, Charlotte, and Papa’s Christmas tree – hanging the last homemade ornament!

Today, I am thankful for family.  Today, I am thankful for traditions.  Today, I am thankful.

Childlike Faith

My words are few today so I have decided to borrow some old thoughts of mine that I still think about often.  When Mother was so sick, we started a caringbridge website to keep everyone informed.  It became so therapuetic for me which is why I am still writing about her.  The following is an old caringbridge post I wrote 3 weeks before Mother passed away.  I STILL need to hear this.  Maybe someone else will too.  There really is a 3 year old trapped in all of us.

Childlike faith

Written Feb 25, 2012 6:09am

This site is designed for health updates, and I have not given much info on where we are, medically speaking, in a while.  So, here goes…
Mother started her next cycle of chemotherapy last week.  I have lost count, but I think it is the 4th cycle (maybe 5th).  The few days of rest she receives from chemo goes by all too fast for her. Her pain level is better but never completely gone. The side effects of chemo are not easy, and the discouraging part is knowing she will have to take it forever.  Her cancer is not curable but treatable. However, the poison you have to take to treat cancer is not necessarily a welcome guest in your body.  The silver lining is, it kills the bad stuff too.  We visit her oncologist every 3 weeks, and Friday, March 1 is the next one.
The swelling in her right arm caused by the lymphedema (caused by the cancer) is still there and quite possibly the most frustrating thing for her.  It is somewhat debilitating and has made this entire cancer process much more troublesome for her. She has no use of her arm, and the extreme heaviness from the swelling really throws her balance off. So, walking in a straight line is quite the task.
Watching Mother go through this stirs so many emotions in all of us.  Anger, frustration, sadness, impatience, and just childlike temper tantrums come to mind when I think of how I have felt this week.  All of those emotions sound so similar to what our 3 year old demonstrates when she doesn’t get what she wants.  There are days Charlotte does not understand why she can’t have popsicles for breakfast.  There are moments when she screams in the church parking lot because we make her hold our hand.  There is sobbing when we give her time out for saying “leave me alone!”  We know what is best for her, but she does not understand our reasoning behind our choices.
There is a great need in my own life to discover this childlike faith when it comes to God and our situation right now.  I have pitched some fits (just like Charlotte), but I have to trust that He knows best for our family just like we parent our children.  I don’t understand.  Maybe I never will on this side of eternity.  I don’t think I am capable of grasping the answers to the questions I have.  However, I know that God loves us even more than I love my own children. I choose to believe that, even when I don’t necessarily feel like it.  Children are examples of humble faith, and that is what I am praying for all of us as we go through this. *The picture I added to this entry is of Charlotte saying the blessing….with her eyes open.  She and I are so much alike. 

Be Prepared

“Be Prepared.”    – The Judy King motto.  (I’m sure the girl scouts borrowed it from her.)

Life in the south is a wonderful thing.  Each season brings distinct temperature changes as well as special events to celebrate this change in the calendar.  It is not uncommon to wear shorts and a t-shirt one day, then wake up and need jeans and a jacket the next.

My Mother certainly did not teach me about procrastination.  I can’t think of one time when she put something off until later.  She always took care of things ahead of time.  This usually frustrated me because her timing did not mix well with mine.

Every year, usually on the hottest day of summer, when stores would begin putting out fall clothes, my Mother would begin buying a few long sleeved shirts, sweaters, and jackets.  When she delivered them to us, she would ALWAYS say. . .  “You’re going to wake up one morning soon, and it’s gonna be cold outside.  You’ll be glad you have this.”

One afternoon in early March of this year, I took the children to see Mother for what we now know was one of the last visits they would have with her.  She was very medicated, and I was unsure if she completely knew what was going on. She kept insisting to Will that he go pick out a new coat.  She told me to take her wallet and buy it.  I kept telling her it was warm outside, and he might only use it a few more times.  She continued to insist.  I was not going to argue with my sick Mother, so I took Will shopping, and we bought him a new coat.  We showed it to her, and I remember watching her cry as she hugged him.  At that time, I thought I was just appeasing my Mother who had no idea what was really going on with the seasons or calendar.

I found that coat last week in Will’s closet, tags still on it.  Then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing.  She knew she was not going to be here on the first cold morning of fall this year. I watched Will wear that coat yesterday on our really first cold morning of the fall and felt gratitude in such an overwhelming way.

When I think about my Mother not being here, I still don’t understand why.  I still get angry.  I still have a heartache that seems to grow larger instead of smaller each day.  However, something deep inside me knows everything will make sense one day.  So for today, I am just so grateful for the way my Mother continues to speak to me.

I am grateful for the way God continues to speak to me.

I am completely unworthy.

Skipping Christmas

It’s been 6 months since my Mother passed away.  I wish I could say the pain has subsided, but there is a fresh awareness of her absence with the changing of each season.  I gave serious consideration to announcing my plans of skipping the upcoming holidays.  After all, a holiday boycott certainly would lessen stress AND save money.  I just could not understand why when I mentioned this idea, no one seemed to support it.

My Mother loved this time of year so much, and I have a number of gifts she gave me to prove it. When I realized my skipping the upcoming season was never going to go over well with my family, I decided to ‘rip the band aid off quickly’ and get the fall décor out. Every fall decoration I pulled out yesterday was given to me by my Mother.  Everything I touched held a memory of her.  I missed her so much, it physically hurt.

Poor Darian walked in the kitchen as I stood there, mid-meltdown… pumpkin in one hand, spiced candle in the other.  He knew, without me saying a word, what I was feeling.  Then, in his wisdom, he just looked at me and said, “Getting all of this stuff out, this is exactly what your Mother would want you to do. She would be upset if you did anything less than what you have always done.”  Normally, I would debate my side of the situation at this point.  Instead, I just thought about how much my Mother LOVED Darian Byrd, and how I was pretty sure she experienced that moment in our kitchen with us yesterday.

Fall.  Thanksgiving.  Christmas.  Halloween.  Charlotte’s Birthday.  Darian’s Birthday.  Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pink Sunday, Race For the Cure, The one year anniversary of her last diagnosis.  The thinking back to where we were this time last year and feeling those feelings all over again.  It is too much for my heart to handle some days.

But. . .

In the quiet of the morning, when the house is still, and I can truly reflect on my life. . .  I am grateful.  I am grateful for the roof over my head.  I am grateful there is food in our pantry.  I am grateful for the 35 wonderful years I was given with the most amazing Mother on the planet.  I am grateful for all she taught me to value.  I am grateful for the memories of the fall seasons.  I am grateful for the tangible things she gave me; they’re like holding memories in your hand.  I am grateful for family and friends who let us know we are never alone.  And I am so very grateful for a Heavenly Father who continues to show His love to me even after I have doubted Him time after time.

I’ll end this post with words from my Mother to me on my 16th birthday.  I have been looking for this card for months now.  I finally found it!  This explains so much about who my Mother was and how she and my Daddy raised me.  I also love this because her handwriting is so very beautiful here.

Mother’s 16 birthday letter to me – May 25, 1992

My favorite line of the card. . .

“Your Dad and I are so thankful that you are not only our child, but that you’re a child of the Heavenly King, and because of your decision to accept Him as your Lord and Savior, we will all be together through eternity.”

Maybe she somehow knew I would need that comfort one day. . . . We will NOT skip the holidays.  We will enter them with an excitement that Judy King taught us how to do.  Things on earth will never be the same, but we have a hope.  This hope of seeing each other again will be what gets us through.

Wash Your Face

For Charlotte. . . the only little girl who loves lipstick more than I do.

My Mother had the most beautiful skin.  It was like silk.  I remember staring at it when she would sleep and wish mine could be just like it.  She was religious about washing her face.  Every night, she would say “I’m going upstairs to take my face off”, and I knew it was time for the day to end.

My Grandmother had the same perfect skin.  Clearly, she started Mother on the right path.  When I was 11, they both took me to Merle Norman for my first official make-up purchase. All I could think about was getting my hands on the lipstick.  All they cared about was cleanser and moisturizer.  Moisturizer.  My mother went through it like water.  I am certain that was another reason her skin was so perfect.

We did get the fun make up that day, but I learned there was a price to pay for being able to use the fun stuff.  That price was having the discipline to wash it off every night, even when I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep.  It’s just like every other lesson she taught me.  If you value something, take care of it.  Have the discipline to do it even when you don’t feel like it.  

I am definitely not the poster child for skin care like my Mother and Grandmother, but I am more faithful now than I ever have been.  Maybe it’s because every time I wash my face, I think of them.

Race for the Cure Information

Many people have asked about the date, time, and other information for the race. This may help.

Date: Saturday, September 29

Location:  Fluor Field (Greenville Drive Stadium)

 Opening Ceremonies – 7:15am-7:30am

Race Start Time – 8:00am

Race info taken from the Komen website

Robert King’s TEAM website.  Here, you can join our team.  Daddy named the team “Judy’s Dream”.  You can click on “Join Judy’s Dream” or there is an option to donate to the team if you are unable to attend the event.

Here are a few pictures from the last race we were all able to attend (2010).

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Bitter or Better. It’s a Choice.

“Every test in our life makes us bitter or better, every problem comes to make us or break us.  The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.” – Unknown

Race for the Cure is coming up soon.  Our family is participating in honor of Mom.  This is a hard step for me because a few months ago, I hated the color pink.  I didn’t want anything pink reminding me that cancer “beat” our family.  I was bitter and angry because “the cause” didn’t work for us.  I was sad to see old pictures of my Mother wearing her pink survivor shirt knowing she would never wear it again.

Then it hit me.

I can become bitter or I can become better.  My high school government teacher told me that in the 11th grade, and I have never forgotten it. Nine zillion years later, I am still thinking about it.  That story alone speaks volumes about how much teachers can impact a student’s life, long after the class is over.

I still struggle with the bitterness, but then I am reminded of how it is my choice to become bitter or better.  The question remains, how do I become better?  What can I do to become better?  For weeks, I thought the answer was taking time for myself.  I thought I needed to self-reflect on the past year, read books about grief, or journal about my feelings.  While that all sounds great (and a little cliché, I might add), I realized I only truly felt better when I was serving in some way.

God has really put some wise people in our paths through all of this, and I have never been more thankful for that.  My beautiful aunt and I met for breakfast one morning this summer.  She is the epitome of a servant.  She reminded me of numerous ways I can serve.  There are organizations right here in our backdoor begging for help.  United Way, Mary’s House, Mary’s Closet, The Dream Center,  SHINE soup kitchen, local schools, and that is just the first few that come to mind.

I didn’t have to pray about it.  I didn’t wait for a sign to fall on my head.  I went home and began researching  how my family could help in some way.  That same week, Daddy came to me and said he wanted to raise money for Susan G Komen through Race for the Cure.  We started a website for him yesterday, and he’s on a mission with that.

I believe experiencing something like the death of a loved one changes you forever.  Serving as a way to heal will benefit us much more than it helps any organization.  I pray it will become something we do forever, but not because any organization needs us.  Nobody needs this glorified mess of a person I am right now.  I NEED them.  I need to serve.  I need to be reminded of how broken we all are, and how we are here to help each other get through this life that can be extremely difficult at times.  We are all a mess in our own individual way.   We must help each other, encourage each other, share resources with each other, pray for each other, and serve each other, along the way.

I have no idea how God will use any of this right now.  I don’t even know the logistics of everything yet.  I just know we are open.  I also know we HAVE to become better.  We just have to become better.  My Mother would want this.  She would want this more than anything.  Serve.  Give.  Support.

Bitter or better?  It is a choice.

Thank you, Shannon Leatherwood.

Web addresses for the organizations mentioned in this post:

http://bit.ly/OOGP6o – Daddy’s personal webpage for Race for the Cure

http://www.uwpickens.org/volunteer/agency/display/?agency_id=261 – Mary’s House

http://makinadifferencetoday.blogspot.com/ – The Dream Center

http://www.uwpickens.org/ – United Way of Pickens County