09-11-20 Nineteen years

19 years ago…

It wasn’t a town far away in a place I had never been.

It was my city, my community, my backyard.

It was my bookstore, my favorite subway station, my shopping mall.

The people that died were my neighbors.

It was months of dodging falling ash, tasting the burnt metal flavor in my mouth, feeling the rumble of machinery as the cleanup began. It was seeing the blue sky where the towers should have been and walking in sunlight where their shadows should have tread.

It was the daily fear that it would happen again.

So I will tell my story to anyone that will listen, so we don’t collectively forget. I will teach my children, so they understand their history. I won’t shy away because it stings.

And I will thank the Lord always that I got to live.

My Story

08-26-20 Ten Years

Today my sweet girl turned ten! It’s hard to believe that an entire decade has passed since I first looked into her eyes and held her in my arms. She is growing into a lovely young woman that loves books, video games, and building with legos. She enjoys writing and wants to pen a book one day, she loves to take photographs and videos and hopes to be an editor when she grows up. She’s smart, with a quick mind and a sense of humor to match. She has the best laugh and the prettiest smile and she loves Jesus. She’s a wonderful big sister and daughter.

She’s my girl… my bug…my oldest savage, the first one to call me mommy and I’m looking forward to what the future brings!

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl! We love you!!

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

06-27-20 Appendages

This painting is not my father’s. This one is mine. Years ago, before I had kids, before I was married, I visited my parents for the weekend. My dad’s artwork was still in its early stages and he invited me to make a painting with him. I wasn’t allowed to watch the entire process (he was very secretive about his methods) but he gave me license to create it how I wanted. This painting was the result.

I wasn’t thrilled with how it turned out and we both laughed at my sorry attempt at painting. But he kept it, sealed it, and prepped it for hanging. As a joke, when he returned it to me, he had written the word “Appendages” on a piece of masking tape on the back. The word has long since faded, but the tape remains.

I came across this painting while Tim was cleaning out the garage. I had nearly forgotten its existence. While I still think it’s ugly, it carries a deeper meaning to me… A special moment in time that I shared with my father.

Today marks six months since his passing. Six months of his silence. Six months of wanting him here. Every once in awhile I listen to his last message to me. I watch videos where I hear his voice. I look at his paintings.

It’s hard to lose a best friend.

But at least I have “Appendages,” which has earned itself a special place in my heart and on my wall.

05-26-20 Fear vs. Trust

In early March, Italy was already in lockdown. Their hospitals were overrun with the sick and dying. Exhausted doctors and nurses pleaded with the public to remain inside as bodies piled up in churches repurposed as makeshift morgues. We knew Covid-19 had already reached our shores, as cases had started popping up across the country. If Italy was the canary in the coal mine, we were staring down the barrel of an epidemic disaster unseen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. With no vaccine and no cure, our only hope was to buy our hospitals enough time to prepare for the onslaught by ‘flattening the curve.’ And so we screeched our massive economy to a halt and pushed it to the brink of collapse.

On March 15th, our family commenced our lockdown. Those of us that did not need to leave the house stayed home. We stopped going to in-person church services. No more small group meetings. No more play dates. The public schools in our area shut down. ‘Non essential workers’ stayed home. If they were lucky they could do their jobs from the comfort of their own living rooms, but for a vast majority of people that wasn’t an option.

As the reality of the situation began to sink in, an unrelenting gnawing feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. The news stories expounded on the horrific illness that oftentimes ended in a fierce battle with pneumonia that far too many people could not beat. The sinking in my heart was reinforced with the images of my father’s last days as he too battled pneumonia, the sounds of the machines that breathed for him, the hustle of the ICU, and the quiet silence of the room when he breathed his last. The anxiety, which had laid mostly dormant since walking out of the hospital in December, awakened with a fierceness I had not anticipated. And as the week wore on, each day bringing more grim news, my anxiety grew, like a thirst that could not be quenched. I could not bear to face it all again. I could not do it. I could not watch another loved one die.

And so I did what years of anxiety attacks and PTSD had taught me to do- swing haphazardly between controlling everything and shutting down. For nearly a week I panicked. I couldn’t think straight. I viewed every scenario through the dirty and foggy lens of my fear. Perhaps if I could control the situation, I could control the outcome. Like a sickness in itself, it reached a fever pitch that ended in a fight with my husband and tears shed over the people I had hurt. When I woke the next morning, the panic was gone. There still remained a wariness, but the all consuming obsession of it had worn off.

With the worst of the panic behind me, I turned to the place I should have started, the place that would have prevented the downward spiral in the first place- my relationship with God. I picked up a book that I had started shortly after my father had been diagnosed with cancer, Anxious For Nothing, by John MacArthur. In Chapter 2 of the book, MacArthur makes the claim that, “The real challenge of Christian living is not to eliminate every uncomfortable circumstance from our lives, but to trust our sovereign, wise, good, and powerful God in the midst of every situation.” In chapter 3 he goes on to say, “For the Christian, even the worst trial is only temporary. Remember that, for you will be tempted to conclude that because there is no end in sight, there is no end at all.”

It was a humbling reminder to me that while I was lashing out in fear, God was at work. While I was desperate for control, my Father in Heaven was managing things in His timing and with His precision. And when my grief and my fear had joined forces to run rampant against my reason, the Creator of the universe had not skipped a beat. The illusion of control I desperately grasped for as the world shut down was no different than thinking I could have saved my father from dying. Nothing I did or did not do could have prevented what was already in God’s plan.

Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

You and I, dear friend, are more valuable than many sparrows. Do you not know, that your Father in heaven loves you? Do you not realize that your days have already been numbered and that your worst trial is a mere inconvenience in light of eternity? Do you forget the promise that awaits you in His presence? Are you trusting Him, that in His wisdom and power he is working all things out for the good of those who love him?

Or like me, do you sometimes let the fear in your heart poison your thoughts and spill out from your tongue?

As Christians we need to be different, we are called to be different. So how then should we live?

Is the man in the store behind you without a mask on his face an enemy to be feared or a mission field to be won to Christ (Luke 10:29)? Does it bring glory to your King to argue with fellow believers about when and how the country should re-open (2 Timothy 2:23-24)? Does it further the kingdom of heaven to speak ill of the rulers God has appointed and defy the laws they have decreed (Romans 13:1-2)? Does it strengthen the body of believers to mock those that aren’t ready to leave their homes or malign those who are eager to return to work (Ephesians 3:1-3)?

Make no mistake, believers, the world is watching. Your unbelieving friends are watching. Let us show them that trusting our “sovereign, wise, good, and powerful God in the midst of every situation” defeats the fears that would otherwise paralyze us. Let us remember the cost of our redemption, and in doing so, cast out our fear, and love our neighbors.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

04-29-20 April Birthdays

I felt his rough skin against my lips as I leaned into kiss him on the cheek. I breathed in the familiar scent of lacquer thinner and a hint of garlic. “I love you, Daddy” I whispered as I tilted my head back to look at him. His face, while scruffy and wrinkled, was perfectly healthy and peaceful. “I miss you… all the time.”

“I know,” he replied with a gentle smile on his lips. He hugged me and we stood for a few seconds in an embrace. I felt warm and safe with his arm around me. A moment later my eyes fluttered open to my darkened room.

I’m not one to believe that our loved one’s visit us in a vision and I know my father’s spirit isn’t hanging around the house. My dream wasn’t a sign or some sort of communication from beyond the grave. It was my heart longing to see him and my mind creating a perfect moment between us. No, my dad wasn’t here. He’s far too occupied in the presence of his Lord to even contemplate the workings of Earth.

Yesterday was my 40th birthday, the first birthday without my dad. I suspect that every birthday from here on out will be tinged with sadness that he isn’t here to celebrate with me. My father was 40 years old when I was born which means I didn’t even know him for a full half of his life. We share April birthdays, me and my dad. This year, on what would have been his 80th birthday we were going to have dinner at his favorite restaurant. Because of the virus, everything is closed. We stayed home and instead we made his favorite meal- sauerkraut and sausage, and played his favorite game while gathered around the kitchen table.

Years ago, I asked my father if he was afraid of getting older and dying. He paused for a moment and then answered, “It’s like you’re walking and there’s a wall in front of you, but you can’t see it. You know it’s there and you know you are going to hit it, but you just don’t know when. The only thing you can be certain of is that you are getting closer to it. But no, I’m not afraid of it.”

The day before my father went to the hospital in September of 2018, I took him to get an x-ray because he was complaining about pain in his shoulder. After the x-ray we stopped at a local fancy doughnut shop where we ordered overpriced doughnuts and bitter dark coffee and we sat at a booth and just talked. It was the last long talk we had before cancer and illness and impending death hung over every conversation that remained.

Wow, I miss him.

Thankfully, my children were darlings, making me breakfast as I supervised. I gave them the day off from school and we tried our best to be lazy and unproductive. We ended the evening with a feast and a cake and I was surrounded by the people I love best. It really was a lovely day.

The last birthday text dad ever sent me, “A happy birthday is not enough for someone like you. May I wish happiness and success in everything you do. Love Dad.”

03-19-20 Happiest of Birthdays

To my dear sweet boy,

Eight years ago today I held you in my arms for the very first time. These days you don’t fit into my arms quite as well as you used to, but that doesn’t stop you from crawling into my lap and showering me with cuddles.

As I sat outside this afternoon watching you play Simon Says with the neighbor kids from a quarantine-able distance, my heart sank for you. When we talked about your birthday weeks ago I was secretly planning how we could get together with friends to celebrate the amazing kid that you are and then over the course of the past week our lives took an incredibly drastic turn.

I don’t know what the end of this looks like. I don’t know how long this will go on. Weeks? Months, maybe? In the meantime, I want to remind you (and me too) that nothing that happens in our lives ever catches God off guard. He is never surprised. He is never reactionary.

He is just. He is loving. He is fair. He is kind. He is holy.

If there is anything I can teach you in the months and years to come, I hope it is this… Jesus is all you need.

No amount of striving will save you, nor good deeds, nor pure thoughts. No amount of ignorance or apathy can pardon you. Only the death and resurrection of Christ can do that. So my prayer each day is that our Lord draws you ever closer to Him.

I love you my dear boy and Happy Birthday!

03-07-20 A Goal Too Far

When my father came out of the hospital at the end of January 2019, it took him a little while to gain traction with his recovery, but little by little we began to see improvements. And then something amazing happened… the days got longer, the weather got warmer, and my father got stronger. As winter melted into Spring and then Spring blossomed to Summer, I was in awe of the progress he made. He started going back to work every day and not long after that he began driving himself to and from the shop. It seemed we had finally gotten over the hurdle of his mistreatment.

He really did have a good summer. He was stronger. He put on weight.

It wasn’t long after the start of autumn that things started to unravel. He was placed on some new medications, which wreaked havoc with his system. He stopped eating as much. Then he started losing weight. All of his hard fought progress wasted away. It was difficult to watch.

Weeks later, as the days got shorter, my ectopic rupture happened and suddenly everything seemed to spiral out of control. I laid on the couch recovering as I watched my father shuffle around the house, trying to gain back his strength, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it this time. I could tell he was getting tired. As I sat on the couch I thought, let’s just make it to spring. He’ll feel better in the spring. The longer days and the warmer weather will rejuvenate him once again. The winter will be hard, but if we can just get him to the time change, he’ll be ok.

A few short weeks later I sat next to him in the ICU holding his hand. I asked him to say hi to my babies in heaven, told him I loved him, and then, dear friends, I watched him die.

When I left the hospital that afternoon, the sun was already starting its descent. The weather was pleasant, an unusual December day, it’s warmth mocking the frigid weight that had settled on my mind. My father was dead.

Spring had been a goal too far. In the end, exhaustion had won. Sickness had attacked a body that had fought so hard and so long. With no reserve, his body finally gave out, and while he never said it in the weeks leading up to it, I think he knew. I’m almost sure he did.

Tomorrow the sun will set later. The weather is starting to get warmer. The trees are budding. The flowers are pushing through the thawed soil. Spring is almost upon us.

How I wish he was here to see it.

I miss him each day- more each day if that’s possible, but I can say with absolute confidence that given the choice, he would stay where he is, in the presence of his king, and in the arms of the ones who went before him.

To Christ be all glory in all things.

01-17-20 Two Griefs

It is a wearisome place to stand- on an isle between two griefs, trapped between the loss of my child and the loss of my father. Two heartaches. Two anguishes. Two sorrows.

I’ve taken up residence here on this small piece of earth, surrounded by an ocean of my own tears.

It’s lonely.

But one day the water will start to ebb, the waves won’t crash on the shore and eat away at the ground beneath my feet. The soil will harden and I’ll stand on dry land once again.

The angry tide will give way to a gentle lapping, a soothing sound filled with memory and mirth, and I’ll forget the rage of the storm that brought me here.

This is grief.

01-14-20 Advocate For Your Loved Ones

Nearly every night I have variations of the same dream. I’m back in the hospital, in Room 12 of the ICU, watching my father die and being powerless to stop it.

One of my most important roles over the past year and a half was being an advocate for my father. Once during that time I had a nurse take me aside and tell me that I needed to stop researching things on the internet and leave things to the professionals. “He’s weak and frail, honey,” she said with a syrupy southern accent, “so you need to stop it. You are just upsetting yourself.”

“I know that one day I won’t be able to advocate for him. One day he will be too weak and too frail, and there will be nothing I can do to help him. But until that day, I will do whatever I can to get him the care he needs. Now call his doctor and have her look at this!” I responded while handing over an NIH study I had tracked down online that was a verbatim explanation of my father’s condition that the doctor’s had yet to pinpoint. A half hour later his medical team was onboard with what I had discovered and within 48 hours he was home.

Having spent a lot of time around hospitals in the past year and a half I have learned a very important lesson- you have to advocate for your loved ones. If it hadn’t been for me, my mom, or my sister stepping in on multiple occasions, my father’s story would have ended much sooner.

We watched doctors make some pretty bad decisions. We educated ourselves and we intervened whenever necessary. We asked questions, we demanded answers. There were times when we barely stopped doctors and nurses from giving my dad medicine he was allergic to. We pushed for nutrition and hydration as doctors shrugged their shoulders and wrote him off. We didn’t carte blanche accept their explanations just because they had fancy degrees and high paying salaries. We knew my dad. We knew what was normal and what wasn’t. They didn’t. They saw him in a vacuum and treated him accordingly. They didn’t see him.

That may sound unfair. In fact, most of the doctors and nurses that we met were amazing and helpful and kind. But when you have a bad doctor or nurse, the result can be dangerous. We met several callous and unfeeling doctors that nearly cost him his life on multiple occasions- the ones that read the word ‘cancer’ on his chart and never bothered to read further down where it said the cancer was completely under control. Instead they took one look at him and said, “Call hospice.”

So we fought back. We stepped in and protected him, the way he had spent our whole lives protecting us. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.

Deep in my heart I had hoped he would rally. I would have gone on fighting for years to keep him at our side. But he was weary of the battle. His body had gotten too weak and too frail and in the end, I think he was ready.

The night before he passed, my sister and I sat in his room and held his hands. It was the only time during his stay in the ICU that all of his vitals looked perfect. His breathing rate was spot on. His heart rate was where it should be. His blood pressure was steady. As I watched him with his eyes closed I saw the briefest of smiles cross his face. I’m not sure what he was seeing, but I know in that moment he wasn’t afraid. He was ready for Jesus and Jesus was ready for him.

Dear friends, advocate for your loved ones. Don’t assume the doctors know everything. They aren’t looking at the big picture. They don’t know your loved one’s ‘normal.’ Fight for them while you can with everything you have and when they are ready to go, hold their hand and tell them you love them.