Dock the Boat

Grief shows up in the strangest ways.

Sometimes it’s eating a whole bag of Cheetos – in one afternoon.
Or maybe it’s instigating a huge argument with your spouse over whose turn it is to bathe the kids.
It might be popping a few Advil because your head won’t stop pounding
Or maybe it’s crawling into bed at 8:00 p.m.
and not getting out again until noon the next day.
Sometimes it’s serving cereal for dinner
Seven nights in a row
Or having that extra cocktail
Even though you have to work in the morning.
Sometimes it’s organizing your whole entire house
All of the closets and cupboards
And making 10 trips to Goodwill
Just to avoid thinking.
Sometimes it’s actually sitting down
And turning on a song
That you know will ignite the waterworks
And soaking in the pain
Rather than tapping your feet to the joyful beat.

Grief is a strange & unpredictable force – like a river that rages at times and calmly flows at other times.

It’s a part of us, the river, part of the experience necessary for life – as is the boat we cling to as the water bends us to its will; the boat that provides safety or is it, perhaps, captivity?

We could choose to row towards land; exit the boat & sink our weary feet into the mossy ground. Maybe even build a home – create a life with someone we love. A life beside the waters with the boat docked at shore; remembering our time on the river and grateful that the boat no longer serves as a life preserver or a prison. We might learn to dance again; slowly allowing our feet to reclaim their joy, a dance beside the cool, calm stream; a dance of remembrance and thankfulness as the river continues to ebb and flow.

There is a time for everything
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance.

Just keep livin.

When the Almighty Flips Your Page – Holding on During Difficult Times

Last night I rummaged through our attic and came across this old calendar from 2010. Flipping through its pages I paused when I arrived at August – August 2010 – the most difficult month of my life, a tumultuous month full of overwhelming obligations and demands: work, Luke’s birthday, family pictures, doctors appointments, four children farmed out on a daily basis to anyone and everyone, the arrival of hospice equipment, nursing staff in and out, important phone calls determining life or death decisions, and ultimately goodbyes whispered and a funeral prepared for a young husband and father.

This morning, eight years later, I bask in the warmth of the Tennessee sun, a beautiful fall day spent watching my rambunctious one year old daughter fill her little, red wagon with dry, autumn leaves as I hang freshly laundered clothing on the line. A day I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams in August of 2010. A day seeping with redemption, warmth, and joy.

The moral of the story? Circumstances can change in an instant. You may currently find yourself in the midst of an unimaginable hell, but hear me with this truth, hold on with every ounce of your being, hold on to him who is greater than he who is in the world, hold on to that last shred of faith in your soul no matter how unraveled or mangled or beat to crap it may seem, HOLD ON for goodness sake and for every other sake in the world for you have absolutely no idea what’s around the bend. You have no idea what may be in store for you when the Almighty flips your page, and you have no idea the blessing he may bestow when you “fight the good fight and finish the race.” You will have your peace again, you will have your joy; you will rise and have the crown of life bestowed upon your weary head, and you will hear those coveted words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” I promise – your faithfulness will win in this life or the next.

Just keep livin!

Why You Should Care About Special Needs Children

 

It can be difficult to understand the complexities of raising a special needs child if this calling is not part of your daily reality. I get it. I never gave these children nor their caretakers a second thought before I had a handicapped child. It’s hard to empathize with a situation without experience.

 

My goal in writing – in books, on the blog, and on social media – is to tell stories that portray all of the aspects of raising a special needs child – the demanding, the taxing, the beautiful, and the joy.

 

There is undoubtedly a blessing. These kids are closer to Heaven than we will ever be with their innocence and child-like faith. They teach us invaluable lessons about the nature of our heavenly father’s love and care for his children. They model joy, perseverance, and faith in quantities us “normal” folk can only dream about BUT –

 

Raising a special needs child is a massively exhausting undertaking as well.

 

A few weeks ago a friend’s 8 year old daughter unexpectedly passed away. This little girl was never supposed to survive; however, these kids often have a way of proving the experts wrong. I recently asked her mama if the new ease of life was haunting because when you live in special needs world, there are rarely moments of ease. It’s like being in a combat zone. You’re always mentally anticipating your child’s next basic needs – hunger, pain, angst, smell, what, where, when, why – all the time. These kids often don’t grow up and become independent so there is no end in sight which can feel overwhelming.

 

One of my greatest goals with The Lucas Project – a non-profit organization to assist special needs families in rural Tennessee – is to educate people on why they should care – even if it’s not a part of their daily reality.

 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

 

These children are the least of the least of the least of these. They often have the mental and emotional capacity of an infant. They are usually physically unable to care for themselves without continual assistance, and without the loving intervention of caretakers, these children could not survive.

 

I would admonish you to care about these kids and their families because you don’t have to care, and that’s a blessing.

 

Special needs may not be a part of your daily reality, but it is a reality for 6.7 million children (nces.ed.gov) and often includes:

 

Bathing a grown child

Feeding – either by utensil or tube feeding – often restrained in a special chair.

Diapering a thirteen year old

Wondering at times if one day you’ll be diapering a thirty year old.

Restraining a teenager who has become aggressive due to puberty.

Entering the local ER in the middle of the night to play a guessing game for the next 24 hours as you try to determine the cause of angst in your non-verbal child.

Declining an invitation for a fun event because there is no one to watch your child, and he or she would cause disruptions and outbursts.

Attempting to distract a child who is frustrated and banging his head against his crib.

Sleeping with a baby monitor beside your head for 18 + years

Getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to administer meds, tubes or breathing equipment or to make sure your child is still alive.

Spending the majority of your free time in a doctor or therapist’s office.

Not being alone with your spouse in years because there is no one you trust to care for your child in your absence.

Suffering extreme pain and popping Advil like it’s candy because your child has grown too large for you to comfortably handle, and the strain is taking a toll on your aging body.

 

You should care about caretakers who experience stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and depression on a regular basis but don’t have the funds nor the time to address the problem, and in rural environments, lacking in professionals to even help address the problem!

 

You should care if you live where resources are plentiful because there are people who live in rural communities where resources are sorely lacking.

 

You should care if your children are healthy because there are parents who manage a child’s chronic illness every day of their lives.

 

You should care because we are all a part of this grand body known as humanity, and we have a moral obligation to care for one another, especially the least of these, like our lives depend upon it – because they do.

 

Please consider a donation to The Lucas Project so that we can all begin caring or check out TheLucasProject.org to learn more.

 

Just keep livin.

Love and Loss {And a Giveaway!]

lovedbaby.jpgA baby gone too soon.
A beloved family member diagnosed with cancer.
A dear woman battles emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband.
Children beg for food in third world countries.
Ten year old girls lose their innocence and their humanity as they are sold as sex slaves.

It hurts like hell.
It stings
It all falls so painfully short of what we feel this life should be
It aches like betrayal on a massive scale
A world wide scale
And we, humanity, are the victims left in the wake.
A big joke played on all of us
by a bunch of pranksters residing in the Heavenlies.

And we numb the pain with drugs
With wine
With anger
And sleep
Or hurtful silences
Or busyness
Or denial
We numb our cells to the best of our ability
To avoid feeling
To avoid the reality
To avoid the ache
But when the numbing wears off
It still hurts
And we rage against our Creator
Our cells scream
We groan from the never lands
We weep for the lost tomorrows
And forgotten yesterdays
And the vacant presents
And there are still no answers
The Creator is silent.

The baby remains absent
And grandma starts chemotherapy
And the “C” word enters our children’s vocabulary once again
Along with the “D” word in regards to their unknown sibling

And our eyes spill in response to their tears
And children still starve
And that woman still aches for a loving spouse
And girls are raped again and again
And that is the reality of what we call life.
And that is why our hearts ache for something purer
And bigger
And more beautiful
We ache for more
We need more
We yearn for a hereafter
Where all the pain is gone
And every tear is wiped from our eyes
Our hearts scream for some sort of redemption
Something that makes it bearable again
All of creation grapples with the injustice we’ve been served
And we shake our fists in righteous indignation towards the pain we have endured in our fallen nature.
Our souls search through the fragility of our humanity for something deeper.

The “Whys?!” we scream
Why is a Godly woman ravaged by an insidious disease?
Why a baby, an innocent child who has harmed not one, taken so early?
Why!?!?
We scream to the Heavens
To anyone who will turn a listening ear towards our anguish

These were some of the words I wrote in response to losing my beloved baby in December of 2013 http://www.jessplusthemess.com/index.php/my-blog-old/entry/love-and-loss-and-bethlehem .  I felt so incredibly alone, lost, scared, fearful and full of despair and so I hid.  I hid behind words.  I hid in my house.  I hid behind a fake smile plastered across my face that told the world I was just fine.  But I wasn’t fine.  I thought I was being punished for some reason.  I could not understand why God couldn’t grant me the desire for a healthy baby – especially after all I had been through – especially after obeying what he had called me to in blending my family with another family and raising 7 beautiful children.  I deserved this baby!

In hindsight, God used the next 9 months of waiting to become pregnant again as an opportunity to birth something beautiful in my marriage and heart as Ryan and I gained a deeper intimacy through the pain and revelations that preceded the conception of our 8th child who would be our beautiful daughter Annabelle Ryan.  God is good. All the time, but man, sometimes it hurts like crazy to walk in obedience to his plan.

I was honored to be a part of the launch team for Sarah Philpott’s book Loved Baby.  In all honestly, I have never read a book on losing a baby that impacted me quite like this one did.  She is honest. She is vulnerable, and she is realistic in explaining step by step, what to expect, how to process all of the feelings, and how to slowly release the pain and agony to your Heavenly Father as you allow him to help carry your burden; as you choose joy over fear when you are blessed with another child, and it is a choice to be made – wishing “we could be filled to the brim with delight about the new life blooming in my womb. But the little thing called memory prevents us from pure elation,” and her wise counsel, “When fear seeps into our soul, let’s combat it with joy.”

This book will be such a blessing to your life and to anyone you may know who has walked through this difficult terrain, AND…. I have a copy to give away! Comment here (sorry, I know it’s a bit like Fort Knox to be allowed to comment on the blog – you can thank the trolls for that) or comment on Facebook or Instagram about why you would like to win a copy. I’ll draw a winner Sunday evening.

Just keep livin!