A Mother’s Heart

“How many kids do you have?” Such a simple and straight forward question, yet it is the most difficult question for me to answer. When I first meet people and small talk ensues that question lingers on the horizon. My heart races and my palms sweat. I paste a smile on my face and politely the word “two” passes my lips all while my brain is screaming THREE!!!!! I remember years ago as I would give my standard “two boys”, I had a few people who  excitedly said, “are you going to try for a girl?” The bile would rise and I would choke out “no, I think we are done.” Through it all, the smile on my face never reaches my eyes. In the moment the lie of omission is easier than the truth. Inevitably after the “how many kids do you have?” question is answered the follow-up question is always “how old are they?”  I have never felt comfortable saying “my oldest son is 13, my youngest son is 11, and my daughter is deceased.” Seven and half years later just typing the word deceased brings tears to my eyes. Why in the world would I ever want to share such a deep corner of my heart as I am first making someones acquaintance? I guess deep down I have come to a place where I am protective of my daughter’s memory…I love to talk to about her and I treasure moments when others talk about her. But to me, her memory is too precious to merely share as I engage in blase social niceties. So I politely answer “two”…it escapes my mouth as easily as “fine” rolls off the tongue of the deeply broken person answering the question “how are you?”

“Her absence is the like the sky, spread over everything.” ~ C.S. Lewis

When a heart grieves it has to jump over the hurdles of all the firsts. The firsts are the worst…for each first brings a fresh wave of the pain and loss you foolishly thought was easing. When the firsts conclude days begin to flow into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it the months have flowed into years. Yet no matter how many years pass by there is one day of the year I struggle with more than any other day. It is not my daughter’s birthday and it’s not the anniversary of her death. No, on those days I often find myself celebrating the precious life that God blessed us with for just the briefest of moments…on those days my heart has opened to the beauty of how God used her short life to make an incredible impact for His kingdom…on those days I sit back in awe of God and I truly celebrate the author and the giver of life. However, with this blog I have always promised full transparency and the reality is…I struggle with Mother’s Day. It is the single hardest day of the year for me. For me, motherhood has brought me the greatest joy I have ever known and the most intense heartbreak. In the paradox of joy and heartache I struggle to celebrate. I often smile at whatever gift my precious boys bestow upon me when all the while my heart aches for the one gift I can never have…all my children with me on Mother’s Day.

“On a day when I should be rejoicing for all the blessings motherhood has brought me, and I have been blessed abundantly through motherhood. But I find myself reflecting on the thought that while motherhood has brought me overwhelming joy it also brought overwhelming heartbreak. I never imagined how many ways a heart can be broken until I stepped into the role of motherhood. Not that I would trade a single one of those moments. It just gets to be too much @ times. How to explain the indescribable void you feel on mother’s day when all your children are no longer with you. When you long to hold them all close to you and you cannot because one of them is gone…”

Journal entry Mother’s Day 2010

I remember it vividly…Mother’s Day 2011. I started the day with the same pit in my stomach that had been there the three previous Mother’s Days since losing my daughter. As I sat in church, the feeling came…it felt like the walls were starting to cave in around me. Although my breathing was normal, I felt like I was gasping for air…panting like someone who was a breath away from running out of air. Then it happened…the need to run. I bolted out of the sanctuary and into the bathroom. A meltdown ensued. In that moment I wanted to be anywhere but there. I didn’t want to see anyone and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get my husband out of service so we could just go home. The door crept open and as I hid in the back I prayed that whoever had entered wouldn’t even realize I was there. But God knew exactly what I needed. Through the door came a precious friend who proceeded to hold me as I sobbed uncontrollably. On that day I collected myself and I made this declaration…”I just need to accept that for the rest of my life I will be brokenhearted.” The words flowed out of me like bricks that would build a fortress around my broken heart. As if by simply recognizing my ailment I would no longer suffer from public meltdowns because I had safely locked it away behind the wall of “I’m fine!” As I exited the bathroom that day I honestly never thought my friend and I would ever revisit the moment. However, a week later she came to me…hesitant but determined. God had spoken to her about me in her prayer time and she obediently delivered this message. “I don’t think you are meant to be brokenhearted forever. God did not give you Francesca to break your heart” I was stunned…by the courage it took her to speak those words to me and by the power of what she had said. Can you even comprehend the freedom that was wrapped up in those words? I didn’t have to live a facade…pretending to not be hurting all while carefully guarding heart that I thought was irreparable. In her words came the power of healing. They didn’t erase the struggle but they did remind me of something I had forgotten…God truly does heal the brokenhearted…in the beauty of His presence and grace He binds up our wounds. But like any wound the scars of a broken heart still remain, always there to remind me of the journey, the hand print of a life that deeply and radically changed the course of my own. On some days the scar gets irritated, its presence is more pronounced…for me that day is Mother’s Day. It’s the day when the joy found in my boys meets the ache I still have for my daughter.

“A sensitive soul sees the world through the lens of love” ~ Anonymous

Mother’s Day truly is a great day. Motherhood is a precious blessing that should be celebrated. It’s a very hard and often, a thankless job. Honestly it’s the single hardest, yet, the single most rewarding accomplishment of my life. So I am all for taking a day to celebrate all the ladies who are mom’s…biologically and of the heart. However, this is a day when many mothers and children come face to face with a pain or a hurt they tucked away. In my own loss God has made me acutely aware that while this is a day of celebration, there are many who suffer heartache on this day. The woman who so desperately wants a child yet motherhood has alluded her wrestles with her emotions, the orphan who has never known their mother feels more alone, the child who suffers from the loss of their mother longs for just one more touch, children and mother’s feel the wounds of fractured relationships, a mother sits and cries for the prodigal in her life, and there is the mother who will ache to hold the child that is no longer present in this world. The list of the hearts that will ache this Sunday are many. A tender touch, a simple hug, a word of encouragement…these could be the very things, while subtle, that take away some of the sting that Mother’s Day brings. I’ll never forget the day my sweet friend came to remind me of who my God is. The sensitivity of her soul made her available to help soothe the ache of my heart. Her kindness and love were one of many ways that God began to bind my wounds and heal my broken heart. My prayer is that this Sunday we would all be sensitive to the hearts that ache around us. To recognize that as we celebrate we may know someone who is silently weeping. Be sensitive…God might just call you to be the blessing that a hurting heart so desperately needs.

 

 

 

Timing is Everything

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“Storms make trees take deeper roots.” ~ Dolly Parton

I am a writer, it is what I do.  No, I’m not an author…simply a writer.  My thoughts are best communicated when words flow from my mind to my hand, from the pen to the page.  Maybe this is the reason I have kept prayer journals for years.  I struggle to quiet my mind when I pray, yet when I write my prayers they effervesce out of me.  I wonder if this is how composers, song writers, authors, and other truly gifted artists feel as they come alive in their craft.  I am no Mozart, I don’t belong with the likes of Lennon and McCartney, and Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway would cringe if they thought I was even suggesting to be in their league.  LOL…I am amateur at best with my feeble attempt to write yet when I sit down to journal my heart to God or to answer His prompt to blog…that is when I find words…words He has crafted in me to share and words I return to Him is praise, worship, acknowledgment, anguish, despair, confession, and intercession.

Seven years ago…

There were no words, they died with my broken heart.  All that remained were the muted cries of anguish that screamed from the depths of my soul but the pain was too great for them to manifest into an audible sound.  I didn’t worry about whether I would ever find the words to journal again, I was more focused on trying to make sense out of the heartache that weighed down on my chest like a freight train.  As I sat in my living room the night my daughter died, rocking my body back and forth in a futile attempt to soothe the unsoothable ache, the thought that nothing would ever be okay again consumed me.  I cried out God to fix what seemed broken beyond repair…our hearts.

“Those who leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything” ~ Unknown

One week after my daughter passed away my dear friend and grief counselor gave me a prayer journal.  The words of my heart flowed to the pages of that book like the haunting and aching melody of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  There is such beauty in the rawness of the human experience…crying out to the only One who can heal a heart that broken.  Of course at the time I didn’t see beauty, I felt the pain.  But in those moments the gift of communicating my deepest hurts, desires, fears, and hopes to God through the written word returned to me and the healing process had begun.  As I scour those journal entries now I am transported back to a time when God’s presence in my life was so strong…He was everywhere…I felt Him with me, physically.  His people showered love down upon us so lavishly that as I reflect I am awed by how much God took care of us.  His hand print was everywhere.  In my desperate prayers I begged Him to help us survive.  He did more than help us survive…He transformed our family through His love so that we could thrive.

“I AM ABLE to do far beyond all that you ask or imagine…Do not be discouraged by the fact that many of your prayers are yet unanswered.  Time is a trainer, teaching you to wait upon Me, to trust Me in the dark.  The more extreme your circumstances, the more likely you are to see My power and glory at work in the situation…Keep your eyes and your mind wide open to all that I am doing in your life.” ~ Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

Tomorrow will be seven years since losing our precious Francesca.  As I sit here tonight I am in awe of just how far God has taken our family since that fateful afternoon in 2008.  I asked for survival and He gave me beauty like I’ve never experienced amidst the ashes.  I asked for healing and He gave me peace and purpose.  I asked for my daughter to be a miracle and every day I live, every breath I take I do so knowing that I walk in the miracle of my precious girl’s life.  It is through Francesca that God was able to mold me into all that He created me to be.  She was a miracle…my miracle…she helped me fall hopelessly in love with my God, to fully surrender my life to Him…every part of my life.

Timing is everything.  Seven years ago I sat in the middle of the destruction of my imploded life.  Tonight I sit here in awe of my God and how His plan and His purpose far exceeds anything we could ever imagine.  Seven years ago I wondered day-to-day how I would get out of bed…This morning I got out of bed to start a new chapter in God’s plan for my life.  In the rhapsody of this paradox I could feel the words coming alive inside me waiting for the right moment of release.  The awe I felt reflecting on the road I had traveled…the road that God has carried me down.  Three years after Francesca died I felt God place a call on my life.  He guided me back to school because He desired to use me in ministry.  I had no idea what it would all look like and I really didn’t care…I had learned to just trust that still, soft voice.  It was the voice that had brought me comfort, healing, hope and peace.  I trusted Him to guide every aspect of my future so on to school I went.  I graduated over a year ago and have been in a holding pattern since the day I put my last period on a research paper.  God had told me to wait…the time wasn’t right…so I waited.  Believe me, waiting for a Type A, Doer is not an easy thing to do.  But I trusted God’s purpose AND His timing (even if I thought He was kinda slow at times).  Today of all days the wait came to end and I began my journey into full-time ministry.  Some will say the timing of this is pure coincidence.  I don’t believe in coincidence…I don’t believe in chance.  I believe that my God is always at work in the details.  Beautifully crafting the timing of certain events for His purpose…even if it’s merely to remind us that His hand print is everywhere.  To illustrate that He does make all things new.  To demonstrate how He turns the pain, that evil would like to use to destroy us, into the catalyst for His plan and purpose for our lives.

Tonight I go to sleep with words of celebration as vibrant as any heavenly scene Michelangelo could have ever created in my head.  In a  dream I am one of the great artists creating a masterpiece of praise.  Praising the love and grace our Creator God showers upon us, a love that is faithful and limitless.  And I  Celebrate the beautiful life of my precious Francesca, the one who pointed my life straight into the will of God.  Seven years ago I would have said this blog entry was impossible…tonight I say “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13

Through the ONE…

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“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace…  only that it meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where it found us.” ~ Anne Lamott

The month of October will forever be a paradox for me.  The proverbial pendulum of life swings at a rapid pace as my mind and my heart attempt to wrap themselves around the emotional charge of the events that occur every October.  It’s amazing how the same thing can occur year after year yet every year it still catches me by surprise…every year it comes in a new way.  Every October as the adrenaline rushes through my veins at the marathon I know that right around the corner comes the wall that will bring me to a screeching halt.  The first couple of years I crashed right into the wall…I have gotten much better at slowing down before impact.

Right now some of you are reading this asking yourselves why I am revisiting all of this…we covered all of this in last week’s blogs?!?!  And you would be right…we did and I won’t rehash what has already been shared.  However, as I sat in a circle last night with some of the most precious women I know lifting up prayer requests the flood gates of my heart opened.  The full magnitude of the emotional tidal wave called October came crashing down and a full meltdown ensued.  And when I say meltdown I mean full on ugly cry complimented by black mascara and all…you get the picture.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” ~ Philippians 4:13

Last week I laid a huge chunk of my heart out for all the world to read.  I did this not because of anything I have to offer but because of what God wanted known through a story that He wanted me to tell.  As my husband and I discussed a presentation he will give tonight at church we talked about how each one of us has a story.  I often come back to this fact.  Not one of our lives looks the same…we may have similarities but we are never duplicates…we all have a unique story locked away inside of us.  God, the ultimate storyteller rejoices when we choose to share how our story became a part of His story.  The beauty of the merger is that as soon as our story becomes God’s story it is no longer about us but all about Him.  I had a story to share last week…not because I am so strong…I am not at all.  In my own strength I am a hot mess.  It is solely by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the love of my Savior Jesus Christ, that one who is weak on her own becomes strong because of He who dwells within me.  The moment I allowed God to be the author of my story…the moment I choose to play a role in His story that is when He made all things new, that is when ashes turned to beauty.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” ~ John 16:33

It’s interesting that the moment we choose to allow God to be the author of our story the battle begins.  I think often times people become Christ followers under the false impression that Jesus is their ticket to easy street.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but life can be hard…even for devout followers of Jesus Christ.  We are not spared from the pain and heartache of this broken and fractured world, but what we do have is the key to peace, joy, and a love that will last through eternity.  However, the battle begins because we have an enemy who wants to paralyze us.  He wants us to doubt God’s love, grace, and presence because of our circumstances.  He whispers lies to us that make us hold back from giving all that we are and everything we have to God.  He comes on the attack and he fights dirty because he already knows he has been defeated.  The only way he can hurt God is by hurting God’s people.  He desperately tries to distract us from the goodness and faithfulness of God; and if we are honest, sometimes he is successful.  Last night I found myself crying out in the midst of the attack.  It’s the attack every October that catches me off guard.  Every year the enemy tries to rob me of the beauty of my God.  He tries to steal away His faithfulness.  He tries to distract me from God’s love and grace that showers down upon me.  This year he was particularly nasty in his strategy, he hit me right at my very heart and it left me deeply wounded.  How often does that happen to you?  The closer you get to God the harder the enemy tries to tear you away.  The more you step out in obedience for God the more he attempts to put obstacles and opposition in your path.  But take heart…that is what our Savior says in John 16, “Take heart!”

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than the he who is in the world.” ~ 1 John 4:4

We will have troubles in this life and the enemy will come to attack but take heart, our peace comes from the ONE who is in us, Jesus Christ.   Our peace comes from seeing His hand print everywhere…are your eyes open enough to see it?  When this world perishes Satan will meet his end…he knows that.  Jesus is greater than the one who tries to chain us to this world, He has already defeated him.  Through Jesus, the Spirit of the living God dwells inside of us and gives us all power and authority to shut the enemy down when he comes to attack.  It is when we persevere through the trial and the attack that “we may be mature and complete, lacking for nothing.” James 1:4  This is why James tells us to count it a blessing to go through the trial; when you persevere you always come out more deeply rooted in your relationship with Christ, molded more into the image of Christ.

“Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives.  Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.” ~Ann Voskamp

As we sat in our little circle of women last night we cried and we laughed.  We laid out our burdens and we rejoiced over some powerful movements of God.  As we prayed one of my sweet friends thanked God for laughter.  How simple yet how profound; something we often take for granted yet it is so soothing to the soul.   In a blink of an eye sobs had turn to laughter all because of the peace of Jesus Christ that dwells so richly in each of us.  When you are the one wounded from the attack sometimes you just need those calm, patient, and loving voices pointing you back to the One whom all hope and peace is found.  It is when the laughter ushers in the joy and peace of our Savior that our hearts begin to overflow with thanksgiving.  Thank you God for choosing to love me; thank you for your presence in my day; thank you for your grace that leads me home to You; and thank you for your Son…the ONE I can do all things through.

 

 

 

One Hundred Percent of a Life: Part Three

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My Help Comes From the Lord

“I will lift my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” ~ Psalm 121:1-3

January 14, 2008
Today has been one week since Francesca’s passing. In some ways it seems like I am very much still in a dream. I cannot believe this happened to my daughter, my family, ME!!! But it has. Every day I am amazed about the stories of people wanting desperately to know about the Lord because of Francesca. God has definitely touched people in very powerful ways. I have never in my life known so much love as I have felt in this week…
It is hard for me not to try to jump ahead and think about the future and how this devastating loss will reshape our family. But the truth is I really don’t know what each day will bring me. Everyday new challenges arise, new emotions arise. Some days it’s guilt, some regret, some unbelief, some anxiety, always there is a sad undertone…
The cemetery is difficult! The cold weather, the newness of the grave! My heart breaks that my baby is lying there. But I know she is not there. It’s just a bit overwhelming that I am at the cemetery to visit my daughter’s grave…
In reflection I feel as God has prepared me for this…

It is interesting to transport back to the moments and days after losing Francesca.  I cannot remember what I did last week but I can remember people, smells, facial expressions, thoughts, and words from those days.  They are forever etched in my brain.  They sit there to always remind me that on that day my circumstances changed but God did not.  In fact, Francesca’s death will forever be the single event that revealed God to me in ways that I never thought imaginable.  His presence was so constant and overwhelming that at moments I could almost feel His breath in the room breathing life into me.  I was a mother in the throes of utter despair and He held me close…yes, I could physically feel Him.  As crazy as it sounds, I sometimes long for His presence the way I felt it in the year after Francesca’s death.  It was so real, so tangible, so completely indescribable.  But what changed?  How could I have had His presence and lost it?  Well, I didn’t lose it, God is ever-present.  Once again my circumstances changed, God did not.  In those first few days, weeks, and months after Francesca’s death nothing made sense.  Life as we knew it was shattered and all that was left were the ashes of what we wanted our lives to be.  In those days all we had was God.  We had no strength, no joy, no understanding but we did have God.  He was all that we could cling to.  The reason we felt God so strongly in that season of our lives was because absolutely nothing distracted us from Him.  He was our sole source of strength.  Prayer was our life support and God’s people were His doctor’s ministering to us.  Wrapping us in the love of the Savior as we licked our fresh wounds from the battlefield called life.

Interestingly toward the end of my pregnancy I had been praying Psalm 139 and that prayer continued after Francesca was born.  At the time I was praying for direction for my life.  Little did I know that Psalm 139 would soon become my greatest source of comfort.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ~ Psalm 139: 14-16

In the days after Francesca’s death and even to this day Psalm 139 reminds me that God did not create Francesca to break our hearts.  He created her fearfully and wonderfully.  He had a plan and a purpose for her.  It was not His plan to harm her.  It was His plan to use her in a bold and mighty way for His kingdom and He did.  When people die young it is our natural reaction to say things like “they were taken too soon” or “they still had so much life to live.”  A few days after Francesca passed away a sweet lady, that I do not know, sent me the most precious note. In the note she cited Psalm 139 and wrote “your precious daughter lived 100% of her life.”  That truth enveloped me and has yet to let go. Francesca lived 100% of her life.  God ordained her days before one of them came to be.  She was not here one second longer or one second shorter than what was allotted her.  God had a plan and purpose for her and she completed it in just 78 days.  All around I see the evidence of those 78 days, for God used her to radically change life as we knew it.  In those early moments I couldn’t see the beauty in the change.  Now I see it in abundance.

A Homecoming Celebration

In the darkest moments after Francesca’s death God would often use music as a way soothe my aching soul.  He would allow His love and His truth to flow over me through the perfectly crafted words that spoke to the valley where I was living.  During the planning of Francesca’s funeral Matt and I both clearly knew what we wanted…we wanted her life celebrated.  We wanted to celebrate all that God created her to be and we wanted to glorify the One who had given us this beautiful miracle, even if only for the briefest of moments.  I remember telling our good friend and worship pastor, Jon, that I wanted him to sing In Christ Alone like he was signing it on Easter morning.  He did exactly as we wished.  Her service was a beautiful tribute to her precious little life and to the Author and Creator of life.  Nothing made sense but God had not failed us or abandoned us, we knew that and we wanted everyone else to know that too.  In all of his wisdom, Jon, had come to us with a song that he wanted us to hear, a song that he thought would be perfect to set as the background to the video we would show at the beginning of the service. The song was With Hope by Steven Curtis Chapman.  To this day in our home that is “Francesca’s song.”  As soon as the opening chords begin to play my boys will come from any room in the house to listen, often times hoping that the video of their little sister is playing.  To remember that in a mere 78 days God forever changed our lives through a little piece of heaven that He shared with us all.  That piece of heaven of was Francesca.  Matt, Sammy, Santino, and I all now wait…for our hope rests securely in knowing that one day we will see her precious face again when we are reunited in heaven.  It is amazing how your perspective on heaven changes when you have someone there waiting for you…

With Hope

“Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” ~Psalm 146:5

I often wonder how Mary felt in those moments and days after Jesus died.  Through the anguish and tears could she see how God had prepared her heart for the moment of loss?  Did she trust that even when nothing made sense her God had not changed?  He was still good, just, merciful, full of grace, faithful, and loving.  Her circumstances had changed and her world had been rocked but out of the ashes God makes all things new.  In the sadness could she see what a blessed gift she had been given to be the mother of the Son of God?  To all of those questions I believe the answer is yes.  Mary did know anguish and pain but she also knew the love of her heavenly Father.  She knew that out of the depths of despair He could turn the darkness and ugliness of life into the most beautiful gift mankind has ever known, salvation, through His Son Jesus Christ.

In the middle of the storms of life we often forget that God is also a Father, not only the Father of creation but the Father of Jesus Christ.  That it was His Son that hung on a tree so that His other children could come home to Him.  Is it any wonder that God provides abundantly for those who are weak and hurting?  He understands anguish more than we could ever know.  The sin that separates us from Him has been causing Him anguish since the Fall.  He is anguished when his people suffer, He is anguished when His people doubt His goodness, He is anguished when His people reject His Son, He weeps with those who weep and He mourns with those who mourn.  He wants us to know that pain and sorrow was never His intention for our lives but He can and will use hurt for good if we would only open our eyes and our hands to His plan.  When we do, the hope that dies in the moments of utter despair is resurrected and reborn with a new vigor, because this hope is built on the evidence of God’s faithfulness.  This hope is not rooted in the things of this world.  This world is dying, it will not last.  Hope is eternal not material. Therefore, our only source of hope comes solely from the eternal One, God himself.  The culmination of that hope is Jesus Christ our Savior. God’s plan has always been eternal and regardless of the trials we walk that plan does not change.  The pains of this life will fade to nothing when we walk the golden streets of heaven, for there is where our hope is fully realized.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can write these words today because of God’s faithfulness.  These words flow from my brain to the keyboard because my hope is anchored in the truths of God.  I can confidently know that I will see my little girl again because Jesus told us that in His Father’s house there are many rooms and He has gone to prepare a place for all who believe in Him.  I know that the blood of Jesus Christ has paved a way for me and all believers to be eternally united with God in heaven.  At the end of my life, when 100% of my ordained days have been lived, I want to know that in every experience and in every situation I lived to glorify God.  It’s amazing but that is what my precious Francesca taught me in just a mere 78 days.  Every life that glorifies God will leave a legacy that will impact generations…eternally.

 

In Loving Memory

of

Francesca Isabella Catherincchia

October 23, 2007 ~ January 7, 2008

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One Hundred Percent of a Life: Part Two

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A Moment Can Change Everything

For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye?
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance

~ The Dance (Garth Brooks)

If we would have only know what that January day was about to usher in what would we have done differently?  If I had known, I would have boldly prayed for the day not to come, the very opposite of Joshua’s sun stand still prayer.  There is a Reba McEntire song called If I Had Only Known.  In that song her emotion strained voice sings out the words that echoed my heart…”I would pray a miracle would stop the dawn.”  But I didn’t know.  Instead I muddled through that blah morning nursing my severe headache with sleep.  I was sleeping away precious moments that I wish I would have savored.  Moments where I could have been memorizing every precious detail I lay sleeping instead.  How could I have known that in just a few hours the illness coursing through my body and the headache pounding in my brain would be the least of my concerns?

It was about 3:15 in the afternoon.  Our household was running right on time even with mommy down for the count.  Santino was downstairs doing therapy with his aide, Katie, and Matt was off to pick Sammy up from full day kindergarten.  The only thing that was somewhat off was Francesca.  It had been three hours and she was still napping.  Now, as a mother of three children I know to appreciate when a baby decides to take a long nap. However, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to check on her.  Three hours was great but it was longer than she had ever napped before.  The moment I opened the door I knew something was wrong.  The images of those first few moments are ones that I desperately prayed for God to erase from my memory, which in His infinite love He has.  All I remember is grabbing her in my arms and screaming for Katie.

Everything from that moment on has become a blur, a flash of memories.  A frantic 911 call, Katie performing CPR, me on my knees screaming for a miracle, Matt completely unaware of what was happening as he picked Sammy up from school.  My whole world flipped upside down.  I was moving in both fast forward and slow motion at the same time.  I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience…like I was watching some poor mother as her world came crashing down.  The pieces of her world shattered like glass on a marble floor.  How could something so broken ever be put back together again.  I knew what was happening but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it was happening to me.  No!!! This was not supposed to happen.  Police, EMT, Firefighters were everywhere.  Sirens screaming, lights flashing, every aspect of Law and Order present.  In a moment of clarity I screamed to Katie to call Matt.  I have never been as thankful for cell phones as I was in that moment.  I didn’t want him to be caught off guard and I didn’t want Sammy to be scared…I needed her to warn him.  Then I walked outside.  A lone police officer stood there, camera in hand, photographing our house.  Hysteria set in.  Every crime and police show I had ever watched came rushing back to me. I sobbed as he stood there.  I yelled at him, “Why are you taking pictures?  You are taking pictures because she is dead aren’t you?”  That poor officer tried his best to calm and reassure me that this was just routine procedure but I knew better.

My memory of the ride to the hospital is fuzzy at best.  A domino effect of moments occurred in the haze of the chaos.  Matt pulled up to the house, Katie instantly grabbed both Sammy and Santino and off to my parents they went.  I don’t even recall speaking to Matt.  These details are lost to me.  Why?  Where did they go?  I cannot remember who left first, the ambulance or Matt. I cannot recollect why I wasn’t in the car with my husband; did he assume I was going with the ambulance?  In the frenzy of the moment these become the memories that elude you later.  I do have a vivid memory of tail lights; the tail lights of Matt’s silver Jeep Commander as he rushed to the hospital.  He actually made it there before the ambulance.  I later learned that his frantic drive included him driving into oncoming traffic to get to the hospital faster.

I never did get in the ambulance that day.  As I stood on the curb with my world crumbling around me the EMT driver must have sensed my control slipping.  In that moment of utter desperation I will never forget his harsh words barking at me as if I had any control over myself.  “You better calm down.”  Those four words sliced through me sharper than any knife ever could.  This man did not want to deal with a hysterical mother; he had made that abundantly clear.  In that exchange I allowed this man to rob me of being with my daughter on the final ride of her life. By the grace of God one of my dearest friends ended up at my house that fateful afternoon.  Safely tucked in her car, together we drove a path that no parent should ever have to travel.  This would signify the beginning of this same dear friend walking Matt and I down the devastatingly broken road that lay ahead of us.

In the corridor of the hospital I was finally held in the comforting arms of my husband.  I needed him to cover me physically with his body so that I could still feel the life pulsating within us.  Everything around me felt like death but he was my source of life.  He was my protector and I needed his body to shield me from the physical and emotional blow that we were about to take.  Together we both stood there like lost children, scared and bewildered.  Would we get our miracle?  Or would our world implode on what had started as a seemingly uneventful day.

In a small side room at Mt. Clemens General Hospital the emergency rooms doctors confirmed what I had already known; our precious girl had been called home to Jesus. SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) had become our grim reality.  My mind raced…SIDS was something that doctors warned us about but in my mind I falsely believed we were untouchable…it would never happen to us.  I even remember having a conversation on the topic of SIDS once where I cavalierly made the statement, “If it’s God will it will happen, I can’t worry about it.”  What did that even mean?  How could this hell ever be God’s will?  My head was spinning and I just wanted to shut it all down.  As I sat there, the numbness of shock settling in, I heard this sound that can only be likened to an animal that has been mortally wounded.  However, this was no animal…it was husband.  He wasn’t home when I found her, he hadn’t seen her so he sat there waiting…full of hope…full expectation that all would be fine.  The cries I heard coming out of my husband were the audible sounds of hope dying.  That moment broke my husband.  All of his hopes and dreams extinguished in the blink of an eye.  He was broken in a way that in the days to come I wondered if I would ever see glimpses of who he had once been ever again.

Through all of the chaos of this day the one thing I remember with crystal clarity is how much God’s hand been upon us.  He carefully orchestrated the details so that He could carry us through this horrific day.  Details like the fact that Sammy had just started full day kindergarten that week ensuring he was not in the house when everything happened.  The fact that Katie was there to get both of my boys out of the situation, the fact that Matt just happened to be home that day and not traveling out-of-state, the fact that my good friend was literally 30 seconds from my house and drove me to the hospital after the ambulance driver yelled at me to remain calm…as if such a thing was possible.  I am not saying God took Francesca home on this day because of these details I am saying He used these details to reveal that His protective hand had been upon us.  His presence was all around.  As I walked out of the doorway that lead to the triage room where we would say goodbye to our sweet girl I saw a sea of people.  Family, pastors, and friends lined the hallway of the emergency room.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before.  Face after face represented God saying “I’m here, you will not walk this journey alone.”  There must have been close to 50 people at the hospital that day.  Looking back I am in awe at how many people God brought around us in a moment’s notice.  They were there to pray, to minister to not only us but to our family as well, phone calls were made, protocol was explained, and details were arranged.  Matt and I had to do nothing but let them lavish their love on us like salve to an open wound.  Right there in the hospital God had begun the healing process, even when healing seemed so far beyond our reach.  One of my most vivid memories of that day was leaving the hospital.  I had turned around and I caught of glimpse of all of our loved ones who gathered to be with us.  There they stood watching us go, with so much love, so much concern, at such loss for what the right thing to do or say was but knowing that God wanted them there to be His hands and feet.  I can see that image as if it happened yesterday.  In the middle stood our friend Jeff, who was a doctor at the hospital, in his blue surgical scrubs.  Because of his attire he stood out among the crowd of many.  The blue of those scrubs will forever remind me of the day God used His people to save my family from crumbling to nothingness.

 

To Be Continued…

One Hundred Percent of a Life: Part One

IMG_6480.JPGOne Hundred Percent of a Life

It was the day the world went wrong
I screamed til my voice was gone
And watched through the tears as everything
came crashing down
Slowly panic turns to pain
As we awake to what remains
and sift through the ashes that are left
behind ~ Steven Curtis Chapman (Beauty Will Rise)

Every day of a life matters. Every day of a life counts. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon tells us that there is an appointed time for every event that occurs under heaven. Our days are numbered and should never be taken for granted. In the blink of an eye everything we know our lives to be can change. Those are the days when we wake up one person and go to sleep a stranger to even ourselves. The person we were the day before is gone and all that is left is the wounded canvas to build who we will become.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die…” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

I often think about how Mary must have felt on the day of the crucifixion. Watching her son, our Savior Jesus Christ, condemned to death by His own people, brutally beaten at the hands of Roman soldiers, mocked, and ultimately killed. How, with her mothers broken heart did she fall asleep that night? Longing for the child she would never hold again but knowing that His death was the blessing the world had been waiting for. Does that blessing soften the blow of loss? Was she able to reconcile her own heartache with the knowledge that God’s plan had been fulfilled? Or in that moment did she allow herself a few minutes to let the soul crushing heartbreak consume her as she processed that the child she birthed into the world, her son, was gone? I wonder in those moments of solitude if Mary secretly wished God had chosen someone else to be the mother of His Son. When the road gets hard and the pain is all-consuming don’t we all wish, even if only for a moment, that this was someone else’s journey and not our own.

It is so easy to gloss over biblical stories and dehumanize them because the details of raw emotion are not shared. I think this happens quite often in context to Mary and Jesus’ death. Because Scripture doesn’t focus on her feelings we tend not to either. However, a scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ completely changed my perspective on Mary in those moments. The scene is Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha. Mary is trying desperately to see him and through a corridor she spies him as he falls to the ground and they make eye contact. The movie flips to Mary’s perspective and she has a flashback to toddler Jesus falling and needing his mother’s comfort. In that moment, like most mother’s, she kisses her son’s boo boo away. The movie then returns to the present and Mary weeps for the son that she can no longer help or comfort. What a different picture that paints for our imaginations. Mary, faithful and obedient servant of God, was indeed human and watching her son slowly walk to his death was a very real and painful valley for her to walk through. How enlightening it would be to know what fears and doubts she wrestled with in that moment…the very emotions that allow us glimpses into her humanness. The very emotions that make her just like you and me.

Francesca

January 07, 2008, was an unseasonably warm day in suburban Detroit. Sixty-four degrees is never what one expects to wake up to on a winter morning in Michigan. The day was unusual indeed, almost as if the weather was a sign that on this day nothing would be as it should be. In fact not much in our house that morning was normal. Monday is travel day for my husband. As a regional manager for a large cheese manufacturer, Monday mornings usually consist of an early alarm ringing so he can make his flight to head off to whatever destination the week has in store for him. This morning was different though, no flight to catch and no trip scheduled for the week meant our routine changed. On this weird Monday morning I actually had help getting the boys off to school and I could get our baby girl fed and changed at my own pace. Well, really at her pace cause let’s be honest a 2 ½ month old dictates the pace not the other way around. However, on this particular morning I was slacking a bit. While unseasonably warm weather in winter sounds great in theory, in reality it brought with it a misty rain, fog, and sinus headaches. You know the kind of weather that ultimately winds you up in the doctor’s office waiting for the confirmation that a sinus infection has settled in and the Z-pak would start immediately. It was starting out as a blah day, how I wish it would have stayed that way…

Francesca Isabella Catherincchia came into our lives on October 23, 2007. I will never forget it. American Idol on the television as my mom and I cleared the dinner dishes. My husband was at the church rehearsing for our upcoming Christmas production. As dinner ended I felt lower back pain and cramping but didn’t think anything of it. This wasn’t my first rodeo and having had false labor before I wasn’t getting too excited. I let my husband leave, never for one second thinking that this was the day. I was still two weeks away from my due date and while I had never had a late baby I was never lucky enough to go two weeks early. But it soon became VERY clear that this was it. How perfect, my mom was already at my house; babysitter for the boys, check, husband on his way home to get me, check, prayer warriors in place (my husband was at the church…duh), double check. This was it…we were having our baby!

All babies are special but Francesca was extra special because she was a dream come true and an answer to prayer. After our son, Santino’s, autism diagnosis I had all but given up the idea of having another baby. However, about 9 months after his diagnosis God had placed an unbelievable desire in my heart for another baby. Intense prayer ensued which included me crying out all of my fears of having another child. Studies had shown that families with one child with autism were more likely to have other children on the spectrum. What if that happened? Santino’s therapy schedule was rigorous and already adding stress to our family. Would another baby take us over the edge? Eighty-seven percent of parents with a child with autism end up divorcing. What if we didn’t make it? Autism was still so new to us what if we couldn’t handle a new baby too? I was scared to death and I needed God to understand that I had to trust His decision in the matter because I was all over the board. I vividly remember ending that prayer with these words “God if our family can handle another child please give me the desires of my heart, if we cannot please do not let it happen.” Five months later I was pregnant. God had given His answer and our precious girl was on the way. Interestingly enough, it was this very pregnancy that opened up the door for Santino to receive an in home therapy aide provided by the state of Michigan. The state has a program called the Children’s Waiver which is distributed to children with autism based on the number they score in an intake questionnaire. The more stressors you have on your household the more points you get. In the summer of 2006 we applied and Santino did not have enough points to qualify. However, when the time came to reapply in the summer of 2007 my husband had just lost his job and I was smack dab in the middle of my pregnancy…our stressors were off the charts and Santino qualified. Now, you tell me God doesn’t work in the details.

Throughout my pregnancy our oldest son Sammy would pray “Please God don’t let my baby have autism.” I think in his little 6-year-old mind he saw this baby as a do over. He was struggling with his brother’s autism so this new baby was his opportunity to have a brother or sister that would “talk to him” as he used to say. That was his prayer every single day, at home and at school. He would pray for his baby. Somewhere along the way the baby I was carrying had become his and the excitement would sparkle in his eyes when he would tell me all that they would do together. Yes, this baby was our family’s dream come true.

The moment the doctor said “it’s a girl” my heart soared. Two boys at home and now the little girl in my arms completed the perfect family I had always envisioned for Matt and myself. Sure autism had derailed us for a moment but in the wee early hours of that October morning we had victory…everything was right in the new world we created after our setback. I remember giving birth to my boys and seeing the tears roll down my husband’s cheeks at the precious lives God had given us. But when Francesca was born it was completely different. For the first time in 11 years another girl had captured my husband heart and it will forever remain one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed. Francesca was born a daddy’s girl. Matt had always been a hands-on dad with the boys but with his girl he was absolutely smitten. Often allowing me to sleep, he would do night-time feedings just to have her all to himself. He had big dreams for his Bella girl, as he called her. Isabella being her middle name it seemed that his nick name was only natural. Actually his reference was always drawn from the fact that “bella” in Italian is beautiful and Francesca was his beautiful girl. She signified all that was right and good in our world.

To Be Continued…

Bittersweet Symphony

IMG_6484-0.JPG

Euphoria, noun: a feeling of great happiness and excitement. ~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

Euphoric high. That is what crossing a finish line feels like. Your body may be beaten and battered, your muscles may be screaming that they hate you…but when you cross…ahhhhhh…the high of accomplishment settles in. In that moment the high erases the pain, the set backs, and the obstacles. You revel in the victory of completion.
Every year that is how I feel on Marathon Sunday in Detroit. A euphoric high settles in, not just because I have crossed the finish line, but because once again God has left me in awe of what He can and will do through a group of people who are obedient to His call and faithful to the cause He has laid on their hearts. Every year I wonder how God will top the previous one and yet He always does. This year was no exception. Two days, 60 participants, one VOICE: Santino’s Voice. We were the voice of autism in Detroit for two days in a row and we were loud and we were proud. In us God has birthed a vision that the autism community must be heard and reached…awareness must be raised to bring forth understanding. We are a team that passionately wants every family that runs the race of autism to know that there is a God who loves them and there is hope and rest found in His arms. So we take to the streets, we pound the pavement, we run, we walk, and we do it all for the Glory of God. There is grace, there is acceptance, and there is love. We cross the finish line as individuals but we walk away forever connected as a team, inspired by a precious boy named Santino who runs the marathon of autism daily. We all walk away knowing that we CAN do all things through Christ, who strengthens us, because we see that strength and courage in Santino on a daily basis.

Bittersweet, noun: pleasure alloyed with pain. ~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

The dreariness of the day could not conceal the striking beauty of the fall colors. Deep burnt orange, vibrant red, even dull brown looked breath-taking in the landscape of trees and falling leaves. As I stared out the window I couldn’t help but be in awe of a place that I wish I could avoid, a place I never want to go. We parked the car and approached the little marker as the chill of the air appropriately settled in and chilled me to the bone. The thought crossed my mind, “what a difference a day makes.” Just the day before we were reveling in the accomplishment of our team and celebrating the victories and progress our son, Santino, has made battling autism. But here we stood, a mere twenty-four hours later, grave side, wiping away pine needles and cleaning the marker in the cemetery designated as a memorial to our precious little girl who would have turned 7 this week.  Francesca Isabella Catherincchia October 23, 2007 – January 07, 2008. The reality of the situation washes over me and I recognize that every year I find myself at the bittersweet crossroads of the finish line and the cemetery. I celebrate the accomplishment of one child while my arms ache to hold another, just one more time; to smell that sweet baby smell that was uniquely hers even if it is only in the breeze that fills the fall air.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” ~ Maya Angelou

God is a storyteller, this I know for sure.  Every day that I have the privilege to open my Bible I become more acutely aware of just how important His story is…it is the very lifeline of my life.   Then the light bulb goes off and I realize that God story is far from over and we are all living in the midst of it.   Think about the enormity of that truth…Our God is a story-teller and His story is still actively taking place…WOW!!!  The book of Genesis tell us that we, humanity, are created in the image of God.  Therefore, if my God is a story-teller and I am created in His image…then I must be a storyteller too…my story matters.  That is why there is agony in the untold story…our stories are meant to be told.  In every story…happy, sad, triumphant, and tragic…the beauty of God’s hand print can be seen if we just open our eyes and lift them up to the One who has created us.  I have found, in my own story, that God’s grace does abound when we go through the hardest struggles, when we find ourselves in the deepest oceans, battered by the strongest waves.  It is there that He reaches down to us and the power of His story blends with the fragility of our circumstance.  The result is the epic tale of a Sovereign God who loves His people so much that the pain and heartbreak of this life are never carried alone, but He indeed carries us through the storms.  He brings us to the other side better than any human mind could ever fathom.  Heartbreak is never an end when you walk with God…it is the beginning of new and beautiful normal that is birthed by that showering of His love and grace.  This is a story that matters, a story that needs to be told.  Because in the agony of silence is the robbing of blessing.  When we remain silent we rob those who are suffering from the hope that is found in our Savior.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…” ~ Hillsong United

Back in the summer I prepared a book proposal, If any of you know anything about the publishing world you know that this is a very detailed lengthy project that includes writing at least one to two chapters of the manuscript that will ultimately become your book, at least you hope it will.  I knew, for some time, that God wanted Francesca’s story told.  I had been encouraged by a few people to pursue that prompting but I held off my obedience until an opportunity sat before like a neon sign screaming “Will you be obedient NOW?!?!”  In July as I prepared for the She Speaks Conference an opportunity was presented to me on a silver platter to meet with a few publishers.  In all my preparation for this conference, emails and webinars and such, the one thought that was continually stressed was…”the point is not to get published, the point is what God is going to do through the process.” That sounded great but so did the idea of getting published.  As I sat nervously before the acquisition editor of a major Christian publishing house the question was posed to me, “What will you do if you do not get a book deal?”  With all confidence I answered, “I will continue to tell my daughter’s story.” I knew that a book deal was just one of many different avenues in which I could tell the story that God wanted me to share.  If it happened great and if it didn’t, rejection would not silence me.  So, here I sit months later…no book deal and no real desire or prompting to write the rest of the book.  My mind travels and I wonder about the loose ends of an unfinished book and then these words echo in my head “the point is not to be published, the point is what God will do through the process”.  Writing Francesca’s story was one of the most healing and precious moments of my life.  Writing a full memoir of my journey was never the point…the point has always been to share how God touched the lives of so many through Francesca.

My only qualification for being God’s story-teller is that He allowed me the honor of being Francesca’s mother; I had the privilege of bringing her into this world and holding her as she exited it.  I had a front row seat to witness one of the most miraculous and precious lives I will ever know and now God would like me to share her with all of you. Yesterday as I sat at the bittersweet crossroads of the finish line and the cemetery I knew it was time…time to share Francesca’s story.  The Spirit has led me to where I must trust that this is what God has called me to do even though it scares me, for the words that I will share will be like my diary opened for all the world to see.  But I trust that God has a plan and a purpose for this story.  Starting tomorrow, through this blog, I will share Francesca’s story.  The chapter I wrote for my book proposal will posted in this blog over the course of the next few days.  My prayer is that it will bring healing and hope to all those who are heartbroken or find themselves at a crossroads.