Joy Comes In The Morning

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What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us. ~ Helen Keller

It has been said that a cardinal is a representative of those we love that have passed away. When the bird appears, it means your loved one has come to see you…often when you need them or miss them the most. I must admit, I am not one to believe in such things. However, I do find it interesting that for the second year in a row, right before the anniversary of my daughter’s death, a cardinal made an appearance at my house.

This morning I awoke in a NyQuil haze, stumbling into the kitchen for my morning coffee…welcome to winter in the Midwest. As the aroma of freshly brewed java tickled my nose I began to perk up. At that moment a glance out my door wall stopped me dead in my tracks. Out of the corner of my eye the flicker of vibrant red caught my attention…then I saw it. The contrast of the bird’s beautiful feathers on the cold gray brick pavers stood out like the North Star in the black night sky. I must admit, in that brief moment, I thought, “just when I needed you most sweet girl.”

Tomorrow will be 12 years since my beautiful Francesca Isabella went home to be with Jesus. I can honestly say that 12 years later, the new year never gets easier. The loss looms at the dawn of every year as a beacon to remind me of how quickly life can change and how silly those 5 year and 10 year plans really are. Nothing is guaranteed and in an instant it can all change. You can plan til your hearts content but rarely does life play out like the fantastical narrative we create in our minds.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. ~ James 4:14

January 7, 2008 was an ordinary day in a new year. The day dawned with so much hope, so much possibility. As I wrote in my journal that morning I did so with so much confidence. Reflecting on a sermon I had heard the day before, I wanted nothing more than to glorify the God who had set me free and changed my life. I had no idea that the minutes passing by were racing me toward a moment when time would stand still.

January 8, 2008, what a difference a day can make. The day before, which started with so much hope, ended with soul crushing heartache. On this day my journal simply started with…

“I am numb!!! You have taken Francesca Isabella home to you!”

These are the words of a mother who has had the most sacred thing torn out of her life, her own child. There are not enough words to articulate the kind of pain one feels in this moment, and I pray none of you ever have to feel it. All the plans I had for that year, for Francesca’s life, for my own life shattered into a million pieces on a January afternoon. Life was just a vapor and I was learning that lesson the hard way.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads my beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Your prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. ~ Psalm 23

When King David penned these words it was a reflection upon his life. An honest account of how God had sustained him throughout his life. What I think I love most about this Psalm is that it doesn’t paint the picture of a perfect or an easy life. Quite to the contrary, it talks about walking through dark valleys and facing enemies that would have delighted in his demise. Yet, through it all David knew protection, comfort, blessing, goodness, love, and he had victory. Not because he was a particularly strong person but because God was a good, good Father. God was David’s shepherd. His was the voice David sought, His were the arms that brought comfort in the midst of soul crushing heartache, He was the shield that protected David from the schemes of the enemy even when everything was stacked against him, it was His goodness and loved that saturated David’s life. David was living evidence that God’s promises were true, regardless of the circumstances of his life.

I feel such a kinship to King David. I, too, feel like I am living evidence that God’s promises are true. As I read the 23rd Psalm David actually disappears from my mind and my own life plays out through the familiar words on the page.   Yes, every new year begins with the reminder of the darkest valley I have walked through. And yes, every new year begins with the reminder that all of my heart no longer dwells with me here on this earth, a piece of it now awaits me in heaven. However, I cannot linger in the heaviness of that reality, the grief of my journey does not overwhelm or consume me. Because it was through that grief that I have experienced the fullness of God’s comfort and His protection. His goodness and His love did pursue me. When the enemy tried to destroy my family it was God who stepped in, not so that we might merely survive through the pain but that we might thrive because of the beauty that was revealed through the ashes of it. I am living proof that on the other side of the shadow of death your cup can overflow with blessing.

Weeping might last through the night but joy comes with the morning. ~          Psalm 30:5

Several months ago a preacher that has a fire for Jesus, an extraordinary anointing of the Holy Spirit, and my utmost respect pulled me aside and gave me a prophetic word. He said, “You will be a spiritual mother to many.” It was so simple, yet so profound.

Last night his words echoed in my mind as I had the privilege to speak into a handful of young adult women. I poured out how God’s story intersected my story and radically changed and transformed my life. The journey wasn’t easy or pretty…it was raw and it was hard, but it was real. And as I spoke there she was…my sweet girl, Francesca Isabella, God’s precious daughter, the one I had the privilege of calling my own for the briefest of days on this earth. She is woven throughout God’s story and my own. Her presence may no longer be in this world but she is everywhere I am, because she is in me. She lives on, actively and vibrantly in my heart. And though I will never have the opportunity to mother her in this lifetime, because of her God has placed me in a position to be a mother to others.

It might be silly or whimsical but a part of me wants so desperately to believe that beautifully vibrant cardinal outside my window this morning was a little piece of heaven cheering me on. Reminding me and maybe some of you, that while a new year might start with a flavor of sadness, and weeping may last for the night…joy truly does come with the morning. It might not look the way you thought it would or wanted it to, but if you trust God, I promise He will turn the ashes of this life into beautiful things…I am living proof of it.

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(my morning visitor)

There is Always Hope

We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love ~ Madame de Stael

A blanket of white paints the landscape with pops of evergreen. Trees stand desolate in the quiet serenity that highlights an eerie beauty. A beauty that is diminshed by the frigid air that sinks into the marrow of your bones.

For 10 years I have found myself in this place. The final resting spot for my beautiful girl. It brings me no comfort to be here and when the winter is particularly cold, as this one is, I absolutely hate it. As we pull up, already disappointed that our florist is closed, I find myself gripped with apprehension…I don’t want to go. I will myself to place one foot before the other and to step out of the car. With every whisper of artic air that touches my face and every slip on the icy ground I am dumfounded that once again I am here. I make it there…all you can see is a grave blanket. The snow that gives the cemetary an almost ethereal beauty has also erased the names of the beloved that lie in the ground below. It’s too much…I have to walk away.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace~ Helen Lemmel

January 6, 2008. I’ll never forget it. This first Sunday after the new year. Our family gathered in church, hopeful for the wonderful things 2008 would bring. Blissfully unaware that in just over 24 hours our whole world would crumble and shatter into a million pieces.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. What a beautiful hymn to sing as you embark on the endless possiblities a new year brings. We could have never known that in just a few short days we would be back in that very same sanctuary for the funeral of our precious baby girl. As we stood together that Sunday singing this beloved hymn God began to etch the truth and the promise of their words in our hearts and minds. Truth to cling to in the days, weeks, and years to come. A reminder that when our world falls apart Jesus will always be there, we need only to turn our eyes toward Him.

We can cry with hope..We can say goodbye with hope…cause we know our goodbye is not the end. And we can grieve with hope…cause we believe with hope…there’s a place where we’ll see your face again. ~ Steven Curtis Chapman 

January 7th, 2008…a day that forever changed our lives. After just 78 days here on this earth God called our precious Francesca Isabella home to Him. As images of her beautiful face flashed upon the screen for all those who came to say goodbye to see the words of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “With Hope” played in the background. An achingly sad song with the promise that what is to come will be the sustainer for the pain and heartache endured now. A reminder that the promises of God are true even when life doesn’t make sense. Matt and I clung to that hope…it was all we had. But I have to be completely transparent, I am not sure we really even knew what hope was in those moments. We wanted so desperately to understand but how can you ever fully understand that which incomprehensible admist such soul crushing pain? How can you find hope when you seem so consumed with hopelessness.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. ~ Psalm 34:18

Hope is not wishful thinking, it is confident expectation. When your heart is broken into a million pieces hope can only truly come alive in the presence of God. That young couple who stood in church on January 6th, 2008 had no clue that as they sang “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus…” God was already there. Preparing our hearts and fixing our gaze on the only One who could bind the wounds that would come and take all the shattered pieces of our broken life and put it back together again. God was coming near and in His nearness hope came alive.

I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe the tears away. You say “It’s time to make every new.” Make it all new. 

This is our hope, this our promise…

He will take our breath away to see the beauty that He’s made out of the ashes…

Out of the ashes beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see it with our own eyes. ~ Steven Curtis Chapman

Faith is the reality of what we hope for…

10 years ago I think Matt and I just wanted to survive. We didn’t know what “normal” could look like for us. In the midst of so much pain you cannot help but wonder…is this it? Because quite honestly the thought of ever overcoming that kind of loss and soul crushing pain seems so impossible.

This morning I stood next to the love of my life singing a new worship song. As the words rolled off my tongue the tears welled in my eyes…

“I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains…and I believe I’ll see you do it again. You made a way, where there was no way. And I believe, I’ll see you do it again. Your promise still stands…Great is Your faithfulness. I’m still in Your hands…this is my confidence, You never failed me yet.”

God has NEVER failed us. The heartbroken couple who just wanted to survive has thrived over the last 10 years. God came near, binded our wounds, and healed our broken hearts. The journey hasn’t been easy and there are still tears and heartache. When you love someone so much your heart will always ache for them and quite honestly, you always want it to. But God turned our ashes into the beauty of a legacy that still touches and impacts many. Francecsa was a miracle…a beautiful, precious girl who God used in extrordinary ways, far beyond her 78 days. She will forever remind me that hope is birthed in presence of God…that even when the storms of life come, I can be confident in those promises and the love that God shows us all. He has NEVER failed me yet!!!

There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

No matter how much time passes I don’t think I will ever find solace in going to the cemetary.  Many do…there is a peaceful beauty that can be found in the quiet, serenity of it all. But for me, all I see are glaring reminders of what is temporal.  That’s the interesting thing about grief…each person’s experience is unique and their own. However, my comfort will come not in grieving that which was lost here, but rather in the hope for what is promised for eternity. Because in Christ Jesus there are no “goodbyes” just sweet reunions. That is what I will continue to hope for and find comfort in.

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Francesca Isabella Catherincchia ~ October 23, 2007 – January 7, 2008

The Price of Love

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Grief never ends … But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith … It is the price of love. ~ Unknown

The early hour of the morning made the usually active household silent and still. In the quiet I slipped out of bed…the grayness of the sky matching the color of my heart. In the silence I needed just a few moments to collect myself before my beautiful boys would awake and expect their mama to be ready to celebrate this day dedicated to honoring mothers. Although, truth be told, every boy in my house knows that this day above all in the calendar year is the hardest for me.

Mother’s Day is a little like Russian roulette. I never know what it will be like until it is here. This morning it was exceptionally difficult. Maybe because this year marks the 10th Mother’s Day I have spent without my daughter. Maybe it is because in the last several weeks my mind has wander more often than usual to the thought of “who will take care of my youngest son with autism after my husband and I are gone.” Or maybe it is because I see my oldest and my heart aches for the innocence he lost so long ago…innocence that was shattered by autism and death.

Motherhood did not turn out how I expected it to be at all. I never would have imagined that the source of one of your greatest joys could also be the source of your deepest heartache. I have a good friend and mentor that often reminds me that the depth of love we have is what makes the depth of emotion so strong.

This morning the emotion overwhelmed me and the tears flowed. My arms ached to hold my precious girl, my mind screamed at the cruelty of autism, and my heart ached for a childhood lost. Then it happened…as my sweet husband held my hand while I cried my youngest son came out of his room. First he pointed out a picture on his iPad…yes, when you have autism an iPad is always close by. The picture held no significance it was just a freeze frame of a movie. But he tenderly came up to me, as if sensing something wasn’t quite right, showed me the picture and said “isn’t it beautiful?” And in that moment it was beautiful…his sweet, tender care melted this mama’s heart. But then, as if knowing why my heart ached, he looked up at the pictures hanging on the wall, touched my face and said “look, Baby Cesca.” How did he know? And if that wasn’t enough…my oldest son proceeded to give me a card with a hand written note. I will not share the details, some things are meant to stay private, but I will say it was the most beautiful note I have ever received.

These, my dear sweet friends, are God hugs. They are little ways that God is all around us working in and through the people in our lives to remind us that He sees us and He loves us. When our hearts ache, His heart aches. When our tears flow not only does He catch them but He weeps for the pain His children must endure this side of heaven.

This morning I was reminded of the bittersweet symphony of motherhood. To love so deeply costs us the largest portion of our hearts. I once had a very wise friend tell me, actually right around Mother’s Day early on after my daughter passed away, that God didn’t intended for me to live brokenhearted. This morning I realized how true those words really are. Our children are such a precious blessing that God gives to us. An opportunity for us to have just a taste of His love for us. The cost of that taste is always high…no matter how the story ends. A mother always gives away parts of herself for the betterment of her child…there is no greater cost than that and no greater love.

This is why the bond between mother and child is so strong. It begins the moment that God knits together a precious knew life in their mother’s womb. It is a bond that cannot be full explained or fully understood…it just is. I believe it is God’s way of giving us a precious glimpse of supernatural love…a love beyond anything we can comprehend. A love that we pay a very deep price for but the return is priceless. Isn’t that exactly how God loved us when He allowed His Son to die for the betterment of all His children?

For this reason we celebrate and honor mother’s. For their love, their sacrifice, and their willingness to give it all for their children. This is also why today is so gut wrenching for many. For the ones who long for heavenly reunions and the ones who long to have one to call their own. For the ones who worry after prodigals and the ones who cling beside hospital beds. But this day is also difficult for children too. The ones who long for their mother’s touch or the sound of her voice just once more. And the ones who ache for the mother they never knew or the strained and broken relationship that has caused distance and separation.

The price of love is always high but the reward is much greater than any risk we must take to have it. The reality is, we were created for love and it began before we were ever even born. God’s love has always been with us and always will be. On the days when we feel the most isolated and broken He longs to wrap His arms around us and open our eyes to the beauty in our lives. Today if you have all of your children with you…give them an extra squeeze and make sure they know how much you love them. Today if your mom is still with you make sure you tell her how amazing she is and how much you love her. If your heart is aching today know that you are not alone…you are never alone…God is always with you and His love is always around you. He sees your pain and He longs to ease it…if you will let Him.

Today I have a heart full of gratitude. I am thankful for a beautiful mother who has taught me how to be loyal and passionate, loving and giving. The gifts she has passed on to me have been numerous and she will never truly understand how much my bother and I adore her. I am also thankful for two boys that show their mama in so many ways how much they love me. I am thankful for beautiful friendships that know my pain and speak to my heart in so many ways. I am so so thankful for a husband who cherishes me as a wife and encourages me as a mother. But I am most thankful that this is all just a journey…a pilgrimage home. Where heavenly reunions are sweeter than I could ever imagine and the price of love is fully realized.