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.

 

 

 

The Art of Friendship

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Steel Magnolias…just typing this brings a smile to my face.  This cinema classic from 1989 introduced the world to M’ Lynn, Truvy, Clairee, Ouiser, Shelby, and Annelle; the colorful sextet from Chinquapin Parrish, Louisiana.  This movie is the South!  From the southern drawl, to the ladies chatting and bickering in the beauty shop, the “giant armadilla groom’s cake”, the reference to the local Piggly Wiggly, and even the impeccable church outfits which included hats and all…this movie brought to life everything I had imagined southern life to be.  Stereotype?  Probably, but I loved every minute of it.  However, Steel Magnolias is so much more than your average chick flick.  What makes this movie earn the title of a “classic” is that you actually fall in love with the characters…you take them with you long after the closing credits roll.  They make you laugh, they make you cry, and in the end they have you laughing and crying at the same time.  The true genius of this film lies beyond the stereotypes and the antics…the true genius of this film is the simple theme of friendship.  These six eclectic women have a bond of friendship that transcends age, position, wealth, and stage of life.  The beauty of true friendship is showcased in and through them.  Friendship based on loyalty and love; friendship that celebrates the mountaintops and walks through the valleys; friendship that brings the ray of sunshine and hope when the world seems dark and cold.  The deep impact of this movie comes because it touches at the heart of something we all desire, true friendship; we all long for people in our lives who will love us exactly as we are.

“Friend”:  noun  1) a person who you like and enjoy being with 2) a person who helps or supports someone or something 3) one attached to another by affection or esteem.  ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I love that definition.  What I love even more is friendship.  When we are younger our friends are our world but as we move into adulthood careers, marriage children, etc. distract us away from many of our relationships.  It can be argued that as we get older and life gets busier it becomes more difficult to maintain deep lasting friendships.  Over the last few weeks I have been very reflective about the friendships in my life.  Maybe because I feel like 2014 will go down as the year of friends for me; old friends, new friends, and lifelong friends.  I am coming to place in my life where I value all the people who have entered and exited my world under the banner of friendship.  It has been an eclectic group of people who have touched me deeply and I have learned something from all of them.  I look back at no former friendship with regrets, instead I choose to take with me life lessons.  You see, there is something so beautiful about friendship, so much can be learned.  Whether it lasts a lifetime, a season, or a moment friendship always adds value to our lives. But like any relationship, with friendship comes risk.  Friends can hurt you and betray your trust.  But how does the old cliché go? “With great risk comes great reward.”  There could never be enough words to convey the rewards I have reaped through the friends that God has placed in my life over the years.

“We didn’t realize we were making memories we just knew we were having fun…” ~ Anonymous

TWENTY YEARS!!!!  It’s been twenty years since I have graduated high school.  How is that even possible?!?!  Whether I can believe it or not, twenty years have gone by since I walked the halls of Center Line High School.  At one point in my life that school and the friendships I had formed there were my whole world.  Friendships that hinged on the code of teenagers; don’t ever date the person I like or have ever liked, don’t ever talk to the people who I don’t like,  only take the classes the cool people will be in (or the boys we like), and the silly list goes on and on.  It’s so funny when you really start to think about school age friendships and what they are based on…it’s a wonder that any of them survive beyond the school years. In February I had the chance to stroll down memory lane at my class reunion.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, twenty years is a long time and people change, or not.  Luckily for me, my graduating class was so small that we combined our reunion with the grade older than mine which happened to be my husband graduating class…how’s that for strategic planning.  So with the security of my husband and the few friends I still keep in contact with I anxiously awaited for what the night would hold.  In the end, my nerves were for nothing.  It was a wonderful evening.  Nobody cared who hung out with who in school we were all there to have a great night and that we did.  We laughed over old stories and wondered how in the world we got away with half the stuff that we did.  There was a collective sigh of gratitude among the crowd that night…grateful that social media wasn’t around back in the day. The night was like looking back at photos with fond memories.  I treasure the snapshots, but the people in them have now changed and carried on with their lives.  While we once had promised to be B.F.F.’s (yes, such a thing existed in 1994), the reality is that forever was a lot shorter than we ever anticipated.

“Vulnerable”: adjective 1) Open to attack, harm or damage 2) capable of being physically or emotionally wounded. ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Friendship can be a very scary thing.  Odd statement?  I don’t think so.  I actually think more people would agree with me than not.  You see the difference between childhood friendship and adult friendship is one really terrifying word, “vulnerability.”  There is a reason why Jesus calls us to have faith like a child…children are naturally trusting.  Trust is simple and it is easily given.  As we become adults the cynicism of the world settles in.  Old hurts and betrayals make us weary and gun-shy from putting ourselves out there.  Many of us walk through our adult lives holding people at arm’s length.  We have friendships but they aren’t deep, we keep them on the surface where things are nice and safe.  Unfortunately when we live in the safe zone we rob ourselves of the true joys of friendship.  You can never go very deep with anyone if you only allow so much of yourself to be exposed.  Sometimes you just need to let go…with great risk comes great reward.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16

So why the long dissertation on friendship?  First, because it is my greatest prayer that anyone who may read this will understand that God ordained friendship.  It was never His intention for anyone to walk through this life alone.  He wanted us to experience the blessing of friendship, companionship, and camaraderie.  He is after all a relational God and we are created in His image.  Throughout Scripture He gives us illustrations of special relationships forming so that we may see that He has given us the gift of friendship.  Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Jesus and the Apostles, Paul and Timothy; these are just a few examples.  I encourage you in your own quiet time to study these friendships.  It has taken me a long time to understand the art of true friendship, but when you have it it’s a beautiful thing.  However, you must let your guard down and let people in to form these kinds of relationships.  That means being vulnerable and letting people get close to the real you.  I know that very thought makes some of you break out in a cold sweat, but just remember regardless of where today finds you, in the realm of friendship you are never alone.  God treasures you my dear friends…never forget that.  He is your best friend, first and foremost.  When earthly friends let us down and are nowhere to be found…God is there.  Friendship is all about love, grace, honesty, commitment, loyalty, fun, and, forgiveness.  Does that not perfectly describe the relationship God desires to have with us?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Ghandi

My second purpose for writing this is for change.  With age and maturity I have learned much about friendship.  Friendship for women can be very difficult.  Most guys will read that sentence and laugh, but it is actually a true statement.  The art of true friendship is hard because, in general, we fail to teach the attributes of true friendship.  Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that God created the concept of relationships and therefore His attributes should govern how we live out our relationships.  Unfortunately, God’s attributes have been overshadowed by what the world has deemed as acceptable behavior in friendship; cattiness, jealousy, disrespect, and gossip are the ingredients the world puts into the recipe of friendship.  Don’t believe me, tune into Bravo and watch any one of their Real Housewives of… installmentsAll these women claim to be “friends” yet all of those ingredients are present in their relationships.  Whoever coined the term “frenemies” was, sadly, a genius because that is exactly what many friendships look like today.  It breaks my heart that girls of all ages and even grown women operate in a world where these traits are not only acceptable but expected in friendship.  I caution you all to remember that when cattiness, jealousy, gossip, and disrespect are present true friendship ceases to exist. My heart burns with a passion for us to change the culture for the next generation of girls.  We need to proactively teach our daughters, our nieces, our cousins, our neighbors what true friendship looks like.  What if we taught our girls to extend grace, show kindness, be compassionate, have self-respect, and honor friendship?  Instead of being in competition with each other what if we taught our girls to cheer each other on?  And what if adult women modeled this very same behavior for them?  It would surely be a great day if we could all learn the attributes of godly friendship and then modeled it for our children.  How happy would the day be if the words “catty”, “diva”, “drama”, and “gossipy” were the exception and not the rule.  I believe all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.  When we operate with the mind of Christ the fruits of the Spirit come alive in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.” ~ William Shakespeare

Last night was a warm summer evening.  The Super Moon hung proudly in the sky for all to see. Its unique, bright, orangish hue illuminated the sky and I was once again reminded of how awesome the creative hand of God is.  I shared the sight of the beautiful moon with fourteen amazing ladies that God has placed in my life.  There we stood sipping on lattes and tea, snacking on baked goods and froyo while the fragrant aroma of freshly brewed Starbucks coffee filled the air along with the sound of laughter and chatter as we all stood around in a circle and enjoyed each others company.  Our friendship has been uniquely knitted together by our Creator who created us to desire fellowship and relationship with one another.  He brought us together to pour into each other and support one another.  The sisterhood we share transcends age, position, wealth, and stage of life. It is based on the truth and love of God that we all stand firm in.  Last night reminded me of how thankful I am for friendship.  At 38 years of age I can honestly say I finally know what true friendship is.  True friends are the people who have seen me in all my brokeness yet they still love me.  They are the ones who give me awkward hugs to cheer me up.  They are the ones who can see the truth behind the “I’m fine” and know when I am anything but.  They are the ones who have cried with me and wiped away my tears.  They are the ones that know the darkness of my journey and choose to hold me up when I cannot stand.  They believe in me.  They know how my mind works and get me back on track when I veer off.  True friends take crazy road trips to get me to a conference that they know God has called me to.  True friends make me laugh til I cry.  True friends understand that my life gets difficult and complicated from time to time.  They hold me accountable.  They pour God’s truth into me.  They pray for me.  They honor our friendship and don’t gossip about me and they protect me when others try to.  True friends are my safe people…they know me pretty, ugly, confident, unsure, insecure, passionate, crazy, broken, over dramatic, silly, sarcastic, and funny…they know ME and yet they still love me.

One of the greatest investments we can make in this life is friendship.  When we choose to pour into others and allow them to pour into us only then can we experience the beauty of true friendship. You could call this post an ode, of sorts, to all of the fabulous friends that God has placed in my life; old friends, new friends, and lifelong friends…God has used you all to shape me into who He has created me to be.  There are few gifts more precious than that.   I have often wished that I was a card writer.  Some of my sweetest friends write and send out the most beautiful and thoughtful cards.  It is something I always mean to do but then times slips away and I forget.  However, one thing I do often is tell my friends how much I love them.  I want them to always know how much I cherish them and what a special treasure they are to me.  Friendship is intentional behavior…intentionally making room in your life for other people, being vulnerable and real, and expressing gratitude for who they are and the value they add to your life.  Will you accept the gift that God has given you?  Will you embrace the gift of godly friendship?  Like most things in life, friendship doesn’t just happen…you must choose it!