It’s ok not to be ok…

“It’s ok not to be ok…”

In theory this a great sentiment. It gives us something to say when we see hurting people around us and don’t really know what else to say. It rolls easily off our tongues when the “not ok” person is not inconveniencing us with their “not okness.” But what happens when you are the one who is NOT ok…is it still ok? Or do you find yourself hiding behind the façade of “fine” because admitting you’re “not ok” really equates to some sort of failure, deficiency, or weakness to most people? You see, we like cute little catch phrases like “it’s ok not to be ok.” But do we truly live like we believe it?

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

Brene Brown

I thought 2020 was a year…until 2021 arrived.

As a pastor I will be the first one to tell you that our God never changes, our circumstances do. God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love are always readily available to us, no matter where we might find ourselves on this journey called life. This is a truth I stand by and the very truth I live by. I have known difficulty. I have known pain. I have known struggle. I have known soul crushing heartache. And through it all, God has never changed. He has never proven to be less than what He promised to be; He is my strength, my refuge, He upholds me with His righteous right hand, and His peace which surpasses all understanding is mine.

However, what happens when I awaken to the harsh truth that it is, in fact, me who is not ok?

Well…I can tell you what I did. I pushed it away and pretended like everything was “fine.” Because it is often so much easier to simply claim “fine” then to unload all the reasons you’re not ok to people who really only want the version of you that they want. The version of you that makes them feel the best…the version of you that most benefits them…the version of you they expect you to be. If we are truthful, many of us, myself included, ask people how they are in passing, but we really don’t want the real answer, the raw answer, the hard answer. All we are looking for is the “fine” that can keep us moving in the direction we want to go.

But what happens when we get stopped in our tracks?

One year ago my family had just gotten over our battle with Covid. My boys and I had pretty mild cases considering the realm of what we have seen over the last 20 months. And while my husband had a much worse case, we all faired pretty well. But did we really?!?! While my case of Covid was mild it produced in me other symptoms that many people now talk about as “long Covid” or “long haulers Covid.” In the month of having Covid and the four months following Covid I was at the ER 5 times with cardiac symptoms. I have had echocardiograms, more EKG’s and heart blood work than I can count, and a stress test. Thankfully, all is fine. The cardiologist simply ruled that my heart “likes to have a party every once in awhile.” His words, not mine. I have seen an orthopedic specialist and a neurologist. I have had 3 MRI’s. All to try to explain why it feels like I have Icy Hot running under my skin. Or why the day after I put up my Christmas decorations I felt like a 95 year old who just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. You know I’m old when he’s the most current boxer I know. Simply put, my case of Covid wasn’t bad at all; it was all the extra little treats the virus left me with that had doctors scratching their heads and me coming to terms with the fact that I would forever live wanting to jump out of my own skin. Even as I write this I see so clearly why “I am fine” was way easier to say.

As 2020 came to end I would lose my father to dementia after the Covid lockdowns made our visits with him sporadic at best during the last months of his life. I had so much hope for 2021. It would be better…it had to be better. However, before the ground could thaw in the spring after a long winter, Covid would hit so much harder than the burning coursing through my body…it would take my beloved uncle from us. We were just licking our wounds from my dad’s death when it greeted us again. Blindsiding us; taking our breath away. In the midst of this heartache our oldest son was navigating his first year away at college while we had to advocate for our younger son with autism who was not receiving a proper education due to Covid restrictions in the schools. At this time we were also petitioning the courts for guardianship as his 18th birthday loomed on the horizon. Our plates were overflowing, and not in a good way. My husband and I have been operating in what seemed like a vortex all while maintaining a demanding travel schedule for him and ministry work for me. I was barely hanging on. Then just four weeks ago it came again. Death was on our doorstep once more but this time it literally knocked the wind out of my sails. A message carrying the news that our beloved friend of over 35 years passed away. I just couldn’t fake it anymore…I was no longer “fine” and truth be told, I hadn’t been for a long time.

The hardest year of my life was the year after my daughter Francesca passed away. This past year has been the second. It has exhausted me in every way possible, with the exception of one. Physically, emotionally, and mentally I was on the brink of total burnout. However, spiritually I was in tact. Oh I needed time, a space for God to heal the gapping wounds in many areas but my faith was never shaken. I never doubted God’s goodness nor His faithfulness. But with my head barely above water, I was no longer leaning into Him either. I think in many ways I was like the disciples on the boat when the storm kicked up. I was trying to navigate the storm wreaking havoc with my life knowing full well Jesus was in my boat. I was silently screaming “will you please make this storm end!” All while pretending I had control over a sinking ship. You see, sometimes we become so good at pretending we are “fine” that we actually start believing the lie ourselves.

But here is the point of this blog. I promise its not so I could from 0 to 60 on the vulnerability scale in a hot second. It’s to point out that all around us there are people struggling. People who look fine, but are not fine. People who need to know that it truly is ok to not be ok. Taking time to catch your breath is actually not a sign of weakness but one of great wisdom. We live in a time and a society were FOMO rules our lives and we are only as good as our latest “like” or “share” count. What good are we if we are not producing, not influencing, not being who everyone expects us to be? No wonder so many are silently wounded…time bombs waiting to go off. Our value and worth is no longer linked to the light that shines within us but rather the light that is upon us. Self care falls to the waste side because we are too busy trying to be who others want us to be rather than who God created us to be. Soul care falls to the waste side because we are far more concerned with the external implications of our need to take a break or being honest and vulnerable about where we are at, rather than the internal ones.

We are a society on the verge of burnout. What makes me think that? Violent crimes are on the rise, suicide is on the rise, drug addiction is on the rise, and the list goes on and on. Because when we pretend “fine” for too long, the truth always comes out one way or another…often, in unhealthy ways.

Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t fine and the people around me knew it too. Over the last few weeks I have had time to rest and simply be in the moment. Few obligations and not much vying for my time, other than those who need me most, my husband and my children. A time to simply be. To take deep breaths and regain my footing. For so long God has spoken to me. He has so clearly told me, “you will find Me in the silence.” And here’s the thing, God’s presence has always been with me but the noise of my life was drowning Him out. I needed to go back to the place of silence to wholly see Him again.

The Lord is my strength and shield.

    I trust him with all my heart.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.

    I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7

Was I weak to admit I was no longer ok, I don’t think so. Did my admission cause me to not live up to some people’s expectations of me, quite possibly. Does sharing this make some uncomfortable, I guess it could. But here is what I have learned. Actually, I already knew this I just needed the silence to remind me of it.

First, in my own strength, I am weak. I am only strong by the One who strengthens me…Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. If my life is so busy and burdened that I can no longer hear Him…I will end up on the verge of burnout once again. Second, I was reminded of this simple, powerful, yet freeing truth…there is only ONE who’s expectations I must meet. Only One whose desires I should fulfill. Only One whose approval I seek. God and God alone. If my life is not a pleasing offering to Him, then I will get it wrong in every other area of my life. Finally, if being vulnerable enough to share this helps just one other person to know they are not alone…then I don’t really care if it makes anyone uncomfortable. God placed it in front of the one it was written for. To remind them of the truth that I know so well…He sees you…He loves you…and a breakthrough IS coming. That was a promise God made me a year ago and He has been faithful to that promise. While my heart still aches from devastating losses, my body has been healed of most of the post Covid symptoms I have had. It took time in the silence to find the joy of every single one of the blessings I have I received in the midst of the heartache. My circumstances changed…my God NEVER did!!!

So my dear friends. It really is ok not to be ok. However, it is not ok to stay there. Maybe you just needed to hear someone say that a season of rest is what you need. Self care is what you need. Soul care is what you need. God didn’t just create you to survive. He created you to thrive; to live in the fullness of His image in which you were created. Oh sweet soul reading this, put down the façade of “fine” and own where you are at so that Creator of the world and the lover of your soul can heal you from the inside out. You are worth it to Him. He loved you first and He loves you most. Find Him in the silence…He is always there.

Questions

Yes, I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Last week the thought caught my attention that I have not written a blog since December. Honestly, I haven’t felt the need to. This is probably why I am bad at blogging. I am not someone who can write on demand. Writing is not my profession nor is it my craft. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my hobby either. It goes so much deeper than all of the above. My writing comes from deep within my connection with God. The sacred place were abiding occurs. It’s not that my connection is lesser with God in seasons where my writing is less; it’s simply that the Holy Spirit has not stirred up the words inside of me. Last week when my blog crossed my mind it was the middle of the afternoon, the perfect time to write. Yet, I felt nothing. Not a single word popped into my head and no writing occurred. Now I sit here franticly typing; the words overflowing out of me. It’s 2:30 in the morning and this will most certainly hurt when the alarm goes off in 3 hours to get my youngest son ready for school. Who knows…maybe I’ll still be awake, my finger hovering over the word “publish.” Because there are two things that are certain when I blog; 1) the Holy Spirit alone prompts me to write and 2) I am never certain that I will publish it until I actually hit publish.

Writing for me is so much more more than putting words to the page. It’s about giving glimpses of my soul; sharing the thoughts and experiences, the triumphs and struggles on this journey. How do I know which pieces I will share? I never do. Only when the Spirit stirs and prompts do the words flow. It’s almost as if to remind me that apart from Him I can do nothing and only when it will point back to Him should I write something. Because, lets be honest, without the power of the Holy Spirit compelling it and the truth of Jesus woven within it…I am simply another amateur writer littering an already overcrowded blogging field with my thoughts. Instead, I write with the one in mind. The one the Holy Spirit thought of when He ignited the blogging fire within me. The one whom these words are meant for. The one who needs to be reminded that God sees you…He sees all of you…even the parts you don’t want Him to see…and He still loves you. Who is the one? I’m never really sure. Maybe it’s someone I love or a complete stranger, there have been times when it has proven to be me, or perhaps the one is you. Ultimately, it matters not. The need is never for me to know who I am writing for. It is simply an act of obedience; trusting that the One who prompted me to write is the same One who will be faithful to ensure that the right eyes see the words and the right heart is soothed, encouraged, or convicted by them.

Who are You God? Because You are turning out to be so much different than I imagined.

Steven Curtis Chapman

After my daughter passed away music became an agent of healing. Within the melodies and lyrics it was as if I could still tangibly connect to the beauty of God in the midst of the suffocating pain of grief. The album I would listen to over and over again was Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman; a collection of songs he wrote and recorded after his daughter went home to be with Jesus, just 4 months after my sweet Francesca. There was something in the shared experience that made the words he sang pour over me like healing balm. A hurting father to a hurting mother, a son of God to a daughter of God, a singer/songwriter to the one on their mind as the Holy Spirit prompted and compelled a piece of art that would prove to be so much more…to so many more than just the one. Within the artistry came a glimpse into his soul and through the vulnerability of his pain came the still soft voice that would often rise above the lyrics to say “I see you. You are not alone.”

And where are You God? Cuz I am finding life to be so much harder than I had planned.

Steven Curtis Chapman

I often find people’s 5 and 10 year plans ironic. I mean the likelihood of your life plan playing out the way you actually planned is less predictable than a meteorologist’s 14 day weather forecast. Life very rarely goes according to our preplanned agenda’s, yet so many of us still get caught up in laying out the blueprint of our lives. The more detailed the blueprint the harder the wrecking ball of the unexpected hits. It’s in these moments that our faith is often tested the most and the questions swirl. “Why?” becomes the cry of our heart. “If only” becomes the anthem of the dreams that haunt us. One of the hardest lessons some of us have to learn is that we are, in fact, not the author of our own story. Contrary to the lies of this age, we do not “create our own destiny.” Long before the world began, before a single day of our lives came to pass, we were on the heart and in the mind of the true author of our story. Created for a plan and purpose far greater than anything we could ever conjure up. Created for such a time as this, to be part of a much greater story than our own. Yet, it’s often the death grip on which we hold onto our own blueprint that makes us question our Creator when the plan doesn’t go according to our specifications.

Even in the sacred space of abiding questions still come, heartache is still real and devastation still occurs. However, it is in the abiding that a branch can weather even the fiercest storm if the vine it is connected to is strong. In the ache of my broken heart nothing in this world made sense. The blueprint I had for my life was shredded and placed in the cold earth of a cemetery. The only thing I had to cling to was Jesus and who I trusted Him to be. I had to believe that He would bind my wounds and heal my broken heart. Even in grief…especially in grief…I learned that apart from Him I can truly do nothing. God turned out to be so much different than I expected. When life got harder than I planned, that is when I learned that God isn’t my fairy godfather, floating around in the distance, waiting to give me a “happily ever after.” He is a very real and personal Father who meets us in the mess and the pain and the heartache of this life…if we will open ourselves up to Him.

How could You God? How could You be so good and strong and make a world that can be so painful?

Steven Curtis Chapman

In our humanness so many of us make God’s goodness dependent upon our circumstances or the circumstances of the world. The brokenness of sin is what makes the world painful, not God. That is an overly simplistic statement to explain a topic that men have theologized and philosophized for centuries but, it’s simply the truth. The even greater truth is that God has already given us the remedy for sin and therefore He is more than capable to be the remedy for the pain caused by the brokenness of sin. And someone needs to hear this…the brokenness of sin is not just about people behaving badly; it is disease and poverty and natural disasters etc. Sin didn’t just fracture humanity, it distorted all of creation. But God so loved the world that He made a way where there was no way…His name is Jesus. Jesus makes all things new. Jesus turns the ashes of this life into beautiful things.

In so many ways life turned out to be so much harder than I expected. Devastation came…more than once. Yet in it, through the abiding, God turned out to be so much more than I expected, not less. He came alive to me in greater ways, not lesser. Was the road easy, no. But did it show me that God is greater, ABSOLUTELY. My heart aches for the many who will believe that because they didn’t get the ending they wanted that at the minimum God isn’t good and the max, He isn’t even real. Both could not be further from the truth.

Who am I God? That you would raise me from the dust to breathe Your life and Your love me.

Steven Curtis Chapman

It is now almost 5 am, in just 30 minutes the alarm will signal me to awaken from a slumber that never occurred. A slumber that alluded me because God knew someone needed to be reminded that He never sleeps or slumbers. His eyes never stray or wander. He is faithful to watch over His children. He leaves the flock to rescue the one and He waits with open arms for the prodigal to return to home. Who is the one I write for? I don’t know and quite honestly, I don’t need to know. What I do know is that over the years the Holy Spirit has awaken many prayer warriors to pray on my behalf. Tonight, or this morning I should say, I have paid that blessing forward. Someone needs to be reminded that Almighty God has breathed life into you…He gave His Son’s life because He found you worthy of His love. Life may not be going the way your thought it should or wanted it to; that doesn’t mean that God is no longer good or that you are no longer His beloved. Abide in Him and He will abide in you. It is the abiding that you will find your strength and your comfort. In the abiding all the questions may not be answered but the ashes will become beautiful as you experience God in greater ways than you could ever imagine.

Questions

Who are You God
For You are turning out to be
So much different than I imagined

And where are you God
Cause I am finding life to be
So much harder than I had planned

Know that I am afraid
To ask these questions
But You know they are there

And if you know my heart
The way that I believe you do
You know that I believe in You
Still I have these questions

Like How could you God
How could You be so good and strong
And make a world that can be so painful

And where were you God
I know you had to be right there
I know you never turn your head

You know that I’m confused
By all this mystery
You know I get afraid
But if you know my heart
As completely as I trust you do
Oh you know that I trust in you

Is it true
That fore every tear I cry
You cry a thousand more
Cause you weep for those that weep

And are you, just holding yourself back
From crushing all the pain and evil in this world
For reasons we just cant understand for now
But isn’t there a day of redemption coming
Oh Redemption is coming

Quickly Lord, come quickly
Lord, come quickly

So who am I God
That you would raise me from the dust
To breathe your life and your love in me
You know that I believe

Steven Curtis Chapman

Joy Comes In The Morning

tulips2020

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.

Cardinal2020

(my morning visitor)

In and Out of Time

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance…
our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

When the first stone looked up at the blazing sun
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I had always loved you more.
You freed your braids…
gave your hair to the breeze.
It hummed like a hive of honey bees.
I reached in the mass for the sweet honey comb there….
Mmmm…God how I love your hair.

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.
We have loved each other in and out
in and out
in and out
of time.

Maya Angelou

Love. So simple, so pure, yet so complex and complicated. Four little letters strung together. They have the ability to hold all the treasures of the universe. Yet, they hold the power to destroy the human heart. That is the great paradox of love. While it is a many splendor thing, it does indeed hurt.

When you love so deeply you run the greatest risk for heartache. Which puts us all face to face with a very important question. Would you trade away the chance to love to protect your heart from ever experiencing pain?

The beauty of writing is the art of editing. You can change what you don’t like. The word “delete” has the ability to erase the pain of any given character with a single click. If only life where that easy.

To love gives you no option for delete. You cannot erase the ties of the heart and soul. So when love leaves you, the heart aches in unfathomable ways.

I loved you in and out of time.

Can we ever know what it truly means to love in time and out of time? I am not sure I could have answered that question 12 years ago. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have pondered that question 12 years ago. But then something happens…a moment…the universe flips and everything you know to be true and right and good comes crashing in around you. The moment that death steals the beauty of love right from your grasp.

11 years ago today…how quickly time escapes us. 11 years have gone by since I have held my sweet, precious Francesca. Her baby coos and baby smell where the very essence of love wrapped in a head of brown hair, big grey eyes, and the completeness of our joy. I loved her in time.

But on an eerily warm January day 11 years ago love was snatched out of my hands. As the mourning and weeping began I had no idea I had just been placed on a journey that would teach me the beauty of loving in AND out of time.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
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 made in the secret place, 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 139:13-16

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

Oh, how we so desperately want to ascribe every feeling those eloquent words evoke to love in the human realm. And quite honestly, that may have very well been Maya Angelou’s intent when she placed those words on a page for the very first time. But this morning as I stumbled across this poem, one that I had read years ago and forgotten about, I was reminded of the beauty of the relationship all of creation has the privilege to have with Almighty God.

God is the author of love…He is love. It is in His very character, His very nature, in every nuance of His very presence that a human soul discovers the fullness of loving in and out of time.

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

Ahhhh…do you see it. From the moment God began to knit us together in our mother’s wombs, we were His to have. And from that very moment He was always ours.

With our first cries on this earth we begin our journey home to the One who loved us in and out of time. To the One who created everything we see with us in mind. To the One who knows our name and knows every hair on our head. To the One who would sacrifice Himself…the One who would suffer the greatest loss…the One who knows that greatest amount of agony brought by the hands of love…because He loved us in and out time.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 7

This morning when I woke up thinking about my sweet baby girl Francesca, I felt a blog stirring in me. However, the words that you are reading are nothing like the thoughts I was pondering. I guess that will be a different blog for a different time. This afternoon what God has pressed upon me is that life is a gift, no matter how short. Our 78 days with Francesca are days I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Which means that love is always worth the risk of agony we may endure to experience it.

How is it possible to come to terms with such soul crushing grief? How is it possible to thrive after the storm has beaten you up, the valley has left  you wounded, and the wilderness has you panting with thirst as you wander? I almost cringe being so simplistic…but the answer really is this simple…JESUS!!!

Nobody has ever risked more to love you than Jesus. Nobody has ever sacrificed more for you to know love than Jesus. And NO ONE and NOTHING will ever carry you through the heartache of lost love like Jesus, because He understands it better than anyone ever has. He has loved you in and out of time. You were always His and He is always yours…if you want Him. But even if you don’t want Him…He never gives up pursuing you. You were on His mind at the beginning of time as we know it and He has never lost sight of you…not even for a second.

To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory. ~ Isaiah 61:3

11 years after her physical presence left this earth I still feel Francesca’s presence in my life…every day. She is in the very fabric of our family. She is the thread that God has used to create this beautiful tapestry that is our life.

The road is often difficult…

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

However, as heartbreaking as the nightmare can be, it often dissipates into a new beginning. A new beginning that would have never been realized without the ashes of the pain. When we allow God to meet us in the heartache…He changes our nightmares to dreams as He so carefully, so gently, and so lovingly binds up our wounds and heals our broken hearts.

Though this journey is one I would have never chosen for myself, today I see so clearly how it has shown me the glory of my God. Glory that I would have remained blinded to on a different road. Through the heartache and the pain God gave me exponentially more of Himself. And the greatest of all His gifts is that He taught me how to love…in and out of time.

Dedicated to my precious Francesca Isabella. Mommy loves you forever beautiful girl xoxo

October 23, 2007 ~ January 7, 2008

Echoes From The Heart

There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling. ~ Levi Lusko

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The depth of a mother’s heart cannot be explained by mere words. A bond that begins in the secret place as the Father knits life together.

Before a breath is drawn love abounds. The quiet intimacy of life growing is one that only a mother knows. The sacred time when the beauty of heaven kisses earth to spring forth so much promise…so much potential.

The first cries enter the air erasing the pain of the journey that brought them here. Love explodes as the heart is awakened by the sight of tiny fingers and toes.

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The heart that blossomed and bloomed shatters in a million pieces broken by the ache of what has been lost.

The piece of heaven the graced the world has slipped back from where she came. The earth no longer spins and the universe tips out of order as what should be slips into the land of dying dreams.

Arms envelope the broken mother…only the Father can comfort the heart that longs so desperately for what has been lost.

As grief and sorrow threaten to consume the Father stoops low and wipes the tears that never seem to end.

Then she hears it, like a whisper on the wind…

” She was mine long before she was ever yours. While you long for her in this life, she is with Me preparing for your homecoming. So while we wait for you to finish your race we will cheer you on from home. Knowing you will do all that I created you to do because she was the gift that awakened you to your calling…”

The price was high because the love was so deep…

In the whisper on the wind the mother’s eyes were opened for the first time to the depth of the Father’s love. For He too had paid the highest of prices for a love that ran so deep.

Tonight I finished reading Levi Lusko’s Through the Eyes of a Lion. As I finished, tears coursed down my cheeks as his words echoed in my heart…“There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling.” Those words inspired my writing above…the simple yet complex sentiments of a heart that surrendered completely to God and walked out of the depths of despair and into a calling.

Levi Lusko wrote a beautiful book about how the death of his precious daughter radically changed his life. For the first time I felt like so much of my heart was revealed…by a complete stranger. He stepped into his calling for ministry long before his precious Lenya went home to be with Jesus but make no mistake God has used his sweet girl to take him places he could have never imagined going. The beauty of his legacy will forever be entwined with how sweet Lenya opened him up to God in ways that he never would have been had the story ended differently. In so many ways his story mirrors my own with my precious baby girl, Francesca.

In the end the lesson learned is that in this life we will all walk through painful valleys but if we would choose to trust God, He will turn ashes into beauty. In the words of Lusko himself “As we wait on the Lord, our hearts are strengthened, and we see things that are invisible and can do things that are impossible… Suffering isn’t an obstacle to be used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before…”

For now I choose to see a place where Lenya and Francesca play among tulips, squealing with laughter in the presence of Jesus. And until I join them in that beautiful paradise I will continue to praise His name and tell of the hope that is found in Him alone 💖💖

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.

 

 

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

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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