Joy Comes In The Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal2020

(my morning visitor)

You Are Not Hidden

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You are not hidden… There’s never been a moment you were forgotten… ~ Lauren Daigle

Tonight I sat in a room full of people yet I was all alone…

As a parent of autism this is a place that is very familiar to me.

Finding yourself in situations where the circumstances of your journey…all the things that make your family “different” or not “normal” glare at you like a spotlight.

Tonight I sat in a darkened corner. In all fairness, the whole room was dark but when you’re in a corner it feels a little darker. I was in a room full of activity, full of people, yet I felt completely alone. The call for people to come forward, to find freedom in the moment actually didn’t apply to me. As I sat next to my sweet boy, lost in the world of whatever movie he was watching, I was more concerned that in this reverent moment he wouldn’t squeal or scream at the characters on the screen. In fact, as I tried to get into the atmosphere of prayer what I really silently prayed was that my son wouldn’t be a distraction.

All around me prayer and worship occurred yet I was not a part of it…at all. In my darkened corner I simply sat. Alone with my own thoughts, my own prayers, and an occasional kiss from my handsome companion, who was blissfully unaware of what was really happening around him. The spotlight glared and I was once again reminded that autism can often leave you feeling alone in crowd.

As I began to frantically journal my own prayers…I too became oblivious to the events of the room I was in. My focus rested solely on God.

I hear you whisper underneath your breath…I hear your SOS, your SOS ~ Lauren Daigle

As I prayed God reminded me that I am not the only who is living in the struggle. All around me are people fighting a battle…living every day feeling all alone in a sea of people. People who feel the tension of never being able to find freedom because of whatever struggle or burden is hanging around their neck like a noose…attempting to suck the life right out of them at any given moment.

Turning to God’s Word, as I often do when my heart is troubled, I began to read the words of Psalm 138. The words of the Psalmist poured into my heart and enveloped me like the God hug that they were…

As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength…

The Lord will work out his plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.

I will send out an army to find you. In the middle of the darkest night. It’s true, I will recuse you. I will never stop marching to reach you. In the middle of the hardest fight. It’s true, I will rescue you. ~ Lauren Daigle

In the darkened corner…

Where no one else sees or understands the full extent of the pain or the struggle…God sees us.

We are not hidden, forgotten, or forsaken. Our God sees us and He meets us in that place of loneliness and isolation…if we would only allow Him in.

He is the God who sees us. The God who can carry us above our circumstances and take us to a place of peace that transcends all understanding.

Tonight in a room full of people it was just me and God. He met me in the struggle and reminded me that I am never alone, He is always near. And while very few people I know understand the complexities and ache of being a parent of autism…God understands. It was Him in that moment reminding me that He is my strength.

The musings of this blog are to tell you that God sees you too. Somebody who will read these words needs to hear that truth right now. You are the reason I wrote this blog. God told me you needed to be reminded that you are not hidden…you have not been forgotten or forsaken. God sees you. He is your strength and your protection. Trust Him! He has not abandoned you…

In the darkest night and in the middle of the toughest fight…He WILL rescue you!!! Let go and trust Him.

 

 

 

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 💖💖

Be Kind

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” ~ H.D. Thoreau

When you are a communicator whether by the written word or oration you want to grab people’s attention. You look for that catchy phrase, the story that can weave the web that will draw your audience in. However, sometimes simplicity says far more than grand tales or sticky statements. While culture tells us to bling it out or enhance its appearance with flashy baubles and accessories, simplicity strips it all away and shows us beauty in the rawest form. Simplicity reminds us that in its purest form God’s creation has a natural beauty that we often miss in the rush of insignificant details.

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.” ~ Jay Danzie

Today was a day like any other day, I had a schedule and I needed to stick to it. It’s the first of the month, which for me means a trip to our local county office for the department of community mental health. I had to turn in paperwork for the aides who work with my son. This is always a quick trip…in the door, paperwork dropped off, and out the door. The whole process usually takes about 5 minutes at most. However, today was different…today I met Ken.

As I entered the office I encountered a severely disabled man and his care giver. I soon discovered that the reason they had come to the office was a situation that this particular office could not help him with. What struck me instantly was neither the care giver nor the receptionist had a smile on their face. In fact both ladies looked somewhat annoyed with the man. As he continued to ask questions the receptionist seemed increasingly agitated. Now, I’m not going to lie, normally I would have been slightly put out because my 5 minute experience was already sitting at about 10 and I had yet to drop off my paperwork. However, I was calm, not irritated at all. Finally, the man said to the receptionist “I remember you. You were my first case worker. It is nice to see you again.” and with no smile and no warmth the women replied “nice to see you too.” Her attitude was so cold she could have solved the global warming issue in an instant.

In the moments that followed, the man exited my day as quickly as he entered it…or so I thought. With my paperwork dropped off I was on my way. But as I left the man and his care giver hadn’t gotten far in their own quest to leave. Not wanting to be rude, but needing to be on my way, I carefully maneuvered around the man’s wheelchair to make my departure. That’s when the course of my day totally changed. As I passed by I heard the voice, that I now recognized, say “are you a caregiver?” I turned with a smile “No, I have a son with autism and I had to drop off paperwork for his caregivers.” He smiled back, “My name is Ken” I couldn’t walk away now, “Hi Ken. I’m Nikki, it’s so nice to meet you.” He told me was 40 years old, just a year older than me, and he had been on his own with caregivers since he was 18. I tried to wrap my mind around his circumstances but I just couldn’t. Then his face changed a bit, he was pondering what he would say next. “Can I ask you a question?” Of course he could.  “Is it hard to have a child with special needs?” From that point Ken and I carried on a wonderful conversation. I admitted the challenges I face as I watch my son struggle but I also shared the joys of celebrating every little accomplishment like it was reaching the top of Everest. In turn Ken shared how humbling it is to need help with everything, from putting on his shoes to going to the bathroom. I soon realized Ken just wanted someone to talk to. Someone who was actually interested in what he had to say…he longed to be known. He also longs for a girlfriend, he told me she hasn’t come along…yet!

“I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! ~ Psalm 116: 1-2

I felt it…I knew it was coming as the Spirit began to stir in me.  I knew this was a God ordained moment so I let all my inhibitions melt away and the words tumbled from my mouth, “Ken, can I pray with you?” Without hesitation Ken grabbed hold of my hand. I praised my God for the gift of Ken, for blessing my day with his presence, and prayed that he would remind Ken, often, that he was wonderfully made for a plan and a purpose. With tears in his eyes, still holding my hand, Ken reminded me that God would never give me more than I could handle and I needed to stand firm on God’s promises because He is faithful. To which I reminded Ken that he could do all things through the One that gives him strength.

After a few more words exchanged my new friend drifted out of life. I wonder if Ken will ever know how profoundly he impacted my day and my life for that matter? It would have been so easy in my busyness to pretend like I ever never heard Ken call out to me. I could have justified the brush off all day long in my head. But as I stood in that office with the unsmiling caregiver and receptionist I couldn’t help but think of my own son. What happens when I am not here? Will people treat him with the same cold disdain? I had no idea in just a few moments God would test my ability to choose what matters most, to say a best yes and truly experience intentional investment.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.” ~ Bob Kerrey

All day I have reflected on my encounter Ken. The single thought that has been etched in my mind is how he grabbed my hand and held it as we prayed. I wonder how long it has been since anyone has held Ken’s hand simply as a gesture of kindness, friendship, or love? When was the last time he felt a tender touch that told him that he had value and worth?

As I ponder I hear the echo of my Savior words “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Second to loving Him, God wants us to love one another. But in order to love one another we actually need to slow down long enough to notice people. We have to strip away all the baubles and the bling and to find the raw, natural beauty found at the heart of the simplest of concepts…kindness.

“In the end, only kindness matters.” ~ Jewel from the song Hands

Had it been left up to me I would have walked right past Ken today. Busy in my own thoughts, my own life, my own world. I would have missed a tremendous blessing. I cannot help but wonder how many blessings we walk right past every day? Little ways that God shows us He is always with us we miss because we are too distracted by the details to notice the important. How many opportunities to be the light and love of Christ do we squander because the noise of our chatterboxes has tuned out the still, soft voice of the Spirit prompting us to move?

Tonight as I write I am reminded that my Savior was never too distracted to invest in people. I see Jesus with the woman at the well, calling Zaccheaus down from the tree, eating at the table of Matthew the tax collector, healing the woman who was bleeding, and the list goes on. Kindness, born out of love, flowed out of Jesus and into those who encountered Him. The very people who society showed a cold disdain for, Jesus showed the tender touch of compassion and love. Today I was blessed with a Jesus moment…his name was Ken, the humble man who chose to intentionally invest in me. He illuminated the light of our Savior as he showed me kindness and reminded me of the beauty that can be found when we simply follow Jesus’ commands to love others as we desire to be loved. What a special gift I received. I will treasure it by following Ken’s example and investing in others, even for the briefest of moments.

 

 

Comfortable In Your Own Skin

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Be yourself. Sounds easy enough, yet at some level it is the very thing that many of us struggle with the most. Why? Probably because we have parked ourselves on the corner of  Comparison Dr. and Not Good Enough Ln. which often leads us to one of two places… down the Insecurity Highway or along the Discontented Freeway. I mean let’s be honest, all one needs to do is enter the vortex known as Facebook to see how AWESOME life is for everyone else. The ultimate highlight reel to show you just how imperfect your life really is.

It’s funny, I actually wrote the above paragraph twelve days ago. My heart had been aching to write for quite some time so I set out to find my sweet spot once again. I got as far as that paragraph and then abruptly I stopped. What does a writer do when they have no words…I mean, literally the words would not come and they are somewhat essential to a blog post. So I walked away.

This morning I sat in staff prayer in tears. I was so defeated and I found myself confessing to God that just yesterday I longed to be anybody but me. I was beaten up…defeated and deflated. And even this morning in a room full of people I felt all alone. I was once again transported back to the place of isolation where nobody around me really understood my struggle. Part of me longs to keep it that way…because if I can convince them the struggle is minimal then maybe I can believe it too.

When you are a mother of autism you long for the day when you won’t see your child struggle at every turn. You cherish every little victory and rejoice when every hurdle is jumped. However, the unfortunate reality of autism is that just because a hurdle has been conquered doesn’t mean it will not reappear… 10 feet taller than it was the first time around. This is where I am living right now. Hurdles my son overcame years ago, I mean like 8 years ago, have resurfaced. We are back to melting down multiple times a day, obsessive compulsive behaviors off the charts. What is happening? I feel like I have climbed half way up Mt. Everest just to have someone kick me back down to the bottom. I gave everything I had to make the first climb and now part of me just wants to lay at the foot of the mountain and cry. It’s too big…I can’t make it move or wish it away, and I’m not sure I have the strength to climb again. So for the briefest moment I lay there wondering what it would be like to be someone else.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~ Frederick Douglass

The beauty of who we are is not actually us at all, but rather it is whose image we were created in. That truth pierces my heart. My desire to escape, to be somebody else shouts “God you messed up!”  I am so consumed with the struggle that I lose sight of who I am. In the moment, however brief it is, I have forgotten whom dwells within me and the power He gives me.  I am so willing to concede defeat to autism when I have yet to fall on my face in prayer to the One who can actually remedy the situation. My spirit cries out “NO” while my flesh wants to crumble. As I cry it all out to Jesus…clarity settles in and I am reminded that His power is made perfect in my weakness. While the struggle is real and it is hard, it does not have the power to defeat that which belongs to God. We all have these moments, as hard as it is to admit…where the truth of our faith meets the reality of our circumstances. The world tells us to wallow, and believe me you can have a moment…but you cannot stay there. Because it’s in the midst of the struggle that God does His greatest work. It’s in the struggle that the power of the Holy Spirit comes alive within us. But…yes, there is always a but…will you let Him? the choice is always yours.

All around me I see it…the struggle. People looking into other people’s lives through the highlight reel longing to be someone else. When in reality, we all have struggles. We all have mountains before us at some point in our lives. Face to face with the mountain we all have a choice to make…we can lay at the bottom crying about how it’s too big and impossible to climb or we can trust that the One who dwells within us will give us provision for the journey. He promises that he will not fail or forsake us…but will we be audacious enough to pray without boundaries and bring every need before Him as if we TRULY trust He can and will meet our needs?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” ~ Psalm 139:14

Tonight I sit here and these words, like soothing balm, wash over my beaten up spirit. I am reminded that autism doesn’t change this fact for my son…he is beautifully and wonderfully made. His identity is not defined by autism. His identity is wrapped up in one single truth…he is an image bearer of God. Uniquely created to serve a plan and a purpose far beyond what this worried mama could ever imagine. Because the one who created him loves him more than I ever could. Ahhhh…but here is the kicker… if I am going to embrace this truth for my son, then I must embrace it for myself as well. I too am fearfully and wonderfully made, uniquely equipped serve a plan and a purpose far more important than my own agenda and my own desire for a seemingly “normal” life.

Here I stand at the foot of the mountain again, I am weary and worn out. Climbing the mountain is hard…getting kicked back down is brutal. But as the dust settles from the haze of defeat I am reminded that I never made the first climb in my own strength and I will not climb again alone. I go with the full armor of God to protect me and the power of the Holy Spirit within me.

When I started this blog twelve days ago I would have never guessed this was the route it would go. That it would be a place where I would put the rawness of my own struggle out on display…to stretch out of my comfort zone to find comfort in who I am.

I guess to be comfortable in our own skin is being able to say “here I am” flawed and imperfect, worn out and weary, yet fearfully and wonderfully made. To be comfortable in our own skin is to recognize that what makes us beautiful and whole is not a physical attribute, or a picture perfect life. It comes when you know who you are and I know that regardless of my circumstances, I am a chosen daughter of God, created in His image to do His work, He will not forsake me or fail me…this I know full well.

 

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.

 

 

 

Undone

“And they lived happily ever after…”

I don’t know anyone who wishes for a life of difficulty or uncertainty.  In fact, I can confidently say that most of us sign up for the fairy tale at a very young age.  You know…knights in shining armor rescuing damsels in distress and they live happily ever after in a 2 story Cape Cod with a white picket fence in a Mayberry like town. Sounds about right doesn’t it?  It’s interesting because there are two very distinct definitions for fairy tale and it is very obvious which one we all prefer…

fairy tale (noun) 1)  story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending 2) a made-up story usually designed to mislead.

I have to be honest, that second definition never even crossed my mind, yet as I read it I realized that this truly is the correct definition.  Do fairy tales not mislead us?  Do they not make us believe that the lowly servant girl can marry a prince, that true loves kiss will erase all difficulties and when the dragon is slain all will live happily ever after.

“Authenticity ministers far more than put-togetherness.  And vulnerability builds a far stronger bond than perfection.” ~ Michele Cushatt

An unexpected life…who cannot relate to that…are we all not living one?  If we all think back to our childhood aspirations, I bet few of our lives actually turned out they way we dreamed they would.  Well maybe I shouldn’t speak for you, but last time I checked I didn’t end up with a law degree from Georgetown, I never entered the Washington political scene, and I am not running for president in 2016…LOL…nope my fairy tale did not come true…not even close.  In fact, when I think about the dreams of my youth I wonder if God would have been able to speak into my life louder than my own ambitions.  Thankfully, I’ll never have to know.  At 18 the reality of an unexpected life put me on a very different road…one that lead me directly into God’s plan.  Of course, I took the scenic route and I was derailed a time or two but God used this time of unexpectedness to speak His truth into me.  I would love to say that as I gave my life to Christ my “happily ever after” came to be, but the reality is that the most difficult parts of my life came after I became a Christ follower.  A child diagnosed with autism and losing a child to SIDS is where the reality of my life shattered any childhood fairy tales that lingered in my dreams.  It was in these valleys that I had to make peace with an unexpected life.  My words fail me as I try to articulate the ferocity in which the pendulum of emotion swings when you walk the darkest roads of life.  I have often wondered if there would ever be a way that I could fully communicate what it feels like to be empty, when nothing makes sense and you cling to God with what little strength you have left.  You wrestle with fear and doubt…you cannot help your mind from wandering to all the things that should have been…the very things that would have made your life normal and good, the fairy tale the child in you dreamed it would be.  In the end, I think the one thing we all long for more than anything is the simple knowledge that we are not alone.  That in a world that loves to put on the facade of perfection, there are people who struggle…just like we do.

“Character is not born of stillness.  It requires the hammer blows of affliction” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

Have you ever met someone and instantly felt comfortable in their presence?  The kind of person that exudes a certain special something and you want to soak it all in.  This past July I walked up to a  hotel suite door like a nervous girl on her first day of high school.  I was at the She Speaks Conference and I was about to enter into my speaking peer critique group.  Would the other ladies like me…would my speaking coach like me?  Uggghhhh…what if she hated my speaking and told me I misunderstood God’s calling on my life?!?!  Yes, these truly are the doubts that fill your head when you attend a conference with 600 other ladies who are gifted and called by God to a ministry of writing and speaking.  My stomach was nauseous as I wondered what in the world I was doing there.  Then it happened…I opened the door and on the other side was a group of some of the sweetest and most talented ladies I have ever met.  In just a few short minutes that hotel room became a safe zone…it was a place where 12 strangers were bonded for life by the God who brought us together.  An environment of encouragement and grace enveloped our group as those qualities exuded from our speaking coach, Michele Cushatt.  From the moment she began to speak to us she soothed our nerves with her honesty and transparency.  She reminded us that nothing we did or did not do in our group negated God’s call on our life…He had called us, of that she was certain.  As her confidence poured into all of us our nerves began to melt away.  In those moments God brought a mentor into my life…a mentor whose beautiful spirit and grace reminded me that one of the  greatest blessings God gives us is this family we all belong to, the Body of Christ.

“Peace isn’t a byproduct of control, the payout of a happy conclusion.  Peace is the infiltrating, life-giving presence of a very real God.” ~ Michele Cushatt

In real life very few people get to ride off into the sunset and bask in the glow of their happy ending.  In real life things get messy and hard…real hard.  However, it is how we navigate…or better yet, how we allow God to navigate us through the tough stuff that matters most.  You see Scripture tells us in Philippians 4: 6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  But what happens in the rawness of your world crashing in around you?  What happens when the devastating twists and turns of life try to rob you of the presence and the peace of the God who loves you?  How do you make peace with an unexpected life?

You might not have realized this but this blog post is all about my beloved mentor, Michele Cushatt’s new book, Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life. I have honestly never written a book critique and I am not really sure I know how.  But when I was given the opportunity to be on the launch team for Michele’s book I jumped on it.  Besides being a mentor, Michele is up there with some of the best communicators I have ever witnessed, there is a reason why she is on the Women of Faith tour, just sayin’.  With such ease and grace I witnessed her weave stories around the beautiful truths she desired to convey. I knew that anyone who had been so gifted with words would write a fabulous book and I was not disappointed.  You will find no spoilers in my brief summary of Undone for I do not want to rob you of unwrapping this book like the gift that it is.  This blog is merely a tease…it is the build up to the real gift, Undone.  I chose to write this blog as I did because I wanted you all to know who Michele is to me, I’ve never had the honor of personally knowing an author before.  I wanted to give you just enough so that you would know what an amazing gift God has for you on the pages of this exquisite memoir written by a precious sister in Christ who has made a tremendous impact on my life.

I had the opportunity to write a little blurb on the Undone website and that is what I will share with you…

“The unexpected life is something we all have in common, however it is how we choose to walk the journey that makes the story uniquely our own.  Michele Cushatt’s “Undone” is a refreshingly transparent memoir that tackles some of the biggest obstacles that one can encounter on life’s path; pain, heartbreak, divorce, blended families, betrayal, forgiveness, and cancer.  A master story-teller, Michelle easily draws her readers in with her honesty and sense of humor.  But it is the vulnerability in which she shares her deepest struggles and the grace that flows through her words that reminds us we never struggle alone.  It is in the raw truth that we truly see how God’s story intersects with our own story, if we would just open our scared, bewildered, and broken hearts to Him.  One cannot read this book and not walk away blessed by the beautiful soul that is Michele Cushatt.  Her hand print highlights to us that God is good…all the time He is good!”

Undone will be released this coming Tuesday, March 10th and I HIGHLY recommend it.  It give it two thumbs WAY up…honestly I wish I had more thumbs cause two doesn’t seem like enough.  Head over to Amazon to pre-order your copy today…buy one for a friend while you’re at it, it’s that good.  What is most captivating about Michele’s story is that we can find ourselves in it.  Even if the circumstances of our struggles are different the reality is that we are all trying to make peace with an unexpected life on some level.  And peace is something that God desires for us, in abundance.  Whether you are walking through a valley or not, the wisdom and transparency of Michele’s story will touch your soul in a very special way and you do not want to miss it!

For more info go to http://undonebook.com/

 

 

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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