Dear Matt,

As your 22nd birthday draws near, I’m finding it harder and harder to “deal.” I want to scream at the clock to stop ticking. I yearn to crawl into bed and lie there until May 3rd. I want to shut down, drown out the world, drift far, far away. I am angry at everything and nothing because sometimes it’s just easier than falling apart. You know what sucks? This. This trying to celebrate the birthday of a child who died. I still want to scream, “It’s not fair!” It still feels surreal that you are not here, and I wonder if it always will. I want to make a cake and buy presents for you. I want to see you open your gifts and hear your deep, quiet voice while I watch in delight as you respond with that trademark smirk-smile.

But I can’t.

Because you are gone. You died.

And I am left to make the best of it. I’m left to try to find things to be thankful for when all I really want is to have you back with us. I’m left to remember and cherish the memories of you, the memories that were once all joy but are now all bittersweet. It SUCKS. It really, really sucks.

Oh, my son. How I miss you so.

This is hard.

But here we are, marking your 22nd birthday without you, the sixth one since you left this earth without warning one bright, sunny summer morning. Your birthday this year falls on a Tuesday, just like the year when you were born. I’ll never forget, of course, how surprised we were when the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” We were so sure we were having a girl. So sure, in fact, that even though we had had a boy’s name picked out, I called you Rachel almost the whole pregnancy. Haha! I’m not sure I ever told you that story, Matt.

Though I was disappointed at having a c-section after 23 hours of labor, I was never disappointed in having a boy. God gave me exactly what I needed. You were a gift, a gift beyond what words can describe. I still can’t believe the hospital let us take you home! Like most first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we were blessed beyond belief. We had a beautiful baby boy who stole our hearts the very second we knew we were expecting.

The pain of separation overwhelms me at times like this. Yet God tenderly whispers reminders of the truth: You are alive. You died, yet you live. God’s story is life, death, life. This life is not all there is. This is not forever. Death does not reign. Grief is temporary. Our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:17) We will be reunited, and never again will we be separated. God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

Matt, you are and were God’s gift to me, to us. I cherish every memory, every photo, every moment we were allowed to have with you. We’re keeping it simple this year for your birthday and spending the day hanging out at the pool, which you loved. Your dad and others will drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, also a favorite of yours. More than anything, I will lean into the One who holds you. I will look to the Giver of life and the author and perfecter of my faith, Jesus Christ, who died for me and for you…so that we could have life eternal.

I love you, Mateo.

Love, Mom

68
Ah…that look. Matt, age 15.

Doing it God’s way

A few days ago, I posted When bad news comes. The situation hasn’t changed, circumstances remain the same, and I vacillate between unquestionable faith in God and outright perplexity in God’s dealings with mankind. Like a kid on a rope swing, my faith swings back and forth, a slow momentum of quivering fear rising in my belly as God takes me higher and higher in this place of trust.

I’ve never liked heights.

But I am learning to trust the strength of the One who holds me.

This morning, I read the entry from today’s study in the First 5 app. (By the way, if you don’t have the First 5 app, I highly recommend getting it.) The post for today spoke directly to my heart.  It’s written by Wendy Blight and titled Trusting God in the Hard Places. It ends with the following:

Are you in a hard place? Do you wonder what God is doing? Take courage. The one who God called a man after His own heart struggled too. Press into God for understanding.

David’s life teaches us that it’s in the unanswered questions that we gain depth of faith. We come to know more … not about our circumstances … but about our God.

Give God your anger. Give Him your fear. Give Him your questions. He is waiting to come alongside you and bring you to the other side … to a place of understanding, healing, wholeness, blessing and even celebration.

Prayer: Father, I confess that sometimes I don’t understand why You allow what You do in the world and in my life. I struggle with, and sometimes even question, Your goodness and faithfulness. Help me process my questions and doubts with faith and not emotions. When circumstances tempt me to doubt that You are good and trustworthy, enable me to remember that You are moving and accomplishing Your plans, and no matter what I see with my eyes, I can know those plans are good because You are good. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Oh, how I want to reach out and yank everything aright like David and Uzzah. I want to run ahead of the Lord, but deep in my heart, I know it would be wrong. Waiting on God is hard. (Can I get an ‘Amen’ to that?!)

But doing it His way is always best.

Always.

Blessings,

Angie signature

When bad news comes

What do you do when things don’t go your way? What happens when disappointment hits hard, makes you feel like you’ve swallowed a bitter pill? I don’t know about you, friends, but I have a hard time swallowing that pill. I grimace, choke on it, try to spit it out. Disappointment leaves a nasty aftertaste.

News I received this last week concerning a loved one left me deeply disappointed. I’m angry, sad, and confused. I’m wrestling with prayer and grace, both of which I honestly don’t feel much like giving right now. I don’t understand God’s plan or certain people’s actions.

But I know that is my flesh speaking, a heart crying out in hurt. I want to lash back, let my tongue slash, let loose biting words. But I resist only by the power of the Holy Spirit. I know that hurt people hurt people. Far better for me to bite my tongue than hammer words like nails into someone’s heart.

Instead, I determine to trust God yet again. But how many times do I trust Him? How many times do I have to wait for God to act? Oh, my soul. As many times as it takes, it whispers back to me. God’s grace and mercy are enough. He is enough. His love is greater, deeper, wider than any disappointment, fear, or hurt.

Do you know what tackles disappointment?

Praise.

You know what helps the pill of bitterness go down?

Praise.

You want to defeat darkness, disappointment, and despair?

Praise.

 

 

 

Blessings,

Angie signature

When the grief fog comes rolling in

We are exactly two weeks away from Matt’s birthday. He would be 22 years old. Writing that just now, I swallow a lump in my throat and shut the door on the silent scream that wells up in my mind. How I wish more than anything that my son were here. My heart physically hurts.

I have dreaded every turn of the calendar page since December. May is coming. May is coming, and we don’t really have a “plan” in place for how to survive yet another year without our boy. Oh, we’ll do the usual and escape to a hotel nearby. Anything to get out of the house. See, birthdays are always celebrated at home in our family. The siblings all gather round and gift their brother and/or sister cheap presents from The Dollar Store and, of course, their Dad always throws in a prank gift like a bottle of car oil or something stupid. I always made a cut-up cake from scratch when the kids were little, but their sister took over the job of cake decorating (she’s insanely talented!) several years ago, so now they get a really delicious, incredible cake.

But how do you celebrate the birthday of a life cut short? How do you celebrate when your heart is crushed? Can it really be a happy birthday?

I’ve gotten quite good at dodging the “How many kids do you have?” question and the subsequent “How old are they?” question over the past almost six years. Just today, in fact, I got asked both questions. I always answer seven for the first question. And when I was asked how old my children were, I lightly replied, “My youngest is eight, and they pretty much go up every two or three years from there.” Funny, right? But my heart ached horribly because some days I just don’t want to explain that our oldest isn’t here or why.

I wish with all my heart that we were celebrating Matt’s birthday with him here. But all the wishing in the world isn’t going to change reality. Instead, we will do the best we can to honor Matt’s memory. We will keep love alive in our hearts and cherish the memories. I will remind myself of the truth: My son is ALIVE. I will see him again. This life is short, it’s just a blink. Joy and nothing but joy awaits. When the grief fog comes rolling in, I will fix my eyes on the unseen, on a God who is faithful and true, on the God of all comfort. I will give thanks for the precious gift I was blessed to hold for sixteen short years. We will do the things Matt loved: drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, swim in the pool, and love on his siblings. I can’t promise I’ll be happy, but I will be grateful. Will you pray for us, friends, as we observe Matt’s birthday on May 2? Thank you. We appreciate you!

Blessings,

Angie signature

matt2RR-2
Matt – Jan. 2011 – The night before BPA (Business Professionals of America) Regional Competition

The perfect thing to say

I watched this tonight. It’s six minutes long. Go ahead. Watch it. I’ll be waiting right here when you get back.

Powerful, right? And as I sit here on Easter Sunday, not a moment went by today that I didn’t miss my son as I appreciated with profound gratitude my remaining children. I thanked God for the precious memories we made today and wept over the memories I will never get with my oldest.

I am committed to grief education. Scott Pelley has learned the lessons from these Sandy Hook parents well. This is why I share the video. I never want another bereaved parent to hear the words, “So are things all better now?” ten weeks after losing their child. (True story. And I don’t share it out of bitterness, but out of compulsion to educate those on what not to say to a bereaved parent.)

“One of the things that I learned from them — maybe the most profound thing that I learned — is that even after the passage of years, every single one of them was adamant that they had not moved on,” Pelley says. “They had moved forward in many ways in their lives, but they all felt that they would never recover or begin to recover from the loss of their child.”

I absolutely agree that we don’t “move on,” rather, we “move forward.” However, I disagree that you will never recover. Of course, you don’t “recover” your child, so in that sense, no, you don’t recover. But you do heal in the sense that you learn to live again and find joy in what remains. To shun healing is to make God out to be a liar, and God does not lie. He says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

“The perfect thing to say is, ‘Tell me about your child,’” Pelley explains. Avoiding mention of a deceased child when speaking to a bereaved parent is often the worst response, Pelley has learned, because the child’s life isn’t acknowledged. Asking about a lost child may bring a parent to tears, but the question is an important gesture.

As we come to the end of this Resurrection day, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, I can look forward to eternity in heaven. I will be in the presence of God in a sinless, perfect world. I will gaze into my son’s eyes, hold him in my arms, and hear his voice. I will no longer know what grief feels like or the pain of separation. Death will be no more, and life will be pure joy. Nothing but joy. All because of Jesus. God’s great love for us should cause us to ask Him also, “Tell me about your Son.”

“How Deep The Father’s Love For Us”
(Words and Music by Stuart Townend)
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Blessings,

Angie signature