Saturday, May 10, 2014

"Grief Is Love With Nowhere To Go"

"Grief Is Love With Nowhere To Go"   

This is my story of tragedy and beauty, a story of life and death, and a story of mourning and dancing. Not too long ago, I spent 5 months in the hospital with my best friend, and my brother. I witnessed the person I loved more than myself suffer beyond what anyone should endure. The memories still unexpectedly visit me like a nasty hurricane threatening to take me down. After 5 months of suffering, Colton passed away while I lay in the hospital bed alongside his body as close as I could manage. 

The next year would be a time of screaming at God and doubting everything I knew to be true. I would almost lose my marriage, my faith, and all the beauty ahead of me in this life. 

That next year was a time of mourning. I knew I had two choices; I could run from grief and like a criminal, it would eventually sneak up on me and beat me to the ground. Or I could begin the long frightening journey of walking toward the grief with my knees shaking and head high. I was not sure if grief was stronger than me, but I did know  if I beat it before it beat me, I would be free to live the life my brother wanted for me. 

 I started by walking a long trail by my house every day, and I got a puppy. I walked everyday whether it was snowing or sunny. Just like grief, the weather was unpredictable but just like Hope, my puppy was always wagging her tail a few steps ahead of me. My job was to be consistent and honest. I would be faithful to walk, and willing to express the storm within me. Some days this meant talking out loud to my brother, other days it meant moving my body in the silence of the forest because words could not suffice. During this time of mourning there were only three invited ... Myself, God, and Colton. 

Even though Grief is a crippling and lonely journey; alone is the only way one is allowed within the gates to face the beast.

Almost a year later, I stood at the top of the hill where I journeyed everyday and began to talk to Colton when I heard a stern, “enough is enough.” These words quieted my heart and I knew I had to keep listening. I wondered if this moment may be the beginning of the end of this grief journey. I wondered if I had finally worn down the beast. 

“You have a full and wonderful life ahead of you with so much to accomplish. It’s time to move on Stina,” Colton whispered softly through the Alder trees.
In my heart I could see a careful and loving smile stretch across my brother’s face as he ended by saying, “You will see me when you are done with this life but please go live yours.”
 I had an overwhelming sense that Colton was ready to move on too. It was time to allow us both be free and trust that it was not the end but merely a pause until we meet again.  I did not know it but I desperately needed his permission to say goodbye. 

I needed my brother’s blessing to live my life even though he could not longer live his. 

The same month that I finally let go of Colton with my white knuckled grip…the loss of Colton was unexpectedly redeemed. 

That same month, I conceived my first child. 

As I sit here and write, this baby is dancing and kicking, reassuring me every day that there is new life growing within me. We spent almost four years praying for a child, gone to multiple doctor appointments, and I finally accepted that I would never be a mom. The news that I would be a mother filled my heart with a joy that was unexplainable. I was given a new life after losing my brother to death. The words my brother spoke to me on the day that marked the beginning of the end are now taking physical form right before my eyes. As this belly grows, the joy within my heart explodes and overflows into my marriage, my faith, and the beautiful future I have.   

This new growing life healed the pain of loss, and renewed my faith that God is good. This new baby boy whom we will name Colton has turned my mourning into dancing.

Someone once said, “Grief is Love with nowhere to go.” I believe Colton gave me permission to find a new home for my love to grow.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sitting In The Truth.

My faith tells me that there is a heaven. My beliefs have always been that this life is a vapor and the real life begins after we die. I’ve recently realized that anything is easy to believe when it’s not challenged. I’ve also realized that if I don’t question my beliefs, I may never really experience the depth of faith that is truly possible.

My faith would be challenged when my baby brother (21 years old) and one of my very best friends fell off his skateboard this year and hit his head. They removed his entire skull and told us he would never have any quality of life ever again. The most life filled person I know, was suddenly lying lifeless in a hospital bed. I instantly did what anyone with faith in God does when a crisis hits…I prayed and believed.

Colton also had cancer when he was 15 and overcame it with a 30% chance to live. He made news headlines because of his selfless Make A Wish request. The story of Colton’s traumatic brain injury spread like wild fire and soon, people all over the world joined me in prayer through his Facebook page. Surely, if the God I know is loving or has any heart at all, he will answer these thousands of prayers especially for a kid who has already fought cancer and won I thought.

Days, weeks, and months passed. My precious brother continued to lie in that hospital bed unable to talk, eat, or move any part of his body. I continued to wake up in the wee hours of the morning with a pounding heart realizing that my actual life was the nightmare. Life as I knew it was over. Life stopped when Colton hit his head and we had no guarantee that it would ever begin again. However, it was an unspoken truth between our family that none of us would leave him no matter what.

 The minute my eyes opened every morning, my feet hit the floor and I sped out of my driveway to get to Colton. All I could think was, I have to get to Colton. I remember flying into the hospital parking lot and literally running down the hallway to his room. I could not get to him fast enough. Usually, what I saw was worse than the visions in my head. I often found him alone, making moaning sounds, sweating profusely, with his head contorted to the side-unable to lift it on his own. My 21 year old brother, who never allowed his own family see him in his boxers, had to endure strangers changing his diaper. My brother who appreciated food more than anyone I knew was being fed brown goo through a stomach tube.

When I arrived, my thoughts raced, How long has he been like this, I shouldn’t have left him last night! What am I going to do…? Most days I crawled into bed with him and told him how much I loved him over and over. I read him books even though we didn’t know if he could see. However, the one thing I was sure of was that he could feel my love. We took shifts for 5 months. We did not leave him for a single day the entire 5 months. In the midst of trauma, we did what we had to do to focus on Colton. Our own needs were no longer of importance; in fact even remembering to eat wasn’t important. Colton was the only thing that mattered.

Five months into Colton’s injury his body was deteriorating from not being able to move, and infection was taking over. I found myself laying in his hospital bed with him, as close as our bodies would fit. I tried to put myself in his position. Did he know what was happening? Was he scared? Did he want to go? I wondered.

I whispered to him, “Colton, it’s ok to go. Please let yourself be free. You will be in heaven. You are about to see God, Colton.” 

On November 5th 2012 at 8:10pm after a 5 month battle, I watched my baby brother die.

I watched the nurse stand in the corner, staring at the ceiling as fat tears fell off her cheeks and splashed on the hard hospital floor, I watched my dad collapse over Colton’s lifeless body and cry out his name. I watched as the life left my mother’s body as she fell into my other brother’s arms.

Two months later I find myself sitting in a counseling office trying to wrap my brain around what the F*%$ just happened to all of us! I find myself trying to heal but scared to death that I never will. I explained to my counselor; “I can deal with the fact that he died because I know I will see him again, but I just can’t deal with the 5 months of suffering. I can’t deal with the fact that God left us…he abandoned our family. I don’t hate God I just don’t know who He is anymore. If he was real, he would have listened to the thousands of prayers or at least softened the blow. Maybe God is real but he is a hands off-and cold-hearted God. My counselor simply said, “The answer to your healing is inside of you and you will find it.” When she said that, I actually believed it to be true. I decided I had to find it, I had no choice. If I didn’t find it, I would never be able to live a life that Colton would be proud of.

And today I think I just may have found something. I went for my daily walk through the forest trail, up a long hill and to the top of Whidbey Island where I can see 180 degrees of mountains, water, and Seattle. I make my journey there every day. I usually only talk to Colton but today I decided to try to talk to God again. It wasn’t an easy decision. It felt like I was reaching out to someone who had left me for dead and didn’t look back. However, one thing I know is that I don’t know everything and if I was wrong about about God, it would change the course of my life completely. I had to try one more time. I had to give God another chance even if he wasn’t going to show up.

I reached the top of the hill, cleared my throat and begun to tell him that I didn’t know if He loved me anymore and I didn’t know if I trusted Him anymore. Maybe my words are disappearing into the thin air just like my breath in the cold fog, I thought. I told Him that for us to move forward, I have to be completely honest with Him. I explained that, regardless of my feelings about Him right now, I need His help to heal because I am damaged and broken and my heart hurts every day.

In that moment, surrounded by the thick gray sky, unable to see 10 feet in front of me, unable to see the usual serene view, and feeling claustrophobic and alone I heard “Colton says, it was worth it.” The words hit me like a surprise. It was as if someone had shoved something really delicious in my mouth without my permission. I had to take a minute to taste it before I could swallow.

The words continued and went down smooth, “Colton says he would go through those 5 months a million times more to be where he is now.” It felt as if my heart had been tied in a very tight knot for 7 months and someone had begun to gently unravel the tight strands that were causing so much pain. It was the kind of message that isn’t comprehended with eloquent words or a plain painted picture. It was the kind of message that is only understood from spirit to spirit. Things began to come clear and I was reminded that the God I used to trust watched His own son suffer too. His Son had nails pounded into His hands and feet, He was whipped in front of crowds, and spit on. Jesus said to the man next to him, while he was on the cross, "today I will see you in paradise." Jesus knew what he was about to experience and he knew it would be "worth it."  Just like Colton’s suffering, there was nothing fair about it and it really didn’t make sense to the people that loved Him. Those people had to endure watching someone they love suffer too. I stood still as the answer inside of me came forth, “God knows my pain and he feels it too. In order for me to heal, I have to trust this." Though I may not understand or agree, I’m going to choose to believe that for Colton… "it was worth it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life is not a nursery rhyme.

“But me, he caught-reached all the way
from the sky to the sea, he pulled me out
Of that Ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning
He stood me up on a wide-open field,
I stood there saved-surprised to be loved!
…God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together, he gave me a fresh start.
…God rewrote the text of my life
When I opened the book of my heart to his eyes”
Psalm 10:18-20

It was difficult to look away from her chubby legs and chubby cheeks. I closely observed how she clung to her mamma and wanted no one else to hold her. I am normally not a jealous person but I found tears well up as I thought, “it’s just not fair.”

As we drive home I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. “You know what it feels like? It feels like there is a deep deep cavern of love inside me that is sitting still…waiting to be poured out on our future children.”
In his usual calm voice he said, “We will…even if we adopt. We will have kids.”
“But, what if I can never give that love?” What if?

Later, I clicked on my Facebook and scrolled down to mostly see photos of babies in Halloween costumes, baby bumps, baby ultrasound pics, baby updates, baby videos and decided Facebook should be renamed to “Babybook.”

I guess I assumed my life would follow the rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” Little did I know that a year after being married I would find out that while it is possible for me to have a baby…it would not be as easy as the nursery rhyme promised. After many tests and scans, it was recently discovered that I have a tumor in my brain (not cancerous) which is telling my body that I am already pregnant (and someone who is pregnant cannot get pregnant). We are still in the middle of tests, medications, and appointments so I still have hope yet somehow in the midst of clinging to hope with my right hand, I grabbed onto fear with my left.

People always say that when you let go of something, it will come back to you. That made me angry because I was not capable of letting go of being a mother someday. So instead of letting go, I wrapped my fingers, legs, and arms, around and clung on as if it were a rope hanging over a swamp of starving alligators. The longer I hung there, glancing down at those evil teeth…the evil teeth that wanted to devour me whole, and feast on my heart. I realized that I was alone and I was scared. I realized it was time to find a way to get my feet back on solid ground.

Then one day for no good reason at all I was driving home from work and had an epiphany. The Webster dictionary defines “Epiphany” as:
a. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.
b. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.

My definition of an epiphany is the moment when your soul and your purpose collide.

I realized in the middle of this epiphany that by assuming my life was supposed to follow a popular nursery rhyme, I was stifling what was supposed to happen, from happening. Maybe we would have kids or maybe we would take in a child who was meant to be part of our family? Maybe I was supposed to continue with school, open a place where people could find healing? And…god forbid…maybe just maybe I wasn’t meant to carry a baby. After opening my eyes this felt as if I had been choosing to sit in a dark room when I had a whole house full of big windows. I was so focused on making sure I didn’t trip on the path I was on, that I never took the time to look up and see what paths I might have been passing up. While I have no idea what the future is, I am confident that making the decision to swing off that rope and land on solid ground will lead me to walk straight into the purpose I would have missed out on.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grace like hot bread

Jason and I were given a bread machine for our wedding. Out of fear and intimidation, I hid it in the far reaches of my cupboards knowing full well the characteristics a bread-making woman possesses. Bread-making women are neat and clean, wonderfully patient, do not wear eye makeup, speak in a soft and gentle voice, and are wholesome to the core.

Recently, I decided it was time to step out of the stereotype I put myself in and begin trying to do things that hardcore woman have been doing for thousands of years. I even went out and bought every seed of every vegetable that I love and intend to plant them, watch them grow and make myself a salad. My first attempt at making bread went surprisingly well; in fact I loved it so much that I began experimenting with it every week. There is a deep satisfaction in creating a delicious loaf of bread that cannot compete with anything else. The smell of hot homemade bread permeating the kitchen shifts something in our soul. Pulling apart the warm outer crust, revealing the soft fluff inside, and waiting until the cold square of butter melts before it is devoured…provokes something in our flesh. Hot homemade bread represents what is good and right in life. It is meticulously mixed, lovingly kneaded, patiently waited to rise, shared with the people we love and satisfies them in more ways than one.

Last week I was sitting in class after a rough week. I wrecked my car in the snow and paid a huge amount of unexpected money to fix it. I showed up to class the next week exhausted, stressed out, grumpy and irritated. Class was about to start and my friend Christiana stood up faced me and said, “before we start class, I wanted to give you something from all of us.” She handed me an envelope and as I opened it in what seemed to be slow motion due to shock, there was a nest of dollar bills in the bottom. I was frozen with gratitude. My class heard about my car wreck the week before and put together their money to help me pay for my car. I couldn’t pay attention in class for the next few hours because God was speaking to a deep part of me...God sometimes speaks in the most beautiful ways. He speaks in a language that only the human heart understands. The week before, I felt disgusted with myself. Every word that came out of my mouth was judgmental and negative. It was like there was an overwhelming river of trash inside me and it just kept spilling out of my mouth. I prayed, “God, help me change.”

Jesus said, “Man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that God speaks.”

The envelope represented more than money, it was an old friend knocking on my door after I had long forgotten her face. I intimately knew Grace years ago but time and neglect had caused us to become estranged. I realized that sometimes we treat others the way we think we deserve to be treated. I wondered if maybe Grace had left me, which left me with none of her to give away.
Soaking in this undeserving grace, I wondered why the people I treated badly would give me an envelope of money. I sat there trying to put a picture to what I was feeling. It suddenly hit me that Grace is like hot bread.

When I first got a taste, I carried it proudly and tried to leave pieces everywhere I went. It came with an all-you-can-eat pass so I had plenty to give out. The scent wafted as I walked. People were attracted to this hot homemade bread because they didn’t get very much of it as a kid, they never saw it on TV, and some were just curious to try it because they had no concept of what it was.

The Webster Dictionary defines grace as a “mercy, pardon, clemency, an act of grace, the unmerited love and favor of God given without being earned.” Jesus explains it like this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

Bread fills our bellies but as I have recently been reminded...the words that God speak fill our soul. Grace is a place where flesh and soul meet. For now on, I will try to not leave the house without my loaf of bread. There are hungry people who may never be fed unless we are willing to share the transforming impact of what God says.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Echoing Words

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

I love words. I write them, I read them, curse them, believe them and hang on them.

Words are powerful. Words are like a super hero who has the choice to do good or evil. They have the ability to heal a festering wound, the authority to devastate, or the strength to support and levitate. The scariest trait of words is their staying power. We all have words that echo in our head from decades past.

Sometimes words can transform you. Jason and I were sitting by my grandpa’s pond on a sunny day. I was not sure about him and he was sure about me. My wall was high and he was scrambling to break through. He leaned in, cornered me and gently said in raw honesty, “I want to take care of you.” The words were like an earthquake that shook my tall brick wall to the ground. Floods of tears held back by expert masonry work spilled over right onto his lap. Those words were the foundation of a lasting bridge between he and I.

Sometimes we don’t know what words we are going to hear. We wait for words of hope and hope if they aren’t what we want to hear, we will be ok. Words can shake you, knock the air out of your being and leave you lost. My family’s familiar faces did not comfort me that day. In fact, they did not look familiar. My tall standing father was slumped, he looked alone. Whiffs of bleach, squeaks of tennis shoes, constant ringing of an office phone seemed to go on for days as my family sat for an hour in the waiting room. The doctor came out to tell us the news, the words came at us like a slow and steady tsunami. We could see it coming and knew it could kill yet, had no where to run. The words that my fifteen year old brother had cancer devastated more than our home. The words cut up the inside of our hearts and scattered the pieces to lands we had never traveled and weren't sure we'd have the strength to go. As I watched my cousin hold up my father with a hug, we all knew that that this was a moment where silence held more power than words.

Then there are times when someone’s words set you free. Not too long ago, I felt like Eeyore, it seemed everywhere I went I couldn’t get out from an oppressive dark cloud. I felt down on myself. Why was life so full of adventure when I was younger? Life was suddenly so predictable. My faith used to be unwavering. Now I found myself doubting. I was skinnier and more smiley. Now my jeans don’t fit and serious thoughts painted my face. My goals and career seemed close within reach before. Now I am in school and my career is somewhere down a distant road. I felt imprisoned to the question…”why was life more exciting before?" Why have I allowed myself to take a step back when I should be leaps forward?” I never imagined myself moving “backwards” in life. Still, no matter the circumstances of life, I knew I had grown into a woman who knew better than she knew before. I wouldn’t have gone back to the old person I was because I had learned so much but according to the world around me, it looked as if I had fell into a pit and was stuck until someone threw me a rope to climb out. The rope came to me as I was sitting in class listening to my brilliant professor. I found that many of his words were beginning to poke holes of sunlight through my dark cloud. Each week, I “hung” on his words of truth and inspiration. One morning, his words were like a hand which reached deep into my heart grabbed a hold of it, shook out all of the lies and like a potter, began to pat truth and hope all over it. He said, “You know, sometimes it’s hard to tell if you are backslidden or if you are on a learning curve. “ An aha moment! A moment when everything that looked messed up was instantly deemed an abstract masterpiece of art. Suddenly, my life was something I was confidently proud of, even if the onlookers couldn’t see the rhyme in the reason. I finally could see it clearly…I was on a learning curve. My professor’s words set me free to ride the curve like a roller coaster, letting go of my grip and raising my hands high.

I will never take my words for granted. My words are my gift from my creator. My voice is my superpower. Our words tell our story. They assist us to love. They are our power to heal. They enable us to freedom, and they lead us to truth.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"i do"

Let’s face it. Marriage is an endangered species. Why commit the next fifty years of your life to someone when you have the option to try em’ out for awhile and then eventually find something better if it doesn’t work out? In fact, despite my conservative beliefs about marriage and family, I too…found myself reading a book entitled, “What are men for?” Before I met Jason, my ears would get hot and my heart would pound as …she …walked…down…the…aisle towards a life time of being with the same person for eternity! Sitting in the audience of each wedding I attended, my heart would silently scream…”run!” To my surprise, no one at any wedding I had ever attended actually ran. They stayed and vowed to give each other their forever
I knew I wanted to marry someday but if I reached down into the depths of the dark part of my heart, there in the crevasses…it didn’t look too promising. Most people tell you marriage is “hard but worth it.” To me, that sounded like a married couple telling me they would rather be single but had to tell themselves there was a reason for their suffering.
Now I realize that I am only 2 months into being an official “wife” but let me tell you that I am truly the happiest I have ever been. I believe that the marriage ceremony is one of the last most amazing things about our American culture…not to mention powerful.
As Jason and I stood, shoulders squared, eyes softly locked, “hearts pounding” and “ears hot”…it all made sense. I could never imagine marrying anyone because I had never met the man across from me. Marriage is not just a vow. It is the bravest most sober choice anyone could ever make.
There across from me, stood this man whom I respected and loved, who was willing to give me his heart, life, future, and life commitment for the rest of his life. There is nothing more powerful and intimate than making a marriage vow in front of everyone who knows you, loves you, and supports you. I am a very independent person but there is something about marriage that helped me take a deep breath and
I now have a partner in life who can pick up the pieces if I can’t carry all of them; I now have someone who is on my team even if my team is losing.
When Jason made a vow to me, it was like one of the greatest gifts of grace I had ever been given. We both knew that the vow does not guarantee happiness or satisfaction. Standing there, we both knew that the only thing these vows guarantee is commitment…no matter if we want to run or not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Where beauty grows.

I have never pulled a weed in my life and today I couldn’t believe it when the lady at Sebo’s swiped my card for a tarp and rain gear. Life seems to take us in directions we could have never foreseen. However, the one thing I’ve learned along these surprising twists and turns is to seek the lessons on these unexpected stops. I am no where near a professional gardener but in my opinion, God made plants a lot like people.
Yesterday, when I was replanting a tree, my boss instructed me to be gentle with the soil above the roots. “Most people think that plants breathe through their leaves but they actually breathe through their roots....” she said. Glancing beyond the Forsythia tree and fixing my eyes on the spot where the sun reflected against the angry churning Puget Sound, I thought to myself...”I have been trying to get through life breathing through my leaves but I actually breathe through my roots too.” We all do.
Some people’s roots make it hard for them to breathe and some people’s roots enable them to become a tall standing tree with branches bravely reaching high. For the first time in my life, my roots look like they are coming to the surface. For the first time...I can see them plainly. Until recently, I have kept them tightly packed and buried and I was trying to breathe through my leaves that everyone could see. It seems the more soil I uncover, the more I find roots which are twisted and curled. My roots were going off in a direction of their own. Some of the roots were influencing my branches to face toward the shade and some of them are the source of my greatest strength.
I got up off my knees to admire this Forsythia tree. As I stood back, it was easy to see that it wasn’t perfect but it was beautifully unique and the roots are the start of it’s beauty. I’ll never understand how warped roots can sustain such a good thing but I am thankful that the most lovely things in life are originate from a place of depth and growth.