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WOKE!

6/15/14, taken by Vanessa Kruse Photography

“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred, I get so many things I don’t deserve…”
– Bono, The Miracle of Joey Ramone
 
It’s no secret I’m a huge U2 fan. Their music has impacted and influenced every season of my life.
 
This morning I woke up before 5am CST. The lyrics above were the first things that came to mind, and I gave Thanks.
 
Four years ago I was in Mountain Time Zone on this day, and it was around *right now that my Mom’s presence left her physical dwelling and continued on into eternity. I had just drifted off, having pulled 2 all-nighters in a row, but something stirred me and I simply knew.

 There’s a 100% chance our earthly bodies will all come to a close. We all “die.” But what percent chance will we fully LIVE? What percent chance will we wake up and realize each day, every moment, is a miracle, and if we’re breathing in it, we’re meant to be part of it, bringing love and life to it?

[Read more…]

It’s a Beautiful Day

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

Eleven years ago, it was bitter cold in Denver, Colorado. 2 or 3 degrees, if I remember right. The chill is still part of my memory, though most of me felt numb.

Jason went out to the parking garage of Children’s Hospital to pull up the car and let it warm up for a few minutes. I stayed behind on the 4th floor where I bundled up our 7 month old son, Noah, for a short drive across town. He had only gone outside one time during his 5 month stay at the hospital… [Read more…]

I Choose Life

1978

Me and Bobby circa 1978-ish

Oh my, God! I just did one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I took a baton that felt prematurely passed, and I’m going forward with it, because retreating isn’t an option. Stopping and raising my fist to the sky and screaming, “WHY?!” won’t alter time or the impending outcome, it won’t make this pain disappear or life suddenly make sense.

So I’ll embrace the pain, kind of walk through the side ache, so to speak…and I will press on.

This morning I soaked my Dad’s t-shirt for the last time with tears mixed with deep grief and appreciation that he has been my Dad on this earth. [Read more…]

Hospice: An Interview, Part 3

Thoughts on marriage and cancer…

As we’ve emailed back and forth, Mandy and Jay and I have talked about how “cancer” is definitely something woven throughout their love story and how it’s affected choices they have made as it relates to their marriage, friendship, and commitment to one another. Today’s interview is a glimpse into the part where “in sickness and in health” has been put to the test. How do marriages survive hardship, disappointment and tragedy? Can they make it through?! The wisdom and insight Mandy and Jay share is priceless advice whether a terminal illness is part of the recipe or not! We’d all be the wiser for putting into practice some of the examples of unconditional love these guys display. [Read more…]

Hospice: An Interview, Part 2

On Tuesday, my sweet doctor made the call we didn’t want to make – she called hospice. Within a few hours of returning home, hospice was calling us. We scheduled the admission for Thursday. My case nurse and an administrator arrived at our home with sweet smiles and soft spirits. At the kitchen tablewhere all important discussions are required to take place – we talked about the ins and outs of all things hospice.” – Mandy Smith, from her blog post on August 19th, 2016

This is what true love looks like on some days.

This is what true love looks like on some days.

Merriam-Webster defines hospice as:

  • : a place that provides care for people who are dying

  • : a place where travelers can stay; especially : an inn kept by people in a religious organization

  • :  a facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill

The word “travelers” is truly sacred here as I am reminded we are on a journey, and Earth is one of the stops on the itinerary. Personally, my experience with hospice caregivers is, if they aren’t angels among us, they are indeed miracle workers who somehow breathe life and nurture love into end of life situations. The depth of emotional care hospice caregivers provide is so profound, it’s not just for the patient but for all who are affected by the death of their loved one, too. I wonder why health care in America doesn’t first start out with them (maybe under an alias title without the premise of nearing death), solely for the miraculous nurturing they offer rather than all the scary tests and what if’s most people face in routine medicine? [Read more…]

Hospice: An Interview, Part 1

My dream job, like if I could do ANYTHING on this earth, is to hear the story of every person I come in contact with…no one is a stranger to me and everyone matters. It would be kind of like Brandon Stanton, founder of HONY, except I’d just be myself, obviously, and it would be humans of wherever (HOW?), asking questions and listening, even when, and maybe especially when, it’s hard. We would exchange stories, and in doing so, further make known God’s love, first because of what Jesus did for mankind, second because we defied the darkness and went ahead and shared our stories, all the messes included.

I always say if a smarter thought pops into your head than you could think of, that was God talking. Well, over the last few years that’s been the case with a friend from high school and his wife. I will be driving along and their names or faces will come to mind, so I pray. Some of those times I’ve reached out to his wife to just let her know she was on my heart. So, when I found myself driving around our new city of Nashville recently, coming up with full interview questions for them, I first thought, “Well, maybe Jay and Mandy don’t really want to talk about their journey, or her cancer diagnosis, or the fact that hospice is just around the bend…” Then I remembered my dad’s words, “It never hurts to ask,” and so I reached out to them… [Read more…]

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 2

Two things about death that, I believe conjures, festers, fosters, and instigates fear, are the HOW and WHEN…sometimes to the extent of paralysis when it comes to LIVING.

If we have a foundational understanding that every single person on this earth is born and dies, then the question of WHO is already established: Everyone…WE will all die

So, I guess that also answers the WHAT question…

WHERE also has relevance, but the HOW and WHEN are where we can get really stuck, especially as it pertains to faith and perspective, and it’s what I want to hash out here a bit.

“She was too young…he had so much going for him…the other person was drunk…it happened in battle…they were in an accident…he was stillborn…she took her own life…it happened in a shooting…it was a hate crime…he had a disease…there were complications…she was old…”

We live and die surrounded by circumstance. Depending on where we are born and to whom we are born, our lives look differently. Nationality, race, affluence, power, culture, disease, religion, poverty, acceptance, love, neglect, genetics, charity, generosity…so many things influence our lives, especially the way we think and filter the day-to-day, our interactions with God, self, and others. These circumstances can also influence the way we die, unfortunately. As a stereotype, especially in the First World, a pain-free life and death, preferably in our sleep and around the age of 90, with plenty of money to leave to the next generation, is the ideal or dream, almost to the point of entitlement…as if we actually know what is best, almost as if we believe we are invincible…as if we can stave off anything, namely, death and dying, because we have certain inalienable rights?

This is really hard to swallow…the part where we aren’t in control of everything.

The book of Job is quite telling when it comes to the battle over our lives. The ugly depths to which the Enemy will go to deter our eyes, hearts, faith, trust, perspective, and relationship with a good, loving God, further festering the doubt planted in the Garden, is quite obscene, really. In the Garden the Enemy tempted us to question whether God was telling us the truth about dying at all. In Job, the Devil approaches God about mankind, launching first an attack on Job’s (or our) possessions or the things we think we own or can control, and the second part of the attack in the form of trying to steal Job’s health. Some might wonder if God was playing roulette with Job and his life, but I wonder if rather God had an eternal perspective, saw a bigger picture, knew something the Devil, and Job, didn’t, and so wasn’t swayed by the Devil’s tactics…kind of like where it says, “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross…”

When Noah was in the hospital I had some serious heart-to-heart conversations with God. To state it mildly, I was totally disenchanted with our circumstances. My theology was rocked since I had faith as big as a mustard seed, even bigger, yet our son was sick, dying in a hospital, and God wasn’t answering my prayers the way I had worded them. Perhaps He wasn’t catching my drift?

Perhaps I wasn’t catching His?

And after I shouted to God, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LOSE A SON?!” a quiet came over me I had never known. I sat on the floor of the hallway of Children’s Hospital and suddenly realized, God did, indeed, know what it felt like…and my perspective began to shift:

  • What if God’s Word is true and my theology is off?
  • What if He does know the number of our days, and Noah’s days are shorter than what I want?
  • What if He is still good even in the midst of our pain?
  • What if “death” isn’t what I think it is and being in God’s presence really is just that amazing?
  • What if following and trusting God means giving up my entitled mentality?

Please hear me on this: Even though God’s perspective on death is likely different from ours, the pain of losing someone we love still hurts like a mother. Jesus even bawled His head off when He heard the news of His friend, Lazarus’ death. Loss hurts. Period. But this post is to start talking about the HOW and WHEN.

A few days before my Mom died she called me close to tell me something. She wanted to be sure I heard her clearly, “Boo Boo, it’s not cancer, it’s not chemo, it’s not the Devil…it’s not the food I’ve eaten or radiation…God, and God alone, decides WHEN we die…because if it’s any of those other things, then the emphasis or focus is on it.” (emphasis my own on “when”…)

Years before she reminded me of this, as I finally sat still on that hospital floor, I knew this was true…this topic of WHEN, and even the HOW. Watching my strong Mom’s body weaken under the effects of a disease rocked my heart, for sure, as did watching Noah quickly ail, but all the more reinforced in my heart that Jesus’ emphasis on living and loving well TODAY is what we’ve been called to and all the fear, worry, and attempts to ward off death would only steal time from life and living.

 

Lots more to come…

 

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 1

This will be the first of many posts on death and dying, fear, life, and living. I’m not even sure where to begin, so I’ve prayed a bit and will just start typing, I guess. I also will be welcoming some guest posts via interviews and podcasts on here, so stay tuned, and also, keep in mind, the views expressed here, as far as my personal posts, are my own, may not line up with what you’ve been taught or currently believe about death, dying, fear, life, or living, but are mine and THAT’S OKAY…AND YOU ARE OKAY TO WRESTLE WITH THESE TOPICS YOUR WAY…and THAT’S OKAY. My intention in opening this topic and even answering questions from others is not to pretend to be a death authority, but hopefully to bring to light the lies and beauty that surround the topic, one the world has tried for years to avoid, escape, and keep at bay. I’ll use sentiments like “I believe” or “I think” or “from my experience” quite a bit, so keep this in mind as you read and process, recalling this is simply my perspective and lessons from my journey.

I’ve had the privilege to be with a handful of people while they passed away, or shortly thereafter, before their spirits left their bodies, and after their last breaths and final heart beats. I say “privilege” because being with someone when they die is truly a sacred, holy moment…I’ve honestly never known more of God’s peace than witnessing that moment and I’d encourage anyone and everyone to sit with a dying person rather than try to avoid it, if you ever have the chance…not only for them, but for you, too.

I feared and obsessed about death quite a bit as a kid, into adolescence, until I went to my grandpa’s funeral. From 3rd grade on, without fail, until my junior year of high school, a friend or classmate or family member, died. I remember thinking that since I couldn’t imagine myself at an older age, like, for instance, in elementary school I couldn’t see myself as a kid in junior high, in high school I couldn’t conceive life in college, so I figured that meant I was going to die…and so on, these thoughts came and went throughout my younger years. I even envisioned my parents crying because I died. It was jacked up, for sure, and fueled by fear and ignorance of the unknown. Looking back, I know it’s because I never processed any of the deaths of my friends until I was a junior in high school and my grandpa died. I was FREAKED out to go see him in a coffin. Let me back up to say, I’m sure none of you did this, but when babysitters were over or when I’d go to slumber parties, let’s just say we snuck horror movies, so my imagination with death, the dead, and the boogie man were all intermingled and Hollywood-ized, so, of course, fear and extreme feelings were coupled with dying.

When my Dad stood beside me, looking on at his own father’s body laid to rest in the coffin that day, a sense of peace washed over me, I know no other way to describe it. I know without a doubt it was God’s presence showing me what happens when life and living and laughter and vibrancy and personality are no longer dwelling in arms, legs, and a familiar smile. The heart stops, but almost 30 years later my grandpa’s voice can still be heard in my heart when I sing, “How Great Thou Art” or hear Flight of the Bumblebee on a violin or think about chemistry and his contributions to science or enjoy boat rides or cherries jubilee. He took none of that with him, but left all that he contributed in life with us, the good and the bad…we all do. I looked at my grandpa’s body, then turned to my dad and said, “Huh. That’s not grandpa. That’s just his body.” And for the first time, as far as it had to do with death, I was okay.

Would I miss my grandpa? Of course. But the fear lessened its grip.

And FEAR is really the big four letter word, here. DEATH has five letters and DIE has three, but FEAR steals life from today, destroys future hope, and robs our energy, love, and vitality for living…and when we spend all our time fearing what is inevitable for every. single. human. ever. I suggest there is a lot of LIVING we’ll miss.

I believe FEAR is one of the underlying things that has to be discussed and exposed when it comes to the topic of death because FEAR of death and dying, sickness, pain, ailing, aging, loneliness, longing, doesn’t make death go away…FEAR paralyzes us by planting seeds of doubt, namely and especially, doubt that God is in love with us because we experience death and pain and separation at all.

LOVE and LIFE are inseparable from the topic of DEATH, too, so must be discussed in depth in order to be FREE to LIVE.

More to come…

Bedside with Bebe, Literally

(*I started writing this the morning of June 19th)

It’s all surreal, carpet burns on my knees as I position myself to be helpful to my Mom, rubbing her back while playing worship songs in her ears, reading Scripture over her, telling her how very grateful I am that she would call me her own, wishing I could have her here longer, whole and healed, and wishing I could hurry her to the other side, knowing it’s not my timing call but His and the two of them will work through this labor of love through death on their own…I’ve tried to be a helpful daughter, all three of us have been in our own ways.

Vigils look many different ways. Death is something we all will experience personally, but it’s not something any of us should go at alone.

If it is essential to live in community then we should also die in community. No one should die lonely.

Yes, each one of us has personal, deep down ways of expressing grief, sadness, disappointment, heartache, and many of them are so raw, we protect them as if they are unique, solely our own. Yet anytime I talk about death on my blog or in person, people reach out to me and thank me for sharing so openly, question how I can be so strong, and are grateful I shared, because it resonates…because we will all walk through this with someone we love and preparation is important. We are grieving what we see but when we trust in an unseen God, the grief is different, hopeful rather.

This is a hand I've held for 42 years...

“Chosen & Dearly Loved”, this is a hand I’ve held for 42 years…

It’s a shared experience, though parts of it so very private. I don’t share EVERYTHING, but I’ve been so very close to death, watched the process, touched the cold it leaves behind, and felt my heart gulp for breath and hope, knowing the part about being physically in God’s presence is more real to me as the days go by than this stretchy, burned skin on my knees.

It would be awesome to be in amazing health and then one day get my glass of water, head to my room, brush my teeth and wash my face, read a bit, pull the light chain, settle into my pillow and somewhere between a dream and the dawn, meet my Savior face to face…but that doesn’t always happen and with the loved ones I’ve sat by as they have neared the Throne, it hasn’t looked like this at all, except my sweet boy…his was quiet and tender and quick, yet not if you include a lifetime in a hospital.

We have to talk about death and debunk the fear of it. We must talk about it, not because we’ll understand it, but because it’s a shared human experience and so it levels the field for all of us. It also demands our attention. Not to live life in fear of death but to live a life with purpose and passion, wherever we are, in whatever circles of life we’ve been called to, being found “doing” what He told us to do.

“Life is short” isn’t a cliché, it’s actually true in the measurement of time and the vastness of the Universe.

Who we are and what we do with these brief lives matters. We all have stories and God desires us to live them out faithfully each and every day, in the day to day.

As we have thanked our Mom for giving of her life to our Dad and to us over the years, she has said, “It was easy for me, it’s how I was made. I enjoyed being your Mom…raising you girls has been a joy for me,” and it leads me to believe she is onto something…

I’ll leave you with this video with Bebe’s final commission to us, as it sums up everything…everything!

Bebe’s final commission