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Last month I was in Tahoe.  It was therapeutic to be in such beautiful surroundings, both inside the condo and out – but especially out.  However, I didn’t write about the drive to Tahoe from Sacramento.  It was harrowing. Winter storm “Titan” had just hit LA as I was flying out, so I watched rain blow sideways in torrents as I waited for my flight.  It reminded me of the beginnings of a Florida hurricane.  It’s a good thing I’m no longer afraid to fly, thank the Lord, because my only concerns were if I’d make standby, and if I did, if the flight would be delayed.

The drive over the pass into Tahoe was another story.  Half way into the 2-hour drive “Titan” caught up with me.  Huge, fluffy snowflakes, quite romantic and dreamy at first, but I knew what was coming.  Within minutes I was driving in high winds, and non-romantic snow.  Winds slammed against the car sideways, and thick snow cut visibility to little red tail lights ahead of me.  I squinted to see them between the wipers on high.

I’ve driven that pass four other times and have been very comfortable with it.  But, not in a snowstorm with a name like “Titan” in the middle of the night.  It seemed like an hour of inching along past flashing signs that said, “Chains only or 4-wheel drive with snow tires.”  I knew my rental had 4-wheel drive, but wasn’t so sure on the snow tires.  But, I wasn’t turning around.  I watched the left lane build up with layers of icy snow while the right stayed defrosted with exhaust. Evidently no one was leaving Tahoe; we were all going in.

Near the top of the pass our lane expanded to two, and suddenly a group of wooly men appeared in bright yellow snow suits, shouting to random cars, “PULL OVER!”  One of them pointed and yelled at me.  I inched my way to the parking lane now shared with twenty other cars that had been pulled.  A bear-man, a real live Grizzly Adams, a full beard covered in snow, wearing a fat, yellow suit and hood, was now at my window, yelling.  My heart was in my throat.  I fumbled for the window button – which one was it?  Finally I find it and the blizzard flies into my car. I hardly notice though because Mr. Grizzly is shouting at me through the wind, “IS THIS A 4-WHEEL DRIVE?”  I reply with a sophisticated, “Uhm, errr, wellllll, errr – I think so??”  Just then, another man-bear shouted, “SHE’S 4-WHEEL!  LET HER GO!”   Now Grizzly is bellowing, “GO! GO! GO!“, and I inch my way back into the line of snow-covered turtle cars, a line of headlights behind me, a line of tail lights ahead.  I pass more big bears in snow suits holding signs that say, “Chains on! $20!” and a few miles later, “Chains off!  $20!”

I looked at my GPS.  Sixteen miles to go.  “We can do this,” Lord, I think.  “I hope it’s not my time to go yet.”  And yet I was scared. Really scared.  A “Steep Grade Ahead” sign appeared, and we all slowed even more as the earth tilted us downward in the whipping snow. As I put the car in low, my fear turned to a depressing, haunting feeling as I imagined what it would be like to be stuck outside in those conditions. I was very aware that only a thin piece of glass separated me from real-live nature.  I was warm.  I was safe.  46_1_taft32iBut, if I had been born 100 years before, if I’d been born an Indian, or were a pioneer wife in a covered wagon, I would be out there.  In nature.  Huddled in a wagon or a little cabin trying to keep my babies warm, or in a tent. No Cracker Barrels, no McDonalds, no warm bathrooms, now hot showers, no instant heat, no instant food, no instant safe place, no 9-1-1.  Just me, my family, my faith, and the terrifying, harrowing elements.

It is super humbling for me to realize how soft my life is compared to so many who’ve gone before me. Just when I think I’ve made great strides in growth, I realize it’s taken place inside a well-insulated bubble.  And I know (not just assume or guess, but absolutely know from my core) that I would not have fared as well had I been subjected to such an environment.

I had that same haunting knowing making a 45-minute drive from Richmond to Williamsburg with Bill this week.  Dashing to our rental car, the cold wind stabbed at every little opening in my clothing.  I squealed like a little piggy all the way to the car, “I’m soooo coooold!!”  In a few minutes we were driving past beautiful, tall, thick Virginia forests at a comfortable cruising speed, settled into comfortable seats and warmed by comfortable heat.

“How utterly beautiful,” I thought.  And then I remembered where we were.  Richmond.  Civil War Richmond.  And that haunting feeling returned. I thought about regiments of men living in these very woods, fighting in these woods, starving in these woods, and dying away from their families inCW7 these woods.  Again, my heart froze.  What if I had been born a man in the 1800’s?  I might have been in these very woods, constantly cold and hungry, being called on to kill other men, other husbands and fathers, perhaps wounded or dying myself.

I imagined pulling the car to the side of the road, getting out and just walking into these now safe woods. Even with my coat, scarf and hat, everything in me said no, no, no.  It’s too cold. The freezing winds are too unfriendly.  It would be too hard.

The woods were no longer utterly beautiful, but utterly eerie with the memories of human suffering and tragedy.  I could imagine the pain of loss of mothers, widows, sisters, daughters. I tried to imagine the pain of the men themselves, but it was too much.  I liked the windshield that sat between me and harsh reality, the heater that kept me safe from the elements.

We arrived safely at the condo, and that feeling hasn’t left as I’ve done nothing but read up on Jamestown and Williamsburg.  I must admit, it’s humbling and sad.  Poor Pocahontas kidnapped from her husband when she was just 17  by Capt. Argall, and then married to Capt Rolfe while in captivity, a widower 9 or 10 years her senior.  When Capt Rolfe took her to England to show her off to receive more funding for Jamestown, she died of an unknown illness at the age of 21.  And the stories of brutal Jamestown winters, famine and starvation those first years, and even cannibalism.  I’m so glad I wasn’t born Pocahontas or a Jamestown settler.  Or an English Naval Captain.

The weather is beautiful today and warming.  It will be in the 70’s the rest of the week. We are heading out now to enjoy more history, more scenery, the weather and time together.  I would upload a photo of our adventures, but my man hasn’t shaved since we arrived.  He is definitely in vacation mode!  Maybe tomorrow.  While we sight-see and learn, I will keep in mind how cushioned and protected I have been, and that even in my sufferings thus far in life, I have much to be thankful for.  I have definitely developed a deep respect for those who have faced greater suffering than I and overcome.  Many blessings, Friends.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Rom 12:3



My Insulated Bubble

Hello Friends,

Tahoe 022

Yes, long time no write.  The only reason I’m writing today is that I’m holed up for a solid week in Tahoe, at the foot of Heavenly Ski Resort. I can actually watch the lift reach the top of the mountain from my window. This is a long story of a free trip planned with a friend who had to cancel, and a beautiful room, actually a small apartment, for an embarrassingly low bid – that would not let me cancel.  Bill might be able to join me for a few days, but there are no guarantees as his work schedule is pretty packed.

I feel a little silly being so far from Bill and Joel in a luxurious room all by myself. I also feel spoiled rotten by our son, Dan, who works for an airline and just smiles each time I send him a new reservation request. And by the Lord who has evidently given me fabulous bidding skills on 4 and 5-star rooms, and who knew this week was coming.

So, my new plan is to try to make a really delicious batch of lemonade from this lemon by forcing myself to write.  It’s going to be just me, these gorgeous mountains, hot coffee and my trusty laptop.

So, here goes writing project number one…

…if it is to encourage, then encourage.

It was about twenty years ago that I realized I had a passion for encouragement.  I’d spent most of my twenties and some of my thirties temper-tantruming my way through a series of valleys that felt very unfriendly and unjust.  I ended up angry over things I couldn’t change, and angry at myself for not being able to respond better.  I’d pray, and things got worse.  I’d pray some more, and I got worse.

100thermometer_6I was about half-way through one of my valleys, the seventh year of thirteen living with no air-conditioning in Florida.  Yes, I know this  was a first-world valley, but when every other person in your first world has AC, and you show up to every event looking like you just played center in a very intense basketball game, it gets real.  Valleys always seem worse when you think you’re the only one in your world, first or third, going through them.  By the way, I don’t know where the second world is.

So, imagine Oz’s wicked witch of the North shrieking, “I’m meeeeelllting!” each time another bucket of swamp heat and humidity got tossed on her by the uncaring Florida weatherman and you get the picture.  It didn’t take long for a certain witch with theological leanings to look up to the heavens and ask, “Don’t you see what I’m going through?  And why don’t you help?”  But no answer came.  (Witches also sometimes shriek these questions at husbands who tend to remain silent as well.)

Thankfully for my husband, a light did appeareth unto me upon one of my upward-looking shrieks.  It actually came in the form of a verse I had memorized years before, written by someone who knew about going it alone in valleys:  And we know that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. bible-Sunlight

All things?  Those two words beamed off the page for me.  All things.  Hmm.  Enter a new thought:  If Christianity was to be real in my world, I would have to substitute my personal valleys for the phrase “all things.”  I tried it.

God is working this crummy Florida heat and humidity together for good…. 

I didn’t like it.  Not at all.  Why wasn’t He interested in working that much good in any of my air-conditioned friends’ lives?  I did try to revert to my former theology that God should deliver me from all my trials.  But, I just couldn’t get delivered, no matter how much I quoted and trusted.  I ended up yielding to the light that had been given me thus far.

And thus began my gradual shift from tantruming in the valley to slogging through my darkness with a new battery in my flashlight.

All things.


God is working what, another breakdown in the van?? together for good… 

Weave it into my thinking with yet another crisis, don’t yield to camping in the why’s and why not’s, keep moving forward with this new light.  God can, actually wants to, work all things in my valley together….for good. 

So….God is working judgment from that friend, hurtful words from family, a tight budget with no room for coffee – seriously? together for….MY good? 

I didn’t like it.  But, I swallowed it like a bitter truth pill.

Okay, fine.  I surrender.  I let go of trying to fix something I can’t, and tantruming because You won’t.  Lord, please work this mess together for good.

And to my surprise and delight, the storm began to calm in my brain and my soul, even as the humidity in my kitchen rose.  The shrieking subsided.  Was that a whoosh of gratefulness for my health and family and the grace I felt?

Then, beholdeth, another light beamed-eth upon that verse.  What if the being called according to His purpose part was about how I actually lived in the valley, rather than just getting delivered from it?  Yes, I had been taught that over and over, but somehow I could never make those theoretical connections work in Florida humidity.  Yikes, the thought was risky.  What if it meant I had to settle for this valley for the rest of my days, when no one else I knew was stuck in it, and with no guarantee of getting out of it, ever.   Now, I would be expected to not just stay in it, but also be content with it.  That was a little depressing. But, it was the only light that was beaming from the Word, so I had to move forward with it.  And much to  my surprise and delight, freedom and contentment began to grow.  

flashlightNow if I’d been content to be content, that would have been enough.  But, I became wild with passion to share my path.  I wanted to shout to all the other valley dwellers, “Hey!  I found this amazing battery that works in your old flashlight!  Pop in Romans 8:28!  It’s amazing!  Your view will change.  The path gets clear.  The valley isn’t so dark!”  When the high I felt at seeing someone else find that path in their valley was way higher than my own, I knew it was the gift of encouragement. 

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage…

Two years ago, I was plunged into the worst valley of my life when we lost our 19 year-old son, Patrick.  My heart was ripped to shreds, and I blogged for a few months solely as a form of therapy, not caring if anyone was encouraged or not.  I had no room in my heart for anyone but the Great Shepherd, so I tried to draw the curtains of my soul and just camp.  That valley is dark and horrifying and never-ending in this life, but I knew the Lord was close by, and that it was right to camp and not trudge on.  I thought of C.S. Lewis’ Aslan with a big tear in his eye as he shared in Diggory’s sorrow, and it comforted me.  Time stood still, and all I did was cry and write and cry and write and cry and write.  And cry.

After months that seemed like years, one day I just quit writing, stopped camping, stood up and got busy.  Very busy.  Doing as much good for everyone in my world as I could.  It too has felt right and therapeutic and healthy for all this time.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph 2:10

Staying busy, especially at loving others, is an effective pain-buffer, and keeps a lot of sorrow at bay.  I still have crying meltdowns at the most unexpected times, but sorrow no longer surrounds me like a mountain.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been experiencing a few bouts of wild passion lately, passion strong enough to spring out of my wounded heart and shout, “Hey, you valley camper!  Come on, get up!  Let me tell you about an amazing battery of truth that will work for you.  Pop it in!  Your view will change!  You will change.  Come on, you can do it!”

images (1)It feels risky to slow down from my contented state of busyness to carve thoughts into word sculptures again, but I think this may be the week to start.  I know I’m going to have to reprocess some pain to start writing again.  I’ve hit some pain writing this, but I survived.  And there’s a little light beaming off this verse for me right now, so I think I’m going to have to go with it.

if it  is to encourage, then encourage. 

We’ll see what the rest of the week holds.

“The gift of encouragement differs from the gift of teaching in that it focuses on the practical aspects of the Bible. One with the gift of teaching focuses on the meaning and content of the Word, along with accuracy and application.  One with the gift of encouragement focuses on the practical application of the Word. He can relate to others, both in groups and individually, by understanding their needs and sympathizing with them. Those with this gift help others to move from pessimism to optimism.”

Dear Friends,

It’s been a long while since I’ve written, and I hope to make up for that tonight.  Warning:  Long, wordy post ahead, and lots of pictures of grapes! You’ll understand why later.

A Day in Austin 083To begin, a recap of what has been going on since December 2011:

From December 2011 – when we lost Patrick – to August 29th, 2012 – my first “good day” – I felt like I was in spiritual and emotional E.R., and then Intensive Care. My heart felt like it was bleeding out, and I craved isolation.

I felt very safe in our home, not so safe outside.  Outside was where I would be expected to reconnect with the world like a healthy, functioning person.  But, I wasn’t one.  I was super fragile, my heart was bleeding, and I cried at any memory or mention of Patrick.  I cried if I saw someone in a crowd that looked a little like him.  I cried some mornings when I woke up and realized again it wasn’t a nightmare, but reality.  I couldn’t even attend any of my monthly moms’ meetings January through April 2012 because all the compassionate looks made me start crying again.  And one gets very tired of crying.

I did attend the May 2012 meeting, but it was very difficult for me.  The ladies in my group have been over the top amazing and supportive, but I felt like I walked into the meeting half-draped in a medical gown with my backside hanging out.  I knew I was still supposed to be at home, in intensive care.  I had been given a “pass” from the Great Physician that said, “Mardy doesn’t have to go to gym class.  She’s been injured.”

As the months passed, I could sense healing was slowly taking place.  I imagined the Great Physician stitching the hole in my heart back up while I hibernated.  I saw the stitching taking place from the bottom of my heart up for some reason.  Sometime in the spring it felt like 3 or 4 stitches had been sewed into place, a few months later a few more stitches, a few months later a few more.  I could tell the flow of grief was being stemmed, little by little.  It was in those early days that I had gotten hurt by things three people had said, and was aware that I was going to have to let them go quickly to avoid infection.  It was like I could see puss forming in my wound, and it was going to have to be up to me to quickly let go of the offenses so healing could progress.A Day in Austin 143

That’s not to say that the Lord was not helping me with the pain; He was.  But, He was not morphine.  He made Himself known to me more as a gentle knowledge that He loved Patrick more than I did, and that He was sovereign. I never believed what happened to Patrick was God’s will, but I knew that in not protecting Patrick from the car accident or head injury He was still sovereign.  That knowledge, that He was and is in control, took the edge off the pain, like a light sedative, and gave me perspective and some hope.

I did feel His presence more so the weekend Bill went sailing with his brother, around day 12, when I got to be all alone for a few days.  And I’ve felt like He’s never left me. He has been the One making me feel safe at home.  Bill, Joel and all our family have gathered around each other to support one another, and we are all closer than ever.  But this kind of pain can’t be healed by a person.  This is a you-and-God all alone kind of valley He camps in with you.

I sat around the house for the first two months while friends brought meals, emailed, texted and prayed for me. By March, I was finally able to take the Christmas decorations down and started getting busy around the house each day.

On August 29th, on my way to meet a friend at the hospital, I heard in my mind – not out loud, just a thought – “It’s okay.  You can go on living A Day in Austin 136now.”  I have no idea if that was the Lord speaking to my mind or my spirit, or something in my own mind speaking to me.  I just thought those words, and then, that day, I started living again.  I started connecting, started looking ahead for the first time since December.  I was able to attend, and even close, my Mom’s Group meetings from September 2012 to May 2013, except two where I had to be out of town.  I even looked forward to the meetings, very unlike the previous May.

For years, I had been used to walking in the door totally unaware of myself, and just scanning faces for who might need a hug.  That unawareness of myself seemed to return by September, and I could happily start thinking of others instead of being consumed with my own broken heart.  That is a much better place to be, believe me.  I also started meeting with friends again, and somehow ministry one-on-one with a mom here and a mom there started sneaking in the back door.  It felt safe.  I still felt a little fragile, and was still crying, but not as much or as often. And I still experienced unexpected meltdowns and would have to sometimes excuse myself to a bathroom for a private sobbing fit, but those were getting further apart.

And that’s where I’ve been from August 2012 to March 2013, busy around the house every day, weeding, fertilizing, planting, watering gardens, downsizing, cleaning closets, organizing, shampooing carpets, polishing, and tons of deep cleaning.  It’s been good for me. One-on-one ministry has slowly and sneakily filled up my calendar again since August 29th, and I have begun  reconnecting with the world as an almost healthy functioning person.

And then in March, on my birthday of all days, I got an invitation to speak at a homeschool event in Tallahassee in June.  I cringed.  No, no, no.  Don’t they know I’m out of commission, that I don’t speak any more?  I thought of that pass I’d been clinging to for 18 months. “Mardy doesn’t have to (do anything she doesn’t want to do).  She’s been injured.”  So, I ignored the email and went to Aruba on that almost free trip our son gave us (he works for JetBlue), and relaxed and toured and had fun, and pretended it wasn’t there.

It was still there when I returned.A Day in Austin 135

And then my mom’s health turned again, so I flew to Omaha to visit her in April, and still ignored that email.

It was there when I returned.

I told the lady I’d pray about it, but I didn’t.  I told her she could release me from the invitation, but she wouldn’t.  She was so incredibly patient with me.  I clung to that pass that’s been working for the past 18 months, but I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling it might have an expiration date on it.

And then one day I saw myself in my mind’s eye – in a wheelchair. (Evidently, I’ve been transferred to a nursing home or rehab center somewhere along the way, LOL.)  I could see myself rolling my wheelchair up to a full length mirror – and what I saw wasn’t pretty.  Rolls of fat on my thighs, even hanging over the edges of this imaginary wheelchair, a double chin, thick arms and a fat belly.  Immediately I knew the meaning.  My spiritual muscles had atrophied in the past 18 months, and my flesh had grown comfy and quite fat.  It happens to people in recovery.  Your whole body has to rest while one organ recovers. I’ve been doing whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it, while waiting for my heart to heal.  If I want to garden, I garden.  If I want to clean, I clean (I love cleaning). If I want to cook a gourmet meal, I do.  If I don’t, I don’t.  And I get to say no to anyone and anything I want to, and everyone understands.

I’d entered retirement. A western culture sort of retirement where my biggest thrills have been taking a Pilates class, following my grandkids on Facebook, and getting all my flowers to bloom. I actually love that my neighbors drool over them. And I had fallen in love with this lifestyle.  My wheelchair was padded and comfy, and I learned to like no-risk living.

I did think about that marathon I used to run that had lots of risks and lots of trials. But, I didn’t want to get back in that race. I had a free pass.  I didn’t want to have to say yes to someone or something again if I didn’t want to.  I certainly didn’t want to speak again.  Speaking takes dipping into resources and stepping out again and depending on God again.  And I didn’t want trials again.  I wanted my pass to be valid till the end of my days.

For a full month I put off answering that email, and finally decided I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps the pass had expired. I replied on April 28th with a very shaky, OK, I think maybe I’m supposed to speak, and of course she jumped on it and asked for a bio and topic.  Hmm, she sounds like me.  🙂  Amazingly, within 6 hours, I knew everything I was supposed to share and began writing.

And from April 28th until today, my life has been turned upside down. It almost feels like the Lord has pushed my wheelchair out of the nursing home to the edge of a fast-flowing river of ministry, tipped me out into it and said, “Swim, Girl. Yea, I am with you always, even to the end of this River.”

A Day in Austin 137The week of May 7th I got sick with a super bad cold.  I rarely get sick for more than a day.  It hung on for a week.

On May 20 and 21st, I snuck over to our son and DIL’s home while they were on vacation and landscaped 7 of their gardens, pulling weeds and poison ivy, adding mulch, turning them into little Martha Stewart gardens.  Secret gifts bring great joy, don’t they?  On May 22nd I broke out with a poison ivy rash that was the “worst case” the doctor had ever seen.  I’ve handled poison ivy for 30 years and never had one blister.  You could have called me Job-ette, I was itching and oozing on both arms, legs, neck and stomach.  I got a steroid shot, started on 6 days of oral steroids, ate Benadryl like candy, took two showers a day, and was covered in topical Benadryl.  It kept spreading and oozing. On May 25th, they switched me to a 12 day pack of oral steroids, 60 mgs per day on the highest days, and a topical super-steroid.  It angrily spread for a few more days, and then leveled out.  Today, June 17th, I still have scars on my arms and legs.

On May 29th, Dan gave me a flight to Austin, poison ivy and all, to meet my 88 year-old uncle, my mom’s oldest brother.  What a miracle visit. My heart was totally overcome with love for him.  I stayed two days, and we now email several days a week. 

On May 30th, Joel came down with the flu at Summit Ministries, with a fever, throwing up and his throat was on fire.  He was the only kid in sick bay; my labrador retriever child was put in isolation.  I started texting, totally at peace (God) from Austin to him in Colorado Springs while trying not scratch my poison ivy.

On May 30th while still at my uncle’s, I got a rental car and visited the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin with my camera.   I had tons of fun, and was completely taken by an ancient grapevine.  I took many photos of it, playing with settings on my camera and had a ball.

On May 31, I left Austin, but was flying standby, and there weren’t enough seats for the Florida flight.  It took 30 hours, rerouting through Boston to get home. I spent the night in a chair in the Boston airport, totally at peace and filled with love for everyone I saw (God).  I felt impressed that I am supposed to open my talk in Tallahassee sharing about Patrick or it will be the elephant in the room.  I started writing through the night, and it ended up being exactly what I knew I’m supposed to say. It was perfect. (God). Now, could I deliver it??

A Day in Austin 138

On Jun 1st, Joel and I arrived home.  I was still broken out in a rash.  Joel was still sick. I downloaded my Austin pictures, and was struck by the beauty of the ancient vine and the gorgeous grapes.  Here is where these grape photos come in. Finally, you say!  I noticed the tiny stem connecting the vine to a bunch of grapes, and realized that teeny, fragile stem – was me.

“I am the Vine, you are the eensy, teensy, fragile stem. Don’t say No to Me and you’ll have big, fat grapes.” (My translation).

And I realize that, no one, no one looks at the teeny stems on a grapevine and says, “Wow, look at those amazing stems!”  No one even notices them. They only see the vine and the grapes.  We are all those eensy, teensy, fragile stems.  And we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to other stems.  We’re all just fragile stems.  All we have to do is hold on tight, and grapes will happen.

Enough spiritualizing, and back to trials.  On June 2nd, my lab, Chance, who never dashes out of a door, dashed out a door I left open for one minute and chased something, I have no idea what, down the street like a Greyhound.  I took the car to find him blocks later, but he put his knee out on this whimsy jaunt.  The vet wanted $1400 for surgery.  That is unfortunately not going to happen, so we are still pampering him while his knee heals. We also got chewed out by our well-meaning vet because he is 105 lbs, and needs to be 85, and he says the knee problem is our fault because we feed him too much.  Chance is now on a diet, and is depressed.  🙂

On June 3rd, Bill came down with Joel’s sickness, but with laryngitis, a fiery sore throat and much more.  Now Joel was sick, Bill was sick, and I was still covered in poison ivy, only I was finally not oozing.

On June 4th, while Bill was still sick, we get the call that Bill’s brother’s 28 year-old son had just taken his own life. Bill took me by the hand and said, “Pack your bags, we’re going to Jamey’s.”  Lesser things have crippled me in the past 18 months, but as I packed my bags, my heart felt like it was being baptized in pure love for my sister-in-law. Whereas my heart had bled out for months, finally healed up, began to reach out to women again – now there was an unexplainable fire hydrant of pure love from Heaven pouring out for my sister-in-law. I was somehow, miraculously shielded from grief all that week.  We stayed for five days, and I ran her home with one of my sister-in-laws, cooked meals, cleaned, organized rooms, greeted and fed guests and family, and listened and loved, loved, loved people for many hours.

A Day in Austin 087On June 7th, while at my sister-in-law’s, I came down with Bill’s sickness.  I kept my hands religiously washed, lived on Benadryl, and kept trying not to scratch my sores in public.  This is getting gross, eh?  I’m not done.

On June 9th, we came home to find that the icemaker had leaked while we were away, and destroyed our kitchen and dining room floors. I had green mold and mildew growing in my cabinets.  I was also getting sicker by the hour with Joel/Bill’s illness.

On June 12th I gave in and went to the doctor.  She diagnosed acute bronchitis, and prescribed an antibiotic. I felt sicker by the hour, but I also had a big open house the next night (our house is on the market), and I was supposed to speak in Tallahassee in three days.   I still couldn’t talk much without coughing.  I hired a wonderful girl to help me clean, and pushed through working on the house all day with her.  I collapsed sick that night.

On June 13th I woke up with a rash all over my belly and itching everywhere.  I had a reaction to the antibiotic.  I’ve NEVER had a reaction to medicine in my life.  I still had poison ivy aftermath on my arms and legs. I felt terribly sick.  I hired another darling girl for the day and we all worked on the house.  All day.  I was sick but didn’t stop cleaning and prepping (God).  I dashed out of the house at 4:30 with Bill, Dan and Joel for dinner and a movie while the realtor held the showing.  At dinner, I realized I was starting to feel better.

On June 14th, I packed my bags and started the drive to Tallahassee (2 ½ hours).  The event was the next morning, so I planned to spend the night with a friend.  I stopped to have my oil changed and tire pressure checked, and was on the road by 5:00.  Five miles later, I heard a loud flapping noise, pulled over and called Bill.  He said the sound I was describing was a tire shredding tread, and sure enough, a tire had shredded.  I’d been driving 70 mph when it started.  With much peace and grace and no stress whatsoever (God), I waited for Bill and Dan to arrive to change the tire to my donut (we have roadside service, but they wanted to do it), and limped to a tire store where I bought new tires.  At 8 pm, I decided it was too late to drive to Tallahassee, and felt totally at peace about going back home and crashing early (God).A Day in Austin 131

On June 15th, I woke up feeling well, had my voice back, and drove to the conference.  I spoke from 10 to 11, opened my talk sharing about Patrick and did not collapse into a heap of tears (God).  I had the privilege of getting to share with a few moms one-on-one.  I could tell that everything I was saying is from above, and that He was blessing it immensely (God).

Today, June 17th I am well.  Joel is well, but has a bit of a cough left.  Bill says he feels well, but still sounds terrible.  This week we begin the process of getting repairs done.  While my kitchen is out of commission, I will probably return to my sister-in-law’s to serve her.   I think that brings me up to date.

Something changed on April 28th when I (finally) obeyed and answered, “Yes, I will go.”  The two things I dreaded are back – trials in full spades, and having to turn in that beloved pass and say yes again.  But, oh, the peace and joy and love that is filling my heart.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I think – I think – I’m back. I know from experience that I might crash at any moment into a crying heap, but for now I feel very safe in the middle of a big bunch of grapes and a big bunch of trials.

With much love for every single one of you who have lifted me up even only once.  Your love, your prayers have sustained me and contributed to my healing.



Photo by Lisa McCoy

I have a 100 pound black lab named Chance.  He’s not 100% lab, but he seems to have inherited 100% – and then some – of all the Sanguine characteristics for which labs are famous. He’s the first to notice each of our cars whenever we arrive home and prances at the door to greet with wags that can leave welts, licks that are messy and sniffs that are truly embarrassing.  He believes every single visitor has come for the sole purpose of seeing him.  If we don’t kennel him when company arrives, they are victims of his wags, licks or sniffs.  If we do kennel him, he barks sad, torturous protests from his soft, treat-filled kennel.

We had to leave him for a week at Christmas while friends checked in on him.  He hasn’t chewed anything except his bone treats since he was a puppy, but that week he found and chewed Bill’s, Joel’s and my sandals.  One pair each.  He still had bone treats left. He’s a lab, and for a lab there is no greater sin than separation.

That means he’s also a boundary-pusher.  Bill set really great boundaries for him the first four years.  He was not allowed on the wood-floors of the living room or dining room, but had access to every carpeted room in the house, over half of our living space.  He was also not allowed on furniture or beds.

This past year, because Bill has no trouble saying no to a dog but great difficulty saying no to me, he let me call Chance into the forbidden wood-floored living room to give me comfort whenever I was there. One day he walked out of his office to find us sitting in the living room together, Chance up on the couch.  Bill gave me that look, the one that spouses everywhere give when the other has just done something they’re not thrilled with. Then he weighed the options.

“Is it important for you to have the dog on the couch?”

I nodded sheepishly and gave him the look spouses give when they really, really (really) want something they know the other isn’t thrilled with.  It had been a rough day, and having the dog next to me really did feel comforting. Bill conceded.

“As long as it’s about you, it’s okay.  When it becomes about Chance, he goes back to the family room.”

I understood.  As long as I needed Chance close by, I could have him.  If I no longer needed him so close, he should return to his former boundaries. Chance, however, doesn’t speak English.  He speaks lab.  His ears perked when he heard Bill say his name, and everything he heard after that was a variation of, “Once on the couch, forever on the couch.”  He wagged furiously from his new perch.  From that broken boundary forward, there would be no return to the old that wouldn’t be interpreted as punishment. Separation is unbearable for a lab.  Give them a living room and they’ll take the couch.

Bill spent some long weekends away last year sailing with his brother and aunt, which were incredibly therapeutic for him.  In his absence I called Chance up on his side of the bed a few times to keep me company at night. Somehow he understood that when Bill was home, he’d better not try it, and we didn’t have an issue.  Until the other night.  Bill was working late, and I, being part lab myself, patted the bed and up Chance jumped. He didn’t need to be asked twice.  I loved it, and he was conveniently back on the floor before Bill turned in.  Then came the next night.


Mommy? May I please?

As soon as we climbed in, Chance appeared on my side, laid his head on the bed, and did that begging thing with his eyebrows going up and down that is so hard for me to resist.  I petted him a few times, told him he was a good doggie, and tried to ignore him, but his eyes kept asking, “Mommy?  May I climb in?  Please?  Pretty please??”  I know I shouldn’t have been, but I was aghast.  In five years, he had never asked to climb into bed.  I was undone by his charm, and said to Bill, “Help!  He’s asking to climb in with us, and I can’t say no!”  Bill gave me that look again and then firmly said, “Down Chance!  Go lie down.”  But that smart dog only revved up the begging, adding a soft whimper – and never took his eyes off – me. Bill told him no again, this time more sternly, “Chance!  Go lie down!'”   To our shock, he didn’t even acknowledge Bill, but started wagging, still staring at me. And with those eyes!  I lay there with a new-found guilt that went something like, What kind of person could deprive this adorable dog of a bed?  Bill, not so moved, got up and led him back to his own pillow. His own fluffy pillow.  On the carpeted floor.  Next to his bone treat.  In a warm room.  Compared to his ancestor’s digs, this dog lives at the Hilton, rent-free and meals catered.

chocolate-chocolate-31167407-522-522Fast-forward to this morning.  I’m making the bed and get to thinking about Chance’s ever-encroaching mindset.  So, what is it about this dog’s behavior that seems so eerily familiar?  Ah, yes, I remember – the flesh.  Give it a chocolate once, and it comes alive at a new level and says, “Say, I liked that!  May I have another?  Please?  Pretty please??”  If I do it again, it asks for another. And then another. It usually isn’t long before its requests turn to expectations and demands. The flesh, that part of my nature that is zeroed in on my own pleasure and self-interests, will never be satisfied. I don’t mean we should never eat chocolate, but that I shouldn’t be surprised when once a treat is given, once a boundary’s moved – even an inch – that my flesh gets quite comfy and asks for more.  Give it a chocolate and it’ll take the box.

I have another slightly embarrassing story that illustrates my fleshly chocolate-loving nature.  Well, I have a lifetime of them, but am only sharing these today. Several years ago I was happily working away at my desk when I happened to walk over to my husband’s office and noticed he had a flat screen monitor.

“Whoa!  Look at all the room you can save on your desk with that thing!  May I have one?”

He rummaged through his shop and set one up for me.  It was wonderful, and I was happy.  Until I was back in his office a few weeks later and noticed he had two flat screens. On the same desk.

“Wow!  How many tabs I could have open at once (and how much work I could breeze through) if I could just have two monitors at once!”

When a  client later switched to a laptop I became the happy owner of two flat-screens.  Life was good.

And then, yes, I was back in my techie-hubby’s office balancing accounts with him when I noticed the strangest thing on his desk.  A mouse with no wire attached.

“How can that be?” I asked.

49043_Global_No_Packaging_angled_1He told me it was wireless.  I gave him that look spouses give when they want to hint they really, really want something, and on my next birthday I had a hot-pink wireless mouse (yes, I picked it out). Clickety-click, away I went.

To be a little more fair to myself, I do a lot of paperwork and these tools did make my work easier.  That said, I’ll spare you the wireless keyboard part of this story.

And then one day my mouse stopped working.  A frozen screen in the middle of many open projects can be a frightful thing.  Bill wasn’t home, and I asked our precious Patrick what was wrong.  Ooops, I forgot Patrick was in this story or I probably wouldn’t have started it.  I’m here now, so let’s see if I can keep going.

“Batteries are dead,” he said.

I rummaged for a battery, but had none in stock.

“No problem,” he said, “I’ll reattach a wired mouse for now.”

It’s embarrassing for me to write that for a week, I looked at that wire with irritation.  Every time I had to push it out of the way, it reminded me of the batteries I hadn’t bought yet, errands I hadn’t run, tasks I hadn’t completed, all the projects still undone.

And then one day I realized that my flesh had just eaten that box of proverbial chocolates, burped, and demanded more. It wouldn’t be satisfied with a wireless mouse – there would always be one more thing to pine for, more things to come along and irritate.  I had to make an about face to begin counting my blessings again – beginning of course with the Lord, blessings of home and family, work in a shaky economy, a computer to even have a mouse to be wired to, and on and on.

Sugar-cream-openI think that was about the same time I was battling sugar ants in the kitchen. I’d reminded kids to put the sugar canister lid on tight, and not leave traces of food on the counter at night. With high school and college kids there seems to be a whole lot more night snacking that goes on. I was doing everything right to get rid of the ants, and was  winning the battle.

One morning, I flipped on the kitchen light to see traces of food on the counter, alongside the sugar canister, lid ajar, and a trail of sugar-drunk ants staggering back to wherever they came from – apparently some invisible pin-prick hole in the wall that only appeared when they gave the secret sugar ant tap.  You can imagine how my flesh responded.  “I want, I need, I deserve, I have the right to…” filling in these blanks with “an ant-free counter and kids that listen.”  I am so thankful I was the only one up, and had the sense and grace in the moment to see that my flesh had just made the leap to the couch.  I got up my courage and said, “Down Flesh!”  And began counting my blessings again.

And just last week I was raking with Joel when I found five or six freshly dug holes in the lawn, telltale signs of an armadillo.  I had spent months last year trying to capture one that wreaked havoc in our lawns, and many hours repairing the damage.  We had finally trapped it, and Bill drove it miles away to release it.  I couldn’t believe we had another one.  I threw my hands up in disgust and turned to Joel.

“Noooo! “ I cried.  “Not another armadillo!  We just got rid of the last one!  Look at all this damage!”

Joel, nonplussed and Sanguine as ever, beamed a bit of a sarcastic grin and put his hand on my shoulder.  Patronizingly, I might add.

“Mom.  Seriously?  These holes are making you angry?  What if we were living in a broken-down, one-room apartment, didn’t have groceries, we couldn’t pay rent, and the sleazy, drunken landlord was banging on the door  for us to get out?  You’d be pretty happy to trade that for an armadillo in the yard, wouldn’t you?”

I looked up at that 6’2” frame and into those twinkling blue eyes .  They were twinkling because he knew he was right and he enjoyed having the edge on me.

“Okay, you’re right,” I sighed. “I really am thankful for all I have, armadillo and all.”

I gave him a kiss.  And with that I could just see the flesh backing off the couch and returning to its former boundary.  Yes, that’s right – Down Flesh, Down.  I’m back to counting my blessings once again.


Patrick and Chance, 2010

A lot of folks are worried about me, about all of us, this week.  A beloved aunt drove up to spend yesterday with us; another loved aunt met us for coffee.  A close friend of Patrick’s – who is now one of my girls – arrives in an hour.  His best friend arrives Sunday.  Friends and family are checking in with tender notes of love and care.  Consoling words I couldn’t bear to read for the pain they kept bringing to my attention a year ago, I can now process with the same love with which they are sent.

I do approach this first anniversary with apprehension, though.  I see that I’m still emotionally vulnerable, but I’ve read that’s to be expected. In the day-to-day that means I can be having another “good day in a row” when suddenly the lyrics to a familiar song in a concert pierce me like a knife – “through the years we all will be together – if the fates allow,” and I am instantly transformed from a happy and contented soul into an unstoppable river of tears. Or, for no obvious reason, I burst into tears on a drive home from the grocery store and sit sobbing in the garage unable to go in.  And then – I blow my nose, wash my face – and have 2, 5 or 10 or more good days in a row.  I do believe my intense grieving was lifted on August 29th – that first good day.

In the midst of my healing and processing, friends all around are facing suffering and loss of their own.  One good friend dashed to her ailing mother’s side two weeks ago with plans to bring her home to live with her family, only to experience her passing.  She wrote this morning of her feelings of sorrow, disappointment and even guilt.  When I read her thoughts, I watched my fingers hit reply, and then rev to their happiest cruising speed of 100 wpm.  Below is part of what I shared with her that I think I’m supposed to share with all of you today.

Thank you for your prayers and love.  They have been felt all year long, and are seeing me faithfully through this next week.  With much love, Mardy

Dear Sweet Friend,

Have you ever heard my story about how I thought I caused the death of one of my best friends?  It’s a long story, and I’ve shared it in the moms’ group meeting and at workshops.  It turned out to be a turning point for me in not taking on false guilt anymore. It was 1993 and my friend had cancer.  The children and I drove to spend time with her and her family.  The children played together in her sprawling farmhouse, and in fields dotted with cattle and hay and wildflowers.  But, inside, my friend lay so ill.  I had to lift her into the tub to bathe her, lift her back out again, dress her, and feed her soup – she was too weak to even hold a spoon.  My friend had chosen the route of alternative medicine, and refused surgery, radiation and chemo.  She was on a waiting list for an alternative  medicine clinic that she believed would cure her.

One night she was so ill that her husband and I took her to ER. When they pulled up her records, they said she was AMA (against medical advice), and as compassionately as they could, shrugged their shoulders. Their shrugs said the answer had been surgery, but it was too late for that now. We took her back home and made her as comfy as possible.

The next morning, while she slept, I saw the phone number of the alternative clinic, and wanting so much to help my friend, I called to ask what healthy alternative meds or products we could use to ease her suffering until her interview appointment. They asked me to describe her symptoms and I did. They said they’d call back. When they did, they told her she’d been dropped from the waiting list.  According to the symptoms I described, the cancer was too far along for natural remedies to help.

My friend was utterly devastated. Until that call, she ‘knew that she knew that she knew’ she would be healed, and that God was going to do it His way, through natural remedies, and not “man’s way” of radical surgery and chemicals. That night she sobbed uncontrollably with what little strength she had, whispering that she didn’t want to die and leave her children. I sat by her side racked with guilt. Why did I make that stupid call? Why did I interfere? If it weren’t for me, they wouldn’t have diagnosed her without seeing her, could have treated her, and her prayer for healing may have come true. I felt like an idiot. Now we would never know if her choice was right or not, because I had “helped” in the wrong way.

I flew back for her funeral a few weeks later, but carried the guilt of my phone call and her separation from her husband and four children, all 12 and under, for the next 12 years.  I developed a drastic fear of flying on the flight home from her funeral and it gripped me on every single flight until 2005.  Poor Bill had my fingernail marks on his arms for every take-off and landing, and every time we hit even the smallest amount of turbulence.

One day in 2005, a friend’s wise pastor husband found out that I wasn’t going to accompany my teens, his wife and their teens on a short mission trip to Ecuador because I was afraid to fly.  When I called to chat with his wife, he asked me about it.  May I ask when your fear started?  Were there any traumatic events surrounding it?  Hmmm, why yes, but I couldn’t imagine any connection.  As I told him of my thoughtless actions in unknowingly alerting her alternative health care providers of her condition, he acted surprised, even shocked.  He said, “So, let me try to understand what you’re saying. You think you’re so important that you, doing something out of good intention, are able to thwart the sovereignty of God? You believe that your friend’s number of days were in your hands, and not in God’s hands? I am sorry to be the one to tell you, Mardy, but you’re not that important. You’re not that powerful.  Your friend’s story is your friend’s story. It is between her and her God. You got to play an important role in praying for her healing and comforting her in her illness, as Jesus asked us to do.  But to take on guilt for the power to change the number of her days through a phone call is power you do not posses.  This guilt is a trick from the enemy. Let her story be her story. That is enough.”

The dots that connected for me that day were in entertaining irrational conclusions to irrational lies (why should I be allowed to live and go home to my children, when I was instrumental in my friend’s separation from hers?).  I didn’t remember this being an actual thought-out thought, but rather a very strong feeling.

I was crying my eyes out by the time he finished.  Bill dashed to my side when he heard me crying, and I tried to nod “I’m really okay” while crying.

The truths my friend’s husband shared with me that day are the same truths that have helped guide me through the last year.  We each have our own story with God.  We can offer help and comfort and advice and prayer when friends and family face their trials – in their stories.  But, we cannot write their endings.  Each of us have own personal story with their God.   He writes the endings.Airplane Flight

You brought your gift of comfort and love to your mom at exactly the right time – not  the other times that she almost failed – but in her very last chapter. You played an important role in visiting those who are sick. One day you will hear the Savior remind you that you were really ministering to Him those two weeks.  But, you’ll have to wait for those words until the end of your story.

Keep blessing, keep giving, but don’t become a victim of the lies of false guilt. As my friend’s husband reminded me, as His child, you are destined to, and have the right to, a higher calling – flying free of guilt.

Love, Mardy

Dear Friends and Family Who Have Loved Us, Served Us, and Prayed for Us This Year,

It’s been about 9 months since we lost our Patrick, and about 7 months since I’ve been able to write. Finally, today I think I can post a note.  Since it’s been so long, I’ll do my best to catch everyone up with our healing process.  This may be the last time I write about it.

For the first two months I felt cocooned inside a very safe bubble of Divine grace. I’ve described it as having an I.V. of grace straight from Heaven into my soul. I still cried every day, often many times a day, but sensed an indescribable closeness of the Lord’s presence, and supernatural comfort – that peace that passes all understanding.

During those two months our house was a revolving door of love, with meal after meal, hug after hug, prayers galore, and our mailbox and inboxes filled with notes of compassion. If you sent a note or gift that we haven’t acknowledged, please don’t be shy about letting me know. We want to express our thanks to everyone who reached out to us.  (I haven’t had the wherewithal to write the scholarship thank yous yet, but hope to soon.)  We will never forget the way so many of you served us, prayed for us, fed us and comforted us. Truly, we were taken care of in a way that glorified God, and we’ve learned much about expressing compassion from you.

In February, after the meals ended and the visits slowed, it seems my dosage of that heavenly I.V. got lowered, much like pain meds wear off after surgery.  All the pain I’d been sheltered from slowly crept in, and I began to ache, heart and soul.

I can hardly explain how fragile I was from February to August. To give you a very small glimpse of what life looked like, I wasn’t able to look at Patrick’s senior picture or graduation picture.  If I absentmindedly caught a glimpse of that sweet smile, I would usually stop, drop and sob. Eventually, I stopped dusting those pictures altogether just to keep myself from going into another cycle of sobbing.  After a while one gets very tired of sobbing.

I couldn’t handle anything official regarding his affairs because I couldn’t bring myself to form the words that had to be said to the person on the other end of the line.  I could barely type them.  I thank the Lord for our adult children who handled everything for us.

One day I decided to delete videos off my camera to gain space, and unexpectedly played a video taken a month before the accident. There he was, so alive and so happy, as though nothing had happened.  And for three seconds, he was here. I was pierced afresh, turned it off, couldn’t breathe, and cried for days.

Twice while running errands I caught a glimpse of a tall young man with his lanky gait, and couldn’t stop staring – until he turned, and I saw a stranger’s face.  And then I couldn’t stop crying.  My head knew those guys weren’t Patrick before they turned, but my eyes bypassed my brain, and shot a message straight to my heart, and I couldn’t stop it from leaping and then crashing.

I’ve learned that waterproof mascara isn’t, not even the expensive brands, and I’ve attended more events makeup-less than I’d ever have thought I could.  Normally, I wouldn’t leave the house without at least mascara.

I couldn’t meet friends for coffee because the look of pure compassion in their eyes was utterly overwhelming to me.  I couldn’t attend my moms’ group, which I’ve had the honor of leading for over 12 years, because I felt I might collapse and cry in all of their arms as soon as I felt their collective compassion.  When I finally made myself attend in May, I felt like I had arrived in my hospital gown, and my goal was to get through the meeting without falling apart or running away.

Friends drove 4 hours round trip to treat me to lunch and present me with a necklace inscribed with Patrick’s name.  When they handed it to me, I burst into tears, and could not even look at it.

I’ve learned that when people love you, they carry part of your pain.  They hurt because you hurt. And it hurts to know that your pain hurts them, but you are completely without resources to help them in their pain.  You barely have enough resources to tend to your own.  And the only way they’ll stop hurting for you – is when you stop hurting.

Bill and I have both been constantly comforted by the children, and they comfort one another.  Having our Sanguiney-Joel around has kept us totally engaged (big smile here because he is very fun and highly verbal).  And frequent dinners and fellowship with the rest of the children have brought real comfort.

Grace in, grace out.  This is the mantra I’ve breathed all year. And for 7 months I’ve kept myself busy in this house that now feels too big, spring cleaning and deep cleaning each room, and tackling our yards and gardens with great diligence.  All in an effort to keep my mind and hands busy.  And because I needed to be alone.  I never felt like God left me; I knew He was here.  But I needed to be apart from people.

We have three floor-to-ceiling windows in our family room dressed with dark chocolate, heavy wooden blinds.  My ritual each morning on my way to the coffee maker is to open those blinds to the tip-top, letting the early morning rays of sun come flooding in.  Our black lab always races me to the windows, confident that today is the day a crazed burglar will finally appear, and he will prove himself my protector.  Alas, each morning it’s still school children and mommies with strollers who glance in at my drooling, wagging, barking dog.   When I get the last set of blinds opened, the cat jumps gracefully to the ledge, seats herself importantly and stares out, welcoming another day of silent condemnation on everyone and everything in the world.  After all that satisfying judgment, she falls happily asleep.

Before I open the blinds, the family room feels private.  Not gloomy, but necessarily and appropriately private.  The world outside has been closed off, shut out until the night has passed.  I think that’s how I’ve felt for 7 months. Like the blinds to my soul were pulled down, in a need to guard my privacy and my grieving until the night had passed.

I wish I could say I was an Elizabeth Elliot or a Beth Moore, and that I’d spent those months memorizing Scripture, or in hours of meditation and prayer.  Or as one friend puts it, listening to my “self-talk” truth.  No, I just weeded gardens and cried, shampooed carpets and cried, polished wood floors, transplanted flowers, vacuumed under couches, washed curtains, painted rooms, dusted blinds, deep cleaned toilets, tubs, ovens and cabinets – and cried and cried and cried.  And cried.  And I have only been able to camp in the New Testament whenever I read, where difficult things happen to God’s people, as opposed to the Old, where the ground only swallowed up the disobedient ones.  I truly believe I was upheld and carried by grace and the prayers of friends and family.

And then came Wednesday, August 29th.  I was running errands in Bill’s truck, when, in the middle of traffic, and for no reason I can understand, something super far down inside me said, “It’s okay. You can go on living now.”  No, I didn’t hear those words, but I felt that message.  Was it the Lord speaking to my heart or soul?  Was it something inside my head telling myself it was okay to move on?  Was it that I had completed a certain number of days appointed for me to grieve?  I don’t know.  I know very little about God these days except that He is still absolute love and still absolutely sovereign.  I do know that a sorrow that had been gripping my entire person for 7 months had just disappeared.  On Newberry Road, between 55th Terrace and 62nd Street.  And it felt right.  And good.  Like the blinds of my soul had been lifted, and light was creeping in, and the world outside was no longer off limits.  It felt like the night had just passed and morning had come.  And something in me shifted.  Or I let go of something.  Or something let go of me.  And August 29th became my very first “good day” since February.

The next day became Day 2 of “good days in a row,” and I went about my work with hope and purpose.  But, I wasn’t comfortable sharing much about it, lest I crash and make people even sadder.  On Day 3, I said to myself, “Wow, this feels like another ‘good day.’  Maybe whatever happened in traffic that day was really real, really something important.”

On Day 16 I attended my moms’ group.  I was amazed and delighted to walk through the door as I once had, totally unaware of myself and scanning for faces that might need a word of encouragement or a hug.

On Days 27 and 34, I dusted the pictures on the bureau and wall.  And I only cried a little.  That’s when I knew it was time to share.

Today is my 37th good day in a row, and I’m actually writing on this blog.  I know I will eventually stop counting the days, but I will never forget.

I am profoundly grateful (did I say profoundly?  I meant PROFOUNDLY grateful) to everyone who has prayed for us and who have been so patient with me for so long.  I’ve been given the gifts of privacy, respect and space with no strings attached from so many of you, and you can’t know what it means to me.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I think the night is over and the blinds are up.  Thank you with all my heart for giving me grace and space to get through the night.

With much love, Mardy

Hello Friends,

I have been busy working in our yards for the past week in this beautiful spring weather, doing all the things that pile up over a winter, and hurrying to do them before our Florida humidity and swamp weather returns.  Last Friday, a very busy day of yard work, was my first tear-free day.  That is one big baby step for me.  I didn’t even realize it until I put my head down on the pillow that night and thought, “Wow, this was a first.”  I cannot say the same about the three days since, but I can tell that normalcy is edging its way back in and grief is not so intense.  I think my job is to breathe in and breathe out, and just let the Lord do His healing work in my heart, much like skin knits together when you aren’t even thinking about it.

I took one more baby step last week, and reached out to meet a friend for lunch. It was my very first reaching out, and my first lunch outing with a friend.  It was a very refreshing time, but I found that those tears are still pretty unpredictable – a song playing overhead at Panera’s, the flash of a memory that my kid liked to hang out with her kid, just the way her eyes filled with love and sorrow – all triggered a battle with tears. That was much better than my first trip to Publix a month before, where I sat in the car before going in and practiced saying out loud, “I am fine, thank you,” over and over to be sure I could say it without tears when the cashier asked how I was today. I knew her greeting would feel invasive, overstepping (drat those friendly Publix employees), and I had to find a way to ward her off before her smile poked through my thin defenses and triggered another flow. “Fine, thank you,” I repeated my script, even though I had to keep looking down at my purse to say it.

Last, I’m discovering that I can’t listen to very much music. Music has the power to pull tears from me like one taps syrup from a maple tree!  I think that’s because the reality of separation from our son will always be present, just under the surface, and music pokes a hole through the bark of my soul for an always-available tear supply.  I have felt nothing productive in that sort of crying, though – it only stirs up a longing to be in Heaven or a desire to reverse time and write a different chapter.  Those desires can’t be fulfilled, so for now I am trying to be about what I think I am supposed to be doing, stopping to cry whenever grief shows up on its own.  That seems to be the healthiest track for me so far.

I have a friend in Miami named Dawn George.  Wait, I should say that I have not actually met her yet, but was sent her blog by mutual friends a few years ago when her 9 year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. During his treatment, she also tragically lost her father and his wife.  I felt about her those two years the same way many people think about me now, “Oh, Lord, I could never, ever go through her trial. How is she being sustained by such grace?”  I saw so much grace in her writings that I asked her to share at my ladies’ group last year.  I had to be out of town that week and did not actually meet her, but I heard from the ladies who attended that their lives would not be the same. Dawn is returning to speak for our group in May, so I am looking forward to meeting her this time.

In the meantime, I asked her if I could share some notes she sent to me.  I have received so many touching notes from so many of you, and may ask if I can share them. If your words have blessed me, I know they will bless others.

You can learn more about Dawn’s struggles and victories at

With love and appreciation for every single prayer, Mardy

Hi Mardy,

I have been so extremely blessed by your writing.  Thank you for sharing so openly.  Today as I read through several of the blog posts, especially the one of you at the wedding processing the love you saw displayed on the face of the father towards his daughter that was foreign to your experience, I sat straight up and couldn’t believe what I was reading.  I could have written that myself word for word. I had the exact same experience and processed it the same way.  I can still remember the look on the face of the father and remember my  heart trying to comprehend that what I was seeing was something I was supposed to have experienced as a daughter but unfortunately didn’t.  I think I processed envy, grief, pain and healing all in one moment as God showed me everything and gently reminded me, “But I love you like that, even more.”

And then I read the analogy of the runner on the sidelines.  I have been there, even recently.  Not too long ago, I pulled out an old prayer journal during a time of feeling like I was weary and walking as the runners were whizzing by.  So I thought I would get a boost and a fresh reminder of God’s grace by pulling out this old prayer journal.  I went through the pages and each and every prayer went unanswered or answered in the opposite of what I had been praying for.  I didn’t even make it to the sidelines. Instead of the boost I was looking for, I just slumped and sat right there and felt even more confused and weary.  I just plopped down in the middle of the race.   I desperately needed to hear those words you shared with that young girl you were mentoring that day.  Thank you!  God showed me that he allowed me to fall upon those pages of seemingly unanswered prayers and unwanted answers to remind me this was not about me or the outcome I desired  but the outcome he desired and ordained.  He was challenging me right back.  He knew I was looking to those prayer journals for the wrong reasons and seeking the wrong answers.  He just wanted me to look at Him, not what He had or hadn’t done for me.  Thank you!

As I read your email, I was flooded with memories when you shared your struggle with crying in public.  ‘Going public’ as I called it was one of the biggest challenges for me when CJ was first diagnosed and especially after he first came home from the hospital.

Let me pause here and say first… please know I don’t compare my grief with yours.  I never want to sound insensitive when I share any similarities.  I know we had different experiences.  Your loss was sudden and I can relate to it only through my father’s sudden tragic loss which doesn’t compare.  With CJ, I was only faced with the constant threat of losing him.  We “faced death all day long” but I did not know then I was only walking with my son through the valley of the shadow of death.  I had no way to how we would exit that valley.  But I don’t want to hold back from sharing with you.  I can remember so many people telling me they were afraid to share their struggles of problems or lessons with me for fear they would sound petty.  I didn’t want my child having cancer to separate me from people or make them hesitant around me but to make me more compassionate towards them.  And I know you would feel the same.

I remember at first I only felt safe in the walls of my home or the hospital.  There was no shame in crying in a hospital and at home there was the safety of my bed or husband’s arms.  Going out in public was such a difficult first step.

Oddly,  I felt it somehow betrayed my pain because it was somehow too “normal.”  The first trip to Wal-Mart to pick up only a couple necessities was torture and I cried the whole time and felt like an alien on planet Earth. I stared into the faces of people sure that my pain and fear was so palpable that they could see it just by looking at me.  But of course they couldn’t.  I couldn’t wait to get back home and crawl under the covers and cry.  What stuck with me most that day as I cried and was afraid I would never be the able to brave a store again was the thought, “If I was in the store in that much pain and everyone was oblivious to me…what and more specifically who have I been oblivious to?”

Not long after, I tried again. Actually, the truth is my fridge was empty and my family was hungry so I had no choice. The first time I braved Publix to grocery shop something else happened.  I cannot describe the feelings I felt pushing that cart through the store.  I kept looking at it and thinking there was no way these groceries could weigh so much.  The cart felt so heavy and yet I was terrified to let go of it for fear I may just run out of the store crying.  I remember staring at the shelves trying to focus on the items.  Cereal……was there always this many choices?  Was there always this many aisles?  It was never this overwhelming before. I couldn’t even think about sales, prices or coupons.  Pick up item.  Place in cart. Don’t let go. Keep pushing.  So heavy.    I don’t know how to describe it. It was all so overwhelming. Then, after what felt like hours and endless aisles, I took my full cart to the register and began the painstaking process of placing all the items that took every bit of energy I had to get into my cart back out of the cart.  It seemed cruel.  I had my eyes on the door as the cashier scanned each item   I decided the world was a cruel place and I wasn’t ready for it.  People were clueless.  It seemed like she went as slow as she possibly could.  I felt like a china doll standing there and I was sure I was going to hear, “clean up one aisle..register.” and it would be me they would be mopping up.  She was finally done.  Then the cashier broke through my  fog and said gently, “There is no charge today.”   I just stared at her in confusion.  Silence.  Then she repeated,  “There is no charge. The manager paid your bill today.”  I barely knew him.  He was a friend of a friend.  My mother-in-law worked there but they were not close.  This is no small town.  Big city.   Miami, Florida.  Most of us don’t even speak each other’s language.  I just stared at her and the tears rolled down my face.  I don’t even remember if I managed a thank you.  I was too overwhelmed and too fragile.  I loaded the car and sat in the car in tears. I put the windshield wipers on and then managed to at least laugh at myself.  The blur wasn’t coming from outside the car.  It was just a reaction to put them on.  I just wanted to get home.   I knew what I was feeling.  I knew what was beginning to happen.  But I didn’t want it to.  I didn’t want to be thankful for this trial.  I didn’t want to accept God could use this for good.  I didn’t want to believe I could brave the public because then I might have to.

Then I had to vote.  I tried to talk myself out of it over and over.  Surely I was justified and could feel released from this obligation to my country and my freedom just this once.  But it was such an important election in 2008 and there was no way I could not vote. My husband geared me up with a iPod and headphones insisting it would help. The voting station was a block from my house at a small Baptist church I had attended for over a year so I knew I would feel at least a sense of familiar.  I could do this.  I drove the long block, turned into the lot and froze.  There was a loooonnngggg line.  It seemed like a million people.  Strangers.  It would be at least an hour wait in a line surrounded by people.  I sat in the car and watched the line debating whether to just leave. I cried. i composed myself. Then I got out because I reasoned I would always be at the back of the line if I kept sitting there.  I got in line and immediately people filled in behind me.  I felt so trapped.  There were endless conversations around me and I could hear bits and pieces of all of them.  I couldn’t help but feel like they all had no clue.  I was not having nice thoughts towards them deciding their lives were petty and shallow. So I put in the headphones.  Bad idea.  The tears ran down my face as Praise You in the Storm by casting crowns played.  I wish I could describe the feelings. Anyway, to make a long story short.  After an hour and a constant debate within myself of whether or not to leave I started listening to people. The woman in front of me was saying she voted earlier that day.  That didn’t make sense to me.  Why was she in this line with me for over an hour if she already voted.  Then she went on to explain she was standing in line for her sister who was pregnant and didn’t want to stand in line so she offered to do it for her.  She was saying she felt this election was so important she was willing to do that and once she left this place she was going to stand in line for someone else who refused to wait. I over heard this and thought about the debate I had with myself earlier about excusing myself from voting. Before I knew it I felt a strong urge to share that with her.  I tried to talk myself out of it for 5 full minutes as she went on telling the story to those around her.  She was right in front of me. The last person before her was taken in. She would be gone in a minute.  I blurted out, “I have something you can share with your sister.”   I paused as she turned to look at me. I remember thinking this was really crazy and it was going to sound insane but instead of stopping like common sense told me to I continued to say, “Tell her that the lady behind you in line today just found out 2 months ago that her 9 year-old son has an aggressive cancer and standing in this line was one of the hardest and most embarrassing things she has had to do, but she did it because she knew it was the right thing to do.” All of sudden her eyes get HUGE. I mean HUGE! I am sure I just made a terrible mistake. And she locks eyes on mine and she blurts out, “My son had cancer when he was 6 years old. Aggressive, Stage 3, Large cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.” My knees almost buckled.   Not only is that a rare cancer but it is the exact cancer CJ.  She jotted down some scriptures and handed them to me.  Then she disappeared inside to vote.

All I could think of was God placing me in that line exactly behind her.  The time I sat in the car and debated.  The time I procrastinated coming. The unkind thoughts I had towards her as I waited and stood behind her.   All these people and  I end up exactly behind a mother whose son was diagnosed with the same cancer as my son around the same age. I voted and then I got in the car and cried again. This time it was not because I didn’t think I could do this ever again and I wasn’t ready but I cried because God was showing me I could  because He would be there with me. It would have been my loss that day if I hadn’t gone.  Instead it was my gain.

I don’t know why I am sharing all this. I am not urging you to brave the beast and get out in public or anything like that.  You will know when you’re ready and you will know when you have to and you have no choice.  Maybe I just wanted to share these few stories because I feel like I needed to remember them.  But also to say that when you are ready God will be there every step of the way and He will place the right people in your path.

Much love and buckets and buckets of gold flakes of grace poured out for you my friend.


One more note today, Friends. The Home Education Recognition Organization has begun a scholarship in Patrick’s memory. I have several times meant to put that information here, but could not bring myself to type the word memorial and my son’s name in the same post. I think I can do that today.

The board of directors of this organization is a very precious group of people, one of whom I happen to be married to.  They have received a number of donations thus far, but are holding them to finalize the creation of the scholarship, probably before summer, where it will appear on the website with the other scholarships. They have been graciously holding off on details to give us room to heal.

To make a donation, just indicate it is in memory of Patrick.

There, I did it.  And yes, I cried.  But, I did it.

Love, Mardy

Hello Friends,

I think something good must have happened in me last weekend. Joel volunteered at a speech and debate tournament in Jacksonville, so I drove him there and then checked into a hotel for 2 ½ days while he served, and while Bill got in another refreshing sailing trip with his brother and aunt.

It didn’t feel like a very spiritual weekend to me, no huge insights or new thoughts, but it was extremely restful, quiet and peaceful at the hotel and I got a little writing in. Since returning though, I’ve had five good days in a row (which is a record), and that makes me think there was something in that aloneness that I needed.

The day after we returned home from the tournament and Bill from his sailing trip, Patrick’s best friend drove up for another visit. This is a young man that I have such great respect for and love (adore) with all my heart. I had already adopted him as one of my own, but now he means more to me than ever. The last time he came, a few weeks ago, I was still so fragile and vulnerable inside, and I could tell I was pushing myself to serve on the outside for his sake, and for the sake of the young people who were there with him. This visit, though, my heart was really more about him and the others who were here. Something in me said it was okay to thoroughly love and serve them, and to also thoroughly enjoy them, and there was joy in doing so. There was laughter around the table, laughter where I wasn’t holding back tears at the same time, sweet chats and fun teasing, a sweet evening.

That night was also my first regular meal to cook for our family, as we have been overrun with meals of love from the body of Christ for the past 8 weeks. I still don’t know where everything in my kitchen is, and my fridge and freezer are a sad mess, but I know I will eventually retake that ground. Those chores sit on a long waiting list that does not call out to me, but waits its turn.

Five good days in a row feels wonderful. Good days are days when my attention gravitates toward meeting a need or loving someone in my world, rather than nursing this wound. Good days are when I get a chance to feel the joy of serving someone else again. Good days still have tears in them, but they are not centered around mourning with the rest of life waiting outside for a chance to squeeze in because grief has filled up the entire room of my heart with itself and won’t let anything else in. Anything, that is, except a supernatural comfort which remains equal to each visit, and soothes it away before the end of each day. Good days let me think about someone else, let me miss people I haven’t seen, let me serve with joy, but still let grief in whenever it comes knocking. And on good days grief still shows up unexpectedly, in a reminder on my calendar of an upcoming vacation our son won’t be joining us on, upon catching the glimpse of a young man who has his figure and lanky gait, as I dash upstairs and instead of looking straight ahead happen to catch him smiling at me in his graduation picture. Even on good days, grief shows up softly or ferociously, when I’m alone or with a house full, and stays until an amazing and undeserved grace ushers it back out again. I never know when or how long or exactly what will trigger grief, and I know that is okay.  But it is becoming less demanding in its visits, less encroaching, is camping for shorter times, and still being ushered out with grace.  Now, it is being kept a little more at bay through a bit of serving.  Serving makes me feel almost like me again.  Almost…

Yesterday, Day 6, was one of those teary-all-day days, but today my heart is again comforted and soothed, and turning toward serving again. What relief.  I should mention that I haven’t felt anger at God, not even from the first phone call. I know that some might wonder if I am either in denial or sustained shock, and that anger will eventually come. I guess it might; I’ve  never walked this path before.  But I cannot imagine it doing so. We gave our children to the Lord when they were born, so I never felt that God took something that belonged to me. Patrick was His. I felt horrible, dreadful shock and unbelief, but have never passed through any feelings of anger. For the first few days, before we learned of his TBI symptoms, I camped in a big empty room in my heart and just sobbed. In the corners of my mind I could see doors off to the side, doors of anguishing regret that I wanted to go camp in front of and cry and see if they would open – “What did we miss, How could this happen, Where did we go wrong, What could we have done?”  But, it was all I could do to just sob and see those closed doors. I somehow knew I couldn’t force them open, and I didn’t ever feel like God owed me those answers. Part of me was terrified that one of them might creak open and when it did, I would be able to somehow connect the dots of this tragedy to being my fault, my oversight, my blindness. Even in that terrifying waiting period, before we knew of the symptoms, I felt a supernatural peace trying to descend on me, bracing me for the truth that this path, as tragic and horrifying as it was, was the path we were now on, and could not get off.  And that God was all-knowing, all powerful, all loving, and that I was very weak and without insight, and that I must not, must not demand answers from Him.

After we learned of the TBI symptoms, those doors of regret faded out of sight in my mind, and I then sat and cried in front of new doors – Whys and What-if’s. I cried and cried and cried in front of them, hoping one might open up with an answer and help me to understand some reason why my kid was not protected from that injury, or why we didn’t realize it, or what we could have done to have prevented the accident. But, I knew it would be fruitless to bang on those doors relentlessly or to rail against God or demand He reveal something to me. I knew I would no more get an answer to any of my questions than I would understand why Hugh Hefner or Hugo Chavez or murderers or rapists or child abusers live long lives, but my friend’s child who loved the Lord passionately dies of cancer and leaves young children behind. Or why our son was allowed to be in that accident in the first place. I did many things which were more dangerous – I smoked cigarettes and marijuana and hitchhiked and made foolish decisions – and I was protected. He was making better decisions than I had at the same age, and was not.

Last week an old friend gave me the book One Thousand Gifts. Reading Ann Voskamp’s writing is like tasting for the first time a very rich and delicious chocolate mousse. But, this mousse has been laced with medicine. You know that medicine is in there because it every few bites it stings in the swallow. But, you cannot put your fork down or resist another bite because the mousse is that good, and the medicine that helpful.  No mousse, no medicine.  Ann Voskamp writes that well. When she recounts her brother-in-law’s amazing acceptance of the death of yet another child, his second baby, she writes:

I had stumbled out their back steps, laid down on the grass. I had cried at the sky…And now…again with John, Tiffany, but now with their second-born son, Dietrich. He’s only five months old. He was born to hope and prayers – and the exact same terminal diagnosis as his brother, Austin.

John hands me a Kleenex, and I try to wipe away all this gut-wrenching pain. He tries, too, with words soft and steady, “We’re just blessed. Up until today Dietrich’s had no pain. We have good memories of a happy Christmas. That’s more than we had with Austin.”

All the tiles on the floor run fluid. My chest hurts…I shouldn’t, but I do. I look up. Into all his hardly tamed grief. I feel wild…In that moment I forget the rules of this Dutch family of reserved emotion. I grab him by the shoulders and I look straight into those eyes, brimming. And in this scratchy half whisper, these ragged words choke – wail. “If it were up to me…” and then the words pound, desperate and hard, “I’d write this story differently.”

I regret the words as soon as they leave me. They seem so un-Christian, so unaccepting – so No, God! I wish I could take them back, comb out their tangled madness, dress them in their calm Sunday best. But there they are, released and naked, raw and real, stripped of any theological cliché, my exposed, serrated howl to the throne room.

“You know…” John’s voice breaks into my memory…”I don’t know why all that happened…But, do I have to? Who knows? I don’t mention it often, but sometimes I think of that story in the Old Testament. Can’t remember what book, but you know – when God gave King Hezekiah fifteen more years of life? Because he prayed for it? But if Hezekiah had died when God first intended, Manasseh would never have been born. And what does the Bible say about Manasseh? Something to the effect that Manasseh had led the Israelites to do even more evil than all the heathen nations around Israel. Think of all the evil that would have been avoided if Hezekiah had died earlier, before Manasseh was born. I am not saying anything, either way, about anything….Just that maybe….maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.”

The words I choked out that dying, ending day echo. Pierce. There’s a reason I am not writing the story and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don’t.

And I see. At least a bit more. When we find ourselves groping along, famished for more, we can choose. When we are despairing, we can choose to live as Israelites gathering manna. For forty long years, God’s people daily eat manna- a substance whose name literally means “What is it?” Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they can’t comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery. And the mystery, that which made no sense, is “like wafers of honey on the lips.”

When I read John’s words, “…maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds,” my heart cries, “Yes and amen.” This is what the Spirit comforts me with in those mournful moments and on those grieving days. Patrick’s story is not mine. His story was in God’s hands. And I do not, cannot, can never know what other endings might have been. I can only imagine. My imaginings have always been good endings, great endings, amazing endings as I am head over heels in love with these precious kids of ours. But, I do not know, and can never know. I do believe I’ve been a gift of faith to pray that all our children and grandchildren will know the Lord, will be known by Him on the last day. Of what their trials and tribulations might be on the way, of their joys and sorrows, I have no idea, and sense no inner guarantee. But, this one thing  I pray, this one thing press for – that our entire household, down to the last grandchild born before His coming, will be saved. And I believe, I know, I believe I know – we have one in Heaven with Him now. My first prayer has been answered.  And that, I believe, is all I am supposed to know.

I am healing. Healing slowly but healing well. And being allowed to add a little more action of serving this week has been very therapeutic for me. Serving others = Joy. I think, after last weekend, I am one small step closer to whatever healing I am supposed to come to.

I will never tire of thanking you all for your prayers because I know they are the reason for the grace that keeps showing up to soothe away the grief. I am so thankful, and it makes me wonder if we all prayed for one another the way our family has been prayed for what a different life, what a different church, what a different world we would see. Your prayers are powerful.

Hello Friends,

We are continuing in grace thanks to your prayers.

Below this mini-update is part of a note I wrote to a long-time friend who came with her family to console us on the first day. I think I can share it now.

As for how I’m doing, I think (I think) I am out of ICU now. I’m still crying every single day, but last Saturday I made 2 huge lasagnas (the best I’ve ever made), a huge pot of chili (I think it was my best ever, too), a pan of brownies, garlic bread and 3 gallons of tea for our niece’s 24th birthday party. We also had some of Bill’s family join us. And here’s the thing – I didn’t feel like my reserves were being depleted all day. I was able to do the next thing and the next, participate in conversations, listen to each one with real care, and love on them and serve them, almost like I used to. Almost. I did cry a little, but it wasn’t overwhelming crying. Last Saturday was a teary morning anyway (I don’t know why one day is more teary than the next, and I know that’s okay), so I was mopping floors and sweeping walks while crying as I prepped for the party. But, the crying I’m doing these days is such a gentle cry, like the letting out of a little pressure of grief each day, not that gut-wrenching sobbing that hurts so terribly. At the end of the day, I still had reserves for Bill and Joel, and I was ready to start each day last week without feeling completely exhausted. I think because I can now entertain folks in my (imaginary) hospital room and actually be more interested in their lives, their heartaches, their joys than my own heartbreak, it must mean I’ve gotten my transfer to a regular room. I still can’t go out to play – I can’t meet someone for coffee, I don’t want to head up my moms’ meetings yet, I can’t initiate anything. But, I am beginning to have a desire to meet other people’s needs again and love on them when they come, so I know that’s a good sign. I know I got out of ICU. And I know it is because of the prayers of friends.

With much love and appreciation,


Hi Friend,

I will never forget you, your husband and your parents coming to our side the day we heard the news of Patrick. I think the Lord used your family, particularly your parents, to open my eyes to some important things, but I didn’t realize them until weeks later.

Remember when I told you my memory of watching your dad walk one of your sisters down the aisle about 25 years ago? When I saw the way he looked at her when he gave her way, I caught a glimpse of all the love I had never known as a child, and it made me feel so incredibly sad. I just sat there overwhelmed with pain, feeling like God’s step-child, and wishing I had been one of your dad’s girls. In your dad’s glance I felt the impact of my childhood, of being raised unhelped, untrained, unnoticed and neglected. I knew in that moment that your sister was never subjected to the sadness I had seen, and would not be subjected to the same mistakes I had already made in marriage and parenting, simply because of the start she had received in life.

I hadn’t remembered that wedding in years, but when I told you about that memory this past September, your response was to ask if that experience might have been a springboard for the ministry I have to young moms today. That perhaps those feelings of loneliness and neglect had made me acutely aware of how other young mothers might be feeling. The Lord really must have really been speaking through you because when you said that, I was able to immediately super impose an image of Jesus near me in that church pew, unsensed, unseen, completely unfelt by that young version of myself– but very much there. I imagined Him sitting just behind me, looking at my present self and at the same time at my future self, smiling sweetly, knowing I was going to be okay even though I never got to be one of your dad’s girls. That image changed my “reality”(that I was alone) to “truth” (that I was never alone), and since September, whenever I recall that wedding, I have been able to see the Lord very present, very close by me, and me totally oblivious to anything except my aloneness. That experience is important because it was the first time I have ever been able to see my very sad, very real past any differently than what it was.

Now fast forward to the day after we received the news of Patrick when another friend came to console us. I cried into her neck telling her that one thing that was stinging me so badly was that my precious son died alone. She pulled me back and looked into my eyes and said with conviction, “No, he didn’t. Jesus was with Him the whole time. Patrick was never, ever alone.” Immediately (and I mean immediately) I was able to superimpose the same sweet Jesus who I had just envisioned in my own lonely pain from 25 years before, very close beside my son in his pain. My “reality” (what the Tampa police had just told us) was changed to the “truth” (that he was never alone). My son may have believed he was alone, just as I believed I was alone, but in truth, he was never alone.

Fast forward again to Day 10 when friends wrote that I must accept both God’s sovereignty in Patrick’s life as well as His great love for him. Shortly after reading those emails I was able to also “see” Jesus with Patrick in the car accident, and then with him through all of the confusion and pain in the following days. Even though he could not sense Him close by, just as I could not see Him close by during that wedding, it became truth to me that just as He had been with me He was also with my son. The truth, “I will never leave you or forsake you” was super imposed over my reality.

Now to Day 23, the first day of that 4-day weekend alone where I received so much comfort from the Lord. Someone called that weekend saying they wanted to console me. It was someone from whom I truly wanted consolation and compassion, but it became quickly evident that they had only called to fill their need for details (why did he do it, exactly what happened, etc.). Their behavior was consistent with who they were and with our relationship, but their poking about my raw wound with the motive of having their needs met hit a very raw and painful nerve in my heart.

That night as my thoughts drifted from Patrick to this person, I started to complain in my heart and feel sorry for myself. The moment my thoughts went there, I sensed a gentle reproof from the Lord. I understood that I was already being supernaturally comforted in a way that no earthly person could. I was also receiving overwhelming compassion from the body of Christ which has spanned many denominations. The thought came, “What part of me is this comfort not enough for?” The truth was – no part. God’s grace has been shockingly and powerfully sufficient in this valley. I realized I was being foolish to expect comfort from someone who had never been able to provide it, while receiving overwhelming comfort from my heavenly Father who has not let go of me for one hour.

With that knowledge, I felt like I was supposed to, I don’t know, give myself permission to grow up into Christ a little more and let go of people who were not able to give what He was already abundantly providing. I read Ephesians 4 that night with new meaning.

While I was thinking about these things, I remembered Uncle Andrew from the Chronicles of Narnia. I can’t remember if you’ve read the Chronicles, but Uncle Andrew was an earthy man with no insight, no depth, no strong qualities – a little like the person from whom I was expecting compassion but not receiving it. I remembered Aslan’s tender, yet dismissive treatment of him. I’ll clip a part of the story below.

“Bring out that creature,” said Aslan. One of the Elephants lifted Uncle Andrew in its trunk and laid him at the Lion’s feet. He was too frightened to move.

“Please, Aslan,” said Polly, “could you say something to – to unfrighten him? And then could you say something to prevent him from ever coming back here again?”

“Do you think he wants to?” said Aslan.

“Well, Aslan,” said Polly, “he might send someone else. He’s so excited about the bar off the lamp-post growing into a lamp-post tree and he thinks -”

“He thinks great folly, child,” said Aslan. “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be so for long. But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good! But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive.”

He bowed his great head rather sadly, and breathed into the Magician’s terrified face. “Sleep,” he said. “Sleep and be separated for some few hours from all the torments you have devised for yourself.” Uncle Andrew immediately rolled over with closed eyes and began breathing peacefully.

When I remembered that story, I thought about the expectations I had placed on the person who hurt me each time they called about Patrick. I had wanted them, thought that I needed them to be less earthy, less simple, more compassionate. That night I was able to see that they were like Uncle Andrew, more like Uncle Andrew than I had wanted to admit. I saw that they might never be changed enough to experience – or give – true compassion. And it was okay. I was already receiving all the compassion I needed from the places the Lord had chosen to provide it.

One more lesson for me from the Chronicles. Whereas Uncle Andrew was never close enough to be able to hear or receive a rebuke, the children who walked closer to Aslan received gentle rebukes, gentle growls.

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so -”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me – what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away – like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her.

Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan.

That was when I remembered your beautiful parents who came to comfort us on Day One. I could feel the cool wash cloth your mother placed on my head, remembered her holding me for so long on the couch. I could see the pained expression and love on your dad’s face. Here was the couple that I had sat longing to adopt me 25 years before, comforting and holding us the way I would imagine loving parents would do.

As I relived their visit, I saw that as much as I had longed for it, their love didn’t come close to the comfort I’ve been receiving from the Lord. I saw that the love I longed for in your dad’s eyes was really there all along, sitting near me in that church, in that superimposed picture of Jesus.

I’ve always believed He would never leave us or forsake us, but for the past few weeks I have known it. I think that’s because so many people have been praying for me that my eyes have been opened to His presence. He has always been there, but I now feel Him beside me in this valley. He has been comforting me from inside and giving a great sense of peace – even though I’m still crying every day. I feel like I have been just sitting tight between Aslan’s paws, and can imagine that the great lion cries with me. I think I am just supposed to hide my head in his mane and cry a while longer, but I know it will be a long, long while before I am a lioness.

Love, Mardy

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