Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In The Garden

It's been three months since my son's passing. Today also marks the 5th anniversary of my mom's death. Yet, I have such peace today. Not sure why today over other days. The weekend was tough. The weather was dreary and could not get outside. I love working in my garden and just being outside in God's creation. I find so much satisfaction in being a part of something that not only grows, but offers a gift that keeps on giving. I have always found such peace when working in the garden. When I work, I often sing one of my favorite songs. It reminds me of the many hours I have spent worshipping Him in the garden.

In the Garden -

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on those roses,
and the joy I hear falling on my ears
the son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet that the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
Many days when I would work in my garden, this tune would repeat over and over again in my mind. It was a reminder of God's gift to me of not only His love, but his creation to enjoy. Gardening filled my cup in so many ways. I can be frustrated or angry or sad or just wanting some me time, and the garden always bids me welcome. But, each and every time I put something into the ground, I have to face the reality that after I have done my work (till the soil, amend the soil, plant, and water), there is nothing much else I can do. The plant's ability to live and thrive is up to God. The plant either lives or it dies. No need to fuss because it is what it is. Gardening teaches you that you cannot recreate what used to be. Each season brings something different and some plants thrive and some do not survive.

My life, as it was, is over. It is what it is. There is nothing I can say or do that will change that. I will never be the same, but I can be a better person than I was before this happened. I have to find a way to put the pieces back together and allow God to do something good with it. I realize it cannot put it back the way it was; that life is gone. I do know one thing, however, I am going to live life until I can't live it anymore, whatever that looks like for me now.

The person that I was is gone and will never return again. The person who never even imagined that she would have to see one of her children pass before her. The person who had dreams and hopes for a future of watching her children raise their families, grow old and perhaps one day watch after and take care of her in old age. The person who had so much passion for helping others who can barely help herself now. The person who realizes that I shared a life with my son, but could not save his. The person who understands this journey in life is to share regardless of what that sharing holds or even for how long.
Three months ago I believed that I could make a difference by using my God given talents and gifts to help others. Today, I am searching the depths of my soul for that which once inspired me, and has sustained me so many times in the past. So many dreams have been lost. I am searching for new dreams. I am searching for the passion that has allowed me to manifest my visions and dreams, but now seems to be but a flickering of what it once was. I am searching to understand that which was once alive to me, but is now hidden from me, or perhaps is no more.

My heart aches for the life that was, but can never be. How do I find those things that have been lost to me through this tragedy? I am looking at the hand that has been dealt me and trying to find a way to make the best of it. I am not grieving for where Russell is, but I am grieving for where he is not. He is not here with us and his wife and children. We will never know the full potential that his life here could have held. This year he was to graduate from college. Now, Samarah will walk in his place and receive his diploma posthumously. His and Samarah's plans to serve the Lord on the mission field are over. This year he and Sam were going to buy a house and provide their children with a home they did not fear would blow away when the storms came. My life cannot be defined by storms, clouds and darkness. It must be defined by that which God has placed in me when He gave me new life. That must prevail.

Yesterday, Dennis Rainey and his wife Barbara were talking about letting your children know that you are trusting God to bring them into his conformity. We realize that our children do not belong to us; that He has given us a season to care for them and then we must give them wings and let them fly. I thought I had done that until I truly had to let go. Russell got his earthly wings when I gave him to the Lord. He received his heavenly wings when he went home to be with the Lord. Dennis said "children are a parent's heart walking around outside their bodies." Wow. This little line speaks volumes about how we are so heart connected to our children.

Russell was bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. He was connected to my heart and when I lost him, I lost part of me. That's the reason it hurts so deeply when we lose our children either spiritually or physically. It occurred to me that this is exactly how God feels when he loses us. We are connected to our children, just as God is connected to us, throughout eternity. I also discovered this is why my sweet husband hurts so deeply. Russell was not his blood, but his spiritual heart was connected to Michael. Michael grieves just as deeply and hurts just as badly as I do.
So many of our hearts have been touched by Russell in ways we could not even imagine until we were faced with the end of his earthly life. The sweet song of his life reminds us of his love for us and our love for him, his children, his music, his journals, his photos and our memories of him that allow our hearts to remain connected with him until we see him again. While that knowledge does not take away the pain, it does bring some comfort. While I search for answers, I must remember "a bird sings not because it has an answer, but because it has a song." Dewitt Jones.

My Prayer Today Taken From:

A Boy's Will -A Prayer In Spring
by Robert Frost (1913)

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Facing the Enemy

I am a believer in Christ. The Lord and I have been through some tough times together, but never anything like this. My husband and I talked about where we were spiritually several weeks after Russell's death. I shared that I felt like (and I use the word "felt" lightly because I am careful not to give license to feelings without facts) the Lord was so very far away from me. I could not feel the Lord, and I so desperately wanted for Him to speak to me, and help me to understand why this had happened, yet He was silent. I know the Lord owes me nothing and does not have to explain himself to me. I wanted answers and I wanted comfort that I had received from Him in the past; yet He was silent.

I had been so close to Him at times in the past that I could feel literal arms surrounding me. I so desperately wanted that closeness during this time. I have been brokenhearted and pressed down and shaken out so many times that you would think I am so refined there could possibly be no more refining to do. I have been through the fires that were so hot at times, I truly thought that hell had to be here on earth, because it couldn't possibly be much tougher any where else. Where is He now? Why the silent treatment? Why couldn't He just let me know what His plan was for all of this. I knew there was one and I was determined to find out what it was.

I remember when I was much younger and really working hard to find my place in this world. There was no Purpose Driven Life. There was no Experiencing God to help me learn about how God reveals Himself to us. I did not understand that God created me with a plan and purpose. I did not understand how valuable a human life is to God. Then came that amazing revelation (and not all at once, I add) that He is who He says He is. He is the alpha and the omega; He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He will never give us a burden we cannot carry. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. I had learned not only to trust Him, but to lean on him as well. Or at least I was pretty sure that I trusted Him because I had learned that He knew better than I what I needed. Then comes that time when you faith is shaken in a way that it has never been shaken before. The test of your life to hold onto your faith is in progress and you are not sure if you can or will pass.

But I must be honest with you about where I was spiritually at that time. The first month I could barely think about Him. My thoughts no matter how hard I tried to refocus were always on Russell. Each and every day I had to work hard to praise Him. Each and every day I remembered what we had been through together and how He had carried me so many times before. Each and every day I turned to His truths (those that were hidden in my heart) because I had not been able to pick up my Bible since Russell's death. Each and every day I called out to Him - silence. I could not pray; I could not read the Word; I could not praise Him. I was lost in a sea of doubt and did not know how to find my way home. I knew things would never be the same, but I so desperately wanted to return to that place where I was sure that He loved me and cared for me.

The enemy has a way of creeping in like a stalking animal, waiting to devour, and pouncing when you least expect it. That sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop was constant. While I remained faithful to the Lord with my words, my heart was struggling to find answers to questions that haunted me. I was questioning whether I really knew Him like I thought. The battle truly goes on in the mind; and that battle is for sanity. I was not sure I could remain sane or even if I wanted to.

While I was having difficulty returning to those things (scripture and prayer) and to the one who brought me comfort, I am thankful that I had enough presence of mind to remember who my enemy was. I made a committment during those first couple of days to not give the enemy a foothold in any of the current events. I chose to not let him have any victory over me because Russell's death. I knew that he would take advantage of the situation and would begin to hammer me and my family. I knew that my enemy was seeking to kill, steal, and destroy. I knew he would stop at nothing and use anyone or anything to take me down.

Something interesting happens when life throws the worst at you. You get in the fight or flight mode. I am and have always been a fighter, but I did not have much energy or even desire to fight at that point in time. I was just waiting for the next worst thing. I was in the flight mode and just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for that next worst thing so I could just run and hide. I did not know what was coming next, but I was sure that it was and the next one had to be worse than the last. I could not even imagine what that would look like, but I was sure that it was not going to be anything that I would want to face. All those years of training were not serving me well now. I felt powerless, defenseless and like a wounded animal waiting to die. The scriptures just kept coming to my mind. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted." "He lifted me up out of the muck and mire and set my feet on a solid rock. He gave me a firm place to stand; and put a new song in my heart." These were truths I knew, and kept proclaiming even though they were not heart felt.

I love movies that have great story lines. I have been a Sci Fi fan for years and some of my favorite movies are the Star Wars series. I remember the first time I saw a Star Wars movie"The Empire Strikes Back." I took my three little children (April, Brandi, and Russell) to the local mall in the early 80s to see the first one. It was so much fun; the kids loved it, especially Russell. It was right up his ally with the laser lights, the Jedi knights, and good guys against the bad guys; it had all the elements for a great story and would set the stage for me to become hooked.

There is a scene in the movie where the hero, Luke Skywalker, goes to a swamp where he is to train with the Jedi Master, Yoda. Luke is impetuous and biting at the bit to fight, but has much to learn. Yoda is trying to train the young and very impatient Skywalker, but becomes frustrated when Skywalker is determined to do things his way. Yoda is working with Luke to teach him how to bridle his emotions and not let the emotions take control, but allow the good force in him to control. Luke goes into this cave with his light sabre and full attack gear. He goes through this tremendous struggle with an adversary, and finally cuts off the head of the enemy. As the head rolls away and lands face up, Luke discovers that the face is his. He has been fighting with himself. That's the way I feel at times. The battle rages within; within my mind and I have to allow God to take control, or I can become insane with my own thoughts. I would not even begin to tell you all the thoughts that run through your mind at a time like this. Some I wouldn't share with my closest confidant. Some of my greatest spiritual battles of the mind occurred during the first few weeks. But, I just kept going back to that which I knew to be truth. One of my first memorized scriptures comes from John 8:32 "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

I am like impetious Luke Skywalker at times. I know that I must allow the Holy Spirit to be my guide, but I am like an unbridled, untamed stallion, chomping at the bit to be allowed to run my own way on my own terms. The problem with that philosophy is that you don't always know where you are running to. I once heard it said that you cannot run to something when you are running away from something else. This is so true. We can run and run, yet we cannot hide from who we are or what we think. We can only be transformed into a new person with new thoughts. That comes one day at a time as we allow God to be the master and us the student. Yoda was the master. Luke was the student, but he so wanted to be in control. His energies needed to be reserved for the time when he would need all the wisdom, training, and experience he could muster to face the enemy. The Lord has been training me for years and I keep asking myself, how long. How long does it take to become the master of bridling the mind. The answer I keep getting is not until I have been perfected by Him in eternity. In a few short words, not in this life.

Sounds pretty discouraging, huh. But the truth is that God has begun a good work in me that will not be perfected until I see Him face to face in eternity. He continues to prepare me for the challenges ahead. I cannot fathom anything worse than losing a child, but I am sure they are out there just waiting to devour. It's not a matter of if the attacks come; it's a matter of when the attacks come. While I do not profess to have taken hold of it yet, I, like Paul, will press on, press on, press on that that high calling which is in Christ Jesus. I must also be content in allowing him to be the master and me the student. If He is silent, I will be silent. If He is still, I will be still. If He says go, I will say "here I am Lord, send me." Whatever He asks of me, I will do. I may not embrace it immediately or even be happy about it at the time, but I choose to serve the Lord with every heartbeat I take. I will allow Him to take the shattered pieces of my life and make something beautiful out of them. That is the Lord I know and that is He whom I serve with great joy. Each and every day is a challenge for the thoughts of my mind to be taken captive and brought into obedience under Him. That quest to be transformed into His image is not over. I really don't expect it to be here, but I press on and look forward to the day when I am completely perfected in Him. He is the potter and I am the clay, being molded into His image each and every day.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Days After

No one can begin to understand all that can transpire from the day you should say good-bye until the time you actually do. I have been at this almost two months now and I have not said good-bye. I don't know if you ever really say good-bye. I don't know if I want to say good-bye. Yes, I realize that he is no longer physically with us, but he is a part of us and always will be. Russell would want us all to go on with our lives and be happy. All of us plan to do that, and we are working on it. In time, we will learn to live our lives without him physically here . Yes, we can enjoy moments of joy, peace, laughter, strength, gladness, but we will always long for the smiles, hugs, conversations, and time together that we will no longer have the privilege of sharing with him. Perhaps I am wrong about this and it's too soon to make that judgement call, but I don't think that will ever go away. If it does, I will be sure to let you know.

Following the service on Sunday, the days and weeks following were still like being in a fog. I would get up each day and send my two younger children off to school, but hang out in my pajamas most of the day. I do think there were days when I got dressed but I really don't remember. I do know that friends called and came by to visit, but I don't remember a lot about those conversations. I was in survival mode. I was not crying much. I think maybe because I had cried until I couldn't cry any more, not at least at that point. Looking back on those first few weeks, I know that I was still in shock and the fog was dense.

Michael went back to work. I know that was good for him in some ways. But in other ways, I think he may have done what I had done several times before during losses. He never really grieved and that would prove to be a struggle for me later on in the process. He was doing what he felt he needed to do and to be honest, I could not even think about him or anyone else for that matter. I know I must have talked with my grown children every day during that time checking on them to see how they were doing. I know that I cried with my husband, children and Sam. I know that we just wanted to hold each other closer. Brandi and April had to return to work as well. Something I have learned about the world around us during this time. The world stops for nothing. I suppose that is the way it is supposed to be, but boy did I struggle with how quickly things returned to "normal" for most folks, while I was trying to find my "new normal." A friend who lost her son to suicide a year before told me that "normal" is only a setting on the dryer. She was so right.

Here we were in the throws of this still unbelievable loss, and we had gone through four days of hell on earth. But, the world expects you to take your bereavement leave (about 3 days) then just get on with it. Didn't the world know we were trying to get on with it. I wanted to get on with it. But, just could not. I did not want to deny something that the Lord built into me to handle the unbearable pain Ifelt. As someone once told me, grief is nature's way of taking the pain and allowing it to heal. Grief is also God's way of bringing us to our knees and hopefully into a closer relationship with him. I always thought there must be a purpose in suffering and I thought I had that all figured out. But you cannot truly know its purpose until you have walked that path. I know the stages of grieving, but grieving is not textbook and it's different for everyone. It's a very personal journey that no one really can take with you. God can be present but that's only if you allow Him.

The pain is there whether it is given license or not. The pain has a way of sneaking back up it's least expected. And, if it is not dealt with at the time it is incurred, it can also be much more painful when it finally does come to the surface. And, eventually it shows up in one form or another. You cannot plan it, nor can you plan for it. It just has to happen. The tears come in floods when you least expect them and sometimes you cry so much that you eye sockets hurt. It's not really that you want to cry that much because it takes so much out of you emotionally and physically, but you just cannot help yourself.

My daughter's friend shared this note she found in her Bible with me. She had lost a brother as well. "Tears are so special to God that David asks him to record each one on his scroll. Tears were used to wash Jesus' feet. And Jesus himself shed them when he was overcome with grief." It goes with this verse: "Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll - are they not in your record?" Psalm 56:8 And she said this is one of her favorites: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18 says God is right there with you, seeing every tear that falls.

Some people don't let the tears fall. They push them inside and try to ignore the hurt. But, eventually the pain must be released. It is either released in a healthy way or it's released in an unhealthy way. Through pain pills or other drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, shopping, work and sometimes unhealthy relationships, the pain comes.

Then there is that category that I believe I fall into. I love the Lord and He has brought me through many trials and tribulations in my life - nothing like this and to be honest, I pray that I will never face anything like this again. I don't always know what to do with this. I am totally dependent upon Him to guide me through and allow others who have walked this journey to help me.

Years ago when while I was working on my Masters in Christian Counseling, one of my professors told my class that she believed 99% of issues we deal with in life evolve around some type of loss. I have thought about that statement a great deal over the years, and it has rung true in my life. As I have counseled women about their own issues, I do find a great deal of truth in this statement. We suffer losses from death, divorce, financial ruin, marriages gone sour, children who stray from what we have taught them, our dreams, our hopes, our desires, our childhoods, pets and the list goes on. If you think about it, we are not taught to give up. We live in a society where we are taught to acquire, hold on to, gain, and not to let go.

When my younger sister died from cancer at the age of 28, I read a book by Evelyn Christiansen called "Gaining through Losing." The paradox is that in order to gain, you must give up. Sounds crazy - huh. I would never choose to give up someone I love, let alone one of my children or to have them taken away from me by any means - death or otherwise. Yet, God has chosen this path for me and my family. These are the cards we have been dealt. We must learn to deal with it one day at a time. Somedays it's one hour, and even one minute at a time. We must learn to breath in and out, feel the sunshine and the rain on our faces, smell the sweet fragrance of roses, or the lotion on a baby. Every day is a gift and we must learn to accept the gift even when sometimes it comes wrapped in less than desirable packages.

The pain is always there and the only way I know how to get over it is to go through it. I pray for the day when I don't hurt every day. While there are days now that I don't hurt every day all day, the hurt is still there. I look forward to the day when I don't wake up every morning thinking about Russell and go to sleep thinking about him. I look forward to the day when my thoughts are not consumed with the painful memories of that dreadful day and the days following. The theme of gaining through losing resounds daily in my life - whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. I know God has a plan and a purpose. In order for me to discover what that plan is, I must be willing to let go of that which I have had and wait on the Lord to show me what it is that He wants for me through this. That which I hold onto so dearly also causes me so much pain right now. I don't want to let go - it goes against my human nature. Yet, I know without death, there can be no new birth. Without winter, there can be no spring.

Don't get me wrong. I don't blame God for this. While I know it is part of Hs permissive will for our lives, I know that it is not Hs perfect will. He would not have chosen for Russell to leave his wife and children, nor us for that matter. Yet, He did allow it. I have been asked on more than once occasion if I was angry with God. My reply is always the same "No, not yet. But that does not mean that I will not be." I have learned that blaming others does no good. It takes you down a path of being a victim and feeling helpless and hopeless. That is a choice that is not an option for me. I want to be neither helpless or hopeless. And, what if I do get angry with God and scream at Him, so what. He's big enough to handle it. He not only is big enough, He fully understands that part of my humanity. When Jesus was in the garden of Gesthesame, he cried out to God and asked if God could take the cup from him. In his next breath he said, not my will by thy will be done.

Peace comes when not only do I admit but to accept what has happened. Is it God's will? You betcha. His perfect will - I don't think so. He permissive will - well that's what I choose to believe, even though I struggle with it at times. When I do, I have to ask Him to help me with it so I won't drive myself crazy with the what ifs. I also realize that I have an enemy. His name is Satan and his mission is "to kill, steal, and destroy." I believe he does have a role in this and I am going to point my anger and rage at him. It is called righteous anger and I will not give into his schemes to torment my mind with his lies. Nor will I give into his schemes to tear my family apart or destroy everthing that we love and know to be truth.

What about Jeremiah 29:11, you say: "these are the plans I have for you, to prosper you, and not to harm you and to give you a hope and a future." What does this say about where we are right now. He has plans, yea right. He does not want to harm us and wants to give us hope and a future. How can that be in light of this enormous burden we carry right now. Well, I have heard more than once and this scripture has played over and over again in my head like a broken record "lean not on your own understanding, but in all ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. God will never leave you nor forsake you. Right now, I cling to those promises. I get through the days remembering what God has done for me in the past. I choose to remember that His faithful and just. I choose to acknowledge that He is righteous and that His ways and not my ways. I choose to believe that He has a plan and a purpose and that it is good and that in His time, He will reveal it to me. I choose not to let my enemy torture or torment me with what could have been. I have asked the Lord to always point me to His truth when I stray or doubt. It's His truth that sets me free. It's His truth that binds up the broken hearted. It's His truth that allows me to get up every day and breath and thank Him for the blessings I do have.

The enemy would want me to stay stuck in the grief and pain and not focus on my blessings. The enemy would have me believe that there is no reason to live and that it would not matter if I did not. Early on, I wanted to die. I did not want to live here without my son. I know that was the grief talking. I also know that I have so much to be thankful for and I would never want to leave my husband, my other children, grandchildren or my family. I do know that I have an appointed time as well to face death and when that time comes, I am ready. But, I know that it is not my choice; it is God's alone.

The enemy attacks and is relentless in his efforts to take everything that is good and wonderful in my life and destroy it. I choose to believe that my redeemer lives and that He wants me to cast my cares upon Him for He cares for me. Every day I hold on to the fact that my son is preparing that place for us to join Him someday. And until we do, we will laugh, dance, play, cry tears of joy and sadness. Until that day, I will hold on to the arms of those I love and to Him who loves us all. I will be more than an overcomer. I am a conquerer through Christ Jesus. Through Him, all things are possible. To Him goes all the glory forever and ever and ever.

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchased of blood, born of the spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my savior all the day long. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight. Visions of rapture now burst in my sight. Angels descending, bring from above, echoes of mercy, whispers of love. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my savior all the day long."

I will press on toward that high calling that is in Christ Jesus. I will remember that my battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. I will REMEMBER who Jesus is and what He has done for me. I will.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dare to Be Real

How do you begin to explore the many facets of losing someone so dearly loved. In January, 2009, our family experienced the most dramatic pain and trauma we could ever imagine. We all went to bed thinking that everything was good with the world. A new day and a better day was dawning for all of us. My oldest daughter (April) and her husband were going through some of the most difficult challenges in their lives, and found themselves in the throws of one of the worst economic downturns in my lifetime. The huge downturn found many, including themselves, for the first time in their young lives in a struggle for survival. Our middle daughter (Brandi) and her husband were looking forward to the arrival of their second child, a little girl. My son Russell and his wife Samarah were looking forward to the best year ever. It was going to be a better year for all of us and one we welcomed with all our hearts.

Little did we know when we went to bed on Thursday night, January 1st that all of us would be awakened in our hearts, our spirits, our minds, our bodies and our souls to the shocking reality and horror that one of us would not be here to experience all the life the new year promised. The phone call that no one ever wants to get invaded us like a thief in the night taking life that means everything and leaving nothing but confusion, what ifs, and trauma, and pain with no words to truly express the devastation that less than 2 minutes of time could bring. No mind can fathom how in a short amount of time everything changes and nothing will ever be the same.

Russell and Sam were enjoying some much needed and well deserved couple time. My husband Michael and I welcomed the opportunity to have their two children, Isaac and Lilli visit with us so Russ and Sam could welcome in the new year together. We were excited about having Ike and Lil because our opportunities to share them with their parents were few and far between. We missed being with Russ and Sam over Christmas. We spent Thanksgiving with them at my sister's house. We went through Christmas day in the normal way except feeling the absence of Russell, Sam and the kids. Christmas is my favorite holiday and one of the most important facets of this special day is spending it with my kids. We all live busy lives and get togethers did not happen as often as any of us would have liked. But, we stayed in constant contact through phone calls, emails, and individual sporadic visits that usually centered around some special event like baseball games, football games, birthdays, and of course, one of my favorite times of the year, mother's day.

Like most families, our tradition at Christmas is to meet, greet, eat, and then have a crazy time opening presents. I say crazy because the grandkids love ripping the paper off and tossing it onto the floor to get into the spoils of the day as quickly as possible. We always read the Christmas story and make it the focal point of our gathering and, of course, take the usual photos at the end of the evening so we will have something to remind us of our precious time together.

For some reason, this December was different. With several December birthdays in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is not an easy task for the family to get together and celebrate birthdays. 2008 was no exception and there were a few unusual nuances thrown into the mix which prompted us to decide and hold off until January to have a birthday luncheon for our December birthdays. Russell wanted us all to get together at his house so he could cook for us. He loved to cook and this was one of his love languages (acts of service). He had worked at several restaurants during his high school and college years. He also learned from Sam's family about Cajun cooking and always liked sharing new receipes with family and friends. Whenever the kids would have a birthday, Russell always like to have everyone over and cook. It was his way of saying I love you.

So here we were at the end of December with the new year fast approaching. I met Sam at Chik-Fil-A and while we visited, the kids played. Russell was at work and she was sharing their plans for the evening. They had been invited to downtown New Year's Eve events which included backstage passes to gather with the band that was playing for Julia Ann Hough. I never will forget the excitement in his voice when we talked on Thursday (January 1st). He was so jacked about the events of the evening and life was good. We talked several times throughout the day about the kids. They were doing well but Lilli kept protesting about spending a second night. She wanted to go home to be with her parents. She was missing her mommy. Russell talked with her and agreed that he would check back with me in about an hour. If Lilli was still insisting on going home, he and Sam would come and get the kids. 6:30 p.m. would be the last time I would ever talk with my son. He called to check on the kids and I told him they were fine. Lilli had settled down and was watching a movie.

I had told her that her mommy and daddy were spending some couple time together and she would see them tomorrow. I did not know at the time that my words to Lilli, age 4, would turn to lies in the morning. I told Russell to have a good time and I would see him tomorrow. He said mom, we can come and get them if you want. I so desperately wanted Russell and Sam to have a good time together and I wanted to keep Isaac and Lilli another night.

We got the phone call at 10:45 p.m. When the phone rang, I told Michael, my husband, that this could not be good. We just don't get those kinds of calls this late at night. We were expecting to hear that Brandi was ready to go to the hospital, but for some strange reason, I knew in my heart that this was not that call. It was way too early and we had been praying that she could carry the baby to full term.

As I answered the call in a state of grogginess, the words came quickly, harshly and pierced my heart. "There has been an accident with a fatality and we think it's Russell" stated the voice on the other end. We need identification to make sure. I was in such a state of shock, I really don't remember how long I listened but at some point, Michael had the phone and was providing information that would help identify Russell's body. We waited for more calls to come to confirm. That became one of the longest nights of our lives. Once the Medical Examiner had the information, we received confirmation. Michael had the undaunting task of calling our girls and telling them. As he called and spoke with their husbands, I just kept thinking "this is not right, this is just not happening." At some point during the call, I asked "where is Sam. Is Sam alright." We were told that Sam was not with Russell when the accident occurred.

The nightmare had begun and we hoped and prayed with all our hearts that it would end. Morning came and we were faced with the reality that it was not a dream; it was our reality. Reality has a way of pounding down your doors, and blowing your heart to pieces. Reality can be cruel and aggressive taking away hopes, dreams, and desires for the future in a matter of minutes. Reality quickly becomes an enemy and the weight can quickly become too heavy to bear.

The trauma quickly brings confusion and shock. Oh my God, Oh my God. How could this have happened? What happened? Where? When? What's going on? Oh my God, Oh my God. What did we do to deserve this? Oh my God, I don't understand? Where are you God? How could you let this happen? Dear Lord, this can't be. Oh Jesus, Why? Why? Why? This can't be. This just can't be. This is not right. How can this be? Lot of questions, no answers.

The what ifs can take over and before you know it, you are stuck in an abyss of what ifs that lead you down a path with no end. What if I had done this or done that. What if we had gotten together for birthdays in December, we would have had more time together. What if I had said come on and get the kids. They want to go home. What if I had not gotten the kids to begin with? What if? What if, what if, what if? Without your awareness or permission, the devil can use the what ifs to torment your mind.

Day One - We were careful to protect our grandchildren from the news. We had to get them to their mom so she could tell them. Our two younger children knew something terrible had happened because Michael and I were crying uncontrollably. Thank God for friends who had somehow gotten the news and came to help. They became God's ministering angels to us that day. Several of them stayed behind at our house that day just to field phone calls.

I will never forget Ginny, my neighbor who came up and made crafts with Lilli to occupy her htime. Ike was preoccupied with the Wii. Our friends the Simoneaux's who had lost a grandchild just months earlier were there. Other friends like Walt, Sandra, Linda, Rick and Alice all came to see how they could help. The Schers came over to get our two youngest children to be with them so we could attend to Ike and Lil and get them to their mom. I don't remember much about that morning except crying a lot. We were careful to do it out of sight of the children. When the Schers came to pick up our two younger ones, Michael followed them out to the car and told them. We were concerned that they would lose it and distrub Ike and Lil. We did not want them to go away for several days not knowing what had happened and why we needed them to go with the Schers.

As I continued to grasp with the reality of it, I knew that I had to be strong for Ike and Lilli. We finally got things handled with family on the other end. We knew Sam was in very bad shape emotionally and physically so we were just waiting to get the call to bring her children to her. I never will forget that day as long as I live. We put the children in the car and I decided to get in the back seat with them. We played and sang and had a good time. For some reason, Lilli and I got into a discussion about the stars in the sky. She said the stars in the sky were small because they were tee niney. I told her that they were not tee niney at all, it was just that they were a long way off. When I could not think of anything else to sing, I just made up songs for them. I did not have a clue how Sam was going to tell them that their daddy was gone. Some of the sweetest moments with my grandchildren had suddenly become some of my saddest.

Sam was at her grandparents house which was only miles away from the accident site. When we walked in, Sam came over and hugged me and told me over and over again how sorry she was. I kept telling her that she had nothing to be sorry about and that the love that we share for Russell is what makes it hurt so deeply, and that it is that love that we have for each other that will get us through our loss of Russell. We knew Sam was in shock and so were we. We needed to talk about plans for the service and I could not even go there. Michael talked with Sam's family and they agreed to get with Sam the next day to make the arrangements. We had lived in the area for almost 20 years prior to moving to our current home, so we still had friends and family at a local church and knew the owner of the funeral home nearby. Michael agreed to make the arrangements for use of the church, and Sam along with the help of her family would work out the other details.

Michael and I left there and went directly to our oldest daughter's house. Other family had gathered there and we needed to see them and try to comfort them. I am afraid that I was not much comfort to anyone that day. I wailed like I have never wailed before. My heart and my stomach hurt so bad, I thought I was going to die. In fact, there were moments when I wished I was dead. Funny thing about losing someone so close, you think that somehow you can change things by trying to bargain with God. I asked God why he didn't take me. I was ready to go. I had lived a good life. I would rather he take me than take my son who had his whole life ahead of him. He had two small children and a young wife who needed him. My girls needed him. His death was such a huge loss and I would have done anything to turn back the hands of time and go in his place. But that is not what God had planned. I just could not accept that this was God's will for Russell's life or for us for that matter.

When we had left home earlier, I packed a bag and planned to spend the night with my girls. After numerous hours of just wailing uncontrollably, Michael said that he thought I should go home. I resisted with all my might but he insisted that I go home with him, so I did. I am so thankful that I listened to him on this. When we got home that night, we just lay in the bed and held each other and cried our hearts out. I do remember that at some point in the evening at our daughter's house, I had called a football team mom from Russell's childhood and told her about Russell and asked for her help. I asked her to call Russell's youth football and baseball coach and tell him. I felt he would want to know.

Coach Collins and his wife had been a significant positive influence in Russell's life. Russell did not have a dad who was actively engaged in his life at that time. I knew that he needed positive male role models so I got him into sports and scouts at an early age. Coach Collins had a son Russell's age and they became friends. Russell stayed in touch with Ace even after they graduated from high school. I remember the day that Russell told me over the phone that Ace had been killed in an accident. Russell had gone by their house to see them and he told me how sad they were. I had not seen the Collins for several years and my heart broke for them when Russell told me, but I could not even begin to understand their pain and suffering. Little did I know that someday I would understand.

Day Two - I don't remember a lot about that day except that more friends came over to see how they could help. I do remember that all three of our phones rang off the hook. Mine and Michael's cell as well as the house phone. People were inquiring about us and wanted to know details for the service. For some reason, I chose to obsess on the fact that the Christmas tree was still up and needed to be taken down. Michael and I had begun to do it, but decided we would wait until the grandchildren were gone. God continued to send ministering angels. My friends Alisa and Alice came over and took the tree down. Friends Robin, her daughter and housekeeper came over and cleaned my house. Friend Gail came to cut and fix my hair. She brought her sister Nancy who had lost a son in Iraq and understood what I was going through. I vaguely remember talking to them but I know they were there. As people paraded in and out of the house, the fog had set in. I was on autopilot and my survival instincts had kicked in.

Funny thing about survival instincts. They just do what God intended them to do with or without our permission. They shelter us from all that could be because of the grace of God. While the pain is extremely intense, we have no clue how much God is protecting us from. God truly knows how much we can bare. and he will never give us more than we can bare. Michael was my angel as well. I don't remember seeing him much that day, but I know he was at home with me. I do remember the phones ringing constantly and he was taking the calls. I really don't know how he did it. I could barely function. I am sure to the people who were coming in and out that I looked and sounded pretty normal. But I can tell you. I was not.

Soon it was time to go to the funeral home. I did not want to go. I did not want to face those people. I did not want to have to look them in the face and them know that the reason they were there was because my son was dead. I was going through the motions, but I did not want to. People did not understand. I just wanted to be left alone. I did not want to do this. I did not. I did not. But, people expected me to be there. They expected the family to receive them and know how much they cared. I fought going with all my being, but it was to be so. We headed down around 4:00. When I got there, the funeral home had been set up with photo displays of Russell and his life. There was a video and several digital video displays. I had a hard time looking at those remnants of his life on display for the world to see. There was a large picture of him with his violin in hand for people to sign and leave behind for Sam. There was his violin, his guitar, his Bible, an Atlanta Falcons hat, a Dacula Falcons hat (the name of his little league football team), and an LSU hat (from Sam's side of the family, he became an avid LSU fan).

Russell and Sam built their life around God, family, friends, music, and sports. They were like most families. They worked hard during the week and looked forward to a weekend spent enjoying the simpler things in life. Their tradition was to go to church on Sundays where Russell played on the worship team and Sam helped out with children's ministries, come home, cook, and watch sports. Because they invested their lives into other people's lives, many people showed up to honor Russell. Samarah and Russell had so many interests that intersected with others' lives, it was only natural for people to show up and show Sam how much they cared.

Michael and I had been in ministry for over 20 years so we had the opportunity to see people we had not seen in years. For over three hours that evening, our family received family, friends, and associates, church family and ministry family. The line of people ran through the parlor, out in the hallway, down the hall and into the parking lot. I never thought it would end.

Our daughters' family members and friends were too numerous to count. Sam's family from Atlanta and Louisiana came to show their respects. There were so many cousins, I could not even begin to learn all their names. Russell's friends from work, his music, and all avenues of his life came. The former youth minister from our church in Lilburn came to pay his respects. People that Michael and I had ministered to for years were there. People we went to church with. People from Russ and Sam's church. After a while, the faces were no longer distinguishable. There was such a sea and I could not begin to even tell you how many people came that night.

One of the most touching things about the evening was the parade of little football players that came through with their parents. They were from Isaac's football team that Russell coached. Some of them were crying their hearts out. One little fellow I will never forget. His name was Deshone. He came up to me crying. I knelt down and looked him in the eyes. I asked him if he was crying because Coach Hays was gone and he said yes. His mother was standing above us with tear filled eyes. I told Deshone to remember how much Coach Hays loved him and that every time he goes out onto the football field to play that Coach Hays would be smiling down on him and letting him know that he was very pleased. I held that little fellow in my arms and just loved him because I know that my son loved him and it made me feel that Russell was there. One by one they came through the line and I hugged them. Those children ministered to me in a way that no adult could.

As the evening finally wound down, we headed home emotionally, spiritually and physically spent. When we arrived back home, waiting for us were two dear friends from Alabama. They had come over for the night to be at the visitation, and would head home in the morning before the service. We were so thankful they were here because it gave us the opportunity to talk and think about something else if only for a short time. We talked and laughed and shared stories of our early years of marriage. It was good therapy for us and for them. I took Tylenol PM that night to help me sleep. I knew there was no way I could get through the night and the next day without rest. Michael and I held each other that night until we fell asleep.

Day Three - Memorial Service Day. We arrived at the church a little before two and already the parking lot was filling up. We could not believe how many people were already there. The service was beautiful. Sam had photos of Russell out for people to see who had not been at the funeral home visitation the night before. The program revealed a love for Russell that only his bride could have. She had planned the service which allowed people to get into the heart and soul of Russell. She selected songs that Russell had written and songs that he wished he had written. I had not heard the one that he wrote after 9/11 so I was thankful to have that. Brandon shared a humourous story from his heart about his time with Russell at Toccoa Falls College. Corey had come in from Denver and shared about his batching days before Sam met Russell and about the day that Russell met Sam and fell in love with her. Brandon played his guitar along with Laura (Hickson) Reynolds on the violin and Tom Bedzyk on the piano. Tom sang "Come Home", a song that Russell wrote for Samarah - his love and his life on August 10, 2000. The service was beautiful and a true testament to the life that Russell and Sam lived. They dared to be real and their lives were so real and so rich. Most people can only dream of having that kind of life and the freedom that they had in their lives because of their love for the Lord and their love for each other.

The pastor of the church told us that the service was the largest service they had ever had in that building with the exception of a Sunday morning regular church service. He estimated that there were over 500 people in attendance. Since that day so many people have told us that it was the sweetest, most real service they had ever been to. One of our dear friends who is 82 said that Russell preached his own service. His gift of music ministered to the people there. His love for the Lord and his family ministered to the people there. His friends who were so real with their testimonies of his life shared with them ministered to the people there. Samarah's eulogy written about him and their love for each other ministered to the people there. The day was a true celebration of his life. We were hurting, but we were proud to call him our son.

As the crowds dissipated, I was left with a feeling of complete and utter exhaustion. The service was a wonderful expression of our love for him and now we were saying goodbye. But the story does not end there. Yes, we were saying goodbye to Russell's earthly life, but our life with him was not over. We have Samarah, Ike and Lilli, his music, his journals, video tape, photos, and numerous other earthly possessions, as well as the all the wonderful memories we carry in our hearts every day. And those we have yet to share with each other.

Life is a cycle of gaining through losing. We are not taught in this life to let go. We are taught to obtain, to gain, to hold on, to hold on more. Loss has a strange way of teaching us to let go. While it's a very painful process, it is a part of life. We all know that when we come into this world, we will also leave it at some point. For some, it is sooner rather than later. For Russell, it was way too soon for us, but his completed life for him. For those of us who are left behind, we learn through the loss that life is a precious gift, and we should never take it for granted.

I have learned that suffering has no value in and of itself. It's what we learn from and do with the lessons of the suffering that are important. As we seek to understand rather than to be understood, we realize that every person who touches our lives has something to give and perhaps even something to take away. Love is not divided when it is shared. We experienced great love through this man whose life was hallmarked by the way he loved God and others. We are devastated that we must go on without him here with us, but we also know that he is happy, totaly fulfilled and looking for our great reunion with him. So as we say goodbye to Russell, we say hello to a life without him but filled with all kinds of opportunities. He lived life out loud and he wants us to do the same. We will always love Russell. We know that our time here is short and precious and we will treat it as such. As you reflect on those times in your own life when you think life just could not go on, remember that your life is but a vapor and don't take even one second of it for granted. Dare to live free, be real, and enjoy every minute of that freedom.

MORE to come -

About Me

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I love the simple things in life: My husband, family, children, grandchildren, God and country. I enjoy time with family and friends, reading books that challenge me to think outside the box, and music of all genres (except rap,hiphop, and heavy metal). Too old for that and besides, it hurts my ears. People who know me understand that it takes little to make me happy.

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