Are we sharpening one another?

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. —Proverbs 27:17 ESV

When you work every Sunday, a holiday weekend doesn’t really hold the same type of appeal as it does for most. The “woohoo three-day weekend” isn’t really three days in a row, and the Monday holiday observance often only makes the remainder of the week more difficult to catch up with. Still, not too many people I know (myself included) will say they don’t enjoy having an extra day at their discretion, regardless of how it fits in.

I found myself with my own type of holiday this past weekend. I had off Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and for once, none of those days had appointments or outside obligations. So I allowed myself to fill them . . . with friends. Sort of an iron-sharpening few days, you might say.

I think it’s interesting to read what some of the commentaries say about the sharpening process:

  • It can make us/keep us “shiny”—some translations say “sharpens the countenance”—and Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers says that in essence, the verse is telling us that the “play of wit with wit” will actually brighten up the face.
  • Benson’s Commentary says it “quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better man.”
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary reminds us that we are to “take heed whom we converse with,” and tells us that our conversation should have the end goal “to make one another wiser and better.”

Friendships, I think, boil down to two basic types: those that strengthen and fill us so we become sharper and more effective, and those that weaken and drain us. Not that I’m always tossing Bible verses around, but when I think of my friendships, I think of Proverbs 17: 22—”A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

I’ve often returned from a visit with a good friend, eyes burning from the tears that accompanied some intense bouts of laughter, abdominal muscles more sore than Jillian Michaels could ever hope to make me, saying, “That was EXACTLY what I needed today!” I’m not kidding when I tell you I think I could be really skinny if I only got to spend more time with my better friends. (Never mind the pizza we’re probably eating—we’re focusing on the positive here.) There’s cardio, there’s side cramping, there’s floor work as I roll around, doubled over. And I’m working out those smile muscles like nobody’s business.

THAT is good medicine.

A friend and coworker recently posted her thoughts about iron sharpening iron on Facebook, saying,

“So if that is true, and I believe God’s Word is true, then is the reverse true? Does being dull create dullness in another? Does negativity give birth to more negativity? Have you ever found a rotten potato in your bag of potatoes—that is nasty—and creates a problem for the other potatoes. Are we building one another up or tearing each other down and pulling people in with us? I work in a church—I hear positive and negative comments each week. I hear them at baseball games, at stores, etc. It causes me to examine myself. Am I sharpening others with God’s love and encouraging others or am I spreading viruses with negative words that are not helpful and are not going to change anything? My thoughts on my drive home today . . .”

Just as we have those positive friends, there will always be acquaintances who pull us into a pattern of negativity and complaining. It’s all too easy to slide into and not nearly as easy to climb out of, once a habit has been established. I’m a naturally sarcastic person, so are my kids, and so are many of my friends. However, I’m conscious of not allowing that sarcasm to become mean-spirited (sometimes I fail, but hey, I’m conscious of it), and there are times when I’ve certainly been convicted of being negative. It happens. But I don’t want to live there.

Joy in the Bible is often mentioned in conjunction with strength. I certainly feel stronger after spending any amount of time with my positive-outlook friends. I can conquer the world and then some.

And that’s how I feel on this not-a-three-day-weekend: rejuvenated and ready to conquer the world. Why? Because on Thursday night, I and two of my very close friends (who happen to be authors I work for) made the time for a three-way Skype chat that had me—and various family members as they wandered in and out of the room—laughing for a solid three-plus hours, finally winding down to say goodbye at almost 2 a.m.

On Friday, I got to have a long lunch with another close friend who was in town from North Carolina. This was a total bonus, since I don’t usually get to see her more than once a year; but not only did I see her in November (when we got matching tattoos to celebrate friendship endurance through some really tough seasons), I’ll see her again in July. Three times within a twelve-month period! It means so much to me to see her smiling face, to giggle the moment we are within earshot of each other, and to talk about everything from silly to deep, fitting in as much as we can until the next time.

On Friday night, yet another close friend—my college roommate and still one of my besties—came over to spend the evening hanging out and watching a movie. We know enough about each other to get into some serious trouble, we’ve persevered through thick and thin, we seldom get to see one another though we live less than ten miles apart, and our daughters have somehow managed to become best friends, which we think is super cool. We can follow each other’s tangents and don’t have to explain our dumb jokes to each other.

These friendships, with people who are vastly different from each other, sharpen me. They each have a unique way of encouraging me and yet holding me accountable when I’m not my best self. And if you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to surround myself with people who love to laugh. I can be as serious as I need to be, but not until the very moment I have to be, and not a moment after. There will always be time for tears when they’re needed, so why rush it? Laugh at every opportunity so your strength is built up for those valleys.

I was so buoyed by a simple two days of friend-infilling that my Saturday was incredibly productive. I woke up raring to go. I didn’t get everything checked off my to-do list, but I got little bits of lots of things accomplished, and shared some nice moments with my best friend who just happens to be married to me. In fact, today marks the 30th anniversary of our first kiss, and I will be the first to tell you that a man who still celebrates the kissiversary after thirty years is a an iron-sharpener of the highest quality.

So how about it? Who will YOU sharpen this week?

Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.

 

We don’t grieve as the world grieves

Last night, I had the privilege of being somewhere most people wouldn’t think a privilege: I sat with one of my best friends in her living room, waiting and watching as her husband of almost twenty years passed from life on earth to eternal life with Jesus.

Only a couple weeks before, they’d found out that a supposed clot in his arm was actually a “mass.” After immediately beginning radiation, only a week or so later they were told the mass was actually a lot of aggressively growing masses, rapidly spreading throughout his body—and untreatable. The decision was made by both of them that he would come home with hospice care for the time he had left. The doctor guessed “weeks to a couple months.”

He came home on Friday. He died six days later.

Today, I’m pondering the nature of grief in a Christian household. From the beginning my friend has had peace, and her husband did as well. That doesn’t mean they would have chosen the pain—physical, often extreme, for him . . . emotional for her and their two teenage daughters—but it certainly changes how they reacted to it.

Instead of becoming angry at God, they turned to him even more steadfastly. Instead of becoming bitter, they prayed that others might see Christ through their behavior during trials. In fact, when I visited for a couple hours two nights ago, I walked in the door to the sound of worship as close friends played guitar and sang at his bedside. The singers included his daughters, who recognized that God alone was the source of their comfort.

So last night, when my daughter and I gathered a few things to spend the night, she decided to bring her ukulele and chord charts so we, also, could minister to our friends through music. Again, we worshiped, and again, the house had an atmosphere of peace, not despair. Amazing how that works.

There were tears, certainly, at the moment of that final breath, but overall, still that sense of peace that truly passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). God gives us peace, and he guards our hearts and minds in the process. These guys knew who was guarding their hearts, and it got them through a night that will change their lives forever, leaving a hole that can’t be filled by another person.

My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter even recognized God’s providential timing of her father’s death: a day later, and her best friend would have been out of town on a school field trip; her sister’s best friend (my daughter) would have been at the prom and not at her friend’s side. As it was, I got to witness four girls between the ages of fifteen and almost-seventeen comforting each other with a maturity that would have put most adults to shame.

In my friend’s own words, less than twenty-four hours after her marital status was changed to “widow”:

“I don’t know what the days ahead will hold but the girls and I are confident that the peace that God has given us will continue. We are blessed to have so many amazing friends and family members carrying us along! It is such a comfort to us to have people who will not only grieve with us but also rejoice with us.”

We do not grieve as the world grieves, “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b), but as John 16:22 states oh-so-clearly, “. . . you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

I try not to be a person who makes sweeping statements or who makes everything into a drama, but I can say—with absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever—that 2017 so far has, in a word, sucked. Let’s even use two words and say REALLY sucked.

The year is young, only one quarter complete, so I’m hoping with everything in me that the trend will reverse itself. And by the very nature of grief, it must. Yes, it could get worse, but I’m going with the law of averages here and assuming things will ease as the months go by, and my heart will once again soar on a regular basis.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long that it almost feels like starting completely from scratch. The past couple years were a whirlwind of activity and life changes that took everything in me to keep afloat, and every time I started to draft a post, I would find it irrelevant by the time I got back to it, months later. This blog has always been my “dear diary” of sorts, the most personal version of myself, and many of the things I began to draft were not the type of thing that could even be posted, because sharing what I was struggling with would have only hurt others . . . not that any of them read this, but I would rather err on the side of grace when I can (great advice given to me by a friend and coworker).

Last year was especially hard on many fronts, so I was looking forward to that magical fresh start that always comes with the turn of the calendar page to January 1. To be fair, January actually wasn’t so bad. It was full of determination, introspective moments, busyness, silliness, promise, and a few surprises. I had some new experiences opening up for me for work (both jobs) and for personal growth.

But then in February, I lost a close friend. Not due to a death, though it’s just as permanent. One day things were fine, and the next, the friendship was ripped from me with no recourse on my part. I spent most of the next month reeling, denying that this was my new reality and trying to make sense of it in my mind. It still seems unreal in many ways. The sadness of not getting my birthday phone call or texts that start with “I have this great idea . . .” out of the blue only cemented the oh-my-goodness-this-nightmare-is-real feeling.

All the while, life had to go on. I still had to work. I still had to love and take care of my family. I still had to get up each day and function because there was only one person, my bestie, I could talk with to try and sort it out, so the hurt had to be kept a secret. Talking about it hurt too much, and holding it in hurt no less.

I tried writing out my thoughts and it only made me cry more. And then it made me angry. And then cry again. Angry. Crying. Angry. Crying. What an awful cycle. Toss in a lot of bewilderment and disbelief, and self-medicating was starting to sound really good, though I didn’t go that route. I wondered if my former friend was hurting as I was hurting—as I still am hurting—or if it was a simple thing to dispose of that part of life, to dismiss it with an “oh, well.” In my worst moments, I wondered if the friendship was only on my end, and that our rapport was not what I thought it had been.

But the single phrase that keeps going through my head (and has been for weeks, in fact) is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Straight out of the Bible, that one. Luke, chapter 24. In that passage, angels at the empty tomb are speaking to the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ now-absent body. He’s not there, and the angels even tell them, “He is risen, just as he said.” I was struck by the thought once again as Easter approached.

Why do I seek where there is only empty space? Why do I seek joy where there is only disappointment? Why can’t I turn away from what is irrevocably gone and look toward the good things? There is plenty of joy around me, and I bask in it. And yet . . . why do I seek the living among the dead? Looking harder only reinforces that there is nothing to be found, and creates more of a downward spiral.

In my case, I am still struggling with the “dead” part of it. I am looking for a friendship that is no longer a living, vibrant, fun and active part of my life. I am looking for what once was, because I simply cannot believe it no longer is.

There is life all around me, and though I am enjoying it in a compartmentalized sort of way, the times when I’m tired or alone with my thoughts are still a huge battle. I sincerely appreciate the good things—and there are many, thanks to a spectacular husband, great kids, a bestie who knows all of it from start to finish and still listens to me, and wonderful coworkers—and yet I still feel the empty space. I replay conversations. I remember good times. And I get angry at myself that the good things don’t always feel like enough, because they are. In fact, they’re more than enough if I allow them to be. In fact, I have to allow them to be, because I have no choice; this is my new reality.

But I think it’s kind of like when you lose a child . . . something I’ve had experience with. There are the other children, and they are a great comfort, but it doesn’t negate that there is grief to be processed and someone is still gone. Those who remain are no less essential, but they don’t fill in the space and replace that which was lost. They can’t. Each space, each person, each relationship, forms a specific shape in a person’s life, much like a puzzle piece.

To lose a friend is no small thing. Not if that friendship was real. That puzzle piece is as unique as God created them to be. And only God can fill the empty spaces where no other piece fits. He has allowed me to be broken in many ways over the past few years, and this is now one more addition to the list. Have I mentioned that I hate being broken? It hurts like nothing else, at times a physical ache that rivals the heart-hurt.

The good news is that God’s pretty decent at brokenness. He’s waiting for me to give it over to him—fully—and believe me, I’m trying because I need to move on and stop looking behind me. I’m trying. I really am. I’m tired of feeling broken and I’m tired of not being myself anymore.

But Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells me this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

In other words, he has given me a longing which nothing else can satisfy, except God. I can’t grasp his plan. I don’t need to. Because he knows me and is waiting for me to hand over what is dead so he can point the way to what is living.

This year, I’m okay

January 20 has, for the past 11 years, been a lousy day in our house. January 20, 2003, is when we lost our almost-five-year-old son. Nothing alters a day on the calendar for the rest of your life like the day a family member dies. Each year from then to now, the Christmas and New Year holidays have come and gone, and all of a sudden, there’s January, in all its crappy glory. We’re all coming down from a sugar high, needing to get back into a routine, having to start up school again, fighting heavy snowfall, and dealing with full dark at 4:30 p.m.

And then comes the 20th. It wouldn’t be so bad if the day’s emotions were predictable from year to year. Unfortunately, emotions are neither predictable nor controllable. We’ve marked the day in a variety of ways over the years, from going out of town to watching videos of the kids to getting a small cake. Most of the recent years have been more of a quiet glance between Tim and me, sharing a thought here or there, or texts throughout the day. I’m not sure if the kids remember the exact day or not, or if they consciously think about it in the same way we do.

I find myself marking the day on the calendar in the same way I mark all our birthdays: with a heart drawn around the date. I’m not sure why I do that, since it’s not really a celebration per se, and I’m certainly not likely to forget it if it doesn’t have that heart around the “20”—but the new calendar gets put in place and there it is.

This year, I feel motivated to write about it, because I feel…okay. Not spectacular, but not struck (or stuck) with the usual January melancholy. In fact, I’ve felt joyful overall every time I’ve thought of Tig over the past few months because of so many wonderful benefits that have resulted from his short life, and yes—even through his death. It’s an odd perspective.

It’s shown me that no experience is ever wasted, whether good or bad, precise or all-encompassing. Treasure all of them; store them in your heart, because it makes the reflection that much more precious when the time comes.

The pain of losing him has never lessened, and I’m quite sure it will never go away; however, it’s blurred on the edges a bit, not because I feel it less but because (I think) I’ve learned how to deal with it better as each year has passed. Each day, each week, each month, each year has shown me how God used that time in our lives in a way that will never be duplicated; that revelation has turned my grief into wonder.

Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (NIV)

I’m no dancer. You’ll have to trust me on this, because if you want proof, you’ll wish you’d trusted me in the first place. But my heart dances, in a way, when I sing, and I’ve been singing a pretty cool song in my heart lately.

This year—not last year, and maybe not next year, but this year—I’m okay. Maybe even better than okay.

Thankfulness comes in all sizes

I read a post by Elle Todd the other day, Being Thankful, that brought to mind something we don’t often recognize: the things for which we can be most grateful are oftentimes not the obvious. In fact, they may have felt distinctly like not-so-great moments when they happened, and only in hindsight do we realize we are, after all is said and done, thankful they occurred.

I’ve written at great length—more than I ever thought I would—about the blessings that have come about as a direct result of how we handled ourselves during a time of great upheaval in our family. Most of those blessings have made themselves known only now, almost eleven years later. I won’t rehash the stuff I’ve already blogged about, but feel free to read my earlier posts (there aren’t that many to sift through, since this is a new blog) if you’re curious.

I had a huge post (big surprise there) in the works, based around all the “closed door/opened window” or “silver lining” things in my life, but deleted just about the entire thing when I realized it was so detailed as to be snore-inducing. (Elle, I really did want to steal your idea, but your post didn’t bore me and mine did, so you win this one.)

What it all boiled down to were two things: family and friends. Those two things were at the heart of my entire post. Everything I am thankful for somehow involves them. Finances, health, material possessions—they wax and wane, and we adapt, but the things that affect me most can always be traced back to friends or family.

It may sound trite to fall back on the ol’ friends & family thing, but I am sincere when I say I don’t take these things for granted. My dad died two years ago; he didn’t always have the best advice, he’d give our Christmas gifts back to us (“I don’t really need this; go ahead and just stick it in your car and take it home with you”) and he was kind of a Cliff Claven in many ways, but he loved us and loved his grandchildren. He had no tact, but you always knew where you stood with him, and he was generous with what he had. My mom is still around and doing well, even though we thought we were going to lose her within months of my dad dying. The cancer that seemed to be so prevalent throughout her bones two years ago is miraculously sparse right now with no chemo and no radiation. Big Thankful.

My in-laws rank right up there on my list of Big Thankfuls. Make all the mother-in-law jokes you want; you can all be jealous of me because my in-laws are terrific, from Pop & Gramma all the way down to the youngest cousin. I’m stuck by marriage with a family I would have chosen anyway.

This year has been a time of transition for me. Transitions are not always thankful moments, but this one is. I feel as if I’m settling in and beginning yet another season. This one involves my kids being older and a little more independent, which has allowed me, in turn, to be a little more independent. I’m not sure if that’s leading me to be more versatile or just lazier, since I don’t have to chase after them anymore. Still, I’m thankful for the next phase, because it’s different and new, which usually means exciting and interesting.

Being in-de-pen-dent (hearing it in my head as pronounced by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) means I can pursue activities that interest me—I’m not limited to the things in which my children are involved. As enjoyable as those things are, I’m there for them, not for me. I don’t mind waiting my turn, as long as I get a turn once in awhile.

This year, it seems, is my turn. Yay, me! Through a quirky turn of events, I ended up with a freelance copy editing job and a handful of new acquaintances who have very quickly become friends. Some of them, I swear, are long-lost family, and there’s not a thing you can say to convince me otherwise. The Big Thankful in this instance is not only having a job I enjoy exceedingly, but also knowing there are more people out there just like me. That may be scary to some of you, but trust me, it’s a relief to me. [Side note: this post ended up delayed by an almost-two-hour Facebook chat with one of those crazy people, and I hurt myself laughing. But I’m still thankful. Painfully thankful. And I know she’s probably hurting, too, so we’re even.]

The thing for which I’m most thankful, though, is this: I don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to find a list of Big Thankfuls, or even Little Thankfuls. They’re there every day. For instance, I wake up. Every single day, I wake up. And if you don’t think that’s something to be thankful about, then try not waking up.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand or complex. It can be serious or funny. As long-term as “I’m married to the man of my dreams.” As short-term as “That conversation was hilarious.”

The important thing is to recognize it for what it is: a blessing. A bonus. A woo hoo moment. A victory.

Life with family and friends. Two absolutely indispensable things, in my book.

Long-reaching effects and what they’re worth

I’m overwhelmed. I’ll tell you right now that I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed that the first thing I could think to do in order to cope with it is to grab my laptop and write. I didn’t want to lose the thoughts whirling in my head by waiting any longer than I had to.

I spoke this morning at a women’s conference. My main job this weekend was to sing on Friday night and Saturday morning, but there was a teeny tiny part of Saturday that included a talk: I was asked to give my testimony. For those of you who are not familiar with Christian-speak, giving one’s testimony is akin to telling people how God has worked or is working in your life. Sometimes a person’s testimony involves telling about a turning point in his life, and sometimes it’s simply a recounting of how the day-to-day survival is going.

In my opinion, a person’s testimony should be a constantly changing thing, as alive and vibrant as the everyday changes in our lives. Yes, there are certain events that are pivotal—there may be a single incident, whether wonderful or catastrophic, that changes everything and turns us upside down—but to only ever focus on that one moment in time really does an injustice to the subsequent weeks, months, and years of growth and, perhaps, struggle.

Mine was a combination of both: talking about a past event (found in my previous post, “…and now, the rest of the story…”) and talking about my life now as a result of that past event.  I was not the main speaker at this conference—I’m just with the band, man—so it shouldn’t have been intimidating to get up there and talk for five or ten minutes. Right? Ha. Thankfully, these ladies were smiling and receptive and put me at ease immediately.

Five or ten minutes…I can do that standing on my head, and I can thank my Italian relatives for that gift we call “I make friends with strangers in public places.” In all honesty, I had the best intentions of speaking for about five minutes, but once I got going, well…let’s just say I didn’t suffer from a lack of things to talk about.

First, we showed the short God@Work video that discussed our family’s journey through the loss of one of our children. Then I told them what had been happening in our lives since the showing of that video at church. I’ve been amazed and thankful for every person who has approached me to tell me their personal stories…loss, struggle, depression, and hope. There is something to be said for knowing you’re not the only one who’s gone through difficult circumstances. Nobody wants to be in The Club, whether its members include widows, alcoholics, bipolars, parents who have lost a child, drug addicts, disabilities or those dealing with a family member’s suicide—but we are comforted to know that others in our particular Club understand completely where we’re coming from, and we feel safer with the numbers that show us we’re not abnormal.

What overwhelmed me this morning was not the recounting of my own event. The “oh my” moment came when I finished speaking. As I walked away from the podium, a woman stood up and announced that she’d been one of the Labor & Delivery nurses at the hospital when our son was born, fifteen years ago. Because his disorder was such a rare thing, the staff paid close attention to what was going on with him and how we, as his family, handled all of it. Unbeknownst to me or Tim, another nurse there was a regular attender at our church, and would regularly update the others, speaking of our family’s positive attitude and our unwavering faith. (Oh, if only she’d known how we struggled in those early days, simply trying to process what was happening while living at hospitals for the first two months of his life!) She also told the group that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit during that period of time was a very dark place, and the doctor we’d spoken about in our video was someone who didn’t value the lives of the babies under her care as she should have. [We knew this firsthand, because that doctor was someone we actively avoided when she’d make her rounds—her first response upon seeing us each day was to tell us of ways she could relieve us of our burden, or to inform us that she’d probably only “work on him” half the time of a “normal” child if he were to have a cardiac or respiratory arrest. The NICU nurses would actually tell us when she was due to make her rounds so we could head down to the family lounge or the cafeteria. Someone you’d want taking care of your baby? Nope, and nope again.]

The wonderful gal today was happy to tell us all that the NICU is a much more positive place now, partly as a result of our family back then and how we saw each child as valuable and lovable, regardless of the statistics that told us not to get too attached. Our attitudes then affected today’s babies and their care.

Another friend spoke up then, after the first person sat back down. A mutual friend of ours was one of the private duty nurses in our home during the first year. We absolutely loved her, she loved our son, and we were sad to see her go when she got a different job. After losing a family member last year, she commented to our friend that she was struggling with the loss and wanted to be able to “grieve like the Dietzes.”

A third person approached me during the lunch break and told me she had worked at the funeral home when Tig was laid out there. I didn’t know this gal at the time, but she knew who we were and said she was glad she hadn’t had to work the day he came in, because it was difficult when the person who’d died was someone familiar, especially when it was a child. She did say, though, that she’d heard about our visiting hours and how boisterous (the polite word for “so loud”) our half of the funeral home was. There was, during that same week, another special-needs child who had died and whose visiting hours were the same day & time as ours. Many of the case workers had dealt with both families, and all those who came across the hall after visiting the family of the other child commented to us that the atmosphere was palpably different. They felt at ease with us, rather than awkward and uncomfortable.

I look back and wonder what we did that was so noteworthy. Was the time in the NICU that impressive? Was our grief process watched more closely than we’d realized? Do we throw a good funeral?

Even if you think nobody’s watching, there’s always someone who’s observing how you handle things, whether you walk your talk (to use an already-overused cliche), or whether you talk a good game until things fall apart. I say this not to create paranoia, but as a reminder—to myself, first and foremost—that my words mean nothing if my actions run the other way. You can’t fake that; I can’t, anyway.

If our attitudes and behavior helped even one family to have their child seen as a valuable person, it’s worth it. If our lifestyle caused even one person to want a closer relationship with the God I’ve come to know, love, and trust, it’s worth it. If what people saw in our grief inspired even one person to think a little deeper about why we trust a God who didn’t heal our child in the manner we wanted, then in the words of Jed Clampett, “Whoo, doggie!” Definitely worth it.

More often than not, we don’t know how our past actions have affected someone else’s future. I’ve had enough screw-up moments that I’ve wished nobody had seen. Today I had the wonderful privilege of hearing about some of the better ones, and the feeling was sweet.

Three amigos