Saturday, March 29, 2014

Called: The Phone Call That Forever Change My Life

The phone call will forever be embedded in my memory.  It is one that I often wish I could erase, filled with a cry I only wish had never happened. 

I was just feeling the sigh of relaxation come over me as the weekend quickly approached that Friday evening when my phone rang.  It was a California number.  My brain registered that it was my sister, whom I attempted to talk to frequently despite the three-hour time difference, but another part of me was already tuning out.  Do I answer and converse or let it go to voicemail?  Something told me answer.

As I answered so casually, about to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate the week’s end, I was jerked into consciousness by a scream like none other; a scream so raw and guttural that the knee-jerk reaction for me was almost to drop the phone.

My sister was calling from her cell phone while at her hair-dresser’s, dye still burning into her scalp.  Her babysitter had shaken her from her stolen escape of mommy-peace with a call every mother fears.  Her son was dead.

She had been craving, needing, time alone that day.  She was a full time mom of two small children, one with special needs who required hours of therapy each day.  Her husband was working on the East coast and her regular babysitter had been on vacation.

She fed her son his breakfast that morning as her four-year-old daughter played with her mind focused on the break she would soon have when her babysitter arrived.  As her babysitter came in, she quickly passed off Carter to Alma and instructed her to give him his bathe.  He was happy and she seemed so happy to see him that Emily feel a sigh of relief as she snuck of to start her day of rejuvenation.

All she could think of was stealing some time for a relaxing soak in the tub before getting her hair and nails done; time justified away from the everyday, 24/7 responsibilities of caring for a child with special needs by the calling of a hair needing color and a cut.  He was a child she loved more than herself, more than words could ever describe, with a love and care that exhausted her to her core.  These rare breaks gave her the energy she needed to keep on going with all her being.

As she soaked in the tub that Friday afternoon she drifted in and out of sleep, letting the exhaustion melt away.  She quickly dried off and before she ran out the door, peaked in the bedroom of her son who was sleeping so soundly. She gave her babysitter instructions for the day and left.

Just as Emily made herself comfortable in her hairdresser’s chair, closed her eyes and relaxed and let herself drift away into a stillness so foreign to her life these past few years, her cell phone rang, jolting her into consciousness.  It was her babysitter.  She never called her and she instinctively knew, something was wrong.

Alma could barely speak as she cried, “Emily, you have to come home.”  Emily kept asking her, “Why?!  Is he breathing?”  With the single response, “I don’t know,” Emily knew. 

Her head spinning, her heart racing and her breathe becoming so tight air was no where to be found, she found herself shaking as she dialed 911.  Is there even a protocol for these actions?  Are there directions on what to do when your child is thought to be dead?

Being her older sister of ten years, a mother-sister relationship without the fear of the mother-judgment and the comfort of the sister-bond was formed very early on.  Emily’s knee-jerk reaction had her dialing my phone number.  Her husband was on a business trip back East and she was all alone in California, stuck in the chair of a hairdresser, trapped with dye seeping into her scalp as she helplessly sat, absorbing what her babysitter had just cried out to her.  Her baby was dead.  Her baby that she had nursed and cared for every waking minute of his twenty months was supposedly gone and she WAS NOT WITH HIM.  Her baby that was gifted back to her after a virus ravaged his newborn body and almost stole his life in the first week of it on this Earth was TAKEN FROM HER.  Her baby that she had sacrificed everything for, moved her and her daughter to California for and lived apart from her husband for WAS GONE FROM HER ARMS.  Her baby that became her world, her love, her everything WAS GONE.

As I answered that phone on the evening of March 30th, for the very first time in my life, I had no words.  I had nothing to say to my sister as she screamed into the phone, “What do I DO?  What do I DO?!  I think he is dead, Jen!”

I had never felt as far away from Emily as I did right then.  I am a fixer, a doer, a problem-solver by nature.  I wanted, desperately ached, to be able to offer a solution.  Fix this. Help. At the very least, hold my sister in her agony. 

But I was 3000 miles away.  And death is irreversible.  There was nothing I could ever do to change what already was.

Within hours I had made the gut wrenching phone calls to my parents and siblings, Emily had confirmed that her son was indeed gone from this Earth, and her husband, my parents and siblings and I had all booked tickets on the earliest flight to California we could find.   Neighbors and friends in California were notified to come and care for her daughter and hold Emily until we could arrive.  The seas were in a tumultuous storm as she gasped for air, clinging to the faith that had brought her through thus far, trusting that the God that promised to hold her was clinging on for dear life.

Even revisiting these memories evokes an ache in my heart so deep, so raw that I want to run and hide from it, slamming the door shut on these moments in time two years ago. 

Yet would doing that pay homage to a life lived with such greatness, such power and purposeful demonstration of our God’s love and grace for his children?  Would running from this allow others to see and know just how almighty our Lord was through every single moment of my nephew’s life, start to finish right through to this day?

I cannot close the doors.  I cannot run.  This must be shared.

We all, at times, imagine the very worst that could happen to us and try and figure out if we could survive it.   We are human and fearing pain is natural.  And by imagining it we somehow think we are preparing ourselves; building our defenses so that IF the “worst” really does happen somehow we are ready.  You never are.

These are the times that I SEE God for everything He is; love, grace, mercy, compassion, strength.  When every single bit of you is stripped away and you somehow survive, this is GOD.  When a mother can continue to find the air to breathe as her child lay dead in her arms, when a father can find the focus to cross the country to be in the arms of his family after receiving a call that his son has died, when grandparents can find the endurance to drive eighteen hours straight to hold their daughter in their arms as she weeps for her son, God is present and SEEN.

What I witnessed my sister and brother-in-law find the strength to do from the time their son fell ill at six days old with a virus that almost killed him, to the twenty months they spent giving him every opportunity in life to be all that he could be, to their empty arms as they buried him, I SAW GOD. 

I sit here writing this, guilty of imagining just what I would do if the unimaginable happened to me, daring to think that this act alone of imagining will somehow help me through.  When truth is, I alone will never have the capability to do any of the surviving ON MY OWN.  I am a mere mortal; weak, helpless, powerless in the face of catastrophic loss. 

It is only in my all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing Creator that I can ever find the strength to live through the worst of the worst.  To survive.  To endure. 

Before Carter ever was taken from us so unexpectedly I knew God had a message to share with us.  With indelible ink he made a mark on our hearts with this little boy that HE WAS IN CONTROL.  He alone defined the parameters of this life; not doctors, not man, but the CREATOR of life itself.    Carter survived the virus that ravaged his brain in newness of life and was left without man being able to define for him what his life would, should or could be.

Every day was a miracle.  Every day a blessing to be celebrated with an awe for who he was.  God knew from the moment he created this precious life that his days were numbered. 

His time was done on Earth that day in March two years ago.  We never knew.  But aren’t all our ends unknown?  Aren’t all our days numbered?  We already know what we think we don’t.  We are mortal.

What if we all lived life without expectations, without the exhaustion of trying to be someone whom we define ourselves to be, but allowed God to define us?  What if we all lived with a celebration of each day and its blessings, never expecting more than was given, happy with what we had and trusting in the One who created us? 

What if instead of imagining and fearing the “what-if’s” we trusted that God is and always will be IN CONTROL and that His embrace will carry us through anything?  Now that would be living to its fullest.

That would honor Carter and the life he lived.

 In loving memory of Carter Matthew Abbott
July 30, 2010-March 30, 2012
(click on the link below to watch a video honoring the message God sent through this little boy)

 My nephew's life, start to finish, was one of the most transformative experiences that I have ever witnessed and forever changed my faith and how I viewed God.  From that first time I gathered in the PICU in Kansas City over that sweet little baby, watching him cling to life and praying because I did not know what else to do, to the day I watched my sister and her husband say their final good-byes to a son they loved more than themselves, I saw, for the first time, God's promises in action.  I SAW just what He meant when he said he would NEVER FORSAKE US and would ALWAYS BE BY OUR SIDE.  As a mere human I know for sure I never could do what my sister did without the help of the Lord.  

My ministry with my writing was inspired by my nephew and the message God sent to me through him.  I will continue to seek God's guidance and will for my life in all that I do in honor of this life lived by the grace of our God.

Please share this message with anyone you may know who needs to know, there IS hope, in Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lent: MORE than or LESS than?

Check out my thoughts on Lent in my guest blog for FPCB's Oasis blog in the link below. 

Just what is Lent about for you and where do you want to be at the end of forty days as we celebrate our Christ's resurrection?

Join me in the challenge to grow in your dependence on the Lord
 and the realization that 
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from 
the mouth of God."   Matthew 4:4 NIV

Thursday, March 13, 2014


How many of you actually like being pushed into something that is unknown, uncomfortable, new and unfamiliar?  Does the thought of that alone get your heart racing and palms sweating? 

I can tell you it does for me.  Every single time, as far back as I can remember, when I am pushed to do something unfamiliar I stubbornly dig my heels in and begin to list all of the reasons why “I cannot”, “I hate it”, “I do not want to” or even “I won’t survive”.

Now I want you to close your eyes for a minute and look back on all of those times someone, a parent, friend, life circumstance or God, pushed you into the unfamiliar.  How often did you come out RIGHT?  Right about not being able to, hating it, or being less than the person beforehand?

I am sure some of you are carrying around scars from your past from experiences you did not ask for, invite in and were certainly pushed on you.  Catastrophic events that were life altering.  Those warrant a whole other conversation, one much deeper and probably deserving of length way longer than a blog entry.

I am talking about the times in your life when your mom signed you up for camp and you cried and screamed and refused to go.  With a firm denial of your request she ignored your cries, packed your bags, and lovingly kissed you good-bye as she dropped you off.  And it was one of the best experiences of your life (not that you would have ever told her that!).

Or the time, in middle school, when the high school basketball coach scouted you out in the hallway because you stood a head above the other girls and asked if you wanted to play basketball.  You were quick to deny being an athlete and said you did not, could not and would not.  But when your parents got wind of this they encouraged you.  They pushed you and would not take your excuses and signed you up.  And you began to like it, sometimes love it!  It opened up doors for you you had convinced yourself would never be there.  You were an athlete.  You voluntarily signed up for other sports in high school and physical fitness became part of your life.  Your confidence soared.  You expanded your horizons!  You benefited in ways you could not imagine had you turned away completely and refused the push.

That happened to me when I was an awkward thirteen year old convinced I was not an athlete and determined to hunch my too tall body down enough that I would become invisible in school.   When I think back to what my high school years would have been like had I not found a place to belong, a love for physical fitness, I am so grateful to that basketball coach who had the guts and foresight to push. 

As a parent I find myself constantly in the battle with my children, especially my very stubborn, very cautious, very reserved eldest, in figuring out just when do I PUSH and when do I step back.  When do I tell them “piano is not a choice” because I see talent that could flourish with exposure?  When do I tell them “you will go to youth group” even when they know nobody (yet) and are so painfully shy but I know that being part of a youth group at my church growing up was one of the most transformative experiences of my youth?  When do I let go of my fearful, anxiety-ridden child who declares they do not need to learn to swim and let their bodies do the work before the mind takes over because swimming is a life skill we all should have?  ((sigh)) My list could go on and on. 

Being a parent, wrestling with whether to push my children into experiences or hold back, I think a lot about who pushes me, now that I am an adult and my parents are released from the stress of raising me.  It is my Heavenly Father who does all of the pushing.  He actually always has. Prayerfully my parents turned to Him for guidance in the “parenting pushing” of my youth, as I do today as a parent to three young children. 

When I listen carefully enough, I hear Him guiding me, leading me, encouraging me.  When I am too stubborn to listen and the voices in my head scream, “I can’t” “I won’t” “I’ll fail” my Father does what HE knows best.  He gives me a loving yet very firm PUSH. 

Oh, I kick and I scream and I cry.  Being outside of my comfort zone is downright UNCOMFORTABLE!  And I am sure my Father is not up there smiling, enjoying the scene I am making down below.  Sometimes it hurts His heart to see me feel that way, just like it hurts mine to see my own children struggle, fear, cry and wobble on unsteady feet. 

With each passing day as a parent I feel closer to my Heavenly Father and more grateful for His work as a parent to all of creation.  He made us.  He knit us in our mother’s womb and created our inmost being (Psalm 139:13).

My children are too young to see that my pushing comes from a place of love and also of faith.  There is a lot of prayer behind the decisions I make and the tough love choices.  I see something in my children that they do not and I just want the best for them.

As an adult mature enough to recognize this, the next time I am pushed outside of my comfort zone into unknown, scary or unwanted territory, will I recognize who did the pushing and trust and rely on my Heavenly Father to guide, care for and grow me?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Offering Grace: Parenting Lessons Learned from my 'Tween

When I became a mother for the first time at the age of 28, I did not think past those baby stages.  The early days were all about learning my child, trying to master (like there IS such a thing) feedings, sleep schedules, teething, and on and on.  My daughter and I lived in this wonderful little world where I was her everything and I could protect her to the best of my abilities. 

The elementary years have been fairly easy. Of course we have had our share of battle of the wills, tears over homework or trying new activities.  But my daughter, she has been pretty easy.  I was still her world and to me she would look for answers, explanations, comfort.

And now we have begun the TWEEN years. 

Never did I even consider what “tween” even really meant when I cuddled my little girl in my arms almost eleven years ago as a newborn.  But everyday I am witnessing just why this is an INBE”TWEEN” phase in her life; a transition from being a child to being a teenager.  A phase in her life where she is breaking from, testing out the waters of independence and just beginning to find her self apart from me.  

It is downright tumultuous at times.
If you have or have had a daughter past the age of nine, you know exactly what I am talking about.  One minute she is playing sweetly with her American Girl dolls and the next she is slamming doors and sobbing uncontrollably with no clear explanation of why.   The sassy attitude, eye rolling, huffing; this cannot possibly be my mild mannered little girl?!  Oh how there are days when I miss that little baby.  Those easier days where she did not talk back nor question her world outside of the one I created for her.
The other day, for whatever reason (need their even BE a reason), my oldest daughter started arguing, very unreasonably mind you, with me.  And then the tears began to flow.  I felt the panic rise up inside of me as I scanned my mental parental manual (the one that I have been praying would just appear inside of my mind since becoming a parent) for the right response.  The right words to get her to just STOP this nonsensical drama and speak reasonably with me.  The right actions of discipline to get her to understand that she cannot react to me, or anyone for that matter, like that.  This behavior absurd! 
And then it dawned on me that I am STILL working on handling my own moods, my own hormonal fluctuations that seem to come out of nowhere (well, maybe every 28 days), and my own reactions to stress.  Here I am, 28 years older than this little girl who is just beginning her journey into womanhood, and I DO NOT HAVE MY CRAP TOGETHER.   

That realization brought me to my knees in humbling submission. 

It has taken me 28 years of learning my moods, myself, my hormones, and what works for me in managing them to get even the slightest grasp on them all and here I am expecting a girl not yet eleven to have it all together?! 

Something tells me the hardest of the parenting years has just begun. 

I have to start to offer my daughter grace. 

Did you know that grace is mentioned 156 times in the New Testament, taking on a special redemptive sense in which God makes available His favor on behalf of sinners, who actually do not deserve it. 

Let that one soak in a minute.

Sinners who DO NOT DESERVE IT.

Sinners like me who fly off the handle, snapping at my loved ones when I cannot handle my own stress and my own crap.  Sinners like my daughter who slams her door in utter frustration with the roller coaster of emotions that are hitting her out of nowhere.  Sinners like you and me, my friend, who screw up every day in so many ways. 

God has shown me grace more times that I can even count.  More times that I am even aware of.  He is my parent, gently guiding me through this life, picking me up again, and again, and again, when I fall, when I fail, when I screw it all up. 

He gifted me as a mother with children to raise and expects me to follow His lead, His perfect example, and do the same.  With grace.

This new phase in my parenting journey, I can tell you already, will be one of the most challenging for me.  I no longer have little babies that I create a little world for where mommy is their everything.  I have children who are trying to figure out just who they are independent from their dad and me and how to handle life.

It will take a lot of humbling, a lot of prayer, and I am sure, a lot of apologies.  But I am vowing to start to show compassion.  And with God’s help and guidance, to show grace.

Will you join me in doing the same?

Friday, December 13, 2013


"Come to me all you who are weary, and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30

I don't know about you, but rest is something I am craving right now.  I am trying so hard to find it during these overly busy days of Christmas preparation and celebration, yet at the end of the day, come up shorthanded.  

Today I decided I needed to literally run away for a bit.  Step outside in the freezing cold winter air, soak up the sunshine, listen to my inspirational music and pray.  Be quiet.  Rest.

As I ran along the icy, snow covered path I prayed.  I prayed for God to take my angst, my cluttered mind and exhausted body and just give me rest.  He almost stopped me in my tracks as I looked out at His beauty.  I felt the silence and serenity wash over me.  His gift to me.  His rest.

I am off to a day of cookie baking with my family and most likely another snowy day tomorrow and I am ready.   I have the Lord's yoke upon me and rest for my soul.

In the craziness of your December days, I would encourage you to step away.  Step away from it all, be alone and find your REST.  I promise you, it will be the best thing you will do for yourself today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Peace in His Presence

Luke 2:14  “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace 
among men, with whom He is pleased.”

Peace in His presence.  

Just those three words alone wash over me, making me thirst for just that; PEACE.

During this season of ever-growing to-do lists, social calendars so filled they lack room for stillness, a hustle and bustle so intense, there seems no time for peace in it all. 

If you are at all like me, you crave the peace more than ever right now.  You glance over at your glowing Christmas tree and yearn to actually sit by the serene warmth of the lights, inhaling the fresh evergreen scent.  You love this season of festivities and celebration, and want to enjoy it all, but just when does that happen?!  If you dare sit, just when will all that floods your calendar get done this month?! 

So you move forward, willing yourself to just keep on keeping on as you check off tasks on the list that is ever growing.  I keep telling myself that if I get it ALL done then I will sit.  I will relax.  I will find peace. 

But that nagging voice in my head is telling me that I have it all wrong.  

My lists and calendars are being filled in the opposite direction.  I need to first and foremost take the seat on my couch next to the evergreen tree, glowing with the beautiful lights and find my peace, in His presence. 

I need to look up at my evergreen tree that my family and I so carefully picked out and decorated and remind myself just why we even have this tree in our home.  I need to remember just whom I am celebrating, and what all of the extras on my to-do list is really all about.  

2013 years ago a tiny infant was brought into the world in the humblest of settings, birthed to two Earthly parents not much older than my oldest daughter.  The hustle and bustle of life went on around that baby that night, so many, many years ago, but PEACE was found for all who stopped to glorify Him.  

God came to us all in human form that night and in His presence, peace was found. 

We celebrate that gift, the most precious gift of all, in that baby that was born on that Holy night.  The evergreen of the trees we decorate serves as a reminder of His everlasting love for us.  The glow of the lights reminds us of the light that He sheds in the darkness of this fallen world.  The wreaths that adorn our doors are circles that have no end, reminding us that His love is never ending. 

I do not want to miss this season of celebration in all of the hustle and bustle, never ending to-do lists and social obligations.  

I am six days into Advent season, my tree is decorated, my wreaths are hung, and the lights are aglow.  And my Lord is waiting for me, waiting for me to sit in find my peace, in His presence.

Will you join me in vowing to make this a season of glorifying Him?  Taking the time to remind ourselves just why we have all of these “extras” in our life this season?  

It is all a celebration of the most wonderful gift that was ever given, freely given, for us all. 

So go get that cup of cocoa, plate a few cookies and sit by your tree.  Glance up at the magnificence and find your PEACE.