You lose but you gain!

Please go…

I could feel my personal space begin to close…

Why?! Why do you catch me when everything is shut off. Why do you interrupt my silence? Haven’t you done enough? Taken enough? Why do you keep coming back?

Slowly walking towards me, I try and wrestle him off me… by now you’d think I would learn how to handle it…

I reluctantly give up my fighting. It is useless anyways. I collapse onto the sand and my grief sits right beside me. Like a friend who just wants to be near.

Why can’t you just let me live my life? I ask.

But, I am… this is a part of it.

How? You’re so cold, callous and evoke so much pain.

Without embracing me, as painful as it is, you will never fully live… it’s only when we lose that we gain.

How is that even possible? How could you say that?

We lose things, our work, or the people we love and we gain perspective. We see through the lens of loss, and in that others can gain from our seemly unbearable pain.

But why does it hurt so much? Why can’t you just not exist?

Because I remind you of what’s real. I remove preconceived notions. I remove the fluff, the surface level conversations. I strip away all the realities you have a tendency to create and remind you of the importance of not just life but this very moment. Each moment is a gift. You struggle with spiritually amnesia which is why I keep coming back.

Without me joy wouldn’t make much sense. Life is not a straight road but road through deep dark valleys and beautiful mountain peaks. It’s only when you embrace the sun setting, you gain an appreciation of the sun rising.

Were there no darkness you’d not appreciate the light..

You lose but you gain…

Reluctantly I, yet again, let grief be my friend. After he spoke, he didn’t speak again… his silence was deafening… but I know when these tears stop… I’ll have more room for the joy that I cannot see, but eventually will be…

Grieving in a way is an act of faith… It takes faith to let the pain flow up trusting that the joy will eventually fill you back up… knowing that one day He will wipe every tear from my eyes.

New Year’s Eve

Fireworks explode in the neighborhood as the clock struck 12. I walked into this evening with the utmost trepidation. Like Cinderella waiting for her beautiful dress to turn rags and her carriage to collapse. I, on the other-hand, was not wanting to catch a prince, or concerned with the fraying of an outfit. I was worried about the fraying of my soul. Walking into another year is painful.

Every New Year’s Eve for the past three years I have had company— whether I wanted it or not. It’s the company of my own grief. It sits with me latching on to my heart as the minutes climb closer and closer to the new year. It sits silently but ever so deafening. It weighs on my heart like a millstone. Tugged me down to a place I would never tread if it were my own choosing.

New Years is supposed to be a joyous time. But for me, it just represented the glaring unwanted fact that my Dad is one more year farther away from me. The only thing I could think to do to escape this night was to go to bed early and try to make the best of New Years Day. But it all hurts. Every year I wish I could rewind to a moment with him. Like last his last Father’s Day. He was so thrilled with the tools we gave him. And he couldn’t get over the fact that my sister and her husband had given him the trip to Grenada to see my brother. He never made it down there and he never used his tools.

For me, New Year’s Eve just makes another gash at my already wounded heart. This day, just uncovers the gaping hole in my heart that I normally cover up with a smile or a helping hand. But New Year’s Eve reminds me I can never outrun the pain. Part of me is dead and can never be revived.

But, tonight, I faced it. I acknowledge the pain and my unwanted companion. For the first time in a long time the tears flowed … and flowed steadily revealing the fountain of loss that will, in fact, always be there. And, as I sit on this hard floor wiping snot on my nightgown, I know my Dad would be proud. Because he never ran from pain or opposition. He took it head on. So, whatever your New Year’s Eve looks like, don’t be afraid to face it head on. To be fully alive means to fully feel. Which also means to fully grieve.

Dad:

I don’t even have the words to express the emptiness now in my heart. I miss you so much. But, you’ve left me a heck of legacy to follow, and for that, I’ll plod on. Happy New Year. You’d be proud of the sibs and mom. We all miss you like crazy, but we are pressing on. Grandmom celebrated a milestone birthday… and get this… the Dolphins beat the Patriots last week! And Ezra got married. It was a great way to finish the year. Love you so much, Padge. Don’t have too much fun without us— just kidding I know you already are 💕!

Discovering Dimple

Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot-high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt-out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti-filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

The girl took two steps back, wiped the sweat of the late August heat and the salty tears of her eight-year struggle off her face, and admired her work. The words glistening wet in the afternoon sun and trails of red paint ran slowly down like blood – the fresh, healing, life-giving kind – staining the bears and flowers. It made sense to her now, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a hint of a smile and she stared at the stuffed animal, Binky, that she had laid there years ago, a symbol of the death of her innocence and carefree childhood. Its pink furry head had been dabbed with drips of paint over the years, but this red was its crowning glory and her latest declaration to life. From this moment on, she would still cry, still scream, and still beat the walls of her bedroom and the door of heaven, but like a defiant battle cry against despair, she would also choose to rejoice.

Her new family stood behind her in silent solidarity, her parents, Rainbow and the kid who was now a man. He stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder. He didn’t have to say anything, for his motion spoke for the whole group and was understood by all. They knew what it cost for her to write that word; they had known the same loss, walked through the same valleys, and fought the same fight together, and they had agreed to this same conclusion. Life was worthless if they could not find joy and purpose if they couldn’t see beyond their pain. This lesson was not one that they accepted easily or naturally but through the extraordinarily faithful and loving examples of others.

There are three main reasons children are placed in foster care: abuse, neglect, or abandonment (voluntary or involuntary). For her, it was neglect. She’d been in and out of foster care due to her mother’s negligence. That is, until one Christmas Day when her relationship with the state was solidified. Twenty years ago, the Department of Children and Families found her sitting alone in her soiled outfit, murmuring and moaning for sustenance. She had been locked in an empty apartment. The apartment was so bare even the walls remained empty. Despite the smell, one would never know that this apartment was someone’s home. To this day, DCF is unsure how long she had been alone. She was only four at the time.

It took her nearly two years after that Christmas Day before she began to speak. When she did, she quickly gained the nickname Dimples from her caseworker, for she had the most adorable dimples on both of her cheeks. It took her years in therapy and a steady home for her to find out what “family” actually meant. And there was one special person with one little creature who’d be just the right duo to help her with the loss of her mom and her childhood.

The kid was also an only child but his home was a happy one. His grandparents died before he was born. And although his Dad worked very long hours, leaving lots of time with his mom, they both loved him dearly. He and his mom were two peas in a pod. His mom walked him to and from school each day. One day right before the school bell rang, the principal called the kid to his office over the loudspeaker. He never got in trouble so he wondered what this call meant. The principal’s

bewildered face told him that whatever words he heard would not be good ones. His mom has been struck by a car while walking in a crosswalk. His world came crumbling down.

At the hospital, while his dad was trying to finalize the paperwork and getting information about his mom, his dad collapsed. A nurse ran to his side to check his vitals. She quickly discovered his thready pulse and called for more assistance. In a matter of seconds, his dad was rushed into a makeshift room, the kind where there’s only a curtain separating patients in need. An oxygen mask was put on and tests were run… the staff did as much as they could. In the middle of the chaos, a nurse turned around, looked at the boy, and said to her colleague, “get that kid out of here.”

All he could hear was “1, 2, 3, CLEAR” *shocking sound* None of this made any sense to him. He stood aimlessly and completely shell-shocked in the long, sterile, uninviting hallway, waiting for news of his dad. He started to feel faint, so he found a corner to hide in… First, his mom; now, his dad.

An hour passed and still no word. He didn’t hear the chaos anymore and one by one the medical team left his dad’s makeshift room. No one came to talk to him. He felt that if he moved everything – including the hospital – would collapse around him. If he could just get as small as physically possible and stay like that, he might be okay. That’s until a nurse spotted him. Their eyes locked. He didn’t want to talk to her. He wasn’t strong enough to hear more bad news. Maybe it would be good though, he tried to convince himself, but the sinking feeling in his stomach was relentless.

That day was a blur. He was taken by DCF because he was officially declared an orphan. His Mom and Dad had died within 6 hours of each other. He woke up that morning to what he thought would be a normal day, only to be completely abandoned by evening. He was not able to go home that night because there were papers to process. He was, officially declared, a child of the state. Little did he know; the state would be the only family he would know; unless someone intervened.

Over the next 10 years, he’d be in over 25 foster homes, multiple schools, and nowhere that felt like home. He felt like an unwanted vagabond, a nomad with no roots. No one to check in with or to check on him. His heart always ached for a longing to belong and be seen. There was a throbbing wound in his soul. He missed his parents and had no one with whom to remember them.

Never once was he the only foster child in a foster home. The state had too many kids. So, he was always thrown into a mix of other kids, most of which had lots of behavioral issues. He pretty much kept to himself. He carried so much pain he felt like if he opened up, a dam would break loose and he wouldn’t be able to contain his emotions… so he remained silent.

There was only one girl he’d met along the way that was as quiet as he was. They called her Dimples. She didn’t say much but would often find the kid and sit beside him. They both knew they had a lot of pain, but having someone to sit with in the pain was a strange comfort. After about six months, of being with Dimples and that family, he had to move. That’s just what the state decided.

Since no one ever chose to adopt him, the kid would age out of the system at 18. When he knew he’d be aging out, he figured out how to support himself. While in foster care, he saved up enough

money to get a car by 16, just shy of his 17th birthday he began delivering pizzas. He had a good boss who was a kind man and took him under his wing.

He rang the doorbell and savored the warmth of the pizza box on his hand while he waited. He heard laughter from inside, and a lady with a ponytail and designer workout clothes opened the door. “Oh great, pizza’s here everyone!” she announced, and several childish voices cheered from behind her. The kid could see over the lady’s slender shoulder that the house was full of kids, parents, and grandparents. A giddy little boy came tromping toward the entrance, riding on the shoulders of a man who had a beard and a balding spot on top of his head… possibly from where the boy was bopping him constantly with his palms.

“It’s our son’s 8th birthday,” the fashionable lady explained as she took the pizza boxes. She passed the boxes off to her husband who paid her with a flirtatious peck on the cheek. She giggled. “And here’s a tip,” she said as she smiled and held out a crisp five-dollar bill with her soft, manicured hand. The kid forced a smile in return, stuffed the cash in his pocket and quickly ducked back into his car.

His heart was pounding and as he turned onto the main road, he turned up the radio and pushed his sneaker hard against the gas pedal. Houses, trees, and mailboxes flew past, but the images remained – burned and taunting in his brain. They looked so happy – a mom, a dad, a son… For his 8th birthday, this kid had been shuffled to a new foster home and no one knew or acknowledged that there was anything to celebrate. His parents had been dead for 3 months by that time. And while that was almost ten years ago now, the pain still seared white-hot. Anger and pain forced him to blindly drive on and on until he came to a dead end on an abandoned street. He parked and turned off the radio, breathing heavily and beating the steering wheel. When would this grief end? When would the sight of a happy family stop breaking him into pieces?

Then the kid heard a faint rustle and realized he wasn’t alone. He got out of the car and cautiously moved to a pile of rubbish in the shadows. There he found a young cat that looked almost dead – almost, but not quite. She was shabby and skinny and appeared too weak to stand up. It cried pitifully, barely loud enough to be heard at all. The kid knelt beside the creature, and she blinked its dimming eyes at him… eyes that told him she knew what it felt like to be abandoned, helpless, and alone. The anger that consumed him just moments before swelled into a passionate urge to do something good. “I’m gonna help you,” he whispered, and he gently scooped the creature into his arms. “You’re not alone anymore… and neither am I.”

With that, he put the cat in his car and slowly drove home. He left the radio off, and all he thought about the cat beside him. It didn’t have anything… no family, no home, not even a name. Maybe he could provide all three? “Rainbow,” he called her out loud. Between her calico fur, her deep and iridescent eyes, and the hope that she somehow offered to him, the name seemed to fit. He smiled to himself and nodded, “Rainbow.” She watched him for a minute, then rested her head on his leg.

When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves—a light rose motif that played

ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, she heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.

The kid had almost forgotten the orations his mom gave him to help him fall asleep. His mom was a public speaking tutor. She used to recite all the great speeches to him from “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King to the “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. He’d almost forgotten how hearing his mom recite speeches would lull him to sleep. The weird thing with grief is sometimes you block memories. If you remember them all at once, your heart couldn’t take it. Speaking to Rainbow not only was a comfort to him but also her. For the first time, he began to see what healing might look like.

It was a Friday night. Rainbow had grown a lot in the last two months, and so had the kid. They were best of friends. For the first few weeks, Rainbow was so weak, she had to be held in order to fall asleep. Her fragile body was not producing enough heat to keep her warm on her own. Rainbow went everywhere with the kid. And for the first time in a very long time, the kid, although an adult in the eyes of the law, didn’t feel alone. He found a place where he could talk about the pain of his childhood, missing his parents and aimlessly wandering through life trying to make heads or tails of it. Whenever he would get sad, it was like Rainbow knew to snuggle next to him. He’d almost forgotten what the goodness of life looked like until Rainbow reminded him. It was about relationships.

Dimples spend most of her growing up years in therapy. Never knowing her biological dad, losing her mom to drugs, alcohol, and men; and, then being found by perverts, not to mention being moved constantly by the state, kept her on a regular schedule for her therapist… although, even the therapists would frequently change. Her life felt like a revolving door; people in and people out, leaving as quickly as they came. Steady was not a word she could easily describe.

It was a Thursday night in the middle of a hot summer. The humidity stuck to him like saran wrap. Every time he’d step out of his car to make his next delivery he felt blanketed with a hot rag that inevitably fogged up his glasses. He wiped off the fog, check the house number again, popped the trunk and pull out the pepperoni pizza. And then, as he did every time, after ringing the doorbell, he’d look back to see if Rainbow was still waiting on him.

Two little ears popped up in the passenger side window; smiling, he turned back to the door that was now open in front of him. But this time, instead of a stranger, he saw Dimples.

“Dimples?! Hi! I didn’t know you lived…” before he continued he re-evaluated what he was saying. Of course, he wouldn’t know where she lived, she was in foster care, basically a homeless person staying with strangers for a while.

“I, uh, how are you?”

“I’m alright… You…” she paused as her attention was drawn toward his car. “Is that a cat?!”

“Yeah… you want to meet her?” he said.

“What’s taking so long?” They both looked inside the house, where the impatient voice growled. Panic filled dimples eyes as she turned back to look at the kid. Concluding that it was the foster dad, the kid quickly finalized the transaction and said, “Here’s your change, ma’am,” as he quickly scribbled with his pen on the receipt. Glancing down, she saw that he’d circled the number to the pizza joint. “Thanks,” she said. Her eyes relaxed as those faithful dimples slowly reappeared as she smiled back a goodbye.

The rest of the night, the kid couldn’t stop thinking about Dimples. It wasn’t in a way that a guy pines over a girl, but in the way, a brother is protective of his sister. Of all the kids he’d met in foster care – and there were many – Dimples was the only one he felt a kindred-ness with. Their unspoken pain and their ability to just be present with each other even in silence bonded them in a way neither one expected. For some reason, they felt safe with each other.

A busy week went by at the pizza shop. His boss was out of town for a family emergency and they were already short-staffed. The kid would oftentimes find himself scrambling around in the kitchen, then ripping off his apron to run the deliveries, and then jumping back in the kitchen again. Although the week had been a long one and he was tired, he was grateful for the extra hours. He’d been saving money to get a place of his own.

“Hey, kid! It’s for you,” yelled Pablo, the assistant manager.

Forgetting about last week, he wondered who’d call him.

“Hello?” he said with mild curiosity.

Someone sniffled on the other end. He immediately pressed the phone closer to his ear as he frantically searched for some privacy in the walk-in pantry.

“Dimples? Is that you?” he asked, knowing how often she used to sit by him with tears streaming down her face. He never knew what to do with them but he’d always find something to help her dry them. A couple of times he had to use the sleeve of his shirt.

“Yeah,” was all she could seem to muster.

“Are you okay?” he asked gingerly.

“Not really,” she said as she tried to pull herself together.

“Listen, I get off in an hour, I think I still have your address from my last delivery.” He said planning as he was speaking.

“I’ll park at the neighbor’s house and if you can sneak out, there’s a park not far from there.” “Okay…” she said weakly.

He was about to say don’t worry but realized that’s impossible for a kid of the state. Most kids have parents to do the worrying for them. Foster kids don’t have that luxury.

“See you tonight,” he said as he hung up the phone.

The kid plowed through the rest of the orders, deliveries and the closing checklist. He scrubbed the floors with the built-up aggression of what he had suffered, and the continuing suffering he saw in Dimples and other kids like her. He thought things might get better for her after they’d parted ways. The family they had both been assigned to was one of the better foster homes he’d encountered. He wondered what had happened. Yet there was something inside him that was troubling: the tone in the foster dad’s voice when he delivered the pizza.

Under the cover of darkness, she slipped into the passenger side door of his car. Silence hung between them. It had been years since they’d last seen each other. She wondered if he was still safe. A sudden movement in the backseat had Dimples spinning around in a panic until she saw that it was the sweet kitty that she wasn’t able to meet last time. She’d forgotten all about it. “Can I hold it?” she barely whispered.

“Of course! She’s good company,” he said. Rainbow went to her easily, nestled right up to Dimples, and fell asleep.

Since Rainbow was more than content in Dimples’ lap, the kid decided to park the car in the parking lot just outside the park. “She’s a really good cat. I’ve never been an animal person, but when I found her, I couldn’t leave her. I didn’t know if she’d make it, to be honest. But she has, and I’m better for it.” He thought about asking her what was going on, but the knot in his stomach deterred him. He had a feeling he already knew and wasn’t sure he could handle hearing the ugly truth.

She’d never spoken to anyone about this, not even her therapist. She’d mentioned to her therapist some of the things she’d experienced, seen and lived with. But for some reason, she knew she could trust him with what she was about to share. Life has taught her that if you can trust someone with your pain, you can trust them with your life. “I guess you might be wondering why I called…” her words trailed off as her brain searched for the words to tell him.

“Listen Dimples, you don’t have to tell me anything,” he said reassuringly.

“I know, but I’ve got to tell someone and I don’t know who else to tell…” The tears slowly began to roll down her face. “I’m pregnant.”

The words hit him like a bombshell. He wasn’t expecting her to say that, but he tried to keep a poker face. Why had she called him? What could he do? He lived in a garage with his boss. Who was the father? Questions flooded his mind. Dimples wasn’t the little girl he had known; she was a woman and was in desperate need.

“It’s not my fault.” For the first time in her life, she actually believed herself when she said this. Every other situation she’d blamed herself: her mother abandoning her, the state constantly moving her, the gossip from the other kids, the lack of friendships, but this… this was something different. “I was raped.”

Another bombshell. He didn’t want to ask, but he couldn’t keep it back any longer. “It was him, wasn’t it? It was your foster dad.” He asked but couldn’t look her in the eyes.

Her head sank as low as it possibly could… her shoulders higher than her head. “Yes, it was him.”

The next eight months were full of doctor appointments and meetings with her social worker. The kid and Rainbow were with Dimples every step of the way. For the first time since his parents died, he was finally able to see someone else’s concerns above his own. The loneliness was still

there, but it had diminished greatly, first by Rainbow’s need of him and now by Dimples. He began to see that his pain had a purpose. His pain was like a radar for other people’s pain.

Dimples had been placed back with the foster family where they initially met. The family had gotten out of fostering, but after being asked by the state, they said they’d be happy to open their home to Dimples. The foster mom was a nurse, so she could monitor Dimples’ health during her pregnancy. Although it was hard on so many levels, Dimples handled her pregnancy with grit and grace.

The day came when Dimples gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she named Andriette, which means “strong, brave, and fearless.” Dimples knew how cruel this world was and she wanted to remind her daughter every time she wrote her name of what she needed to be and could be. Then a caseworker walked into the room.

“Are you ready?” Inside Dimples was screaming.

How can you ever be ready to let go of a child? How did my mom let go of me…? She stopped herself from going there.

“I guess I have to be,” Dimples said.

Andriette was placed in the arms of a young woman who was unable to have children. Her doting husband had his arms wrapped around his wife and she had her wrapped around Andriette. Dimples felt a warm sensation slide down her cheek, but she quickly wiped the tear away. She signed the remaining papers and asked to kiss her baby one last time. The grateful parents agreed and then looked up with tears in their eyes, thanking her for her sacrifice. All Dimples could do was half- smile and nod her head. Her heart was broken yet again, but this time it was different.

It had been several weeks since the kid had seen Dimples. He’d lost track of time. He wanted to let her recover, but this seemed a bit long. He finally decided to show up with pizza after one of his shifts. He knew her foster parents would welcome him and Rainbow with open arms. His concerns were accurate; she was suffering from postpartum depression, and the hardest thing was that she didn’t even have a baby to hold. After he got her to eat something, he decided to leave a little helper behind. Rainbow had helped pull him out of a dark place, and he had a feeling that Rainbow could do the same for her as well.

Each morning, Rainbow would wake Dimples up by massaging her face. At first, Dimples was irritated. She was not a morning person and it felt like a cloud had parked over her and covered any glimmer of hope. For the past 9 months, she kept fighting because she had to for Andriette, but now Andriette was gone.

Little by little, Rainbow worked her way into Dimples heart again. The kid came by faithfully every couple of days with pizza. Those first six months crawled by. Dimples had a lot of grieving to do, and thankfully her foster family gave her space and the freedom to do just that.

At the one year mark, Dimples decided to honor and grieve her daughter, and also honor and grieve her own childhood. She knew just the place to do it. A ten-foot-high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint situated by a patch of dry brown grass. There were all sorts of things painted on that wall: people, words, symbols. It was chaotic, much like her own childhood. She decided to place a candle and a small teddy bear: the candle for the flame that slowly was returning and the teddy bear for her sweet Andriette Joy.

Year after year, she’d come back and place another candle and another teddy bear. She didn’t know what to do to celebrate such a bittersweet day. So many emotions were running through her the day Andriette was born. She was conceived in a horrible way but it did not make her any less of a gift, but that gift had to be given to someone else. This day was always hard, and not only was it hard because it was her daughter’s birthday, but it was also hers.

Slowly, Dimples got stronger, her disposition lifted little by little. She worked hard at ending the legacy – or lack thereof – that her mom left her. The kid and the foster parents poured into her. He and Dimples put themselves through college and remained study buddies, pizza lovers and the best of friends. Of course, Rainbow was their noble steed and their ever-faithful third wheel.

Just shy of Andriette’s eighth birthday, Dimples received a call from the adoptive parents, asking if she’d like to see Andriette. They told her all about how amazing her biological mom was. Tears poured out of Dimples eyes, not only during that phone call but also when she saw her baby girl again. She had dreamed of this day every day since Andriette was born. A huge piece of Dimples’ shattered heart found itself a home. For the first time in Dimples’ entire existence, she was able to taste a glimpse of what it meant to be whole.

On that late August afternoon, sweat was dripping down her face and paint was dripping down the wall, some falling on Binky, the stuffed bear she placed there on her daughter’s 1st birthday. She looked up again at the word “Rejoice,” knowing Andriette was not lost to her and that she’d actually be able to have a role in her life. She didn’t know how to do it then, but through the help of her foster parents, Rainbow and the man-kid, she learned to appreciate the struggle of life… because with it came some of the most beautiful relationships one could ever dream of.

Written by: Christine F. Perry

He sits…

It was a quiet day and He came like He did every day.

He never knocked. He knew the door was open, but these days is was only cracked… So, He cautiously peered in before opening the door all the way.

She was too out of touch to see Him. But every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday He was there.

Had anyone else walked in, they may have commented on the unassuming man sitting on the opposite end of the sofa where she sat.

But no words were exchanged. Utter silence filled the room.

She sat with her eyes glazed over. Unable to communicate her unspeakable pain. If tears came, they were a gift… for a least it was a little escape of the pain she felt inside.

Weeks passed and still He showed up. Rarely acknowledging His presence she often wondered why He was even there. Didn’t He know she couldn’t give Him anything. She didn’t have anything left.

Weeks turning into months and months turned into a year. Until finally she made herself look up. She saw flowers. And immediately she quizzically look at the man.

He nodded as if to say, “yes, I’ve brought flowers every week.”

A tear slipped out of her eye and rolled gently down her cheek.

She’d known this man longer than most of the people in her life and at several points throughout her life, He had been the center and more important than any other person in her life…

But in the turmoil and heartaches in the recent years, she’d become despondent. She had so many questions. Like why didn’t He fix the problem she asked Him to? Why didn’t He show up like she asked? Why didn’t He answer her like He had in the past? Why didn’t He hold her like He had in the past? And why on earth didn’t He protect her from all the heartache?

These questions spun mercilessly in her head like a merry-go-round. But every week, He showed up and He sat.

He sat in the room with her questions. He sat in the room with her hurt. He sat in the room with her grief. He sat in the room with her despondency. He sat in the room with her depression. He sat in the room with her anger….

Just like He sat in the room with her purpose. Just like He sat in the room with her calling. Just like He sat in the room with her laughter. Just like He sat in the room with her love. Just like He sat in the room in her good times…

He sits during the ups and the downs. He may not answer all the questions, but He’s not leaving… And until she’s ready to speak… Patiently and lovingly He sits…

And they shall call Him Immanuel…which translated means,God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

Read “He is Here” poem from What does the Christian walk look like when…

What Grief Has Taught Me…

What Grief has taught me is that you’re never ready for its arrival.

Grief is more than a human heart can bear.

You never get over it, but somehow you move forward.

The only way forward is through it.

Grief is intimate. For me, sharing certain aspects of it seems wrong because it is now connected to the deepest part of who I am.

Grief strips away any part of you that cares what others think…

And although grief has ripped me apart like nothing else has in life, it has also been my teacher.

It has taught me to hold a breaking heart full of sorrow and a heart full of joy simultaneously.

It has taught me to laugh through tears.

It has introduced me to the deepest kind of friendships. It the kind of friendship that meets you at a bedside, or catches you as you run away, or finds you curled up in a hospital hallway.

It has taught my to hold on for dear life the examples of those who’ve experienced grief before me. And hold on for dear life for the ones recently acquainted with grief behind me.

It has taught me to live presently in the moment because there is only enough grace for today.

It has taught me to slow down, to take a moment to appreciate people and nature.

It has taught me to give as much as I have today because tomorrow is not promised.

It has taught me to speak kind words to everyone I meet because they might be hidding their own grief as well.

So although I met grief kicking and screaming, cussing and flailing… It has been one of my most hated companions and one of my greatest teachers.

I never wanted it to come, but I refuse to see it wasted.

Alhadaf

Exciting things are happening! Kevan’s book — We Carry Kevan was JUST released yesterday! Please go to your nearest Barnes and Nobles and buy his book! You will find it in the new release section!

This week’s organization is: Alhadaf

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It was almost exactly three years ago when I receive this text:

“While you’re in Jordan, you should meet with Allen with Partners and Maran. She is a friend of [your coworker].

This message came as I was feverishly working to compile our travel schedule to Ammon, Jordan. My team had back to back conferences on opposite coasts, and another oversees trip two weeks after our Jordan trip. I was overwhelmed but I knew the importance of these meetings.

The trip to Jordan was life altering on several levels. One because that trip personally caused me to evaluate my job, and because meeting Maran and seeing her organization permanently marked me.

Maran ma’ay’ah abujaber is the founder and CEO of Alhadaf. Alhadaf’s mission is: To inspire children and their families, placed in the Kingdom of Jordan and are affected by the world’s injustice, to achieve positive change in their lives.

Alhadaf does just that. They work primarily with Iraqi refugees who had to flee because of ISIS. They do art therapy, offer limited medical assistance, provide meals, haircuts and opportunities to learn and grow. Ultimately, they help reestablish dignity after many of the refugees were left with just the clothes on their backs.

Here is some of their art therapy. The picture on the right is what the one child drew right after they escaped ISIS. The left is what that same child drew several months after doing art therapy and working with some of Alhadaf’s employees. Each employee is a certified PTSD counselor.

Maran and her team breathe compassion. They strive to be a firm foundation. A stepping stone towards healing for each person who comes to Alhadaf.

While I was in Jordan, Maran took us to an apartment where (if my memory serves me right) five refugee families were sharing one apartment. Their faces are ones I cannot forget.

There was a hollowness in their eyes — a hollowness that I had never seen before. They were still in shock, numb, seemingly lifeless. But, they were grateful for Maran. Alhadaf was their only silver lining.

I asked Maran to write on what fears she has faced since starting Alhadaf. This is what she shared with me:

Christi, the fear of failure is something I’ve struggled with especially coming from a household of all girls, as well as living in an Arabic country. I always had this feeling my sisters and I were not strong enough because we are women. So, I always feared that.

That feeling was overwhelming. Several times, I had to go to the people around me to encourage me to try my best to fight that fear. That is until God talked

to me through the story of Ruth. He told me not to worry about being a woman,

or belong to a certain tribe, or, about coming from a house of all girls. He said, “You are strong in Me! Like Ruth and Naomi. When Ruth went to another place, she began to understand her identity: Your God is my God and that’s where my strength is — in my God.”

I would say that my continuous fear is that because I work among orphans and refugees — specifically Iraqi refugees— The funds are very low and limited. There are lots of times that I fear losing my vision because I need funds. This is something I always struggle with. But eventually I came up with a strong strategy that God called me to. And just because I have limited funds— God reminds me that in my weakness He is strong. This

helped me worked around my fear— knowing that God will provide.

I have another fear. The fear of

not being there for my kids because of the number of hours I need to put in because of the amount of work there is to do. The fear of not being the

perfect mom. So, I’ve lowered my standard a bit, and it’s okay if I am not perfect all the time. I realized I don’t have to be perfect. That helped me deal with that particular fear.

As you see, I have lots of fears that I had to go through. I also struggle with anxiety. I do all I can to lower my anxiety. But I just take step at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time, and in my weakness, I remember He is strong.

Maran is truly the real deal. She has the biggest heart. She gives all she can to everyone around her no matter what they might look like, or what their status is. She is a woman of conviction and of action. It is truly an honor to know her! To learn more about Maran and her work, please go to www.Alhadaf.org.

Maran and her husband Emil, have three beautiful boys. They currently live in Jordan and have dedicated their lives to others. If you would like to help Maran and her organization, she will be in the States later this month so she will be able to receive donations easier than a wire transfer. Please contact me via email or via the comments so I can help arrange this. Thank you!

Fighting the Fear of Living a Life You Didn’t Expect

I am so grateful to have my friend, Mary O’Brien, share with you today. Mary will forever be one of my saving graces because when I first met her, she came to my rescue!

I was at the National Religious Broadcaster Conference trying to carry 6 foot banners and a box of things for my boss’s book table. Suddenly a woman comes right by me, pulls on my dress and nicely said, “I’m sorry your dress was riding up, and your hands were full.”

How can you not become friends after that! I met up with Mary again at a conference her church where my boss was speaking. Mary is someone after being around her, it makes you want to live better. It truly is an honor to have her as a guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy what she has to share!

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I grew up in a loving yet dysfunctional home. As I have aged – I realize that my younger years were wrought with fear of outcomes I could not control. If I could control a situation, then it hurt less or caused less stress. But that simply was not often possible in my home.

Faith was ever present, but it was not until college that I came to have a personal relationship with Christ. I came to know that God wasn’t a far off God, but a God who loved ME and was intimately involved in my life. He used a very traumatic incident in my 20’s to break me free of my false sense of control and fear of “what ifs”.

I was a single 27 woman when out of the blue I was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart) and hospitalized. A few days later I was told I would need open heart surgery to repair the damage. I was in shock. I had gone from a normal, healthy young woman to being told I would have congestive heart failure within the next year if I didn’t have this surgery. Within a few days came another blow:

“Did we mention that depending on the outcome of the surgery you may not be able to have children?”

Um no, no one had mentioned this.

My mind was racing. Who would want to marry me if on the first date I had to tell them: Oh! By the way, I cannot have children and I have a foot-long scar down my chest.

I went into control mode. How can I be sure to manage the options so that is not the outcome (there were a few extreme options available to me that might have prevented this possible outcome).

As a believer who had just begun studying the Word seriously for a few years, I knew enough to know I needed to run to God and His promises. But this was so hard (I was still learning about God’s sovereignty and His goodness).

I thought maybe I could handle this better. There were several Scripture passages that really ministered to me at this time…

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

As I explored my options, the Lord confirmed to me that what I needed to do was let go and trust Him. Trust that whatever the outcome of the surgery was – He was good and faithful, and nothing was outside of His plans for me.

I recall kneeling by my bed a few nights before surgery and through tears just telling Him that I was giving this to Him. I was trusting Him. I knew that He loved me deeply and no matter what happened, He would see me through it and had a plan.

I woke up to good news- the valve had been repaired perfectly and there was no need for the strong medications that may have altered my health and ability to have children. I was so comforted in many ways by this. And, in my limited vision, I saw this as His promise for what life would hold for me.

However, years later, at around 39, I was in a place of striving against where the Lord had me as a single woman with no children. I just didn’t understand His plans or why my life didn’t look like I thought it was going to. In a place of fear – what if what I always thought my life would be doesn’t happen – I recall saying to the Lord that I felt a little bit tricked by Him. Why did you do that with my surgery only to NOT give me children. And in such a loving way I recall Him revealing to me that what He did was for my good, for my best. He took the best care of me with an outcome that allowed me to have a perfectly healthy life with no further concerns or issues. He never said it was about kids and marriage, but I had wanted it to be about that. He was simply taking the best care of me as a loving Father and blessing me with that outcome.

Around 42, he did a big work in me. He released me from the striving, and frankly the shame I had of being an older single woman whose life didn’t look most everyone else’s. I began to see His sovereignty and faithfulness in a new way.

Fear is natural, but the more we recognize the character of God the more we rest in knowing we have nothing to fear. He gave His Son for us. He knows every hair on our head. He knows the ugliest parts of us and loves us, graciously working to refine us and call us out of shallow waters into deep ones with Him. I love that I can look back on these times in my life when I start to get anxious about a situation and recount His goodness and that I have nothing to fear when He is in control.

Two Words To Keep You Going!

I was sitting outside reading a book about how life rarely turns out as we plan.

When I couldn’t help but tear up. I wanted to pray, but at this point in my life, it’s still a challenge. If I am being honest, praying biblically hurts too much.

I remember praying hard for a specific thing several years ago. It ended with me sobbing in my closet. I met someone that I thought would be the guy for me. He was everything you would want in a husband. But, I knew the Lord was telling me, no. Why? I wish I could tell you. To this day, I still don’t know why God said no.

I wish I could tell you I understand it, but I don’t. So, asking God for something along the same lines, is a challenge. Why? Because I know if it’s a no, it will be one more thing to grieve. Can I be honest? I’m really tired of grieving and I don’t get much better at it as life goes on. In fact, it gets harder — not easier.

Occasionally, I think about getting a tattoo. I used to never care for them. But, then, after I lost my Dad, I’ve contemplated getting one.

To me, it would symbolize the tattoo that will forever be in my heart this side of eternity. I already have a mark on my heart, I might as well have a mark on my body. Since I love words, I often think what words I would get as a tattoo. Last week, I had two pop into my mind. I put them together and I realized that is the essence of the Christian life— no matter what the circumstances.

The two words are:

Persevering Faith

Life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t slow down in the good times and it doesn’t pick up in the bad times. It just keeps moving at the same pace it always has, and it always will.

In life, we have to keep persevering. It may not be pretty. In fact, we may stumble through it, but we cannot quit. Coupled with perseverance, is the need for faith.

Picture perseverance as your legs and faith as your mind. When you run, you need your legs and your mind to run a race. The mind will keep you going even if your legs feel like quitting. The same in true for our spiritual lives. We will hit walls that will feel like we aren’t going anywhere and other times, we will feel like we are going a million miles an hour.

So, whatever you may be praying for and holding out for, keep persevering and keep hanging on to faith because no matter what you may or may not have, you will be able to finish your race with those two things.

Life doesn’t always have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean we cannot finish our race strong and encourage others to to finish their race as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Be still… Stay Silent… A Psalm of Trust.

I was called disrespectful.

I was called untrue.

I was called untrustworthy.

I was called a manipulator.

I was accused of being a seducer.

I was accused of being an adulterer.

I was said to have no friends and said I’d have many problems in the future.

I was accused of being a helpless victim.

I was verbally flogged.

Each word hurt more than the next

“You’re undermining me”, “You’re Judas to me.” The painful words flowed as each one ripped into my deeper into my heart and soul.

I am not perfect, but I meant no Ill will. I repeated to myself.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” was my echo trying to figure out why I couldn’t keep it together anymore.

Everything was unraveling… I’ve failed… I’ve corrupted all of this… Maybe I am cursed… Maybe I will always end up in these situations… Maybe this is why I’m not married… Maybe all these problems are because of me…

I questioned myself over and over and over again… I’ve failed… How could I not have prevented this? How could I not see myself as all these things? “You are wicked” I condemned myself… as I was being condemned…

Such hopeless days… I spent more days in tears than with a smile…

When life as I knew it was falling apart… I was being held… So close was His touch, his heartbeat, his whisper…

“This is not your battle… Let me handle it…”

Be still… Stay silent…

Don’t retaliate… Don’t talk back… So, I held my tongue…

Accusations still flew… Lies spoken over me… Physical reactions became undoubtably noticeable…

Be still.. Stay silent…

I cried night after night…

Be still, stay silent…

I packed up my life… Tears pouring out of my eyes… no clear direction to be seen…

Be still, Stay silent…

Friends started calling… Be still stay silent…

Until a call… A safe place for me to share my story… Stay still… BE honest…

I cried and nearly trembled as I shared … recounting the stories… Watching the dismay on the man’s face… I couldn’t read it… Maybe he thought I was making this up… My emotions had no where else to go… I felt torn apart… so vulnerable no longer knowing how to protect myself.

I finished and waited for his response…

“You did nothing wrong… I hope you walk out of here with your head held high…”

Words can pierce so deeply and heal profoundly… the same area damaged by the reckless words of an unstable person, began mending through a stable, faithful, kind man…

Words can tear apart a soul. Words can mend a soul. It can filet a heart beyond recognition , and yet somehow make it stronger than ever before. The deeper the wound, the greater capacity for compassion…

To the one who broke me— I don’t ever wish to see or hear again… But I am grateful for all the damage… because through it… I learned to be still to be silent and hear the One whose words spoke over me are more powerful than yours. And it is His words, not yours that brought me back to life.

He was still and was led silently a sheep to the slaughter… so that when He had defeated the grave… His words would hold the power of life and death… He speaks life… He hates death…

“There is no line…”

Disclaimer: I wrote this a few months ago. I wrote it to help me process my own feelings. For whatever it’s worth, I hope it helps someone else❤️.

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I have been watching a show called, “Burn Notice.” It’s about an ex-spy, named Michael Weston. Half of the time you can’t tell who he’s being used and manipulated by. People have threatened his family, friends, and very existence of who he is. He’s stuck in this trap of trying to be free. Every time he gets close, the target changes, or the carrot he’s been chasing get replaced, or jerked just out of reach.

As the series continues, the closer the fight gets. If you plan on watching it, you may not want to continue reading this….

Michael and his friends have been through everything together. They become more than friends. They become each other’s family. They all get into risky and questionable situations, but there is always an underlying trust. Even if the team doesn’t understand what’s going on, they trust the one calling the shots.

One sentence in this series won’t stop playing in my head… Michael is gaining ground on the person trying to take his life away, but it requires him to sacrifice some of his newer friends. His girlfriend (Fiona) decides that if she doesn’t take herself out of the equation, Michael won’t be able to make the right call. Since, Fiona has become the leveraging tool used by his newest adversary. He rushes to find her. When he does, she says, “I’m surrendering. I’m taking myself out. You’re losing yourself.” The reality of the situation starts to sink in for Michael. He is about to ruin other people’s lives to save Fiona. She speaks again and says, “Where do you draw the line, Michael?” And this is the part that keeps playing in my head… he says,

“There is no line when it comes to you.”

As I thought on what Michael said, I realized something. God is never going to stop coming after me. To you this may seem like a “no brainer” as my Dad used to say. But, after experiencing abuse from individuals claiming to be serving God coupled by the loss of my Dad… I’ve felt like Michael. I’ve felt lost.

In the midst of the fighting, Michael had lost sight of who he was. I know that Michael said, “There is no line when it comes to Fiona.” But it was Fiona who proved it.

Later on, when Michael is about to essentially “sell his soul to the devil” because he’s gotten so confused. He wants freedom so bad and there have been so many people after him. In the process, he’s lost so much that up he’s gotten to the point where up is down and down is up.

Fiona know he’s fallen prey due to everything he’s been through and he’s in the “enemy’s camp” . Walking in there could mean sudden death for her — That doesn’t stop her. She walks right into the enemy’s territory and right into Michael’s confusion — not knowing how he will respond to her.

In the aftermath of grief, there’s a lot of confusion and you feel lost. The normality of having your loved one is no longer there. Your mind keeps wanting to see them back at “their place”. Like at the end of the dinner table, at his work desk, or the rocking chair where he used to watching football. But, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have to relearn the life I live. I have to relearn how to continue with a hole in my family and in my heart, and honor him and God in the process. I have to relearn who I am. The fact is, I’ve been changed. The Christi before losing her Dad is not the same Christi after losing her Dad. The same is true for each one of my family members. But, there’s still a piece of me that is there, and that’s the piece that I’ve got to find.

And, instead of Fiona rushing in, I can picture Jesus rushing in . When everyone else is running for cover. He crosses the line into my lostness. I can picture him saying, “Christi, look at me.” And just like Michael did, it takes a while because maybe you didn’t understand all that “the plan” called life entailed…

But at some point I’ve got to ask for the strength look up and find His eyes again. Somehow, I’ve got to walk towards the voice that’s rushed in to pull me out. It starts with a look up. He will help me relearn who I am and how to move forward, but not forget.

*Pictures taken from: https://www.pinterest.com/chompie97/burn-notice/?amp_client_id=CLIENT_ID(_)&mweb_unauth_id={{default.session}}