Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reflections from Shadow's death

This week as we made the painful decision to say goodbye to Shadow I have been reflecting on saying goodbye to Scott.  I realize that the situations are vastly different, but both have the universality of death.  I think Scott’s death has shaped the decisions that we have made with Shadow.  One major difference is that with Scott’s death we had no warning and with Shadow’s death it was an uncertain time frame due to the uncertain speed of the tumor.  I talked with my mom about the stress of an impending death with the uncertainty of time frame.  It left us in a constant feeling of being suspended, waiting and watching for the end.  That uncertainty took its toll, at times just wishing for it to be over, yet in the next breath feeling guilty for wishing Shadow was gone.  So many of our memories of Shadow and Scott are tied up together, so losing Shadow was like losing a chunk of Scott’s heart — he loved Shadow so much.  I have thought about how hard this would have been for him, facing these difficult decisions for Shadow.  

Christmas evening was when we really saw a down turn for Shadow.  Jaelyn had made plans with her aunt and uncle to spend Sunday night through Wednesday evening at their house in Shippensburg.  We talked before she left about the possibility that I would have to make the decision to let Shadow go while she was away.  She felt that she was okay with that as long as I let  her know what was going on.  Yet today, after a day to think about the definite plans, she changed her mind.  I am beyond grateful that, virtually in the moment, without hesitation Aunt Deanna packed her up and brought her home at Jaelyn’s request so that she could see Shadow one last time.  I talked with her about the process and that she needed to think about whether she wanted to be in with Shadow at the end.  She told me that she didn’t want to be.  I told her that was okay, that she could stay in the waiting room at the vet’s office.   

When we got there, they took us back to a special room and explained the process and exactly what it would look like and what to expect.  After they took Shadow out to start the IV, Jaelyn changed her mind and decided to stay.  I was surprised, but reminded her that if she got uncomfortable at any point, she could just get up and go out to the waiting room.  Shadow refused to lay down on the blanket, so the vet asked us what we thought about giving the medicine while she was standing, explaining that once the sedative hit her system, her body would just sink down.  I agreed, knowing how stubborn Shadow could be.  She sank into my arms with Jaelyn stroking her back as she took her last breaths.  We took a few minutes to cry over Shadow while the tech did a paw print in clay for us to take home.  In reflecting back over the evening while talking with my dad on the phone, I think that not being able to say goodbye to Scott or be with him in his last minutes definitely influenced both of our decisions to be there, holding, and petting Shadow as she left this earth.  And maybe in some small way it was a way of saying goodbye to Scott as well.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pity Party Invitation

Pity party. . . .  This is not the type of invitation that I would want to receive.  

Yet last evening I found myself throwing a pity party.  I didn’t invite anyone else . . . . I had enough sense to realize that no one wants an invitation to someone else’s pity party.  I kept reminding myself that today, with time and space, my perspective would be different than it was in that moment.  

Last  night I had the insight to realize that it was a pity party and not to allow myself to wallow in the negative thoughts.  But there are many moments when that insight is lacking and the wallowing takes place for far too long. 

I have found that there is value and lessons learned that have come from past pity parties and moments of wallowing in negative thoughts.  Would I want to avoid pity parties and negative thoughts?  Absolutely!  

Yet it is in those dark moments that God’s truth is blinding.  My prayers in the dark moments are more heartfelt, more vulnerable, and more desperate. I wish it would not take dark moments to be desperately seeking God’s hope and strength, but that this was my mindset in all moments.  Although I do not want to seek out the pity parties or wallow in the negative thoughts, when I find myself there I pray that I will always see how God can/will use them to refine me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Celebrate Life

Three years.  After three years, one would think that I would know my way on this grief journey.  Yet I am still learning that my daughter, at 10 years old, has a wisdom way beyond her years and a simple, yet straight forward, way through the grief.  I have learned so much from Jaelyn on this journey.  

One of the biggest lessons started last year on the two year anniversary and became even more clear this year.  Typically when one thinks about celebrating the anniversary of someone’s death, the first thoughts or ideas that come to mind are putting flowers on the grave, releasing balloons, etc.  Last year it didn’t take me long to realize that Jaelyn didn’t want to “celebrate” her dad’s death, she wanted to celebrate his life.  

Such a seemingly small distinction, but oh so big in significance.  You see, Scott was so much more than his tragic and early death.  He wouldn’t want to be remembered for dying young or dying suddenly.  He would want to be remembered for how he lived, what he enjoyed doing, and what was important to him.  Scott loved people.  He was a loyal friend who helped his friends - often anonymously - without care for himself or recognition.  Scott loved adventure.  He didn’t want to look back on his life and wonder what kind of impact he had made.  Scott wanted to change the world for the better.  He was willing to take risks, both for fun and in life.  He dreamed big!

In thinking about this tonight it reminded me of Jesus’ example.  Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we celebrated Jesus’ death?  How depressing.  No, we have so much hope because we can celebrate his life!  He wants us to know how he lived, what he spent his time doing, and what was important to him on this earth.  Jesus didn’t do these things for recognition.  Jesus changed this world for the better!  He lived big!

See, celebrating Scott’s life reminds me to celebrate Jesus — and what better tribute to a life well lived than that!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It is well with my soul

Tomorrow it will be three years since the first - and last - family pictures that we had taken before Scott's death.  As I sit in the living room looking at our family picture on the wall, I am thinking back over our journey since Scott's death.  I have blogged my way almost every step on this painful journey, and privately journaled as well.   It has been a journey of faith as much if not more than a journey of grief.   It is easy to trust in God when everything is going well, but when every step felt like I was about to take a step off of a cliff, it required a great amount of trust to keep taking that step forward.  I am thankful for the encouragement, prayers, and support that always seemed to come when I was having difficulty taking that next step forward.  As I talked about in my last blog post, it was very hard to take steps outside of my comfort zone -- it seemed like my comfort zone shrank when Scott died.  I could only handle so much -- and work became extremely difficult.  Both jobs that I have had at the time of and since Scott's death required great emotional energy.  I realized, but couldn't really do anything about it, that it took all of my emotional energy grieving Scott and helping Jaelyn grieve Scott so that I had no emotional reserves left to put into my job.  Yet, my job went on and so did I.

Our new Sunday morning Bible Study is on walking by faith and just started last Sunday.  A few things stood out to me during that session as well as the reading for the class that I have done since then.  "It can be well with your soul even it it's not well with your circumstances." - Jennifer Rothschild.  In the video, Jennifer talks about the song, "It is well with my soul."  This song has always been a special song to me.  I was in a church singing group called the IMPACT team for my last three years of high school.  This song was always the song that we warmed up to and sang as a prayer before starting every concert.  When I close my eyes I can still hear our 15 to 20 voices clearly ringing out in sweet harmony with no music, only the pureness of the voices.  The words "When sorrows like sea billows roll" are words that I had no real understanding of as a child or young teenager.  It was during those three years on the IMPACT team that I began to understand those words.  It was during that time that my brother had his life changing accident with a significant brain injury.  The hope of heaven and God's strength were the key to our family making it through with our faith and hope in God intact and even stronger than before.

But it wasn't until Scott's death that I can say that these words are as true for me as if I had written them myself.  Despite the grief, pain, and shock, I can say that I always had a peace that God's hand was on us and over us.  The words "sea billows roll" reminds me of our recent boat trip while on vacation and how sick I became with the choppiness of the ocean.  Yet, that is still mild in comparison with the emotional seasickness of grief. Yet no matter how strong the waves of grief and sadness hit, I knew - with confidence - that it was well with my soul.

             "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul."

I do not know why Scott had to die so young and I can honestly say that I don't really want to know the answer.  My human mind would never be able to comprehend the grand scope of God's artistry and where Scott's death fits in.  I simply trust that God is bringing good out of it, whether I can see it or not, and that He will continue to bless us and provide everything that we need.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Great Adventure!

In the almost three years since Scott’s death I have realized how extremely easy it is to get in a rut.  When Scott’s death occurred, my immediate and longer lasting reaction was to grab hold tightly of anything and everything that I could control – even though his death revealed that control of anything in life is really just an illusion.  My mind and heart were so busy trying to come to grips with his death and the effects of his death that I stayed with what was comfortable.  Anything outside of that comfort zone resulted in extreme stress.  This perhaps explains why my job change eight months after Scott’s death induced a stress and anxiety reaction like I have never had with any job change in the past.  I have had almost a light bulb moment while on over vacation about all of this.  In sitting here thinking about it, I understand that maybe an easing of this stress/anxiety reaction over things outside of my comfort zone is the truest sign of healing for myself.

A case in point would be the scholarship presentation in Scott’s honor the last two years.  Last year I was so nervous and anxiety ridden about getting up in front of the church and sharing from my heart that I couldn’t sleep the night before and was sick to my stomach and sweating until I was up front.  This year I was significantly calmer, with really only feeling a little bit jittery and having a dry mouth.

But the biggest step outside of my comfort zone so far was planning a major vacation with just Jaelyn and me.  Tackling a 12 hour drive (with a child who frequently gets carsick and doesn’t like long car rides), to an area that I have never been before, without friends or family to rely on, and no one to share driving responsibilities was a gigantic step forward.  It was a great adventure!  Perhaps my first clue that this was going to be a huge trip for Jaelyn and I was the fact that Jaelyn was extremely excited about it, despite the length of the trip.  When I talked about stopping to see college friends in Maine, her first question was if they had kids.  When I told her that they did not, but that they did have dogs, her response was, “Oh, okay, that’s good then.”  She became more and more excited about the trip as the time grew closer.  Her countdown was not for the last day of school, but rather the day we were to leave for Maine.  Jaelyn would tell anyone who asked (and those who didn’t ask) how many days until we left for Maine.   I was most nervous about the drive (12 hours – split over two days on the way up and two days on the way back), as well as Jaelyn’s notorious issues with carsickness.  I shared these concerns with my Sunday morning Bible study class a few weeks prior to leaving for Maine.  The prayers covering us on our trip can be the only explanation for how smooth our travel to and from Bar Harbor was, as well as our travel up there.  My only mistake is that I should have asked for prayer for motion sickness for myself – as on our Sunset Photography Cruise I became quite seasick, while Jaelyn was quite the little sailor with no sign nor symptom of seasickness!  The trip was an amazing time for both of us and we hated to leave to come back.  We truly fell in love with Maine and will plan to return sometime in the future.

Our adventure and step outside of our comfort zone was so much fun and good for us that I am already starting to think of other adventures that we can take together.  I missed Scott’s presence more than ever on this trip – mostly because it was one that he would have loved and always wanted to take.  Scott loved to travel and I would love to instill that in Jaelyn as well.  This requires steps outside of my comfort zone.  God didn’t intend for us to stay in our comfort zone.  It is easy to miss God when we don’t “need” to rely on him.  I certainly prayed more “in the moment” prayers on this trip than in my “normal” life.  Stepping outside of our comfort zone is necessary to stretch and grow and to learn to rely on God more.  Now, those adventures may not always be big trips, but have been as simple as leading a Bible study or getting up in front of the church to share from my heart when presenting the Scott Bradley scholarship.  I simply pray that I will be more aware of those moments and more willing to step outside of my comfort zone when God is leading.  Life with God is intended to be a great adventure – read the Bible – none of those stories of faith occurred when people remained in their comfort zone.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 Scott Bradley Memorial Scholarship Award

Today was the presentation of the second annual Scott Bradley Memorial Scholarship Award.  I'm thankful for the chance to honor Scott's memory and his legacy, especially by investing in our youth.  Scott always enjoyed working with the youth and it is very fitting that his memory is honored in this way.

The winner of the 2015 Scott Bradley Memorial Scholarship Award is Mikayla Ragsdale.

As with last year's presentation, I again had an opportunity to share a few words that God laid on my heart with the graduating seniors and the rest of the congregation.  I have included here what I shared this morning.

When Pastor Ken talked a few weeks ago during the community series about picturing worst case scenario and asking God what then, I realized that I have faced worst case scenario.   The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was tell my then seven year old daughter that her father had died and was in heaven with her Uncle Jason.  Then an even bigger challenge began – to figure out how to guide a seven year old through the grief of the biggest loss she could ever imagine while figuring out how to get myself through that same journey and keep our faith in God. 

I’m going to be completely honest – it was hard.  Yet this church, this community, came around us and blessed us.  People reached out to us in cards, hugs, stepping in and saying, “let us do this for you,” prayers, and new friendships.  People reached out specifically to Jaelyn – letting her know that she wasn’t alone, listening to her share in her Sunday school class, and encouraging her.  And I have seen her faith blossom and mature as she has healed.  And this community has had a huge part in that.

You are at a time in your life when it is easy to be drawn away from community, especially the community of Christ.  You are becoming adults, you want to be independent and make your own decisions – and that is good.  The most important advice I can give you is don’t forget the vital importance of Christ and the community of Christ. Find a way to remain connected – whether it is in this community of believers or a community of believers at college.  When the bumps in life come – and they will come – the community of Christ are God’s hands and feet.  They were how we saw God’s presence in the darkest days and helped to keep our faith strong and growing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Purpose and a Plan

Over the last couple of months I have been using a devotional that goes through each of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in a year’s time – My Daily Scripture Devotional, God’s Wisdom for Today.  The Psalms have really met me where I am emotionally and have comforted and encouraged me. Tonight I was reading Psalm 31.  There were a few verses that caught my attention as being such a clear cry from a grieving heart.
“I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.” – Psalm 31:7-9

The author of the devotional for this chapter, Trevor Barton of Hawk Creek Church in London, Kentucky, shared, “When this is our reality, we can’t fix it or undo it.  In that moment the only thing to do is trust that God has a plan and a purpose for the pain; we must believe that He will work out all the bad for our good.  As David did, cry out for mercy and lean in closer to God.”

“God has a plan and a purpose for the pain.” – When I read these words, they stopped me in my tracks.  Since Scott’s death I have wondered what purpose could possibly come from his death and my heart and mind rebelled at the thought – it is hard to put a “price” on a life and that is essentially what we are asking when we ask about a purpose for a death.  I think what hit me when I read that sentence was a sense of truth and a need for a shift in my thinking. 

Purpose and change do not come from a death or a tragedy.  No, purpose and change come from the pain of the circumstances, not the actual circumstances themselves.   This is nothing new.  Over thousands and thousands of years, many people who have changed the world have made those choices out of pain that they themselves have suffered from loss or tragedy.  And over those same thousands and thousands of years God has provided comfort, a plan, and a purpose in the pain.  He is no different today than He was yesterday, a thousand years ago, or at the very beginning of time.  In reading David’s words in Psalm 31, it is clear that David suffered great pain, yet God brought purpose and change to David’s life because of the pain.  

Which mistakes are we most likely to not repeat?  The ones that have caused us the most pain.  Which mistakes are the ones most likely to change how we do things?  The ones that have caused us the most pain.  We learn our strongest lessons from pain.  No one wants to learn lessons through pain, but when you are in it and it is your reality that can’t be fixed or undone, then we must ask ourselves what God wants to teach us and what good He can bring out of this pain.  My deepest desire is to know what God is teaching us on this painful journey and what good He will bring from our deep pain.