Odds & Ends & an Update

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Last month passed quickly, and without any posts from me! I thought that once Lucas was in school all day I’d be sitting on the couch twiddling my thumbs, but somehow that has not been the case. The days have flown by with almost no couch-sitting. I am settling into my new routine. I have a new work schedule which I’m getting used to. I definitely have more kid-free time than I have had for the past six years, but between physical therapy appointments for my back, other health maintenance activities and appointments, work, and running the household, I’ve not been bored. I’ve enjoyed finishing a few projects that have been half-done since Lucas was born, like his baby book! I’m sorry to say he will never know certain pieces of information (like when his last two molars came in) due to my negligence in recording the information at the time, but I’m pretty sure he’ll continue to live and thrive not knowing.  Thankfully!

One lesson I’m learning in these first weeks of having more time is that my productivity addiction is alive and well. I have been unable to be super productive since Lucas was born–in part because of the demands of caring for a young child, and in part because of the progression of my disease and the resulting loss of energy. I am one of those people who tends to put productivity on a pedestal, perhaps because deep down, my self-worth is too wrapped up in what I can or can’t do.  Clearly it’s something I need to continue to work on. There have been days recently when rather than relaxing, resting or enjoying some quiet, I’m wondering what else I can get crossed off my list. It feels good to get to the end of the day and be able to point to ten things that I accomplished. But just because I can get more things done daily, doesn’t mean I should wear myself out doing so. Being more restful affords me energy and an uncluttered mind to be fully present for the limited time I get to spend with Lucas once he gets home. Note to self: that is more important than any number of completed tasks. What can I say, I’m a work in progress!

I have been spending some time exercising and getting steps each day, but I did break my 10,000 or more steps a day Fitbit streak in early September. The streak lasted for 410 days, so it was a little sad to let it go, but it was the right choice. I broke it on Labor Day weekend. We were with my family for a reunion and I simply didn’t have the energy for both our planned activites and my 10,000 steps. When I mentioned to my dad that I would be breaking my streak, he reminded me that these goals that we set for ourselves only have value as long as they are serving us. The Fitbit streak did serve for me for a while! It helped me to become more active and build stamina. It kept me moving (and therefore healthier) during some emotinally challenging months. However, had I forced myself to get 10,000 steps that day, I would have been harming myself just to uphold the streak. That, my dad said, is serving the goal, and in doing that, it loses its value. Wise words, don’t you think? I don’t need to be a slave my goals. With that in mind, it was much easier to let it go.

Last week I headed back to the CF clinic for my three-month check up. After a rough summer, I was pretty nervous to see where my lung function had landed. It was 35%. That was definitely disappointing as I hoped to at least get back to 38% after all the treatments and therapies I went through this summer, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. In spite of that 35%, I have been feeling more stable this month and am hoping that there is still some healing taking place that will allow me to regain what has been lost. The good news is that my oxygen saturation was 99%, my heart rate and blood pressure were normal (in spite of doctor’s-office-induced anxiety!) and all other aspects of the exam were good too.  In other words, my body is doing a great job of coping with the low lung function. I’m exceedingly grateful for that!

Lucas and Jaime are doing well. I’ll write a separate post about Kindergarten soon, but for now I’ll tell you that Lucas is doing great handling the long day and he loves his classmates and his new school. We are so proud of him! He has enough energy left over to play soccer, this season for a team comprised of kindergarteners and young fives from his school and coached by the best coach in the world (Jaime). 🙂 I just love watching those two together on the field and it’s fun to see how much confidence and skill Lucas has gained since the spring. My boy is growing up!

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Fighting for the ball!

At practice the other day, Lucas came to the sideline where I was watching and told me he was going to go back out on the field and score a goal, just for me. And he did! He was so excited and I felt honored. He’s been growing and changing so much lately and is relying on me less and less. His sweet words and actions sure help as I’m adjusting to these changes.

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Gooooooooooal!

All in all we are doing well! Life has its challenges but we are experiencing many wonderful blessings too. And there are always fresh reasons to hope.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed. For his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~Lamentations 3:21-23

 

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Sheri’s Answers

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A few weeks ago, Jaime, Lucas and I left for our annual beach weekend in western Michigan. We started this tradition when Lucas was three and now it’s something we all look forward to. We’re fortunate that my parents live just a little more than a half hour from Lake Michigan so we have the most wonderful place to stay!

This year we left in the early afternoon on Friday and drove straight to the beach. I figured we would have a few hours of sunlight left to enjoy the sand and watch the waves. It had been cold and windy earlier in the day so we knew we wouldn’t be able to swim but the air was fresh and the water and sky were so beautiful.

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It was only a short time before the park emptied out, and finally, we were the only three left on the beach. “Mommy, I just love watching the waves,” Lucas told me as he snuggled on my lap. Me too. It was wonderful.

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As I gazed at the expanse of the lake, it struck me how peaceful it was on the beach. It wasn’t quiet–the waves were choppy and rough and they crashed forcefully onto the shore. Seagulls were squawking and scuffling.  But still it was peaceful, natural, lovely. A gentle breeze danced around us and I found myself breathing deeply of air that felt clean and pure. I could practically feel my heart disarm, setting aside its indignant complaints and surrendering to God’s peace. Peace amidst the turbulence.

The words of the old hymn, Be Still My Soul, came into my mind, and I was transported back, again, to the summer when Sheri was dying. That hymn was meaningful to our family around that time. I quoted from it in a letter I wrote to Sheri just before she died. I posted it on my refrigerator as a way to be strengthened in my grief. My sister Julie wrote a beautiful piece incorporating its words on the first anniversary of Sheri’s death. Sheri died on September 4, 2004–thirteen years ago, today. It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. I miss her so much.

I think of Sheri all the time, perhaps even more now that I find myself wrestling so much with the effects of this disease. I often wonder what advice she might have for me. Her faith in God sustained her, this I know. I saw it with my own eyes. But would she have specific suggestions for me? Would she attempt to answer the unanswerable questions? She fought through a seemingly endless string of challenges in her life without bitterness, and left a mark on this world that no one who knew her would deny. She was so faithful and so incredibly strong. But I know it was hard. She told me it was hard and I saw her struggle. I imagine that sometimes, when the house was quiet and the night was dark, she too felt overwhelmed by the burden of the fight and surrendered to the tears. Knowing that makes me feel close to her, even though 13 years have passed since I’ve talked to her and touched her.  Sometimes I just go ahead and ask her the questions. I don’t know if she can hear me, and I know for sure I won’t hear an audible reply, but sometimes just giving voice to them brings me comfort.

Sheri trusted God. She had hope, she had confidence in His goodness and love, and she knew God was in control. She knew He would give her the strength she needed to live and love fully until the day He took her home. And He did. There were good days, great days! Days filled with joy and hope and love. She touched so many lives and accomplished so much in her 35+ years here on earth. There were bad days full of hospitals and doctors, medicines, loss, and pain. Some days were downright ugly and filled with darkness and despair. But the beauty of her spirit is what we remember most of all–how hard she fought, how victorious she was, how strong, how loving, how generous. We remember those things because she refused to be defined by the disease that plagued her. At times cystic fibrosis ruled her body but she staunchly refused to allow it to break her spirit. Her husband Pete once told me that rather than allowing CF to define her, Sheri defined CF. Cystic Fibrosis on Sheri’s terms.

As the lyrics of the hymn scrolled through my mind that evening on the beach, I began to think that the words contained some of the answers she might give me, answers to the questions of how to weather the losses and disappointments, how to face my fears, how to resist bitterness and choose thankfulness and joy even when I feel battered and bruised. “Be still my soul” is a good start.

“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

I love you so much, Sheri. Thanks for loving me. Thank you for being a great example, leaving for us a legacy that continues to guide and inspire our journeys of life and faith. I’m so grateful for the 26 years I had with you, and that I’ll see you again, when the vale of tears is lifted and love’s purest joys are restored. Until then, you will remain forever part of the fabric of my being, my dear and beloved big sister.

Sheri

Sheri Leigh VanBruggen, September 26, 1968 – September 4, 2004

 

 

Living in the Shadow

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This summer has been such a mixed bag. There have been many great things about it. I love the more relaxed pace of the afternoons and long evenings. Last night after dinner the three of us headed down to the park so Jaime and Lucas could play soccer and I sat on a park bench watching them run and laugh and enjoy their health and freedom. It was heavenly.

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Run like the wind, boys!

I’ve loved the lazy mornings and the long bike rides and eating breakfast at 11am. I’ve loved the swimming and biking and playdates. Sometimes I think I never want summer to end.

This, however, is the most I’ve ever struggled with my CF in the summertime if I’m remembering right. It’s as if my lungs have forgotten that this is supposed to be my healthiest, most carefree time of the year. Instead I spent most of the month of June on a some combination of IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics and steroids. I had the month of July “off” but struggled through a particularly challenging adjustment period. Once I was through the adjustment phase I was dismayed to find that my lung function had dropped back down five points and after consulting my doctor, we began a round of oral antibiotics at the start of this month. They didn’t seem to be cutting it so last week I started a burst of steroids as well. I can’t find my footing and my lung function is stubbornly refusing to climb back up, even while on the medications. It’s been incredibly disheartening.

My emotions have taken a pretty hard hit, and that has perhaps been the hardest part of this summer. Just three short months ago I was flying high. I was so relieved and excited to have gotten through the winter relatively unscathed for the first time in several years. My heart was brimming with hope and thankfulness. I thought I had finally regained the strength and stability I’d been laboring towards for the past two years and I fully expected to continue to gain health and strength through the summer months. Suddenly I could imagine things for myself that I barely dared to hope for during some of the hardest moments of the past two years. I thought that after jumping hurdle after hurdle I’d finally reached my goal. Yet here I am, no better off than I was two years ago. Back to the beginning again. I imagined blue skies and puffy white clouds, and instead the skies have been dark and the storm clouds menacing.

And it hurts. Dreams are threatening to slip away forever. The hope, the joy, the anticipation I felt last spring seems like some sort of cruel joke now. I feel betrayed. Was I a fool for expecting those clear skies?

I know that in these hard times, the only thing that keeps me from sliding into an abyss of despair and bitterness is my hope and trust in God. But the truth is, it can be very hard to trust God in times like this. As humans it’s our natural tendency to assign blame when things go wrong. It makes us feel like we have some control over our destiny. So in these circumstances, when there’s nowhere to point the finger, sometimes I find myself wanting to blame God. Is God responsible for my current state of health? No, I don’t believe that. But part of me wants to be angry that after filling my heart with hope and joy this spring, He didn’t stop the events of this summer from happening. Why.  Why?

I recently re-read the book Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s an open, honest book that explores the questions many of us are hesitant to voice aloud–questions of God’s fairness and accessibility and why He doesn’t consistently swoop in to prevent our hurts–why evil and disease and death seem to have free rein in this world. In one chapter, Yancey discusses Job, specifically The Wager at the beginning of the book, where Satan asserts that we humans are not really free. He argues that we only love God because of what He does for us; that we only love him because of His blessings. As the story goes, Satan is proved wrong by the life of Job, who amidst a staggering amount of suffering, still clings, even if by a thread, to his hope and trust in God.

Satan denied that human beings are truly free.  We have freedom to descend, of course–Adam and all his descendants proved that. But freedom to ascend, to believe God for no other reason than, well…for no reason at all? Can a person believe even when God appears to him as an enemy?…When tragedy strikes, we will live in shadow, unaware of what is transpiring in the unseen world. The drama that Job lived through will then replicate itself in our individual lives…Will we trust God? Job teaches us that at the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, then faith is most needed. His struggle presents a glimpse of what the Bible elsewhere spells out in detail: the remarkable truth that our choices matter, not just to us and our own destiny but, amazingly, to God himself and the universe he rules.” Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, p. 192-193

I don’t know why God is allowing these struggles in my life right now. Part of my healing is simply acknowledging that and admitting how frustrated and angry and hurt I feel. The next step is making the choice to have faith and to trust God. These feelings of faith and trust can be impossible to muster up on my own. That’s where I turn to the example of the man in Mark 9 who sought healing for his son. He acknowledged his doubt and asked Jesus to help him to believe. Similarly, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith in Luke 17. I imagine that Jesus was pleased with those requests. God is not surprised nor do I think He is disappointed with my angry feelings.  He’s my father, after all, and He understands hurt and pain. I think it makes Him angry too. I may be living in the shadow now, unaware of what is transpiring in the unseen world, and unaware of how this will all work out. But I am never in the shadow alone and my response matters. And so even though my heart is broken and wants stay locked up tight, I ask God to give me faith–faith to believe that He is trustworthy and that He will provide whatever it is I need. Faith that He will complete the work He has started in me and that His plan for me is good. I ask Him to open up my heart so that He can fill it with peace, and then hope and joy again.

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Photo by Joyce Gan Photography

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Keeping Hope Alive

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As Jaime recently mentioned, our summer has been great overall! He’s a summer enthusiast, I’m a summer enthusiast, and Lucas has followed in our footsteps to adopt summer as his favorite season as well. We’ve enjoyed days at the pool, time in our garden, park trips, games, lots of soccer, visits with family, art projects and bike rides. If you ask Lucas, though, he’ll tell you that his favorite part of summer is sleeping in as long as he wants. I didn’t realize those attitudes started at the young age of five but I’d have to agree, sleeping in is the best!

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A pool date and ice cream with cousins! Well, ice cream for the cousins and a banana for Lucas.

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Playing soccer in the sprinkler.

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Perler bead art project meets Lucas’s love of deer signs!

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Scrambled States game with more cousins!

Jaime also reported that I had been back to the doctor after finishing my round of IVs and was relieved to see that my lung function had come back up to 38%. When I first began the IVs I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was on them two years ago I went from feeling a little sick to feeling horrible within the first week. This time, however, I felt much stronger and more stable throughout. Relief flooded in when I felt my breathing ease and I knew I was headed back up towards that 38%. Then I started to hope for more. I thought maybe I could surge up into the 40s again which would give me a little more cushion in case my lung function settled. During antibiotic treatments, my lungs are healthier than usual due to reduced congestion levels and less inflammation. It’s not uncommon for my lung function to drop a few points after I’m off the medications, once my chronic levels of bacteria return with their accompanying symptoms.

I made slow and steady progress in the first two weeks of my IVs, but into the third I felt myself plateau. It’s okay, I assured myself, at least you’re back to baseline.  I remember telling my sister that I almost wished I hadn’t hoped for the 40s because it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. It’s tiring being a hopeful person sometimes. Allowing yourself to hope means opening to the door to disappointment. Hopes that aren’t realized lead either to despair or require me to readjust my expectations.

I decided to readjusting my expectations was the way to go. Having done so, I was relieved, even excited to blow the 38%. The rest of the appointment went well too–my blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, temperature and pulse were all normal. My lungs sounded clear and my heart sounded healthy.  The only thing that gave me pause was my doctor’s confession that he would feel more comfortable once I strung together six months of stability and we saw that the 38% was sticking.

I wanted to feel joy about the 38% and satisfaction for how hard I worked to see that number again, and I did, at least for a time. But after a few days, I began to feel the weight of his comment. I know where he’s coming from. What happened to me–a sudden and not-easily-explained eight point drop in lung function is not a good thing. He has treated hundreds of CF patients over the course of his career.  He certainly knows that lung function can slip down after a course of treatment. He knows from experience that as baseline lung function drops, patients are more likely to have frequent infections and health becomes more difficult to maintain. He’s a compassionate and caring man but he never sugar coats the truth.

And so a few days after the appointment I felt myself sliding into a place of grief. I felt sad that somehow I have gotten to this place of 38%.  I grieved the fact that I was even temporarily pleased with it. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was struggling because I had dipped into the high 40s? And not so long before that I was stuck in the upper 50s, straining with every fiber of my being to get back into the 60s? The honest truth is, I am sick and tired of readjusting my expectations.

With these unhappy thoughts coursing through my mind, I entered the adjustment phase–the span of time that my CF symptoms spike up as my body gets used to life without the help of antibiotics.  This means hours of coughing each morning and again in the evening, back pain, headaches, and poor nights of sleep. It’s about as enjoyable as it sounds. I began to feel certain that I would work and strive and do everything in my power to maintain that 38% and that it wouldn’t be enough, and my lung function would slip down to a new, lower normal. Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto hope when you’re so frequently disappointed, and feeling awful doesn’t help either.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent years in a Soviet work camp (and therefore knew a lot about despair) said, “All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope.” Why is hope so important? We know from medical studies that hope itself has a healing power. Hope causes the placebo effect–where patients show improvements just because they believe they are taking a medication that will help them. Hope is such a strong influence that many drug studies are done double-blind so that the patients aren’t influenced by the unconsciously communicated hope of the researcher. There are studies that show that patients who have an attitude of hope experience much better outcomes than patients who feel defeated or depressed, and true hopelessness can even result in death.

Hope is an essential part of a healthy soul. When I’m hopeful I believe that there are good things ahead and that my life is worth fighting for.  It keeps me from giving up. I do get tired of readjusting my expectations. I weather plenty of disappointments in my life with cystic fibrosis. It’s hard that with a progressive disease, what I’m hoping for feels like “less” over time. Just two years ago I was hoping for 50% lung function. Now I’m hoping for 40%. Or even 38%. The numbers are less, but what is behind them is really the same. I want the health and strength to live a full and meaningful life.

The “small” hopes–hopes to recover from illness, hopes for a higher lung function, hopes for a better day tomorrow–they are important. If I didn’t wish for those things, if I didn’t think they were possible, I wouldn’t fight nearly so hard for them.  Sometimes they lead to disappointment. But better to hope and be disappointed than to live in darkness and despair.

I have other hopes too, ones that don’t require any adjusted expectations. I have the hope that God will transform and redeem my pain and bring wonderful good out of it–for me and for others. I believe that the ugliness and pain of this disease is only temporary but that the good God brings from it will be eternal. I don’t know all the ways God has redeemed my suffering but I have witnessed some things. I have seen my faith become stronger and deeper. I have been drawn and into a closer relationship with God and with others because of my dependency. I have struggled but I have also experienced victories. I have been knocked down but I have also overcome. The joys would not be so sweet without the hurts nor the victories so gratifying without the struggles. I know the eternal glories that await me when this life is through will far outweigh any loss I have sustained. I know God is using this disease for my good. I have built my life on that hope.

And my desire for a full and meaningful life? That can happen at 100% lung function, it can happen at 50%, and it can happen at 30%. It may look different at each step of the way and it may involve adjustments and disappointments. I may need to find fresh reasons for hope on a regular basis. But until the day that God calls me home to heaven, I know He will help me to truly live.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you. 

Psalm 33:20-22

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Great Strides (Again)

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Over the years Betsy and I have participated in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides fundraising walk. It is held annually across the country during the month of May, coinciding with Cystic Fibrosis Awareness month. Last year, for the first time, some friends helped us organize a team to walk on behalf of Betsy. It was a chilly morning but such an encouragement to see so many friends and family come together to support Betsy.

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Team Breath4Betsy 2016

We are walking as a team again this year. “Breathe4Betsy” was coined by one of my sisters a couple of years ago to use as a social media hashtag as a way to encourage Betsy before a particularly nerve wracking breathing test. Through a lack of other great ideas, we decided to recycle the name for our team.  I’m glad the name has stuck. The name is a reminder of how a simple thing such as taking a breath of fresh air is difficult for Betsy.

Of course the actual walk is only one component. Equally important is the fundraising that we are trying to do as a team. We set a team goal of $3500. Earlier this week we hit our fundraising target. We are thankful for everyone who donated to this important cause. There is so much promising research going on. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has a webpage dedicated to all of the medications in various stages of the development pipeline. None of these new treatments would be possible without research dollars. Every dollar that goes towards CF research provides Betsy and many others with the hope of a different life. When Betsy was born, the life expectancy of the average person with CF was around 18 years old. Now, a cure for the disease is within the realm of possibility.

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If you would be interested in partnering with us, we would love your support! You can donate to our team’s ongoing fundraising efforts by clicking here. It’s a pretty painless process. And every dollar really does make a difference!

Space for Grief

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Living with Cystic Fibrosis is hard. I am reminded daily that my body does not work properly and that to continue to live, I must fight. Some days I become weary. Some days I feel sad. I’ve been learning lately to give myself space for grief. Grief is unpredictable. It can be triggered by an event or a period of intensified struggle, and sometimes it surges up unexpectedly.

I’ve had a few times recently were grief has darkened my day. These dark days have traditionally made me feel guilty. I regularly see quotes such as these:

Someone out there is praying for all the things you take for granted.

Remember, no matter how many problems you have, there is always someone who has more.

These sentiments surely have a place in our world. In our consumerist culture it is easy to be in a perpetual state of discontentment and lose sight of all our blessings. We complain about minor inconveniences. We take things for granted. Many of us, including me, have not suffered the extreme hardships of hunger, violence, abuse, or the loss of worldly possessions that are rampant in parts of our world. It is important to remember that and to retain a proper perspective.

Sometimes when a wave of grief hits me, it brings with it a big dose of guilt. The voice in my head berates me. You have no right to be upset. So many are suffering so much more. Many CFers struggle far more than you do. Remember all those healthy years you had. You have a loving husband, a beautiful son, a supportive family, true friends, a wonderful home. Look at all you can still do.  And the list goes on.

It’s true. I am abundantly blessed and I know it. However, the pain in my life is real too, and sometimes I need space to grieve that. Sometimes I need to pour out my heart to God, lamenting the pain, explaining my hurts, expressing the sadness and disappointment. Grieving doesn’t have to be angry and bitter. It doesn’t have to indicate that I’m not trusting God, or that I feel sorry for myself, or that I’m not accepting my situation. Grieving doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not thankful. It is possible to be grateful for all the good in my life, all the blessings, all the wonderful things that have come out of my challenges, even to be thankful for the challenges themselves while allowing myself to mourn the pain, the loss, and the ongoing adversity. Some specific struggles have endured for years with ups and downs, times of hope and times of despair, bends in the road, minor bumps and major setbacks. At times I feel tired and bruised. There is chronic hardship in my life that will never leave me. Barring a miracle, there is no end in sight on this side of eternity. It’s hard. It’s sad. And so I grieve.

Tears can be cleansing–a discharge of the pain bottled up within me. It’s as if their release waters the soil of my soul, making way for acceptance, joy, and peace to bloom once again. When I take my hurts to God, I find the grace I can’t always extend to myself. There is no guilt there, no pointing finger, no accusations, only the reassurance of God’s love and His presence.  There is the reminder that while I will continue to struggle, I will never struggle alone. There is healing in that place of grief.

I felt compelled to write this post today. It’s definitely for me. This is something God is working out in my heart. Grief is a gift I’m learning accept without guilt and without comparison. But perhaps it’s for you too. Maybe you need to give yourself some space to grieve.  Maybe it’s time to stop pretending that your pain doesn’t exist, isn’t that bad, or doesn’t matter. Maybe you need to allow those tears to fall so that true acceptance, joy, and peace might thrive in your life again. Maybe you need to hear God whisper to you how much He loves you, how much He cares, and how through it all, He will never leave you or forsake you.

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Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

 

A Look of Love

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This time of year always stirs up my emotions. As the summer draws to an end and Labor Day weekend approaches, my mind wanders back to that summer of 2004, the summer when Sheri was dying. I saw her several times then, as much as her energy would allow. In the earlier months I would bring food for her and we would play games or work on crafts to pass the time. As the summer drew to the end, the visits were short and she wasn’t able to do much more than lay on the couch.

Time softens the pain of losing a loved one in some ways. I have gotten used to not seeing her regularly. I don’t expect to see her name pop up on my email or see her neat, cursive writing on a card in my mailbox. But each year at this time, when I reflect on her life and her death, the wound reopens and feels as raw and fresh as it did that first day when I knew I wouldn’t see her again on this side of eternity. There are always torrents of tears as that longing surges up–the longing to see her, hold her, touch her, talk to her and share life with her once again.

Last night I was looking through a box of memories–photos of Sheri, emails and letters she wrote, her book of poetry. I found a few pages I had written the month after she died. I wrote:

I remember when Sheri had a bad lung infection, a blocked bowel, and the tobramycin in her system got to toxic levels. She lost part of her hearing. She lost kidney function and had to go on dialysis for a while. She was in Ann Arbor, away from home for weeks. I remember I drove her and Mom to the hospital. She had a towel and a bucket with her in case she threw up. That was the weakest I’d ever seen her. She turned and gave me a look of total love and compassion before she stepped out of the car. It was the same look she gave me the second to last time I saw her alive. I hope I never forget that look. So much was wrapped up in it. She felt so much compassion for me, watching her go through her pain and how much it hurt me to see her like that, and compassion for the fear I felt in wondering if I’d ever go through similar things, and the love she had for me and how much she wanted to protect me from all the pain she’d been through. All that was in her gaze.

I remember that moment clear as day. I can still see her with her towel and bucket and more importantly, I can see that look of love. In the midst of one of the most trying and painful times in her life, she was reaching out to me with her eyes–extending comfort, love, and understanding.  She was not so overcome by her own struggle to miss the grief of her little sister who was sad and more than a little bit scared.

That look of love brought me comfort then and it brings me comfort now. I remember Sheri’s strength, her courage, her poise, her compassion, and especially the feeling of her love. She fought for life and brought so much joy, laughter and grace into our lives. She refused to be defeated by pain. Her life may have been short by today’s standards, but she used her life for good and for God’s glory. And now in heaven, she’s experiencing only joy and peace–no need for tobra or towels or buckets or tears. Her example gives me courage and strength.

I see Sheri’s gaze only in my memory now, but I know God looks on me with those same eyes of love. His love is an everlasting, steadfast love. His mercies never come to an end. The sadness is there. The fear is there. But God is also there. And someday, we’ll be together again. When God’s purposes for my life are complete, I’ll join Sheri in heaven. It’s fun to imagine what we might do. Run a marathon just because we can? Have French fries without the side order of pancreatic enzymes? Have a fit of laughter that doesn’t end with coughing? Those things are just silly fantasies and chances are, none of that will matter. But I’m pretty certain, when I see Sheri, I’ll get to see that look of love again.

Sheri Leigh VanBruggen, September 26, 1968 – September 4, 2004

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Our Sheri, in 1985.