Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Much More Can I Stand

There are times when I'm just overcome with life. Overcome with AWE, as tragedy gives birth to unimaginable strength, love, faith, and dreams.

Of course I can speak first hand. Unless I had experienced it, I wouldn't have believed that the pain and suffering of my daughter, and saying good bye to her, would bless me in such profound and beautiful ways. I've become so in tune with Our Father, seeing Him present in ways that I had overlooked, that many overlook.

What my daughter's life and Heavenly Birth continue to produce is nothing short of incredible. Hindsight revealed the blessing of the crucifixion. Would anyone who witnessed that horrific day have believed the magnificence that would spring from it?

I don't know what's triggered this last phase of heightened sensitivity, but I find tears streaming down my face several times a day. Not tears of sorrow, mind you. My kids witness the tears and ask, "Are you okay?" To which I reply, "More than!" Just a few moments ago, it was, "Why are you crying?" I explained, "I love witnessing love!" My oldest looked to his best friend and shook his head as if to apologize, "She's so lame.", he said. I laughed and said "Then I love being lame!" And I do.

I know many feel sorry for me because of what I've been through, but I find myself feeling more sorry for those who can't get past adversity to see the gift in it. We are all so blessed and have too easy a time forgetting.

My family is big on watching movies together in the evenings. I live with four guys and a "daddy's girl", so you can imagine how outnumbered I am when it comes to pickin the movie for our viewing pleasure. I reluctantly sat down last night to watch a movie called, "Defiance". I had already stereo typed it as another one of those violent war movies that the guys love and I don't. Just another lesson in how far off we can be when we are quick to judge by a cover or outward appearance. It was a movie based on a true story about three brothers. Simple farmers who were outnumbered and outgunned, in the forest on the run from the Germans, yet they led and saved a group of war refugees as they fought for freedom. Their story was one that truly was a testament to the human spirit. I felt my gratitude for the life I've experienced, the strength and protection that comes from my faith, and the freedom that we have in this country, increasing with every minute. As the credits rolled, I wiped away tears and exclaimed to my family anyone who complains about "HAVING TO go to work" is just incredibly paralyzed in the gratitude department. We have so much to be thankful for.

Today my body has declared it a day of rest and recovery. I slept very little Friday night and got to enjoy a long day yesterday. I've been on the sofa, in our quiet home, surfing the site and enjoying a marathon of America's Got Talent. Again a show I had judged as a waste of time and as a result had not watched before. There are a lot of people wasting time pursuing fame with no talent what so ever, but tucked away in the midst of them are some incredible stories that touch the deepest part of one's heart and soul. There was a trio of sisters who were so amazingly close. You could tell how genuine their love for one another and shared passion for pursuing their dream was. Even more beautiful was a couple of teenage brothers and their sister who had discovered their talent while singing at their mother's bedside while she was in a coma. They were amazing. (an inimaginable dream born from a tragedy) A stay at home mom completely won over everyone who witnessed her voice. She's in remission, after having battled cancer for 5 years. Living a dream unimaginable. She said, "When you have hope, you keep going."

I have more than hope. I can't put it into words. I've just today experienced another one of God's revelations that's impossible to relay. Sometime's I feel as if I'm ready to self combust with the realization of God's presence and masterful plan. No being can create what God's love, mercy, and glory can. I don't wish for you to experience pain to obtain a vision that allows you to see His Hand in your life, but I sure want you to experience Him in ALL things.

I'm not sure how much more I can stand. :) God is in the details. I hope you are open to seeing, hearing, and feeling Him always, IN ALL WAYS!!!


Friday, July 24, 2009

Hope for the "knuckleheads"

"FINALLY! Poor little knucklehead! It took forty one years; a lot of mistakes, a lot of disappointment, a lot of pain,
and a lot of faith and perseverance, but she finally gets it"

what God smiled and said this morning.

It's my spirit that's developing into something more when I'm in the gym pumping iron or pushing myself through a cardio session. What I love about my workouts these days is my body is just along for the ride. (although it benefits immensely) I'm so far from where started.

I spent years being a co-dependant, people pleasing, girl, teenager, and woman needing to draw attention to myself. What that meant most of the time was using my body to do so. Why? Because I needed love and didn't know how or where to find it.

Through my confusion and discontentment, I thought having a beautiful body would compensate for what I didn't feel in my heart and soul or what I didn't like about my face. I had more control over changing the shape of my body than I did changing the look of my face would get people to pay attention to me.

In highschool I dressed very differently, not in a sexual way, just an odd attention grabbing way. Through college and much of my married life, different turned into provocative. I've just very recently become uncomforable with that style of dress and the reason just struck me this morning during my workout.

Before my intent was to draw attention to myself. Now my intention is to draw attention to God. Before I needed to be praised and adored. After some real eye opening lessons, the thought of someone directing that adoration and praise to me, instead of to God, is very disturbing. I have found a self love for who God created in me, through acceptance and forgiveness for all the mistakes I've made. I know God's love in the most intimate, authentic way. No human's love can compare.

I'm in awe with the path it took to lead me to this amazing place. I've pulled off of the road at one of those breath taking "look out points". (We have those here in the mountains.) It's not a place to spend a lot of time or to take up residence. It's merely a place to take a moment and appreciate the magnificent creation of God's hand. That's what I'm doing.

The climb to this "look out" point took a lot of energy, pain, falling, forgiveness, perseverance and faith. My pain propelled me into Our Father's embrace. I misused my body, sought love in the wrong places, jeopardized my marriage and family, and let go of my daughter's physical body as God waited for me to get to here.

Our journeys and the mountains we climb in the midst of them are different, but I believe they are also very similar. We often look to receive attention from other human beings. It is my prayer that if you aren't already there, you soon look in the mirror and know the person looking back at you is the loving source you need to draw from. Ultimately it is that person you see in the mirror who needs to love you enough to look out for your best interest. People come and go. Some you want to say good bye to, some you desperately want to hang on to.

It's not love from someone else that you need, but love from within. Ultimately, no one or nothing can be our "everything" That love doesn't come from who you are on your own, but who God is in you. Peace doesn't come from what we have, but from what we are willing to give. I'm simply in awe of the journey. I'm amazed at how desperate I was for someone else to provide what I already had. When you stop looking for love outside yourself and open up to God as your source of love from within, you'll transform from "knucklehead" to "one who gets it".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prevailing with a Powerful Presence

It began as we drove down to Gulf Shores, Alabama for our first family vacation in three years. We last visited this condo and beach after Jonnae's initial leukemia diagnosis and 16 months of chemo (with another 12 months to go). She was feeling better than she had in months and looking so forward to a week of fun in the sun and her going back to school. (She had been homeschooled since her diagnosis.)

Thoughts of my girl visit me every day, but the last two weeks have been different. It's been a flood of memories.

In trying to relay this beautiful place I've inhabited the last couple of weeks, I compare it to the experience a child has with an imaginary friend. I'm 41, but feel like a child in heart and spirit :) Much of that is because of what I've learned through my daughter's illness and Heavenly Birth. My imaginary friend is not imaginary at all, she's very real. She's more than a friend, she's my daughter, my soul mate, and my God given guide. I continue to be taught by her example every day.

A stomach bug paid our family a visit at the start of our vacation. It introduced itself to Johnny on the drive down, spent the first morning with Lydia, and a couple of days with me before departing. I can't recall the last time I've felt so awful. I found myself in thanksgiving as I realized I have had such a very long string of healthy days and how seldom a day like this was to me. I reflected on how Jonnae, and so many dealing with chemo, have experienced so many days similar to the one that was so painful and challenging for me. I know she doesn't need it from me, but I found myself apologizing for her having been asked to endure so much sickness. I don't believe I was experiencing sorrow, just a more profound admiration and appreciation for a young girl so courageous and strong. She's been keeping me company since and I'm enjoying her "stay" .

For the last couple of weeks it's as if I can hear her saying, "Hey Mom!!! Remember when.....?" In reflection of those memories she's called up, I've shed some tears. But more than sorrow, I've felt joy and an embrace of great LOVE.

A couple days ago I decided to run to the playlist she had created for her ipod. It was very early in the morning and the memory that I headed out on the run with, was of the early morning run I took the day she joined God in Heaven. Every single song I heard on her playlist this week had a line that spoke volumes to me. Most of them were very poignant. But there were lighter moments too, like when I giggled and picked up my pace as Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made for Walkin" came on. (Jonnae could have that attitude about her when she wanted to. :) My run ended with a song that sang, "peace like a river; joy like a fountain, flows" was as I finished that run and has continued to.

This past Wednesday was another Wacky Wednesday at the Kosair Children's Hospital. They never start out being easy. Much like the run I had experienced, I began the day feeling heavy, stiff, and more like a dying ember. However, I ended feeling light, free, and on fire with a LOVE of life and all I've experienced to get to this place. All of it being by the grace of God and the strength and protection I find in my faith.

Many have written lately about going to see "My Sister's Keeper" and how it has reminded them of Jonnae and I. One person even stated, "It's your life, you must see it". I went in with a mild anxiety, anticipating sorrow might be the prominant emotion to be pulled up. I was equipped with plenty of tissue and ready. A good cry can be cleansing. I had already begun to experience a mild "cleansing" earlier in the week as my husband and I went and saw "The Proposal". I had a "weepy leak" just watching the previews for the movie "Fame" I'm an emotional person. I cry for every emotion and often. Anytime I see someone obtaining a dream by throwing their heart over the bar, I get emotional. I'm just a sap when it comes to romance, comedy or not, so that's where the tears came from for The Proposal. I ended up blowing my nose in my sweat jacket (gross I know, but I was snotting and unprepared) With "My Sister's Keeper" though, I found myself comparing our story to that of the family in the movie. I didn't cry much because more than anything I saw the "storybook" version of leukemia. Even though it wasn't all "pretty" and there were moments when you felt through the characters, just how painful the journey can be, I didn't get to experience with Jonnae what that mother did with her daughter.

Jonnae didn't ever have a boyfriend. She didn't get to experience a prom, a dance with a boy who cared about her, or a first kiss. She didn't get to have that last day at the beach (her wish that Make a Wish had intended to grant was to see one of the beaches of the Caribbean. She wanted to ride a horse on the beach. Someday I'm gonna do that to celebrate her) I thought briefly about all the things that this mother and daughter were experiencing that we did not. However just as the movie states in the end. "the point is not that I didn't get to experience those things. The point is I GOT TO BE HER MOTHER! and I experience A LOT of beautiful wonderful things with her!!!"

I found myself laughing at a couple of things that were comparable. For instance, how ridiculous some people can be when they think they have something helpful to say. There was a visit at the hospital where the mom and daughter in this movie were just smiling and zoning out as the visiting friends and family simply had no clue how absurd they sounded. Another giggle came as the girl (Kate) had made a scrapbook and there was a page dedicated to why her dad won at scrabble - he cheats. HA! Johnny cheats at boardgames to win. It's no secret, we all know to keep an eye on him, lol. Jonnae LOVED playing scrabble. I think I laughed out loud at that point of the movie. Also, the mom shaves her head to prove to the daughter she's placing too much emphasis on her outward appearance. I offered to do that and my sweet, precious daughter let me know I have a long nose and shaving my head would just draw more attention to it. lol. When I suggested the boys shave theirs to make her more at ease when we were out, she replied matter of factly, "they would be butt ugly if they were bald" :) That was her way of disguising the fact that she really didn't want us to do anything on account of her....that she was okay. (we all know she was more than okay :)

Through all of the reflection, whether the tears came at times out of sorrow, feeling her loving presence, or experiencing the grace of God wrapped in the midst of it all, I know I live life in a way that would be impossible to live had I not experienced everything that I have.

I'm able to see more, hear more, feel more, love more, all as a result of leukemia and my daughter's early exit from this world. I am existing from a plain that I would not have reached had I not used the adversity, pain, and lessons, as stepping stones to get me here.

I believe we all have gifts that we use or abuse -healthy bodies, intelligence, spirituality - I witness people using, abusing, and misusing their gifts. It's easy for me to decipher now because of the heightened sense God's gifted me with as I've remained open to His guidance. I'm using my gifts now, but that's not always been the case. Before Jonnae's illness, one of the gifts I abused was my body. I didn't take good care of it. Once I started taking care of it, then I misused it. Not anymore. I was in a vicious cycle and God used Jonnae to save me. She accepted His will, knowing I, and many others, would be saved through her faith and my sharing our stories. Regardless of how I miss her physical presence and the memories we could have shared, I can not find myself being sorrowful for the life I have now and how God will continue to use it to bring those who are lost back into alignment with Him.There's no greater experience than one that's led and blessed by God! This smile in the midst of a battle with cancer proves it!

She prevailed with the powerful presence of God. Even with the immense void I feel without her physical body, as her spirit accompanies His and lifts me up, I will prevail with a powerful presence too.

Seeking to have a heart more like His (and hers), always in ALL ways, Denise

Friday, July 3, 2009

So Ready for a Delivery

Last June, only weeks after Jonnae had passed, I was intent on moving forward and sharing all that I'd learned, we'd learned, together. I talked of publishing the journal I'd kept those last months of her earthly life. Some people were supportive; some expressed their concern, they didn't feel I was allowing myself adequate time to feel the loss. (I've used analogies of pregnancy and birth throughout the year. The comparisons are so easy and don't seem to ever stop.) Sometimes parents lose a baby and immediately try to get pregnant again. Some support it, some worry. But God is the determining factor and if it's His will, when the time is right, He'll create a new life. He's done that in me. I'm not talking about a baby in the literal sense as a human being, but in the figurative since, as with this book.

The talk of my creating a book began in June, but it wasn't until October that God "announced" to me it was time. Much like the first trimester in a pregnancy, there was an excitement that came with the announcement, as well as the question, "Am I really ready for this?" The initial months didn't reflect much was growing, but I remained in faith and moved naturally with God, the Father and Creator of this baby.

I got excited as He scheduled my first ultrasound in March, an event in CA with agents, publishers, and professionals in the book industry. The picture didn't produced the results I had hoped for. It was like those first shots I saw of my real babies. (ultrasounds have come a long way since then) Back when I was in the "baby making business" the shots weren't real clear. You could only make out enough to see there was indeed a baby there. And that's about all that was confirmed in CA, a book was there.

It wasn't until April that there was evidence the book was undeniably developing and a due date established. The birth of this baby is near and I'm finding myself very much like a pregnant mother in the last months of pregnancy. Exhausted, emotional, and just ready to push it out. lol. You think I'm kidding? I told my publisher, "When a mother gives birth, the nurses take over for a few days, to give her rest. I'm so ready for you to be my nurse." :)

I'm eager to give birth. A mother sacrafices a lot to do what's best for the baby. This book experience is the same in that capacity as well. For the miracles I'll witness as a result of them, it's so worth it, but I'm ready for this phase to end and the next one to begin. It won't come without the challenges a new mom (or author) faces, but it'll be something different and I'll be able to reclaim some of my prepregnancy life that I've been missing :)

You'll get an announcement when the baby's born, just incase you'd like to hold it. I'm anxious to witness how God's Light and Love will comfort and lift you when your eyes fall upon it, just as with any of His precious creations.

The name's been chosen already - Heavenly Birth - A Mother's Journey, A Daughter's Legacy