Christian, family, grief and loss, mental health, parenting teens

Borrowing Trouble From Yesterday

Proverbs 17: 21,22
21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy.
22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Please let me be clear right upfront. I am not calling my children fools, any more than I might say of anyone. We are all fools at times and in certain areas of our lives.  However, I wanted to make an connection between the fool and the struggling or wayward child. It doesn’t matter exactly what the details are, but a child whose life looks different from a parent’s dream for their child, can result in a parent who struggles with sorrow, grief, and a lack of joy. This could be physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. It could be illness. It could be a prodigal child who has rejected the faith their parents have so prayerfully tried to instill in him or her. It might be a child who is simply making foolish or risky decisions regarding academics, alcohol, dating, or a host of other areas.

life disasters

Parents, if this is you, please listen up. You are hurting, fearful, broken, grieving, disappointed, angry, sad, anxious, or any combination of these and many other emotions. You had an image of what your family would be, and it hasn’t turned out that way. You were sure you’d be a good parent, and you promised yourself you wouldn’t make the same mistakes your parents made. Maybe you didn’t; maybe you made different mistakes. I can only promise you that you most definitely made mistakes. It would be impossible for you not to have. We all do. Don’t try to evaluate your mistakes by comparing them to others. You can’t take them back. Personally, I know I can’t seem to let mine go. If you are anything like me, you can’t let yours go either. Please believe me that hanging on to them is only hurting your child and yourself more. Do what I say and not what I do.

flaming grill

Perhaps the mistakes you made directly resulted in the exact negative choices you desperately wanted to avoid in your child. Maybe you held on too tight, or maybe you were too lenient. Maybe you are wracked with guilt and “what ifs”. Maybe you are grieving the happy home you though you’d have or the parent you thought you’d be. Maybe the issues your child has have absolutely nothing to do with you and you know it. Maybe it was the results of genetics, accidents, or someone else’s sin. Maybe you’re angry with God or someone else. I really can’t say for sure. If you’re like me, then you deal with stress and anxiety about the long term future of your child(ren) and how their life will turn out. Maybe you fear for your safety or the safety of your loved ones wether because of depression, violence, or physical ailments. I’ve talked with so many parents who have walked various challenging roads with their kids. Some need to establish care plans for their children in their wills, some worry about access to weapons. Many are on their knees in broken hearted prayers every single day.

Life is hard, and you have become skilled in borrowing trouble from tomorrow. You are even more skilled at borrowing trouble from yesterday.

pills 2

Stop it.

Hear me.

God has this. I know it’s easy to say this, and it’s near impossible to do this. I don’t mean to suggest that you stop worrying forever; I mean for right now. Stop.

This is robbing your joy and destroying your health. I don’t think it was a mistake that Solomon put the next verse where he did. The stress and worry that is marking you life is shortening your life and making you unhealthy. So for just this minute- stop. The worry and anxiety will come back soon enough, so for now count your blessings and embrace something wonderful or beautiful or good that also marks your life. Maybe start with all that is right and good with your difficult child, all that you love and deeply want to see flourish. And when the worry or fear or guilt returns, stop again. It’s going to be a constant battle. Don’t set up some unattainable goal like “never worry again,” that when you fail to achieve will leave you defeated. Stop for just a moment, for as many moments as you can, as often as you can. Start making a new normal.

Your life isn’t what you dreamed of or hoped for, but that doesn’t mean it is without it’s joys. Find those joys. Live in those joys. You need your health to care for those kids (big and small) who are struggling through life. Your kids need the best you, and your best medicine is joy.


Adulting, elder care, family, Gangrene Gables, grief and loss

Harbinger of Doom


Me: I just spoke with the lung doctor – I have a prognosis.
Sharon: Guess we all will be chatting later today then?
Me: Want the blunt version or wait for me to call tonight
Sharon: I’m all for blunt.
Me: Eric?
Eric: Whichever is fine. My prognosis is 2-5 hours if she keeps this attitude.
Sharon: Lol
Me: 6 months – year
Eric: Wow. That changes things a bit.
Me: I cried. Now I feel better and feel like we need to make plans. The lung doctor will see her this week and give her a prognosis
Eric: Good that it’ll be coming from him.
Sharon: I agree. This changes everything.
Me: Alright I need to go back to class and be grown up

As a pastor, Mom helped walk quite a few people from this life into the next. She had been there when a mother told her young son that his father had died, she had helped people share with their loved ones that they didn’t have much time left on this side of eternity, and she had cared for countless families in their grief, and had always taken time with them so she could write a eulogy that was extremely personal. Some of those times were sweet and meaningful; occasionally they were not. Mom recounted a tale of a family watching Baywatch while their loved one was lying in the bed next to them in the last hours of life. We joking asked her, “Well what do you want us watching when we tell you that you’re dying.” Mom’s response was Young Frankenstein, her favorite movie. Don’t judge! Mom wasn’t always a pastor. From that day on, long before Mom even got sick, we would joke that we were going to regularly put Young Frankenstein on and then call mom into the room to tell her, “We need to talk.”

In addition to Power of Attorney for all underwear related things, I gained a new title, Harbinger of Doom. I had been the one tasked with the responsibility of gathering my siblings and heading home the night my Dad passed away, although at the time the call came all we knew was that Dad had been in an accident. I spent hours on the phone that Easter weekend calling straight through our phonebook trying to reach friends and family. I was the one that sat down just over a year ago and explained to Mom that while we didn’t have a prognosis for her illness, the more generic prognosis via the internet was 3-5 years with a range of less than a year to 13 years. I was the one that finally forced the doctor’s hand into giving us a prognosis for Mom, so I would be the one to tell Mom what he said.

I called the lung specialist while on lunch break, hoping to catch him. He returned my call after I had returned to class, but fortunately I was assisting another teacher at that moment and was able to step out and take the call. I stood there in the entrance to my school, between the two sets of doors where I would have privacy, cell signal, and protection from the elements. He explained that no one really knows when these things will happen and how quickly or slowly the disease will progress. I told him we weren’t going to hold him to it, but we didn’t know how to plan without some idea. I told him that Mom recalled the other specialist talking about her lungs being a miracle, and being convinced she had at least ten years. I said we needed to be thinking about nursing care, assisted living, etc. and two years or ten years made a big difference. That’s when he said, “Six months to a year.” I thanked him, went to the staff room and cried. Another teacher comforted me as I gave in to the grief that had been growing for over a year since the diagnosis came through. The people I work with have always been incredibly supportive. When I did return to class, the teacher who had been teaching my class at that time asked me if I was okay. All I could do was shake my head no. I sat down and sent him an email explaining. Before he even got the email he had offered to come back during his prep period in an hour and cover my class for me. I declined but with much gratitude. Teaching has always been a comfort to me. I can shut out most of the struggles of my outside life, and it offers me a respite from the trials.

Harbinger of Doom            That evening my siblings and I would gather at the rehab and give Mom the news. It would be hard. It felt a little like role reversal, telling your parent about their life and helping them to navigate this road. How many times had my parents nursed me to health, helped me walk through break ups, or advised me on the best paths to take for my future. Here we were returning that favor to Mom. We were gentle, but blunt. I delivered the basic news and offered to further explain what the doctor has said, which wasn’t much. Mom cried. We cried. We were sorry we hadn’t brought Young Frankenstein.

Eric: Barb, if you are coming tonight, we should meet in the lobby and all go in together, I think.
Me: Almost there
Eric: I am at the intersection outside of the center. I will be there in 30 seconds.
Me: Overachiever. Did you bring Young Frankenstein?
Eric: I forgot.


Christian, grief and loss

Solo drives, Showers, and Worship

Carolyn had seen the muffled sobs that shook me in the pew and had come to gather  me into her arms. Despite having only met twice before, Carolyn ushered me from the sanctuary to a place where I could unload the agony burning inside me. My father had recently passed away, and I was a wreck.  Carolyn offered comfort and counsel while thousands of people worshiped God in the next room over. Carolyn met my need in the privacy of a ladies room. It was there where the Holy Spirit did a great work and helped to heal my hurt.

Each week for months after the passing of my father, I would return to church twice a week. Each worship time, I would find liquid emotion streaming down my face. The emotions that I had kept in check throughout the week could not  be contained. Worship is suppose to be about God; it’s suppose to be about praising Him and honoring him. For me, worship had become a place of raw emotion where I met with God. As the healing of my heart gradually occurred, I cried less and less.

God is good. God loves me. God is worthy of my praise, worship, adoration, and devotion even in the darkest moments of my life. Humbling myself into submission to God’s plan for my life week in and week out has been the core of my strength in troubled times.


The death of my father, while agonizing, would not be the deepest loss I would face in life nor the last. In the 20 years since that time, I have shed too many tears to count. Yet, most of the times I have found myself giving into pain or grief have been times of solitude: the quiet car rides, showers, or restless nights. It seems natural to cry during such private moments when thoughts easily wander towards grief, but in the midst of a public worship service?

Crying in public is not socially acceptable. One can get away with it at funerals and weddings, but not walking down the grocery aisle or sitting at a Starbucks. So what makes worship different? I think two things.  The first is that safety of the body of Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is our spiritual family. These are people in dwelt with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that dwells in me. There is not merely a camaraderie, but there is literal power when the person seated near you sees your tears and lifts you up in prayer. It physically brings comfort and healing. The second reason I believe this to be true is that as an individual member of the universal body of Christ we are one. In this oneness, it is easy for us to melt into worship as if there is no one else around. We alone are worshiping God, and in that divine communion nothing else matters. Once we are drawn into the presence of the Living God it is easy to be swept up in the moment.

So when you sit in church and see someone with tears streaming down their cheeks or wiping away that tear from the corner of their eye, lift them up in prayer. If God is calling you to personally minister to them, don’t ignore that call. However, for the most part, there is no need to interrupt the healing work the Holy Spirit is doing. And if you find yourself needing to cry, let it happen. Let the Great Physician do his work.

He is good. All the time.



family, grief and loss

School Pictures and Dorian Gray

October is that time of year when school children all across America are bringing home portrait packages. Parents will wonder at how fast their children are growing up. For us, however, we decided that we wouldn’t be purchasing a package this year. Last I heard, college students don’t bring home those adorable posed shots so only our youngest would be receiving school photos this year. Additionally, since the loss of our son last year, the idea of updated family photos this year took on increased urgency.

It was my desire to take individual photos of our kids that would more closely resemble the last photos we have of Sean. Sean’s portrait, taken at our last family session, had an autumn backdrop. It sat in a 4-photo frame next to posed school photos of our other three kids. As I removed the old school photos of our three children to replace with the newer pictures from this summer’s shoot, I was taken a back by my own emotions. Sean would never age. The changes in the faces of our other children were blatantly obvious, but Sean would never have a new photo. He would forever be 31. Each year the vast age difference between Sean and our other kids will shrink until in time, God willing, they will surpass his years. It brought to mind the dark classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike the story, this portrait is a blessing not a curse. Painful, yes, but how grateful I am that we made the time four years back to gather together and take those family photos.

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As difficult as this realization was, there were a few take aways from that brief moment of grief.

  • Moms: Get in the picture. One day your kids will be so grateful to see your face on vacation, on Christmas morning, at the beach, or cooking dinner. Document both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
  • Schedule family photos. Don’t just buy the school pictures. School pictures don’t include the rest of the family. Maybe alternate years with school photos one year and family the next.
  • Let your kids be themselves (I say with trepidation), and don’t Photo Shop out the realness. If your kid has blue hair and a nose ring or they refuse to wear anything but a tutu, that’s what you want to remember about this moment.
  • Pictures make fleeting moments timelessness. They connect us to our loved ones, our history, and the moments that made us who we are.
  • Balance is important. Don’t get so wrapped up in capturing every moment that you never experience anything. Two photos from a day at the zoo or ten from a week’s vacation is really all that you will want to look at a decade from now anyway, so just grab one or two here and there.

I’m ever grateful for the moments that we have captured in photographs of my parents and my kids. What photos do you most treasure of a loved one that you’ve lost?


adoption, gifts from God, grief and loss

Passing Us By

It is not uncommon for some of  the most life altering events to pass us by without our realizing. That moment when the stripe turns pink and you realize you are going to be a parent is typically weeks after conception. The acceptance letter to college arrives days after it was mailed and maybe weeks after the admission board made their decision. That first meeting of someone who will one day become your best friend or spouse might not even warrant you taking much notice. Even that tragic phone call with the passing of a loved one can come hours after the fact. There are moments, days, weeks, or even years in which we live oblivious to the big moments that have already occurred and will alter life as we know it. It is our human nature to look back and wonder, “What was I doing then?” We calculate back to the day of conception or think about those blissful moments before our life shattered.

Sean came into our lives like this, and he left our life in the same manner. I could not tell you what I was doing when Sean was born, completely unaware that someone had entered the world that would change my life forever 15 years down the line. And when he left the world in a similar quietness, he left me blissfully unaware of the pain that was soon to come. Part of me is sad that I cannot go back and know exactly what I was doing at that very moment, but I suppose it is okay. In the quiet mystery, there is deep truth. A sovereign God, who knows all things, is still in control. My knowing or not knowing does not alter the course of such things. Maybe a few more oblivious days/hours of life as I knew it was simply a gift to hold off my sorrow for a moment more.

A year has passed since Sean’s death, but this is a date that I am grateful doesn’t stick in my memory quite like it should. My memories of Sean, however, will never fade.

grief and loss, parenting teens

When the Stockings Aren’t Hung

Our family tends to be a little late in the game for getting ready for the holidays.  So there I was on the 23rd, pulling out the Christmas decorations. I was searching for a book to read on Christmas morning to the pre-K-K Sunday School class. In the third box I opened, I found the stockings. I began pulling them out and laying them on top of a box of ornaments when staring up from the bottom of the box was Sean’s stocking. I lifted it out of the box and a million emotions flooded me followed by a number of thoughts.

Do we hang it?

Do I mention it?

I certainly am not going to get rid of it, but will this become my new holiday tradition of finding his old stocking and weeping?

Should I move it somewhere I won’t keep bumping into it?

With the items I needed removed, I returned it to the box and tucked it back in the closet. I did’t know how everyone else would feel, and I didn’t want to create an issue that didn’t need to exist. But the next day, my daughter told me that she thought we should hang his stocking. I disagreed. I explained my reasoning, how we hadn’t hung it since he stopped sleeping over on Christmas Eve, and how I feared hanging it would create a tradition that would be difficult to stop.

As a parent I also worry that I might let my processing of grief hinder my children who might have different grief needs than I do. Parenting multiple children through grief while grieving yourself adds an entirely different dimension to every decision made, and one might be surprised just how many decisions one actually faces in life as you adjust to a new normal.

So his stocking didn’t get hung. It sat empty in a box in the a closet under our stairs.

Christmas came and went. Tears were shed. Memories recollected. And a whole new set of memories made for the first time without Sean. One more hurdle in the grief process was crossed although not gracefully.

Life after loss will always be a little bittersweet. There will always be the “should have been here” moments. Sorrow will always seep into every sweet family celebration. The grief will change, but it will never be fully gone. I have experienced enough of its ways to know this truth.

There will always be the stocking that doesn’t get hung.


gifts from God, grief and loss, loss

The Cumulative Impact of Grief


I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these past weeks as we move into the holiday season. This year will be a hard year for our family as we celebrate the first Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas without our son. I have cried a little almost every day since the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t sobbed or broken down, but tears roll down my face during car rides, certain songs on the radio, or just at random moments. For me, this is the 3rd major loss I have experienced. Each being different, they began with the loss of my father 20 years ago. 20 years ago. It seems like I should be long over a grief that old.


“Cumulative grief” tends to focus solely on several losses in a short time. That isn’t me. Yet, I doubt that my grief experience is unique.

For me, the loss of my father was deeply devastating. I was a wreck for months. I gradually worked through the loss. I certainly don’t think I would consider my grief “unresolved”, but I definitely miss my Dad, wish he didn’t have to miss so many life events, and at times genuinely ache to have just another moment with him.
When my mom became sick a few years back, I grieved the loss of my father again. Certainly not anything like the original grief, but I thought of him more often, teared-up over little things more often, and longed for him more. As my mom deteriorated and eventually passed, I grieved for my mom, but oddly enough I grieved for my dad almost as much.

Just over a year after my mother passed, we would lose our adult son. It was sudden, like the loss of my dad, but he had not been healthy, so it was always in the back of our minds. We had long expected the day would eventually come. I cried, was sad, and missed him, but not the level of grief that one would expect for such a great loss. But the grief has built up these past days and weeks. It has grown heavier as we enter the holiday.

I grieved now for all three of them. Memories of any one of them might lead me to tears and thoughts of the others. Our son passed late in June. In early September, I remember crying at a family birthday party, because our extended family had gotten so small. There were so few of us now that we could all comfortably sit at our table. That same thought has crossed my mind so many times since that day. My Christmas shopping list is short. The entire family can comfortably be included in a single group chat. I know one day our family will expand. There will be weddings and babies (hopefully not mine). But for now, it is just small and my losses are painfully evident.

Sometimes I am fearful that growing older means that grief will pile upon grief and that each loss will magnify the previous ones. Do we simply accumulate our pain as we walk through this broken world, this world that was never meant to be marred by death?

Grief sure is an interesting beast. It morphs and changes, with an ebb and flow across the seasons and years. Many days it sits quietly, almost stealthily on the sidelines, but in an instant it can come out of nowhere to blindside you. While there are many ways to protect oneself from these attacks of grief, the truth is that grief is a gift. We are people who love and with that love comes a vulnerability to pain. It is only in our loving of others that we face such deep loss. It truly is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

So, no. We are not bound by a grim future of loss. While, Yes, these deep losses will impact us for the rest of our lives, there is more. There is hope and restoration and a supernatural comfort from a God who counts our tears and holds us through our suffering. And it’s enough. It really is.