Every year we take photos in the Fall. Of course we take photos all the time, but certain times of year I become more insistent in my demand for photos. Every Easter I make sure we get a family photo at church, and every Fourth Of July I insist on a photo of all of us at the lake. Ryan and the kids will be quick to tell you that even at these more casual photo times I’m still a bit of tyrant when it comes to getting one good photo of all of us looking at the camera and smiling. There have been years where this was a gargantuan task, but we’ve always managed to pull it off.
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Fall photos are a much bigger ordeal. I plan what everyone will wear. We beg or bribe friends to go with us to some pristine location, and while one friend takes photos we implore another one to stand behind the camera and elicit smiles by whatever means necessary. Sometimes this has involved the use of flying dogs, peek-a-boo babies, and one time famously, it led to the invention of the “butt dance.” If I’m perfectly honest, tears are always involved somewhere in the process of the Fall photos, sometimes they are the tears of an uncooperative child, but most of the time, they are mine. Tears because we are running late. Tears because I couldn’t put together outfits as cute as the ones on Pinterest. Tears because as we are driving home after the photos, I convince myself that we really didn’t get a decent photo this year, because no one is willing to try hard enough. High expectations, disappointed, has led to far too many frustrating Fall photo days for my family.
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This year I was expecting the tears. Not for the regular reasons. I knew there would be tears because on Easter Day we barely managed to take a photo of our family all together, in between sobbing sessions, Ryan and I somehow pulled it together long enough to take a photo of our family, so incomplete, just a month after losing Joel. It felt important to still have photos of our family now, so we took the photos that were hard to take, we cried more afterward, and visited Joel’s grave. On Easter Ryan asked several times if we could just skip the photos this year, but I insisted. By the Fourth of July Ryan knew it mattered to me, and patiently took photo after photo of me with the kids. He even had a stranger take one of all of us. I distinctly remember lying in bed with him that night, looking at the photos we had taken, but only seeing what was missing. We remembered all the Fourth of July photos that had come before, when our family was happy, when Joel was still with us. Ryan was in a funk that whole week. It wasn’t just watching the fireworks without Joel, it was the pictures he was missing from. So, I knew that our first Fall photos without Joel would be hard. I was counting on it.
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This past Christmas, we had been given a gift certificate for a free family photo session with a Denver photographer, by a foundation that gives presents to cancer families. (Jordan’s Angel Foundation is amazing, and gave us an incredible Christmas last year when we couldn’t afford presents.) The certificate for free photos waited beneath a magnet, on my fridge. Joel’s eye turned in just after Christmas, and I told myself we would wait to get photos when he was better, but then he got worse. In the ten months since we received the gift of photos, I have looked at the certificate from time to time, a reminder that we would need to do photos again sometime, and it helped me look forward to it, even though I thought it might be too hard. Could we send a puffy eyed Christmas card this year? People would understand.
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I emailed the photographer a few days ago, I apologized for the delay in using the certificate and explained why we had waited. She was amazing. She scheduled us for just two days after I emailed her, and asked if we wanted to bring along a photo of Joel, or one of his favorite toys. At first, I shuddered to think of making Joel’s absence so present a part of these photos. We decided to bring Joel’s blanket, but I worried the kids would cry when they saw it, or that Ryan, remembering all the nights he slept with the blanket in the heartbreaking weeks after Joel’s death, wouldn’t be able to get through our already challenging photos with that blanket boldly displaying our loss.
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We had our photos taken yesterday. It started out the same way all our Fall Photos do, running late, mom upset that things aren’t working out, dad urging the kids to please be patient and helpful because these photos are really, really important to mom. On the drive, I mentioned, as casually as possible, that we had brought along Joel’s blanket to put in a few of the photos, to show how important he still is to us. There were no tears, no choked back emotions. The kids seemed to agree that it felt right to include Joel.
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It just got better from there. Our photos were fun. The kids did so well. We were glad we had Joel’s blanket, we pulled it our more times than we thought we would. We were remembering Joel, but there was joy in our remembrance. I never would have imagined that our first big photo session without Joel could be anything but heartbreaking. We had one teary moment right at the end, when the photographer was snapping a quick photo of the kids playing in the stream. Without meaning to, they had left a little space, a space where Joel would have fit. The photographer pointed it out to us, and we put his blanket there, and shed a quiet tear or two, but even this was good. It was a beautiful moment, at the end of a joyful experience.
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Today the photographer sent me one quick preview of our photos. It made me so happy, I just had to share it with you and write about our day. She also wrote in her email, “Now I can tell you that I’ve been praying about the session since I received your email. I even asked my prayer warrior friends to pray to so I am not surprised that it went so well. Having a family photo taken without Joel is a important step to take toward some kind of future healing and probably an impossibly hard one. I felt honored to take them and you all are such a blessing. ” So, all this time, there on my fridge had been a gift certificate from a woman who would pray for my family to have a good photo shoot. It is a small thing, but it made such a big difference. I will be able to look at these photos and not remember a hard day without Joel, but I will see grace when I see them, a joyful day where a hard day should have been.
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Here’s the photo she sent me, when I have more I’ll post them too. Also, would you be willing to pray for our Thanksgiving and Christmas? I have been dreading these days. I have been imagining oppressive sorrow and a very stark contrast between our past celebrations and the ones coming up. This photo reminds me that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that I should pray more about these small things that are so big in my heart.
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forjoelsite
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I listen as Ryan sings to our children before bed, and they sing along, loud and wild, and I realize we are not broken, not really.  We are a strong family with an undercurrent of great sorrow and great joy. These past six months have stretched me, they have challenged everything I believe and made me reexamine everything I know.  Not because what I believed or knew was wrong, but because it was incomplete, it wasn’t deep enough. It never can be, but I feel the stretching even though it is too soon for me to coherently express what is changing in me.

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“In my wrestling and in my doubts / In my failures you won’t walk out / Your great love will lead me through /You are the peace in my troubled sea. / You are the peace in my troubled sea.”

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The sorrow has made more more compassionate, and it has made me hold everything here on earth a little more loosely.  I see these things in my children too, and I’m glad. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have this kind of deep struggle in my life at such a young age.  They ask hard questions about God, questions I didn’t ask at nine, and we answer the best we can, but we are a little quicker to admit that there are things we just don’t know, but we tell them we always want them to ask, and we assure them that we will never lie to them. Then there are the questions I can answer, but not in a way that will build understanding.  Elijah asked me today, “Why isn’t Joel in your tummy?” he patted my tummy and looked at Zoe.  I told him that Joel isn’t in my tummy because he is in heaven, and then Elijah quickly declared, “Joel’s not in church!” I tried to explain again, knowing that it still would not be something he could understand, knowing I would spend the next few years re-explaining again and again. I hope he’s not still trying to find Joel, to discover where he has gone, but I’m fairly certain that he is and that I can’t stop him because he is too young to understand.  I find myself cringing when the questions are asked again, knowing that he still doesn’t know why his brother can’t be with him, why a member of our family is missing.  I worry that it makes him feel insecure and afraid, even though I don’t see any signs of it, just confusion, which is hard enough to witness and not fix.

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“In the silence, You won’t let go / In my questions, Your truth will hold / Your great love will lead me though /You are the peace in my troubled sea / You are the peace in my troubled sea.”

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I believe now that God has done what is best, even though I still kind of hate it. I still don’t understand how it can be true, but I do believe that when I stand on the shore of heaven I will weep and declare, “God, this thing you have done for me and my family and Joel, it is so much better than everything I asked for, how short-sighted I was then, but I see it now!”

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“My light house / My lighthouse / Shining in the darkness / I will follow You. / My light house /My lighthouse / I will trust the promise / You will carry me safe to shore.”

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I’m fiercely proud of my little family.  I love the strength I see in them and how they’ve learned not to be afraid to cry and feel and talk.  It impresses me because I spent so much of my life afraid to feel things too strongly. The pain in my childhood made me stoic.  This pain is transforming them too, but in a different way, it is building compassion in them but it is a compassion that is tempered by realism. They are not afraid of pain, but they are still sensitive to emotions.

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“I won’t fear what tomorrow brings / With each morning I’ll rise and sing / My God’s love will lead me through / You are the peace in my troubled sea. / You are the peace in my troubled sea.”

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I know I need to write more often because the changes in me and in each of them are so subtle right now.  I notice I feel different but can’t pin point what the catalyst was that shifted my perspective. Tonight, I listen to them sing and realize that we have a new theme song.  A song that has carried us through a season. A song that will forever be linked in my mind to this heartbreaking season of healing slowly together. They stop singing and Elijah asks about Joel’s birthday, and they talk about what we should do four months from now when Joel would have turned six.  Ryan says we should do something fun, and Caleb says we will probably just cry all day.  Ryan says we will have fun and cry and then have fun and cry.  Isaac says, in his very silly Isaac way, “It will be like, Wee! Wah. Wee! Wah,” and even Caleb laughs. Ryan says we should find a carousel. Caleb suggests it be a carousel with the golden rings you reach for and throw, because he doesn’t know how rare those are, since he’s ridden two antique carousels with working gold rings. He doesn’t know it is uncommon, because all the special things we got to do with Joel, the magical unbelievable experiences we shared were just normal life to Caleb and Isaac and Elijah.  They’ve never known anything different.  The grief is that way too.

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This is our theme song, “My Lighthouse” by Rend Collective, and you will be a little surprised at how loud and joyful a song about struggle and trust can be, and then you will see why it is such a great theme song for us.

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We are home from our vacation and the kids have started school.  Elijah is at “Joel’s school.” A fact he proudly declares to anyone who will listen.  He has Joel’s teachers. Sometimes he seems confused that Joel isn’t at the school with him, and asks me where Joel’s school is, he never seems upset about it, but I do wonder what he was expecting all summer when he wanted to go to “Joel’s school!”

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Zoe is growing like a weed.  All my other children were at the bottom of the growth charts, often falling down to the 3rd or 4th percentile in weight and causing some concern, until they could start solid food and bulk up.  Zoe, on the other hand is in the 96th percentile for height and 64th percentile for weight. She already looks as big as my other babies did at a year old, and she is just 4 months old.

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We get asked a lot how we are doing.  It seems like such an odd question to answer.  I sometimes wonder what people are hoping to hear, “Terrific?”  ”Horrible?” There is no right answer.  What would it mean to be doing well, now? What are the parameters to check off the list that would mean we were successfully grieving? I always tell them that I think we’re doing well.  We have good weeks and bad days that sometimes stretch into a week.  We are mostly very happy and then things happen that make us sad.  We’ve learned to be sad together, to talk about Joel and cry together and not avoid the hard feelings.  Initially the kids wanted to avoid talking about anything that made them sad, but now it’s just part of what we do, and I think it’s good.  Sometimes facebook is hard, because I can scroll back just a few months, not even a year, and there we all are, and Joel is happy and healthy.  With a swipe of my finger he is back and we are not broken, and then I have  a long, hard cry because I realize it really hasn’t been that long at all, and that season of my life is over so concretely that it’s hard to remember that it was just six months ago that he left us.

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So many times since Joel died, I will be driving with the kids in the car, or out at an event, and have the thought, “Do I have all the kids?” I will instantly do the headcount, come up with four, and try to relax, but somehow it just feels off. It feels like I don’t have everyone, and of course, I don’t. It doesn’t feel like they are all here, because they’re not. It’s challenging because I suspect I had these little moments before Joel died too. I think every mom with more than one kid has these double-check alarms go off in their head, but they never meant anything to me before.  Now they are a reminder that something is missing and always will be.

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I’m not angry anymore. God has become bigger and bigger in my theology, because the answers to most of my frustrated questions could only be found in expanding my view of God and focusing more on the vastness of eternity. There are no specific answers, just the reality that God is too big to be contained by my feelings about how things should have gone.  Expanding my understanding of God not being understood within my parameters has diminished the intimacy I feel with God, but given me peace, and I trust that intimacy will return with time.

Green Family on Oregon Coast

The boys skitter down the grassy hill to the beach below, shovels and buckets in tow. Isaac waits for Elijah to catch up and then they both take off running, the wind tugging at their hair and clothes makes each movement feel a little more wild. Isaac spins and jumps and falls into the sand. They turn back and climb up the hill again, Isaac quickly leaving Elijah behind, eventually Elijah’s blonde hair appears again on the edge of the little hill and as he makes his way up he seems impossibly small, climbing as fast as he can, balancing his body the best he can with the large shovel in one hand and the bucket in the other.
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They run up the stairs and show us their prize. A crab claw. “We find it!” Elijah shouts, “a crab arm.”  Isaac gets distracted by his brother’s iPad and Elijah impatiently says, “Isaac, go to beach?” Isaac asks me if Elijah can go alone. I say no, and tell Caleb I would like him to go down to the beach for a little bit. He agrees, with less protest than I expect and the three of them make their way down the hill again. Caleb walks so casually with his hands in his pockets. The ocean breeze does not animate him like it does his brothers, and even at his slow casual pace Isaac and Elijah still have to scurry to catch him. It is surprising when even Caleb’s leaps a little on the beach despite himself. This time they are searching for more crab pieces intentionally. They have told us they want a crab body to go with the arm and leg they have already found, they zig zag across the beach, stopping every so often to crouch down and examine something. Every step Isaac takes has a frenetic energy, a skipping, jumping flailing characteristic, and Elijah must run the entire time just to keep up. Occasionally Isaac scoops something into the bucket Elijah holds. His bucket gets heavier and he holds it with both hands across his stomach still balancing the bright yellow shovel that is almost half his size. Caleb carries nothing and keeps his hands in his pockets until the effort of climbing the little hill back up to the house requires enough coordination that his hands swing free.
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They are back on the porch within ten minutes of their journey out together. I hear the cadence of their voices below as they wash sand off their feet, but I can’t make out any words, just the low rumble of Caleb’s voice and the higher excited sound of isaac’s as they make their plans. Watching them from the large front windows is magical.  Every day they explore or build, search or fly their kites and even though each trip to the cold windy ocean is short it feels significant. They are healing like I am, even though most days you would never guess it. I hope this time here together is a strong salve. I want their memories of this place to be as poignant as their memories from this spring, but they probably won’t be, since there is no great emotional current under the surface here. Iit is peaceful and easy here and so their memories of this time will likely be fuzzy and gentle unlike the harsh vibrant memory of that day at the cemetery saying final goodbyes and crying and holding their mom and just wanting to leave, to be finished.
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“Mom look!” Elijah says lifting up his bucket.  Caleb described all the pieces they found, proud but reserved. He says they are all such random pieces that they can’t match them up. Elijah repeats him excitedly, “We can’t match them up.” But down they go again, to attempt that vey thing.

Frankenstein Crab

Elijah doesn’t notice they have left as he digs his hand into a bag of cereal, and sings a little to himself before grabbing his brother’s abandoned iPad. Glad to find it free for once.
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The older boys are downstairs working on re-assembling their Frankenstein like crab. I can not see them but occasionally their voices rise enough to be heard over the absconded iPad, as they strategize what mixed up pieces of crab to put where. In less time than I would expect the boys re-emerge and Caleb says, “Mom I have something awesome to show you!” The picture they have of the crab is much less crude than I expect, more like a museum piece than the monstrous collection of rotting crab pieces I expect to see.
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The adventure over, they go back to their devices, they will return to the ocean again later for a few minutes. Little spurts of nature interrupting their lazy summer.

We have decided to take another long road trip. Long summer vacations are part of Joel’s legacy for me. During the ten months that Joel was in active treatment I hated not being able to take the family anywhere. As soon as he had a long enough break in treatment and permission from his doctors we took a road trip to a film festival in San Antonio. We had a wonderful time and even spent a day at Sea World. When we returned Joel’s MRI showed that his cancer had returned and he was declared terminal. I was always so glad we had taken that trip.

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In the three years that followed that declaration we took long road trips whenever we could, traveling to both coasts of the country, visiting amusement parks and museums and just trying to cram ourselves into close quarters for as long as possible. For Ryan and I at least, a month long road trip with our kids is one of our favorite things to do, and we find any excuse we can to justify it. Usually we combine it with one of Ryan’s work trips to show the game at a conference. This time we are traveling for about five weeks, hitting two such conferences and spending weeks with family. We are so excited for them to meet Zoe.

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We had only one week out of five where we were going to stay in a hotel. We chose the cheapest we could find and discovered when we arrived the low price was justified. We decided to make the best of it, knowing the rest of the trip we would be staying for free with family. Then when the week was half up, one of Ryan’s friends asked us if we wanted to stay at his beach house. We were so amazed at the offer, and when we got to the charming beach house we were even more delighted. Giant windows look out on to the ocean and the deck opens up to the beach. We have been having such a fun time enjoying the Oregon coast. Ryan works all day, but that’s the other way we can justify long road trips is that he can keep working wherever we go. I brought a friend along to keep me company since Ryan has deadlines with his game coming up soon.

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Anyway, we are having such a fun summer, soaking up the  precious time crammed together in close quarters, thankful for unexpected blessings, and missing Joel everywhere along the way. I’ll post photos soon.

Elijah once told me, “I see my dreams in my eyes, and Joel is in my dreams, and I cry.” Last week, he woke up and asked Caleb what he had dreamed and then he went on to tell Caleb that he dreamed he played with Joel and that he slept with Joel on the top bunk. I’m so glad Elijah remembers Joel and dreams about him. I’m so glad he tells me about his dreams because I never know how to talk to him about Joel in a way that won’t confuse or upset him.
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Since Elijah’s cool dream about Joel, Isaac prays every night that he will have a dream about Joel. I pray with him every night. Isaac says he has never had a dream about Joel and he really wants to. I’ll admit I’m starting to become frustrated because I see how much Isaac wants a dream with Joel in it, and I just don’t understand why God won’t give him a sweet dream about Joel. Would you pray for this with us?
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We visited Joel’s grave today. It is only my third visit to Joel’s grave (and the kid’s second.) Honestly I haven’t been sure how we should feel about visiting Joel’s grave. We have not purchased his headstone yet, but thankfully we have funds waiting for just this purpose because people were so generous with us when Joel died so we have money to get a marker. It just isn’t something we’ve felt ready to do yet. I’m guessing no matter how long we wait, I will cry through the whole process. It has felt funny to leave Joel’s grave unmarked, but then I don’t want us to be in a habit of leaving things for him, since we know that he isn’t in the ground there, he is in heaven with God.
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So, today we decided to pick up pizza and have a picnic at his grave. Isaac does not ever want to visit the grave so he was very unhappy with this idea. However, Isaac had planted a sunflower in a cup at a kids day today and I told him perhaps he could plant it at Joel’s grave, and this idea made him happy. I gathered some things we could leave at Joel’s grave, and decided to choose things that remind us of Joel, so they are memories for us, not items “for” him. I told the boys that I knew that anything that reminds us of Joel can make us sad, but that I hope with time we can learn to be happy about having a place where we put little memories of Joel.
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We got to the grave and it started raining, so our pizza picnic graveside was a bust, instead we just put up our little memory pieces and left quickly. Isaac actually enjoyed this and hung most of the items himself. I think the short trip was good for him. It was a happy trip, there wasn’t much time to get overly emotional, even thought there were still some tears.
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We left a glow necklace from the 4th of July, because we missed Joel on the 4th of July and have a great photo of him with a glow necklace from last year. We left a few little green army men that Joel liked playing with his last week with us. We left the “big brother” bracelet we got for him at the hospital when Zoe was born. We know he would have loved being Zoe’s big brother. We also left Zoe’s hospital hat, it wasn’t particularly fancy, and was a little piece of her we could leave there, along with a giant yellow sunflower and the little plastic cup that had Isaac’s real sun flower plant growing inside. We didn’t have time to plant it because the rain got stronger and we started to hear thunder and see lightning.
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The rain kept pouring and as we drove back to Loveland it got really dark. The only light was a tiny patch of sun, far in the west. Just as we came into Loveland the sun shone so bright I couldn’t even look to the west at all, suddenly the darkness was gone and the light was so intense, and we all looked to the east and saw a giant beautiful double rainbow, more vibrant than we’d ever seen, you could see the rainbow actually shimmering down onto the field, reflecting off the grass itself. The rainbow appeared to end directly in front of us. We pulled over and took a picture.
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And just in case you are wondering, Zoe is growing and doing great, and learning to smile. Here are a few photos of her and one photo of all of us at a Rockies game recently.
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I posted here a couple months ago about my post-partum anxiety. I never would have posted anything about it at all, except I was so desperate for some relief. The anxiety was miserable, but mostly, on top of the grief of losing Joel and all the emotions and work of having a baby, the anxiety was just too much. Posting here for prayer actually resulted in a good friend of mine who is a pharmacist recommending that I look into bio-identical hormone replacement. I talked about it with my midwife and ended up using an over-the counter progesterone cream that helped a lot. It wasn’t a cure-all, I still had a few bad anxiety days, and none of my days were free of anxiety, but it was an improvement that made the anxiety more tolerable.
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I had anxiety after Zoe was born for 8 weeks, eventually I started recording in a little log how “normal” I felt each day on a scale from 1-10, my worst days were 4s, my best days were 8s. After a fairly miserable day that was a 6, I realized that I was really tired of always assessing how I felt, and never feeling ok. I decided that if I needed to look into anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety medications that would be better than continuing to put forth so much effort into just getting through each day. That day was a Saturday.
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The next day, Sunday I went to church and went forward for prayer, my pastor’s wife and a wonderful friend both came and prayed for me, weeping over me, and continuing to pray and talk with me long after the service ended. My friend had just felt like God has asked her the day before to really believe her to invest in faith, even though for her that was a really hard thing to do. (I really related to her struggle because since Joel died I haven’t known how I could ever really be invested in faith for healing for anything or anyone.) I want to be a person of great faith still, I want to see miracles. I want to see people saved from terrible diseases. I want to see people raised from the dead. But, it’s hard. Because I wanted it so much for Joel, how can I ever be as invested again? It has been hard for me to pray for physical healing for my kids or myself since Joel died. I have wondered how I could be the person I want to be, and that I believe God wants me to be, when the idea of having faith for healing is so painful right now. So, when my friend described how hard it was for her to just have faith, I understood it, I even really respected it because I could see that it was weighty to her, it cost her something. Just like it will me, when the time comes.
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I felt great that day. No anxiety. I felt like I was healed, but I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I wasn’t sure whether or not to keep taking the progesterone cream, and I prayed for wisdom. Immediately I realized, the cream was never enough to keep me from having anxiety anyway, so I could keep taking it, and I would still know if I was healed because I wouldn’t be having days that were 8s anymore. I decided I would take it until I had 10 days with no anxiety. 10 days came and went, and each day was well above and 8. I was healed. I quit taking the progesterone before the 4th of July. I am thankful every day that God healed me from my anxiety. I am especially thankful that when I was having my frustrating day of anxiety on that Saturday before church, my friend was being asked to really believe God, she chose to trust Him, even though it was hard. I believe that is why she was able to pray for me so effectively on Sunday. It has taught me that this is how I will be able to invest in faith again, for other people who are desperate, like I was. I will say yes when God asks me to have faith, not because it will be easy, or fun, but because it will make me ready and available for God to use me to set someone free. I can not even express how much better I feel. I’ve noticed I can grieve Joel more fully and naturally now that the anxiety is gone, too. It does mean more sad days, which is hard sometimes, but I’m glad I trust myself enough to grieve, now that I’m not afraid my emotions will spill into anxiousness.

For a few years now, I have spent time thinking about faith that persists, compared to strong faith for a “right now” move from God. Over and over again I see examples of the way God values faith that persists. Joshua and his army walked around Jericho for seven days, before the walls fell down. (I know seven days isn’t a terribly long time, but when God asks you to do something so preposterous I’m sure seven days feels like a pretty long battle of endurance.) Abraham believed God for 25 years before his son Isaac was born. Noah built the ark for decades before the flood came. I know that God values enduring faith.
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However, so often in the church we don’t value enduring faith the way God does. We value the kind of faith that can bring a miracle from God’s hands before our eyes some time between the alter call and the closing worship during a church service. I desire revival in my church and my community, but even while we were still believing Joel would be miraculously healed, even specifically believing that Joel’s healing might be one of the factors that set off revival, I would look around my church and see the face of the woman whose husband died from cancer, after a long battle of faith for both of them. I saw the man whose daughter and wife had both died, much too young, in the past decade. I looked at them; these people who had believed God and lost anyway, and I saw giants in the faith. I saw people who really knew what it meant to trust God, and then when they were disappointed, to trust Him anyway. I began to ponder, what does a revival look like that wouldn’t exclude the people who had cultivated enduring faith, a revival that honored and esteemed those who were still believing for a miracle after many years and who might leave each service believing still and not yet receiving. Could there be a revival that would draw upon the strength and faith of people who had lost their personal battles or were still in the middle of them, instead of pouring fresh hurt and disappointment on the heads of people who had pleased God with their enduring faith?
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I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what that kind of revival would look like, but I hope I see it one day. We’ve sat through many healing services, blessed and amazed by the miracles we witnessed, knowing that people’s lives were being changed, and that for some people their long prayed prayers were being answered. We left each of those services carrying a son with terminal cancer in our arms. It was hard not to wonder “Why not us, God?” That question still plagues me. Although we were tempted to plant bitterness in our hearts, it was easy enough to overcome that temptation, because I knew that I was persisting. I was waiting on God’s timing, and if Joel was not healed that specific day it did not mean he wouldn’t be healed. Still, even without being bitter, we definitely felt excluded. Our persevering faith excluded us from the amazing work of God that was happening in those services, and I knew we were not the only ones who left those meetings feeling unseen and dishonored.
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Still though, I loved healing. I loved listening to healing teachers. I had grown up on Kenneth Hagen and Kenneth Copeland and I believe with all my heart that we are called to live our lives with authority, receiving the promises of God for ourselves and helping others receive them as well. However, I suspect I would have felt out of place in one of their meetings. Kenneth Hagen said he had never even had a headache, and as much as I would love to experience that kind of abundant life, I can’t relate to it. It makes me suspect he could not have related to me. My husband and I have always really appreciated the teachings of Bill Johnson. His church Bethel in Redding, California sees incredible miracles. He travels most of the year because other churches want to have him at their healing services. He preaches about being able to hold and maintain revival. He also says that he leaves his healing services thinking about the people who didn’t get healed and begging God for more. His preaching does not exclude people who are persisting in faith through trials. I have always suspected that one of the reasons his preaching is so inclusive of those who have been disappointed or who are still enduring is because his son is deaf. I’ve never heard him preach about that (I’ve really listened to very few of his sermons so he probably does talk about it,) but I really respect that he is a man with a deaf son, a son whose deafness was never healed, and still he devotes his life to preaching about revival, healing and the presence of God, with great success.
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One night, talking to Ryan about my many questions, wondering why our son was not healed when we really believe he would be, I thought about Bill Johnson. I thought about the calling I felt and the new strength I have to encourage people to give up their personal passions and seek out the advancement of the kingdom of God. I asked Ryan, “What if God saw the revivalists of the past, and the hurt they had caused without meaning to, when they proclaimed victory and healing and miracles without empathy for people God loved who had endured and who had lost. What if God hated that pain so much, that He is doing a new thing? What if God is specifically giving power and authority to people who have experienced loss, people who have been disappointed, people who have suffered many headaches and so much worse than that? What if God values love more than power? What if Joel’s death means we can love people better? What if all of this was so we could preach the word of God with power, but also with love?” (I know these questions presume that God will use Ryan and I in a big way to reach people for the Kingdom of God, but truthfully I do presume that, I have my whole life.) The questions stopped there. God has given me very few answers, but He has spoken many, many questions to my spirit. Those questions have stirred up within me a willingness to trust Him more, because there are possibilities I hadn’t considered, there are answers that would be acceptable to me, even if they aren’t the specific answer for my situation.
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That was weeks ago, and I had been wanting to write this post about these questions ever since then, but not quite getting around to it. This morning I woke up with a stirring in my spirit, that grew into something almost like a shout in my spirit as I kept thinking about it, “The greatest is love!” It is so simple. A verse so many have memorized and known, 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest is love.” Of course this is a scripture I knew, but now it means something new to me, something bigger. It was the answer to my question from earlier, “Would God deny me the fruit of my faith, deny the fruit of all my hope, in order to cultivate a deeper love in me for people?” Of course He would, because he values love more than faith. He values love more than hope. He tells us what is greatest, He says it is love. My heart doesn’t always agree. I value the wrong things when I esteem the rewarding of faith as the greatest possible outcome. God is changing something in me, and perhaps He really is doing a new work, a work that resets the way so many of us value preachers, teachers, even the way we value the Holy Spirit? Perhaps that sounds extreme, but I think many of us value the Holy Spirit as the source of power, much more than we value the Holy Spirit as the source of comfort. God says Love is greater than faith. I want my life to say that too.
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That scripture in full context, heals something broken in me. It explains to me that prophesies do fail. Knowledge fails. The spiritual gifts we esteem so highly fail. I feel like I have felt personally ripped off because the things I knew to be true were not, the prophesies I had believed had failed, and here God shows me: Yes, that happens. Those things fail. Love does not.
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1 Corinthians 13: 8-13: 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

My husband writes me amazing cards. He always has. Not just cards, he also writes amazing poetry. I try to save them, and should have been more careful about it, because I am convinced that one day “The Poetry and Letters of Ryan Green” will make a great book. I can expect Ryan to write me something if it is my birthday, our anniversary, mother’s day, Valentine’s Day, or occasionally if we’ve gotten into an argument and he feels bad. He has written me beautiful things about our life together, many of them in the past few years about Joel, and so I’ve always wanted to share them here, but I never have. This time I will. What Ryan wrote me for Mother’s Day was beautiful, and somewhat prophetic, speaking to the questions I’ve had and the pain we’ve felt. Since he wrote me this card, things have shifted somewhat, almost as if, when Ryan takes the time to thoughtfully consider me, seeking God on my behalf and faithfully communicating what comes to his spirit for me, it allows God to pour out new life into my spirit. I bring this up just because it has made me wonder what kind of potential spouses have to bless each other spiritually, if we were all more intentional about taking the time to stop and reflect with God about our spouse and our circumstances.
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I’ll post a photo of the card here, and then type out the words, because Ryan always makes his “cards” on sketch book paper, a simple illustration surrounded by the words that break my heart wide open.
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“So here we are. The air is emptier without his laugh. Yet our hearts are still full, though with a different drink. And the ride we’ve been on for so long is silent, and so also the Lord. And so we sit here in this new silence. And long for the music to start again. And the disc to spin again even if it means going round and round for many more years, for at least we would be moving and Joel would be laughing here on Earth and not only in Heaven. But in this space I sense His silence is only because He is drawing His breath. And now we know love and longing: empty and full all in one moment. I am grateful that we loved him well. And that we miss him well. And I hope that in the Lord’s next breath He will whisper His love song to you, His beloved, and that you will know Him differently and more deeply. But now we grieve in silence, yet not without His presence.”
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Part of my specific grief over Joel’s death has been that I always thought I would have a ministry of sharing Joel’s testimony. I was ready to speak and teach and declare the goodness of God, by displaying His glory in Joel’s miraculous life. When Joel died I felt untethered. I had been leading the women’s ministry at our church. I stepped away from that when we went to San Francisco, and even though no one put any pressure on me, I kept wondering how I would proceed in this particular women’s ministry and in ministry in general. Suddenly I had nothing to say. The things I felt so sure of were not givens anymore. I had so many questions and so few answers.
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Caleb and Isaac are both involved in a really incredible Christian Dance program. They take hip-hop dance lessons. Their big performance was in early May, and the entire dance concert was about joy, and so many of the songs, and almost all the scriptures displayed on the screens were about healing. I wept subtly through a lot of the performances, realzing for the first time the magnitude of my brokenness. Joy and healing were like daggers in my wounded heart. One of the dances was to the song Exodus by Bethany Dillon, the song the boys and Ryan and I had danced to over and over again in our living room. Dancing around with my boys to that song was always play with a purpose, as we sang and danced and stomped we really were declaring “our enemies are at the bottom of the sea,” but there I sat without my son, his enemy, cancer, had not been defeated, he had been ripped from our family by a terrible disease. I openly cried through the whole song. I hate to acknowledge the extent of my woundedness, but I am convinced that we don’t allow ourselves to receive God’s grace for the wounds we don’t acknowledge. Just like we come to God for salvation, empty-handed admitting our sin and our need for a Saviour, I must approach the throne of grace now, admitting the brokenness of my heart, the fullness of my disappointment and my inability to understand or do anything to heal myself apart from the grace of God. I went home after the dance concert and laying in bed with Ryan, I talked with him about all the healing scriptures during the concert, so many of them specific promises I had held on to throughout Joel’s illness. I cried and told him “I wish that had all been true for us.” That night, I told Ryan I went from wondering how or when I would be able to step back into ministry to realizing that I really couldn’t lead a ministry. I couldn’t stand before people and declare those promises, I couldn’t urge people to live in victory and authority, the way I always assumed I would. I had nothing to say, nothing to lead people toward.
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Not long after that tear-filled night, Ryan gave me the Mother’s day card, and a few days after that I was talking to Ryan about how odd I think it is that the gospel is very clear that we are to sacrifice our lives for the kingdom of God, dying daily to ourselves, and yet we preach from our churches “life application” messages, designed to improve our lives and make things easier and better for ourselves. I went on a familiar rant about how we spend years ministering to people over their broken marriage or their rebellious kids or “fill in your brokenness here” trying so hard to help them fix their life, and that I think it would be more scriptually sound to urge them to sacrifice their life instead of fixing it. I told Ryan that I wondered if, when people saw their lives wrecked, they turned their whole life over to serving God instead of focusing on fixing themselves, if God would not repair the brokenness so much more efficiently. What if our pain motivated us to give up on this life of satisfying ourselves and living for our own leisure, because our lives no longer felt worth hanging on to. Ryan looked at me, and said, point blank, “Ok, then what would you say to yourself?” I laughed uncomfortably and said, “shut up, I hate you!” (This is how Ryan and I joke.)
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As much as I brushed off Ryan’s words, they stuck with me, and in the weeks that followed I continued to think about what he had said. I do like to encourage people to live victorious abundant lives, but I have known for a while that we only receive that fullness of life, that assurance of victory by sacrificing our lives. I realized that the message I want to share, that all of us need to be laying our lives down, is a message I am now uniquely qualified to share. Who was I to tell someone in the midst of the greatest pain of their life to stop trying to make their life more, but instead try to make their life less? Suddenly, I have permission to say to someone, “I’m sorry your life has been so crummy, give it away.” It’s a harsh message. I know that. It is too harsh of a message to be freely shared by someone who has not felt loss. Suddenly I saw that I do have a pathway to ministry, it’s just different from the path I wanted to walk. It takes a passion of my heart and allows me to share it in a different way, a more authentic way, and hopefully in a way that does not neglect hurt and broken people but gives them the ultimate hope that we were never meant to glorify our personal happiness anyway.
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I shared my heart at a women’s ministry meeting, and told them I still wasn’t sure “when” I would re-enter ministry in a significant way, but that I think I had a clue of “how” I would re-enter ministry and it was that I would re-enter ministry empowered to speak about learning how to use the tragedy in our lives as a powerful motivator to sacrifice our lives in service to God. I suspect I have a long season of living that out before I share much about it, but it’s nice to see that pathway, even if it is dim and far off.
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As I drove home from that meeting I sang in the car, the way I do, making up songs to God, (it’s kind of our thing. I always feel most intimate with God when I’m making up songs to him like a three-year-old,) and as I drove home I sang, again and again “Holy is the Lord who loves me.” I cried again (so much crying lately) and as I kept singing it, letting the meaning of the words soak deep into my spirit, I realized that as broken as I am, I know that God loves me and I know that He is holy, He is perfect, He is righteous, so even though I can’t, in my limited understanding, always reconcile those two things with Joel’s death, I know them to be true anyway. With that deep knowledge that “Holy is the Lord who loves me” I felt like God was beginning to speak to my heart again. As Ryan said, God was drawing his breath. He is not finished; He is just beginning, which is good, because there is a lot of work to be done in me.

There are so many different kinds of sad. I learn new ways to miss Joel every week. Tonight was a raw kind of sadness that made us all feel like no time had passed at all since Joel died. I was going through papers and came across a sweet card someone had written Joel for his third birthday. It was written to him, and I realized I didn’t know what to do with it. I had kept all the cards people had written to Joel when he was sick, because when he was old enough to understand, but not remember, his illness I was going to let him read all the cards people had written him. I always imagined what it would be like to explain to Joel how much his life had meant to so many people, and let him read the things people had written to him, the prayers people had prayed for him. I spent a lot of time praying that Joel would have a real and intimate relationship with God, so that the stories of his miracle did not become a burden to him, something he was told about but didn’t feel for himself, a legend he couldn’t quite live up to. So, I looked at that card and sobbed, and explained to Ryan that I didn’t know what to do with all those things now. So I kept it. For now, if I’m not sure, I keep it, and I can decide in the years to come if it is helpful to have these things to look at and remember.
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Keeping that card reminded me there were things I didn’t have to keep any more, medical statements, pump instructions, study disclosures, medication information forms, old prescriptions, old bills. I had kept so many papers that we didn’t need, and that had absolutely no emotional value to us, and yet, even as I went to throw them away, it sparked a new emotion in me. I thought about how satisfying it would have been to throw all those same papers away had Joel been healed or cured. Instead, I was filled with the pang of a future joy, stolen before we could know it.
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When I went back to the living room, Caleb and Ryan were on the floor. Ryan held Caleb in his arms, and I could tell they had been sitting this way for a while. Caleb had heard me cry about the birthday card, and so I joined them, and we sat on the couch, holding each other, talking and crying. I told Caleb how proud I was of how hard he has worked this year, he has had so much make-up work to do, from recent illnesses and his long absence in San Francisco, and he has worked many hours catching up on a lot of it. He was in the middle of school work tonight when he was interrupted by our shared emotions. I also told him that he was so special and that I loved him every bit as much as I loved Joel, and that I loved knowing him and what he thinks about, I love the questions he asks, and the things I get to see him be good at. I told him that even though I am sad I never got to know Joel the way I wanted to, that I wanted to appreciate even more that I do get to know Caleb, and Isaac and Elijah and Zoe. I reminded him that we get to love and appreciate each other in a way that most families never will, because we won’t take each other for granted. We’ll know it’s amazing to get to listen to each other, hold each other, cry together and learn more every day about our family.