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Sad Anniversaries

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Sophia 3 days old

Seven years ago today our sweet granddaughter, Sophia Jayne, died unexpectedly in her sleep. She was a beautiful, healthy baby and her death has left a hole in the fabric of our family, as well as in our hearts.

video download April 2012 106Katrena was only three and a half then but remembers her sister like it was yesterday. Initially, she repeatedly complained, “The policeman and ambulance man came and took my sister and I want them to bring her back.” It was hard for her to understand they had taken her to the hospital to help her.

Later, when she was upset by rules that forbid her from doing something she would respond, “That’s it! I’m going to heaven and live with Sophia.”It was a painful threat. I explained why that was impossible and how hurtful that statement was to everyone who loved her. I can’t judge her too much because, to be perfectly honest, sometimes the craziness of my life and this world, in general, makes an escape to paradise tempting.

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Seven years have flown by, but our loss of Sophia continues to be painfully present to Katrena. Her acute sense of loss is reflected in her behavior and struggles with needing to have control in her life. I have learned that each person is affected differently by the loss of a loved one and children feel the loss as intensely as adults. No one can tell a person how long to mourn, especially a child.video download April 2012 102

Today the heavy snow and unplowed cemetery roads will prevent us from visiting Sophia’s gravesite, but we will take the time to remember her sweetness and our sadness. We will never forget her and how much fun Katrena and Isaac would be having playing with their seven-year-old sister.

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The Blessing of Respite

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Believe it or not, it’s been nine months since I posted a blog. My self-imposed lapse has not been because I have nothing to say about this next round of parenting,  I just didn’t like what I would say. Since my mother taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” I remained mute.

It’s hard to write from the depths of a pit. A pit of despair and exhaustion. Bogged down by the energy-sucking activities and responsibilities required to raise a four and ten-year-old.

dowmload-june-12-2016-043I didn’t want to whine.I despise whining. Whining in print feels ten times worse. I didn’t want to discourage the other grandparents bravely raising their next generation. Those, like us, who dearly love their grandkids and want the very best for them. But, also like us, are totally depleted at the end of each day. Many times the exhaustion striking hours before their bedtime.

When our children were younger, our friends had children around the same age. It was easy to share child care together to spell each other for a time of R&R. Our friends now have grandchildren of their own that take them to their limit. They are sweet and understanding of our need for a break but no way can they take on our two.

California and Oregon 090.JPGAmy and Neil gave us a wonderful 10-day respite this past summer. We went to the west coast for our 38th anniversary. We visited San Francisco and reunited with friends we met in Armenia. They helped us tour the Redwoods in Northern California. What a wonderful way to have your attitude adjusted- looking at the magnitude of those majestic trees made us feel small. Even our problems seemed much smaller.california-and-oregon-123

I would encourage those have friends and family raising their grandchildren, if you are able, come alongside your friends and offer some respite. Even an hour helps. Take the kids to the park, or a movie or a walk. Offer to read some books so grandma can get a shower or make some important phone calls.

It is equally important for us grandparents to graciously accept such offers. There’s no shame in admitting you need a break- some adult only time to talk and relax. Have a blessed respite. dowmload June 12, 2016 104.JPG

 

I Have the Blats!

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Once again I face a new week with hopes of being more productive, more disciplined and less stressed. I thought about it for many hours last night as I tried to fall asleep. I worked up an ambitious game plan. Raising children again at this time in my life has been a challenge and I‘ve been striving for a method April 11, 2016 004to help me meet their needs and get it all done. Therefore, I prioritized my lists into urgent, important and things I really want to do and finally fell asleep.

So it is now morning, and after only 4 hours of sleep, my list and agenda looks as inviting as climbing the Himalayans. And as insurmountable.April 11, 2016 007

The driving rain is not helping to clear the funk in my mind either.

My dear mother-in-law would say I have “the blats.” A word that came out one day when she started to say she had the blahs and crossed it with another word. We laughed for ten minutes. The word stuck. We even memorialized it on a coffee cup. (If you can’t tell, I miss that sweet woman.)

April 11, 2016 012Some would say I need medication. Other would suggest a vacation. But the truth is I just need to write. I thought I would take a break from writing and read some books, watch some movies and do some puzzles as I chip away at my “TO Do” list.  I thought it was a good plan. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and watching other people’s stories but I have discovered it draws my butt into the recliner like a magnet. I can’t pull myself away and I feel empty at the end of the day.

Light has dawned into my sleepy mind this morning. For months I have been stifling my creativity. It has numbed my brain and left me with a sense of restlessness. And a long list of unaccomplishments –a new word I’ve created.

See I’m already more productive. Look out world. Look out lists. Look out kids. The juices are flowing.

So let me ask you. What gives you “the blats”?

I’d love to know what helps you become more productive and what numbs your brain and leaves you restless.

My prayer: Heavenly Father, You have created me with the ability and need to express myself. May my words reflect your love and encourage others. Help me be aware of what activities are preventing me from being my best as I raise these dear little ones.

 

Éclair to the Rescue

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Toys abound in our home. Dolls, trucks, stuffed animals, games, DVDs and every possible contraption that makes noise came with the kids. But stories are what bring solace to Katrena, particularly books. They provide her with an avenue of escape and feed her imagination.

feb 2016 020One book series in particular has become to Katrena what Piggy is to her brother.  The main character, Éclair, comes alive as a precocious seven-year-old girl. She and her two-year-old sister, Meggie must go to live with their eccentric grandmother, Stella, while their mother is getting treatment for an illness and their father travels for work.

The books were written by Michelle Weidenbenner, feb 2016 021a talented author who was raised two of her grandchildren for a while. She sent the first two books in the series, Éclair Meets Stella and Éclair Meets a Gypsy, to Katrena in time for Christmas last year. Katrena opened the book, began to read and was instantly captivated. She ignored her other Christmas presents while she drank in the story. The similarities in their stories are remarkable. Éclair and Meggie were the same age as Katrena and Isaac when they were displaced. Éclair’s persistent attempts to fix her parent’s problems and reunite the family echoesEaster 2015 040 the desire of Katrena’s heart. The books, like Isaac’s piggy, are getting worn and dog-eared. I’ve found Katrena awake and reading them at four in the morning because, “I fell asleep while I was reading and now I just need to get to the end of the chapter.”

These books have been a blessing to me as well because it helps me get inside Katrena’s and Isaac’s head and understand what they may be feeling. Although I don’t have maroon-colored hair and I haven’t painted our barn pink, like Stella, I can identify with her.

At the end of this past year, Michelle published feb 2016 022the third book in the series, Éclair Goes Geocaching. Katrena and I had the honor of pre-reading it and sending Michelle a critique of the book. We both absolutely loved it and a bit of Katrena’s critique was printed on the back cover. eclair 007

She was so excited to see her name in print shefeb 2016 002 announced to our houseful of guests at the time, “I’m famous. I want everybody’s autograph.” She passed around the paper, and received many “autographs” with words of encouragement.

Now she wants to write a book of her own. She certainly has many life experiences and lots to say. We’ll let you know when it goes to print. In the meantime, she is enjoying these books and looking forward to book four, Éclair in the Show Ring.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for Michelle and the many other talented writers willingly share their hearts and experiences–whose words encourage and give solace to the wounded and those caring for them.

‘Tis the Season

 

Once again its two days before Christmas and my house is anything but peaceful and tranquil. Much of the blame lands on me.

Each year I push towards my idea of a great Christmas. Not that I could ever attain the level of perfection portrayed on Christmas cards. The homes, inside and out, beautifully decorated—not a dirty sock or hand print in sight. A large extended family gazes lovingly at each other across a table laden with scrumptious food. All the dishes match, the tablecloth is pristine and ironed. The children are neat and clean, with angelic smiles. Their noses aren’t running. Their chins are free of teething slobber.

Dec 2015 020Over the years I have found it necessary to modify my level of expectation. Last year was my lowest. It was our first Christmas with our grandchildren. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the road so they could spend time with both parents. It was late in the evening when we all arrived back home to open our gifts. We were all too exhausted and overwhelmed to enjoy our first Christmas as a family.

The worse part was I had no sense of joy. The whole meaning of Christmas was lost in activities and responsibilities. In frustration I penned these thoughts:

JOY

I’m surrounded by it.

Spelled out with tinsel on large banners hung in the streets.

Embroidered on sweaters with brightly colored thread.

Proclaimed by carolers.

Written with spray snow as decorations on store windows.

But this Christmas it is the only emotion I don’t feel.

Sadness, exhaustion, and anger have crowded out the joy.

I’m overwhelmed by the challenges in my life,

I feel everything but happiness and joy.

Maybe that’s my problem.

I equate happiness with joy.

I need to remember the difference.

Joy is not an emotion derived because life is going well.

It is my response to life no matter what is happening.

            This year I have higher, but I think realistic expectations for Christmas. Even so, I again find it hard to experience joy. My friend joked she found my joy when she unpacked my Christmas decorations. Although the sight of J-O-Y stretched across the mantle brings a smile to my face, my quest continues. This year I want to experience joy.

            My plan:

Ignore the messes in my life.

Quiet the noise of what the world tells me is important at Christmas.

Change my focus from what I need to do to who I need to worship.

Embrace the truth of who I am in Him.

Recognize that joy will bring me happiness.

 

Dec 2015 051It is a tall order. I am ahead of last year. The tree is up and trimmed. Most of the gifts are bought and wrapped. The house would be clean except the warm weather and rain has turned the driveway into a mud bog. One grandchild is struggling with obedience—she’s been lashing out at herself and others. The other is having difficulty sleeping—he prowls around in the night and gets into things.

This Christmas I am striving to put these issues aside and focus on the reason for the season. Only then can joy be found.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, Your gift of love and grace is the best gift I will ever receive. Knowing you love me, have forgiven me and will always be with me gives me true joy.

Isaac’s Piggy

Sometimes life gets very hard. We all are wired to seek comfort. So when your life turns upside down, what do you use for comfort? Do you turn to family and friends or your faith for consolation? Maybe you run for chocolate, alcohol or “comfort foods.” Perhaps you find consolation using entertainment for distraction.

Isaac and Katrena look for solace in different ways. Both, however, seek the security of our arms. While Katrena asks to be “snuggled,” Isaac says, “I need to hold you” as he crawls into our arms.

He also holds his best friend, Piggy. Once his mother’s, this little pig has almost become an appendage.

Isaac carries Piggy with him wherever he goes, usually wedged in the crook of his arm. It’s amazing how much mischief his two little hands can create while still holding on to Piggy.
Although Piggy started out as a fluffy, purple pig with shiny black eyes, he has morphed into a pale purple, floppy pig that needs frequent “baths” in the washer. Once again he only has one eye. Initially he lost an eye when Isaac swung him by his little tail and banged it on the floor. For weeks Isaac showed everyone the hole where “Piggy’s eye is gone.” Finally he allowed his aunt to sew on a button eye. He took a long time to pick out just the right one. He chose a small, pink, round button. Isaac fingered the new “eye” constantly- when he wasn’t showing everyone that “Piggy’s got a new eye.” But worrying that button with his little fingers made the button fall off. My efforts to sew it back on were not well received. Isaac pulled the eye right off. His little pig is back to one eye and an eye socket.
Isaac is not affected by Piggy’s disfigurement. He lavishes Piggy with kisses. At bedtime I am required to follow Isaac’s kiss with one for Piggy. When Isaac is scared he is quick to reassure Piggy and he is careful to explain to Piggy where we are going, what we are doing and why sometimes he has to stay in the car.

Isaac’s attention turned to a rather odd new friend last week. A small pumpkin. For some reason the pumpkin received the Piggy treatment. Isaac carried the pumpkin all over the house, slept with his arms wrapped around it and held it on his lap so it could watch Curious George with him. He especially liked that he was able to bounce his new friend down the stairs and across the room. “Punkin” rolled better than Piggy. As the pumpkin softens, I’m thankful Isaac’s attention is once again fully focused on Piggy.

I can’t help but smile as I listen to Isaac talk to his best friend, especially when he snorts Piggy’s answers.

I envy the simplicity of his faith in Piggy. Then I realize if my dependency on God mirrors Isaac’s dependency on Piggy, I won’t need to run to anything else for comfort.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone,  O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8.

My prayer: Father God, Thank you for teaching me the importance of relying on You alone through Isaac and his piggy.

Blessed Mourning


I learned Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief in nursing school. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After all, it would be on the test. But as an eighteen-year-old kid with a blessed life, I had just learned the facts. I had little experience with loss and grief and I certainly didn’t understand that other life events can produce a loss as devastating as death. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve had many life experiences which has caused me to understand these facts.

When Katrena was three and a half years old, her baby sister Sophia died in her sleep. Although Sophia was only three weeks old, Katrena had already developed a strong bond with her. She hovered around her all day, wanting to share her toys and sing to her. Katrena, like the rest of us, was devastated by Sophia’s death. She was angry with the police and paramedics for taking away her sister and wanted them to bring her back. We explained that Sophia was in heaven but her inability to understand such a concept was apparent one day when she was disciplined for bad behavior.
“That’s it. I’m going to heaven and live with my sister” she decreed. Although we told her that was not something she was allowed to repeat, we understood she was grieving and was looking for a way to cope with her loss.

Now she has sustained another loss. One whose magnitude we were not so quick to recognize. When our grandchildren came to live with us last May, the decision was not made by Katrena. It didn’t seem to affect Isaac, as he had already spent so much time with us, but Katrena lost her seven year “norm” in one day.

Bill and I struggled as well. At first our thoughts and efforts were spent on the logistics of caring for the children. We were concerned about their physical needs and wanted to make them feel loved, wanted and safe. It was difficult to explain to Katrena why she was unable to live with her parents without sharing too much information. At seven, she felt she needed go back home and try to fix their marriage and emotional problems.
As days grew into months, Bill and I realized how much life was going to change for us as well. We had lost our dream of traveling as a couple, being able to sit and have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation, and enjoy the freedoms that comes with having no kids and no pets at home. One day as we stood in the kitchen whispering what we missed of our former life, Katrena came into the room and wrapped her arms around my waist.

“I miss my life,” she sobbed. “I miss my family, my mommy and my daddy. I miss my home and my swing set. I miss my friends from church and my friends from school and the girls across the street. I’ll never sleep in my room again and in my bed.”
We cried with her and felt the first stage of grief return- anger.

We all continue to work through the stages of grief over what we’ve lost. It impacts each one of us differently so we’re all at different stages in the process. It concerns our family and friends at times when they can tell we have not totally reached the acceptance phase.

Katrena still hopes a miracle will happen. It may.

Bill and I worry our minds and/or bodies will give out before the children reach adulthood. They may.
But beneath it all is a firm belief that God is in control. He knows the situation. He knows our hearts. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is with us.
That is our level of acceptance for now.

It is enough.

My prayer: I thank you God for being my constant in this ever-changing world. I take comfort that nothing happens without your permission. Help me stay faithful to this task.