The first Mother’s Day after my mom passed away, this girl was producing a northwest Indiana show for Mother’s Day called Listen to Your Mother. She invited me and I declined. I was appreciative and wanted to support her, but I didn’t think I could deal with the emotions. She emailed a few days later and asked if Phil would be an usher at the show. I asked him and he said yes. (sneaky girl. I love you for that.)
So many of my friends were there that night and I felt loved and I loved them and it was good for my heart.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was urged to submit something for the Eastern Iowa show and with moving and the chaos, I just didn’t think I could add one more thing to my plate. But then, one morning right after we moved in, I was looking in the backyard of our new home and I saw some lilac bushes I’d never noticed and I wrote it. I cried and I wrote it. Then I sent it without even thinking I’d ever be chosen.
But I got the email and the announcements are made and there is my name. I will (somehow) be reading my story on stage. I’m not a stranger to the stage, that’s not the intimidating part. It’s the part where my emotions will be uncontrolled trying to tell my story. So far, I can’t even *think* of reading it without crying let alone actually reading it. It’s probably one of the most emotional pieces I’ve ever written. (deep breath.)
When grandmas find their youngest sons, dead by their own hand…when those grandmas slip into dementia and mini-strokes overtake them, even when special grandmas die
I Still Believe.
Though the questions still fog up my mind
With promises I still seem to bear
When moms have brain tumors and lymphoma and when prognosis looks good and things are hopeful hopeful. Even then, when she dies anyway
I Still Believe.
Even when answers slowly unwind
It’s my heart I see you prepare
When friends…people who call themselves friends, kick me while I’m down and knowingly inflict unbearable pain
I Still Believe.
But its now that I feel your grace fall like rain
From every fingertip washing away my pain
When I run away from home because I’m too pissed off to be around “friends”
I Still Believe.
The only place I can go is into your arms
Where I throw to you my feeble prayers
When You say in no uncertain terms, “Go back to your friend. Put up with her abuse.” I understand you are Jehovah Roi, the God Who Sees Me
I Still Believe.
In brokenness I can see that this is your will for me
Help me to know you are near
When I submit to Your authority and go back–and I hit a fawn still new with spots and it flies in the air and smashes down on the top of my car and I see it hit the road in the rearview mirror. Even when I see it’s mama right behind it. Even when the pain is too great to bear and I can’t see through my tears
It was very hard for me to hit “publish” on this one.
* * *
In October of 1999, Zane was born. Phil was driving our semi over the road and he was home one day out of every thirty. That year, Jill and I spent New Year’s Eve together afraid for Y2K. We survived.
In 2000, we filed bankruptcy on that semi and moved back to Indiana and lived with my parents for a short time. Phil found a driving in job in Chicago and he was home two days out of every seven.
In 2001, 9/11 happened and I was scared for our lives. I’d never, ever heard it so quiet outside as when all planes were grounded. That month, we found a duplex to rent, Zane turned 2, potty-trained and I was still trying to decide if I was a good mom or not.
In 2002…Phil got a local job hauling fuel and was home EVERY night.
In 2003, Phil and I bought the Knox house. I started attending a church for the first time since I was let down by a different church back in 1992.
In 2004, doctors thought Phil had cancer. He didn’t. He did, however, punch a wall and break his hand and have to have pins put in.
In 2005, I was reading my Bible daily, active in Women’s ministry (and Phil in men’s ministry) and I was really getting to know God. Jill told me she had breast cancer and had already been battling it for a year. She’d already had a mastectomy and chemo and radiation. She made me get a breast exam. And I think they thought I had cancer. I then had an ultra sound. Then a mammogram (and platypus poop.) Then I had to see a surgeon. He told me I didn’t have breast cancer.
In 2006, I was called to write. “Write.” (I noticed I posted that on 12/02/06. Wonder if that has anything to do with 12:26?) That year, I also lost my Uncle Ed. I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when I felt as close to God. And that’s also the year my church gave me a wake up call–lying about me, accusing me of ridiculous things, and leaving me alone during a time of huge, monumental need. Phil thought he was having a heart attack. Our fridge broke. Phil lost his job. Phil had double hernia surgery. We almost lost our house. 2006 was probably the hardest year of my life. I felt so alone that year. And God taught me more about His love than I could’ve ever expected.
In 2007, my thyroid completely shut down and I’ve been trying to get my brain (and my body and my life) back ever since. It’s also the year I was asked to be on the editing team at The Midnight Diner.
In 2008, I lost my best friend, Jill in January. She might have survived Y2K, but she did not survive breast cancer. And then my grandma passed away in September. I was asked to be Editor-in-chief of The Midnight Diner.
In 2009, We were taken on a trip of a lifetime to Key West and Marco Island, Florida in March. Phil quit truck driving altogether! He started working as property manager for a local retreat center. We were blessed with a grandson in April. Around May, I finally started feeling like myself again with the help of some replacement thyroid hormone. We moved in June and I’ve been trying to figure out what life is now that Phil’s home all day, every day and now that everything has changed.
* * *
I started this post with the intention of talking about how I feel separated from God right now. I mean, I know He’s there, He just feels distant to me and I remember hearing people talk about feeling this way and I distinctly remember thinking, “I will NEVER feel that way. I will always feel as close to God as I do at this very moment.”
I was going to talk about this new Bible I got, The Books of the Bible–with no verse references–and how I was going to start reading that for the New Year.
But I got caught up in looking at the way things got so ugly during the time I was closest to God. I remember what I went through and the lessons I learned after I did Beth Moore’s Believing God study. Things I haven’t found the courage to write about.
And though God says, “Do not be afraid.”
I am afraid.
I’m afraid that if I get close to Him again, something worse will happen. And I don’t know how to let go of that fear.
I met Jeanne Damoff (pronounced DAM-off) a few years ago on a message board. Yep, she’s one of those friends. I have a lot of them, but Jeanne is a bit different.
At first, I thought she didn’t like me. She might not know that, but she does now. But seriously, now I understand it was my overactive imagination and nothing more.
We first met at the ACFW conference in Dallas in 2006. I remember laughing with her in the lobby, but what I remember most is feeling overwhelmingly sad when she got a call that someone close passed on. I felt the need to pray and she doesn’t know but I was praying silently when I hugged her. I had also signed up to take a shift in the prayer room, I prayed for her family then, as well.
I really got to “know” Jeanne reading her blog and her every-other-Thursday posts at The Master’s Artist. Then I found out she takes photographs (like really outanding ones!) And though Jeanne’s words are phenomenal, down to earth, and always seem to leave you with an unexpected sense of hope and peace, her photography spoke its silent language to my heart.
This picture of Natalie, Jacob, and baby Lawson Jacob touched me deeper than I realized at first. When I saw it, all I knew was that Jeanne was a great writer, a funny gal who gave points to people who made her laugh, a great photographer, and a woman who loved her family deeply. I sort of knew that Jacob had brain damage, but I didn’t know the story and I was didn’t want to appear rude by asking. Little by little, the pieces came together. Jacob had an accident, he nearly drowned. He lived. He has brain damage. The photos of him are always stunning, there’s so much in his eyes, they speak that silent language, too.
This was my first chapter in the story that is Jacob Damoff.
In August of 2007, I found out that Natalie was Jacob’s best friend. I found out she named her baby Lawson Jacob. Soon after, Relief published selections from Parting the Waters.
And this photo then meant more…look at Natalie. I know that feeling of–what do you call it? Blessed pain? Or as Jeanne appropriately called it: Beauty in Brokenness?
Those moments in life, we all have them, or maybe not everyone does?
I have had them. When my grandma died. It was so hard to watch her go, yet knowing she was finally in peace was peace for me. When my uncle committed suicide. The single most painful event in my life, yet knowing the demons no longer could taunt him and that he’s resting in Jesus now–overwhelming pain and relief simultaneously.
Is that a taste of what Jesus felt when he commanded His spirit to His Father?
My mind captures images and holds them, the first photo is one that comes to the forefront of my mind often. This is the other one. There’s something in Jacob’s smile that commands attention.
I often find myself wondering what it’s like to be that happy. Then I remember I am, I have only let life drag me down.
Parting the Waters is so brutally honest. The reality of it all is bitter and heartbreaking, yet through it all there is a hope bigger than explanation.
My mind captured an image from the book and will not let go. Jeanne and George had just brought Jacob home after a lengthy period of rehabilitation. Jacob, at this point, was not able to speak. They were at a special chapel service and the pastor, “…at one point said ‘God,’ Jacob pointed first to his own heart and then straight up in the air. “
Jeanne continues, “After that day, when someone mentioned the Lord, Jacob pointed. Always to his heart first, then to the sky. He hadn’t uttered a single word, but his actions preached a thousand sermons.”
* * *
Another aspect of Jacob’s story that I appreciate, one that helps me in my own life, is hearing everything the family and community did with Jacob while he was in a coma. I mentioned above that my grandma’s recent death has affected me. She was not conscious for a week or more towards the end. I posted the story of the last minutes I was blessed with sharing with her. As Jeanne put it, “What a precious memory you’ll always have of singing her into eternity.” I still struggle with the last breath she took, at such a meaningful moment. I feel like God gave me a piece of this Beauty in Brokenness we’re talking about.
My friend Elaina, said this to me, “Reading Parting the Waters reminded me that we understand so little of the way our brains work and to presume that someone doesn’t comprehend is not a good plan. Even in dementia and Alzheimer’s, they’re still themselves. They just have trouble piecing everything together. I believe she heard you, Michelle.”
Jacob has given me so many gifts, I can only imagine the crowns in heaven adorning his head, and I bet he’ll have that big smile each time another is placed for the blessing he’s been to a number so great, only God can know.
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