Saying Good-bye to My Four-Legged Friend

This morning, when I woke up, there was a pit in my stomach. The day had come, the one I had been agonizing over since this fall. Today, I said good-bye to a true and faithful friend of 12 years – my dog Kipper.

As I moved through this morning, scenes flashed through my brain. I remembered the morning, a little over 12 years ago when my friend Mary drove me to pick up Kipper. He was my first dog ever and a fulfillment of a lot of childhood dreams. It was a lot of pressure for a little puppy.

But Kipper lived up to it in more ways than I could have ever imagined on that morning 12 years ago.

From day one, Kipper was an easy dog. Sure, he went through that annoying stage where he wanted to nip at everyone’s heels – especially Brock when he wore these super fuzzy slippers and ran through the house.

Together, Kipper and I did puppy kindergarten class, canine good citizenship class, and finally therapy dog certification. He breezed through all of it.

Together, we probably walked over 3500 miles. I don’t know the exact distance, but we walked a mile almost every day of his life until the last year when he started to fail.

Kipper was there during some of my darkest days. I happened to be grooming him when my mom called to tell me my dad had cancer. I remember burying my face in his comforting fur and crying.

He was there during the difficult days after my brother died. I’d sit on my back porch spending time with God. The tears would fall and suddenly, Kipper would be there, putting his long, pointy head in my lap, licking my tears.

Kipper was unfailingly kind, even to small children he didn’t know who would run up and throw their arms around him. He was hard to resist in all his fluffiness, and he became somewhat of a neighborhood fixture, with some kids watching for him to pass by on our daily walks. He’d sit patiently when they wanted to awkwardly pat him a little too hard or would look in his mouth fascinated by his long, pointy muzzle. If they got too annoying, he’d just stand up and wander away if he could, or he’d send me the look. The look that said, “A little help here, if you don’t mind.”

Kipper was good company. I called him my satellite dog. He was usually circling in the vicinity and tuned in.

Despite his good nature and easygoing ways, no dog is perfect, and Kipper’s big weakness was food. He would do anything for food, and it was probably only his training that kept him from snitching more than he did.

One time, my husband had some of his assistant coaches over and we served pizza. One coach had his slice sitting on his plate which was on a tv tray. Kipper walked by and the next thing we knew, that slice of pizza was dangling from his mouth. The assistant coach snagged it back and ate it anyway.

When I brought Kipper home, my kids were 6 and 9. I remember thinking that he’d probably live at least until my youngest graduated from high school.

This morning was about more than saying good-bye to Kipper. It rings with the finality of a door closing on my children’s childhood. Kipper, even though he was probably my dog more than anyone’s, was a constant in my boys’ lives.

I’d often find Kipper sleeping between my boys’ beds. He felt it was his job to protect them, and I had to intervene with the meter reader on more than one occasion when the man tried to come in the yard when Brock and Brody were back there and I was in the house.

I often joked that Kipper and I were so alike. Both of us loved food and a good nap. Neither of us was big fans of hot weather, and the crispness of fall put a spring in both of our steps. We both had somewhat crazy hair that tended to shed – although he definitely won that contest, hands down!

I know, for a lot of people who have never had a dog or who aren’t animal lovers, it’s hard to understand how difficult losing a pet can be, but they truly become members of the family. And the responsibility of holding that life in your hands can be heavy. I really wrestled with when it was the right time. I didn’t want to do it too soon or wait too long.

But even during all of this, Kipper made things easier. Yesterday, I started second-guessing my decision. I came home, and there he was. He came over and leaned against my leg. It was like he sensed I needed a bit of comfort, even if that comfort was over him.

Even this morning, with my heart heavy, he made me smile at his eagerness for part of my danish.

Kipper grounded me in ways it’s hard to explain. He made me smile almost every day he was part of my life, and he definitely increased my joy in the present. He was a living, breathing reminder of what love and devotion look like in its simplest form.

As I sit here, grieving this loss, I was thinking about dogs in general. Out of all the animals in the world, I don’t know that there is one animal that comes in so many variations, from little to small, from mellow to hyper, from uber-friendly to fiercely protective. Almost like there is one to fit all the different kinds of people there are.

I can’t help but believe that when God created dogs, He meant them to be a gift for us. Even today, when my heart feels broken, I’m tremendously thankful for that gift.





Walking a Mile In My Friend’s Shoes

Most people mean that metaphorically. I mean it literally.

One of my very best friends died in early September. I wrote a tribute to her HERE. While she’d been not doing well, it was still sudden. For about a month, as strange as it sounds, I’d forget she was gone. Her death just didn’t seem real.

Even now, almost three months later, I find myself mindlessly reaching to text her or message her when something happens—both good and bad.

I always knew that her time on this earth was most likely limited. But I didn’t dwell on it. It was something I pushed to the back of my mind to deal with later. In fact, she and I made jokes about it on a regular basis—jokes that others probably thought were horribly insensitive or wildly inappropriate but made us cackling like hyenas.

You can’t be afraid of something you laugh at, right?

About a month ago, her husband asked me if I’d like her any of her shoes. I’ll be honest, it was weird going through them and stacking the boxes up like I was at some big sale, and it felt somehow wrong.

When the boxes were stacked up by the door, her 3-year-old son asked if we needed to go to Fed Ex.

When I got home, I piled the boxes up in a spare room and then studiously ignored them for a couple of weeks.

Inside, I knew not looking at them wouldn’t change the fact she was gone. In my head, I could hear her voice telling me not to be stupid and to wear the shoes already.

So, one by one, I opened the boxes. Many of the shoes were hardly worn. A few hadn’t been worn at all.

Looking at those new-ish or never worn shoes made me sad because they were a testament to how sick she had been for the past several years. Getting dressed up and going out often took more energy than she had available. I put the lids back on and the pile sat there for another week.

Then I went out with a new-ish friend last weekend. The camel-colored ankle boots that were in one of those boxes were the perfect complement to my outfit.

I pulled them out and had to fish out the packaging in the toes of each boot. I expected wearing her shoes would feel odd or uncomfortable in some way. But it didn’t. Instead, it kind of felt like my friend was with me, and I knew that she would approve of dinner at La Charradea (her favorite restaurant).

I also knew she’d approve of the time spent building a friendship because relationships were priorities for her. She encouraged and championed forming and nurturing connections.

This morning, I slipped my feet into a pair of brown loafers.

As I walked into Panera to meet my mom and her friend, I looked down at my feet, encased in those loafers, and I realized something.

While at first, I worried that wearing my dead friend’s shoes would be weird, it’s actually a comfort.

Each time I get out a pair, I remember her.

Each time I slip them on, her memory is with me.

Each time I walk somewhere new in them, I am reminded that our lives—even those of us who live to 90—are startlingly short. I am reminded to make the most of the time I have, to savor the present and the people in it.

The Bible tells us to number our days so we will act in wisdom. 

When I slip my feet into one of my friend’s shoes or slide on a pair of her boots, that truth echoes in my heart.

I won’t lie. I wish she was still was here, but I know someday we’ll see each other again. Until then, I’ll keep walking in her shoes.

The Amber Payne Challenge

The Phone Call

When the phone rang at almost 11 p.m., I knew it wasn’t good news. My dear friend’s husband was on the phone, and I could hear the upset in his voice.

“Amber stopped breathing on me,” he said.

He went on to explain that there was a team of doctors in the ICU room where she had been moved the previous day, and they were intubating her as he was talking to me.

Even then, even when I knew things didn’t look good for one of my very best friends, I kind of thought she’d pull through. Because she always defied the odds.

A Walking Miracle

See, Amber was born with cystic fibrosis, and at 19 she received a double lung transplant. Before I met Amber I knew little about transplants. I just kind of thought the person got a new whatever and moved on with life. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. (Below is a picture of her the summer before her transplant).

Most transplant recipients struggle. They face the daily possibility of rejection and the myriad health issues that accompany that.

Amber was different. For 11 years, she did extremely well. Yes, she had to take a pharmacy full of pills. Yes, her cystic fibrosis attacked other parts of her body since it could no longer get at her lungs. Yes, she had to be careful of infections and other things that don’t even cross most people’s minds.

But overall, for 11 years she was a walking miracle.

Not Giving Up

And then came the day, just after her son’s first birthday, that she got the news that all transplant patients dread to hear – she was in rejection. Nobody knew why, but for several scary months, her lung function which had been at an astonishing 95% for these past 11 years, fell to 50% and then 45%  and then 35% and then 29%. Finally, they were able to stabilize her at 30%.

Instead of the weekly treatments over 90 minutes away, she was able to go down to monthly treatments.

But she still only had 30% lung function, and her small airways continued to deteriorate. I could see her struggling on a daily basis. She had a hard time keeping weight on and the circles under her eyes got darker. And she was always tired, but still, she pressed on. She had a little boy to take care of (he’s 3 1/2), and a husband she loved. And, of course, there was the tribe of people she called friends.

This summer, it became obvious that something was changing – and not for the better. Although she had been stable for about 2 years, something wasn’t right.

Because she had always fought back and overcome the odds, it seemed normal for everyone to expect her to do it again.

But this time was different.

The Last Stand

When she finally told her husband a week ago that she just couldn’t breathe, he drove her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus where she had had the transplant almost 14 years before. The doctor saw something in her lung scan and went in for a closer look.

It was an infection – something all lung transplant patients dread hearing.

Still, this was Amber. She beat the odds. She was still living when she should have been dead 10 times over. But this was one time too many. The infection was too strong, her body too worn out.

This morning, she drew her last labored breath and went to meet Jesus.

Fierce – Determined – Fighter

I wish I could tell you why something like this happens to a young mom and wife, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that for as long as I’ve known Amber, her life message has been “God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of suffering.”

And she didn’t just say that; she lived it. She fought every day to live out her life and to love her people well. So, as I did several years ago when my friend Carla Dysert passed away, I’d like to offer you a challenge because I believe every hard thing, every loss can be redeemed if we allow God to do that – if we work to find the meaning in the sorrow.

I want to challenge you to fight like Amber Payne fought. To not give up on that dream, on that relationship, on that difficult diagnosis.

Because she didn’t.

There were so many times I saw her tired and worn out, but still, she got up the next day and put one foot in front of the other and kept fighting for her health and for the people she loved.

Take the Amber Payne Challenge

What is it in your life that feels overwhelming right now? What relationship seems too far gone to save? What dream feels too far out of reach? What diagnosis seems too big to bear?

Can I challenge you to do what Amber Payne did all of her life? Can I challenge you to push just a little harder, to fight just a little longer, to hang in there one more day?

Will you take the Amber Payne Challenge today?




Every Beginning Comes With an Ending

Everything Can Change In an Instant

I was on my way out the door yesterday to my last day of teaching for the year (and don’t let anyone tell you that the teachers aren’t as excited about this as their students!) when I looked down at my phone and saw a message from my husband.

When I read it, I stopped in my tracks, stunned.

A dear friend had died suddenly in her sleep. Sandy Rufener started out as my high school English teacher, but over the years had grown into a mentor and a friend.

And she was gone – just like that. 

Yesterday, was also the day my youngest son graduated from high school.

Life Is a Neverending Cycle

Two such different events, but both endings that signal a beginning. As I moved through my day yesterday, trying to process two such big things, I was reminded that life is a continual cycle of endings and beginnings.  Before one thing begins, something else has to end, no matter how small or big. 

Mrs. Rufener (no matter how many times she told me to call her Sandy and no matter how many times I managed to do it, she will always be Mrs. Rufener in my head), ended her life here on earth but started a whole new one in heaven.

In recent years, funerals have started to be called celebrations or homegoings, and I really love that concept – especially for believers. Yes, losing someone you love is hard and sad and difficult. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s grief, having walked the path of loss twice myself in recent years, but if that person is a believer, there is also so much hope. This world is not all there is. Death is not the end of a stand-alone story. It is just the ending of the first book in the series.

For Brody, even though graduating high school is truly a celebration, it also signals an ending, a change. He has to leave behind what he knows, the friends he has spent his days with for the past 14 years, the security of family, and move into the unknown. In order to move on to the next chapter in his life, he has to close this one. You can’t find out what happens in the next chapter if you linger in the previous one. You have to turn the page.

The Future – Whatever It Is – Takes Courage

So, yesterday wasn’t exactly the day I thought it would be. Instead of simply walking through this milestone with my youngest child, I found myself slapped in the face with the reality that we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring – or even that it will come. But I was also comforted that every ending – no matter how final it might seem – also signals a beginning, too.

Yesterday highlighted a strange but beautiful paradox. As Mrs. Rufener’s life came to an end, my son’s life is just beginning. But at the same time, my son was also experiencing an ending, while Mrs. Rufener was entering into a glorious new beginning in heaven.

Both of them, Brody and Mrs. Rufener, are stepping into the unknown, but that’s okay because God’s promise is that He will never leave us or forsake us no matter if that next step is onto a college campus for the first time or onto heaven’s shores where God waits with outstretched arms.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, a hymn redone by Chris Tomlin.

All The Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me
Who have I to ask beside
How could I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my guide

All the way my Savior leads me
Cheers each winding path I tread
Gives me grace for every trial
Feeds me with the living Bread

[Chorus:] You lead me and keep me from falling
You carry me close to Your heart
And surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me

All the way my Savior leads me
O, the fullness of His love
O, the sureness of His promise
In the triumph of His blood
And when my spirit clothed immortal
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way
Jesus led me all the way

All the way my Savior leads me
All the way my Savior leads me
© 2008 Sixstepsrecords



The First Anniversary of My Dad’s Death

It was on this day, last year, that my dad took his last breath on earth and his first one in heaven.

He hadn’t been doing well, but none of us expected him to deteriorate so fast. Certainly, none of us, including his oncologist, expected him to be gone less than a week after his last trip to Columbus.

He went into the hospital in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and by Sunday he had slipped into a deep sleep all on his own.  We sat around him that day, periodically going over to check on him, to tell him we loved him, to keep vigil, to chuckle just a little at the half snore.

The next time my dad opened his eyes was to see the face of Jesus.

I’m not sure what it is about the year anniversary of a loved one’s death. They are no more gone that day than any other, but suddenly, you find yourself back there where you were a year ago, walking a familiar path of loss all over again.

There is a sort of shock and numbness that cushions you when a loved one dies, but certain things remain clear memories.

I can close my eyes and see and feel the dim hush of that hospital room. I can still feel the wispiness of my dad’s hair and the clamminess of his skin.

I remember my mom’s call that time was short, and the horrible disbelief that even though I had hit every single green light, I had still missed his moment of passing by only a few minutes.

When I entered that room, I knew immediately and unequivocally that my dad was gone, that his body was just an empty shell. The spirit that had animated it was gone.

I remember the befuddled busyness of going over funeral details. I can still feel the dread in my belly of having to smile and nod and hug all the people, but at the same time taking comfort that so many people loved him and cared.

I remember how desperately I wanted to get across who my dad was and what his life meant in the eulogy I was giving, and how inadequate I felt as words seemed just out of my grasp.

I remember Brody leaning on the podium singing.

I remember Brock – my most stoic of children – breaking down when sharing about his grandpa.

I remember my mom, the first time we came into the funeral home, how she had to brace herself before going to the casket.

I remember the day after the funeral. I spent the night with my mom. The next morning we went to Panera where we picked at a bagel and drank coffee, not sure what to do.

How do you do life without the person who has always been there?

Just recently, I wrote in my prayer journal and asked God how you can both miss someone deeply and yet not wish them back here.

The truth is, it was my dad’s time to go. If he had stayed longer, he would have suffered and none of us wanted that.

At the same time, life continues to roll on, and I miss him experiencing it all. My younger son filmed a short movie this summer. The premier is in a few weeks (just a screening at our local church – nothing huge), and I can envision my dad telling everyone about it, proud of his grandson. “My grandson, the filmmaker.”

But he’s not here.

Life will move on and all the important milestones will happen and he won’t be here. And some days, that’s just hard.

And yet, our lives have also moved on. Our days and weeks have slowly rearranged themselves into a new normal, one that doesn’t include my dad in its daily fabric.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. But I know while we have been grieving and fumbling around trying to figure out life without him, he’s had the best year ever.

Appropriately, someone sang No More Night at church this week. It’s why I can be sad and glad all at the same time.

No More Night by David Phelps from the album Heaven

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away
It’s not a dream, God will make all things new that day
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell
Evil is banished to eternal hell

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King
Slowly the names from the book are read
I know the King, so there? s no need to dread

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See over there, there? s a mansion
Oh, that’s prepared just for me
Where I will live with my Savior eternally

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

All praises to the great, “I AM”
We’re gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb

Blessings, Rosanne

Father’s Day – A Grief Delayed

My dad’s gifts for Father’s Day evolved over my adult years. I went from buying him clothes to books to finally, gift cards.

This year I bought flowers to put on his grave.

When my dad first died over nine months ago, I had a deep peace. God clearly showed me it was his time to go, that his story had ended, at least on earth. It was time for him to go home.

It was also clear to me that God had graciously given us one more year together. It was equally clear that if my dad had lived longer his suffering would have increased, and it was a distinct possibility that he wouldn’t have been able to stay home since his mobility was rapidly deteriorating. That would have crushed both of my parents who were constant companions.

Of course, I’ve had sad days and days when I cried a bit, but the grief I thought I’d feel didn’t really hit me. It waited patiently in the wings while I focused on supporting my mother through the toughest transition – from wife to widow. It marked time while the hectic schedule of the school year made the weeks blur together.

I felt an inkling of it on my birthday. The first time in my adult life when my father’s slightly off-key voice didn’t sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

It nipped at me when I typed “The End” on the rough draft of my first novel when I realized my dad would never hold my book in his hands.

But it came out of the shadows for Father’s Day.

Maybe it’s just that I have finally slowed down, or maybe it is because my mom is getting used to life alone, or as used to it as you can ever get.

Or maybe it’s just that the day meant to celebrate fathers and all they mean to us drives home to me like nothing else does that I don’t have mine anymore.

Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself in tears multiple times this week. A deep ache seems to have settled in my chest, and the weight of my father’s absence weighs heavy in my heart.

And in the middle of my tears and sadness, I find myself thankful. Thankful I had a dad I can truly mourn. Thankful that I had that last extra year to spend intentional time with him. Thankful that my dad’s absence left a hole that nobody can fill.

When I was little, I thought my dad hung the moon. He was my superhero, and I had him squarely on a pedestal. There was nothing he couldn’t do or fix.

As I grew up, I realized he wasn’t perfect, but I never really took him off that pedestal. He was still a man I could admire and respect, not just love. He was a man my children could look up to and emulate.

And I’m thankful because I know that’s not the case for everyone.

So, as I walk in this new season of grief, I walk with not just a sad heart but a full heart. Even though my dad is no longer here, I’m keenly aware that I’m one of the lucky ones, and Father’s Day is still a day to celebrate that man.

Blessings, Rosanne



When Christmas Feels Dark and Hopeless

Is it just me or has 2017 felt like a rough year?

The world has seemed like a darker, harder place this past year. On a personal level, there has been a lot of death in and around my life in recent months.

Since April, my great-aunt and uncle passed away. My parents’ dearest friends both died within months of each other – one in August and one in November. My dad left us in early September. One of my best friends is fighting for her life because after 12 years, her body is rejecting her transplanted lungs. The son she and her husband waited years to adopt will be two in January.

And it’s not just me that death has touched either. Our pastor lost his father only a few weeks ago, and another church member lost her two-year-old grandson after a kidney transplant they never thought he’d live to have. There are so many people I know that are fighting cancer or other scary diseases.

Sometimes life just feels dark and hopeless.

This year, I’ve done a lot of journaling, both in Bible study and in prayer. As I flipped through my journal the other morning, I noticed something.

I do a lot of doodling in my journals and on page after page, I had doodled the lines of an old song. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”

That’s not a song I hear a lot anymore, but there it was in my journal. Not once, but many times.

As we come up to Christmas, the story is so familiar isn’t it? In our Bibles, the difference between the last book fo the Old Testament Malachi and the Gospels is a simple flip of the page. But the reality is, that flip of the page represents 400 YEARS of silence from God.

Four centuries of echoing emptiness. No prophets. No messages. No Word of the Lord.

Hope in the Dark

So, when we come to the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35, his faith stands like a shining beacon in what was surely a dark and hopeless time. His faith really was built on nothing less than Jesus – even though Jesus hadn’t been born yet.

Sure, the Jewish people said they were looking for the Messiah, but how many even believed that promise anymore? How many gave more than lip service to something they had waited for, well,  centuries? With no new word to give hope.

What I love about the Bible is that every time I read a familiar story, God shows me something I haven’t seen before. I’ve heard the story of Simeon many times. I’ve read the verses and thought, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But this time around, it brought me up short.

This time the echoing silence seemed to ring in my own ears. This time I could almost taste the dark  hopelessness of a people whose promise of deliverance seemed distant and dim.

Just a Regular Guy

Who was Simeon? Well, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I always thought he was a priest for some reason, but he’s not. He’s just a regular guy.

The verses in Luke say he lived in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. The big difference is he was looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. This was a big deal since the Holy Spirit wasn’t promised to every believer at that time.

In fact, the Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. And Simeon believed him. 

That was the difference about Simeon. He wasn’t just looking for Israel’s consolation. He believed the Messiah was coming. In his lifetime. Even though, the silence to the nation was deafening.

God Sees Our Faith Even in the Darkness

I love that God noticed an individual’s faith and that He blessed Simeon because of it. Yes, the nation was in silent vacuum, but Simeon wasn’t.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (emphasis min) Hebrews 11:6

The Bible is full of the difference individual people’s faith had – Enoch, Noah, and Abraham to name a few.

This story also reminds me that Jesus’ birth was a light during a dark and hopeless time.

I don’t know what is weighing you down today. I do know there are a lot of people who will not find this Christmas season one of joy and togetherness and celebration, but instead will find it hard and lonely and a little hopeless. May I say, Jesus’ birth STILL shines a light, no matter how dark or how hopeless or how silent your world feels right now.



The Gift of a Life Well-Lived

First Brush With Death

I was five years old the first time I lost someone I loved. I don’t remember a lot. What I do remember is my grandfather being so cold and shaking.

I ran to get him blankets, but he was shivering so hard, I could hear his false teeth clacking together. I remember running behind a chair in the living room to pray. The chair was striped and velvety; the carpet was thick and cream colored. That was 39 years ago, yet those small details stand out in sharp relief.

I don’t remember my mom telling me my grandfather had died. I just remember looking at my grandfather in the casket and thinking it wasn’t him. All that made my grandfather him was gone: the big, booming laugh; the infectious smile; the twinkle in his eye.

My cousin picked me up and put my face up close to my grandfather’s. He smelled strange and I was scared. I spent the rest of the viewing hours out in the lobby with my Grandma Craig, tapping my patent leather shoes on the flagstone floor.

For over a year, I waited for my grandfather to come back. I kept imagining that he would burst into our house, laughing and saying it was all a joke. I was well into first grade when I finally believe he was really gone.

The Bewilderment of Grief

The next time I lost someone I loved, I was 25 and expecting my first child. As an adult, my experience was far different than when my grandfather died. Grandma Craig – the one who had sat with me in the lobby – was gone.

I remember feeling bewildered. How was I suppose to walk through this? How do you grieve? What does that even look like? Could you be happy about a coming baby and also be sad about the death of someone you loved at the same time?

Since that time, I’ve lost my other grandmother, a few friends, my brother and just recently my father. Even though I am not new to the grieving process, every single time, I still feel that strange bewilderment. How do you do grief?

Every grief is like a trip with a familiar destination, but each time, you travel by a different route.

Grieving Death is Different Than Grieving Tragedy

My brother died only two years ago, so that grief is still fresh and that road is still familiar. I thought I had a handle on this grief process, but grieving my father has been completely different.

With my dad, it felt like the ending of a fully told story. He battled cancer for four years, and I honestly thought he was going to die last year. I truly believe God answered my prayer for more time with him. I don’t know why He chose to answer that prayer since I know others have prayed it and not gotten the same answer. I am just unendingly thankful that He did.

Although I miss my dad terribly, God made it very clear to me that my dad had reached the last page of his story. Even though I didn’t want it to be the end and I didn’t want to close the book on his life, my dad’s life was one that was well-lived and finished well.

At his funeral, as people shared what my dad meant to them, I could see the far reaching ripples that his love of Jesus and his faithful service to Him had created.

It is hard to know that my dad’s story is done, but at the same time, there is a peace and a comfort in knowing someone has run their course well and finished the race. I grieve, but there is a softer edge to this grief.

My brother, on the other hand, took his own life. Instead of coming to the last chapter in his life, I felt as if someone had ripped it out of my hands mid-read. His death left a lot of what ifs and if onlys that still bother me some days.

My brother was intelligent, handsome and outgoing. He never met a stranger, and he honestly talked himself into an untold number of jobs that he really wasn’t qualified for at all. He had so much potential.

His death laid waste to it all before it was time.

It is the difference between a life well-lived and one stolen by mental illness.

It was the difference between the natural cycle of life and tragedy.

The Importance of Finishing Well

I am 44 years old. According to statistics, I’m truly middle-aged. Half of my life is over, and hopefully, if I am not felled by cancer or heart disease or some other disease, half of my life stretches before me.

Maybe it is because of my recent losses.

Maybe it is because of my age.

Maybe it is because I am facing a new season very soon, as my youngest will be a high school senior next year, but I am impressed more and more that I want to finish well.

I want to live my life fully with the right priorities. It’s so easy to get off track and to get caught up in things that really don’t matter, especially in the light of eternity.

I get it – the house isn’t going to clean itself and the groceries aren’t going to travel from the shelves to your fridge on their own. But I don’t want to be so busy doing all my to dos that I forget to really live life.

Choosing To Let Go of the Good

As 2017 slowly ticks down and a new year looms with all its newness and possibilities, I’m trying to slow down, to really listen to what God wants from me this year.

He has very clearly told me to write. I’ve felt it pressed into my heart and whispered in my ear. The thing is, when we say yes to what God calls us to do, we have to say no to a lot of other things – even good things.

What that means in my life is really looking at everything I am involved in and deciding what may be good but isn’t best.

I love Arabah Joy’s blog. Tacked up on the wall next to my desk is a quote from her.

You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.

I made that quote into a cute printable and tacked it up by my desk, and yet, I’ve spent a lot of 2017 doing things that are good, but not best. That is going to change in 2018.

Why? Because I want to finish well. I want to reach the end of my life and see “The End,” not chapters I never got around to experiencing because I was too busy doing all the things rather than THE THING God has called me to.

What about you? Are there things you feel called to, but you’ve let busyness or other people’s expectations keep you from?

I’d love to hear about it!

True Love – It’s Not What You Think!

The Anniversary That Wasn’t

This past week, it would have been my parents 54th anniversary. But instead of doing something fun with my dad this past Thursday, my mom spent her anniversary with me at Panera Bread.

With my dad’s death, my mom lost part of herself. How can you not when you’ve lived with someone for 54 years? When you’ve shared life in its ups and down, its joys and griefs, its beauty and ugliness?


An Example of a Good Marriage

When you are a kid, you don’t really think about your parents’ marriage, unless it is profoundly unhappy in some way. As a kid, I was oblivious. Sure, my parents fought at times, but I never wondered if they’d stay together.

There was never a doubt they were a couple – not just parents or partners – but two halves of a whole.

Heck, they went on dates before date nights were trendy.

They each had a role, but one was not more important than the other.

My dad led our home with a sweetness of spirit that never took advantage of his leadership role. He was never “the boss” of my mom. They worked together, and my dad listened to what my mom had to say. He recognized her uncanny accuracy and insight about people.

My mom always supported my dad as the family leader, but that didn’t mean that she silently sat in the background or just nodded yes to whatever my dad said. Instead, she pushed and challenged him in all the best ways. I think my dad would honestly say that he would not have been the man he was without my mom.

They served God together. I don’t remember a time when my parents weren’t serving together in some capacity at our church. My dad was a gifted teacher, and my mother is the most organized person you’ll ever meet. She can put an event together with one hand tied behind her back, blindfolded. (I did not inherit this gift, by the way).

They made friends and fellowshipped together. Throughout the years, our home was full of people coming for dinner or holidays or get togethers. My parents were never content to be spectators in life. They were full participants, and they participated not as individuals, but as a couple.

A New Season

So, when my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary rolled around, we celebrated with a big party. People came who hadn’t seen my parents in years. Friends came and shared what my parents meant to them. There was laughter and fun and even a few tears. It was one of those perfect days.

A week later, my dad got a call from the doctor, and just like that, their lives changed. 

Suddenly, their lives consisted of doctors’ appointments two hours away and drugs with long, unpronounceable names and lab results.

And while my parents had shown me what a good marriage looks like over their first 50 years, the last four years showed me what true love REALLY is – not the fizzy, false picture that Hollywood puts out there, but the deep, steady kind of love that says, “I’m always going to be here.” 

My mom never missed one of my dad’s doctor’s appointments – no matter how she felt or how tired she was – even when that meant 12 hour days multiple times a week.

My mom put her legendary organizational skills to work keeping track of the paperwork that goes along with cancer treatments, especially when the VA is involved.

My mom counted out pills and made sure my dad took them on schedule. When taking a pill meant my dad couldn’t eat for a certain amount of time, my mom didn’t eat either.

Three different times, my dad got sick enough that he needed to be in a wheelchair. My mom, who is petite and almost 80 years old, didn’t complain. She just found a lighter wheelchair so she could get it in and out of the trunk herself.

Love Through the Valley

During the last few months of my dad’s life, my mom’s role as caregiver became more challenging and certainly more exhausting.

Instead of just using a wheelchair when they were out and about, it became necessary for my dad to use the wheelchair in the house. My mom wheeled him wherever he wanted to go, whenever he wanted to go.

Everytime my dad got up, my mom had to help him. She would grip his hands. Usually it took about three tries, and on the third, my dad would get to his feet. Then my parents would kiss and smile at each other.

My dad didn’t sleep well, and got up multiple times every night, moving from recliner to bed and back again. My mom went with him. Every. Single. Time. 

By the end, she slept with one hand on his shoulder, afraid he’d wake disorientated and try to get up by himself and fall.

True Love in Real Time

True love is about loving someone more than yourself. Watching my mom care for my dad, I saw what true love was up close and personal.

As giddy, young couples, we say our wedding vows, “In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but in the excitement and joy of starting a new life together, the idea of sickness and death seems far away. We don’t really think about what it means to walk that out.

What that means is walking through cancer with your husband, caring for him even when you are exhausted yourself.

It means dragging out the wheelchair and getting your very sick husband in the car to go get ice cream because that’s what makes him happy when you really would rather collapse on the couch.

It means walking through the valley of the shadow of death holding his hand, so he doesn’t have to make the journey alone.

It means staying by his side even when you’d rather not watch death coming closer and closer.

True love can be warm and fizzy and sweet, but it can also be hard and tiring and challenging. My parents taught me that whatever form it takes, it’s always beautiful.

Blessings, Rosanne

A Terrible Beauty

Yesterday, September 6, my dad passed from this life into the next and I wasn’t there to see him take that final step. His breathing changed and my mom texted me to tell me to come right away, but he slipped away very quickly.

I’ll be honest – that really bothers me. Since my dad went into the hospital early Saturday morning, I’ve sat in his hospital room a lot. Although he slipped into a deep sleep on Sunday and hasn’t been responsive since Sunday evening, I feel like I have been part of his journey as he was crossing from life to death. It makes me sad to have missed when he took that final step from life into eternity.

My mom said it was a peaceful step. He gave a small smile, breathed out and was gone.

I just wish I had been there to see it. 

As I sat by my dad’s bed these past four days, I’ve been struck by what a struggle it is, both to enter this world and to leave it. Even if the person is ready to go, there is a fight they have to wage for the soul to let go of this physical body.

My dad, for the most part, seemed peaceful and pain free. His breathing was heavy and labored at times, but for the most part, he just slept. At times, it was hard to watch, and I prayed that God would take him home sooner than later.

The nurses said he could probably hear us, so I would talk to him. We played music for him. We held his hands and rubbed his feet. We wanted him to know that even though he had to make this last journey himself, we would be there to keep him company.

As I watched him, I kept wondering what he was thinking and feeling. I kept wondering what was going on for him. Really. Was he scared? Was he uncomfortable? Did he really hear us? Did he wish he could tell us anything? Could he sense Jesus in a special way?

Death is something that has alternately fascinated and terrified people since Adam and Eve bit into that apple. There are many mythologies that have sprung up around that journey from life to death. A lot of those stories picture the person going on that journey over water.

As my dad worked to leave this life, in my mind, I pictured it as a journey over rough waters. That’s probably because I was reading in Luke 8 on Monday, and it was the story of the great storm. The disciples were terrified – which is saying a lot since they were seasoned fishermen – and Jesus was a sleep in the boat.

The disciples always get a lot of flack for their lack of faith, but I have to think my response would have been the same. If you’re honest, yours probably would have been, too. They were fishermen. They knew those waters, and they knew when a storm was deadly.

And Jesus seemed to be unaware of the peril everyone was in.

It felt a lot like we were journeying over stormy seas this week. It felt a lot like Jesus was a bit unaware, as we wondered why God didn’t just take my dad instead of having him work so hard to leave this life.

But just like Jesus knew and was in complete control of every wave and gust of wind on that boat, He was right there in that hospital room, this whole week.

Death has a terrible beauty about it for a believer. It’s hard to lose someone you love, and I know it was hard for my dad to leave us. He worried about my mom, and he was disappointed not to see Brody graduate from high school. At the same time, he was going to be in the presence of God – no more pain or sorrow or treatments or sickness.

My dad is now whole, and more alive than he ever was on this earth. 

I know I wished I could help my dad in some way this week, but I could only be present – a spectator in his final fight.

Jesus was more than a spectator. He was there, right in the boat, with my dad as he crossed that last stormy stretch. He was there, not to wait on the shores to welcome him, but to be right there with him until the boat bumped into the shoreline, to hold his hand as my dad stepped off the boat and onto that heavenly shore. My dad was never alone and neither were we. 

I have no idea what it is like when we take our final breath, but in my mind’s eye, I see waves calming. I see a boat bumping into a shore line.

And there’s a crowd.

As Jesus helps my dad off the boat and onto shore, my brother is waving his arms, whole and healed. My parents’ dear friend Ruthie who passed away a few weeks ago, has a huge smile on her face, eyes shining. Friends and family are there to welcome him into his real home.

I have no idea why I wasn’t able to be with my dad in those final moments, but I trust that Jesus is always in control. I was able to sit with him and talk with him the night before. I got to paint that picture of the crowd waiting for him on that shoreline. I got to assure him he didn’t have to worry about my mom, that we’d take good care of her. I got to tell him I loved him and he was the best dad ever. I have to trust that was enough.

Death is terrible, but it’s beautiful, too, because no matter what our crossing is like, Jesus leads us all the way to the shore. And we know, my dad’s life is just beginning with joy and celebration.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalms 116:15

Blessings, Rosanne

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