Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hope, Grief, and Isaac


It feels like a violation of sorts to write about sad things during this time of year when we are celebrating the moment the world changed forever, the moment hope came down. While the notion of hope is not lost in the thickness of the sorrows that still cling to us, I recognize that this time of year, for many reasons, presents a heaviness that can’t be ignored.

I should preface all I am to say by clearly stating that these words are my own and I would never assume the responsibility of speaking for my family as a whole. We are each on a different journey and mine, like theirs, is unique.

This December marked two years since the death of my brother-in-law Isaac. While December 10th will always be a day of deep sorrow, I found that this year caught me off guard. This December 10th hit me like a freight train. Why? I can’t say. Grief is confusing and suicide is complicated. The week preceding the terrible day brought with it a thick fog of anxiety and sadness. Although many of the reasons are plain: A young widow; three amazing yet fatherless children; the loss of a son, a brother, and a friend, my thoughts were drawn to those who may not have considered themselves particularly “close” to Isaac, but are still treading the waters of grief. My thoughts were drawn to those in this community, in my community, who are still struggling. I count myself among them.

Over the past month I read several blogs, written by people who attended the church Isaac pastored. The blogs were reflections of the sadness, anger, and confusion that still exist two years later. I read a note on a Facebook group from a woman who is still so deeply grieved that she admits hardly being able to speak of him. My heart is with these members of my community. I appreciated their honesty and their courage as they admit struggle and hurt. I grieve with them. On December 10th I was praying for all those who are still walking through this sorrow, those whose faces and names I may not know. Those who feel like they should “be over it” because they “weren’t even that close to him.”

There is no such thing as getting over a sadness such as this. It becomes a part of us. It can become a part that strengthens us and matures us, or it can become a part that breaks us down, little-by-little, stone-by-stone. This choice is ours. If we choose the former, it will be work but it will be worth it. We will have to submit ourselves to the pain in order to be refined by it. We should not have to make this terrible choice, but we can’t escape it. If we run or hide or distract from the grief, then we have made the alternative choice and the pain will be wasted only to return when we are least expecting it. The worst part about grief is that it has a key to our house. It will show up unexpectedly any time it chooses, acting like it owns the place.

The reason I have chosen to write this is because, whether he preferred it or not, I am a part of Isaac’s family. I am a “Hunter.” I felt prompted to break the seal on how we are (I am) doing because I believe we owe those who have cared for and prayed for our family the respect of sharing our hearts. I must also include that much of the silence on this matter is, in part, a protection for Isaac and Rhonda’s children. They are our first priority in all decisions and communications. They must always know that their father loved them dearly.

I believe the absence of communication may have promoted a perception that we may be further along in this process than we are, a perception that implies either our “faith is so great,” or “we are so emotionally strong,” that we have already come out on the other side. If that perception were reality, where would that leave those who are still grieving? As a part of his family, I want those who are affected by this tragedy to know that they are not alone in their grief. I also want those grieving to know that they are neither weak of faith nor weak of character if they are still struggling. I am struggling too. Sometimes I am furious. Many moments I experience guilt, what-ifs, and a spectrum of alternate endings that play over in my mind like a movie reel.

In the wake of the pain we have experienced, this is what I have chosen: health. The first time I walked into a counselor’s office was after the loss of our warrior-of-a-niece Ava in 2010. I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed a professional, but I knew this caliber of tragedy was above my pay grade. I knew my mental and emotional heath was not something worth risking for the sake of appearing strong. I have been choosing health since then, never going too long without a check-in with a counselor. I feel no shame is sharing that, nor should anybody.

Isaac Hunter was my pastor before he was my brother, and in that role, he helped transform my faith. He communicated Christ’s love in a way I had never experienced. Isaac preached the love, peace, and hope found in Christ. In an age when Christianity is understandably viewed as unappealing, my Reverend Brother presented the beauty and the poetry and the acceptance that is inherent in the gospel. Yet what he chose in his own life left much to reconcile with the idea of grace—a topic he spoke on with great passion and frequency. The crisis of faith, the confusion, and the discouragement that has come with this loss has been completely overwhelming at times.

If you are still reeling from this great loss, what will you choose? Please never feel like you are unworthy of being greatly affected by Isaac’s death simply because you feel you knew him little. The role of a pastor in our lives is profound and personal. His significance in your life should not be disregarded. Do you feel like others are moving on and you are still grieving? That is normal. You are normal. I feel that way also. It feels unfair, for we did not choose for this to be a part of our story. But we must make our own choice now, considering the content of this unexpected chapter, which has been crudely shoved into the middle of our lovely little conflict-free novella. What are we going to do?

I am inspired by Oswald Chambers’ statement in My Utmost for His Highest, “If you will receive yourself into the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.” But we must receive ourselves. It will be painful to start and the process may be lengthy. Unfortunately there is no quick fix when it comes to grief. We are forced to go through the awful process. Perhaps it is time to take the first brave step into a counselor’s office. Perhaps you will join a grief group. Does your church have one? If not, you may be the catalyst for bringing a much-needed resource into your community. Are you thinking, “All those things seem great for other people?” If so, you have just completely my one-item assessment that reveals that you need them the most.

This blog may be, at best, personal catharsis, but I hope it encourages someone. I hope someone feels less lonely or more brave because of it. We are preparing to celebrate the hope that came down heal this world. It is a beautiful story of redemption. I am hoping to one day look back and see that story echoed in our family. That chapter has yet to be written so I will continue on through this one, page by page, all the while praying for healing for our family and all those affected by this loss.

Peace and love,
Lizzy


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fearless

A few nights ago, I woke to the sound of our three-year-old son, hysterically crying in his upstairs bedroom. Between Luke’s sobs, I heard a shrill sound, clearly the cause of his upset. The battery had died in the smoke detector outside of his bedroom. When a smoke detector needs a new battery, it produces an unbearably loud, high-pitched chirp, incapable of occurring outside the hours of 2am and 5am. It is also the most common cause of PTSD in canines (made up fact).                                                                          

The sound had terrified Luke but due to an ill-timed, pre-bedtime lecture about refraining from calling us unless he needed to go to the bathroom, he was trying his best to muscle through the terror without waking us. The lecture was the result of a several-night stretch, during which he had woken us multiple times in the night to adjust his blanket, which was not smoothed to his liking. We now know to qualify that particular talk with exceptions such as: dead battery in smoke detector, actual fire, extreme thirst, poltergiest. Three-year-olds don’t naturally think of those exceptions on their own. While the smoke detector sounded its final, dying whimpers, Luke, with tears still drying on his cheeks, and his hands still covering his ears, boasted that he had followed the rules and hadn’t called us even though his blanket had fallen completely off the bed. I told him how proud I was of him and kept my extreme guilt to myself.

As I sat, rocking him in my arms, I immediately felt him relax. He felt safe again. He asked me to lie down next to him, and although his bed does not easily accommodate a human over three feet in length, I obliged. As he fell asleep, I mused at the notion that this little boy felt protected, simply because I was next to him. It may have much to do with my huge muscles and my ability to reach the smoke detector (while standing on various pieces of furniture simultaneously) but I suspect, and hope, a portion of it has to do with his confidence in the love we bear him. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” I John 4:18.      

Today is a significant day in our family. It marks three years since our niece Ava moved on from this place to a better one. And as she marched toward that new life, she marched fearlessly. Ava was fearless, not simply because she was brave, but because she was loved. Lisa, Josh, and Noah couldn’t have loved her more and couldn’t have loved her better. And through that love, Ava was impeccably armored.     

God didn’t just give Ava courage, he gave her family. As I continue to violate fire codes in my home, and assume the fetal position to fit into a tiny Luke bed, I’ll be inspired by Ava’s mom, dad, and brother. My love isn’t perfect. I hope the day Luke realizes that, he’ll grant me grace. But for now, I’ll revel in my pretend-hero status.

Illustration of Ava by Katie Kelly

Thursday, April 11, 2013

TEP 2013


I am one of the least consistent bloggers in the whole world of blogging. While I realize no one is losing sleep over my lack of updates on our son's growth and the goings-on of our daily life, I thought I would at least link to some recent blogs I posted on Hunter Vision's site. One of the most fun things I get to do in life is direct THE EYEGLASS PROJECT. Here is the link to a few updates on that mission endeavor:



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Goodness



My life has been most impacted by two boys, both named Luke. Many know our son Luke, the child who flung me into adulthood the moment he entered the world. But few know of my brother, the one for whom our son is named. He has been at the forefront of my thoughts these past few days. He graced my life only briefly but has been impacting it ever since his move from this life to the next. 
At nine years old, my parents had already surrounded me with three brothers. I knew I’d likely spend all of my days outnumbered. When I learned my mom was pregnant again, I saw an opportunity to at least improve my odds. I spent nine months with my fingers crossed, and on February 28th, 1992 the baby decided it was time to come into this world. In addition, he decided to be a he. Another brother. I knew then that finger-crossing was a crock. I was disappointed for only a moment before I quickly decided he’d probably still be pretty cute and that I would likely love him as much as I would a sister.
His birth had been a flurry of hospital activity. From the moment he arrived, it was evident that he wasn’t well. After much testing, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness called Trisomy 13. He had three chromosomes on his 13th pair which would result in a very short life. 
My parents named him Jonathan Luke but told us we would call him Luke. He was sweet and tiny. I knew his time with us would be short so I tried to soak up every moment I could with him. I remember, as a child, thinking he knew that he wasn’t going to be here long. He may have only been a baby but he came into this world with purpose. His life was brief yet profound and the ripples of that little life continue to this day.
When his time came, he had been with us just over four months. His health had rapidly declined over the few weeks prior.  One morning, I happened to wake up much earlier than anyone else in my family, an anomaly for me. I decided to get up and go sit with my tiny brother. Some family friends had spent the night with him so my parents could get some much needed rest. Once I was up, they asked if I would mind sitting with him until my parents woke. They walked out the door and God decided it was time.
Sitting beside him that morning, I looked down and talked to him for a couple minutes. He looked up, bright-eyed and peaceful, at me. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back, it had happened. He was gone. Frantic, I scooped him up and rushed him to my mom. I knew the truth but refused to believe until she confirmed the reality of it. 
Twenty years later, our son is his namesake. He was named in honor of God's redemption. My brother’s life changed my family. Before he came into this world, my family was on the precipice of breaking into a million pieces. After that little boy joined us, there was more peace in the house than there had been in years. In the place of conflict stood love, not only for that baby, but for each other. We were unified through caring for him and for each other durning that time.
When he left, we were sadder than we ever knew was possible. We were sad but we were changed. As a child, the situation was black and white. I wish I maintained more of that perspective as an adult. Luke was sick. God could make him well but he might not. Then, he became extremely ill and God swept him up, out of that broken body, to be with Him. It was sad but it was simple.
On paper, the story of my brother is nothing but tragedy and trauma. Where is God when a baby, born ill, dies in the arms of a little girl? It sounds awful, even reading it myself. But when I think about my brother’s life and passing, I see only goodness. I see his passing as the beginning of a story, not the end. 
God alone knew what I would face in my lifetime. He knew how best to care for my family and He knew how best to prepare me for things to come. He knew better than I ever would. And, he knew our separation from that baby boy would be only temporary.
During the past few years, through encounters with tragedy and with hurt, and there have been many, I have thought of the gift God gave me in a baby brother named Luke. The gift he gave in allowing me to see what goodness is possible in the wake of misery. I make no secret that  anger and sadness abound. In fact, they are often overwhelming. But the hurt is the beginning of a story, not the end. The hurt can be replaced with healing.
In the most heart breaking moments, the moments during which even the most steadfast and resolved might ask, “How can I believe in a God that would allow this?” I know, if I really search, if I allow the story to fully unfold, I will see that this in only the very beginning and goodness will follow. For in the end there is only goodness. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Remembering


Two years ago today, our sweet niece Ava began her life in heaven. As I sit here now, remembering that little, blue-eyed girl, I feel I would be remiss in not reflecting on that one little life that changed so many of our own.

On a day like today, it’s difficult not to picture where we were at every moment on this day, two years ago. But remembering that one sad day is not remembering Ava. Ava was a warrior. She loved Jesus, her family, and Steve Urkel. She was tender-hearted, imaginative, and fearless. 

When I think of Ava, I think of a life, well-lived. I think of how she marked this world by showing us a glimpse of the other side. A glimpse of what we’re striving towards. She ran her race with the courage of a hundred men, during which, she poured into thousands the message of the One who loves her best—the One who loves us all best.

This morning I sat down with Luke and showed him pictures of his big cousin. I always want him to know her. I told him how funny she was and how she wasn’t scared of anything. Not even the dark (we’re working on that with him). I reminded him how much she loved him and of how she gets to live with Jesus now. 

When I think of Ava, I think of how God used her to reach many. He poured his love out though this little one in ways that we have only begun to know. I hope that on this day, we will all remember what we are running towards, what Ava ran towards. 

Now our little warrior feasts with the King. One day we will be there too. But until that day, I want to allow her life to be an inspiration, as I run my own race, remembering the gift that God gave us in a little, blue-eyed girl who loved Him so very well.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Blog to Pass the Time



I think about blogging lots and do it little. I actually can’t remember where I left off. I know it was after Luke was born but before….I turned 30?

I am 30 now and I have to say, this more mature age throws everything into a new perspective. For one, people call me ma’am a lot. A 25-year-old called me ma’am just the other day and I was so mad I spit. I didn’t really . We were on a plane and I didn’t want to risk being put on a no-fly list. Also, I was likely too distracted by my own terror induced crying. Our flight was very turbulent and those of you who know me know that I am a huge and old baby on planes. Actually, that no-fly list doesn’t sound half bad. Deborah was the cause of said turbulence (the tropical depression, not my cousin for those of you who know I have a cousin named Deborah). As you can see by my Deb reference, I began this blog about a month ago and am just now finishing it. Another testament to my blogging inconsistency. 

Luke is two and a half, give or take a few months. He is my favorite part of every day. He is talking up a storm. He says a lot of inappropriate things that I won’t type here. No profanity, just things that I’d prefer he not say in public. Okay, I can see you’re curious. I’ll throw a bone… 

“No touch Mom’s wiener.”  

That’s sort of his catch phrase. I don’t know why he would think I have a wiener, either culinarily or anatomically, but he feels emphatically that it should not be touched.

Another Luke phrase that is simply adorable is when he says, “Dad earn nickels,” whenever Joel is working. I should clarify--it was cute at first but then I discovered he didn’t know that there is a difference between nickels and nipples. I tried to show him some nickels to explain that we were talking about currency, not anatomy, but he just grabbed them, held them over his nipples and said with confidence, “Nickels.” I then gave up. 

In other news, we moved downtown a couple of weeks ago and it is terrific. We have lots of friends near by and almost everything is in walking distance, including the downtown library which is quite a bastion of literature and learning/the place where a homeless man spit on me once when I was 12. He was very crazy. To this day I will not enter that resources section.

I’m sure after reading the above, you are relieved that I rarely blog and, more-so, that reading my blog is entirely optional. Until we meet again in 8-12 months, give or take, enjoy your day/London Olympics/2012 election/Christmas/Birthday/next summer…

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Eyeglass Project

In a world where we have access to all kinds of luxuries, it is hard to imaging living life without access to something as simple as sight. If we can’t see the newspaper, we buy a pair of readers. If our world is blurry, we get a new glasses prescription.

The large majority us have some sort of refractive error that requires a simple pair of glasses to enable us to see clearly. The same is true all over the world. The difference for people that are less fortunate is that many have no access to a pair of glasses.

So there are people walking around legally blind, that require no heroic intervention to give them sight, other than a simple pair of glasses. It seems like a pretty wonderful opportunity to change people’s lives!

We started a charity called The Eyeglass Project. I know it seems ironic, a LASIK practice working to get people in glasses. 3D LASIK is amazing. I personally am a big fan of it. It provides an end to the inconvenience of glasses. But then what’s left? A pile of glasses that have lost their purpose.

Hunter Vision is partnering with TIME Ministries to bring those used eyeglasses (and any others we can get) to those who need them. We will be collecting eyeglasses beginning December 10th and will have drop boxes at two locations, Hunter Vision (located in the RDV Sportsplex), and Northland, A Church Distributed.

In 2012, a team from Hunter Vision will take used eyeglasses donations to the Dominican Republic to bring clear vision to those who don’t have access to it. But we can’t do it without your help. The donation of your used eyeglasses, something so seemingly simple, could give sight to the blind.

What do you think of being a part of this? How about telling your friends too? It doesn’t require money, just a pair of glasses that you don’t use anymore. At each of our drop locations, we will have tags for your glasses that give you the option of sharing your information with us. The purpose of getting your info is to let you see the difference that your glasses made. Our hope is to be able to send you a picture of a very happy person in glasses that were once your own. What fun!

Drop your donation in one of these at Hunter Vision or at Northland Church