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Tearing Off the Mask

“Oh, I’m doing great!”

“Things have been wonderful.”

“Oh yeah, things are awesome on my end, too!” *insert fake smile*

 

Have you ever caught yourself using one of those statements? I have—many times. When someone asks how you are, you automatically know that they don’t want to know the reality. They just want a quick, “Great! And you?” Thus, we shy away from telling the truth, from saying, “Ya know what, actually, things have been tough. I could really use some prayer.”

 

Instead, we put on a mask—maybe it’s a smiling mask; maybe it’s a mask that looks tired but has the determination to keep going, even if you run out of steam. We often have quite a time admitting that we’re struggling, especially when we’re not sure if the person we’re speaking to believes in mental illness or understands the extent of our physical illness(es) or grief.

 

Are you bearing your load alone? Of course, as many will say first, it’s important to note that the Psalmist said God carries our burdens for us (Psalm 68:19) and that Jesus said His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). However, it’s important to realize that we need people and community around us. We need support systems. We need to be real and vulnerable with other humans, which, yes, means tearing off that mask that we very well may wear 24/7. And when we tear off those masks? Inevitably, some of our own skin is going to come off. It’s not a question of if it will be painful to be real with people, but rather a question of how much it will hurt. As the skin comes off with the masks and we begin to unburden our very hearts to another human, parts of our heart will leave, as well. This is often the hardest part.

 

We armor our hearts–in truth, the very essence of our beings–sometimes so well that when we begin to chip away at walls and pull apart armor and reveal even a bit of what lies within, we, in fact, have to give up pieces of ourselves. We can no longer protect those pieces—they’re in the hands of the people we’ve befriended or been befriended by, the people we’ve decided to trust with the innermost of our beings.

 

In all honesty, as well as an amazing friendship displays such acts, there is truly no greater relationship than that of marriage to show how this plays out. And since marriage is a picture of Christ and His church, you don’t need to actually be married to understand. Simply being one of God’s children allows you to see this relationship, though, admittedly, it’s more imperfect when there are two humans involved, as opposed to one human and one God.

 

However, for the sake of illustration, I will use marriage between a husband and wife—it just doesn’t get more real that that! It’s the end of a long day. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home mom, and the kids have been getting under your skin all day. No doubt, they’ve seen you without your mask, because you’ve probably snapped at one—or all—of them, at some point. And then your husband comes home. He, too, has been wearing a mask all day at work, but he drops it the moment he comes in. You can see the level of fatigue in his eyes as he takes in the laundry that’s still piled up and the number of dishes in the sink. “What have you done today?” he asks.

 

It very well may be a perfectly innocent question, meant simply to inquire, but you take it personally. I kept the kids alive! you may want to scream. Oh, and I did wash the counter…once. Your mask may come off, and you may say just that. You may refrain. It changes daily.

 

Or maybe you’re in my shoes: homemaker due to being disabled; struggling with infertility; lying, depressed, on the couch, near daily. You feel like a failure—a broken wife and human. Your husband comes home from work to see the same pile of laundry and dishes you’d have if you had three kids, but it’s just you, save the weekends your stepdaughter is with you both (and you feel that you have life)…and he asks the same thing. Maybe you didn’t keep the kids alive, but you kept yourself alive. And you want to scream that, but you’re too tired.

 

Either way, both your masks will come off. Sometimes, that results in fights; but, if we’re more intentional about removing the masks and the armor and the walls, we can have beautiful fellowship with our spouses. We can cry or rejoice…or both! We can be real. We don’t have to pretend that it was a great day. We can tell the truth. We can be raw. And we should be.

 

May we, if married, practice this within our unions. If you, dear reader, are not married, find a good friend with whom you can be yourself—vulnerabilities and all. Tear off those masks and tear down those walls. And when the pain comes with it, welcome it and shed those inevitable, but cleansing, tears.

 

 

Alyssa is an author trying to break into the field, but willing to go where God wants her to with her writing. She writes Young Adult Christian novels in an effort to bring the truth back into the lives of young people in which it is often so severely lacking.

She has overcome 13 brain surgeries, 4 spinal cord surgeries, and countless others since 2009 alone, and battles two organic brain issues, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Bipolar II, two different anxiety disorders, and more mental illnesses. Her goal is to reach others with the Gospel and what God’s taught her through her ailments.

Alyssa lives in Central Florida with her husband, part-time daughter (a blessing that came with marriage!), and three fur babies.

Check out Alyssa’s blog: http://teacupsandpaperroses.wordpress.com/

And check out her author Facebook page: http://facebook.com/teacupsandpaperroses

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Where’s Your Worth?

I look back at 17-year-old me, 18-year-old me, 19-year-old me…and my heart hurts. My heart hurts because, in my eyes, my worth was directly related to whether I had a man in my life, specifically one that I was going to marry (preferably by the time I was 20).

 

I went to college (possibly the absolute strictest Christian college at the time) at the young age of 17. I went as a summer worker, to put money toward the school year; I was there for Elementary Education and Speech. But in reality? I was there for what many jokingly called an M.R.S. That was my main goal, though I’d never say.

 

I met a man over seven and a half years my senior and was quickly smitten. He treated me well, and I fell hard and fast—my track record was filled with zero boyfriends and way too many romance novels.

 

I feel bad for that 17-year-old because I felt that I needed a man to complete me.

 

But 18-year-old me is for whom I truly shed tears. The man I was dating soon alienated my friends and even my family. He forced me to stop using the phone my parents had sent me to keep in touch and put me on his phone plan. He set up an email for us to use jointly (all while setting up his private one behind my back). He forced me, with threats of violence and getting me kicked out of school, to become a staff member at the college, as opposed to a full-time student. At that point, I was placed in a staff apartment, in which he was allowed. (Boys had not been allowed in girls’ dorms as students.)

 

After that, the emotional and mental abuse became physical and lightly sexual. But I was stuck. I felt stuck, because this man would go so far as to threaten my life, but some strange part of me still wanted to marry him. Not because of who he was but because he was male, and certainly, after I married, all would be well. After all, that’s all I’d ever wanted—to be married. That would solve everything, right? We’d have children, and they’d be my whole world…and everything would turn out all right in the end, because he wouldn’t matter all that much in the big scheme of things.

 

But then I turned 19, and things continued downhill. I wound up, five months after my 19th birthday, having my first brain surgery. It was a hellish seven weeks of four brain surgeries, a gall bladder removal, meningitis, sepsis, and more. Thank God (truly) that my mother spent the seven weeks with me. She dealt quite well with my first boyfriend (then fiancé), even though she, at the time, didn’t know the extent of the abuse.

 

That whole episode sent me home to central Florida, where I was able to break up with quite possibly the most toxic person I have ever met.

 

There are nights I still weep for that young girl who thought her existence hinged on a man.

 

All that said, ladies, I am absolutely behind your hinging your worth on a man…but be sure it’s the right Man—the Man Who shed His blood and died on a cross 2,000 years ago for your sins, was buried, and rose three days later. Hinge your worth on that Man—the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Replacing Pessimism with Praise

My anxiety disorders and, especially, my bipolar tend to turn my attitude towards one of skepticism and pessimism. I find it truly difficult to be thankful and positive. I’m much better at complaining and seeing the worst in absolutely everything.

 

But something hit me today: if I spend more time giving praise and thanks, there’s not much room for that horrible skepticism and pessimism that infiltrates every aspect of my life.

 

How did it come to me? I honestly believe God put it on my heart through the Holy Spirit.

 

I had put in laundry to wash and emptied the dryer. Of course, the constant pull of, “I don’t have to fold this now,” was there, as always. But I forced myself, because it needed to be done.

So I sat on the couch and began to fold. About three pieces in, I realized something was missing. My normal, absolute favorite, radio station wasn’t playing. I usually play country music throughout the apartment as I do housework. It simply makes me happy. But as I folded two more pieces of laundry, I felt a pull to pray. I battled for a moment: do I pray, or do I play my feel-good music?! It only took another piece of laundry to realize I was feeling a sort of pressure to pray because I needed to.

 

So, I did.

 

I started with requests to God. But as I was requesting, throwing out my family’s and my desires and plans and needs, I kept thinking of the “ACTS” method of prayer—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Although all important, as I paused, thinking of the fact that I needed to do more than just pour out my personal desires, I realized that I truly needed to spend some time in thanksgiving.

 

Thus, I began with what I was doing: laundry. I thanked God that we have a washer and dryer in our apartment, that we don’t have to use a laundromat or a community washer, both of which cost money. I thanked Him that our complex pays for our water. I praised Him for giving us clothes and the dressers and closets to put them in.

 

And I kept finding things for which to thank God as I folded laundry for a good half hour. I’m pretty sure I went through almost every seemingly insignificant thing in our home, but I was focusing on giving thanks instead of focusing on all that’s wrong, all that isn’t going correctly.

 

And, to be honest? It totally shifted my perspective…at least for this afternoon and evening. I’m sure tomorrow will be another fight, but I’m determined, in this new year and new decade, to give thanks every time I’m tempted to be skeptical or pessimistic. Thankfulness absolutely must win out!

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Christmas without You

This Christmas you weren’t,

In person, with us here;

But we felt you in lessons learnt,

In hard-to-find Christmas cheer.

 

We felt your everlasting presence

In the decorations that you loved

And as we opened up the presents

From family remembering you above.

 

The tears we cried

Were cleansing, in a sense,

But with the year gone by,

We realized how much you’ve missed.

 

But you spent your Christmas in Heav’n,

Praising at the feet of Christ.

We may have spent it crumbling,

But we thought of your advice:

 

“Please don’t miss me when I go;

Remember me the way I was.

You gave me flowers here below—

Of a brighter life you were the cause.”

 

We tried to carry on this year—

In fact, we must’ve done all right.

We won’t pretend we didn’t shed a tear,

But remembering you brought us Christmas light.

 

Alyssa is an author trying to break into the field, but willing to go where God wants her to with her writing. She writes Young Adult Christian novels in an effort to bring the truth back into the lives of young people in which it is often so severely lacking.

She has overcome 13 brain surgeries, 4 spinal cord surgeries, and countless others since 2009 alone, and battles two organic brain issues, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Bipolar II, two different anxiety disorders, and more mental illnesses. Her goal is to reach others with the Gospel and what God’s taught her through her ailments.

Alyssa lives in Central Florida with her husband, part-time daughter (a blessing that came with marriage!), and three fur babies.

Check out Alyssa’s blog: http://teacupsandpaperroses.wordpress.com/

And check out her author Facebook page: http://facebook.com/teacupsandpaperroses

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The Day You Stop Fighting

“The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

Those words have been in my mind for years now—sometimes bounding their way around in an endless, repetitious reminder; other times, sluggishly processing, reminding me that, no matter what, I cannot stop fighting.

 

“The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

Those words are a direct quote from my father. My bipolar and anxiety disorders come from my mother, and I heard my dad repeat these words for years.

 

And then I was diagnosed in my early twenties. Four brain surgeries seemed to be the trigger. At first, I refused to admit there was anything wrong. I so desperately didn’t want to be like the mother I’d grown up with. Not because my mom isn’t fantastic, but because my young adult brain recalled all the bad times—all the broken promises of  trips and outings because my mom would get depressed, all the times we left a venue because my mom’s anxiety couldn’t take it, all the times my grandmother had to take us because my mom was too overwhelmed.

 

And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any of it.

 

But I knew.

 

I finally made it to a psychiatrist. I was finally diagnosed: Bipolar II, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and more. I finally allowed myself to be put on medication.

 

And then began the tiring process of finding the right medicinal cocktail, seeing my psychiatrist every few weeks, having therapy recommended. And realizing that I wasn’t going to be just like my mother…in fact, my psychiatrist informed us all that I was far worse off.

 

And those words my dad had used many times when discussing with me one of my mother’s episodes came back: “The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

“But I’m so tired, Daddy. I’m tired of feeling this way, of always being way up or way down, never having a normal.”

 

“The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

“But, Daddy, I hate being this depressed. What if my husband leaves because I can’t even be a good housewife? I don’t know how I’m supposed to get off that couch and do anything.”

 

“The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

“But, Daddy, I don’t want to kill myself, but some days I wish God would just do it for me.”

 

“The day you stop fighting is the day you lose.”

 

Of course, my dad said more than that, but that was a phrase he never left out.

 

Some days? You won’t be able to do it. The depression will suck you so far down that you can’t even think, let alone move and complete tasks.

 

But most days? Most days, you can fight it, even if just a little bit. Even if you just load the dishwasher. Even if you just brush your teeth and put on deodorant. Even if you just get dressed. Even if…

 

Because the day you stop fighting is the day you lose.

 

 

Alyssa is an author trying to break into the field, but willing to go where God wants her to with her writing. She writes Young Adult Christian novels in an effort to bring the truth back into the lives of young people in which it is often so severely lacking.

She has overcome 13 brain surgeries, 4 spinal cord surgeries, and countless others since 2009 alone, and battles two organic brain issues, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Bipolar II, two different anxiety disorders, and more mental illnesses. Her goal is to reach others with the Gospel and what God’s taught her through her ailments.

Alyssa lives in Central Florida with her husband, part-time daughter (a blessing that came with marriage!), and three fur babies.

Check out Alyssa’s blog: http://teacupsandpaperroses.wordpress.com/

And check out her author Facebook page: http://facebook.com/teacupsandpaperroses

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Understanding the Infertility Struggle

I spent some time focusing on my fertility issues and the loss of identity of ever being a biological mom in “He’s Not on the Cross” and was, today, thinking about those very topics again. At my age, it makes sense that my Facebook newsfeed sees a myriad of creative pregnancy and birth announcements, and it causes me think back to when I saw all the engagement and wedding announcements while I remained single. But this is somehow…worse.

 

As most of you know, the majority of people, even extremely good friends, will call you (or text you) with a pregnancy announcement and expect excitement. I mean, why shouldn’t they? They are excited, rightly so, and, as their friend, you ought to be, as well. Plus, a baby on the way is an exciting thing, in general! And you are excited, but…

 

“I know you’re happy for me, but I want to be sensitive to your feelings. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through, especially every time you hear about someone’s new pregnancy. So while I’m happy you’re excited for me, I don’t ever want you to think that I don’t care about you or what you’re going through. Are you ok?”

 

Those words—you long to hear them.

 

What’s amazing to me is that I have heard them. I have one friend who, with all three of her pregnancies, has been amazing regarding my feelings, which makes it much easier to be genuinely happy for her.

 

It’s not that I wouldn’t be happy anyway: this is my best friend we’re talking about! But the fact that she recognizes that I’m not always going to be super cheery about someone’s pregnancy because it hurts to think about it is amazing to me. That she takes the time to think about how I’m feeling, even though she’s obviously extremely excited, will never cease to amaze me.

 

 

Alyssa is an author trying to break into the field, but willing to go where God wants her to with her writing. She writes Young Adult Christian novels in an effort to bring the truth back into the lives of young people in which it is often so severely lacking.

She has overcome 13 brain surgeries, 4 spinal cord surgeries, and countless others since 2009 alone, and battles two organic brain issues, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Bipolar II, two different anxiety disorders, and more mental illnesses. Her goal is to reach others with the Gospel and what God’s taught her through her ailments.

Alyssa lives in Central Florida with her husband, part-time daughter (a blessing that came with marriage!), and three fur babies.

Check out Alyssa’s blog: http://teacupsandpaperroses.wordpress.com/

And check out her author Facebook page: http://facebook.com/teacupsandpaperroses

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An Open Letter to the Un-churched Husband

Dear Husband,

 

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this. I certainly don’t want to make you angry, but there is something I need you to know: I need you to be in church.

 

And not just you—I need to be in church with you, and our little one with us.

 

I know that fishing is an alluring activity (no pun intended, honestly), but on a Sunday morning? If we’re up that early anyway, why can we not be in the Lord’s house?

 

You see, dear husband, I grieve over the fact that you’re not in church, making it harder to get myself and our sweet, newly born-again child in church.

 

I pray you become the leader I know you can be. The man of God, after His own heart, that I know you can be. The born-again, living-the-life and not just talking-the-talk believer I know you can be.

 

But none of this is possible without our Lord and Savior.

 

My dearest husband, I don’t and won’t pretend to know whether you truly know Christ as your personal Savior or not. I simply pray that, either way, God will grab a hold of your heart—that fishing for men will become more important to you than fishing for mere literal fish, that God’s game plan for your life will become more important to you than the game plan your favorite football team has laid out, that you’ll get back in the Lord’s house and graft your branch into His Vine. Because He’s waiting. He’s there.

 

And so am I.

 

With all the love in my heart,

Your Wife

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Finding God in the Hospital

It was not long ago that I was hospitalized for a week for ongoing neurological issues that I deal with. The week started out bleak and anxiety-ridden, as I lay in a bed with my mom in the chair next to me, waiting for an MRI, waiting for answers we never even got.

 

I soon noticed my mom had her devotional with her and that she was reading it frequently. I desperately wanted her to read to me, but I was too…something…to ask. Proud, perhaps? Fearful? Annoyed at the imaging staff who weren’t getting me in for my MRI soon enough?

 

But finally, after a couple days, I brought myself to ask. And read, she did. Those devotionals pierced straight to my heart. I’d been praying for revival for years, but those devotionals made me realize that, no matter what I felt (apathetic; fearful; annoyed; even grieved over my current state, though not enough to do anything), I had to do what God was moving me to do—spend time in prayer and in the Word. They made me realize that my feelings are so very deceitful. Just look at some of what God says:

 

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

–Proverbs 28:26 (ESV)

 

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.”

–Proverbs 14:12-13 (ESV)

 

And hearing those things, having God reveal those thoughts through the devotionals and Scriptures I had memorized, moved my heart to repentance and renewed devotion to our Lord. I’m now in a full-blown personal revival, and the grief that accompanies being outside the Lord, outside His will, outside His Vine, trying to produce my own spiritual fruit without Him, is melting away. The fruit I produce will be His—for this my soul cries. I will remain in the Vine—with His help. And I will remain in Him—with His grace and mercy. Hallelujah to the Lord that loves us enough to pull us from our miry pits of grief and self-loathing into a new life with Him.

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When Missing Church Isn’t Okay

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel feverish and a bit nauseated. By Sunday morning, she was full-blown sick and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been ill. No one would question that.

 

Now let’s rewind. (Or, for those of you who don’t remember the VHS era, let’s go back to the Main Menu and choose the Start Over option.)

 

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel depressed and a bit anxious. By Sunday morning, she’d had several full-blown panic attacks and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been dealing with her depression and anxiety again. No one would question that.

 

Right?

 

No, unfortunately, almost everyone would question it.

 

So, Jocelyn talked herself out of going the next week before it even got close enough to worry about.

 

And she continued to talk herself out of going—it became a vicious cycle. She didn’t want to have to explain what she struggled with when she knew so many disagreed. And trying to simply say she had been sick wouldn’t work. First, she wasn’t sure it even counted as being sick. Second, everyone would ask, “Oh, did you have that nasty stomach bug that’s going around?!” But she knew she couldn’t say “yes” to that, because she hadn’t.

 

Now this story is entirely fictional, made up solely for the purpose of this article. However, Jocelyn’s story is far too familiar to many of us—on one side or the other. No one questions our missing church when we have an illness of the body. Why are we not afforded the same understanding when an it’s an illness of the mind? Rather, we are told, “You should make yourself come to church. You’d feel so much better!” Although these common phrases are not meant to hurt, they do. No one would tell someone who had the stomach bug and a fever to come to church because it would make them feel better.

 

Thus, it begs the question: Why do some feel the need to tell a friend who has had five panic attacks in a row that aren’t being helped by medication (medication that usually works, by the way) to show up to church to “feel better.” Is it because we’re to be “of a sound mind”? If that’s the reason, we need to re-examine the context of that verse.

 

But that’s for another article.

 

Those of us who struggle with mental illness have even come to believe some of these lies. Will church make us feel better? Sometimes. But sitting in service not being able to pay attention because of the anxiety and depression riddling your body probably isn’t helpful. The pastor sees a congregant who isn’t paying attention, and the struggling congregant isn’t getting anything out of the sermon.

 

So, I beg you, if your brother or sister is struggling with mental illness, don’t throw platitudes or advice born out of fear, misunderstanding, and/or stigmatization at them. Come alongside them—send them a card if you feel so inclined. Offer to make a meal. Do what you’d do for anyone missing service for a physical reason.

 

Mental illness is no easier to deal with than a physical illness, so, please, stop expecting those struggling mentally to make it to church every time the doors are open any more than you’d expect a physically ill person make it there.

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When Mother’s Day Changes

This Mother’s Day was just like any other: my husband and I took my mom and dad out to eat; our daughter spent the weekend with her biological mom and step-dad but still called me to wish me a “Happy Mother’s Day”; my husband got me something most people would laugh at as a gift but was something I not only loved but needed.

 

So yes, just like any other.

 

Except…

 

It wasn’t.

 

This was the first Mother’s Day that I didn’t need to find the perfect card for my grandmother, someone who was really more like a second mother and thus deserved a card befitting that. I didn’t need to scour the shelves, hoping to find a card that said “Mimi” instead of “Grandma” or “Nana.” If fact, I avoided the card aisles in every store. I couldn’t even bring myself to buy a card for my mom because it would’ve reminded me that Mimi didn’t need a card. Even if I had gotten my mom a card, she would’ve just cried, thinking about my grandmother.

 

This was the first Mother’s Day I didn’t grab that bouquet of pink roses right before checking out with a card, the first Mother’s Day I didn’t have to frantically try to remember if we or my parents had a vase for the flowers, the first Mother’s Day I didn’t buy a jumbo Hershey bar for my Mimi. The first Mother’s Day without her.

 

But this was also a Mother’s Day of firsts for her. I’m not positive on what my great-grandmother’s beliefs were, but if she was a believer, this was Mimi’s first Mother’s Day with her own mother in over fifty years. I know this was her first Mother’s Day with three of her children—her twins, Mary and Joseph, one of whom was stillborn while the other lived mere hours and another baby that no one knows the gender of…except my Mimi now. I also know that she is spending her first Mother’s Day with her one grandbaby that my mom miscarried—she’s spending a Mother’s Day with my sibling before my mom has even gotten that chance.

 

And it was Mimi’s first Mother’s Day spent in the literal presence of God.

 

So, with all that, how can I be sad? Don’t get me wrong: today was hard. All these firsts without her are going to continue to be rough—her birthday coming up, Thanksgiving, Christmas. But she is without pain; she is happy. I’m sure she knows we miss her, but she’s experiencing things we’ve only imagined at this point.

 

So, I prayed a small prayer, that God would wish her a Happy Mother’s Day for me. No, I don’t know how all that works, so I don’t know if that’s something God does—but I like to think it is.

 

If you have your mother here, or someone like a mother, don’t take her for granted. One day, you’ll be avoiding card aisles and crying because you don’t need to pick up the roses.