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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.

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The Face of Bipolar and Anxiety: The Mixed Episode

I’ve seen so many times (usually on Facebook) about what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety. However, what I have yet to see is what it’s like to live with bipolar and anxiety. To truly understand what bipolar and anxiety combined look like, you’d best buckle up—this ride’s going to get a bit wild.

 

The phone rings. You’re deathly afraid of the phone because of your anxiety, and you don’t really speak to anyone on it aside from your mom and best friend. Even talking to your dad is weird and stilted. Grandparents? Nope. And, if you have a significant other, you’re only talking to them with ease if you’ve been together forever.

 

The caller left a voicemail. You knew it was another close friend, but you went from the immediate response of fear to justification of apathy. You didn’t really have to answer it. Not now.

 

You know you should listen to the voicemail; but the moment you do, that’s the moment it becomes real…and that’s the moment you feel obligated to call back.

 

So you put it off. Day after day.

 

Then you get a text. “Hey! We’re going dancing tomorrow night, just the regular group. Wanna come?”

 

You love to dance. And you know everyone in your small group quite well. You don’t want to miss out. And, besides, the last day or so, you’ve felt more upbeat. You didn’t sleep last night, but you know the anxiety won’t become a major issue for another little bit. Maybe a day or so. You can do this.

 

In fact, you’re feeling upbeat enough to pick up your cell and call the friend back. You excitedly say that you’ll go.

 

But then you don’t sleep that night either.

 

Mania has arrived…and with it? Agitation is setting in. And then the anxiety, even worse than normal.

 

It’s now the morning of the day you’re supposed to go dancing. But now, it’s not sounding like such a great idea. You’re not upbeat anymore: you’re just wide awake, though deathly tired and down, and the anxiety is worse than the day that friend called.

 

Welcome to a mixed episode. You’re not just manic anymore. Oh, yes, you’re still manic, but not the on-top-of-the-world manic you were before. Now you’re just beyond wide awake and vibrating inside, but you don’t want to go anymore. You’re too down…and did I mention anxious about how it would go? What if you get into an accident on the way? What if you have a horrible time? What if…

 

And the questions go on.

 

This is where you decide whether to back out. Sometimes you don’t go; sometimes you do.

 

This time, you ignore what you’re feeling and suck it up. You go.

 

The ride is truly ok.

 

No, better than ok. You’re with that friend that called, and you’re having a great time. You do better in person with this friend than over the phone. At least for now.

 

But then you get there.

 

This particular gathering is lesson-based, and the lessons take place before the open dance. Everyone wants to participate—even you!—but the idea of dancing with different people scares you to death. Especially since you don’t actually know any of them.

 

Your mania-induced anxiety is rising.

 

Your friends convince you that you can do it, though, so you do. You’re sweaty from the anxiety before you even start, hoping that your partner pays attention to the instructors, rather than trying to talk to you. Why? Because your mania-induced anxiety is even worse than your normal anxiety; and your everyday, normal anxiety makes you lock up when talking to strangers. Small talk? Not your thing. And you don’t have a friend to talk to or a phone with which to look busy to save you.

 

In the hour lesson, you have to talk to only a few people for a few minutes before you get to move on to your next partner.

 

Then, the open dance starts.

 

But you’re starting to crash. It’s eight o’clock, which is still early; except, you haven’t slept in two nights. You only have two guys in your group that you can dance with. Unfortunately, in your group, the ratio is 2:4. You don’t really mind, though. You don’t have to dance the whole time.

 

But then, those other three female friends convince you that you need to stand on the edge of the wooden dance floor to be able to get a partner. After all, one of the two in your group is preoccupied with someone specifically: that leaves one. One partner to four. Your best odds are that you’ll dance one in every four songs.

 

But even that’s ok: you’re starting to get tired. You’re crashing, remember?

 

What happens, though, you weren’t prepared for, though you should be. It happens every time. One of your friends is taken by the available partner in your group. That leaves you and two friends standing on the sidelines. You can’t hear them above the music because they talk too quietly, so conversation is impossible. You’re just standing there, feeling like you look dumb. Needy.

 

And then a stranger comes by, and takes off to the floor with one of your friends.

 

Now there are two of you.

 

Your anxiety is rising again. You’re edgy, still manic enough to want to snap, but you’re getting tired of standing there. It’s been two songs. Your friends aren’t back.

 

Then, the one friend you’re left standing with is whisked away. Now? It’s just you.

 

You stand there another minute with no one, acutely aware that you’re one of the taller friends, while most of the available partners are shorter, which makes them feel weird. Unfortunately, you’re not the thin taller friend.

 

You start to back up toward the table away from the edge of the floor. No one’s there: just everyone’s stuff. You stand next to it, wondering if maybe that’s still good enough to get a partner.

 

But no one comes over. You see the one partner in your group making his way through your friends, and even some strangers. You haven’t danced in the open dance yet…and you’ve been there a half hour.

 

So you sit down.

 

The number of thoughts running through your head is insane: I’m not good enough. I don’t dance well. I lumber. I’m fat. I’m too tall, I’m ugly. I wouldn’t know what to say, anyway.

 

Finally, the one partner available in your group comes up.

 

You get to dance now.

 

You try to dance without thinking too much about form, but while still thinking about it enough that you maintain it properly. This partner is a talker. Amazingly, he is one of the few you can talk to.

 

But that doesn’t make it any easier. You have anxiety, remember? Every time you say something, you internally question it. Was it stupid? Should I have said it?

 

Yeah, that was stupid.

 

So you laugh at the end of your sentence, but your laugh comes out weird. More of a grunt, because you know it wasn’t truly funny. You just didn’t get the reaction you thought you would from the person you’re dancing with.

 

After miraculously managing to get in a dance or two, you start lobbying to go home. You’re tired, not on top of the world anymore like you were when you first went manic this time, and your anxiety has such a strong grip that you’re still playing through your conversations from hours earlier.

 

Eventually, everyone agrees to leave. You’re in the car, about to cry because you feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself all evening. Those conversations you’re still playing through in your head don’t stop. In fact, they’re going to continue. For how long, you ask? A day. A week. A month. You may recall the conversation years later and still wonder, was what I said stupid? Did it sound stupid?

 

Your friend drops you off, and you make it into the house. You’re so tired that you don’t bother with a nightly routine. Your nightly routine is hit and miss anyway. You just put on some pajamas and climb into bed.

 

Welcome to the crash: depression has hit. You may be in bed for a day…or a week. I can’t tell you. No one can.

 

But this? This is the face of bipolar and anxiety.

 

This is me.

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He’s Not on the Cross

With Easter approaching, the Cross is heavy on the minds of many. But as it’s been pointed out time and again in the church I attend, we really ought to focus more on the empty Grave. Christ is not on the Cross, and He’s not in the Grave. He’s risen and ascended, and that is where we can find our power—or rather, God’s power to live the lives He has for us.

 

I’ve been trying to rest in this power lately. My husband and I have been struggling with infertility since the beginning of “us.” On top of that, I have Bipolar II, along with a double dose of anxiety disorders (and a myriad of other issues that can be passed on). I often wonder if I’m barren because of my health issues. God has yet to see fit to bless us with a child. You see, I am a mom—I have a beautiful step-daughter, whom I never feel the need to use the phrase “step-” for—but we’ve not been blessed with our own child.

 

Knowing I’m infertile has its own struggles and grief. I never realized you could mourn a child that never was and never will be—a child of imagination. At best, the grief that accompanies knowing you will never bring life into this world is hard to deal with. At worst, it feels impossible. In a late-night fit of anxiety, I turned to my laptop before I began to write this to look up verses on anxiety and uncertainty of the future.

 

And I am glad I did.

 

There are so many promises in the Bible—promises that are possible because Jesus isn’t on that Cross anymore, and He isn’t in that Grave. Promises of a Heavenly Hope—one that is far different from earthly hope.

 

I’ve always believed earthly hope to be paralyzing. We spend time hoping for things that may never come to pass, and our hope often turns into worrying about things over which we have no control. We often get stuck, unable to move because we want something so desperately it infiltrates every area of our lives, immobilizing us.

 

But our God is a great God, and He is a God Who keeps His Word—that is, His promises. (Which are found in His Word—capital W. And I don’t see the meaning of that phrase and the use of the capital letter to be coincidental. God works out even the smallest of details. And if He can do that, how much more can He work out the bigger details in my life and the lives of others?)

 

Here are just a few verses that really stood out to me tonight, as I grasped for a shred of anything that can give me Godly, Heavenly, Eternal Hope:

 

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”

–Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

 

 

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

–Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

 

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

 

“For I am the Lord your God, Who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”

–Isaiah 41:13 (NASB)

 

Did these verses magically melt all my trepidation and anxiety? No, they didn’t, but they helped immensely. I pray that they’ll help you, too. God does have a plan (Jeremiah 29:11), and He will bring it to pass.

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Think on These Things

When depression’s ice

Freezes my life

And stops me in my tracks,

 

Or when feelings of inadequacy

Hit me like the felling of a tree

And I want to turn back,

 

I think of…

 

An expanse of sea—

His creative majesty—

Sprawling before me.

 

Something Lovely.

 

A child of innocence,

Meaning no impertinence,

Simply telling the truths of his experience.

 

Something Honest.

 

A gavel downward crashing,

As a judge, through mental thrashing,

Gives the sentence he can’t escape passing.

 

Something Just.

 

A bride deserving of her white,

Ready to make a life

In a new chapter as her husband’s wife.

 

Something Pure.

 

The Hand of the Lord,

Ready with His Word,

For my use—a Sword.

 

Something True.

 

 

“Think on these things,”

Paul exhorts:

 

It may not STOP the

Depression,

Anxiety,

Inadequacy—

 

But a Biblical attitude

Of Godly gratitude

Makes it harder

To fill our earthly larder

With feelings that God did not intend:

Ones that only came about with a Serpent’s end

In mind, in heart—

Of which I want no part.

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They Tie Up Heavy Burdens

Rather than sit

In a pew, week after week,

I sit at home on a seat—

Far more comfortable, yes,

But with the same Book in my hands

That tells me His commands—

Not man-made, not man-upheld

Like a whited sepulcher,

Like untruths from a Hell

They’ve created.

 

I can sit in a pew

And listen to a man spew

Forth these lies

That in Your eyes

I’m less than,

Not Christian,

Because I suffer from depression.

 

“Oh wait, that’s not all?

“Anxiety, too?

“God doesn’t want anything to do with you.

“Or, if He does,

“First you must be clean—

“Repent of your ways, you sinner.”

 

But don’t you see?

It’s an illness of the brain—

A refrain

I dance to week after week,

Day after day.

 

I can sit in a pew—

Would that make me friends with you?

I can listen to the clatter

Of the offertory platter

As it goes by

And its din gets louder and louder

In my head with each passing moment.

 

 

Yes, I can do those things, too,

Just like you—

But then, because of this struggle,

The words start to tumble

From your mouth to my ears:

 

Unclean

Unrighteous

Unrepentant

Unsaved

Sinner

 

But who’s to say

That you have the right way

Of judgment,

Of unacceptance,

Of unwillingness to understand.

 

If that’s your God,

You can keep Him—

For to my God,

I am His beloved child.

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The State of Numb

“Numb (adjective): unable to think, feel, or react normally because of something that shocks or upsets you”

 

The above is one of the definitions of numb, as stated in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and, although it makes complete sense, no one ever warned that a state of numbness would overcome me during the loss of a close loved one.

 

I had figured I’d cry relentlessly, whether sad tears or happy ones from sweet memories. I knew I’d feel as if a piece of me were missing. What I didn’t know is that I would get to a point at which I didn’t feel anything.

 

At first, I thought I was suddenly heartless, and there are times I still feel that way, although I’ve been told by multiple people that this is normal. No one had mentioned that a stage of the grieving process can be complete numbness. Not even peace—just nothing.

 

Navigating the waters of nothingness is difficult. When you feel nothing and keep praying for peace or even more tears that don’t come, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a monster for not feeling something. There’s a song out by Lady Antebellum that states, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all,” and how true that is! But when you don’t feel anything, you still need to live.

 

My life verses have been such a rescue in this time. For just about everything in life, I go back to Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (KJV). No matter how hard it may be, I must keep reminding myself that God doesn’t act like us humans: He doesn’t even think like us! It’s frightening in a sense but comforting because when I can’t see the road ahead, when I can’t even see the next step, He’s there and already has it figured out in His way and timing—which is nothing like mine.

I’m still walking through this uncharted land in which nothing makes sense because I’ve never lost someone this close to me. What makes it more difficult is the fact that, at the time of writing this, the person has yet to go home and see our Father’s face. I’ve been watching this person actively pass for a week now, in a mostly comatose state, and numbness was the last thing I thought I’d feel.

As I continue on my way, I’m learning. I’m learning (again and again) that God is faithful, that He doesn’t leave us or forsake us, that He is love, that His grace is sweet and sufficient, that His mercies are new every morning. I cling to Him as my rock because He does know what He’s doing and simply wants me to be still as He does His work.