sisters.

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She was quiet. She was peace.

Words that had defined her most of her teenage years, but not the kind of quiet where there was nothing rumbling about in the mind. No, there were a million beautiful and tragic things all at once slamming together into a kaleidoscope of curiosity and restlessness. And beauty, extreme beauty.

I dressed her up as Joseph from the nativity scene to complement my self-cast, role of Mary too many years of advent in a row, I’m sure I watched her take her first steps through we are too close in age for me to remember, I taught her how to complete a Barbie’s wardrobe and which math teacher to have for Algebra II in high school, and to just forget about taking Anatomy & Physiology because it wasn’t worth it. We played varsity volleyball for one swell year together before I graduated, because she was that good. She let me boss her around, and convince her that her cutest dresses were actually mine she had just forgotten. I stole her eye shadow kit on more than one occasion. We guided each other to reconcile with friends and family members and to be thankful. We consoled each other on which boys were worth crying over and which ones weren’t; and we fought. Heavens, did we ever.

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We chose polar opposite prom dresses; mine was pink, hers was grey; I wore cowboy boots, she wanted Doc Martens; her music was soul-searching, warm, contented, melancholy lyrical pieces, and mine was let-you-hair-down, restless, wild country lyrics, with the windows truly down, even in the freezing temperatures, and rain on more than one especially stubborn occasion, on the way to high school in the mornings; my room was pink & orange, hers was dark red and brown; and our schools put us at a grave distance apart: mine in the rural southeast of Alabama and hers in the metropolitan capital of Illinois.

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All our life we fought these external differences. All our life I thought I was the one teaching her how to “grow-up,” and in some ways, how to not grow up, hoping and praying she would learn from my mistakes and rebellions.

And then the unimaginable happened and just when I thought I was sacrificing a portion of my life and my hopes and dreams I looked below me in the birth order of my family to see her bent low, just loving with everything she had in her young years. I felt myself really, truly looking up, because her reality and faith became something I held at the highest of standards, the paramount of sacrificial, unconditional love. It undoes me.

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I didn’t see a quiet girl anymore, overrun by two rambunctious older siblings; squabbling about shotgun in mom’s suburban or who would open Christmas presents first this year. I saw a servant, a girl who made herself low and humble and meek to give. Not just give and expect, but to GIVE IT ALL away. To give the greatest gift, time and her own two unwrinkled, young hands, to her fast-fading mother. I saw the only person whose tears could match my own. I watched her bounce along in the back of a minivan on a trip to the beach as my mom’s last wish, to fill the unnatural role of a child so desperately and delicately caring for a parent so young. When I grumbled, she came through with grit and grace and carried on. I watched her clean countertops and feed the dogs and drag me out of bed when I couldn’t get out myself. She packed up from a trendy liberal arts school in the middle of her freshman semester and endured some classes at a scary place called community college where coed bathrooms and unresponsive teachers are apparently a thing just so she could be close to what mattered. Then I watched her pack up her childhood bedroom and move to Knoxville just 3 days after burying her mother, when my own hands were still shaking so much I couldn’t even fill the cardboard boxes myself. That, is brave. I listened to her wisdom and clarity, well beyond her years, and I smiledbecause I knew. I knew a little piece of my mom’s heart-specifically her generosity, wisdom, compassion, and faithfulness-was still here. Still alive, still encouraging and lifting others up. Still obedient and faithful to marching through life despite having lost her biggest support in what was supposed to be the best most brilliant years of her life. I saw her kneel and allow Jesus to use her-here and now. In her family, the greatest calling she could ever answer to. The baby. So much bravery.

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Thank you for your humble example sis. Thank you for giving me a glimpse at a shot of glory. Thank you for teaching me through now two decades that love is a lot more about commitment and endurance than similarities and interests. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not inspired and galvanized by your example. You are a brightest light to everyone you meet, you’re the best part of our family, and so much of you reminds me about mom. Thank you for melting my grumpy heart on a daily basis and making me quesadillas and coffee after I work the night shift. Here’s to many more sleepovers in which we starfish-too tall for our own good, sunburns, nailpolish, days at the river covered in muddy paws, pawning off our baking to anyone and everyone, unapologetically taking each other’s clothes back to Knoxville/Nashville respectively, praying that one day Free People will (eventually) endorse us, road trips, you being my person who explains TV shows/movies to me when I am too distracted texting, wistfully waiting for season 4 of House of Cards/you interpreting it for me, the grimace on your face when I make you listen to top 20 country radio, you always having a newer phone and eye shadow palette than me, being my Instagram muse, serially binge-listening to Serial in one afternoon, spontaneous beach trips, cheating at Settlers of Catan, always helping me chose the perfect filter (#blessed), maintaining holiday traditions without mom, adventures on the PCT in California, Madewell packages in dad’s mailbox, rolling eyes across the room at our dysfunctional family, pushing me out the door to make sure I get my coffee before church on Sundays, trying to agree on a movie on Netflix on Sunday afternoons, and wishing we both lived in the middle-of-nowhere-Africa (there’s yet time!). We will always find a reason to smile.

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Happy Birthday Elle-belle! God is within you, you will not fail. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I love you.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

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Ps. I’m sorry for when we were younger at one time saying you wouldn’t be my MOH. You will def be my MOH and probably my only Maid. There you have it in writing tactfully placed at the end of this post and yet with the accountability of all the interwebs.

tiptoes.

Easter weekend. It was a year ago this day that I sat on cold tiles of the ICU and grappled with losing my mom, and making HARD medical decisions and trying not to let my emotions get the best of my ethics. Talking about DNR’s and Pulmonary Embolisms instead of brunch and colored eggs. Trying to smile though tears pouring down and trying to hold my sister’s hand when I couldn’t get a grip on anything in my own life. Just aching to know Jesus was there. Easter is messy and glorious all at the same time–a collision of our overwhelming need for grace meets the fulfillment of a promised Savior.

Life goes on and dwindling medical bills are paid, closets are cleared, and handwritten notes are saved and even while still holding a holy breath everything just somehow moves on.

This holiday, a time for family to come in town and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, just feels so robbed for me. Wishing time could go back, wondering if I could have done something different, ridden with guilt, still searching for the truth. And I revel thinking this is, on a much smaller scale, how Mary must have felt sitting outside her son’s tomb just striving to be a gracious, grieving mother. Pleading for peace and understanding and putting one foot in front of the other the only way she knew how and gripping the beautiful, blessed hands of those next to her. She was so faithful in her grief.

Which is why I can hardly imagine her surprise and terror when she went on the third day to pay respect to her son and worship the Lord, even in this hardship. I cannot imagine the initial shock and pain she felt with what, at the time, appeared to be a robbed tomb. Her son had just paid a horrific, innocent death; and now this—his body nowhere to be found.

Maybe she was more of a romantic than me and when the angel shouted that “He has risen indeed!” and she instantly believed him. Or maybe after a ridged week she experienced unbelief. She lived in a period of unknowing, but not unfaithfulness.

The truth is that we’re all just living on the edge of these 3 days between Easter and Good Friday—waiting and holding our breath for something catastrophic or glorious to happen, because undoubtedly it will. I have been challenged to think about the way in which I wait. I long to live like Mary, knowing the prophecies that he is risen, but instead I often live in fear that it is too great to be true. I live on the delicate edge of erupting some days. I live with a linear view of my life not comprehending the greatness and wholeness and reality of what an empty tomb actually means. I live choosing to believe the beauty of the truth and holding fast to it. I live with my jaw dropped straight down to the floor at the fear and agony that an empty tomb holds.

But I want to more than just knowing, I want live in AWE. I want to live in gratefulness in the emptiness. I want to live in wide-eyed-wonder and amazement that this empty tomb sets free a promise that we can live as fully as we can on this earth. I want to live aware of the gift given to me from grief. I want to live with my jaw dropped straight down to the floor at the glory and wonder and irreplaceable promise that echoes and is magnified from the walls of the empty tomb. I want to live with the break of a smile, my heart picking up pace, the glimmer of glory, the tension of tiptoes at hope fulfilled.

Though the calendar of Easter holds weighted significance in my life, it holds deeper spiritual significance that I grasp on a deeper level more than ever this year. Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Rock and dust could not hold him. His leaving made way for hope to reside. Mary did not stay, staring at the empty tomb. She fiercely fought to see the wonder of his completion. He rose, and in rising fulfilled His promises. He rose relieving us from our own graves, can we wait on tiptoes believing his grace?

Today I live in the sunshine, for when His glory is too bright to open my eyes I trust he is there by the warmth engulfing my face.

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yes. (#myONEstep story)

Two of my best friends (more like sisters) wrote a book! I am SO proud of them: between 13 kids, traveling the globe and founding a non-profit they are now authors (eek!!) and encouraging others to take ONE step of obedience in Christ and see where he leads them, they completed it. He is so faithful! The sweet-full-circle-teary-eyed thing? They dedicated their book to my sweet momma.

It was a cloud-breaking, blustery March day of 2012. Living my collegiate dream my dad told me over the phone while I stepped out of the microbiology lab double doors that I had not been accepted to my dream school’s nursing program where I was currently enrolled. I was stunned. This was so in my control, I had the perfect GPA, resume, interview. Everything was in my control, just as I had planned. I had worked for everything to get here, I had held fast to everything I knew would get me what I wanted for my life, what I deserved. And in the matter of a few minutes my future as I envisioned it shattered. It was only then that the Lord began to pry my white-knuckled fingers off my grasp of my control and my future and open them to his stunning plan for my life, his will, whatever it held. I wasn’t quite ready for an obedient yes, but I didn’t fear where he would lead, because wherever it was he would be there.

 

In a twist of events that in hindsight seems more like providence than fate, a yes to a world of unknown and persuasion by Suzanne, I then spent the summer 2012 in a river town in east Africa, not unlike Moses. I flew halfway around the world doing common things like folding laundry and cooking rice and beans for 3 months and then back home again. I packed up all my cute furniture in Auburn, trekked 5 hours home from, got a suave new apartment and enrolled at a college in the city I had always called home just minutes down the street from my high school. How boring.

 

It wasn’t that way for long, unfortunately. I craved boredom rather than the chaos that became our lives. I barely had time to get my feet under myself and buckle all my pages in their respective binders before my dad called me again; this time stuck in a snowstorm in Vermont, miles away from my mom, who was critically ill in the ER down the street from me in Nashville, his words begging me to be brave and confidently calling out courage that I would need to care for her until he was able to arrive home 4 days later. It was the kind of phone call that you only wake up from in cold sweat after a nightmare. But this time it had crossed over into my reality, again shattering life as I held it.

 

The story that unfolded in the following weeks was that my mom wasn’t having a stroke, she was having a revelation of symptoms that would be determined as stage four primary brain cancer, a diagnoses that brought a finality to our family as we knew it; it was just a matter of how long we could fight this bully.

 

I could tell you all the stories of grace and all his mercy, and all our tears. All the joy and memories and pain and heartbreak and pictures and moments and conversations and achievements we experienced, but here, nearly 5 months after walking her up to the threshold of heaven and seeing Jesus with an unveiled face the most remarkable recollection I have is her willingness to pursue the glory of Jesus.

 

I said yes, because she taught me how to say yes. As unselfish as a woman she was and wanted me to pursue my own dreams, it only became a matter of time until I realized that my dream was to spend as much time as I could possibly grasp from her. Whether it was strapping her wheelchair into the back of a minivan just days after being released from the hospital after a massive saddle pulmonary embolism (blood clot to the lungs) and trucking it off to Panama City Beach in a tragic series of events and tears and grace and gut-wrenching laughter, or staying up until daybreak reading Psalms with her, holding her bruised hand in mine, I was determined to squeeze every minute in I could with my best friend, because she taught me to seek Jesus, to say yes to Jesus. That summer of 2014 became a quiet summer spent beside the hum of an oxygen humidifier and my then-mute mother, just holding her hand and laying her her hospital bed in our living-room-turned-holy. And singing, because singing used the unaffected portion of her brain that the tumor had stolen her speech from us. I became a hermit and introvert, for the first time ever in my life, and Jesus became enough.

 

It was impossible. It seemed impossible when we were first faced with her diagnoses, it still seems impossible looking back on the tragedy of events and how fast and how slow and how unraveling it all happened, and impossible still every day when I meagerly try to step into the shoes she left and face unanswered questions and decorate our house for Christmas and host family dinners without breaking out the Chinet.

 

My yes to one BIG step soon became a series of yeses. A habit of yes to love and obey Christ. The first Yes became saying Yes to walking with Christ in suffering, rather than wrestling against him and asking why. My yes became “Yes Lord, how do I magnify and glorify you in my pain and ache and loss.”

 

It was certainly imperfect, at times. But that was the beautiful thing. It was so very messy, and teary and disorderly that there was no fighting the current, we only had to float on the mercy of Christ. It was a learned yes, and how I am thankful to those who loved, guided, and tenderly cared for myself and my family as we learned how to remain “yes” in Christ, instead of asking why.

 

It was scary, walking wobbly in what appeared and felt to be the dark. Jesus offered us abundant grace and just enough light for each step of our journey. Fear lurked, but we clung harder to his promises and let him lovingly cradle us in his will and peace. Perhaps if we had initially known in 2012 the nightmare that would ensue, we could have never foreseen or believed or rested in his strength to sustain us. And maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t give us all the answers we are looking for at the beginning or even this side of heaven, because he wants us to value and trust him, that he is King over all things. Could we start there? Could we say yes there and not question his authority?

 

He gives us all the light we need for each step, for each yes, for His glory to be magnified. An abundance of grace more than we could ask or imagine, but just enough to keep us constantly remaining in his strength and power. This, is not scary. This is trust. This is learning to walk and live in his light. This is Jesus enough to satisfy and overwhelm our weary souls. This is where impossible is made possible by Christ. This is a resounding yes.

 

My mother’s yes had a domino effect on everyone around her. Her willingness to help build a medical clinic in Haiti from her hospital bed in lieu of meals & flowers, to plan a surprise party to love her children well, to stubbornly commit to a family vacation and at all costs attending my college graduation, and to thank GOD alone for these gifts. That was her yes. Yes, to whatever time and whatever way the Lord had left to her. Her yes taught me to say yes to whatever may come, may we be singing in the light and life of Christ.

 

My encouragement to you is to be intentional and real and radiant in Christ wherever you are. Whether it seems fabulous and shiny to the Instagram world, or you sit at home hiding under your covers, covered in spit-up and piles of laundry envying those around you. My mom was a stay at home mom and dug overwhelmingly deep into the lives of those around her-wherever she was! Especially her children. Two women’s lives that she dug into when her own children were gone and she was faced with being an “empty nester” happened to be Gwen & Suzanne. Gwen & Suzanne in turn have braved and remembered some tough days with me. None of them are CEOs, members of the senate, or the first lady, they are simply women who said Yes to Christ. And he has honored and blessed and laughed and cried along with them in all of their journeys.

“For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes!’ in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

 

Share your #myONEstep story using this hashtag and encourage those around you to overcome impossible.

Read Gwen & Suzanne’s book (eeeeek! saying that never gets old!) for purchase here, herehere, or in stores at Lifeway.

Want to meet my friends? They’re signing their books at the Lifeway in Cool Springs on January 8 at this event (click link for details); I’ll let you in on a little secret–they love chocolate everything & would probably sign endless amounts of anything in return for chocolate. We may or may not have been known to (definitely) go fork first into chocolate sheet cakes. Just sayin’.

Gwen & Suz I am so endlessly proud of ya’ll and I know a momma up in heaven who is too.

mom welcoming me home from Uganda 2012

mom welcoming me home from Uganda 2012

The 147 girls in the beginning stages at a sale at Gwen's house!

The 147 girls in the beginning stages at a sale at Gwen’s house!

Trip to Gressier, Haiti with Respire, the clinic was just a dream, and now it is a reality!

Trip to Gressier, Haiti with Respire, the clinic was just a dream, and now it is a reality!

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Mom after surgery #1

Mom after surgery #1

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Haiti

the greatest Hail-Mary-Redemption story.

The Christmas tree toppled over.

The one crispy, pointed, sparkling symbol in my life supposed to bring joy was just precariously balancing and at any second in this drafty old house if you blinked it just slowly came crashing down all a mess and the picture perfect Christmas was also laying in a heap there on the floor, and a few minutes later I found my own arm attached at the end of the misshapen trunk, buried in between the Frasier fir branches, my hair all a-mess because of the prickly twigs I would be brushing out of my hair for the next two days and the scent of pine overtaking my wooly threads, tangled up in the Christmas tree. So we laughed, and got a janky ole’ piece of twine and tied this 12-foot monstrosity to the dainty windowsill.

The two main religious holidays, Easter and Christmas, are centered around two of the largest grievances in my 22 year old life. Christmas will forever be the season in which my mother became a ticking time bomb, a third growth and chemo, radiation, and resections exhausted we began realizing there were no treatment options left for her cancer, an awakening to the word “terminal”. Everyday became a miracle, and simultaneously everyday became one less with her. And Easter will forever be the day we lost verbal communication with her. Easter, and Good Fridays are supposed to be the solemn holidays in the religious world. Not Christmas, covered over with icing and snowmen and enough lights that you cannot help but feel merry & bright. And family.

As I sit in our messy home and look at the pine needles covering the vast, oriental rug and the couch cushion with too few springs for my liking and my messy “Marley”-esque puppy that has pulled the stuffing from her toys and compose a “punch list” with my dad of everything we have neglected over the last two years, everything inside me feels. so. utterly. messy.

And ultimately out of my control.

And I think to myself that maybe I’ll have it all together next year, or maybe if I can just check off this punch list before I start work, or if we can downsize our house, or if I take enough things to Goodwill, or if we get all the Christmas decorations up by Saturday then, THEN I will not feel such quite a mess. Then I will feel ready to approach Jesus, then I will be able to give myself grace, then and only then will I fill the void in my own life with these controllable tasks.

And this is where I stop myself. And once again take a step back to read the beginning of the greatest Hail-Mary-Redemption story of all time. In a perfectly planned play to grab the attention of his wayward people, God placed his only child on this earth in the most unwelcoming reception you can imagine. He had prepared a way for his son, but the details were glaringly void of glamour. One might expect the God of the Universe to at least have a crib ready for his son, but instead a grungy manger had to suffice.

This, is my greatest example of hope.

When everything around me seems sad “without” her…. Emmanuel. He is WITH us.

This is the very time he chose to come to be with me. Perhaps, this is the time he came, knowing I would need him now the very most. It’s strange how after a time of trial, the holidays create a deeper wound instead of welcoming the lightened cheeriness the jingle bells and candy canes attempt to promise. All the Christmas decorations we unpack feel incomplete now and trying and to make our house a home without our designated, chosen, beloved homemaker feels more like clutching a heap of broken Christmas ornaments: painful, disappointing and consumingly sad.

It’s here that I dig overwhelmingly, heartbreakingly deep and try to find something, anything really, to be truly thankful and glad, even joyous, for this side of heaven. And I find it. I’m thankful that my earthly home is rooted and established in my Savior. He is the maker of even my transient home, he placed me in the place in which we are together, constantly fumbling about trying to seek His face above all. And most of all that He is Emmanuel. God with us. God with us, now. No other words than he is here and present, which is the most gratifying gift I could begin grasp in this season. He continues to fellowship with us. His hope means more to me this year, because of the now-tangible, reality of eternal life my mother is experiencing and that a baby boy welcomed in to my life, my loved one’s lives.

“The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.”

Wherever Christmas finds you this year, be-it in a season of immense joy or a season reminiscent of loss, I hope you foster one attitude throughout the flurry of gifts, cookies, relatives, malls, peppermint mochas, and reindeer.

Emmanuel.

God is with you.

Raw authenticity inspired by: my church {listen here}

Favorite football Hail Mary? Auburn, duh {click}

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crafted with: trader joe’s florals // mom’s tarnished silver // old DIY windows // my scrawny lettering

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pictured: print from She Reads truth (I LOVE this app, best way to jumpstart a day) // more trader joe’s florals // chicken wire flea market find // GOLD WASHI TAPE~target

Christ is the ultimate Courage.

I remember where I was sitting when I first caught glimpse of her story, and my heart panged.

I also remember the day, 3 months ago today, my family of 5 became a family of 4, all help to the same monster she knew as GBM, stage 4 brain cancer. Unfortunately it’s not something I had to Google after reading her story. Our family is well versed in the horror that is primary brain cancer.

Sure there were stages. I thanked God for something that brought my family closer than ever, than the division and heartbreak that is divorce. I thanked him for the awareness of our short time together. There were sleepless nights, weeks even. Sure your way was easier, but it was a shortcut that bypassed grace, joy, and most of all mercy. I absolutely found myself in situations I never would have dreamed, never could have imagined, and still will never comprehend. It was-in every sense-a living nightmare. But you know, it was a nightmare I would live again, because I loved her, and she passed knowing how wide, and deep and how far my love, my dad’s love, my family’s love, stretched just for her, how encompassing her gentle Saviour’s love for her reached. More than that, she found depths of grace and reflected depths of grace I never would have found on my own, in Christ’s love for her when her very life was challenged. She rose to the occasion.

You’re right, Brittany-it was scary and horrific. But more overwhelmingly it was sacred and heroic.

Everyday, my mom is my hero. What a legacy.

But what makes me most sad is when you say “whatever is next.” My mother passed anxiously awaiting the glory that was coming—which brought certain, ruling, dwelling peace. Convinced in the midst of uncertainty of a certain savior. Bravery is looking fear in the face and living in spite.

Bravery is facing something head on—rejecting God-breathed life, no matter the quality, is cowardly and the loss of opportunity for grace and love He alone grants and denying Him of His power. Bravery is looking fear in the face, and declaring it powerless to Christ. Bravery is placing hope in a savior to give you enough grace for every step.

It is not ignorant. It is a faith-filled-brave.

And He is faithful.

The truth is: we’ve all got a cancer. Not statistically, not medically. Mine isn’t visible on a CT scan. My pride and sin rage and swell so uncontrollably and exponentially some days that it’s a baseball-sized tumor in my heart before I even drink my first cup of coffee in the morning. If you’re human, you’re a sinner, and you’re constantly in need of a Saviour. But I don’t choose to let these sins overtake my beating heart, I resect and radiate them every day so he can resurrect my heart. A daily offering, daily surgery to cut out these sins and lay them at his feet. I try not to give in and overcome them with my own “humble dignity,” succumbing to cancer, letting it have it’s ravaging way, disposing of it with treatment I deem acceptable. No, we fight. I throw my hands up in adoration, and lay at the feet of my king, knowing that Jesus starts new everyday, and though for today he may rid me of my pride and selfishness and bad behavior, surely tomorrow the sins will exponentially multiply, again. And again, daily, he will be there steady. His surgeon-hands to carve away my sin and start again unmarred.

Surely this, is the great Physician.

This post is not meant in any way to spark a discussion on physician assisted suicide (if that is the case, please keep your comments to yourself or write your own blog #mericuh), but rather to challenge you to think about how you would react, or what your hope is in if “the worst” were to happen to you or your family. Do you decide when you come in this world? Do you decide when you leave? Or your hair color for that matter? Or if you have diabetes or autism or if you don’t, or if your kids are smart or if they love drama or football? You could eat gluten free and acai berries your whole life and you will still perish. How do you want to be remembered?

Where. is. Your. Hope.

My greatest hope for Brittany was this:

“Brittany, my deepest wish, and prayer, for you is that your last 19 days are as full of life, and love, and joy as the last 21 months with my mom was. We made memories that I will never lose grip of, because they were so beyond sacred, we lived lasts, and cried, and laughed. Oh, did we know gut-wrenching tears, but how strong did we feel the deep belly laugh of joy with God. But beyond well wishes, I hope someone looks you in the eyes and shares with you the miracle of Christ, which is truly nothing short of a miracle—because I think if you found him, you may have the courage to endure and sustain more time with those who love you and realize He alone is our hope.”

Christ is the ultimate courage.
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**On a personal note, which I rarely interject, I have long-dreaded mentioning Brittany Maynard’s personal choices. However, I feel compelled and grateful to have gone through something so similar with Christ, that I wished to speak to His power when allowed to dwell in the midst of suffering. So that’s that.

one hundred & fifty.

One hundred and fifty.

That’s how many chapters we read. Seven hours, two hundred and nine pages, three rounds of meds, and two cups of coffee later, we finished the book of Psalms.

My Bible fell open to Psalm 27 and I started there before supper, by Psalm 67 there was no turning back, except to pick up the first 27 chapters. And at 4:14AM a new day had dawned, birds chirped outside and I quietly closed my leather bound Bible my mother had purchased me a year before with my name in gold cursive on the front and curled up beside her and I kissed her goodnight on the forehead and whispered my love.

At 2AM I had roused her to give her a concoction of meds we had crushed, and I told her we had only 50 chapters remaining. She hadn’t seemed to understand much lately, but to this she uttered, “yay.” And I knew she got it.

I love her so much I can feel it in my bones. And sometimes I just sat draped over her wishing things could go back to as they once were, begging this upside down universe for my best friend back. But I rocked back and propped my feet up alongside hers and cozied up next to her face to keep reading. We weren’t alone, not for one second. Jesus was utterly, very near. He was here with us too and this room was thick with his presence, this ground holy, and sacred on an old oriental rug. And for a whisper of a breath of a moment I felt wholly blessed and beloved to enter in his workspace.

Vowels and consonants came alive, the diction lacing the room as a song, a prayer, and plea and refrain of hope. Oh and all the psalms I wish I could pinpoint and share. But there is only one countless one that refrains and I can remember throughout all five books and 150 chapters, “but the steadfast love of the Lord remains.”

Steadfast we speak these psalms over the hum of the oxygen humidifier, pounding on in a rhythm of didactic and song, filling the space with hope when my human heart deems it impossible, irreparable, and inconceivable. And it is His love that carries us on.

It’s a marathon, this journey. I could never have imagined this marathon of love that would result from those trying times. That the race of endurance we were set on to love my mom as best we could, was a marathon I could never have foreseen the depths of the lows and the peaks of the highs. So long as the syllables linger on, so does our hope. As long as my own lips have breath, so remains my hope and trust in the Lord.

For hours we drone on, I grow tired of my own voice and yet the words fall new as if it’s the first time I have ever heard them. I sit gripped with wonder and wide-eyed with amazement at their truth to my very present reality. They perplex and challenge me, comfort and convict me. Together our spirits march on, I am unsure of if she can even hear me or not, but she does not once lose hold of my grip.

Words ramble together until I reach Psalm 23 and read the story of a Shephard-man and his wayward sheep. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” And here we are. In the valley of the shadow of death, in every sense of the phrase. I catch my breath, and pause, and glance up from the thin, gold-plated pages and survey our study-turned-hospital room with latex gloves and various medical equipment piled in the corners and a hospital bed where her favorite white, linen couch used to be and it’s pitch black outside, even the raccoons are sleeping, the house is eerily quiet except the tick of the grandfather clock in the foyer and my mother’s peaceful breathing. I sit in it. The weight of this moment. And I read it again: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Stuck on this idea of the metaphorical valley our family study room has become, I realize as Christians, life on earth is nothing but a shadow of death, and a doorway to eternal life, which makes me wildly uncomfortable and squirm in my wooden chair. To read such a passage to a faithful, fruitful servant woman nearing the completion of her journey “through” the shadow is perfectly surreal .

A shadow, you see? Only a shadow. Light beams all too brightly and beautifully on an object, and a shadow is created, but before too long, the shadow passes, with the traveling of the light source. The shadow is gone, and darkness itself cannot stay hidden, at the mercy of it’s light source. The shadow passes and whomever was in the shadow is through it, and through with it, and enters fully into light. Darkness itself is created in hiding behind something else that is intercepting the light. A shadow is just a waiting for light. Delicately hemmed in just enough light for each advancing step, we wait with anticipation for the revelation of the light source.

And He is here. And we are here waiting for his light.

We’ve grown to hate cancer in our household, and more than that we’ve grown to hate the phrase “lost her battle with cancer.” Cancer never stood one ounce of a shot at Jan Eberle. He had already won her heart, and it was He who defeated it from the beginning, just as he conquered sin, cancerous in our own hearts, and disease. He already won that illness and cured our hearts purely and beautifully and quite honestly, unfairly for an undeserving shot at eternity with Him. And if you keep score, you just might find that she won too. She won a fight at a life without fear and regret, bitterness or pain. She won with humble praise and a search for glory. She found it. And, she shared it with us. We can’t wait for the light source. Shadows fall behind us now, certainly more lace the steps of our futures; but with our eyes fixed on the light source himself, darkness has nowhere to hide and we bask in the glory that is full, unveiled exposure to his sovereign heart.

 

I can hardly believe it’s already been a month today. I miss you momma! I can feel your smiles. And I love you to heaven & back again.

 

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the long goodbye.

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. –Madeleine L’Engle

I will spend the rest of my very life chasing after this light, hoping to wrestle it and tame it as a beacon in my own soul as my mother did.

It’s no mystery to me that she met the Lord in a season when I look around and her favorite flowers, black-eyed-susans, are blooming everywhere. And they all wind and twist and turn their face to see the sun. Just as her face looks now fully, and unveiled face to face with her creator. My mother is the kind of woman that unapologetically pushes you to pursue the best version of your own self. She set her unwavering sights on Jesus long ago and never strayed from them. A constant in an ever-changing world, she was committed to faith and steadfast against an unsteady, withering, and wilting world.

She loved big.

She gave me many things, life being the first, despite a tumultuous pregnancy. And in line with that her sparkling blue eyes, deep as the Pacific sea. And whispy blonde curls. I’m sure I was cursed with her same teeth, even cracking the very same one when I was in the eighth grade, we used to giggle about that. I got her knobby fingers and her awkwardly long feet. Her love of the sea, and clumsy love of skis I without a doubt inherited. But she gave me much more than genetics. At a young age, I was convinced I was adopted. It wasn’t long until I realized I got her stubborness and her fire too, much of which pushed her past all the landmarks that doctors never thought she would pass in her brave battle these 21 months. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that we stopped wrestling and started to take our clashing as a warrant to understand one another on a deeper level. We never looked back after that. She was the freest, and that is how I maintained to live my own life. Free.

From since I can remember sleeping in my big girl bed, we would lie there and stare at the glow in the dark stars painted on my ceiling. I would lay awake, too afraid of the all-encompassing dark, and here we would lay and I would tell her every detail of my day and thought of my heart and she would pray for me. I adored her to my very core, she was my queen, my role model, my other half. And to say I worshiped the ground she walked on would be an understatement. From the time I could mother my own babydolls I wanted to imitate her every move, so whisk in hand I climbed on top of the kitchen countertop.

As I grew older, and what I thought was wiser, I shifted into my own ways. And she prayed for me. She prayed that if I might ever be wrought with trouble, and I was plenty of times, that I would always be found out. And I was. Not due to her own sleuthing, but the truth always came out. Either I was driving too fast on Vaughn’s Gap or there were the boys I shouldn’t have hungout with and school work I neglected. And she was always there to welcome me as her screwed up baby with grace upon grace.

I would call her everyday on my 2 mile walk home from school at Auburn. We would laugh about how the same boys were still making the same passes at tall, blonde sorority girls some three decades later and would they ever stop? Chemistry she never understood because she walked into her registrar office at Ole Miss the first day of freshman year and demanded a major that did not include anything chemistry related, while I took chemistry just for the heck of it. She was sympathetic, nonetheless. She would send me her strawberry pie recipe and I would bake it for my roommates, soupier than hers. Packages came without fail as valentines slipped in and out of my life. Some times I would cry, always we would laugh, and more than once I told her all my deepest secrets. There was nothing I could tell her that would cause her to shame or disgrace me. She loved.

I transferred home to Nashville at Belmont, unknowingly that she would be diagnosed 3 months after my arrival. I remember the day before she got sick. I had a big test in my hardest class, and I was supposed to be at the coffee shop studying. She requested that I come to a picnic in the park, and there we shared a cupcake together. That is my most happiest, untainted memory. Less than 24 hours everything after that would change. Forever. My reality as I knew it was gone—but still she walked it with me, as long as she could. She still fought her sickness, and managed to bring me pumpkin muffins and walk my puppy and meet me for coffee and answer the phone when I called her at 1am, a puddle of tears from my first broken heart.

And in her own pain and turmoil—there was only one thing she wanted: Jesus.

And it is that which she gave me the most of—Jesus. Everyone from her small hometown says I’m the spitting of her, a high compliment I bashfully receive. But it is her internal beauty, her fire, trust, commitment and dedication to Jesus that I hope and pray to take with me. And that is the legacy she leaves behind.

She lived her life in such a way that tangibly showed me without a doubt the reality of a man who I would always carry with me. And though I would never live up to the standards required and expected of me, and I would always fall short of this great calling, there was a Father who’s own Son shed his very blood for me in the most unimaginable suffering and death. It was her loving arms that welcomed me in time and time again that showed me his grace, her hospitality that showed me his provision, her faith that showed me he is worthy of our trust, her happiness not bound by conditions or health that showed me his joy, her steadfast spirit that showed me his peace, her willingness to endure the impossible that showed me his mercy in the end.

And now, even in this time I have known the truth of grieving, but not without hope. I love Jesus more today than I did a week ago, because the reality of the blood his son shed making her complete and whole and the beauty of the hope he has brought me with this dawning light. That is the legacy she leaves me with. So until I see her again, I cling to the hope of a man who has given me so very much, and am thankful for her for introducing me to him.

per my dad’s request: momma’s video link
“String of Pearls” by Bill Manolee

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She will never lose the words for that.

Around 5:30 am the doctor came in and told me the part of the brain that associates words is a different part than the one that lights up when she sings. The words part is the one we lost. For nine days all we had heard was, “I will see you in the morning.” We still don’t know what it means. And I clinch her hands and I tell her I know she’s proud of me and loves me and everything she raised me to know at my core. We both cry. The words, “I love you” were condensed to a single “yes.” And yes was our everything.

 

He left, and moments later I found my eyes closed and my lips parted, my still-sleepy-whispy curls framing my face, singing ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’. An act of habit or posture in a moment of disbelief-I’m not sure which. But my tongue moved off the tip of my teeth to the tune and it was truth and it still is today. I took her palm in mine and locked our fragile fingers and her delicate skin and there in our little corner of the hospital with the blinds barely opened we lifted our voices. Just as the sun was lifting over the valley out the window, morning by morning. It was quiet and still. A peace that endures. Most people in the hall still groggy without their coffee. But we found joy, here.

 

We found joy. Against the odds. That’s the way joy comes. Happiness is an expected outcome when you put your attitude to it. Joy is more. Joy is happiness, exploded. Joy is a gift. When you least expect it, when you least deserve it. Against the odds and circumstances, we receive this gift. Nothing can touch or take inconceivable joy, not sadness, not suffering. Joy gives way to hope. Hope is birthed by faith and faith is a bridge of grace from uncertainty by a certain Savior.

 

I smile through full tears now rolling down my rosy cheeks and grin big at my momma. And oh do I belly laugh at the two of us. A smile lights up her whole, beautiful face. No shadow from Christ. My best friend. And I feel so very close to her when we sing like this together. Belting promises-the promises she taught me to cling to. I crawl up in her bed and I think I might rather stay here like this forever. We haven’t laughed like this in what slowly turned into months. She has always loved singing in the choir. Our chorus is broken and our lyrics misplaced; but here our melodies echo down the hall reverberating off the sad, sterile faces everyone holds on the oncology wing and bounding back in harmony with our steady, still-beating hearts. And I think to myself that it must be a sight, the pair of us. But it makes me smile anyways and laugh loud at our sleepy voices and a beautiful Savior.

 

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation (unbelievers) I will sing your praise.” Hebrews 2:10-12

 

Jesus, made low, isn’t afraid to name us as his brothers. Because he’s been here before. And oh, unworthy as we are. He sings here too, low in this hospital room he sings beside us. His presence to cheer and to guide.

 

She remembers the words when I can’t and my voice cracks. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” She sings of grace when I can’t. And it’s always been that way, ever since I can remember. She’s encouraged me to be every bit the fiber of who I am today. Since I was a little girl and lost sight of Jesus’ plan for me-she has always been there to catch me and to remind me of his voice yet again. And here in this moment she sings it to me, in the only way she knows how. In her hospital bed-she sings the words of Jesus’ faithfulness to me when I forget the words in my heart and the words to the hymn. And better still as the melody winds down, she bursts forth in glorious refrain, crescendoing to a point that demands praise unto her Savior, never tiring to sing “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.” We have all that we need, all He has provided. There are a lot of words she can’t remember, or things she can’t place, objects she can’t name, but there is one thing she clings to-Jesus’ faithfulness. She will never lose the words for that.

 

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.” Psalm 104:33

 

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

 

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

 

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love

 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,

Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Trip to see Aunt Helen 2012

Turbans 2012

Enough light for the next step.

My father and I sit in the dingy corner of a barren hospital waiting room, comforted by the hum of vending machines and Bruce, fixing a fresh pot of coffee around the corner. It can’t be past 4 am on Sunday. And I can’t help but think of a 4 am on an Easter Sunday some 2000 years ago. Bruce knowingly extends me a cup of coffee and I oblige, sipping it black against the white Styrofoam walls, cupping it in my palms. My eyelids and heart are heavy, but my spirit dreams of Mary trudging through early light of Easter morning to visit her loved one.

We sit here for what must be more than an hour. In the tomb, of the pit of the hospital, we sit here. Few, tired tears fall and we wait. Perched on the sterile, vinyl chairs, heads reeling with the disequilibrium of the past few hours. And feel every bit the despair and nagging that Good Friday punished the world with for three excruciatingly long days. We sit and wait, in the dim light of this cavern hidden away in the cold heart of the hospital. We wait. Until finally, we greet my mom from surgery and we emerge.

We walk long, cold hallways, and I whisper to him, giddy, that it must have been around this time that Mary discovered the empty tomb. The walls echo with silence. Her path must have been one of obedience in the stillness. It must have been her wandering over moss and between trees and under vines that she stumbled upon a surprise, and we weave around corners and make our way to the ICU.

He shakes his head, enduring a long night, we’re not sure what time it is anymore. But my heart dawns with excitement thinking that a glimpse outside the window and this nightmare of a night would have come to an end, and that the sun would be shining and new mercies would be present with the rising sun.

We round the corner and I eagerly peak outside the window.

Light.

Not a lot. But just enough to guide our trek down the hallway. Just enough to see the shadow of the springtime blooms and to push the darkness out of the crevasses of this hospital. Just enough to overcome the harsh, stark, fluorescent bulbs that line our path. Just enough light to crest over the top of the building, passing off the clouded ceiling outdoors and to grace the tile floor before me.

Just enough light for the next step.

I think of how the birds must be beginning to sing their song of joy. They know the song, they have rehearsed it, and they sing it well. On Easter, they sing of promises and I can’t imagine how they must have sang in tune with Mary at the joy and bewilderment and the deafening disbelief of her discovery. Oh, and if only I could hear them, my heart would sing along!

A promise fulfilled and a suspenseful wait of the grave is terminated. I can hardly grasp that the endurance with which we trudged through the previous night is lifted by the promise the empty tomb holds.

We make our way to the hospital room, and my mom asks me to teach her, anything.

I stare at her blankly for a moment. I fish my Bible out of my weathered purse. I wrap her hand in mine and I start where I go when nothing seems remotely appropriate, and know not where else to go. I start with Paul in his jail cell. The man knows suffering, he is familiar with the ins and outs and ups and downs. He does not glamourize or pride himself, but his raw honesty pleads a truth to my heart and my mother’s that I rarely find elsewhere. I long to be like Paul. And in the midst of extreme adversity to still be asking for more Jesus.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-10

This resurrection, we have lived it. It is the act of causing something that had ended or been forgotten or lost to exist again. He has revived our lost hearts and he has straight loved them back to life. And we have lived! He has won. It is about so much more than the vital signs on a telemetry monitor or the results of a CT scan. It’s the very life and bravery with which my mother speaks of the goodness of Christ in the valley of incomprehensible, unimaginable suffering. The joy with which she says Jesus’ name, and the smile on her face after long enduring nights. This is the power of resurrection come to reality.

I share these details with you in hopes that our story may be part of your story. That a quiet smile and utterance of our Saviour in a tiny hospital room would whisper peace to someone’s wounded and calloused heart. Yes, Jesus is in the big picture. But more often I see him in the intricate details of the timing of these events and the small sacrifices reminding us that he is in fact worthy of every ounce of our trust. Some days I have less ounces of trust to contribute than others. But each day we find more reasons to place a little more in his worthy, wounded palms. I wish everyone had my vantage point. I truly do. I wish everyone could sit on the edge of her hospital bed and read scripture, or to stay up till 3 am in the ICU waiting room with my baby sister finding things to giggle about and simultaneously wipe tears from each others eyes and tie and re-tie our sneakers. To revel at my brother’s wisdom and encouragement. I wish everyone could walk in the stillness and peace of the calm after a chaotic night, to my father perched on a set of drawers at her bedside, whispering promises of truth, reciting every syllable of scripture he knows to my mother, telling her over and over that she is the bravest, most beautiful woman he has ever met. Even in this moment. Maybe it is that which continually strikes me the most. My mother’s bravery. And my father’s ability to love her exactly and perfectly as Christ loves the church. It’s the greatest love story I have ever witnessed. More romantic than sitting with my feet propped up and a sack of popcorn at a valentine’s movie premiere. And it is true! It’s real and it is tangible here when I walk in the room, stunned and reeling and confused, he loves on. I wish everyone could see what I see. How brave, how beautiful she really is. The grace she passes to everyone who encounters her. The stubbornness and bravery with which she has endured and conquered this illness. The rest and peace she abides in, knowing that Christ has won.

The simplest prayers have now become only words: grace, mercy, peace. They are commands we repeatedly plead and they are granted to us, hourly. Jesus is here in this place, because of a brave woman who has asked him to be here. Because of a man who continually pursues her heart and challenges me to love holding absolutely nothing back with each passing minute. Love that is so much stronger than even wedding vows, and young hearts with twinkling eyes because it is love that is found in Christ and the manifest of Christ’s love for each of us. It is just so real.

More often we find ourselves conflicted by tests and prognosis and doctor’s orders and opinions and interventions. So we cling to what we know is true, and spend every moment as an opportunity to love one another and share in the sufferings of Christ to grasp at just a shard of his glory in this story.

“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, ‘How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now? There are no answers to these questions. Mostly, we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all the shadows away.” (Henri Nouwen).

So we do rejoice, for this hour, for this minute. We rejoice, cradled in his perfect timing and trusting in him more every second. We have no fear of the dark, because with Christ we enter it by his side with nothing to do but trust him and his unfailing love. We are continually surprised at how far each of these steps continues to take us and we are filled with joy for the hope of glory and the fulfillment of his promises which we encounter daily. The shadows that linger are more reason to be here and now, clinging to the light of this moment, to fully experience the peace of this moment and the worthiness of his trust. We cling to the promise of his goodness and glory. We rejoice in the promise of enough light for the next step. He is good.

 

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

 

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Easter 2012

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