Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Grandma's Arms

I never had the chance to know my Grandma Arlene. She passed away when my Dad was 19 years old. My Grandfather remarried my Grandma Lois before I was born. Grandma has given us grandkids a wonderful album of photos and written history of our family. Through the pages of this book, I have enjoyed learning about my Dad's life. Dad has always told me that I resembled his mother in some ways. Although I never knew her, I believe we have a lot in common. Grandma loved to care for babies. When my dad was growing up, his mother would often care for foster babies. The last baby that Grandma took under her wing was Kathy. Most of the babies only stayed for a few months, but due to an eye condition, Kathy was not a candidate for adoption. Grandma Arlene cared for Kathy for five years. It looked like Kathy would be a permanent part of the family until one tragic day. A new case worker was assigned to Kathy. One day, she showed up, unnanounced, and took Kathy from Grandma's arms. She was never seen again. My Dad remembers his mothers pain and saddness.
Less than one year later, my Grandma became very sick. A few weeks later, Grandma Arlene passed away. The Doctors believed she died of a blood disease, but others wondered if she died of a broken heart.

I used to remember this story and think "how awful! I can't imagine what it'd be like to have my child suddenly taken from me...without notice, without a chance to say goodbye, or 'prepare her for the road'." Although Kathy was alive, she became like dead to Grandma, being the only mother Kathy had ever known. Yesterday I realized that I fully understand Grandma's heart and I know what her arms felt like. I know what it feels like to have my child torn from my arms without warning. I am no stranger to watching my hopes and dreams shatter before my eyes. I believe Grandma probably stood there confused and helpless. I am sure that the days, weeks, and months to follow were filled with memories. Her home, like mine, was filled with Kathy's fingerprints, laughter, singing, and play. Everything was the way Kathy left it. Nothing was missing...except Kathy, except Ashley. As a mother...our days are spent fixing things...kissing the hurt away, nursing the sick back to health, feeding hungry tummies, resolving conflict, bathing dirty bodies, praying away the nightmares, comforting the broken hearts, fixing the boo-boos with bandaids, putting the tower that fell over back together...Each day as I stand in the empty shadow of my life trying to hold up the weight of my broken heart...I hurt so badly because I realize that there is nothing I can do to fix this hurt. As a friend of mine says "this is a wound that only Heaven can heal." It makes me feel trapped and helpless. I can imagine that Grandma felt very much like I do, even though Kathy was still alive somewhere. Although I never met my Grandma, I have a deep connection with her...There are days when I feel like I too could die from a broken heart.

For years I have dreamed of someday caring for foster babies like Grandma did. I hope that someday I will be able to do that. Thinking of Grandma Arlene in heaven makes me wonder if maybe she is mothering my Ashley for me until I get there. I hope she is....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Mother's tour of Heaven

Whenever my kids want to go to a friends house I like to know a few things first. Do I know and trust the parents? How many siblings do they have and how old are they? Will they be staying with a grown up the whole time? Where are they going to sleep? When will they be home again? Are they planning to go anywhere? Not to be nosey, just to be sure that where you are leaving them is a safe place to be.

One of the hardest parts of having a child in heaven is not being able to "see" it first. How can my child, my little girl, be ok on her own in a new place? She's a child, she needs to be cared for. And what about the babies that go to heaven? Are they still babies when they get there? Who cares for them? If we have "mansions" in glory, does Ashley live in one alone? Does she know my family who has gone before her even though she never met them on earth?

Knowing who Ashley was here on earth makes it hard to imagine her in heaven without us. Ashley had a hard time going to friends houses because she really wanted to go, but didn't want to leave home and was afraid of what she'd miss out on by going. She would choose to stay home from birthday parties just to meet a great uncle that she never met before, even if it was only for a few minutes. Ashley shared a room with her little sister, Emma. Ashley was organized and neat. Emma is far from it. Ashley would patiently clean up Emma's mess. She was getting tired of it, but when I offered for her to have the guest room (which is down stairs, and all the other rooms are up stairs) she turned down the offer. Even though having her own room that she could decorate the way she wanted, that would be untouchable to little hands sounded really good, she would rather share a room with a little sister and deal with the mess than be "separated" from the rest of us at night.

Ashley treasured family time. She would describe her best times as times spent together as a family. No matter what we would be doing, if we were all doing it together...she'd say "I just love being all together like this...this is the best." Words could never describe how much Ashley loved us all. She would tell us over and over how much. I miss hearing "your the best mommy I could have ever wanted...Of all the mommies in the world, I'd choose you." If I could just hear it again, and again. "I love you more than ever." Words that I crave. The hugs that lasted forever. Sometimes I'd have to peel her off. She wanted to just hug me forever she'd say. She didn't want to grow up any more, she wanted to be my little girl forever. She loved summertime...being all together, playing outside, not having to leave us to go to school. Now, she is "locked in time" as my 11 year old little girl in a sundress and bare feet.

I have asked God..."could I just have a peek at heaven?" If I could just have a momma's tour of heaven. Just to see that heaven is so wonderful, that she loves being there, that it's a good place for her to be until I can be there with her. This is where faith comes into play. Faith is being sure of the things that are unseen. Faith is not easy. Especially now. I need to trust that all of the things about heaven that I know and have been told and that I can read in the Bible are real and true and are enough. I know Heaven is good enough. It's more than good enough. As an earthly mother, separated from my little girl by this ugly thing called in the things that are unseen is all I have. Trusting in the promises of my salvation in Christ Jesus is what I have to lean on. Up until now it has always been easy for me to say that I have faith. Even to have faith in little things. Now, fatih is more real than ever. God is asking me "how much faith do you have?" "Do you have faith that can move mountains?" It seems like there should be a lot of things required of me to have such faith. Faith is really quite simple. It's one action. It is letting go and letting God. It is like looking at a chair, being told that it is strong enough to hold you, but the only way you can find out is by sitting in it thus allowing it to bear your weight instead of you.

Yes, I'd like a momma's tour of heaven. I'd like to see it to believe it. I can't see it yet. I have to believe it. I can't forget the song I used to sing as a little girl... "God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it for me. God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it for me. Though some may say that His word is untrue, God said it and I believe it, now how about you? God said it, and I believe it and that settles it for me!"

Friday, February 12, 2010


Waiting. This is what we spend most of our lives doing. We wait in lines, wait for the phone call, wait for a better job, wait for our kids, wait for food, wait for summer to come, wait for school to be over, for our favorite tv show to come on.....just waiting...and waiting. It's easy to understand what it feels like to wait for something because we all do it everyday.

The last 6 months has been filled with days of waiting for us. It's different now. We get up and wait for something...just don't know what it is we are waiting for. I hear myself saying if I can just get past "this." Then I realize that once I get there, I'm really not there yet because there will be something else to wait for once I get there. What am I waiting for?

The first few nights after Ashley died, I remember standing by the window staring outside at the rain storms just waiting for her to come home. As if she would just come walking down the driveway at 3 oclock in the morning. We were waiting for her to be found. We wanted a child to burry. (who would ever think that would be something to wait for!) Then, we waited till the funeral day came. After all the crowds of people were gone...the reality of our empty lives set in. We got up every day and waited for the end of the day to come. I would wait for the sleep meds to kick in. I would wait until the morning came. Nothing in life had any value at all. It was torn from us. We sat there, empty and lost.

Days of waiting turned into months of waiting. We began to wait for school to start, seasons to change, sickness to go away, sunday to come, guests to visit. Soon the things we wait for turn into the same things that we used to wait for...things that actually do happen. The real hurt comes when in addition to the usual waiting, we continue to wait....empty armed....for what? What we want is to get back to life the way it was. We want to see Ashley come running to us. We want to tuck four children into bed at night. We want to have all of the seats at the table full. We want to feel like life has a purpose again. The hard part of all of this waiting is that the things we are waiting for can't and won't happen in this earthly life. This is more than we can swallow.

I feel like I can't say any of this without clarifying that I have Eternal Hope in Christ Jesus. I know that what I am waiting for every day is the restoration of perfection in Heaven. This is what we are all waiting for...It's just that now Heaven has become so real to me. It's not just a place to talk about and wonder about. I have one foot in heaven now. The things of earth....the things that always seem so important to be waiting for are no longer important...they have lost meaning. Yes, even things like family and spending time with my children are blury...because in an instant death causes you to realize that you do not have a grip on any of it! The comfort in the fact that we have no grip, is that someone does have a grip. God has a firm hold on us. He is in control of our lives. I do not have to despair, I just have to believe. It is easy to say that we believe (especially when we feel like life is in our hands.) but when your grip is torn away leaving you helpless...believing takes on a whole new meaning. Believing is Living.

My faith has been put to the test. Knowing that I will see Jesus and that I will be together with my daughter again one day is worth waiting for. This is much easier said than done. It means I have to walk every day with a limp (like Jacob did after wrestling with God), it means that I have to make a choice to trust in God even though I can't see the end result. In my pain I have to choose to live each day the best I can...knowing that no matter what joy I feel in this life, the pain and suffering, the sorrow, and the longing to be with my child will not go will come with me. It will never leave until I am made perfect in heaven. Could it be that the pain I feel in being separated from Ashley is the kind of pain and longing that God has to be with me, HIS DAUGHTER?!

I do not live without hope. I do not have to fear. But, those whose hope is not in Christ....the things they are waiting for will never satisfy them. They are earthly things that will all pass away. When the waiting for one thing is over....they will be waiting for something else. It is meaningless. It has no purpose. It will end in the grave. There is nothing left. I never thought I'd ever survive the loss of my child. At times I feel like I'm not surviving, but I am. The truth is that it's not me...My heavenly Father who knows this road I am traveling on, because He traveled it before me....He is carrying me each day. I do not need to imagine how I'd make it...I just can't imagine how I'd make it without Christ.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Rose in Heaven

July 16, 1998 - The day that I became a mommy. Ashley Sue VanWingerden....the pride and joy of my heart. The first little flower in my garden. The crown of my motherhood. Eleven years with a little girl that filled my heart till overflowing every day. Showing me Jesus in her every move. The days were filled with laughter, love, hugs, kisses, cards, crafts, imagination, lots and lots of playing, dancing, dreaming, dressups, tea parties, shows, singing....and so much more.

July 24, 2009 - The day my life was uprooted, torn apart, burnt to ashes. We were getting ready for a weekend at my parents house. As I packed, my husband and our two oldest children went for a quick ride on the boat. They wanted to check on the new crab traps they set a few days before. A quick boat ride soon turned into the nightmare of all parents lives. There was an accident, Ashley fell off the boat and was lost. Three days of search and rescue until she was found on Sunday morning. We never got to see our girl. Friday came again and we burried our daughter.

It is February now. Six months later. I stand in the rubble. July is as real as yesterday and feels like forever ago at the same time. I am broken and lost. Life flows on because it has to. Each day I wake up and know that the day must go on. There are three little ones that need a mommy, they need to eat, they need to play, they need clothes to wear, diapers changed. They need to go to school. The homework is still there, we still need doctor and dentist appointments. None of these things change. Only now it takes all i've got to do just what we need to get by. All of these things within the cloud of grief...that is at times so dense you can't remember where you've been and can't see where you are going. Sometimes it is so heavy you feel like you are pinned to the floor with a dagger through your soul. But...the end of the day comes, I sit down with my children to pray and I thank God for giving us our portion for that day. Sometimes it feels like it's not going to be enough, but the sun always sets...and then it rises again the next day.

I don't understand God's plan for my life. There are what if's and if only's every day. There are questions and unanswered prayers. I painfully wonder why God would have blessed us with an angel like Ashley and then taken her away. I DON'T know why! I do know that JESUS LOVES me. I Do know that Ashley loved Jesus and she is with him and like him. I DO know that my Redeemer Lives and He WILL stand on this earth again. I Do know that there will be a day when I will see her again....and we will be together with each other in glory.

There are so many things I could write many things I want to share. But for now...I started with the outline of our story. The begining of my new life. One that I did not choose. One that I can only walk by faith in Christ Jesus. I am so thankful for all of our friends and family who have stood by us, walked with us, held us up both physically and prayerfully. We are forever greatful for your love!

If you do not know my Ashley Sue...her service and memory video can be viewed at