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Well done, old boy. Well done.

huck snowDear Huck-y:

There has been a long hiatus on my blog site, and most people would think this is due to my being a doctoral student or being busy with book talks and signings or being wrapped up with hosting a graduation party for Sister.  While all of those things were definitely contributing factors, my heart knows the truth.  I typically write my blogs in the order of the story of my life.  No matter how many times I sat down to put this one together, I simply couldn’t finish it.

My heartache was just too deep and my tears too plentiful to pen the story of our goodbye.

I think most people would be shocked to learn that I didn’t like you much in the beginning.  I can almost picture the shock on their faces when I would have to honestly tell them that I wanted to consider rehoming the most loving, loyal, gentle, and affable dog and best friend a boy (and later a family) could ever have.  Hopefully their appalled countenances would soften when I explained there was some reasoning on my part.  I’m sure you have forgotten this, but at only six months old you were a dynamo. So much so that you knocked me out at the end of the driveway once, and I just laid there at the end of the road every part of me hurting after slamming to the pavement with tears streaming down when I came to. Now I’ve cried a million tears since you went home to be with your boy.   

Back then, my heart softened as I watched Reed (and Dad) work with you and saw just how obedient you truly were.  Well, when obedience was asked of you and when it didn’t involve anything that had to do with food.  You were a true champion in 4H dog shows, but in the real world of dog showing you would have been disqualified for being too big for the breed confirmations.  I used to joke that Reed loved you to gargantuan size like the other famed big red dog of children’s book lore.  The fact that your head without much effort could rest on the dining room table meant that sandwiches feared you. When Sally Gal arrived in our lives, your favorite spot at the table was right next to her.  It is a wonder that she grew at all with the stealth of your moves.  One of the things that left me less than enamored early on was when you devoured the faux fur collar from my grandfather’s police coat, and we still shudder thinking about the aftermath of the “What happened to the 3 pounds of butter, bag of apples, and pound of brown sugar?” incident when we stepped away for mere minutes to the neighbor’s garage sale. Your appetite was legendary and when you wouldn’t eat, we knew we couldn’t selfishly try to keep you here any longer.

If there was ever a definition of poetry in motion, watching you run down the dock and jump into the lake would be about as close to perfection as any. You were truly a water retriever and secondly only to loving all of us and food, any body of water was your happy place as you would swim chasing one thrown stick after another.  I always worried that we were overdoing it, and just like the way you would wedge your head under hands for one or a thousand more pats on the head or rubs behind the ears, you would gently nudge us to throw the stick one more time.  You taught us how to embrace life, pursuing the things you loved relentlessly and keeping those you loved close.

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Although you took a few years to grow into your amazing self and you never could resist the lure of a “free” lunch, there was never one moment of your life that you didn’t give every ounce of your energy into loving us and truth be told, loving anyone you ever met.  You always desired to be proximally close to those you loved – sitting at our feet, laying in the bed, standing at attention behind me in the kitchen, or my personal favorite as some sort of newfangled iron on newly folded laundry.  To you, loving meant being close, really close, to those you loved. Of course in your older years that loving did not extend to anyone who sat in your spot on what you believed to be your couch.  Who were we to argue with the one who showed us daily how to love intensely?

On more than one occasion I thanked God for you in my prayers.  Your love carried us through our greatest sadness which was the loss of your one true love.  You were simply regal laying at the base of his casket as we had to say so long for now to your boy.  One of the other pallbearers later confessed he wanted to break down and sob at the services and would have if it weren’t for you.  Faithful to the final moments, you held your head high honoring the boy who was your best friend.  Even though you didn’t quite understand all that was happening (because you looked for your boy for months afterward), on that day, you showed the world the meaning of loyal companion. Even though we know you were grieving too, you tenderly cared for each one of us.  Lying in bed with me when I had no prayers other than tears to offer God, never leaving the kids sides after surgeries, and just being with Dad when he needed to retreat to his quiet corner to mourn.  Just like those days when we joked about you being the Sheriff and your faithful sidekick, the stuffed cow, was the Deputy as the two of you patrolled the perimeter of our yard, you faithfully and fiercely monitored each of us as we tried to live with the same heartache you felt.  A truer friend we will never find.

Even though we had a rocky start, by the time we came to the territorial couch years, I couldn’t have cared two hoots about what anybody thought about that arrangement.  That was your spot and anyone else needed to move.  Since you went home to heaven, I have cried about a million tears. For days I turned around to give you a little piece of whatever I was cooking, only to break down and sob because you weren’t there.  And I know that there will be some who won’t understand that bond, but those that do, will know that you were the last living piece of Reed.  Yes, we carry him in our hearts, but you were a living breathing extension of his love. We knew the day would come. Everyone who loves a dog knows it. There would be times we thought it was the time, but then you would have a miraculous recovery, holding on a bit longer because your work on earth wasn’t quite done. We know that you held on waiting until you knew we were ready to navigate this world without you.

You and your timing were right.  In the end, we had to tell you it was okay to go on home. A few years earlier and we would have selfishly asked you to stay, but on that day we knew you had loved and protected us with every last ounce of your energy. Through our tears, we can only imagine that Reed was standing right there with his arms wide open waiting to say, “Well done, good and faithful friend. Well done.”

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Stay by his side, Huck-y.  Stay really close until we can find you both in heaven.

Love,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

Her heart gives back

I will never forget the phone call I received in the summer of 2008 from a complete stranger.   The lead off question was one that made my heart skip a beat. Are you the mom of Erin Stevens? After acknowledging I was indeed that momma, the caller went on to tell the tale of something that happened at a benefit for a husband and daddy who lost his battle with depression.  The caller was one of those in charge of the benefit for her friend, the wife and momma left behind.  I was unable to attend the benefit because I was traveling to yet another hospital visit with our son; so I didn’t see any of what occurred. At some point in the evening the workers noticed that their children – all of them – were missing.  One of the moms went out to do a cursory search and didn’t have to go very far to discover that all of the children were playing games, organized and led by this little girl she didn’t know, whom she described as the Pint-sized Pied Piper of Children.  She went back and told the other parents what she had seen.  Another parent, now curious, had to go see for herself.  When she returned, she told the others – don’t you know who that little girl is? Most did not.  The one who did explained – that is Erin Stevens.  You know, she and her brothers were in the school bus crash.  One brother died and her other brother has been in and out of the hospital. I think she was hurt too.

By this point in the conversation, I was silently sobbing, hanging on every word.  The caller too became choked up and said, I want you to know that you have raised an amazing daughter.  In the midst of what I can only imagine has been your family’s worst nightmare, your little girl saw a need and stepped in to help. She went on to say that our Sister made sure that everyone was included, felt special, and most importantly was loved while their parents were occupied serving others.  When I hung up the phone, I simply sat and cried. God’s light shines brightest in the darkest moments of life.  I eventually composed myself long enough to ask Erin if anyone had asked her to do this, and in her sweet little 9-year-old voice she replied, No, but someone needed to do it. I was happy to help because lots of people have helped us.

Trauma changes everything about life, including your DNA. I wish that I could go back in time and insulate my children from the horrors of life, but if I did, I would miss out on seeing how they have risen above those dark moments to see what is really important in life.  One of those things would be Sister’s heart driven to pay-it-forward, because like me she knows that we can never repay all the kindnesses lavished on our family.

From that moment at the ballpark years ago until today, she has actively given back to others.  In the 5th grade, she organized a couple classmates and together they secured donations and assembled almost 200 care kits for Haitian refugees.  Her volunteerism and community minded service has given her purpose and helped her define who she wants to be in this world. She has learned she definitely wants to be a teacher, using her life experiences to help children, but especially those who might struggle in life and in the classroom. The thing that amazes me and makes me so proud is that she doesn’t volunteer to draw attention to herself or because it is mandated by any group, organization or school.

She gives back because she cares. It is really that simple. 

Most who know her know her for her laugh, her involvement in athletics, her amazing skills as a babysitter and nanny, and perhaps if they read the right newspaper her commitment to academics. But here is a momma’s chance to do a little bragging.  Even despite having nine surgeries in the last four years, she has maintained honor roll status while taking both high school and college courses, is a triple sport athlete, maintains three jobs, and has volunteered over 200 hours each year of high school.  Despite the demands of being a student and an athlete, when she walks across the stage at graduation, she will have given back 1000 hours of service to the local communities.

I was beyond thrilled to hear that we weren’t the only ones impressed by this dedication to service.  I recently received an email from our local Coca-Cola Bottling Company saying that Erin had been chosen as one of the finalists for the 2nd Annual Powerade Athletes of The Year Award because of her commitment to academic excellence and community outreachMelt this momma’s heart!

If selected, she will earn a $1000 scholarship which will help her continue chasing her dreams of becoming an elementary and special education teacher.

George Washington Carver once said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” I am completely biased, but I think she has a good head start on each of those. No matter where life takes her, I know that there will be all kinds of hearts touched by her willingness to love.

And isn’t that what life is all about, being remembered for the ways you have loved others?

Please consider voting daily for our Sister (Erin Stevens) in the Powerade Athlete of the Year Scholarship contest.  http://vikingcocacola.com/community/powerade-athletes-voting

Here are just a few of the moments that I have captured of her out and about in the community.

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Compassionate with the aged

Every time she visits the nursing home, especially the Alzheimer’s wing, she has a great rapport with the residents.  For his and his family’s privacy and dignity, we have covered his face.  She loves when her friend offers to give her a ride to New Ulm.  Last time, she told him that they better hit the show while they were there too!

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Brave with the awesome! GWC didn’t say this, but he would if he knew these athletes!

This was her last season coaching with the Special Olympics basketball teams before heading to North Dakota to attend college next year.  Her team brought home silver medals.

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Tender with the young

On her college signing day, she was surprised by the 3’s Preschool class where she has been a volunteer for two years! They arrived with a banner they created and said they couldn’t miss her BIG day because they are her BIGGEST fans!

Project Reed

The joy of being an educator is unmatched. Ours is a career where not only do we impact today, but everyday through our words and actions we shape tomorrow.  In the present, we see how big of a difference our students will make because there are the times when students simply blow you away with their talents, thoughts, skills, and kindnesses.  One such moment with the latter recently, humbly left me in tears,speechless.  Some of “my” university seniors came to the realization that our sweet boy would be a senior just like them.  Understanding that the year would be bittersweet for me, they decided to put together an amazing tribute that resulted in remembering Reed by honoring one of his favorite groups of people.  With the support of a grant through Modern Woodmen and resources from the campus Veteran’s Organization, a graduation project for him which truly touched my heart materialized.  The letter that follows accompanied 27 blankets shipped to Marines serving overseas.  The email which follows that left our whole family in tears as we realized that Reed’s story continues to touch the lives of others.

Dear United States Military Personnel –

What you see before you is a few yards of fleece, lovingly cut and tied together to keep you warm.  If that is all you see, then we have failed in our mission, not only to help keep you warm, but also, in sending much love and prayers for your safety interwoven into its very fabric.

I wanted to share with you a bit about these blankets and how they came to you today.  Just know that many hands and hearts went into the creation of these packages of comfort sent from home.  There is a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm who married a teacher and they had a big family.  The oldest of their children came into the world about as patriotic as Uncle Sam.  As he grew and matured, his love for country expanded.  So much so that when war protests in their town grew from objecting war to saying bad things about service men and women, he begged his parents to not drive by that corner of town anymore.  Then the unimaginable happened. One of their own – a local soldier – died and the name of a different city street was going to be changed in this hero’s honor.  Every day that little boy asked his parents to drive by that same street to see if his hometown lived up to their promise to honor and to never forget. That young man continued to grow in his love of country and patriotism through Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, the boy’s story ended abruptly when a tragic school bus crash happened.  The young man died at only 12 years old.  If he were alive today, he would be 21 years old and a senior in college.  This is where the blankets start to come in.

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Let me introduce myself, I am that young man’s mom and I also happen to be an education professor at Southwest Minnesota State University.  The EMSP (Education Minnesota Student Program) wanted to complete a community service project for you (while you are fighting for our safety), and a few of the students somehow realized that although the picture of my son, Reed, that is frozen in time is a 7th grade football player, he was actually their age.  Unbeknownst to me, they decided that their teacher (me) must have mixed emotions watching them get ready to graduate when I wouldn’t being doing the same for Reed.

This is how Project Reed began and how these blankets were created.  My students created this project in your honor as my son’s “graduation project”.  The other details were we applied for a grant through the Modern Woodmen organization and through some amazing couponing skills our efforts multiplied and blossomed.

Wherever you are today, just know that while this looks like some fleece tied together, your blanket represents many hands working together, many prayers uttered for you, and a whole lot of love wrapped up in this bundle.

We are thankful for you.  May God keep you wrapped in the warmth of his love, but more importantly nestled in safety.

Our prayers are with you!

Kandy Noles Stevens

Good Morning Kandy,

My name is CP.  I am currently on active duty with the United States Marine Corps, serving overseas. The reason I am emailing you is because a bunch of us over here received the blankets that were made in remembrance of your son, Reed. The blankets are much appreciated and just know that the story you enclosed with the Education Information and Blankets, has touched hearts literally around the world. I have no doubt in my mind that your son is looking down on us giving us the prayers and all that we need to keep us safe, guiding us in the right direction over here. This really hit home for me when I read your letter especially because I just happen to be from Minnesota myself! I grew up on my Family Farm just outside of the small town about 45 minutes West of St Cloud. I have been in the Marine Corps now for about 3 ½ years and will be looking to get out and be back home somewhere around mid-August for good then I am going to pursue an education of some sort. Have not put a whole lot of thought into it yet but I definitely want to utilize my GI-Bill as well as any state benefits that I may be eligible for as well; and it sounds like I just may have found the right person to help me out with that! But all business aside I just wanted to say thank you to yourself and all of your students for all the thoughts, prayers, & gifts that have been brought to us over here in the Middle-East. Your son has touched many Marines hearts over here and will continue to do so for many years!

Sincerely, CP

And for “our Marine”, we are praying every day for his safe return so that the story can continue and write more tales.  In the days where you question whether what you do matters, just know that the life of one young man has created gigantic pond ripples, or maybe tidal waves, in God’s love story for us all.  And for that we couldn’t be more thankful.

 

Remember Goliath fell to David

To The Laker Girls:

Last weekend, I along with countless other fans watched you do something that we will all remember for a long time.  You won a first round playoff game in what some considered an upset victory. Almost immediately afterward, as it was reported who your next opponent would be, savoring that moment’s victory fell to murmured doubt.  Oh, they are really good.  I guess we better enjoy this.  That team is excellent.  It is unlikely many teams can beat them.

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Photo from the Marshall Independent. Credit to Gary Kaczmarek. 

I would be lying if I didn’t entertain that thought too. It was years ago, but I still remember when the seniors played this opponent in 4th grade. A short text exchange with my cousin gave me a complete attitude adjustment. Before I share what she wrote, I want to share her credibility just so you understand that what she says matters.  Growing up in a small town about the size of Cottonwood, she went on to play basketball for a Division I school and became a championship winning coach. She’s more than just an “auntie” to our Sister.  She’s a student of the game and she’s a super fan.  Her words took my breath and my doubt away.

Remember Goliath fell to David.

So simple. So true. Her words changed everything.

I have watched this season filled with sadness for what could have been, possibly what should have been.  There have been times when as a team you have been filled with doubt. Coaches doubting players, teammates doubting each other, and players doubting themselves. I’ve seen injuries sideline careers, and at times, I have seen moments to build each other up, quietly slip away.  This is not what champions are made of, but if you examine your hearts for one minute, you know that it doesn’t represent who you are, or more importantly who you can be. I have known for a long time that you could all (individually and collectively) be so much more.  Inside each of you lies the heart of a champion. Now it’s time to let the rest of the world see what your mommas have known all along.

Remember Goliath fell to David.

Right now is your moment to shine. Today is the day to think of each other not as a group of individuals, but as one unit. One team with one heartbeat. Now is the time for the whole to be better than its individual parts. Believe that every person on that court is a part of the dream and that she will be successful. Today is the day to know that the talents hidden in each of you fit like pieces in a puzzle to contribute to the whole team’s success.  Every breath you take today from now until you step off that court tonight needs to be one of “I BELIEVE”. Today is the moment to make sure that you give it all you’ve got not because the end might be in sight, but because a championship is yours for the taking. Go into this game believing, why not us! You have the talent, and I believe that we only saw a glimpse of the drive you have to win in the so-called upset victory on Saturday.  Unleash that beast and . . .

Remember Goliath fell to David.

And just in case you have forgotten the story, David took 5 stones to fight the mightiest warrior in the land.  Many doubted him too.  But the key thing is – David never did. In my heart I am proclaiming that instead of 5 stones, there will be 5 girls at any given point on that court tonight to help Goliath fall.

I BELIEVE.

Momma K

 

A quilt full of memories

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of February, but always feel guilty for that declaration because our College Guy (the erstwhile Boy Wonder to me) came into the world in the same month.  His birthday falling just a few short days following our family’s worst day. I will never forget having to celebrate his 11th birthday in intensive care. Born in one of the worst winters this Southern girl has ever experienced, the weatherman threw hot water in the air and watched it freeze before it hit the ground the day he was born.  Although no one would agree to my terms in my heart I think the calendar should be divided into “Grief Riddled February” for the first nineteen days and the remaining ones (depending on the year) can be “We Survived February” where we can celebrate our son’s birthday without the shadow grief clouding everything.

A few days before Reed’s heaven anniversary date my heart broke again when I learned that College Guy had a very important and unbreakable commitment that he could not skip on his birthday.  I know he’s really perceptive, but I don’t think that he noticed the tears which I swiftly wiped away at our favorite burger place.  His announcement was the one that I knew would be inevitable at some point, but I wasn’t prepared nor ready to not spend time with our son on his actual birthday.  I don’t ride rollercoasters in real life, and this emotional one was proving almost too much to bear.

Of all of our children, he has always been the hardest to shop for, because he is honestly grateful for anything.  Ask for a wish list, and he will respond with “I have everything I need”.  This year, however, I was ready with a plan.  Okay, it was almost two years in the making, but I, at least, was ready.

He had been saving his favorite shirts since fifth grade which ironically was the same year that everything changed in his and our lives.  For high school graduation, we gave him a trip of his choosing and a promise to create a quilt out of those t-shirts he had meticulously saved.

Sadly, like many things in my sewing room this project became another PH-D or Project Half-Done. I finally decided that my 2017 Craft Resolution would be when I have time, I will devote myself to getting some of these PH-D’s done and I won’t buy any new craft projects, I think. So far, I have remained steadfast with that resolution.  The timing of finishing the quilt coincided with College Guy’s birthday; so I knew I had the perfect gift for the guy who rarely, if ever, wants anything.

The conditions were not ideal as we unfurled the quilt in the restaurant’s parking lot in order to snap a picture. You could tell he was revisiting old memories as much as I was. When life gets in the way of living, you can often lose sight of the trees in the forest.  So it was with the quilt, as the significance of some of those old shirts hadn’t really sunk in.  Standing in the parking lot, they came rushing back and in those memories came the reminders of some of the most amazing ways people loved and supported our little guy, now all grown up.

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There are camps, mission trips, Boy Scouts, 4H, family Christmases, and school memories stitched into that quilt. And then there is the one from his experience with the drumline when the band director from a neighboring school heard that our guy couldn’t play football so he invited him to join his group for some amazing beats. One proves that love extends beyond school spirit because it came from the head coach of an opposing team who poured out kindness after kindness for our son. One represents all the responding units who came to help the day of the bus crash.  Another is a word that was used to describe our son because he embodies courage in the face of adversity.

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But sprinkled in a few squares on the quilt are odd shaped green pieces of t-shirt now appliqued onto denim from the cast he never had.  After hearing that he was hospitalized with a broken leg, his sweet 5th grade classmates sent notes of encouragement saying they couldn’t wait for him to return to school so they could sign his cast.  We had to burst their bubble by explaining the kind of broken bones he had couldn’t be cast and required major surgery with pins and plates. Some sweet soul decided that if these kids wanted to sign a cast, they would just make a substitute.  A t-shirt was purchased in his favorite color and every child in the class signed it.

I am no expert quilter, and honestly if you saw the tears I shed out of frustration when binding this quilt you would wonder why I even make quilts at all, but I have to believe this is the first quilt in history that has a cast sewn into it.

More than that, all of those special memories remind me of God’s promises to love and support our family, including the birthday guy. The remembrances of that love shared through incredible and amazing folks helped me to endure this February.

And for that I am incredibly thankful!

Heaven stopped by

Dear Reed –

Just when I thought I was going to be able to get through this month without so much pain, February happened last weekend.  Ever since that moment standing in the Children’s Hospital last Saturday, all the pain came rushing back and all the memories were just waiting to come pouring out of my heart and my eyes.  For the last week, everything seemed to hurt for both Dad and me. Losing you was more than we thought we could bear.

reed and goat

I see all the amazing ways that your friends and classmates are going out in the world (getting married, graduating from college, or in some cases both) and my thoughts swim in a numbing sea of “What would he be doing today?” I try so hard to protect myself from questions that cannot be answered, but on occasion my dreamer tendencies get the better of me.  Sometimes when it is just me and the dogs at home alone, my imagination creates a knock at the door and when I open it, you and Jesus have come to spend the afternoon with me.  We laugh and cry but mostly, I just hug you both.

It is in those moments I long for heaven to come close – even if for a fleeting moment.

This last year has been a whirlwind for us all.  Dad is now a deacon at the church, which keeps him really busy.  Sawyer is thriving at college both as a student and as a leader.  Sister is a senior now planning her next steps, and Sally is a 6th grader growing up before our eyes. Just like a momma’s heart always has room for one more, I have been going in multiple directions to feed both my mind and my soul. No matter how busy life becomes every day in each of our heartbeats, we carry you and all the memories of the way you loved us.

So as this week has unfolded, my heart has longed for the love that you embodied when you were here on earth. img_3776

When the pain of facing a day was too much, that love came pouring in.  Wanting to be cloaked in my tears, love gave me the strength to keep going as text messages filled my day with encouragement.  My heartache found solace in cards and flowers that arrived unexpectedly.  The family we created stepped in to love Sister at her last home game – another milestone that passes without you. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes as a sweet little girl, a sister of one of Sal’s teammates, snuck little love notes into my teacher bag at the basketball tournament. The hugs and virtual hugs envelope me with a sense of peace and a comfort knowing that tomorrow is going to be okay.  In each act of kindness and remembrance, we feel the love ripples that your heart made in this world and we are reminded how deeply we are cherished.  Do these amazing friends know they are an extension of those ripples and a symbol of God’s never ending grace?

Even though, we know we can do tough things, there are moments when “warrior on” seem too hard.  The scars of all we have lost seemed exposed as we opened our eyes today to the uncertainty of grief.  God has collected all my tears in his bottle and perhaps for one small sliver in time, he allowed us a glimpse of the divine.  What happened in our neighborhood this morning was more than magical, it was miraculous and precisely the thing we all needed to make it through this day.

Surrounded by the love of many and serenaded by heaven’s messengers, we know heaven came really close today.  And I will be loving you every day until I can hug you again.

Love, Momma

Note: The cardinals are singing in Reed’s garden over the tree house that love built.

 

 

 

And then February happened

In my last blog post, I revealed my kryptonite: not enough time.  Sometimes I have discovered that many things in life can be both a blessing and a curse.  Recently, not enough time seemed to fall into both categories for a bit.  One of my best friends texted me and gently asked, “How you doing, momma?” My response of being a little overwhelmed with all the demands for my time gave her the perfect opening to ask what her heart really wanted to know.

It’s February.  Is the schoolwork keeping your mind so busy that your heart hasn’t had time to make that connection?

I assured her there was balm and blessing in being so busy that you felt like the man in the donut commercial.  A little manipulation to the phrase “time to make the donuts” would aptly describe my life in the hamster wheel of teaching and learning.  And somehow my own personal busyness has resulted in the blessing of my heart not pining for the days to rush ahead so that I could say I survived the second month of the year again.

Although I hadn’t really acknowledged my feelings until the text exchange, keeping my mind busy definitely has kept my heart distracted.

That was until . . .

February happened.

Over the weekend, our youngest had a basketball tournament far from home requiring a stay in a hotel.  While relaxing between games, we just needed some down time from the rushing whirr of the previous week and we mindlessly flipped on the television.  The pre-programmed starting channel was tuned to The Weather Channel which was airing a top ten series about America’s most destructive storms in recent years.  One of those was a dark and ominous wall of swirling dirt in the southwestern United States.  The middle of the day storm turned the area black as night and appeared without much warning.

Little did I know a small act of kindness a few hours later would do the same to my heart!

As we were wrapping up supper, we decided to sneak away to the hospital where our boys were taken after the bus crash.  We have a legacy program there in memory of Reed where we give stuffed cheetahs (his favorite animal) to the surviving siblings of any other child who passes away at the same hospital.  We also provide a baseball card sized note with each cheetah that tells about Reed’s life.  The last cheetah delivery, we were short cards, and it is a big deal to me that the cheetahs have those cards.  Not to draw attention to us, but so that Reed’s name is continued to be heard and spoken.

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When we arrived at the hospital, we stopped at the information desk to try to ascertain where we should deliver the cards because we knew it might be different on the weekends.  The operator put us through to the Children’s Wing, and it was decided that we should bring the cards there.

I should have politely declined, because my heart didn’t know what was coming.  The day, unseasonably warm, but gray and rainy, provided the perfect foreshadowing of February lurking right behind the locked wing.  As soon as we walked in, everything – all the sights, the smells, the memories, the pain of when we first arrived there nine years ago – came flooding back in.  February pounced on us like that wall in the weather documentary a few hours earlier.

My heart beat so hard and fast, feeling like it was trying to protect itself by jumping out of my body in the hopes of not having to relive that all over. We have been back to the hospital over the years, but something about that day so close to Reed’s heaven date was just too much.  My stomach churned, my knees grew weak, and my words became slurred as my mind tried to protect me from all the emotions. My arms ached to hug the boy who gave the best sneak-up-behind-you-hugs ever.  Suddenly my soul went into overdrive wanting to protect and shield my children from all the hurts, knowing full well that my superpowers would not be enough. Yet in the midst of it all, clinging to the hope and the promise that Jesus always is.

We were well into the parking lot before I had the courage to ask my sweetie if that was as excruciatingly hard for him as it was for me.  No real words were spoken by either of us, just a few shed tears as we embraced in the drizzling cold, gray rain symbolic of the life we never envisioned for ourselves. We had both rode grief’s crazy roller coaster even though we didn’t realize we had bought a ticket to ride that day.

Our hearts are still broken, but we know that February doesn’t win.  Daily we receive encouragement from those who understand the aftershocks we feel each year.  The hugs, the messages, the prayers and the just simply showing up mean more than I could ever explain. We know that God has promised to collect all our tears in his bottle and to shield us under wings.  That hope and promise comfort us. And sometimes, even though February happened, we can feel God a little closer and for now knowing Reed is with him while he holds us tenderly is more than enough.