Monday, October 26, 2015

When hope feels hard...

“Ok…. I’m doing it today,” I tell myself. I have avoided the luggage haunting my living room corner for almost 2 weeks. Mondays are one of my few mornings without commitments, so I decide to tackle the dreaded task.

Today I unpacked the bags that my parents took on that fateful trip that took their lives, as well as the life of their beloved friend Ryan Hrubes… his wife Emily being the only survivor.

It hit me so strongly as I sat cross-legged on the floor, and it seems so obvious, but they had no plans to die. Each neatly folded clothing article stands testament to the future they planned to live. This trip was but one pit stop on the journey of their mapped-out future.

The realization that they didn’t plan to die was quickly replaced by the smothering sensation that I- no, WE weren’t prepared for them to die. There is no way to fully articulate how much we have relied on my parents’ counsel, friendship, and guidance even as adult children. We each talked to them every single day. So what do you do when the bottom of your world drops out? I’m figuring that out. Unfortunately, I am an involuntary participant in my worst nightmare. The best way I can describe it is: someone learning to function that has lost an appendage. You never realize how much you use your hand, foot, leg, or arm until it’s gone (I imagine). We (my siblings and I) are learning to live without a piece of our lives that is as engrafted as using our own arms and legs. Let me just tell you: it’s not fun.

“I know how important it is to hope,” I told my cousins this morning… “But I’m not even sure what to hope for. I feel lost.” Darkness clawed at my heart. I called my husband. I wept into the phone. I tried to wipe the tears off my face fast enough that my 2 and 3 year old didn’t see me crying as they came down the stairs. “Mom, you miss Nonnie and Tyty?” My perceptive 3 year old’s question ripped at my heart… I don’t want him to grow up with memories of a momma who is always sad. I’m careful to not be too sad in front of him.

Sweet baby. Yes, I miss them. I’m glad they are in heaven, but you have no idea what you will be missing out on your whole life. That’s why I cry. I cry for all the times I will miss them to come. I cry because this pit of grief feels too deep and dark and long.

“Theo, I do miss Nonnie and Tyty, but I’m happy they are with Jesus…” is my 3-year-old appropriate answer… “It’s ok to cry because we love someone.”

A tiny sliver of light breaks off some of the heaviness I’m carrying when my cousin Joy sends me a link to Ann Voskamp’s blog. It’s about hoping when you just feel like giving up. I read it quickly, devouring the idea that I can feel even the slightest hope today… on a hard day.

Joy texts me back. Her instructions for what to hope for read: “hope that it will get better, hope that Jesus will be enough, hope that you can really live fully again, hope that you are and will be a powerhouse for the Lord, hope that the heaviness and sadness will go away… because of Jesus we have hope…”

It sounds like a pretty comprehensive list to me. I’m too tired to hope on my own so I simply allow myself to use her text as a guide. I remind myself that the very darkest night of the soul in the Christian faith was when Jesus died. He stared death in the face. And beat it once and for all. This is truly the cornerstone of what I believe, what my parents believed: because He died, we don’t have to be afraid of death- it’s power is broken. Death isn’t the final destination. I feel a little better.

The sting of finality is a bit lessened, but the waiting still unfolds before me. Life feels long, and I feel young to carry what I carry. I wonder to myself what life event will cause my pain to lessen. Will counseling and care help to temper the ache? Perhaps holding my newborn baby in a few months and the gift of new life will cause my heart to live again. Maybe, just maybe, after the first full year following Mom and Dad’s death I won’t be agonized by all the special calendar dates…birthdays, anniversaries, holidays… Sigh. Probably not. It takes longer than a year I’m sure.

I flip open a daily devotional: Henri Nouwen’s “The Inner Voice of Love”. My favorite entry is entitled “Love Deeply”…. I read his thoughts, “The more you have loved and allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you… Every time you experience the pain of…death…you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds… Thus the pain…of death…can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

Got it. Love is the reason for grief, but grief becomes fruitful when new love is born out of it. That’s the only thing I can do. Respond in love. Love my kids, love my husband, love my siblings. I can do that. Even though my heart is breaking, I will learn to love more deeply than I ever have before. This is my lifeblood. I must cope with love.

I put the book aside as two sets of eyes prod me from behind the pages. “Mom, will you snuggle me and hold me like a baby?” Yes, Theo. Yes, Violet. I pull them up on to my lap and stroke their little blonde heads and smell their sweet fragranced hair and my heart is a little bit healed by love.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Remembering My Parents' Parenting

Let me just begin by saying this post is such a goal for the parent I (we) aspire to be. I am praying that as I begin to compile nuggets of wisdom from Mom and Dad's lives that it will sink in even more to my heart and character. I still remember what if feels like to hug them. I can still picture my dad's smile and hear my mom's voice as if she were right beside me. In blogging, I chronicle them and freeze their impact in a concrete way. 
  So that being said: In the aftermath of losing my dear parents I have been reflecting on what they instilled and taught us kids that made them such exceptional parents.  I want to remember for myself as much as share with the people whose lives they impacted. It must be a universal desire to live life well and leave one's children at a greater advantage. I know it burns within me. My prayer has been, "heal us up... and then, raise us up." The lives of Ty and Terri Schenzel provoke us all to not waste our time or talent, but to reach out in love and embrace everyone in our path.
  I consider it such an immense privilege to have been raised by them. I, along with you dear reader, know it is all of our prayer that our own children may someday say that of you and I...

1. Their lives gave them credibility and influence.
We valued my parents because their character and who they were behind closed doors was dynamic and provoking. They were not just instructing and teaching us how to live with their words and through discipline, but they lived passionate, adventure-filled lives that made faith look attractive- exciting even. Growing up, I never thought the Christian faith was just a set of rules or regulations, but rather, an invitation into one of the most fulfilling journeys one could live... I remember, even as a teenager, I told my dad one night that I needed to marry someone slightly dangerous because a dull, religious guy just wasn't going to cut it. HE was the one who gave me an awareness that men like that even existed... and I'm forever grateful... It led me to my own faith-filled, slightly dangerous husband ;)

2. They were careful to keep their dreams (even those from the Lord) from being too high of a cost to us as a family.
 The inception of the Hope Center dream began in my dad's heart during my early elementary years. We lived in the West Omaha suburbs and after several years of 'incubating' the dream my parents moved us to mid-town. I was in 4th grade, Annie in 2nd, and my mom was probably trying to keep Tyler and Turner alive at home (kidding). I know my dad would have moved into the most gang-ridden street possible if my mom had been game, but she wasn't and he told her that he would never make a decision that she wasn’t completely on board with
  When we did move, we lived within 10 minutes of the Hope Center, but my parents still drove us to our same Christian elementary school that we had always attended 25 minutes away. The friendships and community of our childhood were valued deeply by Mom and Dad. In this, I learned that just because you have a dream from the Lord or a mission, your family/spouse might not have the degree of grace that you do. Mom and Dad were careful to obey the Lord, but be sensitive to each other and their young children as they lived out their God-given destinies.
  Even from a ministry perspective, my siblings and I always felt that Dad's first love was his wife and family. I never had any resentment towards my parents being in ministry because the ministry didn’t steal from what they poured into me.  We knew we were the most captivating priority of their hearts. I once read somewhere that the people whose options matter most are that of those who are closest to you- who know you best. Well, Dad, Mom, the people who knew you best give you rave reviews.
3. Their parenting focus valued heart connection and relationship over religion and performance.
 Hopefully this encourages some family out there, but: my dad gave up after a while on family devotions after dinner. There was a brief blip in history where my parents bought the "Dangerous Devotions" book and tried to have us kids do some of the 'biblical learning activities' around the dinner table- it failed miserably. Who knows if it was spiritual warfare, conflict of interests, or puberty, but it just didn't impart the intended pearls of wisdom. I can remember we were always unreasonably wild, antagonistic, or uninterested with the devotional content. We have teased my dad about the "Dangerous Devotions" season as adults (don't worry, he thought it was funny too!). Obviously, we all regret that now, but not doing consistent family devotions didn't stop us from noticing my parent's own unrelenting pursuit of Jesus. 
  I distinctly remember Annie and I (as little girls) would play outside the door of the basement where my dad had worship music blaring and we listened to him singing and praying. He even had a prayer room in the last two homes they lived in.
  My mom would sit in a 'cozy chair' in the living room reading and journaling every morning. Sometimes she would even sing (off-key) because she had headphones in... I miss the sound of her sweet voice.
  And it was not lost on us. We all saw they way they lived and their commitment to the Lord…and in the Lord's kindness, that was the most impactful form of "quiet time" we were ever taught.   
   For the record, I'm sure Paul and I will try and implement family devotions, but it's nice to know not every time has to be a home run...

4. They were fun.
  Anyone who has spent anytime around our dinner table knows how extremely hilarious my parents were - and they fed off each other. And then we fed off them... and pretty soon we all believed we were much funnier than we actually might be. 
  It is so important to laugh. They showed us the importance of having good, clean fun (the kind where "you can wake up with a clean conscience in the morning”). And mostly, it revolves around hearing the highs and lows of each others lives and sitting around the dinner table. 
  My parents were so enjoyable, in fact, that they were my preferred crowd to hang out with all through high school. All us kids loved being with them... They went from being just our parents to some of our favorite friends. I think knowing how to have fun as a family is a spiritual necessity.

5. They were human and humble.
  Our family is emotional. We are all feelers. So it’s no surprise that my parents worked to manage their inner emotional world all the time. They would frequently tell us “they were in funk” or processing their hearts. They worked very hard to take care of their hearts and be emotionally healthy. I know they always resolved conflict with each other as quickly as possible so that there was not a build-up of negative emotions.
  They also were extremely humble. They apologized to each other and us kids if they were short or impatient. I can remember how quick my mom especially was to notice wrong thoughts or actions and make it right. My dad frequently said mom was the most humble person he knew. I’m grateful they modeled a forgiving heart to each other and us kids.

5. They parented us according to our “bent” and were love-blinded cheerleaders.
Dog shows, basketball games, dance recitals, football games… they were there… cheering in the stands… screaming our names…. Eyes only on us. I remember my mom would miss big plays during my brothers’ basketball games growing up because she said “I never take my eyes off my boys.” She only watched them.
In this season of mothering my young son, I can remember multiple times being at a loss for how to handle the amount of physical energy Theo displayed and occasionally, his outright defiance. I called my parents. They said, “let him be a little boy, he is so normal, stay consistent… you are loving him so well. You and Paul are great parents.” And I believed them. They taught me to notice what his interests and talents are and fan them like crazy. Pour kerosene on the fires of his dreams… And I know that when I do that in the future, I will feel them cheering me on… I will feel myself walking in their legacy and hearts and they will feel close.
I said in my tribute at my parents’ funeral that they were our love-blinded cheerleaders and they truly were. While I’m quite sure that they were proud and thrilled of the adults we grew to be, I know that what/ who we decided to be/become wouldn’t really have mattered. Being loved mattered- because love always wins. Love won through the tumultuous teenage years of my brothers. Love won during my first year of college where I questioned my faith. Love won over and over because they were always there saying, “you have what it takes, you can do it, we believe in you.”
 There have been times during the course of our lives where I have observed my parents respond in love even when one of us made a life decision they were strongly against. This is who the bedrock of who they were. They faithfully spoke truth, but loved us no matter where we were in our faith or what decisions we decided to make. They maintained a deep heart connection with us through the highs and lows of our growing up.

I think it is such a shock to the community that my parent’s are gone because they were so beloved. I know as their adult child, I have enjoyed warm reception because of my parent’s good name and reputation.. It has brought blessing and favor into my life because of the integrity my parents lived with. They are truly a picture of a couple who lived their own lives well, cared for others, and left the world better than it was before them. It is such a comfort to know their impact as I journey through this tunnel of grief. There are some moments I want to call them so bad and I feel like I might die from sadness, but I keep digging deep and allowing myself to grieve and heal… because I want to be the kind of parents they were. My parents weren’t perfect, but the magnitude of their love almost made it feel like it.