Thursday, April 25, 2013

In Deep

Two years ago I wrote a post about our potential new neighbors. Every night the kids and I would pray for the people who would soon move into two houses on our street, “Lord, help us to bless our new neighbors, and help them to be a blessing to us.” Those empty houses held the promise of play dates, friendships, and casual pizza dinners in the cul de sac. Maybe even future prom dates. They were ideals, pristine-- not yet marred by the hurt feelings, awkwardness or conflicts that often arise when living in community. You can read that post here.

The houses made me think a lot about myself as a friend. I realized that while I wanted to roll out the welcome mat and be an ultra- friendly neighbor, I had grown accustomed to being more of a drive-by friend than a steadfast one. I leaned away from people whom I considered “needy” or who pushed intimacy on me.  I also think I put unspoken, internal limits on how long it should take for people to “get over” things, and how much of myself I’d offer up to them if they needed me.

I realized I might be an okay friend to have during a sprained ankle, but chronic depression? Probably not.  Ouch. You could have described my friendship style as wide, but not really deep. I think, with the exception of a small group of friends, I kept myself a little closed off from others. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to let them see the times when our family was annoying, ungracious, and our lives were… messy.

 Less intimacy = less mess.

Seven months after the new families moved in, 3 young friends knocked on our door, and Jack and Margaret went out to play with them, huge smiles on their faces.

Jack never came back.

One new neighbor, Jane, whose daughter had been playing with my kids in the rain, held my hand as I knelt in the wet grass, cursing and praying as rescue workers tried to find our son. And the other new neighbor’s son, Joe, was the one who called out, “Let’s go look at the creek!” and led the kids into his back yard.

I can and do wonder about the way God chose to answer our sincere prayers about our new neighbors. He’s the same God I prayed to for guidance on buying this house 10 years ago.  What’s up with that? Jack is dead! This is not a blessing! I ask Him, “Why did you lead us to this neighborhood in the first place?” Why? Wouldn’t any other f’ing town, neighborhood, or even street have been a better call? I don’t have the answers.

But I do think it is interesting that the woman who avoided conflict and intimacy, and sometimes missed out on true community, the woman who wrote these words on her blog, Of course in my shallowness, I must admit I want to be needed in the "Where's the grocery store? or "Let's hang out on my porch" kind of way, not in the walk with me through a major life crisis sort of way,”  is now immersed in a messy struggle for survival that is truly long-term and has left few in the neighborhood,  town, or our internet circles untouched. There is no clear-cut end date or exit strategy, and no evaluation form to complete when the healing is “complete!”

And I have been cared for by people who have bravely rejected the idea that surface level friendship is enough, including my friend Jane, who hasn’t quit holding my hand.

It’s all so very interesting.

I now need what I was reluctant to give, and that is humbling.

And I can’t wash off or run away from the mess, even if I try.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Winner of the Pendant/s and LTYM

Good morning!

jnh213 is the winner of the beautiful Holly Lane Designs Jack's Promise Pendant. Please email me at with your snail mail address so I can send it to you.

If you didn't win, but would like to purchase a pendant from Holly Lane Designs, here's the link.

A second pendant was purchased by an anonymous An Inch of Gray reader to give away to someone else, well, because that's how you amazing people roll! I  will send that one to Kate from Chasing Rainbows who lost her precious Gavin last week.

Thank you for sharing your stories in the comments. Your stories matter.

Speaking of stories:

If you are in the Washington Area and would like to hear more powerful, inspiring stories of motherhood, the Listen To Your Mother show is this Sunday in Crystal City! Tickets are still available. I was honored to be part of the show last year, and look forward to being in the audience this year. Hope to see you there!

Tickets available here.

The link to  my video from last year. Please ignore the pointy nose.

To see if there is a LTYM show in your region, click here.

Love and Hugs.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"For Nothing is Impossible With God" and a GIVEAWAY for You

I know this week has been dark and hard and maybe a little hopeless feeling. Some of us may be thinking, will the darkness blot out the light? What does the future hold for our children when there is so much evil around us?

I think of Jack's favorite Bible verse, "For nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:37.  It reminds us of our little boy and his big faith. We have it on the blue ribbon magnets on our cars and in our hearts.

It comes from the story of the virgin birth. How strange it all sounds: a baby would be born to a teenage virgin, of no stature or fortune, and this baby would grow up to take our sins upon himself so that we could have eternal life. Huh? Sounds impossible.

We'd always read it like, "Nothing is impossible for God." If God can pull off a virgin birth, and our salvation, you can see why Jack believed God could do so much in his young life: help him make friends, get a hit in baseball, and live out his big ideas and values in a world that didn't seem to appreciate them all that much.

This verse told Jack that despite the concerns of his days, God had him covered!

A few months after the accident, when the shock started to wear off and the pain seeped into my bones, my heart, even my hair follicles, I started thinking of the verse a little differently. To me, it now meant, "For (even with God) nothing is impossible." Oh dear. Even when you walk with God, things that seemed impossible, are possible, like a safety conscious child dying (DYING!) in a creek on a wet, balmy night in suburbia. Or in a kindergarten classroom. Or at a marathon. Or in a sinkhole.

Any illusion of control I had for my family's safety and future was gone. Holding tightly to my plans and expectations was as fruitless as trying to carry water in my cupped palms while scaling a cliff.

What once seemed impossible within the structure of our simple, fairly predictable lives was indeed possible, and I didn't like it. Not one teeny little bit.

On September 8, 2011 I had to let go of my misconception that if I loved enough,  prayed enough, and worried enough, my family would "be okay." This realization came to our family that day, but I think it comes to all of us at some point or another.

Later, a friend and I talked about Jack's verse. What did it mean to us now? Surely God could have saved Jack. He can do the impossible! Reviving a drowned person is not too difficult a task for God. It should be easy! What is breathing life back into a boy's lungs compared to forming the universe? And if Jack had been revived, having had a near death experience, he and I could have taken our show on the road. We would commit ourselves to speaking out for God, sharing hope of heaven and the beautiful miracle of Jack's survival. Doesn't that sound like a much better plan than leaving Margaret an only/lonely child?

But God didn't do what He surely could do. And I've had to let go of trying to understand why, at least for now. At least for today.

And Jack's verse changed for me, slightly, once again. "For with God nothing is impossible." The task in front of families who have lost children seems impossible.  Truly. To wake up each day. To function. To forgive. To breathe. We can try to do the impossible without God, in our own strength, out of unbelief,  hurt, bitterness or even anger that He has allowed these terrible things to happen in the first place. It is tempting, believe me.

Or we can let go of the control we never had and let Him help us in our current, impossible situation.

And we can trust God to make something beautiful out of something terrible. I don't know how that works, but I think it can and it does. And if I've learned anything, it's that He stays close to the brokenhearted and performs miracles, even if they aren't the ones we would have chosen.

And we can recognize that while we can't control everything, we can do something. We can offer ourselves up, even in the smallest ways, to share the light with others by continuing to care for people, by showing up when things look hopeless, and by doing good in the face of great evil. Not because any of it will guarantee our children's safety, but because it's the right thing to do.


I've been waiting to send a reader a "Jack's Promise" Pendant from Holly Lane Designs. This week it seemed like we might need to remind ourselves "For Nothing is Impossible with God." Tiffany Scott, my favorite jewelry designer, used a Mobius strip, which represents an impossibility that is somehow possible! She also chose it because Jack loved puzzles and brainteasers almost as much as he loved God and Legos. Jack's verse is carved into the silver. My sister wears hers on a silver chain with a small crystal teardrop.  If you would like to enter to win this pendant, just write "Luke 1:37" in the comments. Giveaway closes Monday, April 22 at 10 pm.

Jack's Promise Pendant:

My sister's neck.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shall we Gather at the River?

I pull up to my friend’s river cottage for three days away by myself. The drive starts out rotten, but the further I get off the highway and away from the congestion, the easier my breathing gets and the more relaxed I become. I’ve been feeling burdened lately just having to live through Jack’s 14th birthday and also facing some major decisions for our family that involve time, money, and perseverance, all of which seem in short supply these days. The idea behind my time away is to help me get a handle on my writing and to give Tim and Margaret a break from me. I’m hoping this solo writer’s retreat won’t end with our having to buy a new car like the last one. Considering I rake in $100 a week right now at my day job, I don’t think our finances can handle any more writing retreats like that one.

I’m nervous about being on a river. I don’t know what to expect, as I’ve had some trauma being near water since Jack’s accident. Our family used to love to be outdoors and did a lot of hiking near creeks and rivers, but if this river looks anything like a creek, I don’t know if I can handle it.

Stepping into the cottage, I see the view out the big back windows. Beautiful, calm water for as far as I can see. A sloping green lawn reaches down to a tiny sandy beach, maybe 8 feet wide, and the Potomac River laps soundlessly onto the sand. There are no woods, rushing water, or sheer drop offs here. It looks more like the ocean than a river, and I am not afraid.

I take off my shoes and head out into the grass, greeted by a small yellow lab. When I look up, I see a man, maybe a decade older than I am, sitting on a metal glider, enjoying a cigar. I pet the dog and then walk over to meet the man, who lives in town but comes to his cottage on “The Rivah” each evening to relax.

If this were a horror movie, I’d tell him I’m staying here alone to write a book, then he’d come back a few hours later, maniacal Jack Nicholson smile on his face, to do me in.

If this were a novel, the dog, smelling Shadow on me, would keep coming over from his lawn to mine, until the man invited me over for a beer and then, well, you know. We’d find out his wife has left him and I was recently widowed (sorry, Tim) and the healing power of the river and the bald eagle family overhead would bring us together.

But this is neither a horror movie nor a novel, so I go inside and watch a Duck Dynasty Marathon, wondering if I’m good enough and strong enough to write a book. I wonder if breaking into my friend’s unopened box of Thin Mints is poor form. I wonder if the words “Sharing Size” on my bag of M&M’s represent a command or merely a suggestion. I fall asleep on the couch.

I write on and off the next day few days and fantasize about our family having a small place like this to spend quiet Christmases or go crabbing in the summer. I realize I am only picturing three of us, not Jack. Would it work, or would it be too quiet for Margaret? Would we always have to invite a friend along? I don’t know. I don’t know how any of this will work, our future in a fictional riverside cottage or elsewhere, but in this brief moment, it doesn’t feel horrible to think about.

And that is something.


Love and Peace to you this Friday. I’m off to celebrate the life of my grandma, who lived into her 90’s and passed away peacefully while I was at the river house. I’m picturing her having a joyful reunion with her son Charles and her great-grandson Jack today.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Except for the Snapshot

My friend Kim took beautiful photos at Vacation Bible School years ago (like 7-9 years ago!) and dug them up last week to share with us. I'd never seen any of them before. How I love them.

His hands. Ahh. Ouch. The concentration. The vise-grip hugs. Those cheeks.

If you have photos of someone who died, I encourage you to pass them along to family. It will hurt and help and heal all at the same time.

Got to love the one of Margaret at the end! I assure you I've NEVER seen that look before.