teardrops in the roux

For those readers that may be unfamiliar, when you’re making gumbo, “first you make a roux.” That’s what my mama always said. “First you make a roux.”

(Also, if you’re not familiar, “roux” is pronounced like “roo.”)

Gumbo is my family’s traditional Christmas Eve meal. We go to Christmas Eve service at church and come home and have gumbo. My mom has been making the Christmas Eve gumbo since we began this tradition a decade ago when Todd and I started dating.

This year’s Christmas Eve was a little different. My brother was entertaining Hudson and Hayes. My dad was entertaining James Walker. Todd was assembling Christmas presents and I found myself standing in the kitchen by myself with all the food. I was immediately overwhelmed by the realization of all that my mom managed to accomplish on Christmas Eve in the kitchen. And because she was such a cheerful giver, we never realized just how much she took on. How many dishes she made, how she pulled together a feast without so much as a sigh or grumble.

So I stood there in my kitchen, whisking the roux and waiting for it to turn just the right shade of glossy brown, and I was lonely. My entire family was at my house, but my mama wasn’t there. And the helpless feeling of grief overwhelmed me. I was standing there making that roux because she wasn’t there. I was more than happy to be making it (though I did feel some pressure that it wouldn’t turn out nearly as delicious), but I wanted her to be standing there with me and making me laugh or singing a little Stevie Nicks.

I realized that she’s not there for me to  call when I don’t know my way around a specific recipe in the kitchen. Or when I’m searching for a random ingredient in the grocery store. Or when I think one of my kids has an ear infection in the night and I just want to tell my mom.

And I just cried right there over that roux. The gumbo still turned out to be perfectly edible, but it’s a moment from that first Christmas without her that I won’t forget.

The past few weeks have been okay, but all day yesterday I felt this nagging almost hollow feeling. And very much like in the movie Inside Out, I had an a-ha moment and knew that if I didn’t go ahead and cry, I would continue to feel bad. And right then, I dropped to my knees and begged God to comfort me. To point me to Him and fill me with His spirit and the joy of His presence. Because aside from my mother herself walking into the room and hugging me, nothing was going to comfort me in that moment besides Jesus.

I know that life hurts. I know that loss feels hopeless and there are times when I don’t know how to go on. But Jesus. Nothing can comfort me the way He can. I can be in my house surrounded by everyone I love and still feel lonely, and Jesus is the only one that can fill that void. No matter how busy I make myself, or how I can just decide to be happy that day, the true joy can only come from Him. Even in the heaviest sadness.

the God of all comfort

TheCarrolls-74

So we’re doing fine. We really are doing fine. It’s a crazy thing when you realize that life does go on after a life-altering loss. We get up. We put one foot in front of the other. We get dressed and go about our regularly scheduled activities. We even smile and laugh!

We keep up with our commitments and do lots of things that we enjoy. We celebrate the joy in friends’ lives and in our own lives. There are still joyous events to celebrate.

People stop us a lot and ask how we’re doing and kind of give that look like they’re bracing themselves for me to cry. And sometimes I do cry. It’s funny that I can answer the same question and be totally straight faced with one person when I give an answer and dissolve into a puddle when I give the same answer to another person.

The day of Hudson’s class Christmas party, I was delivering his class treats to the school office and passed a friend who stopped me and hugged me and reminded me that she, too, had lost her parents at much too young an age. And a moment was shared that I’ll never ever forget. I know that our Heavenly Father uses others and their experiences and their grief to minister to me right now. None of them ever say it will get better. Almost all of them cry. And they all tell me that it’s absolutely okay to keep talking about my mom.

These kind friends, acquaintances, and sometimes complete strangers will take time to reach out to me to offer me words of comfort. And to take time to allow themselves to get back to a place of their own grief to grieve with me. And as Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, we are each uniquely equipped to comfort someone. And I’ve been so blessed by the kindest people.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7

The Holy Spirit was there in those moments. Comforting us. Holding us. Reminding us of His goodness and His love.

I was driving Hayes and James Walker home this morning and an unexpected wave of pain washed over me, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I immediately began to sob. What was it that I wanted to text her? What story from the Golden Globes did I want to tell her?

How is it that if I forget that she’s gone for 90 seconds, I experience grief again as if for the first time when I remember?

These moments happen a few times a week. And I am sure they’ll continue to happen.

I know that God gives us more than we can handle. He gives us the hard stuff because He wants us to trust Him to handle it. And that’s exactly what I’ve had to do. I have to fully trust that He is good, and loving, and merciful, and He also happens to be preparing a perfect place for us where we can meet Him face to face.

And I’m confident that when I get to heaven and I meet him, I won’t even want to know “why” my mom had to die so young from melanoma. Why she never got to hear her youngest grandson say her name. Why she never got to see my brother get married. I know that those things won’t matter to me because I’ll be so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of who He is. Can you even imagine?! I try to, but I know my imagination doesn’t even come close.

The night my mom died, my dad and I had been praying with her all day. We’d read letters to her, sung “He Touched Me” next to her in the bed, and squeezed her tiny little hands. (I pray, pray, pray that I never forget how those hands looked and felt.) My dad and I tried to manage her pain all day and she was mostly out of it all day after being in severe pain the previous day. The hospice nurse tried to prepare us and said she would probably pass away that day. We had texted our closest family and friends that she was probably within hours of dying.

Todd and my closest friends had all spread the word to begin to pray that the Lord would call her home. This life of suffering and pain had become too much and we just prayed that He’d call her home to heaven or heal her. We couldn’t bear to see her suffer any longer.

At about 9:30 p.m., my dad and I moved to my mom’s bedside as the rhythm of her breathing began to change. We prayed some more. We told her we loved her and we were proud of her. We promised her that Walker, Todd, and the little boys were all doing well. I promised her I’d take care of my Daddy. And at 10:10 p.m. she stopped breathing. We wept over her and cried and thanked our precious Jesus for the gift of having someone so incredible and fierce to be our person, our mom, my dad’s life partner. We missed her immediately!

A few minutes later, I picked up my phone and saw that at 9:30 p.m. I had been flooded with text messages from Todd and friends saying that they were all praying right then for God to end her suffering. They’d each been prompted to pray and to tell me they were praying. And in that moment and in that realization, I’ve never felt closer to God. Knowing that so many were praying the same thing and that our Father answered their prayer and that my mom was standing in His presence… is there anything more incredible, humbling, and bittersweet?

We have so many moments from that night. It was a long long night as we waited for hospice to arrive. When the hospice nurse got to my parents’ house, she introduced herself and I immediately recognized her name as the mother of a high school classmate of mine who was tragically murdered a few years ago.

We were able to talk about him and she cried as she spoke about her son that she misses so much. She was with us for about three hours, and when she hugged us goodbye she said that she’d been comforted that night just to be able to spend time with someone who knew her son.

Jesus doesn’t miss an opportunity. We just have to ask for those opportunities, and I know that now. In my grief and anguish over my mother, I was still able to provide comfort for this mother. And it’s the same for me as sweet friends reach out to check on me and pray for me and send me encouragement. They’re each such a comfort to me.

I keep saying this, but I’m just completely overwhelmed with gratitude and the realization of God’s love for us. He wanted my mom with Him even more than we want her here with us. It’s hard to sit in grief and sadness for too long when we realize the fullness of His grace. The God of all comfort loves us so much.

 

Joy

Joy. It’s my word of the year. It doesn’t mean happy or peppy. It doesn’t mean that I won’t have a bad day or that I won’t ever be sad- or even angry.

This joy is the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine! It’s the confidence that no matter what happens or how bad or sad things get, everything is still going to be okay because Jesus made it okay. Joy is the decision and the choice to praise Him in all circumstances.

I’m going to praise Him in death and in tragedy and in conflict. Because He is good and I know that and I believe that. And this assurance is what I pray guides me in 2016. My words, my conversations, my decisions… I pray that they are spurred on by the confidence that He is good and it’s all going to be okay because Jesus made it okay.

I set a few small, measurable goals for 2016. There are some things I want to do that aren’t listed here like organizing our photos and cleaning out the attic, but these goals are measurable goals that I want to look at all year.

1. Read through the Bible in 2016. 

I follow a reading plan that our church provides and I’ve never made it past August. I want to finish this year! I did Angie Smith’s Seamless study (which I highly recommend!) with a group of girlfriends last summer and it gave me such a better understanding about how the Bible was written. I’m really really excited for the Bible in a year goal this year! And it’s not just to get it done, but to know God more and to look forward to that sweet time of fellowship with Him every day.

2. Host a family for supper once each month.

Hospitality was a big theme in our home in 2015 and I want to continue that in 2016. My goal is to host a family once a month, but it will probably end up being more like two families per month because we just enjoy it so much. My kids love it and it’s become a really good experience for them, too.

3. Write on my blog once a week.

I mentioned this in yesterday’s post, but I just want to write these memories for my kids, and writing is a hobby that I neglected in 2015.

4. Exercise three times a week.

I chose the exercise piece of this because it is measurable, but I also have some goals for changing up some of our eating habits. I want to get back to the barre, I want to walk more, and I just want to have an overall household focus of health in the most grace-filled way. This also includes lots of sunscreen! I don’t need for us to be health-obsessed, but my mom did a lot of research about health and what can cause cancer and I want to carry that forward to my own children and husband.

I will choose joy in 2016. I will serve the Lord boldly and without reservation. I will love my family well. I know that Jesus is good and loving and I’m welcoming 2016 with the confidence that He has made it all okay.

Happy New Year!

using my words

I’m a words person. In the days immediately following the loss of my mom, more than photographs of her, I wanted to read her words. I wanted to get a peek at her heart and her sharp mind, so I went back and read her blog from beginning to end. She hadn’t blogged in a long while, but reading her words was such a comfort to me. I emailed a few posts to friends and family. I read a couple out loud to my dad and he even read part of one in the eulogy he wrote.

While I was reading her words, I realized 1) how much I love writing and how much I’ve missed it and 2) that I want to give my family the gift of words and written memories. So I’m setting an official goal to sit down and write once a week. And it’s for them.

I’ll pop in on January 1 with my list of goals for the year and a theme for this next year. Todd and I heard our pastor give a really great, practical sermon on goal setting and I’m excited to have honed in on some goals that will help me in the new year without adding endless “to dos” to my plate.

We’re welcoming 2016 at home with our kiddos. December kind of kicked our tails and we’re really tired. So the kids are eating pizza and I’m making a giant bowl of Ina’s shrimp scampi with linguine and we’ll play some cards and board games and do our best to stay awake until 10:00 p.m.

2015

this Instagram collage perfectly captures our year

God was good to us in 2015. We welcomed our darling baby boy and he has brought endless sweetness to our days. If there’s one thing that stops Hudson and Hayes from bickering, it’s James Walker and his cute little self. Unless they’re bickering about who gets to hold him.

We discovered that my mom’s diagnosis was likely terminal in May and then we went into memory-making mode and started having some fun. After our trip to Colorado this summer (which I referred to as the best vacation we’ve ever taken), I went to hug my mom goodbye at the airport and started to sob. Sobbing wasn’t an unusual occurrence when we said “goodbye,” but this time I just couldn’t hug her tightly enough. She grabbed my shoulders with her hands and looked me square in the eye and said, “Hey! I am NOT going to die.”

We both knew she couldn’t keep that promise. Obviously. But she wanted to be here to live this life with us and to enjoy the moments with us. And she gave us countless memories that I hope I never forget. And we had the beautiful gift of being able to tell her everything she meant to us.

I’ll hold on tightly to the memories of 2015 for the rest of my life. So many sweet firsts and heartbreaking lasts. And I’m praying that my heart will be open and ready to receive what God is going to teach me in 2016. Happy New Year, family and friends!

 

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