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

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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!

the woman who gave me life

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Sometimes you just don’t know where to start with words, so I’m just going to start and I may not stop for a while.

My mother, Karen Akin, passed away on December 1 at 10:10 p.m with my dad and me at her side holding her hand and praying with her.

In early June, after spending many weeks in our home off and on after James Walker’s birth and many weeks of beautiful, sweet memories, my mom had a scan and found out that the melanoma tumors had spread to the left frontal lobe of her brain. She had been diagnosed with melanoma in 2010. It was in the lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis. It metastasized in 2013 and continued to spread for the past two years.

When we found out about the tumors in the brain and in her bones, she decided that she would remain upbeat and she really didn’t want to tell anyone about it except for a few friends and family members. My mom didn’t want to talk about cancer all the time. She didn’t want everyone constantly asking her how she was feeling. She wanted to go on about life as usual- living and loving life without people feeling sorry for her. So we didn’t really share her news either until my dad posted about it on Facebook in October.

She and my dad spent an incredible ten days in a villa in Tuscany with dear friends in June. In July, we all went to Colorado to visit my brother, Walker and his girlfriend. When we were in Colorado, it was the very first time that we’d ever seen my mom show any signs or symptoms of cancer in nearly 6 years. She was nauseated, tired, and often frustrated and overwhelmed. We went to visit my cousin’s family in Alabama in August and noticed more symptoms of the brain tumors. But we had two wonderful vacations. So many incredible memories! Playing with the boys. Talking about what heaven will be like. Singing and laughing and remembering things from childhood.

In September, Todd and I went to Indiana for the Influence Conference and my mom and dad came to visit for a few days. More brain tumor symptoms- trouble forming thoughts, difficulty multi-tasking, difficulty getting around and she was generally just not herself. In October, Todd and I took all the boys to my parents’ house for a long weekend and it was more of the same- just worse.

Since June, her health was rapidly declining. But the loss of her personality and the woman that I know was the most heartbreaking part.

My mom is such a part of me. I’m used to calling multiple times a day just to tell a funny story. I’m used to making plans for our next visit. I’m used to calling on Friday mornings to discuss what happened on Scandal the night before. And she couldn’t talk on the phone or text anymore. And, gosh, I have been missing her for months. I feel lost without my best friend.

We began to specifically pray that she wouldn’t feel anxious and she wouldn’t feel pain. That a peace that passes all understanding would overwhelm her. We prayed that she would know just how loved she is.

We know that God’s ways are higher than our ways and that He has perfectly written His story and it included a plan for a beautiful life for my sweet mom. And for all of our lives.

Watching my dad so lovingly care for my mom is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s real love in its most raw form. Having the incredible opportunity to hold my mom’s face in my hands and to tell her every reason I love her is a gift I didn’t take lightly, and my dad was able to do that every day for months. He held her, he cared for her, he prayed with her, and cherished her.

We’re experiencing every emotion possible. I can’t speak for my dad and my brother, but I’m heartbroken. I’m mad. I’m grateful. I’m hopeful. I’m in shock. I’m relieved that her pain is over. But I know I can speak for my whole family when I say that we’re so thankful. We trust the Lord and we know that He is good. He is merciful. He has provided us with so many gifts and we’ve seen so many blessings. We were given more than five precious years with her before we ever experienced any setbacks from cancer.

All of my babies got to be held and rocked and sung to by the most loving woman in the world. They know a KK that would do anything in the world to be with them.

I’ve learned from a woman who trusts God. A woman who has given all of herself to others. A woman dedicated to helping those that can’t help themselves.

A woman who saw a problem and fixed it. She would stop at nothing to fix a problem for someone or to provide an opportunity for someone. She loved people and wanted to help make things better for them.

She loved movies and committed to see every Oscar-nominated movie before the awards show every year. She loved music and would bust out in song- hymns, classic rock, show tunes, Lady Gaga and Adele. She loved it all. She loved to dance and would jump to her feet any time she heard “rock me mama like a wagon wheel.” She wanted Elton John to sing “Honky Cat” at her funeral. For two decades she maintained this wish. And we honored it on Monday at her service with a recording of “Honky Cat.”

She was a staunch Republican, incredibly conservative, but also full of compassion. She adopted a homeless couple. She ministered to lost women and was committed to rescuing women from sex trafficking. She was generous to a fault and would give someone anything they needed and would drop everything to serve you if she could. Even if she wasn’t feeling well that day.

Over the past month, my mom, dad, brother and I have read letters from countless friends who have been impacted by my mom’s presence in their lives. We’ve cried and laughed and we’ve been so thankful for these incredible people who want her to know how much she is loved. And when I think about what she’s done in my life…. I just don’t know where to start.

My mom. My best friend. She was my biggest fan and the woman who pushed me. Her influence in my life has shown me what complete trust in the Lord looks like. What bravery looks like. How to mother. How to love. What it looks like to be a good friend. She is the fabric of my life. She is all over everything I see and every breath I take. My mentor. My cheerleader. My coach. My dear dear mother. The orchestrater of all the fun. The creator of all the beautiful things in every room. She had the magic touch.

She had impeccable style and so much class, but also so much sass and the ability to sit and relate to anyone without offering any nonsense. Just grace and truth and so much love for everyone she loved.

We’ve joked that she’d be saying to us, “Oh, just get over it already!” She would. She was a dust yourself off and get on with it kind of woman. But the loss we’re experiencing is immeasurable. She lit up a room. She held everyone’s attention without asking for it.

Sometimes just hearing her voice on the phone on a bad day just turned me into a puddle of tears. The comfort she provided just by knowing she loved me was all the comfort I needed. We’d schedule visits with each other before another was over. Many days now I can’t catch my breath as I imagine this life without her.

My brother, Walker, loved her dearly and she would have done anything for him. And my dad. Oh my dad. She was his best friend and he was hers. He cherished her right up until her very last breath. The example of marriage that they have set for me is amazing.

She adored Todd, and was always saying how lucky we all are to have him in our family. (I often joked that she grew to love Todd more than she loved me!) We know she’s with us. In our actions, in our words, in the songs we sing. Gosh, she’s even there when I look in the mirror now and see so much of her in me.

When I think about what she would want you to know and what she’d want me to share, it’s this. My mama was not perfect. She was precious and she changed lives, but she wasn’t perfect. She is not the hero of this story. She was a woman who was saved by grace through faith in Jesus. She loved her heavenly Father. She wanted a deeper relationship with Him. She wanted to show the love of Christ to those in her life. Jesus in her is the hero of this story. She would want you to know that and she’d want you to draw nearer to Him. To trust Him and let Him take the reigns.

And that’s what we’re doing. We’re leaning into our Savior, letting Him carry us, and not wasting a single minute that we have to tell anyone about the Good News in our lives. We’re experiencing incredible sorrow and unspeakable joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. He is good!

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