Monday, August 25, 2014
A living child asks for a birthday party. Or you, as the parent, ask him what he wants for his birthday. There’s dialogue. There’s a cake and candles and presents. The camera captures the smiles as he tears open his gifts. It’s easy. It’s tradition. Parents fall into bed at night, exhausted, but grateful. Their son or daughter seemed happy with her birthday. Moms and Dads rest-—they did it!
But what exactly is a parent supposed to do on the birthday of her child when he is gone? Not gone, as in out of town or at the beach, or out of the country. Gone as in-—no longer alive.
A dead child doesn’t want. A dead son asks for nothing.
What does a mom or dad do? Where’s the rule book for celebrating birthdays for a dead child?
Every year I hope to come up with something creative. Every year something comes forth-—a poem, an article, an idea, some gift to a charity in Daniel's memory. Each year I recall a little boy who told me that he wasn’t supposed to say "customer words" (cuss words). A little boy who celebrated his last birthday, his fourth, with the help of friends, family, and a big red fire truck that stopped by to give him and his guests plastic firemen hats. (Daniel didn’t seem too impressed, but he wore the hat over his bald head anyway.)
Today, Monday, is Daniel’s 22nd birthday. I want to go to Daniel’s Place, i.e., the cemetery. My three kids are busy with work and the first day of school.
How many years since Daniel’s death has the first day of school come on his birthday? Another reminder that he never got to go to real school, just Mother’s Morning Out at a church and a few sessions with the teacher at the hospital school.
My kids are remembering their brother. Liz, the youngest, who was born three months after he died, tells me she remembered at school today. But she isn't eager about going to Daniel's Place. What she wants is a nap after the first day of her senior year, a nap before she has to go to work.
I decide. I make a decision, those things that were so hard to do right after Daniel died. I’d made so many when he was alive undergoing treatments for his malignant tumor. When he died, I wanted to not have to decide anything.
But today I will go alone to Daniel’s Place. Because I am going to do what I need to do. This is my son’s birthday and he’s not here and I decide that it’s perfectly acceptable to be a bit selfish. Even though I’m a mom and moms are always doing for others and neglecting their own needs, I’m allowed. I will go alone to sit by his grave and not wait for others to find time to join me.
Carl says he’ll go with me. He never met Daniel either.
We stop at the Dollar Store and buy a Happy Birthday balloon with a butterfly. We indulge in a few snacks. Carl gets pork rinds even though the sound of them crunching annoys me. I pick out a bag called Party Mix because it has a birthday hat on the packaging.
“Really?” says Carl. “Party mix?”
I suppose he thinks a party is not what we parents of dead children have. Actually, I think, as I eat from the bag while the two of us are seated across from Daniel’s marker, I’m not feeling in the party mode. Last year the kids, Carl and I celebrated Daniel’s 21st year with a picnic. This year, I feel undone by a life that is relentlessly tough. My maternal inventory: I have an adult child with Borderline Personality Disorder who came back to live with us last summer and another who left home and did not graduate high school. The youngest is not allowed to screw up because mama is tired of dealing with disappointment and the law. And yes, I have a dead child I have not seen since he was four.
But today on this birthday without him. I want to remember a little boy who loved Toy Store, stickers, laughter, and watermelon. I want to recall when he said, “You’re pretty, mommy, can I kiss you?” and then when I said, “Yes,” he smiled and shouted, “Hot dog!”
The tears come; this year Daniel’s birthday hits me terribly hard.
I write out a message on a sheet of paper to attach to the butterfly balloon. In the distance a hawk soars over the tree tops. From a tote bag, I remove a Fisher Price airplane and a heart-shaped box Daniel painted and place them both on the grave. I take pictures.
I take pictures of the sky, hoping to get the hawk in one of them. Standing with Carl, we lift the balloon into the sky. It sails to the left. Never before in all the 18 birthdays since Daniel’s death has a balloon headed in this direction. Perhaps this is a reflection of why this day seems super hard to live. If it sailed right, maybe things would be going better.
Carl and I watch until the balloon makes its way safely over the electrical wires, over the tree tops, and over the Interstate. We watch until the balloon is no more.
When it comes to celebrating the birthday of a child no longer here, my advice to parents is do what you need to do. Take the day off if that's what you need. Who cares if no one else understands? Sit at the grave, take pictures of the sky. View the clouds, look for dragonflies. Write long messages and attach them to helium balloons. Drink a Corona or glass of chardonnay to your child’s life and try not to think of how unjustly short his time on earth was.
Take care of you. You, the one who lives with a hole in your heart. Be kind to you; you need to stay healthy. Surround yourself with those who get it, who encourage you, not belittle you, who let you tell the stories, who don't judge your tears. Hold on and drink deep from that well called hope.
Remember that your love for your child expands beyond the sky. Always.
On your child's birthday, give yourself that gift of remembering love.
Friday, August 8, 2014
Wind chimes provide a wonderful aura to any garden or patio. The soothing sound of their music---provided by a breeze, wood, and copper tubes-----is a beautiful thing. And it's even more fun when you get to choose what you want written on the "flapper".
Our wind chimes can hold the carved name of a loved one who is no longer here. Or they can have a word or two that has significant meaning. Either way, you can be sure that no one will have a wind chime identical to yours. Yep, these are one of a kind!
Our first run of ordered wind chimes were eight in total. Each one was tailor-made and skillfully put together by Carl who has a knack for these kinds of things. Three kinds of wood were used as well as copper tubing, sturdy cord, hooks, and wood screws. When it came time to get the wind chimes ready for shipping, I helped with the packaging part---plenty of bubble wrap and tape.
The carved buttefly "flapper" catches the wind and sets the rest of the wind chime in motion.
Minus the cobwebs, aren't these shiny tubes beautiful against the backdrop of green leaves on trees?
Check out more about how these wind chimes are made at this link to our Carved By Heart shop.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
I set out to write a book about me—my anguish, my loss, my pain, my doubt, my questions. Instead I was pointed to God and wrote about His grace, His love, His faithfulness, and His forgiveness. Within those are His answers.
We often think it’s all about us—how much we suffer, how much we cry, how tormented we feel. But when we weigh all of our misery against His grace, His grace outweighs it all. God’s compassion is stronger, fiercer than our struggles, and His love more constant, radiant, and healing than any problem in our den of lions.
If you are early in your grief, you may not understand what I’m talking about. You might still be at odds with God, and while the title of this book caught your attention, as you flip through the pages, that’s all you liked. That’s okay. God meets us wherever we are and no amount of disbelief, anger, or frustration keeps Him from loving His children. It has taken me fifteen years, from the worst heartache of my life, to come to this place of comfort, this stream of beauty. And I never thought I’d be here. When my son first died, I told God that we would only communicate in passing, like a neighbor I don’t like when I see her over the fence. I almost wished I had had no past with God—no history, no conversion story—so that I didn’t have to be angry with Him for my loss. God would be distant from now on. As I learned to adapt to my heartache, I would not expect anything from Him again.
I am one who had to wrestle. Like Jacob, I did. I groaned and I fought and groaned some more. And through it all, I was surprised. What I thought I’d discarded for good, instead became a new song in my mouth. I welcomed a stronger, genuine, more realistic faith—a possession I keep within my broken heart, a gift no moth or thief can steal.
From the Preface for Getting Out of Bed in the Morning by Alice J. Wisler, published by Leafwood Publishers 2012
Available in print and e-reader at many shops including Amazon.
Friday, August 1, 2014
“You’re an animal hater.”
Although the word hate was a bit strong, I didn’t deny those words. I was not interested in having a pet, especially a dog. Other people’s dogs were fine, but I wouldn’t be fussing over some four-legged creature.
As I looked back to childhood, my baby brother was the one who brought stray dogs home. I’m not sure if they followed him or he coaxed them into our back yard. We got to keep one for a bit—outside under the wisteria trellis. Dad built a dog house from wood. Not long after that, this dog had puppies and we named one Buffy. Buffy, like her mother, was an outside doggie, but one day she got into the house. Like a crazed beast, she ran all over the bedrooms. She stopped long enough to chew my doll furniture. Pink cushions from my Barbie house were bitten and left strewn around my bedroom floor. I was infuriated and glad when Mom shoved Buffy out the door to go back to her dog house.
My brother was the only one in our family who really liked dogs. Strays continued to follow him home, but soon, although I’m not sure when it happened, we had no more dogs.
He made up for it though. He’s fifty now and has had dogs in his house as pets for years.
I, on the other hand, was not an animal lover. Yet, when my children were in elementary school, they begged for a dog. So after careful research, my husband and I bought a beagle for the kids and gave it to them for Christmas. My husband and kids agreed on her name—Dixie. We bought a book on how to care for beagles and gave it to my kids as well.
Dixie was a pretty and sweet doggie, although her nose got her into trouble. Like a typical hound, she followed her nose, and it led her to run away on a number of occasions. I ended up taking her on walks and even though she was a Christmas gift for my kids, I’m sure I did more for her than I’d bargained for.
Ten years later, when my second husband said he wanted a boxer, I cringed. Carl had grown up with dogs and as an adult had had boxers— his favorite breed—as pets. Dixie was still with us, yet, she had slowed down quite a bit. One dog is enough, I thought. But in a moment of weakness, I told my husband that he could have a dog and within a day of my saying that, he brought home a six-week-old boxer puppy. Carl, my kids and I felt that the name Levi suited this new addition.
Another dog. And a puppy to house train. What had I gotten myself into again? I was not one of those who cared deeply for dogs. I could take them or leave them, preferably, leave them. I would never call a dog “baby” or let him sleep in the same bedroom with me.
I’m not sure if I have mellowed with age or that boxers are my dog or perhaps it is just this one, but Levi has captured my heart. In the mornings, he slithers out from his quilt, I open the door and together we leave the bedroom. “Go outside, baby,” I say to him as my husband makes the coffee. Out through the doggie dog Levi heads and then comes back in to be made over by my husband, his stubby tail wiggling like Jell-O.
Levi has chewed my favorite sandals and used to love to steal my pink cap and take it outside. He once was caught on the counter eating a pumpkin pie I had just baked. But he has made up for his sophomoric behavior by cuddling on the sofa with me and looking empathetic when I’ve cried. He’s even learned how to sing (howl) when my husband plays the harmonica. He has such a cute face with such expressive eyes as he belts out a soulful howl. He likes ice cubes and expects them as treats. And he is so good looking; I call him the George Clooney of dogs!
He’s also been the dog we photograph for our business, Carved By Heart. Among many products we offer, we carve from photos of pets. Customers send us photos of their pets’ faces and we create from the picture into wood. Levi’s puppy face has received much attention. But when I try to pose him with our plaques, he usually doesn’t sit still long. I understand; I don’t like posing for the camera either.
As I write this at the computer, Levi curls around my feet, softly breathing in his sleep. I think he needs a treat and when I stand, walk into the kitchen and open the freezer, he jumps up to join me. I motion for him to sit; he knows the routine. Patiently he waits until I get a small cube for him, place it near his mouth and then he takes it and chews. I get an ice cube for myself and let it melt in my mouth.
I’d chew if I could, but I have to be careful not to crack any more of my molars. I smile at Levi as we head back to my computer. It’s amazing how the two of us grow more alike every day.
Alice J. Wisler is an author of five novels, three cookbooks and a devotional, writing instructor, and the co-owner of Carved By Heart (visit their shop on Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/CarvedByHeart ). She and her family live in Durham, NC.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Welcome to Kimberley Payne! Kimberley's newest book is out and she's here to talk about it. I love the cover.
Adam’s Animals – Fun Facts About God’s Creation just released this spring!
Is your church running a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program this summer based on the Weird Animals curriculum?
Consider using Adam’s Animals along with the accompanying craft book, Super Simple Animal Crafts in your Sunday School program leading up VBS. It’s a great resource for your church to generate interest in your summer programs.
Adam’s Animals is an entertaining and educational book that offers children loads of fun while they learn about the Bible.
Inside you’ll find:
• Bible stories about the animal
• Fascinating facts about each animal
• Whimsical illustrations for creative colouring fun
• Word search puzzles to learn new words and improve spelling
Watch a video of author Kimberley Payne reading from Adam’s Animals
View sample pages from Adam’s Animals
What others are saying about Adam's Animals
"Kimberley looks at the creatures found in the Bible and gives children some incredible scientific facts about them. She then follows those facts up with Scripture references from the Bible on what God has to say about the many animals she has listed in this book. If your child is one who likes "Did you know...?" books, they'll love this one. Included in the book are word search activities and pictures to colour." – Laura Davis
"Author Kimberly Payne has done a thorough job of researching the animal kingdom and combining it with scripture and biblical stories. This book has many fascinating facts about animals and is laid our in a very organized manner with pictures to color and word puzzles." – Carol Stratton
"From ants to worms, children will not only find the facts interesting, some will even make them giggle. At the same time, they are learning how creative God is that he would make so many animals with distinct characteristics."
– Carol Round
"I plan to use this book in our home school program as it integrates faith, science, language and art. My kids love it - there is much information in it, our 12 year old couldn't get through it in one sitting." – Michelle Evans
"This is a delightful book filled with (as promised) fun facts about God's creatures. I appreciated the focus on scripture and how Kimberley aligns God's word with God's creatures. The word challenges are a wonderful way to hone other skills such as spelling and reading, too, so this is a great activity to go along with the information."
– Glynis Belec
"This children's activity book cleverly ties in scripture, so not only does it teach the inquisitive child about God's creations, but also about God's word." — Melanie Fischer
Buy the Book
About the Author
Kimberley Payne is an award-winning author who combines her teaching experience and love of writing to create educational materials for children about family, fitness, science and faith. You can visit her website at www.kimberleypayne.com.
Monday, July 7, 2014
I love you to the moon and back.
I love you beyond tomorrow.
Love. Love for kids. Love for our kids.
Who knows how deep it is?
Who knows better than a bereaved mother?
With the births of my first three children, I loved them in all their red-faced fuzziness. By the time my fourth child was born, I knew I loved her more than ever.
Did I love her more?
No, but I knew of the depth of my capacity to love.
What had changed?
My second child, Daniel, had died just three months earlier.
And with his death, I realized how great and vast and powerful and consuming a mother's love is for her child. And that once a child is gone, there is a fierceness to love, to love that continues, but has no living-on-earth object of love.
It's been nearly eighteen years since Daniel died from cancer treatments in 1997.
Every single day my love has grown for him and for his siblings.
I know the ache of loss and absence and that both of these bring you to a new understanding. Love goes on after death. On and on. And it is a kind of love that can take your breath away.
I knew I loved my children before Daniel left us, but I wasn't aware of how pulsating and immense this love was.
If you have lost a child to death, you know just what I mean.
If you have not lost a child, you think your love is already great. It is, I will not deny that. It is growing as all living things grow. But you can not know how your love can make you yearn so much for one who is no longer there by your side. You cannot know the extent of longing for one you will no longer see----even if only at Christmas because he lives overseas. This love can only be experienced in this way after you have had to say good-bye.
There is something about the permanency of death that makes us realize how much we can love because once that child is gone from us, we feel the sorrow of life without a living person to give that love to. But it's more than that, we recognize how devastated we are without this person in our lives and now entwined that child is to us. Even in death.
What irony that it takes death to discover this love.
Is it true then? She/He who has lost much, loveth more? Or does she just understand the ocean-like quality of love more completely?
Hug your children.
Cherish the memories.
Today I have Pamela Thorson as a guest on my blog for the World Blog Tour. I'll post a bit about her and her recent book and then answer four questions about me.
Pamela's new devotional is Out from the Shadows: 31 Devotions for the Weary Caregiver. It's a carefully-written insightful book. Pam is a nurse and a veteran caregiver for her son. In this time-consuming role, Pam faces many challenges as well as gifts and blessings. Those who are also caregivers will find hope in her authentic words as they view fresh perspectives about their roles in caring for those with Jesus' love.
Every chapter of Pam's devotional ends with a prayer and some questions for reflection. Here is a prayer from the chapter called "Jimmy's Hunger".
I understand my perception of You
has been shaped by my earthly father.
I ask You to reveal to me the ways
in which I have misunderstood who You are.
Help me break free from wrong pathways
and understand the depth of Your unconditional love.
Be sure to read more about Pam at her website.
Out from the Shadows is avaiable at many vendors, including Amazon. Read the book in paperback or on your e-reader.
Now it's time for me to answer these four questions which each Blog Tour host is asked to do.
1) What am I working on?
I am breaking from novel writing and cultivating bits and pieces of what keeps me up at nights----the desire to write a memoir. My agent is currently pitching this memoir titled I Came To Life Late. Yep, that title says it all, doesn't it? Everyone else seems to have things figured out and I am still out in the cold wondering where the front door to get into the party is. That's been me as a child and even as an adult! The memoir reflects on my childhood in Japan as a missionary kid and also how my past illusions about life have kept me from living life as it really is----tough, filled with disappointments and multiple heartache, and in need of God's grace, mercy and patience. As I write, I want most of all to be authentic in my story, not taking the easy way out by sugar-coating anything and that includes my marriage, my financial woes, my children, and the death of my four-year-old son Daniel. I know that there are many----especially women and mothers----who expected their lives and families to turn out differently than they have. This memoir is for them, a way of holding their hands and encouraging them to keep on looking up. As long as there is breath, there is hope.
2) How does my work differ from others in my genre?
Since I have five novels published (with the sixth due out this fall), I'll focus on them when answering this question. I think that my published novels are a bit more literary and quirky than many who write inspirational fiction. I like to write in first person, it makes it easier for me than third. My novels are also less subtle in their Christian message because I want to entertain first and master that. People pick up my novels to be entertained and so I want to deliver a well-crafted story in the best way I know how.
3) Why do I write what I write?
I love to have that unique voice and am working hard to improve it with each novel and story I create. My characters are flawed and in need of mercy. I want readers to know that they are not alone in their struggles and heartache. There is a God who listens, is full of compassion and love.
4) How does my writing process work?
I get an idea that usually comes to me on one of my walks, jot down the story briefly, make a chapter by chapter outline and go from there. Ideally, I like to write about three hours every morning. But I have to admit that I don't live in an ideal environment.
Next stop on the World Blog Book Tour?
Lindsey Bell! She will be posting on the Blog Tour next Monday.
Her book, Searching for Sanity, just came out in January.
Here's a blub about it:
Have you ever looked at your beloved children and wondered: What in the world am I doing? Why did God trust me of all people to raise them? Motherhood is the most difficult job many of us will ever take. Moms today are busy, overwhelmed and stressed. Many feel underqualified.
Searching for Sanity offers moms an opportunity to take a breath, dig into the Word, and learn from parents of the past. In short devotions designed for busy moms, this book explores the parents of the Bible both the good and the bad. Some of the parents within the pages of God's Word set great examples for us to follow; others made huge mistakes. In Searching for Sanity, you'll learn from both.The wisdom of God's Word, paired with the experiences of another mother-in-training, will help moms find sanity in the midst of chaos.
Read more about it on Amazon.