When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.
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It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.

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Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

Between awake and asleep

Baby AI first heard this term in reference to the time between your child being awake at night and falling asleep. The phrase has stuck with me. I thought of it again the other day when leaving the apartment complex of a beautiful baby girl. Only now I think of it in the context of the (sometimes) brief period between life and death.

I can’t tell you much about this precious one’s story because there is little I know. She was born with a cardiovascular disorder that would take her life before the third month out of her teenage mother’s womb.

I don’t know why some babies live while others die. I have learned more about death in the last 3 years than in my (almost) 37 years of life. I have seen the “new normal for those left behind. I have felt the pain of loss and wept with those who mourn. It really isn’t something to be understood.

I have the best job in the world. People allow me into their lives to document moments. Some I’ve only just met, while others are known. I have shared in much laughter and happy tears. I have also been on the side of weeping and unthinkable tragedy.

There is one thing I have witnessed from both viewpoints. Love. Beautiful, unadulterated, infrangible, love.

Oswald Chambers said, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” I cling to this when searching for understanding in that which was never meant to be understood. There are times when I must have deliberate confidence in the character of God, period. End of discussion. No more to say.

I have been asked many times why I would walk into a circumstance like Asher, Josiah, Daddy's handAlondra, Hsa…I respond this way, “Never do I feel the presence of God more than in these situations. There is something so holy and sacred it cannot be described with words. It’s as if Jesus himself looks on, weeping with the mother who is saying goodbye. His ways are not my ways. If I say I trust Him, I must do so in the good and the bad. If I say I want His will for my life, I must accept that while he gives, he also takes away.” This usually leaves people with little to say.

It is an enormous privilege to witness the moments between awake and asleep. It changes me. It causes me to swell with gratitude for so many things. I have a front row seat to what courage in the face of unimaginable circumstances looks like. I am blessed to be one of the witness’ to the miracle of life, documenting how precious and fragile it can be.

HandsEveryone has a story. Please remember this when bumping into strangers today. Please remember this before responding harshly or irrationally to the person who cuts across 4 lanes of traffic to avoid missing their exit.

We have no idea from whence a person is coming or going. We are completely unaware of the weight they have been given to carry.

After meeting a little girl who would change my heart, perspective and faith forever, I joined an organization that provides professional photography for families who are experiencing the loss of a child. Every session I do is to honor the memory of Hallie Green. To learn more about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep click HERE

Twenty-four hours with Asher

Many of you have followed Asher’s story. In my writings I said that it was Lindsey’s story to tell and she would talk when she’s ready.

Well, she’s ready. It’s beautiful…full of hope…an example of courage in the midst of horrendous circumstances. I have not changed or added to any of Lindsey’s words. They are directly from her.

I know she would appreciate your comments and sharing with others who could be positively impacted by her story and Asher’s life.

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“As Joy so beautifully and eloquently wrote, my son Asher Knox, has a story. Our family has a story because of this miracle baby. Anyone who met our sweet precious boy, has a story…like Joy does. It’s because most people can’t tell stories of angels because they never meet one. I grew one inside me for 35 weeks and 3 day.
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Some outsiders may say Asher’s story is one of heartbreak, one of tragedy and that it has ended. I can see how that can be a thought as I would be lying if I said those thoughts never entered my mind. But when it comes down to the truth, Asher’s story is one of all-consuming love, a will to fight, and down right determination.
3F9B9571I will not go into the 9 months of details, but what I will share is that my husband and I found out when I was 15 weeks along , that Asher had a form of Skeletal Dysplasia—aka dwarfism. Since it was caught so early on, the many doctors I saw were confident that it was a lethal form…meaning IF Asher made it to term, he would not breathe and would die very shortly after birth. We were given the choice to terminate at that point, which is an awful place to be for anyone…PRO CHOICE or PRO LIFE. You are deciding the fate of your child to a certain degree at that stage.

I was never one of those people who voiced their opinion on PC vs PL as I figured I would never be in that position and I could see arguments for both sides. However, when it came down to it, we felt that if God didn’t want us to have Asher, then why allow us to conceive him? If he was not meant to be, God would end the pregnancy at some point but we could not bear the thought of stopping our child’s heart by choice. If he were to go, it would be when it was his time.
IMG_6172Fast forward to May 26, 2013 when I gave birth to the angel inside me. I had no expectations but hopes that I would be able to hold my son and have him look at me long enough to know I was his Momma. I got that moment. I got not only that one but 23 hours and 45 minutes of moments. Each of those seconds I spent with Asher were not filled with tears, but of hand holding, hair smelling, belly kissing, storytelling, and more cuddling and group praying than I can count. Because of Asher, my husband, Asher and I were able to feel more love from family, friends and strangers than I could EVER begin to imagine. We felt very blessed and still feel blessings entering our lives each and every day.
3F9B9263Yes, I said BLESSED. You may be thinking, “Why does this woman feel blessed if she carried her child to term, only to say goodbye less than a day later?” That’s just it. I had a day. Actually I had almost 36 weeks of enjoying ultrasound photos and kicks and somersaults. I got to watch my belly get bigger every week. I was able to be a MOTHER. How many people never get that opportunity? I truly believe there are many women out there that cannot get pregnant or carry their own child, and if given the choice, they would take 24 hours versus nothing.
3F9B0101To quote my favorite movie Steel Magnolias…..”I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” I have watched that movie easily 75 times in the past 20 years. How ironic that that quote would be something I would experience and believe myself when my son was created.

So what is life like now after Asher left to fly with the angels? It is tough, no ifs, and or buts about it. Actually tough is a kind way of putting it. Grief is a feeling that cannot be put into a definition properly. It consumes you at certain points. It hits you when you least expect it. Just when you think grief has left the building, it becomes the act on the main stage. I miss my buddy, every single second of every day.

Never would I have thought I would welcome the heartburn, the painful feeling of pressure from him pressing on my organs, the Gestational Diabetes and pricking my finger 4 times a day. That sounds like bliss because HE was with me, safe and sound.

I realize there will be no rocking to sleep, no report cards, no chances for me to leave notes in his Toy Story lunch box. My husband and I will miss out on teaching him to ride a bike and kiss booboo’s. No homecoming dances, no first haircut, no cliche Easter bunny and Santa Claus pictures. That’s the stuff that hurts the most~the things not only we, but Asher will miss out on.

I know I will see him again and that he is waiting patiently for us. This life is temporary and I am comforted knowing that at the end of the day, I have an angel baby that I will spend eternity with. I would never have that opportunity if we didn’t choose the road less traveled….carrying to term.

Again I say, I AM BLESSED. Everyone has darkness in their lives, but there is also light. You just have to look for it …or be open to it. My darkest days did not kill me. They may have knocked me down and I still have to take it one minute of every day at a time. But I choose to be happy. I choose to honor my beautiful son Asher by not seeing his life as a tragedy or one that has ended.

His story is just beginning. And so is mine.”

Baby Asher

Many of you have asked me the story behind the cover picture on my Facebook page. I want to tell you. I want you to know who Asher is. Honestly I haven’t had the words to adequately describe the experience.

So, I wrote him a letter in hopes to honor Lindsey and let her son know what a remarkable mother he has.

Today marks one week since baby Asher was born. He lived outside the womb for 24 hours. In that time, he was adored by all who were fortunate enough to meet him. No one treasured him more than his mother, Lindsey. I will never forget following her hand through the lens of my camera as she gently ran her finger along the contours of his little frame. She didn’t miss a single detail. She made sure she knew every line in his palm and wrinkle in his foot. She breathed in the smell of his skin. She delicately touched his head, feeling his baby soft hair beneath her finger tips. She memorized his face. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I am one of the fortunate few who met this special child and told him how precious he was. I will not go into details about the time I witnessed of Asher’s life on this earth. It’s not my story to tell. When Lindsey is ready, she will tell it and eventually I will write more of this little one who left such a huge imprint on my heart.

Asher Knox MartindaleDear Asher,

One week ago, today, we were all anxiously awaiting your arrival. I had met your mom and dad only the day before, but this experience would bond us for a lifetime.

From the moment you came into this world, you were adored. Your mama had a head start on the rest of us. She had been feeling your kicks and movements in her belly for months. You were her constant companion. She loved you long before seeing you.

I had the privilege of capturing your daddy’s face the first time he saw you. He loves you so much, precious boy. It’s such a difficult thing for a dad to watch his child struggle, knowing he cannot step in and save the day. Because he would have, darling. He would have traded places with you in a moment. You could see it all over his face.

Here is what I want you to know, little one. Your mom is so brave. Her courage is more than admirable. She has fought for you from the very beginning. She knew that medical facts showed little chance you would survive. She heard the doctor’s words and knew the odds that were stacked against you. She also knew that she would carry you, in her belly, as long as she could. She would give you life and if only for a moment, hold you in her arms, sheltering you from the coldness of this world, whispering lullaby’s in your ear.

I was witness to incredible love, sweet Asher. Your mama loves you extravagantly.

She wants all who know her, and those who don’t, to hear your story and know your name. You were a little champion. I am so, so grateful to have met you. You were wonderfully made and your life has great purpose.

Your mommy and daddy miss you, darling. There are so many tears. There are also beautiful memories of a day filled with…you. Your life. Your story. Your purpose.

Your legacy will continue. Your name will be spoken in many circles. Your memory will outlive us all. Those who know your mom are forever changed by her courage, faith and unconditional love.

You are beautiful. You are loved. You are chosen. Now may you rest in the arms of the Savior who spoke life into being. You are safe. You are well. You are home.

Love and Light,
Joy
(the girl behind the lens)

Cleansing through tears

Dear Elliot,

In just a few days we will hit the 1 year mark since your last day on this earth. Only, it’s Elliotwkiddosgoing to be a day like any other in the last 365 days of grief.

Every day people come to the blog and read the posts as I processed through those days of uncertainty. Your story of unwavering faith in the face of unthinkable sorrow is reaching others and will forever be shared. Every day I am able to pray for Chris, Wyatt and Bradford as you are in and out of my thoughts.

I was telling someone your story the other day. I don’t even remember how it came up? I didn’t cry. I was very matter of fact. I haven’t cried in a long time.

What I have been is angry. Not at God. At cancer…at the treatments used…at the what~ifs. I’ve been too angry to cry. But today I watched this video about a 17-year-old boy named Zach and the legacy he left behind when he passed away on May 20, 2013 (his story is documented below.) I slid down into the place between the overstuffed chair and the wall of windows and I wept.

I made up for months of no tears. It’s the same spot I sat more than a year ago and begged God for a miracle. It was my go to place when things overwhelmed me. I haven’t sat there since last year while talking to Elisabeth on the phone a few days before you died and knowing what need not be said.

El, my chest has literally ached for days. My heart hurts. Though I will never know how widespread your influence has been, it is vast. I do not understand the ways of our mysterious God. I don’t even know how to finish the letters I’ve started writing to Wyatt and Bradford.

What I know for certain is that I don’t want to find out I’m dying to really start living. I want to live. I want to love until it heals. Laugh until my sides hurt and my lips shake. Dance around my living room until I’m out of breath. Drink in the sunlight, feel summer raindrops on my skin. I want to live, El. You taught me that.

I want to dream big
Never stop seeking
Brag on a God who is beyond explanation
Reach the unreachable
Believe in Heaven
Heal the hurting
Capture beauty and give it away
I want to know when this day is done that I am more than satisfied with the goings on.

I want to play more
Give more
Sing more
Pray more

I know you wouldn’t wish anger for any of us left here to grieve. Every time I see a “sky cross” I grasp the visual evidence that God gives me the strength I need when I need it.

I love you friend. Thank you for living with such grace and beauty. Thank you for showing everyone who witnessed your courage during illness that God is good even when it doesn’t feel like it and he has a plan and a purpose for our lives.

Blessings and Light,
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Related Posts:
Saying Goodbye
A Tribute to Elliot

Easter Hangover

It was the mid 90’s. I was driving someone else’s car down a main road in the city where I was living at the time. Dawn was just about to break the horizon when it occurred to me. It’s Easter morning. I had been up for several days with the help of stimulants in the form of pill and powder and was now starting the brutal decent down from my high. I usually didn’t know what day it was so I’m not sure how I remembered it was Easter.

This picture etched so vividly in my memory… As the sun peeked over the horizon and poured it’s light into my eyes, tears ran down my sunken cheeks. “Easter…I wonder what my family is doing? My mom has already called half a dozen people by now exclaiming, ‘HE IS RISEN!’ while waiting for their reply, ‘He has risen indeed’ and will be preparing for Sunday service and dinner afterwards.”

I was 18 years old. I would spend 8 more years in mental anguish and self-inflicted torment before I surrendered control of my life in the rooms of AA.

Last night I attended the Easter service at my church. It was the best service I have ever been a part of on this important Sunday in the history of our heritage. I was sitting on the back row of the balcony and could see everything going on. Different kinds of people from all walks of life flooded the auditorium. I had a stressful time getting myself and 3 children ready to attend and quite honestly, I just wanted to check off attendance, hear the same old “Easter message” and get home to my pajama pants.

God had other plans.

I sat behind a row of several children. During the music I glanced over to see an adult holding two of the little girls up. They were fully in the moment with hands lifted in praise to the giver of life. “They get it.” I thought to myself. “I want to get it like they do.”
Our hands are lifted highGod wasn’t stressed out about what I would wear to gather in this place. He didn’t care if I stuffed myself into my spanx. It didn’t matter if I had make-up on or my hair fixed. He just wanted me. He wanted me to recognize His goodness. He wanted me to bask in His grace. He wanted me to see, first hand, faith like a child.

For those of you reading who have given up trying to change someone you love who is lost in addiction. Good. You can’t. Only God can save us from ourselves. You never know what God will use to trigger the desire for Him.

To the parents who have a prodigal son or daughter…They have not forgotten the teachings of their childhood. God’s got thisLet Him have it.

To those of you going through hell…please hear me when I say that the “Christians” who are telling you that it’s impossible to be saved while acting the way you are, just haven’t experienced the kind of lost that has seemingly swallowed you. We do the best we can with what we have and that is what they are doing.

When it comes down to the core of the matter…it is between you and God, my friend. You. And. God. He has the final say and only He knows your heart. You may be acting a fool. I did for many years. You may think God has abandoned you like so many others have. May I encourage you with this truth. God is exactly where he has always been. Awaiting your return. He wants nothing more than to bless you and shape you into His purpose. He wants to love you, provide for you and protect you from the demons that haunt you.

I know this first hand. I have sat where you sit. Maybe not in the same circumstances, but desperatelongingsearchingbegging…for some shred of hope. There is hope. Today we celebrate this hope called Jesus. There is life. Today we celebrate this life in Jesus. There is salvation. Today we celebrate the Savior named Jesus. There is abounding love. Today we celebrate the purest form of love in Jesus. There is peace that passes all understanding. Today we celebrate that peace through Jesus.

Now you know. I am rather sold out to this carpenter who walked the earth for just over 30 years. He never wrote a book. He wasn’t overly attractive. He wasn’t wealthy and His crown was made of thorns, but you see, He redeemed me. What was lost is now found. What was broken is now whole. Blind eyes can now see. He took my armor of shame and replaced it with a cloak of grace. But I had to hand it to him. He was not going to strip it off of me. I had to remove it, piece by piece. It was heavy and restricting. Now…now I am free. It was more than worth the exchange. I couldn’t always see it in the moment, but looking back I wonder how I ever missed it.

My friend, journeying alone or as a companion through the desert. My prayer for you is that, in His perfect timing, God will reveal himself to you in a way so obvious and powerful that there is no denying His presence. My prayer for you is that you will come back home.

If you want/need somewhere to turn that is “come as you are” here are a few great resources.
Central Online (Their motto is, “It’s okay to not be okay.”)
Buckhead Church a division of North Point Community Church (This is my 2nd home)
People of the Second Chance (These are my people…scarred…broken and beautiful)

 

This Day

Pure JoySome days just flow.
The kids don’t whine when waked up for school.
Breakfast is on the table when they come down with sleepy eyes and bed head.
They change into their clothes without being asked.
Lunches are packed.
Clean socks are waiting by shoes.
Jackets are on.
And they’re off for another day of learning and growing.
Walking out into a day paved with faith as we release them into the impeccable care of their Heavenly Father.
The house is quiet now.
The hum of the dryer is all that is heard.
The sun peeks through the clouds as snowflakes fall, quickly melting on impact.
The house is warm.
Smells of coffee and burnt cinnamon fill the air, rising to the ceiling.
It’s another day. Filled with endless possibilities. More than can be embraced.
My lips curve into a smile with teeth.
So this is grace.
This is the undeserved and grossly underrated exuberance of God.
This is the beauty of second chances.
This is light and hope. Blessings and goodness all swirled into normal.
May I remember this moment on the not so smooth days when the children whine from dawn to dusk and the pantry isn’t stocked from my lack of grocery shopping.
When there are no clean clothes and every step is a struggle.
I want to remember this warmth and calm of a peaceful heart at home.