Deb’s Journey…

January 14, 2014

Downton Abbey on grief…

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“The price of great love is great misery when one of you dies.”

“But you see when your only child dies, then you’re not a mother anymore.  You’re not anything really.  That’s what I’m trying to get used to.”

“You’re letting yourself be defeated my lady. It’s time for you to come back to us.”

“What would you suggest?”

“Take an interest in something.  It doesn’t matter what.  Poetry, carpentry, history or hats.”

“You’ve gone through a hideous time…The fact is you have a straight forward choice before you.  You must choose, either death or life.”

“And you think I should choose life? I know I’ve spent too long in the land of the dead.”

“You have a good cry my lady, that’s what’s needed now and when you’re ready, you’ll get to work because you are strong enough. You’re strong enough for the task.”

“But am I?”

Tomorrow I have a job interview at 2:00.

December 30, 2013

Considering the costs…

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Just because something can be done, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done.  I wonder about this with regard to adopting.

Sometimes I obsess over if it actually can be done at our age and with our limited finances.

  • Will a birth mother choose us to raise her little one?
  • Will we be able to raise the funds quickly if she does?
  • Can we do the sleepless nights again?
  • Do I have the strength to carry the baby and the baby equipment all the time?
  • What about chasing them around the playground?
  • Will we live long enough to see them raised?

Other times I obsess about if it should be done at our age and with our limited finances.

  • How will a child feel about having older parents?
  • Will they resent not having parents who can be really physically active with them into their teens?
  • What if one of us isn’t able to see them fully raised?
  • Won’t that just add to their abandonment fears?
  • Is it fair to them to have to care for elderly parents so early in their lives?
  • What about retirement and college?  How can we afford both our retirement and college for them?
  • Practically speaking are we truly able to meet their needs as well as our own?

There are those who argue that I think too much.  Maybe so.  Still it seems like considering the long term cost of something before you do it is a wise move and hopefully cuts down on regrets.

Time and money are limited commodities.   Still, is there a better investment than into the life of another?

November 13, 2013

Motion Sickness

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It’s been a rather overwhelming season in our lives that has lasted for the past five + years and promises to continue awhile longer.  Change is hard.  I like to know what’s coming, to plan for it and be prepared as much as possible.  I suppose that’s just a control thing.  But God keeps putting me through stuff that I cannot control, or truly prepare for, I just have to try to learn to trust Him in the midst of the chaos when I feel the movements but cannot see where we’re going.

Ian’s cancer journey was that way.  Grief has been that way.  Going on our mission trip to Honduras was that way and the adoption journey is that way too. God wants me to trust Him, to be completely dependent on Him while He takes me where He wants me to go.  I want to relax and trust, but sometimes I’m not really sure I know how…

Tom is a guy who loves adventure, he likes to travel where he hasn’t been, do new things.  He embraces it as a challenge and relishes the rush.

I am more of a home body.  I enjoy routine and order.  I find comfort and security in the known.  That doesn’t mean I never long for a change of scenery, but I want to “vacation” and not live there.

It’s been a complicated journey to get here and I keep wondering what God is doing and where He’s taking me.  I know He wants me to trust Him and I’m trying, really I am, but some days I get “motion sick” and wish there was a break I could pull to make the roller coaster stop.

I’ve read about jet pilots and the training they have to go through as they’re learning to fly.  Throwing up is pretty common at first then the body eventually gets desensitized and can handle the sudden changes of direction, they learn to roll with it and function at high levels even in the midst of it.

Maybe that’s what God is doing, putting me through flight school.  I guess I’ve always wanted to fly…and wanted to have little birdies and teach them to fly.  Maybe the first step is conquering motion sickness…God help me.

August 28, 2013

Calling Lizzy Ning and Earnest Ear!

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Telling the truth about anything is a scary, scary thing.  Telling the truth about pain and grief, well that’s terrifying.

Let’s be honest.  Folks don’t want to hear it.  There’s nothing they can truly do about it to make it better - except listen and pray. But they don’t want to listen, that would require time and their presence and they are in a hurry to get on with their lives.  No, they want to quick “fix” it - throw a band aid on it so they don’t have to see it and pretend it’s not there. Or they pat themselves on the back for “helping” with all their suggestions.   Somehow they think if you’ll just listen to them and do what they say then you’ll feel better and stop making them uncomfortable. If they can’t get you to listen to them, then they try to make you be quiet so they feel better.  “Can’t you suffer a little more quietly?  You’re ruining everything!”

Why is it that those who are in terrible pain and grief are the ones who must offer everyone else grace?  Why is it they must be the considerate and loving ones? Talk about adding insult to injury!

Job’s friends represented this…the first few days they sat quietly with him.  They really ministered with their presence.  Then, they started talking…They not only weren’t helpful, they were hurtful and they got in trouble with God for the stuff they said.

Listening is the language of love.  Most of us don’t speak it, cause it’s not possible to speak it or write it…it’s only possible to do while sitting in the presence of a person.  It takes time.  It takes intentional effort.

If pain and grief aren’t dealt with honestly, healing doesn’t happen properly.  The infection of bitterness gets trapped in deep places and keeps pain alive which then begins to decay even healthy places within the person.

I see that in my own heart.  There are places within me that I’ve never shared with someone else.  Some of them I know are there and others I’m not even aware of.  I’ve locked them away because no one was willing to hear it or because I wasn’t willing to share.  Very painful places and yes, infected. Sometimes someone will unknowingly brush up against an arrow that sticks out of my wound and I feel the deep agony and sometimes lash out at them.

Can I properly parent another child  - especially one who has their own wounds while I still have this pain?  What if they brush up against the arrow?  Won’t I injure them further?   They have their own arrows in their little hearts…can I treat them gently enough?

The world often says, “Hey, you hurt and so and so hurts, you should go help them!”   Really?  Throwing two broken, wounded people together is like asking two drowning people to save each other…shouldn’t at least one of them be strong enough to swim alone?  Don’t they need someone strong from the shore to throw them a lifeline and pull them in and then give them CPR?

Ian used to love Rescue Heroes.  He loved to find people in trouble so he could save them.  He saved me from hot lava many, many times. Silly me, I’d wander off the path and then, (que the dramatic music) “Don’t worry mom, I’ll save you!” I loved their names…Billy Blazes, Wendy Waters, Jack Hammer, Rocky Canyon, Bob Sled, Roger Houston, and Jake Justice.

We need more Rescue Heroes in the world.  Lizzy Ning and Ernest Ear there are lots of folks out there who need you desperately!  Hurry!

June 5, 2013


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A couple weeks ago we noticed a robin had begun building her nest in the spring wreath on our front porch.  I loved the sweetness of her efforts as she gathered one by one the pieces and wove them together with great care.  She then laid one perfect, beautiful blue egg.

But last weekend a storm came and the wind blew mightily and in the wind the nest crashed to the porch floor and all the fruits of her labor of love were lost.

I’ve found myself this week weeping for that mama robin…I somehow know how she feels.

March 29, 2013

Good Friday

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I used to think it was awful that they called this “Good” Friday- remembering the horrible suffering of Jesus.   Nothing about it seemed good to me, it was graphic and bloody and painful - all the worst of humanity…all the worst of hell itself, evil, awful…everything opposite of good.   The pain Jesus suffered is unfathomable to me.  My mind cannot comprehend the betrayal, the physical agony, the loneliness…

His mother somehow managed to watch as her precious son was treated with such hatred and brutality. They thrust a spear into his side and it pierced her heart. Even in His agony His eyes fell on his mother.  Even in His need, He met her need…tucking her safely under the arm of His best friend John whose name means “God is Gracious”…such tenderness, such amazing LOVE.   His Father shut the lights out so others couldn’t gawk at His Beloved Son in whom He was well pleased.  Such utter darkness.

Dark Fridays give way to long, uncertain Saturdays.  Saturday is often overlooked, eclipsed by the days surrounding it.  Yet  I believe Saturday shook the disciples to the core and tested their faith even more than Friday did…even in such a state, Jesus was still with them on Friday.  His presence gave them hope.  Saturday they were alone with their grief.  Saturday was the Sabbath and even in their aloneness they were commanded to rest, to make the time holy, set apart to God.  Rest isn’t easy when your hope is gone.  Shock, grief, confusion, anger, fear… How did the disciples feel about God that day?  What did they pray?

“Sometimes we are waiting in the sorrow we have tasted…but joy will replace it”

Just as spring follows winter, Bright Sundays follow Dark Fridays and Uncertain Saturdays…life will bloom again in the hands of our Redeemer…

Our Saturday has lasted over 4 years yet we are sensing that spring is coming again for us.  A season of new beginnings, of growth and hopefully new life.

In the Kingdom, true Life and beauty follow death.  Without death, there cannot be life.  So as dark and full of death as some Fridays are, ultimately they bring life and beauty because of what happened on that GOOD Friday long ago.

Our friend and mentor Jason Gray along with another friend Doug McKelvey have written this beautiful song.  It is the very message of Easter…and it sings in our hearts truth and grace that “in the hands of our Redeemer, Nothing is Wasted”

To view the new video click here:

“From the ruins, from the ashes, beauty will rise.  From the wreckage, from the darkness, glory will shine”

March 25, 2013

Ready or not, here I come…

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Being an external processor, I actually need to write or talk in order to process through things.  Writing is in many ways the tool I use to honestly face what’s going on deep inside me.  Without that outlet, my spirit remains unsettled and anxious.  Writing forces me to tell myself the truth and helps me search out solutions or next steps.

I’ve been reading lately about self-compassion, safe people and being authentic.

Being honest with anyone, including God and even myself asks me to believe that I will be met with kindness and compassion rather than judgment or criticism.

A wise mentor has encouraged me to “Feel what you feel without judging it”.

Scripture says it’s out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks…I guess that’s also true for what the hand writes.

I mostly stopped writing about eighteen months after Ian died.  At about the 18 month mark, I hit a wall.  The anesthesia of numbness had worn off and the hurt was so deep and powerful.  I was in a very, very painful and dark season and walked through a deep depression.

Some people near me had been as patient as they could manage and began telling me all the things I should be doing.  All of their well-meaning yet unsolicited advice felt like a steady stream of criticism and judgment.  It was clear I wasn’t living up to their expectations and that made me wrong in their eyes.  All that really meant was they were unsafe people for me.  They either weren’t able or weren’t willing to hear the truth of what was really going on and walk with me in love.  Their impatient need to “fix it” was not only unrealistic & unhelpful; it was in fact damaging and made my healing even more challenging.  They made me afraid of others and I withdrew and isolated myself from nearly everyone.

During that time I met a handful of truly gracious people.   They were familiar with pain and sorrow.  They were patient, generous, humble, courteous and consistent.  They showed restraint and weren’t wise in their own eyes, but instead were kind and encouraging.   They assured me that I wasn’t alone but rather that pain and brokenness were all too common.  They encouraged me that it is the commonality of pain which makes us human.  They renewed my faith and hope which made me want to go on living.

When I think of these people I weep.  I weep in gratitude and I beg God to bless them.  They barely knew me and yet they accepted me and treated me with kindness.  I can never re-pay them or thank them enough.  Some things you can’t “pay back”…some things you just need to humbly, gratefully receive and then attempt to pay forward.

I’ve hidden away for far too long.  I’ve been afraid of what others thought, of what they might say or do, of how that might hurt, of what my response would be.  I’m so tired of hiding.  I so long for spring…I want to bloom again.

March 20, 2013

Light for next steps…

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“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.

Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me . . .

An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m afraid of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ’say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t . . .

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness . . .” ~  C. S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed

Replace “smoke” with “eat” and this has been me for the past four years.

I’ve been reactive instead of responsive to nearly everyone as I haven’t had the energy to absorb things and respond as I would like.  I’ve had time…all the time in the world it seems…but desire, clarity and energy haven’t been mine.  Survival mode does that to a person.  I long not just to survive, but to truly live…I’ve been breathing out and breathing in but the question remains have I ever truly lived?

It’s been a season of waiting, resting and healing.  A season of standing still.  Having just enough light for the step that I’m on hasn’t overly encouraged me.  Most of the time it has just frustrated me.  I kept hoping for light for the next step.

I confess that in a desire to stop just standing still I’ve spent some time walking, falling, and crawling in the darkness.  Darkness plays terrible tricks on a person.  It fills the mind with lies and fills the heart with despair - it’s exhausting to the point of collapse.

“After awhile in the dark, your eyes will adjust.  In the shadows you’ll find a Hand you can trust and a still small voice that calls like the rising sun, “Come. Bring your heart to everyday and run the risk of fearlessly loving without running away.  You must run the risk of fearlessly loving without running away” ~ Jason Gray, from Without Running Away

“God in His wisdom will bring about the best possible ends by the best possible means for the most possible people for the longest possible time.” - Charles Ryrie

One thing about spending time in the dark is you begin to recognize others who live there.  I want to help them, but am afraid of a tug of war and that instead of guiding them into the light they will pull me back into the darkness. Still, I want to try…

On Sunday I completed a twenty week training course for Stephen Ministry which is defined as “Christ caring for people through people.”  Soon I may be assigned a care receiver, someone who is walking through a valley and has asked for a faithful companion to walk with them.  Lord help!

Tom and I have also signed on to go to Honduras in October for a short term mission trip to help put a well in a village.  A child dies every 20 seconds from water related illnesses.  A well in a community can cut the child death rate in half.  Lord help!

There is light for next steps…God, please give me the strength and courage to step out…

October 29, 2012

Hutchmoot 2012

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Stories…we all have them.  Our stories help us better understand other people’s stories.  Frederick Buechner says, “…the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.

On our way to a gathering of storytellers in Nashville a few weeks ago I wrote in my journal… “We’re on our way back to Hutchmoot for a second year.  Knowing more what to expect has helped a little, still I’m really anxious about interacting with others, even though this is the most gracious group of others I’ve ever met. I’ve remained purposefully on the fringes - absorbing the delightful things they offer, but not really offering anything in return.  Perhaps now that I’ve had my back surgery and am working again…perhaps I’m less pathetic this year?  I must remember to stand up straight…keep good posture and smile…try to relax and be honest but don’t bleed on everyone!  But how can I tell my story well until God has redeemed it?  I must know how it ends…how He restores it and brings healing after the train wreck!  Ugh!  Is it enough that I have the hope of a happy ending? Is there any value to telling my story while I’m stuck in the middle?”

Chit chat isn’t something I enjoy or do well generally speaking.  Shoes and wallpaper discussions aren’t for me.  Large groups aren’t for me either unless I have a task to perform that keeps me occupied so I don’t have to have shoe and wallpaper discussions.

I love one on one conversation about the intersections of truth and grace.  Love to hear about people’s journeys and how God has showed up along the way.  Love to hear their honest struggles & fears and about how they are working & growing through them.  Love to hear where they have mined and I am so grateful when they share their gold.

Somehow I just struggle to return the favor because I’m afraid that the listener will run screaming as soon as they hear the words “only child” and “terminal cancer” in the same sentence.  It kind of freaks people out and scares them.  I feel like I have this terrible disfiguring scar and if I can just hide it then perhaps I won’t make people uncomfortable and in turn they won’t make me more uncomfortable.

Few things are more awkward for me than meeting new people and having them ask the basic getting to know you question…”So, do you have any children?”  Three and a half years into my grief and I still don’t have a “good” answer to that basic inquiry.

Generally I feel truly sorry for the one standing there expectantly, with raised eyebrows kindly asking such a seemingly innocent question because they are about to wish they hadn’t.  I’m not sure how to shelter us both from that -I long for a gracious, truthful answer to set us both at ease.  At those times I think that perhaps I shouldn’t tell my story at all as it is painful to both the speaker and the listener, and I wonder again where the line is between being honest and bleeding on others?   Do I lie and say “no”?  Do I simply say “yes” and then change the subject?  How do I best honor my sweet son…and will they do the same?

On the first night at Hutchmoot, we were heading down the stairs to have dinner and I found myself beside a lovely and gracious young woman that I’ve enjoyed so much through reading her writings.  I’ve often laughed aloud at her witty, worthy comments and was truly delighted to meet her and excited to have the opportunity to talk with her over dinner.  I was thinking how fun it would be to sit and listen to her share and then out pops the dreaded question…ugh!  I froze…wanting to lie…wanting to change the subject and not talk about me…wanting to laugh instead and not go “there”.  So, I bumbled through the story and then tried to change the subject.  She was kind and generous and I was uncomfortably awkward and wanted to run away and hide in a corner.  But no hiding place ever kept me safe so I hid inside myself wishing yet again for a different story that wasn’t so painful, one with a happy ending.

After dinner was a concert where each of the musical artists took turns sharing stories through song.  Andy Gullahorn sang one he had written for friends who are walking through grief following the loss of twins, called “Grand Canyon”.  The hook stuck in my head and sang over and over through my soul (as every great hook should) “THE STORY ISN’T OVER YET”.  I sat sobbing as he sang out the cry of my heart…

The next morning the first session I attended was “Recovery through Song” led by Jason Gray, Eric Peters and Andrew Osenga.   Jason Gray lives about 40 minutes south of us. About 6 months after Ian passed, we were introduced to Jason’s music - we saw him perform at a worship conference. He was so funny and genuine and there was such truth and grace in his lyrics - he really ministered to us in the midst of our grief.

We began talking about his songs and lyrics and learned that one of my dear friends grew up with him - even went to prom with him. She gave me my first Jason Gray cd “All the Lovely Losers”. Yep, the first one was free and I got hooked - I became an addict, couldn’t get enough…we began going to all his shows in the area. We purchased “Acoustic Storytime” and laughed at the stories and wept through the songs…so healing.

About that time he released his cd called “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue” and we were captured by the redemptive messages of hope we found there. We asked him if he’d come and do a house concert for us.  We told him our story, and he agreed to come to mark the year anniversary of Ian’s Homegoing.

In preparation for that house concert we were also trying to get through our first Christmas without Ian and we felt led to raise money for fresh water wells through World Vision. So February 19th, 2010 Jason came and did a house concert for us and 68 of our friends. Standing in the living room where Ian had passed on a year before, Jason sang about how God makes sad things come untrue. He spoke light into our darkness and sung hope into our broken hearts. We also learned that night that together with everyone there+ others, 3 wells would be dug in Ian’s memory…
Our relationship with Jason has continued and he has ministered to us so much over the past 4 years! He looks for us at his concerts, wraps his arms around us and graciously introduces us to his friends…we’re so honored.  It’s Jason that encouraged us to read the Rabbit Room in the first place…and told us about Hutchmoot.

One of my favorite moments at last year’s moot was Jason’s release concert for his most recent album “A Way to See in the Dark” Jason sang a song he wrote with us in mind called “Nothing is Wasted”.  I still cannot listen to it without weeping.  I’ve leaned on him a lot and he’s been so gracious and kind to me…I had a season of such darkness that I couldn’t believe that God would redeem this…Jason let me lean on his faith during that season and promised that in time I’d believe it too.  I’m climbing back out of the pit of despair, but I have a long way still to go.  I’m praying Jason’s right and am waiting and watching for what God will do next.

“Recovery through Song” talked about depression, despair, spiritual warfare, suicidal thoughts, denial as well as love, hope, joy, healing and overcoming.  Everyone agreed - it’s a journey and each stage is necessary.  We must be willing to go into the dark places to discover who we truly are.  Writing helps us sort through things and helps us come to the truth bringing light from darkness into our own lives and hopefully into the lives of others as well.  This wonderful session is available here as a podcast.

That night at dinner I was sought out by a man who asked if I was Debra Henderson.  When I admitted that I was, he said he’d been searching for me to thank me for praying for his son who had undergone heart surgery the week before.  He said my comment on his Facebook post was encouraging to him and his family and he just wanted to say thank you.  I was deeply honored when he introduced me to his wife and their beautiful boy, Brendan whose name means “prince - son of the king”.

I was surrounded by royalty…eating the richest of fare for both body and soul.  And though I so often feel like a pauper in rags, I was given a seat at the table and encouraged to feast on sweet morsels in a beautifully prepared place.  It was a wonderful glimpse of another prepared Place…Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and receive you unto myself so that where I am there you will be also”…

Come Lord Jesus!!  But in the meantime, thank You for such times as these that bring tastes of Home making us long for more and remind us that in The Story we all live happily ever after!

May 31, 2012

Moving Forward…

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“I’m not going back. I’m moving ahead. I’m here to declare to you, the past is over. In You, all things are made new. Surrendered my life to Christ, I’m moving, moving forward…” ~ Israel Houghton

We sang this song at Easter service. I stood singing and weeping…tonight we’ll sing it again at choir practice… I’m bringing tissues…

Yes, the past IS over and as much as I would like to go back, I cannot. My sweet son will never return to me, but I will someday join him and in the meantime, I must… by the grace of God…move forward.

“I don’t have to wonder if He’s still beside me, He’s as close as breath, I just have to walk. I have seen, I have heard that this is just the way He works and He’ll take this chance to remind me that it’s His grace that keeps me moving…moving on with Him as far as He will take me.” ~ Jill Phillips

This song is on my ipod and accompanies me on my daily walk. This song too…

“There are secrets I don’t want to tell you and wounds you might not want to see. But they keep me bound to my sorrow and I really want to be free…”~ Jason Gray

In Ian’s final days I injured my back. So along with the crippling emotional pain of his passing, I’ve also endured terrible back pain that has kept me at home, unable to work and in many ways chained to darkness, fear, self -pity, pain and despair. As the 3 year anniversary came and went and after exhausting all other treatment options, I finally felt the chains break as I had back surgery in late February. In moving forward beyond some of the physical pain, I find that some of my emotional pain is also lessoning.

I’ve joined a gym and am under the care of a physical therapist and chiropractor to regain more physical health, function and strength. So far I’ve lost 25 pounds and have more endurance. I’ve also started working again…this time for a Christian adoption agency. That of course begs the question…”Are we going to adopt?” We wonder sometimes if our loneliness and grief could be eased by adopting a child. God’s Word says…”He sets the lonely in families.” We wonder if we could help them and in turn they could help us…perhaps. Or perhaps throwing two drowning people together only causes both to drown faster. I don’t know the “right” answer. I only know that God is gracious and I am where I am right now because He has led me here. I intend to follow Him as far as He will take me…

“Cause when I walk with Him I know that this is just the way He works and He’ll take this chance to remind me that it’s His grace that keeps me moving…moving on.” ~ Jill Phillips

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