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Monday, December 29, 2008

Unfelt Blessings

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

How contrary to the direction my prayers usually take. They often boil down to Lord, spare me and mine. Spare me grief, loss, disappointment. And when those losses and disappointments come--as they have, in abundance, this year--I throw a pity party.

I pity myself. In what way have I displeased God or failed my children that my precious daughter committed suicide? And I question God's goodness. Can't I even go to see my granddaughter? Will You deny me even that sliver of happiness?

Instead, God says I have given you a blessing.

Huh. I don't feel blessed.

But I do feel comforted. Tenets of faith which I have long held in my head I know hold in my heart. They have become real for me (they have always been real, of course). Some of those truths:

Jesus died to give us eternal life.

Jolene has eternal life because she placed her trust in Jesus.

Jolene is in heaven, tears and pain a thing of the past, watching the race I continue to run on earth.

I will see Jolene again.

Because God became man, He understands my pain and mourns with me.

Christmas is about more than traditions. It's about God's loving intervention with mankind.

I confess, I would still rather have avoided the "blessing" of grief. My pastor's words about trusting God comfort me (hey, there's that word "comfort" again. Hmm.)

Let me tell you a few things, fellow struggler: First, God knows you struggle. Second, He loves you, pilgrim. Third, if you ask Him, He'll give you the gasoline (in the Bible, gasoline is spelled g-r-a-c-e) to trust Him. Fourth, you see, whether you realize it or not yet, we can't do this Christian life by "our" hustle. It has to be by Him, of Him, through Him, and for Him." (from "One Parson's Opinion" by Dr. Jim Perkins, The Challenger, January 2009).


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Paradox

Sitting in church yesterday, listening to our pastor preach on "The Significance of Christmas," I realized something.

I'm having a difficult time because it's Christmas.

My lifeline to survive this time of year is the reality of Christmas.

The difficulties arise because of my personal traditions and memories surrounding Christmas. Americans put the emphasis on family. Well, my daughter is dead and my son has joined the Messianic tradition and no longer celebrates Christmas. That leaves Mom and me. Time after time, my mind scurries to Christmases past and things we did with Jolene. I ache. People keep wishing me a merry Christmas. I keep thinking (and sometimes saying), Lord, just let me survive.

But ... the hope I cling to? Emmanuel. God with us.

The far greater and longer lasting reality of Christmas is that God became man. The Bible says that because Jesus put on flesh, He can understand our frailties from the inside out. He has experienced everything we go through. In recent months, I have wondered if someone close to Jesus (other than Judas, of course) committed suicide.

The incarnation--the fancy word theologians use for the birth of Jesus Christ--is my ultimate lifeline. In that baby in the manger, I find hope, love, comfort--even, God willing, joy. Without that fact, the historical truth we celebrate at Christmas time, where would I turn as I struggle through this first year without Jolene?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas 1995

Of all my memories of Christmas with Jolene, the year 1995 has to stand out.

I was heavily involved with the music ministry at our church. Our leader, Ruth Bartel, invited me and another person to help her write the Christmas program. We came up with the idea of "Home for Christmas." Each of us wrote a skit about Christmas in different periods of history, accompanied by appropriate music. We scrounged for actors from our small congregation, and Jolene got to play a part. It was a simple story, about a person who received Christ at Christmas as a child, returned from war at Christmas, and went home to heaven also at Christmas.

I don't remember exactly what her character did. But participating in memorizing her lines, listening to the story and music, brought home the gospel message in a very personal way. She was ten at the time.

The following Saturday, she came running down the stairs at our house, frightened from a nightmare. "I don't want to go to hell!" She fell into my arms, sobbing.

(Now, I'm not sure what brought that fear on. Although I believe in a literal hell, neither the church nor I taught about salvation as fire insurance.)

Nevertheless, God was moving in Jolene's heart. We talked again about how Jesus came so no one had to go to hell. He paid the price for her sins on the cross, and all she had to do was believe in Him. She wanted to call the pastor.

Pastor Bob Moneypenny (who took part in her funeral service) led her to Christ. He told us how he had just returned from the bedside of an elderly saint who had just gone home to glory. Jolene always linked the two events; one person absent from the church on earth while another one was added. Her.

Jordan's birth feels the same way, of course. One person close to me absent from the earth; another added. I can see Jolene up in heaven, nodding her head and smiling.

Christmas was Jolene's new birthday, when she was born into God's family. I rejoice in that memory even while I grieve. Because Jolene made that choice, I know I will see her again.

On my first day back at work, I listened to a Christian music station. On the way to work, Mercy Me sang I Can Only Imagine. On the way home, someone sang a new song about coming home for Christmas. After that, I turned off the radio. Jolene is home, but she won't be at my home this year.

God has been meeting with me in ways large and small. Thank you for reaching out, for your continued prayers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Nine Months: The Holidays

Saturday marked nine months since the day Jolene took her life. My son called about four times--they brought Jordan home from the hospital, and he was full of updates like "she's had her first car ride" and "we're staying at Mimi's house."

After Mom reminded me of the date--the dreaded 13th--I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He hesitated, and said "I've given myself permission to stop noting the anniversary."

I wish I could.

This past month I have ridden a roller coaster of grief and despair. My employer's retraction of the week of Christmas leave----when I intended to fly to Oklahoma and spend time with my new grandchild--has ripped open the scabs.

Can I put the feelings into words? I can but try.

We knew about the baby about a month after Jolene's death. Out of death, life; a tremendous gift from God at a time when my heart had broken in a thousand mirror pieces, every one reflecting grief. We made our Christmas plans. When that most dreaded of holidays (for this year) arrived, we would be safe in the arms of family with the rejoicing of new life to sustain us. For eight months, I have said, "At least at Christmas I will get to see the baby." And I could smile and look forward to the future.

Now that hope has been stolen from me. And in an odd sense, I feel as though I have lost Jolene all over again.

And Mom and I are left with the question--what are we going to do for Christmas? I will explore the answers more fully as the day approaches. My main point today is that our coping strategy has been thrown out the window.

I remember Jolene's generosity with every ring of a Salvation Army bell. I stay at home rather than go see the lights which we did every year as the simplest of Christmas traditions. Forget sugar cookies; I cannot bear the sight or smell without Jolene to help me decorate them. Christmas decorations remain in their boxes. How could I stand to touch the purple ball with "Jolene" in gold letters or the delicate ornament marked "baby's first Christmas 1984?"

Next year, I hope I'm brave enough to revisit those memories. But not now. We had intended to form new memories with Jaran's family to add to our memories of Jolene. Now we can't.

Through the time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, I choose to praise God for Emmanuel, God with Us. Otherwise we have no hope.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Baby's Here

Jordan Elizabeth Franklin arrived approximately an hour and a half ago. My overly-excited son exclaims "She's so beautiful! She's so adorable! Tiny nose, tiny feet, perfectly manicured nails."

She has dark brown hair and black pools for eyes, continuing the Bremner family tradition of dark haired/dark eyed babies that goes back at least to my grandmother. My grandfather was a fair-complexioned Scot, and three of their children took after him. My mother inherited Grandma's dark hair and eyes, and so did I, my children and now, my grandchild.

I confess I am jealous. All of the other grandparents are there (including my ex. Grr.) I am stuck here, without even the reminder that "I'll be there soon enough. I chose to wait so Shelley would have some time to recover." (Because of work--double Grrr.)

The proud Papa says that after Jordan let out her cry and wiggled all over the place (I told him she hasn't had room to move for awhile), she settled down peacefully. Her blood sugar and temperature are a little low, so they have whisked her away to the nursery.

Okay, I can't figure out how to copy Jordan's picture into the blog. Stay tuned.

Jordan's arrival--and work's refusal to allow me to visit--have triggered a lot of feelings about the loss of Jolene. But I will save those thoughts for another day. Today is a day for rejoicing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The X Factor

My employer has made its stance clear: I will return to work next Tuesday and work Christmas week (although I had arranged for a week's leave back in June, to see my new grandbaby--or lose my job. They feel that have accomodated me by allowing me to work 3 hours a day instead of 6. And, of course, that I can return to the same job.

Their position has caused me to consider my options. Jaran (my son) is encouraging me to "retire and write full time"--in Oklahoma, where the cost of living is easily a quarter lower than in Denver.

For those of you at Echostar, no, I'm not ready to turn in my resignation. LOL.

Five years ago, Mom took a huge leap of faith and moved from Maine to Colorado. I hate to ask her to uproot again to move elsewhere. At the time, we decided we wanted to be close, geographically, as she aged and her infirmities increased.

Then there was the x factor. I love Colorado. But an even greater consideration made me stay. Yes, you've got it. Jolene.

I mentioned that to Mom last night, and she said, "You didn't have to remind me."

Five years ago, Jolene was barely 19 and struggling to make it on her own. At least she was plugged in to all the services Colorado had to offer. I wondered what decision I would make as I aged; stay with Jolene, who would always be the needy one; or move closer to Jaran, who could help me.

Now Jolene is no longer a factor in my decisions.

How I wish that weren't so.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Valentine

Tuesday was both the worst day in recent memory--and the best.

My employer informed me that in spite of the doctor's recommendation, if I did not return to work at least a few hours a day starting on December 16th, I might lose my job. Even worse, I had to make a decision that day. I panicked, screamed, cried. As a writer, a part of me felt like let them fire me. Then I can write full time like I want to. I was in that place where I couldn't see any options, and no one could say anything to improvoe my mood.

Then the social worker from the home health care agency came for her appointment, bearing three bags of food. She was one the few people who realized the impact of three months without income on my wallet, and made multiple suggestions for resources for help.

Mom and I sat down for supper--we ate the canned Spam she provided. I haven't had it for years, and I enjoyed every bite. We made up a shopping list, since Mom had the opportunity to get to the store on Wednesday.

We had just finished eating when the doorbell rang.

A lady who had joined our church the same week we did held a box full of food in her arms. She brought it in and dropped it on top of the freezer. "Don't lock the door," she warned. "There's more."

Three boxes later, Mom and I held each other and cried. Pat had seen the state of our refrigerator on Sunday (when she brought a Thanksgiving meal). She had developed a sense of what foods we enjoyed ... and went shopping on our behalf. She had purchased all but three items on our list, and so much more.

Even down to box of popcorn. The box started Mom crying again. "Jolene was the only one who ate popcorn." With her voice breaking, she continued. "I always made sure I had popcorn in the house."

Words cannot express our gratitude for this gift of love and God's grace. Mom kept saying, "What did we do to deserve this?"

I reminded her, "We don't deserve it. That's what grace means."

The food didn't provide a solution to my problems with work. But God used two different people to send us a gigantic "I love you!" note. My spirits lifted, and suddenly the problems with work didn't seem as significant.

Two days later, it looks like I will indeed be working three hours a day starting on the 16th. I'm at peace about it, although I know it will be difficult. I'll tell you all about my return to work later. My immediate need is to build up endurance; and to either return to driving (which means no more pain medication) or find a ride five days a week.

I am featured on two different blogs today, so stop by and say hello! I wrote an Advent devotional for (click on the "advent calendar link.) Also, I was interviewed about Snowbound Colorado Christmas at

Merry Christmas! God is with us!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation

In a recent blog interview (to be published this week at, I mentioned that at least once during December I like to sit down at a piano and play and sing my way through the Christmas section of the hymnal.

God must have heard my request. The family that invited Mom and I over for Thanksgiving (an absolutely delightful time) had a piano. I begged for a few minutes at the piano. I played each and every Christmas carol, and Glenda (our host) and Mom sang right along with me. Thank You, God, for the gift of music.

I teared up when I sang "Silent Night." Jolene and I had to do all our Christmas shopping by bus for most of her life. By the time we finished shopping, our buses started running once an hour. We spent many cold, clear December nights waiting for the bus to come and singing every Christmas song we could remember. Something about Silent Night brought those evenings to mind.

But the shock to my system came on Saturday, when I went to Barnes & Noble for a booksigning. I was rushing in to speak with the manager but couldn't make it past the first row of books. Standing there, with her back to me with only her chin showing, stood Jolene's doppleganger.

I couldn't move. The young woman was Jolene's height and shared her body build. She wore jeans and a plain white polo shirt, like Jolene might wear. Her dark hair hung straight to the same chin length Jolene wore hers. And that chin--that nicely rounded chin--that broad nose ... I could have sworn I was looking at my daughter. Except I knew it was impossible. Until the stranger turned around and her facial features shattered the illusion.

I shook myself back to reality and found Colleen. Megan DiMaria and I held a joint booksigning event, and we met a number of new readers. One lady rushed past, saying she only buys "bestsellers." Too late, I thought, hey, Snowbound Colorado Christmas is on a couple of bestseller lists!

Snubbed or not, we had a wonderful time and even sold a few books.

Hey, my news today: I finished the rough draft of my third mystery! Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Our church choir presented a musical called "Blessings" at the Sunday morning service. They interspersed praise songs, hymns, solos and anthems in a beautiful worship experience.

The first song started my tears flowing and they didn't stop. Because the first song we sang was "Blessed be the name of the Lord." Even before we reached the words "Blessed by Your name on the road marked with suffering, though there's pain in the offering," the tears had started. All I could do was to close my eyes and mouth the words "When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say: Blessed be the name of the Lord."

You give and take away. I don't blame God for "taking away" Jolene. She took herself away.

But on this day of Thanksgiving, I thank God for giving me Jolene for almost 24 years. More than 24, if you count the months she lived in my womb. He gave me an awesome, life changing gift, and for that I choose to say, blessed be the name of the Lord.

God has given me so much more this year. Love poured out on Mom and me from our church family, my writing family, my work family. It still has, during our recent surgery. Mom was blown away by the words of sympathy and comfort all the way from Australia, scant hours after we learned about Jolene's death. We have literally had an entire world of support.

God has given me more writing opportunities than I have ever had before--and the grace to meet those deadlines. Prayers still needed on that score: I have two manuscripts due by February 1st.

My daughter-in-law will give birth to my first biological grandchild on December 11th--two weeks from today. Tests indicate it's a baby girl. I am excited to see how excited my son is; and of course I'm thrilled. They are going to give their baby the same middle name as Jolene--Elizabeth--and that touches my heart deeply.

God has provided financially during the days and weeks I have been out of work. At the moment, I am accumulating a large scary debt, but I'm leaving that in God's hands.

Through my loss, I have been aware, more than ever before, of God's constant abiding presence and love. Wherever my grief takes me, He is there before me, with me, around me. He carries me when I cannot stand on my own.

My heart chooses to say--blessed be the name of the Lord.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Home Again

I returned home from surgery and rehab last Thursday. Praise the Lord! Thanks to all of you who are praying for Mom and me through the illness. Long story short, the knee replacement is as painful as warned but I am moving so much better. I can walk again, a blessing after searching for the closest wheelchair for months.

Oh, the wonders of the electronic age, that allowed me to write posts ahead of time and set the time for them to appear.

Mom ended up at the same rehab facility where I went, and the good news is that she will also come home on Wednesday.

The night I arrived at rehab, I fell apart. The cause? A sign on the door to my room read "Family will do laundry." First panic seized me. What family? Grief overwhelmed the panic, and I cried. The only "family" who might have done the laundry (although I doubt it) was, of course, Jolene. I bawled.

God brought a special nurse to my side that night. I explained that my daughter had committed suicide and that I had no family to do my laundry. She patted my arm. "You don't have to say any more. My husband did the same thing, two months ago." She reached out to me in the midst of her pain. I felt understood and validated.

For the month before our surgeries, Mom and I were so wrapped up in pain and concern that Jolene had faded a little from our consciousness. The enforced inactivity and boredom of nursing home life allowed her to resurface. She was often on our minds, and both of us experienced bad spells. I am so thankful God allowed us to be together. To hold each other through the grief until we were ready to go on. I am so thankful God has spared Mom. And after the folks I met at the rehab/nursing facility, I am doubly grateful for her sharp mind and capacity for independent, full living.

There are more stories ... but I will save them for another day.

Pray for us. I am dreading Thursday. No one has invited us to share Thanksgiving with them. Our first major holiday since Jolene's death, and I feel isolated and deserted. Pray also that Mom will be well enough to travel to Oklahoma at Christmas as we had planned.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Legend

My son Jaran called to tell me about going through Jolene's things his father had brought back from his recent trip through Colorado. He explained they had allowed the girls to choose one stuffed animal each.

"You'll never believe which one Shannon chose to keep." Jaran paused for dramatic effect. He was a drama major in high school.

"What was that?" Jolene had a lot of beautiful things.


Snoopy. Oh, the memories.

Snoopy is a larger-than-life sized dog (yes, he looks like Peanuts' Snoopy) that has been in our family for 18 years.

How well I remember the day. We held a garage sale before we moved from Oklahoma to Colorado. The goal was to reduce the amount of things we needed to move.

Jaran, age ten at the time, proudly took the quarter he earned, went to another garage sale and came back with--you guessed it--Snoopy. For Jolene.

I was irritated. The gigantic stuffed dog didn't fit into my plans for reducing the move.

But Snoopy joined our family, and she loved him. He followed Jolene when she moved out on her own. By now, the stuffing in his neck has shifted and his head droops. He's well loved and worn, reminiscent of the Velveteen Rabbit.

This July, Snoopy returned to Oklahoma.

And without any knowledge of the history, nine-year-old Shannon chose to keep Snoopy.

The legend lives. Jolene's legacy continues on this, the eighth month anniversary of her death.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Prayer is Like a Cat

The other morning during my quiet time, I watched our cat Talia stretching out on the floor and thought, That's what faith in God is like.

Her needs are simple. Food. Water. Fresh litter. Companionship. Occasional moments of play.

She tells us about those needs. Yesterday, she informed me repeatedly that her automatic feeder was getting low. She persists demands, confident that I will meet those needs. She doesn't worry. She doesn't try to open the bag of cat food by herself. She tells me about the need--repeatedly, if I don't respond immediately--but trusts me to take of her.

Remember Jesus' admonition to ask--seek--keep on knocking in prayer?

Talia models that persistence and trust.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I am writing this a week before the election. I have no idea who will win. Jolene would have been old enough to vote in her second presidential election. I don't think she voted even once.

For some reason the election process frightened Jolene. She didn't know what or who to believe, so she didn't make any choices. Besides, she was disillusioned by the continuing decrease of government funding for people with mental illness. Each and every cut hurt her individually. The one time she considered political action was a protest gathering at the state capitol.

The Democratic nomination was still undecided when she died. I was so excited that either a woman or a black American would be the nominee. (I'm still excited that whichever party wins, we'll have a historic "first.") She got tired of my rants. "When will someone with a mental illness get to lead?" She demanded.

I hope that Sarah Palin's passion for children with special needs extends to those who suffer from mental illness.

Not trying to make a political commentary here, just sharing memories of Jolene that the election stirs in me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Surgery's Coming

The surgery postponed from September 24th is now scheduled for Wednesday, October 29th.

Snapshots of the last week:

Jaran told me he felt his baby girl move. He's counting the days. (Delivery date by c-section: December 11th.)

Mom no longer needs oxygen. Her kidneys have been declared "healed." Praise the Lord! They still check her blood sugar on a regular basis. She just needs to exercise and regain strength. We are both dreading the weeks we will be separated because we'll be in different facilities.

I finished line edits for my next book, mystery #2, A String of Murders. (Pub date: March 2009, from Heartsong Presents Mysteries). So I have no writing projects looming while I am in rehab.

I am half a pound away from 45 pounds total weight loss. Another praise!

I am writing blogs to "post" while I am away. One a week for the next three weeks. By then I hope to be home. Don't let my blogs fool you. I'm not really here.

Talk to you again soon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Warming Trend

I write those words even as temperatures dip. (My own Colorado truism: You can count on cold/sleet/snow for Halloween. It doesn't matter if it's 70 degrees on the 30th.)

Last night my cat Talia's "foster mother" returned her home. It's amazing what having another live body who talks back does for my spirits.

I have missed Jolene fiercely this month. It's no coincidence that Mom has also been gone since October 2nd. I haven't even had Talia's company, and the days have been long and lonely.

Now Talia is back and that helps.

Guess who went out early this morning to buy cat litter? Talia didn't take advantage of the cornstarch I provided for her last night.

Please pray about the situation with Talia, though. She attacked her foster Mom's cat. I still have surgery next Wednesday and no one will be here for 3 weeks (our best guess). I need to find another home for Talia, fast.

I have been walking a tightrope to get things down before my surgery. Wanted to finish my next book. (Won't happen. I figure I'll get 5/7 of the way through.) Have to finish preparing and present a workshop on research for writers on Tuesday night (scheduled long before my surgery.) Have to pack. Have to finish the paperwork for medical leave from work. Want to get the house in a semblence of order. (For those of you who've seen my apartment, go ahead and laugh.) A dozen items on my "to do" list. VOTE if I get my absenteen ballot in time. (Are you getting as tired as I am of all the emails telling you how you should vote? Thus speaks a rare Democrat in a sea of Republican Christians.)

Now two major wrenches have been thrown into the works: Add to the problem with Talia this announcement from the rehab center yesterday: "someone from the family needs to wash her clothes." Obviously that's not going to happen. (I think we've worked that one out.)

Please pray with me that I will have wisdom to discern what has to be done and what can slide. And the strength and will to work when I can. Some days I hit it hard; other days, I struggle.

This blog is as scattered as my thoughts are right now.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Yesterday was a difficult day. I kept crying all day.

Perhaps it started with the pastor's sermon on "Why Jesus Had to Die." The first reason he gave? To teach us about suffering. "God wanted us to know that no suffering is senseless." That is a ray of sunshine in the morass of grief that overwhelms me at times. I don't know what use God will make of this year, but I clung to that reassurance even as tears bunched behind my eyelids and leaked out.

The last reason he mentioned was to give us eternal life. Oh, Jolene, that promise holds me up even as it taunts me. You are there, but I am still here.

Then a friend drove me to the hospital to visit Mom by a different route. We drove past a coffee stand where a particularly memorable moment occurred. (It does not reflect well on my mother, so I won't repeat it.) A few minutes later, we passed a miniature golf course where the three of us had played. I had such a hard time walking around the course; Jolene got a little impatient. She was young, and enjoyed physical activities during our visits. I couldn't do nearly as much as she wanted. I didn't know, of course I didn't, that we would never play another game of miniature golf together.

The loss ... the permanence ... I don't want to accept it. But I must.

About Mom: She's moved into a rehab hospital, not the one we first expected, but one where they can continue to monitor her ongoing problems with diabetes and kidney failure. She is discouraged about the unexpected problems. Her heart appears to be healing well. Her surgeon said perhaps the diabetes/kidney problems were lurking.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Healing Hands

Monday, Mom was more depressed than I have ever seen her, and in a fragile mental state. She even talked about a DNR (Do Not Resucitate) order. She seemed to be giving up.

Tuesday, her eyes had brightened, and she worked with the nurses and therapists in her recovery--overnight transformation.

The difference?

"Several times I felt gentle hands touching me. I opened my eyes to see who was there--no one." She paused, and a beautiful smile broke out on her face. "I decided it was Jesus."

No instantaneous healing: Mom still has a mild infecton, and her body still holds on to too much fluid, and her kidneys still aren't working the way they should. (She
is off dialysis, praise the Lord!)

But with the healing hands of Jesus, Mom gained much-needed confidence that she will recover.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Seven Months

Jolene took her own life seven months ago today. I'm feeling some anger at Jolene for the manner of her death. How could she? Why did she?

I can't say that last month I had healed from Jolene's death. I have learned that I may never "heal." That the seemingly callous statement of a stranger shortly after Jolene's death is nothing but the stark truth: I will never "get over" it. It will never be okay. A scar will form, and life goes on, but I will always miss her. I flit in and out of denial, a sense of impossibility that I will never see my girl again.

But the past four weeks have shaken me to the core once again. My own scare with the angiogram and possible heart blockage was bad enough. But Mom's surgery, and the subsequent complications, reminded me that someday I will lose her as well. Take her away as well as Jolene, especially now, and I will collapse like a proverbial house of cards. That is a blackness I cannot contemplate.

God is good. As of this morning, Mom is doing much better. The doctor is even talking about releasing her from the hospital tomorrow; that may be delayed since she now has a bladder infection. Her kidneys still aren't functioning properly, but otherwise she is making progressing. Yesterday she took a few steps and sat up for five hours.

I told one of the nurses at the hospital about Jolene last night. I also told her about the granddaughter on the way. She told me she had her daughter shortly after her grandmother died, and we both agreed that God sometimes works that way.

When Jolene shared her testimony, she always mentioned how a church member went home to be with the Lord at the same time she received Christ. She always felt like she came in to take his place. I wonder if up in heaven Jolene is awaiting the birth of Baby Franklin (as I call her) with the same anticipation.

Oh, Jolene, Jaran's baby can never take your place.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Doing Better

Thank you, one and all, who read, prayed and/or commented after my last blog.

The good news? Today Mom had the most energy since her surgery. She sat up without assistance and fed herself. She even cracked a joke or two. It was so good to have "mom" back.

Her primary problems haven't improved. She's had two dialysis treatments but her kidney level remains too high (meaning she will probably need further dialysis). And each dialysis drives down her blood pressure, meaning she has to continue medication to keep it up. Pneumonia remains a spectre (although not yet a reality, PTL!)

The original expectation was that Mom would spend a week in the hospital and a week in rehab and then home. Well, tomorrow marks a week and she's still in ICU. The surgeon said she may need 3-4 weeks in rehab.

So ... a slower, longer recovery than either of us hoped for.

Yet, although the facts haven't changed, I am in an entirely different place emotionally.

On a purely selfish level, I got a boost from the arrival of my box of books for my contributions to 365 Daily Whispers of Wisdom for Single Moms and for Busy Women. Nothing like holding my babies in my hands!

Another selfish--but very important--goal: I have kept my focus on losing weight. I will admit it publicly here for the first time. I joined Weight Watchers at the beginning of August and so far have lost 35.6 pounds. Monday was the first time I said "forget it" and ate what I wanted. But you know what? Food isn't going to solve the problem. I thank God that I realized that and figured out other options for the nights I'm too stressed out to plan and measure and count. A change in my attitude toward food comes from God and Him alone.

On an invisible level but no less real, the prayer surrounding and supporting us has made all the difference. Thanks to every one of you who is praying for both of us.

Thanks. And keep on praying. We're not through it yet.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mom's had a downturn

What an awful week.

Mom had her heart valve replaced and had one bypass last Thursday. The surgeon reported that she did well coming out of surgery and 24 hours later her recovery looked pretty normal.

Since Saturday, though, things have gone poorly. Her blood pressure remained too low (although today it looks pretty stable.) Her oxygen was too low (okay today). Her blood sugar keeps jumping around. Sometimes it's fine, sometimes she needs insulin.

And after monitoring her urine output and her kidney function, they decided to put Mom on dialysis today. Also of concern: she hasn't had a bowel movement since her surgery and they're worried about obstruction. Her lungs also need help.

My friend and critique partner Susan Davis wrote "I'm praying for you. I remember how awful it feels when you realize the loved one may not get better." Her father died almost two years ago, so she knows. She knows.

I know she's not at death's door. I know there is a good chance she'll make a full recovery. I don't dare say "excellent" any more.

But ... yesterday was the first time it hit me. Mom could die.

I knew there was a slight risk of death from the procedure. But failure to do the procedure meant almost certain death, and Mom's quality of life was decreasing on a daily basis. I absolutely felt surgery was the right thing to do.

But as her systems shut down and they take appropriate steps to bring them back to full functioning, I face the possibility: This could be it.

I'll never want to lose my mother. Many people my age (mid-fifties) have already lost a parent, and I know I'm blessed to have her with me. But barring the Lord's return, that day will come.

But, oh, not this year. Not now. It's too soon. I can't bear to lose my daughter and my mother in the same year.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Missing Jaran/surgery update

After two rescheduled dates, Mom is having her heart valve replacement surgery this morning. Yay! She is fairly at peace, and prepared. A feat I doubted would happen only four hours ago.

My own angiogram revealed surprising and terrific news. My arteries are clear! Hallelujah! My hand and wrist (the site of the incision) are bruised, painful--and infected. I am taking antibiotics. My surgery has been rescheduled for October 29th. This has the advantage of allowing me to focus on Mom for 4 weeks after her surgery, and also allows me to fulfill a couple of speaking engagements. Phew. I only pray that the first snow fall waits until after I've undergone surgery.

Jaran and Jolene are never far from my thoughts. I miss Jaran terribly. I suspect I would, even if Jolene were still alive. He is a steady, dependable rock. And he is exactly where he needs to be, taking care of his wife and family in Oklahoma.

I told Mom that as hard as his decision to move to Oklahoma was for me, I couldn't help but admire him. At the time, he still expected Jolene to mature into a "normal" adult and be able to help me as I got older; he wanted to be in Oklahoma to do the same thing for his father. I respect his desire to honor his father.

But oh, I miss him, now more than ever.

Monday, September 29, 2008


One night recently I had a nightmare. It wasn't scary; but I woke up heartbroken.

I don't remember many details, but this much I know:

I heard Jolene moving on the top bunk.

And I cried, "No!" Because I knew Jolene wasn't in the bunk, and my heart broke all over again. The sound seemed so real, a body stirring, turning over, like Jolene did everytime she spent the night.

I screamed "No! No! No!" until I finally woke myself up.

Perhaps even my subconscious has accepted the fact of Jolene's death.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Surgery Postponed

I spent an anxious four days waiting for the results of Friday's stress test. The verdict? I have to delay my knee surgery. The test indicates possible blockage to my heart, so I am having an angiogram on Friday. They will do an angioplasty (repairing the narrowed arteries) if needed at the same time.

I will still have the knee surgery ... eventually. Mom is still scheduled for a heart valve replacement on Monday. The closer Monday approaches, the more nervous she becomes. Tonight she looked at the pictures of Jolene we have displayed, and broke into sobs. She keeps saying, "I'm not ready to join her yet. I want to stay here with you." She is seriously scared.

Pray for healing and for peace through these days. Pray that we will finish what must be done, and let go of the rest.

Even my ex-husband is praying for us. God's people are surrounding us with prayer. It means more than you know!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Singing in the Shadows

What a year this has been. Grief still weighs down Mom and me, and now we both face surgery (more about that later). So when God brought the following verses to my attention today, it spoke to me.

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:7-8)

Bottom line through everything: God is my help. My soul does cling to Him in a new, desperate, childlike way, the rock in my storm. In Him, because of Him, I can still sing. From the shadow of His wings where He shelters me.

Music speaks to my inmost being. It always has; I felt called to a music ministry at the age of ten, and all these years later, involvement in church music still fulfills me in a way nothing else does.

So I will sing in the shadow of God's wings. I will sing of my Redeemer, who is my hope. My assurance of things to come, the hands that hold me.

Join me in that song.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Six Months

Six months. 183 days. Half a year. However I look at it, six months is a long time.

Six months ago I learned that Jolene had committed suicide. 183 days lived, a minute, an hour at a time, sometimes with a light heart, more often with a heavy heart.

Today God gave me this scripture on our daily calendar: "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others." He comforts us. Amen! Without the truth of those words, I could not have survived the past half year.

What has happened in six months' time?

Two seasons: The height of spring passed into summer, which is now waning to fall. No seeing Jolene delight in buying smaller clothes or laughing at the way she bundled up at the first hint of cooler weather.

The baseball season. This year the Rockies will not repeat their amazing World Series run of a year ago. I'm glad I got to share that with Jolene.

Four holidays, my birthday, Marius' birthday. No straining to watch fireworks at a safe distance, no homemade decorations for my birthday, no one to watch Disney or superhero movies with.

My granddaughter growing steadily in my daughter-in-law's womb.

The more time passes, the more I realize the permanence of my loss. As Mom says, she's not gone on an extended trip. She won't return.

Hardly a day goes by without my crying.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Word from Jaran

This week is the 6 month anniversary of Jolene's death. I'll be writing more about that on Thursday.

It's on my son Jaran's mind as well. He sent us a beautiful card. White laser-cut tree branches over a red sun in an orange sky. He wrote a thoughtful note, and he's given me permission to share it with you.

Jaran is studying the Chinese language this semester, so that's the background for his comments.

Dear Mom & Grandma,

Just wanted to send you out a letter. This week will be a tough one as we hit all these aniversaries.

I thought this card was appropriate for the occasion. I have learned that the Chinese believe red is an expression of life. Red is characterized as such because it is reminiscent of flowing blood. White symbolizes death because it is the complexion of a corpse. In China, white is the traditional color worn at funerals.

In the foreground of this picture is an array of white. The white has texture and is tangible. But rising in the background is the red orb of the sun, warming the picture and reminding us that life is omnipresent and is much larger than anything else we may experience. To me this is a picture of hope, and I wanted to share it with you two.


Your (Grand)Son

Life shining in the midst of death. It is indeed a beautiful image.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feeling Low

For some reason Jolene lays heavy on my mind this week. As Mom said in her response to my Monday post, she's an unseen guest at every meal. Yesterday I relived the night we learned about her death. The pain struck again, just as sharp, just as unbelievable. Grief has resurfaced and weighs me down.

Somehow, as time goes on, my grief becomes more real. I always accepted the fact of her death. What gains substance is the reality of spending the life without her. That I will never again see her or hear her and feel her (in this life).

Jolene and I lived alone for many years, after Jaran moved out on his own. Now there is no witness to large chunks of my life. I feel alone in the world, having lost the person closer to me than anyone else. Even after she moved out, we saw each other on a regular basis. Now ... that is gone. My son lives out of state. Thank God for my precious mother.

Add to the mixture physical pain from my knee and the time pressures of preparing for two surgeries and finishing a book contract, and I'm a physical and emotional wreck. This morning, I fell apart when I was trying to get ready for work. Mom stepped in and told me I was in no shape to head out the door. I took her advice and stayed home. I needed the rest, but can't say I feel much better tonight.

I know this is a gloomy post, but it's where I am tonight. People survive grief; I will survive this. In time, the burden will lift.

But for today, I am miserable.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dining Out

First, some housekeeping: I have changed the settings on the blog so that you don't need a Google account to leave a comment. For those of you who have tried to post in the past and couldn't? Please try again!

Jolene remains right under our (Mom's and my) skin. Not a day goes by that we don't remember something that brings tears to our eyes. It's constant. Yesterday we ate at the Red Lobster for the first time since Jolene's death. Mom looked at her lobster tail and said "cockroach." I understood the reference and choked up. Because the last time we ate at the restaurant, Jolene was with us and she said the lobster's feet reminded her of a cockroach.

Mom said, "We should go back to Three Margaritas some time."

I thought about it. "We haven't been there since ..."

"No, we haven't," she agreed. The family ate there after Jolene's memorial service but not since.

Jolene loved Mexican food and Mom can tolerate very little; so we only went there when Jolene was with us. On some level, I am waiting for her to come back before we go again. I can't even write the words without crying. I suggested we dine there on the six month anniversary.

The 17th of this month will be six months. How can half a year have passed? Life goes on, and we are facing new challenges. But the loss is just as raw and the ache is so deep that only God can comfort us.

God gave me the promise of Psalm 18:32-33: God arms me with strength; he has made my way safe. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, leading me safely along the mountain heights.
I am trusting God that after my surgery, my legs will once again be strong and "surefooted as a deer." Maybe I will even hike through the mountains once again. Please claim this promise with me!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Surgery's on

It's official. I will have knee replacement surgery on September 24th. Some time approximately 6 weeks later, Mom will have her surgery.

True to our natures, Mom and I are worried about different things. She wonders about how she'll manage, physically, after the surgery. She is also scared of the angiogram needed ahead of time. My worries center around money. Three months without a paycheck? It's easy to say "God will provide," but I've lost a car and a house in the past. God's provision doesn't always look like I expect it to.

This is one time I am glad Jolene is not here. She would feel very frightened and insecure with both of down us at once. Dear Jaran cannot help, because of his obvious and loving commitments to his own family unit.

So, in the next three weeks, I'll have pre-op checkups and I also need to finish my current manuscript (due to the editor on October 1st). Mom also has pre-surgery appointments.

Please pray for us, for our health, for the right timing, for the financial need.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Thoughts on Jolene's father

This weekend is a triple-whammy for my ex-husband: he celebrated (or endured, if it was anything like mine) his birthday - and it was one of the biggies. Sixty. It's also yet another first holiday without Jolene, not that Labor Day ever meant a lot. He also recently lost a job, so it's been a difficult year.

I don't know how John is dealing with grief; we don't talk much. Perhaps he suffered through agonies of grief during the years after our divorce, when he was barred from seeing Jolene. Or perhaps that past loss echoes in his heart now, as if he has lost her twice.

Before she died, Jolene visited Oklahoma two separate times, to see her brother and her father. I am glad he has at least that memory to draw on.

God has done a work in my heart, that I can feel concern for my ex. My thoughts and prayers are with you, John. No parent should suffer this pain.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Comfort and Compassion

Right now I 'm so busy that Jolene's death has taken a back seat--at least on the surface.

But it hovers underneath everything I do. It only takes a word or a touch to bring back the pain. A couple of days ago Mom commented on my last blog with tears in her voice. I started crying as well. Life has moved on and we are facing a number of major hurdles, but …. Not a day goes by without thinking of my daughter, my heart aching with the loss.

I am reading the book Prayer by Philip Yancey. Today he talked about unanswered prayers and he specifically mentioned young adults who commit suicide. I took notice. I came away with the feeling that prayer will seldom change the situation--but it changes my response. I trust God more, blindly at times, but resting in His sovereign love.

May your unfailing love be my comfort according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:76-77)

Comfort and compassion--just what I need. Amen, Lord!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Announcement of Blog Tour

This is a freebie. My novella Dressed in Scarlet appears in Snowbound Colorado Christmas, a Christmas anthology. The book and my three co-authors are going on a blog tour this month. Check out the following sites and dates for information about the book and multiple chances for a free copy!

August 24 – Lena Nelson Dooley

September 1 – Janice Olson

September 5 - Brittanie A. Terrell

September 10 – Ronie Kendig

September 15 – Tiffany (Amber Miller) Stockton

September 16 – Tricia Goyer

September 23 – Lisa Buffaloe

September 23 - Deborah Khuanghlawn

September 30 – Linda Crow

Wrapped in Love

Lately, lots of little reminders are causing the dull ache of grief to flare up. Last night Mom and I played a game of rummy. Mom covered her face and asked, "Do you remember how gleeful Jolene was when she went out and caught us with a bunch of cards in our hands?" Yes, Mom, I remembered.

This afternoon (on doctor's orders, no less), I took to bed. I crawled into the bottom of my bunk and clutched a teddy bear to my chest. I reached for my favorite blanket, a large throw with a picture of three cats perched on a fence. Jolene gave both the bear and the blanket to me.

I looked up at the top bunk where Jolene slept on her visits. If I let it, the nightly reminders could rob me of much needed rest.

Instead, I think of myself as wrapped and surrounded by Jolene's love. She loved me and showed me in every way she was capable of.

I may keep that blanket until it's as worn as a security blanket.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


God has sent me a love note this week, and affirmed it by expressing it three different ways.

First love note:
I sometimes wonder if my blog matters to anyone but me. A new friend posted here for the first time on Monday. I won't repeat her story, but she made it clear that what I have written changed her life. Wow. If I have only helped that one person ... it's worth it.

Second love note:
I have never met "Ausjenny" (who may be familiar to those of you involved with ACFW)in the flesh. She read Gunfight at Grace Gulch and contacted me for an interview. Earlier this week, she posted her review of my book ( Wow! Her comments made my spirit dance. She said in part, "This story is way more than just a cozy Mystery (and a very good one at that), it deals with insecurities and self doubts and how we can learn from them and grew. I wanted to go to Grace Gulch and I want to visit Cici's store." What a blessing to know the story, not only the mystery, resonated with at least one reader.

Third love note:
My son called to thank me. Specifically, he praised me for working day in and day out, whatever had happened at home the night before, regardless of whether or not I liked the job. That the roof over our heads and the clothes on our backs came from my hard work. Then he said--in words that would make any mother cry--"I now see how much you loved us, to work like that."

Thank You, God, for Your love notes, at a time when I feel overwhelmed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Five Months

This past month I have felt extremes. Late in July, I had a week or two of almost giddy normality. The first week of August, before my birthday, I was pathologically depressed and anxious. That passed, but we learned about Mom's upcoming surgery, and the fears of losing another person dear to me resurfaced.

All in all, I'm moving on. We no longer spend the weekends half expecting Jolene to walk through the door. We have taken care of most of the details concerning her death. At times, I can say her name or mention her death without crying.

And yet ...

Grief tears through me with simple reminders. Last night, we ate at Chili's. Every time we go there, we can almost see Jolene climbing on the giant stone peppers at the entrance. But the real stinger came with dessert.

Colorado restaurants have introduced a new wrinkle to their menu--"mini molten lava cakes." Three of them. When I saw the platter, my first thought was "one apiece." I choked up. We joked that although there are three cakes, we would have argued over who ate which flavor. I still cried.

This morning, I was making sweet talk to our cat, saying "You're a beautiful girl, yes, you are." The memory surfaced how I would tell Jolene "You are my girl, you are my pearl, although you have no curls." Tears, again. Mom held me. "It still doesn't seem possible," she said.

I didn't realize how much I loved Jolene until I lost her. Oh, my girl. I miss you so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


In the midst of wracking my brains on how to simplify my life for now, I've decide to cut back on my blog to twice a week. I will post on Mondays and Thursdays from now on.

See you then!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Welcome Jude Urbanski

Today it is my privilege to welcome Jude Urbanski, a fellow romance writer. She shares her experiences of her loss when an accident turned her family's life upside down.

On the Subject of Loss

Grief is universal and evergreen, but the specific grief journey after the loss of a child by suicide requires more courage than most of us have. In these instances, only God’s outrageous grace enables and the tincture of time heals.

In my life, I don’t know why God has chosen loss so often to speak to me, but I am the woman I am because of these losses. I’ve learned that every experience in my life is God-filtered. My story is not unique; it’s just mine. Yours is yours. Grief is universal. Grief is evergreen.

Reading and, later on, writing were my passions even before I had significant loss, but my first published book stems from my most profound loss. The book, I Can’t Remember Me, was written as a way to heal from my daughter’s one-car accident in which her six year-old-son was killed and she was so injured from a traumatic brain injury that the young mother who finally returned to us was not the same woman. The story is long and dark, but God gave us light at the end of the journey. Our joint book captures our family’s journey of the grieving process in the roller coaster ride from despair to hope.

The major central truth I learned from this loss is that God was on the journey with me. This is my answer when people ask “Where was God when you were going through this?” At times it did not seem God was there, but I learned that when it became really dark, I could see the stars all shiny and bright overhead. The old Chinese proverb says it this way—“it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” A writer friend puts it another way—“redemption shines brighter on a darker canvas.”

I probably do write to process my feelings. Especially when I journal, write prayers or poems or letters. With fiction, I write because I want to tell a story to entertain and for people to enjoy.

Jesus the man, Jesus my Savior, always resonates with me during loss. Sometimes He comes in almost unbelievable ways, but lets me know He’ll never leave. As far as authors whose works are memorable to me, I’d have to say Max Lucado’s works and Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance.

Our book is two years old, but we just sold 750 copies to a library distributor! I Can’t Remember Me can be found on our website (, from our publisher (LangMarc Publishing), from us personally, on Amazon and other on line market places or any bookstore can order it.

Both my daughter and I continue to write. My bent is inspirational romance, but I also do non fiction pieces. After a dreaded diagnosis three years ago, I made choices which would allow me to devote more time to writing. God has honored my desire.

If you’ve suffered loss, remember, we can become strong in our broken places.

Jude Urbanski 7/16/08

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Guilty Thoughts

Today I had a thought that made me feel guilty--at least in passing.

Between Mom's upcoming surgery, three books to finish before February, and numerous other factors, I am meeting myself coming and going.

Leaving work, I sighed, as I often do, "Oh, Jolene, I miss you so."

And then I thought--this would be so much harder if Jolene were here. Mom's illness would threaten her sense of security and she would do something to focus our attention on her.

I miss Jolene--my sweet, loving girl--but I will not miss the added pressure of helping her through this crisis.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Marius Revisited

Marius' birthday is three days after mine, August 6th. We met for dinner and conversation and celebration last evening.

He's had a good month. At a hearing on Wednesday, he learned that he will be approved to receive SSI payments. That's a huge blessing. His parents took him out for his birthday. This, too, is a blessing, because he often feels shunned by his family.

For the first time, we got through the meal without crying. Even when Marius ordered lemon meringue pie for dessert, his favorite as well as Jolene's.

All three of us have moved forward from a month ago. We sense that life exists at the end of this dark tunnel. Marius nearly always dresses in black. Last night he wore a shirt marbled with black, brown and white. Color! And color in his voice and attitude. He is doing better.

Marius continues to beat himself for Jolene's death. Mom and I hate to see him blame himself. He needs to forgive himself, and to accept God's forgiveness. I don't want guilt to poison his future.

Next time, after Labor Day.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mom Needs Surgery

"What are the risks of the surgery?" I tried to ask an intelligent question after the doctor casually said Mom needed to have her aorta replaced.

"Heart attack and stroke."

Mom blanched. But I persevered with the next question.

"What are the risks of not having the surgery?"

"An even greater risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as congestive heart failure."

"And the longer she waits ..." I let the statement dangle.

"The weaker she will get." Without his stating it directly, he implied she could reach a point where surgery would no longer be an option.

So easy to make the decision, once we had all the facts.

She goes back on August 29th. The surgery will be shortly after the ACFW conference in Minneapolis.

Mom is terrified. I am more hopeful. After surgery, I hope she will regain some of the energy she has lost in recent months; that she will feel better than she has in a long time. Still, it's a scary prospect.

Those of you who know my sweet Mom also know how anxious she gets about the littlest things. She is battling a desire to finish everything she ever wanted to do--in the next six weeks--in case this is the end. Pray for a balance between frantic activity and being immobilized by anxiety. Pray for me, too, that I will have the extra level of sensitivity and patience that I so often lack.

Thanks for staying with me--with us--through this difficult year.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A New Concern

Mom learned last week that she has "severe" stenosis, that is, a calcification and narrowing of her aorta. Tomorrow she goes to see a cardiologist.

This, only days after she learned that her bone density has decreased by 50%. It feels as if she has become frail overnight.

Mom moved here five years ago after a stroke. Aside from a mild weakness in her right leg, she's enjoyed good health. We have had the freedom to do many things together.

That may be changing. For now, she cannot drive. She hates loses her independence and being a burden on anyone. I am so glad she is here--that we are not separated by 2400 miles while she makes this transition. Yet it is a challenge for me as well, to honor her and care for her while continuing with my other routines.

When you think of us tomorrow, say a prayer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Verse for the Year

I don't make a habit of choosing a life verse or yearly verse. But when God hands one to me on a platter, I pay attention.

Daniel 12:3 appeared on my scripture calendar last Friday. The same verse is imprinted on the Grandmother's Bible I received for my birthday.

And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (NIV)

To be honest, when I first read the verse last Friday, my reaction was "Well, I certainly messed that up this week. I have been anything BUT wise or shining." (I know it's not me in any case, it's God, but I wasn't letting Him do His work.)

Then God repeated the message. Now what?

Today a Christian friend at work sent me an email saying she wishes she could be strong like me. I responded than when her time of testing comes, God will give her the strength she needs--one minute at a time.

So I don't know if the verse is a glimpse into what God wants to do in my life this next year. Or a testimony to what He is already doing, even when I feel so weak and foolish and vulnerable.

But I will return to this verse many times. And see what God else has to tell me.

Any thoughts?

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Birthday Journal

So many wonderful things have happened yesterday and today. Today I will give you details of the day itself.

Mom started off the morning with a card that had the perfect synergy between verse and design, and a present I wanted very much: The Grandmother Bible. She went whole hog and gave me a volume bound in lilac leather. Gorgeous. In addition to the expected 365 devotions, this Bible includes prayers specific to grandchildren, talk points on a wide variety of topics (supposing one of those granddaughters ever ask me for advice), and a variety of other helps. Oh, purple ink, too!

Plate-sized sunflowers adorned our table at Sunday school, with a note that read "Happy Birthday Darlene!" Nine people from our class joined me at Chili's for lunch. They each had a present or card to share. They saved one for the end--telling me that Jolene wouldn't want me to be sad on my birthday, and giving me a gift on her behalf. I cried.

We returned to my apartment for a cookie baking party. Amazing how quick work 6 women can make of 8 dozen cookies! I had prepared the dough on Saturday. We rolled and baked and bagged them to give away to shut ins and prospects.

After they left, I had just enough time to make it to the movie theater, where I watched Swing Vote. I loved it! Back home, phone call with my son, watched the end of Anne of Green Gables the Sequel.

Today my co-workers gave me another party--Streamers, balloons, card, cupcakes. Even the big bosses stopping by to wish me happy birthday--and everyone saying they wanted "to put a smile on my face." They succeeded.

God used so many people to embrace me with His love. Thank you all.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

God's Special Birthday Gift

The day finally arrived. It was a wonderful day; I'll give you details tomorrow.

But it started off poorly, leaving for church half an hour late and running into red lights at every opportunity.

About half way to church, Mom said, half as joke, "That's enough, Satan!"

Do you know, we didn't hit another red light?

Starting with those green lights, God opened my eyes to a several unwrapped, unexpected gifts.

Colorado is in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave. I'm one of the few residents who would NOT welcome rain today; it rains almost every year on my birthday. Today it did NOT rain. I had that special treat, sunny skies all day.

We stayed for both Sunday school and the worship service for the first time in a month; Mom has been sick for the past three weeks. Now, there is a real reason to rejoice!

My granddaughter Savanna told me she loved me tonight. Jaran told me how rare that is, coming from a 12½ year old. And he's right. I remember those days! But she wished me a happy birthday and expressed her love.

Oh, and my beloved Rockies won, managing a split of their series with the Florida Marlins.

I'll give you details on the "planned" birthday activities tomorrow.

Thanks for all your love and caring. A computer crisis kept me from posting on Thursday night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sign of the Times

Colorado is in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave.

Our annual visitors must not have checked the weather reports. Although it's still July, a flock of Canadian geese has returned. A reminder that although we're enduring day after day of 90+ degree weather, cooler weather will arrive and provide relief.

I'm holding on that image. This week soul-crushing grief has returned, reducing me to tears and even worse, whining. I knew pain would return; I didn't expect it to be so intense. Well, it is. And I'm ashamed of the things I've been thinking and feeling. Not the grief, but the selfishness that comes with it. (Did any of you see the animated movie where one of the characters said "It's all about me"? Jolene had a T-shirt with that slogan on it. Yet another reminder. Well, that's how I'm feeling these days.)

But just as the geese remind me that the heat can't last forever, I know this pain will also pass.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Encouraging Words

God ministered to me powerfully today.

This morning, I continued my study of the Lord's prayer (in the book Secrets of the Kingdom by Jennifer Kennedy). This morning's lesson focused on the phrase "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Kennedy connected the request with Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Paul's words in Romans 12 about God's "always good, perfect and pleasing will."

And I realized that while I don't believe God willed my daughter to die, I do believe that His will is "always good, perfect and pleasing" through the situation. I can--and do--trust Him to do what is good and perfect and best for me in all that is happening.

A second word came from a sister in Christ I have never met. Many people contacted me to encourage me, but one email comforted my heart so greatly that I asked the sender for permission to reprint it in my blog.

Here is what Connie Stevens said:

I have followed your posts since March, my heart aching for you. I, too, lost my child-my son, two and a half years ago. While I didn't experienced the same pain you did when your daughter committed suicide, the loss and grief aren't that much different when you've lost a child, regardless of how they died. (My son died of cancer).

I realize you are facing your birthday coming up in a few day, and not hers, but it's still one of those "special days" when the grief is a little sharper. My son's birthday was in June, and I posted a blog on my website, describing some of the pain and joy connected with such a milestone. The blog is entitled "Choosing A Birthday Gift".

Sometimes I get angry because people just don't understand. Grief makes people uncomfortable and they want you to "get over it" so they don't have to deal with it. But I finally realized that the only way they can understand is if they sit by their child's bedside and watch him take his last breath, or if they get the call from the police telling them the unthinkable has happened. If that is the only way they can understand, then I can forgive them for not understanding, and I pray they never understand. (italics mine)

But I understand, Darlene. The hurt won't ever go away-it just gets different. But the hurt is a testament to how much you loved her, and love her still.

Thank you, Connie, for sharing from your pain. Thank You, God, for lifting my heart out of the depths of despair.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Birthday Blues

This week, the blues are back. (I knew the sunny feeling that dominated most of July wouldn't last forever.) I'm cycling back through deep grief.

Sunday will be the first birthday in thirty years I've celebrated without my daughter.

I will be 54. Jolene was 23 when she died. Another reminder that time has frozen for her. Not 29 years younger than I am (she would have turned 25 next March), not 30 years younger than I am (she would be 24 now)--but 31 years. An additional year that will stretch longer as time goes by.

Jolene and I both had birthdays on the same day of the week. A small thing that made us feel connected in some strange way, now broken.

This family holiday will be the hardest we've faced yet.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tonight's Tough

I've mentioned before that weekends are hard.

Friday and Saturday brought their share of good news, so I sailed through.

(Shameless self promotion): On Friday I received the contract for my next book, Paint Me a Puzzle, the third and final title in the Dressed for Death cozy mystery series. Yeah!

Then on Saturday, I finished the rough draft of Beacon of Love, a historical romance set during the "Great Gale of 1815" in Rhode Island. (They didn't call them hurricanes yet.) SUCH a relief.

But Mom did not feel well this morning; we arrived at Sunday school late and left before the worship service started. We are both missing the fellowship and the preaching of the Word. (Third week we've missed because Mom isn't doing well.)

And tonight, I am missing Jolene more than I have recently. Mom laid a pink doll blanket on the table. I held the soft cloth to my face and wanted to cry. Because, of course, it belonged to Jolene. It once wrapped a teensy baby doll that she laid in a equally small cradle. I want her back, I want her dressing her dolls, or saving them for her children, or even giving them away. I want more than something she once held.

I don't want her back. I wouldn't call her back from heaven. I want her never to have left.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Tonight I watched So You Think You Can Dance. Mom and I are big fans of the show.

If you watch the show, you know who Will is: a contemporary dancer trained under Debbie Allen. Tonight he was voted off (I still can’t believe it!) '

One night he wore a T-shirt with the logo "I Will" on it. It was one of those other unexpected reminders. Jolene's email address was "IWillRichard." She chose that name because if she had been a boy, she would have been named William Richard.

Jolene spoke from at least four different personalities. No, she didn't have multiple personality disorder, and she was always aware when she shifted her point of view. But it was disconcerting to hear her refer to herself in the third person. William Richard was one of those four personalities. A part of her desired the dominance and power often associated with masculinity.

I didn't understand the four personas. I told Jolene that as she healed, she would become one.

I miss you, Jolene, Jojo, Little Bit, and William Richard--and whatever is the new name God has given you in heaven.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome Staci Stallings

Tonight it is my privilege to share the following article from Staci Stallings. It resonates with me--read and respond, if you wish.


My best friend had ovarian cancer in high school. She battled for two years from the time she was 16 to the time she was 18 before finally being declared cancer free. Recently, we were watching TV together, and someone mentioned the word cancer. Since she was heavily into planning for the Relay for Life, a cancer fundraiser, that word stuck in my head.
Several nights later, I was at church, and the pastor made an off-handed comment about suicide. It wasn’t a direct thing, just something about how bleak our life would be without God. At that moment a new understanding dawned on me about the power of words, and in particular, our words.

You see, my older brother died last year at the age of 42. It wasn’t a car accident or cancer. He died by his own hand. Suicide. Ever since then, I’ve heard the word “suicide” very differently than I ever had before.

Not that it was not a scary word to me before. My younger sister had gone through several near suicide attempts when she was younger, but she had pulled through. So suicide has been in my life vocabulary for a long time but not the way it is now.

Now, when I hear that word or references to it, it jars me like no other word out there. In one second I can have a flood of memories and feelings come back to me—that morning when I got the call, the house when I got there, the family, him lying in the coffin (that one I still have immense difficulty processing), and on and on. All of these are accompanied by the what now’s? With three children, what will he miss? How are they doing? How can I help in a situation that’s not fixable?

All of these and more in one heartbeat.

The trouble is, I never know when this word is going to pop up with all the stuff it brings with it.
Thinking about this later, that’s when I remembered my friend, and I started wondering if the word “cancer” does to her what the word “suicide” does to me. When she hears it, do all those memories come flooding back? Does she question why it was her and why then? Does she wonder why she made it back into the land of the living and others have not?
I suspect she does though I haven’t gotten the courage up to ask her yet.

Then I began thinking about other words and what they do to people. Words like: divorce and depression and overdose and alcohol or drugs. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you know words that aren’t even on this list. Words like: miscarriage or unemployment. Words like: bankruptcy or accident.

What I want to say to all of those silently grieving or hurting over these words is, please know that you are not alone. Don’t think that you are the only one who processes these words so very differently than everyone else. You’re not.

But also please remember that there are others among you, others you might not even realize who are doing the same thing with the words you speak. It is impossible to know all the details or even the situations involved, but please be aware that your words have power. And being sensitive to them is a step in the right direction for us all.

What words stop you in your tracks with memories you thought were gone or healed? Maybe if we talk about those words, we can all become more conscious of them and other words like healing and help and love can begin to take over. The conversation has to start somewhere.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008

Need words of healing, comfort, and encouragement, feel free to visit Staci Stallings, the author of “Words” at her publisher’s site or her personal site: You’ll feel better for the experience!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another Piece Lost

Somehow, a lack of communication has resulted in our losing another piece of Jolene.

I have debated about whether or not to write about this loss. It involves someone near and dear to us, who mistakenly did something that has hurt us deeply. I decided that I needed to. It's the most emotional, important thing that has happened in recent days.

Our kind, helpful neighbor moved Jolene's boxes from the storage unit to our apartment. We separated her things into four groups:
Keep: The boxes are stacked in our hallway.
Give away: Two resale stores picked up those items.
Throw away: In the dumpsters at the storage unit.
Store for Jaran, Jolene's brother, and John, her father. The problem involves this group.

Everything was clearly labeled except a large blue plastic bin for Jaran. We didn't need to. The only bin of its kind, he had claimed it and filled it with toys, books, videos, things that held special memories for him, others that he thought his girls might enjoy. The blue box belonged to him. Our neighbor took the things for John and Jaran into his apartment because, as he said, "You don't have space!"

On Saturday, we went to our neighbor to retrieve the extra boxes.

He'd given the large blue box away. We don't blame him. But his action stirred pain and loss into a frenzy again.

Intrinsic value, nonexistent. But Mom and I struggle with letting it go. For one thing, we hurt for Jaran. All the things he especially treasured--gone. Irretrievable.

But ultimately, we've lost another piece of Jolene. Remorse and new pain have diluted the good feelings I experienced all last week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Grief Unveiled

Today I passed another minor milestone. I finished the second (and last) book I purchased on the subject of the death of a child: A Grief Unveiled by Gregory Floyd.

Although Floyd's son John-Paul died as a child in a car accident, the chronicle of grief echoes strongly with my heart. Time after time I paused and reflected, "Yes! Someone who understands! Someone who put it into words!"

I read another one of those statements today. Floyd says, "Often people think the theological reasons for hope displace the psychological reasons for grief. They do not .... One experiences heaviness, pressure, desolation, loneliness, sadness, disruption in patterns of eating, sleeping and relating. One is exhausted emotionally and physically. This does not mean one has no hope; it simply means one has an abundance of grief." (page 189)

Floyd speaks eloquently of seeing John-Paul again in heaven. His hope is real.

But so is his grief.

The same is true for me.

In some small way, I hope I can be like Gregory Floyd for those who read my blog. If I can help someone to feel less isolated, if I can allow people minister to me, I will have succeeded.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Marius Revisited

We postponed our monthly visit with Jolene's fiance when dizziness overcame Mom last Sunday.

Today, when we left our apartment to pick him up, Mom said, "I feel queasy."

"Of course. We're going to see Marius."

She took an anxiety pill. It helped.

The visits are hard for all of us, yet good at the same time. As Marius said, we're the only ones who truly understand his grief. We can be honest about our love and longing, the hole she's left in our lives.

Marius blames himself for Jolene's death. If only he had returned to her apartment ... if only they had already married ... if only ... We remind him that the decision to end her life was Jolene's alone, but he says, "I know, but--" My heart aches for him. How hard to carry that guilt, as well as his grief at her death.

I ask Marius if he believes in life after death. He answers that he can't think about it; it's too painful. I share how my faith comforts me. Jolene is alive in heaven; I will spend eternity with her, and one day, God will wipe away my tears when there is no more death or crying or pain.

We explore our shared memories, and all three of us tear up. "Some day," Marius says, "We will meet and remember the good times without crying."

Pray for this sweet man, with a poet's soul and an agnostic's struggle.

We honor Jolene's memory in maintaining our relationship.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thoughts on Anniversaries

This morning I apologized to God.

I prayed along the lines of "God, I know You're eternal, and outside of time, so You may wonder why I focus on these anniversaries."

Then I realized how silly I was being. God created time and seasons, for one thing. For another, Jesus lived and died in real time. Yet again, God created ceremonies around time. New moon festivals. The Day of Atonement. Passover.

So God created us with a need to commemorate events. What a relief. He understands. He welcomes it.

Still we scream at the heavens. Mom ran across Jolene's obituary in her papers today. She emailed me, saying, "It can't be true. I don't want it to be true. Yet I know it is."

Still, I come to tonight in peace.

My daughter-in-law is almost halfway through her pregnancy. Now, there's a date I welcome in advance.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome Teena Stewart

This is my 100th blog! I am celebrating.

Tonight it is my privilege to welcome Teena Stewart as my guest. Teena shares about the loss of financial security and geographical closeness to family, especially for those involved in full-time Christian ministry. Anyone of us who has moved away from home or lost a job can identify with her struggles. Thanks for being my guest tonight, Teena.

In this blog, I have been processing the loss of my daughter to suicide. The experience of loss is universal. What significant loss have you experienced? How has it impacted your writing?

Over the years I’ve experienced numerous losses, as do most people, but the most significant ones include the death of my father at age 50 to cancer and the death of my sister to cancer at age 45.

I am married to a minister and one of the significant losses connected to ministry is that we often have to give up being financially secure and being close to family. We have lived away from extended family for years and have moved many times. I think these losses make you build up walls so that you don’t let people get too close and you try to pad yourself against being hurt or suffering more separation.

Most recently we gave up secure ministry positions in the Bay Area in California to move to Hickory, North Carolina to start a Christian coffee shop ministry. Though it has put us closer to extended family, it is much more isolated and financially challenging than we ever thought it would be. It is taking much longer than anticipated to launch the ministry, but it is happening in God’s time and not ours.

Once we do get it up and running we will have community, but right now we are merely attending local churches and haven’t plugged in to have that sense of friendship and belonging so it is a very lonely existence. And we are living a month to month existence trying to make ends meet not sure whether we will make it the next month or not.

What central truth did you learn through your loss?

I think some of the things we have been through have taught us to value the time we have with people who are dear to us and not to take it for granted. Most recently we left behind some dear friends in California. We’ve learned that if you plan to follow God’s call, even when you think you’ve counted the cost, it can be very costly and you’d better be prepared to grow—and sometimes painfully. You had also better be prepared for being isolated and lonely if you share your visions with people because a lot of people won’t get the visions, even if you are sure that you are within God’s will. Sometimes the most callous people are the ones you think are going to be your advocates.

And I guess also, most recently the reality again that we are meant to be a part of a community and not out there trying to be Christ followers on our own. It brings home again some of the main reasons I wrote my small group book in the first place.

Do you write to escape your circumstances or to process your feelings? Or both? Please share examples.

I write professionally because I think God has called me to do that. Even if I tried to walk away from it, I think I would still have to write. But I also journal to express myself. Only then, especially when I am feeling cut off from people who really understand, can I put down my pain and what I am learning. I believe that some of this journaling, once we have traveled our faith journey a bit longer with Java Journey a bit more, might eventually become a book, or several books.

As for the loss of loved ones, I don’t know that that will ever be more than just my private pain on paper.

What books or characters resonated with you in your time of loss?

Well, I review books, mainly for Christian ministry. But I also read for escape and for spiritual growth. The only book that comes to mind is a recent review I did of Uprooting Anger by Kay W. Camenisch and I was surprised that so much of it resonated with me, even though I don’t see myself as an angry person. We all handle hurts and disappointments differently and they manifest themselves differently but her book helped me see some of my own hurts and work areas.

Most recently the story of Gideon has been speaking to me. I feel that we have so much in common with him on our current faith journey. God chose an ordinary person who wasn’t sure that God called him. And then he gave him very few helpers but provided signs and reinforcement along the way.

You have recently published Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice. Please tell me a little about your book.

My book Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice came about because I saw the value and importance of small group community. Healthy churches have small groups that almost act as mini churches. They are places where people can share their pain, their prayer requests, have a family away from family and learn biblical principles and also have accountability to stand firm in their faith and continue to walk the walk. I think it came about naturally because my husband, Jeff, who was a pastor of small groups and discipleship at our last church and I also was highly involved in ministry and small groups.

The book is intended as an encouragement and equipping resource for those leading small groups or those wishing to start them.

What last words would you like to share with my readers? How can they find out more about what God is doing in your life?

I guess I would say to hold tight when it feels like to rope is unraveling because at the end of the rope is loving Father who is watching to catch you.

Two places you can go to find out more about what’s happening would be which includes a blog and ezine you can subscribe to (or will include the ezine subscription soon) if you wish to keep up with our coffee shop ministry progress. And then
There is also my blog

Thanks for letting me share.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus Four Months

Well, almost.

Four months ago today I was knocking on the door to Jolene's apartment.

I didn't remember that this is "anniversary week" until this afternoon.

After one month--I was still very much in shock. On the one hand, numb, on the other, every feeling totally exposed.

After two months--I had survived the burial of Jolene's ashes and a difficult Mother's Day.

After three months--we had moved Jolene's things into our apartment and were struggling with the daily visual reminders.

After four months--I think of Jolene each and every day. She jumps into my mind, sharp and clear, memories of the good times we shared flooding me for brief periods. A word, phrase, sound, smell, prompt tears. But interspersed with those moments of intense grief are times of quiet joy. I am no longer seeking to survive for today, I am actually looking forward to tomorrow.

I wonder what another month will bring.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Listen for Her Voice

This past week, I have felt more joy, peace, return of life than I have at any time since Jolene's death. Praise the Lord! (And refuse to pay attention to the guilt that says "how can you feel happy?")

But like any good author, I know that conflict drives story. And a story that is all light and happiness offers little conflict.

So when I talk about the glimmers, the reminders each day of Jolene--they have been thoughts, sharp pangs in passing, felt and then gone. I wanted to share that with you.

Today, I felt that pang when I listened to voice mail--one saved message. And I remembered we had deleted every message Jolene had ever left on our phone. With that came came the realization I don't have a single recording of Jolene's voice.

How can I describe her voice? She had severe hearing problems as a young child, and had speech therapy all the way through school. She could speak clearly but it took effort. The more excited or upset she became, the harder she was to understand.

She also had a high-pitched voice. For a long time, that was an expression of her child-like nature. She had only recently begun to accept her status as an adult and put maturity into her speech patterns. I don't mean her word choice - Jolene was always articulate - but I mean in speaking with a more normal, deeper voice. Even then, she was a soprano (if only she could sing. But maybe she can now!)

What I miss most is her laughter and her giggles. I miss telling her, in my most uppity New England voice, "Mothers are never silly." She would respond, "Yes they are!" and we'd both laugh.

I miss joining her in singing "If you drink milk, you'll have Darth Vader after you." (I think the origin of that silliness was the ad campaign, "got milk?" with celebrities wearing milk mustaches.)

Emahay, Jolene.

Emahayati, Mom. I love you too.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mother and Child

The bond between mother and child is well nigh unbreakable. I know that some mothers have abused, neglected and abandoned children, and I don't want to downplay your pain. But for myself, I can say that I have never felt any loss as great as the deliberate death of my only daughter.

Two things I read this week echoed that sense of loss for me.

In a new book, Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, she talks about teaching her teenage son to drive. I don't have the book with me (it's an audio book I'm listening to at work), so I can't quote her exactly. But she said how she has never loved anyone so much, or invested in anyone else as much, as she had her son. And at that moment in time, she felt like in spite of all her love and care and effort, she had failed him completely.

Oh, boy, do I relate. I suspect most mothers can. I poured myself into Jolene, trying without success to fill the void created by Borderline Personality Disorder, pointing her to the only One who could fill that hole. In the end, at that dreadful moment in time, it wasn't enough.

At least Anne's son is still alive. But for both of us, we trust God's grace to see us through those soul-crunching moments when we doubt our talent at the most important job we will ever have.

The other book was a sweet romance, based on a true story, written over 50 years ago. Mrs. Mike. A young 16 year old girl marries a Canadian Mountie and makes a home with him in the far north. They face many hardships, but the one that nearly tears them apart is the death, by diptheria, of their two small children.

I read the story, and didn't immediately consider the implications for my own life. Until I stared at the "Smash, Sizzle, Savor" logos on the wall of Smashburger, and sighed "Oh, Jolene." Tears came unbidden, unexpected, to my eyes.

My first book, Romanian Rhapsody, tells the story of a father who lost his son during childbirth. How could I know that the grief I wrote of with such power would become reality in my own life?

Love makes us vulnerable. The love between mother and child cuts the closest to our inmost being. Loving Jolene left me open to the pain of her death.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Fight or Not to Fight

God puts things together all the time. A friend and I do Bible study by email, answering the same set of questions from the Serendipity Bible. Right now we are alternating between Deuteronomy and Psalms.

I was struck by the synchronicity between Deuteronomy 1, which recounts Israel's refusal to fight for the land of Canaan at Kadesh Barnea, and Psalm 3, which David wrote while fleeing (i.e., refusing to fight) his son Absalom (see 2 Samuel 15).

The lesson from Deuteronomy? The Israelites should have fought, because God commanded them to.

From Psalm 3? Not as clear cut. David was running for his life--but he also wanted to avoid a situation where Jerusalem would be put to the sword.

There are plenty of battles, but today is not always the right time to fight.

Right now my biggest challenge remains my battle with grief. I don't mean that I seek to vanquish it. Only time and God can do that. I mean that grief engages all my energy, faith, and arsenal of prayer and writing and friendship.

For now, God will call someone else to fight larger battles on behalf of His church and our country.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Welcome Nancy Mehl

Tonight it is my privilege to welcome Nancy Mehl to my blog. Nancy is a fellow Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! author.

Anyone who has experienced loss can identify with Nancy’s story. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

In this blog, I have been processing the loss of my daughter to suicide. The experience of loss is universal. What significant loss have you experienced? How has it impacted your writing?
As you say, all of us have experienced loss. Whether loss generates from the death of a loved one or the death of a dream, loss can leave us feeling that something is missing from our lives. I think I began to experience loss as a child. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in a perfect home with a loving mother and father. Somewhere along the way, I learned to stuff my feelings inside. I was very good at it. Other things happened to me after I was married that caused me great pain. Again, I stuffed. No one would have thought that there was anything at all wrong in my life. In fact, people used to remark about how happy I was. And I was. I woke up with a smile and laughed throughout the day. Then I began to experience some strange reactions to things in my life. I could sense that something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was. One day at work, something that had happened to me fifteen years earlier rushed into my mind as if it had just happened. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I immediately had to seek help and was almost hospitalized. A Christian therapist explained to me that I had filled my emotional closet full of painful experiences instead of dealing with them. And my closet had finally burst open. I spent a year in therapy and on medication. Neither of these things helped much, by the way.

What central truth did you learn through your loss?
God supernaturally led me to a Bible teacher who taught me that “feelings buried alive never die.” For a year, every day, it was as if she could see through the television and into my life. I’d never experienced anything like it before. Slowly but surely, I began to find my way out of the hole I was in. And then I learned the next lesson God had for me. Paul speaks about it in Philippians 3: 13. “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I’ve learned that dealing with loss is a two step process. First of all, deal honestly with the situation. Grief is natural. God gave us the ability to grieve. Then allow healing to come – but it must be God given, anointed healing. Man’s healing is temporal. The Bible tells us that it is the “anointing that breaks the yoke.” Jesus said He came to set the captives free. Only God can provide real release. Then – we must forget what lies behind and press on if we want to fulfill the call of God on our lives. Looking backward only causes us to stumble. Keeping our eyes fixed on the prize is the only way to go forward. Of course, this doesn’t mean we ever forget people we love. But we can look forward to the day we are with them again – and that vision doesn’t exist in the past. It is only ahead of us.

Do you write to escape your circumstances or to process your feelings? Or both? Please share examples.
I certainly use situations in my life in my writing. I believe all writers do that. Bothersome situations tend to move into the background when you’re lost in a world you’re making up. It’s funny how you can feel better after a good writing session. And we can work out some of our frustrations through our writing. For example, I’m a snow nut. One of the reasons I created the town of Winter Break, Kansas was to make as much snow as I wanted! I got tired of being disappointed in Kansas winters.

As far as trying to escape problems through our writing – when we’re done writing, the problem will still be there. Jesus said that we were to have abundant life – and hiding from our hurt isn’t abundance. As I said before, we have to turn our situations over to the Only One who can heal us. Using our writing as anything more than a temporary distraction from our lives might eventually set up an unhealthy pattern. But while we’re healing – it’s a wonderful way to project our feelings into our stories. We need to remember that other people are hurting too. I always pray over my books that God will put a “word in due season” in them for someone else who needs a touch from Him. Your situation just might help someone else.

What books or characters resonated with you in your time of loss?
Of course, the Bible. There is no other book in the world that is actually alive and can change you on the inside. When you’ve suffered loss, it’s time to immerse yourself in God’s Word. When you have God’s Word, you have God.

Joyce Meyer wrote a wonderful book that I would encourage anyone who is dealing with loss to read. It’s titled “Beauty for Ashes.” I’ve seen some wonderful results in people’s lives from that little book. Very powerful. Very anointed.

You have recently published. Please tell me a little about your book.
“In the Dead of Winter” is the first book in my Ivy Towers mystery series. I introduce Ivy Towers, who is a student in Wichita, Kansas. She travels to Winter Break, a small town in the western part of the state, after her great-aunt Bitty dies unexpectedly. Ivy used to spend summers and holidays with Bitty, but since she’s been in college, she hasn’t been to Winter Break. When she arrives, she begins to suspect that Bitty’s death wasn’t an accident. She starts to poke around town, looking for clues to what really happened. Amos Tucker, a local deputy sheriff, and Ivy’s old boyfriend, joins in her search for the truth. Ivy is determined to do what needs to be done and get back to her life, even though Bitty left her old, rare bookstore to her only niece. Ivy will not only track a killer, but she will have to look into her own heart to find out what God’s will is for her life.

“In the Dead of Winter” became available to the public on July 1st. Book two in this series, “Bye, Bye Bertie,” has just been sent out to the Heartsong Mystery book club. There are two more books in the series, and in December, Barbour will release an omnibus edition that will include the first three novels. It is titled “Cozy in Kansas.”