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Court Is In Session

Monday, August 14, 2017, court is in session, the honorable Judge LePage presiding. 

Court is an interesting experience in and of itself. From my perspective, at least on pretrial conference day, court is little more than an exercise in fine assessment and future scheduling.

The defendant is called. He or she stands before the judge who reads aloud the charges the prosecutor (who is not present) filed. The defendant is then asked if they understand the charges and asked how they plea. A guilty plea results in fine assessment or setting of a later trial date. A not guilty plea is followed by the defendants presentation of evidence of innocence. The charge is dismissed and the next defendant’s name is called. Basically it’s the equivalent of wash, rinse repeat over and over again. 
It’s enlightening and it’s sad. There are those who just couldn’t locate the necessary paperwork when they got pulled over for a traffic stop. Those who made downright dangerous choices. Those who were frankly told that they would be serving time. And those whose lives seemed to be riddled with one problem after another, be them of their own making or not.

Then there were those who came to lend support to the defendant. Parents, siblings, friends and children. That last one is heartbreaking to see. 

And then there was me. 

I had no business with the court and was not there to support another. No, I sat in my corner waiting to see what would become of the felony charge leveled against the man who was responsible for the accident that killed my daughters three and a half years earlier. I noticed all this as I sat on the back row in the far corner waiting with increasing anxiety every time the courtroom doors opened. 

Would it be him?

How would I feel the moment I laid eyes on him?

He entered the courtroom after the bailiff went in search of him. He glanced my way, then stood behind the podium before the judge. I don’t think he had any idea who I was. I wish I was blessed with the same ignorance. 

I was surprised when the initial charge read was a felony stalking charge. I knew he’d been arrested for stalking but didn’t realize that charge would be addressed today. Finally the judge read the charge I was interested in. Felony driving without a license. In the state of Missouri the first two citations are misdemeanor offenses; the third a felony. This was actually Troy Robins fourth offense. No mention was made of the fact that the defendant had been eligible to obtain a driver’s license for seven years. Two prior offenses were mentioned however, no mention was made of the fact that on the date of his third offense he caused an accident that resulted in two fatalities.

The judge asked if he had secured an attorney and the defendant responded that he wasn’t sure if he’d need one. The judge then pointed out that he was looking at a four year maximum sentence on each charge. 

Troy Robins volunteered the fact that he now had a driver’s license. I sat in stuptified wonder as the judge turned to a woman seated across the courtroom and asked if she intended to throw out the charge since he had acquired a driver’s license. I held my breath then exhaled in complete disbelief when she responded yes. I wasted no time in rising to my feet and exiting the courtroom. I couldn’t stomach anymore. Just what was the point of upgrading the charge to a felony only to throw it out? Color me not only disgusted but also confused.

I’m sure a driving without a license charge appears insignificant to the court in comparison to the stalking charge and a good number of other charges that I’m sure are routinely presented before the judge. I guess it’s a throw away charge deemed irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not sure what role that woman in the court served, but after recycling the events through my head repeatedly today, I concluded that she’s probably the prosecuting attorney’s clerk. I have learned that only the prosecutor can bring charges so I assume the prosecutor, or his proxy, are the only ones who can withdraw charges as well.

To say I’m shocked by the outcome of today’s proceedings is a bit of an understatement. I never expected the charge to be dismissed outright but thought it more likely that he’d be sentenced to little or no prison time instead. What’s sad is that had I not notified the city attorney that his name was misspelled and this was not his first offense on this charge, he would have at least been convicted of another misdemeanor and paid a paltry fine ($80).

Silly me, I honestly thought it was a God thing a few weeks back when I was told that the county prosecutor had agreed to take the case and prosecute the felony charge. I say that because I was able to notify the city prosecutor of the errors only one day before Troy Robins was scheduled to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge. The public docket indicated that several delays had occurred prior to that day. It felt as if God had allowed the whole thing to be strung out until the real crime he was guilty of could be discovered so that he would not escape justice yet again. But I guess that was an erroneous assumption on my part. Once more I found myself sitting by helplessly as justice slipped away. Could I have waved my hands and offered the court the pertinent information they seemed unaware of? I don’t know. Most of what I know about courtroom procedures comes from television and interrupting the proceedings is portrayed as a definite no, no.

I find myself filled with righteous indignation but beyond that I’m just numb. I had no desire to track Troy Robins through the parking lot and run him over with the wheelchair van we now need in part because of his actions. 

There is no fight left in me. 

Had Troy Robins been convicted and sentenced for driving without a license today I would have firmly believed it was a work of the Lord. But now? Not so much. I don’t hold God responsible for what transpired in that courtroom today, but I do assume He allowed it for a reason. Maybe just not one I cared to entertain.

When I discovered Troy Robins most recent ticket I asked for prayer on Facebook that the prosecutor would amend the charge. A local McDonald County resident or two shared the post which eventually made its way to some of his friends. As a result I found myself under attack. I was proclaimed pathetic, vindictive and bitter. I was accused of attempting to intentionally hurt someone who unintentionally hurt me. I was mocked as a hypocrite for the forgiveness I’d said on past blogposts I’d granted. I was maligned for failing to have compassion for the young man who struggles with feelings of guilt, self-medicates with drugs and had poor judgment because of his tender age of 19 at the time of the accident. I was accused of both stalking and harassment for accessing public arrest records.

Like any other human being my knee jerk reaction was one of angry defensiveness. I knew better than to respond to those allegations directly so instead I began writing responses that would never see the light of day. Round and round my mind circled over and over again. And when the dust settled a bit I turned inward and began to once again examine my heart. Is there any truth to the allegations that have been thrown at me, I asked myself.

I talked this through with a longtime friend and this is what I discovered. By and large my motives are pure. I sincerely want justice served – no more and no less. I want the citizens of McDonald County to be safe and had I not drawn the courts attention to the true status of Troy Robins’ record (having let it go as I’ve been encouraged repeatedly) I would have felt as if I shared responsibility for anyone he hurt thereafter having not been prosecuted because I knowingly did nothing. Today, having discovered he is a legally licensed driver, released me from any future concern in that regard. The state qualified him, the courts excused him and I can wash my hands of him. I am so glad that I can turn my back and refuse to consider him any longer.

But that’s not all I discovered.

I also found that there remained a corner of my heart that took spiteful pleasure in his predicament. Afterall, how hard is it to acquire a driver’s license? He really just shot himself in the foot by refusing to apply for a license. 

It hurts to think that this “God thing” might have been more about sussing out sin I was unaware my heart was harboring. It hurts to know that I needed to cycle through the process of repentance, if not forgiveness, once again. I didn’t want to go there, but I also don’t want to be a bitter, vengeful woman either. So last week I went about dragging my feet where I least wanted to venture again even if it is in my own best interest. I returned to that hollowed out place in my heart. The one where I acknowledge that God will assuredly ensure that justice is served but that I will likely never know, never see it, never experience the satisfaction on behalf of my daughters. I don’t feel angry about that – just deeply disappointed and utterly resigned to this thing I cannot change or control. I don’t want to hear about what will eventually come to pass. It is of little consolation for me today.

I cannot lie, today was a difficult day. I have only verbally spoken of it to David and Gracen. I have found it nearly impossible to even begin to process how I feel about God in the wake of today’s events. I really don’t want to go there, so I reverted to my standard internal debate escape method – sleep and fiction. That’s how my afternoon was spent. 

I had nothing to say when David initially walked through the door tonight, mail in hand. But moments later he handed me an unexpected card and letter that arrived in the mailbox this afternoon. It came from a former high school classmate of my husband’s, Erich Magruder and his wife Amy. They are no strangers to the heartache that results when life changes drastically in one single moment in time. And this is the message God prepared in advance for my hurting heart today via the concern of a friend who had only recently become aware of the deaths of our daughters. He reached out extending sympathy and hoping to catch up on the last 35 years of lives that have taken divergent paths:


“In the ever changing circumstances of life, There’s a faithful, never-changing God in control. Every day begins and ends with His purpose, every moment of our life is in His care. There isn’t a detail that escapes His eye, or a trial that doesn’t touch His heart.”

And inside the card:

“Praying you’ll be encouraged as you entrust your cares to Him today.”

That simple card reminded me that while I may not understand or even appreciate God’s ways – He is still faithful. He still sees. He doesn’t turn away when things get hard or go very, very badly. He bears witness to the trials that touch our lives. He lingers with the brokenhearted. 

I needed that today.

And it meant so much more coming from hearts that have sustained their own deep wounds. Talk is cheap, but not when the words, and the truth they reflect, have been torn from depths unsearchable. 

Not then. 

Those words, they are a sacrifice of praise, and they have been offered at great cost. 

They are precious words that shine brightly because they are what remains when the dross has been removed by the meticulous and patient efforts of the Refiner of Silver in the hearts of men.

Maybe tomorrow I can once again begin to reconcile my circumstances and my faith with the Word of God. But today, I will rest upon the encouragement of another. My heart is too hollow to do anything else.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Adversity, Faith

 

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How to Know When Your Journey Through Grief is Complete

Several months ago I asked my psychiatrist how I’d know when I had completed the grieving process. My most pressing need in recovery is/was to reconcile my losses and Gracen’s prognosis with my beliefs about God. I defiantly needed the Holy Spirit to make sense of it all within the context of scripture. That process has been impacted by the overwhelmingly raw agony of emotion cursing through my system. Anger, fear, discouragement and defeat cycled and recycled through my heart and mind constantly. There was, there is, no escape from that cycle without processing both my thoughts and feelings.

Frankly, following the death of my daughters everything I saw, heard and thought was filtered through loss. My perspective shifted and words, actions and thoughts were interpreted in a far more literal and somewhat cynical sense in spite of recognizing the good intentions of others. I understood the intention but was frustrated by others inability and/or refusal to see things from my perspective. Others fairly vibrated with the need to fix the unfixable. To justify with some grand overall plan and purpose. To extinguish the palpable pain. To escape the negativity so they were not inadvertently soiled by it. Those individuals probably felt the same frustration with me. 

Unbeknownst to most, inside an intense desire to be understood refused to be appeased or denied. It took root and demanded attention, refusing to be placated and demanding validation. And every bit of it was entwined with my faith in Jesus Christ.

So I set about entangling my seemingly contradictory thoughts and feelings with the truth of scripture. I did my best to ignore the advice of the untested and sought refuge with broken believers who shared my struggle to cling to and reconcile my faith. I withdrew to escape judgment and rebuke and carve out a safe, secure, silent space in which I could wrestle with the complex truths of scripture. And in that place I made peace with the contradictions of what love in action looks like. I meditated on the complexities of God’s promises and plans regarding my earthly existence and eternal purposes. In time, my internal struggle ended. I found answers that satisfied and let go of the unexplainable. I made peace with my losses . . . with Gracen’s prognosis. 

However, just as Jacob walked away from wrestling with the angel limping, I have also paid a high price in the search for understanding and peace. Depression dogs my steps and anxiety chases after me. And I wonder, have I processed grief only to be handicapped by the mental health issues that rode in on the coattails of loss? Will I ever escape them?

When I asked my psychiatrist how I would know when I had completed my journey through grief he responded that I will have healed when I no longer processed everything through the filter of loss. I will no longer analyze every thought, feeling and action in minute detail in regards to death. He told me I had not yet arrived at that place; but I know I’m making progress.

A long time ago, before Bethany and Katie died, I came to the realization that disease had thrust me into a constant grief cycle. As Gracen and Katie’s bodies changed, as hard won abilities were lost to the ravages of disease, I would grieve, rebel, adjust and adapt to new and painful realities. I would strive against, and then for, acceptance of less than palatable changes. 

I am not sure I will ever completely succeed at living life without filtering it through loss. Loss is destined to color my life and future. However, I always come back to Ecclesiastes 7:2,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart.” 

And the living should take it to heart . . . 

The living should take it to heart . . . 

Maybe I’m right where I’m suppose to be.

There are valuable life lessons that are only learned through the crucible death and suffering. That is not so much a negative thing as it is a painful reality. At times I will conquer the fears and sorrow that share space in my heart and mind and at other times I will once again find myself overwhelmed by them. That is the curse of humanity – the cost of the fall of man. For as many times as others have suggested or implied that I should move on I wonder if my Savior is whispering, “Stay. Linger with Me here in this hard place for just awhile longer. Talk to Me. Don’t turn away. There is a gift of great worth awaiting you.”

“Call on me in prayer and I will answer you. I will show you great and mysterious things which you still do not know about.” ~ Jeremiah 33:3 NET Bible

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:10 AMPC

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Seasons of Disease and Death – Where Life Gets Real

I’ve been reading and meditating on John Chapter 9 and 11 of late. Those two chapters are significant to me because they touch on the very things that have most impacted my adult life – disability (or illness) and death.

Those two chapters are significant to me because they touch on the very things that have most impacted my adult life – disability (or illness) and death.

John 9 chronicles the story of Christ healing the man blind from birth.

John 11 tells of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.

As I mulled those scriptures over in my mind I looked for similarities and differences. I noted that the blind man didn’t seek Jesus out for healing, but Jesus healed him anyway. And as I thought about that blind man I wondered why he didn’t seek out this miracle performing man. Surely he had heard the gossip. John 9:32 might answer that question for us.

“Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.”

The blind man held no hope for healing. Never had it been reported that a man born blind had been made to see. It was a foregone conclusion in his mind that he would never see the world around him. Why chase after the prophet who was stirring up so much controversy? How could he even find his way to the prophet? So he sat in acceptance of the circumstances he had always known with no hope of changing them as the world passed by around him.

I understand that mentality all too well. It’s hard to carry the hope of healing while simultaneously accepting what is deemed unchangeable. How does one invest the effort required searching for a cure while expending so much energy coping with what is? How was the blind man supposed to hunt for this wandering prophet when his very survival was contingent upon the alms he begged for day after day?

On the other hand, Mary and Martha knew that Lazarus could be healed. They had access to Jesus. They had cultivated a relationship with him. They believed He was the long awaited Messiah. They had likely seen Him heal others. So they sent for Jesus communicating their dire need for His presence. And then they waited . . . and waited . . . until it was too late and their brother was dead.

And when Jesus finally showed up their deep anguish bubbled up and out their mouths as they each told him that Lazarus would not have died if he had been there. Their faith is revealed alongside their confusion and vulnerability. They trusted Jesus to come, to step in and save the day. But he didn’t do it. And they still trusted him for resurrection at the last day.

One man without faith – without hope.
Two women with faith – with hope.

And in a rare turn of events Jesus answers the most common and difficult question that always arises when death and disease become a part of our lives. Why?

Why was this man born blind?
Why did Lazarus die?

And the answers are strikingly similar in both situations. So that the works of God could be revealed through him. So that God and the Son of God would be glorified.

Sandwiched between those two stories is John chapter 10 where Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd”! And in that chapter Jesus lays bare the reason for which he came, “. . . That they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (in the fullest measure).” He proclaims his power to both lay down his life for the sake of his flock and to take it up again. He proclaims himself to be the long awaited Messiah. And maybe most remarkable of all is that he flat out tells his audience how to prove that he is not who he says he is. He tells them that if they won’t believe his words, they should believe his works.

And isn’t it interesting that “I am the good shepherd” falls right between the stories of death and disability? In the grand scheme of things what leads us to question the meaning of life more than disease and death . . .

When disease or disability become our eventual reality, we can be confident that there is an important purpose for our suffering – that the works of God might be revealed through us. And when death invades your life, stealing away your hopes and plans we can be assured that God and the Son of God will be glorified.

7 But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves. 8 We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; 9 hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; 10 always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly [experiencing the threat of] being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be evidenced in our mortal body [which is subject to death]. 12 So physical death is [actively] at work in us, but [spiritual] life [is actively at work] in you. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 AMP

Our suffering is not in vain but has eternal value. And in the seasons of disease and death, where life gets real and all we’ve worked for and stood for is called into question, stands the good shepherd who is worthy of our faith and trust, who leads us and cares for us and is powerful enough to usher us from this earthly fold into eternity where we will experience life in its fullest measure.


***(From Wesley’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:10 – alittle help understanding verse 10)

” . . . Wherever we go. . . Continually expecting to lay down our lives like him [Jesus]. That the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our body – That we may also rise and be glorified like him.”

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2017 in Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief, Uncategorized

 

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There Is No Good Card For This – Book & Empathy Cards


How many times have you struggled to find the words to support and encourage others in the midst of life’s trials? Help is available. Follow the links below to check out the book and a selection of empathy cards.

 There Is No Good Card For This

Empathy Cards

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Adversity

 

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Daily Battle – Daveboxx.com

I’m far more verbal than my husband, David. Should you meet him you will find that he has a dry wit, an interest in politics (shudder), and for some strange reason knows someone everywhere we go. His current boss picked up on that last fact one day when they were out and about on some job related task and turned to him and said, “Are you the Mayor or something?” She now refers to him as “The Mayor”. He has also been dubbed the “Dos Equis Man” based upon the “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign for the Mexican beer brand. (That moniker is my personal favorite). 

In public David blends in until one-liners and witticisms pop out and others take note. He is known for his sense of humor and fun and he’s well-liked for that reason among others. Aside from his interest in politics you might think he’s just an easy going guy who floats merrily through life not taking a whole lot seriously along the way. 

Yet, unbeknownst to most, even close friends and family, he is surprisingly deep. It’s rare that one gets a glimpse of the man beneath the still waters, but on occasion he makes an appearance and the quiet man of faith is revealed. At heart, David is a servant leader. He loiters in the periphery as those with more gregarious personalities and outspoken tendencies take center stage.  The depths of his faith are vastly underestimated and definitely under appreciated. He’s unobtrusive, ministering in quiet corners and as a result his thoughts and opinions are not frequently requested. 

In the last couple of years we have gathered with two other couples for weekend getaways. We catch up and laugh and at some point settle in for a discussion of real life issues seeking solutions and encouragement from a spiritual perspective. That focus on the spiritual perspective is what makes those conversions unique because everyone involved has somehow had their world shaped by a need for faith. 

We are, by unspoken agreement, searching for more than worldly advice and solutions to the challenges of our lives. David is an active listener for the most part. I have this memory of David doing dishes and quietly talking with one of the other wives following one such conversation. This is the setting in which David is most likely to surprise another with unexpected insight.

However, every once in a blue moon, David just puts it out there. Clink on the link below to see one such example:

Daily Battle

Daily Battle was originally published on 6/22/16, one day after the 24th anniversary of the day our son, Cole, was stillborn. And David’s words . . . they are Cole’s legacy.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Faith

 

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No Need for Introductions

In twenty-five years I have yet to find a satisfactory way to celebrate the birth of my stillborn son. It’s not a day on which I can look back and remember smiles and laughter from days gone by. There are no photos to flip through with nostalgic pleasure. My son Cole, 25 years later, remains a mystery to me. 

I used to think that maybe I might be able to discern at least a core personality trait simply from the way Cole moved within my womb . . . but that, of course, that was simply the musings of a mother who desperately longed for the child she never knew. I dare say I am not the only mother who has entertained such flights of fancy. And in the three years since Bethany and Katie joined Cole in their eternal home, the unknowns have been magnified.

When I cross that great divide will I meet my son as a babe in arms or will a full grown man, standing tall, shoulders back appear before me? Will Bethany and Katie be forever 20 and 16? Will I be an old woman, grey of hair and stooped of shoulder in their eyes or the woman I was when each one left me behind? Will Cole meet me as a woman not yet 30 and Bethany and Katie with the fifty year old mother they last saw? 

I don’t know the answers to the simplest of questions in regards to my children. It is a fruitless pursuit to wonder who they would be today had the events that took each one from me not transpired. But there is one thing I do know. We will know (have memory of) and visually recognize one another. There will be no need for introductions.*

And so, as I find myself once again at a loss, restless and a bit frustrated by the unfulfilled longings of my heart, I also live in anticipation of the day when the waiting is over. When all my questions will be answered and all my longings satisfied.

Then my thoughts circle back to the more practical matters at hand. What to do in recognition of the child who is so much a part of my being . . . 

Will there be cake? 

Should there be?

Balloons released into the air?

Could we, the three of us who remain, enjoy either or would they just magnify the emptiness of the occasion?

And why can’t I answer this question after 25 years?

*See Luke 16:19-31 – The story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man clearly recognized both Abraham the Patriarch (whom he had never met as Abraham died before the rich man’s birth) and Lazarus remembering that he sat at his gate covered in sores hoping for scraps from the rich man’s table.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The True Source of Grief Paralysis

Psalm 91 is a mixed-media work of art including the use of watercolor, colored pencil and marker by Sarah Marie


A fellow grieving mother, Sarah Marie, shared the following comments on a closed Facebook page in anticipation of the Heaven Going anniversary of her daughter, Christina Grace. I am publishing Sarah’s comments with her express permission. 

Grief is far more complicated than missing your loved one and fearing they will be forgotten. Please take a minute to absorb the message Sarah shares below.

“This month marks one year since we lost our daughter. If I’m open about my pain, well-meaning people say things like, “She’ll never be forgotten,” or “Thinking of you as you miss your precious Christina.” I know they mean well, but their responses show how little they understand of what we experience. 

Yes, I miss her. And if she was here, I wouldn’t have this particular pain and I’m thankful she’s remembered. BUT simply missing her isn’t what creates this emotional (and sometimes mental and physical!) paralysis. 

It’s the scars of trauma. The anxiety. The loneliness of grief. The shallowness of petty people. The exhaustion that comes from insomnia, nightmares, and the exertion of conversation. The racking sobs I cannot control when I just want to be alone but the laundry pile is daunting and dinner needs made. The ever greater, experiential understanding that I have zero control and the way that changes… everything. 

. . . 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come!”

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Grief

 

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