Well, I'm sure you've noticed the change in the appearance of this blog. For the first time since its creation over 5.5 years ago, this blog looks different. My first entry in February 2005 was about the birth of my first-born AJ (short for Andrew Junior). Well today, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 marks my first-born's first day at real school and first time on a school bus from home to school and back.
AJ started afternoon kindergarten today. I was so proud of AJ, jumping up and down, skipping beside him as I held his hand to the bus stop.
Andrew had some words for this very occasion:
Elementary school (Kindergarten or 1st grade) – could reread this letter each year and make adjustments.
I love you so much. Going to school is a wonderful experience, but it is also a great challenge that I know that you can overcome with the Lord's help. I remember first going to school as a child and feeling a little bit afraid because there were so many new people and I wasn't with my mom anymore. I hope you're excited about going to school and meeting lots of new people. You'll make new friends and learn lots of new things. Don't ever be afraid to go to school and face the challenges God has placed in front of you. I remember when you were 3.5 you used to be afraid to go upstairs alone because it was dark. We used to tell you that it was okay, you're a big boy, you can do it. Then one Friday night we were watching a movie in front of the fireplace and Mom asked you to go upstairs and you said, "I'm a little bit big. I can go upstairs by myself because God is with me.
"Deut 31:6 " Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you."
Acts 20:35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Do all that you can to love your neighbors. Serve them and make them happy. Take care of your mom and you sister. Tonight, January 20, 2009 you and I were talking in your bed and you told me that you were very happy because you love your sister and you get to have her around all the time. That made me so happy to hear because my prayer for you often is that you will love your sister for who she is, and value her and take care of her as an older brother. I asked you what you love about her and you said that you love her because she's always there to play with a and you tell her all about what you are doing with your toys and you guys use your imagination together as you run around the house "tending" its a space ship, or farm, or train or something fun. You'll always have a wonderful imagination. You and Gracie share such an incredible life together because you are close in age. Keep looking out for her best interest, and as you get older be a help to your mom.
As a man, you need to be a leader and take on great responsibilities. If others around you sin, don't follow after them but turn away from it and get help if needed. People may not like you because you don't sin with them, but remember that you are always accepted by God, me, and your mom. Give yourself to others, and God will bless you. God is always watching you, He is everywhere and nothing is hidden from His sight.
I love you so much and I wish I could be there with you.
Like Wesley from Star Trek the Next Generation, God?
I feel as if I'm down to the dregs - the nasty, gritty stuff at the bottom of your drink that you probably didn't know was there - in my grieving process now, and the Lord has been showing me areas of grief that I've never grieved. I think I've avoided them because they are the most painful losses for me.
One area of avoided grief is the fact that I no longer have Andrew to enjoy the children with. It is probably the 2nd worst disappointment that came with Andrew's death.
Enjoying the children together was one of Andrew's and my favorite things, and one of the sweetest enjoyments of our entire lives. The children were what kept Andrew and I laughing every day, even through our darkest days through cancer.
What I wrote on a May 14, 2008 blog before Andrew died has still been my heart:
What about our kids, Lord? I don't want them to have to long for a father and be like that kid, Wesley, from Star Trek the Next Generation, who only had a hologram of his father delivering a message, and he seemed so real he could touch him, but then the holographic message ended and his father disappeared.
Come on, God, I don't want them to not even remember him or know how much he loved them - My grace is sufficient. You know I will take care of you.
How will I take care of them? You know I will take care of you.
How will I live without him? You know I will take care of you.
I've really avoided crying about the fact that the children don't have their adored father. I think that for the first year after Andrew's death, I relied upon the Lord's promise that He is a Father to the fatherless. But after the first year, I think I've had a silent, subtle, gradually growing bitterness in my heart about it. As I've begun to realize how I have suppressed this aspect of my grief, it is allowing me to increasingly bring it before the Lord and cry it out like a mad woman.
As I had to visit AJ's kindergarten last week to meet his teacher, I cried driving to his school and back. Sad that my first-born was not the baby that I wanted to always be my baby. Sad that I was sending him off without Andrew next to me. Heartbroken about our dashed dreams to have a house overflowing with children. Flashbacks to the days of walking with my infant on my chest in Snohomish, WA when I thought I couldn't imagine a day when I wouldn't want an infant. A constant flow of little ones had seemed good to me. You can see I wrote about it on the very first blogs.
And so I have found myself increasingly bitter that bogged down by carrying the full responsibility of my family, rather than sharing it with my husband, I feel as if I miss out on fully enjoying the children during their fleeting littleness the way Andrew and I did together.
Since I've realized this subtle bitterness in my heart, I have been confessing it to the Lord and trying to be sensitive to when I feel the loss, (which is actually daily and frequently, as if Andrew's absence makes our day feel like swiss cheese without him, despite how I have managed to avoid it) so that I can cry through it and bring it all before the Lord honestly. To suppress it is just to rely upon myself. But self-reliance doesn't glorify the Lord and only bears thorns, like bitterness or (if you're good at your efforts) self-righteousness, rather than the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only the Lord can heal and change my heart, so I must be in a constant state of confession, when necessary, and just general transparency with Him like the Best Friend I could ever have.
Are You Good, God?
I have been terrible about crying regularly since the one year anniversary of Andrew's death. Maybe the only way I don't cry is simply by not remembering how good my time with Andrew was. But when I have sudden, unexpected flashbacks, the pain nearly kills me. Perhaps one of the reasons I cried every day the first year was because if I didn't pace myself, the accumulated grief attacking me all at once would have broken me.
Andrew's birthday is in 3 days, on September 11th. Yesterday, I watched some videos of us. It seems that my coping methods are to block out how much I loved Andrew. I always find myself surprised when I see videos that we are so often looking in each other's eyes, constantly smiling at each other. I have a hard time remembering it that way, thinking such things are too good to be true and can't really exist, let alone have been something I lived. Tonight I wept like a broken animal that had been run over, wailing its last cries as I remembered those images of us smiling at each other.
And so another area in which I have avoided grieving is that my whole identity for the first three years of our marriage was that I believed I was going to spend the rest of my life with Andrew. When I changed my last name from Uriarte to Mark, my name became Grace Mark, but in my head it was: "Grace [-I'm-Going-to-Spend-the-Rest-of-My-Life-with-ANDREW-] MARK[!!!]"
I was surprised one day this summer by the cynicism of the thoughts popping into my head: "Weddings are a waste of time." "Weddings are a farce." "My wedding was all a big stupid joke of which I was the butt." To me, my wedding was a celebration of Christ sovereignly and graciously orchestrating Andrew's life and my life to bring us together at just the right time so that we could spend the rest of our lives together. My thoughts continued to pipe in: "What a stupid fool I was with that naive, hope-filled smile on my face in all my wedding pictures, because I thought I was going to spend my life with Andrew. What a big to-do about something that was never going to happen." "I thought I had no idea what life would bring us but it didn't matter as long as we were together." "There were only two things I thought I knew in my life - that I would spend all of eternity with Jesus and all of my life with Andrew. To have been wrong about the latter would almost be as bad as finding out Christianity is a farce. Talk about a paradigm shift..."
After putting the kids to bed, sitting in the darkness, I whispered, "If You were going to take him, why couldn't we have had a more average, a more lukewarm romance? Why would You give me near perfection, give me beyond what I could dare to imagine in a husband, if You were just going to take him away? Why would You make the pain all that much sharper? Why would You possibly want to do that? For what lessons? Am I really that much more horrible of a sinner than everyone else spared from such horror that I can't learn with less severe trials, with more generic trials? If You loved me, what loving Father would take a knife to His cherished daughter's chest and cut out her heart knowingly? On purpose?"
I cried my eyes out.
Then, through my hot tears, just as I was about to address God, as "God," what slipped out instead was, "Why would Jesus do that to me?" And at that name, images of my gory Savior glimmered, flashes of blood dripping down His arms, the One who died for my sin that I hurt Him with each day. The One who's blood I cry out for cleansing each day and claim as my reason for drawing near to the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE with confidence as my Papa. With those images, thoughts began to seep in: "No, He by no means seeks to harm you. He is no evil god. Just as you tenderly love your squeezable Gracie and your precocious AJ, infinitely more does Jesus tenderly love You."
"Lord," I wept. "You cause my heart to still believe You are good." An unexpected verse that I don't usually think about whispered to my mind: Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The questions relented. I didn't have to know why. I just have to know I'm wrapped in His loving arms and His tender lovingkindess encompasses me. And that's enough for me. I'm loved. I'm taken care of. He is good. I can trust Him, though I may not understand. His blood convinces me of His love for me.
Due to a lot of people expressing how they don't know how the children and I are doing now that I rarely blog, I'm going to attempt to blog more regularly again. I am hoping that this change in blog appearance will encourage me to blog, even if the content may not be about pure misery. If I don't blog regularly, I've opened a twitter account and will try to regularly update that instead. You can follow me at gracemark7 on twitter.com. We'll see how it goes. I'm always disappointed when a blog promises to update you on something in the next post, and then a future post apologizes for never getting around to it. So as far as blogging or tweeting more regularly, I'll just say we'll see how it goes for now =)
So grateful for all your prayers, and love, and concern for our family. It was so wonderful to catch up with so many of you this summer.