Just like so many of our “first” milestones in loss, today was one that I was not looking forward to. I think as you walk through grief, especially traumatic grief it is easy to wonder what you should do. Am I processing this the way I should? I have been told, and have read over and over, that it is different for everyone. I have needed to give grace when people in my own life are processing differently than I am. I do believe that there is something that makes this especially hard on a mama though.

Yesterday we opened up our family Christmas gifts early. It was fun and the kids laughed. So did I. I vaguely remember last year, the overwhelming sadness we were all experiencing overshadowed it all. Isaac’s presents wrapped under the tree. The kids opening their gifts and in a moment being excited and then just as quickly their excitement turned to almost guilt. Was it ok to be celebrating when it was so sad? I was grateful that this year felt different. While it will never be ok that Isaac is gone, I am grateful that we are able to find joy even in the midst of a hard season.

I expected to have difficulty sleeping last night but I was blessed with a short, but deep sleep. I expected to wake up and feel overwhelming sadness, and while the moments have come from time to time throughout the day, it has been manageable. I don’t think that the kids even realize what day it is. Honestly I was glad about that. It was Karlena’s last day at school and I wanted her to have a fun, uplifting day. She had an ice cream party because she passed her times tables and got a birthday cup to celebrate her 10th birthday and got to watch a movie in class! And when she came home from school she was greeted with puppy kisses too numerous to count.

I believe that I am able to walk this path, with any optimism at all, because of the multitudes of prayers from so many of you. Over the last 365 days we have been surrounded by an incredible group of people, from near and far. People that have continued to pray, send encouraging messages and texts, people that have shown up over and over again. I had a message late last night from a dear friend about an hour before midnight, telling me she was praying as I neared the start of the 21st. The 21st is also her birthday and yet she was worried about me.

We got these beautiful flowers sent by another friend, who in a later text said she was grieving with us – a burden shared is a burden halved….isn’t that the saying? A card from my best friend arrived today, on the day she is sitting at MD Anderson cancer center meeting the team of doctors that help in her fight with breast cancer. And dinner arranged for our family so we don’t have to plan anything by 3 women that have been a constant light and encouragement in my walk with God. So many people offering encouragement. It is overwhelming.

The ornament in the picture above wasn’t supposed to arrive today, but it came early. I cried when I opened it. Of course I don’t want a memorial ornament on our tree – I want my son here! I have to pause and catch my breath just a moment because the reality of his absence still catches me off guard. And yet my God isn’t surprised by any of this. And while I have had to wrestle with the reality that He didn’t change what happened, I am seeing the ways in which He put people in my path to walk me through these seasons.

One of those people is Stephanie.

This is one of those stories that I hardly can believe myself. But it is true.

Ten years ago Dominic and I were involved in a group that was having a local conference in our area and we were asked to “host” one of the speakers. Basically we had to pick her up from the airport, get her to the hotel, take her to lunch…that kind of thing. Stephanie was older than we were and from Texas. She had the most beautiful Southern accent, and was a tiny spitfire. I don’t really remember much about our visit, and I hadn’t remembered anything about her story…..I did remember that it snowed the weekend she was there and she was giddy because they don’t get snow in Texas. We took pictures, I had her name in my phone contacts and I got her mailing address. And for the last 10 years I have sent Stephanie a Christmas card.

We haven’t connected in any other way. I don’t know that she is on social media, I hadn’t called her or written to her other than to send her a card each Christmas. This Christmas our letter included the loss of our sweet boy and how God had carried us through. (I will try and share that letter here in a future post if I can.)  On Saturday afternoon my phone rang and Stephanie’s name flashed on my screen. We were in the middle of something that I couldn’t answer but I was curious. She left a message and asked me to call her back.

A few hours later I did just that. She asked if I remembered her story, the one she had shared at that conference 10 years prior….I just didn’t. Her husband had died by suicide 28 years ago. This sweet woman that I had been sending a card to, had long felt a connection to our family. She remembered Dominic and I well, she remembered us talking about our then 6 1/2 yr old who was in Kindergarten (Gabe). She had watched our family grow up from afar through my letters and had prayed for us. And she, like many don’t, knew the exact pain I was feeling as I was approaching the 1 year anniversary of Isaac’s death.

Stephanie spoke words of comfort and kindness over me that afternoon. It was such a gift. You see here is something that I believe to be true. 10 years ago God knew. He knew where we would be in 2020, He knew the loss we would be walking through. There were 4 or 5 other speakers that weekend and we were paired with the 1 that 10 years later would somehow still have my phone number in her phone. The 1 that would know the terrible trauma of suicide grief and would be able to speak into my life.

Isn’t that incredible?

I don’t know about you but it was just another way that I felt SO loved by God. He cares for us that much. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to have to walk through these awful trials of life. The Bible promises that we will in fact face them, but the way that God has provided for us over and over again just brings me to tears.

Today is the Winter Solstice. The darkest day of the year. In many ways this day feels like that for us. Interestingly there has been all this chatter online about the “Christmas Star” that might be seen tonight when Jupiter and Saturn come into close conjunction. Whether or not we will actually see this “star” tonight will remain to be seen, but what I love about it is it is just another reminder that even in the darkest of night, light overcomes the darkness.

God IS with us in the worst, hardest, darkest nights. His light continues to shine. And today, one year after getting the most horrible news (thus far) of our lives, He continues to shine brightly in our lives. It is a reminder to me to not give up hope. I wish Isaac were here, I wish the darkness had not overwhelmed him, but I still believe in God’s light. I hope you do too.

Thank you for loving us this past year, we are forever grateful.

And as always, my son…you are loved, you are missed and you will never be forgotten.