Thursday February 14, 2008 - Valentine's Day

So many times in the past few weeks I have wanted to post an update, but every time I tried to lay hands on a keyboard my arms felt like they weighed two tons.  I knew we would miss Maddie and I knew it would be hard to adjust to life without our new friends from the hospital, but I did not know how much I would miss this web site.  I guess if you're reading this, what I mean is I miss you.  I am just plain tired these days.  The grieving effect on Cindy is insomnia.  For me it is sloth.  Fortunately, we are both beginning to normalize.

God always did an amazing job at rarely allowing Cindy & I to be down at the same time.  Usually one of us was always there to comfort the other.  These days are no different.  There are tears every day, but there are also smiles and laughing.  The little things set off a spark, which ignites a flame that leads to a blaze, and you just cry until the fire goes out, and then move on.  Like Cindy mentioned, no one should feel funny or uncomfortable about discussing Maddie.  We loved her then and we love her now and we love to brag about her and say how proud we are of her.  I thought about a bumper stick that might say, "Your child is an honor role student?  Well mine is having breakfast with God!"  I know we're not the only ones who miss her, so I hope you remember her the way we do.  There are not enough words to describe her, but I like the one Cindy coined a long time ago.


We wanted to post some pictures and clips from the memorial service sooner, but Cindy doesn't know how and I couldn't edit the video because I couldn't watch the video!  Seriously, I know that there are many of you who wanted to attend, but were unable.  This is for you.  We love you.

Because of file size and time restrictions on GodTube, we had to divide the video into three parts.  The forth clip is a video we played at the service to remember Maddie BEFORE the hospital.

Video 1
Video 2
Video 3
Video 4

When we see sunsets just around the corner from home like this one, we think God must be letting Maddie finger paint!

May you be blessed as we have, in Jesus' name.

Saturday February 16, 2008

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him. "Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God."
John 6:67-69

Cindy writes:

Can it really be a month? Time has such a funny way of moving. How can it feel like it is standing still and yet also move along so quickly? But here it is, a month since we've said goodbye. In some ways it's harder because the reality is setting in and the adrenalin is gone. In some ways it's easier (though that's really not the word I'd choose), because we are starting to adjust to this place called "grief". Everyday entails at least a bit of it, though more often than not, quite a big chunk. Sometimes it comes in as little blips on the radar and sometimes as huge waves that wash over us and take our breath away. However it comes, we have come to accept it and let it flow. It is our hope that this hole in our hearts will eventually be filled up by the Lord himself. I believe in time it will. I don't for a moment wish Madeline back to the life she had (and I don't think for a moment she'd want to come back to it). It is for us that we mourn, she was a delight. She delighted in life and we delighted in watching her embrace it. I miss that. I miss her. But I will wait and be richly rewarded with one of the most beautiful reunions someday. One of the songs that I've come to love lately (even if it does make me cry (and only later found out that it was played at Dave's grandmother's funeral)) is "I hope you dance". I can just picture her now in her little tutu dancing her "whole" heart out. It makes me smile.

We wanted to get the video uploaded first and foremost before moving on with things like our trip. Poor Dave, my pleading ignorance usually causes him a lot more work (hmmmmmm, convenient on my part I'd say). Our trip was lovely. None of us have ever seen so much snow in our lives. There was an easy 4 feet on the ground!! Thankfully there were many well packed trails or we might have lost a kid or two. Sam dearly loved the sledding part. Anna was not much into it when she found out it involves dragging the sled back up the hill once you come down! Unfortunately the snow bibs I had bought them last year didn't fit as well as I had expected and the blessing of our Kentucky heritage came out as we duck taped the "too short" pants to the snow boots. It worked. Guess I'll need to buy new ones for next year. They loved the murphy bed in the condo's living room and delighted in pulling it down and watching tv on it in front of the gas fireplace. We ate pizza, played games, and generally just enjoyed being together. I enjoyed the peace of the early morning hours watching the sun come up slowly over the horizon. It was breathtaking. We left just in time for them to close the mountain passes (due to too much snow and avalanche control) right behind us. Although everything these days is tinged bittersweet, we had a really nice time. Thank you for praying for us. It's good to be home.

Dave adds (with much grumbling and complaining), "Rats, now I HAVE to post some pictures!"  (of course kidding)

Like Cindy said, everyone had a great and relaxing and memorable time.  There were peppered moments when we would stop and wish Maddie was with us.  Fortunately she never really liked snow and realizing that even if she would have been out of the hospital, chances are we would have left her with Nana & Poppa somehow that made us both smile.

Sunday February 24, 2008

Cindy writes:

And so another week has gone by. It was eventful in that we had a lot of visits from some of our dearest hospital people (but by all means there is room for soooooo many more of them to come . . . hint hint, wink wink!) It was lovely to see everyone.  I think most were worried that it would be "too hard" for us to see them and yet we find it just the opposite.  It does our hearts good to see them.  They are a connection to Madeline that blesses us beyond measure.  And so for that, we were quite filled up this week and loved every minute of those visits (none of which were long enough for us).  On the other hand, the grieving goes on.  It's amazing how dern draining it can be.  Dave fell to pieces after our first guests left on Tuesday and stayed down through Wednesday.  I had my low day on Friday.  That's just how it is.  After my emotional roller coaster on Friday I found myself going to bed at 7:30 and sleeping for 11 hours straight.  Can't really remember the last time I've done something like that.  I was just completely and utterly exhausted.  And so it goes.

I received a letter from a dear friend a couple of weeks ago.  We have walked similar roads, only she has gone this path before us.  In the letter she was speaking about how it is a shame that in distant times and in other cultures it was always very evident when a person was grieving - you could tell it by their clothes, their attire, and sometimes even by the ashes rubbed across their faces.  She was lamenting that here in America no one really knows what's going on inside of another person.  You go to the store or a restaurant and they say, "how are you today?" To which you ALWAYS reply, "fine, I'm fine thank you".  Can you imagine what they would do if I just started replying, "well really, it's not so good. I just buried my little girl a month ago and I'm quite sad?"  She went on to say how nice it would be if we just had little signs across our foreheads that read "please be nice to me, my child just died".  Ahhhh, to be able to be that honest anymore.  Just in case from my previous update some were left wondering "what do I say to them?" - I would have to say, just tell us you are sorry and that Maddie will be missed.  Nothing deep, nothing profound.  Acknowledging that she is no longer with us will go a long way and we will be grateful to know that you miss her too.

I have gone back to reading my "Holding on to Hope" book once again (by Nancy Guthrie) - really a "must read" for anyone who's ever been hurt by life.  And I felt I must, absolutely must include a piece from it (and maybe encourage some to go out and get it for themselves).  Please forgive me if it runs a little long but it truly summarizes where we find ourselves right now and I could not say it better myself (though Dave probably could . . . but since it's me that's writing I'll just plagiarize a little).  This is from her chapter called "Tears":

"The day after we buried Hope, my husband said to me, "You know, I think we expected our faith to make this hurt less, but it doesn't. Our faith gave us an incredible amount of strength and encouragement while we had Hope, and we are comforted by the knowledge that she is in heaven. Our faith keeps us from being swallowed by despair. But I don't think it makes our loss hurt any less."  It is only natural that people around me often ask searchingly, "How are you?" And for much of the first year after Hope's death, my answer was, "I'm deeply and profoundly sad."... Ours is not a culture that is comfortable with sadness. Sadness is awkward. It is unsettling. It ebbs and flows and takes its own shape. It beckons to be shared. It comes out in tears, and we don't quite know what to do with those.

So many people are afraid to bring up my loss. They don't want to upset me. But my tears are the only way I have to release the deep sorrow I feel. I tell people, "Don't worry about crying in front of me, and don't be afraid that you will make me cry! Your tears tell me you care, and my tears tell you that you've touched me in a place that is meaningful to me - and I will never forget your willingness to share my grief."  In fact, those who shed their tears with me show me we are not alone. It often feels like we are carrying this enormous load of sorrow, and when others shed their tears with me, it is as if they are taking a bucketful of sadness and carrying it for me. It is, perhaps, the most meaningful thing anyone can do for me.  Our culture wants to put the Band-Aid of heaven on the hurt of losing someone we love. Sometimes it seems like the people around us think that because we know the one we love is in heaven, we shouldn't be sad. But they don't understand how far away heaven feels, and how long the future seems as we see before us the years we have to spend on this earth before we see the one we love again.

Fortunately, We are not alone in our sadness. In Isaiah 53:3, the Bible describes God's Son as a "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief". And so it is in our sadness that we discover a new aspect of God's character and reach a new understanding of him that we could not have known without loss. He is acquainted with grief. He understands. He's not trying to rush us through our sadness. He's sad with us.

The day after we buried Hope, I understood for the first time why so many people choose to medicate their pain in so many harmful ways . . . I realized I had a choice - I could try to stuff the hurt away in a closet, pretend it wasn't there, and wish it would disappear, or I could bring it out into the open, expose it to the Light, probe it, accept it, and allow it to heal. I chose to face it head-on, trudge through it, feel its full weight, and do my best to confront my feelings of loss and hopelessness with the truth of God's Word at every turn. Even now I can't say I'm healed. Part of my heart is no longer mine. I gave it to Hope and she took it with her, and I will forever feel that amputation. But embracing my grief means allowing it to do it work in me."

Ok, I'm sure that's enough reading for you all for one day.  Thanks for checking in on us - we really do appreciate it.

Tuesday March 4, 2008

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

I cannot count the times we prayed for Madeline to be healed, only to have the answer be, "No."  You prayed too.  Even your kids prayed for her to get better.  Just before Thanksgiving, I remember thinking, "Lord, thank you.  I knew she would get better.  With all of these people praying, you really didn't have a choice.  It's a good thing she did get better too, because I think I might have lost all faith in You if she didn't."  Then she got sick again and died.  What good could come from this?  What could possibly be 'good' about losing her?  For my own selfish wants, nothing.  If it were my decision today, I would probably pull her back down from paradise and put her in her hospital crib just so I could be with her.  But if I believe that God's timing is perfect, then I have to believe that He took her at just the right moment.  If that's true, then it helps me to imagine that her future was destined to be painful and uncertain, which given her history is not a real stretch.  Maddie taught us a lot of things, including how to patiently endure the hardships, while we wait on the Lord's plan.

For the first half of her hospitalization, we prayed for God's will to be accomplished in His time.  We asked for grace to get us through the low points and praised Him when He would give us a glimpse of the bigger picture.  We experienced dozens of, "Ah-ha!" moments throughout her life, "So that's why that happened!" or, "Now we understand why Maddie needed to stay an extra week."  I think those glimpses are rare and we always felt blessed to have them.  The bible says that God will never give you more than you can handle, "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength" 1 Corinthians 10:13.  However, God knows our strentgh much better than we do, so while we think we may not be strong enough, He knows we are, as the rest of that verse states, ". . . but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."  He will always give you just what you need.   In our case, we needed to know why sometimes.

Operating from the premise that God is perfect actually simplifies life by adjusting your perspective for you.  Having a spirit of gratefulness is a positive by-product.  You may have occasion to ask, "Why?" but just knowing that there is a, "Why," is comforting.  When you pass through adversity, you can look back grumbling because something bad happened to you, or you can be extremely grateful for the extremely bad thing that didn't happen.  Usually this requires some faith, but if you are as fortunate as our family has been, God will show you enough of the plan to help answer the, "Why's," and turn your petitions into praises.

Our pastor used the following illustration several weeks ago that caught my attention as being relative to this idea of keeping a proper perspective.  According to a news article, the driver of the white pickup truck in the picture below was speeding and lost control.  CNN reports, "After crashing through the barricade, the truck slammed into a concrete drainage culvert . . . The force of the impact propelled the pickup truck into the air, spinning it 180 degrees counter-clockwise along a guardrail, clearing the culvert, and finally coming to rest."  Miraculously, no one was critically injured.  I don't know if the driver was issued a citation for speeding or reckless driving or DUI or what, but he probably should have been.  Still, the path of the truck was incredible!

The driver may have walked away asking, "Why Me?"  He may have cursed God.  He may have had to go home that night and explain to his wife how he wrecked the truck because he was speeding (yes, I am assuming it was a man driving- okay).  Maybe he didn't have insurance or maybe it was his work truck.  Maybe he was angry because he had just filled up his fuel tank at $4.00 per gallon and had just watched it all run out on the ground!  What does this poor guy have to be thankful for?  How could he possibly praise God or be grateful for the accident?


Perspective.  It changes everything.  Besides being thankful for his life, I'll bet his driving habits improved too.
(For the nay-sayers: Yes, it is a true story.  It occurred on December 30, 2006 in Hurricane, UT).

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"
Philippians 4:4

God's answer to our prayers isn't always, "Yes," even in the really big things, but it's good to know that when I slam my fists on the steering wheel and cry out, "WHY GOD?" that He will eventually show me the canyon.  It's somewhat of a cliche' verse among believers, but today I am fascinated by the word, "All."

"And we know that in 'ALL' things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:28

How can it be 'good' for us to not have our baby girl?  I don't know (yet).  Everyone wants to know how we're doing and I want to say, "We're doing about seven weeks."  It's the only answer that makes any sense to me.  We were all sad together in the beginning, but now we are all moving on at different recovery rates.  I don't know if this is why it seems harder now or not.  Like Cindy said, we don't mind talking about Maddie at all.  In fact, we love it.  I don't have much to add to her thoughts on the subject, except maybe this.  Please don't ever feel like your troubles are trivial compared to Maddie's.  I would have never said, "Anna broke her arm," or, "Sam's foot fell off," and called it, "Nothing, compared to Maddie."  I can think of afflictions far worse than Madeline's, but I would have never said, "Oh she only has half a heart."  Of course this doesn't apply to the lady who droned on and on about her daughter's allergies while Maddie was on ECMO (I'm just kidding, but that really did happened).

Finally, thank you all for your continuing prayers and support and giving.  The fund raiser was a great success, and we would have been taking our family to Disney World for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, were it not for Cindy's gambling habit.  I'm kidding again.  I do that when I type long-winded messages.  We are actually planning the trip for this spring or summer.  We'll try to get back to Kentucky for Derby, and then spend some time in Florida.  Diane is wrapping up donations on her blog and Melissa just finished setting up a t-shirt page (Maddies Sonshine).  The t-shirts are not for fund raising, but rather a means of pointing people to Maddie's story and ultimately (hopefully) Christ.  The site is self-explanitory.  Also, our very sneaky neighbors have been sponsoring their own, "Send the Lester's to Disney World," campaign.  If you work at a firehouse in Kitsap County, thank you!  There have been rumors of collections taking place everywhere.  We are overwhelmed and plan on showing our gratitude by treating Anna and Sam to a vacation they will never forget.