Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Abundant Grace

     Luke came down a few nights ago to inform me that I hadn't written in so many months and days.  I forgot the amount quickly but asked later how he even knew that.  "The blog. Mom, I have been reading the blog, how else would I know?"  I cringed and he asked if he wasn't suppose to read it.  I quickly answered that of course he could read it.  I wrote it for almost anyone to be allowed to read, I just hadn't thought about the boys reading it.  Levi piped up to say he was reading it also.  Ian chimed in to see what he was not getting to read that the older boys were.  My stomach sank as I tried to smile.   "That is fine, really, it is your story, you should be able to read it."  I must have not sounded convincing because for the past three days Luke and Levi have peppered me with questions as to why I have stopped writing and why I seemed hesitant for them to read back across the years.
     I wasn't sure why, so as I stumbled through my answers, I started asking them questions.  "Luke, there is so much written about such hard moments, intimate details shared, your name and words for anyone to read. Doesn't that bother you?"  He smiled easy and answered "Why would it?  It is all true."  Ugh.  "Levi, don't you think we should just keep it to ourselves now?  Don't you care that it is all out there? "  Levi shrugged and replied "Honestly mom it helps to know that people know our story.  I think it can help other people in hard times. That isn't why it is comforting to me, it just is."

     We started a family journal the night after Jeff's memorial.  I wrote down in pen how we felt, what we hoped for, how we hurt, what we wanted life to look like.  I wrote for days until my finger knotted and my palm ached.  We decided to write each month.  We answered four questions each time.  What was the hardest?  What was the best?  How had God surprised us? and  What we still hoped for?  Twelve entries for twelve months.  In the beginning the entries were bursting with grief and hope.  Then they became desperate and worn.  Now they seem grateful and calm.  It has become a record for only our eyes to read and remember.  I guess that is why I thought so little of the words here and everything I had already typed out.  I have not gone back and read our story as it unfolded here.  I haven't been brave enough yet.

     A year ago we said goodbye to one of the greatest men we knew.  He was 37 years old, nine months into cancer.  I remember thinking that was exactly the amount of time it took to knit him in Margaret's womb.  By 4'o clock I climbed the stairs to tell my sweet boys that their dad was finished with this earthly race.  I was so sure of Heaven on that day.  So completely sure that all was true.  That we had not believed a fairy tale to ease the pain of suffering and the goodbye.  It felt as though a thick curtain had been pulled aside and I glimpsed at what was more real than the stairs I climbed up.  I spoke to the boys of God's great love, of His promise of provision and protection.  And as we navigated through those first weeks it felt like we were walking  through a thick fog.  We woke up with aching hearts and sick stomachs.  I wrote down prayers for a way back to Scotland.  I wrote down our utter need to be go back to what we had.
     The time slipped by as we stayed in Jeff's childhood home.  The house in Scotland got packed up as I wept out the first "Why does it have to look like this?" One of many to come.  Three bags were delivered, and later five more.  I watched as the boys dug through what was familiar trying to smell the house and country it was shipped from.  We continued to pray for a job, a house, and all that would be needed to fill it.  I met with women who let me pour out my heart like water.  Who always listened and always reminded me of who God was.  Of whose I was.  My identity faltered without the framework of Jeff, marriage, Scotland, and Young Life.  I felt muddled and lost.  I felt afraid.  If I seemed strong or certain it was not in myself, it was in a God who was good and would keep me from drowning.
     And as the weeks slipped into months my heart grew heavier.  As more seemed to be stripped away I stumbled as I led the boys.  Always writing in my  journal, always searching scripture, always trying to outrun the "What a waste..." and "if onlys..."  that woke me in the night.  It was six months in that the boys saw me crumble into myself.  I had prayed daily for joy as my strength, for a home and a soft landing place.  I had worn myself out begging for Scotland.  I could still tell my boys with that God was good, that all was real, that what was to come was better than what is.  I just had resigned myself to hurt and aching until I finished the race myself.  I was wrapped up in the hard and empty spaces without Jeff.  The boys saw me falter and fail but they also saw me continue to choke out broken prayers for His provision and joy.
     These are how our days look now.  Since the last time I have written I have stumbled awake at 6am each day.  I sip coffee and read with Zoe still sleepy and snuggled next to me.  We sit on a blue couch surrounded by beautiful things that were not mine six and a half months ago.  At six-thirty Ian stumbles down the stairs to snuggle with a happy dog and mom.  Ian wakes up chatty and so thirty minutes later I am still saying "Yes, and then what?" as I send Zoe up to wake up Luke and Levi.  We eat breakfast and dig out clean socks from a laundry basket in the hallway.  By seven-twenty I turn from a happy "Did any one have dreams last night?" mom, to "Please get your shoes on.  I really would like to get to school before seven-thirty" mom. We wave goodbye to Luke and Zoe and walk or drive (depending on the
weather) the three blocks to school.  Luke bikes each day, no matter the weather.  For the next seven and a half hours I am teaching, loving, correcting, laughing with, encouraging, and caring about twenty-one First Graders. Ian is number sixteen in that line up of twenty-one.  He tells me when I knock one out of the park or when a lesson is lacking pizazz.  When I am walking my students to Gym I sometimes see Luke or Levi in Choir.  When I walk my students to lunch I know I will see Levi in Gym.  I always try not to do the toothy grin wave.  When I am lining my students up to leave Luke walks towards me to say goodbye. He never leaves without saying goodbye.

     Luke bikes home and Levi, Ian and I head up to my class to tidy up and set up for the next day.  We tumble in at 4:45pm to Luke and Zoe looking out from Luke's bedroom window.  I stare at what is in the fridge and try to use my art degree to be creative and conjure up a suitable dinner.  By seven-thirty I am pretty sure it is bedtime and the boys are pretty sure it is basketball, Lego, t.v., or run around the house like a wild man time.  We pack lunches and head upstairs for Ian to read to me and then I to him.  We all read ourselves to a sleepy state and I turn off light saying prayers and good nights.
     And then we do it again.  This is the calm harbor we have landed in.  This is not what I expected or could picture as I wrote in the family journal that very first time.  This season I am focused on two things outside of understanding that God is present and good in our lives.  Those two things are to love my boys fully and to love my students fully.  It is a season where I drop the ball constantly on any other court than those.  But, it is a good place.  It is a good place to know that we are exactly where we are suppose to be.  Our hearts still ache for Jeff and Scotland but we go to sleep at peace and wake up in joy.  I do not know where the next year will take us but I know we will run the race differently now that we know who is waiting at the finish line.
     There has not been a single day in this season that I have felt I had to walk this alone.  Thank you for the cards, notes, artwork, prayers, love, and support.  You have stretched our hearts bigger in this process and we are so grateful.
                                                          Much love, Becca

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Update, August 28th 2016

     "It doesn't feel like dad is really dead."  Luke says this without emotion, matter of fact, and I understand.  "It just feels like he is away.  Far away".  Where? I ask. "In a small hotel room in Vietnam peeling an orange." And I understand why he says this.  Vietnam is distant and unknown.  The last thing Jeff ate was an orange.  He peeled it all by himself, separating the segments one by one and chewing slowly.  Luke saw him grab for it, from the bowl beside the sofa.  I helped carry his bent and worn body to that spot.  He somehow still fit like a puzzle piece to me, His arm flung over my shoulder the reverse of what was for so long.  Luke ran to me with worry and wonder.  Maybe he would live if he could reach and peel and chew and swallow.  The other boys rushed in to watch him eat.  He had stopped talking by then but we all understood his joy.  He will live, Ian had declared loudly, because he ate an orange.  

     A month later I asked if it felt real yet. " No, not yet.  But now it feels like he is running a young life camp in Ethiopia" Luke replied.  I could picture this because he had lived it.  Years ago when Luke was six Jeff left for two weeks to help run a Young Life camp in Ethiopia.  He knew his dad was far away and could not be reached, but that he would come home.  I reassured him each night, tucked snuggly in,that dads come home.  They always come home.
     A few months later I asked again and he replied  "I feel like he is running a camp in New York."  And then, "He is running a camp in Rockbridge."  Always Young Life, always leading, and always with the intent of coming home.  And I thought of how in Luke's heart he was letting him get closer.  And wondered, jaw clenched, what would happen when he let him close enough to realize he wasn't coming back.    
     Our last days in our month long stay in Scotland we visited the hospital Jeff had stayed at.  I had been putting it off.  As if I could outrun the reckoning.  The boys asked to go.  To be again where we shared such deep anguish and joy.  Piled in Jeff's hospital bed we ate fudge donuts and watched movies.  Everyday we walked a stone pathed labyrinth while Jeff napped or had treatments.  We returned first to the labyrinth.  We dropped stones as we worked our way through the mazed path Luke joining me at the end.  He shared softly beside me that he knew he was gone.   And I knew that the unbelievable was finally becoming real.  

The day before we left to come back we climbed the hill.  The same hill behind our old house that I climbed daily to speak to God.  Such bold prayers back then.  My head tilted up and smiling, certain in my faith and hope.  I thought then that he would be spared, that we would stay as a family of five in Scotland.  And now it is four of us walking up the same hill with heads bent down.  The boys know of those bold prayers, of how I got it wrong and God remained true.  This great surrender they have watched unfold in me.  The letting go. At times so ungraceful.   At the top each boy held a small fistful of Jeff. Ashes of a body that held us, protected us, and loved us so well.  The fists unclenched and let go of what was.  The wind was strong at our backs.  "I know he is not coming back" Luke whispered next to me.  He sat on the rock Jeff sat on.  Sketchbook in hand staring at the River Tay and Dundee beyond.  We all laid in the tall grass and watched the clouds drift over us for what felt like hours.  Remembering and dreaming.  The sun started to sink and we made our way back down the hill, choosing to live hands opened, heads lifted, and unafraid of what is next.

     Our time in Scotland was painful, beautiful, and life giving.  It was filled with connecting with friends, helping with camp, and taking a trip to the Highlands with dear friends of ours.  We also got to go through some of our belongings we had to leave
behind.  Scotland still feels like home.  And as much as we want to be there,  we also know we are not suppose to live full time in Scotland right now.  We have decided to be near family for the next year or two.  Right before leaving for Scotland we moved into a house in Bridgewater, VA.  It is within twenty minutes of Jeff's mom, dad, and brother.  I also signed a contract to teach first grade.  I began last week and will help teach 21 six year olds with the lead teacher until she has her little girl (due in early November).   I will then take over as lead teacher until the end of the year.  The school is two blocks from our house and we are all four together (the elementary and middle school campus are together in the same building).   Our house is on a street with eight other boys!  We can walk or bike anywhere in town including a mini golf, iceskating/farmers market, library, and small grocery store.  We we moved in June I had no clue how we would furnish yet another house so quickly.  Within a week our home was completely furnished by the help of our church, our school, and a very generous couple who were downsizing.  I have seen time and time again the provision of God in these last few months.  We still have a tremendous heart for Scotland.  We would love to return full time one day and will continue to return each summer to help with camps and reconnect with friends.  I will remain on staff on a very limited and part time basis to allow for this.  Thank you for your continued prayers as we focus on what is next.  We are hopeful in our future and confident that He will finish what He started in us.  
Please contact me through email: if you have any questions about stopping donations toward our Scotland account or if you would like it redirected to other staff permanently in Scotland.  If you continue to give to our Scotland account it will be used to send us back each summer to help with the camps there.  It will also keep our account active and a door open to be able to return full time one day.  Thank you for all you have given and been our family in this season.  Much love, Becca

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Anchor

     I stopped dreaming when we found out that Jeff had cancer.  Before cancer I dreamed every night.  Part of my favorite sleepy eyed moments of each morning was when I would turn over and ask Jeff if he had any dreams.  He would reply, "No, but I bet you did."  I would then recount the fragmented scenes that played in my head moments before.  We would laugh and tumble out of bed to boys already clambering to get cereal bowls down for breakfast.  The day the nurse stood hugging a clipboard to her chest and spoke the words cancer, terminal, palliative care, and less than a year the dreaming stopped.  It was as if those words sucked out all ability to dream or muse in one fell swoop.
     Jeff passed away eight weeks after landing in America.  Just nine months after diagnosis.  We were still adjusting to the reality that the efforts made to hold the cancer back were like lightly blowing on a raging fire.  The first months that followed I felt desperate to go back to Scotland.  Back to where he might be waiting for me.  Where he would help pick up the pieces we left behind in such haste.  Scotland had changed us as a family, as a couple, as individuals.  Scotland became home.  Such a short time to be changed so deeply, we were sure we would return as a family of five.  The nights after he passed I tucked the boys in bed and I would read, weep, and hope for a way to go back in time, back to Scotland, back to Jeff.

     Three months after Jeff passed I had my first dream.  I was treading water in the ocean.  The water in front of me was vast, stretching far into the horizon.  I spun around in the water to see land behind me.  It was within swimming distance and I remember relief washing over me.  It was green and full of life and somehow as I looked at the land, I knew Jeff was there.  I immediately began to try to swim back but couldn't.  It was if there was a huge span of glass stretching from sky to ocean floor.  Frustrated, I turned back around and noticed for the first time a small island far in the distance.  It was not close enough to swim to and was a muted brown.  I tried to problem solve, how to survive, where to go, how to live without having to swim ahead to the island and how I can to get to Jeff and the land behind me.  I was tired.  I remember thinking I would rather drown then swim forward.  And then, just like I knew that Jeff was on the land behind me, I knew the boys were somehow with me and would go where I would go.  I couldn't drown, I couldn't go back, I didn't want to swim forward.  I was still treading water when I woke, tasting the saltwater on my face.
     I often describe grief as trying to swim an ocean in a day.  An impossible task you would rather not attempt.  But in the beginning stages of grief there is very little choice, you are thrown in the ocean, and the waves crash down on you without warning.  You swim because the other choice is to drown.  This is held in the knowledge that Jeff is where he was created to be.  He is walking in fullness and without boundaries on his heart, soul, or mind.  He is with the God who created him and the God who called him home.  I really do believe this with my whole heart.  But this knowledge does not buffer the waves or take away the ocean I am to swim.  It will sustain me in the waters.  It has given me hope for what is to come for the boys and I.  It has comforted me on long nights and early mornings.  But it cannot take the grief of walking here without Jeff.  There have been many days in the last five months when I have pleaded with God to make a way.  I would choke out the words "You make a way.  I cannot.  You are God.  I am not."  I still read the verse in Hebrews 6 before bed; "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain."  I picture an anchor holding safe and secure as the waves hit and the storm rages.

      I am starting to remember Jeff healthy.  I keep going back to this memory of us in Bermuda.  He had completely surprised me with a tenth anniversary trip there.  He had the help of the Young Life staff and a wonderful couple who opened their home to us.  During the week Jeff rented a little boat with a small motor and we took it out into the waves and just past the reef.  There was an old boat wreck he wanted to see and we had borrowed snorkel gear to see it up close.  I opted to stay in the boat and finish a chapter of the book I was reading before hoping in.  Jeff shut off the motor, lowered the anchor, and jumped in teasing me about bringing a book on a boat trip.  I finished my chapter, closed my eyes for a few minutes, and breathed in the salt air.  I opened my eyes to Jeff, who was now a small dot in the water waving his arms frantically.  Somehow over the wind I hadn't heard him yelling that the anchor had not caught and the boat was drifting.  I frantically tried remembering what the boat rental guy had said about starting the motor without flooding it.  I wished I hadn't been reading my book then as Jeff listened and signed papers stating he would captain of the small boat.  I said a prayer and flipped a switch and pulled a cord and the motor sputtered to life.  I steered towards Jeff who was exhausted but happy I didn't begin a new chapter before looking up.  "I thought the anchor had caught and held" he kept repeating on the trip back.  "I was terrified you wouldn't be able to get back to me." he would whisper later that night.  "I would have jumped and swam to you" I answered, "we could have met in the middle."  He chuckled and said, "Man, I am glad you didn't do that, we would have met in the middle and both drowned!"
     These days, I fall asleep thinking of all the ways the anchor has held in this season.  The paychecks and health insurance, a grandma who opened her home to a tangle of boys and dog, a Grandpa who stops in for a fire building lesson or ice cream treat.  Aunts and uncles who pour joy and love into tender hearts and cousins who are built in best friends and are only a drive away.  A church family who have gently made a place for us.  Rekindled friendships and new ones formed, receiving us in the middle of our messy story and not being afraid to love us through it.  Friendships now an ocean away that write, check in, and encourage us.  A mom who speaks truth wrapped in grace, who knows what it is to grieve a love so deep.  Men who were willing to become knights and help lead the boys into what is next.  A new school that each of the boys have begun so late in the year.  A safe harbor where teachers know their story and care for their hearts while teaching them.  A home to rent in a small town that has possibly the only Scottish person living in it only two doors down.  A chance to go back to Scotland this July, to hug the people we didn't know we were leaving yet.  To collect, and gather, and remember all that God did on that soil and in our hearts.  "The Anchor has held".  I whisper  to Jeff, in the dark.  "I didn't have to know how to start the engine this time, or find my way back or forward, I don't even have to tread water, because the anchor has held and will continue to hold until I see you again."

I will be sending out an email to fully update those who have supported us through so much and explain better where we believe God is leading us in the next year as a family of four.  Thank you for all the continued prayers as we walk through what it is to live the life we have been given.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dear Levi

Eleven years ago I held you, bundled and pink skinned, a mere six pounds.  Your dad and I could tell right away you had blond hair and blue eyes.  We knew you would be named Levi Connor Stables.  Your Dad did a road trip with a friend in High School and met a Levi on the road.  There is still a sketch of that Levi in one of his notebooks. A long haired man hunched over a guitar.  Your dad described him as a kind soul, a man with a big heart and a love for others.  Your dad told me about his road trip and this man while we were dating.  That if he had sons he would name one Levi.

When we found out we would have another boy dad physically jumped up and down with joy.  You know his broad smile, the one he gave you when he was so very proud of you?  Riding your bike for the first time, showing compassion to a friend, or showing him your ninja moves as a little guy?  Well, that is the grin he gave.  We already had a Luke.  He was a quiet and determined toddler at that point.  we prayed that a little brother would unlock his world and draw him out.  We prayed that you would be a joy bringer, and that you would always know the God that knit you together in my womb.  You showed up five days early and small just like your big brother.  The first six weeks were bliss.  We would hold you and you would look straight into our eyes, your big blue ones peering in to our brown.  On the seventh week at four o'clock you started howling.  You didn't stop until 11 pm that night as dad rocked and bounced and sang and prayed.  This continued every night for seventy-eight days.  I know because I counted them.  And while you wailed and lurched and were inconsolable, you also grew, and grew, and grew.  Your small, pink, six pound body quickly grew and lengthened each week.  The nurse was amazed as she measured and I sat weary in the green chair watching her weigh and measure you. The doctor came in declaring
you were as healthy as an ox even if you wailed all afternoon and late into each evening.  Dad standing beside me smiled big and said "That's my boy."  When you would finally drift to sleep at 11:30 each night I would stand over your crib and pray the same prayer every night.  "Lord, help him be a joy bringer, a hope giver, to point towards you and life and all that is good.  Help make him a bridge maker and peace bringer.  Give him wisdom."  And honestly, I prayed this in faith because I was enduring seventy eight days of hard.

     I don't remember if it happened all at once or in small steps, but I do know I stopped counting the wailing days at seventy eight. Something must have turned in me or you, or both of us.  And my sweet Levi, you
kept growing, but you also started belly laughing and smiling, and cooing at anyone who would lock eyes with you.  You made us laugh and pulled Luke out of his quiet world of block building and track laying.  The
minute you could walk you were tottering over to your dad to give him hugs and kisses.  Your first words were dada and moon.  He often told you he loved you to the moon and back.  And we continued to pray the crib prayer over you as you grew.  You almost filled the length of the crib at two.  Even as you slept you smiled, pink cheeked and happy.
     Your name means "to be joined, attached', or in other translations "to live in harmony with".  Your middle name means wise.
      And Levi, you live out the meaning of your name so easily.  You fumble forward loving others without thought of yourself.  There were so many, many nights when after dad went into pray with you he would pause and say "I am so grateful for Levi, he is such an encouragement to me, he knows how to love so well at such a young age...I cannot wait to see what God will do with a heart like that."  Your dad saw you as a world changer, a pink cheeked boy who's everyday was the "best day ever" that would grow into a man that was not afraid of the hard ones ahead.  You are a lover of love, a face turned towards the Sun, who is learning to not be afraid of the shadows.  My sweet Levi, your heart has taken a beating this year.  We are still in the wailing days and the shadows still fall long upon us.
For 119 days you have had your earthly father joined with your heavenly one.  But son, you will have the Sun shine fully on your face again.  You will attach and join together and bring harmony to where ever our good Father takes you.  You will love deeply and receive so much love in return.  I am so grateful that I get to call you son.  You are walking the walk of your dad and literally wearing his shoes at age eleven.  I agree with dad, I can't wait to see what God is going to do with the years ahead!  Happy Birthday Levi!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Humble hope

Three months have passed without my hand in Jeff's.  Three months of hilltops and valleys.  Three months of learning how to move forward without our gentle leader.  Three months of feeble prayers, the bold ones got left up on the hill in Scotland.  Three months of breathing, living, hoping for what is next for us.  These are messy days of finding our way forward.  It often can feel like treading water, staying in place.  Some days we are grateful to just to keep our heads above water.  I don't know this walk of grief very well yet.  The deep valleys still terrify me.  The unknowns can swallow up joy just as it leaves my lips.  And when I climb a hill and see the terrain a little better, I am amazed at His goodness, and His provision.  I am grateful for fresh eyes that can see hope rising on the distant horizon.

The trip back to Scotland overwhelmed my heart in so many sweet and hard ways.  To see and touch the ones that walked us through our darkest days.  The days of finding out and then slowly accepting that this indeed was the path we would walk.  To weep with them and hug them and know that there are more good byes ahead, but that they will stay nestled in this heart of mine forever.  To remind them and myself that prayers are never wasted.  Even the ones that are not answered in the way we long for them to be.  I will forever be grateful for the five days of soaking in the realities of what was, what is, and what is to come.  

While in Scotland one of our leaders, Euan, handed me a small brown envelope to carry back to Luke.  He gently suggested that I might want to read it first.  Luke had written the letter to himself.  In a time of reflection, Euan had asked all his campers to write a letter to themselves to read six months later.  He was concerned that Luke's own words might hurt him.  Back then we were all so hopeful that the treatments would continue to work.   Holding  the letter on the plane ride home I remembered the days leading up to the camp trip.

It was Euan first time leading an overnight trip and Luke's first time going.  Jeff was to go the first few days to show Euan the ropes and support him in his brave steps of leadership.  He was also thrilled to see Luke as a camper and not just a son of an area director.  While the aggressive chemo treatments seemed to be working, Jeff  was starting to struggle to breath deeply, climb stairs, and keep any food down.  We didn't know at the time that he had a major pulmonary embolism and that the stent holding his throat open had fallen into his stomach.  The day Euan showed up at our house with a bag and pillow in hand, Jeff had to tell him he was to go alone.  Jeff just couldn't manage.  We sat sullen in the living room and prayed for God to provide in ways we could not.  Euan rallied and Luke hugged us good bye.  There were other guys to pick up, a cabin to be filled.  I waved as they drove off until I could not see Luke 's face looking back at me anymore.   Camp ended up  being incredible for Euan and the guys he took, including Luke.

When Euan passed me the letter seven months later, he worried Luke had written about Jeff.  He worried the letter was filled with hope of healing or the suffering he had already seen.  Seven months ago none of us would have expected to be standing here, without Jeff.  I nervously held the small brown envelope, unopened the whole flight back.

Luke smiled broadly when I laid the envelope in front of him.  "Ah, I forgot about that!" I asked if he remembered what he had written and he replied he hadn't a clue.  I held my breath as he slid the white, folded paper out.  His eyes scanned the paper and his smile softened.  I thought of Euan's suggestion of me reading it first and I silently wished that I had.  Luke finally looked up and his eyes met mine.  It just says thank you.  "That is it?  Thank you?"  I took the paper and looked at the small words written in pencil in the center of the page.  Surrounding it was a drawing of the Scottish countryside, our village church in Wormit, and three crosses on the horizon.  "Why did you write that?"  I asked, slightly confused.  "I suppose I wrote it more to God than myself.  I just remember being so grateful for camp, and Scotland, and all that had already happened.  And being excited for what could happen next."  My heart stilled.  He smiled again and left me holding the picture of thanks.  I sat in my desk chair and tears slid down.  Humble hope.  A heart of thanks.  Hope  doesn't always have to hurt.  It can be the prelude to a thankful heart.

These two small words washed over me.  You see, I had been holding onto the guilt and fear that somehow my hope had hurt more than helped.  That my hope had prepared Jeff and the boys for healing instead of suffering.    And maybe if I hadn't hoped and instead prepared for the worst, the worst wouldn't have hurt so much.  I stared at two simple words written by Luke's hands.  It was written in a season where he knew how much could be taken, and how much was uncertain.

And now we see with different eyes, eyes that have seen suffering and loss. But it is hope that still anchors us.  Our hope presses us into the truth that this world we see is not the one we were created for.  That beyond the pain and suffering we are all to endure, there is more.  There is more to come.  The story does not end with our final breath.  The boys and I will choose to live homeward bound.  And in humble hope, look forward to the day when Jeff's strong arms will draw us in again.  We will fall asleep with thanks on our lips because our hope is in His goodness and His love.  Our hope is in the fact that this is not a game, we are not chess pieces to be placed and scattered.  We are His beloved and our future is rooted in that love.  
   My heart aches for Jeff, and my heart still longs for Scotland.  My hands still feel emptied.  But there is hope, small and fluttering, deep in this heart of mine.  And it is a hope refined that will in turn bring thanksgiving to our lips.  

"And hope does not put us to shame, Because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given us."  Romans 5:5

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Soft Heart

   Ian often uses the same expression when his heart is hurting.  "Mom, the stone is back."  It is usually whispered into my ear.  "It feels like it is getting bigger, and it will squash my heart."  A heavy stone is on his heart.  He told me that is how he felt the morning after Jeff passed.  He whispered it then with worried eyes.  He physically hurt.  My eyes filled and spilled as I explained that I have that same heavy stone.  It is sitting on my heart also.  He was shocked and then saddened.  "Does everyone have one?  Because I don't think I had this stone before."  I thought about all of the people that loved Jeff so much.  I remembered all the notes, hugs, and words of love and hurt and confusion.  I answered carefully; "yes everyone who loved daddy has a heavy stone on their heart also."  He looked at me long and hard, "but their stone is not as heavy as mine."  Sweet Ian, I wondered how heavy this stone must feel to a five year old heart.
     Ian doesn't know how to push grief aside.  He doesn't know how to push down the lump in the throat and try to have a normal conversation.  He doesn't know how to not include "My daddy is in heaven now" in his introductions or goodbyes on playgrounds.  Luke, Levi, and I are learning from this little lion heart.  This week when Ian said the stone was back, and heavier.  He spoke loudly and with confidence.  And these past two weeks have emptied me.  Joy and hope seemed to become hidden in sorrow.  Good news, old
memories, and photographs pierced and hurt instead of comforting.  I am told all this is normal terrain for the boys and I.  To not be surprised.  But as much as I was surprised by joy the weeks before, I am caught off guard by these hard days.  So, when Ian spoke of a heavy stone with a louder voice, demanding I take it more seriously than offering that I have it also I ached for a better answer.
     Earlier that morning I had gone down to the cedar grove to pray.  In a full house, and when God and grief are so intermingled, it is best to find a quiet spot outside to spill out my heart.  I had been praying of how I needed Jeff.  How I wasn't sure I could mold and lead the boys without him.  How I am a bit lost at sea without my sweet Jeff.  I prayed out my concerns and asked for help to a God who comes near.  I pleaded for a crack of hope, a glimmer of joy to creep back in.  I asked for God to keep my heart soft and I picked up a heavy stone and carried backup the hill to the house.

     When Ian spoke of the stone again I knew it was time to share a truth I was still learning.  We climbed the wooden steps hand in hand and I sat him at my small bedroom desk.  The desk that faces the drive and side woods.  I handed him a bright red mound of clay.  "Can you make me your heart?"  He smiled and nodded, rolling the clay between his small
hands until a perfect Ian sized heart had been formed.  "How does it feel?"  I asked.  "Small and soft and smooth."  He answered, adding that technically it didn't really look like that.  I lifted the heavy stone from beside my desk where I had set it earlier.  "Is this how heavy the stone on your heart feels?"  His small hands received the heavy stone and lowered it to his lap.  "Definitely, mom, definitely."  I asked him to place the heavy stone on his clay heart.  He lifted it again and set it on the heart.  We lifted the stone together and set it aside.  "That is why it hurts so much, see?  My heart is so squashed."  I understood, and begin to explain why a squashed heart isn't the end of the story.  It was squashed indeed.  The shape, texture had changed.  It would not look the same now.  But, something else had happened.  "What else changed Ian?"  He looked harder.  "It is bigger!"  We both smiled now.  The clay heart was bigger.  We spoke about how soft hearts get squashed and misshaped.  How heavy stones come that we cannot lift off that change us forever.  But we also spoke of how hardened hearts break.  They don't stretch bigger when heavy stones fall.  They shatter into a million angry pieces.  We spoke through the last months and how we knew our hearts were bigger.  How much love was poured into our small family.  We remembered Christmas and being surprised by packages and trips.  We remembered how the stars seem so much brighter, and the sky bluer.  Our gray was starting to fade back and the colors fill in again.  Babies made us cry, and kind words from strangers made us cry harder.  We are squashed, but not shattered.  And in this squashing we are trusting that our hearts will be stretched wider.  That the capacity to love and be loved will become greater.  And that we will stay soft as the heavy stones come.  Tears wiped, hugs, heavy stone still there.
     Ian ran to Levi and then Luke's room explaining why squashed hearts are blessed hearts.  I even saw him whispering to Zoe outside.  Explaining the reason we need to keep our hearts soft even though they hurt.  On my hardest days, I have the gift of my boys.  Speaking truth, in turn, helps me to remember.  It helps me to see the good and not just the hard.  But most of all, it keeps this mama's heart soft.
   I will be going to Scotland at the end of this month.  Saying I was surprised by joy is an understatement.  I can barely think of it without dissolving into a puddle of grateful tears.  I will get to see leaders, friends, and YL staff from the UK.  All are dear to my heart and proper good byes were never said.  I will be in Scotland for a very small part of the five day trip.  The rest will be spent learning, worshiping, and praying with staff and leaders at a Young Life UK weekend conference in England.  The boys are thrilled for me and will stay here with grandmas and cousins.  We will all four return this summer to allow them to see friends, and camp.  But this trip needs to be just me as I reconcile more of my heart to the God I love.
 I have started my two classes online and am trying to be a good student as I continue to teach the boys.  We will stay at this place of wait a little longer.  Once housing is found and we are more settled I will place them back in public school.  For now I am
grateful to have my fingers on their pulse throughout the days.  Conversations and tears still spring up in hidden parts of the day and I want to make sure they are not hiding from those very things.  I am continuing to be paid by Young Life and our health insurance is covered.  There is much to be grateful for.  Thank you for all the continued prayers and love.  You all have had a part in filling up these stretched out hearts.

 Much love, Becca and the boys

"The Lord is close to the broken hearted; He rescues those who spirits are crushed."  -Psalm 34:18

Thursday, January 14, 2016


When Jeff breathed his last breath I was holding his hand and my head was resting on his chest.  His mom was sitting close by.  The boys were playing legos upstairs.  My mom was taking Zoe outside to chew on something other than legos.  And in those minutes of breathing stilled and his heart beating slowing to a stop it all came into focus.  Jeff was free.  He had suffered greatly.  But he had suffered with a dignity and grace few have experienced.  It was all real, all worth it, there were no regrets on how poured out his life was for God and others.  There was such a peace in knowing his race was finished.  He was created for Heaven and he was home.  And then the understanding slowly unfolded that I was still here.  My feet were still planted on the broken world he just left.  While he was standing unhindered before the God who made him I climbed the stairs to face the boys with a heavy heart.  I was left.  In those first minutes I experienced the full depth of peace and hope that all was well and all will be made right.  I also experienced a soul wrenching separation.  And ending of what I knew to be good.  I was overjoyed for Jeff and heartsick for us.

This is the very thing that is the hardest to hold and to explain to others.  The boys and I experience such amazing moments of clarity each day.  Where we talk about Jeff and who he was.  What he gave us.  How he is where he was created to be and there is still so much more for us.  But these very moments of pure joy and hope are nestled beside such tremendous heartache.  And grief feels a lot like a deep, deep homesickness that will not leave us.  We are homesick for a home that no longer is here on Earth.  We left everything to go to Scotland, we left Scotland to come back here.  And the truth is, home was where Jeff was with us.  Home changed a lot in the last few years, but it never left us.  So we are here now, traveling light.  That sounds so much nicer than saying we are empty handed.  I tell the boys that the only good thing about having empty hands, traveling light, is that God can choose what to place in them next.  Full hands cannot be filled.

So much has been taken it is hard not to notice that what is left standing.  My boys, family, friendships that survive an ocean apart, and friendships that are still here.  God can rebuild and provide the rest.  He has already started to.  I drive the van we sold to go to Scotland.  It was given back for me to drive again.  Given.  The games, puzzles, legos, and toys that were left in Scotland were replaced in one week.  The week of Christmas.  Margaret and I were excited and then became concerned as the pile of brown packages grew into a mountain.  More gifts were delivered from a school I taught at in Culpeper.  I had talked to the boys of how we were rich in the things money could not buy.  And they smiled broadly and said now we are rich in both.  The presents did not give the boys their father back, or me a husband.  The presents did however, remind us that we were not alone.  That the fear of not being provided for was unfounded.  We live in a beautiful house on beautiful land with a very gracious grandma.  A grandma who has gone from one quiet grey cat to three loud boys, their mama, and a cheeky puppy.  We will stay here for the next few months as we grieve, receive, and prepare for what is next.

And this place we find ourselves is terrifying and wonderful all mixed together.  The grieving is not just crying, and missing, and wondering why.  The grieving is a deep homesickness for Jeff and a learning to live in the next chapters being written.  We have heartbreaking moments of wanting Jeff here.  I still grab my cell phone to call him.  I still roll over reaching out to scratch his back.  I still pour out my heart every single morning to a God I trust but don't understand.   But we are not walking in and out of rooms and days sad. We are honoring Jeff by living.  And not taking our breath, strong legs, and changed eyesight for granted.  We are adventuring, laughing, and making lasting memories every single day.  Grieving right now is all encompassing.  It is as if we get to climb glorious mountains and trudge through perilous valleys all in one day.  Every day.  It is exhausting, but it lets us see God's fingerprints on so many things, including our hearts.

We do not know what is next for Team Stables.  We have picked a family verse for the year.  All three boys agreed on it.  That alone made it worthy of repeating all year.  It is Romans 5:3-5.  Our favorite version of it is The Message.  "There is more to come:  We continue to shout our praise even when we are hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  In alert expectancy such as this, we are never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary-we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"

I will continued to be paid as a part time Young Life International staff.  We will also continue to be covered by our medical insurance.  This will continue into the following months as we figure out what is next.  I am so grateful for the support of amazing staff in Young Life that are standing with us in the transition.  We will continue to pray about the possibility of returning to Scotland in the future.  I know for now God has placed us here and we are starting to plug into a church and community around us.  Please continue to pray for us.  The hardest moments seems to be at night, as the sun sinks and the stars come out.  We miss him most then.  Pray that we will not feel shortchanged, but see the ridiculous amount of blessing surrounding us.  The boys had more in Jeff as a father than most men will have in a lifetime.  I will not write as often but hope to continue to update you all as we take steps into what is next.  Much love, Becca and the boys