The Shack

I read the book while I was in inpatient treatment. The Shack was a wonderfully helpful book. It allowed me to breach the subject of God for the first time in a long time. I had really pushed God out of my mind. The only time I thought about my faith was to become angry and resentful. I no longer felt love and joy from my faith. Instead, I felt deceived and robbed of the faith I previously had. I no longer could relate to worship music. It felt fake to sing songs of praise and the songs about difficulty made me angry. I couldn’t believe people would sing these worship songs, as I myself had done so many times before. They sang of being willing to suffer, and still rejoice. They talked of hope despite pain. They talked of walking through the valley of the shadow of death and God meeting you there. I just couldn’t relate or I didn’t want to sing such words, as they may come true and things would get worse. I wanted to look God in the face and scream at him. I wanted to physically wrestle with him, hitting him with all my might and crying out. But I couldn’t feel it either way. I had become numb as a form of self preservation.

The Shack, however, opened the door back to my faith. It was non threatening, as it was fiction. It is a story written by a man who was a missionary kid and experienced horrible abuse and suffering as a child. He had written the story, The Shack, due to encouragement from his family. His story telling made God and suffering relatable. Mackenzie Phillips is a father whose daughter, Missy, is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer, while they are on a camping trip. The death threatens the superficial faith his does posses and threatens to tear his family apart. The Great Sadness overtakes him and he can’t see anything else besides his pain. One day, he gets a letter in the mail to return to The Shack where his daughters body was found. He believes it may be from the killer and he sneaks off to The Shack for the weekend, while his family is away. While at The Shack, he encounters God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. Each of them play a different role in his healing.

God appears to Mac as a middle aged back woman. God decides to appear this way because he is neither male nor female. However, Macknezie grew up with an abusive father and God meets him as a woman to take on a nonthreatening form that will bring him comfort. As well, it is to show Mackenzie that he only thinks he knows who God really is. He view of God has been warped and skewed by his life experiences. Mac spends time with the Holy Spirit, gardening and realizing that though the garden appears a mess, from above, it is been turned into a beautiful pattern. He just cant see it because it is not his design. Jesus spends time carving in the woodshed and then takes Mac to see The Judge. She helps Mac to see that he is angry because he believes his own ways are right and good. However, he is biased and selfish. She shows him that Mac needs to forgive the killer for what he has done. Mac disagrees and wants to tell God to judge this man harshly. As an example, He asks Mac to choose which of his own children should go to hell, as they have sinned against Mac through lying, anger, withholding love, amongst other things. Mac resists the choice, finding the suggestion bogus. The Judge forces him to decide, since Mac seems to want to tell God what to do in his own life. Mac, finally, decides that he would rather go to hell himself than allow his children to pay the penalty of their own sin, because he loves them all. The Judge helps Mac to see God in the same light. Both Mac and the killer are God’s children. God wants redemption for all, he wishes that none should perish. That is why he gave his own life instead. Mac realizes that when we hold onto pain, hold it against God, and think our ways are better, we become trapped. We get bogged down in our grief. We have to learn to trust that the Lord loves us and everyone else. When we forgive others and ourselves, we walk into freedom.

At the end of the weekend, God takes Mac on a walk to find Missy’s body. They bring her back and bury her in the wooden box Jesus had carved and place her in the middle of the beautiful garden the Holy Spirit has created. Mac is able to forgive the killer and trust that God is for him.

Mac returns home and on the way back is in a car accident. When he wakes up in the hospital, he finds out that the car accident occurred on a Friday night and he never made it to The Shack. He, however, refutes this story and shares what happened with his family. In the end, he follows the markings God showed him in the woods. They lead to Missy. As a result, the police find the other girls whose bodies the killer had hidden. The killer is caught as well. In the end, Mac is able to forgive the killer and rest knowing that his child is safe with the Lord. He realizes that God never left him and his faith is changed forever. He becomes a free man and walks in a lighter spirit, as a result of his time at The Shack.

This story was so life bringing to me. I had spent so much time being angry at God. I was determined that his way was wrong, and was showing him to be unloving toward me. I had decided to be the judge in my situation, as well. I didn’t want to forgive the hospital staff for killing my brother and I didn’t want to trust the Lord that he was doing what was best for my life. That anger had separated my heart from embracing the love of Christ. It had drawn me deeper into a place of darkness, where I could no loner hear from the Lord. The destruction my anger had caused threatened my very life. After surrendering to God’s will and trusting in his love for me. I began to have a renewed spirit. A peace returned to my heart and mind, and I was able to begin seeking the Lord again.

Oceans

April 17, 2016

“I miss Hunter. I miss him so much I feel as if I can reach out and touch the sorrow. I want to touch his hand, hug him, talk to him for a few minutes. I don’t want to do life without him. It still takes my breath away. I wish he could see this and interact with me some way, any way. I started reading The Shack. It is powerful but hard to read. The storyline is so relatable.

The medicine is helping. I feel like myself almost completely, minus a stomach virus. I am hoping to go home in the next few days. That way, we can go to “Dayout with Thomas” in Chattanooga next weekend. I should find out tomorrow.”

The grief was all consuming and unbearable. There is a song by Hillsong United called Ocean.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

It was what I felt I was being asked to walked through. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of sorrow, no longer even coming up for air. I was sinking. I felt like the Lord had found an area where I wasn’t able to trust him and he was calling me to walk through this. I felt like he was taking me past any place in my faith I would accidentally stumble into. I felt that he was dragging me down into the depths. I truly felt he had a lesson to teach me there. This place that I would never chose to go on my own. This place that was painful, and ugly, and humiliating, and beautiful. I couldn’t yet see the beauty. I couldn’t yet see how my faith would be made stronger. I was angry. Very angry with God. I used to say that if he and I were in a room, I would run full strength, crash into him, and start pounding him with my fists. I couldn’t see the light for the darkness. It was all consuming. I couldn’t understand how my Savior would not only take my brother, but my sanity, my chance to breast feed, eventually he would take my job. I was completely incapacitated. I would learn, with time, this was the place I had to be. That my Savior loved me so much, he couldn’t let me live in my crippling pain. He couldn’t allow me to continue to be self-reliant. He couldn’t allow me to continue in my anxiety and stress. He was going to deliver me into a place of freedom. It was, however, going to take time and pain and struggle. The fight was going to to get harder before it got easier.

If you are in a place of pain and struggle. I promise it will eventually get easier. I want to encourage you to feel what you need to feel. Ask questions of God, yell at him, be angry, step away for awhile. He loves you and he is there for you. He is not afraid of you pain and sorrow. He is not afraid for you to take time away. He knows your pain. He is not afraid of your questioning or seeking. He was the father to the prodigal son, waiting for him to come back. He was the Savior that spoke to Peter with love and compassion even though he would deny him. He is there for you. He will wait for you. He will sit with you, even when you can’t hear him. He will welcome you back with open arms, when you are ready to face him again. He loves you.

Dear Hunter

Dear Hunter,

Today would have been your 28th birthday. I wish you could be here to celebrate with us. We are eating dirt dessert, releasing balloons with letters to you, wearing our Star Wars shirts, and watching Star Wars movies. You would have loved it. But you aren’t here. That is something that sounds so simple but took so long to comprehend. Death the end, finality, permanence. I thought with every part of me that I had to grieve you forever. That I had to pay a penance in suffering. I held onto this for so long. It damaged me, nearly killed me.

The pain of loosing you was to much to bear. I lost my brother and best friend, my partner in life. It threatened to take my life and I threatened to take my own. I was sure I would never be able to stand up under the pain. I was sure that everyday would be worse than the last, that the pain would intensify. Then, I realized I needed help. I got a team of therapists, doctors, and family to help me with my pain. I began to talk about you, to process the burden that I carried. The days were long and dark, years passed. I was sure it would never be over. Then, light began to creep in. I reluctantly admitted that I enjoyed it. Joy, that was something that I was afraid to feel. It felt like a betrayal. A betrayal of what I am not sure. It wasn’t a betrayal of my love for you, because I still did. It wasn’t a betrayal of my missing you, because I still did. I wasn’t a betrayal of you, because you are in Heaven. It was a betrayal, however. It was a betrayal of myself.

I wasn’t honoring you, I wasn’t pleasing you with my depression, grief, and suicide attempts. I was creating a monster, an uncontrollable mental illness monster, that wanted to take my life. You, you are at peace. You are walking with the Lord. You are happy. You are whole. Maybe I was trying to honor you wrongly. Maybe the best way to honor you, is to hold your memory with joy. To reflect on the great memories we had and pass them onto my kids.

So today, for the first time, I celebrate your birthday with happiness in my heart and a smile on my face. There is no more sadness. There is peace and celebration. There is freedom from illness and walking in restoration. There is a sense of hope and impending joy on the horizon. There is a chance at a new life, free from the pain of grief. I am not leaving you behind, I am taking you with me. A new day has come. I want to walk on today with your memories in my heart and your stories on my lips. I want to tell that world how amazing you were and how proud I still am of you. That is how I will carry you. That is how I will honor you. Not with pain and anguish but with love and joy. I carry you with me today and always. All of my love. Until we meet again.

Your Loving Sister,
Ashley

My Mommy Used to Sing

This is another break from my story. I couldn’t bring myself to write today. Since I started this journey, I wanted to share my story and hopefully write a book. Today is a sneak peak at my other endeavor. I want to write a children’s book for families struggling with a depressed parent. This is my writing from today.

My Mommy used to sing,

She would sit holding me as we rocked back and forth, hand in hand

We would go on walks together on the beach, in the sand,

We would jump in puddles in the rain and laugh until we cried,

My mommy used to make me cookies with chocolate kisses inside,

The warm dessert melted in my mouth so warm inside of me,

My mommy would tickle my tummy as I laughed and squealed with glee,

We would climb up high together, making forts up in the tree,

I loved our time together, my mommy and me,

Now my mommy doesn’t sing,

She lays in bed and cries,

Her smile is gone, her laugh is to,

She sits in the dark, alone,

I try and make her happy, try to do what is right, I try to please her, to shine my light,

But she can’t smile anymore, she barely says a word, I wish I could make the hurting stop,

I think and pray for her,

I want her to smile again,

To give her my love, bring her back to me,

Then I know just what to do, I sit with her and she with me,

We snuggle close in the dark, I barely say I word,

I tell my mom I love her, and how sad I am she’s hurt,

She looks down at me, she takes my hand and then,

My mommy sings to me, our happy special song, then I see she needed me all along

Then Came the Fog

Psalm 127: 3 – “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

I returned home with my husband. We drove my brother’s old car. It was cathartic to do so. It was a long ride, it rained the whole eight hours. There were even seven accidents along the way. The tone fit the mood. Sullen. The next two weeks were filled with extreme grief. I couldn’t process what was happening. At the same time, I was trying to celebrate my other two children’s birthdays and prepare for the birth of my son.

At 39 weeks, I developed a significant headache on the way to get my children from school. I felt lightheaded and my vision felt blurry. I called my husband, as I suspected I was having an episode of high blood pressure. I went to Walgreens and waited for the pharmacist to come and take my blood pressure. He did and it was 140/95. He told me my blood pressure was fine and to go home. I was so angry. I was not a forty five year old man, I was a pregnant mother with typically low blood pressure. My brother had just died from medical incompetence, and here was another medical provider giving dangerously erroneous advice. I told him that a pregnant woman hypotension, a headache, and mildly elevated blood pressure should be asked to call her doctor. He still disagreed but told me I could do whatever I wanted. So, I headed to my Ob/Gyn.

They took my blood pressure and it was still elevated. They realized that this was a significant increase for me, because I usually ran 100/60. They had me rest and take it again. It was coming down but very slowly. Finally, they decided to go ahead and let me have the baby. I was relieved but terrified. The last time my brother went into a hospital, he died. Here I was being admitted, and trusting my life and my baby’s life to the medical professionals. I let everyone on the ward know what I had been through and warned them to double check all medication dosages. They were very careful and reassuring. The Lord was so kind to me that day. The nurse that I had delivered with, when I was pregnant with Samuel, was there to check me in and get me prepped. She had recently lost her father, and was able to give me such sympathy for my grief. Another family friend was coming off shift, she sat with us until I was taken to a room. It was such a comfort, and I knew that this was no coincidence.

They brought me to my room and got me prepped for an epidural. This is where I started to loose it. I believed I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to deliver a baby that didn’t slide right out of me. So, they had decided to give me the epidural before everything started to prevent the pain. Epidurals give me so much anxiety. I am even known to pass out during injections. I begged for something to sedate me somewhat while they did it. The anesthesiologist was adamant that I didn’t need anything. It all finally came to a head. I began crying hysterically and said, “My brother was just killed by medical malpractice in a hospital. I am terrified for you to touch me or inject me. Please give me something.” I must have scared him to death, because he began rushing around and getting medicine to help me. Once I was calm, they did the epidural and I was able to lay down for the night. Pitocin started at midnight. By 6 am, I was 4 centimeters. By 7 am, my waters broke. I knew this baby was ready to make an entrance. They checked me again and I was almost complete. Within ten minutes, we were pushing. I gave one test push and out he came. He was wrapped shoulder to legs in umbilical cord, and they had to try and get him back in partially to get the cord off. He was purple but screaming and healthy. He latched on like a champ. I could not have asked for a better delivery. It was God’s grace.

The next few weeks were great. I came home, we had family and babysitters to help. I continued to grieve but my precious Judah Hunter, we changed his name after my brother died, kept me going. It wasn’t until February that I knew something was wrong. Darkness came in like a fog over a lake. I told my husband I needed medication, and he doubted me at first. When I finally went to my primary care doctor, they put me on zoloft and a sedative for the anxiety attacks. I began having PTSD flashbacks of my brother bleeding, or in the casket, or deteriorating, in the morgue, or that first phone image of him dead. Then, the paranoia began.

I would walk down the street and I was hypervigilant. I could hear every sound. The most memorable one was the numbers on the telephone polls. You may have never noticed, but metal numbers hang on telephone polls. One poll in our neighborhood had loose numbers that would swing back and forth. The sound would literally put me on edge. When I would go for a walk, I would plan how I was going to dodge when the car behind me tried to run me over. In a movie theater with one other person, I began to plan how I would fight back when attacked. None of my thoughts were normal, or rational but I believed they were.

The Ob/Gyn and primary care doctors had all done as much as they knew how. They didn’t have anything in their arsenal to attack real deep post partum depression. They sent me to a counselor and a psychiatrist. I ended up being on klonipin, zoloft, propranolol, and ambien just to name a few. That time was so blurring and overwhelming my memories are jumbled. I moved out of my house, my kids drove me crazy. I loved them but couldn’t handle the stimulation. I moved in with my in laws to make sure I got adequate sleep. I would spend my time watching tv, reading, exercising, going for walks, or painting. I spent so much time sprinting during anxiety attacks, that I eventually couldn’t stand on my toes anymore. The time away wasn’t helping. I could feel myself continue to spiral as the grief overtook me.

Journal Entry 1:
“I am not doing so well these days. I feel so insufficient in all areas. I am not being a good wife, mother, grieving, or worshipping well. I feel lost and alone. I lost my person. It is hard to even write it, accept that it is true. I can’t, I don’t want to. I wrestle with not wanting to accept it, but not wanting to live like this forever. My mind is a constant blur of thought. I don’t even know what I am feeling most of the time. Everyone wants me to get better, to feel better. To be better, I have to accept Hunter’s dead. I can’t. I just want to curl up in my PJs and his sweater and wake up when it feels better, when it hurts less. When I don’t feel like he is gone, slipping away more and more from my reality each day. I just want to see him, to talk to him so bad it can take the air from my lungs. I feel like everyone will move on. Mom and dad will move on because they still have me. Amber and Harper will move on to survive. Then, there I will be 50 years from now, still missing him. Still without a brother. I am afraid of the rest of my life. I don’t want to live without him. This wasn’t how is was supposed to be. I took it for granted, assumed it would always be us. Never once in my life did I think of him dying. I’ve imagined my parents, husband, kids dying, how painful it would be. Never once Hunter. I want to do something to keep him here, to make the pain stop. I am out of ideas and left with debilitating, emotional pain. I have never been able to process emotion and I have to get better but I can’t. I don’t have the energy or capacity. It feels hopeless. I just want him back. just for a few minutes. Just to talk to him about his death. I need him to help me and he is gone.”

Rainbow Colors

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and Sisters we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so you will not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Since Hunter was a fallen airman, he was transported just as anyone killed in combat. When loading and unloading the plane, we would go down to the tarmac for a ceremony. It involved his family and friends watching as he was transported out of the hurst. The first time they loaded him on the plane, there was no grand flag over the casket or presentation, simply a box that said, “This End Up and Handle With Care.” It felt so inhuman. He was officially cargo, he no longer needed to be up with us, he was already gone. He no longer needed air, warmth, or safety. They loaded him on the plane as an honor guard from base presented the flags. We boarded the plane and flew to the next airport. We had a ceremony to unload him, this time they unboxed the casket. It seemed to honor him better, and I was grateful. This time, the honor guard was a group of tarmac workers. They had served in the military and wanted to present in honor of Hunter. These big burly men were highly respectful and emotional. It was a honor to have them join the ceremony. The USO took Hunter’s body while we had a lay over. Then, it was time to board the plane. This same group of men presented the flags again and the USO had provided a flag to cover the casket. Finally, he looked respected. I was heartbroken to see my brother this way, but honored he was being treated so well.

When we arrived in Washington, we had another large ceremony with honor guard. This time, our whole family was in attendance. I broke down as I rounded the corner and saw them all standing there. It was amazing to have such support, after being in such a small group during our grief in Alabama. I rode to my parents house with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bruce told me a few things that have stuck with me until this day. He affirmed my grief. He reminded me that even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, he was going to raise him from the dead but he still grieved. As well, death comes for all of us eventually. All of the people in the bible that God healed or their life was spared ultimately would die. It made the loss not feel so difficult, knowing that we all eventually experience loss and pain. As well, my Savior knew the pain of grief. He hurt and it was okay for me to hurt too.

The next day was the viewing. The funeral home had done a lot to fix Hunter’s presentation, and he looked more like himself. Most signs of the autopsy were covered. He looked more like himself. It was a honor to experience the viewing. I did not really get emotional that night, except when my best friend from high school came. She had known Hunter so well, I collapsed in her arms. Besides that, I shook everyone’s hand and smiled when I could. This part was not for me. It was for them. They needed to see, they needed to know what happened. So, they came to support us and we them, as they viewed the remains of their friend, neighbor, and family member.

The following morning, we got to the church early. I wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I was the last one to have time with him alone. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how terrible he looked after embalming, and how mad I was to spend the rest of my life without him. I placed one of my rings in his hands. Sending him away without a token to keep with him felt lacking. I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out. It was an out of body experience. During the funeral, I changed my mind about speaking. The rest of my family spoke, but I did not think that I had the strength. In the moment, however, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t stand up there for him one last time.

I had not planned a speech and had no idea what to say. Then, it came to me. My brother had a difficult childhood. He had grown up with ADHD, he was sensitive, and he was caring. That made it hard for him to identify with my father and with myself. We are strong, independent, minimally emotional, and driven. I was always brought up to think it was the best way to be. That type of personality made for highly successful people. My brother had taken a different path. He was not afraid to make mistakes, and he did. He partied, drank, smoked, smoked weed, lost jobs, became addicted to video games, and failed out of college three times. In the end, however, he was highly successful and made us so proud. He was a great husband and father, he was highly skilled and successful in his job, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and he was a great friend. He had reached the peak of his existence. If my dad and I were black and white, my brother was a rainbow. My father spent a lot of time trying to blot out the color from his life, to give him the straight-laced successful life. He believed that is what was best for his child. In the end, Hunter taught us. He taught us that color is beautiful. Color can lead to success and that path can still be good. Life doesn’t only have one destination. It is full of twists and turns and curves, and all of them can lead to the good life. We should have been there for him more, been less judgmental, trusted the Lord to turn him into the man he needed to be. So, from now I, I resolve to add more color to my life. I will add more color to my children’s lives. We ended up learning something from him and we couldn’t have been more proud (for goodness sakes, a general even flew in to speak at his funeral).

We went to the graveside and another honor guard was present. These individuals come for free and dedicate their time. They carried flags, did a twenty one gun salute, played taps, and gave flags to the family members. I stayed with him that day. I sat by his graveside and watched them place him in the ground, clutching his flag to my chest and crying. I refused to move until the very end. I had met Hunter the day he was born and I wanted to be there the day he went into the ground. It took awhile, but I finally felt ready to leave when they sealed the casket. We continued on to the church to have a meal and visit. By the end of the day, we were worn out and empty. We thought we were grieving, processing it all. However, looking back, we were all in shock. We were going through the motions. The grief and trauma would come weeks and months later, as the dust settled and the hole in our hearts threatened to swallow like an abyss.

Unveiled

Ephesians 5:8 – “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”

Darkness

It hangs like a blanket, heavy over my head,

I can not stand up straight, I bend in submission,

My choices are not my own, my mind is not my own,

the darkness is like a puppet master, moving me at its will,

I am powerless to stop it,

Crushing bending, twisting under its weight,

There is only one end in sight, to submit to the darkness,

the fall under its spell, to allow it to consume,

then there will be nothing, I will be nothing,

Return to dust,

BUT THEN;

The darkness fades, like a fog leaving the surface of a lake,

images arise,

there are people here,

something outside myself,

I see unclearly at first but these lives take shape,

the veil turned grey, then white, then,

they are my family, my friends, strangers,

they are reaching for me, crying, arms extended,

they see my veil, they have been calling to me,

I have been deaf and blind,

one person lifts the veil, it is my Savior

now they can see me and I can see them,

I feel warmth on my face, it is the light

my body feels weightless, I can stand upright again,

I smile, I embrace,

I was never alone,

I just could not hear, I could not see, I could not feel for the veil covered me

Now it is gone, I step into the light, into love

I AM FREE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll Fly Away

Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sunday, we decided to go to church with one of the Officers from Hunter’s base. At the end of the service, I started to feel off. I asked Brian if we could go wait in the car, while my family finished talking. We dropped my dad off at my brother’s house and began driving to our hotel. My mother had stayed with me, wanting to make sure I was okay. Brian ran upstairs to grab some things, and that was the first time I really knew something was wrong. I started crying for Brian to hurry. He eventually came back to the car and we drove, as fast as we could, to the hospital. In case you were curious, not the hospital in which my brother had been treated.

When we pulled into the entrance,  I started vomiting. My mother started crying, she believed that I was going to die and she was going to loose both her children at once. She helped me into the ER, while Brian parked. I was put in a wheelchair and transported to labor and delivery. I got undressed, and that is when I saw it, blood. Then, I started worrying.

Doctors and nurses were everywhere. They got a stat ultrasound and, luckily, my placenta was not bleeding and the baby was doing great. I was, however, contracting. They gave me meds to stop the contractions and we waited. Some family had come to town to attend a ceremony for my brother, the next day. So, they came to the hospital to support myself and my mom. It was comforting to know we were not alone. At bedtime, my nurse gave me a Stadol dose IV. Instead of calming down, I began pacing the room, tearing at my clothes, crying, and trying (not literally) to climb the walls. My nurse didn’t give me anything to reverse it, because it wasn’t until the next day she realized this was the opposite of what should be happening. Eventually the bleeding stopped and everything was attributed to the trauma I was experiencing. I was given the clear to travel, however, I made them clear me to fly home with my brother. I said, “Either get this baby out now, or make him stay for at least another week.” We were blessed, he stayed snug as a bug until 39 weeks.

We spent the next few days in Montgomery, waiting for the autopsy to be completed and to get his affairs with the Air Force resolved. There were so many meetings. We can not say enough good about the Air Force and the way they treated us. They took care of everything. They came to the house and spent time with us. They held an awards ceremony in Hunter’s honor with a reception to follow. Hunter had won multiple awards and been promoted but never received these honors before he died. So, they gave them to my brother’s widow and my parents. Hunter had even won the Air Force Spotlight for recoding the program that decides which planes should be repaired and in level of priority to best utilize the annual budget. It was overwhelming to see such support. We, also, got to go to the biking and hiking trail Hunter was creating with the help of his Air Force friends. They planned to finish the trail and dedicate it to Hunter, in the future.

Finally, it was time for the autopsy. It was excruciating to know he was being autopsied and what all that entailed. It was traumatizing, the way they would be taking him apart and examining him. It weighed so heavily on my heart. The next day, we traveled to the funeral home to have a private viewing of his body. It was terrible, Hunter did not look like himself at all (warning, this explanation is going to get detailed). His head was resting on the collar of his shirt, where they had removed his trachea. He was collapsing on himself.  His nose was beginning to deteriorate because the embalming had been delayed so much. Finally, the back of his head was exposed and you could see the line where they used a scalpel to open the back of his skull. It was mortifying to see the brother I loved in such dire circumstances. I was continually traumatized during this period. So many of these images still haunt me. I can’t even look at a burial vault truck driving down the road without remembering these horrors. Hunter was ready to be transported home.

It was the day before Thanksgiving. One of the biggest travel days of the entire year. We packed up our bags and prepared to fly home. On the way to the airport, the hurst driver wasn’t driving appropriately. One of Hunter’s dearest friends yelled at the driver, it made it so he wasn’t allowed to participate in the rest of Hunter’s transport home. We were heartbroken for him. He was simply grieving. It was, then, we started running into people who were hurting themselves. One that sticks out to me was the gentleman helping us check in. He had lost his wife in the year prior. He still carried her picture and was able to empathize with what we were going through. It was so comforting to know we were not alone.

We were transferred to our plane and the ceremonies began.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

John 11:25 – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I was pregnant with my fourth baby, Johnathan Judah. I was on heparin injections, weekly ultrasound appointments, and progesterone. The baby grew well and, besides precipitous labor, it was a smooth pregnancy. I had decided to take a year off to have my fourth child, as of November 1st. This was something my work had approved. Resting was helping reduce the preterm labor symptoms. I was progressing well. I was laying on the couch resting at 36 weeks, when I got a call from my sister-in law. Hunter was in critical condition at the hospital.

Rewind a couple of days, my brother had gone into the hospital two days prior for an elective tonsillectomy. I had warned him that this was a bad idea. All surgery has risks, there is no such thing as a minor surgery. He had assured me that the tonsil stones he had warranted the surgery. He was willing to accept this risk and write me off as an overprotective sister. I would hold onto the warning for the rest of my life, wishing he had listened. The surgery did not go well. They stopped taking out his adenoids because there was too much bleeding. Why you take out adenoids, when tonsils are the source of the problem, I will never understand. He had been in serious pain after surgery and they were keeping him for twenty four hours to observe him. I had called that day and he had written a note, “I <3 U.” That would be the last communication I would ever have with my brother. His voice was too strained to speak and the next day, he was too out of it to call. We would, later, find out why.

My sister-in law was hysterical. I immediately went into triage mode. This was going to be fine, Hunter was going to be fine. He was fine just the day before, and was supposed to have left the hospital. They would have transferred him to another hospital, if his symptoms were really severe. He had just texted me earlier that day, they were odd texts, but responses none the less. I would later find out he was texting me “I can’t text and drive, it is not worth a life,” because he was almost completely incapacitated. But for now, that was unacceptable, he was okay. He had to be okay.

I got a call from my dad forty five minutes later. “He’s dead,” was all he said. I became hysterical, screaming “No,” over and over again. Then, “This is not real life, this is not my life.” My dad has no recollection of that phone call. I was in shock, he was in shock. After that, I called my doctor to get medication to help me sleep. I was sure I wasn’t going to survive this. Brian wanted me to go to Montgomery that night, but I wasn’t ready. I would regret not seeing Hunter in the hospital that night, not being there amongst his friends. I regret not seeing him for every minute that I could. My mom sent me an image of him lying dead in the bed. This image was traumatizing and would haunt me for awhile. It would be one of the first components of PTSD that would consume me for months.

That night, we still had to assemble my daughters bike for her birthday, the next day. My sweet father-in law came over to help. As they assembled, I walked outside. I am not typically a hyper spiritual person. I don’t believe in the paranormal or ghosts. But something wrapped its arms around me that night. I don’t know if it was an angel, the holy spirit, or my brother. I will say it felt like him. It felt like one of his warm bear hugs, and to this day it brings me comfort to reflect on those moments, after he died. I wasn’t alone.

The next morning, we threw a quick birthday celebration for my four year old daughter and flew out the door. That was the last time I would be home for over nine days. It would take us nine days to view him, autopsy him, fly him home and bury his body. It would take almost a year for us to find out what really happened that night.

We drove to Birmingham, Alabama to meet up with my Uncle, Aunt, Cousin, and my parents. Seeing my parents was one of the most difficult parts. That first time you all make eye contact, and the unspoken loss hangs in the air like thick fog. It took my breath away. I almost collapsed into their arms and cried. My dad wanted to see my brother’s body as soon as possible. So, we went to the morgue. My brother was Air Force. So, his body was set up for autopsy, before we even were able to request it. His body was being transferred from the local coroner, who we later found out was on his first day as coroner. Hunter would have been his first autopsy. Instead, he was being transferred to the University of Alabama Birmingham for autopsy by an actual M.D. The Air Force like F.B.I. (I will call them the FBI from here on out, to make it easier to explain) was in charge of Hunter’s case and was opening a criminal investigation.

We arrived at the funeral home to view my brother’s body. Nothing could have prepared me for that. My parents were in there as they removed the body bag, but I was didn’t see him until he was fully exposed. This was the best he would look until his interment. He just looked like my handsome, strong brother but asleep. I found it concerning that his shirt was not ripped open, he didn’t have any bruising from CPR type movement. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was cold to the touch. That wasn’t the most alarming part.

I didn’t know exactly what happens to a body after death. I now know the bodily fluids start to seep out. He was surrounded by a puddle of yellow liquid mixed with blood. This image would prevent me from eating steak for awhile. I developed a PTSD effect from seeing liquid blood on a plate and would fall into anxiety attacks in restaurants. As well, he had blood and vomit draining from his mouth. It was my brother but a broken shell of him. I collapsed under the weight and pain of him being gone. I fell down on the table and sat on the floor. I cried so hard, I couldn’t even breathe. I talked to my brother in my mind and asked him to help me get back up.

I couldn’t explain it, if I tried, but something said, “Look up.” Now, my brother was a joker. He loved to make people laugh and would definitely be cracking a joke, had he been in the room. I opened my eyes, and screamed. There, inches from me, was another dead person. No bag, just laying there. This person was old and, as my sister-in law joked through her pain, ready to go. I jumped back and everyone rushed to make sure I was okay. I told them what I saw, and we all looked down. We laughed so hard. We said Hunter had to have been there too. He would have been tickled to death to make us laugh though our pain. We could feel his presence. We were grateful to the Lord for his grace in helping us laugh in our agony. It gave us the strength to leave the morgue that night, and for me to get up off that floor.

Hannah’s Hope

2 Samuel 1: 10-11 “ She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life”

After this miscarriage the days were dark. I grieved deeply and mourned the pain of loss. I couldn’t believe God was asking me to walk such a path. It seemed unfair, but I endured. In the months following, a cloud came over me. Still not depression, just a deep sadness. I had a vision one day of my children running through our house being followed by a crawling baby boy. It was so real, I felt I could almost reach out and touch it. However, I dared not put my hope in something so abstract. There was still a comfort there, feeling that this would come to pass. I began reading the book Hannah’s Hope. It is an excellent book for those struggling with fertility issues. I follows the story of Hannah, from 2 Samuel. Her was a journey of bareness and pain. She cried out to God for deliverance from the agony in the form of a baby. It seemed it would never come.

However, the Lord saw her in her affliction and gave her Samuel. She dedicated him  to the Lord and God created a beautiful story for him. I highly suggest reading both the book and the scripture. This story was salve to my soul. My heart knew there was another baby out there for me. I was desperate to meet this child but couldn’t imagine going through another miscarriage. The Lord was faithful, and I conceived a baby boy, we would name Samuel. I was on heparin injections, progesterone, and weekly ultrasounds but he grew healthy and strong. His labor and delivery were not as swift as the first. These labor pains were slow and steady, leading to a beautiful and peaceful delivery. Holding him was pure joy and he was so content to snuggle up under my neck. He stayed there for months, it seemed. He is still an amazing snuggler today. Samuel was the child that showed me God’s love for his children in the midst of pain and suffering. He saw my longing heart and gave me a swift answer. This time would prepare me for a future trial I was yet to see. A trial that would tear at my heart and cause me to question all that I thought I knew.

In the meantime, Samuel grew and my heart longed for a fourth child. One day, at my practice a little girl came in with her guardians. I looked at her and she at me, and I felt an undeniable bond. I ran outside, after the appointment, and called my husband and mother. I had met our fourth child. I knew it in those moments with her. The Lord gave me the confidence to ask her guardian whether or not she needed permanent placement. It seemed that she would and they were open to my husband and I. They did an interview with us with our pastor. We had dinner together. We were starting to become friends. It felt as all was moving in the direction of adoption. We had even decided that we would adopt her older siblings, if they still needed placement. We didn’t want to divide a family. We looked at the Nissan NVP van, my husband even test drove one. We began talking as though this was our future, to welcome these three children into our home. Just like that, it began to be ripped away. The birth mother was finally starting to get her act together. Our journey had started nearly a year before. She had shown no interest in attending her court appointed visits, court dates, holidays, etc. Then, on what seemed like a whim, she stepped back in. The guardians were now two years in and content to keep her as long as there was a chance she could still go back to her birth mom. We, finally, told the guardian family that we would give her a home at any point in the future that it might be necessary, but we had to move forward. With that, we surrendered her back to the Lord. To this day, she still hasn’t been fully placed one way or the other. The pain of that loss still hurts. I am not sure what the Lord’s plan was in involving us in that specific arrangement, but I trust it crosses into eternity and one day I will see clearly.

The earthly reality is that between all of our biological children were we asked to surrender another child to the Lord. It is painful, still, to think about. We have two little ones up in heaven. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t have the four children we have now. But sometimes, I can’t help but think how different our lives would be had they survived. It will be a tender place in my soul until I leave this world. I know, though, that my God was with me and was orchestrating my story to glorify him in the end. After that we got another Rainbow. This was our Judah. He would come both with joy and unspeakable pain.