A Broken Laptop

Since Christiano passed I’ve said the words, ‘I wish’ and ‘What if,’ an awful lot. There’s a lot of things that I wish I could have said or done or known before October 24th, and almost every thought I have experienced since that day has come in the question form. What if this happened, and what if that happened? I often think, ‘if I could just have one more day with him.’ A day to talk, to make up for some things, and, definitely, to ask him a few questions. Some of the times, I receive answers to some of my daunting questions; sometimes through the Word, or through other people, or through a still small voice on the inside.  It says certain things like, ‘Shannon, he didn’t suffer pain,’ or ‘Christiano knows how much you love him.’ I’m always grateful for the peace I receive through answers, but I also know that ultimate peace is always available to me. Even when I don’t get the answers I am looking for, my peace has already been provided through Jesus. So when the questions won’t relent and the understanding doesn’t come, the peace of God still remains, and I have to trust that He knows what He is doing. 

I often find that when I make a conscious choice to trust in Him, and I lay certain things down at His feet, He comes through for me. When I let go of trusting in human wisdom and tangible comfort, I find rest; when I let go of my own desires and place them in His hands, I find rest; when I open my heart and tell Him what I’m feeling, I find rest; when I stop striving to make sense and I surrender to the rhythm of His grace, I find rest; the perfect rest found in Him alone.

Almost every other day or so, since October 24th,  I’ve gone through Christiano’s things. Whether it be his personal things, his social media posts, his pictures , his cell phone, his notebook, or anything else that presents some hope of finding what I’ve been looking for these past few months. I’ve been looking for a letter.  But, not just any  letter – a letter for me and my husband from Christiano. Of course, I didn’t know if such a letter existed, but I wanted it to. ‘I wish he wrote us a letter,’ I would say. (There’s that ‘I wish,’ again.) I have often wondered if this is ‘normal’ – if other grieving parents long for the same things. Those of you who have followed us in our journey know that we are a family of expression. We express our love through various avenues – pictures, texts, social media, over the phone and, best of all, face to face.  Face to face is no longer an option with Christiano, but I’m thankful that we have so much of that love captured and recorded for our family to look back on. Christiano’s friends tell us all the time how much he loved us – that he raved about his family. I’m grateful that they’ve shared that information with us. Sometimes parents wonder what their kids really think of them; at least I do, and his friends’ stories  have provided us much comfort and joy. But, I still really wanted a letter. Maybe it is because I think letters are intimate. Often letters are written in the privacy of ones own thoughts and display the heart of a person on paper. I wanted a letter from my son, and I thought about it every day since he passed up until about two weeks ago. One day, I just stopped looking for one and stopped dwelling on it, and although the desire never left me, the desperate pursuit had ended. But, God – He was up to something.

Our family laptop had crashed about eight months ago, but since we had the home computer, we had left it untended to for awhile. The laptop had gotten so bad that we would have to leave the plug in it every time we wanted to use it, and eventually it just stopped turning on.  About a week ago, my husband had it fixed and was finally able to gain access. When my husband got in the laptop, he was pleased to find all of Christiano’s essays, research papers, composition papers, and notes. He was a wonderful writer, and his sense of humor was present in each of the pieces he wrote. It was a great treat for Chris to have found these treasures. He came home each night after work ready to share about something he had read. Christiano wrote about Sports, The American Dream, Martin Luther King Jr., and Moralism. He wrote poems, songs, and random things. One of his papers was about his sister and her fear of ducks. We were so grateful to have our hands on these precious pieces of Christiano. 
Yesterday, I was having a tough day. I was weepy and my thoughts were trying to run my mind. ‘What were his last thoughts before the accident?’ ‘How did I see a future for him if he was going to be gone?’ ‘Is this even real!?’ The last one is the question I ask the most. Is this real or is it some sort of sick joke. It’s very easy to let these thoughts take my whole day from me. I have to literally change my mind and think on something else. I decided to ask Chris to bring home one of Christiano’s written pieces. I knew that would cheer me up. As I cooked dinner, I had something to look forward to, and that helped the other thoughts to quiet down. When Chris came home he had three written pieces in his hands. One was for Gabriella – the piece written about her duck fear; One was a piece written on The American Dream and how this generation has gone astray from it; and, there was one more. This one was a gift from God, there’s no denying. It was a letter – a letter from my son, and it began with ‘Dear Mom and Dad…’ I was in tears over our sons heart, but even more so the heart of our God. He heard my cries and he made a way. He presented us with the letter and in doing so granted me the desire of my heart. 
Dear Mom and Dad,
I love you. I don’t just love you because a kid should love their parents. I love you because you brought me into this world. I guess I take that for granted sometimes but always remember that through thick and thin I always love you guys. I know you and I cannot always be perfect still don’t think for a second I don’t love you guys. 
            P.S. I will always love you guys
Our boy wrote us a personal letter, but not just any letter – a love letter. Now we can all choose to look at this as chance or coincidence, a surprise or an accident. But, I choose to see God. I choose to see my God, who is rich in love and mercy. He is a good God and everything good is from Him. 
‘The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.’ Psalm 145:9 
There is still so much I don’t understand in my mind, but my heart will rest in The Lord. My questions may not cease, but His peace won’t ever leave me. He loves me, he loves you, and He loves Christiano more than we could ever fathom. 
If something is broken, we generally discard it. However, God uses broken things to accomplish His purposes. ~ Larry Acuff 

It’s Not Over

‘OK. I’m ready to wake up now.’ 

This is the thought that is most frequently running through my mind. Accepting Christiano’s death is a task I am forced to perform over and over again. The truth is, I don’t want this – not any of it. It’s as if I’m caught in between two worlds – Heaven and Earth. Have you ever heard that saying, ‘I left my heart in …? New York, California, Florida? I didn’t leave my heart anywhere, but a part of it was taken from me – three months ago. It wasn’t a choice, but I certainly can’t change it. Christiano took a part of my heart with him, and I’ll never get it back as long as I’m here on this Earth.
I’ve always been one to think on the future and the potential beauty that it holds; not allowing my mind to wander backwards or give any foothold to the past. After all, what is the point? We can never  go back and change the past, but we can always exercise faith and hope for a better future. There has never been reason enough to dwell on, live in or think about the past. But, that idea has changed for me. To forget the past means to forget Christiano. There has not been one day that I haven’t relived October 24, 2013, and I don’t know that there ever will be. That day comes with endless questions and unexplainable pain. And, automatically, every single time I think of that day, another day comes to my mind ; October 22, 2013. There isn’t thought of either one of the days without the other following after. They are intertwined.
October 22nd was the day we decided to completely gut out Christiano’s bedroom. We removed his couch, his bed, and a few of his things. I still regret that I don’t have his bed to sit on or to lay in. While we were cleaning out his bedroom, my cell phone rang. It was Christiano. We hadn’t heard from him in five days, which was very out of the ordinary, and I made sure I let him know that I didn’t like that. I told him that I didn’t want so much time lapsing between our communication. He understood and agreed that five days was too long. Too much time. Back then, just five days was too long not to talk to my son. We spent the rest of the time talking about his classes, volleyball, and campus life. My husband was sweeping Christiano’s bedroom floor when I handed him the phone. He told him what we had been doing to his bedroom and reassured him that by winter break, he’d have his room back. Christiano, in his easy going tone, said, ‘that’s cool, Dad.’ While they talked, my daughter told me she thought I was a little hard on him for not calling me. I hadn’t yelled or raised my voice, but she was right. I had let him know that I was disappointed in him, and I might have been a little harsh. I asked Chris to let me speak with him again before hanging up. As soon as I got the phone, I said, ‘Hey, honey. I’m sorry if I came across harsh or I made you feel like you had let me down. I just miss you and I love hearing from you.’ His heart was so responsive. He said that he completely understood and began to share some struggles he was having being away at school. He felt like he didn’t have enough time to complete all of his tasks. He told me he was overwhelmed and that college life was not all it was cracked up to be. He missed home a lot and he was hungry all the time. Oh, how every word broke my heart. I told him I was there for whatever he needed; that he never had to go hungry. I had brought him meals and sent him home with food each time he came home. He said he knew that if he needed anything I would be there, but it was what he said towards the end of the call that constantly replays in my head. ‘Mom, it’s just too hard. Life is too hard. I thought I was ready for this, but I don’t think campus life is for me. I just want to come home.’ I felt both sad and happy at the same time. Sad that he was sad, but happy that he wanted to come home. I reassured him and told him that he could stick it out until the end of the semester, but when he came home we would make arrangements for him to stay if he wanted to; that we missed him, too, and would love to have him back. I was elated inside, but tried to keep my cool. We told each other we loved each other and hung up.
The end of the semester never came. Well, it came for all the other students, but it never came for Christiano. Should I have rushed right out that night and picked him up? I wonder that, sometimes. So many significant events happened leading up to October 24th, and life changing decisions were made. Can one decision make or break a life? Or, are certain major events already predestined?Or, are they accidents? Take birth and death, for example. An unplanned baby is referred to by the world as an accident, and automobile crashes are called car accidents. By the worlds’ definition, an accident is an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause; without plan or intention. By those standards,  Christiano came in to the world an ‘accident’ and an ‘accident’ took him out. Or, we can sugar coat it and use the word surprise. Either way, both words imply that Christiano’s life was unexpected and that his death was unexpected. I simply cannot believe that. Christiano’s life was the the exact opposite of an accident. His life was full of intended purpose and deliberate cause. He lived to inspire, and he did it with intention. He wasn’t just here, but he permeated life and invaded the heart of every person he met. God was involved in all of that.
Christiano was a gift from God to me; a predestined gift that He formed in my womb, while  breathing His very own life into him. God is responsible for each new life that springs forth because He is the Maker and Giver of Life. We see that clearly in Psalm 139. So, how can I believe that the God who creates us; who writes us into His story is not involved in our ending? There are no accidental births or surprises with God. He knows the beginning from the end. I have to believe He was part of all of this. At the end of Psalm 139, David asks God to lead him to the way of everlasting. When you know The Lord, death isn’t final. Instead it is the beginning of dwelling in His presence forever. When I try and eliminate God from any part of this tragedy, it doesn’t make sense. It brings me more comfort to know that God held Christiano’s entire life in His hands. I don’t believe God took my son on October 24th, but I do believe that God received his very own son that day. For 6,834 days, 6 hours and  11 minutes, God trusted me to take care of him. God shared that amazing young man with me; to change me, to love me, and to teach me so much. I miss him so much, and I wish this wasn’t my story. But, it is my story. And if it came down to going through it all over again, I would say yes. I would say yes to the gift that gave me more than I could ever ask or think. I would say yes to Christiano.
This isn’t the happy ending I was hoping for, but I have to keep in mind that it isn’t over. Christiano’s life is not over. But, in a way, it’s just begun. And the piece of my heart that he is holding will one day be returned to me when we meet face to face. I have a feeling that the hugs I’m missing here will pale in comparison to a heavenly embrace. It will be amazing. But, as wonderful as it may be, I still miss him terribly; I still wish this wasn’t my life; I still have a hard time moving ahead. And, I still wish I went to pick him up on October 22nd. I don’t think it would’ve changed things, but it would’ve given me one more day with my sweet Christiano.

Questioning God; Is It OK?

Job had many questions; God can handle his children asking. David had questions and accused God of leaving him alone; God is not scared off by our confrontation. Jesus, through blood-sweat and tears asked God for another way and told Him this was too much to bear; God, through His pain, loved us enough to keep his promise and provide a way out. Paul suffered; he was beat, battered, persecuted and imprisoned; God doesn’t always  remove our troubles, but promises to be our strength through them. One of the things I have always respected about Paul, is that he never claimed to have all of the answers or to have figured it all out. Instead, Paul proclaims the opposite, by admitting to having not arrived and having not yet attained. Each one of the above men, and many more in the Bible, questioned God at one time or another. Even Jesus did – twice. Once in the garden and once on the cross. I think we are so afraid to approach The Lord with questions, but we really shouldn’t be. Questions do not imply that we don’t believe, but that we are humans, with very limited understanding. God is not uncomfortable or ill prepared in handling his children’s questions. 

I think of two men in the Bible right off the bat when approaching this topic – David and Peter. 
David questioned anything and everything. Every doubt he had, he lifted up to The Lord, and we can see it so clearly in the psalms. He accused God of leaving him, and he asks Him repeatedly where He is and how He could let certain things happen. God didn’t turn away from David during these times of doubt. Instead, David earns a beautiful title in God’s kingdom, when he is called ‘a man after Gods own heart.’ 
Then we’ve got Peter; the disciple who pretended a lot; who esteemed himself highly and boasted about his love for the Christ. Unlike David, Peter had all the answers. His eyes were on himself most of the time, and ‘self’ is what motivated him to do many of the things he did. He wanted to do everything Jesus did, but the confidence he possessed was false. This is why Peter failed so many times by doing or saying the wrong thing. He pretended to be strong instead of allowing Christ to be his strength, and this led him to go as far as denying Christ. Peter did eventually repent, and he went on to spread the gospel to many hurting people. There’s always an opportunity to let God change us.
The point is that we have our own choice to make. We can choose to go before God, naked and empty, admitting to Him that we have questions and fears; or we can go before him all put together; pretending to know it all and to have every answer.
 I have chosen to be honest before my God. Real, pure, genuine faith in The Lord is what I desire and hope to attain. My faith has been tested and tried, and I have asked many questions. Through my pain and my struggle, I am still being refined. All artificial impurities are being exposed and thrown aside. 
Anyone can be a replica, an imposter, a poser. Anyone can fake it. I know this because I’ve been there before. But, fake will not last; it is not real. When it goes through the fire, it will be found out. It’s of no value to anyone, and will depreciate the very life it has invaded. Before we know it, we’ll be capsized, with no substance to stand on. 
If I wasn’t asking questions, I’d be pretending before God and before all of you. I may fool all of you and I may even fool myself, but I could never fool God. He knows my heart. He knows the pain, the hurt, the doubt and the fear that overcomes me everyday. God is unshakeable and unchangeable, and our questions don’t scare Him or stump Him. They simply cause us to unload the heaviness we carry around with us. Why pretend before the God who created me? Why run from the One I can turn to? Why hide from the only One who sees me? I will not ‘fake it ’til I make it,’ because then I’ll never really make it. I will not pretend my questions away; I won’t run or hide from them, either. What I will do is ask them; and wait patiently for The Lord, who hears my cries. He is able and willing to carry our burdens, so I will let him carry mine. 

Love Overcomes Inadequacy

‘I just haven’t been able to feel happy since Christiano died, Mom.’ 

These are the words my son used to describe how he’s been feeling, and it causes my heart to break again in the already shattered parts. Just like me, he isn’t looking for the clichés. All he wants  is for Christiano to come walking through our front door, but he knows that won’t happen. He feels alone, he tells me, like everyone has already moved on, but he can’t. How I wish I could take every pain from his heart and every doubt from his mind. I know that the God of all comfort is with us all, but I also know what it’s like to just want a tangible hug from a friend or for someone to promise that everything will be alright. So, in my fear of messing up, I try to be that for him. Yes, I feel inadequate, just like many of you. I wanted to be able to take all of his pain away; to make him smile again, if only for a second. I wanted it for me, for my husband, for all of us. I felt so helpless. I’ve been stuck feeling helpless for too long, and I had been here many times before. I remembered a certain time, in particular and in an instant I I was brought right back there; right back to the fourth grade.
When I was nine years old, my best friend lost her father. I was spending a Friday night at her house when we heard a knock at the door. It was the police, and they only stepped into the house long enough to deliver the sad news of his death. I watched my friend have all sorts of emotions that night. In the matter of minutes, she went from anger, to laughter, to uncontrollable tears. I sat by her side and followed her around the house like a puppy dog. I knew she was upset, but as the night went on, she chose to act like nothing had happened. I just went with her flow and ended up staying at her house for the whole weekend. Her mom and brother were crying their eyes out, and I thought I should be there. I remember coming home Sunday night and just crying myself to sleep. I was so sad for my friend and her family. I didn’t grow up with a dad, but I always wished that I had. I couldn’t imagine having one my whole life and then losing him.
The next day I went to school, but didn’t expect my friend to be there. We were in the same fourth grade class, so I thought about taking her schoolwork to her or something. I just wanted to help her in any way that I could. To my surprise, my friend had already returned to school. When I walked in she was talking and laughing among all of our friends, and I was glad to see her. She remained very upbeat for most of the morning. But by the afternoon, she was clearly having a hard time. She walked out of class to go to the bathroom, and I immediately chased after her. I don’t even remember asking the teacher for permission. I just had to be with her. We sat on the floor in the handicapped stall for a long time. She cried, and I either listened, or stroked her hair, or told her that I was always going to be there for her, but I didn’t say much. I felt helpless. This went on for a couple weeks, and that bathroom became our home away from home. I didn’t feel like I did much at all because when you watch a friend grieve you just want to take their pain away and make it all better. But, I saw my friend look for me every day. She seemed to find peace just being with me, and I was happy to be there. A few Fridays after this awful tragedy, much to my surprise, my teacher and principal presented me with a good citizenship award. My teacher had tears pouring out as she called my name and said, ‘I’ve never in all my life seen a nine year old, or even an adult, be the kind of friend that I witnessed Shannon be to _____. ‘ I was excited to receive the award, as any nine year old would be, but I felt so undeserving and inadequate. I thought, ‘well isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?’ I really wished there was even more I could have done. 
I share this to thank all the good citizens that have been there for us; those who have given a hug or lent an ear, those who have sent a text or a quick email, prepared a meal or a written a check, those who have prayed or offered a kind word. I understand the feeling that tells your mind you are not doing enough or feeling like you don’t know what to say. I’ve been in both positions; I’ve been there, and now I am here. I don’t know what to say half the time either, but ignoring, leaving, or hiding is not an option for me. I have no choice, but to stay and live this nightmare. But, all of you, you do have a choice. Some of you have opted to stay away, but many of you have chosen to stay with us; even when it’s hard. I’m thankful for you. I know from being on both sides, that its not an easy feat. If you’ve reached out to me, my husband, or my children in any way at all – thank you. 
When my son expressed his pain to me last night, I was overcome with compassion; not only for our son but, also, for our friends. Just thinking about how inadequate you all might feel filled my eyes with tears. Even I, his mother, didn’t know how to make it better, and all I wanted to do was help him. I just said, ‘I know, buddy. I know.’ And, I hugged him, I prayed for him and told him that I loved him. It didn’t feel like enough. In fact,  It never feels like enough. But, it’s what I must continue to do; to listen, validate, embrace, pray, reassure, and most of all, LOVE. But, I don’t have a choice – I have to stay in this messy muck and rely on The Lord’s help. For all of you, it’s optional. Thankfully, so many of you have opted to continually reach out your hands to us; big hands and small hands. Every hand matters; not for their size, but for the love that each hand brings. I’ve learned through this that love comes in many forms. It’s communicated through words, hugs, laughter, handshakes, cookies, flowers, eye contact, pictures, text messages, scriptures, homemade meals and take-out, too; games of catchphrase, prayers and more; and, it’s even found in toilet cleaning. 
God is love, and He has executed it so beautifully through some of you. This morning, I’m thankful for the love. 
Just a few pictures that represent love for me.

Christiano in Guatemala while on the mission trip he attended through Hearts in Action.
His arms of love still reaching far and his hands outstretched to touch many more.

A notecard and gift from three of Christiano’s closest friends; Mary, Richelle, and Patti.  I received this on one of my hardest days.

One of the many ‘I love you’ texts communicated between us. I’m so grateful that if have these to look back on. I also have enjoyed receiving many texts from so many of you. I may not respond, but my heart delights. Thank you.

Who Is This ‘Me’ That Christiano Saw?

I know that I’ll see Christiano again. This is what I tell myself over and over. But, let me be honest; it doesn’t help much; and mothers out there can relate. Do we not miss our children when they have their first overnight or when we spend a weekend away with our husbands? Do we not long to see them and to embrace them after mere hours spent apart? Sometimes the words I tell myself  just aren’t enough to ease the pain. How can I stop yearning for someone so wonderfully charming and charismatic? Someone who knows me better than anyone else? Someone who has seen me at my best, and at my worst, but never let it change his love and devotion for me? I miss him terribly. I miss his serene composure and his sense of humor.  I miss his passion for life and love for people. When he and I would laugh, we would laugh with our whole selves; we held nothing back. It was same when we would argue; we went all in – or all out. At times we would argue to the point of tears , but both of us both knew each others love. It was on the forefront of every raging battle, and boy, did we have lots of those. Christiano and I shared such a tight bond. We fought hard, but we loved even harder. He knew when I needed a hug, and I knew when he needed to talk. Looking back I can recount the hugs and replay the long talks. I pray that I will never forget our times, for they were so rich. 

Once in a while, I would convince Christiano to come to the grocery store with me on a Saturday. It never took much more than a promise from me to let him select the snacks – this always meant we were coming home with Oreos. We would walk and shop the store, chit-chatting our way up and down the aisles. Everyone who knew Christiano would testify that he was a talker, just like his momma. But, he was also a phenomenal listener, who taught me how to be better one. Our communication skills were tried, stretched, learned and mastered; only to be tried, stretched and learned again and again. He grew me in every way. (Raising your first teenager will do that to you.) We would get done shopping fairly quickly because the talking seemed to help it go by faster; but it also usually caused us to forget where we parked. We’d laugh about it while searching the lot because we knew that ‘this was us.’ Once we found the car, we would pack it up and make our very short drive home, Christiano talking all the while. I’d give responses when I felt solicited for them, but I really liked just listening. The ride always seemed to end too quickly, for both of us. We truly enjoyed each others company and could have kept talking for hours. 
About a year ago, after one of our shopping trips, we pulled into the driveway. Just as I put the car in park, Christiano reached out, put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. He said, ‘Mom, please don’t get out yet. Can we just stay and talk some more? I love this one on one time with you.’  My first thought was of my other three children and my hungry husband, who were awaiting our arrival and our grocery goods. But, the thought in my heart said, ‘Stay, Shannon. He won’t want always want this.’ I listened to my heart, and I’m so glad I did. He talked and talked for another twenty minutes. He talked about life and his future, he talked about God, his friends, music and volleyball; and I loved every single minute of it. When he was finished sharing his heart, he hugged me, thanked me, and told me how much he valued his time alone with me. Thankfully, we had many more long talks – just the two of us. We talked at the backyard picnic table, we talked in his bedroom, we talked on the phone, and we continued to talk in the car. We had our most recent talk  in the McDonald’s parking lot. We were there for hours. I miss our talks and how he made me feel. He saw me in an untainted light, even though I made many mistakes,  he still made me feel like a good person. He was proud of me and saw the best in me on my worst days. Regretfully, I can’t say that I always chose to see the best in him. Sometimes, I think I was too hard on him because I wanted so much for him. I wanted him to be better than me, but looking back now, I see that he  already was. Who knew that I would learn more from him than he could ever have learned from me? 
Did he know?
Gabriella gave me the sweetest compliment the other day while we were in the car together. She said, ‘Mom, I think Christiano was like you.’ It made my heart smile for the first time in a while. Other people have said this same thing to me; friends, family, my husband – even a friend who went on the missions trip to Guatemala  – they have all told me that he and I are, pretty much, the same person. But, it was so special coming from Gabriella. She means what she says and says what she means. That is just one of the many things that I love about her. She was referencing friendship, and how he was loved by so many,  and she said I was  like him. What an honor to share traits with such a beautiful young man, who touched so many people and left his profound imprint of love on a cruel and unjust world. 
But, I miss him. Each and every day, as my heartache increases, my connection with this here and now life decreases. So, I’m left to feel both losses; the loss of my son and the loss of myself. Sometimes, I worry that I will lose the ‘me’ that is the most like him. He could always see the ‘me’ that I couldn’t see. Will I ever again be the ‘me’ that he wants me to be? Will I be the ‘me’ that loves others the way he did, and the way I  did once? Or, is that part of ‘me’ gone until I meet my son again? Who is the ‘me’ that he saw? Is it me, after all? Who was the ‘me’ that enabled me to see all that I saw in Christiano? That enabled ‘me’ to love him at all times? Was it ever really ‘me’ at all? 
I’m reminded of this verse in John 15.
‘I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire.’
Then later in verse 9, Jesus says,
‘I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.’ 
That’s it. Christiano and I could be anywhere, but we were always ‘at home’ with one another. God is the creator of the love that Christiano and I shared, because God IS Love. And, isn’t that what Christ told us to do? To love others as He has loved us? It is Christ in ‘me,’ then. He is in ‘me,’ and He shines through me. After all, that was who the ‘me’ was in Christiano. That is what drew everyone to him, whether we knew it or not. That was what he and I had in common because God is what connected us from the start. He formed Christiano in my womb; He called me to be his mother; and He caused us to share the great love that we have. So, I can never really lose what Christiano and I shared because it is constant. This brings me comfort in this here and now life; even if for a moment. So, this time I will take a step forward, and maybe in an hour, I will take another hard fall back. Just as Christiano did in this life, I will walk and I will talk, I will rise and I will fall, I will laugh and I will cry. But, I will take our constant with me; in every triumph and every failure, I will take our Jesus. 

A Glimpse Of A Life Not Chosen

-When I lay in my bed and the phone call from the police officer replays over and over in my head.

-When the mail that was once addressed to a young and alive ‘Christiano Barbosa’ is now addressed to ‘The Estate of Christiano Tre’ Barbosa.’
– When the medical bills are coming as often as the college acceptance letters once did.
– When that letter from a fellow college student that attended Bryant came in to tell me what a wonderful man he was. 
– When I had to close out his bank account – the same account that I helped him open a few months before. 
– When the phone rings and the caller on the other end asks to speak him. 
– When the phone doesn’t ring at all.
– When my children are crying themselves to sleep at night.
– When my husband tells me that he tried to call him because, for just one second, he forgot he was gone. 
– When I have to remind myself that he is never coming back.
– When I read the book written by a grieving father who shares his deepest emotions.
– When the images of his lifeless body somehow sneak in when I’m least expecting them.
– When I wonder ‘how I can prevent anything bad from happening again?’
– When I have to overcome fear, just to allow my children to ride the bus.
– When a pipe bursts in the business we own and we have to spend money and time we don’t have.
– When friends come to help us with no expectations.
– When I don’t want to get up out of bed or see anyone, but that right friend comes along. 
– When I want to see certain people, but they’re not coming. 
– When I feel so misunderstood, but don’t have the energy to help anyone get it.
– When people take me as I am, no strings attached.
– When I can’t avoid the mess that’s become of our life.
When the woman at Dunkin’ Donuts asks me where I’ve been and cries when I tell her. 
– When I can’t seem to bring myself to the grocery store, but I know we need food.
 – When Wiss calls and, having no idea, asks ‘do you need anything at the market?’
– When we have to make vital decisions regarding our future. 
– When we want to stop life for a second, and shut everything off.
– When I just wish I could have one more day with him.
– When guilt just won’t stop and I question everything regarding my parenting. 
– When I question how I will ever be able to see the other children go off to college.
– When God reminds me that He is with me through it all, but I just don’t ever want to go through anything else. 
– When I can’t take the Christmas Tree down because that means we are moving on. 
– When things I’ve always known just don’t make sense anymore.
– When we are driving in the car and we see an accident and the debris comes flying at us.
– When the doctor tries to convince me that our kids MUST get the flu shot because the flu is killing children.
– When I have a good day, but the tears still some.
– When the tears come and they won’t stop.
– When people don’t know what to say.
– When people say nothing.
– When Christiano’s friends come, and I’m in awe of their courage.
– When I wish that I spent more time with them when he was here.
 – When I laugh, but then feel guilty.
– When I’m too exhausted to go on. 
– When people are moving forward, and we won’t ever be fully able to.
– When people mean well, and they tell me I’m not going to stay here, but HERE is all I can see for now. 
– When people confront me about what I share and what I post and what I feel.
– When that grieving mother chats with me on FB for hours and completely gets where I’m at. 
– When I’m afraid to misrepresent God and who He is, but then He leads me to write a blog and put my heart out there for the world to see. 
– When I find out it’s helping people and leading them back to God.
 – When I wonder if I’m going to ever get through this; if I’m normal or crazy.
– When I find an article that helps me know that all of this is normal. 
Here is just a piece of the article. 
‘The grief response following sudden loss is often intensified since there is little to no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say good-bye, finish unfinished business or prepare for bereavement. Families and friends are suddenly forced to face the loss of a loved one instantaneously and without warning. This type of loss can generate intense grief responses such as shock, anger, guilt, sudden depression, despair and hopelessness.
A sudden tragic event shatters our sense of order and thrusts us into a world forever changed. Survivors of sudden loss may experience a greater sense of vulnerability and heightened anxiety. The safe world we once knew, no longer exists. We fear for ourselves, our family and friends. Survivors can become overwhelmingly preoccupied with thoughts that such a random act of violence might happen again.’
– When all of the above happens in a weeks time.
– When I know that we will overcome, but I can’t help wondering when or how. 
– And lastly; 
When I do my best to surrender it all to The Lord. This is the one I must do constantly, as best I know how. 

Time Is…

Yesterday was eleven weeks since we lost Christiano. Sometimes it still feels so new, like it just happened yesterday, but other times it feels like an eternity. Mostly, it feels like an eternity; especially on the days that I long for his hug, his sense of humor, his laugh, his voice, his presence. Today is one of those days. When I utter the words, ‘I miss him,’ it doesn’t nearly scratch the surface of what is going on in my heart. Time and words become anemic in some ways, but, in other ways, they become more significant than ever. Time becomes the wall that separates us from seeing Christiano, but it also becomes part of the bridge that will, one day, reunite us. My life is now divided and defined by time; life before Christiano and life after Christiano. Time stands still, yet time goes on. Time heals the wound, but time deepens the pain. Time becomes our closest ally and our furthest foe; it gets in our way, but it carries us through. Words are complicated, as well; they say everything, yet say nothing. They heal, yet they destroy. They bring life and they bring death. Some are listened to and some are dismissed.

Both time and words frustrate me because they are both unfounded and ineffective, yet so proven and valid. How can time be all these things?Time brings change. Words bring change. Friends have changed.  I am changed. Nothing around me is permanent. And, this is what continuously draws me back to The Lord. He is unchangeable; tried, true, and steadfast. He is my constant in this very shifting and unstable world that is surrounding me.
We are coming up on three months since life changed so drastically. There are still moments when I think my son will come walking through the front door. Other times we do head counts, expecting to see four heads, but only three are found. Dinners are still made for six – sometimes I forget that he is gone, and I pull out a plate for him. Bread goes stale, milk goes sour, and leftovers get thrown out. I have to learn how to grocery shop for five, but I don’t want to. I still say to my husband, ‘honey, we can’t all fit in your car,’ then I’m saddened by the realization that we can and we will. Learning to live without Christiano is something I was never prepared for. How does a mom learn to unmother the child that made her one. People have said , ‘But, you will always be his mom,’ and I understand that this is true, but it just isn’t the same. I’m not feeding him, ironing for him, changing his sheets, folding his laundry – the laundry that he always threw in the washer and left the rest of the job for me –  I don’t get to ask him what he is thinking, I don’t get to give him rides and listen to him talk about his future. There is so much I won’t Get to do. Yes, I’ll always be his mom, but not in the way that I want to be. I became Christiano’s mother at fifteen and had no idea what I was doing. But, because being a mom is all I ever wanted to do –  it came natural to me. He was so easy to love, which makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye. There is simply nothing natural about learning how to unmother a child who, by making you a mother, changed your life. It feels grotesque and foreign to me. And, I don’t want it. 
God was the one who showed me how to be a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter – He has taught me everything. I know He will teach me, now, how to be a grieving mother, but it won’t be easy to learn. I’ll probably kick and scream a lot; because how can I yield to this truth – that my boy is never coming through my front door again? Only by His grace and in His time. Time – there’s that word, again. It never goes away, and it never stops. 

Glory To Glory

God tells us to be fruitful and multiply here in the Earth, so the loss of a child feels backwards in every way. It is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually devastating. There is not a place within us that the pain does not reach. We discover parts of ourselves for the first time, because there is no place that does not grieve. Partly, because we’ve lost something that is absolutely irreplaceable, and partly because a child is a gift from God in the first place. It’s just unnatural. 2013 had already been the worst year for our family for many reasons, even before Christiano left us. I remember a few weeks after Christiano had passed, I got so mad at the enemy, and I shouted out loud ‘Everything we lost in 2013 will be restored in 2014!’ And, lately I’ve been wondering, ‘what does that even mean? Is it even possible?’ Nothing will ever replace Christiano; not any thing and not any one. God talks about bringing us from glory to glory and we, as a church, talk about it, too. We sing songs about it, preach messages on it, and we say it to one another. I always understood it to mean that our life here on Earth would keep getting better and better; better jobs, better cars, better houses, and a better life. Don’t get me wrong, I know that God can do that, and He delights in the blessing of His children, but I don’t think that is what ‘glory to glory’ means.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says,
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The NLT version says,
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
I think going from ‘glory to glory,’ means that those who know The Truth are daily being transformed into the image of Christ, and this can happen at any time. It can happen when life is going well, and it can happen when life is a mess; on the mountain and in the valley; in times of blessing and in times of suffering. Things can be in shambles on the outside, but nothing can stop the glory of God from flowing in our lives. I know that through this suffering, God is with me. He has shown forth His glory, and He has activity loved me. Even when I don’t feel Him, I know He is with me. He is being glorified in my weaknesses. Paul emphasizes this over and over in the epistles. I believe God is restoring some things for us, even now. He is restoring my hope, my intimacy with Him, my faith, my sanity, and most of all, my heart. Just like Paul, I’m willing to admit that I have nowhere near arrived. There are many things I don’t understand and, today, in this moment, I am ok with that. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I know that God is showing Himself to me through this and that somehow He is empowering me to ebb and flow to His unforced rhythm of grace. So, from glory to glory I go, praying and believing that Christ is being glorified. 
‘I may be weak, but Your Spirits strong in me, my flesh may fail, but my God, You never will.’ 

A Special Love

Anais is very special to me and has played many roles in the lives of my family. She is important to all of us for individual reasons, and she wears many hats. However, she’s worn the most hats for Christiano: youth leader, mentor, spiritual confidant, stand-in aunt, ministry director, fellow comedian, and, of course, the hat she wore best of all – friend. They had a special love and a unique and unbreakable bond. Anais has been a constant blessing to all of us, both before and after this tragedy. I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude for her, as I watch her keep Christiano alive for all of us. Here is her heart in and through her loss. Christiano would call this, ‘Beautiful.’ 

If someone were to ask me, “If Christiano ever passed away, how would you feel?”
I would innocently and honestly say, “I’d feel so sad and I would definitely miss him.” Little did I know how much I’d miss him, how much my heart would ache for his family, how much I’d miss him at random moments in life.
I see how I feel and how much I miss him and multiply it by 1,000,000,000 and imagine that is a glimpse into how much his mother, father, sister, and brothers feel.
My imagination runs wild; therefore, I’ve imagined myself interacting with Christiano several times. Sometimes it’s really nice and I find myself laughing, then sometimes I get in the weirdest lull.
I’ve imagined getting to heaven and trying to fillChristiano on all the things he’s “missed” in heaven: my wedding, my niece’s birth and how beautiful she is, my job, my family, friends, his parents receiving his college degree. He’ll listen, like he always has, and pulls me to show me all the amazing things in heaven. Without words he tells me, “ Anais, I didn’t miss anything! All that is great, but look where I’ve been!” We’d forget the rest and enjoy ourselves.That one made me smile.
I’ve imagined him at my sister’s baby shower: dancing, playing games, poking fun, talking to my brother-in-law, chit chatting it up with everyone and anyone willing to talk, making people constantly laugh, and unintentionally being the star of the show. That one made me cry.
I know he often felt misunderstood. I often feel misunderstood. I think about having that conversation with him, about being misunderstood, about it being OK to question. We would touch upon it every now and then, but I just want one more lengthy conversation. I think I forget about all the really good conversations we had, how many hugs we shared, how many laughs we’ve had because I want just one more.
I think we had more in common than I originally thought. Even if we didn’t, I’d like to think so and remember that…forever.
Someone asked me if I’ve ever felt grief like this, and I haven’t—not a death like this, not a passing that would probably affect my very being. Christiano changed, brightened, and inspired lives. What an honor to know a young man who loved like Jesus, what a pleasure it was to know him.  

It’s So Far From Over

It’s so far from over.

Almost every single morning, since Christiano’s passing, I’ve woken up with a severe headache. It takes me quite some time to even be able to pull myself up out of  bed, and when I do finally manage to get up, it takes me some more time to find my bearings. I’m never quite sure how I’m actually doing, until about an hour or so after I’m up. This tragedy has also brought on random stomach aches. I believe they start off as mental anxiety then change over to full fledge physical symptoms. Actually, my belly has felt squeamish most of the time, since October 24, 2013.
It’s so far from over. 
Tonight, Chris and I were able to snatch some much needed time to talk. We got about fifteen minutes in, when we heard one of our children crying from his bedroom. We had him come to us in the living room, where he just wept and wept for his brother. Chris and I did our best to comfort him, but it is so hard because it hurts so badly. When one of our kids is upset, it’s as though the wind is knocked out of us and there’s no way for us to catch our breath. For me, it starts with a knot that begins to form at the top of my stomach.  I have to speak to my body to get it to calm down and not head into full fledge panic mode. Anxiety is something that has tried  to creep up on me constantly. It is the worst at night, when all else around me is silent. The more quiet my surroundings are, the more nagging and forceful it becomes. I’ve been doing my best to make my mind think about something good, but this is never an easy feat. I, eventually, fall asleep from the utter exhaustion that follows every battle in my mind. 
It’s so far from over.
Seeing our children hurting is like experiencing the loss of Christiano over and over and over again. All a mom wants is for her babies to be alright; to have absolute peace and ultimate joy. And, all Chris and I have ever wanted, as parents, is for our kids to know God and to experience a wonderful life in Him. We have always trusted God to provide that for them, and we believe that somehow He is still doing just that. 
It’s so far from over, and life is messy. We went from being whole to feeling broken – from being full to feeling so empty. This isn’t the life we wanted… Not by a landslide. 
But, life.
 It’s so far from over. 
And God has a plan for us.