Temporary Home

As I sat having lunch in the park with my husband, Carrie Underwood’s song “Temporary Home” came on the radio. It always makes me cry when I hear it. It’s such a beautiful song, one more of hope than loss. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it, I urge you go do so now.

I can relate with this song on so many levels. I feel like my husband and I have been living a “temporary life” for so many years that it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to be settled in a home of our own. On top of that, since Jason died, I have been so incredibly aware of how temporary things here on earth are – friendships, life, happiness, health, etc. – and that this world definitely is not my ultimate home. I long to see my precious boy again, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will see him again one day.

This world is just my temporary home.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

A Place to Call Home

On Inauguration Day 1993, Seattle was hit with one of the strongest windstorms ever to hit the area. Winds reached Category 1 hurricane level at one point, and a tree fell on the house we were renting. I previously wrote about this storm in my post, “Of Falling Trees and Such.”

Following that dramatic event, we immediately had to move out of the house we were renting (since it was too damaged to continue living in), put our things in storage (I didn’t realize this would be the theme of my life!), and stayed with friends while we looked for a house to buy. Interest rates had gone down to a place where we felt we could afford to purchase a house. While Joe went to work, the kids and I looked at house after house with a realtor. In particular, I remember a house with red shag carpeting on the walls in the basement, among many others. We made an offer on a house, only to have it fall through on inspection. Other offers were topped by higher offers on several occasions. It was a tough market to find something close in so Joe wouldn’t have to drive too far to work.

At one time during this journey, I entered a poem in a contest sponsored by local Christian radio station about “what makes a house a home,” winning awesome mini blinds for our entire home. Since we didn’t actually have a home at the time, the company granted our request to hold onto our win until we actually had a home. It was a tremendous encouragement at the time to have that hope to hold onto, that we would actually have a home one day.

As spring began to turn into summer, we took a break from house hunting. We drove to Southern California so we could take the kids to Disneyland and then went to Colorado to see Joe’s folks. From there, Joe flew back to Washington to work, rented an apartment for us to live in while we looked for a place to live, and I drove on to the Midwest to visit family in various locales over the summer. In the fall, I drove back to the Seattle area so we could begin our house hunting again. We ended up purchasing a lot and having a house built. And, yes, one of the first things I did when the house was complete was to order our mini blinds.

Years later, I ran across a list I had made very early on in that journey that contained things I really wanted in a home. I had forgotten that I had written down such a list early in our search and was surprised how many things on that list were part of the home we had built. I loved and miss that house, not so much for the house itself, but for the time we spent in it with our family. It was our home.

I woke up this morning with an urgency to find a house to buy. As in 1993, interest rates once again are at a historic low and will not remain that way for long. We need to do all we can to make our limited resources work for us.

We have been without a home of our own since 2010 and the few things we have left have been in storage since then. Through various circumstances, we have lived in furnished rentals in Florida and North Carolina (without really even owning any house possessions, such as couches or even our own beds or pots and pans), but have really wanted – and have pursued such over the years – to purchase our own home to live out the rest of our lives. It’s time. Our latest drama has left us exhausted.

So, once again I will make a list again for what will probably be our final home purchase: small house or quiet townhome with low HOA fees in a place with interesting things to do, a place relatively close to family, reasonable price, not too large or too small, not too crowded next to other houses, one level or possibly two, cozy, 2-3 bedrooms with one I can use for an office for my writing and research (I was working on a series of posts for this blog, research now in storage, when we had to move out of our last place), 2 – 2 1/2 baths with a walk in shower in the master (no soaking tub to clean!), lots of sunshine that comes in the windows, hardwood floors, an updated kitchen with plenty of storage and counter space (and a gas stove, if possible), and a small backyard with a patio or screened-in porch. Not too much to ask for, is it?

Home. I long to be finally at home in our own house with our own furnishings. We’ve been making do for far too long. I just don’t know where “home” is any more or where we fit. Joe and I talk about different places and then one of us says to the other, “What’s there for us?” And the other of us says, “I don’t know.” We’re discouraged. We honestly don’t know where we fit or belong. That makes it difficult to know where to buy a house.

We also are constrained by our income. Once I retire, my income drops considerably. Because I homeschooled the kids for so many years and didn’t work during that time, I have a lot of years when I didn’t contribute to Social Security or any retirement plan. I wouldn’t have missed the time with my kids for anything in the world, but the reality we live with now is that we have less to live on in retirement. Joe’s also income dropped precipitously after Jason’s death, so his pension and Social Security are quite a bit less than they would have been had he worked full-time until he was 65 or so.

It’s amazing how secondary losses come into play following the death of a child and how many things and for how long the death of a child can touch. I can honestly say our current situation is at least in part a result of Jason’s death and our brokenness from losing our precious son, and the decisions we made in and based on that brokenness. It is what it is and we have to make the best decisions we can on what we have and where we are now.

Both Joe and I truly struggled incredibly following Jason’s death. We still do. We have always been a positive and optimistic people, but we are discouraged and tired of this journey. It has been hard to find hope. My heart longs to be at home, a place to rest our broken hearts and hopefully find some peace, but I don’t know if we will truly find it until we join Jason in our ultimate home in heaven.

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to look for a place to call home.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Home

IMG_1489They’re building a new house behind the office where I work. As I looked out the window this morning while waiting for my coffee to brew, I realized that it made me nostalgic for the time we had our house built in Washington. It was a fascinating and exciting experience watching our home come together from a piece of raw land to the finished product.  Not everything went perfectly, as things rarely do, but we were thrilled to watch it going together and even more thrilled when it was complete.

We built our house after a tree fell on the house we were renting. It was quite a journey and nearly two years between the falling tree and moving into our newly-built home. We had stayed with a couple of friends for a while, looked and looked and looked for a house, made an offer on one house that fell through, moved a family of 5 into a small apartment while still having most of our belongings in storage.

images-1At one point in the journey, I was very discouraged. It didn’t seem like we were ever going to find a place to call home. Right around that time, a local radio station just happened to sponsor a poem contest in conjunction with the home show that was going on at the Kingdome. The poem had to be something that reflected the true meaning of the word “home.” I thought, “If there’s something I know (after all we had been through), it’s what the true meaning of a home is.”

imagesI wish I had kept a copy of that poem. It was something about a home being more than the sum of its walls and doors. The poem won second prize, which was high-quality, custom mini blinds for the winner’s whole house. We didn’t have a house at that point, but it gave me hope. I knew that, whenever and wherever we found a home, I had won mini blinds for it!! I felt like God had heard my prayer for a home of our own and this was sort of a down payment on that home-to-be. I called the radio station to let them know we didn’t have a house quite yet, and they and the mini blind company were gracious enough to extend the deadline to claim the prize. One of the first things I did when we moved in was to order our mini blinds!

A few years ago, I found my “wish list” for a house that I had written not long after we had to move out of the tree-damaged rental and early in our house search. It was amazing to look at that list and realize that our Washington house had hit every single thing I had written on that list. No wonder it felt so much like home to me.

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I’ve driven by our home a couple of times when I’ve been in Washington. I still think of it as our home. It looks much the same, with only the trees and shrubs taller. The neighbor told us that the “new” owners have paved the driveway. I wonder if our names are still in the concrete where we wrote them in the wet cement of the just-poured foundation.

When we were back in Washington for Christmas recently, we had lunch at the pizza place owned by our former neighbors. It’s interesting to me that every single member of that neighboring family still refers to the house as “your house.” We sold the house over 12 years ago. We’ve been told quite a few comments such as, “They taking good care of your house for you,” and “They paved the driveway up to your house.” I guess we’re not the only ones who still think of it as our home.

That-House-was-a-Perfect-House-Tolkien-Quote-Free-Printable-Hand-Drawn-Artwork-from-The-Inspired-RoomI’ve written about what our journey has been since we sold that house, how difficult it was for me to leave Washington and how unsettled and “home-less” (not “homeless”; “home-less” – without a home) I have felt since then. The small one-bedroom apartment we now rent simply doesn’t feel like home. It’s dark; it doesn’t get much sunshine because of the trees surrounding it. None of the furnishings belong to us. A lot of our belongings are still housed in boxes. It’s temporary. Asheville, in general, feels less like home to us since our daughter and her husband moved away, too.

I miss the house that we built in Washington mainly for the reason that it felt like home to me, something I haven’t felt for a very long time, not since we moved from there. It felt like my haven. It was a place filled with sunshine and baking and projects and laughter and game-playing and studying and traditions and friends and family. It was the home filled with the beautiful, sunshine-y presence of our precious Jason. Those were the things that made that house our home.

I miss that true feeling of being “at home.” I don’t know where that is or how to find that feeling again, but I hope to find it some day.

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” – Thomas Jefferson

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Missing my boy, today and always.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

A New Year

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Surveys regularly show up on my Facebook. You know the kind – what will your tombstone read, what color is your aura, what color best matches your personality, can you pass an 8th grade science test? I rarely respond to them or to those “do something or other and pass this on and good luck will come back to you” kinds of things. Sometimes, though, I take a survey just out of curiosity.

This one (above) came up yesterday. I clicked on it and this is the response I got – “This year will be your year. 2017 has given you a hard time, but you stayed strong through it. All your hard work and kindness will bear fruit this year.” My response on Facebook is written at the top of the photo.

I don’t give these things much weight at all, and I don’t give much weight to this one, but I have to admit it got it right that 2017 has been a tough year. Not nearly as tough as the year Jason died. Absolutely nothing could compare to that year by a long shot.

But, there were a couple of things in 2017 that hit me hard, went deep, and profoundly affected me. Both times, I felt like the actions of others hit me in vulnerable places, weaker places in this facade I have carefully pieced together following Jason’s death.

I feel like I put forth a facade, one that protects people from seeing this broken person that hides behind it and protects me from being hurt again. I’ve gotten the impression over the years that people are uncomfortable with my grief and with brokenness, an impression that specifically goes back to the way people reacted to us after Jason died.  I learned how to answer the question, “How many children do you have?” and many more things that only a parent who has had a child die has to deal with. I think a lot of parents who have lost a child would agree that they have to hide the depth of their grief in order to make it palatable to those around them. I recognized this early on and put up a facade to deal with it.

An empty shellThese events in 2017 felt like arrows that went straight through that facade, shot right into my soul, piercing the facade so that it all broke away, leaving only emptiness. I felt like a shell with nothing left inside and nothing on the outside to protect me, like one of those canoes that are stood on end to be used as bookshelves, except without the shelves or anything else in it. Empty. I can’t tell you how many times this year I stood in the shower or sat up during the night crying. I feel things deeply – I always have – and these events went deep. I don’t complain a lot about what I’m going through and I don’t let people see the pain in my heart. I don’t let people close to me. The thing about being vulnerable and allowing people to get close to you is that they can hurt you. They can shoot arrow that goes right into your heart. I guess that’s why I tend to be so guarded.

I wrote this in my journal following one of the painful 2017 events:

I trusted you with my broken heart,

this heart shattered by pain I still cannot bear.

Intentionally and carefully, you shot your arrow

of words straight at my broken heart.

You knew my pain and brokenness, yet you shot anyway.

Your words – that single arrow – cut through the

thin veneer that holds me together.

Deep into my broken heart it went,

tearing  pieces I have worked so hard to mend and

damaging places before not broken.

You have had your say, you have let the arrow fly.

You move on, thinking I should get over it and do the same.

 

I am broken. I am weary. I am an empty shell.

I feel more deeply and heal more slowly than before.

There are so many things I wish I could do over,

things I wish I could change.

The person I was is so different than the person I now am.

I don’t know how to fix this one, this broken mess that I am.

Once strong, now forever broken.

Things once right, now forever wrong.

The people closest hold the most power to hurt.

I have had to guard my broken heart so carefully.

I trusted and let my guard down and you have hurt me.

Too much pain, too much loss, too much broken trust.

People have not been kind with my shattered heart.

It takes an infinite amount of kindness to make up for the sheer lack of it.

It gets harder each time to get up again and keep on trying.

 

The children’s rhyme says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words will never break me.”

But it’s not true.

I don’t think people realize how much energy it takes to rebuild a life following the death of a child. Some people have more tools to accomplish this task a little easier than others, but it is by no means an easy task for any parent. Piece by piece, carefully searched for. Pieces that are missing, never to be found. It all takes so much time and energy. I don’t think people realize that, once your life has been so badly and deeply shattered, that it’s not that unusual for difficult things to break or to shatter and scatter some of those pieces once again.

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I had put so much energy into putting myself back together following Jason’s death. Then we left Seattle and moved to Oklahoma. To this day, no one could convince me that for me, personally, this was not a really bad move. It took me away from a place that Jason loved and from places where I felt connected to him, from familiar things, from our daughter, from our son and grandson, from the only true friend I had in the world. I felt like so much of the hard work I had invested into “moving forward” was gone, only to leave me many steps backwards. I went into survival mode. I pulled my protective shield around me and merely existed, an empty shell once again. For years, I merely existed. Driving home from work one day after living nearly three years in Oklahoma, I realized I felt absolutely no connection there. I really had no friends and hadn’t tried to make any. I really liked our house, but I never felt at home there. I hated Oklahoma. There’s a big difference between living in a house and living in a place that is home. I have never felt “at home” since we sold our house in Snohomish, “got rid of” so many things that made our house a home, and moved from the Seattle area.

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When we moved to North Carolina, I worked again at putting myself back together. And now, once again, I’m working on putting pieces of my life back together. I keep trying – and have been trying since Jason died – to put the pieces back together, but so many of them are missing or broken beyond use. It’s not an easy task. These two events from 2017 really took a toll on me. As 2017 rolled into 2018, I sat and pondered the year ahead. I want to have a healthy life, a life of purpose, a life that means something – if only I could figure out how to do that, really do that. I really, truly want this to be a year of healing, of meaning, of purpose, of good things for Joe and me and for our family. I want this to be a year when I can finally feel at least somewhat at home somewhere. They say hope springs eternal. As I said in my Facebook post, one can only hope.

My most sincere hopes and prayers for each of you for a good year ahead.

Hugs,

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

An Alternate Life

fullsizeoutput_c607My husband and I recently celebrated our 41st anniversary. It hardly seems possible we have been married that long. We look so young, in love, and full of hope in this picture. In our wildest dreams or our worst nightmares, we never could have imaged the journey we have have been required walk these past fifteen years.

As our daughter and I were recently discussing our upcoming anniversary,  I told her that I feel like I should be in my 40’s instead of celebrating our 41st anniversary. The fact of the matter is that, in some ways, I feel that the world stopped and has been somewhat frozen in time since Jason died. I feel like I should be around 46 years old, the age I as when Jason died. It seems like Jenna should be around 17 and Eric in his 20’s. It feels like Jason should be coming home. It feels like Michael should be just little guy,  sitting at my kitchen table playing with homemade play doh. It feels like I should be looking forward to our kids getting married, to the birth of our grandchildren, to being involved in our grandkids’ lives, showering them with love as only a grandma can, taking them on wonderful adventures and making awesome crafts with them. It feels like there are things that are supposed to happen that never will. It feels like the hope I had for the future has changed so much I can’t see it, I don’t feel it. It feels like I am living the wrong life.

Have you ever watched one of those movies or TV shows where the characters somehow get trapped in another dimension or parallel world? Things are similar, but nothing is the same. The trajectory of their lives has changed. The characters know that they are not supposed to be in this alternate world; they know they have to get back to their real, true lives. Throughout the whole movie or TV show, the characters are trying to figure out a way to go back to the lives they are supposed to be living. They just want to go home.

At times, that’s what it feels like to me. I want to go home, one where all is right with the world, where my kids are all happy and healthy. There is an alternate life I should be living, one where Jason is alive and doing all the things he was supposed to do – hanging out with us, graduating from college, getting married, having kids.

It feels like I should be living a life where Jason is alive. It feels like I should be living in a home I love, one that truly feels like home, a home where our children and grandchildren can walk in the door at any time for any reason to a home full of love and laughter. It is a life where a wonderful young lady marries into our family and is so happy to be a part of our family, a young lady who is a wife to our son and mother to our grandchildren, one who appreciates and cultivates a loving and caring relationship between the family of his childhood and the family of his adulthood.

It is a life where I am connected, one full of family and friends, instead of a life of aloneness. It is a life full of joy and happiness, instead of one always with a shadow of grief. It is a life where I feel truly alive, instead of where part of me is missing. It is a life of hope for better things ahead, instead of one with intimate knowledge that none of us are immune from pain and disaster.

I am living the life I now have to the best of my abilities, this life left to me after the death of our precious son. I live and love and work, but it still doesn’t seem like this is really, truly my life. It is a paler shade of world than the vibrant one that used to be before Jason died. I am a paler version of the person I used to be.

After Jason died, someone gave me a note that said the world was a little less bright now that he was gone. Jason was pure sunshine – loving, caring, kind; an awesome son, brother, friend, person. How could this world be anything else but a pale version of the one that used to be?

You read about or hear bereaved parents say that, after a child dies, they feel like they should wake up from this nightmare. The horror of that nightmare fades some as time goes by, but it never truly goes away. It softens into a recognition that this alternate reality is now the one we have to live. The world we previously knew is gone. We can never go back to the life that once was, the world that once was. I miss that world. I miss my life. I miss my boy.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****

*http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+29%3A11&version=NIV

**http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13%3A12&version=NIV

***http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

****http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+13&version=NIV

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney