Monday, November 24, 2008

Transforming Relationships

As I reflect on Scott's birthday (see previous post), I remember how I feel when people ask, “Wasn’t Scott’s birthday in November?” I often feel like responding with, "Yes, Scott’s birthday was, is and always will be November 23rd." Just because he died young, does not mean his birthday ceases to exist for those of us who remain.

So, yesterday we spent the day together as a family – Tony and I, our daughter, Amy, and her husband Jeff, and their children - Scott’s niece and nephews, Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack. I love what Amy told one of her friends recently. “We share Uncle Scott stories all the time. We talk about our memories of him so much in the presence of Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack, that they really feel as if they knew him.” Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack adopt our memories and make them their own as they cherish the only relationship they will have with their Uncle Scott, this side of eternity.

Our day began early yesterday, as we sat bundled up in the chilly November fog to watch Kyle’s soccer team soundly win their final game of the Selma Turkey Shoot tournament. Kyle’s commentary on their win: “I really kept my head in the game!” Pretty impressive for a six year old! Kyle loves to play goalie, following in his Uncle Scott’s footsteps.

Then we all went out for a special birthday lunch. Jack noticed the pin I wear on my jacket this time of year. I wear it to keep Scott’s memory close to my heart. Jack’s four-year-old mind was busy as he fingered the pin and ran his hand repeatedly over the photo of Uncle Scott. Then Jack asked me, “Who is his wife?” I explained that Scott was not married because he died young. Jack asked, “How many was he?” I told him that Uncle Scott was only sixteen years old when he died. To which Jack replied, with a sweet tilt of his head and an expression that showed deep empathy, “Oh, that’s not much.”

No, that’s not much. But as one who has walked this road of grief for almost 13 years I have learned many things about experiencing peace with loss. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of my griefwork is that I have not let go of the relationship I have with Scott. I am Scott’s mom – I am, I was, and I always will be. Scott is my sixteen-year-old son. Although “that’s not much,” I have many memories.

The reality of Scott’s absence is heartbreaking at times. The solace I find is in the continued relationship I have with him. I know he is not here – I don’t “talk” to him or “see” him just around the corner. I have transformed our relationship from one of presence to one of memory. Scott is a part of me, and even though I must wait to physically hold him once again, I treasure the memories deep within that keep the relationship with my son precious and real.

May I encourage you - whatever your loss - as we enter the holiday season? Share stories and speak of memories as you gather together. Give those who grieve with you the joy of speaking the name once again, and allow those who have come after to know the loved one you so dearly miss, especially at these family times. I know the stories may bring tears to your eyes, but I firmly believe they will be a comfort to your soul.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November 23

Ten days past my due date -
I just finished our Thanksgiving meal
when I felt the first pangs of childbirth.

After sixteen hours of labor,
Scott William Redfern came into our world -
November 23, 1979.

For sixteen hours I labored to birth him into our family -
Only son . . . only sibling . . . only grandson.

Sixteen hours of labor reaped sixteen years of life.
Today it seems as if those long sixteen hours eclipse
the short sixteen years of life on earth.

Today, Scott, you would be thirty-two.
I strain to picture you as a man
but all I see is your boyish smile.

It is once again November -
and I am once again feeling the pangs of childbirth.

How I long to hold you, my son.
How I long to cradle you in my arms,
to kiss you and tell you how hard it is to once again wait to see you.

How I, too, long to be born again into that glorious eternal rest
where you and I shall be reunited together - forever.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seven Cows

Many centuries ago in the land of Egypt there lived a Pharaoh who had strange dreams.

One night this Pharaoh dreamt he was sitting on the shore of the Nile River. Suddenly, a herd of seven plump, attractive cows came out of the water and began to eat the lush grassy reeds along the banks.

Then, another herd of seven cows came out of the Nile. But these seven cows were thin, very ugly and poorly fed, not at all like the first seven cows. To Pharaoh’s surprise, these skinny cows did not begin eating the lush grassy reeds. They walked feebly over to the seven plump cows and DEVOURED all seven of them!

When Pharaoh awoke, he was disturbed by this dream. He called for his magicians and wise men, but they could not interpret his dream. Then he called for a young Hebrew man named Joseph.

Joseph, with wisdom from God, explained to Pharaoh that the cows in his dream represented years. The plump and attractive cows stood for seven good years of plenty and pleasure. The seven thin and ugly cows symbolized seven bad years of want and hunger.

Then Pharaoh asked about the strange ending to his dream, recorded in his own words in Genesis 41. “And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning.”

Joseph explained that the ending of this dream indicated that the seven needy years would be so terrible that when they came, it would be difficult to remember the seven years of plenty.

You may be thinking, "Why is Bonnie sharing about “Seven Cows?"

Thanksgiving is just a week away; I recognize that I need to do a little preparation for the season. I’m not talking about cleaning the house or baking pies. Thanksgiving seems a perfect time to evaluate my perspective on the years of my life. You know, is my glass half empty or half full? Is my life skinny or plump?

I remember a time in my life when I was emotionally and spiritually “thin.” My mother passed away. My father became estranged from us. I focused so much on my pain that I could not see past the sorrow and abandonment to remember the wonderful childhood and loving relationships I shared with my parents for 40-some years. My friend and wonderful counselor reminded me of Pharaoh’s dream. She gently said, “Bonnie, don’t let the skinny cows devour the fat cows.”

I think of Pharaoh’s dream often . . . especially at Thanksgiving. I’m asking God to bring to mind the “plump years” in my life. I want to recall God's faithfulness. I want to remember His promises. I want to redeem the future. Most of all, I want to glorify Him and draw others into His Kingdom as they see a joyful heart of thanksgiving and praise.

May your skinny years

not devour your fat years.

And may you and your family

have a “plump” Thanksgiving –

filled with memories of God’s faithfulness

through the years.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fifty-Six Years

Today I am fifty-six years old! I remember as a child thinking someone in their fifties was seriously getting up there - not many more years left for them on this earth. Now, from the other side of that half-century mark, I believe old is what one chooses to be.

Tony and I were watching the morning news show this morning and someone his age was being interviewed. The man on the television looked much older than Tony. In a slightly worried voice, Tony asked, "Do I look as old as he does?"

Age is really what one makes of it. I think it is not the number of years that matter; it is the spirit of one's soul. I have a friend who is 96 years young. Each Sunday he is out on the church steps, leaning on his walker, greeting all who come. Each Wednesday night he sits as a "listener" to hear AWANA kids recite their Bible verses.

So on this my fifty-sixth birthday, I want to reflect on my life tenets, those values that guide my life and really determine the age of my soul:

There can be no reconciliation without invitation. I will be a person who invites.

Every relationship is worth restoring. I will freely offer forgiveness.

Nothing can thwart the will of God; not even the tragic events of this fallen world. I will trust in His perfect will.

In every situation in life, I have a choice; I can be destroyed by it or transformed by it. I will choose to be transformed.

The will of God will never take me where the grace of God cannot hold me. I will rest in His grace.
I want to keep a young soul for all of my days. I want to glorify God, people His Kingdom, and leave a godly legacy for my grandchildren.

May they remember me as a woman who loved God, valued peace, bestowed grace, always forgave, and brought comfort to those who grieve.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November Chill

Autumn . . . I have always loved Autumn . I suppose as a child this partiality came as I celebrated my birthday in November. But as childhood gave way to adulthood, I became aware of other reasons for my love of this season.

Autumn brings orange, red and yellow leaves which adorn the trees around us as the air begins to cool. I am ready for jeans and sweaters, scarves and gloves, and cups of hot coffee on chilly days. I even look forward to “falling back” an hour as the early darkness brings the family indoors for longer evenings together.

Autumn brings Thanksgiving which has long been my favorite holiday, with the aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin; the expressions of gratitude and contentment; and our home filled with love for family and friends.

But now, Autumn brings a chill to my inner soul. I sense with every fiber of my being that my emotional world is entering a cold, dark season of grief. Just as the temperatures outside fall and the hours of sunlight decrease, my heart begins to make changes as autumn envelopes my heart.

I still enjoy the brilliant colors in the orchards around our valley. I love to wear my jeans and sweaters. But as the fall days continue to accumulate and usher in November, I recognize the hole in our family and in my heart. (Read Scott’s story)

You see, we celebrated Scott’s birthday in November, too. He would be twenty-nine this year on the 23rd. And then comes Thanksgiving, when Scott is again undeniably missing. He loved to help cook and prepare for our celebration. I remember the year HE made the pies!

November gives way to December and the traditions surround our celebration of Christmas. And, it seems that every store I enter, every radio station I tune in, is playing that song . . . “I’ll be home for Christmas . . .” and it rips at my heart.

In six short weeks after Christmas, we remember the day Scott went home to be with the Lord. And then . . . even in the midst of winter, my heart begins to feel a thaw, a warmth that again there will be a spring.

“Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” I Thessalonians 4:17

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scott's Story

The winter of 1996 will never be forgotten by two California families. One will remember with extreme joy; my family, with profound grief.
After receiving mushrooms that had been gathered in the hills near San Francisco in early February, 1996, a mother used the harvest in the family supper. Within hours of ingesting the mushrooms, she and her three children became extremely ill. Examination of the mushrooms revealed they were highly toxic. With massive doses of antibiotics, the woman and her two sons began to show improvement. But the 13-year-old daughter’s health rapidly deteriorated and her liver began to fail. She was placed on the emergency transplant list. Death was eminent.
At last, the family finally received news that a donor match was found for their daughter. That evening, the young girl underwent a transplant graft; one half of a healthy liver was attached to her failing liver. Within days, her liver regenerated, and she eventually made a complete recovery.
About two-hundred miles away, in Reedley, a small community in central California, on the morning of February 5th, my teenage son, Scott, made a grave mistake in the woodshop at his high school. An accomplished woodworker already at the young age of sixteen, he placed a wood file between a tool brace and the oak tabletop which was spinning on the face-plate of a lathe. The file jammed and the tabletop shattered. Pieces of oak became projectiles in the woodshop. One 14-inch piece of wood hit Scott directly in the face.
Our family was forced to contend with the realities of sudden death. After 30 hours on life support, Scott was declared brain dead. Our family made decisions we never could have imagined – to have our precious sixteen-year-old son became an organ donor.
On February 7th, Scott’s liver, heart, kidneys and pancreas were removed to be donated. That evening, a representative from the California Transplant and Donor Network told us some preliminary information regarding the value of of decision. Although no identifying information was given, the representative noted that Scott's liver went to a young girl in the San Francisco area, who was near death after ingesting poisonous mushrooms.
I will never forget the winter of 1996. I remember it with profound grief.
The evening of February 7th, just twenty-four hours after we said goodbye to our son, my husband and I lay awake; the late night news droned on in front our sleepless eyes. We watched as cameras focused on a helicopter landing on the roof of University Medical Center in San Francisco. Physicians stepped out with a small ice chest, and the news commentator said, “A liver match has been found for the young girl who ingested the poisonous mushrooms.” We watched with disbelief as our son’s liver was carried in that small ice chest to be transplanted into another human being.
After hours of surgery, the news carried the excitement of the girl’s father. “Our prayers have been answered.” My husband spoke the words that hung in our hearts, “And our prayers were not.”
Their family joyously celebrated the tremendous gift of life for their only daughter, only sister. Our family tearfully grieved the inconceivable loss of our only son, only brother.
In the days and weeks that followed Scott’s death, I had nowhere to turn except to my faith in God and His precious Word. It was there that I could take my tears and found that He keeps them all in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). It was there that I felt Him draw near to me as I was brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
I continue to carry this treasure of darkness (Isaiah 45:3) and ask God to show me how I can use my loss for His glory. It is my prayer that through this blog, Redeeming the Future, I can share some of the lessons I learn as I walk this journey of grief; that I can companion others who may feel lost; and that together we can discover pathways through difficult times.

Scott William Redfern
November 23, 1979 – February 6, 1996