<![CDATA[Kim Findlay - A Big Umbrella - blog]]>Sat, 17 Feb 2018 17:23:00 -0600Weebly<![CDATA[Lessons From Emma's Life: Jesus has Enough]]>Mon, 30 Jan 2017 06:01:30 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2017/01/lessons-from-emmas-life-jesus-has-enough.html
I had great plans for this month. January is Emma’s birthday month and I planned to share a myriad of Emma stories and lessons I learned from her five years of life.

But something else happened. Something I didn’t fully expect, even though this dance of grief and hope has been the rhythm of my life for quite some time.
Remembering Emma hurt. Looking at her baby picture and the few snapshots that were saved from the fire pressed into the most tender parts of my mama’s heart, and it hurt.

Sometimes looking at her smiling face makes me feel sad, nostalgic, even. I long to see her, to hold her, to clutch her tight . . . but
those feelings don’t always cut me to the core like it did this year.

This year, remembering hurt. A lot. So I did what I’ve learned is best: I tended to my pain-filled heart. I created space to be near those who love me well, to weep as I thought about all I lost, and simply sat still, allowing the gracious comfort of our loving Father wash over those bruised places . . . again.

But there was a moment as I sat looking at her baby picture where I wondered if Jesus ever got tired of me feeling sad, if he ever got frustrated as I traveled back to the deepest hurt and asked him to comfort my mama’s heart one more time.

I would. Well, sometimes I do, get frustrated I mean. That those memories sneak in and wreak havoc on my peace. That those words, said out of spite and pain, still chip away at my hope. That I still feel irritated when the world doesn’t slow down and allow me room to grieve. Again.

As I sat in the stillness of sorrow, I began to realize my irritation was actually rooted in fear. Fear that somehow, at some point, I might come to the end of my comfort quota Jesus set for me. That if he saw just one more tear, it would send him over and he’d throw up his hands and say . . . That’s enough!

I stayed in that place for a bit last week. I faced that fear and asked God to reveal His truth in its midst because I knew he was good. My head told me that what I felt was a lie, but I didn’t know how to line my feelings up with the truth I knew.

So I invited Him into that moment, and He answered with a sweet memory from my precious girl’s life.

Emma developed jaundice soon after she was born. The solution? Light therapy. The problem? I kind of freaked out. 

We were able to treat her at home through what I affectionately called “the suitcase”, but only if we kept 24-hour watch so she didn’t squirm her way down where the light could hit and damage her eyes.


I was hormonal. Exhausted. Weary. Frustrated. And scared. A horrible recipe to go into pulling an all-nighter or two.

There came a moment when I arrived at the end of myself. The end of my strength, my sanity, my control. It was the middle of the night, that darkest moment, and Emma wouldn’t stop crying. I was exhausted and my heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest as I longed to snuggle her close. I felt helpless and scared and unsure. That’s when I cried out to Jesus.

I remember praying for Emma’s dad when he suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after we were married. After surviving the initial attack, there was still danger of his brain swelling. I remember praying and picturing Jesus sitting beside him, gently stroking the top of his head, much like a mother does to calm her child during a bad dream. My prayer was answered and the swelling subsided.

I thought since Jesus answered my prayer before, he might hear my prayer for Emma, as well.

So I prayed. Again. In my mind’s eye, I pictured Jesus in our rocking chair, gently rocking Emma and snuggling her close. I prayed as peace poured over my newborn and God calmed her fears. I prayed for comfort, for calm, and for rest.

I prayed, but in all honesty, I begged. I begged God for an abundance of healing and comfort for Emma, for my family, for those I loved.

It was as I begged God for comfort that I felt a stirring in my heart. As I pictured Jesus rocking her and she began to calm down, I sensed Him say . . . there’s enough here for you, too. 

Seventeen years have passed since that moment and I still remember the swell of hope and uncertainty that clutched at my heart. 

But if I rested, who would watch over everyone?

I will.

If I stopped praying, who would protect my baby?

I will.

If I sat down and closed my eyes, what would happen if something else bad occurred? Who would see it?

I will.

I was so used to caring for others that I wasn’t sure how to accept his peace and comfort for myself. In that darkest night, I wondered if there would be enough comfort for both me and my little baby. And it was in that darkest night where I sensed God’s whisper there is enough. 

Enough space. Enough comfort. Enough love.

God reminded me of this precious lesson through the life of my little girl last week. Instead of throwing his hands up in disgust as he saw my tears again, twelve years after my sweet girl died, he opened them wide and declared I have enough.

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.” Lamentations 3:22, NLT

“You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.” Psalm 71:21, NLT

“The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins.” Isaiah 51:3a, NLT

“God bless those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4, NLT

<![CDATA[Lessons from Emma's Life: On Love]]>Sun, 15 Jan 2017 05:08:56 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2017/01/lessons-from-emmas-life-on-love.html
Does love end with the final breath?

Does it stop when one no longer walks the earth?

This question twirls and spins about my mind of late. Not because I’m about to breathe my last. No, I’m thinking about my precious little girl, my Emma. Her birthday is near and thoughts of her life crowd my waking moments.
Her smile.

Her giggles.

Her squeezes.

Her love.

Did Emma’s love end when she closed her eyes at home that fateful March morning? Or in the hospital when the ventilator was removed? 

Did her love end when her body was lowered in the darkness of the earth, so near and yet so very far away from me?

I can almost feel the tightness of her hug as she wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed every ounce of love she could from her little body to mine.

Her love used to overwhelm me; it was so pure and unconditional. I made many mistakes as her mom, so many as I allowed frustration to win or irritation to speak. Yet somehow my little girl continued to shower me with hugs and kisses, squeezes and gifts.

And love wars. I love you bigger than . . . one of us would begin.

I love you bigger than a chocolate chip cookie. She giggled.

I love you bigger than our house. A smile.

I love you bigger than a giant. A wink.

I love you bigger than the sky. She paused and looked at me with the most serious face that would then break into her smile. Oh that smile. The one that she reserved for me, and for the ones she loved. Wow, Mommy, you got me there!

It then became my turn to giggle. If only she knew just how big my love for her really was.

How big it remains.

A friend texted me recently and shared an insight unnoticed to me before.

I love how God shows you His love for you through Emma.

How did I not see that?

Emma’s life was a gift, a precious and unexpected gift. We hadn’t planned on adding another child to our family. But God knew. He knew we needed to experience a love that surpasses life and death, a taste of love that lasts for eternity.

“Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love.” Psalm 119:159, NLT

But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know the day she came home from the hospital bundled tight and safe. I didn’t know the countdown began toward the moment she left a mere five years later.

I learned so much from her precious life. How love conquered fear and tickle fights were more fun when sleep was supposed to come. How sharing a chocolate cupcake made it taste better than eating it alone, and how a simple touch could convey what words sometimes could not.

The warmth of her body, covered in pink footy pajamas, snuggled next to me.

The feel of her fingers winding through my hair as sleep wooed her off to dreamland.

Her longing for love to win and her family to speak kind words to one another.

There was a season after she died when love escaped me. Or perhaps it scared me too much because the loss of Emma’s love shredded my heart. Grief chipped it away until my heart became so worn and bruised that love seemed too powerful to let near. What if love was lost again? Was it worth the risk of another broken heart?

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease!” Lamentations 3:22, NLT

Yet Emma loved so completely, so fully that her love followed me through the years since she died. A love that reached through the veil, that thin place between heaven and earth, and knit the broken pieces back together. A wisp of memory as the weight of her arms squeezed me tight. A whispered memory of I love you. The joy in her sister’s voice as a memory of Emma singing surfaced. Even the tears of longing to hold her close just one more time.

Yes, the pain of loss and grief cut deep, far deeper than I ever thought possible. To the marrow, I’ve read, but somehow I think it goes even deeper. Because love goes deeper. It surpasses time and lasts through eternity. Pure love born in the Creator’s heart and poured out into each of ours. Lavish, deep, and abiding love.

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” Ephesians 3:18, NLT

Emma’s life, in all its fullness, revealed a greater love that sustains me through my darkest days and rejoices with me in joy-filled moments.

So as the day of her birth draws near, I celebrate every minute I held her close. I embrace the greatest lesson my sweet girl’s life taught me - to risk the love because love is the greatest gift one can give another. Love that continues on far after the final breath was drawn.

Happy seventeenth birthday, sweet girl.

<![CDATA[Lessons from Emma's Life: Trusting God with our Pain]]>Wed, 04 Jan 2017 15:57:15 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2017/01/lessons-from-emmas-life-trusting-god-with-our-pain.html
She would have turned 17 this year.
I can’t imagine the length of her hair or the hue of her eyes anymore. The sound of her voice and things that would make her heart beat fast elude me, this sweet girl's mama. Would her face resemble mine or would age have morphed her into someone I never got to know?

 It’s been far too long since I last held her sweet frame, but I’ve learned so much since she breathed her last. Healing. Hope.  Redemption. Lessons about God’s character I may not have learned any other way, though I still would’ve chosen a different path for my life, for hers.
PicturePurple was her favorite color, can you tell?
But as her seventeenth birthday draws near, as January is the month her face appears as the backdrop to every thing my eyes rest upon, I want to share lessons I learned from Emma’s life, to celebrate her. To honor all she taught me during the one thousand eighty hundred and eighty-six days she danced upon this earth, those days she lived and breathed and giggled and loved.

I remember that moment her eyes fixed on mine in absolute trust. She trusted me, I knew that, but this time was different. This time her gaze was intense, focused, and clear. Trust peered out from the depths of her soul.

But I could see the pain, as well.

It was the fall of 2004. Emma played at our neighbor’s house, jumping on their trampoline. It was her day to be home with her daddy, and her big sister was there, too. I was at work when I got the call.

Emma broke her arm.

My heart dropped. I could hear her sobbing in the background as her brave big sister offered the details. 

Trampoline + big kids + little girl + too much bounce = broken arm.

I rushed to the hospital. Turned out the break required surgery and pins and strong medication. My poor girl. I stayed the night. I was present. I barely left her side. Loving her. Caring for her. Showering her with every ounce of love I had.

Weeks passed and her arm healed well. Maybe it was her youth or the strength and courage God poured into my little girl, but she quickly became accustomed to lugging that heavy cast around. It didn’t matter that it extended from the tips of her fingers up to her shoulder, she still managed to jump and play as if it wasn’t even there.

The day arrived when she would not only have her final cast removed, but the pins would be as well. I didn’t know what to expect. At this point Emma was a bit afraid of the doctor’s office. Simple x-rays brought fear to her little heart. So when we knew it was time for her to have the pins removed, I had to be there. I couldn’t stop her from experiencing the pain or prevent the feelings that swirled around her little mind, but I could comfort her and cheer her on.

Laying down on the exam bed, she spread her left arm away from her body as best she could. The drill started and her body stiffened. The sound broke my heart because I knew there was fear in her soul. I could see it in her eyes. Those precious hazel-green eyes that reflected my own.

I positioned myself so we were face to face.
She fixed her beautiful eyes right on my own.  As the drill sawed away the cast, I encouraged her Look at me, Emma. Keep looking here. It’ll be over soon. I held her other hand and and stroked her brow.

Oh how she stared in my eyes.
How she fixed her gaze firmly on mine. 

The saw finished its job and her arm was released from its bondage. She didn’t look at her arm, slightly afraid of what she might see, so she kept looking at me.

Twelve and a half years later and I can still feel the intensity of her gaze, the absolute trust that bubbled up from her soul. Her loving dependance that her mom would never leave her side.

The nurse explained that it was time to remove the pins. It might feel a little weird, a slight pulling, she explained. There might be a twinge of pain.

My sweet girl shifted her eyes from the nurse back to me . . .
stronger . . .  braver . . . because she knew I wouldn’t leave her. I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t no matter what. I whispered words of love over my precious daughter. 

I love you, Emma.

     You’re so brave.

          Keep looking at me.

               I’m here.

As I watched, I knew the moment she felt the pin move. Her bright eyes grew wider and tears welled up and began to spill.

I’m right here, Emma. You’re okay. It’ll be over soon.

If I could’ve taken that moment from her, I absolutely would have. I would have taken ever wince, every pain, every wisp of fear she felt.

But I couldn’t.

All I could do was stroke her hand, wipe her tears, smooth her hair, and tell her how much I loved her, how brave she was. All the while her eyes remained fixed on mine. I don’t remember if she ever blinked. I don’t remember if I did. Together we made it through, my sweet girl and me.

It felt like hours but the pins were removed in a matter of minutes. Once they were done and her wounds bandaged, I scooped her up in and snuggled her close. I told her how proud I was of her for enduring the pain. I told her how much I loved her.

Oh, to have her faith and rest in the trust she displayed.

That’s what she taught me that day --faith and trust when life hurts. Little did I know what lay on the horizon for us a few short months later. Little did I know the lesson God revealed to me through my little girl the day her pins were removed.

Months later, after fire destroyed our home and snatched my sweet girl’s life away, I, too, lay on a figurative doctor office’s table. The pain and sorrow, the fear and loss filled my soul. I didn’t know how I was going to survive this brokenness - the death of a child.

Sometime during those early days I found Hebrews 12:2. Found? No. God gifted this verse to me, to answer my question as I cried out in the pit of sorrow and grief.

How, Jesus? How will I survive without Emma? How will I survive this crushing weight of grief and sorrow? How? It hurts. It hurts more than anything Ive ever experienced in my life.

This is how He answered:

Fix your eyes on me, sweet one. I am the Author and Perfecter of your life, your faith, your story. Trust me. (paraphrased from Hebrews 12:2).

That verse became my anthem, my anchor, the truth that I clung to every time I felt my faith flounder and fear sweep over me.

Fix my eyes on Jesus.

There were days I did, and days I didn’t. Days I felt His presence so very near, and days I felt completely alone.

But then the memory flooded in . . . the memory of my sweet Emma’s eyes that day in the doctor’s office when she fixed her eyes on me, her mama, the one who loves her so. I was overwhelmed at the memory of her trust in me. As long as her eyes gazed at mine, she was okay. She winced and hurt, but I saw the strength grow deep within her soul.

As the memory of her trust in me flooded my soul, I, too, grew strength from Emma’s gaze and shifted my own to my loving Father through the gift of His precious Son.

I fixed my eyes on Jesus, just as Emma fixed her eyes on me. I stared deep into my Savior’s eyes and came to realize he was nearer than I had every imagined.

When I felt the blow of the Emma’s death and winced deep in my soul, He was there whispering words of love and comfort.

I’m here, sweet one. I love you. I’ll never leave you.

When I felt the crushing sorrow of life without Emma, He stroked my cheek and wiped my tears (Psalm 56:8).

When the pain felt like more than I could bear, He whispered words of encouragement.

Do not be afraid, I’m here (Deuteronomy 31:8) .

Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9).

I will never leave you. (John 14:16)

You have all of me, right here with you (Psalm 139:7-12).

Fix your eyes on me.

Twelve years have passed since that day Emma’s eyes gazed into mine. Her death taught me about the grace and mercy of our compassionate Father. The kindness of God overwhelms my heart as I realize He also taught me much through Emma’s life. A precious lesson and legacy of faith and trust in the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Of my faith, and hers.

I hope you’ll return next weeks as I continue to share lessons from Emma’s life.
<3 Kim

Me & my girl - Summer 2004
<![CDATA[Christmas, Hiding, and Hope]]>Thu, 22 Dec 2016 05:24:14 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2016/12/christmas-hiding-and-hope.html

I’ve decorated the tree for eleven years. Standing just under 3 ft, it’s adorned with white lights, pink and purple ornaments, butterflies, My Little Ponies, and may just be my favorite Christmas decoration. But it’s also the most difficult one to set out. This tree is filled with memories of a little girl who once twirled and danced and sent giggles reverberating throughout our home. It represents love and peace and hope, but it also reminds me of death and sorrow and loss.

My Emma tree. 
It’s curious how these feelings and truths dance together: love and loss, peace and sorrow, hope and death. I’ve come to realize that one does not fully exist without the other, and together they make a beautiful waltz. Emma’s death taught me that.

It took me quite some time to begin to learn the steps. During those early days after she died, all I could see was the pain and sorrow, all I had lost. That first Christmas was especially difficult. Trying to pretend it didn’t exist, I longed to hide from the displays of trees and presents, ignore the jolly music and joy-filled wishes. My heart was overwhelmed with sadness and grief, and I couldn’t see how it would ever change.

“I feel like my life will always be a life of sorrow. Of sadness. I don’t want to be sad all the time. I don’t want to be one whom people ignore because something bad happened.

I want to be filled with joy and peace. I want it to be real, not just words that I say. How is it possible that my tears will turn to laughing and my mourning to dancing? No matter what, Emma isn’t here with me anymore. I will never see her again this side of heaven. My precious little girl. I will never see her grow up. I’ll never hold her again.

Hope. Do I have hope? Dare I to hope? What if I get to heaven and Emma doesn’t remember me? There are so many questions in my mind - ones I know I won’t get answers to until the day I stand before you. Help my disbelief. Increase my faith.”  - excerpt from my journal on 11.26.2005, 10 months after Emma died

So that first Christmas we did the one thing that felt so un-Christmas, so anti-everything-we-knew: we booked a cruise to Mexico. But grief, of course, traveled along.

Hope felt far that year, an elusive gift just out of reach. We returned with tanned skin and still-broken hearts but something started to shift as the new year rang in. I began to learn a few steps of a bittersweet dance.

 “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. ‘Where have you put him?’ he asked them. They told him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Then Jesus wept.”  John 11:33-35, NLT

Tears on the face of God. Emma’s death will not be final. No, it is for the glory of God. How do I grieve with hope?

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again.”  John 11:25, NLT  - an excerpt from my journal on 03.09.2006, one year after Emma died.

Those words and that story ushered in a glimmer of hope. My gaze slightly shifted. Death would not have the final say, but that thought was still just a thought, wishful thinking, an uncertain wondering. As that first year gave way to the second, grief continued to weigh heavy. I didn’t know how to navigate the fear that crept in. 

As the calendar continued, I realized Christmas would come . . . again. I faced the truth that one of my greatest fears of celebrating another Christmas wasn't just about the holiday. With each year that passed, I lived further away from Emma. The desire to hide returned.

“I want to start living life in the present, instead of looking at the past. I do know one thing that scares me about that - Emma was alive in the past. If I stop thinking about the past, I feel like I lose a part of her all over again. That hurts too much.” - excerpt from my journal on 6.27.2006

I didn't want to leave her behind, but there was no way for me to stop the time from passing. There was no way to lessen that painful squeeze of my heart, the longing to hold her just one more time. I had to figure out how to embrace the pain and the hope, the love and the sorrow, otherwise I didn’t think I’d be able to survive.

I began to ask myself some questions. What if Christmas wasn’t about the dinner and decorations, the presents and parties, the past or even the loss? What if there was something more, a special gift for us, the very ones with broken hearts and tears that fill our eyes? What if there really was a way to embrace the sorrow and loss with the hope of this season, believing that the Kingdom of Heaven broke through and came to earth in the form of a baby, a baby who grew up to be the Savior of all?

Something happened as I searched for the answers to those questions —I found them. Not all of them right away, but as I opened myself up to the possibility that there was more to this life, even more to Christmas, I began to see things differently. And I began to heal.

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’” Lamentations 3:19-24, NLT

It’s been twelve Christmases of learning this dance — the suffering and remembering with the faith that God is who He says He is. I’m learning that Christmas isn’t about the festivities, it reminds us of His faithful love. The Son of God & Son of Man —Emmanuel, God with us; the one well acquainted with sorrow and grief. The man who wept when He saw the grief of His friends and came to seek and save the lost, being near to the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds.

I now love Christmas, even if tears stream down my cheeks as I remember a little girl who brought me such joy but whom I can no longer hug. This is the dance I choose to live, embracing the brokenness and sorrow gliding alongside the hope and love I find through Jesus, no longer longing to hide.

And this is why I decorate my Emma tree. To remember. To cry. And to hope. Always, to hope.

<![CDATA[on birthdays after the death of a child]]>Sat, 16 Jan 2016 00:24:42 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2016/01/on-birthdays-after-the-death-of-a-child.htmlPictureEmma Jo - age 4
My great-great-grandmother’s portrait hung in the university up until the Revolution. By then, the truth of their romance had been reduced to a simply fairy tale. And, while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.” - Grand Dame, Ever After

Tears fill my eyes every time the end of the movie, Ever After, rolls around. The point of my tears aren’t so much because Cinderella and her prince get to live happily ever after. No, it’s the words the Grand Dame shares in the final moments of the film:

The point is that they lived.

Every life is worth celebrating but so often we miss celebrating life when we stare in the face of death and grief.

My child died. 

Every time I meet someone new and they ask about my kids, I have to decide which number to share. Then comes the common follow-up question: how old are they now? Welcome to one of the top struggles of a grieving parent: how many children do you say you have? How much information are you up for sharing? Are your feelings in check with your tears tucked far enough away without one escaping down your cheek as you answer?

When I share my daughter died, the conversation often goes one of two ways: an abrupt halt as awkwardness stifles further discussion, or an unsteady tiptoe through the details as the one listening absorbs the shocking information.

Either way, I wish our words would drift back to the truth I’m learning to embrace: the point is that my daughter lived.

Today, more than other days, I celebrate this truth. Sixteen years ago today, my sweet Emma Jo took her very first breath. Yes, five years later, she breathed her last, gone much sooner than I ever imagined. But honestly? I don’t want to focus on her final breath or the years that have passed. For now I’ll tuck those sorrows away because today I want to celebrate her birth, her life, and the gift of being her mom.

Eleven years of birthdays without my sweet girl and I’m beginning to understand.

     This day will always be a tender dance between joy and sorrow . . .

                 but her birthday is still worth celebrating . . .

                        because she lived.

The thing about birthdays is wondering if this day somehow still counts. Is a birthday still a birthday after a child dies? Is today Emma’s sweet 16 or just an anniversary of the day she was born? If it is her birthday, how is it celebrated? Candles and cake? Ice cream and balloons? Or in awkward silence with the reality of her birth hidden quietly away in my heart?

As I look around at other moms celebrating their child’s special day, I long to do the same: to talk about her as much as other moms do. To share stories and memories and funny things she said or silly things she did. I want to share because while she may have died, the point is that she lived.

I’m learning to celebrate her life now as much I did when she walked beside me, hand snuggled safely in mine. I’m learning to embrace the broken dreams of years I’ve lost along with the precious moments we had with her breathing beside me.

God knew the number of days He set for my sweet girl, and each one was ordained by Him. Each moment. Each breath, including her last. God says He is up to something good and I trust Him to be faithful to His Word.

So today I celebrate my sweet Emma Jo. Her life is a gift, entrusted to me by a loving God. I celebrate every moment of her full and abundant life. I celebrate her tender faith as she believed God was always with her, just like He was with David when he faced Goliath. Emma danced and played and made huge messes. She twirled my hair as she drifted off to sleep and bounced out of bed in the morning ready for whatever fun the day held. She loved her family, unconditionally and completely. I celebrate her giggles and heart of compassion, sharing whatever she could with those in need especially if it included a chocolate chip muffin.

Because the point is that she lived.
<![CDATA[to those who stand in the gap]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 21:28:07 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2016/01/to-those-who-stand-in-the-gap4.htmlPicture

I wish you knew. 

I wish you really knew just how much you mean to us, those of you who stand in the gap when our worlds fall apart. I wish you knew how we, the ones with broken hearts and shattered dreams, those of us who feel like we’re losing ground with each breath, forgotten, and lost, I wish you knew how we really feel about you.

I wish you knew the comfort you bring by the offer of a hug, a smile, a tender word of encouragement. You may not feel like they’re much but to us? You are changing our world. You remind us that we’re not alone, that we’re not forgotten, that we still have value even as our lives crumble about us.

I wish you knew the strength you impart as you sit in our sorrow and pain as you hold our hands. Your presence is a treasured gift. No, you don’t take the pain away but you help make it bearable, endurable, even if for that moment. And truthfully? Our brains only work in moments right now. We struggle to see beyond this second, peering into tomorrow overwhelms our soul but when you sit and cry with us, you bring healing and hope. You show us that our tears are valid and our sorrow is real. When our world has been turned upside, we need help remembering what is right-side up. Your presence grounds us and restores dignity especially as you weep with us.

        “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2, NLT

I wish you knew how much it means when you pray. Something happens when you do that, something deep inside in that place even we can’t see and are often afraid to look. At times it may appear our emotions say otherwise. We cry more. We even shut down or get angry at you. But as you intercede, the loving Presence of the Holy Spirit ministers to those deepest, darkest places and we often don’t know how to respond to what we feel. But please don’t stop praying.

Praying for us may not feel like enough but we know as you pray, when you lift our trials and struggles before the One who changes everything, you help change us. You even impact our circumstances in ways we’ll never understand this side of heaven. No, it may not feel like much, but praying is exactly what we need you to do. It’s possible, for a time, that we lose our words. Perhaps even our faith. But you pray, we borrow your words and your faith for just a little while, just until we can stand on our own once more.

We know walking this journey with us isn’t easy. It’s tiring, even downright exhausting. Our lives are messy and the mess often clings to you. There are days you want to give up on us, on the entire situation, days when you need a break from the heaviness. We know that. We know that because there are days when we want the exact. same. thing. A moment to breathe with the fullness of our lungs, without the weight of sorrow pressing us down.

There are days, too, where we wish our weariness would end so you don’t have to experience it with us. When we could pretend that life is okay and laugh away the minutes, all to give you a reprieve, to lighten your load.

We know, too, that there are even more days when the temptation to walk away weighs heavy on your heart. When the toll of our sorrow feels too much to bear. When the tears you shed, those tears we don’t see, are laced with frustration and grief and you wrestle with giving up.

We know. And we’re sorry. We’re sorry you’re tasting the bitterness of our life right now, a morsel of pain we experience. We’re sorry to be that friend, the one with the struggles, the loss, the addictions. Please don’t give up on us. Please be patient. We’re trying, even if you don’t fully see it. Sometimes trying looks like all we’ve done is simply get up and get dressed. It may not look like much, but to us it’s a major accomplishment. Celebrate with us. Encourage us. And please keep praying.

I wish you knew just how much you mean to us, those of you who stand in the gap. We see you. We’re grateful for you. And no, we could not survive this without you.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT
<![CDATA[Does God Really Love Me?]]>Tue, 29 Sep 2015 21:14:10 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2015/09/does-god-really-love-me.html
Does God really love me?Yes, He really does. God loves you with a deep, abiding love. He loves you more than you will ever know or possibly imagine.

Check out John 3:16, the most recognized Bible verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Did you catch that? For God so LOVED the world . . .

Still not sure?
Perhaps you’re not wrestling with the reality of God’s love for you, but wondering how God can love you. After all, if He really knew your heart or saw all of those things you’ve done, then He would turn away just like the others.

Perhaps you’ve been hurt. Life has not turned out the way you expected or planned and your heart has been shattered to pieces, whether by your choice or the choices of others.

Because if God truly loved us, there wouldn’t be any pain, right? If He truly loved us, we would have whatever we want whenever we want. The right childhood. The right life. All we ever want. Just like our kids want from us.

And that works well for them, doesn’t it?

Uh, ahem, yeah. That didn’t work for my kids, either.

And yet that’s often the exact expectation we place on God, isn’t it? Honestly? If we were sitting together over coffee I would pull my cup close, lean in and say with tongue firmly planted in cheek: If God loves me, I’ll be happy. If God loves me, I’ll find the man of my dreams. If God loves me, no one I know will ever die or have cancer or be hurt. 

Because if my heart gets broken, then God doesn’t love me.

Oh sweet one, if your heart gets broken…He does still love you. (Psalm 56:8) He loves you because His heart has been broken as well. (Matthew 9:36From the time sin first entered the world, every action God has taken, every plan He has designed, every step He has made has been motivated by love for you.

Pause a moment. Allow that last sentence to sink in.

Everything God has done since time began has been motivated by His love for you.CLICK TO TWEET

Everything God has done since time began has been motivated by His love for you, to draw you near to him. Not our definition of love—the happily-ever-after-no-sorrow-no-pain-I-get-all-I-want kind.

No. This kind of love peers into the darkest recesses of our soul, the hidden places where all our ugliness hides. The jealousy. The anger. The lies. The secrets. The bitterness. The unspoken pain.

He looks at each corner, examines each broken piece of our heart and whispers over us…I love you. (Psalm 34:18)

When the tears fall and you wonder why your child just died or your wife just walked out, He leans in closer…I love you. (Psalm 56:8)

When you’ve rejected Him, ignored His word and His very presence, He waits with arms open wide, longing for you to return so He can declare over you…I love you. (Zephaniah 3:17)

With every pound of the nails into Jesus’ broken body He whispered…I love you. (Romans 5:8)

As God poured out the wrath we deserve upon His innocent Son, the Spotless Lamb, he shouted…I love you. (John 3:16)

That beautiful sunset? I love you.

That gift of life? I love you.

The peace that fills your being even when all seems lost? I love you.

The gift of perseverance? I love you.

God’s love is not about giving us all that we want. He’s giving us Himself, drawing us near in a personal and intimate relationship with Him. Even when we hurt. Even when we sin. Even when we do things that appear absolutely unforgivable, He loves us. (Numbers 14:19)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)

For further study on God’s love for you, consider reading the story of the prodigal son inLuke 15:11-32. Then answer the question, how does the father’s love in this story represent God’s love?

What’s holding you back from fully believing God really does love you?

(originally shared with Ask God Today Ministries)
<![CDATA[Is Heaven for Real?]]>Sun, 06 Sep 2015 21:10:46 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2015/09/is-heaven-for-real.html
I remember the day I felt heaven kiss earth.

I stood next to my youngest daughter, desperately praying for faith to believe what I could not see. I stood welcoming person after person offering condolences, sharing tears as each passed by her tiny casket. My body stood, but my mind? It swirled with questions and uncertainties, attempting to grasp the wisp of reality that eluded me.

How was I going to survive her death? 

Was she really gone or was she somewhere else?
Was heaven for real?

Stories played like movies through my mind after my sweet girl died. Stories I studied in Scripture. Stories I had read to her. Like flipping through a Rolodex, I longed to find that ONE—THE story that would satisfy my longing for truth.

Perhaps you’re scanning this page and the scene tickles a memory as you picture a different casket. Or maybe heaven feels like it’s a breath away as someone you love lies dying, or maybe that someone is you.

You yearn to know what comes next. Is there something more? Something after we breathe our final breath? Or is this all there is, this world in which we live? It feels as if you’re grasping at smoke and the truth is slipping through your fingers.

Here is what I know to be true as I faced death and looked it squarely in the eye: Death is not the end. There is more, oh, so much more. This, sweet one, this place where our feet touch the ground…this is not our home. This air we breathe and sights we see…these are but a taste of what is to come.

How do I know?

I believe the Bible is true and the Bible says that heaven is where God lives.

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” (Acts 7:49a, NLT)

“The Lord’s home reaches up to the heavens, while its foundation is on the earth.” (Amos 9:6a, NLT)

“Lord, look down from heaven; look from your holy, glorious home, and see us.” (Isaiah 63:15, NLT)

The Bible says that heaven is our home, as well.“There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:2-3, NLT)

We can be confident that heaven is our home by choosing to believe.“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NLT)

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6, NLT)

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9, NLT)

Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit as a taste of heaven on earth.“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”(Romans 8:23, NLT)

I remember that moment when heaven kissed earth as I stood next to my precious little girl for the last time. Deep in my spirit, as those questions and uncertainties tangled with the broken pieces of my heart, God answered my desperate plea as He whispered…peace, my sweet child. This is not the end. There is more…so much more…trust me…you will see.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’” (Revelation 21:1-3, NLT)

Do you believe that heaven is real?

(originally shared with Ask God Today Ministries)
<![CDATA[Are You There, God? It's Me]]>Sun, 23 Aug 2015 21:05:28 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2015/08/are-you-there-god-its-me.html

You’d think I was used to being the new kid. By the time I entered third grade, I had attended three different schools and lived in four different states. The last move was the second in eighteen months. I struggled to make friends because all my eight-year-old mind wondered was, What if we move again? I hated good-byes almost as much as I hated new hellos. 

Being the new kid was tough. 
By third grade, groups were established and grounded with a sense of history. Remember what happened to Patrick in Mrs. Olsen’s kindergarten class? Remember when Cathy broke her arm after she jumped off the high slide in second grade?

Me? Nothing. No shared experiences. No memories. No friends.

Lunchtime was the worst. Everyone else had someone to sit with as I searched out a quiet corner in which to eat. Munching on my meal, thoughts raced through my mind. 
Does anyone see me? Does anyone want to be my friend? Does anyone even care I’m here?

Funny how those same thoughts swirl about my mind when I experience a new situation. Perhaps it’s a memory tickling my old insecurities of sitting alone, longing for a friend. Perhaps you have the same tickle.

Walking into a new job, not knowing a single person. Will they like me? Checking out a new Bible study group. Will I make a friend? A move to a new neighborhood. Will someone know me? Or maybe, like me, your mind races through those same questions as you walk through the end of your marriage, your relationships, your expectations, entering an entirely different, and difficult, season of life.

Does anyone see the unshed tears threatening to cascade down my cheeks?

     Does anyone notice the broken pieces of my heart, scattered about me?

          Does anyone care that I feel lost and alone and so unsure of the journey ahead?

                Does anyone just see me?

Hagar wondered about this, too. Hagar, an Egyptian servant, given to Abram by his wife in order to produce an heir. Hagar, used, abused and rejected, reacted in brokenness toward Sarai once Hagar became pregnant. Scripture says it got so bad, she was treated so harshly, that she finally ran away (Genesis 16:6).

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed and unsure that escape felt like the only answer? So fearful and broken that you were convinced nothing good would come your way? Yeah? Me, too. But there’s good news for us, just as there was good news for Hagar.

“The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wildness along the road to Shur.” (Genesis 16:7, NLT)

Dear Friend, read that again .  .  . The angel of the Lord FOUND Hagar…she thought she had run away, but God still found her. He saw her, and He sees you, too.

“I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:7, NLT)

God not only saw her, He had a word for her, too.

“Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.’” (Genesis 16:9, NLT)

I wonder how she must have felt. Go back? Are you kidding? Yet before doubt crept in, God blessed her with a promise: “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” (Genesis 16:10, NLT) She would have a son and his name would be Ishmael, meaning “God hears.” Every day as she looked into her little boy’s eyes, she’d remember that God found her. Every time she spoke his name, she would remember that God heard her cry and answered.

God hears you, too.“But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18:6, NLT)

Hagar experienced God’s presence so powerfully that she spoke a different name for Him: You are the God who sees me.

“Therefore, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.’ She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?’ So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means ‘well of the Living One who sees me.’”(Genesis 16:13, NLT)

Unsure of what your future holds?

God sees you.Feeling abandoned, neglected, forgotten?

God knows you.Longing to be known, fully accepted, warts and wrinkles and all?

God calls you His own. His promises are for you. Every. single. one.As for eight-year-old me? It took a little while but I eventually made friends, good friends with whom I ate lunch and built lifelong memories, but I learned a valuable lesson, beginning that day.

I am never alone.

Was there ever a time in your life when you felt alone?

(originally shared with Ask God Today Ministries)
<![CDATA[Free to Soar]]>Mon, 20 Jul 2015 20:59:01 GMThttp://abigumbrella.com/1/post/2015/07/free-to-soar.html
“Higher!” I cried.

“Hold tight!”

Leaning in, my hands grasping his, my dad pushed me up as I balanced my little four-year-old body against his feet. I giggled and he laughed as he stretched his legs as far as they would go.

“I’m flying!” 
I looked down at my dad and saw his smile. It filled every inch of his face and reflected my own.

Suddenly, I twisted.
 Maybe from the giggling or maybe his feet hit my ticklish spot, whatever the cause, I lost my perch on top of his feet and toppled headfirst toward the ground. A split second later I was in his arms, wrapped tight, barely missing the floor.

“I’ve got you.” His words whispered comfort to my little heart. “Ready to try again?”

Without a second thought I squealed with delight, ready for another turn. I jumped up, got into position and with my dad’s help, began to soar once more.

Oh, to be a child again. To live in absolute trust: free to try, to fail, and to try once more. No fear. No shame. No question.

I loved to play with my dad like that, to feel the support of his feet, the strength of his legs as he lifted me high above the ground. I listened carefully to each and every instruction so there would be minimal risk for falling. Well, that, and I simply loved to obey my dad.

It wasn’t until I had my own children and played the same game that I realized my dad did most of the work to help me fly. All I did was follow his instructions, he did the rest. Balancing. Steadying. Watching. Even when I stretched my arms out wide, he was ready to catch me just in case I fell.

I felt like I could to do anything with my dad to support me.

Free to soar.

Free to live.

Free to soak in all that life had to offer.

My early days as a follower of Jesus unfolded in a similar way. There was such joy, such ease as I learned more about Him and His character, soaking in truth from His Word.

Until I tumbled. Life happened and the worries of the world replaced the wonder of worshipping the Creator. My eyes shifted from gazing at Him to focusing on the chaos swirling around me. Somewhere along the way fear set in. Deep, paralyzing fear.

“What if I fall again?” I whimpered.

“I’ll catch you,” He replied. “Just like before.”

Then came the doubt.

“But what if you’re not strong enough to catch me?” I wondered.

“I’ll always be strong enough,” He assured.

And then the distrust.

“I don’t think you can do this anymore,” I whined. “This is too hard. It hurts too much.”

“I can,” He declared. “Trust me.”

I felt trapped and afraid. My heart longed to soar with abandon, just as I had done as a child with my dad, but the risks seemed too great. For a while I tried to fly on my own, controlling what I could, ignoring the instructions I had learned, thinking my way would bring the freedom I so desired.

I could not have been more wrong.

Finally I began to realize that my choices actually stole the very freedom I sought. I became tied to perfectionism. Chained to comparison. Locked down in despair. A slave to shame.

I longed to return to my youth, to those early days of my relationship with Jesus, but I didn’t know what to do, how to go back. And then I remembered how I used to fly with my dad. Maybe his instructions would help. . .

“I walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.” (Psalm 119:45, NLT)

“Cling to my hand.”

I stood empty-handed with nothing but my brokenness to offer.

“Lean into me.”

I held back, frozen in fear.

“Trust me.”

I took a step closer.

“Hold my hand.”

I reached out, hands shaking as the fear and shame melted away.

“Lean in. I’ve got you.”

The place felt familiar. The closer I moved toward Jesus, the more I realized He had been with me for every step, every moment, every breath, and every tumble. His instructions weren’t to confine, but to keep me safe. And just as with my dad, I realized the more I obeyed, the more I followed His commands, the greater the work He actually did in my heart, freeing my soul.

I shifted my gaze once more, this time away from the circumstances that tripped me up and trapped my heart. I turned my eyes toward Jesus, fully and completely, for with Him, by obeying His instructions, I am free to soar once more.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:1, NLT)

Do you feel free to soar as you follow Jesus? Why or why not?