We gathered at a beautiful place in the midst of woods and water in the rolling hills of southeastern Nebraska. Less than 100 women from all walks of life in all shapes and sizes from several states drawn together as writers, poets, and bloggers to share our lives, loves, laughter, and sorrows along with our faith in a God who gives us mercy and grace to bear all these things. Just a couple days away from our normal everyday lives as employees, wives, moms, daughters and friends who have in common the driving need to express ourselves thru the written word. We came to support and encourage, learn and grow in our search to use this gift that our Creator has bestowed upon us. Like the mighty oak trees spread throughout the grounds of the Carol Joy Holling Center where the Jumping Tandem Retreat was held, we strive to spread our branches out to others that we may in some small way touch their lives and assure them they are not alone. I think this is one of the greatest gifts that God has granted to mankind, or womankind in this instance, the ability to draw words from the Spirit that resides in our souls that provides such profound compassion and support for our fellow man. And they say that God no longer speaks. You just have to listen to that still, small voice inside of you that flows from your head and your heart, down your arm and into your fingers.
I actually signed up for this retreat in the beginning because the name “Jumping Tandem” brought an image to my mind of someone who is changing the course of their life, “jumping” off the ride you’ve been on and going in a completely new direction. I’m not sure if that’s what the director of the event, Diedra Riggs, had in mind when she came up with the name, but my life had changed so drastically in the past 15 months, that I felt the need to find what God’s purpose was for me now. Our 24-year-old son, Chad, whom this blog is named for, went home to be with Jesus on Feb. 9, 2014, almost 15 months ago. I’ve heard it said when someone changes their address from this world to Heaven, that they either “died”, “passed on”, or we “lost” them. I myself have used these words when I didn’t want to take the time to explain. However, I know that my son is more alive now in his heavenly home and glorified body than he ever was in the 24 years he walked this earth, so I can’t say that he “died”. He has not “passed on”. He has ascended to a level that we can only imagine, “knowing as he is known” by our heavenly Father. Neither have we “lost” him, as I know exactly where he is, and he’s not waiting to be found. He’s in the presence of angels, walking down golden avenues with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, wonderful as all this things are, they are so entirely beyond my realm of comprehension, that I still struggle with intense grief and heartache, not that I would want him to be a prisoner again in the body that had been failing him since he was a child, but I just miss him so intensely that I find even getting out of bed a real chore at times. There are days on end that I don’t leave the house except to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail. I see his face with that big ear-to-ear grin, and I hear his contagious laughter on the breeze. When I walk past his room, although I finally redecorated and put his things away at the one-year mark, I can still catch a whiff of his fragrance; that Avon cologne he always wore. Whenever we watch a NASCAR race and see Dale, Jr. on the screen, I can see him sitting as close to the TV as possible in his wheelchair saying “Junior, Junior” over and over, wanting to know what position he was in. Driving down the road when a Tim McGraw song comes on the radio, I am blinded by tears as I can hear him singing along word-for-word in his beautiful voice that could sing long after his speech became garbled and hard to understand. When I go to Walmart and walk down the cereal aisle, I still reach for Lucky Charms & Captain Crunch, seeing him at the table trying to feed himself even when he was having trouble holding a spoon, with the milk dripping off his chin into the bowl. So many memories and so many days when I just don’t want to go on without him. He was my life, my baby, and even though he was 24, he retained that childlike innocence and faith in the goodness of others. It almost broke his heart when his friends whom he’d known since pre-school began pulling away from him in Junior High, and some even made fun of him in High School, but just one kind word and he would willingly forgive them, each one becoming his “best friend” once more. Such a sweet, gentle boy. Even though his eyes were blind, he saw so much more than anyone I’ve ever known.
My life has been put on hold as I’ve tried to adjust to the reality of a life without my son. Perhaps what the Jumping Tandem Retreat taught me is that I need to give myself some “grace”, which was the theme this year, and realize that I need to be kinder to myself and take some time to put these feelings into words that might possibly be able to reach someone else in the darkness of grief and shed a little light for a brief moment until they can also find their way to a brighter tomorrow along with me. Thank you to all the wonderful speakers and new friends I made over the weekend. Please pray for me to be able to hear the voice of God guiding me thru this wilderness.