This year her birthday fell just 6 weeks after the day she died; the day when I felt like I re-birthed her in a sense.
July 16 2010, God handed me the most precious girl and fully trusted me with her life.
May 29, 2015, I handed God back His girl, fully trusting that her life on earth was complete and that it is being lived out eternally with Him.
Never has a more spiritual encounter been exchanged between the living God and a human, of this I am sure.
I thought long and hard about Mabel's birthday this year.
I, of course, want it to always be a day that we remember, acknowledge and celebrate the life that our girl lived. For almost 5 years she was alive here with us! She laughed and cried and loved in ways that none of us will ever do; not purely.
But I also knew that I wanted this particular day to be something special.
I kept saying that I want there to be one thing that, if we choose to carry it on, we will always be able to, especially for the kids who loved her and have to continue their childhoods without her.
For that purpose, yellow balloons will likely always be part of our celebration surrounding Mabel's birthday. But beyond that I also know deep down that I will want to put much more emphasis on her Heavenly birthdays, celebrating that day when she was set free from this earth and her disease to live forever with Jesus.
In my life, I have always felt the most peace when I am focused on the earth.
Usually I'm knee deep in a flower or vegetable garden or in the middle of a back country road running fast in the summer heat. I am most tuned into myself, my children, God, life, the world, and others when I can feel the presence of everything holy around me that is simply 'being.'
So when my mom sent the text a week prior to Mabel's birthday suggesting we plant a tree in her honor, my heart literally jumped.
Of course! How fitting.
Do you know how many trees I have walked this child by in all the days of her life? Do you know how many quilts have laid out in the damp grass under large trees with her long, tired, jerking body draped across them? Do you know how many trees have propped my own tired body up when I have leaned against them or pounded my fist upon them in the middle of an agonizing run in a fit or a plea bargain session with God over her life? Do you know how many trees have been planted in the honor of someone I love?
A couple actually.
So this seemed just perfect.
So I sent out the group text and told our village that on Mabel's birthday, late in the evening, at my parent's home; the home where I was born and raised, deep in the country and deep in the hurt-
we would dig deep in the earth and plant roots for our girl.
Every single reply was draped in "how perfect!", "this is amazing", "I love this!"
Every single one of my lifetime friends who sat with and walked beside me in the hardest days of my life would join our family to do the most humbling thing we could think to do for Mabel.
We would plant new life.
So we picked a tree, a beautiful "Autumn Brilliance Maple," that will turn a stunning shade of red in the fall. My brother and Chris went together to pick it up.
In preparation for Mabel's birthday, I had special gifts made for my parents, Jeni and Jake. This would be the night that I would share with them what I had made uniquely for each of them.
I had a rosary made for each of my parents out of the flowers from Mabel's funeral.
My dad's is green and white and my mom's is yellow and white. They each have a special bead at the bottom that is used in grief and healing.
These gifts are priceless and these photos of my dad are as well. His hands, so dirty, bring back such vivid childhood memories of the kind of father he was and still, to this day, is. He has worked hard for this family every day of his life. He raised girls, and later in life a boy but he did so by being good to people and working hard with his hands.
He would come in from work each night, stand at the kitchen sink and scrub his fingernails raw but never did the sign of his day truly fade. These are the hands that held my girl when she was born, on the really hard days when I needed a break, every day that he could in between, and on the day that she died.
These are the hands that make me feel safe. That remind me I'm loved.
That dug deep in the ground in his own yard to plant a tree for our girl on her birthday.
Other gifts were exchanged this night as well. I gave Jake a keychain made of Mabel's flowers for his truck and my sister, a rearview mirror piece and also a special bouquet bead that she can clip to her flowers for her upcoming wedding.
My mom gave me a special broach that she made herself with locks of Mabel's hair tucked inside. It knocked the literal air out of my body when I saw it. On my really bad days I curl up tight in my bed and weep at the longing for her messy curls. It's a tiny, beautiful, priceless gift.
So after gifts were given and everyone had gathered, even at the hands of amazing technology...
We were ready to begin.
Nora started by reading a beautiful, articulate speech about her sister and this special day. Her words flowed eloquently and perfectly. It was the bravest moment I've ever encountered.
And then it was time to start.
Nora had made it very clear that if everyone was going to be with us on Mabel's birthday to plant a tree that she and her brother were at least going to do the "first dig."
But soon I watched as all the kids around us started to jump in for their turn. I watched them dig and dig, sweat, and toil hard for what felt like forever. They took such pride in what they were doing and why they were doing it. But even in these moments I'm not quite sure they know...
Harper, Shawn, Weston, Kyleigh, Cole, Chloe, William, Mikey, Collin, Millie, Kaleb, Kait, Ryan, Nora & Braden:
If you never remember anything else about this life I want you to remember this.
God loves you and Mabel loved you.
She loved each and every one of you. You were each special to her in your own ways. Every single one of you could make her smile. Every single one of you could make her feel safe. Every single one of you helped me take such good care of our girl! You should feel incredibly proud of yourselves for that. What you did on this night, her birthday, was work together for something that mattered to you. You worked together to plant a tree in Mabel's honor but more importantly in her memory.
Kids, I want you to know that this tree will always stand, just like God's love for you and just like His word.
When you are having a bad day and you miss Mabel hard, this will be a place of refuge where you can come and weep--anytime.
When you are a teenager and you do not want to be with us, your parents, this will be a safe place where you can park your car and feel angry--anytime.
When you fall in love for the first time and Nora, when you decide to get married, this is a place where you can vow to love a man who will know your sister because we will be sure he does.
When you are grown adults about to have children of your own and you feel afraid of what the future will hold, this will be a place where you can come, see the growth, and know that it all truly is ok.
When you are old and gray and your own kids are grown with kids of their own, I pray this is a place that you will bring them to tell them of the little girl that changed your life, altered your heart, and led you to the cross time and time again.
A tree is not just a tree, kids.
A tree is one great promise of life.
To see the people that I love surrounding us in these moments is, of course, what keeps me going. They love deeply, powerfully, endlessly. They give up so much to give back to others.
These people know God and know Him in all the right ways. They are the kind of people that you want at your side when your child is no longer with you because they uplift you when there's a lot of heavy lifting.
They stay up late when her hours are numbered and your sleep must come.
They walk up steep driveways in really high heels just to wrap their arms around you and tell you they're near.
They find babysitters for their own so that they can babysit yours for you.
They make protein bites out of peanut butter, oats and butterscotch that literally sustain your life.
They fly across the country in the middle of the night in the nick of time. In the nick of time.
They baptize your dying daughter in your arms, saying 'Our Fathers' and 'Hail Mary's,' shaking and weeping with love for her. And for you.
They pick out funeral flowers, pick up funeral balloons and somehow manage to keep you very tightly wrapped up in the privacy you so deeply need and deserve.
All of this, after they love her very much like you do.
But they put aside their missing and their pain and their sadness because seeing you through is all that matters in these life-changing moments.
Little Village, how I love you.
Oh how I wish that your lives weren't wrecked with loss already. I look at you, each with your tiny little faces and precious, wondering eyes and I long to take it all away.
But I believe if I asked you, you would never want me to-because that would mean not ever having her and not ever loving her.
And you DID have her and you DID love her.
I am so proud of you all. Each one of you.
Your hearts are better, stronger, more capable, more empathetic, more intuitive and graceful than most adults. Your minds comprehend things that are eternal and lasting and that is a profound gift that God chose to give each of you!
Oh how I know you miss her. I watch your faces and I hear your questions and I ache to the bone for your desperate hearts. But I know that you know of a place where you will meet her again one day. And to me, that is incredibly worth it all. Oh what a place that will be!
"For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace...
...What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God...
...And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again."
We added nothing to and took nothing from Mabel's life.
She was just herself.
Mabel Audrine, prettiest thing we'd ever seen.
We ate her up and drank her in and oh we were happy.
We obeyed and honored God in her every day.
So on the day of her birth we celebrated her big, in all the ways we always have.
She was our perfect gift.
Oh how we miss our girl.
We miss her with an unquenchable, undeniable, protruding and endless ache.
But we thank God for Heaven.
And I thank God for the gift of one another. That I've never had to walk it alone and that in her life journey she gave so much of herself to everyone; so much that we were all filled up to overflowing with love for her.
She lived 4 years and 10 months on this earth.
She will live on every single day in our hearts.
She is alive and well in Heaven and we are grateful.
Oh Lord, let us shine bright the love that she did and continue to honor You in all we do.