Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Candy for Dinner

Greetings to all! It’s been a big week around our house and a lot of fun too. Last Friday I picked Ella and Dude up from their after school care and was delighted to see that Ella was proudly carrying Ribbidy in her little arms. Ribbidy, is Ella’s pre-k class’s mascot and the student who has been chosen as “student of the week” gets to take Ribbidy home for the weekend. Well, needless to say Ribbidy has been the focus of my four year old daughter’s world since she started pre-k this year. Every Friday afternoon was met with a tinge of disappointment that someone else had been chosen as student of the week. Now, as wonderful a child as Ella is, she is also my wife and I’s daughter and if you have ever meet my wife and I then you know we are a bit animated and very vocal people. Well, needless to say our daughter is a perfect blend of my wife and I and therefore can be quite the busy bee in class sometimes. We had already planned a family outing Friday night to take the kids to the movies and then out to dinner, so we were very excited and then for Ella to be picked as student of the week was just the icing on the cake.

As student of the week at the next school Mass, which was today, you are given the class cross to take home and to pray for all the students at the school for the week. Well, today was also Grandparents day, so it was a double whammie for Ella, not only was she getting the cross at Mass, but both sets of Grandparents were going to be there for her to gloat just a little more. I went to Mass as the proud dad and sat in the back while Ella sat in the front with her grandparents. As the kids were filing into church they had music playing. All of a sudden I recognized the beginning notes of the song that was starting. It was, “The Mother Song” by Kelly Pease, the one that was sung at Cate’s funeral and the tears immediately started streaming down my face. Here I am sitting in the Church where we celebrated my daughter’s funeral with the song that was sung at her funeral being played. I pulled it together the best I could and then Mass began. Well, wouldn’t you know it, for the communion meditation they played it again and again the tears streamed down my face as I watched Ella singing the words of the song to my parents. She loves that song, her and Ali sing it almost every night before she goes to sleep. After Mass she was very excited to see me and to show me her cross so I walked her to her class where the grandparents where hanging out with the kids and then I headed off to work.

That song has continued to play in my head all day long and with it so many images of Cate have flashed through my head of her short life here with us. The last one was of the night before she went in for surgery. The room was filled with love ones and you could tell that she was so happy to see everyone. As each person held her she would just stare at them with this big ole cheesy smile and it was if she was soaking them up. There is a part of me that wishes I would have never put her down that night. There is a part of me that wishes I would have held her all night long and soaked up every second that I would have with her if I only knew then what I know now. As I write these words the pain falls from eyes in the shape of tears, the longing that I have for that little girl hurts to the core at some moments. I miss her today, I miss her a lot.

It really got me thinking this afternoon about my marriage and about my fatherhood. I want to soak up every minute I have with my wife and my children. I want to savor it deep in my heart knowing that we don’t know what tomorrow brings. I want to try to be a little more patient than I have been over these past few months with Ali, Ella and Dude. I want to hold them more, kiss them more, and listen to them more than I have done lately. I want to be quicker to listen than to get frustrated. I want to laugh more than fuss. I want have candy for dinner some nights just because we can and it means that we get to hang out as a family enjoying the moment and each others presence. When they crawl in my bed at 3:00am I want to pull them close to me, feel their little arm around my neck and smell their little breath even if it smells bad. I want to play outside, inside, in the car, in my truck, wherever they want to play, because there really isn’t anything else that is THAT IMPORTANT.

Unfortunately, we have had to learned all to close to home that life is short. We are not guaranteed anything except this moment that we find ourselves. My prayer today is that God allows me to be in that moment, experience that moment, and savor that moment. Also, that those moments be written on the walls of my heart, my wife’s heart and on the walls of our kid’s hearts forever. Thank you Lord for my beautiful family! Thank You Lord, for our precious Cate, though her earthly life was short, through You may her little life continue to teach us about what it means to truly live. Amen

Much Love,
The Cantrells

Monday, October 20, 2008

Every Hill Has a Bottom

Greetings to all! This past weekend we had a great family weekend! Friday night Ali and I got to go on a date night and then Saturday we participated in “Family Adventure Day” to raise money for the Healing House, which is the place that we asked people to donate instead of sending flowers to Cate’s funeral, there are pictures of the day at . Friday was the first date night since the huge falling out that Ali and I had two weeks ago. I gave my spiritual director this analogy today over lunch to describe the time that our family finds itself in right now. Have you ever watched little kids run down a steep hill? It’s funny because at first they are in control but the further they get down the hill and the more they pick up speed the more they loose all control of their little bodies. They eventually can no longer maintain their balance and what do they do? Fall, and then they continue to roll down the hill until they reach the bottom. Well, I believe this is exactly what has happened to our little family over the past four months. After Cate died we started running down this hill of grief and at first we could “control” it, but the further and further we got down the hill and the more and more speed we picked up and the more out of control we got until eventually, we fell. It was probably about three to four weeks ago that we fell and two weeks ago that we reached the bottom of the hill. Now for the past two weeks I truly feel like we have begun the ascent uphill and we are doing it together, all of us even the kids. They have been putting into words their feelings about their sister in ways that they have not over the past four months. Are we out of the woods, no not in the least bit, but I do feel like we have at least started walking back up the hill and we both know that it is because there are a lot a prayers heading our way from all of you faithful sojourners on this road in which we travel.

Now on to the reason I blog tonight. This weekend I did what any good South Louisiana native does in the fall, watched the LSU Fighting Tigers football game. Saturday afternoon a friend of mine called and said that he was going over to another buddy of ours to watch the game and wanted to see if I wanted to join them. The friend that we were going to watch the game at just had his first child a few months back, a beautiful baby girl. Long before Cate went to have her surgery Ali offered his wife all of Cate’s clothes that she did not fit into anymore. His wife was so delighted and I remember that she washed, folded, and had them all put away months before their daughter was born. We were glad that the clothes were going to be put to good use and that the person who got them was so very grateful for them. Well, after Cate died there was one particular night gown that Ali wanted to keep, so she called his wife and asked if she would mind giving that one night gown back, of course she completely understood and offered everything back. Ali insisted that she keep the rest, it was just this one little night gown of Cate’s that was very sentimental to her.

The other night before I left to watch the game Ali asked me if I would not mind picking the nightgown up while I was there. When I got over to their house I asked him if he knew where that nightgown was because Ali had asked me to pick it up. He called his wife and found out where it was, but did not bring it outside right away. We then proceeded to hoop and holar as we watched the Tigers play ball and after the game when the night was winding down he brought out a plastic grocery bag and gave it to me. Not remembering that I had asked him for the nightgown earlier in the night I opened the bag and saw my little girls clothes in it and it tugged hard at my heart. If you remember from the last blog, it is the “missing” that can sneak up on you. In that moment I realized that I had no one to bring those clothes home to that would wear them. I said to my friends, “wow, that’s kind of weird you know, those are Cate’s clothes, but I don’t have Cate to wear them. His eyes welled with tears and he quickly turned his back and looked at the sky, the field, whatever he could to not make eye contact with me. I said, hey bro, what’s up, are you ok? At first he would not turn around so, I said it again, hey man, what’s going on? He said, “I realized that as I handed you that bag, that you don’t have a daughter to take those home to. He went on to apologize for crying and said that he has never wanted to breakdown in front of me, that I had enough to deal with and that I did not need him crying in front of me adding to what I was already feeling.

He is a former football jock and was quite the head cracker in his high school football days. I asked him, “When you played ball in high school did you have one guy that you loved playing football with?” He responded yes with a smile and named his teammate by name. I said those plays when he got hurt were you worried about him, was there a part of you that hurt cause he was not out there playing with you? He responded with a smile, yeah. How do you think that made him feel, that you loved playing with him that much and that you cared about him that much? I said, I bet it made him feel pretty dang special to you. Well, brother your tears don’t add to my grief they lighten it in some way, because they show me that you love me, my family, and my daughter. I don’t want you to feel like you have to hold them back anymore around me.

As I sat on my back steps tonight reflecting on that conversation the scripture that came to my heart was Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who Rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This in a nutshell is what it means to be a community, this is what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times that we will all rejoice together, and there are times that we will all weep together. Ever noticed that kids often run down hills with other kids? When one of them falls it is like dominos, they just start taking each other out, rolling down the hill together. When they get to the bottom, they ALL get back up and starting running back up the hill to do it all over again. We have some amazing brothers and sisters in our life who have run down this hill with us and are going to run back up with us and for that we are eternally grateful! Thank you, to all of you who are still with us and as we hopefully and hope-filled begin the walk back up this hill, hold our hands and laugh with us, hold our hands and cry with us knowing that one day we will all be back on top of the hill! Much Love, The Cantrells

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crushed Grapes

Greetings to all! This week I attended the funeral of another precious heart baby that went home early to be with our Heavenly Father. This is the second heart baby funeral I have been to since our precious Cate passed away. When I went to the first one in July I was still in a place of numbness and the reality of Cate’s death had not sunk fully into the depths of my heart and mind. This one was different, this one brought back a lot of memories of Cate’s funeral. Although I was at someone else’s child’s funeral it was though a movie was playing in my head of all the scenes from Cate’s funeral. From the rain on my face as we took her little casket out of the hurst, to the image of my three year old son without being asked taking his role as his little sisters escort as we walked her casket down the isle the church, the scene of the small wooden box that contained such a priceless treasure under the tent at the cemetery. It all was so vivid and so real, I did not go to this funeral to inflict unnecessary pain on myself I went because we have become friends with the parents through mutual friends about a year ago and then when they found out that they too were having a heart baby there was even more of connection. I just wanted them to know that we loved them and that with each other and with their God, they would make it, that they too would still be standing in the months to come.

They named their precious daughter Cana and so fittingly the gospel reading of the funeral mass was the wedding at Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle. Let me briefly summarize the story if you are not all to familiar with it. Jesus is at this wedding reception with his mom and the bride and groom run out of wine. This would be a huge embarrassment to the hosts if they ran out of wine to serve their guest, I am starting to wonder if the Jewish people and Cajuns aren’t second or third cousins to each other. Mary, being the good mother that she is cannot let this happen, so what does she do, tells her Son, Jesus, you better do something and do it quick, we can’t let this happen. Jesus says, Mom, it is not time yet for me to start doing things like this. Mary being the typical mom totally ignores him and tells the servants, to do whatever Jesus tells you to do. Jesus being the good son, listens to His mother’s request and tells the servants to fill six big jugs full of water. Then He tells them to take a cup to the head server for a little sampling. The head server is clueless to the events unfolding in the kitchen so when he tastes the wine that the server brings him he is a bit perplexed. This wine is far better than the stuff that they had just run out of so he goes to the groom and says, You know, normally people serve the choice wine first and then once people have been drinking a while, that’s when you serve a lesser vintage, but you have kept the good stuff till last. (John 2:1-11) Now this is my paraphrasing here, it is worded much more eloquently in the gospel of John but this is in a nutshell what happened.

Ali and I sat on our balcony one night last week talking and of course the conversation moved towards Cate and how we were feeling about her. The main thing that we both felt was that we were missing her. The shock and the pain have begun to subside although not gone completely of course. Lately it has been more the reality of she is really gone and she isn’t coming back and we miss her. I read on another parent’s blog that has lost a child about a meeting that her and her husband had with their pastor, who had also lost a child. The pastor talked about “the missing” and how it snuck up on him at times. As I reflected on this Gospel reading and sweet babies who go to heaven earlier than we anticipate, I got to thinking about those words, “the missing.”

What I came to realize is that with “the missing” comes “the longing.” You see this life is like the lesser vintage wine that was usually served first at wedding in Jesus’ time. It is good, there are things that we are truly going to enjoy in this life that will bring us great joy and happiness but there is a greater wine to be had. If you have had a taste of the greatest wine, i.e. heaven, then you long for that even more. The glimpses that I have had in my life of an intimate connection with God make me long for that greater wine even more. Its like when Ali and I go out to eat for a special occasion if they have it on the wine list we will get a bottle of La Crème, it’s a pinot noir that runs about thirty bucks a bottle and it is delicious, I strongly suggest you try some if you are a wine fan, but anyway. We have tasted great wines, but on an average night if we want a glass of wine we will pop the cork on just a five to seven dollar bottle of good wine. We enjoy it, but we have tasted better and that memory lingers in the back of you mind, man, if this were a glass of La Crème it would be even better, hence the longing.

We have always longed for heaven, for a day when we are in perfect relationship with God, there is no more sin, guilt, and shame, and we will be completely happy for all eternity. We long for that greater vintage wine. Well, now that the fruit of our love, Cate, has become a part of that finer wine and in my humble opinion making it all the sweeter, now we long for it even more. Our prayer is that we can still remember to enjoy the wine, i.e. the life, which we have now, with each other and with our kiddos. That we can accept the lesser wine knowing that there is a greater wine to come and that when we get there our precious Cate will be there waiting with a big smile and couple of glasses. Much Love, The Cantrells

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wood and Nails

Greetings to all. I just want to start out by thanking everyone, especially our family and friends, who are in our everyday life, not to exclude all you readers in far away lands, but in a way fortunately you only have to read my words of messiness and don’t have to be knee deep in them. Ali and I hit a big wall Saturday evening and it was not a pretty experience and that is putting it lightly. Close friends and family were around and unfortunately they got dragged into the middle of our chaotic grief explosion. Though it actually ended with what will be a fruitful outcome, for the people left in our wake my heart hurts and all I can say to them is, “I ask your forgiveness?” As I met with my counselor last Friday we talked about the messiness and chaos of my life right now. A metaphor came to me to be able to put into words what I feel like and I wanted to share it with you all.

As Hurricane Gustav approached South Louisiana one of my brothers and I shipped our families off to other states and decided to ride out the storm with another close brother of ours and his family. We all stayed at one of their houses for the storm because there were not any big trees threatening to fall and crush the house we were sheltered in. In front of his house, his cousin is in the process of building his home right now and on the side of his new house he is building a large wooden outdoor storage shed. It was all framed up with two by fours but no walls and no roof were put on yet. It was the skeleton of what was to become a really nice outdoor storage shed. My brothers and I looked at the shed and shook our heads because we knew the storm was coming and that there was a really good chance that the frame of this soon to be really nice shed was probably not going to make it through the storm. As the storm’s eye approached us the winds began to blow like nothing I have ever experienced in my adult life. The walls of the house were making cracking noises the cars outside where actually shaking from side to side. I walked to the window and saw that in fact the shed had been blown completely down, not a single board was left standing. It was a pile of jumbled lumber, some broken, some not, nails sticking out everywhere, simply, it was a mess.

I told my counselor that the shed represented my life. I finally felt like I had a vision of where God was leading me and my family long term. I had a great marriage with a wonderful wife, we were setting our eyes on the future. We were about to start a new decade of our lives truly moving into a more “adult” time. We had three beautiful children with plans for one or two more down the road. I was no longer in full time youth ministry so I was being able to spend a lot more time with my family. I was in a job that I not only enjoyed but financially we were doing ok for the first time. I had the best friends a guy could ask for and this group of guys was really moving in a direction of life long friendships.

Our building was getting framed up, the plans were being laid out and we had a skeleton of a great life framed up, knowing that we would continue to add on to it as the years went on. Well, my little family experienced its own hurricane and it has blown our little studded up shed completely down. Ali and I found ourselves standing over the splintered plans, dreams, and visions just starring in disbelief, anger, and sadness. We keep walking around it wondering, “what do we do now?” We don’t have any tools, energy, or expertise to even begin rebuilding, at least not right now. We get so angry that everything that we had worked to build has been lost, we get angry because we really liked that shed and what it was going to become. We could see ourselves in 20 years playing with our grandkids in that shed and now we are realizing that we are going to have build a new and different one.

When people come around to help us take nails out of the boards so we can stack them to get a new plan, we don’t know how to act sometimes. We are so angry that we are even having to do this that we turn on each other and/or whoever is there to help. We know it’s not right, we just can’t control it at times. It is scary to think that the people who want to help the most and who aren’t afraid to come in to the danger zone of broken boards and sharp nails poking out everywhere are the ones who often get the brunt of our anger, through little or no fault of their own. Lately I fear that eventually people will just stop coming around to help us because it is just too messy and too big of a project. The foundation is still there is just hard to see right now because it is covered up with debris from a storm that we never saw coming and had no time to prepare for.

There will come a time in the future, hopefully nearer than farther that we will begin to rebuild this little shed we call our lives. Our vision and our plans will have to be different than they were before. Maybe this time instead of a wooden building we will rebuild a nice strong metal building that will be able to withstand storms that comes our way. I ask that you all, especially those who have shown up to help us in the rebuilding effort be patient with us. We truly and whole heartedly ask forgiveness for the messiness of our life right now, it just is what it is, but I thank you for your continued perseverance and patience. We will rebuild and we will be stronger with God’s grace, strength, and forgiveness. Much Love, The Cantrell’s

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tears are Pain Leaving the Body

Greetings to all! Lately it has been a real emotional rollercoaster for me. I can be completely fine one minute and then pissed off, ashamed, lonely, or sad the next. I am for the most part a pretty passionate guy whether it be passionate about my wife, hey get your minds go out of the gutter, I said passionate ABOUT, not with, I want to keep this blog G rated people. I am passionate about my work, when working I strive to be quick, accurate, and irreplaceable. I am passionate about competition, I don’t care what it is, BRING IT ON, I like to compete and I LOVE to win! My newest passion is fantasy football, you would swear my children were playing each Sunday by the way I get so nervous and loud. When I get to cheering or yelling at the inanimate object I call my TV set Dude and Ella coming running in because they immediately think they have done something wrong. Often times I just find them standing there waiting for me to fuss at them. When I ask, what are you doing? They usually say either, “We don’t know” or “We thought something was wrong.” To which I have to explain to them that daddy’s overpaid football player looks like some third string high school running back who is not quite sure which way down field is apparently. They usually just roll their eyes, give me an, “Awe dad,” because I interrupted their important game of “Extreme Tent Makeover” and scurry back to their important renovations. I am passionate about my God and preaching the Gospel, just ask anyone who has ever had the pleasure of to sitting in the front row of one of my talks. Poor things often have a few drops of spittle on them and have been pulled up on stage to act out an eighth grade dance scene that I am using to elaborate a point in my talk. I am passionate about life, is what I am getting at if you have not caught on yet.

My passion runs deep, wide and in a variety of directions to say the least. These are passions that I have grown to love over time and these are passions that at the same time have also had a large impact on my life in someway and over time have begun to change me or aspects of me. There is one passion though that the moment it entered my life or should I say “they” entered my life, CHANGED me in that very moment. The moment that I became a father and I am not going to get into the whole moment of conception I was a father argument, I know that, but remember guys are visually stimulated. Although I saw my wife stomach getting larger I could not see my child and the one that I saw on the ultrasound machine kinda freaked me out. The moment I laid eyes on Ella, she being our oldest, I was changed, my heart was changed, literally, spiritually and passionately. I was a different man and my heart overflowed with a passionate love for this little child who was “mine.” With each new addition that followed Ella my heart filled with more and more passion, as well as more and more debt, just kidding.

When they noticed in Utero that there was the potential that something might not be developing properly with Cate my passion went into overdrive. My passion to be strength, love, and stability to my wife and family as well as to be a passionate prayer warrior for my unborn daughter was squared to the infinity power. Therefore with Cate there was a different connection with her in Utero that I did not have with the other kids. They were “normal” pregnancies, boy there are two words that should never go together in one sentence, normal and pregnancy, there is not ANYTHING normal about pregnancy, totally speaking from a man’s point of view ladies, I am just a spectator for the most part and only get brought into active participation when I am called upon, yelled at, threatened to within an inch of my life, or at the point in the pregnancy that she can no longer reach her shoe laces and have to tie them for her. So, with Cate for me being the passionate person that I am I was dedicated and intense that Cate was going to make it and that she would be alright. And gratefully she did make it out of Utero, but we all know that her story ended very differently than we all pictured it would. Still to this day I can’t believe at moments that she is not “here” with us anymore, though I know in spirit that she is VERY here with us.

The past few weeks I find myself just welling up with tears to the point the dams, that I call my eyelids just can’t hold back the floodwaters. You know how when it rains real hard, and people say, “Wow, those are big drops!” I don’t know, maybe I just say that, well that is what I feel about my tears, they actually make sounds as they hit my chair they are so big. I am a self admitted crier long before this ever started, you get me watching an episode of Extreme Home Makeover with Ty Pennington and you would swear that he had showed up at my house and redid all that for me. I can sit there and cry and cry over that show, it is quite weird, but that can be a whole other blog. The tears over sweet Cate seem to always be right there behind or below my eyes, wherever tears hang out until they stream down my face. At any given moment they can come out, whether I be walking past the fridge and see her picture or reading an email from someone sharing with me what Cate has done or is presently doing in their life.

As I met with my counselor two weeks ago to journey with me through this grief process I cried almost the whole time we talked. He said you seem like you are in the place you need to be right now. He said if you would have walked in here acted like you had it all together with no problems then I would have been worried, but your not, your hurting, it sucks, it really does, but it is where you have to be right now. There was such validation and permission hidden in his words. All of a sudden a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and it was suddenly ok to just be hurting right now, missing Cate right now, and to not feel the need or rush to be anywhere else as much as anyone in the grief process knows, you want to rush out as fast as you can. I was reflecting this week on how often I find myself crying and I make it sound worse than it is, it is not like I cry all day long, but when you are used to not crying everyday or every other day sometimes you feel like an emotional basket case. But I was reflecting on my tears and for some reason I remembered a poster for the military that I saw one time years ago, the poster said, “Pain, is weakness leaving the body.” As I reflected on those words I thought, you know what it is ok if I cry a little everyday or a lot some days, I am going to let it come out because for me right now, “Tears, are pain leaving my body” and I don’t want to keep that pain bottled up any longer than I have to.

What I have decided is that my passion for Cate I want to remain and this blog allows me to continue to be passionate about her, her short life, the powerful mark that she left on this world and the work that to this day she continues to do in this world. But, as for the pain over the loss of Cate I will let that flow out of my body as the tears fall from my eyes. My God wash me clean of this pain in YOUR healing and perfect time and I ask you to help me not keep it bottled in any longer than I have to. Much Love, The Cantrells