Strength for the Climb

My blog is a personal journey of the blessings I have been entrusted with and the strength I have been given to make the climb. I invite you to follow along as I write about faith, family, and Down syndrome.

You make me better.

Honestly, I don’t even know how to start this blog post.  In the past three weeks, I think I’ve felt every emotion possible and I can’t really articulate what triggers each of them.  But today, it was this picture.  I’ve looked at it over and over again and the tears keep coming.  

IMG_5685.JPG

So much love. 

So much lost.    

So much sadness.  

I felt the pain and heartache at the hospital and each day following Andrew’s death, but the busyness of planning a funeral, distracted me from the reality that he really is gone. 

He’s not coming back.  The grief has begun. 

The shock is still there. I’ve found myself sitting at a stoplight asking myself, “Did this really just happen?”  We have felt the prayers you've prayed and the love (the meals, the calls and texts, the cards and stories) leading up to the funeral, but Chris and I were terrified for it to be over.  Because the reality is, life goes on.  And life begins without him.  And to be honest, it’s hard. 

Three days before the funeral, I was out trying to find some clothes for the kids (which should have been the least of my concerns but nonetheless a good distraction).  I watched as the world just kept going, like I lived life before January 20th.  And here I was, walking around the mall with a fragile heart.  I listened as this woman complained about her husband and another yelled at her child.  I wanted to put a hand on their shoulder and say, “It’s not worth it, to prove your point, to put someone in their place.  Just love them, see them, give them grace, because you might blink, and everything has changed.”  

I know (with my little experience of grieving the loss of someone so close, at such a young age) this is a part of the process.  Grief is hard work.

I’ve had many occasions in my life of grieving different expectations, events, plans, and loved ones that have lived a full life…but this by far has been the hardest loss my husband, his family, and all of us who loved Andrew, have experienced.  How Andrew died just puts this grief process on a completely different level and acceptance looks so far away. 

Only God can fill this hole that we have. 

I know that we need to move forward.  It’s the only way to go.  But honestly, I feel like I take one step forward, and then there are times in the day that I want to just stop moving in any direction.  Grief happens at it’s own pace yet life doesn’t stop and I ask myself how long will this pain hurt so badly.  

Lord, help us.    

Here is a letter wrote to me before the funeral.  

Here is a letter wrote to me before the funeral.  

Andrew’s memorial service was a true celebration of his life.  We couldn’t have asked for a better service to mourn together and bring honor to him.  A chance to gather and bring our brokenness, memories, our love for him, and share the only reason we still have Hope.

I followed Chris into the sanctuary, carrying his brother's ashes in his strong arms.  I walked hand in hand with Luke, in front of Bill and Sally, tears streaming down my face, as I looked around at the 900+ people that came to pay respect to such an incredible man.   We walked into the song by Hillsong Worship titled, Cornerstone.  

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

When planning the service I wanted all of the songs to be from Andrew's playlist.  I searched his computer and found the perfect ones to share on that day that shared all the emotions we were feeling.  Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher, Oh Glorious Day (it was his alarm song when it went off) by Casting Crowns, and the video tribute is Here's My Heart by Passion ft. Crowder.   

Bill Butters shared memories of Andrew and a message of hope and the opportunity to accept the same free gift of salvation Andrew accepted while a sophomore at UMD.  He shared that truly is the only thing that gives us hope with such a tragic loss.   Our cornerstone.

And that we will see him again, in Heaven.  

Matt Greer, a roommate and UMD teammate of Andrew's, neighbor McCann boys (Jake, Tommy, and Riley...who are now men ;), and Chris gave incredible tributes (and a few dance moves) to Andrew. Here is an excerpt of the tribute that Chris gave to his only brother. 

“What made my brother such a gift to all of us here and the lasting imprint he made on so many, is what makes today so tough.

What I am going to miss most about my brother….

Having that person that I would share things with, even just the simple ability for me to text him after a game and share my joy   Or, send him a picture of Luke skating in the back yard, Jack’s big smile, or Taylor wrestling with her brothers.  Knowing those photos would likely be his screen saver on his phone.

I’ll miss his group texts. Because a lot of you in here are probably in a group text or two with him and his relentless need to be right or share his opinion…

My heart breaks for kids.  Selfishly my own kids.  How he loved them, always willing to take care of them, skate or ride bike with them, and take them to Panino’s. 

But also, so many of the kids that will miss out on AC.  No more AC SKILLS AND DRILLS.  No more shooting in the back yard. The time he gave to kids was endless and I am sad for so many kids that won’t get his heart.

I think the #1 reason this is so difficult is because the WHY isn’t so clear.

When I met with one of my mentors, who I highly respect, he mentioned that Andrew’s death is in a category of it’s own.  Specifically, with many deaths people get old and pass, or even in tragic car accidents or illness, the lines around their death is relatively black and white.  No question, there is deep sorrow and pain.  However, my brother’s death creates such disbelief and it’s so hard to articulate emotions and gather my thoughts at times. It is in it’s own category.  And that’s what I want to talk about today. 

 I want to transparently talk about how I am responding.  Perhaps, that my openness can bring healing, but also may authentically give comfort to others.  I remember hearing a coach tell me that in life there are things that MARK you or MAKE you.

Specifically, the events of our lives will mark our hearts...forever.  Some leave deep scars and lasting pain.  Some bring happiness and cherished memories.  But, regardless of how our hearts are marked by life’s events…what truly makes who we are… is our response…because that is what we can control. 

When I got married, that event marked my heart… one of the greatest days of my life… but what makes me a husband are my responses…how I choose to honor my wife…how I choose to love, listen, and respect her.

The day I became a dad…that will mark my life and a day that I will cherish for the rest of it.  But how I choose to serve my kids, practice patience, and model my faith is what makes me the Dad I am. 

 And I stand before you…BROKEN.  My heart not just marked, but torn, and tattered.  I’m still trying to put parts of it back together.

 And in all of that…I have to choose…how I will respond.

 Because our response is what counts…game over. 

 I have been sad, angry, confused and scared… and every emotion a finite human on this earth can possibly experience.  Simply put, those emotions, stemming from the scars of my heart are normal, and likely needed.  However, may not be helping me and in reality, may be slowing me down. 

 My response and outlook as I move forward is based on the questions I have been asking myself.

 Why?  How?

 But simply asking myself, what?

 What can I do to honor my brother?

 What can I do to carry out his legacy?

 What can I do that can make me stronger, kinder, more patient?

 What can I do to be mentally tough…yet also be mentally healthy?

 This will not only help me grieve, but strengthen my response and mend my heart into what MAKES me.

Those simple questions, in the face of some really tough stuff will make me who I am. 

 And as of right now, I don’t know what that may look like tomorrow or 3 months from now.… but I know I need to wake up each day and ask the right questions of myself.  Because that’s the only thing that will carry my brother’s legacy.

 And my response matters.  Quite possibly, our greatest contribution in our response may not be something that I do, but  rather, who may witness it. Our influence is far more powerful than any position that we hold and…this isn’t just about me. 

Look at this room filled with so many people.  That's a reflection of Andrew’s influence on all of us. He saw each of you.  He made you feel important, and took the time to do that. May we all honor him by doing that more.

 As I close, I want to share one last thing with my brother, something that I didn’t share enough….

 I was out on a run early in the morning while we were in Chicago and the one thing that gave my heart peace was that I am so proud of you.

 I am so proud that I am your brother, that there is only one person in this room that can call you brother.   And that's me. 

 And I can’t even describe how proud that makes me.

 THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME BETTER.” 

IMG_5344.JPG

Over the past week I’ve been back to work.  I’ve reflected on the work I am doing and the value of every life. The impact that one person has on another.  Do we truly understand and grasp the ways we change others just by being who we are? Did Andrew have any idea of the amazing impact he had on so many people around the country?

After presenting to a group of medical residents this past Friday, I went up to visit a few babies we have celebrated with a Jack’s Basket.  Walking into the room of Baby H, who’s heart is mending (and so is mine) from her heart surgery, we locked eyes.  And my heart felt the love, which is exactly what I needed.  After I prayed with her, I proclaimed to her that she is God’s masterpiece, created in His image to do great things.

IMG_5646.jpg

And I ask you….

Do you know that? Do you know that your life and impact was created with a purpose? That you are loved and valued? That you are a masterpiece made by God to do great things?  Do you realize that you make people better?

Make today count, tell someone you are proud of them, and go out of your way to make someone feel like they matter.  Do it in honor of Andrew and the ways he saw others.  It would mend our broken hearts. 

Before I left Baby H’s hospital room, I looked at her and I said, “You make me better.” 

AC Badge Logo.jpg