In this journey through cancer, we met and loved some of the most remarkable people. God blessed us with Logan, Weston, Elisha, Griffin and Courtney. We came to love them and their families as our own.
Courtney (with Peyton)
I'll never understand (while I exist in this body) why God needed to take some of these kids we loved so much (Elisha, Grifffin and Courtney). But I rejoice I'll see them again because they left this earth knowing Jesus as their savior. I also rejoice that Logan and Weston have been spared. Join me in praying for their continued health.
I wrote this blog entry 345 days after God called Griffin home, and 11 days after God called Courtney home...
I’ve been reading a wonderful book called “Feathers From My Nest”. It’s by a remarkable woman of God named Beth Moore. I’m a huge fan of her Bible studies so I picked this book up about a month ago and began reading. The book is a reflection of Beth’s life from the perspective of a mother whose children have left the nest.
Today, I began reflecting on the feathers from my nest…and bear with me as you read this. For many, this may not make much sense. Courtney and Griffin were not bore from my body, but they were my children. God released love in me for these two sweet souls that I could never have imagined. And long before I was ready, they left my nest. But they left behind such precious feathers that I walk through my house and pick up and marvel over. Let’s start with Griffin’s feathers:
We put wood floors in when Peyton was in treatment. We were desperate to rid our house of carpet because it harbors bacteria and germs are a nightmare in a child with no immune system. As a blessing, the house looks really nice, but that’s not what impressed Grif. Griffin’s first feather in my nest was that he walked in to our home the first time and told me that wood floors are the best floors to hip-hop dance on. And hip-hop skills did this cutie possess!! He took lessons while he still lived in LA. If that weren’t enough, he taught me some too. I had a long and distinguished (HA!) dance career when I was young. My parents put me in pink ballet shoes for the first time when I was two years old. I grew into tap shoes, jazz shoes, and drill team boots over the next 16 years. I hung up my dancing shoes at 19 when I traded up to wedding shoes. It had been a long time since anyone taught me a new kind of dance. Some days when I’m zipping around the house in my socks getting stuff cleaned or cooked, I’ll slide a bit on my wood floors and think of my precious little hip-hopper. I now have some pretty smooth moves for a 30-ish stay at home mom!
Another feather Griffin left in my nest were his sweet little boy clothes. We have girls in this house. Poor Dane is painfully aware of the overflow of estrogen in his kingdom on any day. For a while, we had boys. Loud, jumping, burping boys. And it was great. The day Griffy left us, he wore a bright yellow t-shirt. Later that day, he got sick, so he took a bath and put on his camouflage jammies. He got sick again, so he changed again. I put his clothes in the washer there on the 10th floor for the Oncology families to use. Hours later, Grif went to meet Jesus. In all that, we forgot about his clothes in the washer. One of Grif’s nurses found them, dried them and gave them to me. As you know, Courtney loved Griffin. She was devastated when he died. I took the bright yellow t-shirt, and made a pillow out of it. On the back, I wrote a Bible scripture. She carried it to every clinic visit, every hospital stay, and slept with it every night. We called it her “Griffin pillow”. She loved to hug it since it felt like she was hugging him. I still have the camo-jammies. They are tucked away in my cedar chest where the most precious of my feathers are. I get them out sometimes when I’m having a hard time. I lay them out on the floor and see how small they are and how cute he looked in them. I know Griffin is more than okay. He has his Jesus, and now he has his Courtney, but holding his jammies lets me go back for a moment or two and remember his voice, his hugs, and that smile that melted me each time I saw it.
My favorite feather from Griffin came as a gift to us from him. As Griffin’s cancer progressed the last few days he was here, Monique and Barry insisted on letting Griffin spend one-on-one time with Dane and I so we could say all the things we wanted to say to each other before he left. I promised him Heaven would be the best thing he could imagine and that we would be there soon to see him. I promised him I would never, ever, forget him and would look after his mommy, daddy and Blakey. I also told him that he made me so happy and that I loved him so much. He told me that he loved me and would miss me so much when he went to Heaven and we played a few moments of “remember when’s”. I got lots of hugs on that last day. He played with my hair for a minute and the rest of the time, we talked about Heaven, Jesus, and the farm he knew was waiting on him. That was my gift from him. What I did not expect was that gift to become more than just a precious memory tucked into my heart. Griffin actually made a video telling Dane, the girls and I goodbye. Indeed, that is one of my most treasured feathers from this little man God gave to me for a season. His presence changed me and my heart forever. And I miss my little bird from our nest every single day. Yesterday, I found a precious scripture in Matthew 16:19. It says “…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” I bound Griffin to my heart here on earth, and God assures me Griffin will be bound to me in Heaven. Until then, I have his feathers to get me through until I see him again.
I have so many feathers from Courtney that I don’t know where to start. I have more from her than I do Griffin because God let me keep this beautiful bird in my nest much longer and much more frequently than Grif. And a few days after she left us, I was afraid that all the feathers she left behind would be too painful to see and touch. But God’s grace is abounding in this nest and her feathers are pure treasures to me. They are reminders of how much she loves us and how I know beyond all doubt that she knows how much she is loved in return.
My first feather from Courtney is the thousands and thousands of memories of I have of her. And it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that I have photos to match almost every memory with her. My refrigerator, my living room, my computer, and the mirror on my antique dresser in the bedroom is covered in pictures of Courtney. In some, she’s alone, but mostly they have Dane, Peyton, Lindsay, me or any one of her numerous friends in them. I love walking through the house, glancing at the pictures and in my heart, recounting the stories behind them in. Yes, I get sad when I see them because I miss her beyond measure. But in the same breath, I am SO grateful to God for putting her in my life. I also have 14, yes 14 full videos I have taken of our family moments with Courtney and Paige. Countless hours of us at the lake, playing basketball, golfing, swimming, playing tennis, fishing, ice-skating, vacationing in Las Vegas, in the Jeep, hanging around the house just being silly, and my favorite one of all—her testimony. Precious as gold are the feathers that these tapes are to me. I can hear her voice and her contagious, distinct laugh, and see her beauty whenever I want to. I haven’t been able to do that yet, but the day is coming when I’ll be able to sit down and laugh over these tapes and the priceless memories my girl left me.
A favorite of my feathers from Courtney is how she drew her family and my family together and that gave me a friendship with her mother Kelly that will continue to be a God-sent blessing until Kelly and I go live in glory. In the few days after Court’s passing, I traded countless hugs with Kelly. At Courtney’s Celebration of Life Service, I hugged her again, but this time we squeezed harder and cried harder. It was a hug of understanding between two moms of two brave fighters, and a hug from one mother who wished so desperately to take away the hurt of the one who just lost her sunshine. I told Kelly then, “Thank you for sharing her with me.” And she said, “Thank you for loving her so much”. Courtney will always be a blessing in my life, but with Courtney, you get a packaged deal. A six-pack, if you will. We have her family as ours too. All six of them: Kelly, Paige, Britney, Nanny and Pops and of course, Courtney. And the five remaining feathers she left us with—her family-- will be a blessing for the rest of our days here.
I have a treasured Bible. I’ve had it since high school so it’s showing its age. I write in my Bible too. I highlight favorite scriptures, and I often write notes beside the scripture. Courtney always made fun of my Bible cover. To quote her, “It looks like it belongs to an old lady!” And she’s right! It’s kind of grandmotherly, but I haven’t found a good replacement yet. And I NEED a Bible cover because my Bible is overflowing with treasures that would fall out if not for the zippered-protection my geriatric cover afforded. The bulk of the treasures tucked in the pages of God’s beautiful Word are feathers given to me from God’s beautiful servant Courtney. I miss her most on Sunday’s because she ALWAYS sat with me at church. She would have friends all around her, but she always saved a seat for me on one side of her. Inevitably, she would write me a note mid-way through church and ask “Where are we going to eat?” And each time I would write back, “You pick. I don’t care.” And then we’d go back and forth for the duration of the sermon. Not just discussing lunch, but just writing about whatever. The lunch question just always triggered the note sessions. We talked about what God was speaking to us about through the sermon, we’d talk about boys, we’d talk about friends, or more often than not, we’d trade inside jokes. Every Sunday we did this. EVERY SUNDAY. My inside Bible cover is stuffed with these notes. Priceless feathers. Every one of them. I have a flower pressed in the book of Luke. She gave me the flower on Mother’s Day. I have a photo of her tucked in Revelation because she longed for Jesus’ second coming as much as I do. I have a plant leaf I picked her on a mountain in Colorado when God spoke to me about her role in my life and vice versa. It’s tucked away in 1 Samuel. I have cards from her, I have a picture she colored me from a coloring book during a particularly morphined moment at the hospital. It says, “To you. Love me”. I have an old appointment slip from clinic. I even have an old hospital bracelet. Who knows how that found it’s way there!
My favorite feathers of all are remnants of Courtney’s faith. I have notes of impromptu Bible studies she and I had. Scripture she and I found and highlighted in each other’s Bibles, and prayers we would write together. She found me sitting in the living room alone about 1:00 am many, many months ago. She asked me what I was doing. I told her, “Having my quiet time with God”. She seemed intrigued at the concept, so she started doing it as well. When she was with me, we usually did our quiet time together. We’d each study scripture, pray and make notes in our journals. Sometimes we shared what God told us. Sometimes we sat in complete silence. But those moments left indelible fingerprints on my soul. The basis of mine and Courtney’s relationship was our shared love of Jesus and my favorite feathers from her will always be that which points me to God.
Courtney liked to tease me that we could never really define what my title was for who I was in her life. Friend didn’t seem to cover all the bases. Mother and big sister were sacred roles already filled in her life. For purposes of getting me in all the ER visits and post-op surgical floor visits, I was Aunt Marni. We didn’t want the hospital hassling us over our lack of shared DNA so we fudged a little. But one role was crystal clear. I was Courtney’s Sunday School teacher. She was a member of our church and Dane and I teach the Young Adult SS class. She cheated each Saturday night and swiped my notes for the next morning’s lesson so she could see what we’d be studying the next day. One Sunday in early June, we did a lesson on Joy. Happiness comes from things. And happiness is temporary. Joy comes from the Lord, and nothing can take it if you truly have it. I asked the kids in our class if there was ever a time when they lost all happiness, but kept their joy. Having had time to formulate an answer due to swiping my notes the night before, in just a few sentences, Courtney reduced me to tears as she told our class that cancer often took her happiness, but Jesus was the source of her joy and cancer couldn’t touch it. The next day, she and I bribed Paige and Lindsay with the promise of pedicures if they’d watch Peyton for the afternoon, and we went shopping. We ended up in a Christian book store. When we got home later, she gave me a present she secretly bought for me at the book store. It was a frame. And she put a picture of she and I sitting together in her hospital bed. The frame simply says “Joy”. She handed it to me and said, “Marni, you give me joy and I love you.” That frame and it’s picture sit in a place of honor in my home. I hope they bury me with it. Feathers from my nest. Not glamorous or flashy ones. They’re better. They are day to day feathers. Reminders of how ingrained she was in my day to day life. Reminders of how tightly she too was bound to me on this earth, and, praise God, how tightly she will be bound to me in Heaven.
My precious birds left me way too soon. But they fly with Jesus now and He let me have them for a time so I could accumulate these feathers to show how much He loves me and How blessed I really am despite the hurt my heart has felt. And I will find strength in my memories and my feathers to carry on the promise I’ve made to God.