Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I'm 28 Today -

Woke up this morning missing CJ, China, my team, 
and these white magnolia blossoms of HOPE, in that order. 
Being 27 was a FULL year. I watched my sister fall in love and get married. 
I traveled internationally and halfway around the world and fulfilled my dream of visiting orphans. 
I never dreamed how much I could love, how rich and full God's love could be, could feel, could be known. 

Turning 28.... I feel it is a privilege; 
the world is wide open and His Kingdom is running forth with hearts rejoicing. 
The King is coming, the King is coming, the King is coming!!! 

I am not yet who I want to be in my lifetime, 
yet I know Whom I have believed, and that this is written for me: 
"I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you,
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." {Phillipians 1:6}

{And Aslan spoke} "Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen!
Bear it well, Sons of Adam! Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!" ~ C.S. Lewis

And now I'm 28. On to dreaming big things & fulfilling more dreams & making much of Jesus. 

- JM - 

Monday, June 27, 2016

My 27th Year -

Dreams Fulfilled in my 27th Year of Life - 

1. Attended my first college football game: FSU! {Oct. 2015}

2. Finished & received my Photography Degree from NYIP! {Dec 2015} (BTS my final project!)

3. Saw Brian Regan in Concert! {Dec 2015}

4. Photographed my sister's proposal & engagement!{Dec 2015}

5. Rode the SunRail for the first time. {Jan 2016}

6. Got my ears pierced {Jan 2016}

7. Entered a Photography Contest, and TWO of my Maternity Photos won Top 100! {March 2016}
(this was a HUGE deal, since that means they placed in the top 3.5% out of 225, 207 photos!)

8. Flew internationally for the first time {March 2016}

9. Saw One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Great Wall of China {March 2016}

10. Traveled to China to work in an orphanage {March 2016} (Miss CJ more than anyone in the world)

11. Saw the Terracotta Warriors, considered the Eight Wonder of the World {March 2016}

12. Was the Maid of Honor at my Sister's wedding {April 2016}

13. My Sister Got Married!! {April 2016}  {A Still Breath Photography}

One of the happiest days of my life! 

14. Went to my first Orlando City Soccer Game! {May 2016} (shaky because we'd just WON)

15. Found Hidden Treasure (while on a beach cleanup)! {June 2016} 

16. Donated Blood for the first time! {June 2016}

Being 27 was AMAZING. Soooo many dreams fulfilled!!! I'm so excited to make so many more! Now, on to 28

- JM -

Saturday, June 18, 2016

To the Mother -

To the Mother: 

I've always loved. Always adored. Always looked up to. 

To the Mother who held me in sickness, in grief, in pain, in joy, in laughter, in infancy, in adulthood. 
To the Mother who flew & drove hours away to go to funerals with me because I needed to BE there. 
To the Mother who wouldn't let me go alone, and who knows me more than almost anyone. 

To the Mother who even when she wanted to give up, got up the next day and tried again. 
To the Mother who never stops praying for her girls. To the Mother who reads her Bible every morning. 

To the Mother with a river of strength in her soul, because Jesus is faithful. 

To the Mother who has taught us school, but more importantly, what life and love look like together. 
To the Mother who in every day has either encouraged me or brought me to laughter, and always loved. 

To the Mother who is the very best one for me. 
To the Mother who married a daughter off 2 months ago. 
To the Mother who grows more beautiful with every month, every year. 
To the Mother who makes me long to be a Mother too. 
To the Mother who is kind, supportive, loyal, generous and sweet. 
To the Mother all the tear inducing poems and beautiful things that are written and sung.....
are secretly speaking of. 

To You, Mama. 

Happy Birthday. 

Love always,
- Jean Marie - 

Photos: May 2015. Springtime in Ohio. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pray for Orlando (Tuesday) -

{Journaled on Instagram}

I attended the Citywide Prayer Service at First Baptist Church of Orlando tonight with Eric and some mutual friends. 
It was hard but good. Prayers from multiple pastors in Orlando. 
Corporate Worship live streamed on probably every news channel there was with a video camera. 
"It is Well" with hands upraised. 

The "Really Bad Weekend" talked about....
A standing ovation in support for Christina Grimmie's friends &
Before You Exit band (who attend First Pres of Orlando) who were there....
A standing ovation for a guy named Josh who was at Pulse the night of the shooting, who had tears trembling in his eyes.....
the reading of the 49 names and the chiming of the bell went on far too long, far too many names....

The LBGTQ African American lady who works with the group who spoke a few words and 
when she said "2,000 people have come here tonight....putting aside politics and differences to
show support...in a church....in a CHURCH." and tears stopped her from continuing as well
as thundering applause because THIS IS OUR TIME. 

Church, WE KNOW Who saves the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, 
we know Who gives life, we know Who is God and Who reigns over our world, 
we know the answer, and His Name is JESUS

Don't stay silent. Proclaim it. 

 "I believe this is the choice of our age: Do we want to be brave or safe?" ~ Gary Haugen 

I have a crying headache. I got home from Orlando to Sanford at 10:30pm,
from Sanford to Home at 11:30pm, now I'm going to bed while trying to write & debrief at 12:30am. 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. 
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." - Jesus {John 10:10}

I unpinned the purple ribbon on my shirt and put it in a safe place to remember,
and I thanked God I got home safely due to being SO tired 
(apparently donating a pint of blood takes away energy as does crying for an evening).
I wish the gay friends I met yesterday could have come tonight and seen it. 

I'm praying that many who watched it are stirred to know Jesus, are comforted by the prayers,
and are uplifted knowing we came just for them, not for us by any means. 
We showed up for YOU, Pulse families & LBGTQ Community. 

Hear us loud and clear: We are praying for you. 
Conservative Christians are heartbroken and weeping with you. 
YOU have great worth in our eyes and in God's eyes. 
And there is One Who will never leave you or forsake you in your whole life, 
He longs to make you a part of His family, and until you know it to be true yourself, 
we will call you family, and we will mourn with you. Because #WeareOrlando

- JM - 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pray for Orlando (Monday) -

Woke up this morning feeling in shock of all that happened yesterday in Orlando. 

Waited 4.5hrs to give blood today in my little hometown One Blood Center for Orlando.
It was worth every minute of making friends, talking, waiting, praying. 

"Do what the Lord bids you, where He bids you, as He bids you, 
as long as He bids you, and do it at once." ~ C.H. Spurgeon 

We talked and shared and a nurse ordered 10 pizzas, so we wouldn't have people passing out post donation.
About 3pm, one of the nurses spoke up to the room "Listen up!", she just got off a call from the 
district One Blood Center that said because of the overwhelming response, Central Florida had 
FULFILLED THE NEED of blood the last 2 days, which is INCREDIBLE. 

Today I saw Americans refusing to complain, waiting even though they could leave,
(and knew it was a 2hr wait when they signed in) and a hush falling over the room when the 
names were being read on the TV. It was a sobering reminder of why we all were there: 
To BE OrlandoUnited. 

And tonight I went to a prayer vigil and walk locally in our little town. I went alone but I saw friends
 I'd made today at the One Blood Center and at cleanup on Saturday at Playalinda Beach. 
I saw the mayor and the police chief, who wrote the coordinator and said "I'm coming and we're
bringing the guys with us." There were Fire Department, Police, SWAT and K-9 so we'd all feel safe.

A pastor prayed for us, and we went walking with our candles and carnations. 

THIS is NOT a political statement. This is not even a faith statement.

This is a statement that says: "I will stand and mourn with you. I'm sad someone came and killed your friends.
I hate that this happened. And as Christians, we are going to stand in the gap and protect you if
someone ever pulls a gun. We are going to lay down our lives for you because that's what Jesus did for us.
What He did for YOU. We won't stand for violence against image bearers of God." 

I read this quote on Facebook today:
 "You have never looked into the eyes of someone who was not deeply loved by God."
and as I spent time today with strangers I'd never otherwise have known,  I knew that to be true. 

I was sitting on the bridge barrier and praying after we all tossed our 102 carnations 
(1 for every victim) into the Indian River, watching as they spun their way into the grey water, 
and watching as the sun set in the most vibrant pink, when Donovan walked by. 

He was a man who had set up tents outside One Blood all day today 
and handed out cold waters, juice, cookies, etc that people had donated. 
I had met him and talked with him, and then sat inside for 4.5 hours. 

I looked up and smiled, and he said "I've seen you twice today. Thank you so much."
I hugged him and told him I was praying for everyone, and he said "Thank you SO much." 

And then I was ready to leave. Because I had came. 
I did not leave them alone. I mourned, I prayed. They knew.

There is a great opportunity for the Church to be Christ right now - let's not miss it

"Let it be said again. Through tears. 
Followers of Jesus lay down their lives to save others, not to slaughter." 
~ John Piper ~ 

- JM -

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pray for Orlando -

** Normally I wouldn't post on a Sunday, but this warrants it. **

"May the Gospel of Christ be evident as the only power greater than a broken human heart."
 ~ Albert Mohler

{image via Albert Mohler}

I live an hour away from Orlando. I go there almost weekly. I know the road it's on very well. 
 I drive within 10 minutes of this nightclub. I have many friends who live in Orlando.

And I had no idea what happened this morning until our pastor announced it. 
It is being hailed as the worst shooting in US history and the worst terror attack since 9/11,
and it was in ORLANDO. What is happening. 

Hearing the news, I felt sick and horrified. It immediately felt like grief. It WAS grief. 
Tears slipping down my cheeks during prayer. Jesus, they are hurting. I'm hurting for them.

 As Christians, we know that life is VERY precious, and every life is to be valued and to be treasured.
This {the killing} should NOT BE. Murder is an abomination in the eyes of our Lord. 

So many lives were lost this morning, many not knowing Christ...
so many families were torn apart. So many hearts are breaking, so many souls are weeping. 

I am weeping. 


Surreal and sickening to see this enacted on Facebook, it was previously used in Paris. 

"God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that 
He interprets any move against them as a move against Him." ~ Tim Keller

Pray. Love. Grieve with those who are grieving. 
Mourn the loss. Build each other up. Love. Pray.

- JM -

Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Project 52 {Week 24} -

{Week 24} June 11, 2016 ~ Playalinda Beach, FL ~ Shimmering water & shadows in an eddy pool.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

June 9, 2016 -

I try not to remember too much of today, 4 years ago. Today, the day we buried Avery.

I try not to remember too much because once I start, the haunting sounds start. 

 I remember too much in detail. My senses were on panic alert. Every blink. Every second. 
Every smell. Every breeze. Every sound. Every step. Every shutter click. Every breath. 

They haunt my nightmares sometimes and steal the breath from my chest. 

Everyone else was standing during the hymns during the funeral, but I wasn't.
If I stood, I would faint. My legs had no strength, I could not stand in victory. 

Jesus, he's gone

Wrapped in my teal shawl. Rocking. Anything but sitting still because this can't be. 

Balloons lifting into the air with the babies smiling and giggling with joy. 

Staring at the house I loved so much across the street in utter bewilderment and shock. 

Pacing the shimmering asphalt. Counting the steep stone steps up and down. 

Shovel against dirt. Dirt against wood. Dirt against dirt. 

Jesus, You said You are the Healer....how did this happen?

The look in my eyes when I got back to the hotel and 
gripped the bathroom counter so I wouldn't fall.

How I laid down on my bed and tried to rest but felt like I was suffocating. I couldn't breathe.
For 1. 5hr., I lay with my mind racing, tears soaking the pillow, while Mama slept.
When Mama left the room to not wake me up,
I got up, washed off my makeup, curled into a ball, and sobbed.
I couldn't stay here. I got up and got Mama and we left.
Driving somewhere. Anywhere. Out. 

The lights turn from green to yellow to red and he's gone, everything says he's gone. 

And I can't write anymore and I can't tell anymore, and so HERE. This. From last year. 

and this, today: 
"I cannot go to him, so I go to where it is not odd to walk in the rain and weep. I miss you, Avery."

"I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien 

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - 
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. 
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 
So when this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, 
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in VICTORY." 

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"
~ 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ~ 

- JM - 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

My Project 52 {Week 23} -

{Week 23} June 2, 2016 ~ DeLeon Springs, FL 

"He leads me beside still waters....." ~ Psalm 23:2

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Worst is Over -

Today one of my best friends texted me to let me know she loved me and was praying for me these days,
and when I texted her back, I said: "The worst is over.". Which it is. 

June 3 is the infamous "Day After", when I was so paralyzed by the shock that I handed over my 
Sunday School class to I don't even know who, and just tried to breathe. And sleep? 
And tore apart my bathroom and reorganized all the drawers to DO. SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

I remember washing my hands at the kitchen sink and then just falling straight down, 
my legs giving out, and wondering if my heart would ever start beating normally again 
without the pain of losing him. 

Lying on the kitchen floor sobbing. Numb

But getting up again and organizing some more. 

Yes, the worst is over. The last bad memory day is the 9th. 
Then it's over for another year, at least the horrific remembering 
and nightmares that rob my sleep of sleeping. 

But the worst is over too in a better and much bigger way: 
I won't ever say goodbye to Avery ever again. 
I can't wait to say "Hello"!! 

Death has come, but Death has also been crushed beneath my Savior's feet. 

The cross is over. The tomb is empty. The stone is rolled away. The veil is torn. 
The Angels await with baited breath. The trumpeters stand ready. 

And I close my eyes and whisper with a smile, "The worst is over....", because IT IS. 

GLORY is coming. 

"The resurrection means everything sad is going to eventually come untrue
and it will somehow be greater for once being broken and lost." ~ Tim Keller 

- JM - 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

June 2, 2016 -

"When one person is missing, the whole world feels empty." - Pat Schweibert

Today, more than any other day, it's hard to write down what I feel and it's hard to know what to say. 

It's hard not to feel every second pulsing with the words "He's gone.....he's gone....he's gone." 

It's hard to forget the trauma of the worst day. 
It's hard to believe we have to wait the rest of our years here until we see him again!
 Most days, it can't get here fast enough. I miss his happy face and belly laughs. 

June 2, 2012, I awoke with the dawn and took pictures of the sunrise 
on the day God would heal and raise up Avery.

.... and a few hours later, he was gone. 

Never have I been more.....utterly shocked and stunned. 
We believed. We prayed. We knew the Healer could heal. 
We waited for the dawn, for the rolling away of the stone, for the veil lifting....

Did we wait and pray in vain? 
Did God not hear us? 
Doesn't He know that we can't let him go? 

"HOW could this have happened?", I sobbed to my best friend Laurie on the phone that afternoon.
"He was perfectly fine, and now he's gone! Why didn't God heal him here? How did.....how can this be?"

I couldn't breathe. There was no air. There was no day. There was no night. There was no color.
There were my sobs, my screams and the silence after the screams is a quiet I can still hear in my head.

Writing it down 4 years later doesn't make it seem any more believable, 
except the grief and loss and nightmare memories remind me it's all too real.  

It aches and it stings and it does not lessen over the years.
Kaylee told me today that she doesn't expect it ever will.
In a way, I can't imagine why I would think it would. 

When Love misses something, it grieves for it.
I'll always love him. I'll always grieve the loss of him. 
And I'll always look forward to seeing him in Heaven. 

I gave myself over to loving him like I hadn't with a child,
even though I've deeply loved many children. 

It was worth it.

He was joy and life and giggles and slobbery kisses and laughed at my pirate stories. 

I don't regret a thing. How could I regret loving? 

It's both melancholy to miss him, and sweet to miss him, for in missing him,
 I knew him, and loved him with my whole heart. 

June 2, 2016 - This morning I awoke with the dawn, startled awake (like every year) 
with the feeling that something was horribly, terribly wrong. It was. It was June 2. 

Foggy mist hung through the trees and the sun spilled sunshine rays all over the neighborhood I grew up in. 
And somewhere in Heaven, Avery is alive. And so am I. 

He is gone from here, but he is not lost to us. 

God raised up Avery, just not in the way we hoped or expected. Instantly healed. Instantly alive. 

We do not pray or wait in vain. We pray and wait in HOPE. 
For we have been promised by One Who does not break His promises. 
And yet. Even now. "Jesus, my soul's hope and joy...."

The stone rolled away. The veil torn in two lifted for the final time. The rising from the grave. 
Instantly healed. Instantly alive. 

"The resurrection means everything sad is going to eventually come untrue,
and it will somehow be greater for once being broken and lost."~ Tim Keller

HLH could not take a baby boy of 16 months from this world because only 
Jesus gives and takes away. Only Jesus carries us away in His arms to Heaven. 

We wait for Jesus, and we thank Him for the joy and 
precious gift of a little man named Avery John Notgrass

You changed my world, just by being YOU. I miss everything about you! 
You are very much missed and always very much loved by your Auntie Jemmie, sweet little man. 

 ~ Auntie Jemmie ~

"Therefore - we do not lose heart. 
Even though our outward man is perishing, 
yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment,
 is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 
while we do not look at the things which are seen, 
but at the things which are not seen. 
For the things which are seen are temporary, 
but the things which are not seen are eternal." 
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 -

Avery is Forever. 

June 1, 2016 -

It was over a year ago when I had a conversation with our dear Judy 
(our resident and much loved honorary grandmother who knows much about loss) 
about what happens when sad memories hit, and what we can possibly do about it. 

I stood in her driveway, with tears choking the back of my throat, 
and talked about the upcoming anniversary of Avery leaving our world so suddenly. 

I waved my hands helplessly: "I've tried everything, Judy!!! 
I've tried pretending it didn't happen at all (which doesn't work). 
I've tried blocking it out, and I've tried being present in whatever sadness or joy I feel. 
I've tried praying it away and I've tried singing it away.
I've tried every distracting project I can throw myself into, 
and I've tried reliving it all just as it happened, which hurts SO much
(which is THE WORST because you feel like you are dying more and more every minute)! 
I've tried everything I can think of, and no matter what happens, it still.....hits me."

With great compassion in her eyes, Judy looked at me and said these simple words of truth:
"You know, Jean Marie...." and she paused to pull a breath "I learned a long time ago, 
there gets to be a point when you really can't do anything about it but SURVIVE IT. 
You just get through itIt might not get better, but you will make it through." 

I cried on her driveway, right then and there, because she was right. 

June 1 is hard. June 2 is harder. 

The two weeks surrounding the date of losing Avery are the worst. I do not sleep without nightmares.
Or I sleep restlessly, and lie awake with long hours in between. Remembering he is not here. 
It is not cured by anything. It is called grief, and it comes calling every year, 
for these few weeks, even my subconscious knows I'm sad. 

It's hard remembering that 4 years ago, Avery was alive in Tennessee, but now he's not. 
Now he is alive, very much alive, more alive than we've ever been, but he's not in the Notgrass home in Missouri,
playing with his two adorable younger brothers.
He's in a beautiful Narnia-like Dreamland we haven't seen yet, and I'm so happy for him!!
 It must be so lovely and wonderful there. 

But my heart aches that he is not here. My heart aches for my beloved Audra & John, Henry & Toby, 
and the great loss they suffered when God took Avery so suddenly, so very suddenly. 

At around noon today, I knew I needed the best comfort and joy I could have, and asked if I could
invade Tricia's space for the day. She lovingly said yes, and so here are the snippets from today. 

"The very best thing to distract yourself & take away the sad is to surround yourself with children.
I spent the better part of the day coloring and listening to stories and playing with these two dear little men: David & Ryan."

"Would you hold my hand through life's long and troubled roads...."
All the best of simple joys to remind me love is alive and so am I." 

"Sitting on the wooden counters that Emily's Ben made but is now Tricia's kitchen, 
and eating ice cream out of the carton because "a bowl tarnishes it"
 and NOT solving the world's problems because we have enough to talk about besides. 
Because we both want to live faithfully through pain and grief even though it cuts like a knife 
and feels like a swear word and most people don't understand.

Honestly, we don't get it either.

But we trust the One Who does, and I'm grateful to have her to walk with me through the worst words
and flashback memories of the day we lost Avery. She's praying for me, and more so, she's praying for you, Notgrass family. 
You are very loved. And I am very loved. And Tricia is very loved. 
And the One Who loves us all so much was loving on June 1, 2012, and still the same on June 2, 2012. 
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." {Hebrews 13:8} 

Love you, Tricia. You healed the hurt today."

It is June 1, 2016. "The Night Before". The very very bad night before,
when I stayed up all night on calls back and forth with Elle and Facebook updates and
texts from the Throwers and constant, believing, every breath breathing out prayer.
At midnight, I sat in the very chair I'm in now, a cell phone pressed against my ear,
with Elle speaking words of the implications of his critical condition:
"Jemmie. It's bad. He might not......It's bad.", and in the silence that stretched on,
I whispered in realization: "We could lose him. Oh God, we could lose him." 

I finally laid down in my bed to rest and pray, confident that God would wake Avery up in the morning. 
I go to bed tonight confident that God awoke Avery that morning, and healed him instantly. 
I go to bed confident that God will one Day come and we shall awake to a New Life more Glorious.

And all shall be made right forever and always! And we will never say Goodbye ever again! 
And the first week of June won't hurt anymore, because all the sadness will be gone. 
We shall SEE Avery again, and we shall be with Jesus. 

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~