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nine years of letting go

Sunday would have been Cora’s ninth birthday. We made our way to the cemetery after church to release balloons like we always do. Each year the growing bunch of pink balloons fill up a little more space in our van. It’s like the amount of time that has past since we last saw our girl, which is hard to wrap my mind around when some days it still feels like yesterday she was in my arms. The plan was for each of the three boys to release three balloons. I should know by now to hold loosely to my plans. Before we could even get the balloons out of the car at the cemetery, they all tangled together thanks to the unrelenting Kansas wind (which hasn’t let up even as I type this two days later). If you have never been to Kansas you might not understand that this wind is not just a pleasant breeze but something that can actually knock you over, or in this case tangle up all your birthday balloons. My sweet idea of each of the boys releasing three balloons for their sister would not be happening. We tried to get all three boys to hold onto the balloons and release them together but by this time the wind was making Jake cry. I felt like crying too. The balloon ribbons ended up wrapped around Levi’s neck and once Griffin finally freed him, they abruptly flew sideways into the air in a big tangled blob, barely clearing the nearby trees. We all proceeded to sprint to the car to seek shelter. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But isn’t that life sometimes? We come up with a detailed, beautiful plan–even determining the precise timing–but instead find ourselves in the middle of a big tangled mess. We try to cling to our failed plan, maybe adjusting it a little but not wanting to completely let go. The wind tosses us around and we end up feeling a little like Levi, choked by the tangled up balloons on a horribly windy day. We sometimes get this idea that if we are following Jesus our life should be good and easy. We equate a smooth path with God’s pleasure or blessing and see difficulties as bad. But when our “good” plans fail, when we instead are facing disappointment, sorrow, betrayal or heartache, we feel let down. We wonder where God is and we desperately want to understand what He is doing. I’ve been there, have you?

Here’s the thing about our best made plans and not understanding when God says no. There was a time (and let’s be honest, it still happens) when I asked God for his blessing over my family, home, and career and waited expectantly for him to bring the “good” things, the things I thought were best for me, into my life. I thought I knew what God’s blessing looked like. But in many ways I think I was putting God neatly in a box that made sense to me. I was trusting in a god-of-my-plans. Maybe you have done this too. But do we really want to put God in a box so that we totally understand Him? Do we really want to serve a god who is predictable and always acts the way we are expecting Him to; a god that is no bigger than our limited wisdom and understanding? Or do we want to serve a God whose ways are higher than our ways and thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)? A God whose knowledge is too wonderful for us, too lofty for us to attain (Psalm 139:6)? A God who is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful.

I read this a few weeks ago and loved how straight forward it is,

“God knows what I need. I do not. He sees the future. I cannot. His perspective is eternal. Mine is not.” (The Unwelcoming Gift of Waiting, Vaneetha Risner)

God is not like us and that is such a good thing. Instead of holding onto our plans, what if we would hold onto God? What if we would let go and find shelter in Jesus? What if we would choose to find rest in knowing that He is for us and that His plans are for our good…even if they don’t seem good to us at the time?

Nine years of birthdays without Cora and I still find myself struggling to let go. I still find myself wrestling with God about my plans that I thought were pretty great and the things he has allowed into my life instead. I have to remind myself to stop bossing God around. For me, most of the time it comes down to having a right view of God and remembering that He reigns for my sake and for His glory. I have to choose to trust in who Jesus is above my circumstances and feelings. And sometimes that means being willing to let go of my plans or the outcomes I was hoping for. We can be confident that God is who He says He is and He will always act according to His character. Nine years later and I can tell you without a doubt, He is always faithful and always trustworthy.

Maybe this yearly birthday tradition of releasing balloons is meant to remind me to stop holding onto what seems good to me and instead hold onto my good, good Father.

  • Sarah - This spoke so deeply to my heart. Thank you, my friend. Love that our sweet girls share a birthday month. xoxo.ReplyCancel

    Jess Reply:

    Sarah! I love that they share a birthday month as well! So much. Miss you!

    • Jess - Sarah! I love that they share a birthday month as well! So much. Miss you!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Kirkes - Jess ~ Such wise words, beautifully written. I wish I could express myself this well. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I’m stopping right now to pray for you and your sweet family.ReplyCancel

  • Toni :0) - You’re right. Doesn’t seem possible it’s been as long as it has been. I continue to pray for your family and always remember Cora in our Mass intentions. Big hugs to you all. 💜ReplyCancel

  • Toni :0) - You’re right, doesn’t seem possible it’s been that long already. I continue to pray for your family and will always remember Cora in our Mass intentions. Blessings to your sweet family and big hugs.. 💜ReplyCancel

  • Jayne - Bless your heart, Jess. It is hard to believe that Cora would have been 9 years old. I’ve been reading your blog since Cora got sick and I remember reading it when she passed into the arms of Jesus. You are so faithful and you are her mama and every year is a milestone for you and your family. Your boys are lucky to have you and Joel as Godly parents.ReplyCancel

  • andrae - hugs Jess.ReplyCancel

    Jess Reply:

    Thanks, Andrea! Praying so much for your family right now.

    • Jess - Thanks, Andrea! Praying so much for your family right now.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - Beautifully written. God has enriched many through Cora even though she spent little time here on earth with your sweet family. We will never understand all of life’s twists, turns, and heartaches until it is our time to meet Jesus.
    I don’t remember how I stumbled on to your story from the very beginning but I do know that you have been an inspiration to me and many others from that time on. God bless you and your family.ReplyCancel

  • Mary Ann Davis - Reading this post, I was crying and laughing at the same time. Crying because the post is so true and heartfelt. Crying because of your loss and your eternal perspective of Cora. Crying because its hard to want something so badly but yet God knows that there is a different plan. Laughing because of the picture you painted with the wind. Laughing because the boys are so funny and seem to be enjoying their tussle with the balloons and the wind. 9 years…for me it seems just like yesterday but then it seems so long ago. It will be 9 years in August that my husband passed away. He missed meeting my daughter-in-law. He missed being a grandpa to my darling almost 7 year old grandson. But they watch us from heaven and in my belief system, they are closer than we think. Eternity really isn’t that far away. Thank you Jess for this lovely post and for sharing a little bit with us. In my wildest dreams I cannot imagine the loss of your beautiful Cora. But she is ever loved for the love never ever ends!!ReplyCancel

  • kim b - I am not eloquent with words, I try and keep things short and I always give the long version of the story. I just want to say thank you for always sharing your heart. My daughter Cora was born about 6 months after your daughter Cora. I came across your blog when Joy was listing things on etsy in honor of Cora.
    My daughter injured herself yesterday and was struggling with why her being in pain was part of Gods plan. This post will help me communicate with her and if I can’t express the greatness of His plan I will share this post with her.
    So thank you for helping me teach my daughter to love and trust in God even when we are suffering.ReplyCancel

  • chrissi - your thoughts. your words. your beautiful children. and your sweet celebration for cora …♥ReplyCancel

  • Jen - I love this so much friend!! Makes me sad, as Jocelyn will be nine this year too, and I can’t even fathom what you are going through! You and your faith are such a blessing to me. So thankful for a God with the knowledge of the future and better plans and timing than our own! Love you bunches and I am praying for your family always!ReplyCancel

  • Danielle - Beautifully written, Jess. Your words about putting God in a box, especially spoke to my heart. Trusting God is a day to day process. It is what I want to do with all my heart, but it takes constant effort and is easier some days than others. Trusting Him and letting my plans go sums up my day to day walk with the Lord since my cancer journey, and really since having children. 🙂 I heard a quote on K-LOVE recently that I continue to remind myself several times each day: “God love me so much, that I can trust why He is allowing ‘this’ to happen to me.” Whatever “this” is, may we all be able to give it to God each day and trust His plans, not our own. Continued prayers for you and your sweet family! Love, DanielleReplyCancel

  • Krystal - Thank you for this post. I love how God brings clarity of who He is out of what we initially see as messes or problems. Praying for your still hurting heart!ReplyCancel

    Jess Reply:

    Yes! Isn’t that so true! Thank you for your prayers!

  • Kelly - Thank you for sharing your faith in the midst of the ongoing pain. Your faith in the Lord shines through and He is honored by your testimony. My heart hurts for you, yet I also rejoice in your transparency and the way you continually point others to God. May God wrap you and your family in His comforting arms bringing the peace that transcends all understanding. Thank you for your vulnerability and letting others see how God is working in your life.ReplyCancel

    Jess Reply:

    Thank your for your sweet words of encouragement, Kelly! They are so appreciated.

    • Jess - Thank your for your sweet words of encouragement, Kelly! They are so appreciated.ReplyCancel

  • Melissa Joy - I have not known what to say ever since I read this post.
    But I always think of Cora on her birthday (it’s my dad’s birthday too), and I pray for you.
    I love how God gave you eyes to see His glory through the wind and the tears and the tangled balloon strings. That really spoke to my heart on a day when I needed that.
    God bless you, precious lady.ReplyCancel

    Jess Reply:

    Thank you, Melissa! Your continued prayers mean so much to us! So thankful that God used this to encourage your heart.

    • Jess - Thank you, Melissa! Your continued prayers mean so much to us! So thankful that God used this to encourage your heart.ReplyCancel