Category Archives: Ian

Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

DSC_0103Snowflakes fall, mistletoe hangs and the tinkling strains of a nearby radio gleefully herald the most wonderful time of the year.

…but what if it’s not? What if Christmas feels a lot less like magic, and a lot more like a frosty nose pressed to a glass window, peering inside as you wistfully bear witness to everybody else’s joy? What about those of us feel like we’re on the outside looking in this Christmas season?

I’ve always loved Christmas—every little bit of it. When I was a little girl, the sheer magic of anticipation used to drive me to wake my brothers up around 3:00 AM. Giggling, we would gather in my room in our flannel Christmas pajamas and sit on the floor with our wide eyes glued to my PollyPocket Cuckoo clock. Resolutely, we watched the blue second hand tick around and around and around until it at long last, it was finally time! We would burst into my parent’s bedroom and elatedly drag them towards the jubilant glow of our Christmas tree, where stacks of pre-sorted gifts [you’re welcome, family!] sat waiting. Dad would read us the Christmas story, and we would light every candle in the house because in my family, special occasions mean Yankee Candles.

This year, Christmas makes me ache because there’s not a thing about it that doesn’t remind me of Ian. As Bing Crosby dreams of a White Christmas and the Grinch’s small heart grows three sizes, my heart feels like bursting from missing my little brother. Everything conjures a flood of old memories, from picking out a tree and carefully hanging ornaments one by one [I always rearranged Ian’s when he wasn’t looking], to the teasing scent of gingersnaps lacing the frosty air.[Oh, he loved them!] Every carol, every wreath, every snowflake reminds me of a little brother who I will never wake up on Christmas morning again.

And so I sit with my nose pressed to the glass, watching happy families revel in the magic of the season as I ache and try to muddle through somehow. Maybe that’s your story this year, too. And as I sit, I think that I’ve never understood-never felt Christmas quite this deeply before. You see, I think Christmas belongs to broken people sitting on the outside. Oh, we aren’t the laughing ones, and you might not catch us at a cookie swap—but we’re the ones that most acutely understand how desperately we need good news of great joy.

My little brother dying of cancer is not the end of his story. It’s not the end of his story because 2,000 years ago, God sent His Son Jesus to live the life that Ian should have lived, and die the death that Ian should have died. Jesus took Ian’s place, so that February 27th in a ICU room would not be the end of Ian’s life—but rather the beginning of eternity spent at HOME with God in heaven. Ian has never really been home for Christmas until now.

I am deeply, profoundly, unspeakably thankful that this Christmas season, there is hope. A weary world can rejoice because in the midst of our pain, Emmanuel [God with us!] came, just as He’d promised He would!  I love how “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” puts it:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

If you are weary and aching and looking at Christmas from the outside in, you and I can still link arms and repeat the sounding joy because friend, there is a reason to. Jesus really came, and He’s really alive. Our broken stories do not end here—He is redeeming ALL things.

Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.

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Filed under Christmas, God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian

The Bald Ballerina.

DSC_0120The day we shaved off Ian’s curly hair, he didn’t do it alone. My brother Stephen, cousin Justin and my Uncle Anthony shaved their heads bald right along side of him, [Daddy’s head was, shall we say, already shaved? ;)] because in my family, we will elbow our way right into when you’re hurting and hurt right along side of you. You may lose your hair, but we’ll be darned if you lose it alone.

[Side note: the men in my family are devastatingly handsome with or without hair, and I love them something fierce.]

I briefly contemplated shaving my head that day, but dismissed the idea because MY HAIR.

Also, MY HAIR.

My little sister Emily and I stood by with our hearts stapled to our sleeves, grinning bravely and determinedly cheering in the kitchen while our Mama shaved head after head. Curls fell to the floor, and we oohed and ahhed as cancer left her chilling calling card. In the months that followed, people would stare as Ian shuffled into coffee shops and grocery stores with gaunt cheeks and a telling bald head. I would stare rudely, unflinchingly back until embarrassed, they looked away– because NOBODY got to treat my little brother like the dying kid. Not on my watch.

The day that Ian slipped away, I had one arm around Emily while we both tightly clung to his hand. My shattered heart throbbed at the searing loss of my little brother. I ached as I watched my fourteen year old sister grow up in a single afternoon.

After Ian died, Emily began to talk about shaving her head to raise money to fight cancer. She didn’t want any more sisters to lose their brothers, and told me that a bald head was a small price to pay next to giving other girls a chance to wave at their big brother from a graduation stage, or dance with him at their wedding.

And so, for all of the other sisters out there, Emily Scott Peterson is shaving her head. In so doing, she is hoping to raise $2,100—a hundred dollars for every year of her big brother’s life.

Y’all, I’ll be darned if I let my ballerina sister shave her long brown hair off for a red cent less than that.

Emily asked me if I’d write a blog to tell you what she’s doing, and I promised that I would. I’m writing to you not simply because we’re talking about my little brother, and my little sister, but because the world has been badly broken by sin. Since the February day that I walked out of Ian’s dark ICU room for the very last time, I’ve noticed that brokenness in a way that I never had before. Brokenness now leaps off of life’s pages, begging to be restored.

When I look at Jesus’ life, I see restoration. The God-man entered right into our brokenness, and a weary world rejoiced. The Restorer had finally come! Everywhere He went, the hungry were fed, the lame walked, the blind saw. God and sinners were reconciled, brokenness that He encountered was restored, and these were all earthly pictures of a heavenly reality that’s coming.

A thrill of hope, indeed.

I believe that Jesus has called you and I to be on the front lines of restoration. Restoration is our messy, heartbreaking, holy work.

I don’t know how Jesus is asking you to be a part of restoration, simply that He is. In the midst of this Christmas season, let’s remember that sacred good news of great joy—Emmanuel, God WITH us—means that an end to pain is coming. That everything sad is becoming untrue, and until Jesus comes back and our restoration is complete we are to incarnate Christ to a broken world that desperately needs Him.

I am proud of Emily for working to restore, by fighting cancer. If you would like to help her, click here. Select “Seat yourself”, then at the top of the page click “Make a donation”, and then fill in the required information.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Hope, Ian

The Wedding Video.

I apologize for the radio silence around here. Just be grateful that you’re not my husband, who is currently living on dreams and scrambled eggs.

I am straight-up exhausted.

In typical “us” fashion, we decided that we should buy a new house, join a new church AND start my new job allatthesametime. It all feels like LIFE, and after six months of death, I am grateful for every overflowing trashcan and stale bagel around these parts. I am deeply, deeply thankful for life.

Yesterday, I drove to Massachusetts. As happens on all of my long, quiet drives now, I missed Ian more and more with every winding, New England mile. I arrived home to a sweet surprise—our wedding video!

My heart jumped into my throat as I relived the frosty March day that Kellan and I looked hard into each other’s eyes and promised for better or for worse. I’ll say what took me months to admit out loud: it’s often hard for me to think about our wedding day. There was so much impossible pain and so much extravagant love woven into March 2nd, so inextricably intertwined that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. I had tightly held Ian’s hand as he slipped away just three days before, and suddenly, impossibly, I found myself clutching my Daddy’s arm in a white dress, waiting for the sanctuary doors to open. Breathtaking piano music swelled and I thought my heart might burst from the indescribable pain and beauty of it all.

I had to remind myself to breathe.

Just a week and a half before, my Dad and I had been sitting beside Ian’s bed in the ICU. Monitors flickered in the dark, vacillating wildly between hopeful and heartbreaking. Exhausted hearts rose and sank with oxygen levels and hand squeezes, and no one knew for certain whether Ian would live or die. We were afraid to hope, and still, could do nothing else.

My wedding day was fast approaching, though I did my best not to think or talk about it. Somehow, my stubborn sister heart still resolutely believed that the frail shadow of my brother laying on the hospital bed in front of me might still walk out of that hospital room and waltz with me on March 2nd. Truthfully, I was never able to wrap my heart around the idea that Ian might die. Oh, I could say the words, but they rang hollow every time.

Over the course of planning a wedding for six and a half months, my easy-going Father had never inserted his opinion or asked for anything at all. That day in the ICU, he looked at me and quietly asked me to find a videographer to capture the day, in case Ian lived to see it.

The wedding was days away. Numb and exhausted, I called my dear friend Amy, who spent countless hours in the ICU with us over the course of those weeks. Amy, Dad wants me to find a videographer. Do you know anyone?

Firmly, she told me not to worry about it, that she would figure it out.

Later that day, Amy texted and told me that my friend Josh [who happened to be the most talented videographer at our church] had agreed to film the wedding—and some friends [who remain anonymous to this day] were paying for it.

Hot tears slipped down my face in a sterile white hallway, as I sank to the floor outside the door to Ian’s room.

Ian will never watch this video, but I am indescribably grateful to have it. Its very existence reminds me that even in the midst of raw, searing pain, I do not walk alone. That I do not hurt alone, and that my family and I are loved. And it reminds me of how grateful I am that in the months that followed my walk down the aisle, Kellan walked with me. [Goodness, am I ever glad that I married that man!]

To Josh Sliffe, Amy, and the other friends that made capturing our wedding day possible: “thank you” could never be enough. You are a tangible expression of God’s goodness towards me.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian, Marriage, My favorite people

It’s Not Just a Phone.

I started my new job with HOPE about a week and a half ago—and can I just tell you how thankful I am? Y’all, I am SO THANKFUL for early morning alarms and messy rooms and backed up laundry and stacks and stacks of reading. [Kellan is slightly less thankful. ;)] The thought of getting to be a real part of ending poverty makes my heart race, and we’re going to be talking about that a lot around here!

But today, I’m going to tell you about a phone. My phone, actually.

About a year ago now, Kellan flew to North Carolina to be with me as I watched my world begin to unravel. He’d moved to New York a week to the day after we’d gotten engaged, and had left his newly-minted bride-to-be beaming and elatedly scribbling wedding plans into a little black binder. He returned to bleary red eyes and quivering lips, sterile rooms and a very sick little brother.

Kellan felt helpless. The man who would hand me the moon if he could just figure out how to get his hands on it desperately wanted to fix it, and he couldn’t. He stood helplessly by as I crumbled, powerless to give me the only thing in the whole world that I wanted. He could not fix it.

My ancient cell phone was barely holding a charge anymore, which posed a herculean problem given that I needed my family to be able to reach me any time that I wasn’t at the hospital. Something in Kellan’s mind snapped, and the next afternoon he stuffed me into the car and drove me straight to the AT&T store. My protests fell on deaf ears as he put me on his cell phone plan and bought me my very first iPhone. He could not fix my little brother, but come hell or high water he was going to fix the phone.

I’ve never been so grateful for a piece of technology in my entire life. It was by far the most timely, practical gift that I’ve ever been given. I used the GPS to find the different hospitals that Ian was admitted to—I used it almost every single day. I snapped random pictures of Ian and I—pictures of coffee dates, wedding errands, and me curled up next to him in his hospital bed. And months later, one very last picture–a picture of my hand holding his. All of them, pictures that I never would have had if not for that fancy phone.

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I took videos. I took a video of his a cappella  group singing to him in the ICU. It was a video that I held up to his ear and played a thousand times—and I’m almost sure that one day I saw him try to smile. I took a video of him lying in his hospital bed as the steady rush of the ventilator helped him breathe in and out—and I would watch it over and over again at night right before I fell asleep, begging God to please let him still be breathing when I woke up. It was the phone I looked at in a frozen panic the second my eyes fluttered open each new morning, praying that all was calm. The phone that I held up to Ian’s ear and played music off of. The phone that lit up in a dark ICU room as thousands of texts and emails from praying friends and family and strangers poured in while I held Ian’s hand. I read him every single one.

When I started at HOPE, a kind employee graciously informed me that I would be sent a new phone, and transitioning to the company phone plan. My heart stopped as a thousand memories flooded my mind. I cringed, thinking about the archived pictures of the second to last coffee date that Ian took me on. He’d enthusiastically jumped behind the counter at his coffee shop to brew me a latte and impress me with his foam designs, and I’d laughed and snapped a picture.

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I thought of the day that Ian, Mom and I had been waiting in the hallway for yet another painful test. I’d breezed in with my wedding invitations, and in an effort to make Ian smile I’d spread all of my materials all over him and used him as a table. [Address stamps were delivered using his forehead as a level surface. :)] There was a picture of that, too.

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Then there was the picture on the yellow couch, of watching Emily’s ballet recital together, of cake-tasting entirely too many wedding cupcakes.

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I could save them all, of course—but inevitably my new phone would become cluttered with pictures of a life that had no choice but to carry on without Ian, and I hated that.

Grief means that it’s never just a phone.

The memories on my phone remind me that I am not home. That the world is broken, and that God’s heart shatters right along with ours as we stand and tearfully survey the wreckage. Last night, as I carefully saved every precious picture and video, I longed for heaven. I longed for no more broken hearts and broken lives, for the promise of no more tears to finally be ours. And until that day, if there’s one thing that I’d like my life to be hallmarked by, it’s fighting to redeem what has been broken. That is God’s heart, and I want it to be mine as well.

God is enough. He is enough for new phones and new pictures and even for a new life without my brother in it. Oh, it doesn’t feel like it in the midst of this broken Thursday morning—but I choose to cling to the undeniable truth of it.

He is enough for you, too.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Hope, Ian

The Last Normal Day.

DSC_0045I remember October 2, 2012.

It was the very last cancer-free day that my family would ever know. Ian was a busy, curly-headed senior in college who had neither the time, nor the inclination to schedule a doctor’s visit even though he’d been feeling crummy. At my mother’s insistence, he’d finally gone—and we’d made hurried, unconcerned  plans for me to drop a meal off at his apartment later that week. [After a steady diet of tacos and coffee, we figured that whatever was wrong would easily be righted by some normal food and a good night’s sleep.] Just one year ago today was the last day before IVs and a shaved head, before a thousand cheerfully colored “Get Well” cards and a blue fleece superman blanket that followed us from hospital room to hospital room. It was the last day before numbers and hearts sank, and the cold nausea of grief made her permanent home in the pits of our stomachs. I couldn’t have known  as I fell asleep that night, that things would never be the same. That the very next morning, cancer would burst through the doors and we would ache forever.

One year later, my mind and heart still stubbornly refuse to believe that it actually happened. One year later, I still expect to wake up and find that it was all just the very worst dream that I’ve ever had. And one year later, God is still just as good as he was on the last normal day. God was good when I was newly engaged and excitedly shopping for wedding dresses with my Mom and sister. God was good on October 3rd, when a woman in a white coat said “cancer” to a room full of wide, disbelieving eyes. And God was good in the ICU, when hand squeezes grew weaker and finally disappeared, and I kissed my little brother’s cheek for the very last time. God is good even then—He is incapable of  being anything else.

Today, I choose to believe truth. I remember that love is not simply something that God does, but who He is. His relentless love for Ian and for me was settled at the cross, and the cross leaves no room for doubt. I will never match a fraction of the love that God has for my little brother.

Today and every day, I miss Ian.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian

New Mercy.

Kellan and I celebrated my job offer by going to buy new running shoes.

I’m cheap about the strangest things, and even though I run every day, I hadn’t splurged on a new pair of running shoes since the day after I moved back from Africa.

Circa, oh, I don’t know, two and a half years ago.

Afterwards, we called his parents to fill them in. Unbeknownst to us, they were out of town and so our call went straight to their voice mail machine, at which point Kellan decided that an appropriate voice mail to leave sounded something like this:

Hey Mom and Dad! Call us back, Ash and I have some BIG NEWS to tell you!

Cue Ashley flying across the living room in a cold sweat, screeching I’M NOT PREGNANT!!!!! into the phone.

If there’s one thing that my in-laws are thankful for, I’m betting it’s their demure, emotionally stable daughter-in-law.

I had been perfectly astonished to receive an offer, partly because I cried in my interview [I know. I KNOW.], and mostly because almost everyone evaluating me had read this blog. That little nugget of information made me desperately wish I hadn’t written about wanting a Tea Cup Pig named Paula Deen.

Or, you know, 98% of the other gems that I’ve slapped up on the internets.

Back to the tears. Would it surprise you at all if I told you that this wasn’t the first time I’ve cried in an interview? When I interviewed for my last job, I had been back in the US for approximately NO TIME AT ALL. I was mind-numbingly jet-lagged, and thought gas station bathrooms were paragons of cleanliness. My prospective boss had the gall to ask me what God had taught me in Africa, and tears started rolling down my face as I thought about all of the precious Muslim women I’d just left an ocean away.

Now, I was interviewing at a Southern Baptist church, and so crying about things like that, while not exactly encouraged in an interview, was also perfectly acceptable. Almost holy, even. However, several hours later my new smart phone and I accidentally butt-dialed my prospective Southern Baptist pastor boss. Which might have been fine, had I been singing Amazing Grace or praying for the nations. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on given that I was much too busy passionately belting out “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” as I sped down the interstate.

Awe. Some. Do you want proof that God exists? I got the job.

As I sat in my final interview with HOPE, a question arose that mandated that I talk about what I’ve been up to since my wedding. It’s impossible for me to talk about that without mentioning Ian, and as I briefly talked about my little brother tears, crocodile tears welled up in my eyes and I had to stop. Everyone graciously allowed me to rally, and we carried on. It was hours later on my five hour drive back to Albany, that I began to think about the past six months of quiet that the Lord has given me in New York. These months since Ian died have not been what I would have chosen, but God’s good gift to me was time. Time to read about grief and Kim Kardashian’s hiney. [Depending on the day.] Time to cook my way through my Pinterest board, and go on long runs. Time to run home to North Carolina [over. and over. and over.], and time to ache and process the heart wrenching reality that my curly-haired little brother isn’t coming back. And more than anything, time to learn that there really is new mercy for each new morning.

Today, I am thankful for new mercy.

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Filed under First World Problems, Grief, Hope, Ian, Life at the Frat House, Senegal

The Ugly Place.

JCP_3649 bwY’all. MY HUSBAND.

We spent the weekend on a North Carolina lake watching the last vestiges of summer flicker and fade into fall, and Monday morning found two bleary-eyed Dickens hopping a dark-thirty flight back to Albany.

As I mindlessly scribbled a grocery list into my planner between flights, it hit me. Honey. Today is our six month anniversary!

Kellan grinned. I remembered.

Oh. Um, cool. Me too.

That evening, I made celebratory pie [my motives were one percent noble in that technically, Kellan does enjoy chocolate pie…and ninety-nine percent selfish because PIE.] and as we sat down, Kellan grabbed my toes.

Babe, you’re beautiful, but I’m worried about your feet. And gosh, your HANDS. I think we need to do something about this.

…come again?

Beaming, he pulled out a card. The chocolate pie of selfish-shame taunted me from the kitchen counter as I read the precious PS:

Those nails look like they need a little stylin’ to match the rest of you.

Y’all. That sweet man had called a local spa and spent HALF AN HOUR on the phone with a bewildered receptionist named Erin as he attempted to explain that he wanted to surprise his wife, and she liked “nail stuff”.

It’s hard to schedule a mani-pedi when you haven’t got the foggiest idea what in the world they are.

Kellan laughingly recounted how utterly baffled he’d been as the receptionist had explained a thousand different spa options [whatever a “french manicure” was, that was CERTAINLY out because AMURICA], and I melted into the floor because six months later, I love that man more than I could ever have imagined on March 2nd.

During our time at the lake, sweet friends made passing comments about our “honeymoon phase” status. Confused, Kellan and I mulled it over one night, and came to the unavoidable conclusion that we’d never really gotten a honeymoon phase. During one of our first evenings in our new Albany apartment as we unpacked boxes of clothes, we began to discuss how we ought to divvy up our closet. Before my wide-eyed, newly-minted husband knew what hit him, I was doubled over, wracked by uncontrollable sobs that seemed to have no end.

While I feel VERY strongly about having enough space for my shoes, clearly it had nothing to do with the closet.

Kellan was married to a woman who just missed her little brother. Who ached so badly and so deeply that she wanted to crawl into bed and stay there forever. There was no giggling, elated, blushing start to our marriage—we were rudely thrust into the raw ugly of it all from day one. Cancer had seen to that.

It has been precisely there, in that ugly, raw, aching, vulnerably helpless place, that I have fallen more deeply in love with my husband than I could have imagined on our wedding day. Before we were married, I fell in love with the man who made my heart flutter when he picked me up for dinner after I’d spent forty-five minutes carefully curling my hair. I have since fallen in love with the man who has held me on the bathroom floor as mascara poured down my face. The man who has stayed awake with me on long nights when nightmares left me too afraid to fall back to sleep. The man who spends time with Jesus first thing every morning, and prays for me last thing every night. I have fallen in love with the man who has learned to just ache with me over Ian’s death, because six months ago we became one person and Kellan signed on to hurt with me forever. And on the days when the lie that God is not good whispered, the truth of His goodness always rang louder because evidence of it stood in front of me sheepishly holding flowers.

Please don’t get me wrong—our marriage isn’t perfect. There’s nothing more defeating than reading about another perfect marriage, and if that’s what you’re looking for you need to find another blog because there’s no perfect to be found around here.  If your marriage needs a good fight, we can certainly give you some pointers. It’s probably the only marital advice we’re qualified to give at this point of our lives! But Kellan Dickens is such a very, very good gift to me. The way God loves me makes so much more SENSE to me than it did six months ago, because my husband mirrors it every day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a dashingly handsome man that is stealing me away for breakfast before a confused manicurist does something very American to my nails. I’ll keep you posted. ;)

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Filed under Grief, Ian, Love, Marriage, Uncategorized