Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The day Heaven celebrated twice

It was a hot night – a night already begging for sleep.

Bryan was downstairs on the couch, in the air conditioning, but I like my bed, so I toughed it out, tossing the covers around. Piper showed up at some point, and had just settled into a sweaty sleep when I saw my phone light up across the room. Normally, my phone is on silent, but tonight it buzzed longer than a text, so I jumped up.

When my mom texts at 11:59 pm, it’s usually just her being up late and finally responding to a question I no longer needed answered. When my mom CALLS at 11:59 pm, something is wrong.

“Oh, Charissa…Grandma Hunter died tonight,” she sighed.  

“WHAT??!” It shouldn’t have been as big of a shock as it was, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t believe it.

I tried to reach back for when I last visited, when I had last taken the kids to see her, when I had last hugged my dear Grandma Hunter. Regret piled in as I knew the two months had been too long.

Grandma and Grandpa and a bunch of us cousins
(and a mystery kid under Steven).
I am the not blonde one...probably about 4 or 5 in this pic).

Trying to fall asleep was now impossible.

Around 2:30 am, I shut myself in my closet, ransacking every memory box on the shelves, knowing I would find my Grandma there. Without fail, she showed up. My grandmother’s dignified cursive poured out of card after card that I found as I dug through memories from middle school, college, and into married life. My pile of cards continued to grow as I moved on to the memory boxes of my children. There was a card for every one of their birthdays up until 2016, and even one to Judah on his day of birth, June 29, 2016.

Grandma and me (pregnant with Judah) and my dad in 2016

The last card I personally got from my Grandma was a 10-year anniversary card in early June, where she wrote, “May the Lord strengthen you and daily fill you [with] His joy and peace. We’re praying for all your ministries, plus a smooth delivery of that precious baby.”

I remember she accidently sent that card to my old address, a house we hadn’t lived at in 6 years. When it had happened, she laughed at herself and couldn’t believe she had done such a careless thing. Come to find out, she had a brain bleed no one knew about – a brain bleed that wouldn’t be discovered until four months later, the day after her 81st birthday.

That’s why the cards stopped -- because Grandma almost died on that day.

But she didn’t die the day after her 81st birthday. She lost every ability to do anything independently – but she did not give up. She learned how to eat again. She learned how to walk again. She learned how to shower again. She learned how to smile again.

Judah had a special place in Grandma's arms -
this is February 2017 while delivering her Valentine.

Visiting Grandma on Christmas Eve, 2016

Talking was harder. She evolved from saying, “Worthy, worthy, worthy” to saying “Words, Words, words,” with many different inflections and singing notes in church, but her ability to communicate never fully returned. And her ability to write never had much of a chance, either.

But I think Grandma deserved a break from writing.

When my search through my mementos finished, I found no less than 60 cards from her, sent to me, my husband, and my children. 60! And that’s just the ones I saved! I only saved 10 of my birthday cards from her, so I know there are 20 more out there somewhere! 
There were 10 birthday cards to my children.

Eight Valentine’s Day cards.  

Halloween was one of my Grandma's favorite holidays! 2014

Four Halloween cards, one of which reminded my girls, “If you see someone that scares you, just remember that God is more powerful…Don’t eat too much candy or you won’t be able to sleep well.”

There were letters sent to me at AWANA camp, while I was on mission trips, for our wedding, for Easter, Christmas, graduations, and for when we bought our house. She wrote to my husband and told him how proud she was to call him a grandson. She wrote to my children and thanked them for the art projects they created for her and she always snuck in a few dollars, clarifying that it was to pay for my “film” as I always printed off pictures of the kids for her.

In November, 2006, she wrote me a letter for Thanksgiving. She told me that I had never disappointed her in any way. While I find that hard to believe (I was no perfect child), I think my Grandma might have been the ultimate practitioner of grace-giving. So much so, that she never held anything against me, and simply loved me. Less than a year later, in my college graduation card, she wrote, “We are so proud of your accomplishments, but we love you because you were put in to our lives for that purpose.”

Grandma took me on my 10-year-old trip to Disneyland, where we met up with my California cousins! 1995

An encourager, a prayer warrior, a lover of the Word of God and a lover of her family.

Grandma loved a good tea party with Cayden. 2013.

June 2015

She did all of these things so well. As I lay back down in bed last Tuesday night, I looked over at my sleeping middle child and wondered about life. I wondered about my children and when they would put their faith in Jesus, like my Grandma had done. I wondered how I was going to tell them about another Great-Grandparent going home to see Jesus. I also wondered why God had allowed my Grandma to go through a year and a half of medical issues and surgeries and recoveries and heartaches, just to take her now.

Grandma and Grandpa, my brothers, my dad, baby Cayden and I
 went to watch Grandpa's team (Red Sox) play the Mariners in 2011.

She watched her husband deteriorate and pass away four months ago. She still couldn’t speak or write. Often, she seemed frustrated and constantly raised her hands to the sky, as if asking God to take her. I was thankful for the past year and a half with her, for sure. While we couldn’t carry a conversation, she was an excellent listener, and always nodded along to my stories and laughed at my videos of the kids I would show her on my camera. She still had a great laugh.

Grandma and her kids at Grandpa's grave in April, 2018.

She got to know my son, who was born just before her brain bleed. She laughed at him throwing balls around her room and loved the girls’ costumes on Halloween this past year. I learned to appreciate her…never enough though.

So, I think God left her here on earth for us as her family…to get a little more time in with her. But I don’t think this is the main reason.

My Grandma was an evangelist.

She loved telling people about God’s love and grace and how all that mattered was where you will spend eternity. So, I will tell you why my Grandma was left here on earth for more than 81 years.

Grandma meeting Piper Grace Bernard for the first time in August, 2013.

Her middle name is Grace.

She is my middle child – my spitfire, my walking contradiction.
She doesn’t remember much about Great-Grandma Hunter before her brain bleed because Piper’s 3rd birthday card in August 2016 was the last one received in our household. 

When I told now almost 5-year-old Piper Grace about Great-Grandma dying, she looked at me and said frankly, “Did she go to Heaven or Hell?”

A little taken aback, I reiterated that Great-Grandma had gone to Heaven because she loved God so much and believed that Jesus had died for her sins.

“How do I go to Heaven when I die?” She inquired.

In my head, I thought, “I guess we are doing this…”

I laid out the gospel for her, something she has heard before, but never taken to heart.

“That’s a lot of words,” she said. “But what words do I have to say?”

Piper with her collage she made out of craft treasures from Grandma Hunter's house.

So, she repeated after me, saying that she had done wrong things, and needed forgiveness and wanted that from Jesus, who had paid for her sins by dying on the cross. She said that she believed that Jesus rose again to beat death and thanked Him for loving her.
And so, the day after my Grandma died, not only did my stargazer lilies bloom, but my daughter, Piper, entered in to the family of God. Oh, how the angels in Heaven were kept busy on our family’s behalf in those 12 hours. 

There is no greater legacy my Grandma would have wanted to have left behind than children who loved and sought after the Lord. In her many years of experience, she had lived the beginning of her life without the Lord and once she found Him, could never get enough.

Camping at Honeyman in July, 2016 with all of the great grandkids (at the time).

My Grandma never would have wanted me to feel regret about leaving things unsaid or not visiting enough.

All the Great-Grandparents together for Judah's 1st birthday party in June 2017.

She was a woman of grace who really knew how to forgive and move on. I was a child in need of grace often, so I was appropriately named, Charis. So, with Piper. And so, when I am asked why God allows us to suffer through hard things in life that seem to have no reason, I will always be able to point them back to grace, the free gift we do not deserve, that was bestowed on my daughter by way of my Grandmother’s death.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

We shall carry on.

He was Big Papa.
 He was Wayne – “wagon maker.”

A craftsman.

A man who built up those around him.

My husband bears his name. My son bears his name. His Irish-Scottish-Canadian-American blood runs through the veins of my daughters who have his slim build and long legs.

How do you go on when the wheels of the family wagon don’t just break, but disappear?

The first memory I have of Wayne is unremarkable – an afternoon of swimming in Wayne and Dawn’s pool as a teenager (since I was friends with their grandson). I’m sure I was introduced to these grandparents of a friend, and never thought twice about how these grandparents would become as dear to me as my own over the following 17 years. The last time I talked to Wayne, he looked at my husband and said it wasn’t hard for him to go because he knew that the people he left behind were successful.

“Carry on,” he told us.

Keep that wagon moving.

Three Christmases ago, my girls received a red Radio Flyer wagon from Wayne and Dawn. The evening was spent with wagon parts strewn across G.G.’s floor and four generations of Bernards constructing the wagon together. You don’t really realize that you need a wagon until you really need a wagon.
That wagon has since been pulled through muddy tulip fields, been used in my annual cherry blossom photo of the kids, and even hauled pavers for our recent patio project. It has bolts that have been replaced and wheels that squeak because my kids weigh too much now, but that wagon keeps going.  Wagons of old were built to provide support and protection – a way to get the work done and protect those doing it.

Wayne was a wagon maker.

Listening to his funeral service one month ago today, I heard his co-workers and church family tell story after story of a man who crafted support systems for God’s work to get done. He worked tirelessly to protect those he loved and believed in.

On Wayne’s 47th birthday, his first grandchild, Bryan Wayne Bernard, was born. 
When we were blessed with a healthy son on June 29, 2016, there was no question about what his middle name would be.
Judah Wayne Bernard joins four others named after B. Wayne Bernard – one of his sons, two of his grandsons, and two of his great-grandsons. These five bear his name, but we all shoulder Wayne’s challenge to “carry on” his legacy of loving others before ourselves.
I remember the first time I noticed that he always did the dishes after the family meals, and how his son (my father-in-law) always helped. He always initiated arms-crossed conversations with Bryan about his work in Corvallis with OSU students. He always thought before he spoke and I never heard him raise his voice. At his funeral service, I learned that Wayne knew plenty about revitalizing churches (since that’s what he helped do at Salem First Baptist), but I never got that impression from him as he would offer bits of encouragement to Bryan when he set out to revitalize our church in Corvallis. Wayne never flaunted his knowledge, but quietly would offer it up for you to take or leave.
My husband is a dreamer – a visionary – a wagon driver.  Wayne was always there as one of those people who would help construct the wagon which Bryan drove. When Bryan dreamed of a ministry house on campus, Wayne and Dawn donated money every month to see that it happened. They donated their couches so college students could be comfortable in the house. The house became a hub for the growing college ministry at OSU.

The decisions Wayne made in life were calculated. He was not an impulsive man, not one to jump into things without weighing the pros and cons. I think that’s why his sudden cancer diagnosis and death come at such a shock to us. Wayne’s death seemed to shock everyone but him. He was ready.

Standing to sing “It is Well,” at his service, I tried not to let my mind wander through the origins of the song because I was trying to hold it together.

Of course, I couldn’t keep at bay the “sorrows like sea billows roll” of Heratio Spafford, writing about the loss of his four children in a shipwreck. My eyes rested on my hands clinging to the chair in front of me. On my right hand, rings bearing the names of my children sang out to me and I thought about the two rings that commemorate the babies we’ve lost to miscarriage. Immediately, I knew that those babies were in Wayne’s arms at that moment because his hands were never empty if there was a great grandchild to hold.
My children are blessed to have many grandparents, but only one they named Big Papa. The name fit him – he was tall and had a big hug and a big smile and a big heart. He loved us so well because he loved his Lord so well. We follow in Big Papa’s footsteps because they were always running after Jesus.

The Lord’s work doesn’t stop with him.

The wagon wheels may have disappeared, but it’s up to us to pick up the load and carry on.
SeaKrest will never be the same without his Big Papa greetings.
Corban basketball games will always be missing him in his blue chair.
 Bryan’s June 5th birthday cakes will never have enough candles.
But we will carry on.

We will make it.

Because we are a family.

We protect.

We support.

We build wagons together.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The best part of this Christmas was the day before.
On Christmas Eve morning, we gave the kids a bath and dressed them in their fancy clothes much earlier than we normally would of because we had a date with my Grandma.
In October, my Grandma underwent emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot doctors found the day after her 81st birthday. Since then, she has been slowly recovering, moving around to different facilities and undergoing continual physical therapy and speech therapy.
We haven't gotten to see her since her surgery because the kids have been sick and timing hasn't worked out, but everything fell into place on Christmas Eve and everyone got to come and visit her.
I was a bit nervous.
Right after the surgery, Grandma was partially paralyzed, couldn't speak, couldn't recognize anyone, and was in bad shape. I knew she had improved since then, but wasn't sure what to expect.
I was also nervous about how the kids would respond.
My children are blessed to know all of my grandparents, as well as some of Bryan's and so I didn't know how they would react to the changes in Great Grandma Hunter.
Frilly dresses rustled as the girls raced to push the handicap door openers, and I was thankful that the  lobby smelled of Christmas instead of nursing home.
My mom had gone in before us to get Grandma, whom she'd found roaming the halls in her wheelchair, decked out in her familiar sage green hummingbird sweater.
I breathed a small sigh of relief because she looked better than I expected and was instantly so excited to see us. She reached out for each of us, trying to hold us all at once. She stroked the big red bows on the girls' dresses and they shed their coats and twirled for her. Judah (dressed as Santa) received the greatest doting, as he was instantly in her lap.
We wheeled Grandma over next to the Christmas tree and the girls led us in "Away in a Manger" and "Go Tell it on the Mountain." Grandma LOVED the singing and tried to sing along, even though the words she sang didn't match ours. I could tell she recognized the songs and wanted to sing along as best she could. We spent some more time doing puzzles with her, but it was a short visit, as she tires quickly.
Leaving was hard. She got mad when we wheeled her away from the girls, and it was clear that she did not want to go, but also clear how exhausted she was. I took Cayden and followed my mom pushing Grandma back to her room. Grandma was frustrated, we think because she wanted to say a proper goodbye. She's not the type to take a goodbye sitting down. Every goodbye I've ever had with her has included a hug at the door, standing. But today was different.
The only person at her level was Cayden.
My girl leaned in to give Grandma a hug goodbye and they just clung to each other. Grandma looked up at me with tears as if to say, "This is what I needed."
I lost it.
Sitting there embracing both my sweet 81-year-old grandmother and my sweet 5-year-old daughter, the tears came as a witness to this special moment. It was a long hug. Count right now to 30 seconds. That's an eternity for a hug...and I had worried how my kids would react.
After Cayden, I hugged Grandma myself and my mom reassured her that she would be back the next day to take Grandma to my aunt's house for Christmas.
We could hear her chanting the word she repeats over and over again, fading as we walked away from her room.
"Worthy, worthy, worthy..."
This is the word she greeted us with, repeated the whole time we were there, and even sang at times. She can say about 5 words now, but overwhelmingly, she says "worthy" over and over. Her inflection will change to match what she's trying to communicate, even baby talking "worthy, worthy," to Judah.
When we got to the car, Cayden asked, "Why does Grandma always say 'worthy?'"
I wondered the same thing. Why that word?
It didn't take me long to think of an answer that made sense to me.
"I think it's because she saw Jesus."
"I think when she was having surgery on her brain, she saw Jesus, maybe in a dream, and now all she can say is 'worthy' because Jesus is so beautiful and the only one worthy of our praise."
For a woman who has lived her life to tell others about Christ's love and sacrifice, I can't imagine it is coincidence that the one word God has enabled her to say with gusto is "worthy."
Thank you, Grandma, for reminding me, yet again, of our Father's love for us, and for giving me an opportunity to communicate that love and awe to my daughter. You are still touching our lives and making this world a better place.

"Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
His greatness no one can fathom"
Psalm 145:3

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I told you so

Is there anything more selfish than saying, “I told you so?”

Usually, this phrase follows the failure of someone else.

And in saying, “I told you so,” instead of lifting that person out of their failure (like Jesus would), I am choosing to wallow in their failure and remind them how much wiser I am.

Oftentimes as a mom, I find myself using some form of this phrase under the guise of creating a teachable moment for my children.

“I told you not to touch that burner!”

“That’s what happens when you pick your nose too much!”

“I knew you would trip with your shoes on the wrong feet!”

For some reason, in those moments when I’m frustrated (because I DID warn them about these things, and I AM smarter than them), my gut reaction is to scold them and remind them how smart I am. I like to think that the root of my scolding is because I so desperately want them to stay safe without burned hands and bloody noses, but is “I told you so” the best I can do as a mom?


The first words out of my mouth don’t need to be a reminder of what I told them.

The first words out of my mouth need to be addressing the pain caused by their failure or bad decision.

The first words out of my mouth need to give life.

That means stuffing down the first (selfish) thoughts that come to my head and asking, “Are you okay? How can I help?”

Maybe later, after the knees have their bandaids, we can discuss the benefits of wearing shoes on the right feet, but the attitude of “I told you so” just teaches my children to react with selfishness instead of with compassion.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Yesterday, my girls were playing in the pool with the neighbors in the front yard. When I woke up this morning to rain, I thought, yep...that makes sense.
It rained last June 2, as well.
It didn't just rain, it poured.
And it made sense on a day that didn't make much sense.
Last June 2, Bryan and I calmly drove the 8 minutes to the hospital, pressed the 4 on the elevator and were quietly escorted to a room without an incubator where moms come to deliver babies that never give first cries. Down the hall from the rooms where my girls entered this world, I took the pills to induce my labor to deliver our 14-week-old son, whose heart was no longer beating. All day, I stared out the window, looking down on a little garden being drenched by a surprise June rain storm.
At 6:06pm, Hunter Hope finally arrived, and life will never be the same.
Hunter's story is posted earlier in this blog, but today I want to just be reminded that he was and will always be a precious part of our family.
Also, I want to share that God has blessed us with another pregnancy.
Due in 23 days, this June baby is much prayed over, much loved and much anticipated.
We are waiting to find out gender, so this will be a very new experience for us.
Please be praying for peace in my heart over the next month as we rest in the knowledge that Christ's love and sacrifice serves as the anchor for our soul, despite our circumstances.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A family that fails together...

I'd had it with Swiffers.
The third time using my brand new Swiffer, it stopped spraying (the whole point) and so I stopped mopping...until Piper spilled cranberry juice everywhere and it had to be done.
I refused to buy ANOTHER stupid Swifter.
I also refused to buy a real mop (sorry Pinesol lady).

 So I deconstructed my swifter to figure out what was wrong.
Nothing was wrong.

 My daughter Cayden watched me unscrew the plastic cover, inspect the wiring on the motor (I was pretending I knew what I was doing), check for clogs in the tubes, etc. When I pulled off the battery pack, Duracells rolled across my sticky floor.
"Maybe you need new batteries?" She optimistically suggested, 4 years of experience rattling in her tilted head.
I laughed a bit at her innocent solution to everything.
When the internet isn't working, she says we need to change the batteries.
"No, it's pretty new, I don't think it's the batteries..."

There was nothing wrong with the stupid Swiffer Sweeper.
The only thing I hate more than being wrong is when someone else is right.
The only thing I hate more than that is sticky floors.
Long story short, it was the batteries.

We whooped and hollered when the sprayers blasted full power with those new batteries.
I saw the pride in my daughter's face, but also noticed hints of humility as she applauded my efforts, saying, "I saw you had already tried everything else, so I thought it might be the batteries."

Then, giggling, she said, "Usually you know more, but this time, I was smarter, Mommy!"

Sometimes I am wrong. And I'm glad that my daughter saw me accept my failure today, because maybe she will remember that failure is ok in this family.
Family means not ridiculing failures.
Family means stepping in to help when someone has failed.
Family means working together to put the broken pieces back together.

I am thankful for my family.
And for new batteries.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I miss that little person...

Today, I overheard this conversation upstairs between Cayden and her little friend.

“The baby is dead! And it’s all your fault! We need to go to the real doctor STAT!”

The two girls were playing doctor and unfortunately, Cayden’s friend had taken too long to retrieve the life-saving pretend syringe.

Death is an experienced reality in my 4-year-old’s life.

Cayden Elizabeth Ann was named after my good friend and mentor, Beth, who died two months before Cayden was born. Beth’s parents have become like grandparents to my girls, and we often talk about how Beth is in heaven now.

Death came up again when my mom’s dog died.
Then it was the flowers.
Spiders die when she squishes them.
Simba’s dad died.
And baby brother died before she ever got to meet him.

Sometimes when I am chatting with some stranger at Les Schwab about how old my kids are and such, Cayden will matter-of-factly pipe in, “You had another baby too, but he died.” Like I forgot. Like this woman next to me needs to know that information to complete my story.

The thing is, that woman does need to know.
Because the story of my children is incomplete without a mention of Hunter.
But it’s an awkward thing to say.

It catches people off guard.
It catches me off guard.
And it makes me vulnerable.

In an instant, I have to decide how I want to present this sad reality of my life.
I want to be able to share my darkness along with my Light.

I lost a child.
But I have gained so much in that loss.
I have gained strength from a God who also lost His child.
I have learned a whole new level of compassion.
I have experienced how precious life is.

I have held a little tiny human in the palm of my hand.
He wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t alive, but he was a person.

And I miss that little person.

I remember when my friend Beth died, her mom told me that she couldn’t make it through the songs at church (especially the hymns) without crying.

I get that now.

I can’t even make it dry-eyed down the road with K-LOVE playing because there’s always a song with the perfect lyrics for my soul.

The best part is when I’m quietly trying to keep it together up front, and the chorus comes around and my sweet 4-year-old starts belting out, “I WILL CAST MY CARES ON YOU!”


And the words from Finding Favour pour through my soul.

“This war's not what I would've chosen
But You see the future no one knows yet

“And there's still good when I can't
See the working of Your hands
You're holding it all

“I will cast my cares on You
You're the anchor of my hope
The only one who's in control
I will cast my cares on You
I'll trade the troubles of this world
For Your peace inside my soul.”

I was supposed to be 8 months pregnant right now.
I was supposed to be able to say, “I’m having a baby next month!”
But sometimes bad things happen.

Sometimes cancer takes our children.
Sometimes bullets take our children.
And sometimes we don’t know what took our children.

What we don’t want is for the world to forget our children.
Because we never will.

It’s ok to ask me about my son.
He was a gift to be shared.