Beauty from Ashes – A Family Matters film with Julie Diem

 

Travis Tank

“provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:3

 

 

I was approached by the Family Matters ministry if I would be interested in filming Elizabeth’s story and how she and I got involved with Family Matters and the message of grace.  I was a little apprehensive…..I was self conscious and the last four years of grief has not been a friend to my weight, but I decided to put my vanity aside because this story was too important not to share.  I wanted to share the story of great loss in our family and the grief that follows when a parent buries a child and three grandchildren, but also witness to the presence of God’s amazing grace.  The video below is the outcome of spending the day with an amazing camera man and the creative director, Karis Murray from Family Matters.  I was emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, but this 4 minute and 50 second video was the result of 8 hours of filming.  This is my story….Lizz and the boy’s story…… not one I would wish on my worst enemy…….but it has become my testimony…….and I am acutely aware of the responsibility that God has placed in my care.  I am honored and blessed that He chose me to be her Mom and their Nana, and I want to honor that blessing and their lives always.  I am also still standing here four years and almost four months after that tragic day, letting God reshape and redefine my life in spite of July 30th because of His amazing and sufficient grace.

John and I met Tim Kimmel, the author of Grace Based Parenting at a conference in Baltimore while we were living in Washington, D.C..  We would purchase his books for two of my daughters who were parenting young children.  Elizabeth would end up reading the book five times and embraced the book’s message of raising Fischer, Ben and soon to be Hayes in a home of Grace.

July 19, 2012, 11 days before the tragic accident,  Elizabeth posted this on her Facebook page: “Pretty sure I have some of the best parents in the world…I’ve read this book at least 5 times and each time I’m recharged about raising my boys to be fearless wonderful people!”

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I had no idea that last message she sent me on Facebook, would have such a profound change on my life.  When I stepped out of the Salado Methodist Church on Aug 1, 2012 to make that phone call to Family Matters and order 250 books of Grace Based Parenting for their homegoing service, that would be the beginning of a new path for me, a new passion…..a spark of God’s grace to be shared with others, coupled with the legacy and love of a daughter and three grandsons.   One of my great joys today and “beauty from the ashes” after the death of Elizabeth and the boys is being an ambassador for the Family Matters ministry and sharing the message of Grace Based Parenting in small groups, Sunday School and Mother’s Day Out programs.   The message of His transforming GRACE, has been a wonderful thing to see families put into practice.  It truly is life changing if you let it.

This video was filmed in and around the Salado area, Stillhouse Hollow lake, and contains some of our beautiful Texas scenery.  I hope you watch, and I pray that the GRACE of our Savior Jesus Christ, floods your heart and life as only He can.

My sincere thanks to Family Matters for their commitment to this project and for honoring and telling the story of Elizabeth, Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes with such grace and sensitivity.  I love you all! 

Lastly, today and everyday I am reminded that my blue-eyed, one dimpled daughter and her three blue-eyed boys stand in THE presence of GRACE and TRUTH, my precious  Jesus.   Amen.

Julie

(FYI, to see the video on a full screen hover over “vimeo” in the lower right corner, click and you can watch it on Vimeo, full screen).

 

It’s Not About Forgetting – Lexi Behrndt

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I wanted to share this poem by Lexi Behrndt (On Coming Alive) that spoke to my heart………

It’s not about forgetting,
Or acting like the scars aren’t there,
Or trying not to remember your face.
Or the curve of your smile.

It’s not about avoiding
The pain and ache,
The memories I’ll never hold,
The space between us.

It’s about the light in your smile
Finding its way into mine,
And the fire in your eyes
Setting aflame my soul.

With love.
With compassion.
With goodness.
With hope.

 It’s about you
Your legacy, your light
Your name, your memory,
And love that never dies.

 

You left me better.
You left me braver.
You left me kinder.
You left me with the best parts of you.

Thank you God……that you gave me the precious honor and blessing of being her mother.

Julie

Happy 8th Birthday Fischer!

fischer-boy-shootFischer Phillip Dowdy you turn 8 today. You would be in 2nd grade this year.  Where oh where has the time gone?  You were 3 when you left for heaven.  And you are missed so much here on earth. Your infectious laugh, those piercing blue eyes, that smile, your silliness, and that amazing spirit of yours that would not be quenched.

You taught this Nana so much in the 3 years and 10 months that God blessed our lives with you……I have been forever changed by your death but more importantly I am a different person because of your life.

We will celebrate the day God brought you into our lives by laying your birthday wreath at the place that honors your life.  fischer-8-wreath

Nana will hang her HULK wreath on her door to honor you.  We will eat cupcakes and chew some bubblegum to celebrate those things that you loved.

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Lastly, I know you weren’t into hugs and kisses, it usually meant wrestling you to get them, but I hope your mommy gives you lots for us here that love and miss you.  Will you also do me a favor?  Please hug Jesus for me….thank him for his amazing grace through helping us handle you going to heaven…..tell him your Nana loves him.  Hug your momma’s neck for me.  I miss her so.  Wrestle with those brothers of yours and when you have them pinned down hug them for me too.

I love you Fischman……to God and back.

Until we are reunited,

Nana

End of Summer Update…..

Well, the school supplies in the stores along with the back to school clothes and sales mean that children are getting ready to go back to school.  This time of year also means I take Ava to do some shopping, which usually means the Justice store.  It’s hard to believe that she goes in 4th grade this year.  Wow.  Where has the time gone?  Eli will turn 2 in December and Lauren and Daniel will welcome the birth of another baby in October.  They have decided to go “old school”, and yes, that makes me feel old, and wait until the baby is born to know if it is a boy or girl.  So we will anxiously await.  The other great news is that my oldest daughter Jennifer and her hubby Keith are also expecting a baby!  This will be a February 2017 baby, and drum roll, they didn’t want to go “old school” and it’s a GIRLCamryn Elizabeth.  So, blessed, blessed, blessed.  And of course such an honor to see Elizabeth’s name carried forward in another generation.

BrothersAnd this time of year also brings me to think of Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes.  It’s hard to believe that Fischer would be starting 2nd grade this fall and Benjamin would be going into 1st grade if they were here.  And I think wow, so much time has gone by.   They were 3 and 2 when they left us.  Elizabeth would be getting school supplies, backpacks, clothing, shoes and excited to see her boys in Salado elementary.  But that would not be their story….their lives were meant to tell another story.  No report cards, field days, baseball teams, or college.  Their legacies are carried out in our hearts in how we continue to honor and remember them.  How our lives have changed because of their life and their death.  Which brings me to my next thought……

Some will be sad for the start of this school year, as your little ones start school for the first time or transition from elementary, to middle school or to high school. Please don’t be sad.  I want to encourage you to be joyful of the gift you have been given of seeing them start another school year, or a transitional milestone.  Remember, there are many that would love to have one more school year, one more opportunity, one more morning, an opportunity to buy school pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes and experience the craziness of the first day of school.

So, when those aggravations and frustrations come with raising “littles” or teens whether it’s because they don’t want to go to bed, wear the clothes they are suppose to,  they don’t want to eat, the buttons they push or things that exasperate you, please remember to put those things in perspective.  I would suggest you be thankful even in those moments.

I don’t say this for pity or sadness.  I have learned to experience grief and joy in my circumstances…..and trust me it is well.  But, my perspective means I want to encourage others to live in the moment and before you lose your temper because of a discipline issue or other frustration, please stop and be thankful  for those moments.  Remember, there are families that would give everything they have to experience those unpleasant moments again.  This is a way we can honor the memory of Fischer, Ben and Hayes and how their life and their death has made a difference.  To be thankful, truly thankful for the time we have and the opportunities we have been given with our children.   Their life and physical death has taught me that.    Something I hadn’t really learned before.   My hope and prayer is that they live on as a testimony for everyone to live life to the fullest everyday.   To show up.   To be present.   To love fiercely. To have grace.

It really is about gratitude.  Find it.  In everything.

Choose Joy…….

Until next time,

Julie

 

4 Years……

Lizz 8 121120094 years have come.  1,460 days since that horrific phone call when I heard the words no parent ever wants to hear:  “They are gone Mom, they are all gone.”  Leading up to this date, I have come to expect the sleepless nights, staying up till you are so exhausted that you have to fall asleep.  The inability to focus at work on difficult critical thinking problems and there is just this heaviness that hangs on you.   So I have become better at listening to that inner voice and have found that having a project to stay busy and keeping the day normal as possible is helpful for me.

With each passing year, the longer I walk this grief journey I become more determined to reflect on the joy and my gratefulness of having them in my life to begin with.  It’s a tightrope for sure, not being pulled into darkness.  But as I have learned grief and joy both co-exist in our hearts and even though there are tough days, I choose to focus on the amazing gift she and the boys were to begin with.  The last two years, I have distributed Random Acts of Kindness cards and it has warmed my heart to hear the stories of kindness people have done and shared the story about my blue eyed daughter and grandsons.  I hope people will continue this with me, because it is the joy and gratitude side of the tight rope I always want to lean.

So, when this grief visitor comes to visit me every year I try to approach it in what does this loss teach me this year?  You see I think this journey of loss and healing is sort of like an onion.  You peel yourself back each year, with each anniversary date, birthday, holiday.  I have chosen to be open to those moments and see what God and my heart is going to show me.

And what has this anniversary taught me?  Gratitude.  Gratitude that of all the women in the world, Lizz called me Mom and the boys called me Nana.  And even though days like today are tough,  I consider it one of my greatest blessings.

I also want to help others that have experienced loss.  I want in some small way to change our culture where bereaved parents can share about the memories of their children without the judging, the pity and shame.  And so, I choose to talk about grief and loss and I talk about her and the boys, in hope of giving others a place to do the same.  Because it is that place where healing begins.  Not allowing those opportunities simply deepens our pain.  I get that it’s uncomfortable.  And you don’t know what to say.  You don’t have to say anything.  You just have to be willing to sit with someone in the mess…..in the uncomfortableness of it all.  Sometimes it means we are sad, we don’t understand why we feel what we feel……why we can’t remember things, why it’s hard to focus.  But if we are blessed to have family, friends and even strangers model for us that we can survive great loss…….and even thrive, that is a wonderful, precious and beautiful thing.  I pray that God will use me and my brokenness to help others.  I believe in all of my being, this is part of why I am here….one of why I walk this earth.

You see, the other day, I went into Pier 1.  I love Pier 1 and they have Sunflower dishes this season and I know I needed to go see them.  I was checking out, and the woman commented on my wallet and purse (which also has sunflowers) and that I clearly liked them.  I saw this as an opportunity to share the story of Lizz and the boys.  I have come to a place where I no longer break down in a hot mess when I talk about them.  The woman behind the counter began to cry and told me that she very recently lost her daughter to brain cancer.  She was diagnosed and quickly gone.  Her daughter was her only child.  I realized then, this was no longer just a check out, it was a God appointment.  I walked behind the counter and we both hugged and cried.  She asked me how long it had been, and I knew then what an opportunity to serve this mom.  She said:  Oh, you give me hope.  Hope that there is life after this terrible loss, and hope that it gets better.  I told her it does.  God’s grace and tender mercies will provide her with what she needs.  But the hole never goes away….and what you decide to do with it will make all the difference.

And then I sat in my car and thanked God for the opportunity and I heard him impress on my heart:  “I know it hurts.  It will always hurt some.  But it is the hurt where you can love and reach out like no one can.”

And so, I try (and don’t get me wrong I fail….a lot) to remember that God does his best work in our hurt and our brokenness if we let him.  We are the light in this world to others to know their pain, in a personal way, to connect, to share hope and display His glory.

Do I have it all figured out?  OH MY NO!  I anticipate on significant days like today when the grief visitor shows up in full force, I continue to learn.  But no matter what the lesson grief has for me, I always want to show that LOVE WINS and God’s grace is sufficient.

Some things I do every anniversary.  There are memorial wreaths I make.  They always involve sunflowers and super heroes.  John and I take them to the cemetery and we spend time cleaning their headstones and the special place around it.  We go very early, since it gets so hot this time of year.

 

I then try to stay busy and love hearing about the things people are doing in memory of Lizz and the boys.  It brings such joy to me on such a difficult day.  So thank you to everyone that embraced the opportunity to participate in random acts of kindness on this day….to give of yourself.

 

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I place memorials in the Salado and Lexington paper.  Honoring them in two places where she and the boys grew up and loved.

 

3rd Anniversary Salado revised

3rd anniversary Memorial Lexington revised

This year, I did something different.  I will give away a sunflower wreath with three ladybugs later this evening.  And I will work on making another 12 sunflower wreaths that people ordered.  Making wreaths have been a healing and rewarding way for me to honor Lizz and the boys.

I close with this years video.  Many of you have seen these pictures.  But the music has changed over the years.  If you didn’t know Lizz and the boys, I hope this video helps you feel like you do.  For those that did, I hope you enjoy their smiles, dimples and those blue eyes as we remember……

Until next time,

Julie

 

 

 

Elizabeth Herro Dowdy 2016 Scholarship

IMG_3832On Friday, May 27, 2016, I attended the Methodist Children’s Home (MCH) graduation ceremony at First United Methodist Church in Waco Texas.  I wanted to support the students that in some small way I feel connected to.    You see, this was the first year that we would award Elizabeth’s named scholarship since endowing it in December 2015.  There were 31 graduates this year from MCH.  The largest graduating class to date.  The University of Texas has a charter school on the MCH property for the residents.  Trey Oakley from MCH had called earlier in the week to tell me who had been selected for Elizabeth’s scholarship.  He shared with me that “she” played drums in the praise band, had a part time job, and described her as having a free spirit.  She had taken dual credit courses and would be attending McClennan Community College in the fall with a track to attend Baylor University.  I loved when he described her as having a free spirit!

So, I drive to Waco, grab a bulletin and find a seat.  I open the bulletin and find that the recipient of the Elizabeth Herro Dowdy Scholarship is also the Salutatorian!  But the ceremony was a time of overwhelming emotion that is hard to describe.  So much healing and hours of wreath making had come to this moment and the tears began to flow and my MCH family that I was sitting next to began passing me Kleenex.

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So, please meet the 2016 Elizabeth Herro Dowdy Scholarship recipient Maegan (May) Wells!    I enjoyed her Salutatorian speech where she shared the three things she had wanted to accomplish while she was at MCH:  1.  Build a better relationship with God.  2.  Build a better relationship with her parents.  3.  Be happy with herself.   She felt she had succeeded in reaching those goals.   And the next line in her speech made me smile:  She was happy that she had been her crazy self throughout her time at MCH. 

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Salutatorian address

 

 

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May receiving her diploma

 

I met her briefly after the ceremony and I will be praying for her and God’s blessing on her life in this next phase.

So, the keeper of my daughter’s legacy begins yet another verse with this young lady.    The emotions I felt that afternoon are hard to describe…….but I felt my heart was going to burst.  So much of God’s amazing grace, so much gratitude, so many blessings, flooding my heart and yet the hole in my heart for the loss of my amazing blue eyed 25 year old daughter was also very present.  But on this specific day, it was if my heart had to be broken to feel the grace, the gratitude, and the joy.  And it further affirmed for me that …..God is good.   Yes, even in the darkest moments.  And He is faithful to his promises.  One of those promises is to bring beauty from the ashes……May is definitely part of that promise and part of the beauty that he has brought from my loss.

To take a phrase from Elizabeth’s bracelet…… LIVE Big May Wells, LIVE BIG!

Congratulations!

Julie

 

 

The Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes Dowdy 2016 Memorial Scholarship……

2016 Salado Scholarship

Tonight was a great honor and blessing to award the Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes Dowdy Memorial Scholarship to a graduating Salado High School Senior.  This years scholarship went to a graduate who was one of two Salado seniors that received … Continue reading