A comforting sign

It is Easter Sunday morning and I have been awake since 4:30. I sip on my coffee in the silence with this Mac on my lap as I listen to a robin sing outside my window. I ponder what life would be like if the birds hushed their singing. What a wonderful grace this is from God that the silence was broken by the melody and harmony of his creation. The wind, the waves, the songbirds and the sound of rain on my roof all speak of the gracious Creator who reveals himself even in the sounds which we often ignore.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am not a sign seeker. God is everywhere and I don’t need something miraculous to affirm that he is, I need only to look and listen to my surroundings to be assured of his presence. Yet, some weeks back, just before the three-year anniversary date of the death of my son I whispered a prayer to God. I asked him to give me peace again and assurance that Jacob with him in his presence. I asked for a comfort and to do something to give me peace.

I kind of had forgotten the prayer until some other things happened. I wouldn’t call it a sign, it was just an answered prayer from God to comfort my sometimes troubled heart.

I need to fill you in on some background before I tell you what happened.

Let not your heart be troubled

The words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 were written on the heart of my son and Jacob could quote them when he was a young boy.  They read as follows, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

On the headstone where Jacob rests are engraved the first six words of these verses. These words that came from Jesus and were etched in the heart of my son. We had them engraved in marble that we might never forget the promise of heaven and a family reunion.

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My wife Stacey found these words so comforting that she had them put on her arm. In memory of the promise of Jesus and in memory of our beloved son she had this tattoo done shortly after his death.

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So, March 26th came and it happened to be on a Sunday this year. We went to Eden Bible Church and sat in the seats we have been sitting in for years. The service began and I got a light elbow to the ribs as Stacey leaned over and whispered, “Did you notice this?” She handed me the church bulletin and you guessed it, our verses were right there on the front for us to take comfort in. Three years to the day of Jacob’s passing this was the bulletin we were handed.

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I had kind of forgotten the prayer I made to God. Sunday passed and my dad and I were having breakfast at Ursa Major on Thursday morning and our conversation triggered my memory of the prayer I had made. I told him about the prayer and the church bulletin and asked, “Do you think God used this to answer my prayer for comfort?” My dad believed he did and I do as well. Irony? I dont think so. A sign? Perhaps.

Here’s your sign

Today is Easter. This is the best day of all Christian celebrations because it is this resurrection day that stills my heart and says, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

I don’t need nor do I seek a signs from my son. But God in his grace to me has assured my heart once again by answering a prayer in a most ordinary but immensely comforting way and for that I thank him. It was like he was saying to me, “Here’s what you prayed for, let not your heart be troubled.”

Today I celebrate the greatest day in human history. Jesus promised to give the world a sign that he is God by walking out of his grave after three days. He conquered death and by faith in him I have been given life and my heart is not troubled. He has prepared a place for Jacob and he is preparing a place for me, he has promised to come for me so that where he is I will someday be also.

There is only one sign and only one faith that points to heaven and that sign is the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Friday has passed Jesus is alive; There’s your sign!

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

Happy Easter my friends!

 

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Best wishes

Our beloved Jacob Michael Fekete would be 25 today.

In my minds eye I see 25 imaginary candles on a make believe cake that will never be baked. 25 imaginary flickering flames to blow upon, to extinguish and to wish on better things. I remember your hopes, I remember your dreams son. I remember with a heavy heart and wish that those hopes and dreams for you had come true.

I wish to wish, if I could wish, if it were possible, if reality were not so real and birthday wishes really did come true. I would wish to blow out those 25 candles and these 25 things are the wishes I’d wish for you.

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I wish you could see your sister. I wish you could see her smiling face at her wedding to one of your most loved friends. I wish you could see their love and I wish you could meet Oakley their one year old puppy. I wish that you could visit with your Bo and again share joy and laughter with your siblings.

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I wish I could hand you tickets to the NCAA wrestling finals your brother will compete in next weekend. I wish you could cheer for him- you were always his biggest fan. I wish you two could sit and catch up and I wish you could see what an incredible man he has become. I wish you could stand as his best man this June and I wish you could see his bride and the beautiful person she is. I wish you could meet their enormous puppy named Pine.

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I wish you could speak to your mother’s heart and I wish you could still her soul. I wish you could see her strength, her faith and her perseverance. I wish you could write an assuring love note and tuck it under her pillow like you used to do. I wish you could could walk through the doors of our new home in Beulah and lay a big Jacob hug on her. I wish you could walk with her down Center street to the beach and to the shoppes downtown.

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I wish we could all sit as a family once again. I wish I could hear your voice, your gargled laughter and I wish I could see that thin crooked smile again. I wish you had found that simple girl you wanted to marry in a pretty yellow sundress. I wish you had found love.

I’d wish for your peace. I’d wish for your joy. I’d wish for your contentment.

I want you back but I would never wish you back Jacob. 25 candles and 25 birthday wishes for you but of those wishes only three have come true. You are at peace, you have pure joy and you are completely content. Best wishes and happy birthday in heaven son.

We love you.

 

 

 

 

When hope is lost

Life is difficult. Pain is real. Grief, sorrow and trials are experienced by all in this world. We live by the golden rule, we walk by faith…or so we say, or so I have said. Yet lately, for longer than I want to admit to myself I have lost my hope. Oh, I say that I hope in God but that hope is mingled with a hope for better things in this life. I had dreams, but they died. I had desires for good things but they were cast down. I suffer pain, grief, sorrow and loss and I feel disheartened and crushed. I must admit that the death of my son Jacob has crushed my spirit to hope for better things.
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Therein lies my problem. I have fallen into the trap of placing hope in this temporal life, for passing earthly hopes that disappear as quickly as they appear. Oh, I would say that I was also looking to heaven for my eternal hope, but when my eyes fell again on the horizontal plane towards my hopes in this life I have been repeatedly disappointed. In these past three years I have guarded myself from hoping for better things in my life. However, when I let my guard down many times I was crushed again by another disappointing and difficult life event. I had forgotten and lost my sight of the promises in the valley of the shadow of death. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
We have faith in God, we have love for God and we have good hope in God. Faith can be turned to fear, love can grow cold, and hope will be shaken when the eyes of our soul turn away from Jesus to the things of this life. God has corrected my eyesight in the last couple of days with the help of some of his servants. I had lowered my spiritual eyes and turned away from the only eternal and unwavering hope. I still desire, expect and hope for good things from my gracious and merciful savior in this life. I will hope and wait for his goodness but whether in the pain or in the pleasure my hope is assured by an anchor in heaven. When hope in this life is robbed by trials I have learned, and have been recently been painfully reminded again that earthly hope is a mirage and a dissipating vapor.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV) There have been times I have wanted to put a choke hold on people who quickly respond to trials by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” While this is true it is of no comfort to the sorrowful, in fact it can be maddening. I have been in the fire, I am in the fire and I expect be in the fire again. This verse assures me that the my afflictions are temporal and no matter how bad life gets they are considered light and purposeful. I can rejoice in hope in the fire that prepares me for my future glorious inheritance in heaven. This is assured and this is our unchangeable and eternal hope.
I have been comforted by God and my hope has been restored because my eyes have turned heavenward where Christ my hope is seated at the right hand of God. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess2:15-17) Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
 

Walking comfortably in discomfort

It’s approaching two years since Jacob died. He would have been 24 on March 3rd but he left this life March 26th 2014 at 22 and he will forever be 22 in my heart.

I have sensed a new phase of my grief that I doubt I can communicated in words for others to fully grasp. I have arrived at a point of accepting my new reality of life without Jacob. Perhaps it’s like breaking in a new pair of stiff leather shoes. The longer you wear them the fewer blisters and discomforts you endure. The thing about these new shoes is they are permanent, these clogs are for keeps. I keep walking this rocky road with these now broken in shoes but pebbles keep finding their way inside to irritate the “soul” of my feet. It takes time to work out the painful intruder, I stop, I empty my shoe of its unwelcome guest. Slipping it back on I walk forward until the time comes to repeat the process again.

It’s taken two years to break in these boots. It’s an odd feeling I have, it’s comfortable but the comfort strangely troubles my heart. Everything in me once resisted the notion that he is gone forever yet now being settled with the reality is somewhat unsettling in itself as well.

March is going to bring some bitter sweet days. I am confident that my shoes will have to come off to remove a rock or at the very least tie the laces so I don’t fall on my face. This is my life now, I am comfortably uncomfortable in my grief journey.

My walking shoes are only part of what people see in my overall attire. People might see me shed a tear when I have an irritation in my walk. Most people know nothing about my shoes and wouldn’t notice them at all without the limp they create as I walk. It’s OK that they don’t notice and it’s OK when they do as well.

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Jacob’s boots

 

These shoes only make up a portion of what I wear every day. Grief is my everyday companion but I never want grief to overtake my identity, anymore than a pair of shoes would represent my complete attire. It should not, it cannot, it must not! Though there are times I get overwhelmed with sorrow I refuse to allow grief be how people identify me. People must see that I am wearing other items that look much better than these leather boots. Beautiful things like, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22) I hope these are noticed more than anything else  when people speak of my character.

Yes, I have been broken and I wear a new pair of shoes that get issued to a select few in this life. I walk my path, I stop to empty out the pebbles that irritate my soul. And there you are, my friend, standing with me in this road and you always stop when I stop. You always bring me comfort and support so I don’t collapse as I attempt to put these shoes back on my feet.

The feet of my friend are badly scarred by his journey as well. He has told me of how the scars came about and of all the bad things he endured which actually have a wonderful and beautiful ending.

I’m ready to walk again now, my friend has his staff in hand and says to my heart. “Come, follow me for I know this road. I have walked it before and I know it ends at a city of peace and rest.” And then I remembered the heavenly city and recalled this verse to my memory. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news and happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to  Zion, Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7) 

I looked my friend in the face again today. I smiled with a tear in my eye and said, “Thank you Jesus for walking a mile my shoes.” He gave me a nod, returned a smile and a wink and said- lets be on our way my friend, we still have a ways to go.”

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The day the music died

Those closest to me know that I never listen to music, at least not deliberately anyway. It has became particularity difficult for me after Jacob died to listen to songs about lost love and the disappointments of life . Music is penned from the soul of people and while it brings comfort to many I have found mostly pain in it all. Music rubs at my raw soul the wrong way I suppose, so I choose to shut it out of my life.

I do not have a playlist or any downloaded music on any of my apple devices, Pandora was deleted long ago and the radio in my truck only displays the time for me. I have wished, and actually prayed that this would change for me but up to this point I still struggle with it. The day that Jacob died is the day that the music died in me.

After he died I found myself literally running to escape music. I could say with honesty that I hated it because of what it would do to my heart when I heard it. I cannot, and have not found comfort in music. I remember sitting in a Burger King as I tried to choke down a chicken sandwich while enduring Elton John’s classic hit, “Sad songs.” I sat there and sobbed alone that afternoon hating music and hating the fact that it was inescapable and everywhere around me. Why is it that Elton John can find a gentle touch in a sad song and I get a sucker punch to the stomach? Even simple TV commercial riffs have caused me to quickly grab the remote to avoid getting the wind knocked out of me.

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Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don’t you tune in and turn them on
They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

The cutting edge of the knife has dulled some over time, thankfully it’s not as bad as it was. In the onset of grief I would actually get queasy and shaky when certain genre’s of music were heard. It became difficult to escape from the noise and my awareness of it became extremely heightened. Music is everywhere and is impossible to be totally free of in this world, though I try, it still finds me and catches me off guard and punches my soul.

I realize I am a bit of an enigma when it comes to my contempt for music. Most who grieve find a place of comfort and peace in it, I am glad about that because my son and daughter have been comforted by it. Music has been a healing balm for them.

Jacob had a beautiful voice, he loved to sing and play his guitar. He was an old soul, he appreciated the music of Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson and was somewhat critical of contemporary musicians. He sang in choral groups when in high school and would occasionally play and sing at church, weddings and funerals. Three months before his own death he sang the Old Rugged Cross and Amazing grace at his granny’s funeral. He wanted me to accompany him with the harmonica but I decided to opt out. I regret that decision sometimes but I figure that I have been spared a bitter sweet memory.

I have taken out my harmonica and played a couple of times in the last 22 months. I hope that someday music can be a part of my life again. March 26th, 2014 is the day the music died for me and sadness replaced my song.

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I sit in church and wonder what Jake is singing for Jesus in heaven. I have yet to find my song in a worship service. As a sojourner in earth I feel like the captive Jews of years ago who who hung their lyres in the willows. “For our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalms 137:3-4) 

Someday in heaven I will sing a new song with my son. Someday I hope to play a harmonica with Jacob singing Amazing Grace…how sweet the sound. Till then the sound of music is not so sweet to me. By the grace of Christ I hope that in time music in this life will no longer be bitter to me but sweet once again. Someday… perhaps.

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World peace imagined and world peace realized. Finding peace during the holidays.

Northern Michigan is warm, wet and brown this December. It was a balmy 60 degrees yesterday and the weather forecast has much of the same for the next ten days. It doesn’t look like Christmas, it doesn’t feel like Christmas and it’s OK with me.

I’m not being a bah hum bugger or a grinch and I’m not on the, “Christmas is too commercialized band wagon.” either. It’s just easier for me to endure this second Christmas apart from my lost son, and other loved ones, without all the sights, sounds, smells and bells of the holiday season.

I am haunted by the ghost of Christmas past each day in December. I am waiting anxiously for New Years eve because it marks the end of another season that can’t get over fast enough. I go Christmas shopping with my wife and I get slapped in the face with Christmas music. Holiday songs awaken my grief and the ghost takes my mind to a place I once was but where I can never return. Songs like, Blue Christmas and I’ll be home for Christmas cut my heart open wide and my internal bleeding rolls down my cheek. I walk and I wonder who else is hurting like me among all the shoppes and shoppers in all this holiday hoopla.

imageHere I sit in my undecorated home. No tree, no lights, no nativity. No indication that it’s the holidays, only a couple Christmas cards on the counter and some unwrapped gifts in the bedroom. I hear the rain dripping off the roof, I see the snowless landscape out of my bay window and I like it this way. I am reminded of last Christmas as I sit here musing. The tormenting spirit pokes me again. There, on a table sits a Christmas gift to us from my brother and his wife. It is a hand crafted night light, a beacon of hope and a gentle reminder of healing really. It  reminds me of last year, our first Christmas without Jacob and the awful pain we felt. I hurt, I am sad, but that light reminds me that the pain is duller and the grief is not as intense as it was a year ago. Maybe in years to come we will get a tree and decorate it with all the special ornaments that the kids made when they were small. Not this year, not yet, and I prefer it this way.

People say remember the reason for the season. Christmas means many things to many people but as a Christian it is a reminder of the incarnation of God into the stream of humanity. December is a time to remember this great truth but for me not a day goes by that I do not remember that Jesus  entered into this world and returned home to his Father. Every day is Christmas and Easter for a believer because the good news of Jesus Christ never leaves our heart.

I remember Bethlehem, I remember Jerusalem and I remember Jesus on  a hill called Calvary nailed to a tree. I remember his death on a cross that brought peace and good will towards men. I continually remember that he walked out of a tomb and appeared to 500 people over 40 days. I recall his ascention and his glorification and his promise that I cling to daily. A promise engraved in a book, in my heart and in marble at my sons resting place. It is in Jesus that I have found daily peace and in him I have good hope and genuine eternal peace.

world peace imagined

“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace……” (Isaiah 9:6b) .

In John Lennon’s classic hit Imagine he said, “You, may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.” Was John Lennon the price of peace?  John was a dreamer and many have dreamed along with him but will peace and oneness ever be possible in our world? Did he unite the world in the peace movement, can we today? No, the imaginations of John Lennon are impossible because peace is a byproduct of something else; something this world lacks.

Peace is a byproduct of righteousness. Isaiah said, “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17) Is the world concerned with righteousness? The world is actually quite unconcerned with righteousness, Jesus said himself that the world loves darkness rather that light (John 3:18-21) How then can world peace be possible in a world that loves darkness?

World peace realized

I do believe in a coming world peace but not without the Righteous One; Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Any other way is for dreamers, unimaginable and frankly humanly impossible. Are we closer to world peace than when Lennon penned those famous words in 1971?

Read through the cited verses on my son’s headstone and you will discover these words from the returning Price of Peace. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-4) 

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The world cries out against peace and thirsts for blood as they did in the days of Jesus. Pontus Pilate said, “Behold your King! And the world responds as his own people did 2000 years ago. “Away with him, away with him!” Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. (John 19: 14-16) The people agreed and screamed, “We will not have this man rule over us!” They bowed to government while killing the King of the Nations.

An invitation from the King of Peace

….Isaiah concludes, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7-9) This is a real King who will rule on this earth from Jerusalem forever and ever……..

….and I conclude are you ready for this coming King?

The bible closes with an invitation to life and peace. Jesus the Prince of Life and Peace cries out from his throne and says, “Surely I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:20)

Can you say with the apostle John, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Peace to you my friends and Merry Christmas. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enduring the holidays; no deposit and no return

The linear journey

There is never closure for the parents of dead children. I was reminded of this again recently as I listened to a traumatic grief counselor in a phone conversation. He used the word journey, a word I have used myself many times but this time I pondered what it really means for me during the Christmas season. I was reminded again of the fact that the road traveled for grieving parents is linear, not circular therefore closure is never possible. I move farther along the path of life after death to the western horizon until the sun sets on my time here on earth. Each day there are a few steps in a path which distances me from the terrible day that began my journey. Death will be the end of my pilgrimage of grief- closure comes when they close my casket. Yes, each day creates distance and the potential for healing but I will walk with a limp and carry many scars until I step foot into my eternal home. On that day I will truly rest in peace.

Jacob of the bible understood the journey ahead upon hearing about the death of his son Joseph. In his deep grief it is said, “All his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son ,mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:35-36 ESV) Jeremiah also foretold of the lament of Rachel when Herod killed all the children in Bethlehem that were 2 years old and under. “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18 ESV) I understand this, I am living with this and I know my laments for my Jacob will only be silenced when I am buried next to him.

No place for love

There is no combination words that can capture what a grieving parent feels during the Christmas season. This will be at best a feeble and hopefully slightly helpful glimpse into the journey we walk. The following thoughts about my grief journey came to me in this way this past week.

Christian Author Gary Chapman wrote the top selling book, The five love languages. (http://www.5lovelanguages.com/) Many years back I attended his seminar and heard his concepts on the languages of love. The five ways we express love according to Chapman are 1. Words of affirmation, 2. Acts of service, 3. Receiving gifts, 4. Quality time, and 5. Physical touch. I agree with his love language concepts but recently these concepts made me think deeply about my love for my deceased son. My love for Jacob has only deepened since he died, but there is now no way to express my love for him. All five of the languages were expressed to me by Jacob and I reciprocated that love back to him- but now he is dead, and I have no place to pour that love on him. Life without my son is like possessing an empty Coke with a label that reads, “No deposit, no return.” Jacob cannot deposit love into my life and I cannot give him any of the love that overwhelms my soul. Death has separated us but love love remains without a means of expression.

  
The holidays represent a time when the 5 love languages are to be fully expressed in the family. I have remaining family to love, but loving others and being loved by others brings no relief for the void that remains in my heart. There are no words to express my love. There are no kind acts that I can do to express my love. There is no shopping for that special gift to display my love. There can never be quality time to show him my love. There is never going to be an embrace to affirm my love for him. All the love I desire to pour into him has no outlet, and I will never receive it from him again. There is no deposit and no return. The holidays are a time for family love and love will be expressed to the living. The terrible pain during the holidays for me is that all the love that I have for Jake is retained and the expression of love for him has no outlet. The desire to receive that love never leaves me. Oh that I could hear his voice and feel his embrace for Christmas. It can never be, it never will be. The holidays are the harsh reality that there will again be no deposit and no return. Surviving the holidays is the best I can do. As I walk this journey I expect to heal and to limp my way through life. Someday I will reach the river Jordan and cross over to the land of promise. Until that day I expect my journey to be difficult and the path wet with my tears. There are some sorrows that only death can relieve, making death a strange comfort to me indeed. Not that I desire to die but I desire to truly rest in peace, to see Jesus face to face, and to have him wipe my tears away forever. Joy comes in the morning. The best Christmas morning will be when I wake up and again see my sweet boys face and feel his embrace. On that morning I will get to express all the love I have in my heart for him and I will receive all the love he has for me. Till then….No deposit, no return…..