Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mission Trip to Honduras in Memory of Phillip Wright #forflip

**My sister Emily and I have established a GoFundMe page to help us serve on a medical mission trip to honor Phillip's memory. He loved to serve others through missions work, and had a special love of helping children. Emily is an RN, which is very beneficial to this type of mission. Your help is coveted. Our page can be found at www.gofundme.com/forflip.
Emily and I have an opportunity to honor her son Phillip Wright's memory by serving on a medical mission trip to Honduras with a group traveling from Danville with Friends of Barnabas, a medical mission organization headquartered in Midlothian, Virginia. Emily lost her son Phillip on February 21 of this year, three days before what would have been his 19th birthday. During his 18 years here on earth, Phillip Wright touched many lives with his good nature and servant heart. One of his joys in life was attending four mission trips where he helped with vacation Bible schools, back yard Bible studies, painting, and other service projects. He loved working with children, and children loved working with him. 
Losing Phillip has been devastating for his mother Emily, our family, his friends, and all who knew him.  In the wake of her loss, Emily, a Registered Nurse, has decided to channel her grief into something productive and helpful to others, so that she might honor Phillip's memory and find healing herself.  Rather than live our lives in sadness, our family has vowed to honor Phillip by doing things that were important to him. We have decided that the best way to remember Phillip and honor his memory at this time is to serve others on a mission trip to help children in need. Friends of Barnabas provides medical services such as dental care, eye care and deworming shots for children and families in remote villages in Honduras. The upcoming trip is only 5 weeks away, with payment due ASAP. Please help us to honor Phillip's memory by doing the work that was important to him. We are told that this is a life changing experience, and we hope to gain a new healing perspective on this trip, while both honoring Phillip's memory and serving children who otherwise have no access to necessary medical care. The cost of the trip covers all of our necessary expenses, including lodging in Honduras, food, medical supplies, and transportation including daily transportation from the base site to remote villages. We are not requesting funds for personal expenses, and will pay for our own passports, vaccinations, malaria medication, personals, incidentals, souvenirs, etc.  The trip lasts 8 days and 7 nights, April 22-29. Safety is a primary concern and safety precautions are taken throughout the trip. Military Police will accompany the mission group to the villages. 
The trip is expensive, and covers all costs directly related to the mission, including medications, fluoride, eyeglasses, and medical supplies. We have established a GoFundMe page to help offset the expense of joining the group for this trip. If you would like to help us, but aren't able to help financially, please pray for us in our journey, and please share this story. If you are able to help, any assistance will be greatly appreciated and will be applied directly toward the cost of the trip. If we exceed our monetary goal, we will put the funds toward a future trip. Our donation page can be found at www.gofundme.com/forflip
We can't possibly express our appreciation enough to those who have loved and supported us throughout the past three weeks. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for our family and for Phillip. Much love  and many thanks to you all! Let's do this #forflip! 
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

Phillip Alan Wright; His Story is Not Over

Phillip Alan Wright
February 24, 1998 - February 21, 2017
It has been three weeks ago today since I lost my nephew. My children lost their cousin, my parents lost their oldest grandchild, and my sister Emily lost a son. Phillip took his life on Tuesday, February 21, just three days before his 19th birthday. For the next three days following Phillip’s death, visitors poured into our family’s home, bringing food and flowers, cleaning, talking, sitting and listening, crying, sharing stories, and even laughing.  As Phillip’s birthday approached, we decided to celebrate him and his birthday as we had planned to do all along. He had made other plans, but those of us who knew and loved him still wanted to celebrate him and his birthday, so that’s what we did.  There was an abundance of food brought by visitors, and Phillip’s aunt Jeanette brought a birthday cake to my parents' house.  One candle was lit, signifying Phillip's first birthday in Heaven.  A full house of dozens of friends and family gathered around one another to sing Happy Birthday in Heaven, to share cake, and to celebrate Phillip on what would be his 19th birthday.
Then we celebrated in a way we've never celebrated before.
 At 10:00 on that Friday night, my three sisters and I, plus Zach, Courtland, Mark, and Andrew, found ourselves in a tattoo parlor.  I have lived my whole life with zero interest in getting a tattoo. I certainly didn’t wake up that morning expecting to have one at the end of the day, but every single thing we were doing that week was something new, something completely unexpected. Getting tattoos with my sisters was somewhat unexpected, but then again, I was doing a lot of things I never expected to do.  I didn’t expect to hear the awful news that Tuesday night. I didn’t expect to have to drive home sobbing, sick to my stomach at 2 am  to deliver the news and explain suicide to my own two children.  I didn’t expect to sit at my parents’ dining room table and type my nephew’s obituary.  I didn’t expect to sit with my sister in a funeral home, help plan her son’s funeral, and help her choose a casket. I didn’t plan to accompany her to choose a cemetery plot.  I didn’t plan to celebrate Phillip’s birthday without him.  And I certainly didn’t expect to bury my nephew. This was uncharted territory, and all we have had to navigate it with is each other. So it was fitting that we do this together. For Flip.
Project Semicolon
If you have seen pictures or tattoos of the semicolon symbol and wondered what it symbolizes, here is the answer: Project Semicolon is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who struggle with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Learn more about Project Semicolon here at www.projectsemicolon.com.
We all chose semicolon-themed tattoos to honor Phillip on his birthday.  Each tattoo contains a semicolon to represent suicide awareness. Six of us got tattoos, while Courtland and Mark offered moral support. It was such a good night, and it felt so good to laugh and celebrate our precious Phillip. We love and miss Phillip so much, and are so happy to now have a symbol to carry with us daily.  His story is not over.
On February 24, Phillip's 19th Birthday, Emily wrote this about her son:
19 years ago today I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I had ever laid eyes on. It was truly the happiest day of my life as I had never known a love like that before. I was just a child myself when I became a mother. I knew very little but I knew I loved that baby with all my heart. He made me so happy and proud at times I felt like my heart would explode. Phillip was an extraordinary person. He had the biggest heart. Phillip loved his family, loved his friends, loved his baseball. The happiest days of my life were spent sitting on a baseball field. Phillip was smart, so smart. We recently discussed him joining the peace corps after college, he always wanted to make a difference. And he was beautiful!!! He was absolutely gorgeous, he always dressed up. He even wore ties to school. I have tried to wrap my head around all of this and I just can't. He was sick and tortured in his own mind. And as a parent it is the hardest when you can not help your child. I am heartbroken and I am forever changed. I will have to find my new normal. I have cried on Phillip's Birthday the last few years because I was sad he was growing up and was going to leave me. I said just the other day that this would be his first birthday in years I didn't think I would cry. God knew otherwise. On a Tuesday morning, just three days before his 19th birthday, my precious, beautiful, loving, funny, perfect son took his own life. We have been proud of Phillip his entire life and we are not ashamed of him now. That was his way to feel better. I hope no one, especially his friends, question themselves. Please don't replay the I could haves or I should haves. Please don't feel guilty and please don't feel blame. Just continue to love and honor my baby's memories. Happy Birthday to my sweet Phillip. And when the pictures quit coming and the posts go away and months down the road when everyone is back to their normal routines, please don't forget my family and please always pray for us. We are tight and we are hurt. ❤ love to you all
Since Phillip's death three weeks ago, so many people have shown their solidarity and support in getting their own similar tattoos. I have appreciated the tags and posts throughout the past few weeks, and hope you will keep them coming if it is something you feel inclined to share.  So many people have shared with us their own struggles and fears. People are reaching out for help and support, and they are sharing their own stories often for the first time. This response reflects how profoundly touched we have all been and how far this love has reached. Phillip touched lives and reached people.  Even in his death he is reaching others.  Several weeks ago, we didn't expect to see his impact on others to be so suddenly profound, but we have found ourselves in uncharted territory, and we are navigating it together the best we know how. 
Our family loves you all. You are amazing friends and amazing people whom we are blessed to have in our lives. We never expected to walk through this wilderness,but are so grateful for our friends and family that have helped navigate it with us. Much love.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom
SoVA Mom Home

**If you or a loved one is in crisis and/or needs help and a listening ear, there is help. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lessons Learned in Grief and Gratitude

Phillip Alan Wright
February 24, 1998-February 21, 2017
I lost my eighteen year old nephew to suicide two weeks ago today. The grief has been dark and deep. The sorrow has been heavy and hard. Like the sun’s rays through a darkened sky, however, moments of love and hope and clarity have shone through. God has revealed Himself to me daily. His grace and His gifts have been both evident and abundant in the midst of our grief. Everyone experiences grief on a very personal level, and I can only speak to my own. I am learning that grief is a multi-layered process. It is a state of being that involves many emotions that change from moment to moment, day to day. My own grief coexists with joy and laughter and sadness and doubt and happiness and insight. In the past two weeks, I have learned these truths about myself, God’s presence, and my relationship with Him.  I did not choose to learn these lessons, but I am grateful for them.   
Beautiful, healing vulnerability. I am introverted, introspective, and emotionally very guarded and private with my feelings. I am learning that the middle of grief is no place to put on armor nor build a wall. Grief has forced me out of my comfort zone and begged me to express real and honest truths. It is not healthy to hold this grief inside, and I certainly can’t hide it.  My wounds are open and raw, and I am unashamed and unafraid. This vulnerability is both humbling and healing.
The essence of family. The presence of a loving and supportive family has been essential in this grief process. It is such a strange thing to be overwhelmed by such a deep and brutal grief and an immense and powerful love both at the same time. We have taken turns hurting, nurturing, supporting, caring for, and allowing ourselves to be cared for by each other. This is the essence of family at its core.
He draws us close. There has been a constant presence surrounding me that, though intangible, can be physically felt even when I am alone. I can feel the love around me, the prayers, the presence, and know that I am held. I can feel Him drawing me close. 
The feeling of safety in the storm.   I was caught without warning in storm raging all around me, yet I know that my whole family is loved and protected and calm and held and hopeful even in the midst of all of this.  I know my God loves us and is holding us very closely. This sense of safety and peace is a gift that has been given to me over and over again. I have been daily reminded of His calming presence and the peace that only He can provide. 
The clarity of knowing what is truly important.  After two weeks, the grief whirling all around me, completely out of my grasp, like dandelion dust in the wind, is settling into place.  Only two times in my life have I felt so grounded, and never before have I had a clearer picture of what is truly important and what is not. I believe that is a gift from God.
The abundance of joy, love, and gratitude in the midst of grief. This grief feels heavy and deep inside me. One thing I am learning about my own grief is that even as it digs down deep, swelling up and hollowing me out, it is making a space for such an abundance of love and joy for others that I have never felt. I feel the fullness of joy and love welling up inside myself, as I am finding much more joy in other people's happiness than I usually do. This is a gift from God, and I am grateful for it.
Our community shares our grief.  Suffering this loss in a small town and tight knit community, I am so aware of the whole community mourning with us.  Through the years, our lives and families become interwoven through school, sports, church, friends, marriage, business, and service.  Our family is not grieving alone. The whole community is mourning with us, sharing in our grief. No one can take our grief, but there is comfort in knowing that loving friends and neighbors share the burden.
We know who loves us and how to love others.  The outpouring of love has been incredible, from visits and phone calls to food deliveries and house cleaning, to bringing paper products and stamps, answering phone calls and running errands, and just being present to sit or to listen or to laugh and cry together. I came home a few days after Phillip’s death to a foyer full of greenery, flowers, and a stack of cards which continues to arrive in the mail daily. I have friends who drove three hours for my nephew’s funeral just because they love us. Sure, there are friends who have not reached out like I thought they might, but I don’t fault them. I realize that some people don’t know what to say. Maybe they have never hurt this way and don’t know how it feels. Maybe their family is not as close as ours and they don't realize how painful losing a nephew can be. Likewise, there have been times that I have missed the opportunity to reach out to my friends who are hurting. I am learning from all of this, and I hope that this experience teaches me to show more love in the future to others in need.    
The gift of empathy. One thing I am learning from my grief is how much more aware I am of others' grief. When I am witness to another person's loss, my heart aches more deeply and I pray for them a little bit longer. I feel more inclined to reach out and offer my support. I think this awareness and empathy is another gift from God. Thank you God for making me more aware of others and more empathetic to their suffering.
The beauty of a memory.  I can’t tell you how many time I have heard the saying, “Cherish the memories,” and didn’t fully know what that meant or felt like. In my grief I have been grasping for anything that I can hold onto of Phillip’s, anything he did not or could not take with him to the grave. He took with him the present and the future, but he could not take our history. We will always have the memories. The sense of ownership and permanence has helped me to feel grounded in this time of unsteadiness.
God uses music to speak to us.  Two weeks ago tonight, driving home alone on a country road at 2:00 in the middle of the cold, black night, listening to Christian radio, I heard the song “Even If” by MercyMe for the first time. My friends, that was God’s timing. We use music to offer praise and worship to Him, and sometimes He uses those songs to speak directly back to our hearts. Several days after Phillip’s death, my sister Emily, Phillip’s mom, was looking through her car when she found Phillip's New Ablaze CD. The song “Always”by Kristian Stanfill was the first song on it! Phillip loved this song, and Emily was able to share it. God uses these songs to remind us of His unwavering love for us and His constant presence.   
The desire to live fully and freely. If you had asked me three weeks ago how I would have reacted in regards to my children following this tragedy, I probably would have said I wanted to shelter them and keep them wrapped up in a bubble, free from the harms and hurts of this world. Even I have been surprised that my reaction has been quite the opposite. I already hug my children tight. I already cherish every moment. What I want for them is to live their lives freely and fully. I want them to experience the trials and the hurts, I want them to learn and grow and figure things out. I want them to look upward and dig deep. I want them to learn independence and problem solving. I want for them to do the really hard work involved in fully being. I am ready to let go a little more so that they can grow a little more.
Love is easy. Following my nephew’s death, emotions ran high and tempers flared around me, yet I could not bring myself to be angry, not because I was so strong, but because I was so very weak. I was so emotionally drained and mentally weak that I didn’t have the stamina to be angry. All I could feel was love in a time when I thought I should probably be angry, too.  I have heard that it takes more energy to hate than to love, but until I was at the place of emotional and mental depletion did I realize how true that is. It absolutely amazes me that God designed us so that even when we have nothing left to give and nothing else to lose, that we are still able to love.   
He makes beauty for ashesTwo weeks ago while selecting a burial plot for my nephew, my step-father, mother, sister, and I all gathered around my father's grave. My step-father reminded us that we all stood in that exact spot 36 years ago wondering how in the world God was going to make something good from my father’s tragic death. My step-father was my father's friend, coworker, fishing and hunting buddy, and finally a pallbearer at his funeral. Two years later, he and my mom married and had three more children. Our incredible family of 7 was born from these ashes. Last night I celebrated the citizenship anniversary of a child whom I love dearly. Adopted from Ukraine, he became a citizen when his plane touched ground at JFK airport nine years ago yesterday. Six years before his parents lost their prematurely born twin daughters within two days of each other. Nothing can replace the children that were lost, and nothing can stop the heartbreak they endured. When I look at this child, though, I see what a blessing he is to his parents, to my own family, and to my children who love and adore him. And I think about what a blessing my friends have been to this precious child who might still live in an orphanage in a war torn country if not having been open to God using them in their time of heartbreak.  God may not cause our suffering, but He can create good and beauty even in the midst of it. I pray that your grief and mine will help to create something beautiful. I pray beauty will be made for these ashes.

Every person experiences grief differently on a very personal level.  I hope these things are an encouragement to you if you are in the midst of grief. Please continue to keep this family in your thoughts and prayers. If you or someone you know needs to speak with a pastor of a church, Mount Hermon Baptist Church in Danville wants to speak with you. They can be reached at 434-724-7118 or on the internet at www.mhbchurch.com.  If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom