With Open Hands: Part 1

Kristen Milligan
Kristen Milligan “With Open Hands” at 2011 NYC IOH Retreat

With Open Hands: Part 1

A few years ago I was in a book study with a few people who read the book “With Open Hands” by Henri Nouwen. I was a new mom at the time with my first son about 15 months old. He was at that “separation anxiety” stage where he clung to me every time the threat of me leaving him arose. When I started the book it was a confusing time for me with this baby boy of mine needing me so much on a daily basis, yet I was learning about having “open hands”. This normal developmental stage of course eventually passed, but while we were “in it” life was a day to day trial and error experiment of how much to let go & how much to let him cling to me.

I’m sure some of you relate to this idea of attempting to strike a balance between learning to let go & keeping loved ones close. It’s not an easy task, that I think I will struggle with possibly for my entire life, especially in regards to my little ones.

A few months later I was asked by a dear friend who I really admire to attend my first IOH retreat in Florida to serve as a counselor. At the time I had never left my son Grady for an extended period of time & I was 7 months pregnant with my second son Judah. My initial response was to say that this was not a good time, which had been my answer for almost two years for similar reasons. Yet, this time something stirred inside me. I knew I was supposed to go. So I agreed & took off on a journey serving in this organization that truly refines me daily. IOH serves families who have a parent with a terminal illness who also have kids 18 & younger. What I did not realize was how much IOH would teach me!

I met the Milligan family & learned about their story of battling Kristen’s cancer over the past almost decade while having three young kids. My first thought was this: “How does Kristen cope on a daily basis with the thought that she may leave this earth much sooner than her kids & husband are ready for? How does she reconcile this on a daily basis? How does she find peace? Hope? Joy?”

That question unfolded into a beautiful answer for me over the next year. She recently passed away & I feel so blessed to have watched the Hope, Peace, & Joy that radiated from her life & continues to pour out of her family.

What was her secret?

Hope in Jesus. Reliance on Him.

This hope that Kristen had in Jesus enabled her to live a life with open hands.

Something that I was never able to even partially begin to grasp practically until I met her.

She figured out quickly after her diagnosis that her strength to release & entrust her loved ones into the arms of our Creator was the answer to Peace. Hope. Joy. Even in the midst of pain & suffering, she modeled this for me & many others.

I’m reminded of my friend Kristen Grady Milligan when I read this prayer, because I think she prayed it in her own words & heart often:

Dear God, Speak gently in my silence. When the loud outer noises of my surroundings & the loud inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from you, help me to trust that you are still there even when I am unable to hear you. Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying: “Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest… for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Let that loving voice be my guide. Amen.    (prayer by Henri Nouwen)

When life is heavy and hard to take,

go off by yourself. Enter the silence.

Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:

Wait for hope to appear.

Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.

The “worst” is never the worst.

-Lamentations 3:28-30 messages translation

*This is just Part 1 of a series on this topic of living “With Open Hands”.

Stay tuned for more this month as we enter this Christmas Season where we celebrate the One who guides us in our darkest places & loves us right where we are.