A Hat in a Hospital

My Grandpa always wore a hat.

He was a farmer by trade but he kept his family fed hunting the woods and fishing the waters that surround our family farm. No matter what the activity, those hats offered relief from the intense sun that blesses our coastal North Carolina town.  Our 12 year old son, Zack, died of liver cancer 6 years ago. He didn’t love a hat as much as my grandpa but he did love to hunt and fish and knew a hat was a necessary part of that uniform. 

With a Childhood cancer diagnosis, our lives were forever changed. Blonde locks scattered across a pillowcase could not be ignored and hats became a part of a new everyday uniform. Generous people from all over the country sent hats to Zack. Some of the hats were autographed, some were goofy, some were sports themed but they all made a Cancer-filled little boy smile.

Hats made life a little more normal for a little boy who would never know normal again. 

How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about. – Phillip Treachy

One of Zack’s best friends, Sam Schmidt, is a freshman at NC State. Before he graduated high school last year, he hosted a hugely successful hat drive in honor of Zack. Those hats were donated to UNC hospitals to be given to sick kiddos desperate to feel just a little bit normal.  


Sam is hosting another hat drive right now and YOU can help spread JOY this Christmas season. Please consider making a donation of ANY amount by following this link. https://www.gofundme.com/zack-attack-hats

Help Sam make a difference this Christmas.

Be blessed and be a blessing! 


I Poisoned My Child

And I haven’t been arrested yet.

A big brother with liver cancer gets a sweet hug from a little brother.

If you don’t live in North Carolina, you may not have heard about our Cape Fear River water supply crisis. Apparently, the chemical that replaced C8 (used for Teflon) was replaced by a chemical called Genx. This chemical has been pouring into our drinking supply for years. DHHS says rates of liver cancer were up in our area during the time that our 11 year old son, Zack, was diagnosed.

And sure – lawsuits will be filed and there will be years of litigation and money will eventually be trickled out to people impacted but really? Money? Blah blah blah!
Criminal charges should be brought against anyone who knew this and didn’t make the public aware. Dumping it in the Cape Fear River for years – knowing it is the water supply for towns downstream…..I cannot begin to wrap my head around it! If I fed my kids poison, I would be arrested. But it’s ok for for a company with a permit to release unregulated chemicals ( chemical that they know cause a variety of health issues and death) into water supplies so I can unknowingly feed that poison to my kids? 
The thought of me giving my children poisoned water makes me sick. I remember insisting he drink water instead of soda because it was better for him. I remember encouraging him to swim in our city water supplied in ground pool because exercise was good for him. I remember making him bathe daily because he was dirty from doing little boy things.  I remember watching him die. He was only 12. He died from liver cancer….liver cancer likely caused from this?


His life mattered

How can this continue to happen all over this great nation? Water supplies contaminated and poisoned (knowingly) by US companies! When I google it – I am dumbfounded that it is happening again and again. Our water is being poisoned by US companies – not by hate filled terrorists – these are US companies! How is it that we are not more outraged? Our communities, our children, our pregnant mommas and future generations are counting on us to stand up for them. 

If we don’t insist on better, it will never get better.

It’s time to fight!

Zack smiled as I fed him poisoned water.

Happy 13th birthday Nick

imageMy cup ran over with JOY 13 years ago today as we welcomed a precious baby boy to our family.

A baby brother.

my boys

Meeting big brother…

Truly, a gift from God.

He is a beacon of light that would draw me from bed in my darkest days of grieving through the loss of a big brother.

He is medicine for my grieving heart.

He is a thousand reasons to smile.

He was an amazing little brother and he is an extraordinary big brother.image

His love for God and love and compassion for others inspires me to be a better me.

Thank you LORD for this gift. This blessing.

Ps 23:5b “…my cup runneth over.”

We love you! Happy birthday Nick!imageimagezack10001.jpg2010-05-09-13-13-302.jpg

My friend Grief

Making the most of every moment.

My friend, Grief, is visiting today.  He woke me up by banging intensely on my door last night. He likes to wake me up. We have become steadfast friends. Sometimes he stands in the corner and watches me. Sometimes he leaps suddenly into the middle of whatever I am doing – unloading the dishwasher or the washing machine, sometimes in a song or in a smell and causes tears to flow for seemingly no reason.  Sometimes he whispers to me but last night he shouted until I got out of bed. His persistence in being acknowledged is aggravating.   

I wondered if 330am was too early to drink coffee but Grief didn’t think so. Coffee always helps me pay attention and he wanted my full attention. I pulled up a chair and invited him to sit with me.

Sometimes he makes my stomach hurt. Sometimes he makes me cry. Sometimes he makes me question everything I believe about life and death. Sometimes he makes me feel guilty for feeling happy. Sometimes he makes me feel better about my new normal. And sometimes he makes me feel worse about my new normal. Sometimes he dances at my pity party.  Sometimes he just watches me cry. Sometimes he nudges me if I smile too much.

In the wee hours of this morning, Grief reminded me that today at 4am- Nick is 12 years, 8 months and 11 days old – the same age Zack was when he died.

I didn’t think I could bear to go on without Zack yet here I stand with my friend, Grief.

He reminds me I will always be broken. I tell him I don’t need reminding.

He points out people who are complaining about everything and nothing and I feel bad for feeling resentful toward them. “Perspective,” my friend Jennifer points out. I don’t like my perspective.  

Grief points out my weakness and my flaws. He knows me well. Sometimes he fades into the background but he never goes away completely.

Today, he is here.

Today, Nick skis on a mountain that a big brother loved.

Today, a little brother Zack never met, plays in the Utah snow that Zack loved.

Today, a mommy and daddy choose to live fully and intentionally because a little boy died.

Today, we still celebrate the short life Zack was given.

Today, we press on through the pain of losing him and use that pain to fuel our journey.

Today, I am thankful for the 12 years, 8 months and 11 days I got to be his mom.

Keep watching, I tell my friend, Grief. Watch me shine bright! This pain, this pain which isn’t as raw as it once was, will not be wasted.

2 Corinthians 1:4-6

Zack skis Deer Valley with his Daddy.

Zack skis Deer Valley with his Daddy.


Grief cannot steal our joy!

Grief cannot steal our joy!

Nick on the mountain at Deer Valley - wearing Zack's old ski pants.

Nick on the mountain at Deer Valley – wearing Zack’s old ski pants.

Mayo and Sam playing in the Utah snow.

Mayo and Sam playing in the Utah snow.

Bring on the Scary

We overcome fear when we keep God near...

Kings Dominion  roller coaster

Kings Dominion

Halloween brings out the scary.  Scary costumes. Scary movies. Scary stories.

A lot of things used to scare me.

But, I’m a lot braver than I used to be.

I used to be scared terrified of roller coasters. 

When our younger son, Nick, was too little to ride, he was my excuse.  I had to wait with him. And we would wait and watch.  Zack, our oldest, would exit the ride with my husband and he would be crazy-filled with excitement – telling me all I had missed. Once Nick was big enough to ride, I had no excuses. That’s when Zack laid on the guilt trip – saying he would have to ride by himself or with some stranger if I didn’t ride with him because Nick was riding with Daddy. He would tell me not to be scared and insist it would be fun.  Reluctantly, I would agree to ride.

If you give in to fear, you will miss the moments.

The “click” of the bar made me realize I was strapped in so tightly I could barely breathe. Suddenly, the ride began to move and I realized I was holding my breath.  My heart pounded wildly as we inched slowly up the hill. Zack giggled beside me as I quoted scriptures-convinced my life was at stake.  My stomach remained at the top of the hill as we descended at a rapid rate! I screamed so loudly Zack covered his ears. I strained to see what was ahead as we started up yet another hill. I couldn’t see what was to come.  I could only look behind and around me to see how far we had come. It was a brief distraction from the rising hill but it didn’t stop the hill from coming. I leaned in hard to Zack’s shoulder with my eyes squeezed tight. Uncontrollable screaming and laughter flew out of my mouth as I held on to him for dear life. Up and down – this way and that way…never knowing when it would end.

Screaming. Laughter. Scared. Excited.  

Then it was over.

And I wished it wasn’t. 

And then Zack was gone but I wasn’t alone.

We overcome fear when we keep God near.

I suppose once you have ridden the scariest roller coaster of all, the other ones aren’t so scary anymore.

We must trust that the Lord is with us on this roller coaster called life….even when it doesn’t feel like it.  

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Fear is powerful.  Fear can stop us or get us started.  It can push us to chase that dream, ask that girl out on a date, write that book, teach that Bible study, quit that job, ride that roller coaster. Fear can push us to living fully or it can keep us simply existing.

God didn’t put us here to simply exist. He has a beautiful purpose for your life – for my life – our precious, loved and purposeful lives. And – yes, there is purpose in the ugly, the painful, the unbearable and the frightening… and even in our shattered hearts.

Living in fear is like being in prison but our faith in God is the key that set us free from our fears. His Word tells us not to fear hundreds of times in the Bible but our human nature is to fear. There will be times in life where our fear paralyzes us and we can’t read our Bible, we can’t bear to think of what lies ahead and we can’t even pray… but God still hears us and we can choose faith over fear.

I sought the Lord and He answered me.  He delivered me from all my fears. – Proverbs 34:4

We overcome fear when we keep God near.

What fears are holding you back?

Ernie and Nick

Ernie and Nick

Roller coaster ride of pediatic cancer...

Roller coaster ride of pediatic cancer…

Let God Fill the Empty

gravesite at christmas

The soft ground presses down under my feet. Perfectly placed poinsettias dance in the wind. Nearly every grave site shows signs of Christmas. Someone still remembers. Someone still misses.

We stop in front of Zack’s headstone and Mayo squeezes my hand. That squeeze shouts to my aching heart but quiet fills the air around me.

I wrap the tiny strings of light around the green wreath. The emptiness of the battery compartment is obvious and I wonder if emptiness is always obvious.

A tear slips out as I push in the batteries to fill what is empty.


You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

And the lights on the tiny wreath twinkle full of life.


Mayo lovingly attaches the Christmas wreath to a plaque stand next to Zack’s headstone then he grabs my hand and squeezes. Again.

And I feel love. I see love. And there, in that moment of love, I spot God, enthroned in the emptiness.

When we let God fill our empty with His presence, He equips us to face the physical and emotional emptiness of loss.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:17

How can you let God fill your emptiness?

A Moment She Remembered

Earlier this month, a friend of Zack’s assignment for her 9th grade English class was to choose a moment in time that she remembered in detail and write about it. She chose to write about Zack. She was kind enough to share her writing with us.

We are honored that she selected him as her moment and thankful to know his friends still remember.

I thank my God every time I remember you. ~Philippians 1:3

May you all be blessed by our friend, Abbey Crisp, today.

Abbey Crisp
February 3rd
Honors English

At the end of my 5th grade school year something happened to someone I cared about and it changed me. I met my friend, Zack Mayo in Kindergarten and we were good friends throughout elementary school. We both attended Parsley Elementary and had most of the same teachers. We became pretty good friends and hung out together sometimes! I even had a crush on him in 2nd grade. He was in a horrible accident and from then on, his life was different.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out that he was hurt. I was in the car at an intersection in Crosswinds taking my sister’s friend home. I remember my mom stopped the car on the side of the road and we prayed for him. I was really scared for him. I hadn’t talked to him in a while because I had just moved schools the year before and I didn’t know what to think about the whole thing! The thoughts that were running through my mind were scary and sad. I had never known anyone my age that had been hurt really badly before and things just seemed to get worse and worse. Zack’s mom was updating everyone on Facebook and I just remember looking for her updates so often. Zack almost died several times. It felt like we prayed for him all of the time. We were all so worried about him. He was taken to Chapel Hill where they found out that he had liver cancer and the scooter accident had punctured his tumor.

He fought the terrible disease for such a long time. He was so strong and brave and taught me so much about finding the best in even the worst things and about having hope and faith. His family was with him every minute and never gave up on him. His younger brother, Nick, loved him so much and looked up to him for so many things. I learned to appreciate life, my family, my friends and just everyday things. I know that Zack is in heaven and that I will see him again one day. I still think about him often when I hear certain songs like “I Can Only Imagine” or when I remember back to elementary school. The day I heard about his accident was a day that I won’t ever forget. It seems etched in my brain along with great memories of him.

Thank you Abbey for allowing me to publish this on my blog. You are a blessing!

Abbey and her little sister.

Abbey and her little sister.

zack today