Friday, July 14, 2017

It’s a Small World After All – Bound for Disney!

Disney

Our crew in 2014…from left to right…Leah, Anna, Joel, and Aaron

It’s been three years since I last went to Disney World and three years again prior to that, when Anna and I went alone. In 2014, it was only four of us…Joel, me, Anna, and Aaron. We happened to be there over the exact same time we’re going this year. Yes! We’re going to Disney World again!

We have been tremendously blessed by an anonymous donor with a trip for six of us to travel to Disney World, and we’re leaving Saturday! The four littles, along with big (adult) sis Anna, and me will be flying out Saturday morning and returning the following Saturday morning. I can’t believe it’s almost here, and I honestly can’t believe someone loves us this much to do something so HUGE!

We’ll be staying at a Disney resort and visiting all 4 theme parks along with Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). My youngest kiddos have no idea what they are about to experience. They are excited, but it’s an excitement they, themselves, can’t even comprehend until they lay eyes on this place.

I doubt I’ll be blogging much while we’re gone, but then again…you never know. (Laptop is going with me for evening entertainment after kiddos are in bed.) Even so, I’ll be sure to share all about it when we return, as I plan to take in every moment I can with these children and capture (through photography and journaling) their expressions and experiences. Each one of these kiddos of mine (Anna excluded) are former orphans and have never had an opportunity, such as this, in their young lives.

I ask, in advance, for your prayers in several key areas:

  1. No sickness develops for any of us.
  2. The children behave better than ever.
  3. We have no snaffoos to have to deal with…need a smooth week.
  4. The children realize the blessing this is and enjoy their week to the fullest without a feeling of entitlement.
  5. For emotional healing for all of us!

It absolutely breaks my heart that Joel won’t be with us to experience their first Disney trip. It breaks my heart Joel won’t be here to experience Austyn’s first plane ride with him. It breaks my heart to know this trip came about as a result of his death. And yet…I am so grateful and so undeserving.

Thank you Abba for this blessing through generous people! Please continue to bless them with abundant favor!

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Month Marker Five

marker

Our engagement photo!

So many times, I’m driving down the interstate only to realize I have no idea how far I am in my travels. Thankfully, if I wait a few seconds, the old faithful mile marker will pop up to tell me exactly what I need to know.

The same is true in grief. Yesterday, I received that mile marker, or in my case, a month marker. It was five months yesterday that Joel went Home to Heaven. Five months. On-the-one-hand, the number of days I’ve had to survive without him have felt much longer than the 150 days he’s actually been gone. My heart aches for him daily, and the days feel soooo long sometimes. At other times, however, it feels as if he just left us yesterday, making the pain so much more near.

Speaking of pain, I’ve been asked quite often over the last few weeks how the kids and I are doing. In short…we’re surviving. I don’t think I can use the word thriving just yet. The older kids miss their dad so much. There are so many areas he would normally be very active in within their lives right now, and his absence in those areas makes his physical absence from this earth that much more noticeable.

As for the littles…each one is responding so uniquely different. Josiah (our 9-year-old) misses his daddy but makes sure to point out anything that reminds him of daddy or the things daddy used to do with him. He grieves quietly, and I’m afraid he’s internalizing many of his emotions. We have counseling planned for his near future to help with drawing some of that out in a non-confrontational way. Katerina (our special needs 7-year-old) is blessed to be a special needs little girl right now, because she doesn’t feel the depth of pain the rest of us feel. Now, she’s never too quick to tell us when she misses daddy, but it’s more fact-based than feeling-based. She also reminds everyone of the rules that were in place when daddy died. Such as…when eating at Taco Bell, one MUST eat all their food before touching their cinnamon twists, “Because daddy said so!” I just had to chuckle the other night when she very loudly made that announcement.

And…then…there’s…Austyn. My precious 3-year-old. There’s no double about it…of all the littles…he’s hurting the most. His pain is HUGE, and he’s struggling to make sense of it in his little mind. He cries for daddy daily. He has tantrums daily, because he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions right now. But, he also asks such wise-for-his-years questions, making me wonder if his intelligence is making him think very deeply about everything, causing fear and worry to keep popping up. Many therapy plans are in the works for him too. As you can imagine…I have my hands full simply trying to help them deal with their own grief journey, making mine a bit more complex.

I feel I haven’t been able to even come close to grieving Joel the way my body needs to. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m about to blow, because I just want to cry an ocean and yet have to reign it in to be able to still function as a parent for my children. Sure…I cry around them, but not as often as my body wants to or probably needs to, because I’m just trying to provide a sense of peace in our home. We’ve had so much upheaval, change, and dysfunction (if truth be known) that we now need a huge outpouring of peace. The more I can help to usher that in, the better.

The real me misses my beloved deeply. My heart literally hurts so much sometimes…a physical aching, where I often wonder if I’m having a heart attack. (No…I’m not having heart problems…just heartbreak problems.) I can’t go anywhere without seeing something that reminds me of Joel, and we have a ton of other “mile markers” in our near future that I’m already dreading. Our wedding anniversary is next month. My heart is already breaking over how I’m going to handle that one. I had some dear friends make that 1st very special for me after Chris died, so I know I need to do something different to take my mind off of it, otherwise I’m afraid it will be a pity party day full of grieving that loss all over again. I have lumps in my throat just thinking about it. September brings Joel’s birthday, then the busy season of fall – Thanksgiving – Christmas – my birthday and back to February, the one year anniversary of his Homegoing. Mile markers every single month until then. But, who am I kidding…those are just the “big ones”. I see the little ones daily.

I often go back and read my posts from my first widow experience to see where I was on that journey compared to this one. It appears I was a little more “alive” on my 5th month back then, but it remained a roller coaster ride for quite awhile. I have to remind myself of the very words I speak to other widows and widowers. No grief experiences are the same. They can be identical in scope (suicide, cancer, auto accident), but the people are different, so the experiences will always be different. The same is true of me and my own two experiences. The men were different, I was different (younger then, older now), and our situations were different (4 newly adopted children to parent solo this time). Different towns. Different family members. Everything is different. Well…except for One.

The same God who reached for me out of the deep waters, rescued me, and ultimately restored me, is the VERY same God who will do it again. Until then, I cling to Him as my life raft, and I know the rescue will be complete one day. Until then, I long for His return. I long to be with Joel for eternity, and I long to be in my forever Home!

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Another Major Change

change

On top of Grandfather Mountain; company picnic in 2013

This week marks a significant event in my life. Another major change in 2017. And yet…this time, the choice was mine to make…sort of.

I’m leaving my beloved job at 106.9 the Light (the radio station started by Billy Graham 55 years ago). I can’t tell you how difficult a decision this has been for me, but I really had no choice.

Considering I spent most of my spring sitting in a recliner with home health nurses coming in and out of my house every other day to treat my foot’s surgical wound…I had a lot of time to think and pray. I also had a lot of time to listen…something I don’t always do very well.

It was in the listening I sensed God telling me it’s time to leave. I honestly couldn’t believe He would ask me to leave the best job I’ve ever had with the most incredible co-workers you can imagine. But, He did.

When Joel and I met, we lived about 75 miles apart. As our relationship grew, we knew the time would come to talk about relocation should we marry. At the time, my daughter had three years left in high school, and I didn’t want her to have to move at such a pivotal time in her life. Joel agreed and made the decision to move to Asheville when we got married, but he kept his job at the hospital, as he had been there many years and loved where he was at. Even so, he was committed to commuting through Anna’s high school graduation and beyond, if needed.

We were also licensed foster parents and didn’t really want to move, as we loved our licensing worker and the children who were in and out of our home (especially the little guy we later adopted). But, God revealed to us it was time to move last fall, for Joel to finally be close to work again. And, we did. This time, the commute was mine for however long we felt led for me to keep it up.

Initially, it worked well. Joel took on the carpooling responsibility that had previously been mine, since I had more travel time now. I still got home about the same time that I used to, because the traffic time with the carpooling in Asheville was so much worse than where we are now. So, it really didn’t change our family time together. Then came February 12, 2017…when God called Joel home. That day changed everything.

The commute was no longer reasonable. I could no longer keep up with the demands of the job, my home, and my kids. Trying to get them to therapy appointments and sports was out of the question. We’ve pretty much just been existing. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and God made that clear to me. But, this is a major step of faith.

I don’t know how all the financial pieces will be met, but God does, and everything I have belongs to Him. I’m trusting Him to lead, and He’s been meeting every need (and then some!). I don’t know what’s next for me completely, but He’s been faithful in that area too, and I’m just walking through the doors He opens. For now…being mom to my littles is my number one priority. They’ve already lost one parent…they need their other parent more than ever.

The story is really more in-depth than what I’ve just written, but that’s the essence of it. This Friday will be my last day at work, and I’m really sad about it. My co-workers gave me a precious brunch this past Monday to reflect on this season that’s ending and to celebrate the new one that’s beginning. They all had the opportunity to share a few words with me, and I can tell you I’ve never felt as treasured by a group of people as I did in those moments. Their words encouraged me, challenged me, humbled me, and soothed my aching heart. (Words of affirmation happens to be #1 love language, so that doesn’t hurt.)

This major change will sting quite a bit for awhile, but like everything else we’ve been through this year…the pain from that initial sting will eventually soften a bit, and we know God is still amazingly good!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

We just finished supper at our neighborhood Taco Bell. Not something we do often (McDonald’s is closer), but it was a special occasion. What was the occasion? It was Monday evening, and Mommy forgot to plan supper! Seriously.

I finally wrangled all of the kiddos into the car, and we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot when Josiah started saying something over and over about the poor lady. The other kids were drowning him out with their chatter, but he finally got my attention.

“Mommy, she’s poor. Look at her holding the sign. Can you give her some money?” He pointed to the woman on the corner of the shopping center exit.

I couldn’t believe he even understood what that was all about. Where had he learned this? This is my child who, along with his two siblings, was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria just 20 months ago. When I asked him how he knew about people holding up signs and things of that sort, he reminded me I had explained that to them before. Oh… How could I have forgotten that? Widow brain is alive and well it appears.

I knew I didn’t have any cash on me, something I rarely carry anymore. However, my son kept asking what I was going to do for her, so I checked my purse and wallet…just to make sure. This time, my memory was spot on. No cash.

I told Josiah I had nothing to give her, but I would be sure to get some cash to keep in the car for these types of occasions from now on. He then asked me how I paid for dinner. Smart kid apparently didn’t accept my answer. I reminded him I paid with a card that worked like cash. His next response was completely unexpected.

“Mommy, I have money in my bank at home. Can you drive me home to get it, and I’ll give her that?”

How do you respond to your 9-year-old former orphan wanting to take money out of his piggy bank to give to the sign-holding lady on the corner of the shopping center? I was honestly taken aback. At this point, I knew God expected me to respond.

I’ll admit I pass by many of those people without ever making an effort to do anything for them. Not because I’m not willing, but because I never have cash and don’t ever seem to bother to think of what else I might have. I know some sign-holders might not be doing it for the right reason, but that’s not up to me to determine. If God prompts me to do something, it’s up to me to obey. This time, the prompting came through my son.

I decided to dig deeper into my wallet. I thought I had some gift cards in there I had been using to shop with. Certainly there was something left on them. The first one I picked up was for Walmart. We happened to be just next door to a Walmart at this particular time. I called the number on the back of my card to check my balance…zero. Nothing left.

Ok, Lord! I sense I’m to do something for this lady. What do you want me to do? Go to the bank and get something out? A gift card? Please direct me here. I don’t want to disappoint Josiah.

I had one more gift card in my wallet. It was a VISA gift card. Again, I called the number on the back to check my balance. This time…$23.87 was the response. I knew He was asking me to give it to her.

“Okay son, I’ve got something with some money available on it,” I shared with Josiah.

“So, are you going to give it to her?” he asked me.

Still a bit unsure, I responded, “I think so. I need to make sure I can get close enough to her, but as long as I can safely do that, I’m going to give it to her.”

We pulled out of Taco Bell’s parking lot and headed to the exit. I was able to pull up right beside the lady. She looked at me with pleading eyes before I ever rolled down my passenger window. As I started to do so, she hurried over to the van, and I simply said, “I’m sorry I don’t have cash, but I have this card with $23.87, and you can have it.”

She immediately responded. “God bless you!” And, as we drove away, I heard her start to pray, “Heavenly Father, thank you for what you’ve just done…” Her voice drifted off, and I heard nothing else as we were out of earshot at that point.

I looked back in my rearview mirror at Josiah, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Was that okay Josiah? Did mommy do what you hoped I would do?”

He nodded, while still grinning.

I simply thanked him for pointing her out to me early enough to allow me time to try to find something to give her. We then had the discussion about how everything we have belongs to God. Everything. He simply loans it to us while we’re on earth. I told him how I knew God was pleased with him, and he would be blessed for being obedient.

Thank you Abba for this gift of my son and for continually teaching me through the eyes of these former orphans. I stand amazed!

#HeIsStillGood

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Rings

ringsRings. What do I do with my wedding rings? It’s a dilemma I’ve faced before. However, that doesn’t make it any easier this time around.

I know widows who never remove their wedding rings. There are other widows, however, who take them off immediately. I would say the majority (at least in my experience) wear them for awhile following the death of their husband but eventually take them off. Let me first say, there is nothing wrong with any of these choices. It truly is a personal decision, and honestly…it’s a pretty major one for many of us.

When Chris died, I wore my wedding set for a few months and then one day just took them off. I remember grieving his loss all over again when I did that, but I felt it was an essential part to my accepting he was no longer here, and I was no longer married to him.

With Joel, I’ve had to take them off each time I had surgery on my foot in March, but I was very quick to put them right back on. I felt they belonged there. He might be gone. Our marriage might be over, but in my heart…he is still my husband. I also removed them when I went on my Outer Banks trip in early June, but the reason was drastically different (and perhaps a bit silly).

I realized when I went on that little excursion by myself that I would be in tour groups alone, eating alone, and generally sight seeing alone. I didn’t want anyone to look at my hand and see a ring there and think my husband and I were separated or that he left me to do all the sight seeing by myself. Bottom line…I didn’t want to cast an “ugly light” on Joel. I know…I know…it sounds silly, but those really were my thoughts. So, I just didn’t wear them. Instead, for all anybody knew, I’d always been single. As soon as I got home, however, the ring set returned to my left hand.

Sometime over the last couple of weeks, however, I felt a nudging to remove the rings. I honestly felt this nudging was from God, as He whispered something like this to my heart…

Daughter, I need you to trust Me…in all areas. Remember, I promised I am husband to the widow and father to the fatherless. I know you want to honor Joel’s memory in wearing the rings he placed upon your finger the day you united as one. But, Joel is with Me now, and I need you to fully trust Me to meet ALL your needs. Joel can’t do that for you anymore, and I’m seeing that by wearing those rings, you’re still clinging to his inability to be your husband.

Those were the impressions upon my heart. And truthfully…He was right (of course). I guess, somewhere, in the pit of who I am, I still expected Joel to meet my needs. I know he can’t, but my heart still looked for it and longed for it. God wants to do that for me now, and I’ve been hindering Him from doing so. I think His nudging for me to remove the rings was not because He wanted me to stop wearing them necessarily. It was simply because they had become a deterrent to what He’s been wanting to do in my life. It’s not the only deterrent. I’m sure of that; but it’s the first one God has clearly pointed out to me.

And so…I removed the rings. I still feel for them. I still feel “naked” without them. And, the loss is incredibly real all over again. But, I need to trust Abba to meet my needs…physical, emotional, mental, spiritual…all of them. I know He can, now maybe without my “distraction”, I’ve opened the door to my heart to let Him do so.