Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Outer Banks Provided Inner Peace

Outer Banks sunriseHaving now been home from the Outer Banks for over a week, I feel I’m better able to speak to my time away. In short, it was wonderful and VERY needed and gave me such an inner peace.

So many aspects of that trip, however, were very difficult: eating alone, being a “fifth wheel” with another family in a tour group, enjoying beautiful sites with nobody to ooh and aah over them with, sitting on the balcony overlooking the ocean knowing the same shoreline (just a bit south) is where I married my sweetheart! It’s not how I planned to spend my beach getaway weekend this year (Joel and I usually go once a year together). And yet…I was still able to experience the beauty of the weekend within the sorrow.

Part of the beauty came from having some moments to simply be me. I wasn’t mommy, friend, family member, co-worker, or any other relationship figure that might define me. I was able to be as raw as I needed to be, weep when I needed to weep, and sleep the hours that best suited me. That was a much-needed gift.

Additionally, I was able to go somewhere I personally had never been. Joel had spent time in the Outer Banks (pre-me), but in my 45 years (most of those in the state of North Carolina), I had never visited this beautiful part of our state. Therefore, there were no memories attached to it. That, too, was a much-needed gift. In every other aspect of my life right now, I see Joel. All I have to do is look into the faces of our children, and I see him (not necessarily in the physical sense in the case of our youngest four or my bio daughter). I see the memories we created that made us a family.

Every time I drive to work or anywhere beyond 20 minutes west of my town, the hospital where Joel and I last spoke to each other, where he took his last breath, and where my life changed forever sits atop hill almost glaring at me as I drive by. The house I live in now…although Joel only got to spend a few months here, his clothes still hang in the closet, his toiletries are still in “his drawer” in the bathroom, and the boxes his boss brought from his locker at work are still sitting in the floor in my bedroom. I simply can’t address those areas right now.

My mind is full of memories I can’t escape. While I don’t want to escape them altogether, it would be nice at times. Just yesterday, driving home from work…I started crying out of nowhere…all because of something that popped into my mind about Joel. Needless to say, my Outer Banks trip allowed a bit of an escape from some of those things, as I was able to fill my senses with new sights, sounds, and smells.

And, while my trip was amazing, and I’m so grateful to my brother and sister-in-law for watching my children so that I could get away, I’m back to the daily “grind” of life and all the heartaches I had before my little trip. I don’t want to discount the trip (I’m ready for another), but I also want to be honest in saying this place in my grief journey is a tough one to be in. It’s the time when most of the initial support starts to dissipate. The people being around…the cards…the I’m thinking of you flowers…they stop, not entirely but enough to feel it. It’s completely normal. People have to get back to their own lives. It happened the first time I became a widow, so I knew to expect it this time. It’s still tough. My hard days are still hard. The shock of Joel no longer being here is still shocking. The single parent difficulties are still there. And, I still need time to grieve. Time (personal time) is what I simply don’t have right now.

That made my precious weekend away that much more special. It gave me time…something extremely rare but very needed these days. Although the sunrise was close, the gift of personal time was the most beautiful thing about my Outer Banks trip. Thank you Abba!

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why Going to Wendy’s Made Me Cry

Wendy'sJoel and I actually met online (Christian Mingle, to be exact). Yes – we were one of those couples. Wink! Wink! It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Anyway…we actually “met” online followed by emails which escalated to phone calls…before we ever met in person.

I’ll never forget the day we actually met for the first time. Joel gave me NO warning. I was on the road traveling back from work (or some place like that), and he said, “How about now?” I tried to “stall” him by saying I needed a shower, but he wouldn’t accept that answer. He wanted to meet me in my everyday “mom appearance” ragged or not…he didn’t care. He didn’t want some beefed up, made up version of my true self. Looking back, I really respect that. At the time, it made me a nervous wreck. I hesitantly agreed. My hesitation wasn’t in meeting him, I was more than ready for that. It was in the fact I couldn’t go “date ready”.

He lived a little over an hour from me, so we agreed to meet at the Wendy’s in Black Mountain, NC, which would be more central for both of us. From that point, we would decide where to go eat (no…not Wendy’s).

I’ll never forget that day. He arrived first and was pulled into a space close to the drive-thru area. I circled the building and pulled in right beside him. My heart started beating so fast, as I got out of the car to give him a hug and touch him for the first time. (My heart is still beating faster just typing this.). We decided to leave my car there, and he would drive us to the little Thai restaurant down the street we had agreed upon for dinner.

The evening was absolutely delightful, and I could tell he was exactly who he portrayed to be in the emails and phone calls. I always loved that aspect of online dating. By the time we actually got to meet each other, we felt we already knew each other, in many respects. We had spent hours upon hours chatting about those things most important to us, so we had conversation to build upon in person. It was an incredible evening.

After dinner, he drove me back to my car at Wendy’s, where we both parted ways and went back to our homes. It wouldn’t be many more months later before we were Mr. and Mrs. and never had to part ways again (that is, until February 12, 2017).

I’ve been by that Wendy’s many times. Joel and I actually had lunch there with the kids a couple months before he passed away, and we shared that story with them. It was such a special lunch, as we also met a retired Marine veteran who had lost his wife about a year prior. Joel teared up listening to the man’s story, and ended up giving him a little monetary gift before we left. We let him join our family for lunch, and he got to hear the story of the kids’ adoption, our meeting (at that very location), etc. What a treasured day.

Not too soon after Joel died, I drove by that Wendy’s and noticed it had been closed. Torn apart, actually. What?!?!?! I was so heartbroken, at the time. I thought…how fitting…my sweet Joel is gone, might as well take the other things that have meaning to me. I know…a depressing thought, but I just sat there and cried and cried. Seeing our Wendy’s, now gone, brought me to an ugly cry.

I then noticed the sign. While I no longer remember the exact words, I remember it said something about being rebuilt or remodeled and would be back soon. OK…so it was getting a complete re-working, inside and out. Much like myself, in some ways. I was torn apart after Joel’s death, and little-by-little, God is remodeling me, from the inside out. Somedays, it feels like no work is taking place, but then there are those days I can feel His presence so strongly and can literally feel the evidence of His re-working.

As for the Wendy’s, the remodel is complete (see top pic). It’s beautiful, and we’ve recently been back to visit. For me, I’m a much longer ongoing project. I’ll actually be a lifetime re-working, but maybe the evidences of God’s remodeling will start being evident soon to those watching from the outside. Even more…I long for the day I can feel the re-working in myself too!

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Changes…Big Ones…Are Coming – God Put the Bookends Up on Another Season

changes are comingBig changes are coming friends! As if our family needs anything else…right? Joel’s death, my three back-to-back foot surgeries, my car accident resulting in a totaled car, and adjusting to life as a single parent of four young children. What else you might ask? Isn’t that enough? Yes! I totally agree with you. But, this time…it wasn’t totally up to me.

To bring you up-to-speed with the calendar of events as they’ve unfolded:

Feb 9 – Joel was admitted to the hospital

Feb 12 – Joel went Home to Heaven

Mar 10 – Leah’s tarsal tunnel release surgery

Mar 15 – Leah’s planned return to work date

Mar 17 – Leah’s 2nd emergency foot surgery (unable to return to work – foot complications complete with a baseball-sized blood clot)

Mar 31 – Leah’s 3rd emergency foot surgery (wound vac installed – no work anytime soon); home health nursing every other day

Apr 13 – Leah’s car accident – totaled Joel’s car

May 18 – Upper endoscopy

May 19 – Upper GI

May 30 – Results from May 18 and 19 procedures appear to be leading to another surgery (NOT foot related this time, Hallelujah!)

June 6 – Released from foot surgery drama to return to work at the radio station (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association owned station)!!!

Sounds complicated but pretty cut-and-dry at the same time, right? Well…not exactly.

I need to give you a little bit of the back story first.

I’ve worked at 106.9 the Light, based in Asheville, NC since May, 2011. However, I volunteered for the station for seven years prior to that (and was a devoted listener for many, many years prior to that). Let’s say we go back a long time. In 2007, I interviewed for a position with the ministry, and was offered the position at the station. I was all ready to accept the position when I sensed a nudging from the Holy Spirit saying, “Not yet.” I really tried to ignore Him, but the nudgings didn’t stop. I really wanted this position. It was my dream job in my dream organization. But, God made it clear…it wasn’t the right time.

Fast forward to the spring of 2011. The position was open again. I sensed the time was finally right for me to apply, and if God saw fit…He would open the door for an offer. An offer came…on the very day my previous husband, Chris, took his own life. God knew I would need the job then far more than I would have back in 2007. He was right.

Working for the BGEA, and specifically 106.9 the Light, has been more than a job. It’s been a calling, and my co-workers are my family. We’re a bunch of imperfect people doing the best ministry we can who happen to use a tool called radio to do it. Through these last six years, I can see how God called me to the station “for such a time as this”.

After taking some time off following Joel’s death, I planned to return to work on March 15 following my first (and preferably only) foot surgery. Well, as you can see from my timeline above, that didn’t happen. With each delay, I grew more and more weary and even more worried and confused.

God…what are you doing? You know how badly I need to be back at work. That’s my family! I need them now more than ever.

Not so fast, my daughter. I called you to that ministry, and I’m now releasing you from that call. The deaths of your husbands were the “bookends” for that season of your life. You fulfilled your calling in that ministry but not in life, in general. I am preparing you for a new season. 

No!!!! Please say it isn’t so, Lord! What am I going to do?

Wait on me. 

For how long? 

As long as it takes.

What’s next? 

As I said, wait on me. Haven’t I always met your needs? Trust Me in this. Your first priority now is to be a mom to these children that need you. It will be impossible for you to do that with a job so far from the community in which you now live. You need to be nearby to meet their needs. I’ll continue to lead you, step-by-step. I am far from finished with you daughter.

While our little chats weren’t audible (well…my part was…along with many tears and a bunch of whining, if truth be told), that’s the summary of how it ended up. I kept asking God why He allowed all the setbacks with my foot, and He’s made it clear that if He didn’t keep me down for as long as He did, I would have disobeyed and returned to work and not been prepared to step down from my position, as He’s clearly directed me to do.

With a full peace-filled heart, but many accompanying tears, I submitted my resignation and have returned to work just in time to wrap up my position and try to help as they transition to a new ministry team member. I’ll be there until July 14, and I intend to absorb every last ministry moment God gives me with this precious organization.

Another change. Another one that feels a bit unwelcome at the moment (like all the others before this one this year), but I trust God’s leading, and I know that I know that I know He’s sovereign, and His plan for the next chapter in my life is going to be great! Please pray for us through this time of “unknown”. Thank you so much dear ones!

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Strange Things I Remember the First 24 Hours After Joel Died

What I RememberMy overall memory following Joel’s death and journey Home to Heaven isn’t the best. If truth be told, it’s really been a bit scattered since becoming a widow the first time around six years ago. Even so, I’ve tried my best to piece through the events that took place that first twenty-four hours after saying goodbye to my precious husband. Those things I remember most vividly are probably not the most important to the average person, but they are the very memories that stand out to me.

  1. I sat in the waiting room with my best friend (after Joel had already breathed his last, and I had spent quite some time with him following). I remember thinking… now what? I honestly don’t know what to do now. Can I just stay here?
  2. I talked to my boss around 2:30 am on my way home from the hospital. I remember thinking two things about this call: 1) who does that? and 2) what a special man to want to call and check in within the first few hours of my saying goodbye to my earthly love. He had already spent the better part of the afternoon and evening, along with his wife, at the hospital with us.
  3. When I walked into my house, I was greeted with a hug by a friend and fellow co-worker. She’d never been to my new home in Hickory before, and she drove the distance from Asheville just to make sure my kids weren’t alone and that all of Joel’s family who were in town and wanted to be at the hospital could be there. I remember hugging her neck when I first got back to the house as a new widow. It felt strange, yet comforting. In many respects, it was like having a strange “out of body experience”. This couldn’t be my life right now, I thought to myself. Sadly…it was.
  4. I remember going to lay down in my own bed soon after getting home. That was strange to me, because I wasn’t able to sleep in my own bed for several weeks after Chris died. This time, the grief was different. I was ready to crawl back into my bed, even with the loss very evident beside me. Sleep? Didn’t happen except for an occasional doze or two. I kept running through the script of how to tell my youngest children their daddy wouldn’t be coming home (in just a few short hours when they woke up to greet the day). How is a mother ever prepared to do that? Especially with my newly adopted children. They just gained a two-parent family, now we’re down to one. What will go through their little minds upon hearing this news?
  5. My crash came later in the day. In my recliner in the living room. I don’t even remember falling asleep, but I remember waking up to many familiar faces around me. Co-workers, friends from my Asheville church, family, and I’m not even sure who else was here. They were entertaining my children, filling my pantry, cooking food, watching me sleep, and talking all around me. And…yet, I slept through much of it, right in their presence. I think my body finally collapsed to the point of no return until it received enough rest to go on.
  6. I remember my next-door neighbor, who I had not yet met up to that point, walking in with a ton of BBQ and all the fixin’s. She was a nurse at the hospital where I just left my husband for the last time.
  7. I remember seeing Anna walk in the door and never being so happy to see my oldest girl. She was with me when I collapsed after Chris died, and it seemed so strange not to have her with me as I said goodbye to Joel. But, she was with me now.
  8. I remember seeing some of the same faces that were in my home the day I became a widow the first time. And…less than six years later, we’re here together again. Mourning another life lost. Celebrating another eternity gained.
  9. And…I remember thinking what is so wrong with me that I can’t stay married? That love always ends so abruptly for me? Why can’t I have the “happily ever after”?

Sometimes, I try to wrap up my posts into a pretty box with a beautiful bow on top. I just can’t seem to pull that off this time. This is one of those raw, ugly, tears-falling-down-my-cheeks-as-I-type posts. As I heal, I need both types. Maybe somebody out there needs the ugly packages too.

Even so… #HeIsStillGood

Monday, June 5, 2017

I Painted a Door!

painted doorWhen Joel and I purchased this home last year, we began driving over on weekends to paint rooms and start prepping for our main move at the end of October. We almost finished painting the whole house before running out of time. Moving day came, followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas, January birthday mania, and then Joel’s Homegoing in February. Needless to say, everything came to a screeching halt…at least temporarily.

All I had left to paint was the half bath, laundry room, the foyer area and attached hallways. The trouble was…1) I no longer had the desire to paint, and 2) I didn’t have the tools to paint the height of our foyer. And yet…I wouldn’t hang pictures up in the hallway, because I knew it would be a waste of effort until the painting was done. That tore at my heartstrings, because I really wanted to hang the pictures…especially now that Joel was gone. It may seem silly to many, but it was a huge deal to me.

Precious people from a church we had visited a couple times sent over many people from several of their Lifegroups to tackle many things around the house…including the painting of the laundry room and half bath. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Something as minor as a little gray paint on a wall can bring a whole lot of sunshine into this dismal home. And…it did.

It gave me the desire and motivation to go further. Joel’s death came before we were fully unpacked and organized around the house. Many of our non-urgent belongings still sat in boxes. The basement was a chaotic wreck, until my bonus son and daughter and their spouses got a hold of it. Then, our garage was tackled by a group of men from another local church. Little by little…this house started to feel like a home.

The day came when I finally found someone to paint the foyer for me. It was a “for hire” job, but it was really for very little money and gave me far more joy than the small pittance he took for the work. When the work was completed, I gave him his money, thanked him for squeezing me into their busy schedule, and sent them on their way. I admired their work…such a great job! Something wasn’t quite right though…I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I walked around and kept starting at the paint. They did exactly what I asked them to do, so I know it wasn’t something they did. But…what was it?

The door! I never thought about the inside of the front door! Now, it obviously stood out (and not in a beautiful way). Good grief! Why didn’t I think of that before? I know they would have added that to their list if I had just asked. Well…I’ll get it to…someday…

Each time, it seemed, I walked by that door…it felt like it was mocking me.

Ha ha ha! You only thought you were finished! Now look what you did? It looks worse than before! What are you going to do now Leah?

That dumb door almost felt like the voice of the enemy. Each time I walked by, the mocking felt like the devil himself.

Ha ha ha! You only thought you were living the fairytale life. Now look! Your beloved is gone. Losing two spouses in one lifetime. How often do you hear that? Now what are you going to do Leah?

The last “taunting” came two nights ago. I’d had enough. I felt the voice of the enemy rising up against me with lies again.

So…what are you going to do? You might be making it now, but you’ve had lots of help. What happens when the people are gone? The job is gone? Life returns to normal for them. What are you going to do then?

I’m going to paint the door…NOW!

I promise you, life’s answer to all my problems is not simply in painting a door, but it was…in that moment.

I’ve felt, for quite awhile, the enemy has been trying to keep me down. My health crises following Joel’s death haven’t helped. He’s made sure I’ve felt the sting of everything I can’t do anymore…or at least, he makes me feel I can’t do anymore. I’d had enough of his lies on Saturday evening.

Just as I readied myself for bed, something rose up in me, and said…”Enough!” I went downstairs, grabbed the leftover paint and necessary supplies, climbed back up the stairs and started painting that door. I didn’t stop until it was complete! I took a step back, admired my imperfect work, and simply smirked and said “Hmmmph! I’ve got more where that came from Satan. Be gone from me! You have lost the war!”

So for one day, I felt a little freer, all because I painted a door!

#HeIsStillGood