Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My First Easter Without Him

As I vividly remember from my first widow journey, those immediate twelve months following the passing of a loved one is full of “firsts”. The first Christmas without him, the first Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Thanksgiving, etc. Sunday was my first Easter without my beloved Joel. It was, let’s just say…an interesting day. I’ll try to put it into words, but honestly…I’m not sure I totally can.

It started out a little rough on Saturday night with me setting out the Easter baskets for the kids. I was so upset, as they were the puniest Easter baskets I’d ever put together. Had it not been for a friend who sent the kids some little gifts in the mail, specifically for their baskets, they would have been even punier. It was virtually impossible for me to get out and shop while trying to recover from three foot surgeries. I went out Friday to one store for less than 30 minutes after getting my stitches out and grabbed what I could. The pain was horrendous in that short amount of time.

Then the Easter clothes. What Easter clothes? I would have loved to doll them up for the “official” first outfit of spring that typically coincides with Easter. They would have loved their new clothes. Instead, I dug in their closet to try to find something that would work and shoes that would still fit (that was the bigger dilemma).

I also planned to do an Easter egg hunt for the kids on Saturday before my adult daughter had to leave to go back to school, but I had her busy doing so many other things while she was home, and I never got around to asking her to fill the eggs with some sort of goody, let alone hide them in preparation for the hunt. I’m simply not ambulatory enough to do that right now.

A friend picked up the egg coloring kits for me, because I was determined to at least do that with the children. Guest what? That didn’t happen either, because I forgot to get the eggs to boil, and by the time I remembered…it was too late.

So, Easter hadn’t even arrived yet, and I was already feeling quite down over the fact I felt like a holiday mom “failure” – puny baskets, no new Easter outfits, no egg coloring, and no egg hunt.

Then comes Sunday…

Much like THE Resurrection Day over 2000 years ago, God’s grace rained down on me!

The kids woke up and found the baskets and were elated with what the “Easter bunny” brought them. They acted like every little thing they pulled out of their baskets was the best thing ever. Thank you God for your amazing grace!

We went to High Point (about an hour and a half away) to spend the holiday with my in-laws. We had a wonderful church service, followed by a delicious lunch, and then…my mother-in-law planned an Easter egg hunt for the kids!!! Another act of God’s grace. They still got to hunt eggs and had a blast!

Now…for the interesting part…I struggled emotionally all day. I didn’t want to have a meltdown and ruin everybody’s holiday. So, I worked really hard at controlling my emotions. In doing so, I essentially felt numb virtually all day. No tears. For that, I was thankful, but it was simply odd. I felt like I simply “floated” through the day. I went through the motions of the day, but that was just it. I couldn’t “feel”. It was a very hard day, and yet…my emotions were in “lockdown” in a way.

My mother-in-law gave me a HUGE gift by offering to keep the children for three days of their spring break (they’ll be home later today). So, when it was time for me to leave for the day to head home, I left alone. And when straight to the cemetery. My MIL told me the marker arrived the week before, and I wanted to see it, and I hadn’t been to the cemetery since the day we buried Joel’s earthly body. It was long-overdue for me, especially considering I was there every single day after my last husband died (but, Joel isn’t buried in the same town in which I live now).

I drove towards the cemetery, expecting to have a meltdown when I got there and saw his beautiful marker. I was so pleased to see it, however. It looked just as beautiful as I had hoped. I took lots of pictures…of his marker (our marker)…the raised area where his casket was buried but the ground is still settling, and the area beside him where mine will one day go.

His daddy is buried right above him, and his mother has a plot there too. It’s a beautiful cemetery with a precious pond just below Joel’s spot. Before going any further…I know Joel’s spirit is already with the Lord…it happened the moment he took his final breath in this life and entered the next. The cemetery is mostly for those of us left behind, but I also want to have a place set aside for him that brings me comfort, and this place does.

Surprisingly…the “numbness” continued. No tears. I talked a little, but no tears! I felt there was a load of them ready to unleash, but I didn’t know when. For whatever reason, it wasn’t then. I stayed for a little while, and then got back in my car and headed back home.

After I finally settled in for the night…ready to read, listen to worship and praise music, elevate my leg all over again…I felt only one thing “nothingness”. I hated that feeling. I was in a perfect place to grave, and I felt an unleashing of grief tears was just upon me. And…I felt they would come soon, especially since I was along. But they didn’t. I simply went to bed. And a new day began, but it was MUCH, MUCH different. Stay tuned…

 

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Gift from Romania

Learning how to parent my four youngest children alone has been one of the hardest things to try to figure out since Joel went to Heaven. This is not an easy crew to parent, friends. Or…maybe they’re easy, and I’m the messed up one. Regardless, it’s been extremely hard!

These children are grieving – each in their own way. They are trying to figure out what it’s like to have me as their only parent. They test me. They disobey me. They ignore me. But, they also lavish me with love in their own special, individual ways. Two have diagnosed special needs, and I’m convinced one of the other two does as well…just not yet diagnosed. They were a challenge for both Joel and I to raise together, but this puts solo parenting into an entirely new dimension. And…honestly…there are very few people out there who truly understand what I’m going through. So, that makes this road feel even lonelier. But…God knows…I have to keep reminding myself of that. He’s actually parenting all of us!

You can only imagine, then, when I had not one…not two…but three unexpected and urgent foot surgeries in March how truly out-of-commission I became. I was literally frightened. Not because of the physical trauma I was facing. No – I honestly didn’t know how I would be able to care for my children from crutches and a wheelchair. How would I be able to drive them to/from school and daycare when I have to keep my foot elevated in a chair during the bulk of my waking hours? What now God?

It would be an understatement to say the church we’ve found in our new town…actually they found us…has been nothing short of amazing! As soon as they received word of the loss of my husband and the fact we just moved here in October, the recent adoption of our four youngest children, and the fact I’ve now been widowed twice by the age of 45…they stepped in and have tried to meet every single need imaginable. You truly wouldn’t believe it. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when they started trying to figure out a plan for meeting my kids’ needs too. With some help from my mother-in-law at various times as well, the church filled the remaining gaps with various women. They would arrive at my house at 6 am to wake up the children, get them ready for school and then take them to their school and daycare. After the morning drop-offs, they’d stop back by the house to literally wait on me hand and foot (no pun intended)…make breakfast, coffee, freshen up the house…whatever was needed. They’d return again in the afternoon to do the pick-up run, feed the children (and me) supper, give baths, and help put the children to bed. They were amazing!!! The only drawback we all noticed was that it was very hard on the children having various people in and out all the time. They really needed consistency. I, and many others, started praying for a consistent “nanny-type” person to be able to do the entire job, and I had enough donations given for this specific purpose to cover two weeks, but I couldn’t go beyond that. At the time, we thought two weeks would be sufficient. That was before surgery number three…the one that landed me with a wound vac and even less mobile.

God did provide a nanny, actually a group of 4 ladies from the same family that made it work for the two weeks originally requested. But, we knew we still needed one person who could commit to caring for my children – being my hands and feet – I’d still be a voice – for at least another three-four weeks. The dilemma – where would I find such a person, and how could I pay them? We are still having to be very financially cautious right now, and even more so with these initial medical bills and being out of work with an unknown return date, as of yet.

But, God… He had the perfect person in mind. We just didn’t know it yet.

Enter Damaris…

Damaris came recommended from a friend of a friend of a friend. And…get this…she’s Romanian! Romania is a neighboring country to Bulgaria! So, Damaris and my Bulgarian kiddos were neighbors when living across the world from where they are now! I find that so cool, and such a God-wink.

This precious young woman has such a servant’s heart, and her humility is unmatched. Not only has she come into our home with such ease and taken on every task handed to her…the biggest being that of caring for our crazy crew…she’s always asking if she can do more. She has definitely been a gift hand-picked by God to get us through this challenging time while I heal to the point of being able to do everything I was able to do before.

But, that’s not all. A group of people (I have no idea who they are) have raised enough money so far to pay for her for 3-4 weeks! What a gift, as I certainly don’t have that in my budget right now.

We love this precious woman already. She’s also a follower of Jesus Christ, as I am, so that’s just a bonus!

Here’s Damaris and her newest little friend, Katerina…

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Just Trying to Grasp It All

Long before I became a widow for the first time, I advocated for orphans heavily. I’d have to say before I truly grasped the biblical mandate to care for orphans and widows (God defines it as pure religion), He had already impressed upon my heart the yearning and clear calling to be a voice for the least of the these. Now…granted…my voice tended to sway heavily in the area of the orphan crisis, because it was easier for my mind to grasp, and children, in general, seemed to be easier ones for whom to advocate. And then I became one…

A widow, that is. My previous view of a widow had been blown to smithereens…the eighty-year-something, married a long time, two to three children, white-headed, blessed life…type of widow. Yes…I, too, put my stereotypical vision of a widow in a shallow box. Now, those women inside that box are precious too, and God gives us that same biblical mandate to care for them, but I didn’t go seeking those opportunities like I did the ones for orphans. I’m ashamed to admit that now, but I think it was, in part, ignorance to the needs around me and also intentional avoidance. In my mind, I was at least doing something for “part of the equation”…I advocated orphans for heavily…didn’t that count for something?

That mindset of mine changed abruptly on May 4, 20111 when I became a widow…at 39 years of age. No longer did I meet that pre-conceived notion and vision in my head of what a widow looks like. NOW…James 1:27 became extremely real to me, as I was one part of that mandate. And…suddenly…I got it! I not only got it, but I was quick to ask the Lord to never let me forget what this feels like (in case I wasn’t always a widow). I prayed often for Him to reveal to me how it is He wants us to care for widows, and, thankfully, He surrounded me with a group of people from my church and the church-at-large who DID get it and cared for me deeply. Through their actions, they boldly lived out James 1:27.

And again…after God so graciously blessed me with a beautiful new marriage to another incredible man who also got “it”! The command and calling on our lives to care for the least of these, especially orphans and widows. And…most of you know the rest of that story…we added, through adoption, four more children to our already blended nest of five, creating an incredibly beautiful nest of nine.

And…just when I think God had us in a sweet spot…I not only “survived” my widow experience, but God brought some incredible beauty out of those dull ashes through the gift of remarriage and an expanded family…yours, mine, and ours. He gave the gift of family to four orphans through international adoption and domestic foster to adopt. And…he expanded our hearts to love even deeper outside of our neatly “perfect box” with the red bow on top. I couldn’t wait to see what God would do with this new love story…one that I promised to use to glorify Him first and foremost.

Barely into figuring out our new “roles” in this expanded and beautiful family, February 12, 2017 was ushered into our lives quite abruptly, and I became a widow for the SECOND time at the age of 45. And…this time…it was drastically different. As I was now a widow of recently orphaned children who suddenly felt fear again of being orphaned all over again.

How do I begin to explain this one to our children, and even to myself, if truth be told? All I know is I suddenly found myself back in those deep waters again. The same ones from where Jesus reached for me, rescued me, and restored my life in a beautiful way.

That Jesus of mine…He’s the SAME…yesterday, today, and forever! While I may not have all the answers, I know the God that does. And…it’s in Him, I put my full trust. It’s in Him, I cling to for my next breath. And…it’s in Him, I expect another miracle of a life restored one day…in His timing. Until I see it with my eyes, I continue to believe…. #HeIsStillGood

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. ~James 1:27 (NLT)

If you still feel led to tangibly help our family, click here for some suggestions on ways to do so. Or…just do whatever God lays on your heart to do. We are beyond grateful at how He continues to meet our daily needs!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

His Heart is Most Broken

He’s my new bed buddy. I know parenting “experts” would frown on me allowing such a thing, but the “rules” went out the window the day his daddy went to Heaven. Austyn started begging to sleep in my bed a few weeks ago. I tried to get him to sleep in his own bed, and he would start there sometimes but always found his way back to me in the middle of the night. Once my first foot surgery happened, I stopped even trying, because his room is upstairs from mine.

At first, I thought he just wanted to be closer to me, but as I’ve observed in his behaviors (especially) over the last couple of weeks, I’m beginning to think differently. Austyn is my little one grieving the most for his daddy right now. He’s doing everything he can to keep his memory alive and to keep him close. And…he’s only THREE! I never would have guessed in a million years how hard a three-year-old can grieve. But, while I may have “widow experience” on my resume, parenting littles at the same time is completely different this time around. So, maybe this is completely normal. It’s just breaking me to watch.

Each morning, before his eyes are hardly open, he asks to watch a “movie” on my phone. That’s Austyn-speak for a video of daddy. He’s literally obsessed with it, and if truth be told, I’m struggling with it. The first video we watched together was very sweet and quite special, but now it hurts me terribly. My heart is simply not ready to relive all those treasured memories every single day. It makes me miss Joel so much more. But, it’s not just the morning routine, Austyn wants to do the same thing before he closes his eyes at night. I’ve tried simply saying “no”, and the reaction I get is just as pitiful. It truly puts him into a tailspin. So, I’m allowing it and praying this obsession ends soon or else my heart gets stronger to be able to take it.

And…that’s just the beginning…

Joel’s favorite t-shirt to wear, undoubtedly, was a UNC Tarheels tee (great choice, by the way). In many of the pics I post of Joel, you’ll see him in that shirt. That was also Austyn’s favorite shirt for his daddy to wear, because Austyn loved to “scratch” the letters. It’s a sensory habit of his he’s had since the first day we had him in our home. It brings him comfort, and daddy’s Tarheels shirt was the best one for this! The very day Joel died, Austyn sought out that shirt, and it’s been in his possession ever since. It’s kind of like his version of a “blankie”. He calls it Daddy’s Shirt and wants to sleep with it, carry it, wear it, play with it, “scratch” it, you name it…

Just last night, he began looking at the pictures of Joel around the house and would pull them down and talk to daddy in the picture. In the photo below, he kept saying over and over, “Look at me daddy. Look at me daddy. I wear your shirt. Look at me daddy.” Friends…I literally wept watching my sweet boy do this.

“Look at me daddy! I wear your shirt.”

Back to the bed behavior, I really think Austyn feels closer to Joel when he sleeps in his spot in our bed. I truly believe it’s one more way he brings daddy back to him in the only ways he knows how. He might be using that time to feel safe beside mommy, but as I thought about it in conjunction with some of his other behaviors, I began to think it went deeper than that.

It’s bad enough my heart is already torn in two over the loss of my precious husband so suddenly, but watching our son grieve this hard at his young age is almost too much to bear. I’m currently looking for the right type of counselor for him, as I know he needs it and probably will for a long time. In the meantime, pray for my Austyn please. Please pray God heals his broken heart and gives his broken-hearted mommy a special dose of wisdom to know how to properly parent through this tragedy. We will be okay, but we are so lost right now…and hurting deeply.

Monday, March 27, 2017

We Knew She Was Different

The first time we laid eyes on her, we knew she was special. Katerina had a way of lighting up a room with her huge smile and her pure joy. And…when she met her daddy for the first time…oh the joy, such incredible joy. We didn’t know how Katerina would react to Joel, because many children living in orphanages haven’t had a lot of contact with males (most caregivers are women), but Katerina knew this man was HER daddy, and she loved him immensely, and the feeling was mutual.

Katerina has always been such a special little girl, in many respects. She’s the only girl out of the four we’ve adopted. That, in and of itself, makes her very special. She holds her own with the boys, but she loves to be the girl God has created her to be. She plays with dolls, likes to have her fingernails painted, and loves to wear pretty dresses.

Soon after our adoption of Katerina (and her brothers) was complete, we had them all evaluated at an international adoption clinic and by their local pediatrician. It was clear there was something else going on with Katerina. We learned early on there was a developmental delay (not uncommon coming from orphanage life). But, we were referred to the Fullerton Genetic Center to have her evaluated for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Children coming from the part of the world where these children came from are often exposed to alcohol in the womb, and FAS or any of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are very strong possibilities for these children.

Upon her genetic testing (which ruled out some other possibilities) and a battery of testing, Katerina was confirmed with FAS. Our hearts broke for our sweet daughter. It wasn’t her fault, but she’ll have to deal with the effects of a choice by another for the rest of her life (as will her new family).

This past December, Katerina was evaluated yet again, and we learned she also has Autism. That somewhat came as a surprise, because many symptoms of FAS are in direct contradiction to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, she scored high enough in the other categories that her diagnosis was clear.

Joel and I knew we were in for a lifetime of parenting this little girl who would grow to be a young lady. What would her future look like? Would she be able to learn enough to live independently? Would she ever be able to work a job? So many questions…

This past Friday, I faced the next challenge alone for the first time. Katerina just went through re-evaluation for her IEP (Individualized Education Plan). She was given a large battery of in-depth tests. The results of the all the testing…our baby girl is mentally challenged. Her IQ is very low, and she is now considered “moderately intellectually delayed”. I think we knew it deep down, but I heard it for the first time, and my heart broke again. I had to grieve for my daughter all over again. But this time, I didn’t have her daddy to grieve and share this news with. I truly felt and thought to myself, “How much more Lord? How much more weight can my shoulders take?” I know I won’t feel this way forever, but for now…I feel the darkness is getting heavier and the pit is getting deeper. I’m still praying and waiting for breakthrough and a glimpse of the light breaking through the tunnel.

But, God has great plans for Miss K! I know He does. She is full of compassion and love and seems to know how to comfort people in pain in ways others don’t. I had a bit of a meltdown a week ago that unfortunately happened in front of the kids. The boys kept asking if I was okay and wanted to help with words. But my sweet girl…she walked up to me and started rubbing my back…she didn’t say a word. She just rubbed my back! God used her mightily in that moment to comfort her hurting mama.

He has great plans for my girl! No doubt in my mind. I just want to make sure I listen to His still, small voice to know what role I play in His plans for her. Without Joel to help me make decisions, I’m trusting God to fill the role of “husband to the widow” He’s promised and guide me through some of the hard decisions I might have to make decades from now or even in the next few weeks.

He won’t let me down. His plan is always perfect and always better.

I’ve been working with Katerina on learning some things about herself that I want to make sure she never forgets. She finally knows them, and will repeat them to me when I ask her to tell me her “I am’s”…and, she’ll say…

I am beautiful.

I am special.

I am smart.

I am loved.

Yes you are my precious! You are so, so loved!