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!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yes…It Was THAT Serious…

Rather than showing you pictures of a rather nasty looking foot…I thought you might prefer to see a picture of my new friend and temporary ride.

Now that the second foot surgery is behind me, and things are moving in a positive healing direction, I thought I’d share a little more.

The original foot surgery on March 10 was supposed to be a simple Tarsal Tunnel Release. I had one about nine years ago and did quite well with it, and it’s typically a very simple surgery. I knew I’d have to baby my foot a little bit afterwards, but I had only planned to be out of work 5 days (including the weekend), and planned to end my leave following Joel’s death with the end of my surgery recovery. It had been on the calendar awhile anyway, and I couldn’t wait to have the ability to walk pain-free again. So, I went ahead with the already scheduled procedure.

Then…things went down a path nobody (especially me) expected. While some pain was expected, I had an extraordinary amount of pain following the procedure. Additionally, I had large pools of bleeding.

**By the way, if even the talk of blood makes your stomach queazy, you might want to stop reading here. 

After I was safely in the house following being dropped off by my ride for surgery #1, I turned around to hobble my way to the bathroom, and I noticed a trail of blood along the floor that looked like I had entered the room of a crime scene. It. Scared. Me. To. Death. I went to flag the ladies down (who were outside on the driveway at this point) and made an immediate call to my surgeon’s office. The doctor’s office talked me through what to do over the weekend and to continue watching it and what would necessitate a trip to the ER. Thankfully, I never had to go to the ER over the weekend, but I did have to make a trip to see my surgeon in Asheville again on Monday morning. He was not pleased at what he saw and already hinted at a possible second surgery being necessary to fix the current problem. We’d continue to watch it for another day or two.

Well, the next day (Tuesday) – now four days post-op – landed me a trip to the local ER, as my pain had gotten out-of-control. It was no longer controllable with the medications I had, and the bleeding continued. The ER staff re-dressed the wound as well as controlled the pain in a more direct, short-acting way. I went back home nearly five hours later.

Wednesday – more of the same.

Thursday – back to Asheville for the surgeon to do another wound check. The conversation went like this:

Dr H: I see two choices here. In very rare cases (like I can count on one hand the number I’ve personally encountered), we have to go back into surgery and search for the source of bleeding and put a stop to it. We can go ahead and do that tomorrow, or we can wait until possibly next Wednesday. I asked him his opinion, and he was hesitant to offer it just yet. Then, I spoke with as much clarity and assurance as I’d had up to that point…

Me: Dr. H….I don’t know about you, but I know God has given me a spiritual gift of discernment, and it’s one I feel I’ve been blessed with quite mightily. If I stick to my “gut” (that voice of discernment) telling me what to do, then I feel this needs to be taken care of TOMORROW.

In that moment, the surgeon (who I happened to know is a believer as well) looked at me and said, “You made the right decision!” Ahhh…sweet peace just ushered in the room…

The surgery took place on Friday. It was a complete success. The surgeon removed a baseball-sized clot from my ankle. It was causing the excessive bleeding, the horrendous pain, and who knows what else. And…had it gotten loose and traveled to other parts of my body…brain, lungs, heart…I could have very quickly joined Joel in Heaven. Yes…it was THAT serious!

I still don’t understand why I’ve been asked to walk through these various trials right now…hard and painful trials, but what I do know…I can still hear that still, small voice of God speaking to me. That, in and of itself, was huge for me, as I had been begging God to hear from Him…something…anything. I felt He had been quiet with me lately, and I desperately needed something to cling to knowing He was still with me. My faith knew it, but I was so weak and deep in grief…I needed more in that moment.

He IS still for me.

He IS still watching OVER our family.

He IS not finished with me yet.

He IS healing me!

It’s just looking a little different than I had pictured, but then again…so is my whole life, for that matter.

Thank you for your many prayers, well-wishes, tangible gifts of support, love, and concern. He is using YOU for big things. Thank you for being obedient. To keep up with current needs in our family, you can do so at a glance by clicking HERE. OR…if He leads you to do something else, follow His lead. It will never be wrong. He knows our needs better than we do.

May God bless you BIG!

#Heisstillgood

Friday, March 17, 2017

Waiting for Rescue

The waters are very deep right now. At times, I feel I only have my face sticking out…just enough to breathe in the fresh air through my almost-buried nose. Reminds me of when I was a small child just learning to swim, and I could tread water just enough to keep my face from going under. It was then my dad (who usually worked with us the most in the pool) would step in and lift me up higher and tell me how proud of me he was for working so hard in the water. I eventually became a rather good swimmer, and I eventually trained to be the rescuer (i.e. lifeguard).

In my real-life “deep water” situation right now, I’m in desperate need of a rescue. I feel like life is swirling at super-speed around me just waiting to engulf me. I’ve stopped asking “why?” and simply started begging “help me!”.

It really doesn’t matter why God is allowing me to go through so many trials at one time. I’ve witnessed His faithfulness time and time again through my life to know that His plan is always better, even if it doesn’t make sense right now. I will admit, however, I have asked Him the “why” question a few times over the last four weeks. I know He can take it, because He wants the “real me”. And…the real me has simply wanted an answer a time or two, but I haven’t gotten it yet. And yet, I’ve moved on from the questioning phase…now, I’m simply begging…

God, please help me. I am hurting so deeply right now…physically, mentally, financially, emotionally…my heart aches like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Please show me you’re right beside me! While I know you’re here, I really would love a tangible glimpse of your presence. Will you do that for me? I don’t deserve anything from You. You’ve already given me the best gift ever…eternal life. But, I know you want me to have life abundantly…you say so in Your Word. So, Abba…will you please allow me to feel that abundant life right now. Will you saturate me with Your presence and with love overflowing? Will you please fill the lonely places? Will you please give me peace, especially today, as I head into another surgery? Will you please bring complete healing to me in ALL the areas of my body and life needing a touch from You? Abba – will You rescue me today, and begin the restoration work You have planned for my life on this earth? Will you allow those watching and waiting to see your mighty power in my life? Abba Father – I give You glory, in advance, for what I know You can do! Please let none of this pain be in vain! Please be glorified through it. And…until I’m Home with you…please continue to show me how to live my life according to Your plan for me. I want nothing more than to please and glorify You!

Yes…I’m having a second surgery today. One week ago today, I had a minor procedure on my foot that should have been a breeze (I’ve had it before). However, it broke all the records, and now I’m facing another sudden surgery that will take place today at 1:30 pm ET. For my praying friends, would you please consider praying for me at that time? Pray for the surgeon to find the source of the issue quickly, to be able to fix it fully, and to prepare me for a full and speedy recovery.

I’m leaning completely on Him right now, but I also know He tells us in His Word to ask, to seek, and to knock. I’m asking, I’m seeking, and I’m knocking.

Thank you to the multitudes of you who have stepped into my little world to love on me since Joel went home to Heaven. I can’t begin to express how thankful and grateful I am for the way you’ve loved on my family during these difficult weeks. This is so much bigger than I can handle, and God has simple asked me to rest in Him while He takes care of things. He’s been taking care of things THROUGH YOU, and I love that! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love you deeply!