Friday, April 7, 2017

I’m Still Running the Race…

Today I attended the funeral of a cherished co-worker, Wayne Roper, who went home to be with the Lord less than a week ago.

As soon as I heard the news, my first reaction was one of shock, but I immediately found my place in a state of jealously (if truth be told). I’m a bit ashamed to admit that now, but I honestly thought to myself, Wayne is probably already chatting with Joel about the glory land we still long for that they now call home. Oh…how I wish I could be having that conversation with them. I know it’s not my time, but it doesn’t stop my heart from at least longing to be with them.

Some have already asked… “How in the world were you able to do so this so soon after being at your own husband’s funeral?” There are quite a few ways I could have answered that question…

  • I respected the man dearly, so I also wanted to show respect to his new widow by taking the time to celebrate his life and legacy.
  • It was an opportunity for me to see most of my co-workers, many whom I haven’t seen since Joel’s funeral, thanks to this temporary foot issue I’ve been suffering with.
  • It was an opportunity to worship God and thank Him for giving Wayne to us for the 58 year years He did, of which I truly only knew him for about 13 of those years.
  • And…when no other answer satisfies…it was simply the right thing to do.

And, I’m so glad I did!

I cried more today than I’ve cried in weeks. Now, don’t get me wrong…very few days have passed where a tear hasn’t escaped my eye since losing my precious love. But, today, I don’t think I was able to speak to a single soul without tears pouring from my eyes. I’m sure part of it was a result of just being in that setting. Another part was from the multiple hugs and “how are you’s” that were brought my way. But, the real tears came when I heard a couple people ask me to keep writing, because my blog was being used in ways I couldn’t imagine to minister to or help other people they knew. I just sobbed whenever I heard each of those stories yesterday, because I can’t imagine how God can use such a messed up woman, with such a dysfunctional past and a very hurting heart in this present hour to bring life to anyone else. But, that’s how MY God is! He reminds me of that all that time. It’s not me. It has nothing to do with me. It’s all about My Precious Lord, and what He chooses to do through me (His vessel). He could have chosen anyone else (and, I often ask Him why He didn’t), but for some reason unknown to me…I got “the job”.

Please don’t stop sharing these stories with me as you hear them, because they truly do help heal my hurting soul. I begged God to not let Joel’s death be in vain, and these are the ways He continues to promise me that was never part of his plan. If we allow Him to, He’ll always use our pain for His glory and for our good. And, while I’m thankful God is allowing me to be part of His greater plan…I simply want to boast in Him and in Him alone! (1 Corinthians 1:31). He is the author of my life, and the perfecter of my faith, and one day (I pray sooner than later)…He’ll call me Home to glory and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Until then…I press on to complete the race He has mapped out for me…

#HeIsStillGood

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!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I found sleep again

Joel and I used to crave sleep…well, rest in general. We worked our fannies off all week, and while weekends should include a day of rest, we often found ourselves packing our weekends so full of activity we’d look forward to the start of a new work week…just to find some “rest” again.

Shamefully, I admit I often operated on only 4-5 hours of sleep each night (and Joel often even less than that). We we were tormenting our bodies, at least in the category of rest, and we kept feeling pushed to stop the madness…and soon. However, the bad habits continued. With both of us working full-time jobs, the only time we had to ourselves to get anything done was after the children went to bed at night, so we often got re-energized at just the time we should have started unwinding for the day. These bad habits we created ended up training our bodies to keep up with the madness of our crazy lifestyle. Not good, and we knew it, but nothing stopped us at that point.

After Joel went home to Heaven, I initially struggled to sleep. I would close my eyes, and my mind would race with thoughts of him, the days and minutes leading up to his final breath, all the tasks that lay before me in the near future, all those goals we’d never achieve, and the list is endless. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so it was very difficult to “shut off” my brain long enough to rest.

Joel actually passed away soon after midnight on February 12. I stayed at the hospital for several more hours and eventually arrived back home somewhere between 3:30-4:00 am. That was my first attempt at trying to get a few hours of sleep. But, I failed. My mind knew I would be sharing with our children soon after they woke up that daddy went to live with Jesus. I kept replaying that scene over and over in my mind, and it literally broke my heart to think of how they might respond. As a result, I literally laid in our bed, tossing and turning without my husband beside me, waiting for daybreak or the sound of those little voices coming to greet me at the start of the new day.

After I was trampled with lots of mommy loves…hugs and kisses…I gathered my little chicks around me and shared the most difficult words I’ve ever had to share with them. The bad news: Daddy died. His frail body couldn’t overcome the sickness that took over. The best news: Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus and will one day see us again! My children clung to the “best news” I shared with them that morning. Daddy was with Jesus, and they would get to be with him again one day. Praise God for that gift! Since that initial conversation, they’ve struggled off and on, but they keep going back to that promise…because of a decision Daddy made when he was alive on this earth, he gets to live forever with Jesus in Heaven. And…as long as we’ve made that same decision, Heaven will be our forever Home too!

Within a few hours of that conversation, I fell asleep in the recliner in my living room. And…I slept HARD. It was as if all the emotional burnout had been spent, and it was time for my body to rest. I slept so hard I never even heard all the guests coming in and out of my home that Sunday afternoon to visit. Thankfully, they didn’t mind the sleeping widow in the corner of the room. Eventually I woke up, but I have discovered since that initial rest (the one in which I actually slept) following Joel’s Homegoing, that I sleep quite a bit now and a lot more often.

In part, the medication I’ve been on after each of my three foot surgeries in March helped to make me sleepy, but I also noticed, I gave up the fight. I no longer had the physical ability to stay up until all crazy hours of the night trying to get things done. I can only do so much, then it’s time to stop. Sleep soon follows. I only wish Joel and I discovered this “rest dance” before he left this world. I can only imagine how much more fulfilling our life could have been together and how much more God would have allowed us to accomplish.

My new routine…sleep, and when I wake, I seek the Lord for His next steps for me. It’s amazing how He has it all under control…when I seek Him first and OBEY His direction.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 (emphasis mine)

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.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shattered. Fractured. Broken.

Shattered. Fractured. Broken. Three words that accurately describe my family right now.

Just under two months ago, we were doing this thing called life together as a family. We made our mistakes, and we had our fusses, but we were what we dubbed ourselves…a “normal” (albeit blended, non-organic) family.

Daddy and mommy both worked outside the home. We were as healthy as we had been in quite some time. Our Bulgarian children were finally starting to adjust to the beginning of their second year in the US in our family, and our move to Hickory was proving to be a great decision, and the school transitions were taking place extremely well. Granted…we still had stuff in boxes to unpack…but, what was the hurry? This was going to be our forever home, so didn’t that mean we had “forever” to unpack?

Our older children seemed to be thriving between finishing up the last years of high school, working towards college degrees, working hard at jobs God has them in for this season of life, creating families of their own, and maturing into fine young adults.

We preferred to spend our weekday evenings wrestling around on the floor with daddy, watching a cute family movie together, doing homework, getting everything together for the next day, bath/shower time, and reading books before bedtime. We had recently started asking Josiah to read a book before bedtime to his siblings so he good get in some additional reading practice. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was nice, and we were immensely blessed.

Our weekends were full of piling into the minivan, putting a movie in the DVD player (such a wonderful feature!!) and heading out for a day full of errands. Usually we would splurge and eat out for one of our Saturday meals, and the kids loved that.

Sundays mornings were spent visiting the churches in the area, as we narrowed down the selection to where we felt God might be calling us to serve. And…one of my favorite parts of the weekend…Sunday afternoons. We rested. Joel usually fell asleep on the couch with Austyn. Josiah would fall asleep on the other end of the couch while watching a movie. Benjamin and Katerina would typically nap up in their bedrooms, and me? Well…I may or may not take a nap, but I’d rest nonetheless.

Now…life feels like a chaotic, shattered mess. The kids’ emotions are completely out of whack (so are mine, for that matter). Their ability to focus seems gone. Limits are being tested. Erratic behavior is more commonplace. I cry so much that the act of crying is starting to hurt. My heart seems to be bleeding more internally than my aching foot is externally.

Speaking of the foot…it’s healing (I think) but VERY SLOWLY. The bleeding hasn’t completely stopped, so I get to sit in my recliner for the bulk of the day with my foot elevated on pillows. It’s very painful but doesn’t even compare to the pain I feel in my heart from missing my husband.

Discouragement is the story of my days right now. I’m waiting for a breakthrough, because I feel everywhere I turn is defeat and disappointment. When is the breakthrough coming Lord? I’ve seen many miracles already as a result of Joel’s sudden death and Homegoing to Heaven. God is not surprised, and He’s been working deeply in the hearts of many of His children as a result of my precious husband being called Home at such a young age. I continue to pray Joel’s death will not be in vain and will produce tons of fruit and miracle upon miracle (maybe even some we won’t see this side of Heaven). But for now…we hurt…deeply.

I’m ready for some sense of “normal” to return to our lives. I feel I’m living in a state of limbo, because nothing is settled…my foot is still healing, I can’t return to work (due to the stupid foot), money decisions are in limbo (and fear wants to settle there quite often), plans for the future…yep…limbo. All my vacation and time off for the year is gone due to Joel’s death and my foot woes. I’m really trying not to dwell in this pit, because God is also being so generous and gracious to us.

We have been blessed beyond belief by friends, family, and strangers. We’ve received gifts of food, babysitting, money, gift cards, surprise presents in the mail, flowers, more food, projects completed around the home, visits by new friends, and lots of cards in the mail. There have been numerous other blessings too plentiful to name. I’m praying God allows the brightness of the blessings to cast out the shadow and darkness of the discouragement.

As I keep saying over and over and believe with every fiber of my being…God’s plan is ALWAYS better. Always. Knowing that and believing that doesn’t mean the pain of our reality doesn’t hurt. It does give me hope to cling to though, and that hope helps me to take the next step, and then the next…and the next…and the next…

God. Is. Still. Good.