Friday, June 30, 2017

As Vulnerable As It Gets

vulnerableThis post is going to be about as vulnerable as it gets on a public forum.

I’ve always used my blog as a public journal, of sorts, an online oasis, and a place where I share my own personal struggles and wins in hopes of bringing hope to someone else. While I’m typically very transparent, because I feel God has called me to be through His Word (see 2 Corinthians 1) and through my particular circumstances, there are still many things I don’t share. Those are the things just between God and me or God, me, and select few of my dearest friends. Most of my readers are very kind, but there are some who feel they can speak to my situation better than I can and have never even met me before or walked in shoes remotely close. They are the ones who know how to hurt me (even if unintentionally) while I’m already experiencing the deepest hurts of my life. Therefore, I’m certainly not interested in fueling the fire of the “haters”, but sometimes I get to a point of desperation.

I’m there now. And, I’m asking right off the bat, if you are a praying person…I need you now. Please don’t tell me you’re praying for me as a nice gesture if you’re not doing it. I’m desperate for the prayers of the saints in more ways than I can possibly relay.

If you’ve been following my blog since the death of my precious Joel in February, then you already know much of what we’ve been through recently. But, I’ll recap for the newbies and for those of you who might have forgotten some of the events.

February – My husband went Home to Heaven after a very brief stay in the hospital. It was unexpected and tragic.

March – I had THREE foot surgeries. The first was expected. The other two…not at all!

April – I totaled Joel’s car. I was crushed (and so was the car).

May – Epidural injection on my back. Lower back pain returned with a vengeance.

Additionally, I started experiencing severe, unexplainable nausea. After a series of tests and procedures, I was diagnosed with iron-pill induced gastritis, my stomach lining is deteriorating, and I am also bleeding internally (slowly). I am having a procedure to fix all of this on July 24 (in Asheville) and will be in the hospital a couple of days.

June – I returned to work to complete a notice following my resignation. I’m no longer able to continue in the job I love, as I can’t solo parent four young children with special needs and work an hour away from home.

Also this week, I had an MRI on my lower back. The pain is now horrendous, and I’m getting no relief. The theory is a herniated disc.

All of the above is enough to send any person over the edge. It’s almost more than I personally can handle, but God is bigger than my circumstances. However, there’s one area I’m failing miserably. This is where I need my praying readers desperately.

One of my children is struggling is unexplainable ways…behaviorally. I’m working on getting the right kind of help, but there are many hoops to go through. In the meantime, our home is NOT a place of peace right now, as this precious child is completely out of sorts (that’s the “simplest” way I know how to explain it). I’m on my knees so much for this child, whom I adore, and I know God loves this wee one even more than I can imagine.

And so…I beg you…please pray for wisdom. I just don’t know the next step. I’m a proactive parent and will do whatever I need to do to protect my children and to get them the help they need when they are hurting. I just need to know where/who that is, in this case. Additionally, I’m asking for supernatural healing in this case. Nothing is too hard for God…He can totally alleviate all of this in a matter of seconds, if He so chooses. Even if He doesn’t…I still trust Him completely, but it doesn’t stop me from asking.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. ~Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)

Thank you, in advance, prayer warriors! We need you now more than ever. We. Will. Be. Okay. I have no doubt, but God doesn’t want us to simply survive this season but to thrive, as a result of it. That will take miraculous divine help, wisdom, favor, and grace! And…God can provide it all, if He so chooses.

There are many things we need right now I could be asking prayer for, but nothing is more important to me now than the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of my children. I’d give all to protect them! This mama bear is armed and ready to fight this battle…as long as it takes.

I will keep you updated as we see God’s hand at work. It may not happen immediately. It may not happen in the way I desire, but God will work all of this tragedy out for His glory and for our good! To Him be ALL the glory!

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It’s Less Than Six Months Away – Joel’s Tree

Joel's TreeFor those of you who journeyed with me down Grief Road after losing my husband Chris, you might recall the “Chris Tree” we constructed together. By far, it was one of the most memorable joy-filled events of that first year of widowhood. I knew that first Christmas without him would be very difficult, and having a memorial tree dedicated to Chris and all those things which made up his personality, helped to make that Christmas very special to me.

As a result, I knew I just had to do the same thing for Joel! As a matter of fact, I’ll have both trees up these year, along with our family tree (can you tell how much I love to decorate for Christmas?)! Now…this is where you come in. When I did this before, I invited others to participate in the construction of the “Chris Tree” by finding ornaments that went along with a list of suggestions I came up with. I would love to do the same thing for my “Joel Tree”. I’ll provide a list of suggested ornament themes below, and I would love it if you would join us in adorning his memorial tree. The ornaments don’t have to be new. They could be yard sale or consignment store finds. If you’re crafty, feel free to make something. I’m happy to provide my mailing address to anyone that chooses to participate, just drop me an email at leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com letting me know you need it. Feel free to send in ornaments anytime, but I’d like to have them no later than November 1, otherwise the busyness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will soon be upon us.

Here is a list of ornament categories (in no particular order), but if God places something else on your heart…that’s okay too.

  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Outdoorsman
  • Grandpa with kids
  • Dad with kids
  • Coach
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Carolina Tarheels
  • High Point, NC
  • Beach
  • Bulgaria
  • Woodworking
  • J – initial ornaments
  • Jesus – Cross
  • Bible
  • Hospital worker (scrubs)
  • Radiation therapist
  • Ping pong
  • Pool table, cue sticks, etc.
  • Horses
  • Horseback riding
  • Cows
  • Cowboy
  • Farmer
  • Country boy
  • Marines (Joel and his dad)
  • Air Force (Joel’s son, Justin)
  • The number 15 to represent his 9 children, 2 children-in-love, 2 grandbabies, Joel, and Leah!
  • Family – names or initials of his wife and children (Leah, Amy, Wes, Noelle, Micah, Justin, Virginia, Caleb, Anna, Aaron, Josiah, Katerina, Benjamin, and Austyn)
  • Skydiver
  • Jesse – baby in Heaven
  • Sports
  • Bible verses
  • Orphans
  • Photo ornaments with his picture
  • Personalized ornaments with his name
  • AWANA (he was AWANA Commander and very active when his bio children were younger)

I can’t tell you how meaningful this will be to my family and me and will help to take the “sting” out of not having Joel/Daddy/Pawpaw with us this year. May God bless you, in advance, for your simple act of kindness to my grieving heart! Feel free to email me with any questions (leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com). Christmas will be here before we know it!

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Struggling Single Parent

single parent

I’ve really been struggling to post lately. Let me rephrase that…

I’ve been struggling. Period.

This season of my grief journey has blindsided me a bit. I should have seen it coming. Unlike most widows or widowers, I’ve sadly been down this road before. I learned during my first grief episode all about the non-linear aspect of grief (much to my disappointment). I’m the type of person that likes to check a box…that feeling of accomplishment…and then move on to the next task. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way with grief. Just when I think I’ve made some headway, I feel like I’m back to square one. There’s nothing, in particular, which causes that, making it even tougher to predict. Sometimes it can be a series of things that catapults me backwards (or what feels like a backwards move to me). Even so…it’s where I’ve been since returning from my amazing trip to the Outer Banks.

For me, the single parenting aspect of this grief journey has been the toughest, by far. Not only do I still have our four youngest children at home, but we had adopted all four of them within just a little over a year prior to Joel’s death (and the adoption of one wasn’t complete until four months prior to his death, although we had parented him the longest). With adoption, there are significant challenges in and of themselves that often make two-parent families curl up in a ball in a corner at times. It’s tough friends. We were highly educated for this. We knew what we could face, and we had been not only surviving it but truly thriving (even on the difficult days). And, with God’s help…we were doing it…TOGETHER! Now…I’m both mommy and “daddy” to them. And, let me tell you, I do NOT make a good “daddy”.  I know I’m not the only single parent in the world. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children who just lost their daddy too (truly, I’m not). But, knowing that, although comforting in a twisted sort of way, doesn’t take away my real day-to-day needs.

Most of those are needs that can only be met by God Himself: parenting wisdom, loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, emotional and physical drain, and much more. I am often asked, “What do you need?” Truly…I can’t answer that question most of the time. Due to my physical and emotional exhaustion…I can’t think past the next moment many times. I continue to say the greatest gift you can do is seek the Lord with that question and simply do whatever He instructs you to do. He knows our every need. For example, just two nights ago, I received a phone call from an Asheville friend who felt urged to simply give me a call. That phone call was such a blessing to me. It was simply full of encouragement, understanding, and listening (even through my tears). She didn’t pretend to understand what I am walking through, but she understood pain. She understood grief. She understood parenting challenges. And…she understood in spite of my worst day, God is still central to everything I believe.

Even on these very difficult days I’ve been experiencing lately, I still say with everything in me…He. Is. Still. Good. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough, of sorts. I’m still waiting for come consecutive good days. I’m still waiting for God’s favor in many areas in which I’ve been consistently praying. Even if I don’t see these things for awhile, and even if I don’t see the answers in the way in which I expect them to be received…I believe with everything in me…

He. Is. Still. Good.

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