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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

His Last Father’s Day…Little Did We Know

Father's DayLittle did we know as we celebrated Father’s Day with Joel in 2016 with all but three of our kiddos in town, it would be his last. As we approach another first without our precious Joel/Daddy, it goes without saying, this one will probably sting quite a bit.

The first sting came early…about a week ago. Josiah came home from school after his class had been working on Father’s Day gifts. He was proud of what he made and said, “Well, since I don’t have a daddy, I’ll give this to __________.” (I can’t reveal the name, or the surprise will be ruined.) My heart was crushed as he said the words, “since I don’t have a daddy”.

I was so upset in that moment, I could hardly speak. I simply told him it was beautiful and thanked him for doing a good job. I also reminded him, he has a daddy in Heaven who is unable to talk to Josiah right now, but he also has THE Daddy in Heaven who he can talk to anytime he wants, knowing He hears every word. He smiled, and with that, the conversation was over…at least for that moment.

With Josiah’s early gift…I started thinking of all the other “issues” I might run into. For Mother’s Day, Austyn’s school invited all the mother’s to come spend time with their children at various events. They are already planning a similar set of activities for the fathers on the Friday before Father’s Day. I honestly don’t think I can send him to school that day. I know how elated he was when I arrived for my special day with him. I think it would utterly put him into a tailspin to be the only little boy in his class without his daddy there. Oh…grief simply sucks (pardon my crass word). And that’s not all…

Every single summer, the Stirewalt family has their annual reunion in June. Guess when it is this year? Yep…Father’s Day. On-the-one-hand, it will serve as a distraction. Uncle Gary’s pool will be open, and I’m sure everyone will have a blast. However, one of the missing Stirewalt men will be MOST evident on that day…at least to me. My heart is breaking all over again. I will do my best to bring a joy-filled face and attitude, but I will need lots of prayer warriors standing in the gap. Please Lord, let them remember us among their own celebrations.

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Desperately Needed to Talk…So I Tried to Call You

TalkTalk…I just needed to talk, so I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer my call. I wanted to talk about the somewhat shocking information I just received. And then I remembered…you’re not here anymore.

No, I’m not going crazy (yet). I simply can’t tell you the number of times I’ve actually picked up my phone to call or text Joel regarding something I wanted to share with him or ask his opinion on or something of the sort. While I’ve never actually gone through with it like my opening sentence might suggest, I’ve actually come very close.

One of the many difficulties of losing my spouse has also been losing my best friend at the same. Joel was my go-to guy. The one I would talk to about everything. He was my sounding board, my voice of reason, and my chief decision maker when we couldn’t come to a mutual agreement on something. He was very wise and calculated each major decision he made.

Just the other day, I received some information I really needed to discuss with him. But, he wasn’t there…

My heart just ached over the reminder of how deep his loss truly is in my life. I miss Joel’s physical presence terribly. At times like this, that loss feels physically numbing. Temporarily paralyzed, I just sit trying to think…what am I going to do now?

Prayer. Yes…I know the ultimate answer. I obviously pray, and I even ask others to join me. It’s something Joel and I did together quite often. I’m not avoiding the obvious; I’m just pointing out the reality of missing my chief prayer partner.

I just so needed to hear his voice in the moment. I needed to be able to discuss the pros and cons with him. I just wanted to TALK TO HIM!!! And then I remembered…

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

100 Days – Part 2

Welcome back! If you read yesterday’s 100 days post (part 1), then you know today is a continuation of celebrating the remaining 50 GOOD things we’ve experienced, witnessed, or heard about since Joel went to Heaven 100 days ago (now 101 today). Without further ado, here are the remaining 50…

  1. We’ve been offered and given free haircuts.
  2. A precious friend made pillows for each of my smallest children and both grandchildren, and even for me, out of Joel’s shirts.
  3. Joel’s Valentine’s Day gift to me arrived in the mail the day after he died. What a precious God wink to discover and receive the day after He went home to Heaven!
  4. A friend mailed me a book that she adores and is perfect to share with our children. We love reading The Invisible String Karen! Thank you!
  5. I’ve had friends call on several occasions who felt led to reach out to me in prayer. Without fail, God sent them to me at JUST that moment. He knew I needed people standing in the gap for me, lifting me up to Him during some of my darkest moments.
  6. My youngest son sees his daddy in everything we do. His memory is phenomenal, and I pray this continues, because I was worried he wouldn’t remember his daddy, being so young when he died.
  7. I found 3 other gifts Joel had wrapped for me and was saving for some occasion…Mother’s Day, Christmas, who knows. I unwrapped them, and tears poured as the gifts were perfect for the moment or had been something I had prayed about getting.
  8. My children frequently have pleasant dreams about their daddy. I’m still waiting to dream about my love, and I know it will come when God is ready to allow it. I’ve only dreamed about Chris twice since he died (over 6 years ago), so this doesn’t totally surprise me that I haven’t dreamed about Joel yet. It’s all in God’s timing. I’m thankful, however, my children have been given that gift of “seeing him” in their dreams.
  9. Each of the children were given precious stuffed bears from the hospital system their daddy used to work for.
  10. I’ve had to rely on numerous people to drive me to Asheville for wound checks, surgeon appointments, surgeries, etc. There has been no shortage of people willing and able to help out. So humbling!
  11. Prior to Damaris (the nanny) arriving, we had another family that worked non-stop morning and night between several of their older girls and mother to make sure our children were up and ready for school, taken to school, and picked up. I wasn’t able to climb stairs or drive during those earliest of days, so this was a much needed gift.
  12. Several other ladies from the church have also been willing able to run pick-up duty many times.
  13. A new friend, and fellow adoptive mom, with two special needs girls gave up an entire week of her early morning hours at home to come and care for my family. Becky would wake up the kiddos, get them to school, do things around the house, and then scoot away to her next responsibility. She amazed me that she would offer that sacrifice when she could probably use some of that help herself at times.
  14. I’ve found a wonderful grief counselor to work with. She’ll also be working with a few of the children over time (and as needed).
  15. New friends came over and painted two of the rooms that we weren’t able to get to before moving into the house last October.
  16. One of my pastors and church staff members brought me a chicken sandwich while in the hospital getting checked out after my wreck.
  17. I was a loaned a knee scooter thingy to use after my second surgery (sorry…don’t know the official name of it), and it was a true help in navigating the house.
  18. I’ve been able to share my story of being twice widowed in less than six years with countless numbers of people, many unbelievers. The number one question…how are you even surviving (emotionally speaking)? Each time I answer…it’s not me…it’s Christ in me. Without my faith, I’d be lost on so many levels.
  19. I’ve connected with friends from Joel’s past I never had the privilege of knowing while he was still living.
  20. While I’m not ready to go through Joel’s clothes, at least the ones I’ve seen him wear, I was able to take some clothes with tags still on them and donate them to a precious brother in the Lord from Pakistan. Joel would be pleased, as he spent time in the home of this man and his precious wife.
  21. A speaker/author (that I personally don’t know) donated her earnings from a day spent teaching a local business group to our family after hearing our story. This was just days from Joel’s death.
  22. We received boxed lunches from my precious work family to take with us as we traveled from Joel’s funeral service to the cemetery, since they were nearly three hours apart from each other.
  23. I was gifted a craft table for my craft room from a precious couple from my previous church. They saw a post I put on Facebook with a picture asking if someone knew how to build a craft desk Joel had planned to make for me. The one they ended up purchasing for me looks almost identical to the one he planned to build.
  24. One of the most practical gifts I’ve continued to receive from various people has been the gift of paper goods – plates, cutlery, cups, napkins, toilet paper, etc. It’s made life so much easier, and we’ve had a lot of people in and out of the house, and it’s been a huge blessing!
  25. My push lawn mower wasn’t working, as some men discovered when they went to mow one evening. Most of our lawn requires a riding mower, but the push mower is important for some areas. One of the guys simply took it back to his place and fixed the thing before I could practically blink.
  26. Our local realtor and several co-workers collected money to buy groceries for us and actually did the shopping and delivery of items too.
  27. Joel’s co-workers donated very graciously to our family. I cried and cried upon receiving their gift, knowing how hard it must be to lose a teammate who had been there nearly the longest period of time of all of them.
  28. Joel was buried in his hometown of High Point, NC – just below his daddy. I’ll be in the spot next to him. I was blessed to receive that gift from Joel’s mother.
  29. My children are learning to laugh again. So am I.
  30. God has been clearly speaking to me regarding some bold next steps in my life. I continue to discern his call, but I’ll share more as I feel led to do so.
  31. My little one has learned to ride a tricycle and participated in his first Trike-A-Thon fundraiser for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I was a proud mommy, and I know daddy would have been just as proud. I prayed he would be able to see him from Heaven.
  32. I have been able to give away some things that have no purpose in our lives without Joel here. It’s such a blessing to be able to give away anything when I’ve been blessed so greatly during these 100 days.
  33. We were fed by my mother-in-law’s church following Joel’s burial.
  34. Her pastor conducted the graveside service.
  35. I was able to develop a t-shirt design on TeeSpring and use as a fundraiser and a way to get a message across. No matter the pain, no matter the tragedy…God is still good. The #HeIsStillGood shirts are still available to order but have been a huge hit so far!
  36. Many friends and family are now re-looking at their wills, power of attorney documents, etc. to make sure everything is up-to-date. Joel’s sudden passing caused several folks I know to be caught off guard (like we were) and to make sure that doesn’t happen to them.
  37. I have always considered myself to be an independent person. However, Joel took care of so much (and wanted to) that I learned how to be dependent on him during our marriage. I am re-learning how do things on my own again. The blessing in this is that I am ABLE to…even if it wasn’t for which I asked.
  38. My children are learning more about their Heavenly Daddy – Abba!
  39. I have met several new widow friends.
  40. I have seen first-hand the power of corporate prayer on a large level and am humbled to have been the subject of prayer from people who have never even heard of our family prior to this tragedy.
  41. I personally know the funeral director that handled all of Joel’s arrangements (and did Chris’ too). I consider myself very blessed to have been connected to him for many years prior for such a time as this.
  42. Joel’s extended family has become more intimately my own.
  43. I have gotten a couple sweet notes from prior patients of Joel’s at the cancer center. What a blessing to see how treasured and respected he was as a caregiver to them!
  44. One of the first things God made clear to me after Joel’s death was that we were to remain in Hickory and not move back to Asheville. Although it didn’t make sense initially to MANY people, I am starting to see the “why” in this, and I am falling in love with this new place we now call home.
  45. Sometimes, Joel and I would watch a TV series together on Netflix for a little evening entertainment after the kids went to bed. We were in the middle of one when he died that I struggled to go back to watching. I have since been able to finish the series. That might seem silly, but it was important to me to complete something we started together.
  46. My special-needs daughter has been very matter-of-fact about her daddy’s death. She knows he died. She knows he’s in Heaven. But, I’ve never seen much emotion out of her (which might be a blessing, in part, due to her disabilities). However, just last week…she came up to me and said out-of-nowhere, “I miss daddy.” Although they hurt, those words were a joyful sound to my ears.
  47. #TeamStirewalt was created. A group of new friends and strangers who lavished practical love upon us!
  48. One of the things Austyn has missed most since daddy went to Heaven is his wrestling matches with him. He’s tried to get his brothers to participate, but it usually leads to arguments or someone getting hurt. Since I’ve been unable to do much physical activity, it’s been out of the question for me. However, just the other night, I was able to have a “mini-match” with my little man, and the joy that erupted from his heart from something so seemingly simple was beautiful to see.
  49. Damaris (our short-term nanny) has poured herself into our family, and I’ve learned to let someone else “take over” things that I would normally never relinquish doing.
  50. I have a renewed longing for my eternal Home of Heaven.

I know the posts over these two days have been much longer than normal, but I really wanted to focus on 100 blessings to celebrate Joel’s 100 days in Heaven. It’s hard to shorten the word count for such a thing. Thank you for taking the time to read them and join us in this celebration, of sorts.

#HeIsStillGood