Friday, August 4, 2017

Parenting from Heaven

ParentingParenting. Ahhhh…the joys, the pains, the mistakes, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe my Bulgarian children have been home just a few months shy of two years. I vividly remember those first few days with them in our apartment in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital). I was in tears virtually every single night. I thought, “What have we done?” Those early days (especially those in-country) were hard.

I remember communicating with friends back home who had walked similar paths, and they assured me it would get better. At the time, I thought we would never climb out of the pit we were in. But, they were right…it did get easier. Not easy…but easier.

Initially, Joel and I discovered many bad habits that had to be “un-done”. Now try to imagine doing that when speaking two different languages. Even so, we had to be consistent from the start. It’s hard for me to conceive now, but I had a very difficult time with Josiah (my now 9-year-old) initially. He would do anything Joel asked him to do, but basically laughed in my face whenever I said anything to him. For those of you who have had the privilege of meeting my son, you know that’s nothing like the young man you’ve met. But, I’m telling you…he was a different little boy back then.

Joel could tell Josiah to listen to me or to do something I was trying to get him to do, and he would obey Joel. But me…I got nothing out of him but more arrows flying to my already broken heart. I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much.

It wasn’t long before our translator, a native Bulgarian, explained that in the Roma culture, women aren’t respected, and the Roma boys are taught they don’t have to respect them. Even so…that was unacceptable, and that paradigm had to shift.

Joel immediately started teaching Josiah to respect me. It got better when we were back in the United States, but we still had a long road ahead of us. When Josiah’s understanding of the English language improved, his behavior towards me (and his younger sister) improved greatly. I remember one day Josiah and Katerina got into argument about something silly. The argument quickly grew a little more heated, and Joel and I witnessed him hit his sister. That did it. We’re not raising a bully!

I immediately went to a sobbing Katerina to try and comfort her, and Joel took Josiah outside for a “man-to-boy” chat. By the time they were finished talking, Josiah walked into the house and went over to Katerina to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Then, Joel asked Josiah to share with me the things we learned.

“I never hit girls.”

“Mommy is just as important as Daddy.”

“I treat girls with love.”

“I love my sister and need to protect her.”

There were other items mentioned, but those were the big ones. And, honestly, after that conversation…to my knowledge, Josiah has never hit another girl. He’s certainly not perfect and has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to relationships with people, but I know that lesson was drilled into him.

Fast forward to last week. I was in the hospital, and my long-time friend, Kandi, was at the house taking care of the children for me. She called me after the kids had gone to bed and said she just had to share something with me. She relayed a conversation between Josiah and Austyn that occurred at the dinner table earlier that evening…

A: “I got in trouble today.”

J: “What did you do Austyn?”

A: “I had to go to timeout, because I hit ________.”  (I don’t remember her name, but it was a little girl in his preschool class.)

J: “Austyn! You know we never, ever hit girls. Never! Okay?”

Austyn nodded.

J: “Now, I want you to back to school tomorrow and tell her you’re sorry and won’t do it again.”

Austyn agreed, and the scolding by his big brother ended. After Kandi finished relaying the story to me, I smiled through tears up in my hospital room, and I shared, “That was from Joel. He made sure Josiah and Benjamin understood that boys don’t hit girls, and men don’t hit women.” Now…Josiah was reminded of that teaching and passed it along to his littlest brother.

Even from Heaven, Joel’s legacy lives on strong, and his parenting continues to shine boldly through our home.

#WeAreNotForgotten

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother’s Day Crisis Averted

This is certainly not a “picture perfect pose” for Mother’s Day. Just keeping it real…

As you may have realized from my last post, I was most hesitant about my first Mother’s Day without Joel. He was so good to me in this area of honor, and while I don’t deserve anything…he always made me feel very special.

I was most concerned about my littlest ones. First of all, Josiah understood it was a special day for mothers, but the others just didn’t get it. At. All. That being said, I didn’t know if I would be experiencing a day of temper tantrums and bad behavior (like can be common on an unstructured weekend day), or if by some miracle…they would be perfect little angels. Let’s say…they fell somewhere in between. But…I’ll take it!

Outside of that, my day was very special. No breakfast in bed, but we ate a quick bite before church nonetheless.

I either saw or heard from every single one of my kiddos and “bonus children”. Anna made it home from college by Sunday afternoon and made my request for a Mother’s Day meal…tacos! I’ll never turn down Mexican food! She also worked with her little siblings so that all of them signed a card for me…precious! And…Anna’s gift melted me heart and turned on the tears, as it was a framed pic of Joel, Anna, and me from her high school graduation a couple years ago.

My bonus daughter, Amy (Joel’s oldest child), was at our house a few times over the last month, and she worked with Josiah (in secret) to have gifts here and ready to pass along on the special day. She also sent cards in the meal, along with Justin and Virginia, and I cried and cried (happy tears) upon reading each one.

The kids also presented their gifts they made for me at school and even church that very morning, and what a special joy to receive. They were so excited to give them to me!

The day was complete later in the evening when I received phone calls from both Aaron and Caleb, out in Oklahoma (Joel’s youngest two sons). My heart was full with the love I received from all nine of our children.

Yes – it was a hard day. But…it was also a beautiful day. Even on the hard days…#HeIsStillGood!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Trying to Avoid the Mother’s Day Blues

He had a way of making every holiday special. While decorating for the major holidays as always been “my thing”, Joel made sure I felt loved and treasured on even the minor holidays.

Mother’s Day.

It hurts to type those two words. It brings with it pain on many levels…some of those reasons I choose not to even speak of here, as it doesn’t edify anyone. However, since 2011, Mother’s Day has been an even harder holiday for me to muster. I buried Chris on Mother’s Day. I can only imagine the pain his own mother feels on this day each year.

This year…the loss of Joel and his precious ways of making me feel like a princess will be most notably missed. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t need to feel like a princess. I don’t need to be doted over. I don’t need a holiday dedicated to the fact I’m a mother. But…Joel sure knew how to make me feel like royalty, and he had begun teaching the children to do the same thing. It was truly an everyday teaching in our home. He taught them to love and respect me, and while he didn’t have long with our littlest ones, I know the groundwork had begun. Mother’s Day, however, was just the day set aside to allow me to rest and feel loved on even more.

I can tell my children Sunday is Mother’s Day. And…we’ll call Grandma to be sure. But…that’s where it ends. I don’t know if they’ll get it. I don’t know if they’ll be nice or give me a hard time all day long. I don’t know if rest will be in the equation, or if I’ll be exhausted from having to referee arguments. To them…it’s just another day without their daddy here to emphasize it. I don’t blame them. I don’t blame God. It is what it is.

If there are single moms, especially with young children, that cross your path this weekend…remember this might be a difficult holiday for them. Show them some extended grace, an extra smile, and offer up a prayer on their behalf. Any of those acts might make all the difference between a difficult Mother’s Day and a great Mother’s Day.

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I’ve Been Doing This All Wrong!

In one of my favorite devotionals I tend to read year-after-year, Jesus Calling, I was nailed with this one yesterday morning…

Do not long for the absence of problems in your life. That is an unrealistic goal, since in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33). You have an eternity of problem-free living reserved for you in heaven. Rejoice in that inheritance, which no one can take away from you, but do not seek your heaven on earth. 

That last phrase knocked me right between the eyes…

“but do not seek your heaven on earth.”

That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing since Joel abruptly went to Home to Heaven nearly three months ago.

I’ve been doing everything I can to make Heaven feel very, very close. Especially for my children. I don’t want them to be afraid of death, but I also don’t want them to miss out on this life while we have it. Balancing the two is tough when the one we love the most (second to Jesus) is in our eternal Home.

I tell friends all the time, “I LONG for Heaven.” Not in the sense I’m speaking morbidly and wish my life would end. Not at all. Rather, I long for this earthly chaotic mess to be transformed, which it will be when Christ returns and for me to be transported Home. THAT…I long for. I long for my eternal Home. And…watching this world get darker and darker and now not having my precious Joel by my side to share my struggles and dreams with; to plan out our days and future; to encourage each other; and to cuddle up beside him each night, feeling safe and secure in the comfort only his arms would bring…oh, how I long for Heaven!

I know God isn’t finished with me yet, or I’d be there already. I still have children that need to know Him as Savior. I still have a purpose He wants me to fulfill. While I know these things to be true…I still LONG to be with Him forever and to be reunited with my loves who have gone before me. Oh what a glorious day that will be!

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!