Monday, May 8, 2017

His “Go Girl”

Joel always called his first-born, his precious daughter Amy, his “go girl”. I’ll be honest…I never asked the meaning behind the name. So, I don’t know what it meant between the two of them. But…she is definitely a go woman!

As another first-born, I can resonate greatly with many of the things Amy does, as there are many commonalities among first borns. She’s a great leader among her family. Although, her only biological siblings are boys, she still has the position of “leader” among her brothers, possessing that first-born status.

I remember the first time I met Amy…she was quite respectful of her dad’s new fiancee, as we met after Joel had already proposed to me. I’m sure it had to be an awkward moment (or season, in general). For me, I felt like I was going into this family as an underdog with a lot to “prove”, but Amy never made me feel that way. She and her husband, Wes, already had their first child – precious Noelle – who was 9 months old when I first met her. I fell in love with the little girl who would one day call me Grandma Leah for the first time and completely melt my heart. She still has the ability to do that (along with her little brother, Micah).

Amy has always treated me with respect, honor, and with great friendship. When I came onto the scene…she was already a happily married, adult woman and mother and didn’t need any mothering herself, but I was thrilled to gain a new friend…who just happened to be the first born of my new husband-to-be.

I could go on-and-on about the many exemplary qualities of Amy…incredible wife, stay-at home mom, part-time employee, crafty chica, follower and disciple of Christ, wise and loving big sister, athletic, free-spirited, and selfless in the way she cares for others…especially her family.

When I knew her daddy’s health was taking a downward turn, she asked me over the phone if she should come to the hospital (a 3 hour drive away from her home), and I said, “Yes!”. I didn’t know then he would be leaving us so soon for his heavenly home, but I knew his health was serious enough to have his “Go Girl” nearby…just in case. And…selfishly…I needed her there as a buffer for her brothers. I didn’t have the emotional capability to be strong any longer, and I knew she’d be able to communicate to them on my behalf.

And communicate she did.

She had the wisdom to FaceTime two of her brothers in from Oklahoma and another from London, England so that they could all be present when their daddy took his final breath on earth. As heartbreaking as it was to watch and be present for, I’m so thankful she offered that gift to her brothers.

Amy is strong…emotionally and physically. I’ll never forget the day she asked me if she could be a pall bearer for her daddy. I’ll be honest, I never even thought to offer that to her. I guess I’m of the old school thinking that men typically fulfill that role, but when she asked me…I knew “of course” Joel’s Go Girl needed to help carry him to his final resting place on this earth. It broke my heart but made me proud, all at the same time.

Amy is in the far back right position

Yesterday…she did it again. She and her family were at our house this weekend. I mentioned a patch of grass that was inadvertently missed the other day when a friend came to mow our grass. She quickly offered to do it herself and to take Austyn with her. I mentioned to her, “You know…the last time your dad mowed this grass, he took Austyn with him, and he fell asleep on his lap.” And…you know what…he did the same yesterday with his big sister.

I can’t thank God enough for this precious woman. The fact that she’s my step-daughter (I prefer to say “Bonus Daughter”) is just icing on the cake, but she’s a great friend, a loving big sister, and incredible wife and mother, and she’ll always be her daddy’s Go Girl!

I love you Amy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My First Easter Without Him

As I vividly remember from my first widow journey, those immediate twelve months following the passing of a loved one is full of “firsts”. The first Christmas without him, the first Valentine’s Day, anniversary, Thanksgiving, etc. Sunday was my first Easter without my beloved Joel. It was, let’s just say…an interesting day. I’ll try to put it into words, but honestly…I’m not sure I totally can.

It started out a little rough on Saturday night with me setting out the Easter baskets for the kids. I was so upset, as they were the puniest Easter baskets I’d ever put together. Had it not been for a friend who sent the kids some little gifts in the mail, specifically for their baskets, they would have been even punier. It was virtually impossible for me to get out and shop while trying to recover from three foot surgeries. I went out Friday to one store for less than 30 minutes after getting my stitches out and grabbed what I could. The pain was horrendous in that short amount of time.

Then the Easter clothes. What Easter clothes? I would have loved to doll them up for the “official” first outfit of spring that typically coincides with Easter. They would have loved their new clothes. Instead, I dug in their closet to try to find something that would work and shoes that would still fit (that was the bigger dilemma).

I also planned to do an Easter egg hunt for the kids on Saturday before my adult daughter had to leave to go back to school, but I had her busy doing so many other things while she was home, and I never got around to asking her to fill the eggs with some sort of goody, let alone hide them in preparation for the hunt. I’m simply not ambulatory enough to do that right now.

A friend picked up the egg coloring kits for me, because I was determined to at least do that with the children. Guest what? That didn’t happen either, because I forgot to get the eggs to boil, and by the time I remembered…it was too late.

So, Easter hadn’t even arrived yet, and I was already feeling quite down over the fact I felt like a holiday mom “failure” – puny baskets, no new Easter outfits, no egg coloring, and no egg hunt.

Then comes Sunday…

Much like THE Resurrection Day over 2000 years ago, God’s grace rained down on me!

The kids woke up and found the baskets and were elated with what the “Easter bunny” brought them. They acted like every little thing they pulled out of their baskets was the best thing ever. Thank you God for your amazing grace!

We went to High Point (about an hour and a half away) to spend the holiday with my in-laws. We had a wonderful church service, followed by a delicious lunch, and then…my mother-in-law planned an Easter egg hunt for the kids!!! Another act of God’s grace. They still got to hunt eggs and had a blast!

Now…for the interesting part…I struggled emotionally all day. I didn’t want to have a meltdown and ruin everybody’s holiday. So, I worked really hard at controlling my emotions. In doing so, I essentially felt numb virtually all day. No tears. For that, I was thankful, but it was simply odd. I felt like I simply “floated” through the day. I went through the motions of the day, but that was just it. I couldn’t “feel”. It was a very hard day, and yet…my emotions were in “lockdown” in a way.

My mother-in-law gave me a HUGE gift by offering to keep the children for three days of their spring break (they’ll be home later today). So, when it was time for me to leave for the day to head home, I left alone. And when straight to the cemetery. My MIL told me the marker arrived the week before, and I wanted to see it, and I hadn’t been to the cemetery since the day we buried Joel’s earthly body. It was long-overdue for me, especially considering I was there every single day after my last husband died (but, Joel isn’t buried in the same town in which I live now).

I drove towards the cemetery, expecting to have a meltdown when I got there and saw his beautiful marker. I was so pleased to see it, however. It looked just as beautiful as I had hoped. I took lots of pictures…of his marker (our marker)…the raised area where his casket was buried but the ground is still settling, and the area beside him where mine will one day go.

His daddy is buried right above him, and his mother has a plot there too. It’s a beautiful cemetery with a precious pond just below Joel’s spot. Before going any further…I know Joel’s spirit is already with the Lord…it happened the moment he took his final breath in this life and entered the next. The cemetery is mostly for those of us left behind, but I also want to have a place set aside for him that brings me comfort, and this place does.

Surprisingly…the “numbness” continued. No tears. I talked a little, but no tears! I felt there was a load of them ready to unleash, but I didn’t know when. For whatever reason, it wasn’t then. I stayed for a little while, and then got back in my car and headed back home.

After I finally settled in for the night…ready to read, listen to worship and praise music, elevate my leg all over again…I felt only one thing “nothingness”. I hated that feeling. I was in a perfect place to grave, and I felt an unleashing of grief tears was just upon me. And…I felt they would come soon, especially since I was along. But they didn’t. I simply went to bed. And a new day began, but it was MUCH, MUCH different. Stay tuned…

 

 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Gentle Tap

Weekday mornings were always a struggle for Joel and me to greet with great enthusiasm. We brought this dilemma upon ourselves, as we typically stayed up entirely too late the night before doing projects in our new home, unpacking (yes…I’m still doing so after six months), or watching whatever TV series we were into at the time on Netflix. Whatever the reason, we became “Night Owls”, by default which led to early morning wake-up struggles.

Joel was not a fan of the snooze button. He didn’t want to become a slave to it, so he always turned his alarm off as soon as it went off the first time and then began the “chore” of waking me up. Now…don’t get me wrong…I’m fully capable of waking up (with an alarm) on my own, but I also knew my hubby was right beside me, and it was a lot more fun being awakened by him each morning than that obnoxious noise coming from my phone.

He would begin by simply moving in closer to me and maybe put his arm around me. That always woke me up, but it certainly didn’t give me the desire to get up (although I didn’t tell him that)…it made me want to snuggle in all that much deeper and lay there for as long as I could.

If that didn’t cause me to get up (and, it rarely did), he would start gently tapping me on my shoulder. Depending on my response, the gentle taps might lead to firmer taps which would ultimately lead to annoying back-to-back taps. If I ever got to that point, I knew I pushed the limit a bit too far and better put some speed to my movements and get going. But, he never yelled at me or pushed me to get up…aways gentle. The price was always mine to pay if I chose to wait to the zero hour to actually start getting ready, but in hindsight, I can say it was always 100% worth it, because I never realized how soon I’d lose him and that precious morning ritual. I’d do almost anything to get that back and Joel, too, of course.

You can only imagine my surprise yesterday morning. My alarm went off, and I pushed snooze. I knew I had one snooze built into my time before I had to go unlock the kitchen door to let my morning helper in to come get the kids ready for school. Suddenly, I felt that gentle tapping on my shoulder. It literally took my breath away. I whispered, “Joel?” Of course, no response. I turned to look to see if Austyn was awake, and he was sound asleep with his hands nowhere near my back or shoulder.

I just had to smile. Somehow…God gave me that gift yesterday morning. The tap on my shoulder. My wake up call. It may have been totally in my mind, but He allowed what was in my mind to manifest itself in the physical, and made Joel feel so near again. Oh how I needed that gentle tap yesterday morning. Thank you Father for being in the details!

#HeIsStillGood

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!