Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sucker Punched

I woke up alone in my bed and in my house for the first time since February 12. It was a rather eerie feeling, if I’m being completely honest…I didn’t like it at all. While I sometimes complain about my wiggly little 3-year-old bed buddy, he brings me a new level of comfort…at least for now. While I longed for some time away from my children so I could get some very important things done, distraction-free, I actually missed them…especially the sounds of their laughter, arguments, “mommy, mommy, mommy” calling, and the constant question, “May I have a snack?” I think our time apart, albeit difficult, was good for us both in many ways.

For me, I’ve been struggling to truly grieve. I’ve had a few moments, but nothing like I fear is around the corner. I don’t recall suppressing grief like I’ve done so often this time around, but I think I’m just trying to protect our children and not frighten them.

Sometime Tuesday, late in the morning, after the home health nurse had already been here for the day, I was in my home office working on our our taxes (yes – at the last possible minute), something literally gnawed at my chest. I thought I might have been having a heart attack, or a panic attack (at minimum). I couldn’t catch my breath. I literally felt I had been sucker punched and held up against the wall and couldn’t move, and then I sensed that inner voice saying quite clearly…

Let it go, Leah. Let it all go.

I knew the Holy Spirit was trying to get me to cry. I could sense the tears welling up in my eyes. I could feel a painful, burning sensation all over my body, as I tried to keep it at bay, at least for now. But, the voice wouldn’t stop.

Let it go, my child. I will catch every tear. I want you to be real with Me!

I no longer could hold back. My shoulders started heaving, the tears starting flowing at a very fast rate, I started violently shaking, and then I began to loudly moan. That was soon followed by words…questions…affirmations…doubts coupled with things I knew to be sure. I was literally screaming as I walked from room to room in this house. Things like,

“I’m almost to the 10-week mark, Lord, and I feel I’m getting nowhere.”

…heaving sobs

“I’m just so, so sad. I feel like nothing can pull me out of this deep, dark depression. You could drop a million dollars onto my lap, and I’d be happy for you to take it back, because it’s meaningless to me right now. It won’t bring my Joel back.

…dropping to the floor, banging my fist over and over onto the hardwoods

“You’ve got to help me God! I don’t know what to do next. Each step hurts.”

…laying down briefly and rolling from my back to my side over and over

“This pain is more than I can bear. You’ve asked me to endure so much, Lord. So, so much! When is it going to stop? Is this my lot in life? Just one trial after another? Please, Lord…when will you allow me to catch my breath?”

The questions stopped, and I crawled back into my recliner and sobbed, loud moaning sobs. I don’t know when they ended. But, when they did, I was spent. I crawled into bed and went sound to sleep.

I think God brought me right to the place where He wanted me. To a place of anger, hurt, and the ability to simply grieve…REAL, long-overdue grief. It’s not over. The pain is still fast upon me. I ache. I hurt all over. At times, I’m very productive. At others, I do nothing but sit. But…He knows…

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

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…

 

 

Friday, April 14, 2017

It Used to Be My Favorite Day of the Year

As bizarre as this may sound, Good Friday used to be my favorite day of the year. I always felt I truly couldn’t celebrate Easter without having experienced Good Friday. No Resurrection without a death…right?

I always found a Good Friday service to attend, which would help set the mood to usher in the rest of Easter Weekend. I loved the somberness of the day…not in a morbid sort of way. Simply, I wanted to try to experience even a fraction of the pain the followers of Christ felt on that Crucifixion Day. And, I wanted to rejoice, even among the sorrow, when Christ said “It is finished” shortly before his final statement and final breath. I knew the end result…the pain of the day would lead to rejoicing on the third day when the grave was found empty! Death had been conquered forever! I knew the end result…the followers on the day Christ was crucified didn’t. I knew victory was around the corner…but, they had to wait for that major pronouncement. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the darkest day in history…the day death died.

Today…Good Friday…doesn’t provide quite the same emotion for me as many from prior years. I’ve lived in a “state of somber” for nearly nine weeks now. I still know the truth of what this day symbolizes…

  • Christ paid the ultimate penalty for my sin, allowing me the opportunity for life eternal with Him
  • His ultimate death ushered in the day eternal death died
  • Easter is coming!
  • Because of His ultimate sacrifice, I have the promise of spending eternity with both Joel and my previous husband (Chris) who went to Heaven already – along with many other believing family members and friends
  • I no longer fear death!!!

For me, however, the beauty of the “somberness” of this day simply invades the broken spaces of my soul in a new way. I know the truth (like I mentioned above), but the feeling it evokes (which used to bring me peace) just makes me sad today. Does this make any sense? I’m having a hard time even understanding my own feelings, I think. The best way I can express it…I am weary from being sad all the time. I long for joy to return and happiness to fill those empty crevices of my soul. That being said, today feels so sad. I want to just skip ahead to Sunday. But, that’s impossible…we can’t have the Resurrection without the death. The same was true for Joel. He couldn’t reach Heaven without dying first. I just wasn’t ready for him to go…

Forgive me Lord for not being able to allow the sadness of the day evoke feelings of everlasting joy for what you’ve done for me on the cross. I am eternally grateful. Today, however, I’m still aching, and the hurt is so heavy. Show me a glimpse of the joy you have prepared me for eternally. I need to see hope today. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Gift from Romania

Learning how to parent my four youngest children alone has been one of the hardest things to try to figure out since Joel went to Heaven. This is not an easy crew to parent, friends. Or…maybe they’re easy, and I’m the messed up one. Regardless, it’s been extremely hard!

These children are grieving – each in their own way. They are trying to figure out what it’s like to have me as their only parent. They test me. They disobey me. They ignore me. But, they also lavish me with love in their own special, individual ways. Two have diagnosed special needs, and I’m convinced one of the other two does as well…just not yet diagnosed. They were a challenge for both Joel and I to raise together, but this puts solo parenting into an entirely new dimension. And…honestly…there are very few people out there who truly understand what I’m going through. So, that makes this road feel even lonelier. But…God knows…I have to keep reminding myself of that. He’s actually parenting all of us!

You can only imagine, then, when I had not one…not two…but three unexpected and urgent foot surgeries in March how truly out-of-commission I became. I was literally frightened. Not because of the physical trauma I was facing. No – I honestly didn’t know how I would be able to care for my children from crutches and a wheelchair. How would I be able to drive them to/from school and daycare when I have to keep my foot elevated in a chair during the bulk of my waking hours? What now God?

It would be an understatement to say the church we’ve found in our new town…actually they found us…has been nothing short of amazing! As soon as they received word of the loss of my husband and the fact we just moved here in October, the recent adoption of our four youngest children, and the fact I’ve now been widowed twice by the age of 45…they stepped in and have tried to meet every single need imaginable. You truly wouldn’t believe it. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when they started trying to figure out a plan for meeting my kids’ needs too. With some help from my mother-in-law at various times as well, the church filled the remaining gaps with various women. They would arrive at my house at 6 am to wake up the children, get them ready for school and then take them to their school and daycare. After the morning drop-offs, they’d stop back by the house to literally wait on me hand and foot (no pun intended)…make breakfast, coffee, freshen up the house…whatever was needed. They’d return again in the afternoon to do the pick-up run, feed the children (and me) supper, give baths, and help put the children to bed. They were amazing!!! The only drawback we all noticed was that it was very hard on the children having various people in and out all the time. They really needed consistency. I, and many others, started praying for a consistent “nanny-type” person to be able to do the entire job, and I had enough donations given for this specific purpose to cover two weeks, but I couldn’t go beyond that. At the time, we thought two weeks would be sufficient. That was before surgery number three…the one that landed me with a wound vac and even less mobile.

God did provide a nanny, actually a group of 4 ladies from the same family that made it work for the two weeks originally requested. But, we knew we still needed one person who could commit to caring for my children – being my hands and feet – I’d still be a voice – for at least another three-four weeks. The dilemma – where would I find such a person, and how could I pay them? We are still having to be very financially cautious right now, and even more so with these initial medical bills and being out of work with an unknown return date, as of yet.

But, God… He had the perfect person in mind. We just didn’t know it yet.

Enter Damaris…

Damaris came recommended from a friend of a friend of a friend. And…get this…she’s Romanian! Romania is a neighboring country to Bulgaria! So, Damaris and my Bulgarian kiddos were neighbors when living across the world from where they are now! I find that so cool, and such a God-wink.

This precious young woman has such a servant’s heart, and her humility is unmatched. Not only has she come into our home with such ease and taken on every task handed to her…the biggest being that of caring for our crazy crew…she’s always asking if she can do more. She has definitely been a gift hand-picked by God to get us through this challenging time while I heal to the point of being able to do everything I was able to do before.

But, that’s not all. A group of people (I have no idea who they are) have raised enough money so far to pay for her for 3-4 weeks! What a gift, as I certainly don’t have that in my budget right now.

We love this precious woman already. She’s also a follower of Jesus Christ, as I am, so that’s just a bonus!

Here’s Damaris and her newest little friend, Katerina…

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