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

Friday, June 2, 2017

My Chest is Wet with Tears

Lewis quote on painMy chest is wet with tears. When did they start? All it takes is a word I read, or a kind message of encouragement from a friend or stranger. Sometimes…it takes nothing at all. It’s grief. I had the privilege of loving deeply (more than once), so losing the object of that love makes it all the more evident.

Life has been a rollercoaster ride on Grief Road this week. The most amazing news of the week: my foot wound is finally closed!!! I have been released to return to work next Tuesday, and I can now shower without a trash bag taped around my foot and ankle. I’ve been doing this for nearly three months, so this is HUGE friends! Happy me!!!

However, one day prior to receiving my awesome foot news, I received a different type of news. Still medical, but different area of the body, different doctor…different issue. This time…it’s more serious (correctable, but serious), and I’ll share more as I’m able. Just. One. More. Thing. I keep asking God, “How much more?” I’m even more gun-shy now after having gone through a “correctable” procedure with Joel that turned out far differently than any of us could have imagined. I’m trying not to go there in my thinking, but it’s hard not to sometimes. And yet…God. Is. In. Control.

While I don’t know the reasons behind this horrific 2017, I know He’s Sovereign, and none of this has come as a surprise to Him and even passed through His hands first. I’m NOT saying God caused it. I AM saying He allowed it. For what purpose? I’m not sure. Will I ever know? I’m not sure about that either. But, I know God’s plans are always better. Always. It certainly doesn’t look that way now, because I only see a smidgen of what He sees. My line of sight is narrow and dim, at best. He sees all.

Even through the pain, 45 years with lots of it, I still trust Him with my life. I wouldn’t want to go through heartache without Christ, and I honestly don’t know how people do it. I see why people turn to pills, alcohol, and other vices to “get through” life (not advocating for that, just understanding the “why”), especially the hardest parts of life. It’s tough with Christ, for me, it would be impossible without Him.

And yet..the tears still fall. He’s collecting each one, according to His Word. And, He’s working all of this “junk” out for my good, because I’ve been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Would you continue to pray for me and my family please, as God brings us to your mind? We need all the “gap-standers” we can get. And…you know what…we need a peaceful break from the “hard things” for a little while. May I ask for prayer for that too please? Thank you all!

#HeIsStillGood

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

100 Days – Part 1

You know the trend these days for teachers and their students to celebrate 100 days of school attendance? Typically the celebration involves bringing 100s of various items, and these various items might be used in math games, crafts, etc.

Today I celebrate a different set of 100 days. Today marks the 10oth day since Joel went to Heaven. He’s been in the physical presence of his our Savior for 100 days! Glory! In honor of this day, I’ve created my own “collection of 100”. We’ve had a lot of pain these last 100 days, but this list is to focus on all of the good and glorious things we’ve experienced first-hand or witnessed or heard about as a result of Joel’s death. Since this will end up being a much longer-than-normal post for me, I’m splitting it into two different posts. Today will reveal the first 50 of the 100 glorious and good experiences we’ve had since Joel went Home to Heaven 100 days ago. Check back tomorrow for the remaining 50!

  1. Two of Joel’s sons accepted Jesus as their personal Savior (Benjamin and Josiah)!
  2. All of our little children have been more inquisitive about Heaven and have no fear of death.
  3. God has continued to meet all of our financial needs.
  4. Our Asheville house sold (contract came two weeks after Joel’s death).
  5. We were gifted an all-expenses paid week of vacation to Walt Disney World this July.
  6. I’ve drawn closer to my bonus children (Joel’s bio children) since his death.
  7. Our yard has been mowed and weed-eated every week.
  8. Plants have been planted and the weeding of our natural areas has taken place.
  9. We’ve been fed meals since the day Joel went home to Heaven.
  10. We’ve had our house cleaned several times by friends and strangers.
  11. A group of men from a neighboring church came and cleaned out our garage on a major level.
  12. My bonus son and daughter and their spouses spent an entire weekend at our home doing all sorts of projects.
  13. One of our garage doors wouldn’t open, so a new friend simply fixed it.
  14. I’ve had a precious nanny to help with the children each weekday morning and evening for nearly two months, and it’s been completely funded by people, many of whom I’ve never met in person.
  15. A local church has taken us in and completely cared for us. They are living out God’s mandate for the church to care for widows (and orphans). They have shown love to us in many ways.
  16. God has been boldly teaching me some things from His Word about many of the things He’s working on in my life as a widow.
  17. Our pool was opened and taken care of at the start of the season by new friends in the area. (I’m slowly learning how to be a pool owner.)
  18. A local pool supply store has been so good to us and is working with me to try to save money at every angle. Such a personal touch and already considers me an “insider” and “friend” due to the others who have been there speaking on our behalf.
  19. The children LOVE their new school and have adapted very well.
  20. Katerina attended her first Special Olympics and won a blue ribbon.
  21. I’ve sold more copies of my Rescued and Restored book since Joel went to Heaven than all previously months combined.
  22. Josiah has really stepped up in his roll in our family. He’s an amazing big brother and really tries to help me out with the little kids. While his help is most needed, I also want him to simply be a kid, so we’re both learning balance in this area.
  23. I know the Lord deeper today than I did 100 days ago.
  24. When Joel died in February, I hardly knew anyone in this community. Now…my community of support in my new town nearly rivals my support in my hometown of Asheville. AMAZING!
  25. The temporary beds we had for Josiah and Benjamin when we moved in finally bit the dust. I found two new beds for them, and a group of guys were gracious enough to put them together for me/them!
  26. A precious work friend and her husband came and took the kids out for an afternoon at a local park so I could get some much needed “Mommy time”.
  27. Three separate families in Asheville kept my children for a weekend so that I could be available to work with my bonus kiddos on the house projects they drove from out of town to complete on our behalf.
  28. I had a wreck in April, but praise God nobody was seriously injured, as both vehicles were totaled!
  29. In addition to the many meals we’ve had provided, we’ve had a lot of freezer meals donated for both dinners and breakfasts.
  30. The kids have received some precious “just because” gifts to lift their moods.
  31. I received a gift bag containing 40 gifts, one to open each day – to provide encouragement in these dark days. I’m still in the middle of opening the gifts from this blessing!
  32. I’ve received an enormous amount of “thinking about you” cards! What a blessing for me to receive, as this is one of my major love languages.
  33. My mother-in-law kept my children for three days during Spring Break to allow me time to have to myself and to be able to get some things done that might be hard to do with little feet around.
  34. Flowers – another love language of mine. I’ve received them on my doorstep anonymously as well as brought in by new friends or sent by delivery service.
  35. Joel and I bought a trampoline for our family on Black Friday last year. He had planned to put it together this Spring. My precious son-in-law, Wes, put it together for our family instead.
  36. A precious friend painted the most amazing painting of my husband and sent it to me as a gift. It now hangs in my office, and I smile each time I walk into that room.
  37. Another widow friend came to spend the weekend with my family and cooked meals for us, entertained the kids and spent time simply talking with me. Thank you LeAnn!
  38. My best friend, Kandi, came and spent every weekend with me until late April when we both had all kinds of crazy things going on. What a blessing to count on her presence each weekend…lonely and difficult times for me.
  39. A sweet friend organized a gift card drive for my family, and it was an enormous gift, and we continue to reap the blessings of her selfless efforts. Thank you Heather!
  40. Many ladies’ groups, families, small groups, and work groups have banded together to collect funds to help with the immediate financial needs as we work out the legal aspects of the loss of our Joel. What an immense blessing. This is in addition to the GoFundMe account that was set up on behalf of our family. We are astounded at how God is using so many people to care for us in these dark days.
  41. I’ve had the privilege of connecting with a financial advisor in my new church, who I feel very good about going to, and it doesn’t hurt that his wife has become a precious friend as well.
  42. Benjamin has learned to read, albeit basic, but he’s learning nonetheless…Joel would be so proud.
  43. Katerina can verbally spell her name now. That would be such music to Joel’s ears.
  44. Austyn wants to take care of his mommy as only a 3-year-old knows how to do. His reasoning…when daddy comes to “visit ” us…he’ll be so proud of Austyn. 🙁 Breaks my heart!
  45. Austyn’s 3rd birthday took place 9 days after his daddy went to Heaven. I had a special “Thomas the Train” party planned for him but failed to get it done on account of his daddy’s sudden death. My workplace stepped in and took care of my little boy with a precious party at Hickory Dickory Dock! He love it, and it blessed my heart to see him so happy and enjoying his special day.
  46. We had a similar situation happen again in March with Josiah. I just couldn’t physically and emotionally pull his party together. I had my third (unexpected) foot surgery the day before his party and two others earlier in the month. My precious bonus daughter, Amy, offered to plan and orchestrate the entire event. What a precious gift! Josiah (and the rest of the kids) had a blast!
  47. On two different occasions, a group of ladies planned a time of praise and worship and scripture reading at my house, during my most difficult days post-foot surgery recovery. It was a blessing to corporately worship the Lord together, especially since I was unable to travel to church at the time.
  48. I had the privilege of spending the morning with a previous elderly widow (now remarried after decades of being a widow). She and her second husband continue the missionary work begun by each of them in their previous marriages. She was such a blessing to have in my home. We both cried together, and her tears just glistened on her cheeks, as she smiled so largely each time she mentioned the Lord.
  49. Prayers of healing have been prayed over me in person and from afar from some of the most God-fearing individuals I’ve ever met.
  50. Automobile oil changes have been taken care of for me during my first weeks of this second journey of widowhood.

And that’s just the first half…

Reminder: check back here tomorrow to see how God has continued to bless our family even through this horrific tragedy. #HeIsStillGood

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nurse Tonya

Last week, I had a minor procedure done in conjunction with a series of tests to rule out some issues I’ve been having with severe nausea and eating difficulties. I know grief can cause a host of things to take place in our bodies, and I just assumed that’s what was happening. However, I met with my nutritionist a couple weeks ago, and she was a bit alarmed after some lab results and referred me to my doctor’s office for further evaluation. And…thus the tests began!

I was in the outpatient area of a hospital in Asheville, being prepared to be put to sleep briefly. My nurse, Tonya, was extraordinary…on so many levels. I could tell she spent more time than normal with me, and I couldn’t put my finger on the “why”, however at some point in our conversation…the fact I lost my precious husband in February came up. When I shared the news with her, you could see she was genuinely touched and her eyes welled up with tears.

She knew I was traversing a difficult journey, as it was, but to add in medical testing compounded the problem. He should have been the one there with me that day…my driver to take me home post an anesthesia appointment. Instead, a lovely new friend volunteered to be at my house at 5:00 am that morning to drive me to Asheville and stay at the facility until time to take me home. What love from someone I barely know! And yet…I grieved my Joel that much more, knowing it should have been him.

As a result, I was weepier than normal. I was in the prep room with my nurse and not my husband, and when she got the story of my husband’s death…we both cried. But that wasn’t the end…she asked to pray for me. That happens a lot in hospital settings from chaplains and visiting pastors but from my nurse…that was a new one for me! She was interrupted twice by medical professionals needing to talk with me prior to my procedure, but she pressed on, and eventually she prayed the most beautiful and powerful prayer over me! I was so blessed that day to be her patient, and I commend her for trusting her instincts and the Holy Spirit guidance she received that morning to spend more time with me and to ultimately pray with me.

Last week was “Nurses Week”, and I was blessed by Nurse Tonya. She’ll probably never read this, as I don’t even know her last name. But, she impacted my day in a large way, and I pray God blesses her mightily for her obedience!

As for the tests, I know nothing yet. So, I’ll keep on keeping on…

#HeIsStillGood