Monday, April 10, 2017

I Had to Wash the Sheets

If you happened to read an earlier post of mine about my sheets, you know I had no intention of washing them anytime soon. It was one of the last tangible links I had to my husband. We slept in those same sheets together the night before he entered the hospital. Although almost completely gone, I could still catch a small whiff of his scent through the sheets (or maybe it was just my imagination, but it still made him feel close). I vowed I wouldn’t wash the sheets until they were falling part or simply too scary to sleep in anymore. Sorry folks…I know that sounds gross (and, I’m a very clean person), but grief causes you to behave in ways you never dreamed possible before.

The sheets were holding up quite well until…

Remember me telling you about my “bed buddy” – Austyn? He’s been sleeping with me for several weeks now. Well…I guess he slept a little too soundly the other night and soaked his PullUp, pajamas, AND the sheets! The poor little guy certainly couldn’t help it, but I was so disappointed. However, I didn’t let him see that disappointment; I simply pulled the sheets off the bed and tossed them into the washing machine for cleaning. Another closed door.

My brain tells me this probably sounds completely ridiculous, but my heart knows it’s completely rational under the circumstances, and you have to do what you have to do to survive a tragedy such as this (especially having experienced a widow journey now TWICE).

It seems with every tangible change in this journey, there is a heart change that often accompanies it. Such has been the case with my sheet washing experience.

I’ve struggled so hard to believe Joel is really gone. I’m not crazy…I KNOW he’s gone. I was there when he took his last breath. I saw his lifeless body in the casket. I watched the casket lowered into the ground. I KNOW. However, the suddenness of it all, and the fact he was so full of life just in the days leading up to his brief illness makes this whole thing seem ludicrous. Like…HOW can this be so?

I think on that day I washed our sheets for the first time since he went to Heaven, my heart finally believed Joel isn’t coming back. He’s really gone. And, I wept…HARD…almost as hard as when I first heard the words he wasn’t going to make it. And, thus, my grief journey took another turn…

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Eight Weeks

It’s been eight weeks since Joel went home to Heaven. Eight weeks. I can’t believe he’s been gone that long. And yet…it’s really just been a short amount of time. I guess the days just feel so long. I haven’t reached the point in my grief journey yet where the days fly by. Oh…how I wish I were there.

Part of the reason is because of my temporary health crisis following my three foot surgeries in March. I’m still bound to a recliner for most of the day with a wound vac attached to my foot that has to remain elevated on two pillows for the bulk of the day. For some reason, God allowed this to happen and so soon after Joel’s death. I have yet to understand this. But, He is sovereign and knows the big picture. I trust Him completely. I still hurt.

I have way too much time on my hands sitting in this recliner. Too much time to think. Too many memories to drift back to, and too much time to cry. While crying can be healing, I feel like I do entirely too much of it. Every time someone comes to visit, and we start talking about my love, I can hardly get two to three words out before the tears start falling. I miss him terribly. Here they go again…I can’t write about him without crying. Unless you’ve been in similar shoes, there’s no way you can possibly understand this type of pain. I would rather someone cut off my leg…both of my legs, for that matter…than be without my best friend, my husband, my love, the daddy to our children. As harsh as that sounds, I can’t imagine how that type of pain could hurt this badly. Physical pain can heal…pain of the heart…always exists.

From experience, I know it won’t feel this painful all the time. I know there will be good days in my future. I know I’ll be able to genuinely smile and laugh again. I know my children will heal as well. I know my purpose in this pain will be established. I know God will use my pain. I know God will use Joel’s death for His glory.

While I know all of these things to be true…it doesn’t stop the ache I feel in the center of my core at this very time. I want it to go away. I hate feeling this way. I hate being this sad. I look for joy, because I long for it.

Oh God…Help me this day! Protect my bleeding and broken heart. Restore my joy! Show me something to smile about today. I desperately need You! My hurt is overwhelming me today. 

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Just Trying to Grasp It All

Long before I became a widow for the first time, I advocated for orphans heavily. I’d have to say before I truly grasped the biblical mandate to care for orphans and widows (God defines it as pure religion), He had already impressed upon my heart the yearning and clear calling to be a voice for the least of the these. Now…granted…my voice tended to sway heavily in the area of the orphan crisis, because it was easier for my mind to grasp, and children, in general, seemed to be easier ones for whom to advocate. And then I became one…

A widow, that is. My previous view of a widow had been blown to smithereens…the eighty-year-something, married a long time, two to three children, white-headed, blessed life…type of widow. Yes…I, too, put my stereotypical vision of a widow in a shallow box. Now, those women inside that box are precious too, and God gives us that same biblical mandate to care for them, but I didn’t go seeking those opportunities like I did the ones for orphans. I’m ashamed to admit that now, but I think it was, in part, ignorance to the needs around me and also intentional avoidance. In my mind, I was at least doing something for “part of the equation”…I advocated orphans for heavily…didn’t that count for something?

That mindset of mine changed abruptly on May 4, 20111 when I became a widow…at 39 years of age. No longer did I meet that pre-conceived notion and vision in my head of what a widow looks like. NOW…James 1:27 became extremely real to me, as I was one part of that mandate. And…suddenly…I got it! I not only got it, but I was quick to ask the Lord to never let me forget what this feels like (in case I wasn’t always a widow). I prayed often for Him to reveal to me how it is He wants us to care for widows, and, thankfully, He surrounded me with a group of people from my church and the church-at-large who DID get it and cared for me deeply. Through their actions, they boldly lived out James 1:27.

And again…after God so graciously blessed me with a beautiful new marriage to another incredible man who also got “it”! The command and calling on our lives to care for the least of these, especially orphans and widows. And…most of you know the rest of that story…we added, through adoption, four more children to our already blended nest of five, creating an incredibly beautiful nest of nine.

And…just when I think God had us in a sweet spot…I not only “survived” my widow experience, but God brought some incredible beauty out of those dull ashes through the gift of remarriage and an expanded family…yours, mine, and ours. He gave the gift of family to four orphans through international adoption and domestic foster to adopt. And…he expanded our hearts to love even deeper outside of our neatly “perfect box” with the red bow on top. I couldn’t wait to see what God would do with this new love story…one that I promised to use to glorify Him first and foremost.

Barely into figuring out our new “roles” in this expanded and beautiful family, February 12, 2017 was ushered into our lives quite abruptly, and I became a widow for the SECOND time at the age of 45. And…this time…it was drastically different. As I was now a widow of recently orphaned children who suddenly felt fear again of being orphaned all over again.

How do I begin to explain this one to our children, and even to myself, if truth be told? All I know is I suddenly found myself back in those deep waters again. The same ones from where Jesus reached for me, rescued me, and restored my life in a beautiful way.

That Jesus of mine…He’s the SAME…yesterday, today, and forever! While I may not have all the answers, I know the God that does. And…it’s in Him, I put my full trust. It’s in Him, I cling to for my next breath. And…it’s in Him, I expect another miracle of a life restored one day…in His timing. Until I see it with my eyes, I continue to believe…. #HeIsStillGood

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. ~James 1:27 (NLT)

If you still feel led to tangibly help our family, click here for some suggestions on ways to do so. Or…just do whatever God lays on your heart to do. We are beyond grateful at how He continues to meet our daily needs!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I found sleep again

Joel and I used to crave sleep…well, rest in general. We worked our fannies off all week, and while weekends should include a day of rest, we often found ourselves packing our weekends so full of activity we’d look forward to the start of a new work week…just to find some “rest” again.

Shamefully, I admit I often operated on only 4-5 hours of sleep each night (and Joel often even less than that). We we were tormenting our bodies, at least in the category of rest, and we kept feeling pushed to stop the madness…and soon. However, the bad habits continued. With both of us working full-time jobs, the only time we had to ourselves to get anything done was after the children went to bed at night, so we often got re-energized at just the time we should have started unwinding for the day. These bad habits we created ended up training our bodies to keep up with the madness of our crazy lifestyle. Not good, and we knew it, but nothing stopped us at that point.

After Joel went home to Heaven, I initially struggled to sleep. I would close my eyes, and my mind would race with thoughts of him, the days and minutes leading up to his final breath, all the tasks that lay before me in the near future, all those goals we’d never achieve, and the list is endless. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so it was very difficult to “shut off” my brain long enough to rest.

Joel actually passed away soon after midnight on February 12. I stayed at the hospital for several more hours and eventually arrived back home somewhere between 3:30-4:00 am. That was my first attempt at trying to get a few hours of sleep. But, I failed. My mind knew I would be sharing with our children soon after they woke up that daddy went to live with Jesus. I kept replaying that scene over and over in my mind, and it literally broke my heart to think of how they might respond. As a result, I literally laid in our bed, tossing and turning without my husband beside me, waiting for daybreak or the sound of those little voices coming to greet me at the start of the new day.

After I was trampled with lots of mommy loves…hugs and kisses…I gathered my little chicks around me and shared the most difficult words I’ve ever had to share with them. The bad news: Daddy died. His frail body couldn’t overcome the sickness that took over. The best news: Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus and will one day see us again! My children clung to the “best news” I shared with them that morning. Daddy was with Jesus, and they would get to be with him again one day. Praise God for that gift! Since that initial conversation, they’ve struggled off and on, but they keep going back to that promise…because of a decision Daddy made when he was alive on this earth, he gets to live forever with Jesus in Heaven. And…as long as we’ve made that same decision, Heaven will be our forever Home too!

Within a few hours of that conversation, I fell asleep in the recliner in my living room. And…I slept HARD. It was as if all the emotional burnout had been spent, and it was time for my body to rest. I slept so hard I never even heard all the guests coming in and out of my home that Sunday afternoon to visit. Thankfully, they didn’t mind the sleeping widow in the corner of the room. Eventually I woke up, but I have discovered since that initial rest (the one in which I actually slept) following Joel’s Homegoing, that I sleep quite a bit now and a lot more often.

In part, the medication I’ve been on after each of my three foot surgeries in March helped to make me sleepy, but I also noticed, I gave up the fight. I no longer had the physical ability to stay up until all crazy hours of the night trying to get things done. I can only do so much, then it’s time to stop. Sleep soon follows. I only wish Joel and I discovered this “rest dance” before he left this world. I can only imagine how much more fulfilling our life could have been together and how much more God would have allowed us to accomplish.

My new routine…sleep, and when I wake, I seek the Lord for His next steps for me. It’s amazing how He has it all under control…when I seek Him first and OBEY His direction.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 (emphasis mine)

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!