Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It’s Less Than Six Months Away – Joel’s Tree

Joel's TreeFor those of you who journeyed with me down Grief Road after losing my husband Chris, you might recall the “Chris Tree” we constructed together. By far, it was one of the most memorable joy-filled events of that first year of widowhood. I knew that first Christmas without him would be very difficult, and having a memorial tree dedicated to Chris and all those things which made up his personality, helped to make that Christmas very special to me.

As a result, I knew I just had to do the same thing for Joel! As a matter of fact, I’ll have both trees up these year, along with our family tree (can you tell how much I love to decorate for Christmas?)! Now…this is where you come in. When I did this before, I invited others to participate in the construction of the “Chris Tree” by finding ornaments that went along with a list of suggestions I came up with. I would love to do the same thing for my “Joel Tree”. I’ll provide a list of suggested ornament themes below, and I would love it if you would join us in adorning his memorial tree. The ornaments don’t have to be new. They could be yard sale or consignment store finds. If you’re crafty, feel free to make something. I’m happy to provide my mailing address to anyone that chooses to participate, just drop me an email at leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com letting me know you need it. Feel free to send in ornaments anytime, but I’d like to have them no later than November 1, otherwise the busyness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will soon be upon us.

Here is a list of ornament categories (in no particular order), but if God places something else on your heart…that’s okay too.

  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Outdoorsman
  • Grandpa with kids
  • Dad with kids
  • Coach
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Carolina Tarheels
  • High Point, NC
  • Beach
  • Bulgaria
  • Woodworking
  • J – initial ornaments
  • Jesus – Cross
  • Bible
  • Hospital worker (scrubs)
  • Radiation therapist
  • Ping pong
  • Pool table, cue sticks, etc.
  • Horses
  • Horseback riding
  • Cows
  • Cowboy
  • Farmer
  • Country boy
  • Marines (Joel and his dad)
  • Air Force (Joel’s son, Justin)
  • The number 15 to represent his 9 children, 2 children-in-love, 2 grandbabies, Joel, and Leah!
  • Family – names or initials of his wife and children (Leah, Amy, Wes, Noelle, Micah, Justin, Virginia, Caleb, Anna, Aaron, Josiah, Katerina, Benjamin, and Austyn)
  • Skydiver
  • Jesse – baby in Heaven
  • Sports
  • Bible verses
  • Orphans
  • Photo ornaments with his picture
  • Personalized ornaments with his name
  • AWANA (he was AWANA Commander and very active when his bio children were younger)

I can’t tell you how meaningful this will be to my family and me and will help to take the “sting” out of not having Joel/Daddy/Pawpaw with us this year. May God bless you, in advance, for your simple act of kindness to my grieving heart! Feel free to email me with any questions (leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com). Christmas will be here before we know it!

#HeIsStillGood

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Struggling Single Parent

single parent

I’ve really been struggling to post lately. Let me rephrase that…

I’ve been struggling. Period.

This season of my grief journey has blindsided me a bit. I should have seen it coming. Unlike most widows or widowers, I’ve sadly been down this road before. I learned during my first grief episode all about the non-linear aspect of grief (much to my disappointment). I’m the type of person that likes to check a box…that feeling of accomplishment…and then move on to the next task. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way with grief. Just when I think I’ve made some headway, I feel like I’m back to square one. There’s nothing, in particular, which causes that, making it even tougher to predict. Sometimes it can be a series of things that catapults me backwards (or what feels like a backwards move to me). Even so…it’s where I’ve been since returning from my amazing trip to the Outer Banks.

For me, the single parenting aspect of this grief journey has been the toughest, by far. Not only do I still have our four youngest children at home, but we had adopted all four of them within just a little over a year prior to Joel’s death (and the adoption of one wasn’t complete until four months prior to his death, although we had parented him the longest). With adoption, there are significant challenges in and of themselves that often make two-parent families curl up in a ball in a corner at times. It’s tough friends. We were highly educated for this. We knew what we could face, and we had been not only surviving it but truly thriving (even on the difficult days). And, with God’s help…we were doing it…TOGETHER! Now…I’m both mommy and “daddy” to them. And, let me tell you, I do NOT make a good “daddy”.  I know I’m not the only single parent in the world. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children who just lost their daddy too (truly, I’m not). But, knowing that, although comforting in a twisted sort of way, doesn’t take away my real day-to-day needs.

Most of those are needs that can only be met by God Himself: parenting wisdom, loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, emotional and physical drain, and much more. I am often asked, “What do you need?” Truly…I can’t answer that question most of the time. Due to my physical and emotional exhaustion…I can’t think past the next moment many times. I continue to say the greatest gift you can do is seek the Lord with that question and simply do whatever He instructs you to do. He knows our every need. For example, just two nights ago, I received a phone call from an Asheville friend who felt urged to simply give me a call. That phone call was such a blessing to me. It was simply full of encouragement, understanding, and listening (even through my tears). She didn’t pretend to understand what I am walking through, but she understood pain. She understood grief. She understood parenting challenges. And…she understood in spite of my worst day, God is still central to everything I believe.

Even on these very difficult days I’ve been experiencing lately, I still say with everything in me…He. Is. Still. Good. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough, of sorts. I’m still waiting for come consecutive good days. I’m still waiting for God’s favor in many areas in which I’ve been consistently praying. Even if I don’t see these things for awhile, and even if I don’t see the answers in the way in which I expect them to be received…I believe with everything in me…

He. Is. Still. Good.

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