Thursday, June 8, 2017

Changes…Big Ones…Are Coming – God Put the Bookends Up on Another Season

changes are comingBig changes are coming friends! As if our family needs anything else…right? Joel’s death, my three back-to-back foot surgeries, my car accident resulting in a totaled car, and adjusting to life as a single parent of four young children. What else you might ask? Isn’t that enough? Yes! I totally agree with you. But, this time…it wasn’t totally up to me.

To bring you up-to-speed with the calendar of events as they’ve unfolded:

Feb 9 – Joel was admitted to the hospital

Feb 12 – Joel went Home to Heaven

Mar 10 – Leah’s tarsal tunnel release surgery

Mar 15 – Leah’s planned return to work date

Mar 17 – Leah’s 2nd emergency foot surgery (unable to return to work – foot complications complete with a baseball-sized blood clot)

Mar 31 – Leah’s 3rd emergency foot surgery (wound vac installed – no work anytime soon); home health nursing every other day

Apr 13 – Leah’s car accident – totaled Joel’s car

May 18 – Upper endoscopy

May 19 – Upper GI

May 30 – Results from May 18 and 19 procedures appear to be leading to another surgery (NOT foot related this time, Hallelujah!)

June 6 – Released from foot surgery drama to return to work at the radio station (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association owned station)!!!

Sounds complicated but pretty cut-and-dry at the same time, right? Well…not exactly.

I need to give you a little bit of the back story first.

I’ve worked at 106.9 the Light, based in Asheville, NC since May, 2011. However, I volunteered for the station for seven years prior to that (and was a devoted listener for many, many years prior to that). Let’s say we go back a long time. In 2007, I interviewed for a position with the ministry, and was offered the position at the station. I was all ready to accept the position when I sensed a nudging from the Holy Spirit saying, “Not yet.” I really tried to ignore Him, but the nudgings didn’t stop. I really wanted this position. It was my dream job in my dream organization. But, God made it clear…it wasn’t the right time.

Fast forward to the spring of 2011. The position was open again. I sensed the time was finally right for me to apply, and if God saw fit…He would open the door for an offer. An offer came…on the very day my previous husband, Chris, took his own life. God knew I would need the job then far more than I would have back in 2007. He was right.

Working for the BGEA, and specifically 106.9 the Light, has been more than a job. It’s been a calling, and my co-workers are my family. We’re a bunch of imperfect people doing the best ministry we can who happen to use a tool called radio to do it. Through these last six years, I can see how God called me to the station “for such a time as this”.

After taking some time off following Joel’s death, I planned to return to work on March 15 following my first (and preferably only) foot surgery. Well, as you can see from my timeline above, that didn’t happen. With each delay, I grew more and more weary and even more worried and confused.

God…what are you doing? You know how badly I need to be back at work. That’s my family! I need them now more than ever.

Not so fast, my daughter. I called you to that ministry, and I’m now releasing you from that call. The deaths of your husbands were the “bookends” for that season of your life. You fulfilled your calling in that ministry but not in life, in general. I am preparing you for a new season. 

No!!!! Please say it isn’t so, Lord! What am I going to do?

Wait on me. 

For how long? 

As long as it takes.

What’s next? 

As I said, wait on me. Haven’t I always met your needs? Trust Me in this. Your first priority now is to be a mom to these children that need you. It will be impossible for you to do that with a job so far from the community in which you now live. You need to be nearby to meet their needs. I’ll continue to lead you, step-by-step. I am far from finished with you daughter.

While our little chats weren’t audible (well…my part was…along with many tears and a bunch of whining, if truth be told), that’s the summary of how it ended up. I kept asking God why He allowed all the setbacks with my foot, and He’s made it clear that if He didn’t keep me down for as long as He did, I would have disobeyed and returned to work and not been prepared to step down from my position, as He’s clearly directed me to do.

With a full peace-filled heart, but many accompanying tears, I submitted my resignation and have returned to work just in time to wrap up my position and try to help as they transition to a new ministry team member. I’ll be there until July 14, and I intend to absorb every last ministry moment God gives me with this precious organization.

Another change. Another one that feels a bit unwelcome at the moment (like all the others before this one this year), but I trust God’s leading, and I know that I know that I know He’s sovereign, and His plan for the next chapter in my life is going to be great! Please pray for us through this time of “unknown”. Thank you so much dear ones!

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, June 1, 2017

His Last Father’s Day…Little Did We Know

Father's DayLittle did we know as we celebrated Father’s Day with Joel in 2016 with all but three of our kiddos in town, it would be his last. As we approach another first without our precious Joel/Daddy, it goes without saying, this one will probably sting quite a bit.

The first sting came early…about a week ago. Josiah came home from school after his class had been working on Father’s Day gifts. He was proud of what he made and said, “Well, since I don’t have a daddy, I’ll give this to __________.” (I can’t reveal the name, or the surprise will be ruined.) My heart was crushed as he said the words, “since I don’t have a daddy”.

I was so upset in that moment, I could hardly speak. I simply told him it was beautiful and thanked him for doing a good job. I also reminded him, he has a daddy in Heaven who is unable to talk to Josiah right now, but he also has THE Daddy in Heaven who he can talk to anytime he wants, knowing He hears every word. He smiled, and with that, the conversation was over…at least for that moment.

With Josiah’s early gift…I started thinking of all the other “issues” I might run into. For Mother’s Day, Austyn’s school invited all the mother’s to come spend time with their children at various events. They are already planning a similar set of activities for the fathers on the Friday before Father’s Day. I honestly don’t think I can send him to school that day. I know how elated he was when I arrived for my special day with him. I think it would utterly put him into a tailspin to be the only little boy in his class without his daddy there. Oh…grief simply sucks (pardon my crass word). And that’s not all…

Every single summer, the Stirewalt family has their annual reunion in June. Guess when it is this year? Yep…Father’s Day. On-the-one-hand, it will serve as a distraction. Uncle Gary’s pool will be open, and I’m sure everyone will have a blast. However, one of the missing Stirewalt men will be MOST evident on that day…at least to me. My heart is breaking all over again. I will do my best to bring a joy-filled face and attitude, but I will need lots of prayer warriors standing in the gap. Please Lord, let them remember us among their own celebrations.

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Road-tripping Solo with Four Kids – Did I Survive?

Road-tripping solo with four kids is in the books! While we’ve had several mini day trips and a couple overnighters, this was our first two-nighter, out-of-state, major road-tripping event without daddy, and we I survived…barely.

My survival was, no doubt, directly tied to the numerous prayers lifted up on behalf of many Facebook friends. I sent out a quick plea for help, and you all were too quick to step up to the plate on our behalf. And, for that, I thank you immensely. I can’t imagine what our trip would have been like without your prayers, because with your prayers, it was still a bit challenging.

Our challenges always include the pink bucket. You know the kind…the type the hospital gives out whenever you’re incarcerated admitted for an overnight stay. It’s the one the nurses often use to give you a bed bath with or to store all your toiletries.

For our family, it’s become the infamous “puke bucket” for our extremely motion sick little Bulgarian princess. Poor Katerina can’t catch a break. It probably didn’t help that we had to travel “the gorge” between North Carolina and Tennessee, making all the twists and turns that are much more stomach-unsettling. She did her best, but…she had to use the bucket three times. THREE times. The last was right as we were pulling up to the wedding parking lot.

Road-tripping with my four kids, wedding style

Yes…I took my children to a wedding. Granted, this was actually their second US wedding to attend, as their older brother got married a few weeks after they arrived in the US in 2015. However, these are pretty different kiddos from the ones we had back then.

Anyway…the wedding was set for 6:00 pm…an outdoor setting. What time did we arrive? You guessed it. 6:00 pm. I was so appalled. My son-in-law’s little sister was getting married, and we were honored to be able to attend. I drilled my children with proper wedding etiquette and the consequences of not following the mom-addressed guidelines. However, I never realized I would have to reprimand myself for arriving after the entire bridal party was at the altar and just before the bride walked down the aisle. Thankfully, we were able to see the cutest little flower girl and ring bearer (who just so happen to be my grandchildren). Otherwise, the reprimand to myself would have been even worse.

No need to punish the children for misbehaving during the actual ceremony, as they did phenomenal! I was so proud of them. Then, it was time to just cut loose. Benjamin shared with the world, “This is the best party EVAH!” All of my children (with the exception of Josiah) LOVE to dance, and they never stopped! Josiah, was quite content, to play corn hole with some “big kids” he met. So, all-in-all, your prayers were evident.

Benjamin, Katerina, and Amy on the dance floor, road-tripping style

As for me, attending my first wedding as a new widow was going to be tough. I knew that. I did remarkably well during the ceremony but lost it a couple times during the reception when different songs came on that reminded me of Joel or simply of his absence. That hole in my heart is still very large.

The rest of the road-tripping weekend was large as well…large fun! We intended to go to the Gatlinburg Aquarium, but the traffic (inside the building and outside) was simply too much. The kids were content to go back to the hotel and swim for the rest of the afternoon. We were joined by Amy and Wes and their two kiddos, and we had a blast spending the afternoon in the pool (me with my new fancy foot covering device and all). We followed that with a dinner out in Pigeon Forge and quick goodbyes until we see them again in a few weeks. We’d be road-tripping back home beginning the next morning.

Road-tripping hotel swim time

All-in-all, I survived another “first”. Actually, I more than survived. I thrived. That was confirmed on two occasions: 1) When Josiah told me, “Thank you for taking us places, Mom!” and 2) Upon Benjamin’s exclamation of the wedding/reception being the best party “evah”. They loved it! Therefore, I did too.

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I Desperately Needed to Talk…So I Tried to Call You

TalkTalk…I just needed to talk, so I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer my call. I wanted to talk about the somewhat shocking information I just received. And then I remembered…you’re not here anymore.

No, I’m not going crazy (yet). I simply can’t tell you the number of times I’ve actually picked up my phone to call or text Joel regarding something I wanted to share with him or ask his opinion on or something of the sort. While I’ve never actually gone through with it like my opening sentence might suggest, I’ve actually come very close.

One of the many difficulties of losing my spouse has also been losing my best friend at the same. Joel was my go-to guy. The one I would talk to about everything. He was my sounding board, my voice of reason, and my chief decision maker when we couldn’t come to a mutual agreement on something. He was very wise and calculated each major decision he made.

Just the other day, I received some information I really needed to discuss with him. But, he wasn’t there…

My heart just ached over the reminder of how deep his loss truly is in my life. I miss Joel’s physical presence terribly. At times like this, that loss feels physically numbing. Temporarily paralyzed, I just sit trying to think…what am I going to do now?

Prayer. Yes…I know the ultimate answer. I obviously pray, and I even ask others to join me. It’s something Joel and I did together quite often. I’m not avoiding the obvious; I’m just pointing out the reality of missing my chief prayer partner.

I just so needed to hear his voice in the moment. I needed to be able to discuss the pros and cons with him. I just wanted to TALK TO HIM!!! And then I remembered…

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