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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I Want Off!

I love rollercoasters. There’s just something about the thrill of speed, twists and turns, and the abrupt ending that excites me. I’ve been this way my whole life. I get carsick so easily, but put me on a rollercoaster, and I can ride it over and over with no ill effects. Strange, but true.

The grief “rollercoaster” is another story, however. It makes me sick. Emotionally, mentally, and physically. Sometimes, the twisting and turning of this type of “ride” literally has me on my knees in front of a toilet. I’m not trying to be graphic or disgusting…just real. Last night was one of those nights. My mind goes into overdrive with memories and lost dreams, and it has the power, at times, to make me physically sick. I hate it. I want off this rollercoaster!

I have no idea why I can do so well for a few days and then get saddled with deep, intense pain all over again. It’s just the non-linear aspect of grief. Sometimes I can see it coming…my motivation to do anything drops off, my appetite is virtually non-existent, I spend my days wanting to just sleep…simply put, depression increases. But there are the times I am blindsided by it too. That was last night. I was doing okay and…bam! I felt like I had just been run over.

I can’t stop the increasing painful heartache. It feels like my heart is being shattered all over again. Pictures from the night Joel went Home keep flashing in my brain. I start thinking…could I have done anything differently? What if… That’s when it overwhelms me to the point of physically getting sick.

There is nothing I can do to make the pain go away. I just have to ride it out. This is when my prayers turn into two-word mumblings again, “Help me!” Thankfully, I know the Holy Spirit is interceding for me (Romans 8:26). I know these days won’t last forever, but they feel so incredibly long when they come.

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the things happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” ~C.S. Lewis

Friday, May 12, 2017

Three Months

Hard to believe Joel took his last breath on earth and his first breath in Heaven three months ago today. And…the pain of watching that with my own eyes will never go away. The precious respiratory therapist (who happened to be a co-worker of his) was so gentle and sweet with him as she removed the ventilator. As the ventilator came out, so did his last breath. That was it. His time here on earth was over. I had one hand on his chest (begging God for more breaths) and one hand on his head, caressing his hair.

As protocol, two nurses have to check for a heartbeat before calling time of death. They walked in and did their “duty”. I saw the look on their faces, and I knew…his life here was over. And…in that moment, I felt mine was too.

I laid my head on the side of his bed, and I have no idea how long I was there, but I was told by friends I remained in a trance-like position for quite awhile. I was in shock. Literally. I just couldn’t stop staring at him. MY HUSBAND HAD JUST DIED!!!! And, I honestly wasn’t ready to believe it. I think, subconsciously, I prayed things would miraculously change. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead…I never doubted ANYTHING was possible. But in Joel’s case, He went Home to Heaven in the first hour of February 12.

Eventually I rose from the side of his bed, and I walked to the ICU waiting room, and I knew it was over. Just like that. Joel’s life was over. My marriage was over. My children were fatherless (some of them for the second time), and I had no idea how I was going to survive this. But…I know my God, and with Him all things are possible.

Now, three months later…I’m still grieving…some days pretty heavily. Joel’s absence has left a hole in my heart that might never be repaired. I physically ache over his absence. I struggle to sleep at times, because I so badly want to talk to him about my day, my dreams, the things the kids are doing, decisions I need to make and prefer to discuss with him. But…he’s not here.

I often repeat, in my mind, those days in the hospital. Could I have done something differently that would have allowed him to still be here? The enemy constantly plays those games with me…games of condemnation (which I know are NOT of God). It was Joel’s time to go home, but it doesn’t stop my mind from wondering…what if…

I want to be better. I want to heal from the oppression of grief. But, I know – realistically – it’s only been three months. I expect too much, but the pain hurts so badly…I just want it gone!

As Mother’s Day is coming up…followed by Father’s Day…I dread the absence of His presence. Nobody will understand the pain of that absence but me. I’m sure others will grieve, especially family members…but, he was MY husband…the father to my adopted children and my step-children and the step-father to my own biological daughter. And…he’s not here!

Pardon my anger! Pardon my grief! Pardon my loneliness! Pardon my heartache! I just hurt, and I’m trying to keep it real and not tie every post up in a pretty bow. Even so…nobody, and I mean nobody, can shake my faith. God is good…all the time! His plans are always better! And, He has never failed me yet!

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Never Ending Ache

You know the headache that doesn’t seem to go away no matter what you try…medicine, nap, essential oils. neck massage?

Or…how about the arthritis in your knee you feel with every step you take?

Perhaps for you…it’s constant reflux that aggravates your core and can only be controlled with medicine.

For me, it’s the ache of the heart. I live with it all day long, gnawing at the core of my being. Sometimes, the pain of it might soften just a bit, and other times, it throbs so deeply I don’t know how I’m still living. There isn’t a pill I can take to put an end to the ache. Naps might help temporarily, but I’ll eventually wake up, and it will still be there. Massages are great, but the effects from them are also short-lived. Essential oils do the same thing. They DO help, but they aren’t THE cure. So…what will alleviate the pain?

In short, I’ve discovered only two things that have been able to heal broken hearts. Remember…I’ve been down this road once before…the Widow Road, that is. Obviously the second time around brings an entirely new dimension of grief and (as I’ve learned), the former grief episode now attaches itself to the new grief episode and compounds the effects. But…all-in-all…time is a healer. How much time? That is a question I can’t answer. It’s individualistic and completely circumstantial.

After becoming a widow in 2011, I felt my shattered heart mended rather quickly. It didn’t feel that way at first, but when healing arrived on my doorstep, it was there to completely repair the broken mess left behind by the traumas of losing my spouse to suicide.

This time, however, it feels as if my broken heart is content to remain in its state of brokenness. I don’t like that feeling. I’m ready to see strides in the direction of healing…I know it takes time, but I want to see something…anything…to make me feel I’m heading in that direction. If the signs are there, they are very dim and haven’t made it to my line of sight just yet. And so…I wait, and I pray.

And…that takes me to only the second thing I’ve found that has ever healed a broken heart completely. Yes…time is a factor, a VERY important piece of the healing puzzle. For me, however, even more importantly has been my faith!

I don’t use the faith word lightly. As a follower of Jesus Christ, He *is* the Rock I cling to on my good days, my so-so days, and the worst days of my life. He has *never* failed me. Ever! Some may challenge that statement when looking at my life and all the tragic events I’ve experienced in my forty-five years. Jesus didn’t cause that. Sin and this broken world in which I still live caused that. Yes…God allowed it, because He will use it all for His glory, and His plan of redeeming the pain is much, much bigger than I can see right now. That’s where faith steps in.

I know Jesus. Oh…do I know Jesus. And…as I told a friend a couple days ago, going through this grief journey is all but impossible for me, however without my faith…I doubt I’d even still be here. Christ is upholding me on my darkest days. He catches every tear, He meets me where I’m at, and He sustains me when my strength is gone.

He will ultimately be the repairer of my broken heart. Until that day comes, I keep looking to Him to not only get me through this nightmare but to help me come out on the other side a much better woman, mom, and Christian than I am right now. To Him be ALL the glory!