Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

We just finished supper at our neighborhood Taco Bell. Not something we do often (McDonald’s is closer), but it was a special occasion. What was the occasion? It was Monday evening, and Mommy forgot to plan supper! Seriously.

I finally wrangled all of the kiddos into the car, and we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot when Josiah started saying something over and over about the poor lady. The other kids were drowning him out with their chatter, but he finally got my attention.

“Mommy, she’s poor. Look at her holding the sign. Can you give her some money?” He pointed to the woman on the corner of the shopping center exit.

I couldn’t believe he even understood what that was all about. Where had he learned this? This is my child who, along with his two siblings, was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria just 20 months ago. When I asked him how he knew about people holding up signs and things of that sort, he reminded me I had explained that to them before. Oh… How could I have forgotten that? Widow brain is alive and well it appears.

I knew I didn’t have any cash on me, something I rarely carry anymore. However, my son kept asking what I was going to do for her, so I checked my purse and wallet…just to make sure. This time, my memory was spot on. No cash.

I told Josiah I had nothing to give her, but I would be sure to get some cash to keep in the car for these types of occasions from now on. He then asked me how I paid for dinner. Smart kid apparently didn’t accept my answer. I reminded him I paid with a card that worked like cash. His next response was completely unexpected.

“Mommy, I have money in my bank at home. Can you drive me home to get it, and I’ll give her that?”

How do you respond to your 9-year-old former orphan wanting to take money out of his piggy bank to give to the sign-holding lady on the corner of the shopping center? I was honestly taken aback. At this point, I knew God expected me to respond.

I’ll admit I pass by many of those people without ever making an effort to do anything for them. Not because I’m not willing, but because I never have cash and don’t ever seem to bother to think of what else I might have. I know some sign-holders might not be doing it for the right reason, but that’s not up to me to determine. If God prompts me to do something, it’s up to me to obey. This time, the prompting came through my son.

I decided to dig deeper into my wallet. I thought I had some gift cards in there I had been using to shop with. Certainly there was something left on them. The first one I picked up was for Walmart. We happened to be just next door to a Walmart at this particular time. I called the number on the back of my card to check my balance…zero. Nothing left.

Ok, Lord! I sense I’m to do something for this lady. What do you want me to do? Go to the bank and get something out? A gift card? Please direct me here. I don’t want to disappoint Josiah.

I had one more gift card in my wallet. It was a VISA gift card. Again, I called the number on the back to check my balance. This time…$23.87 was the response. I knew He was asking me to give it to her.

“Okay son, I’ve got something with some money available on it,” I shared with Josiah.

“So, are you going to give it to her?” he asked me.

Still a bit unsure, I responded, “I think so. I need to make sure I can get close enough to her, but as long as I can safely do that, I’m going to give it to her.”

We pulled out of Taco Bell’s parking lot and headed to the exit. I was able to pull up right beside the lady. She looked at me with pleading eyes before I ever rolled down my passenger window. As I started to do so, she hurried over to the van, and I simply said, “I’m sorry I don’t have cash, but I have this card with $23.87, and you can have it.”

She immediately responded. “God bless you!” And, as we drove away, I heard her start to pray, “Heavenly Father, thank you for what you’ve just done…” Her voice drifted off, and I heard nothing else as we were out of earshot at that point.

I looked back in my rearview mirror at Josiah, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Was that okay Josiah? Did mommy do what you hoped I would do?”

He nodded, while still grinning.

I simply thanked him for pointing her out to me early enough to allow me time to try to find something to give her. We then had the discussion about how everything we have belongs to God. Everything. He simply loans it to us while we’re on earth. I told him how I knew God was pleased with him, and he would be blessed for being obedient.

Thank you Abba for this gift of my son and for continually teaching me through the eyes of these former orphans. I stand amazed!

#HeIsStillGood

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

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