Friday, March 24, 2017

Shattered. Fractured. Broken.

Shattered. Fractured. Broken. Three words that accurately describe my family right now.

Just under two months ago, we were doing this thing called life together as a family. We made our mistakes, and we had our fusses, but we were what we dubbed ourselves…a “normal” (albeit blended, non-organic) family.

Daddy and mommy both worked outside the home. We were as healthy as we had been in quite some time. Our Bulgarian children were finally starting to adjust to the beginning of their second year in the US in our family, and our move to Hickory was proving to be a great decision, and the school transitions were taking place extremely well. Granted…we still had stuff in boxes to unpack…but, what was the hurry? This was going to be our forever home, so didn’t that mean we had “forever” to unpack?

Our older children seemed to be thriving between finishing up the last years of high school, working towards college degrees, working hard at jobs God has them in for this season of life, creating families of their own, and maturing into fine young adults.

We preferred to spend our weekday evenings wrestling around on the floor with daddy, watching a cute family movie together, doing homework, getting everything together for the next day, bath/shower time, and reading books before bedtime. We had recently started asking Josiah to read a book before bedtime to his siblings so he good get in some additional reading practice. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was nice, and we were immensely blessed.

Our weekends were full of piling into the minivan, putting a movie in the DVD player (such a wonderful feature!!) and heading out for a day full of errands. Usually we would splurge and eat out for one of our Saturday meals, and the kids loved that.

Sundays mornings were spent visiting the churches in the area, as we narrowed down the selection to where we felt God might be calling us to serve. And…one of my favorite parts of the weekend…Sunday afternoons. We rested. Joel usually fell asleep on the couch with Austyn. Josiah would fall asleep on the other end of the couch while watching a movie. Benjamin and Katerina would typically nap up in their bedrooms, and me? Well…I may or may not take a nap, but I’d rest nonetheless.

Now…life feels like a chaotic, shattered mess. The kids’ emotions are completely out of whack (so are mine, for that matter). Their ability to focus seems gone. Limits are being tested. Erratic behavior is more commonplace. I cry so much that the act of crying is starting to hurt. My heart seems to be bleeding more internally than my aching foot is externally.

Speaking of the foot…it’s healing (I think) but VERY SLOWLY. The bleeding hasn’t completely stopped, so I get to sit in my recliner for the bulk of the day with my foot elevated on pillows. It’s very painful but doesn’t even compare to the pain I feel in my heart from missing my husband.

Discouragement is the story of my days right now. I’m waiting for a breakthrough, because I feel everywhere I turn is defeat and disappointment. When is the breakthrough coming Lord? I’ve seen many miracles already as a result of Joel’s sudden death and Homegoing to Heaven. God is not surprised, and He’s been working deeply in the hearts of many of His children as a result of my precious husband being called Home at such a young age. I continue to pray Joel’s death will not be in vain and will produce tons of fruit and miracle upon miracle (maybe even some we won’t see this side of Heaven). But for now…we hurt…deeply.

I’m ready for some sense of “normal” to return to our lives. I feel I’m living in a state of limbo, because nothing is settled…my foot is still healing, I can’t return to work (due to the stupid foot), money decisions are in limbo (and fear wants to settle there quite often), plans for the future…yep…limbo. All my vacation and time off for the year is gone due to Joel’s death and my foot woes. I’m really trying not to dwell in this pit, because God is also being so generous and gracious to us.

We have been blessed beyond belief by friends, family, and strangers. We’ve received gifts of food, babysitting, money, gift cards, surprise presents in the mail, flowers, more food, projects completed around the home, visits by new friends, and lots of cards in the mail. There have been numerous other blessings too plentiful to name. I’m praying God allows the brightness of the blessings to cast out the shadow and darkness of the discouragement.

As I keep saying over and over and believe with every fiber of my being…God’s plan is ALWAYS better. Always. Knowing that and believing that doesn’t mean the pain of our reality doesn’t hurt. It does give me hope to cling to though, and that hope helps me to take the next step, and then the next…and the next…and the next…

God. Is. Still. Good.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Waiting for Rescue

The waters are very deep right now. At times, I feel I only have my face sticking out…just enough to breathe in the fresh air through my almost-buried nose. Reminds me of when I was a small child just learning to swim, and I could tread water just enough to keep my face from going under. It was then my dad (who usually worked with us the most in the pool) would step in and lift me up higher and tell me how proud of me he was for working so hard in the water. I eventually became a rather good swimmer, and I eventually trained to be the rescuer (i.e. lifeguard).

In my real-life “deep water” situation right now, I’m in desperate need of a rescue. I feel like life is swirling at super-speed around me just waiting to engulf me. I’ve stopped asking “why?” and simply started begging “help me!”.

It really doesn’t matter why God is allowing me to go through so many trials at one time. I’ve witnessed His faithfulness time and time again through my life to know that His plan is always better, even if it doesn’t make sense right now. I will admit, however, I have asked Him the “why” question a few times over the last four weeks. I know He can take it, because He wants the “real me”. And…the real me has simply wanted an answer a time or two, but I haven’t gotten it yet. And yet, I’ve moved on from the questioning phase…now, I’m simply begging…

God, please help me. I am hurting so deeply right now…physically, mentally, financially, emotionally…my heart aches like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Please show me you’re right beside me! While I know you’re here, I really would love a tangible glimpse of your presence. Will you do that for me? I don’t deserve anything from You. You’ve already given me the best gift ever…eternal life. But, I know you want me to have life abundantly…you say so in Your Word. So, Abba…will you please allow me to feel that abundant life right now. Will you saturate me with Your presence and with love overflowing? Will you please fill the lonely places? Will you please give me peace, especially today, as I head into another surgery? Will you please bring complete healing to me in ALL the areas of my body and life needing a touch from You? Abba – will You rescue me today, and begin the restoration work You have planned for my life on this earth? Will you allow those watching and waiting to see your mighty power in my life? Abba Father – I give You glory, in advance, for what I know You can do! Please let none of this pain be in vain! Please be glorified through it. And…until I’m Home with you…please continue to show me how to live my life according to Your plan for me. I want nothing more than to please and glorify You!

Yes…I’m having a second surgery today. One week ago today, I had a minor procedure on my foot that should have been a breeze (I’ve had it before). However, it broke all the records, and now I’m facing another sudden surgery that will take place today at 1:30 pm ET. For my praying friends, would you please consider praying for me at that time? Pray for the surgeon to find the source of the issue quickly, to be able to fix it fully, and to prepare me for a full and speedy recovery.

I’m leaning completely on Him right now, but I also know He tells us in His Word to ask, to seek, and to knock. I’m asking, I’m seeking, and I’m knocking.

Thank you to the multitudes of you who have stepped into my little world to love on me since Joel went home to Heaven. I can’t begin to express how thankful and grateful I am for the way you’ve loved on my family during these difficult weeks. This is so much bigger than I can handle, and God has simple asked me to rest in Him while He takes care of things. He’s been taking care of things THROUGH YOU, and I love that! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I love you deeply!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 12, 2017

This date is important to me for two very distinct reasons…one painful and one beautiful.

First, the painful…March 12, 2017 marks the one-month anniversary of Joel’s home going to Heaven. The day we had to say goodbye to his beautiful face and fun-loving personality. The day we had to forever stop hearing his corny jokes and quick-witted comments about some of the craziest things of life. The first day I would never hear him say, “I love you!” again. The day he entered the land of glory…our eternal home. The day I felt my heart would stop beating over the sheer devastation of losing the man I love so much. One month. I can’t believe he’s already been gone for one. whole. month.

Now, the beautiful…today also marks another anniversary. On this day, five years ago,  I met my precious Joel for the first time. Little did I know then how drastically my life was about to change, for the better. I finally felt I reached a place of complete healing from losing my previous husband from suicide. I was at a place where I was actually able to counsel other women out of my own grief experience, and I couldn’t be more content in life. Little did I realize God had big plans still in store for me, and it would begin with the handsome man who was about to walk into my life in a grand way and unexpectedly sweep me off my feet! Five years ago…God had just finished putting together the last piece of my shattered heart. I was now whole again. And…in walks the handsome and amazing Joel Dean Stirewalt. My life was once again forever changed.

Friends…I find myself still in the “hour by hour” grieving mode. I haven’t yet reached day-to-day status. Currently, I’ll have some good hours followed by some bad ones. I don’t think I’ve had an entirely “good” day yet, but I’m working on it and anxiously waiting for it.

The emotional pain is still quite searing, Sometimes it actually manifests into physical pain…headache, nausea, etc. It’s amazing how deep the grief toll takes on a body. I often get discouraged at how “slow” this grieving process seems to take, but then I have to remind myself…it’s only been a month! ONLY 1 MONTH!

Having been twice widowed in less than six years, sadly I’ve learned a thing a or two about the grief process. It never looks the same from one person to the next or from one situation to the next. There is no pattern or checkbox. Frustrating? Yes. But, trying to rush through it can have devastating effects, and there is no need to rush. As much as I desire to feel whole again and to not hurt so badly all the time, I truly want God to complete His work in me through this tragedy. Yes…truly, I do.

As I take this quick look back at March 12, and all that it has meant in my life, I pause and ready myself for my future of “March 12s”. There will continue to be anniversaries, reminders of what once was and what will never be again. As much as I’m able, I choose to make those days of honor rather than days of regret. The tears will still fall, but I long for those tears to, over time, be filled with joy rather than sadness.

Abba – thank you for giving me Joel…even if only for a short time. He forever changed me, and the memories bring so many smiles (even accompanied by tears). 

 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Team Stirewalt

They dubbed themselves “Team Stirewalt”. I was humbled, honored, and in complete awe that these three former strangers last month (now friends) would want to come alongside my crazy, grieving family and serve us as frequently and expediently as they have been.

“Team Stirewalt” was their way of saying, “We’re committed to your family. We’re part of your team!” I couldn’t stop the tears from pouring (that’s pretty common these days anyway). I think part of the reason for my emotion was what kept going through my head…

This is how it’s supposed to be.

We have the most beautiful example of this from the earliest Christian church body in the book of Acts:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need….They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

Now, I’ll be the first to admit…while this is how “the church” (not the physical building, but the group of people who follow Christ Jesus) should respond to the needs of each other…it’s so hard for me to accept. I know it is, in part, a pride thing, and I have had to repent of that, and God is teaching me how to be free from that sin.

I also believe the world in which we live now is an inward-thinking world much of the time. It’s easier to look within our own circles and focus on our own people rather than “get dirty” with those in pain, from ugly places, and (whoa) those who don’t believe in our Jesus!

But friends…let me tell you…it’s these very acts of serving each other that are being watched. It’s us “being the church” that gets noticed more than our Sunday morning worship in our “church clothes”. I have beautiful, lovely non-believing friends that are watching what you’re doing for me and my family and are in awe! I keep saying “…they are simply being the hands and feet of Jesus! He is here in spirit…these people are His flesh.” They are watching.

I’ve been praying Joel’s death would not be in vain. That we would not have to lose a husband, daddy, brother, friend, uncle, and co-worker at such a young age from something so senseless unless God can be amazingly glorified through his death more than He could have been through his life. I don’t know how that’s going to “play out” just yet, but I believe with all that is in me God is using this platform to set the stage for some amazing miracles to play out before our very eyes.

Keep watching. Keep serving. And…I’ll work on being receptive to your tangible love to our family (still so hard to be on the receiving end than the giving end, though). I know Joel has the best seat in the house right now, and he is smiling at what is taking place.

I continue to have people ask how they can help our family in tangible ways. I’m going to try to create a list so that it’s all in one place. I’ll have a tab on my blog here soon (hopefully later today), and I’ll be sure to update when it’s ready to go. UPDATE: It’s ready – just click HERE.

Above all, the greatest need we have is prayer. Deep intercessory prayer for protection, wisdom, provision, and peace! Thank you friends! You are incredible!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I May Never Wash My Sheets Again

I’m not the filthy kind of person the title of this post might lead you to believe. There’s a reason for my resolve to not wash my sheets again (at least for now). My husband and I last slept within those sheets together the night he went to the hospital…his last night in our bed. While his scent is dissipating, which makes me so incredibly sad, at least I know his body touched those same sheets, and for some crazy reason…that gives me comfort.

You might think, “that woman is out of her mind!” And…in some ways, you might be right. Grief has a way of doing that to people. I remember that all-too-clearly after my first widow experience. In the same way, grief has a way of showing you it doesn’t really matter what people think (most of the time). If it’s not hurting anyone, and it’s not in this case, then who cares! Yes – I’ll eventually wash the sheets. But, for now…I’m content to have that little piece of Joel still close to me (at least in my feeble way of thinking).

I still sleep on “my side of the bed”, but now I drift a little over to his area and snuggle his pillow instead of him. Not the same. I still make up our bed every single morning, but now I do it alone instead of together with my prince. So many changes. Too many changes.

The unity that comes with marriage is suddenly broken with death…at least physically. But, the unity of the heart – at least one-sided now – is still there. I guess that keeps me constantly looking for ways to keep “us” alive. For now, sleeping on dirty sheets is one of the ways. Bear with me…