Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sucker Punched

I woke up alone in my bed and in my house for the first time since February 12. It was a rather eerie feeling, if I’m being completely honest…I didn’t like it at all. While I sometimes complain about my wiggly little 3-year-old bed buddy, he brings me a new level of comfort…at least for now. While I longed for some time away from my children so I could get some very important things done, distraction-free, I actually missed them…especially the sounds of their laughter, arguments, “mommy, mommy, mommy” calling, and the constant question, “May I have a snack?” I think our time apart, albeit difficult, was good for us both in many ways.

For me, I’ve been struggling to truly grieve. I’ve had a few moments, but nothing like I fear is around the corner. I don’t recall suppressing grief like I’ve done so often this time around, but I think I’m just trying to protect our children and not frighten them.

Sometime Tuesday, late in the morning, after the home health nurse had already been here for the day, I was in my home office working on our our taxes (yes – at the last possible minute), something literally gnawed at my chest. I thought I might have been having a heart attack, or a panic attack (at minimum). I couldn’t catch my breath. I literally felt I had been sucker punched and held up against the wall and couldn’t move, and then I sensed that inner voice saying quite clearly…

Let it go, Leah. Let it all go.

I knew the Holy Spirit was trying to get me to cry. I could sense the tears welling up in my eyes. I could feel a painful, burning sensation all over my body, as I tried to keep it at bay, at least for now. But, the voice wouldn’t stop.

Let it go, my child. I will catch every tear. I want you to be real with Me!

I no longer could hold back. My shoulders started heaving, the tears starting flowing at a very fast rate, I started violently shaking, and then I began to loudly moan. That was soon followed by words…questions…affirmations…doubts coupled with things I knew to be sure. I was literally screaming as I walked from room to room in this house. Things like,

“I’m almost to the 10-week mark, Lord, and I feel I’m getting nowhere.”

…heaving sobs

“I’m just so, so sad. I feel like nothing can pull me out of this deep, dark depression. You could drop a million dollars onto my lap, and I’d be happy for you to take it back, because it’s meaningless to me right now. It won’t bring my Joel back.

…dropping to the floor, banging my fist over and over onto the hardwoods

“You’ve got to help me God! I don’t know what to do next. Each step hurts.”

…laying down briefly and rolling from my back to my side over and over

“This pain is more than I can bear. You’ve asked me to endure so much, Lord. So, so much! When is it going to stop? Is this my lot in life? Just one trial after another? Please, Lord…when will you allow me to catch my breath?”

The questions stopped, and I crawled back into my recliner and sobbed, loud moaning sobs. I don’t know when they ended. But, when they did, I was spent. I crawled into bed and went sound to sleep.

I think God brought me right to the place where He wanted me. To a place of anger, hurt, and the ability to simply grieve…REAL, long-overdue grief. It’s not over. The pain is still fast upon me. I ache. I hurt all over. At times, I’m very productive. At others, I do nothing but sit. But…He knows…

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Friday, April 14, 2017

It Used to Be My Favorite Day of the Year

As bizarre as this may sound, Good Friday used to be my favorite day of the year. I always felt I truly couldn’t celebrate Easter without having experienced Good Friday. No Resurrection without a death…right?

I always found a Good Friday service to attend, which would help set the mood to usher in the rest of Easter Weekend. I loved the somberness of the day…not in a morbid sort of way. Simply, I wanted to try to experience even a fraction of the pain the followers of Christ felt on that Crucifixion Day. And, I wanted to rejoice, even among the sorrow, when Christ said “It is finished” shortly before his final statement and final breath. I knew the end result…the pain of the day would lead to rejoicing on the third day when the grave was found empty! Death had been conquered forever! I knew the end result…the followers on the day Christ was crucified didn’t. I knew victory was around the corner…but, they had to wait for that major pronouncement. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the darkest day in history…the day death died.

Today…Good Friday…doesn’t provide quite the same emotion for me as many from prior years. I’ve lived in a “state of somber” for nearly nine weeks now. I still know the truth of what this day symbolizes…

  • Christ paid the ultimate penalty for my sin, allowing me the opportunity for life eternal with Him
  • His ultimate death ushered in the day eternal death died
  • Easter is coming!
  • Because of His ultimate sacrifice, I have the promise of spending eternity with both Joel and my previous husband (Chris) who went to Heaven already – along with many other believing family members and friends
  • I no longer fear death!!!

For me, however, the beauty of the “somberness” of this day simply invades the broken spaces of my soul in a new way. I know the truth (like I mentioned above), but the feeling it evokes (which used to bring me peace) just makes me sad today. Does this make any sense? I’m having a hard time even understanding my own feelings, I think. The best way I can express it…I am weary from being sad all the time. I long for joy to return and happiness to fill those empty crevices of my soul. That being said, today feels so sad. I want to just skip ahead to Sunday. But, that’s impossible…we can’t have the Resurrection without the death. The same was true for Joel. He couldn’t reach Heaven without dying first. I just wasn’t ready for him to go…

Forgive me Lord for not being able to allow the sadness of the day evoke feelings of everlasting joy for what you’ve done for me on the cross. I am eternally grateful. Today, however, I’m still aching, and the hurt is so heavy. Show me a glimpse of the joy you have prepared me for eternally. I need to see hope today. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

I’m Still Running the Race…

Today I attended the funeral of a cherished co-worker, Wayne Roper, who went home to be with the Lord less than a week ago.

As soon as I heard the news, my first reaction was one of shock, but I immediately found my place in a state of jealously (if truth be told). I’m a bit ashamed to admit that now, but I honestly thought to myself, Wayne is probably already chatting with Joel about the glory land we still long for that they now call home. Oh…how I wish I could be having that conversation with them. I know it’s not my time, but it doesn’t stop my heart from at least longing to be with them.

Some have already asked… “How in the world were you able to do so this so soon after being at your own husband’s funeral?” There are quite a few ways I could have answered that question…

  • I respected the man dearly, so I also wanted to show respect to his new widow by taking the time to celebrate his life and legacy.
  • It was an opportunity for me to see most of my co-workers, many whom I haven’t seen since Joel’s funeral, thanks to this temporary foot issue I’ve been suffering with.
  • It was an opportunity to worship God and thank Him for giving Wayne to us for the 58 year years He did, of which I truly only knew him for about 13 of those years.
  • And…when no other answer satisfies…it was simply the right thing to do.

And, I’m so glad I did!

I cried more today than I’ve cried in weeks. Now, don’t get me wrong…very few days have passed where a tear hasn’t escaped my eye since losing my precious love. But, today, I don’t think I was able to speak to a single soul without tears pouring from my eyes. I’m sure part of it was a result of just being in that setting. Another part was from the multiple hugs and “how are you’s” that were brought my way. But, the real tears came when I heard a couple people ask me to keep writing, because my blog was being used in ways I couldn’t imagine to minister to or help other people they knew. I just sobbed whenever I heard each of those stories yesterday, because I can’t imagine how God can use such a messed up woman, with such a dysfunctional past and a very hurting heart in this present hour to bring life to anyone else. But, that’s how MY God is! He reminds me of that all that time. It’s not me. It has nothing to do with me. It’s all about My Precious Lord, and what He chooses to do through me (His vessel). He could have chosen anyone else (and, I often ask Him why He didn’t), but for some reason unknown to me…I got “the job”.

Please don’t stop sharing these stories with me as you hear them, because they truly do help heal my hurting soul. I begged God to not let Joel’s death be in vain, and these are the ways He continues to promise me that was never part of his plan. If we allow Him to, He’ll always use our pain for His glory and for our good. And, while I’m thankful God is allowing me to be part of His greater plan…I simply want to boast in Him and in Him alone! (1 Corinthians 1:31). He is the author of my life, and the perfecter of my faith, and one day (I pray sooner than later)…He’ll call me Home to glory and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Until then…I press on to complete the race He has mapped out for me…

#HeIsStillGood

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Just Trying to Grasp It All

Long before I became a widow for the first time, I advocated for orphans heavily. I’d have to say before I truly grasped the biblical mandate to care for orphans and widows (God defines it as pure religion), He had already impressed upon my heart the yearning and clear calling to be a voice for the least of the these. Now…granted…my voice tended to sway heavily in the area of the orphan crisis, because it was easier for my mind to grasp, and children, in general, seemed to be easier ones for whom to advocate. And then I became one…

A widow, that is. My previous view of a widow had been blown to smithereens…the eighty-year-something, married a long time, two to three children, white-headed, blessed life…type of widow. Yes…I, too, put my stereotypical vision of a widow in a shallow box. Now, those women inside that box are precious too, and God gives us that same biblical mandate to care for them, but I didn’t go seeking those opportunities like I did the ones for orphans. I’m ashamed to admit that now, but I think it was, in part, ignorance to the needs around me and also intentional avoidance. In my mind, I was at least doing something for “part of the equation”…I advocated orphans for heavily…didn’t that count for something?

That mindset of mine changed abruptly on May 4, 20111 when I became a widow…at 39 years of age. No longer did I meet that pre-conceived notion and vision in my head of what a widow looks like. NOW…James 1:27 became extremely real to me, as I was one part of that mandate. And…suddenly…I got it! I not only got it, but I was quick to ask the Lord to never let me forget what this feels like (in case I wasn’t always a widow). I prayed often for Him to reveal to me how it is He wants us to care for widows, and, thankfully, He surrounded me with a group of people from my church and the church-at-large who DID get it and cared for me deeply. Through their actions, they boldly lived out James 1:27.

And again…after God so graciously blessed me with a beautiful new marriage to another incredible man who also got “it”! The command and calling on our lives to care for the least of these, especially orphans and widows. And…most of you know the rest of that story…we added, through adoption, four more children to our already blended nest of five, creating an incredibly beautiful nest of nine.

And…just when I think God had us in a sweet spot…I not only “survived” my widow experience, but God brought some incredible beauty out of those dull ashes through the gift of remarriage and an expanded family…yours, mine, and ours. He gave the gift of family to four orphans through international adoption and domestic foster to adopt. And…he expanded our hearts to love even deeper outside of our neatly “perfect box” with the red bow on top. I couldn’t wait to see what God would do with this new love story…one that I promised to use to glorify Him first and foremost.

Barely into figuring out our new “roles” in this expanded and beautiful family, February 12, 2017 was ushered into our lives quite abruptly, and I became a widow for the SECOND time at the age of 45. And…this time…it was drastically different. As I was now a widow of recently orphaned children who suddenly felt fear again of being orphaned all over again.

How do I begin to explain this one to our children, and even to myself, if truth be told? All I know is I suddenly found myself back in those deep waters again. The same ones from where Jesus reached for me, rescued me, and restored my life in a beautiful way.

That Jesus of mine…He’s the SAME…yesterday, today, and forever! While I may not have all the answers, I know the God that does. And…it’s in Him, I put my full trust. It’s in Him, I cling to for my next breath. And…it’s in Him, I expect another miracle of a life restored one day…in His timing. Until I see it with my eyes, I continue to believe…. #HeIsStillGood

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. ~James 1:27 (NLT)

If you still feel led to tangibly help our family, click here for some suggestions on ways to do so. Or…just do whatever God lays on your heart to do. We are beyond grateful at how He continues to meet our daily needs!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I found sleep again

Joel and I used to crave sleep…well, rest in general. We worked our fannies off all week, and while weekends should include a day of rest, we often found ourselves packing our weekends so full of activity we’d look forward to the start of a new work week…just to find some “rest” again.

Shamefully, I admit I often operated on only 4-5 hours of sleep each night (and Joel often even less than that). We we were tormenting our bodies, at least in the category of rest, and we kept feeling pushed to stop the madness…and soon. However, the bad habits continued. With both of us working full-time jobs, the only time we had to ourselves to get anything done was after the children went to bed at night, so we often got re-energized at just the time we should have started unwinding for the day. These bad habits we created ended up training our bodies to keep up with the madness of our crazy lifestyle. Not good, and we knew it, but nothing stopped us at that point.

After Joel went home to Heaven, I initially struggled to sleep. I would close my eyes, and my mind would race with thoughts of him, the days and minutes leading up to his final breath, all the tasks that lay before me in the near future, all those goals we’d never achieve, and the list is endless. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so it was very difficult to “shut off” my brain long enough to rest.

Joel actually passed away soon after midnight on February 12. I stayed at the hospital for several more hours and eventually arrived back home somewhere between 3:30-4:00 am. That was my first attempt at trying to get a few hours of sleep. But, I failed. My mind knew I would be sharing with our children soon after they woke up that daddy went to live with Jesus. I kept replaying that scene over and over in my mind, and it literally broke my heart to think of how they might respond. As a result, I literally laid in our bed, tossing and turning without my husband beside me, waiting for daybreak or the sound of those little voices coming to greet me at the start of the new day.

After I was trampled with lots of mommy loves…hugs and kisses…I gathered my little chicks around me and shared the most difficult words I’ve ever had to share with them. The bad news: Daddy died. His frail body couldn’t overcome the sickness that took over. The best news: Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus and will one day see us again! My children clung to the “best news” I shared with them that morning. Daddy was with Jesus, and they would get to be with him again one day. Praise God for that gift! Since that initial conversation, they’ve struggled off and on, but they keep going back to that promise…because of a decision Daddy made when he was alive on this earth, he gets to live forever with Jesus in Heaven. And…as long as we’ve made that same decision, Heaven will be our forever Home too!

Within a few hours of that conversation, I fell asleep in the recliner in my living room. And…I slept HARD. It was as if all the emotional burnout had been spent, and it was time for my body to rest. I slept so hard I never even heard all the guests coming in and out of my home that Sunday afternoon to visit. Thankfully, they didn’t mind the sleeping widow in the corner of the room. Eventually I woke up, but I have discovered since that initial rest (the one in which I actually slept) following Joel’s Homegoing, that I sleep quite a bit now and a lot more often.

In part, the medication I’ve been on after each of my three foot surgeries in March helped to make me sleepy, but I also noticed, I gave up the fight. I no longer had the physical ability to stay up until all crazy hours of the night trying to get things done. I can only do so much, then it’s time to stop. Sleep soon follows. I only wish Joel and I discovered this “rest dance” before he left this world. I can only imagine how much more fulfilling our life could have been together and how much more God would have allowed us to accomplish.

My new routine…sleep, and when I wake, I seek the Lord for His next steps for me. It’s amazing how He has it all under control…when I seek Him first and OBEY His direction.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 (emphasis mine)