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!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I’ve Been Doing This All Wrong!

In one of my favorite devotionals I tend to read year-after-year, Jesus Calling, I was nailed with this one yesterday morning…

Do not long for the absence of problems in your life. That is an unrealistic goal, since in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33). You have an eternity of problem-free living reserved for you in heaven. Rejoice in that inheritance, which no one can take away from you, but do not seek your heaven on earth. 

That last phrase knocked me right between the eyes…

“but do not seek your heaven on earth.”

That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing since Joel abruptly went to Home to Heaven nearly three months ago.

I’ve been doing everything I can to make Heaven feel very, very close. Especially for my children. I don’t want them to be afraid of death, but I also don’t want them to miss out on this life while we have it. Balancing the two is tough when the one we love the most (second to Jesus) is in our eternal Home.

I tell friends all the time, “I LONG for Heaven.” Not in the sense I’m speaking morbidly and wish my life would end. Not at all. Rather, I long for this earthly chaotic mess to be transformed, which it will be when Christ returns and for me to be transported Home. THAT…I long for. I long for my eternal Home. And…watching this world get darker and darker and now not having my precious Joel by my side to share my struggles and dreams with; to plan out our days and future; to encourage each other; and to cuddle up beside him each night, feeling safe and secure in the comfort only his arms would bring…oh, how I long for Heaven!

I know God isn’t finished with me yet, or I’d be there already. I still have children that need to know Him as Savior. I still have a purpose He wants me to fulfill. While I know these things to be true…I still LONG to be with Him forever and to be reunited with my loves who have gone before me. Oh what a glorious day that will be!

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Six Years

This is a very difficult post for me to write. So difficult, in fact, I haven’t been able to write for an entire week, because I knew this one was coming up. Please pardon my blog absence.

How do you continue to grieve so deeply the one husband who just recently went Home to Heaven while remembering the events of six years ago today that led to the Homegoing of my other late husband? I. Honestly. Don’t. Know. Somehow…I’m doing it.

Before going any further, I need to offer a little disclaimer. Chris’ official date of death is May 4, because that’s when his body was recovered. However, due to the sequence of events, I know he took his last breath on this side of Heaven the evening of May 3. Therefore, in my heart…the anniversary of his Homegoing will always be May 3. 

The first year after losing Chris was very difficult. His death, by suicide, brought with it many multi-faceted emotions. I think I experienced the grief phase of anger for quite awhile, but God allowed me to move on and see Chris again through His eyes, and it simply allowed my love for him to grow that much stronger. Only by the grace and mercy of God and those He chose to walk alongside me, did I even survive that first year. As I reflect back…my faith was THE reason I was able to heal so completely and so quickly from Chris’ death.

Year two after losing Chris…something completely unexpected (and unwanted at first) caught me by surprise. I fell in love with another man, and Joel ended up asking me to marry him, and we did on August 25, 2012. I struggled with how to tell Chris’ family about Joel, but I’ll never forget how precious they were to me and to Joel. They said they prayed I would marry again, and they counted Joel as their son and brother. (I can hardly type through the tears at this point.) Joel had the privilege of “meeting Chris” through my stories about him, and I’ll forever cherish the day he took me up to the cemetery, and he prayed over our new relationship right beside Chris’ grave. Almost like bringing “closure” (of sorts) to one part of my life in the most direct way possible. Joel made that one of the most beautiful days of my life. Sounds crazy, but you would have to have been there to understand.

The third anniversary of Chris’ death brought back a lot of guilt for me. I was a newlywed (again) and very happy in my marriage to Joel. And yet…that first April and May that rolled around after my remarriage brought with it feelings like I should grieve Chris’ more deeply than I felt like grieving that year. Almost as if I didn’t, something must be wrong with me. I quickly learned that was nothing more than a lie from the enemy. Married again or not…many widows experience grief on the anniversary of their husbands’ deaths at various levels (and some non-existent). The next year could be an entirely different situation. That’s how grief works…

And…sure enough the fourth anniversary of Chris’ death was the hardest one since the first one. It was 2015, and we were in the thick of our adoption journey. Something Chris and I had discussed pursuing but never got to the point of actually beginning that journey. Joel and I had just gotten our “unofficial” referral for our children, and we knew our family would be growing again soon. It just made me very emotional, mainly from the standpoint of seeing how mightily God had saved me from the deep waters (of grief) that tried to once consume me and was in the process of restoring my life in a beautiful way through the lives of orphaned children.

The fifth anniversary…I feel it affected me the least up to that point. I was a new mom to three little feisty (yet adorable) Bulgarians plus still foster parenting a very active two-year-old little boy (we would adopt just a few short months later). My life was a crazy zoo! Therefore, while I’ll never forget Chris, especially on this anniversary of his death, 2016 allowed me to be not quite as consumed in the grief part of it, due to all the family changes we were experiencing.

That brings me to today…six years from the time Chris breathed his last on this earth. And…honestly…I’m in shock once again. Not the same type of shock as when I first learned he was gone. Just the shock of knowing I’ve been twice widowed in less than six years, by the age of forty-five, and I’m still here to tell about it.

My heart has been shattered too many times to count, but the two shatterings that did the most lifelong damage were the two that caused me to have to bury two husbands (prematurely in my selfish eyes). I will never be the same again. In some ways, I’m better. In other ways, I feel forever broken. Regardless…I still trust in the God who gave us all life and will be right there with those of us who call Him Savior when we take our last breath on earth and our first in Heaven. What a day that will be!

I deeply long to be reunited with so many people, but at the top of the list are Chris and Joel!

It is well with my soul! #HeIsStillGood

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)