Friday, August 4, 2017

Parenting from Heaven

ParentingParenting. Ahhhh…the joys, the pains, the mistakes, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe my Bulgarian children have been home just a few months shy of two years. I vividly remember those first few days with them in our apartment in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital). I was in tears virtually every single night. I thought, “What have we done?” Those early days (especially those in-country) were hard.

I remember communicating with friends back home who had walked similar paths, and they assured me it would get better. At the time, I thought we would never climb out of the pit we were in. But, they were right…it did get easier. Not easy…but easier.

Initially, Joel and I discovered many bad habits that had to be “un-done”. Now try to imagine doing that when speaking two different languages. Even so, we had to be consistent from the start. It’s hard for me to conceive now, but I had a very difficult time with Josiah (my now 9-year-old) initially. He would do anything Joel asked him to do, but basically laughed in my face whenever I said anything to him. For those of you who have had the privilege of meeting my son, you know that’s nothing like the young man you’ve met. But, I’m telling you…he was a different little boy back then.

Joel could tell Josiah to listen to me or to do something I was trying to get him to do, and he would obey Joel. But me…I got nothing out of him but more arrows flying to my already broken heart. I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much.

It wasn’t long before our translator, a native Bulgarian, explained that in the Roma culture, women aren’t respected, and the Roma boys are taught they don’t have to respect them. Even so…that was unacceptable, and that paradigm had to shift.

Joel immediately started teaching Josiah to respect me. It got better when we were back in the United States, but we still had a long road ahead of us. When Josiah’s understanding of the English language improved, his behavior towards me (and his younger sister) improved greatly. I remember one day Josiah and Katerina got into argument about something silly. The argument quickly grew a little more heated, and Joel and I witnessed him hit his sister. That did it. We’re not raising a bully!

I immediately went to a sobbing Katerina to try and comfort her, and Joel took Josiah outside for a “man-to-boy” chat. By the time they were finished talking, Josiah walked into the house and went over to Katerina to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Then, Joel asked Josiah to share with me the things we learned.

“I never hit girls.”

“Mommy is just as important as Daddy.”

“I treat girls with love.”

“I love my sister and need to protect her.”

There were other items mentioned, but those were the big ones. And, honestly, after that conversation…to my knowledge, Josiah has never hit another girl. He’s certainly not perfect and has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to relationships with people, but I know that lesson was drilled into him.

Fast forward to last week. I was in the hospital, and my long-time friend, Kandi, was at the house taking care of the children for me. She called me after the kids had gone to bed and said she just had to share something with me. She relayed a conversation between Josiah and Austyn that occurred at the dinner table earlier that evening…

A: “I got in trouble today.”

J: “What did you do Austyn?”

A: “I had to go to timeout, because I hit ________.”  (I don’t remember her name, but it was a little girl in his preschool class.)

J: “Austyn! You know we never, ever hit girls. Never! Okay?”

Austyn nodded.

J: “Now, I want you to back to school tomorrow and tell her you’re sorry and won’t do it again.”

Austyn agreed, and the scolding by his big brother ended. After Kandi finished relaying the story to me, I smiled through tears up in my hospital room, and I shared, “That was from Joel. He made sure Josiah and Benjamin understood that boys don’t hit girls, and men don’t hit women.” Now…Josiah was reminded of that teaching and passed it along to his littlest brother.

Even from Heaven, Joel’s legacy lives on strong, and his parenting continues to shine boldly through our home.

#WeAreNotForgotten

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Unexpected Hiatus

DisneyAfter an unexpected hiatus, I’m back! I planned to be a little hit or miss while vacationing at Disney, little did I realize the blogging break would end up being much longer.

We had a wonderful trip to Disney, but it wasn’t without its challenges. I was reminded, quite frequently, something I already know so well. Children (people in general, actually) thrive on structure. Even as planned out as the week was, the structure our daily lives resemble, looks nothing like the craziness a week of vacation tends to bring. That said, the kiddos were in awe of Disney and all it brings. We had many unexpected surprises along the way, and the cast mates (Disney staff) went out of their way for our family. Even so, by the end of each day…I had nothing left. It took it all out of me, and then some.

As soon as we arrived home, we stepped into high speed preparing for the next adventure. My children are currently spending this week with some dear friends of mine in Savannah, GA. Lorie and her husband, Duane, are seasoned adoptive parents, and they also have six biological children. The age range of their children is very similar to mine. She offered this week of respite to me several months ago, and I happily accepted her offer.

Respite from my 24/7 parental responsibilities is something I crave. Joel and I shared our parenting duties well, but as soon as He went Home to Heaven, it all fell on me. It’s been emotionally very difficult to be “on” all the time for the children and try to grieve the way my heart needs to at times. Therefore, this gift of respite was huge, but little did I realize how huge.

Last Monday (the day after my children went to Savannah), I had a scheduled inpatient surgical procedure. I was so glad the kiddos were well taken care of during my 1-2 night planned hospital stay. One less worry. However, my hospital stay turned into four nights, and I almost had to spend a fifth night.

Without going into all the details, I had stomach surgery. The surgery itself was very successful (sounds familiar…oh yes…I said similar words after Joel’s surgery in February), but the post-surgery recovery brought a few challenges…my blood pressure kept dropping, I ran a low grade fever, my resting heart rate was higher than normal, and my oxygen saturation rates were too low. In addition to that, I have a bruise along my abdomen that reaches out to my side and almost to my back that is U.G.L.Y. I bruise easily anyway, but I’ve never had anything like this before. It was a showcase piece for all kinds of hospital staff to view. Nobody could believe it until they laid eyes on it. The bruise was actually the lesser of the evils, but it brought the biggest reaction.

The other problems I kept exhibiting led to many tests to rule out the biggies (i.e. blood clots, tumors), and I’m thankful I had a surgeon willing to be so thorough with me. It probably didn’t hurt they all knew Joel’s story and wanted to avoid a repeat with me. They did well. I really am very pleased. I’m just slowly regaining strength to do much of anything.

It’s hard being “down” all the time. You would think I would have learned that lesson after my foot surgeries this spring. I’m just wired to be on all the time it seems. God, in His abundant mercy, is patiently teaching me about rest. Something I need and crave, but seldom take. This blog hiatus was just one piece of the puzzle, but apparently I needed it too. Thank you for patience as I get “back in the saddle again”.

One more thing… With August now here, I face another difficult “first” later this month. Our anniversary. I covet your prayers, in advance of that day (25th), as my heart is already hurting thinking of another missed celebration with my love.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

It’s a Small World After All – Bound for Disney!

Disney

Our crew in 2014…from left to right…Leah, Anna, Joel, and Aaron

It’s been three years since I last went to Disney World and three years again prior to that, when Anna and I went alone. In 2014, it was only four of us…Joel, me, Anna, and Aaron. We happened to be there over the exact same time we’re going this year. Yes! We’re going to Disney World again!

We have been tremendously blessed by an anonymous donor with a trip for six of us to travel to Disney World, and we’re leaving Saturday! The four littles, along with big (adult) sis Anna, and me will be flying out Saturday morning and returning the following Saturday morning. I can’t believe it’s almost here, and I honestly can’t believe someone loves us this much to do something so HUGE!

We’ll be staying at a Disney resort and visiting all 4 theme parks along with Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). My youngest kiddos have no idea what they are about to experience. They are excited, but it’s an excitement they, themselves, can’t even comprehend until they lay eyes on this place.

I doubt I’ll be blogging much while we’re gone, but then again…you never know. (Laptop is going with me for evening entertainment after kiddos are in bed.) Even so, I’ll be sure to share all about it when we return, as I plan to take in every moment I can with these children and capture (through photography and journaling) their expressions and experiences. Each one of these kiddos of mine (Anna excluded) are former orphans and have never had an opportunity, such as this, in their young lives.

I ask, in advance, for your prayers in several key areas:

  1. No sickness develops for any of us.
  2. The children behave better than ever.
  3. We have no snaffoos to have to deal with…need a smooth week.
  4. The children realize the blessing this is and enjoy their week to the fullest without a feeling of entitlement.
  5. For emotional healing for all of us!

It absolutely breaks my heart that Joel won’t be with us to experience their first Disney trip. It breaks my heart Joel won’t be here to experience Austyn’s first plane ride with him. It breaks my heart to know this trip came about as a result of his death. And yet…I am so grateful and so undeserving.

Thank you Abba for this blessing through generous people! Please continue to bless them with abundant favor!

#HeIsStillGood

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Month Marker Five

marker

Our engagement photo!

So many times, I’m driving down the interstate only to realize I have no idea how far I am in my travels. Thankfully, if I wait a few seconds, the old faithful mile marker will pop up to tell me exactly what I need to know.

The same is true in grief. Yesterday, I received that mile marker, or in my case, a month marker. It was five months yesterday that Joel went Home to Heaven. Five months. On-the-one-hand, the number of days I’ve had to survive without him have felt much longer than the 150 days he’s actually been gone. My heart aches for him daily, and the days feel soooo long sometimes. At other times, however, it feels as if he just left us yesterday, making the pain so much more near.

Speaking of pain, I’ve been asked quite often over the last few weeks how the kids and I are doing. In short…we’re surviving. I don’t think I can use the word thriving just yet. The older kids miss their dad so much. There are so many areas he would normally be very active in within their lives right now, and his absence in those areas makes his physical absence from this earth that much more noticeable.

As for the littles…each one is responding so uniquely different. Josiah (our 9-year-old) misses his daddy but makes sure to point out anything that reminds him of daddy or the things daddy used to do with him. He grieves quietly, and I’m afraid he’s internalizing many of his emotions. We have counseling planned for his near future to help with drawing some of that out in a non-confrontational way. Katerina (our special needs 7-year-old) is blessed to be a special needs little girl right now, because she doesn’t feel the depth of pain the rest of us feel. Now, she’s never too quick to tell us when she misses daddy, but it’s more fact-based than feeling-based. She also reminds everyone of the rules that were in place when daddy died. Such as…when eating at Taco Bell, one MUST eat all their food before touching their cinnamon twists, “Because daddy said so!” I just had to chuckle the other night when she very loudly made that announcement.

And…then…there’s…Austyn. My precious 3-year-old. There’s no double about it…of all the littles…he’s hurting the most. His pain is HUGE, and he’s struggling to make sense of it in his little mind. He cries for daddy daily. He has tantrums daily, because he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions right now. But, he also asks such wise-for-his-years questions, making me wonder if his intelligence is making him think very deeply about everything, causing fear and worry to keep popping up. Many therapy plans are in the works for him too. As you can imagine…I have my hands full simply trying to help them deal with their own grief journey, making mine a bit more complex.

I feel I haven’t been able to even come close to grieving Joel the way my body needs to. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m about to blow, because I just want to cry an ocean and yet have to reign it in to be able to still function as a parent for my children. Sure…I cry around them, but not as often as my body wants to or probably needs to, because I’m just trying to provide a sense of peace in our home. We’ve had so much upheaval, change, and dysfunction (if truth be known) that we now need a huge outpouring of peace. The more I can help to usher that in, the better.

The real me misses my beloved deeply. My heart literally hurts so much sometimes…a physical aching, where I often wonder if I’m having a heart attack. (No…I’m not having heart problems…just heartbreak problems.) I can’t go anywhere without seeing something that reminds me of Joel, and we have a ton of other “mile markers” in our near future that I’m already dreading. Our wedding anniversary is next month. My heart is already breaking over how I’m going to handle that one. I had some dear friends make that 1st very special for me after Chris died, so I know I need to do something different to take my mind off of it, otherwise I’m afraid it will be a pity party day full of grieving that loss all over again. I have lumps in my throat just thinking about it. September brings Joel’s birthday, then the busy season of fall – Thanksgiving – Christmas – my birthday and back to February, the one year anniversary of his Homegoing. Mile markers every single month until then. But, who am I kidding…those are just the “big ones”. I see the little ones daily.

I often go back and read my posts from my first widow experience to see where I was on that journey compared to this one. It appears I was a little more “alive” on my 5th month back then, but it remained a roller coaster ride for quite awhile. I have to remind myself of the very words I speak to other widows and widowers. No grief experiences are the same. They can be identical in scope (suicide, cancer, auto accident), but the people are different, so the experiences will always be different. The same is true of me and my own two experiences. The men were different, I was different (younger then, older now), and our situations were different (4 newly adopted children to parent solo this time). Different towns. Different family members. Everything is different. Well…except for One.

The same God who reached for me out of the deep waters, rescued me, and ultimately restored me, is the VERY same God who will do it again. Until then, I cling to Him as my life raft, and I know the rescue will be complete one day. Until then, I long for His return. I long to be with Joel for eternity, and I long to be in my forever Home!

#HeIsStillGood

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Another Major Change

change

On top of Grandfather Mountain; company picnic in 2013

This week marks a significant event in my life. Another major change in 2017. And yet…this time, the choice was mine to make…sort of.

I’m leaving my beloved job at 106.9 the Light (the radio station started by Billy Graham 55 years ago). I can’t tell you how difficult a decision this has been for me, but I really had no choice.

Considering I spent most of my spring sitting in a recliner with home health nurses coming in and out of my house every other day to treat my foot’s surgical wound…I had a lot of time to think and pray. I also had a lot of time to listen…something I don’t always do very well.

It was in the listening I sensed God telling me it’s time to leave. I honestly couldn’t believe He would ask me to leave the best job I’ve ever had with the most incredible co-workers you can imagine. But, He did.

When Joel and I met, we lived about 75 miles apart. As our relationship grew, we knew the time would come to talk about relocation should we marry. At the time, my daughter had three years left in high school, and I didn’t want her to have to move at such a pivotal time in her life. Joel agreed and made the decision to move to Asheville when we got married, but he kept his job at the hospital, as he had been there many years and loved where he was at. Even so, he was committed to commuting through Anna’s high school graduation and beyond, if needed.

We were also licensed foster parents and didn’t really want to move, as we loved our licensing worker and the children who were in and out of our home (especially the little guy we later adopted). But, God revealed to us it was time to move last fall, for Joel to finally be close to work again. And, we did. This time, the commute was mine for however long we felt led for me to keep it up.

Initially, it worked well. Joel took on the carpooling responsibility that had previously been mine, since I had more travel time now. I still got home about the same time that I used to, because the traffic time with the carpooling in Asheville was so much worse than where we are now. So, it really didn’t change our family time together. Then came February 12, 2017…when God called Joel home. That day changed everything.

The commute was no longer reasonable. I could no longer keep up with the demands of the job, my home, and my kids. Trying to get them to therapy appointments and sports was out of the question. We’ve pretty much just been existing. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and God made that clear to me. But, this is a major step of faith.

I don’t know how all the financial pieces will be met, but God does, and everything I have belongs to Him. I’m trusting Him to lead, and He’s been meeting every need (and then some!). I don’t know what’s next for me completely, but He’s been faithful in that area too, and I’m just walking through the doors He opens. For now…being mom to my littles is my number one priority. They’ve already lost one parent…they need their other parent more than ever.

The story is really more in-depth than what I’ve just written, but that’s the essence of it. This Friday will be my last day at work, and I’m really sad about it. My co-workers gave me a precious brunch this past Monday to reflect on this season that’s ending and to celebrate the new one that’s beginning. They all had the opportunity to share a few words with me, and I can tell you I’ve never felt as treasured by a group of people as I did in those moments. Their words encouraged me, challenged me, humbled me, and soothed my aching heart. (Words of affirmation happens to be #1 love language, so that doesn’t hurt.)

This major change will sting quite a bit for awhile, but like everything else we’ve been through this year…the pain from that initial sting will eventually soften a bit, and we know God is still amazingly good!

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