Friday, July 13, 2018

I’m Still Here!

our familyWith my lack of posting lately, many might be wondering if I’ve fallen off a cliff, but I’m still here! Life has just been very full as of late. Very full. I have so much to share in my little blog world and honestly don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll start by answering the questions I get asked the most…

How are you doing in year two of your second widow journey?

How are the kids?

Neither question can I answer succinctly, but I’ll do so over the course of several posts in the future, so you don’t have to a read a novel in one sitting. Fair enough?

Let’s start with the kiddos…

JosiahJosiah – Now a 10-year-old, Josiah is my hero. He has experienced so much in his first ten years of life…the abandonment from his bio parents to a Bulgarian orphanage, adoption, moving to a new country, learning a new language, school in America, and the sudden and shocking death of his adopted dad. He just finished third grade and is going to summer reading camp for three weeks to help him be better prepared for fourth grade. He made tremendous growth in school last year but still has some catching up to do.

At home, he is my rock! He has stepped into the role of “big brother” in an entirely new way. He tries to help me with all kinds of things (even without my asking): cooking, cleaning, dressing his siblings, taking the puppy out, playing with his littlest brother quite often (they are best friends), and much, much more.

I have high hopes for this young man. He is bright. He is focused (on meds, lol!). He lives in the moment but dreams of his future. He loves Jesus and is uber-sensitive to making sure mealtime prayers are not skimped on by his siblings. He is also a bit of a germophobe and makes sure manners are practiced.

KaterinaKaterina – The only girl (besides me) still living at home, surrounded by boys (even the canine boy). She will be turning 9-years-old in early September but is developmentally more like a 4-5-year-old. She is in an exceptional children’s class (special ed) at school and just completed 2nd grade, where she made substantial growth.

As many of you know, my little Kat has been riddled with diagnoses that have labeled her, to a degree, but she sees herself just like everyone else. She has Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, and has most recently been declared legally blind in one eye and low vision in the other. She receives weekly occupational, speech, and physical therapies and will begin hippotherapy soon too. She’s most excited about the latter, as she LOVES horses!

Not only horses, Kat seems to be a lover of many animals and tries frequently to be Hunter’s primary caregiver (our 6-month-old yellow lab). Unfortunately, Hunter has now surpassed Kat’s weight, so Josiah has the task of taking him out on the leash most frequently.

Kat is also a rule-follower. She frequently tattles on her siblings and tries to be Austyn’s “second mom”. We’re working on this, but I’m not sure much will change in the near future. I’m at least thankful she’s a rule-follower.

BenBenjamin – He is 7-years-old and goes most often by “Ben”. He is the life of the party in our house and loves to dance and listen to music. Anytime music is playing, you will find Ben bopping his head along, in rhythm, and singing his lungs out (even if he doesn’t know the words of the song). His smile is infectious, and he has most recently found a love for the harmonica!

Ben will be repeating first grade next year, but he was the only one of my Bulgarian kiddos to start school “on time” by American standards. This is certainly not a bad thing, and I welcome the opportunity for him to grow more in literacy. He, like Josiah, is attending three weeks of reading camp this summer.

Ben will begin occupational therapy again next week, here in Hickory (he had it before when we lived in Asheville). He has ADHD, ODD, and RAD (reactive attachment therapy) diagnoses, and I long for the day Ben can attach in a “normal” way, but this is not uncommon with adopted children.

AustynAustyn – Oh…my sweet “Aussie”, as we now dub him. He is our cute little four-year-old towhead. His cuteness, however, can cover up the little firecracker he actually is. He, too, has multiple mental health issues, stemming from his bio family, but we know God is bigger than all the “issues”.

He is excelling in school, and is smarter than we can wrap our heads around. He loves his big brother, Josiah, and follows him everywhere. He still sleeps with Mama and is “scared” to even walk through a room by himself. I continue to pray for God to release him of his fears and for him to walk in peace. He will be starting grief therapy soon. He grieves the hardest over the loss of his daddy and constantly pines for him. It breaks my heart!

As for me, stay tuned…so much happening (good and difficult), but I am prepared for it all! I will be leaving for a mission trip to Ecuador on July 27 and am most anxious about it but so excited to pour into the women of this precious nation. I welcome your prayers!

I will continue to update, as able. I have missed this community immensely and am thankful God has renewed my writing passion!

Monday, May 7, 2018

I. Feel. Judged.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

There…I said it. I. Feel. Judged. After another long hiatus from this little community, I don’t want my first post back to be one that sounds negative. It’s just what’s on my heart right now, and I find I write more authentically from the heart. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written in awhile…just too hard to compose “feelings” into words sometimes. But, I’ve been thinking (could be dangerous, at times), and some of those thoughts are coming out via the keyboard.

I’ve been feeling judged lately. Nobody has said that, in essence, but actions (or lack thereof) speak loudly sometimes. As a I told my dear friend recently, “I know I haven’t been the best daughter, friend, family member, blogger (and I implied any other relationship I might have missed the mark with), and I’m truly sorry.” I just stink at it…a lot.

I could “blame” it on a lot, according to many.

You had a crappy childhood; you’ve been widowed twice; you’re solo parenting four adopted kiddos (all of whom have a special need component that we deal with daily); you have a lot on your plate with day-to-day living, in general. And the list goes on…

The truth of the matter? I’m a sinner, saved by grace. Right now, a LOT of grace is being poured out on me. If people want me to feel judged, they’ve succeeded. However, most of the judgment I feel, I heap on myself, and I don’t even need anyone else to do that for me.

I feel I fail most days. I feel defeated quite often. I keep trying and trying and trying and often feel I take two steps forward and three back. And…then are the good days. Aaaahhh…the good days keep me sane. They are balm to my weary soul. Sometimes a good day is simply getting the kids to school on time. Seriously. I keep backing up the time our mornings begin, but with four ADHD kiddos, each new morning brings a new set of chaotic challenges. I’ve thought many times of dressing them for school the night before simply to eliminate that element of it. (There…I admitted it.)

I’m truthfully ashamed, most days, at the disorganized mess my life has become at times. For those that “knew me when”…I am a recovering perfectionist with high OCD tendencies. Nothing was ever out of place. I would have never entertained the thought of filing a tax return extension. I was NEVER late. I filed receipts weekly (not once a year – another current confessional). I crafted all the time. I read lots of books, and I do mean lots. I never missed sending out a thank you note and certainly didn’t miss mailing out Christmas cards. My car was always clean (at least on the inside). I communicated with people frequently (yes…even before email and Facebook).

Now? I don’t think I need to spell it out. It hurts to be at a place in life where I sometimes don’t even recognize myself. However, I am also grateful for the “new me”.

  • The new Leah has experienced abounding grace, and I feel I pour it out more abundantly than I ever did before. I used to be what many might consider judgmental, but now…I see people for who they are and where they are in life. I simply love people now. Now, don’t get me wrong…I don’t like bullies (and, they can come in all shapes and forms), but I love people.
  • The new Leah understands failure and accepts it (even though painful at times) when it arrives at my doorstep once again.
  • The new Leah has learned to say “no” to what doesn’t fit into my life, as it exists now. That was something I’ve always struggled to do in the past, but I’m getting better at it.
  • The new Leah recognizes all that’s been done for me and my family and is thankful for it beyond words…even, if I can’t reciprocate it appropriately.
  • The new Leah realizes she might not be a Type A personality anymore (by default) and has embraced (not always willingly) her new Type B+ personality.

But, there is one area in which I’ve never changed. I don’t accept the role of “victim”. I will not use my life experiences as a reason for self-pity. I have been given much, and to whom much is given, much is also required (Luke 12:48 reference). Sometimes, the requirement is great sacrifice. But, I’m thankful God feels me worthy to walk the road of sacrifice quite often. And, I’m thankful He’s continuing to change me and mold me into someone He can use. He is my ultimate judge, and to Him I owe my life (even if it is messy much of the time).

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Struggling Single Parent

single parent

I’ve really been struggling to post lately. Let me rephrase that…

I’ve been struggling. Period.

This season of my grief journey has blindsided me a bit. I should have seen it coming. Unlike most widows or widowers, I’ve sadly been down this road before. I learned during my first grief episode all about the non-linear aspect of grief (much to my disappointment). I’m the type of person that likes to check a box…that feeling of accomplishment…and then move on to the next task. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way with grief. Just when I think I’ve made some headway, I feel like I’m back to square one. There’s nothing, in particular, which causes that, making it even tougher to predict. Sometimes it can be a series of things that catapults me backwards (or what feels like a backwards move to me). Even so…it’s where I’ve been since returning from my amazing trip to the Outer Banks.

For me, the single parenting aspect of this grief journey has been the toughest, by far. Not only do I still have our four youngest children at home, but we had adopted all four of them within just a little over a year prior to Joel’s death (and the adoption of one wasn’t complete until four months prior to his death, although we had parented him the longest). With adoption, there are significant challenges in and of themselves that often make two-parent families curl up in a ball in a corner at times. It’s tough friends. We were highly educated for this. We knew what we could face, and we had been not only surviving it but truly thriving (even on the difficult days). And, with God’s help…we were doing it…TOGETHER! Now…I’m both mommy and “daddy” to them. And, let me tell you, I do NOT make a good “daddy”.  I know I’m not the only single parent in the world. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children. I know I’m not the only single parent of special needs children who just lost their daddy too (truly, I’m not). But, knowing that, although comforting in a twisted sort of way, doesn’t take away my real day-to-day needs.

Most of those are needs that can only be met by God Himself: parenting wisdom, loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, emotional and physical drain, and much more. I am often asked, “What do you need?” Truly…I can’t answer that question most of the time. Due to my physical and emotional exhaustion…I can’t think past the next moment many times. I continue to say the greatest gift you can do is seek the Lord with that question and simply do whatever He instructs you to do. He knows our every need. For example, just two nights ago, I received a phone call from an Asheville friend who felt urged to simply give me a call. That phone call was such a blessing to me. It was simply full of encouragement, understanding, and listening (even through my tears). She didn’t pretend to understand what I am walking through, but she understood pain. She understood grief. She understood parenting challenges. And…she understood in spite of my worst day, God is still central to everything I believe.

Even on these very difficult days I’ve been experiencing lately, I still say with everything in me…He. Is. Still. Good. I’m still waiting for a breakthrough, of sorts. I’m still waiting for come consecutive good days. I’m still waiting for God’s favor in many areas in which I’ve been consistently praying. Even if I don’t see these things for awhile, and even if I don’t see the answers in the way in which I expect them to be received…I believe with everything in me…

He. Is. Still. Good.

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