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!

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Difficult Firsts

difficult firsts

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Since the time of my last blogging season, I’ve “survived” many of the difficult firsts of widowhood…Joel’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. And…one more to go this weekend with my birthday on Sunday.

Undoubtedly, Christmas was THE most difficult of all the firsts. I can’t even begin to describe the emotions of celebrating the Lord’s birth without my husband by my side. Since we just moved to our new town a little over a year ago, we only had one Christmas together in this house. We had dreams of what we would do differently this year that our move last year prevented…hanging lights outside, Joel building me a tiered stand to hold my Christmas village (he already had the design concept planned out), sending out Christmas cards again (my favorite thing to do), etc. Those things didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, I didn’t display my village at all. That seems minor in the grand scheme of things, but it was just another painful reminder of our loss.

I spent Christmas morning at home with my children and then traveled to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas dinner and an afternoon of gift exchanging and fun. Joel’s siblings and their families were also present along with his son, Justin, and his sweet wife, Virginia. We celebrated the engagement of Joel’s niece as well! I choked back the emotion of spending such a precious day with people I love without my man with us. Regardless, the tears came, as we all knew the day wasn’t the same without him.

My upcoming birthday is the last of the “firsts” until the anniversary of Joel’s death arrives in a few weeks. Birthdays were always so difficult for me as a child. Because mine came so soon after Christmas, it was often overlooked by my parents. It wasn’t intentional…it just was what it was. Interestingly enough, my own daughter was born two days after my birthday, and one of my adopted sons has the same birthday as my daughter. Needless to say, I’ve tried to be very intentional since my daughter’s birth, nearly 21 years ago, to not make her birthday feel like a challenge to celebrate just following Christmas. I’ve wanted it to feel special, because it was something I missed out on for so long.

That’s where Joel came in. He wanted to make up for years I lost, so to speak. He wanted my January birthday to feel as if it came in the middle of July, rather than in the hustle and bustle of the “post-Christmas blues”. He went out of his way to make me feel special. My previous late husband, Chris, did the same thing. Obviously, the loss of both men in my life will be very apparent this weekend. Now, don’t get me wrong…birthdays tend to lose their “flare” the older I get, and it sounds so selfish to even point out the obvious loss this will bring. Just keeping it real.

But God…

In His goodness, God knew my heart would be hurting, and He had a plan drawn up long before Joel ever joined his heavenly home. I’ll be spending time on Monday morning with a few precious women I’ve met since Joel’s death. These ladies have ignited the fire in my soul again more times than I can count. They are the fibers holding me together, through prayer – worship – a kind word – a special note, on my darkest days. And, I can’t imagine a more fitting way to give God praise for blessing me with another year of life, especially when it seemed this past year did everything it could to try to “take me out”. He hasn’t forgotten me. I praise Him for His continued faithfulness!

#HeIsStillGood

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It’s Less Than Six Months Away – Joel’s Tree

Joel's TreeFor those of you who journeyed with me down Grief Road after losing my husband Chris, you might recall the “Chris Tree” we constructed together. By far, it was one of the most memorable joy-filled events of that first year of widowhood. I knew that first Christmas without him would be very difficult, and having a memorial tree dedicated to Chris and all those things which made up his personality, helped to make that Christmas very special to me.

As a result, I knew I just had to do the same thing for Joel! As a matter of fact, I’ll have both trees up these year, along with our family tree (can you tell how much I love to decorate for Christmas?)! Now…this is where you come in. When I did this before, I invited others to participate in the construction of the “Chris Tree” by finding ornaments that went along with a list of suggestions I came up with. I would love to do the same thing for my “Joel Tree”. I’ll provide a list of suggested ornament themes below, and I would love it if you would join us in adorning his memorial tree. The ornaments don’t have to be new. They could be yard sale or consignment store finds. If you’re crafty, feel free to make something. I’m happy to provide my mailing address to anyone that chooses to participate, just drop me an email at leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com letting me know you need it. Feel free to send in ornaments anytime, but I’d like to have them no later than November 1, otherwise the busyness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons will soon be upon us.

Here is a list of ornament categories (in no particular order), but if God places something else on your heart…that’s okay too.

  • Kayaking
  • Hiking
  • Outdoorsman
  • Grandpa with kids
  • Dad with kids
  • Coach
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Carolina Tarheels
  • High Point, NC
  • Beach
  • Bulgaria
  • Woodworking
  • J – initial ornaments
  • Jesus – Cross
  • Bible
  • Hospital worker (scrubs)
  • Radiation therapist
  • Ping pong
  • Pool table, cue sticks, etc.
  • Horses
  • Horseback riding
  • Cows
  • Cowboy
  • Farmer
  • Country boy
  • Marines (Joel and his dad)
  • Air Force (Joel’s son, Justin)
  • The number 15 to represent his 9 children, 2 children-in-love, 2 grandbabies, Joel, and Leah!
  • Family – names or initials of his wife and children (Leah, Amy, Wes, Noelle, Micah, Justin, Virginia, Caleb, Anna, Aaron, Josiah, Katerina, Benjamin, and Austyn)
  • Skydiver
  • Jesse – baby in Heaven
  • Sports
  • Bible verses
  • Orphans
  • Photo ornaments with his picture
  • Personalized ornaments with his name
  • AWANA (he was AWANA Commander and very active when his bio children were younger)

I can’t tell you how meaningful this will be to my family and me and will help to take the “sting” out of not having Joel/Daddy/Pawpaw with us this year. May God bless you, in advance, for your simple act of kindness to my grieving heart! Feel free to email me with any questions (leahstirewalt25@yahoo.com). Christmas will be here before we know it!

#HeIsStillGood

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Changes…Big Ones…Are Coming – God Put the Bookends Up on Another Season

changes are comingBig changes are coming friends! As if our family needs anything else…right? Joel’s death, my three back-to-back foot surgeries, my car accident resulting in a totaled car, and adjusting to life as a single parent of four young children. What else you might ask? Isn’t that enough? Yes! I totally agree with you. But, this time…it wasn’t totally up to me.

To bring you up-to-speed with the calendar of events as they’ve unfolded:

Feb 9 – Joel was admitted to the hospital

Feb 12 – Joel went Home to Heaven

Mar 10 – Leah’s tarsal tunnel release surgery

Mar 15 – Leah’s planned return to work date

Mar 17 – Leah’s 2nd emergency foot surgery (unable to return to work – foot complications complete with a baseball-sized blood clot)

Mar 31 – Leah’s 3rd emergency foot surgery (wound vac installed – no work anytime soon); home health nursing every other day

Apr 13 – Leah’s car accident – totaled Joel’s car

May 18 – Upper endoscopy

May 19 – Upper GI

May 30 – Results from May 18 and 19 procedures appear to be leading to another surgery (NOT foot related this time, Hallelujah!)

June 6 – Released from foot surgery drama to return to work at the radio station (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association owned station)!!!

Sounds complicated but pretty cut-and-dry at the same time, right? Well…not exactly.

I need to give you a little bit of the back story first.

I’ve worked at 106.9 the Light, based in Asheville, NC since May, 2011. However, I volunteered for the station for seven years prior to that (and was a devoted listener for many, many years prior to that). Let’s say we go back a long time. In 2007, I interviewed for a position with the ministry, and was offered the position at the station. I was all ready to accept the position when I sensed a nudging from the Holy Spirit saying, “Not yet.” I really tried to ignore Him, but the nudgings didn’t stop. I really wanted this position. It was my dream job in my dream organization. But, God made it clear…it wasn’t the right time.

Fast forward to the spring of 2011. The position was open again. I sensed the time was finally right for me to apply, and if God saw fit…He would open the door for an offer. An offer came…on the very day my previous husband, Chris, took his own life. God knew I would need the job then far more than I would have back in 2007. He was right.

Working for the BGEA, and specifically 106.9 the Light, has been more than a job. It’s been a calling, and my co-workers are my family. We’re a bunch of imperfect people doing the best ministry we can who happen to use a tool called radio to do it. Through these last six years, I can see how God called me to the station “for such a time as this”.

After taking some time off following Joel’s death, I planned to return to work on March 15 following my first (and preferably only) foot surgery. Well, as you can see from my timeline above, that didn’t happen. With each delay, I grew more and more weary and even more worried and confused.

God…what are you doing? You know how badly I need to be back at work. That’s my family! I need them now more than ever.

Not so fast, my daughter. I called you to that ministry, and I’m now releasing you from that call. The deaths of your husbands were the “bookends” for that season of your life. You fulfilled your calling in that ministry but not in life, in general. I am preparing you for a new season. 

No!!!! Please say it isn’t so, Lord! What am I going to do?

Wait on me. 

For how long? 

As long as it takes.

What’s next? 

As I said, wait on me. Haven’t I always met your needs? Trust Me in this. Your first priority now is to be a mom to these children that need you. It will be impossible for you to do that with a job so far from the community in which you now live. You need to be nearby to meet their needs. I’ll continue to lead you, step-by-step. I am far from finished with you daughter.

While our little chats weren’t audible (well…my part was…along with many tears and a bunch of whining, if truth be told), that’s the summary of how it ended up. I kept asking God why He allowed all the setbacks with my foot, and He’s made it clear that if He didn’t keep me down for as long as He did, I would have disobeyed and returned to work and not been prepared to step down from my position, as He’s clearly directed me to do.

With a full peace-filled heart, but many accompanying tears, I submitted my resignation and have returned to work just in time to wrap up my position and try to help as they transition to a new ministry team member. I’ll be there until July 14, and I intend to absorb every last ministry moment God gives me with this precious organization.

Another change. Another one that feels a bit unwelcome at the moment (like all the others before this one this year), but I trust God’s leading, and I know that I know that I know He’s sovereign, and His plan for the next chapter in my life is going to be great! Please pray for us through this time of “unknown”. Thank you so much dear ones!

#HeIsStillGood