Sunday, October 30, 2011


Clarity.  It's an interesting word.  If you look it up in the dictionary, it means "the quality or state of being clear...clearness of thought or style...the quality of being expressed, understood, or remembered in a very exact way."  In the past three months, I've experienced and lived the complete opposite of clarity, which is ambiguity---uncertainty, a lack of decisiveness or commitment.

On July 30, the rug got pulled out from under me.  Mark passed from this earthly dwelling and hit the ground running with his bird dogs up in heaven, and left me with two little boys, a home, two vehicles, a hunting dog, and lots of plans.  Those plans, which included specific life changes, including retirement, moving to his home place in Kansas, and beginning a new exciting chapter of our lives, are now shot. 

It was like my arms had been cut off.  Mark and I were two halves of a whole, we had a close, loving relationship that had weathered the test of time.  From the day I met him, at age 22, I was in love.  It took awhile to get him to come around (lol!), but for almost 25 years we were inseparable.  Never an ill word, never a real argument that whole time.  We could finish each other's sentences, knew each other's thoughts and dreams.  A look across the room from him still made me weak in the knees, his smile lit up the room wherever he was.  Our boys worshipped the ground he walked on, as did I (although I would never admit it to him face-to-face). 

For the first few weeks after his death, I was completely numb.  I went through the motions, greeting hundreds of people during visitation and two funeral services in two states.  As I look back, I see that the one thing my life certainly did not have, other than Mark, was clarity.  I did what needed to be done, put one foot in front of the other, and attended to the daily business that had to be accomplished.  My goal?  Keep Andrew and Benjamin  in as normal a routine as humanly possible, even though our world had been turned upside down.  We did the best we could, and still just go through the motions at times.  I didn't think ahead, down the road, it hurt too much to think of life without him, so I just existed. 

As the shock and numbness wore off, I searched for clarity, for meaning to come once again into our lives.  Trying to make a family out of three that's used to being nothing but four is tough.  As we struggled to find a "new" normal for the Howell family of three, all of those plans that we had made before Mark's death were always hovering in the background, a reminder of what was "supposed" to be.  We'd officially began the move to Kansas countdown, July 5, 2013 was to be Mark's retirement date.  In my mind, I'd already started to begin the sometimes-sad process of separating myself from friendships and other relationships, in anticipation of the big move that loomed in our future.  I was looking forward to it because it had become our dream. 

Do I still stick to his plan of moving to Kansas, even without him?  I know what he wanted for our boys, to be raised in the country, on a farm, where life is definitely different from the city life of Wichita Falls, Texas.  Even though I know that there is no rush, and that I don't have to make any decision such as this for a long time, it has weighed on me enormously.

Here's where the clarity part comes in.  I've gotten back into my running routine, trying for 5 days a week, 3 to 5 miles a day.  There's something about pounding the pavement (concrete trail) that frees me and clears my head.  The endorphins, coupled with the prayers and sweet remembrances of our life with Mark, enable me to have clarity on a more regular basis.  I work out my problems while running, I cry for my husband while running, I pray for guidance while running.  And as the issue of whether to move to Kansas or not lurks in the back recesses of my mind (whether I want to admit it or not),  I play out all the possible solutions. 

Friday morning, around mile 3, it hit me.  Smack dab between the eyes, as I round "Howell Pond" (the small borrow pit on the trail before you arrive at Lake Wichita ), it is as crystal clear to me as the beautiful sight of the Canada geese passing over my head.  We are at home.  Yes, Wichita Falls is home.  Everywhere I turn in this city, I see Mark.  I see him in the beauty of the lakes in this area, in River Bend Nature Center, where he served on the board and as interim Director; in the countless number of kids fishing events he helped sponsor.  If I want to raise our sons in a place that their father was well-regarded and helped to make better, then Wichita Falls is where we need to stay, at least for the forseeable future. 

This has put my conscience and my worries at ease.  I know, without a doubt, that I don't have to uproot my family and move to Kansas.  Kansas is a beautiful place, a place that our sons will always be connected to.  It's where we buried their daddy. No matter what the future holds for this Howell party of three, they will have the land, because it is their heritage.  They will continue to visit it and grow to love it and appreciate it, as their father did.  Maybe we'll build a cabin on that beautiful pasture land, and visit there on a frequent basis.  We will hunt on our land next fall, after we feel comfortable with shotguns and a bird dog with a GPS.  Maybe at some point down the road we might consider moving there.  But for now, we will remain Texans. 

My boys whole-heartedly agree with my clarity-driven decision.  They tell me, quietly, that they were not looking forward to leaving their friends.  I assure them that we will stay, past the two-year deadline that we'd been working with prior to losing Mark.  Because even though I am a left handed girl from Western Kentucky, I've lived in Texas since 1990, and this dry, dusty, hotter than hell city is full of friends and great memories.  Uprooting these Howell sons from the only home they've ever known is not an option on the table anymore.  And I hope Mark can understand and support my decision, even from his heavenly vantage point. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

A work in progress.....

I'm an impatient person.  Anyone that knows me already knows I have this sometimes-not-so-attractive trait.  Been this way since I was a little kid.  If there's something I want or something I want to do, I tend to "want it now."  I've tried over the years to rise above this trait, and as an adult, I think I'm much better than I used to be.  The last three months have tested my ability to be patient, that's for sure.

I was impatient, wanting Mark to have his surgery back in May (he waited until he was ready for it, and that was in late July)....I couldn't make that decision for him, and it so frustrated me.  Looking back, part of me wonders if he had gone ahead with it earlier, if the outcome would've been different....and I think probably not.  He was wiser about these things than I was, and I think deep down within himself, he had an inkling that all was not well.  He just chose not to bother me with the details. 

I remained impatient during the week he was in the hospital, praying for hours for him to be healed, so we could go home together, raise our sons, retire, and head into the beautiful sunset, the four of us, in two short years, in Kansas.  But it wasn't in the cards.

I've been impatient with my grief, wanting to move through whatever stages that manifest as quickly as possible, because it hurts so damn much.  God and my wonderful counselor have convinced me otherwise...I must walk through it in God's time, not my own, so that I can heal.  My boys deserve no less than a parent who is strong, resilient, and prayerful; if I'm not whole, I can't expect them to process their tremendous sorrow, either.  Right now, they are doing wonderfully, despite the crappy circumstances, both had high straight As on their report card, and are the student council reps for their respective classes.  If someone didn't know them, and observed them in any of their activities, they would have absolutely no clue that they have lost their daddy.  And as long as I can keep them in a routine, where we keep up with our daily responsibilities, but allow time to grieve and remember, I will be satisfied.

God is working with me daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, as I struggle with insecurities, grief, impatience, sin, and envy.  I see other "whole" families and wonder why them & not me?  I see little gray-haired couples at the supermarket, and think how I got the short end of the stick....Mark & I were supposed to grow old together.  But the more I pray & study, the more I see that we have no guarantees about anything in life, except that God will be beside us.  What I desire and what I get are many times diametrically opposed. 

I, for one, am thankful that my God is not impatient.  If He were, He would've given up on me a very long time ago.  I'm sure He's thought thousands of times, "Is she ever going to learn?  Is she ever going to let Me work My plan in her life, her family's life, without trying to hurry? You'd think as smart as she claims to be, that she would be intelligent enough to trust Me, because I will not fail her nor her boys." 

I bought both boys dogtag-type necklaces at our local Christian bookstore.  The verse inscribed is Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  They wear them often.  They believe God's promise, and are a heck of a lot more patient than their mommy.  Last night, my neighbor, who is dealing with a heart-wrenching divorce and a young adult child that is acting out, got a hug from both boys, "just because" they thought she needed it.  Andrew, who was wearing his necklace, showed it to her and read the scripture aloud.  I think we all teared up just a little.  My sons are so filled with God's spirit that I am continually amazed and astonished. 

Thank You, God, for being constantly and continually patient with me, your lowly servant.  Thank You for blessing me beyond my mere human comprehension with two fine boys from a man that I loved completely.  Thank You for friends, family, and strangers who pray for all of us on a regular basis.  And most of all, thank You for supplying me with what I need, when I need it, to forge ahead on this unknown path. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"I'm bigger than my body gives me credit for.."

Today, I celebrated Mark's birthday.  He would've been 56, going on 18....a kid wrapped up in a middle-aged man's body.  As the day approached, I struggled with whether to celebrate, mourn, make a big deal out of it, or keep it very low-key.  After prayers and soul searching, I took the options to his boys, my sounding boards since his death.  Both wanted to celebrate their dad.  So, celebrate we did.  But I'll get to that part later.

I began the day searching for a wayward rat trap.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I have (had?) rats in our backyard, they'd gotten so bold that they were bellying up to Maggie's food & water dishes, in plain sight of the humans in the house and the high-priced bird dog in her doghouse, not 4 feet away.  She seemed unconcerned---maybe only animals with feathers pique her interest.  A snapping plastic rat trap was purchased, the first of which was chewed up by said bird dog; the second was baited, bird dog was crated overnight while the trap lay nearby, and the first rat was caught. Clean kill, as Mark would chortle.  This dainty girl from Western Kentucky shuddered a bit, but took a long-handled shovel, popped open the trap, and deposited the carcass over our back fence into the great wide open.

Feeling pretty good about things last night, I re-crated the dog, re-baited the trap, and hoped for the best.  Before bedtime, after the Rangers handily handled the Cardinals, my mom peeked out to check the trap.  She couldn't see it.  No problem, I figured she wasn't looking in the correct location.  But it was missing!  At 11pm last evening, I had a rat, somewhere in my fenced backyard, running around with a trap stuck on its head.  Great.  Just what I needed.  Since I refused to traipse around my big backyard in my pajamas, looking for it with a flashlight, I cut my losses and went to bed.

Sunrise came early enough and I walked out on the back porch.  The trap (with rat) were located nearby, next to my fireplace, not 3 feet from the porch.  I went back inside to report the find to the boys, took my trusty gloves & shovel, and headed back out the door to dispose of the carcass.  Imagine my surprise as the rat began moving around, breathing, and shaking the trap.  Yes, for all of you out there, I did squeal like a girl, just a little.  The boys were oh so interested in seeing this development.  With a dog that needed to be un-crated so she could potty, along with two boys that needed to be transported to school in a few minutes, I struggled with my options.  What should I do?  I've never knowingly or deliberately killed anything.  I came back inside to ask Mark's boys their opinions.  Andrew didn't hesitate whenever I asked what would Daddy do?  "Dad would take the shovel and whack it, Mom!  I've seen him do it.  Just whack it and it will be dead." 

I reasoned that the poor rodent had been injured and had suffered enough.  I closed my eyes and whacked it with the shovel.  Mercifully, it quit moving.  After another few gulps, and a tiny squeal for good measure, I disengaged the trap from the rat, scooped the carcass into the shovel, and proceeded to walk to the back fence to toss it.  I heard laughter behind me.  As I turned to look, both boys were running behind me, cheering me on.  "Mom, you did it!  You faced your fears!  You whacked it just like Dad would do.  Dad is so proud, and so are we!"  I laughed out loud.  Here on Mark's birthday, before 8 am in the morning, I was accomplishing something I never thought I could do....because I never had to before.  Mission accomplished.

After writing an outdoor column on the upcoming Texas quail season, I suited up for my daily run.  This is my meditation time, my time to cry all I want while communing with God and nature.  I had alot to pray and think about, as I recalled about 20 years of birthdays with my husband.  I looked at Lake Wichita and the borrow pit nearby, knowing that neither would probably be in existence today without the input Mark gave as part of the Lake Wichita Study Committee and in his role as TPWD District Management Supervisor for this region of North Texas.  Everywhere I look, I see him.  Everytime I close my eyes, I see him.  He's always smiling that huge, goofy grin that I loved so much.  I returned home dry-eyed and happy, knowing that he is with us, even while he's running around in heaven.

After lunch, the phone rang.  It was my own personal angel, Mark's nurse that took care of him in the ICU at United Regional.  I call her my angel, but she is very modest.  She prays for me.  She shows up on my doorstep with cookies, muffins, and devotional books.  She knows my wedding anniversary.  She knows his birthday.  I don't know how she knows these things, but her faith ministers to me each and every time I see her, talk to her, or read the book she so lovingly gave me.  I feel like I've known her all my life.  She tells me that I have, because we are "sisters in Christ".  As we visit, I cry.  She cries a little, too.  I thank her again for taking such wonderful loving care of Mark for those few days.  She and the rest of the ICU staff are a special group of people, and I will be eternally grateful for what they did for him and for me.

Texts, phone calls, and facebook messages continued throughout the day, everyone checking on my little family of three.  I called his mom, because I know this day is hard for her, too.  He was her oldest, born in Germany a mere 11 months after his parents' wedding.  He was very much like her in so many ways.  She was looking forward to having him back in Kansas after his retirement, because they shared so many interests and loves.  We cry, we laugh, we reminisce. 

My mom, boys and I head to Chili's to continue the celebration.  I order the best beer on the menu (Sam Adams) and drink to an awesome daddy and husband.  He would so approve!  Afterwards we head to Hospice's Building Bridges program, where my adult friends remember this day, and tell me they have been praying for me.  Wow.  I am overwhelmed by the love and support given to my family.  By people that have known us for years, and by people we've known only a few weeks. 

As the day winds down, I breathe a sigh of relief.  We made it.  We did it.  It wasn't easy, but we celebrated the life of a great guy without mourning too much.  As I ran, I listened to my mix of music, and this song really spoke to me today.  I'm a John Mayer fan, and everytime I hear this song, "Bigger Than My Body," I think of Mark shedding his earthly body and flying.  It makes me smile, cry, and run a little faster.
Bigger Than My Body by John Mayer

This is a call to the color-blind
This is an IOU
I'm stranded behind a horizon line
Tied up in something true

Yes, I'm grounded
Got my wings clipped
I'm surrounded (by)
All this pavement
Guess I'll circle
While I'm waiting
For my fuse to dry

Someday I'll fly
Someday I'll soar
Someday I'll be so damn much more
Cause I'm bigger than my body gives me credit for

Why is it not my time?
What is there more to learn?
Shed this skin I've been tripping in
Never to quite return

Yes, I'm grounded
Got my wings clipped
I'm surrounded (by)
All this pavement
Guess I'll circle
While I'm waiting
For my fuse to dry

Someday I'll fly
Someday I'll soar
Someday I'll be so damn much more
Cause I'm bigger than my body gives me credit for
Cause I'm bigger than my body now

Maybe I'll tangle in the power lines
And it might be over in a second's time
But I'll gladly go down in a flame
If the flame's what it takes to remember my name

Yes, I'm grounded
Got my wings clipped
I'm surrounded (by)
All this pavement
Guess I'll circle
While I'm waiting
For my fuse to dry
For my fuse to dry

Someday I'll fly
Someday I'll soar
Someday I'll be so damn much more
Cause I'm bigger than my body
I'm bigger than my body
I'm bigger than my body now

Monday, October 24, 2011

I am enough.....

Reflecting on an awesome weekend, I stayed so busy I didn't even have time to blog :)  The World Series game on Saturday was the once-in-a-lifetime experience I had hoped for.  As we drove, getting closer and closer to Arlington, we got more and more excited.  I felt like someone should pinch me, because it was like a dream.  I won't lie, it was tough being there, knowing I was the permanent substitute for Mark.  Andrew was quiet and subdued for a time, right before the game.  He wanted to sit by me, even though our friends were along; as we stood for the national anthem, I glanced to my side, taking in that profile---blonde hair, blue eyes, holding his Rangers hat over his heart---and I was overcome with a mixture of pride, wonder, and sadness.  He is so much his father's son. 

Soon after Mark's death, I worried.  How could I be both father and mother to two young boys who literally worshipped the ground their daddy walked on?  What would I do whenever it came to the inevitable talks about girls, sex, relationships?  How would I handle the absence of all that male testosterone that was present when Mark was physically here?  He rolled, tumbled, rough housed with them.  He played all kinds of ball with them.  He took them fishing, he took them hunting. He was the ringleader of fun, the epitome of a big kid wrapped up in a 55 year old body. 

This overwhelming worry was the reason for alot of prayer early on.  And you know what?  I got the answer.....I am ENOUGH.  God told me that I am enough for our boys.   I will always be enough because I have God on my side.  Even though I'm not going to rough house with them, I can love them, I can be there for them, and I can handle the hard questions.  Taking Andrew to the World Series, I was enough.  He was so impressed that I could rattle off the Texas Rangers' starting lineup...not bad for a left-handed girl from Western Kentucky :)  It would've been nice if Mark had been there physically, but boy, was he ever there spiritually.  The sunset before the game was identical to the sunset he showed me in Kansas, the day before we returned to TX in August.  That photo is on the background page of this blog.  He was there.  We both know it.

God is enough for my family.  He has carried us, loved us, given us a great support system.  He is enough.  And even though there is a big void in our lives, a hole that will never be filled, His grace is sufficient.  We continue standing, functioning, and living life because He is enough.

 My devotional for the day recently put it all in perspective:  "The best response to losses or thwarted hopes is praise:  The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Remember that all good things---your possessions, your family and friends, your health and abilities, your time---are gifts from Me.  Instead of feeling entitled to all these blessings, respond to them with gratitude.  Be prepared to let go of anything I take from you, but never let go of My hand!"     (from "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young).

My family's going to hang on to that hand.  Because that hand will lead us into the bright future He has promised.  He continually reminds us, "I am enough."  And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Good day, sunshine....

Watched the sun rise this morning on a cool dew-covered Wichita Falls.  Mark's favorite time of the year, as temps finally begin to turn more seasonable, the World Series is underway, and his birthday's right around the corner.  I know that we need to commemorate Mark's day in some manner, just not sure the best way to do so.  Trusting that God will help me out with this dilemma, He hasn't failed me yet.

Driving in the car the other day, our conversation turned to Daddy, as it often does.  Andrew just quietly stated, "I wish he could've been around to see us grow up."  That statement broke my heart.  I didn't know how to reply, but the words came tumbling out...."You can bet he's gonna see you grow up, Andrew, he wouldn't miss it for the world.  And even though you can't see him, you can feel him, because he's here."  I think that satisfied them both and it comforted me, too.  Because I believe with all my heart that he can see them, he can see me.  Yet another reason to keep plugging along, trying to make him proud of us. 

Family from Kentucky & Illinois should be arriving this afternoon.  It will be good to have them here, but hard to greet them.  This will be my aunt & uncle's first trip, I haven't seen them since last summer, during a trip we made as a family to St. Louis.  That was yet another great family adventure, as Mark had a meeting that lent itself to a family vacation.  We sat in the bleachers,  melting in the hot June sun, watching the Cardinals play.  Tomorrow night, Andrew & I will watch the Cards again, this time in Arlington TX in cooler temps, at the World Series.  We'll leave our Cardinal gear at home, and will wear all Rangers attire. 

Amazing how quickly life and circumstances can change.  I see gray haired couples everywhere I go, shopping, enjoying life together.  Part of me wants to scream, "It's not fair!"  I never envisioned being alone, widowed at age 48.  We were supposed to retire and grow old together.  We had plans! 

So what do I do?  Well, I adapt.  We're trying to come up with a new gameplan.  Not sure how it will turn out, but I'm trusting God to help me work out the details.  I don't want to get so bogged down in the mechanics of my grief and feeling sorry for myself that I miss the big picture.  The big picture is that life goes on.  My boys and I, while honoring Mark, are beginning to make new memories.  They won't be better than the ones we made together as a family of four, but they will be sweet, nonetheless. 

Deep down inside of me, I know I have the strength I need to get through this.  But it ain't easy.  And it's not a whole lot of fun.  But it is what it is, and I will keep on walking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Miscellaneous ramblings of a tired mommy....

Opened the drapes in my bedroom this morning, just as the sun was coming up.  I almost never look toward the back of the yard, but a dozen or so Canada geese were flying low, heading over the trail to Lake Wichita.  As my eyes followed them, they rested on the back gate of our was open.  I sprang into action....all I needed was for the prized Maggie Mae to be loose in the neighborhood.  Thankfully, she was still snuggled asleep, far back in her house.  Upon further examination, one whole board had been removed from the gate, the board with the gate latch.  It was simply standing there, with the gate open.  Got a few nails and a hammer, and put that bad boy back together.  Crisis averted.

As I walked back to the gate with tools in hand, two geese flew over my head, so close I could practically reach out and touch them.  I know Mark, I're watching over us.

Began the tedious involved process of house cleaning today.  I have family coming in T minus 48 hours. Our housekeeper's coming tomorrow, and Mark always joked that I was the only person on the planet that would clean a house before someone came to clean.  I countered with the argument that I was technically not cleaning, but picking up clutter so that she could do her job more efficiently.

Whenever the boys go to bed, I lay with them for awhile.  It's a good time for us to unwind, and we had been praying aloud.  We discontinued that, it seems to upset them too much right before they are going to I pray silently as they are drifting off to sleep.  I find it to be the most relaxing time of the day, as I lay next to a sleeping angel of a boy.  If you look closely, you can still see the remnants of their cherubic baby faces while they sleep.  Laying there in the dark, praying to my God in heaven, I feel rejuvenated and at peace. 

Yes, I'm sad.  Yes, I may still cry.  But life goes on, whether I like it or not.  Do I want to continually look back and wonder "what if?", fully knowing that it will do nothing but keep me in turmoil.  Wondering what we could've done does my family no good in the here and now...and I believe that the only way for us to move forward in this journey is to let the "what ifs" go.  I know of too many people who let the "what ifs" consume them, and keep them in a perpetual state of grieving that they may never get through.  I do not want that for me or my boys.  We can mourn Mark, we can miss him, we can honor him.  All of this can be done while continuing to live life and move forward. 

As we watched the first game of the World Series tonight, we missed Mark greatly.  He lived for October sports...World Series, NCAA Football, NFL, and the beginnings of college basketball.  I told Andrew that I'm sure Mark will be with us at the game Saturday night....Andrew chuckled and replied, "Mom, he'll have a front row seat, alot better than what we have!"  Maybe he can spend some time in the nosebleed section with us, too :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am thankful....

Today was a good day.  Ben is back at almost 100% (his inner "Ben-dozer" is coming alive once again!), Andrew had a great day, despite taking a hockey stick to the mouth (I'd welcome one day this week without the school nurse calling), and I got several of my small things accomplished.  I just keep coming back to the word "thankful".....

I'm thankful for the two boys God gave to Mark and me to raise.  We waited a long time before having them, and they were well worth the wait.  Although I'm sad that Mark's no longer here alongside us physically, he is with us in spirit.  And these boys were so loved by him....many people live entire lives without the kind of love that these kids got in 9 and 8 years.  Their daddy made quite the impression on them, along with everyone else he came in contact with.  Although it wasn't long enough for us, it was long enough to make a lasting, loving impact on both boys.  They are flourishing, despite the enormous change that's come into their lives, and it's my mission to see that continues.  I am so very proud of them both.

I'm thankful Mark was such a good manager of time and money.  He was astute in all areas of business and planning, savvy, level-headed, and frugal when he needed to be (he thought I should try to be more often).  He made sure that we, his family, would be provided for, no matter what.  That is such a blessing.   He took the head of household title very seriously, and if anything, I'm struggling to take on many of those responsibilities because he did them so well, making them seem easy and effortless....and they are not.

I'm thankful for such a large loving support system of family and friends, stretching from Oregon and Washington, going through Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, and Massachusetts.  I'm sure I've left out a couple of states, but you get my drift.  There are folks praying for our little family on a consistent, regular basis, and we can feel it.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'm thankful that I have a Father that understands what I'm going through.  I have a Savior who walked this earth in human form, who has experienced every emotion that I can possibly feel, so he can identify with me...he can comfort me...he can show me that there are better days ahead.  And that Holy Spirit that he left with us?  There are times that I truly feel like I'm being carried by that spirit, because I can't walk this path on my own.  The power that can be tapped into is amazing, I don't think I've even scratched the surface on what God can do in our lives if I just let Him.   

I'm thankful that I have family travelling our direction this weekend.  My mom will be returning to help out, along with my uncle (her brother) and aunt (his wife) from Illinois.  They will stay a few days and return home, leaving Mom here.  She'll stay on for at least a couple of weeks.  It will be wonderful to have an extra set of hands around here.  I'm sure we'll cry together, laugh, and remember how great her son-in-law was.  She told me that she never worried about me after I met Mark; she knew that no matter what, he would protect and take care of her grandsons and me.  That's the best compliment a mother-in-law can give. 

I'm thankful I got my dog back today.  Yes, the bird dog that Mark loved and hunted for only one short year.  She'd been in doggie detention while the shed was being built and today she was released on good behavior.  I've struggled with whether to keep her or not, because she was bred to hunt.  It's what she lives for, it's how she's wired.  She's high-strung, head-strong, and full of energy.  But as I paid her tab and waited for the tech to bring her to me, I actually got excited.  I was so happy to hear the clickety-click of her newly-pedicured feet as she came down the hallway.  Whenever she saw me, the look on her face made my day.  And in that moment, I knew that I would not be getting rid of Miss Maggie Mae of Dallas.  She's mine now.  Whether Andrew and I hunt her next year, or breed her, none of that matters.  She is a member of this crazy little family, and we will figure out the rest as we go. 

Finally, I'm thankful I had the opportunity to know and love such a great guy for 25 years.  He had great convictions, he followed his heart, and he truly made a difference in this great big earth.  I hope I can continue to make him proud by doing the same.   

Monday, October 17, 2011

Buildings, dryers, and ballgames, oh my!

What would Mark do?  I find myself asking that question as I encounter day-to-day issues and problems that I've never had to deal with before.  It's comforting to think about what he would advise or do in certain situations; then, there are other times where I know I must step out of my comfort zone (and definitely out of his) and make a decision based on what's best for the Howell family, party of three.

Case in point:  the decision to buy a storage building for our property here.  For years, I have asked, pleaded, begged for Mark to consider purchasing some sort of storage shed for our yard.  He would always politely decline, telling me that we would be moving to Kansas in a short while, "where there are storage buildings out the wazoo!"  In other words, no, that was money we weren't going to spend.  After his death, the riding lawnmower positioned on my back porch just outside my dining area windows taunted me on almost a daily basis.  My garage is full.  I have an office full of Mark items at TPWD that need to be boxed and brought home at some point.  So, I made the decision to buy a storage building.  It's amazing what one can do with a credit card and a high-speed internet connection.  Long story short, it was delivered last week, constructed Saturday by an able-bodied group of men from our church (thank you, guys!), and is ready for filling.  That decision is not one he would have made; nevertheless, it's one I had to make in the best interest of my sanity and our family.

Case in point, two:  My dryer broke last Friday.  Well, to be specific, the rotary start switch broke.  Again, the wonders of the internet continue to astound me.  I was able to diagnose the problem, get the part number, called to various repair centers to get the best price, ordered it, picked it up today, and $9.63 later, I fixed the problem.  Hallelujah.  It felt so empowering, a woman fixing a large appliance.  No service call, no high priced installation.  Just me, the switch, and a screwdriver. Took less than thirty seconds.  That's something Mark wouldn't have probably attempted...he would've called the repair man and paid the service call.

Case in point, three:  2011 World Series.  Between the Texas Rangers and Mark's and my favorite childhood team, the St. Louis Cardinals.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my two favorite teams, going head-to-head in the Big Dance.  Every year, we'd look at the Rangers schedule, hoping for an interleague series between the two powerhouses, but no luck.  Until now.  If Mark were alive, I think he would've been scouring the internet for he & Andrew a couple of World Series tickets.  Mark loved to tell the story of how, at age 12, he was taken by his grandfather on a train from Kansas to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play.  That was a memory he never forgot.  That story kept replaying in my mind as I prayed and deliberated today.  Do I bite the bullet and see if I can swing two tickets to Saturday night's game?  Am I crazy to justify paying that amount of money for "just" a baseball game? 

Well, it's not "just" another baseball game.  Andrew breathes, lives, and loves baseball, particularly major league baseball.  Quite probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an opportunity to make the kind of memory for us that Mark and his granddad had.  So, I bit the bullet.  Pulled out the credit card, took a deep breath, and purchased tickets to Game 3 of the 2011 World Series.  My son and I, we'll go with our two closest friends, the ones that stood by me as Mark made his transition from earth to heaven.  And I hope that I'm doing what Mark would have done, even though he would've hesitated initially on spending the money.  There are some things you can't put a price on. My hope is that someday, Andrew will tell his children (our grandchildren!) about the 2011 World Series game that he and his mom attended, shortly after the death of his beloved daddy.  And I hope he tells them he had the time of his life.

So, as I'm looking out my bedroom window at my new storage shed, folding clothes I just removed from my newly-fixed dryer, contemplating on what combination of Rangers/Cardinals clothing to wear on Saturday night, I feel both melancholy and happy.  Life is still good, even without Mark's physically being around.  But it's also extremely hard, and sad, and lonely.  I never fully understood the meaning of "bittersweet" until I lost him....because bittersweet is what I will feel as I sit in the stands of Section 314 Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, happy that I'm at the game, but wishing it were Mark there with A.J. instead of me.  But since he can't be there, I will be doing my best to make it the most memorable night our 9 year old has ever had.  I imagine that Mark will be watching us, smiling from ear to ear, nodding his head, and hopefully approving my decision. 

Because if I've learned one thing this year, it's that life is indeed short.  You never know how many days the good Lord will let you hang around.  So live each day to the fullest.  And if you have the opportunity to make a memory with someone you love more than anything, don't let a little thing like money stand in your way.  Just do it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Great is Thy Faithfulness...

Glancing at the calendar, I see that Mark's birthday is a little over a week away.  I'm dreading it.  He, "Mr. Fun," would always say that it was tradition, the birthday boy could get anything he wanted on that day.  And boy, did he ever try!  I'd prepare his favorite breakfast--homemade french toast, sausage, and grape juice--even if it meant getting up extra early.  There was usually a cake involved, too, and we'd let him choose a special place to eat dinner.  I have photographic evidence of more than one birthday celebrated at Texas Roadhouse, where he would never decline straddling the saddle while the staff whooped & hollered, wishing him a happy birthday.  Where I would never have climbed on that saddle, he looked forward to and relished the option.  He lived life to the fullest, each and every day.  He didn't let an opportunity, saddle or otherwise, go to waste.  "Living like Daddy".....he's a tough act to follow.

I also see that I've been blogging a full month now.  As I take a bit of time to re-read my posts, I can see that I'm still on that roller coaster, although some days seem less bumpy than they did a few weeks back.  Immersing myself in God's word, calling on Him whenever the loneliness gets almost too much to bear, and dedicating myself to being the best parent I can be for Andrew and Ben has kept me going. 

Mark's Aunt Elsie, sent a book to me last week, "Big Shoes," which is a young widow's story of loss, pain, and renewal.  Her husband died at age 35, after a year-long struggle with a lung disease and subsequent transplant.  Their son was only 4.  I hungrily read that book from cover to cover in less than two days.  There are so many differences in our stories...they had a year to prepare for his possible death.  We had less than one day!  I woke up after 3 hours' sleep to a phone call from Mark's ICU nurse, telling me that he was worse.  From 7am that morning to almost midnight that night, I had to come to grips with the fact that he would not be going home with me, but would be going home to the Father.

 Looking back, I don't know how I did it.  Those hours seemed to drag in some respects, but passed like the twinkling of an eye in others.  He couldn't communicate with words, but his eyes and his touch spoke volumes.  And what he couldn't say in words, I said.  I don't think I stopped talking, singing, or praying that entire time.  I left nothing unsaid.  I have no regrets, other than not having him with us for another 40 years. 

Church had its tough moments for me today.  I made it through "Blessed Assurance" almost the whole way without crying, losing it only at the very end.  The boys went to children's church, leaving me alone in the pew.  That was Mark's and my time together, just the two of us, during sermon time.  But whenever I saw the final hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," I knew I was in trouble.  That hymn was one of his favorites.  And if you've never been around Mark whenever he would sing, you don't know what you've missed.  He approached singing like everything else, giving it his all.  His robust, engaging tenor voice was fun to listen to.  I loved to watch whenever he sang in the choir, because you could see by the expression on his face that he was truly worshipping God in that instance. 

Made it through the first verse/chorus....started breaking up in the second....but during the third, I just lost it.  If you don't know the words, the third verse concludes with 'strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.' And as the final chorus was sung, I just stood and cried.  Big old tears dripping down my face.  'Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning, new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!'  I've heard him sing it many times, heard him humming it at home even more. 

As we readied for the benediction, I opened my hands, just as I've watched him do for years.  And I silently asked God to keep providing me and my boys with what we need.  God's faithfulness to us will see us through. 


Friday, October 14, 2011

Here's to a better weekend!

Hopeful that this weekend will be better than the last.  Ben is finally on the mend, after a week of being sick.  His pneumonia seems to be breaking up, and his fever is gone, at least for today.  He felt well enough to go with us to see our counselor this afternoon, then went out with our college-aged neighbor friend for some guy time at the arcade and Burger King. 

As we were driving to the counselor's office, Andrew, out of the blue, pipes up with, "Mom, I'm so glad Dad didn't take that job in San Angelo a few months back!"  And to be honest, that whole incident had slipped my mind.  Mark was approached by another boss in TPWD to see if he would be interested in applying for a job in San Angelo, which would be the head of River Studies for the state.  He considered all the options, but we decided it would be best for us to stay put, especially since we were looking at retirement in 2013.  It was the right decision.  But Andrew, he was right....if we had moved to San Angelo, and this had happened to Mark there, we would've been in a strange city, with no close friends nearby, and certainly not the wide support system we have here in Wichita Falls.  I thought that was a very astute and mature observation from my 9 year old.  Whenever we shared that with our counselor, he said that God must've had His hand in that decision for a reason.

I think God has His hand in all facets of our lives, if we let Him.  We had a postcard-perfect summer, up until Mark's surgery.  We played, we swam, we vacationed....we did all the things that we'd hoped for and planned for.  I took Ben to Space Camp in Kansas in June, driving there for the first time without Mark.  I took both boys with me to Kentucky in July, for my class reunion & family time, driving without Mark for only the second time.  He was so impressed that I was able to drive without him (he always insisted on driving whenever we were together).  I look back and see that God was preparing me for life without him, even then.  I proved to myself that I was capable.  Mark and God knew it all along.

I am now the head of this family.  I know there will be bumps and curves in the road, but I am confident that as long as I put my trust in God, that our family will survive and prosper.  Mark prepared me as well as he could before leaving.  He always told me not to sell myself short, that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to.  And it looks like I have a chance to do that now. 

Don't get me wrong, I'd never choose this path.  I liked being in the passenger's seat, content on the long drives to nap, read, listen to music, referee the boys when necessary, while Mark did all the driving.  He'd consult me for navigation issues, and we'd discuss major decisions.  But I drew comfort in knowing that he would take care of us, no matter what happened.  Losing that was like losing my safety net. 

So, now I might sometimes feel like I'm working without a net.  But I know we're not alone.  Where I was content to let Mark do the heavy lifting in the family, now God's taken that over.  These past two days have shown me that I can stay plenty busy doing the small things that require all my time and attention; I haven't had a chance to worry about the big things.

 I think that maybe God has given me all of these little things so that I physically can't deal with anything else.  And by doing so, I'm starting to see that the big things are best left to my heavy-lifting Father.  And even my stubborn, proud self can't deny that God is doing a better job with them than I ever could. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Terrible horrible no good very bad day....

Today was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" day, and no, my name is not Alexander.  Awoke to Ben not feeling better, still running fever.  Okay, I accepted the doctor's nurse telling me yesterday to add mucinex 3 times a day.  Today, that didn't cut it.  My little guy has felt like crap since last Friday night, fever, malaise, no appetite, coughing, get the picture.  Called today only to find out our doctor was off today.  No matter, I demanded to see someone, and we quickly were given to one of the nurse practitioners.  She listened to his lungs, immediately ordered a chest xray, and diagnosed him with pneumonia, left lower lung lobe totally clouded.  With a breathing treatment in the office, and four new prescriptions, we hope to see improvement soon.  Glad I followed my instincts and pushed today, can't imagine what shape he would've been in otherwise.

After that, we came back home for awhile.  Wonderful church friends are coming over this Saturday to assemble a 8 x 10 storage building for us.  The pieces are in two heavy cardboard boxes, waiting in the backyard.  I anticipated the boxes being opened Saturday, but my German shorthaired pointer evidently couldn't wait that long.  I glanced out into the backyard to see pages of the instruction manual floating all over the place!  Found a bag of screws and various small pieces that had been removed. The guilty party was kenneled while I gathered up the various pieces and called the vet to see if there was a doggie hotel spot open for Miss Maggie Mae until after the building's completion.  She got the last slot.  Ben & I took her there post haste. 

Upon our return, I began looking at the chewed up manual.  There are 4 manuals, actually, in English, French, German, and Spanish.  Maggie just decided to chew up the German one.  Maybe something to do with her heritage?  Or the fact that Mark was born in Germany??? Not sure about either of those, but as exasperated as I was, Mark Howell had better not be laughing at me.....
Ben taped together the few English pages she was just beginning to taste as I caught her in the act.  We should be all systems "go" for Saturday. 

Didn't want to leave Ben alone, so he went with me to Home Depot, where we had a list of things to purchase for the building's foundation.  This list included 6 pieces of lumber, 10 feet long, and 26 bags of pea gravel.  I admit it, I pulled a bit of a "poor female" routine to get some much-needed help.  I had no stinking idea where these things were in the store.  I found a sympathetic female employee, and we started gathering up items.  I washappy to see our dear friend Jacob in the lumber area.  He postponed lunch to help load lumber and gravel.  With Mark's Toyota pickup bed filled, we headed back home...again...and I unloaded every piece of it, all by myself. Mark would've been proud. 

Add a run to the bank and the pharmacy to pick up much-needed prescriptions.  Check.  And I recycled, filled both vehicles with gas, and washed two loads of laundry.  Even typing this makes me tired.

This is a different sort of blog entry for me.  No great deep philosophical truths revealed to me.  No messages from up above.  This was just a normal busy day in the life of me.  I was too busy to have time to think, too busy to feel sorry for myself, too busy taking care of my sick child. Too busy taking care of the little details that God trusts me with, while I'm giving all the big stuff to Him.  And that's okay.  There are plenty of days to miss my better half.  Plenty of days to cry.  Plenty of days to think of what might've been.  But today, well, today, I just lived.  I accomplished much.  And it feels good.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baseball, grief, and hope...

As we watch the Rangers in the ALCS, we can't help but miss Mark.  His big "man chair" sits empty for part of the game, but sooner or later one or two of us cozy up in it.  It just doesn't seem like he should be gone.  I catch myself thinking that he's just away in Austin on business, but then in a millisecond my brain and heart remind me that he's not coming back. 

He loved baseball.  Breathed it, drank it, ate it, could rattle off statistics, starting lineups, pitching rotations, etc.  Andrew has the same love; it's been hard watching the playoffs without his dad, but I'm trying my best to fill the gap.  I'm certainly not as knowledgeable as his daddy was, but I can hold my own, especially for "a girl." 

We're slowly but surely finding our way through this maze of grief.  I know that the best way to honor Mark and his life is to remember how great he was and continue to move forward.  He had faith that I could carry on without him.   He knew that I would put the boys' welfare and best interests in the forefront, just as he did.  He would want us to live.  He would want us to have fun. And I want that, too, for all three of us. It's scary being without your best friend and better half standing with you--- I may never get used to the extra responsibility, but I'm doing it.  I could not do it without the wonderful support system of friends & family, and the great number of prayers going up for our little family of three. 

When I met him, I was only 22 years old.  I did alot of growing up while married to him.  Most of what I stand for and believe in is due in large part to being his partner for a quarter century.  He led this family in faith and in grace, and he loved these boys more than anything else on this earth.  They are his legacy, a big piece of him that's living on.  Above everything else, I want them to have as normal a life as possible, even without an earthly dad beside them....and I want them to just be boys.  As I told Andrew shortly after Mark died, "I just need you to be a 9 year old kid....I've got the rest."

I've had to make several head of household decisions in the past two months, and that alone, is hard, whenever one is used to having a partner to bounce ideas off of, and discuss the pros and cons.  My sounding board is gone.  Yet another reason for me to put everything in God's hands and at His feet.  Whether it's choosing a new electric provider, buying new tires for my car, or purchasing an outdoor shed for all of our extra stuff, it's all new to me. 

On top of everything else, Ben's still sick.  His fever, although getting lower, is still not back to normal.  Poor kid, he's sleeping during the day, his appetite is terrible, and he alternates between hot flashes and cold sweats.  Hoping the fever breaks by Thursday, he's tired of being at home. Another reason to miss daddy, he was able to use sick time to stay at home if the boys needed him.  What a great dad, huh?  I went off to work while he stayed home and took care of our boys.  Is it any wonder that we miss him?

Tonight, we celebrated the Rangers winning game 4 of the ALCS, the boys are snuggled asleep in bed, and that big chair looks empty once again.  But I know that he is watching over us, and I can feel God's hands on us in everything that we do. 

And my hands?  Why, they are wide open.  I make sure of it every time I pray, hopeful that God will continue to guide my decisions and fully expecting Him to fulfill Jeremiah 29:11-- "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord.  "plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's been Monday all weekend...

So much for an exciting 3 day "hip hop partyin'" weekend.  That's how Mark would describe any weekend where we had an extra day off.  And more often than not, with Mark it was a non-stop partying weekend, fun stuff going on most all the time. 

Initial plans for a trip to Kansas were nixed, as Andrew told me he wasn't ready to be at the farm "without Daddy."  Since I told them that we would make major decisions like this, the three of us together, I added in my vote, as well.  I'm not ready to be at the farm without Daddy, either.  We'll  maybe try again next month. 

Glad we didn't travel, since Ben boy came home with a fever Friday night & headed to bed for a 2 hour nap.  That's so unlike our Benny, I knew something was up.  He fought fever and coughing all weekend, so I took him to the doctor this morning.  Bronchitis is the diagnosis, for both of us, actually.  Mark would love the fact that we got a "2 for 1" at the clinic as the pediatrician listened to my chest and prescribed antibiotics for me as well.  All for the low price of one co-pay, $25 :)

Poor Andrew, he's been so good to help take care of his brother, even helping cool him down with ice & cold compresses on more than one occasion this weekend.  We've tried two nights to get to the cinema to watch "Real Steel", but Ben's afternoon fevers have put the brakes on those plans.  Andrew broke down & cried this afternoon, as Ben's temp spiked back up.  I think everything is a bit more emotional for all of us, so I let him cry as long as he needed to.  Crying is healing, whether over spilt milk, modified plans, or missing a loved one. 

As I waited for Andrew in the car during his guitar lesson, I did some praying and soul-searching.  In my mind, I kept coming back to a weekly image of Mark, every Sunday morning in church.  As we'd stand for the benediction, he would open his hands upward, placing them on the back of the pew in front of us, in sort of a cupped position.  He would hold his head up high, eyes closed, smiling like he was taking in the warmth of a beautiful summer's day.  At the end, he'd give a robust "Amen" along with the pastor.  It was almost like he was "drinking in" the warmth of the Savior to help him as he left to prepare for his always-busy week.  Even if we were holding hands, he'd drop my hand to do this. 

Then I thought of my journey since losing him.  I haven't been looking up towards my God with hands totally open, like my husband did.  My hands have been clenched, even if just a tiny bit, to keep from putting everything at God's feet.  Don't know why I'm doing it....okay, yes I do......I like to be in control.  As Mark would tease, "So, how's that working for you, sweetie?" And I would have to admit, not so well. 

So today, I sat in the parking lot of Great Neck Guitars in Wichita Falls, Texas, and cried out to God to forgive me for holding back.  I told Him that I was opening up my hands, letting everything fall out of them, so He can work His ways in me.  Giving Him 80, 90, even 95 percent isn't enough.  He requires all 100%.  And as smart as I'd like to think that I am, I'm not smart enough or wise enough or savvy enough to walk through this mess without turning all my worries over to Him. 

And when I'm tempted to hold back, to worry about one or two little things I cannot control, like what we're going to do for the upcoming holidays, or what to do with my bird dog, or where God wants us to live in the next few years.....I will consciously think of that sweet image of the man I loved for over half of my life, holding his hands open to God and receiving His full blessing.  Maybe THAT'S why he had such confidence and calm with whatever life dealt him (us), even up to the end of his life.  Because he wasn't afraid of dying, he was only afraid of leaving us behind. 

His being afraid of leaving us behind is all the incentive I need.  I will keep my hands open, because I know he's watching over us.  And I don't want to disappoint him.  His family will remain intact, whole, and be happy again, eventually.  With outstretched open hands, I ask for it, expectantly. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Rain, Legos, & Jalapeno Peppers...

Rain!  Hallelujah, Wichita Falls is getting rain.  Cool, steady rain.  Rain after the longest, driest, hottest summer on record.  If only Mark were here, he'd be out in it, dancing....

Seeing the forecast, I rushed to put fresh batteries in our digital rain gauge.  Barely got them installed & outdoor gauge reattached to fence before it started.  Mark, being a Kansas farm boy, was always big on weather, particularly rain.  I've been travelling to his parents' farmhouse for almost a quarter century, and the kitchen's old chalkboard always has the daily rain amount posted.  Good farmers must keep track of such important information.  The chalkboard, something that's been in that farmhouse forever, is something my sentimental husband wanted from his mom whenever she eventually moves.  I still want it for our boys. 

Picked a lone jalapeno pepper today from a plant he tended through the dry summer.  Before he went into the hospital, he asked me to keep it alive....believe me, it hasn't been easy.  But patience, regular watering, and keeping the rabbits away worked, and I know he's smiling & nodding that it's producing.  Guess I'll have to eat it with supper.  There's something very comforting about nurturing something that he started.  (Now that's a sentence that will require a whole other posting).

Tough day yesterday as I spent a counseling session without the boys.  Didn't know that I could cry so hard, so long, or so continuously for 45 minutes, but I did.  What is it about that one-on-one counseling that allows me to just open up my very soul and everything comes spilling out?  It's cathartic and exhausting, simultaneously. 

Struggling to find a way to tell the counselor what I was feeling, it came to me like an epiphany.  Our lives with Mark were like a beautifully-built Lego castle, every piece put into place.  Whenever he died, it's as if someone came along and kicked the castle into pieces, and they are scattered everywhere.  I'm trying my best to scurry around and pick up the various pieces, and striving to find some way to put things back together again.  I know it won't be the same, or as perfect as it was before, but it needs to be done.

The counselor, who chooses his words carefully, told me that I was trying too hard to do too much too quickly.  He advised me to "leave the pieces where they are" for awhile.  And to let God lead me when the time comes to begin picking up those pieces. 

He's right.  I'm wanting to be "done" with this process.  That doesn't mean I love my husband any less--if anything, it's because I love him so much that I can hardly stand thisThis hurts.  It's on my mind every waking second.  He's in my dreams every night.  I see the longing in both of our sons' eyes as they miss him, miss his touch, his laugh, his rough-housing with them. 

The counselor asked me if I enjoyed Mark.  Well, heck yes, that's the understatement of the year, sure I enjoyed him!  He then told me that he has people sit in my chair frequently who did not enjoy their loved ones while they were alive, and they have regrets after their death.  My only regret was that we didn't have him for 40 more years. 

Today, I start taking his advice.  I'm going to try to be content and leave the pieces where they are, and just seek to get the day-to-day "have tos" completed.  I will aim to keep my "way-A" type personality under control, and let God work His plans in His time. 

Okay, if you'll excuse me, I "have to" step over a bunch of Legos....I need a recipe that calls for an organically-grown fresh jalapeno pepper. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.....

After a down day yesterday, where I allowed myself to feel angry at my husband, our situation, and choices made, I decided to make today a more positive one, if God would give me a little help.

I know that it's okay for me to be angry, acknowledging the emotions & dealing with them is an important part of this whole sad process.  I also know I can't be impatient, this takes time....but I have two little boys looking to me for strength & guidance, and although I make sure they see me grieve, cry, and miss their daddy, I want them to have confidence and assurance that I can move forward in this new unwanted role of both mom and dad.  Now, that would be hard for a 100% sane person, imagine what it's like for someone who has lost her best friend and mate of 25 years! 

I think I realized today why he & I were so perfectly matched, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  We came together, married, and immediately moved 700 miles away from all friends and family.  We knew no one in Maryland!  We didn't even have a place to live, Mark just had a job waiting.  For our marriage, it was the best thing we could've done.  Without anyone to run home to, or call, or cry to, or leave with, we had each other...and each other only.  We developed a deep attachment, friendship, and love that was indestructible.  And it only got better as time passed.  My heart still skipped a beat everytime he even looked my way.  All girls (women) should be so lucky. 

Feeling better about things, I hit the Lake Wichita trail.  About 6 weeks ago, I had a chance encounter with a lovely Christian lady and her dog on the trail.  She could tell I was upset, and asked how I was doing.  Boy, she was probably sorry she asked.  Long story short, she listened to me, hugged me, prayed for me, and told me she would continue to do so.  Haven't seen her again....until today. 

I could tell it was her from a distance, her dog was distinctively large.  She was surprised I remembered both of their names.  She immediately asked how I was, and said she'd been looking for me every day she was on the trail.  As we stood and shared, two sisters in Christ, the tears began rolling down her cheeks.  She's faced trials, too.  When I told her our family was in counseling & in the Hospice Building Bridges program, she raised her hand up in praise to God.  She told me that she has been praying for me on a daily basis....a woman I've only met one time, 6 weeks ago!  How awesome is that?  We parted, sure we'd meet another day on the trail. 

As I headed home, I heard the distinctive squawk of a red-tailed hawk.  He was above me, not hunting anything, not going really anywhere, but was just gliding and soaring on those majestic wings God gave him.  The wind was pretty brisk, so he was getting lots of lift.  I stood and watched as he ducked and turned in the bright sun for a full 2 minutes. 

Tonight before dark, Ben and I headed outside for a little "green time" while Andrew finished 4th grade homework.  We decided to do chalk drawings on the driveway.  As we drew, we talked.  I told him, "Benny, you know Daddy is always close by.  I told him before he died, that we would need him, and I think if you listen close enough, you can feel him, too."  He nodded & kept drawing.  Not 30 seconds later, a succession of Canada geese passed over us, in groups of a dozen or so.  The first groups were pretty high in the sky.  Each group seemed to fly over a bit lower, with the last two barely topping the trees in our front yard.  Even Ben remarked, "Dad, okay, I think we know you're here, thanks for the geese."

As my blog entries go, this one may seem a bit disconnected, but really it's not.  I started today wishing for something better than yesterday, and that came in three striking examples:  seeing a new friend again after a chance encounter, watching a red-tailed hawk play my own personal air show, and listening to a 100-geese serenade as Ben & I watched the lovely sunset from our front yard.

The irony of experiencing all three of these while I was in the great outdoors today was not lost on me.  When Mark's close by, these will be the ways in which I will feel God's beautiful creation where he was most at home. 

It's still hard, and it still mostly stinks.  But we're still standing.  And praying.  And walking.  And doing what needs to be done.  The rest will come in God's time. 

p.s.  Dear God, thanks for the signs.  And Your help :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The feeling of the day is....angry...

Angry.  That's my one-word description for my feelings today.  Just angry.  Not at God, I've written that I'm not angry with God, just angry our plans were so radically altered.  Nope, I'm mad at my husband.

That sounds so cruel as I read it!  And it's not real anger or malice or anything close, but frustration that he didn't handle his health situation in as expedient a fashion as I would've wanted. 

His initial attack of acute diverticulitis was in mid-April.  He didn't tell me how bad it was, and he was originally mis-diagnosed with a hernia (a problem he'd had for years).  A cat scan showed the perforation on his colon & surgery was recommended.  He resisted.  This healthy, brawny, intelligent man could not bring himself to schedule major surgery. 

A follow up colonoscopy.  I sat beside him while his doctor told him as plain as he could that NOT having the surgery was the risky option.  It needed to be done.  This was mid-May.  He opted to treat it with oral antibiotics (also an alternative).  I tried every way in this world to change his mind.  I begged.  I pleaded.  I cajoled.  I tried to guilt him into it.  Nothing worked.  I had three sleepless nights, tossing and turning, worrying about his not having the surgery.  I prayed.  And at the end of that week, I knew I had to turn it over to God.  He was a grownup, and I could not force him to make the decision to have surgery.   I told him if the shoe were on the other foot, my surgery would've already been scheduled...because I have two sons to raise & I need to be around another 40 years or so.  And then, I dropped the subject completely.

In his defense, he was thinking ahead to a big regional meeting he was planning for his department in late June, and a trip to Massachusetts to see his brother & sis-in-law in early July.  He was feeling better, and promised he'd consider the surgery once those events were completed.

Well, he had the surgery.  And we all know how that turned out.  And while I know that I cannot look back & wonder "what if," I cannot help but wonder what the outcome would've been if he'd had the surgery whenever it was recommended.  He might've come thru it great.  Then again, he might have had the same sad outcome, but in early summer.

So I'm angry.  I loved him so much, he was the biggest influence in my adult life.  Because of him, I love the outdoors.  Because of him, I no longer shriek whenever I see a snake (at least most of the time).  Because of him, I have a great appreciation of ecosystems, natural resources, and God's creation in general.  Because of him I don't litter, and I recycle faithfully.  Because of him, I care about social issues, global warming, world famine, rainforests, and endangered species.   I had the most wonderful 25 years possible being his wife and his best friend.  And adding those two boys to the equation 10 years ago??? Without a doubt, the icing on the cake, the best darn thing we ever did. 

But he should be here with us.  And he's not.  That is why today, just for today, I've decided it's fine to be a little mad at him.

And I think he's okay with that.  The very few times he was actually wrong about something (and that was very rare), I relished telling him "I told you so."  I get no joy in even remotely thinking that this time. 

I tell folks that whenever I get to heaven (hopefully many years from now), I will give him a noogie on his head....and ask him why he waited to have that surgery. Everyone tells me I will be so glad to see him, along with all other loved ones, that I won't care.  But I think I will.  Because it's something I think about each and every day.  The question doesn't consume me, but it's there, along with all possible outcomes....any of which would've been better than the one we were given. 

I'll spend extra time reading my Bible and praying tonight.  And whenever I go to bed, I will let the anger go.  It serves no purpose, adds nothing positive to our lives, and is a waste of my time & my energy.

I promise, I'll just wallow in it for another hour or so.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"A day without laughter is a day wasted...".

Today was an up-and-down type of day.  I'm still fighting congestion & feeling tired, and I've decided it's much easier to feel down & depressed about things in general whenever one is not physically 100%.  There's a definite connection between the physical and spiritual parts of our beings, that's for sure.  I'm hoping to "hit the pavement" in the morning to begin to get those natural endorphins flowing again. 

On the "down" side of today, I felt overwhelmed at all of the tasks that are staring me in the face, piled in every room, hiding behind every door.  Before Mark's hospitalization, we were practically out of town the whole month of July.  You can just imagine the sorting and putting away that I'm behind on. 

But I decided today to just do one thing...mark it off my list, and feel good about it.  My one thing was to bundle up the boys' outgrown clothes & drop them by Goodwill.  Mark loved having garage sales, he was a natural salesman, loved the people coming & going---me, not so much.  Since he's now in heaven, I don't have any inclination to continue the garage sale adventure.  That's where Goodwill comes in. 

As I opened a closet to see if I'd located all of things for donating, I glanced at his gunrack. There were his guns, his shotgun shells neatly placed.  His two hunting vests, one with lots of orange for pheasant & quail, the other green camo for turkey.  His jackets.  Sentimental guy that he was, he even saved his FFA jacket from Inman High School, his jacket from his not-sure-about-his-career-path Culligan job. 

A full, vibrant life.  Someone with so many plans, so much to do, so much left to give....gone in a heartbeat.  I'll never understand why.  I don't think I'm supposed to.  I had to close that closet door pretty quickly, I'm not ready to deal with all of those memories yet. 

I loaded up the truck and took the items to Goodwill.  Donating things to charities is a mood-brightener, I highly recommend it.   This was the beginning of my "up" part of the day.

We attended our next session of "Building Bridges" tonight, sponsored by Hospice.  It's heartening to see that we are not alone, that there are folks from all walks of life, all ages, all ethnicities, walking a similar path that the boys & I have been given.  No one's story is the same, yet you can identify with everyone's on some level.  There's a loss, there's pain, and you try to minimize the collateral damage and heal the best way you know how. 

As we talked tonight before bed, after prayers were said, Andrew remarked, "You know, there's a sign in our classroom that says, 'A day without laughter is a day wasted.'"  Ben replied that he'd seen the same sign in his class last year.  In my 48 years, I've never heard that saying, and I'd thought I'd pretty much heard them all.  I like it. 

I remember Mark smiling at me in the hallway of the Blackburn Science Building at Murray State University on Sept. 3, 1986.  I smiled back.  Both of us smiled alot, we were both raised in the tradition that a smile can break tension, make another person feel comfortable, and is just a generous way to greet folks.  He had me at that first smile.  He laughed, oh, how he laughed!  Each & everyday.  And because of his laughter, my "way-A" type personality actually loosened up and enjoyed life more to the fullest. 

In my mind, I'm replaying dozens of instances in which he laughed, I laughed, we all laughed as a family.  And I know, down deep within my soul, that we will continue to laugh, even though sometimes we may be crying at the same time.  Because God is good. 

Even in the midst of this terribly sad circumstance my family is in, God is in control.  And God will provide.

Because "living like Daddy" requires a whole lotta laughter. 


Monday, October 3, 2011

Hard Stuff

Here I sit at home on a Monday, sick.  All of the chores I need to be doing, and I don't feel like doing anything.  A slight fever, along with a cough & headache, are keeping me from accomplishing much.

I need to write a newspaper column! Thank goodness for TPWD news releases, that will just have to do for this week. 

My boys are home with me.  Both have similar symptoms, although I'm the only one with fever. 

I need to run!  Haven't been able to since last Tuesday, before my substitute teaching gig at the preschool.  Speaking of which, I bet that's where I picked up this crud.  Adorable 3 year olds are notorious for spreading germs.  But they sure are cute.

I need to clean my house!  I have a sink full of dirty dishes, two loads of laundry to do, a dishwasher full of clean dishes to put away, and bills to pay.  Not sure how much of that will get done today. 

So, I sit here, in an ibuprofen-induced fog, typing.  At least I feel like doing that. 

Yesterday dear friends invited us over to watch the Cowboys game, and dinner was delicious (don't ask about the game).  Afterwards, the dad of the family offered to take my boys along with him to his deer lease, where he needed to fill his feeders with corn.  My boys needed that.  They need ample opportunity to "rip and snort" (Mark's term for boys running around outdoors), and they haven't done enough of that lately.  They came home telling boy tales of seeing a dead cow, and a live coyote.  It made me smile.

Saturday, Ben was in the shower, and I could hear him squeezing what sounded like the last remains of shampoo out of a bottle.  I asked if he needed a new one.  He replied that Dad had taught him to store it upside down, so that the little bit would be in the cap for next time.  

As he kept squeezing and squeezing, he said, "You know, Daddy wanted us to do lots of stuff.  And some of the things he wanted us to do are hard!"  Amen, little man, amen.  I'm doing alot of hard stuff now that Daddy wants me to do.  It's lonely and sad and I wish that I could just wake up to find this is a very bad, very long nightmare.  But I won't. 

The hard stuff is not going away.  The cluttered house won't clean itself.  I'm still wading through piles of paperwork to be completed, and looking at statements that come in the mail that say "The Estate of Mark H. Howell".  I'm just counting on God to keep carrying us through the hard stuff.  Because I have hope that there's still good stuff somewhere down the road.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Living Like Daddy"

Call me a bit crazy....but I love Spongebob Squarepants.  Out of all of the cartoons the boys have watched over the years, there's just something about Spongebob.  Guess part of it is that a marine biologist is its creator.  The humor has several levels & can be appreciated by more than just kids.  For months, as I lay with the boys at night after we said prayers, we'd take turns talking about our favorite episodes.

Since Mark's death, I have a new favorite Spongebob episode.  It's one where Spongebob and Patrick (the not-too-bright starfish) watch longingly as Larry the Lobster, the buff lifeguard with the great tan, lives each day to the fullest.  They decide to follow suit, saying they are "living like Larry."  Of course, as most things go with Spongebob, he and Patrick end up getting injured by attempting some of Larry's activities.  As Larry says, "You should live life to the fullest, but don't maim yourselves!". 

I've borrowed and adapted the slogan for our own.  We are "Living like Daddy".  Daddy was fun & he lived life to the fullest.  He was strong, healthy, full of life, and tried each and every day to be involved in interesting fun activities....and was darn good at involving all of us in them in the process. We don't want to hurt ourselves either, but live life to the fullest in honor of him.

That all being explained, I decided that this Saturday would be the first "Living like Daddy" experiment.  Took AJ and Ben's oldest friend, Sam, with us to the Little League park.  The weather was gorgeous, and AJ's team won 21-2.  Afterwards, we raced home just long enough for AJ to change clothes, then headed to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner.  That place is loud, boisterous, and every sports person's dream.  Watched the Rangers on their way to a win tonight, saw highlights of Baylor losing to K-State (GO CATS!), and watched Texas stomp all over Iowa State.  It was fun. 

After eating, we headed to the Plex for a game of mini golf.  We have a great course, not 2 miles from our house, and I'm embarrassed to say our boys have never played it before.  Neither had Sam.  We had a blast.  As I stood there listening to three boys trash talking, laughing, and giving each other unsolicited golfing advice, I just felt so happy.  We were 'living like Daddy', out enjoying a cool beautiful early fall evening, under a cloudless sky.

Of course, having Mark there would've made it perfect.  But since that can't be, it's my job to help make opportunities for good memories in his absence.  Don't want the boys to look back, years from now, and think, "Wow, we really had alot of fun and made great memories before Dad died, but after we lost him, we just didn't do as much.  We quit having as much fun."  I want them to remember scores of great times with their Dad, and make great fun memories even after Dad went to heaven.  It's my job now, and I take it very seriously :) 

So, we're "Living like Daddy" each and every day---and hoping not to maim ourselves in the process.

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012