Friday, June 29, 2012

Another chapter closes...

I stopped by Mark's office yesterday to pick up the last two boxes full of his personal effects.  I thank God that I haven't been rushed , it's taken me several months to accomplish.  The first few times were the hardest, being in the space that was personally his own for 20 years.  Everything in that room screamed "Mark". 

I didn't sort much of anything, except what was TPWD's versus what was his.  I don't know what the boys will want, so I'm going to store it all.  Down the road, in a few years, hopefully, the three of us will able to go through the boxes, picking out what is worth saving and what is not.  I just don't feel qualified to make that decision for them. 

The decision is much like the one I made on the fly after Mark's second surgery in the hospital, the day before he died.  Both boys wanted to see him---badly.  They realized, in their own 8 and 9 year old way, that their daddy was gravely ill.  I didn't want them to look back in 5 years, blaming me for not letting them visit him, even while in such a precarious state.  I rationalized that if he made it (and I prayed so hard that he would!), we could look back as a family, and remember how sick he was, and how he miraculously recovered.  If the unthinkable happened, and we lost him, it was at least a time where they could see him one last time, and feel his warm hand on them, see his adoring eyes looking at them both, and have maybe some closure down the line.  The chaplain at the hospital at the time discouraged me from allowing them to see him....I am so glad I didn't let her sway me.  I did the right thing.  They got to touch him, kiss him, tell him how much they loved him.  And he told them the same, even though he could not speak with a ventilator in place. 

I've made most decisions by the seat of my pants---or at least that's what I joke.  But I'm not telling the whole truth.  I have prayed seriously about most major decisions since he has died.  Some more than others.  But all in some form or fashion.  God's certainly alot better at these decisions than I am.  And he hasn't failed me yet.

I look at the calendar and it's been 11 months tomorrow that he died.  I miss him terribly.  It's not so much a feeling as it was at first, like my arms had been cut off.  It's more of a wistful sadness, as I realize that this is my new reality.  I'm heading a family of three.   All of the shared responsibilities we tag-teamed on, are mine.  And mine alone.  I'm getting roof estimates.  I've taken a broken basketball goal apart and hauled it to the landfill.  I've contracted workers to remove my broken jacuzzi, to break up the concrete surrounding it, to dig out the wisteria behind it.  I water my thirsty yard once a week, moving the soaker hoses around every 30 minutes  I agonize over rising health insurance costs, and wonder what I should do.  All of these are things I would've passed off to my more capable husband.  I have so much to do, I don't think I will ever get caught up.

But in the midst of it all, I find time for fun with my boys.  For example, this afternoon, I took them and a friend to see "Men in Black 3."  There's no better place to be than in an airconditioned theatre whenever it's well over 100 degrees outdoors.   It made us a bit sad at the end, where Will Smith discovers the circumstances in which his dad died whenever Will's character was very young.  There were a few tears shed on our way home.  AJ and Ben can truly empathize with others who have lost what they have lost.  I think it will make them even more compassionate young men.

Going back to Mark's office.  I didn't know how I would feel as I pulled out of the parking lot.  Another big chapter closed as I left.  Now, I really don't have any reason to be in that building.  His coworkers have been so good and supportive of the three of us, and I know I'm welcome there anytime.  But his position has been interviewed for, and will be filled probably within the next two weeks.  I'm okay with that.  It is time that the crew has another supervisor, someone who can lead them.  No one will ever do it as well as Mark, I have no doubt.  I pray that the best person to try is chosen. 

How do people get through something like this without God?  I'm serious.  Without hope for heaven, without the Holy Spirit by my side, without knowing that Jesus is walking beside me, petitioning God for the extra help that we need, I would be in a sad sorry state.  With God, I feel empowered, even on my worst of days.  There is nothing He can't do, and if I continue to trust Him with everything, my family will continue to heal and thrive. 

And we're doing just that.  Smiles through tears, sadness tinged with joy, blessings overflowing still in sad circumstances. 

God is doing great things through us.  We are unworthy, but grace covers that unworthiness.  And we still have much to be thankful for and happy about.  Praise God!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

God's our guardian......

"God's your Guardian, right at your side to protect you. 
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke.
God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now, he guards you always."
Psalm 121:5-8 (The Message)

We've just finished a 3-day Ben birthday celebration, as my "baby" turned 9 on Sunday, June 24th.  All things considered, it went well.  We missed Mark, for sure, he loved a good party...he WAS the party, in fact.  It's amazing how one person can grab the center of attention, and everyone gravitates to them...they are always in a good mood, always ready with a smile & positive reinforcement.  That was Mark, for sure. 

Knowing that, I was a bit apprehensive as his cousin Janet, and her husband, Robby travelled via car to visit for the day on Saturday the 23rd.  They live in Seattle, so we haven't had the opportunity to see them in person since Mark died.  I realize it will be hard for all of us.  My boys are so excited to see them, and although there were some tears shed during the day, it was a memorable visit, filled with laughter and shared memories.  That's what I love about can not see someone for years, practically, and once you are in their presence, it's like you were never apart.  The connection cannot be broken.  You have a shared past, for better or for worse.  You love the same people.  You've either grown up connected to them, or aquired them through marriage.  That was day 1 of the Ben-athon Birthday.

Day 2 was actually Ben Wallace's birthday.  Memories flooded back to me, of course, as I faced another "first" without Mark.  I remember Ben's entrance into the world, face-up (doctor called it "sunny side up").  Mark joked that Ben wanted to see where he was going, hence the turn of the head and body as he was born.  He didn't sleep for over 24 hours, all the while taking in his new world, with those big soulful brown eyes.  I can see Mark cradling him in his arms for the first time, just like it was yesterday.  I am so thankful for all of the wonderful memories we have. 

We had dinner with friends that evening, then prepared for a small sleepover (only 4 boys) on day 3.  More friends offered their pool while I transported AJ to baseball practice.   We returned with copious amounts of pizza and had an impromptu party by the pool.  Cake and presents followed at our place. 

I'll be honest.  I was ready for the Ben-athon to end.  He was getting a bit full of himself, and my house looked like a disaster zone.  Plus we had to get AJ ready for his first All Star game last evening. 

AJ and Mark were baseball soul mates.  The love of the game coursed through Mark, and AJ was the heir apparent.  From the time that kid was 3 months old, Mark would stuff him in beside him in the recliner, in front of our bigscreen tv.  I remember vividly him not being able to hold his head up, as Mark propped him carefully beside him as the 2002 NCAA basketball tournament was on.  Spring training was only a month later.  We've travelled to Arlington numerous times to see the Rangers, Oklahoma City to see the AAA Rangers/AA Astros (and OKC Thunder).  We took AJ to Baltimore at age 7 months to see the Orioles play.  We've been at Busch in St. Louis, and Fenway in Boston.  In other words, we're a baseball family.

So, as I dropped AJ off for batting practice, an hour before the game's start, and pulled away, it hurt.  I glanced in the rearview mirror, fully expecting to see his daddy walking beside him, taking big strides, a grin a mile wide on his face as he gave encouraging advice and last minute instructions to his boy.  Instead, I saw a tall, lanky 10 year old--resplendent in all white All Star gear--walking alone, pulling his bat bag behind him.  It's not fair.  Still, after 11 months, IT'S NOT FAIR!

I was the one talking to AJ before the game, telling him he was capable of doing whatever the coach asked.  He was hesitant to go in and pitch.  I told him he was Mark Howell's son, and that he had the skills.  I also reminded him that he was not alone, that both God and Mark were walking right beside him.  We prayed in the car before the game.

He was called in from 1st base to pitch, top of the first, with two outs, bases loaded, and the score 2-0.  I prayed.  Hard.  He suddenly looked so fragile to me on that mound.  He walked in a run.  But no one else.  He got the third out, and went on to pitch two more full innings.  The kid's got potential.  We ended up winning 15-3.  The temps were a few degrees above 100.

Ben usually doesn't come along for games.  He just doesn't care for the sport. But he made an exception last night, to support his big brother.  As we readied for bed, I was suddenly worn out.  Every night I lay with both boys in their respective beds, but last night I simply could not do it.  I crawled under the covers, with a boy on each side.  AJ headed off soon, but Ben hesitated.  I told him that he was now 9, and that surely he could just, for this once, try to go to bed unassisted.  All he needed to do was turn on the nightlight, turn off the dresser light, and crawl into bed. 

He begrudgingly went.  Soon thereafter, I heard crying.  It started out small, but before I knew it, I heard loud, gutteral sobbing, and words.  With ceiling fans running, I couldn't make them all out, but he was talking to his daddy.  I did recognize "why did you have to leave me?".  Staying in my bed while he was crying was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I felt like a terrible mother.  But I also knew that this was, to my knowledge, the first time he's really let go, let his feelings spill out, since Mark died.  It was something he needed to do. 

After what seemed like an eternity in his room, he went to the bathroom, where he continued.  Coming out after another 5 or so minutes, I called to him, and pulled him back into my bed.  He was a snotty mess.  I held him, and told him that tears were healing.  And even though it felt bad while doing it, he would feel better afterwards.  I also told him he could stay in my bed, but it would be the last night.  He needs his space.  I need mine.  But I held that big boy, cradled in my arms, just like I've seen his daddy do thousands of times.  And the crying soon became whimpers, and sleep came. 

I think the culmination of the Ben-athon, and being at the ball park brought back a multitude of memories for us all, and Ben, who has not grieved openly much up to this point, reached his breaking point.  As hard as it was to hear and see, it was necessary.  In the midst of the mourning, I felt relief.  Relieved that he was finally letting it out, where he can deal with the pain. 

This morning, I ask him if he feels better after crying.  "Oh yes, Mom, but it's still hard." 

Yes, Ben, I know.  It will continue to be hard.  But it's still oh so sweet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Focusing on the Big Three....

I hear laughter.  And giggling.  Both are music to my ears.  My boys are smiling.  All of these are incredibly big deals, considering our circumstances. 

Ben, especially, has made great strides since school has dismissed for the summer.  Dealing with the harsh reality of Daddy not coming back, he was suffering at school, stifled by the constraints of his schedule and deadlines.  All three of us breathed a collective sigh of relief as I picked them up on the last day of school. 

I've seen his bubbly sweet personality more apparent this month.  His dark brown eyes look more clear to me, as he studies me up close and personal, looking into the very depths of my soul.  He did that the day he was born--not one cry, just checking out his world with those huge eyes.  The boy didn't sleep the first 24 hours he was here.  Mark joked he didn't want to miss out on anything.  I will never forget holding my baby during that first night, his never sleeping, never taking his eyes off of me.  He looked like he had all the world's answers in that baby brain, as his gaze tried to take in this new world and strange surroundings.  We did alot of talking that night, well, me more than he, but with his little hands folded, looking at me as if I were the most wonderful creation in the world, he made me feel like there was nothing that I couldn't do.

Fast forward to today. He and his brother still have that kind of faith in me.  It overwhelms me.  They trust me with their lives.  They encourage me whenever they sense that I am down. 

Whenever I received a late night email from the She Speaks Conference last week, telling me  a handful of spots had opened & that I was invited to attend, they were so excited for me.  Ben couldn't quit grabbing my arm, telling me how awesome it was, how awesome I was.  AJ, although a bit more subdued, also gave me his support.  I want to be that person they see in me.  That's what keeps me going.

We made it through Father's Day pretty well.  I asked them what they wanted to do, and they chose bowling.  I stink at bowling, and had only bowled once before in my lifetime.  But it's what they wanted to do, so bowl we did.  They both requested bumpers.  I needed them worse than they did.  AJ went to see if he could get them for me, too, but the proprietor told him they were only for kids or folks with special needs.  I told the boys that she might reconsider once she looked at my scores :)

Afterwards we went to one of Mark's favorite sports bar and grill, one we frequented BC (before children).  We sat and toasted the best dad ever.  As I asked them what they missed the most about Mark, AJ said his laugh, and the enthusiasm he had for everything.  Ben, thinking while AJ was talking, exclaimed that he just missed being with him, no matter what we were doing. 

I miss him taking AJ to baseball practice for sure, as I taxi him to practice every night this week in anticipation of the Little League area tournament for the 10 year old All Star Team.  They begin play next Tuesday, June 26th. 

The She Speaks conference sounds tailor-made for me.  It will give me the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most respected female Christian writers, bloggers, and speakers in the U.S.  It's a dream come true that I'm going.  We will drive to KY, I will leave the boys with their Nana, I will fly to North Carolina for three days, then head back for family time in KY, and later in KS, with the Howell side of our family. 

I am excited about the future God has planned for us.  He's giving me glimpses, like opening up conference space for me next month, to keep me encouraged and moving forward.  The possibilities of this path into writing/blogging/speaking astound me.  I feel so unworthy and unprepared.  But I know if I keep my focus on the "Big Three" (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit--golly, I hope they don't mind me calling them that!), I will persevere. 

"You are My beloved child.  I chose you before the foundation of the world, to walk with Me along paths designed uniquely for you.  Concentrate on keeping in step with Me, instead of trying to anticipate My plans for you.  If you trust that My plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, you can relax and enjoy the present moment. " 
Jesus Calling~~ Sarah Young

Saturday, June 16, 2012

♥♥♥Happy Father's Day Mark ♥♥♥

It's another weekend.  Not another "normal" weekend, by any stretch of the imagination--it's Father's Day tomorrow.  This is a "first" I've been dreading as a widow. 

How in the world do I get my boys through a day dedicated solely to Dads?  They just had the best Dad imaginable walking beside them, encouraging them, teaching them, praying over them.....and he's been in heaven now for almost a year. 

My plans are sketchy.  I do know we will skip church (sorry, Lord, I hope You understand).  From years spent in God's house on Father's Day, I can pretty much guarantee a sermon devoted to fathers, and all sorts of side references, including the song I haven't been able to sing since losing my dad in 2004:  "Faith of our Fathers."  We are most definitely NOT up to that tomorrow.

What we will do is celebrate Mark.  We will give thanks for him, along with our God who has carried us, mostly, for eleven months.  We will remember and laugh about all the wild and crazy shenanigans he got us into (Mark, not God).  We will share our favorite Mark phrases, and do our best impersonations of his walk, his approving stance (feet spread casually apart, hands on hips, head nodding approvingly, a smile as big as Texas), and be grateful for the time we had with him this side of heaven.  We will cry.  I'm doing that now, as I type.  But that's okay.  Tears are healing. 
Gathering wheat for Mark's dad's grave, Memorial Day weekend, 2010 in Kansas

As I log onto my blog this morning, I look incredulously at the title "An Unimagined Journey" and the subtitle "You never know what God has in store".  How did I come up with these last September, after only being a widow scarcely a month?  Both define our lives magnificently and succinctly--it can only be the hand of God.  He was working overtime for us then, and continues to do so now.  I barely knew what I was doing, as I stumbled through days, half-zombie, half-mommy...driven only by my promise to Mark, to make our boys my priority, to do the best I could to continue raising them in the way we had together planned.  Many of those days are a blur, as family and friends and my heavenly Father cared for me, prayed for me, helped me put one foot in front of the other. 

A year ago this month, Ben and I had just finished up a week in Kansas, spent at the family farm.  He attended Space Camp at the Hutchinson Cosmosphere.  I leisurely soaked up the local scene, finding my way around the rural hamlets, running on soft gravel through wheat fields in the early mornings.  I truly felt at home there for the first time, which was such a blessing, considering our plans to move up there in July 2013.  I realized that Mark could take this city girl out of Wichita Falls, drop me into rural central Kansas, and that I would be okay.  I began looking forward to that date as much as he was.

Less than two months later, I was making a return trip to that farm with only our sons.  Mark's body travelled before us, and we buried him in his home church's cemetery, a scant quarter mile from the home he loved more than all of his siblings combined.  The wheat fields of the family's home section are just beyond the cemetery.  There was never any question of where he would want to be buried.  His physical body is at home,  in Kansas. 

His spirit, however, is very much alive.  We feel him near us.  A.J. says he's with him on the pitcher's mound during his ball games.  I swear I feel a warm spot on his side of our big bed on nights when I do not even venture over to that area.  I see him everytime I look at my courtyard garden, as his perennials flourish in the Texas summer heat. 

Most importantly, I see him in his sons.   Man, they are something.  They got the best of both of us! One looks like him, the other acts like him.  Both are good things.  They are my cheering section, my biggest supporters.  With them, I feel like I can do anything.  And with God, I am sure I can.  They stand on either side of me, ready to step forward and live, as their daddy wants. 

They are his greatest legacy.  They tell me whenever they're grown, married and have sons of their own, they will name one Mark.  How fitting.  I think that's the best Father's Day present he could ever hope for. 

Happy Father's Day, Mark.  We will continue to live and make you proud. 

♥♥♥  from your three biggest fans

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An evening of difficult goodness...

I'm "borrowing" my wonderful sister-in-law's comment about our latest evening, using it as the title of today's post.  We did have an evening of difficult goodness, as we eagerly anticipated Benny's Big Brother match to  be introduced to our family.

For those following our journey, you will most probably remember that I registered both A.J. and Ben with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.  They need positive adult male interaction, something I cannot give them.  They also need it on a consistent basis.  Friends with the best of intentions have their own busy schedules, and my boys have been disappointed whenever plans have fallen through.  This seems like another answer to prayers.  Ben was matched first.  On the phone, speaking with the person that matched him, I questioned the match, simply because the "Big"s interests seemed to be strikingly similar to A.J.'s.  I was told that the match was best suited for Ben, and let my concerns fall by the wayside..

Ben was terribly excited.  He is a typical little brother, trying to find his own space in the world, as A.J. strides into most any situation with unbelievable self confidence and skill.  Ben's done a fine job of that task thus far, and he is gentle, kind, sensitive, and has found his special niche in computers, electronics, Legos, and music.  A.J. was excited, too, that Ben's match had been found first.  He realizes that being involved in sports has allowed  him to interact with adult males on a regular basis.

So, alot of expectations were already in place whenever our doorbell rang.  The match liaison arrived first, and the Big a couple minutes later.  A male in his late 20s, he seems perfect for the family.  Both boys warmed up to him immediately.  After signing a lot of paperwork, he and Ben headed to McDonald's, to share a soda and a little conversation. 

He came back to the house and visited a bit longer, watching the boys play XBox Kinect Star Wars, before heading home. 

I got a call from the liaison not 30 minutes later.  The "Big," thinks he may be better suited to match with A.J. instead of Ben.  This is a situation the lady hasn't encountered before.  What do I want to do?  I immediately pray because she will need an answer within 24 hours. 

The boys are eating supper.  I sit with them at the table.  We begin to discuss the Big, and his interests.  I begin to ask Ben questions, and feel him out about the match.  Before 5 minutes have passed, he turns to his brother, saying, "I think he would be a better match for A.J.  Maybe I should wait for someone that loves electronics and computers as much as I do."

I am amazed at this very grownup decision coming from a boy that will not be 9 years old until the 24th of this month.  He insists on texting the liaison all by himself.  Probably the most grammatically correct series of texts she's received from an 8 year old, they correspond back and forth for awhile. 

It's done.  We start from scratch with Ben, again.  A.J. will "meet" his match (for the second time, but the first as his very own "Big" later this week).  Ben reconciles things by figuring out he will still get to see the Big whenever he comes by our house, so he's okay with that.  He also knows that he is a perfect match for his big bro, A.J.

Hence, the "evening of difficult goodness."  Looking back over the almost-11 months, we've had many of those.  I see God's hand in every important decision, every opportunity given to us.  And staying tuned in to God allows us to make the best decisions for our family.  By making these decisions prayerfully, we've seen blessing upon blessing as we begin to heal. 

"Get me on my feet again.  You promised, remember?
When I told my story, you responded,
train me well in your deep wisdom
Help me understand these things inside and out
so I can ponder your miracle-wonders.
My sad life's dilapidated, a falling-down barn,
build me up again by your Word.
Barricade the road that goes Nowhere,
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don't let me down!
I'll run the course you lay out for me
if you'll just show me how."
Ps 119: 25-32 (the Message)

I'll take an evening of difficult goodness any day.  It gives me the chance to see God, firsthand, working in my family. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My 100th blog entry...

A thought-provoking deep Sunday for me today.  Our pastor's sermon was more of a talk, as he walked up and down the aisle at our lovely United Methodist church this morning.  The text?  John 3:31-35, where Jesus is teaching and his family (mother, brothers, sister) wants to talk to him.  He is told they are waiting to see him, and Jesus asks basically, "Who is my brother, who is my mother, sister?"  In Jesus' eyes, anyone who believes in His father is His family. 

I know this.  I've read this passage before.  I am part of a much larger family than just the three of us in this comfortable home in Wichita Falls.  As such, I am called to help those who cannot help themselves.  But where do you draw the line? 

As widows go, I'm lucky in many ways.  My sweet husband made sure that the boys and I would be okay financially without him.   I worked fulltime until the age of 40, when we decided I would be a stay at home mom.  Putting off having our children allowed us this luxury.  He worked his you-know-what off with TPWD for 21 years, was frugal when he needed to be, sold items on eBay to supplement our income, and enjoyed investing.  We weren't given anything, but earned it the old fashioned way. We started out married life with school debts and literally no savings.  Through hard work, belt-tightening, and diligence over almost 25 years, we've made a life for our family.

We are not rich by any means, but we are getting by.  I have two sons, a 5th grader and a 4th grader.  In just a few short years, we'll be looking at two college tuitions, a year apart.  I know if he had lived, we would be fine financially.  But he's gone, and I'm left in charge.  I am called to be a good steward of what he worked so hard to provide us with.  I cannot be frivolous.

Since his death, there's been a parade of expenses to be addressed.  You name it, I've had it.  Fence replacement, jacuzzi dying, new tires needed, garage door opener replacement, lawn mower purchase, the list goes on and on and on.  We've yet to have a "typical" month as far as expenditures go.  I'm hoping that July will be the first such month since his death, almost a year ago. 

I tithe to my church.  I give to charitable causes whenever I am able.  But I was put in a position today that was both foreign and awkward to me.  It made me physically squirm.  A friend asked me for a loan. 

I'll be honest, it upset me.  I didn't know how to respond.  On the one hand, this person has had their share of crappy luck and circumstances.  On the other, I am a widow, on a fixed income, with two young sons to raise without their father.  I could not understand the reasoning behind this request.  I am sure that the need was genuine, but the situation put me between a rock and a hard place. 

It has bothered me all day.  Not up to talking in person, I emailed them "no" with a detailed explanation.  It may be awhile before I can get past this.  I'm afraid our friendship will never be quite the same.  But when all was said and done, and I took time to think things through, I knew I had to take care of who lives inside my house first. 

The friend is still as precious to me as before the request.  I just wish I had never been asked.

My boys can tell I'm out of sorts.  I reassure them I'm okay.  I will continue to make them my top priority, just as I promised their daddy on the day he died. 

Good thing I had such a great mentor and teacher for 25 years.  I'm confident he would have come to the same decision that I made, had he been still alive.  And that makes me feel better.

Because being a responsible grown up sometimes ain't all it's cracked up to be :)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The emotion of the day is....happy.

How am I feeling today?  The emotion of the day is happy.  Yes, you read that right.  I had a happy day today.  Now that doesn't mean I smiled all day.  Nor does it mean that I didn't have my moments of wistfulness or wishing for things to be different. 

Finally, after 10 1/2 months, I think my bull-headed approach to grabbing hold of life and living it, regardless of the consequences, and choosing to be happy is beginning to pay off.  Am I happy all the time?  Nope.  But I'm not sad all the time, either.

My happiness today was tied directly to two occurrances: 1) the success of installing a new mailbox post and mailbox yesterday, with the help of a female friend, and 2) getting a chance to cook for said friend and her family today.

Outdoor projects have never been my area.  Until now, when I don't have anyone else to push them off on.  I'm quickly becoming good at many things, including mowing, weedeating, gardening, and keeping up with vehicle maintenance.  Mixing and pouring concrete was way out of my comfort zone.  Good thing I have a friend that can do most anything she sets her mind to.  She quickly volunteered to come to "help" me and the boys, but once here, she took charge as we happily did what she told us to do.  I've always been good at following directions.  And the next occasion I have to mix concrete, I've seen it done, and will be able to do it all by myself...unless I call her over again, just because she's so darn much fun :)

The second occurrance, cooking, may sound a bit silly.  But I love to cook.  I used to buy a cookbook everywhere we travelled, and I loved to find new recipes to cook for Mark.  Now he's gone, and I'm left with two boys who'd just as soon have a peanut butter sandwich as a gourmet meal.  We've had more than our share of fast food since he's been gone.  I'm not proud of that fact, but with our busy schedules and trying to get accustomed to being "just" the three of us, grab and go seems to work on most days. 

I had not bought a cookbook since Mark died.  I have dozens sitting, gathering dust.  But I bought one a couple of weeks ago, from the Pioneer Woman, I'd heard rave reviews. 

I picked out her white chicken enchiladas and mexican rice.  I roasted red, yellow, and green bell peppers, along with a couple of poblano and jalapenos.  I diced them all up.  I doused the chicken with paprika and half & half, I made homemade bechamel/sour cream sauce for the enchiladas. 

The smells coming from my kitchen were amazing.  As I pulled the can opener away from the back of the countertop, and began to open my Rotel tomatoes, it hit me  I couldn't for the life of me remember the last time I USED MY CAN OPENER!  Such a strange feeling came over me, as I was stirring the rice and tomatoes together on the stove....I was humming.  I haven't hummed in my kitchen in a year.  That in itself is pretty amazing. 

I'm beginning to heal.   Life, even without the love of my life, my best friend, is still worth living.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I have two great kids, wonderful friends, family, and neighbors.  New windows are opening up for me, I'm doing things I'd never dreamed. 

The dinner was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  The company was even better.  I miss adult conversation!   It was heartily enjoyed by all the adults in attendance.  However, my boys and the 4 year were not impressed. 

But that's okay.  For the first time, in a long time, my kitchen was a total mess from my cooking.  And I didn't care.  

My kids are just going to have to learn to appreciate my gourmet skills.  Or they'll be eating alot more peanut butter sandwiches.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

He is my life....

Tonight, I did something I hadn't done in some time--I sat down and cried.  Not a few tears, mind you, but a full-on "ugly" cry, where the tears flow, the tissues stay soaked, and the makeup runs into puddles off of my chin.  I did this at the conclusion of an emotion-packed long weekend, out under the stars in my driveway.  I propped myself up against my Toyota Tacoma truck tire, and  just let it out.  I sobbed.  I cried out to God (hope the neighbors don't think I'm crazy).  I prayed. 

Afterwards, I felt better.  The boys had seen the beginnings of the crying jag, as I walked through the den.  They sympathetically offered encouraging words, but I just kept on walking.  Sometimes, you just have to cry.  I'm strong and tough and stubborn and leading my family fairly well---but whenever I give in to the small voice of doubt that tugs at my subconscious, I need to cry.

This weekend marked the inaugural Mark Howell Memorial Fishing Contest for kids at Lake Arrowhead State Park.  Every year since we've been in Wichita Falls, there's been a kid fishing contest there on the first Saturday of June.  He was there with his office mates each year, having a ball.  He loved nothing better than to help a kid catch a fish.  He knew that once a kid catches a fish, he'll be back.  It will most likely lead to a love of fishing, which connects that kid to the outdoors, hopefully for life.  I heard it was well attended, and saw pictures of beaming children holding fish of every imaginable size.  The boys and I didn't attend, but we plan on it next year.  Still too hard on us.  Plus we had to be in Athens, TX instead.

Athens is home to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, where there's a special Fishing Hall of Fame.  I nominated Mark this year, and even though he wasn't selected, a banquet was held to honor all nominees and family.  The boys and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.  It was hard, I won't lie, but the love and warmth with which the three of us were received made it worth the effort.  I took the boys back on Sunday to fish the kid's pond, where the center provides bait and rods and reels.  It was another "first"---a very hard one---as I took the boys fishing for the first time alone, without their daddy. 

I'm a poor substitute at best on many fronts, but fishing?  That's one of my weakest areas.  I'm good at baiting a hook, and even catching the fish.  But removing the fish from said hook, and filleting them?  Forgettabout it!  One fish was caught.  We'll just leave it at that.  I wrote my outdoors column on the experience, you'll have to read that to find out "the rest of the story."

But the ugly cry I had?  I think it was due to a culmination of emotions and experiences.  The final straw was driving home from Home Depot tonight.  In the truck I had Home Defense insecticide (we seem to have a scorpion problem), wasp/hornet spray, a mailbox post, and a 60 lb bag of concrete.  All of these items I would've never purchased before Mark died.  If I came home from shopping, I either had groceries in the trunk, or clothes purchases from the mall. 

And now?  I'm spraying for scorpions, replacing mailboxes and posts, dealing with bees and wasps, mowing the grass, paying bills, worrying about our investments, planning trips, booking hotel reservations, and making decisions on my own that will affect my family's future.

The dynamic has forever been changed.  And sometimes, like tonight, as those doubts creep in, I cry.  I'd rather be shopping for shoes instead of insecticide.  I've never bought concrete in my life, much less mixed it or used it.  I never worried about things like a full tank of gas in the mower, or a full charge on the weed eater. 

Man, I sure had it good.  He treated me like a queen.  He called me the "Queen Bee" for years and Ben somehow heard it as "Queen Pea."  The name stuck. 

Well, the Queen Pea feels a little better after her royal cry.  And those doubts?  Gone, at least for the moment.

"Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is.  See things from his perspective.  Your old life is dead.  Your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God. He is your life."    Colossians 3: 2,3  The Message

He is my life.  As long as I remember those four words, I'll keep plugging along.  

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012