Saturday, July 28, 2012


Procrastination:  to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.

I used to be a world-class procrastinator.  "I'll put that off until tomorrow...I can put that load of laundry in the dryer in the morning....let's wait to pay that bill till the 10th of the month....."  You get the idea. 

But since becoming a widow almost one year ago to the date, I've reinvented myself.  There are new habits, a new attitude, a moving from introvert to extrovert, from loving wife/2nd in command to bread winner/1st in command.  My procrastinating days, I thought, were behind me.

So, if that's true, why can't I bring myself to pack my suitcase for my Kansas trip tomorrow?  The boys have their things together.  My stuff is piled all over the bedroom, suitcases partially filled with leftovers from my KY/NC trip last week.  Folded clean clothes cover the bed.  I know what I need to do....I just cannot bring myself to do it.  WHY?

I know why.  Somewhere, deep within my soul, I would rather not go.  I've been dreading the one year observation of Mark's death for months now.  No place would be easy for me to be on July 30th.  But being on the land that he loved, that was supposed to be our home in a mere year?  It is cruel, ironic, and sad, all wrapped up in a neat tidy package of "I don't want to face the facts." 

He had a deep, intense love affair with Kansas.  Good thing I wasn 't the jealous type :)  The land that has been in his family's name for well over 100 years is breathtakingly beautiful.  It's planted with native grasses.  It has a pond on it.  He had so many meticulous plans for us there.  And it's hard to let those dreams go. 

Oh, I've tried.  I have emptied my hands and my heart of those plans, and I have surrendered my life and the lives of my boys to God.  Where God wants us to go, we'll go.  What God wants me to do, I'll do.  What God wants me to say, I'll try to say.  But God, do You really need me to be in the place he loved most on this earth on the day that hurts me the most?

If I just don't pack, I can stay here, right?  If I stick my head in the sand, just like the ostrich I used to be, can I pretend that I haven't lost the love of my life, the father of my two boys?  If I close my eyes and listen really really closely, I can still hear the sound of his voice, the lilt in his laugh.  I can see his eyes look at me with more love than I ever deserved.  I can picture him on the floor of our den, wrestling with his sons, with squeals of laughter radiating from our home.

Lord, I really don't think I can do this.  The last time we were at the farm was Thanksgiving.  It was a tough trip.  I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until July 31st.  Then, the first year will be history, and maybe, just maybe, I can turn the page and close the chapter. 

I'm surprised at the hot, bitter tears that trail down my face today.  I've been doing pretty good these past few months.  But all of the memories of a year ago come stampeding through my mind, knocking me off balance.  I had a sure footing just a day or so ago.  Is this normal?  Ha, now that's a laughable question....if there's anything I've figured out in the past year, there is no normal way to grieve.

In my heart, God has been working to heal me,  as a battle scar forms over the part of my heart that loves Mark.  In some respects, I feel like that part of my heart has closed up, that the doors have been locked.  What I have inside for him will never not be a part of who I am.  Just like my safety deposit box, which holds important papers, vintage baseball cards, and our wedding rings, my heart holds all of the memories and love that we shared. 

I've decided that life is just a big test.  It's not about us.  It's about how we react to our circumstances, pure and simple.  Life going pretty well?  Then we just glide along, tending to take things for granted.  God may or may not be a part of the puzzle.  But when life isn't perfect, when things like death and sickness and depression and vindictiveness enter in--that's when the rubber meets the road.  If you dig in your heels, and grab hold of God's hand, you'll weather the storm.  I don't want to think of the alternative.

I know I have to go to Kansas.  This is not an optional trip.  Mark's siblings are at the old farmhouse, doing a major sort/reorganization of what Mark's mom doesn't need at her new home.  The boys and I need to be with family.  We'll meet with a realtor, who will manage the house for his mom for renters in the near future.

That means it might be the last time we get to sleep in the drafty old place.  I've been travelling there for 25 years, sleeping upstairs whenever it was so cold my antiperspirant froze on the dresser.  It's been so hot upstairs that a constant fan and open windows didn't slow down the sweating.  But Mark loved it, every square inch of it.  And because he loved it, I do, as well.

I've put off packing long enough.  The tears have dried, at least for the moment.  We'll take that Toyota truck he was so proud of, and we'll point it towards north in the morning.  We'll say a prayer before we leave the driveway, and we will truly use God as our co-pilot.

And whenever July 30th dawns, it will be alright.  It has to be.  I'll wake up in the home Mark loved so much, and be surrounded by his sons, his siblings, and his mother.  Together we will get through whatever the day has in store. 

This year has been the most difficult of my life.  Yet, in the midst of the difficulties, I have found myself closer to my God than I ever dreamed possible.  I think I will just see how much closer I can get in the next three days. 

If a loved one is nearby, within hugging distance, go right now and tell them how much you love them...what a difference they've made in your your life has been better because they are in it.  Don't waste time disagreeing and procrastinating.

We covet your prayers as we make this journey, both spiritual and physical, to Kansas.  I pray we are ready to turn the page and close the chapter.  I know that God has a new story for us to write.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wearing God's armor

I've returned from a short blog sabbatical.  Part of it was necessary, given my travels over the past two weeks; part was self-imposed, since it seems like computer time was taking time away from my most important priority--my two boys. 

As the one-year designation approaches since Mark departed this earth for heaven, I'm a bit melancholy and introspective.  Guess I can be allowed that, given the year my boys and I have had.  I look back at the last week of his life, spent in a hospital, where routine surgery went oh-so-wrong, and signs of sepsis didn't seem to register with either his surgeon (who died of a massive stroke a few weeks after Mark's death) or the med-surg floor nurses. 

Oh, to be given a time machine, to be able to go back and "fix" what happened.  I would have kept acquaintances from wandering in and out of the ICU whenever he was so sick.  He didn't want folks to see him looking like that.  Family and pastors only.  That's all that should have been there.  I failed him by not stopping the influx.  It was the beginning of my not setting boundaries and enforcing them. 

I look back at myself then, a carefree 48 year old married woman, so clueless as to how good she really had it.  She had a loving husband, two remarkable boys, and a pretty perfect existence.  I envy her now.  I envy the tightly-knit, loving family of four, where laughter was served up on a regular basis--where boys and daddy wrestled in the floor practically every night---where I was loved from the top of my head to the soles of my feet by a man who thought me the most beautiful woman in the world. 

All of that changed on the night of July 30, 2011.  That "perfect life" went up in smoke,  and I was left with AJ and Ben, trying to make a plethora of decisions all on my own.  Thank God, I didn't have to make them alone.

I'm a different person now than I was then.  I've grown spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.  I've learned to stand up for myself and my sons, whenever circumstances made me choose between what I knew was best for us and what was enabling someone else.  It's happened more times than I would've ever imagined.  It hasn't been easy. I haven't handled some of the situations in question perfectly, and I take full responsibility for the times I've been human. 

But isn't that where God steps in?  In the midst of my bungling and fumbling, when folks make a mountain out of a molehill, when I make decisions that I must make for the safety and continued prosperity of my family, God tells me it is okay.  Even though my methods may be lacking in grace and proper decorum, He knows that my heart is in the right place.  He tells me that it doesn't matter what is said about me.  It doesn't matter what people think about me.  What matters is what HE thinks of me. 

I am doing the best that I know how to do.  My family is thriving, even in the midst of the big void in our lives without Mark.  I know Mark is proud of us.  He left a great legacy and big shoes to fill.  No one can ever replace him.  I can only hope to walk the path that he left for us, which is crystal clear.

And as I sit by his graveside on July 30th, telling him all of the accomplishments we've made since his death, I know he will be listening.  For he's been there beside us throughout this whole ordeal.  The boys and I have been listing those accomplishments together.  Whenever you put it to pen and paper, it is really sort of overwhelming. 

We're making it.  Not perfectly, not 100% gracefully, not without bumps and bruises.  But with Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit at our sides.  Thank you, God, for your blessed Son, and the Holy Spirit who stays so close beside us--even during the bad times. 

I'm an imperfect person covered by supremely perfect grace. 
 I strive to wear the full armor of God.

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil's evil tricks.
Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world's darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. 
That is why you need to put on God's full armor. 
Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong.  And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing. 
 So, stand strong, with the belt of truth tied around your waist and the protection of right living on your chest.
On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong. 
And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One.
Accept God's salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need.
To do this you must always be ready and never give up."
Ephesians 6:11-17 (NCV)

By the grace and favor of God, my family is laughing again.  We are adapting to being a threesome.  I look at our boys and I love them from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet.  They are amazing.  I will fight for them.  I will do everything in my power to ensure they are safe, happy, and healthy.  I will continue to depend on God 100%.

God is so very very good!  I can't wait to see what He has in store for us.  For His plan, it is perfect. 

p.s.  To my pastor, David, and his beautiful wife, Joy....I could not have made it these past weeks without your wonderful counsel, prayers, and wisdom.  I love you both!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Worth remembering

My garden is pretty much shot.  The hot dry windy Wichita Falls weather has rendered my tomato plants barren.  The squash and zucchini withered up several weeks back.  Even so, I harvested produce from every plant, which I know Mark is so proud of.  Last year, he pulled up the tomato plants without our ever harvesting one.

It's the time of year in north Texas where things get stifling.  It brings back more memories of July last year.  We'd been in Massachusetts, where it was cool and green.  Coming back here was a shock to say the least. 

I took the boys with me to Kentucky, to attend my 30th high school reunion.  It was a great time.  But two weeks to the day of my reunion, I became a widow. 

It's hard.  It's a different kind of hard than it was, but hard nonetheless. The boys and I are doing well, probably better than most folks thought we'd be.  I attribute it to the great support we continue to have from family, church family, and friends.  Good counseling, a little antidepressant to get me through this period, and walking closely with God has also been important.

I'm not perfect.  As far as I can tell, only one person walked this earth that was perfect.  And it wasn't my sweet husband, although he may have come pretty close at times.  I'm doing the best I can with what I have to work with.  I fail daily.  I get back up, and try again. 

While Mark was living, I jokingly told folks I had three boys, the oldest of which was 55.  That was really the truth.  He was so much darn fun.  I'd end up getting on to all three of them whenever things got wild, crazy, and borderline dangerous.  We called it "good cop, bad cop."  Guess which one I was? :)  He was "Mr. Fun" to the boys and to me.   After he died, I told the boys that I would have to work on being more fun, since I was usually the disciplinarian of the bunch.

And I have tried.  Hard.  And you know what?  It's become a habit.  Sunday afternoon, as we are coming back from a church event, I tell the boys, "I thought we'd go home and have a little dinner, run to Walmart and check on otter boxes for iPods, and then head to Orange Leaf for a little yogurt.  How does that sound?"     AJ laughs, and tells Ben, "Benny, I think she's finally graduated to Mrs. Fun!  Go, Mom!"

I felt so blessed in that moment.  It's been almost a year.  We have become a pretty efficient family of three, which is a huge deal.  We're continuing to laugh and have fun.  The boys are amazing, and people remind me that they not only have the best of Mark in them, but also the best of me. 

I know that Mark is proud of all three of us.   I think "what would Mark do?" in most every big decision I've made since his death (I also pray to the big guy, God).  With both of them on my side, I feel like I've done okay. 

And as the days tick down to the end of the month, I will continue to remember Mr. Fun, and all the love he gave to me and to his two sons.  Because he is certainly worth remembering. 

"I call to you, God, and you answer me.  Listen to me now, and hear what I say.
Your love is wonderful.  By your power you save those who trust you from their enemies.
Protect me as you would protect your own eye.  Hide me under the shadow of your wings.
Keep me from the wicked who attack me, from my enemies who surround me. 
They are selfish and brag about themselves. 
Lord, rise up, face the enemy, and throw them down.  Save me from the wicked with your sword.
Lord, save me by your power from those whose reward is in this life.
Because I have lived right, I will see your face. 
When I wake up, I will see your likeness and be satisfied."
Psalm 17: 6-10, 13-15 (NCV)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Restoring the crops

I. am. happy. In the midst of the turmoil this month has shown thus far, I'm in a safe harbor, tucked away from the crashing waves, wind, and torrential rain. God is here, so evident, so loving, so comforting.

And as I look ahead to the next two weeks, and the possibilities for growth and new opportunities, coupled with the sadness I feel about heading to Kansas for the one year anniversary of Mark's death, I know we'll be okay. We aren't thrashing around in the deep end of the pool anymore. We've begun to heal. Slowly but surely, with help from friends, family, pastors, and counseling, the boys and I are making strides in the right direction.

It hasn't been easy. Those of you who follow this blog know that it's been a trying week. Praying about a particular situation for months, I finally got an answer. It was the answer I was expecting, but following through took a lot out of me.

Sometimes being a grown up stinks. Life's not easy, and it's sometimes not pretty, and feelings get hurt along the way. But I persevered, knowing without a doubt that I was doing what needed to be done.

We are most definitely doing something right.  Last night, as Ben lay in his bed, he exclaimed, "I've had a great day!"  That was the first time I've heard that phrase from him in many months.  My eyes filled with tears as I quizzed him why the day was great.  He ran through a list of activities that we'd been involved in--none costing money or gasoline....just being with friends and each other.  Amen.

Visiting with my counselor today, I tell him about a run I took on the Lake Wichita trail before the boys were finished with the school year.  There's a huge mound of dirt near the lake, that is solid and tall, with a steep path to the top.  The top offers a beautiful vantage point.  From it you can see the whole lake, turn and view much of the city.  But it's a steep hard walk up, and a terribly steep descent to get back onto level ground. 

I decided I was going to scale that "mountain" during my run.   About halfway up, it dawned on me.  Here  I am, a single parent, running alone, with only a cell phone and water.  Scaling up a somewhat treacherous path...what if I slipped?  I could just see the headlines in the paper, "Outdoors Columnist Breaks Leg on Murphy's Mound." I slowed down and began to climb more cautiously.  I got to the top, and the view was magnificent.  But I didn't tarry long, knowing I would need to be extra careful on the way down.  The steepness caused me to lean back as far as I could on the descent.  Probably looked pretty funny.  I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving as my feet jogged back onto the concrete trail and I headed for home.

I've heard of mountain top experiences, and being in the valley, spiritually, my entire life.  But I never thought about the actual climb to get to the top of the mountain.  You aren't just plopped on top of the darn thing, you have to work hard, it's a struggle.  You sweat, you train, you sometimes want to quit.  Along the way, there may be big rocks, fireants, thorny bushes, and steep paths.  Getting to the summit is work.  The climb can be perilous at times.  But whenever you get to the top it is oh-so-worth it.

Such is life.  We work, we struggle, we try do the right things.  We strive to live a life God is proud of.  And sometimes, we reach a summit.  It can be excruciatingly difficult to get there, but whenever you finally arrive, and take in the heavenly view from the top, it is a feeling like no other.  Everything below looks smaller.  You gain a new perspective.  It's sooo nice up there at the top. 

But you can't stay there forever, even if you want to.  Life calls.  There are children to raise, work, school, household duties you are responsible for.  Sooner or later, for better or for worse, you've got to begin the descent back down to reality. 

Last July, my family went from mountaintop experiences July 1-July 24, then skidded/tumbled/belly flopped into a deep dark valley on July 30.  It is by far the darkest, saddest place I've ever been.

Guess what?  We weren't in that valley by ourselves.  God was there, all along.  He walked with us, carrying us most of the time.  And as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, we climbed out of that valley, using the Light.  It's the best flashlight in the world, never running out of batteries :)

I know we're not back on a mountaintop yet.  Thankfully I see signs all around that we are making progress.  The sun shines brighter.  We smile more.  All three of us are confident and secure in the love that our God has for us.  There is joy, real joy, in our lives.  Despite what we've lost. 

I pray that the joy and security we've found will carry us through the rest of this month.  Just as I wished for January before Christmas, I'm wishing for August right now.  There are life-changing opportunities coming our direction, decisions to be made.  And there is a grave to visit in Kansas, one we haven't seen since Thanksgiving. 

God will carry us, if need be.  He is actively, expertly restoring our lives.   And we will be better for the experience, no matter what happens. 

"Though I sent my great army against you--
those swarming locusts and hopping locusts,
the destroying locusts and the cutting locusts that ate your crops---
I will pay you back for those years of trouble.
Then you will have plenty to eat and be full.
You will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has done miracles for you.
My people will never again be shamed.
Then you will know that I am among the people of Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and there is no other God.
My people will never be shamed again."
Joel 2:  25-27 (NCV)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Righteous anger....

Jesus got angry at times.  Being fully human, and yet, fully God, He dealt with every human emotion imaginable.  How else can He know and feel what we are going through as we travel the road God sets before us?  I feel wonderfully comforted, knowing I have a Saviour whose human feet walked this terra firma, who ate freshly caught fish, who enjoyed a good glass of wine, and loved me enough to go to the cross.  It blows my mind to think of a love that profound and deep!

It makes me feel a bit better to know that like me, sometimes Jesus got angry.  If you think of Jesus angry, you think of Him in the temple....overturning the tables of the moneychangers, who were cheating honest people out of their hard-earned money.  Inflating prices of sacrificial offerings, such as doves for widows. 

Widows.  I am now a member of that demographic.  I'll never forget crawling into my car, at 3 a.m. on July 31, 2011, with my mom after my husband had died just a few hours before.  I looked at her and woefully blurted out, "Well, we're both widows now."  And we cried. 

A widow is not the same as a divorced woman.  A widower is not the same as a divorced man.  Losing a parent is not the same as losing your spouse.  A spouse leaves a marriage?  That's a terrible terrible thing---but the person left behind is not a widow or a widower.  Don't try to put them all into one tidy little box and say it's the same.

I was told today that I am angry.  That my blog entries show my anger, my "inability" to move forward.  I was told that someone was praying for me to "get past the anger phase" of Mark dying, so I could get "on with life."  It, along with many other portions of the email, was condescending.  It was from a friend.

I think back, again, to Kitty Hinkle's entry in A Widow's Might....a widow will lose 75% of the friends she had before becoming a widow.  She was right.  The person in question is divorced and has had more than her share of bad luck. 

In months past, the person in question tried to equate her sons not having their father around (he lives halfway across the country) with my boys' father being "gone."  That caused some righteous anger and indignation on my part.  I'm sorry your sons have an absentee father, but at least he's still alive.  They can pick up the phone and call him.  They can visit him.  My boys?  Well, you know the answer to that.  It's apples and oranges. 

Still her words today planted a little seed of doubt in my heart.  For about two seconds.  Do I deserve all the grace and good things that God has seen fit to bless my family with, after losing my husband?  Am I worthy to be a writer with Proverbs 31 Ministries?  Maybe she's I angry?  Do I write angrily, begrudgingly?  Because that has certainly never been my intention.

I responded.  I ended the relationship.  It had been toxic for quite awhile, and I felt used up.  In my almost year of counseling, I've learned there's a time to fish and a time to cut bait.  All the little things that have been done over the past 2 years added up to a pretty big thing that I could no longer gloss over. 

You outgrow friendships.  Needs change.  Your circle of friends change as you hit different demographics of the population.  Mark and I were "dinks" for years (double income no kids).  After having the boys, we had a whole new segment of the population open up to us as friends.  You have friends at church, friends you've had since childhood, neighbors that are friends.  Work friends, sports-related friends, friends that have children that are friends with your get the idea. 

But any of my friends, my real friends?  They see that there is still joy in my life, that I am still embracing my world, and know that I am doing my best to remain positive, upbeat, and keep my focus on raising my sons.  They can read it in my writings.  They know my innermost feelings and thoughts.  They know that I am closer to my God than I have ever been in my life.  He is my everything. 

They also realize that I cannot "get past the anger phase" of grief.  Grief cannot be given a deadline.  There's no timeline, no bulleted chart to follow, especially in the loss of a spouse.  For someone who thinks otherwise?  All I can respond is that they never really knew me or my husband at all to begin with.

I followed my heart, and it was in the best interest of my family.  I will continue to lift her and her sons up in prayer. 

The naysayer didn't cause my faith to waver.  She didn't win.  It's not about her.  And it's not about me.  It's about a God that can look down upon a family, even after losing a husband and father, and still give them reason to laugh--a lot!  And love.  And be excited about what the future holds for us.  We will never be "over" losing Mark.  We never need to be.  We are making that loss a part of who we now are.  It's making my boys more faithful, more considerate, more empathetic, and more mindful of what's truly important.  I hope it's doing the same for me.

It has caused me to reevaluate what truly is important in my life.  I'm a bit like Jesus in the temple--only I'm turning the tables upside down on relationships that are causing harm and stress to my family.

Only then can we focus on what's truly important.  Serving God, and living a life pleasing to Him.  Because His opinion of me is really the only one that matters :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Honest and simple....

Right now, my life is an enigma.  Walking forward, as I know I must, I'm being drawn back to both good and bad memories as July begins to hit its stride.  Pushing and pulling, past and present, looking towards my future, looking longingly back at my past...well, you get the point.  I'm a mess. 

On the outside I hear folks telling me I look better, younger, more vibrant.  I just shake my head.  I laugh and say I must've looked pretty bad for a few months last year.  Whatever's on the outside is of no consequence to me (although thank you very much, it's nice of you to notice)--it's the inside I'm working on.  Continually.  Or should I say, God is working on.  Maybe the serenity folks notice on my exterior is because of the "work I've had done" on the inside. 

Inside work isn't without its pain, that's for certain.  I've struggled lately, trying to reconcile friendships and my nonconfrontational way of enabling, with the new-found peace God's given to me.  I've gone from a shy quiet girl to a woman that will let you know exactly what she thinks on most any subject.  I was always content to let Mark take on the lead, consulting with him on major decisions, but letting him pretty much have the last word....I don't have that pampered wife mentality or luxury anymore. 

Instead, it's me.  Me getting roof estimates.  Me picking out vinyl siding, calling to get window estimates.  It's a strange mixture of sadness, apprehension, and empowerment, all rolled into one.  My focus has changed.  So have my priorities.  It's not good, nor is it's just how it is. 

If I had a chance to turn back time, to be back with Mark by my side?  I would still be working at the preschool for spending money, wiping little kids' noses, teaching them their ABC's and how to count backwards from 10.  I'd still be the devoted wife, doing my darnedest to make sure that Mark had everything that he needed, supporting his endeavors, happy to be in the passenger seat, just responsible for navigating when travelling by car.  And you betcha, I'd be loving every minute of it.  It was my position in the family dynamic--we worked as a finely-tuned team.

But that's not an option.  Instead of the status quo, I feel God has much more in store for my boys and me.  I've decided to run with it.  In the process, I've found my voice, my passion.  Something that I can share with others, who might be going through similar circumstances. 

You'd think that would be a good thing, yes?  Well, evidently not for everyone.  As one of my friends, Kit Hinkle, blogged a couple of weeks back, widows typically lose 75% of the friends they had before becoming a widow.  That sounds high to me; however, in my own situation I've begun to see the falling away of some acquaintances.  And it's not all them, in some special circumstances, I've been the one who needed to pull away.  At this particular time in my life, I cannot deal with drama.  I am so over drama.  I wasn't a typical teenage girl  'cause I didn't even "do" drama in high school. 

Where before I might smile and utter an encouraging word or two, and let my big strong husband run interference, I have no one to hide behind now.  And my responsibilities have doubled, leaving little precious time for me.  And I need "me" time, now more than ever.  The result?  I will tell you I love you, I wish you well, but I need time.  Time to focus on my two little boys and the huge mess of responsibilities I'm dealing with.  I am what I am, and I certainly didn't choose these circumstances.  I wouldn't wish my pain or my children's pain on my worst enemy.   But in the midst of the pain?  I choose to live.

And I will continue to live.  FULLY.  Just as I was taught by the master (Mark).  Just as my true Master, God, wants me to live. 

I have time for just two high-maintenance relationships, those of a 10 year old and a 9 year old, bet you can guess who they are.  And the best thing?  If there's drama, I can put them in time-out :)

My Bible reading last night was "spot-on":

Keep Your Lives Simple and Honest

"Don't be afraid.  And now here's what I want you to do: 
Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak.
Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts.
Don't cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others.
Don't do or say what isn't so.
I hate all that stuff. 
Keep your lives simple and honest."
Zechariah 8:15-17 (The Message)

Words I needed to read.  Words that I need to be brave enough to live, each and every day.  I think of the phrase, "keep it simple, stupid"....and wonder why it seems so easy on paper and so hard sometimes in real life. 

I'm a work in progress.  I'm not perfect.  The imperfect human part of me may say or do something to hurt you--if so, I am truly sorry.   God certainly isn't finished with me yet.  He will continue to refine me, working on my insides until I'm the Christian woman and mother He knows I can be.  In the meantime, I will strive to keep my family's life simple and honest.  The rest of the good stuff will surely follow. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I refuse....

Another hot, dry day in Wichita Falls.  To add insult to injury, there's been a fish kill at Lake Wichita, which is very close to our house.  I've discontinued my early morning jogs on the trail, simply because I cannot stand to breathe in the stench.  With water levels low, temps high, along with high water temperature, golden algae again wreaks havoc on a local water body. 

I'm glad Mark's not here to see (or smell) it.  This was a man who took his job so seriously that he would lose sleep over worrying about golden alga, dead fish, and limited fishing resources for his region.  I've written before how much I envied him, with a job that he truly loved and was committed to.  Who hasn't heard the old saying, "Find something you love, and figure out how to get paid to do it"?  He was one of the lucky ones that did, after completing a M.S. at Murray State University in 1988.

In my lifetime, I've been a medical technologist, computer analyst, software installer, site manager for a computer company, choir director, church pianist, and preschool teacher---all prior to Mark's death.  He was with me during that whole career span.  Wherever his job took us, I found work.  He was the main breadwinner.  I was the complement, the one with the salary we saved.  I look back and can honestly say I liked the various jobs I had--some more than others--but I never loved any of them. 

Then Mark died.  I didn't have the strength to continue as a preschool teacher.  I knew that the love, attention, and the intensive one-on-one time I gave to my little students needed to be reserved for only AJ and Ben.  With Mark's pension from TPWD, I've been allowed the chance to be a stay-at-home mom.  It was a no-brainer for my family as we struggled with the multitude of changes forced upon us. 

Not even a month after losing Mark, I felt pushed to email the editor of the local paper, with whom Mark and I have been friends for years.  His weekly outdoors column hadn't been picked up by anyone.  And for some strange reason, I wanted to take it on.  Call me crazy (and many have!), but I emailed her a rough draft of a column.  To my surprise, she said "yes."  September 2011 I began writing.  About the outdoors.  As a single woman of two boys, totally clueless about camping, fishing, hunting, and most other things, but knowing that I had to learn because I promised Mark I would .  For our boys. 

Guess what?  I love it.  Me, a writer.  Never would I have imagined this for me.  The last time I was a writer was as a high school senior, when I was editor of our newspaper.  I won a couple of essay contests then, too, but never considered journalism as a career choice.  Instead, I have a degree in biology.

Here, counting down the months to the beginning of my 5th decade on God's green earth, I have finally found what I love to do.  And I'm getting paid to do it.  My writing's improving as the months roll on (believe me, I had no where to go but up!).  I won't be able to get rich writing a weekly column for one local paper, but it helps me pay my health insurance premium each month.

That job and this blog has led me to another writing outlet:  A Widow's Might, through Proverbs 31 Ministries.  My first devotion was published online, and I've gotten some touching, wonderful responses back.  I'm attending a writers/speakers conference later this month.  I'm speaking at a writer's workshop here in town before I leave. 

I woke up this morning with this song running through my head:  "I Refuse" by Josh Wilson.

Sometimes I, I just want to close my eyes
And act like everyone's alright
When I know they're not
This world needs God, but it's easier to stand and watch
I could pray a prayer and just move on
Like nothing's wrong

But I Refuse

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

I can hear the least of these, crying out so desperately
And I know we are the hands and feet of You, oh God
So if You say move, it's time for me to follow through
And do what I was made to do
And show them who You are

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

I refuse to stand and watch the weary and lost cry out for help
I refuse to turn my back and try and act like all is well
I refuse to stay unchanged, to wait another day to die to myself
I refuse to make one more excuse

I don't want to live like I don't care
I don't want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
I could choose not to move
But I refuse

 I have found my calling.  It is to minister and share with others going through similar situations like my family is experiencing.  God gives me the words that seem to help in some way. 

I refuse to sit by and do nothing when I can stand up and talk to people who are going through agonizing times.  God is calling me to do so.  I'm not yet sure of all of the particulars, but I know with every fiber of my being that He will reveal more as the days go along. 

In the meantime, I will be content but I will not be quiet.  God's amazing love continues to transform my family and mold us into something more beautiful than I could've ever imagined.  Even with that most wonderful daddy & husband up in heaven. 

Tough days?  We still have them, I'm sure we always will.  But we'll continue to push onward to the prize.  The prize Mark Howell is enjoying with our Saviour right now. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th

It's here.  July 4th, America's Independence Day.  I've been dreading this one, folks.  In my year of "firsts," this one is particularly hard.  You see, one short year ago, my perfect little family of four was vacationing on the East Coast, specifically Western Massachusetts, with Mark's brother and sis-in-law.  They were the consummate hosts.  We had a week that rivaled our week at Walt Disney World in 2010, and that opinion came from two boys, aged 8 & 9 at the time.  We camped, we explored.  We hit every microbrewery in a 50-mile radius of their home (or so it seemed at the time).  We laughed.  A lot.  We laid on a blanket and watched amazing fireworks shoot off over a small town in Vermont, chilled in the New England summer air.
One short year ago, July 4, 2011

We toured MIT with Ben, who is certain he wants to attend college there.  We sat in Fenway Park, watching Big Papi charge the mound, causing a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl.  AJ and his dad just laughed until their sides hurt.  AJ is certain he'll be playing MLB there someday. 

In short, probably the most memorable July 4th to date.  Today?  We're the three of us.  Invited to two celebrations, we'll make an appearance at both.  But it's not the same.  I'd much rather be slow-roasting the slab of baby-back ribs I have stashed in my freezer for my 3 guys....except now I have only 2. 

As the calendar ticks down to the day of Mark's surgery, and the day that he went into shock while I was screaming at the med-surg nurses to get off of their behinds to come and take care of him, the night he was rushed into ICU and I was told he might not make it through the night.  To the day I thought he'd finally turned a corner, only to find that his surgeon wanted to open him back up.  He made it through that surgery, he saw our boys, and I prayed he would recover.  To the dreadful morning I got the call, on the three hour break I had taken to go home and try to sleep, that he wasn't going to make it---July 30, 2011. 

All run through my mind on a constant "rewind" button, crowding out current events.  It's like a really bad movie that I cannot get out of my head.  I know the ending, I don't like it, but I can't change it.  I can only hold my children close, my God closer, and push forward. 

God knows my pain.  In place of Mark, with whom I would talk on a constant basis (he had that wonderful "filter" that most good husbands get, where they can tune out the mundane, but focus on the important), I talk to God.  I don't approach His throne with fear or cautiousness anymore...I just boldly walk up and tell Him what's on my heart.  I would've never done that before losing my spouse. 

I think that's how God wants everyone to approach His throne.  He created us in His image.  He wants us to feel comfortable enough to tell our deepest innermost thoughts.  He knows them already, so you might as well talk to Him about them. 

And in the midst of the sadness I feel on this day, I feel so loved by my Father.  He knows my pain. He holds me close.  And on this, yet another "first" that I've dreaded for weeks, HE IS ENOUGH to get me through it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July's here

Well, it's here.  The month I've been dreading.  At the end of this month, I will have been a widow/single mom for an entire year.  I'm not ready for it to be a year.  I wanted more time to heal, to get my ducks in a row.  I was hoping to have a chance to grow more spiritually by the time July 30th rolled around.  It's only 4 short weeks away.

Communion at church today was hard, but good.  Hard because I feel so close to Mark while I'm partaking of the bread and "wine", but good, too.  Today, I swear I heard him saying, "Honey, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here!" as I was praying.  Our two sons were acolytes, helping with the communion, so that was special as well.  Let's just say 'the communion of saints' has taken on a whole new meaning for me since my saint is now in heaven.

Ben's doing better in the evenings at bedtime.  After the second consecutive night of intense grief, crying, and being upset (he told me matter-of-factly that nighttime was just his time to grieve), I suggested he turn on his light and read the Bible I bought him as an end of school year gift.  From my bed, I heard him switch on the lamp, and rustle pages as he settled into his top bunk to read.  To my relief, the crying slowed down and I could tell he was being comforted by God and the words he was reading.  I fell asleep while he was still reading.  An hour or so later, I went to check on him.  Lamp still on, and my 'baby' sound asleep on his back, cradling that Bible with open pages on his lap.  I don't think I've ever seen such a precious sight.

It's his new nighttime routine, and I applaud it.  In fact, I went to bed without reading my Bible last night & felt guilty....because both boys were in their respective bedrooms reading their Bibles.  I couldn't thank God enough for that in my prayers last night.  They are in such a good place right now, spiritually, even with the great loss in their lives. 

And me?  Well, I'm closer to God than I've ever been, too.  It's sad to think that it took me losing my sweet husband to give all of my worries to God.  I truly consider God my friend, as well as my Father.  I tell Him everything.  I'm leaving the details of my life in His capable hands, trusting that, when the time comes, I will have all that I need to make the right decisions.

That's what God wants from us all.  We're just too busy in the hustle and bustle of life to slow down to listen.  Once I slowed down, I heard Him loud and clear.  And the windows started opening up for my family.  Everything that I am and will be, I owe to Him.

I just pray for the patience and skill to make the best of what's coming my way, all the while giving  God the glory...

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012