Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The two year "Mark"

A little before midnight tonight, I will mark two years as a widow. 

That's 730 days. 
17,520 hours. 
1,035,000 minutes. 
62,100,100 seconds.


Over a million minutes.  Over 62 million seconds!  So much time has passed--yet again, so little time has passed.  Does that make sense?

Life "b.w." (before widowhood) was grand.  I didn't worry about anything.  I had a big strong husband to take care of me.  He and I were a perfect match.  Fitting together like a hand-in-glove, we tackled life with enthusiasm and as a tag team. 

We had meticulous plans. 

Life "s.w." (since widowhood)?  It's definitely had its moments.  See those 730 days listed above?  There was a time I didn't think I could make it through one of those days without Mark.

But I didn't have a choice.  Looking back, that was my greatest blessing. 

Little boys, depending on me for some normalcy, craving reassurance we were going to make it and be okay, gave me all the reason I needed to live and push forward. 

I was clueless as to how to live without Mark.  I'd been with him since I was 22.  At his death, I was 48, with 8 and 9 year olds to raise. 

Oh, the things I've learned.  And oh, the things I have yet to learn!

Through it all, through each and every one of those 62 million seconds, God has been beside me. 

He has been faithful.

He has carried me when needed.

He has caressed and carried my boys continually.

He has comforted me.

He has chided me.

He has shown me glimpses of His glory whenever I needed them most.

He has given me counsel.

He has been a great listener, never tiring of my pain or my tears.

He is ever-present!

There have been times I have faltered.  I have done things I am not proud of.  I have failed to be the child of God I know I am called to be.  How great is our God that He never runs out of grace to forgive me, dust me off, and set me back on the path I need to follow?

Two years ago, I wondered what would become of my boys and me.  Today, I know what we have become.  We have become more patient.  More tolerant.  More empathetic.  More mature in our faith.  More pragmatic.  More spontaneous. 

We look each other in the eyes whenever we say "I love you," and we mean it. 

We never take a day for granted because of what we've weathered.

I asked God to help me to figure out the plan He had for the Howell party of three within these first two years.  I wasn't giving God a deadline.  But July of 2013 was the month we were supposed to retire and move full time to Kansas family land.  It was my hope that I would be able to discern what God wanted for us before the two year mark of widowhood was upon me.

Pulling back the dark clouds from time to time, God gives me sneak peeks into what He has in store for us. 

I know what I am supposed to do, and I'm doing it.

I'm supposed to continue writing.

I'm in the process of building a getaway cabin on that family land in Kansas.  It will be our oasis, a place where the boys and I can get back to the basics, and rip and snort on the land. 

Maggie the wonder dog will be hunted.  A lot.

Our main residence is to remain here, in Wichita Falls, for the foreseeable future.  We've been here 21 years, and have an established support system of friends and church family.  We love and are loved.

The future looks bright for all three of us, even in the midst of such loss.

That, dear ones, is something only our God can accomplish. 

It is to Him that I give all the praise and the thanks.

Because two years ago tonight, my (our) future looked pretty bleak. 

God restores.  God repairs.  God reigns.

The Lord reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me out of the deep waters. 

Psalm 18:16 (GNB)
 I still hurt, and I will always grieve the loss of Mark Harold Howell from my earthly life.  But I know I will see him again.  And in the meantime?  I plan on making him mighty proud. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pity party over. And out.

I wrote my last posting while knee-deep in the midst of a self-imposed pity party.  Now, it's only the second or third one I've allowed myself since losing Mark.  I'm not proud of myself for taking it, but it was necessary.

I stayed in my pajamas all day.  I cried.  I prayed.  I searched scripture for encouragement.  I spent a lot of time in bed.  I ignored the phone.

I even took a two-hour nap that afternoon. 

During that day, my boys understood and gave me some space.  I made sure all of their needs were attended to but kept my distance.  Told them that "Mom just needed the day to cry and pray" and that I would be better the next morning. 

And I was.

I slept the best I had in weeks, and awoke with a fresh perspective and a renewed strength in what God expects of me. 

He expects me:

             *to get moving.

             *to keep writing for outdoor enthusiasts, single mothers, and widows.

            *to get off of my backside and reconnect with His big old beautiful world.

            *to finish my book proposal and send it in to the editor that's been waiting for it.
            *to strive to be the best mother and child of God I can be.

In other words, I get to keep my big girl boots on.  Permanently.  It's not pretty sometimes, but it's my life.

Instead of wishing for the one thing I cannot have anymore (the love and physical presence of Mark), I must focus on the many things I do have. 

I. am. blessed. beyond. measure.

Armed with that fresh perspective, I faced a big hurdle and, with God's help, I cleared it.  It may not seem like a big deal to many, but to those who know me well will understand completely. 

I cooked crappie Saturday night.  And we enjoyed it.

Why, do you ask, is cooking crappie a big deal? 

Mark provided those fish, that's why. 

As an avid outdoorsman, he took great pride in providing food for his family.  Over the years we've had pheasant, quail, duck, crappie, catfish, and crawfish that he hunted/caught/harvested.  The running understanding was, he would catch/hunt/kill and dress it---then I would cook it.  That arrangement worked well.

Two days before his fateful surgery, I asked him what he wanted for his "last meal" (not knowing at the time that it would be, in fact, his last earthly meal).  Ribeye?  T-bone?  New York Strip? 

Nope.  He wanted crappie, fresh caught from Lake Arrowhead.

I cooked my husband those crappie.  Along with homemade hush puppies, coleslaw, and all the trimmings.  He ate his fill.  Then he ate some more.  We laughed, joked, and enjoyed the family table conversation with our two boys and my mother, who was visiting from Kentucky.

Only 6 short days later, he was gone.

Everytime I have opened our freezer door in the past almost two years since, those crappie fillets, painstakingly cleaned, dressed, and portioned in Ziploc bags with his handwriting on the labels (species, location caught, and date) have glared at me. 

But I could not bear to cook them.

I'd even gone as far as to pull out a bag and begin to thaw it in my refrigerator....only to have second thoughts as sad memories flooded my mind.  The frozen bag went back on the freezer door.

This past Saturday, I was ready to try it again.  I pulled out a bag, and smiled at the scrawled Sharpie printing, so distinctively Mark's, and began the thawing process in the refrig.  The boys and I were having crappie.

And we did.  With the boys' approval, I fried crappie and made homemade onion rings.  We sat around the family table, the three of us, and gave thanks for the food. 

We used the family blessing, one that Mark brought home from elementary school, probably 50 years ago (back when prayers were still taught in school):

For food and drink and happy days, accept our gratitude and praise.
 In serving others, Lord, may we, express our thankfulness to Thee.  Amen.
We laughed a little.  We teared up a bit. 

The three of us, the modified Howell family, pushed through the pain of eating Mark's favorite food without him.  Knowing he himself had caught and prepped the fillets was key.
I went outside that night, alone, to soak up some of the cooler evening temperatures and have some time to reflect on the day.  I thanked God for helping me over another big hurdle.  I also talked to Mark for awhile. 
Both he and God are great listeners.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How long???

How long will I have to watch my boys suffer? 

This is a rough time of the year for us.

The two year mark of losing Mark will be July 30th.  Yes, two years have come and almost gone since two little boys lost their daddy, their rock, their comforter and protector.  Their notion of what a man should be.  Their biggest fan, the one they trusted to always be there for them. 

He's gone.  And they are left with me.  I am a poor substitute, masquerading as a strong, confident woman who is unafraid of the future.  If they only knew.  I feel like I am "all hat, no cattle"--at least today. 

On the surface, I've got it all figured out.  Boldly embracing our future, even without Mark beside me.  Making decisions, formulating plans, starting to feel comfortable (finally!) with all of the responsibilities he took care of.

Underneath, in the deep recesses of my soul, I know I couldn't do one of these things without God.  I lean on Him.  All the time. 

Sandwiched between the surface "Nancy"(who is supermom, encouraging widow, outdoor writer, and all-round good egg) and the inner "Nancy" (child of God, with knowledge that He will make something good out of the bad we've been dealt) is the vast realm of flux I will refer to as vacillating Nancy.

Vacillating Nancy ebbs and flows.  In this subconscious, middle ground of my mind, I can be anything and everything.  I run the spectrum, from great mom, a wonderful "decider" (sorry, W, I couldn't resist), household diva and designer to poor old pitiful me, someone who doesn't even want to get out of bed. 

Most days, I'm somewhere in the middle.  Doing what is necessary, but not going the extra mile.  You know those days...where you wash a spoon just so you have something clean to stir your creamer into your coffee.  Where laundry piles up as long as there's clean underwear in every person's drawer.

I wanted to be further along in this grief thing by now.  I know there's no set schedule, no calendar of milestones to hit.  And we've been doing fairly well. 

So why do I feel like I'm on a downward spiral? 

It began on Sunday.  The boys and I headed to church for the 10:50 service.  Vacation Bible School was the previous week, but we did not participate.  Chances are, we'll never participate in another VBS.  Two years ago, while Mark fought for his life after surgery, our boys were in VBS nightly. My mom tended to them while I never left Mark's side in the hospital.  Smart boys, they knew, every night, as they participated in mundane crafts and singing songs that something just wasn't right.  Add in the fact that a bunch of kids attended that had most likely never set foot in a church, a schedule that wasn't followed (they got out late most every evening), and it was total mayhem. 

Let's just say that VBS brings back a bunch of sad memories we don't want to revisit. 

We found our seats near the back of the sanctuary.  Great.  VBS kid's music, performed by the most happy children's professional choir ever assembled, was piped loudly throughout.  The front area was draped with a mural from VBS.   A quick glance at the bulletin showed that VBS was highlighted throughout, but there was a sermon scheduled.  I thought we could tough it out.

But my heart began beating faster.  My breathing became shallow and quick.  That music, which must have sounded lovely to everyone else, taunted me.  Happy children singing was the last thing I needed to hear.

A.J. could tell something was wrong.  I leaned over and told them I didn't think I could stay.  They felt a bit uncomfortable as well, so we fled, a mere 5 minutes or so after arriving.  Two sets of friends knowingly hugged me as I cried big old tears while exiting the building.

It was a rough day, but we made it. 

How many more rough days and nights will we have?

Lord, how long do I have to cuddle and hold my boys while they cry themselves to sleep? 

Will I ever get used to being single?  I long to be part of a couple again.

How do I get rid of the self-doubt, the sadness, the uncertainty that creeps in from the vacillating desert that ebbs and flows between who I want to be and who I am? 

How long, God, how long?

I pray, fully expecting God to answer.  He has done so much for my little family in the past two years.  We are healthy.  We are financially stable.  We are loved, have great friends, a church family that cares for us, and are moving forward, living life. 

But we need more. 

We need deliverance from the next week and a half, where memories give us pause and dread. 

We need assurance that we will continue to heal, because right now, we aren't real sure. 

We need to cash in for a couple of delayed blessings, Lord....You know, the ones You are withholding until they are ready?  You know patience is a virtue, and it doesn't come easy for me. 

I want one night where we can all go to bed happy, without one of us crying ourselves to sleep.  It doesn't have to be me, Lord.  I can deal with my tears, but my sons' tears break my heart.  I feel so helpless.  I can't do anything but hold them and cry alongside them. 

I do not doubt Your love nor Your willingness to get us through this.  I know You watch over us always, even when we are in the difficult places.  I know that You will not give us more than we can bear. 

But I want my boys to have a little peace.  Please. 

18 The Lord is waiting to be kind to you.  He rises to have compassion on you.
    The Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 You will live in Zion, in Jerusalem. You won’t cry anymore. The Lord will certainly have pity on you when you cry for help. As soon as he hears you, he will answer you.
20 The Lord may give you troubles and hardships. But your teacher will no longer be hidden from you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 You will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way. Follow it, whether it turns to the right or to the left." 
Isaiah 30:18-21 (GWT)

My hands are open in praise, even as tears roll down my cheeks.  I thank You in advance for seeing us through this. 

I trust that You will deliver us.  I will wait. 

For as long as it takes.

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012