Monday, April 30, 2012

♪I won't give you more, more than you can take ♪

April 30, 2012.  Nine months ago I lost the love of my life.  In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago; in other instances, it seems like only yesterday.  Our family's still suffering from aftershocks, from a post-traumatic stress syndrome of sorts.  One minute, we'll be fine, laughing, having fun.  The next, crying as we miss and reminisce about a great guy that we were lucky enough to love and call our husband and daddy. 

Yesterday, I fulfilled one of my promises to him.  I ran the Oklahoma City Half Marathon for the second consecutive year.  When I completed it last year (my first attempt), Mark was so proud.  He gushed about me on his facebook page, which was so out-of-character for him.  He urged me, 12 months ago, to go ahead and book a hotel room, so I could run it again this year. 

I didn't book the room, but it was in the back of my mind that I would, indeed, train and run it in 2012.  He would remind me at various times, and even had me promise that I would do it last June.  It seemed like an easy promise at the time.  But then July came and went, and I was now a widow. 
Training for a half marathon was the least important thing on my radar.  I began my usual routine of running 15 or 20 miles a week last fall, but didn't think I had the drive nor time to train.  A good friend thought otherwise, and convinced me to register.  We, in turn, convinced another friend to go for it, too.

As the date approached for the marathon, I began to wonder if I could truly do it justice.  So much has happened in these past nine months.  I completed last year's half in well under 3 hours; this year, I knew that probably wouldn't happen.  I worried about how long it might take me this year.  Then it hit me.....who cares how long it takes?  Heck, I've literally had the rug pulled out from under me since last July.  Any finishing time is a victory for me.....just as long as I finish.  My crossing the finish line will be symbolic---it will prove that I'm still standing, still kicking, still in the game of life. 

So I ran.  And ran pretty well, until mile 11 (of 13.1 total miles).  My left hamstring developed a knot the size of a tennis ball.  It hurt.  Not sure why it happened, but I know it stopped me dead in my tracks.  My 12 minute mile average went down the toilet.  I slowed to a limping walk.  To add insult to injury, my iPod battery died, at 12.1 miles.  No more upbeat contemporary Christian music to urge me forward. 
What should I do?  I've come this far, but there's no way I can run the rest of the way.  Saying a quick prayer, I massage the leg, and try to walk.  Surprisingly it doesn't hurt too badly, so I continue walking.  And praying.  Those were the longest 2.1 miles of my life.  People passed me right and left, but I didn't care.  All I wanted to do was finish. 

I finally spot the finish line, and hobble from a walk to a very-slow-jog.  I cross the finish line a few seconds short of 3:30.....not great, but not bad.  Such emotion washed over me as I accepted my medal.  The first thought I had?  I couldn't wait to call Mark, like I did last year.  I wonder how long it will take my subconscious thought process to quit that.  As soon as the thought enters my mind, in a millisecond it's replaced with the thought he's not here to call anymore.  But it still occurs to me.

I'm thankful I'm still standing.  I don't know what's in store for the boys and me in the next months, but I'm ready for whatever God has in store.  I'm sore today, but the hamstring is better.  I'll take a few days off to rest up before I head out and hit the trail again. 
I spent precious time with three friends, we each completed our chosen race in Oklahoma City.  I hope we can do it again next April. 

And my new favorite song, the one that gets my heart pumping and singing along on the run?  It's by Group 1 Crew, "He Said":

So your life feels like it don't make sense
And you think to yourself, "I'm a good person,
So why do these things keep happening? "
Why you gotta deal with them
You may be knocked down now, but don't forget
What He said, He said

"I won't give you more
More than you can take
And I might let you bend
But I won't let you break
And know, I'll never, ever let you go"
Don't you forget what He said
Don't you forget what He said, He said

Who you are ain't what you're going through
So don't let it get the best of you
'Cause God knows everything you need
So you ain't gotta worry
You may be knocked down now, but just believe what He said

He said "I won't give you more
More than you can take
And I might let you bend
But I won't let you break
And know I'll never ever let you go"
Don't you forget what He said

Don't fear when you go through the fire
Hang on when it's down to the wire
Stand tall and remember what He said

"I won't give you more
More than you can take
And I might let you bend
But I won't let you break"

"I won't give you more
More than you can take
And I might let you bend
But I won't let you break
And know I'll never ever let you go"
Don't you forget what He said

Don't you forget what He said.

I may be bent.  But He won't let me break.  I believe that with all of my heart.  And I won't forget what He said.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How much longer, Mom?

"How much longer will I feel this sad, Mom?"  

This question comes from Benjamin last night.  He's struggling with emotions he has stuffed down deep inside him.  They are now all pouring out, sometimes at times whenever he wishes they wouldn't.  Tears come at inopportune times, like during standardized testing at school.  He's been teased and made fun of by a couple of boys in his class.  It makes me so mad, but there's not alot I can do to protect him from home.

The culprits have been talked to by the vice-principal.  They have apologized to Benny.  Kids can be so mean.  I would hope that if one of my boys' classmates had lost a parent & was having trouble coping, they would step up to help, not laugh and point, as was the case with Ben.  Ben doesn't have a mean bone in his body, which makes it even more frustrating for Andrew and me.  Andrew, ready to clobber both boys on the playground, loves his brother fiercely, even though he's doesn't show it through hugs and snuggles. 

I tell Benjamin that he will feel sad for the rest of his life.  At least that's been my experience since losing my Dad.  I was fortunate to have my father until I was age 40, and I still think of him & miss him every single day.  I tell him that the pain will hopefully ease over time, but that there will always be times whenever he misses his daddy, misses what he had, and wonders what might have been. 

Andrew tells me this morning that "Life is still good.  Not as good as it used to be, but still good."  I think at this point in our grief journey, that's about the best we can hope for. 

He also asks if I re-marry some day, will I keep the last name "Howell"?  I tell him that it's traditional for females to take the last name of their husbands, but that I don't see myself re-marrying anytime soon, if at all.  He wanted me to be sure of his wishes--if that happens, he wants me to keep the Howell name, and use the new name as my middle name.  Their minds work non-stop, trying to figure out this new family dynamic--to embrace the three of us, while wistfully remembering the great team we were, the four of us. 

I look around the garden, and think, it's "my" garden--when it was Mark's for 20 years.  I look around my quick-growing yard, and see "my" yard, not Mark's anymore.   I see bills that need to be paid, and they are "mine," not Mark's. 

That may not seem monumental to you, but it is a big step for me.  I'm not tending his garden, his yard anymore.  My mind has begun to make that distinction.  The truck?  Well, it's still "his," probably always will be.  The dog?  Is first and foremost his (although she seems to have finally imprinted on me, accepting me as the new head of the "pack.")

Mark's job has finally been posted by TPWD to be filled, after 9 months of vacancy.  That means my procrastination has to finally end, and I must get his office cleared out.  It's been such a luxury, not having to deal with all of those items, although I've been there a few times to pack and sort.  The big plastic bins are there, all I need to do is fill them.  I'm glad his position will soon be filled, his crew's been operating one man short all this time.  I hope the person they choose is up for some incredibly big shoes to fill.  I don't envy them.

In my daily devotion last night, I read this passage, which gave me peace and solace:

"Keep your eyes on Me, not only for direction but also for empowerment.  I never lead you to do something without equipping you for the task."  
(Jesus Calling, Sarah Young)

He's equipping me for my tasks.  God, in His infinite wisdom, sees all that I have on my plate.  He's supplying what I need to tackle buying a new riding mower, to eradicate bees (again), to empty Mark's office, to run a half-marathon, to be both mother and father to two amazing boys, to make long-term decisions on behalf of my family.  He's doing that all for me.   

The least I can do for Him is to be faithful.  And grateful.   Amen.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Busy Monday, busy lives...

The house is quiet.  It's Monday morning, 8:30 a.m., and I have way too much to accomplish today.  I really shouldn't be sitting with my feet propped up, drinking this second cup of coffee.  But I've been putting off writing, and since this is intended to be a means to chronicle our journey through this grief for my boys, I'm taking time to blog.  This season of grief for me is much more introspective, which makes it more difficult to put down in writing.  There's so many emotions running through me, I can't put my finger on any one of them long enough to write.  But I'll try...

It's been a busy week.  I am continually amazed at how much work there is to be done around the house.  There's always something that needs fixing, feeding, mowing, or cleaning.  My arrangement with Mark (he tends the outside perimeter of the house, I tend the inside) was really a pretty sweet deal for us both.  I got very very good at my tasks, he was proficient at his.  With him gone, I'm fumbling around at best with many of his chores. 

Since last blog, I've had the grim news that his riding lawn mower is irreparable.  No great surprise, given its age and the proximity to the woodpile, where rats scurried through it for a few months before I took them out.  But that's just yet another issue to deal with.  As Roseanne Rosanna Danna so succinctly put it on SNL, "It's al-ways something!"  A new one will need to be purchased.  Researching whether to buy new or used, zero turn or regular, Briggs & Stratton engine or Kohler---it's maddening!  I'd much rather stick to research involving Dillard's shoe sales or buying the latest Vera Bradley on clearance. 

The boys are doing okay.  Ben is dealing with enormous grief, and it's difficult for him most days at school.  I've told him not to keep his feelings stuck inside, and that it's okay to cry.  Unfortunately, crying during class has brought teasing from a couple of boys.  The vice-principal had a very long talk with them last week--maybe that will stop.

AJ?  Well his baseball team just won the mid-season Little League tournament yesterday, we spent alot of time at the ballpark this weekend.  He seems to be doing well, he tells me that his dad is with him on the field, urging him on, giving him advice.  I tell him I have no doubt that would be where Mark would want to be.  Even as lovely as heaven must be, being with his sons would be a very high priority, I'm sure of it.  He pitched a complete game on Saturday.  If I can get the boy bulked up a little, he'll be able to put some speed behind his throws.  He is a natural, and baseball, his game.

I have a half-marathon to run next week.  In tip-top shape last year at this time, I'm struggling this year.  Guess I have a good excuse, given the circumstances of the past nine months.  I will be able to complete it, but not in the time I did last  year.  And that's okay.  For this year's finishing will be symbolic.  It will be so much more than just crossing a finish line and receiving a medal.  It will be proof that life has gone on.  Is it better?  No way.  I'd go back to the way things were in a heartbeat, if I could.  Life is just different.  I feel like a survivor.  The boys and I have gone through a firestorm, of sorts, and we're still here. 

I catch myself looking ahead to our future, wondering what will happen, where will we go, where will we live, who will be in our lives......and a still small voice says, "Stop it!  Enjoy today.  Let Me worry about tomorrow."  And laughter fills my car as two boys tease one another during the drive to school; I take a deep breath, fight back the tears, and join in. 

The possibilities of today are limitless.  I'll try my best to enjoy it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to me....

Today is my birthday.  I am 49.  Right on the cusp of a whole new decade, beginning the last year of my 40s....never did I dream that I would be celebrating it as a single mother to two boys, a widow of almost 9 months. 

I didn't know what to expect today, what I would feel.  But I woke up feeling joy.  Pure, unadulterated joy that I have been blessed with this day, able to get out of bed, go worship my God with a church family that supports and loves us, and be with the two most important men in my life all day.

Is this the life I would've chosen?  Heck, no.
I responded to a friend's Facebook birthday greetings saying I wish I could just be the person I was before last July, when Mark's death forever changed me.  Her reply? 

 "Maybe God wants you to be this Nancy and "RUN" with it. She sure helps me a lot through the week :)"

There's no way she could've known how much I needed to read that.  Because I'm not the Nancy I was before July 30, 2011.  I'm this Nancy, shaped by circumstances, sadness, grief, love, and uncertainty.  I'm standing because God has carried me, carried my boys through hell and back, as we've adjusted to be a family of three.  I can't go back to who I was.

Some days, it's easier than others.  On any given day, I can go from pure joy to sadness to tears to sighing to laughing, sometimes within a matter of minutes.  Talk about an emotional female :)  And I just roll with it.  What else can I do?

Last year at this time, Mark was taking me out for a romantic dinner, and I watched as he played with his food.  You see, unbeknownst to me, he'd had his diverticulitis attack two days earlier, out in the middle of Palo Pinto county while doing a grass carp inspection for work.  Totally alone, he recounted later the pain was so intense, that he doubled over, unsure if he could even make it back to the state truck.  I try not to wonder "what if," but what if he'd been in his office when that attack happened?  Or at home with us?  In either of those circumstances, we would've rushed him to the hospital.  And maybe he would still be with us. 

But looking backwards and wondering what could've or should've been does nothing but create more sad memories for us in the present.  We can't live in the past.  We don't know about our future.  We are only promised "right now."

And "right now," I am looking out at my beautiful garden, the temperature's a cool 73 degrees, the sun is shining, my roses are blooming, and my two boys think I'm the most wonderful mom in the world. 

Tomorrow?  I'm not going to worry about it.  My plans for us, long-term?  Haven't the foggiest.  Where we will be in 3 to 5 years?  Not a clue. 

What I do know is that God will work out the details.  If He can set the universe in motion, and create all that I see and love, He can surely show me the path that I should follow.

 I talk to Mark, too, and tell him I need his guidance.  He had so many plans, and several of those I owe to his sons to fulfill.  I don't know how in the world I am going to accomplish them, but I will. 

His legacy, his two sons & family land in Kansas, will be forever intertwined. 

Worrying about our future does no good.  Wondering if God has someone down the road to share in our lives does nothing to help me cope in the meantime. 

So, we do the best we can, and we move forward.  Never forgetting what we had, always a bit sad for what could've been, but enjoying the lives that God has given us to enjoy today. 

Be humble under God's powerful hand so he will lift you up when the right time comes. 
 Give all your worries to him, because he cares about you. 
And after you suffer for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. 
He will make you strong and support you and keep you from falling. 
He called you to share in his glory in Christ, a glory that will continue forever.
1Peter 5:6-7, 10 (NCV)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April Musings.....

"Mama, will you pray for me?" 

I love those words.  Those are the words I heard tonight after I'd put both boys to bed. Lately, the boys have requested that I pray aloud for them, with them, as they drift off to sleep.   Tonight, Andrew seemed more settled and I didn't want to upset him with the prayer.  I sneaked out, thinking I would steal a few minutes to relax in Mark's big chair, maybe watch the local news and weather, or even write here in my blog.  You see, my boys, our boys, are having a hard time, especially at bedtime, missing their daddy.  I think it's because he was so involved in their nightly routine, and the fact that they've slowed down, gotten quiet, and they have time to think about him more.  They think about what they've lost.  What they used to have. 

But Andrew needed that prayer tonight.  I cranked down from the chair, crawled into his bed, held him tightly and prayed. We pray for comfort, strength, wisdom, understanding.  We pray that God's plan will be revealed to us.  We pray that our worries will go away, that we will relax and live for today, leaving God to work out the details of our future.

It's tough for me, too.  The boys want separate rooms, and are sleeping that way.  But it makes it doubly hard on me.   Trying to comfort and console two sobbing boys, in separate rooms, at the same time, is practically impossible.  I'm doing the best that I can, we all are.  I hope that it is good enough to get us through this latest bump in the road.

"Mama, you are the best mom in the world.  I don't know what we'd do without you."

I love hearing that one, too.  It's natural, I guess, that they've become more attached to me, more appreciative of the things I do.  Ben has moved out from my bed, which is a big deal.  He was becoming too attached, and we both needed our separate space. 

"Mom, when did you know that you loved Daddy?"

That's a great one.  For me, it really was love at first sight.  It may sound like a tired old cliche, but it was true in our case.  It took awhile to get your Daddy to come around, but homemade brownies, piano music, and good old Kentucky Southern charm finally won him over. 

"Mom, why did God take Dad?"

I don't have the answer to that one.  I never will understand God's reasoning.  I've been told by many wiser people than me that on the day I stand face to face with Jesus, in heaven, I will understand it all.  In the meantime, no earthly explanation makes any sense whatsoever.  The best I can come up with is that bad things happen to good people all of the time.  No family is immune. 

Even in the midst of all this pain, I can look back over these past 8 plus months and see good things that have come from it.  I have developed a deeper relationship with my God, and I am a kinder, gentler, more patient woman and mother.  I don't take anything for granted, and I'm striving to live every day the way Mark did, to the fullest.  I try to look for the positive in people and in situations, like he did.  I never heard the man utter one negative comment about anyone or anything, and that's no exaggeration.  I could do alot worse than live like he did.  "Living like Daddy," that's my aspiration.

 Andrew and Ben, good kids before losing Mark, have become simply extraordinary.  They are so empathetic, so kind, generous to a fault.  They are fiercely protective of me, and of each other.  I know Mark's so very proud.  They seem wise beyond their years.  It's a direct result of their circumstances, and I can't stop it.  So, instead I choose to embrace it, making sure they have abundant opportunities to "just be" 8 and 10 year old boys. 

We made it through Easter, and it wasn't as hard as I expected.  That is a good thing.  We planned an over night getaway for that evening, with the boys being off yesterday;  Great Wolf Lodge was the diversion, and it was a resounding success.  They played, they swam, they waterparked.  They spent hours on MagiQuest throughout the lodge (a sort of interactive game with wands and specific quests/hunts for items).  I relaxed a bit, working on my column in the big cozy lobby while 3 boys cast spells and looked for clues. 

Mark didn't get chosen for the spot in the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame this year.  I was initially disappointed, because I know in my heart he deserves it, but I was encouraged to re-submit him next year.  I have decided that time will give me a more objective perspective on his application, and I can make it so much better by next February.  See, there's that positive spin I'm trying to put on things....

We're healthy, we're busy, and we're making it.  There are happy moments interspersed in the midst of the tears and sadness.  We laugh.  We cry.  We remember.  We laugh some more. 

We know where Mark is.  We know that we will see him again.  The boys chuckle that they are sure that he's cooked fish for Jesus, and that he free falls on a regular basis, just because he can.  They talk to him, and they say he talks back.  I believe them.  I can hear him urging me on, or chiding me whenever I do something he wouldn't approve of.  I want to make him proud.  I'll spend the rest of my life doing just that, raising his boys the way he wanted.  For they are his greatest legacy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I don't have a Y chromosome!

For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. 
You surround me with songs of victory.
The Lord says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you."
Psalm 32: 7-8 (NLT)

A dear friend sent me verse 8 of that scripture today on my Facebook page.  I so needed to read that.  It's been a tough two weeks, with Ben in the midst of his start of true grieving over losing his daddy.  I realize that it is necessary, and I am thankful that he is beginning to take the lid off of the emotions he's fought so hard to keep inside over the past 8 months.  The hard part is that he's taking Andrew and me back to the place we thought we'd overcome, and we're all in a whirlwind of sadness and heartbreak again.

He's feeling anger, disappointment, sadness, and is questioning God's motives.  I tell him that God can handle it.  During this most holy week, as Good Friday approaches, and we celebrate Easter soon thereafter, I discuss with both the parallels between the two of them and Jesus, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

My boys miss their daddy, and pray to God for comfort and strength, all the while talking to Mark, too.  They don't like the cards we've been dealt.  They wish for any other outcome but the one we got.

 Jesus was also without his Father during the most difficult time of His life.  He missed God terribly.  He prayed for any other solution except the one he knew he was destined to fulfill. 

In the end, both my boys and my saviour had to continue on the best pathway that God has for their lives. 

My heart breaks a little every time I see how they suffer.  Witnessing their anguish, their loneliness, it tears me up inside.  It leaves me angry at times.  Why, God, why?  But I'm not expecting any answers, there's absolutely no way any of this makes sense.  I just have to continue to trust that God will guide us along on the best pathway, even though the pathway we were on prior to Mark's death was pretty spectacular.

Baseball season has begun.  My Andrew is a natural born baseball player.  He's got the physical attributes for it, the brains, the ability, and most of all, an abiding  love for the game.  As I drove us to his first game Monday night, I still got a twinge down deep in the pit of my stomach as we pulled into the Little League parking lot.  We've been part of it since 2007, and without Mark, it's certainly not the same. 

I'd posted on Facebook the particulars about his game, and he'd hoped folks would come out to watch.  He was in rare form!  Pitching, hitting, fielding....he did it all.  During a break in one inning, he came to the fence, asking, "Where's everybody at?  No one's here for me"....and my heart broke a little bit more.  "Sweetie," I told him, "folks are busy.  I'm sure there will be friends here at some of your games...besides, Ben and I are here!"

We are so lucky.  We have a tremendous support system here in Wichita Falls.  I know, without hesitation, that I could pick up my phone, any time of the day or night, and call one of a dozen or more friends, and they would move heaven and earth to be here for us.  But everyone has their own life to live, everyone is involved in their own commitments. 

I say that because I've walked that walk.  I've been so completely immersed in my husband and my kids' lives that I didn't have time to devote to much of anything else.  I am in no way griping or complaining because we were there alone Monday.  It's life.  It is what it is. 

As we went to the Jeep and got ready to head home, I cried.  I hugged that 10 year old close, and I told him that I had never been more proud of him as I was that night.  He had the game of his life.  He told me that his daddy was with him on the mound.  I told him that no matter what happened, the people inside that Jeep would be there for him, no matter what....his brother and me.  I grabbed both of their hands, and we prayed, right there in the parking lot.  A prayer of thanksgiving for AJ's abilities and the way he played that game, along with a plea for wisdom in finding a consistent male influence in both of their lives.

I can do a heck of a lot of things for my family.  I'm even surprising myself.  But I CANNOT be a man to my boys.  And, until God sees fit to bring the perfect person into our lives, one that can be both a helpmate to me and a positive role model for them, I need to find some way to get them that influence in the meantime.

The Tuesday paper had my answer.  An article about Big Brothers/Big Sisters was featured, and I called the number.  Someone will come to our home next week, and interview all three of us in depth.  From what we tell them, they will try to find a male volunteer that will be in my boys' lives on a consistent basis. 

Pray for us, folks.  Pray that this organization can help me by finding the appropriate male to step in.  No one can fill Mark Howell's shoes, that goes without saying.  But I want my kids to have someone they can rely on besides just me. 

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012