Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My post for A Widow's Might

by nancy on November 27, 2012

Mark and our boys, on Kansas family land

I. miss. my. husband.

There, I said it. It stinks to be a widow (or widower) at this time of the year, maybe more so than at any other time during the year, except for the dreaded calendar date of my husband’s death.

 Everyone’s seemingly happy, hustling and bustling around, in stores where piped-in Christmas music plays lovely carols and old standards.

Last year, at this time, with the gaping wound of the loss of my husband still fresh, I walked through the stores (and life) in a bit of a trance, much like a survivor in a war zone. The carols blasting from every corner and in every building in which I entered made me feel like I was ready to jump through my own skin. It was maddening.

Only by the grace of God did I make it through. My boys and I even found some joy in the holiday season, keeping old traditions while starting a few new ones, for just us three.

But I still miss him. He was a force of nature, a man’s man, a 6’3″ lanky handsome dude. He was an outdoorsman, a wonderful provider, a Godly man who was the best, most patient, hands-on daddy that I had ever witnessed first-hand.

I ache for that physical presence, his strong hand linked in mine. My boys miss the almost-nightly wrestling matches, held in our den, where giggling and laughter filled our home.

I’ve learned how to get along without him. But it hasn’t been easy. I have to keep reminding myself that we all are on a journey–I like to call mine “unimagined”–and that everyone has trials, heartaches, and folks they miss physically in their lives. I have to keep myself immersed in God’s word and in His music.

I found out the hard way a few weeks back that I cannot venture too far ahead of God in this journey, nor let go of His hand. “Self” got in the way, I was feeling pretty good, and I depended on me and me alone. Let’s just say I tripped and skinned my knee spiritually.

Like a small child, I cried, ran to my heavenly Daddy, crawled back up in His lap, and was instantly soothed. I learned my lesson, at least this time. I won’t walk too far ahead again, and will keep within an arm’s length of God, so I can quickly grasp onto His hand if needed
As Isaiah so beautifully writes:
Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
walk away from the baby she bore?
But even if mothers forget,
I’d never forget you–NEVER.
Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands.
ISAIAH 49:15-16 (the Message)
God won’t forget us. He can’t, He has our names written/carved/emblazoned/tattooed on the backs of His hands! And in this journey, this unimagined-unspeakable-sometimes seemingly unbearable life that we each have been blessed with, God will give us the endurance we need to keep walking the path.
Some days will be better than others. I will always miss my husband. His physical presence may be gone, but spiritually, I feel him nearby.
I see him in the long, lanky frame of our 10 year old, as we hunt pheasant and quail on the land he loved so much.
I hear him in the voice of our 9 year old, who has his laid-back personality and his wicked sense of humor. 
I feel him hugging me, right alongside God, as I cuddle up in our bed, soothiing myself to sleep with scripture and positive thoughts.
Sisters, it is a long way home, but we are most definitely not alone. Take your “bag of regrets, should’ve beens, and not-yets”, put them aside for a minute, and enjoy this song from another native Kentuckian, Steven Curtis Chapman. 
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” JOHN 16:33 (NIV)
Heavenly Father, we come to you this day asking for wisdom and strength for our journeys. Help us to see the good, even whenever the bad seems to be overwhelming. We know that You and You alone have the means to turn the bad into something beautiful. Let us never walk too far ahead without Your hand in ours. Keep reminding us of our purpose this side of heaven. Thank you for the sisters in Christ that come to this forum. Grant each peace and patience, whether they may be walking in the valley, or climbing up a mountain. For those who may be on a mountaintop today, we praise You, and we expectantly await that chance in each of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Under pressure....

Apprehension builds.  I feel like I'm in a pressure cooker, the lid's on tight, it has sealed, and the heat is on.  I've put all of this on myself, so I have no one else to blame.  In typical Nancy fashion, I have thought way too hard and way too long about our upcoming Kansas Thanksgiving trip. 

You see, I've purchased hunting licenses for both A.J. and myself.  For the first time since losing Mark, we will step out on our land, with Maggie leading the way, to hunt for pheasant and quail.  I've never hunted for pheasant and quail in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I've walked with Mark dozens of times, carrying a camera.  But this time is different.  HE should be the parent taking our son out for the first time.  It's a time honored generational passage from father to son.  Unfortunately for this family, daddy's not around in the physical sense anymore.  And mama is feeling like a poor substitute, at best. 

A.J. is stoked.  Major.  I can't decide who is more revved up about this trip, he or the dog.  A few days ago, I grabbed my unloaded 12 gauge shotgun, put the whistle around my neck, and walked out into the backyard.  The dog did a double-take.  She's given up looking for Mark, although I still see her eyes, squinting through the seam in the gate everytime I pull up driving his truck.  I think there's still a little part of her that wishes it would be his tall lanky frame that exits the vehicle instead of mine.  That may be the last remnant of her wishing for him, at least to my limited knowledge. 

But I digress.  She stops dead in her tracks.  It's like she cannot believe that I, the female she once tried to oust from the "pack," have a gun in my hands.  I blow one short tweet on the whistle, and she bounds toward me.  I really believe she would've rubbed her eyes in disbelief if she could have.  She gave me one more cursory glance of unsurety until I pumped the gun.  Reassured, she put her nose to the ground, beginning to work our half acre smack dab inside Wichita Falls' city limits. 

Maybe she will obey me.  But I'll bring along the training collar just for backup.  There's also a doggy GPS, I'll get the techno-minded 9 year old to read up on its operation during the 6 hour drive to the beautiful land with our names on it.

Am I good enough to stand in his place?  Do I have the common sense to walk the land?  Mark could've walked it in his sleep, the hundreds of acres that have been in his family for over a century--me, I sometimes have trouble discerning north from south, east from west.  Heck, maybe I'm the one that needs the GPS, not Maggie. 

It's been a difficult week.  Sunday during worship, the tears begin welling up inside of me.  They began to spill out on the drive home.  My boys talked me through the drive thru of Arby's, then insisted it was their turn to take care of me, and made me go to bed Sunday afternoon.  I know that this Thanksgiving has to be better than last year's, our "first" without him.  But this is another "first"....hunting without him.  And I think that's where all of my emotions are coming from. 

I may be doing well generally, but I need extra prayers this week as I try my darndest to continue to make Mark Howell proud of me.  I also need to relax and remember that I can't make our trip perfect.--but that God can make it special, regardless of what happens. 

And whether or not we bring back birds is a big deal to A.J....but to me, the big deal will be walking the bluestem-filled prairie, alongside Mark's little image, behind his bird dog. 

We will be comforted, regardless, as I share the words of Isaiah with both boys before our trip tomorrow:
Surely you know,
Surely you have heard.
The Lord is the God who lives forever,
who created all the world.
He does not become tired or need to rest,
No one can understand how great his wisdom is.
He gives strength to those who are tired
and more power to those who are weak.
Even children become tired and need to rest, and young people trip and fall.
But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.
They will rise up as an eagle in the sky;
they will run and not need rest;
they will walk and not become tired.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (NCV)
I need to work on trusting God completely--whenever I'm depressed, bawling my eyes out on a Sunday afternoon--or whenever I'm at the top of my game, feeling as good as I have in months.  My problems come when I forget that, or think I am doing fine, and I venture out a bit too far from God's grasp.  As long as I stay within arm's reach, I can make it. 
Thank You God, for loving me, even whenever I am so bull-headed that I think I can make it on my own.  Thank You for the gentle reminders that I need You, every second of every day, regardless of my mood.  Thank You, also, for the tears, because tears are healing my heart.  I am so grateful for the man You brought into my life 27 years ago because he changed me for the better. And he gave me the two most beautiful loving sons that I cannot fathom life without.  He taught me to love that Kansas land as he did.  Help me pass that love of land and family heritage on to our sons.  Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Turning the page....

I'm at a crossroads.  I began this blog soon after Mark's death, and it was my outlet for grief, supplication, memories, and growth for well over a year.  But in the past month, particularly, I know deep within my heart that I have progressed down "grief road" past the raw emotions I once wrote so often of.

Am I "over" the grief?  Nope.  Do I have sad moments, times whenever I still well-up and cry, in the most unusual of situations or circumstances? Yep.  But the deep piercing wound that was inflicted upon me on July 30, 2011 is healing.  Finally.  Praise God! 

My boys are doing well.  They still have their moments, too, and if I ever just sit and concentrate on what they have lost, it breaks my heart.  So, I don't sit around and dwell on it.  It doesn't do us any good.  As I said in a recent newspaper column, nothing positive ever comes from a bunch of people sitting around on their hands, reminiscing about "the good old days."  I choose to believe that my family has many "good NEW days" on our horizon.   And for those days to come about, I have to get off of my hands and spend some time on my knees. 

I am surprised by how the simple act of literally getting on my knees puts me in a receptive and open mind frame for talking with God.  Maybe it's a United Methodist thing, or just a Heath family thing, but kneeling to pray (other than at the altar of the church itself) wasn't the norm for me.  But let me tell you...it became the norm for me, as I knelt with my sons in the chapel of the hospital, the day before their daddy died. 

I still may pray alot while in the upright position, or while I'm resting in bed, before sleep comes every night.  However, there's no better position to be in whenever you are laying it all out on the line than head bowed and knees on the floor. 

As I wonder what is next in God's plan for my family, this particular scripture from Ecclesiastes keeps running through my mind:

There's an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up...
Ecc. 3: 1,2,4-7 (The Message)
God made humans with a soul and an intricately deep desire to know our futures.  We get impatient, wishing to know what's coming around the next bend in the road---but God's time is the right time, and I am convinced that none of us will ever completely understand His workings in our lives.  What I do know is this:  God wants His children, His most beautiful and evolved creations, to be happy.  In all circumstances.  All the time.
Now that's easier said than done, take it from me.  But even in my darkest days, the times where I did not truly know if I could take another breath, I hurt so much---I found comfort.  I still had much to be thankful for.  The actual happiness took time, although it was given to me in glimpses for many months. 
After being a widow for almost 16 months, I can truthfully say I am happy in my circumstances.  I feel as if I have turned the page, and I am awaiting my next adventure in this unimagined journey.  The boys are urging me to date again, which, if it happens, will really be an adventure, considering the last time I attempted it was at age 22.  I'm not worrying about that, or anything else, though.  If a companion is in the cards, it will happen in God's time, not mine or my boys'. 
Life is pretty darn good still.  My goals are the same:  raise my boys to be responsible, empathetic, Godly young men, find the good in life and in others each day, and keep Mark's memory and his spirit and love for the outdoors alive.  Knowing that I am doing what Mark would want me to do is important....but tweaking it whenever I feel the need to do so has empowered me.  And that's what is necessary to move forward. 

There's a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to be sad and a time to dance....I pray for alot of laughing and dancing in the Howell family's future.  

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012