March 28, 2016

Random Thoughts From My Grieving Heart

Some of the things I've come to really miss in the last 18 days:
Sitting down at the end of the day to watch television with Kevin.

Hearing Kevin chat and read to the kids before bed each night.

Hearing Kevin read scripture and lead our family devotions at breakfast each morning.

Crying real tears and crying out to God with Kevin as we begged God for deliverance from addiction and depression.

Laying hands on Kevin to pray for him.

The pile of dirty clothes he always left in front of the closet. 

Listening to the kids tell daddy about their day.

Lunch dates.

Convincing him to take the afternoon off so we can have family time in Quincy.

The way he insisted that the kids always clean off their dishes and put them in the dishwasher, but his dishes would sit in the sink, unrinsed.

The way he loved to surprise me by deep cleaning the kitchen when I was gone.

The way he always hung his towels up on the closet doors in our bedroom.

Hearing him tell the kids how much he loved them and how proud he was of them each night.

Listening to his terribly corny jokes.

They way he could sit and play guitar for hours, making it all up as he went along. 

The hours he would sit and listen and play until he could replicate any guitar lead or solo
The way he lovingly joked about my obsession with Josh and Donna (TWW) as if they were real people.

He loved that I love and always cry at series finales. 

He always believed in me. 100% . In his mind, there was absolutely nothing creative or on stage that I couldn't do. 

That mischievous grin that always drove me crazy!

His constant care and concern for the kids and I.

He always cleaned up puke without complaining.

He was the tooth puller.

He was mine.

Some of the things that almost paralyze me with fear:
I am the only parent they have left. My failures affect them times two.

Both kids have birthdays next week. He won't be there.

His birthday is at the end of the month. He won't be there.

I know nothing about running a business, yet now I have one that I have to run, at least for a time.

Having pictures and memories that he's not in. 

Making a will.

Working. Homeschooling. Discipling our children
All of the simple things that now send me into a panic.

Truth I am clinging to right now:
Psalm 139: All of my days were written in His book before even one of them were lived. He is in control and nothing that has happened or will happen takes God by surprise.

Christ's resurrection gives me the only hope I have that there is more to this life. It is the hope that Kevin is at His feet and that one day I will be there with Him. I pray each day that salvation will come to our children and they will join us there.

God loves my children more than I could ever possibly imagine. He is mighty to save and He desires their salvation and an eternity in heaven with Him.

God answers prayers. Those answers are not always what we hope for, but He always answers in a way that will bring Him glory. Kevin's death was the answer to our prayers, our desperate pleas for healing and freedom. God will receive honor and glory through his death. His story is redeemed and God will use me, even in my pain, if I am willing to lay my life in His hands.

God provides. The ways He provides are varied and crazy and amazing and spectacular and small and big, but He always provides.

Heaven is a place of eternal worship and joy. No tears. No death. No regret. No pain. I don't think this was the answer Kevin was expecting to his prayer any more than I was, but I promise you he is not looking down at us through some heavenly picture window feeling sad for us or wishing he could be here with us. He is worshiping His Savior. At His feet. In His presence. Eternally. Hallelujah! 

Jesus is Hosanna! He is salvation and He is here. There's no need to worry He won't come. HE IS HERE!

March 23, 2016

As Much of My Heart as My Mind Will Let Me Share Today....

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness is impossible, apart from God's grace. I am so thankful for God's perfect, whole, complete forgiveness. I wish humans were capable of that. But, let's face it. We aren't. The best we can do is to lay it at Jesus' feet and do our best to leave it there. To do our best to not use that thing we've said we forgive as a weapon against the one we love. Sometimes what is hardest is to accept Christ's forgiveness, lay that thing in the past, and then move on. It's done. It's time to dust yourself off, pick up the pieces, grab hold of His grace, and move forward. Yet, that's so hard to do. Some days, it feels impossible! It hurts, it's hard, and it's so necessary. Father, help me to lean into and grab hold of Your forgiveness in my life. Help me to be one that lavishes forgiveness on others.

Being part of the body of Christ is hard, messy, tiring, joyous, exciting, and scary. It takes work. People don't really tell you that. They don't tell you that you have to keep calling, hang in there, ask questions, dive in, get messy, laugh together, cry together, suffer together, forgive each other. It is tiring to  do well. I am not up for this task. I am not built for this task. But, with God, it's not only possible, but it happens. I have been on the receiving end of this and it's beautiful. Messy, ugly, beautiful. Oh, Father, give me Your heart for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Give me Your eyes to see them and Your heart to love them. Help me to be Your hands and feet.

Addiction sucks. There's no way around that fact. It's confusing, mean, harsh, and a thief of pretty much everything. And there's no going back. Even those who are recovering addicts will never get their "before" life back. They, and none of their loved ones, will never be the same. Addiction is cruel and I am convinced it's one of Satan's greatest strategies. It pulls you, and your loved ones, off their game, diverts their attention, and makes it hard to see how there could possibly be a loving and merciful God in the midst of this kind of suffering. And so many suffer alone because it is so misunderstood. Trust me, I am no expert, but there is so much more to this disease (and it IS a disease) than we will ever be able to comprehend. It's not about will power or self-control. It's about this amazing, complicated, scientists still don't understand brain that God gave us. It can be helped and treated, but may not ever be the same again. It's a lifetime of having to give up privacy for the sake of saving your life. Who wants to do that? That's what makes it so hard. For many, to fight this battle means giving up friends and family who won't encourage or help. Those who do have friends and family willing to help, it's hard to give your privacy and pride to let down the needed walls and let them help. Those that choose to help, it's a long hard road. It means making yourself vulnerable to this person who needs your help so much. It means sticking with them, even on days when the desire is bad or they just want privacy. It means not giving up when that's all you really want to do. It's ugly, messy, real, and one of the greatest earthly pictures of what God, in His grace, has done for us. It's one of the greatest earthly pictures of the spiritual battle that is happening all around us, that our eyes can't see. It's real, harsh, and seemingly unending (though Christ's return will put an end to all of it, amen!!)

Why is it so hard to open up and be truly honest with each other? I mean, none of us are perfect, we all have sin in our lives, and we all need Jesus. Doesn't that put us all on even ground? Ah, but that whole comparison trap. We only see the outside, in little snippets here and there, and we're convinced that no one else struggles. Everyone else has it all together and we're the only ones drowning. THIS IS JUST NOT TRUE! If we would all be honest and share truth with each other (admittedly, you don't have to share every gritty detail with every person. Find that one, "your person", in whom you can confide and with whom you can have accountability and celebrate those highs and to whom to can admit your lows) how much more encouraging would we be to one another? (And how much more hope would a lost world see when they see that we are people, just like they are, who struggle but have Christ as our anchor!) Isn't it such an encouragement to know that someone else has rolled in the same (or similar) mud and lived to tell about it? Isn't it awesome to see how God works in the lives of others? I know that's always encouraging to me (unless I let that comparison monster take over, again!) Another thing that struck me while driving yesterday is that, sometimes, I think the reason we aren't honest with each other is because we associate, and assume others do, too, blessing and an easy life with a sinless life. Meaning, if we share our struggles with others they'll assume we've sinned in some big way and this is our punishment. NEWSFLASH: We all sin. We all receive punishment for sin. But we also know that we have an enemy who is roaming around like a lion seeking those he can destroy. He'll do that any way he can and sometimes, that means throwing a wrench in our lives. Why suffer privately when you can share and be loved on and encouraged as we were meant to be? (I am totally preaching to myself here!) I love this song and I always thought of it in regard to marriage, but as I was listening to it yesterday I was struck by this thought, "This should be an anthem of the church. This is how we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they are in our building or halfway around the world." Listen to If You Fall by JJ Heller  We must fight with and for one another. I am so blessed to know many in my life who do this well. It doesn't always feel good. It doesn't always look beautiful, in the world's terms. But, in God's terms, it's quite possibly one of the most beautiful things we humans can do-listen, love, show grace, and point to Christ. Oh, Father, help me to be one who is brave and honest with my joys and my struggles. Use my pain to encourage others that You are faithful, loving, merciful, and You alone are salvation. Lord, help me to step up alongside others who are hurting to be Your hands and feet in their lives. Let me be a reflection of Your love and grace in their lives each day.

Some days the feeling of unworthiness nearly swallows me whole. Please tell me I am not the only one Satan messes with in this way. He totally deceives my mind into thinking that there's no way I can be useful. No way I can be encouraging to others. No way that I should be doing any of the ministry that I am doing. That I have no right to worship, love on others, or ask others for prayer. That I need to walk away and let others leave because I have no place, in my mostly tattered and rag tag condition, It puts me in a panic and raises my blood pressure. It makes me just want to lay in bed, eat chocolate, and cry. But when I open myself up, cry out to God, and share with Him honestly He whispers to me who I really am. In Him. I am equipped through Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). I am chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). I am regarded as holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:4). I am adopted through the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:5). I am redeemed, forgiven, and lavished with grace (Eph. 1:7-8). I am the recipient of a glorious inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:11). I am secured forever by the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13-14). (This list can be found, with much more, in Priscilla Shirer's book Fervant.) And so much more! When I truly turn these feelings of unworthiness over to Christ, He shows me who I really am, reminds me of how much I've grown, and reminds me that my worship and my service are so much sweeter, honest, and personal these days (even if sometimes it's all more a sacrifice of praise than an offering of joy.)

I love music. I love the way it speaks to me, encourages me, lifts my attitude, and points me in the right direction. I love how just the right song coming on turns the whole van into a dance party! So, I thought I'd share some of the music that has meant the most to me (and has been on constant repeat) over the last 6 months or so. Click on the links and then do yourself a favor and get the music. I promise you won't regret it:
Mercy Me: Greater
Mercy Me: Finish What He Started
Christy Nockels: Already All I Need
Christy Nockels: Jesus, Rock of Ages (OK, this ENTIRE album is one you just need to buy! You will be in true worship with each song. Look it up: Christy Nockels "Let It Be Jesus". You can thank me later!)  ;)
The Rend Collective Experiment: JOY
The Rend Collective Experiment: More Than Conquerors
The Rend Collective Experiment: Every Giant Will Fall  (OK, let's be honest, do yourself a favor and purchase every song Rend Collective has ever recorded. Best.decision.ever.)
JJ Heller: I Believe
Andrew Peterson: The Rain Keeps Falling (This song, more than any other I have heard, truly expresses what it's like to be trapped in addiction, depression, or grief as a Christian, wanting out, but the lesson isn't over and the stone isn't rolling away from in front of the tomb. LISTEN TO THIS! Then, get the entire CD, "The Burning Edge of Dawn".)

March 20, 2016

Who Am I?

I don't know about you, but I sometimes get caught up in labels. Special names. Especially when describing who I am.

Daughter. I am part of an amazing family! We have our ups and downs and our fair share of crazy, but we love each other and it shows. My parents have dropped everything to be at my side more times than I can count. Their voices were heard above the crowd at every volleyball game and they were in attendance for every theatre performance. They paid for most of my college, let me live in their house after college, and being with them still feels like home.

Daughter-in-law. My in-laws are kind, and caring, always go the extra mile when needed. I text more than talk on the phone, and I know they wish that was the other way around, but they still put up with it and accept me as one of their own. They have from day one. What a blessing!

Sister. Even better, I am the middle sister. I bet those of you who know me are totally shocked by that (read that with sarcasm!) I borrowed clothes, jewelry, hair products, and who knows what else from both of them. Probably without asking. I once locked them outside the house with an angry swarm of bees chasing them. I am sure I drive both of them crazy with my lack of decision making skills and constant need to people please. But, they love me, I love them, and there's nothing we wouldn't do for each other. They have proven that over and over again in the last week.

Sister-in-law. On my side of the family, it's to two Mikes. Who would both give you the shirt off their back. And anything else you needed. They are both loyal, loving, and hard working. I am blessed to be in their family (now, if we can just get Big Mike to get on a boat and cruise with us....) On Kevin's side I have a brother-in-law and sister-in-law (Kevin's brother and sister) who are twins. They both have big, loving hearts. They always want to make things right and do the best they can at everything. I also have another sister-in-law (Chris' wife) who is also sweet, kind, and always doing what she can to help. I am blessed to call them family.

Mom. I have two beautiful, sweet, wild, crazy children who have my heart. I love their laughter, their crazy stories, and how consistently they try to get out of school work. They bring joy (and some frustration) to each day. They were both a surprise, but the best kind of surprise. I pray every day that they will hear God call them to salvation and they will submit to Him, making Him Lord and Master, and be adopted into His family. I pray that He teaches them to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength so they can pour their lives out serving Him and others in His name.

Friend. Not a great one, but I am a friend. I tend to suffer from "out of sight out of mind", which wouldn't be so bad if half of my friends hadn't moved away from Hannibal! But, man, I have the best friends anyone could ask for. They love me despite my lack of ability to be a good friend. This last week has shown me how well these ladies love God and love others in His name. No mountain is too high, no morning is too early, no night is too late, no request is too silly. They are simply the best hands and feet of Jesus I have ever known.

I got two new titles this week:

Widow. This one hurts. I want it to be wife. I like the sound, feel, and meaning of that one much better. Both are proven true in just a matter of moments. The night before Kevin passed away the kids and I were at Family Quest with our Afterschool friend, J. We were reading James 1:27 together ("True religion is this: taking care of the orphans and widows.") J looked at me and asked, "What is a widow?" I said, " It's a woman whose husband has died." I had no idea that just a few hours later that word would be a new label, a new name for me. It's hard. It's ugly. It sucks. BUT GOD can take even that label and make it the ugly beautiful. He specializes in making beauty from ashes.

Single mom. This one scares me most. I know in my heart of hearts I was not built for this. I need someone to balance out my melodramatic, can't find a balance, crazy. My children will desperately need therapy (which I am already looking into.) I am going to mess up. A lot. I barely know anything about raising a girl (bras, periods, hormones, oh my!), but I know even less about raising a boy (adolescence, hormones, the sex talk...I want to puke just thinking about it!) BUT GOD never leaves us. He walks beside us, in the good and the bad. I am 100% confident that any mistake I make, God can redeem. I am glad it's Him I trust and not myself!

But even day I will have a new name. My true name. The name Christ has for me and only He knows. I can barely fathom it. I can't even imagine hearing Him say it. I think I will feel a bit like Mary Magdalene when Jesus finally said her name in the garden after His resurrection. Stopped in my tracks. His tone and that name the most amazing things I will ever hear. I would be lying if I said I am ready now to say, "Jesus, come quickly." My kids aren't saved and my heart yearns for Him to tarry until they are. But, oh, the thought of hearing Him speak my true name brings JOY, tears, relief, and wonder.

March 18, 2016

One Week

One week ago I lost the love of my life; my husband and the father of my sweet children. It was unexpected, scary, confusing, and really hard. This whole last week has been really hard. I have shed more tears in this last week than I think I have shed in my entire life (and I am a crier, so that's saying a lot!)  My brain is sleep deprived and a little fried, so I am just going to share a few things running through my mind; the hard, the ugly beautiful, and the little slivers of light shining through the rain.

*I'm just going to say it: I have the best church family on the planet. I'm not sure how I got so blessed as to land in this amazing church body, but I am so grateful I did. They picked up their phone while nursing their child at 4 a.m. and dropped everything to come take my children and drive me to the hospital. They showed up at the hospital at the crack of dawn to be by my side in my most scary moments. They walked with me into the room and grieved with me while I said goodbye to my husband for the last time. They made the hard phone calls to family and friends so I wouldn't have to try and put words to my pain. The rushed to my side even though just hearing the news brought back raw, fresh pain in their own hearts. They stayed up after working all night to take their children to school so their wives could be with me. They made sure there wasn't a single waking moment there wasn't a non-family member in our home for 4 straight days so we could be waited on hand and foot. They prayed for us, brought us food, did my laundry, brushed my hair when I just didn't have the energy to do it myself, cleaned my house, made hotel reservations, and thousands of things I don't even know about. Thank you is so weak and not nearly enough for all you've done. You love Jesus with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, and you love people as Jesus loved them-completely and without reserve. You know how to #justshowup, even when you're supposed to be packing to move halfway around the world, teaching and inspiring young minds, or at training for your new role as missionaries. Oh, Father, teach me to follow their example, even in grief, of giving all of me to be Your hands and feet.

*I am so thankful that scripture promises that the Holy Spirit speaks on our behalf, even when we cannot utter a word. There have been many hours in the last week when I just wanted to cry out in prayer, but there were no words. I didn't even know what I needed, but He knew and He plead on my behalf. I am so blessed.

*Bedtime is hard. Kevin always put the kids to bed. He had a whole routine. It lasted about 45 minutes. I do not do bedtime. But, I have no choice. Father, give me a love for bedtime routines and give us some new bedtime traditions. Let this become a sweet time between the kids and I. I need a way to share some non-school time with them and this is a great way to do that, so tell that to my heart. Tell that to my mind. Fill me with the words and games and stories that will make our new bedtime fun.

*Waking up next to an empty spot in my bed sucks. There's just no other way to say it. Every morning starts with fresh tears as I roll over and realize this wasn't a bad dream. My Kevin is gone. And life must go on. It makes it hard to get out of bed. But, oh, what a blessing in disguise I've had the last few weeks. For Lent (no, I'm not Catholic and no I do not have the emotional bandwidth to explain to you why I observe Lent anyway, just go with it) I decided that instead of taking something away this year, I would add something. I added getting up at 5:30 a.m. in order to spend some quality time in prayer before everyone else was up. The last week or so I was really frustrated with myself because, rather than get up and go downstairs, I would roll over, wrap my arms around Kevin, and pray for him. Now, I am so thankful that I didn't get up those days and had some extra time to just lay with him and feel him next to me. Total blessing in disguise. Thank You for that, Lord.

*Seeing my children grieve is hard. All three of us grieve in different ways, but it's hard to know just what to say or do in each moment. It's so hard thinking of all the things Kevin will miss: first games, dance recitals, Trail Life camp outs, graduations, plays, weddings, grandchildren, so much. It makes it so hard to breathe sometimes thinking of that. I'm glad scripture reminds us that we need to take things one day at a time because each day has enough trouble of its own. I am not good at that. Lord, help me to stop, breathe, and be in the moment so I can trust you with each step.

*I'm scared of Monday. It will be our first full day on our own. The first real day of a "new normal", just the three of us. How do we fall into routine when one of us is missing? How do we go back to school work when I just want to sit and cry? How do I pull out the Bible we read together every morning and pick up where he left off? Some moments I am really not sure I can do it. Some moments I look forward to making new traditions. Some moments I just want to wake up from this horrible nightmare. All moments I beg God to use this hard, scary time to draw all three of us to Him, to bring salvation to my children, and to teach us to pour ourselves out for Him and His people. And some days, I just want to stay in bed and watch The Office and The West Wing.

*Ethan, Sophie,and Kevin all have birthdays in April. Kevin missed all of those birthdays last year and won't be here this year. How do we celebrate? How do we not spend the day mourning the fact that he won't be here? Lord, give me wisdom to know how to celebrate and mourn and start new traditions all at once. Lord, give me sensitivity to know what they truly need as we approach those oh so special firsts in just a few short weeks. Lord, make those days special and give us eyes to see You in new ways on those three days.

*I can't wait for the day I can focus again while reading scripture. I miss it.  I try, but the words get blurry and my attention is drawn away far too easily. I am so thankful that over the last three months God has moved my heart to write out short sections of scripture and post them on my wall, mirror, and in my journal so I can go back and read scriptures in short bursts when my attention can take it. And those scriptures He's had me writing for months, such a balm to my weary, hurt, grieving soul. He was preparing me, making a way in the desert, and I didn't even know it.

*I've been praying for over a year that God would bring complete healing to Kevin; healing from back pain, healing from depression, healing from addiction. On March 10, He did just that. Kevin is healed completely. While I have to be honest and say this is not the way I wanted to see him healed, the healing and joy are complete. He is sitting at the feet of Christ, worshiping with all his heart, and overflowing with joy and praise for all eternity. There's nothing better I could ask or hope for for my precious husband. God is good, even in the pain. God is good, even in the hard.