April 29, 2016

#choosingjoybyblessing

That was the theme for our day yesteday, April 28, 2016. If he hadn't passed away in March, that would have been my husband's 34th birthday. I knew it would be a hard day. I knew there would be sadness. And tears. And not wanting to move.

I had a choice: wallow in my sadness (and take my children with me), or choose JOY in the hard and teach my children that, even in the hard, God is good. Obedience brings blessing. Loving God and loving others really do matter.

I wanted to choose the first one. I wanted a day of nothing but laying in bed, watching movies, and crying. But, honestly, that did no one any good, least of all my children. That choice did nothing to honor the man I with whom spent 15 years loving, serving, and building a family. I knew that I had to choose to see the JOY in the hard. There was only one way to do that: lean in to God, the source of any strength I may have (and believe me, there isn't much!) To honor Kevin's memory on his birthday I wanted to do two things--serve others in a way that Kevin loved to serve others and share God with those we chose to serve.

One of the things Kevin loved to do most was to give people gifts that they could truly use but weren't expecting. I am not quite sure how it happened, but I decided that I wanted to give Sonic gift cards to HLGU students. We met and fell in love at HLG and it's almost finals time. It was perfect! My sweet friend Larinee helped me to refine the idea and wrote a poem I could give with each gift card. On top of that, when cleaning out some of Kevin's things, I found an old Christmas card that still had money in it that was a little more than the amount I had planned to spend, allowing me to add two more gift cards. Isn't God good?

Yesterday was probably the best day we've had in 6 weeks. Yes, there were some tears. Yes, we missed Kevin a little more than the day before. But, it was oh, so sweet, to take my kids to several places just for the purpose of spoiling other people. We had a very good conversation about sacrificing in order to share Christ with others and the truth that obedience brings blessings, even when that blessing doesn't come right away or in the form we thought it would take. We talk about how much daddy loved giving gifts to people and how good he was at getting just the perfect thing for people. We had some laughs as we talked about funny stories or silly things daddy did or said. It was just a wonderful day.

I needed that day. If feel so self-absorbed right now. My brain is stuck in grief mode and I've had a really hard time thinking beyond my four walls. Sometimes I can't even think within these walls. Sometimes I can't even think at all. I hate this feeling. I hate that someone else had to clean my house, wash my laundry, plan my daughter's birthday party, head up things that I was supposed to do, and much more. I hate that I don't feel up to standing in the gap when others need help. I hate that I haven't had the words to write notes of love and encouragement to all those amazing ladies who have loved me through these hard days in every way they can. I want to live a life that points others to Christ and pours itself out being His hands and feet. It felt really good to do that yesterday.

Here's just a little glimpse into our day of #choosingjoybyblessing yesterday:
 Heading out for the day.
 Breakfast at Java Jive, one of Kevin's favorite places.
 One of the two extra gift cards we were able to purchase.
 We left those two on random cars in downtown Hannibal.
 We walked a few blocks because Kevin loved walking around downtown Hannibal.
 The kids insisted we take pics here. It's the bench where we had most of our family pictures taken.
 The note and gift cards we left for students at HLGU.
 All the numbers meant something to us. I love that the way Sophie posed for each of these pictures was so her!
 Note how differently he was posed! So him!
 I even went for a run, something Kevin also enjoyed. He always tried to get me to run with him, but I didn't get into running until he couldn't run anymore.
 Birthday gelato at another favorite place of Kevin's: Stam's.
Our version of birthday cake.

We picked out shoes to send to Bethesda, the orphanage where our friends will be living and working, starting Monday!

I think one of the most exciting parts of the day was hearing from the teacher of a student whose meal we paid for in the McDonald's drive-through. We were so sad when we got there and there was no one behind us. We stopped, prayed for God to send someone, then pulled up to order. Just as we started to order, a car pulled up behind us. This teacher said her student brought in the card we gave them, ready it to her, and, though he doesn't pray, said that he would start praying by praying by us. It also opened the door for her to share our story with her class. It was a beautiful example to my kiddos that, truly, obedience brings blessing. When we choose to use what God has given us (time, money, talents, etc) He will bless us and bless others.

Father, give me Your eyes and Your heart so that I can be Your hands and feet. Steal my children's hearts! Let today be the day of Sophie's salvation! Let today be the day of Ethan's salvation. Adopt them! Make them new creations in You who have a passion for You and sharing You lovingly with all they meet. Mold us. Shape us. Use us!

April 26, 2016

It's My Birthday!!!!!

I'm 30 today!!!! Spiritually speaking, that is. Thirty years ago today I gave my life to Christ. We've had some rough moments through the years. I've been stubborn and willful and didn't always want to listen. There were a lot of times I thought I was in control and didn't need Him. There were a lot of desperate times when I was on my face crying out to Him with nowhere else to go, knowing that no one else could help. His word has corrected me, lead me, comforted me, and at times, been all that sustained me. My times of prayer have been sweet and hard and everything in between. Very few things have turned out the way that I would have wanted or planned, but He's been with me each step of the way. It's a decision I don't regret at all.

The whole process started for me when my two best friends were killed in a house fire. I was crushed. Life ground to a halt for awhile. Everything was turned upside down in the time it took for my dad to say one sentence. I imagine that's how my children felt when my daddy delivered the news that their daddy was gone. Oh, how I pray that this hard time in their life produces the result that hard time produced for me: Salvation. Nothing comes our way, good or bad, that doesn't first go through God's hand. No hard time comes that God can't redeem, even the death of His saints. Oh, Father, let this be the final piece in their little lives that brings them to You. Let today be the day of salvation for Sophie! Let today be the day of salvation for Ethan! Call them. Adopt them. Steal their hearts. Teach them to love you with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Use every history, math, science, reading, handwriting, and grammar lesson to draw them to You and prepare them to share You with all they meet. Give them hearts that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Teach them to love their neighbor as themselves. Teach me to let go of them and release them to You. You love them more than I ever could. You desire them to run to You, follow You, and for them to pour out their lives loving You and loving others. Teach me to lead by example in all of those areas that they may be drawn to You.

Lord, thank You for the beautiful gift of Your salvation (for me, for Kevin, and for my children.) Thank You for dying in my place. Thank you for arresting death and reclaiming true life. Thank You for 30 years of ups and downs, joys and tears, ease and hard, beautiful and ugly. I look forward to 30 more here (unless You have a better plan) and an eternity with You (which I can't even fathom.)

April 23, 2016

A Little Bit of Our Story

Someone asked me the other day about how I met Kevin and how we fell in love. I wasn't totally sure what to answer because I am pretty sure that my side of the story would sound much different from Kevin's side of the story.

Case in point; we totally don't agree on when we actually met for the first time. If you ask me, the first time I remember seeing him was on a mission trip that summer New Ed took to Austin to work with Awe Star ministries. He always said that he remembers first meeting me when he was at HLG visiting his brother Chris and he was walking around with Ben Schnipper. I have no memory of that event. And let's be honest, I had a much better memory than he did, so we can just safely assume I was right. ;)

What we do agree on was the next meeting, which was at the Praise Song retreat in the Fall of 2000. He was a freshman and I was a senior (yeah, I robbed the cradle!) I honestly don't remember much about Kevin from that first semester because, well, I came to school that semester head over heels for a guy I had worked with several times over the summer. Oddly enough, he was also a guitar player and had a personality very similar to Kevin's. At that point, Kevin was just baby freshman and I didn't give him the time of day really.

Then came second semester. I remember sitting in the first chapel in January 2001 (back when chapel was in the gym) and I looked over and saw this really handsome guy with blonde highlights sitting in the bleachers. I was trying to figure out who it was (I knew pretty much all the new students because I had been working in the admissions office since my freshman year and I was one of the main tour guides. I met pretty much all the new, available guys!) Then I realized who it was: Kevin McSmith. I couldn't believe it! From that point on, he was the only guy I paid any attention to at all. We chatted online using MSN Messenger (he made me a HUGE three ring binder with all of those messages printed off. I pray that I get warning before I die so that I can destroy that so no one else ever reads it. So embarrassing!) We started eating together and going with groups of friends to other places. We both knew we liked each other, but neither one really wanted to do anything about it.

Then along came the date auction. One of the clubs on campus hosted a date auction in order to raise money. I have no idea why, because it's the complete opposite of anything I would ever do, but I decided to go up for auction. I can't believe I took that risk, it could have been such a disaster. I actually had to borrow clothes from one of the other Praise Song girls because I didn't have dress clothes other than my Praise Song suit (any Weast era New Ed members want to sing "Homlieness, homliness is not what Weast wants from me..."). Long story short (too late), two sweet friends (Marcus and Michelle Hurt) bought us for each other. Our first date (the result of the date auction) was on Feb. 14, 2001. We ate at Tiramisu and he had the cutest stuffed bear waiting at the restaurant for me. It had a card around it's neck with a note that said, "Be Mine?" So sweet! Then we watched Castaway and had dessert at Steak N' Shake. It was a fun, perfect night. We've been together ever since.

I graduated in May 2001 and in January 2002 I moved to Plano, TX and started working at Prestonwood Baptist Church while Kevin was still at HLG. We lived apart like this for about 6 months. It was hard, but good for both of us. I lived on my own for the first time far away from my parents and Kevin. I grew up a lot in that time and had a lot of fun with sweet friends (that I still can't convince to move back to MO. Yeah, Kevin and Lauren Allen, I'm looking at you!) I also got my first roommate, for a short time, while there (Q, I wish we'd had more time together!)

One of my most vivid and life-touching memories happened during my time there in TX. Kevin was asked to go with Awe Star Ministries to spend a month in Uganda leading worship and sharing the Gospel. He was asked with a very short amount of time to raise the funds and prepare to go, so he wasn't sure that he should. I knew, very clearly, from the moment he mentioned the trip that he was supposed to go. After a lot of prayer, he did decide to go on that trip. Shortly after he decided to go I was gripped with fear that he would die while on the trip. I began to pray about it and I clearly felt the Lord tell me, "I promise to take care of him, but taking care of him doesn't necessarily mean bringing him home." As odd as it sounds, after that I had such a peace that passes understanding about him going on that trip, coupled with truly believing that he was not going to be returning. I honestly believed, 100%, that he was going to die while in Africa, but had such a peace about it because I knew that was God's plan. You can imagine how shocked I was when I got a call from him and he was back in the States at the end of the trip. I've never been so happy to hear his voice as I was that day! Now that I think back on that memory, those words from God have been true every moment since then. God will always protect us, but His perfect protection may not be what we would call protection. Without a doubt, God allowing Kevin's death, his passing from this life to his eternal life with Christ, was protection. Protection from all of the pain, suffering, guilt, shame, and brokenness this world offers. It wasn't until a few days ago that God opened my eyes to see His loving protection for Kevin in allowing Kevin's death.

One night in December of 2002 I just knew Kevin was going to propose. I had it all worked out in my mind. See, I am terrible with dates and numbers, but, I knew that June 14, 2003 was a Saturday. We started dating on February 14. I knew that I would be able to remember the dates if they were as close to the same as possible. 14 was our number (I also didn't realize until later that God graced me with Kevin's funeral being on March 14 because, honestly, if it hadn't been a 14 I probably wouldn't have remembered it!) So, I knew that Kevin needed to propose soon for us to be able to plan and be ready for a wedding on June 14. I suspected he had been ring shopping already. In my mind, there was nothing else to wait for, so why wouldn't he propose? He didn't. I came home and laid in bed and cried. I was so disappointed. I was sure it meant he was never going to propose. I was so crushed!

He proposed the very next weekend! (I've never been known for being patient!) The proposal story is almost a novel in itself. He had found the ring he wanted in Iowa (on the same day that we went to see Willie Aames and Brady Williams in a Bibleman Live show. Kevin showed up late and I was so angry with him. I had no idea he was late because he was buying my engagement ring!) He bought the ring, but they had to change the setting. They shipped it overnight so Kevin would have it in time. Except that somehow, the shipping got messed up and Kevin, his brother Chris, Joe Banderman, Sabrina (Price) Brookshire, and Dr. Todd had to do all kinds of chasing down and tracking things to find that it was sitting on a delivery truck in Quincy. Chris actually went to the facility and helped them dig through the truck to get the ring. So, Kevin's beautiful plan of proposing at Tirimisu (using the same bear he had given me the night of our first date) was foiled. I was a little annoyed that Kevin kept checking his phone all night (getting updates about the ring of course) and couldn't figure out why he wasn't ready to end the date near midnight. I am not a night owl so dates didn't typically go that late.

Then he said he'd gotten a text from Josh Moore that he needed Kevin to pick up some music from the Praise Song room (which was in a building that no longer exists on HLGU's campus. It was an old, green army barracks building.) So, we stopped by and got out to get the music. I walked into the Praise Song room and there was the bear, sitting in the middle of the room, with a note tied to it that said, "Be Mine Forever?" I turned around and there was Kevin, on one knee, holding my beautiful ring. I was totally shocked! In fact, I don't know if I even said anything! (I'm not sure I ever told him this, but I am so glad the plan didn't work out for the restaurant. I would have been mortified if that had happened in front of everyone! It had actually been my ideal that he would propose in the Praise Song room because that's the reason we even knew each other.)

The rest, as they say, is history. We spent about 8 months on the road with Bibleman and the rest of the time we lived in Hannibal, MO. Life wasn't always easy. It wasn't always pretty. But God always provided what we needed. We both grew up a lot in the 15 years we were together. Sometimes it was hard because we weren't growing at the same time, but we kept pulling each other along and encouraging each other to keep moving. Keep trusting in and waiting on God. Some days we drove each other crazy. Some days we made each other laugh. Some days we just sat in each other's arms and cried because there were no words. There was a lot more of that the last year. But there was always love. There was even a little sadness at the truth that there's no marriage in Heaven (I'll admit, it's hard not to be bummed out by that at the moment, though I am sure when I get there it will suddenly not matter anymore.) We have two beautiful children. Both were the best surprises we ever got. We didn't always agree on discipline or allowance or other trivial things, but we always agreed on pouring God's word into them and praying daily for their salvation. I believe he did that up to the day he died. I still do.

Though I know that while in all the little moments, I didn't fully appreciate them. But I wouldn't trade any of them. Even the sad ones. Even the angry ones. Even the hard, ugly ones. All of them drew us closer together and closer to Christ. The kids were teasing me tonight that my thank you at the end of the day has been Kevin's salvation at least five times. I told them that's because I'll never stop being thankful for that because it means he's spending eternity in Heaven with God and there's nothing better than that.

Lord, thank You for 15 years of moments with that amazing, wonderful, talented, godly man. Thank You for using the last year to prepare me for life without him by drawing me closer to You and building my trust in You through every hard moment. Keep drawing me to You. Keep lifting my head so that it's You I see. Call my children. Adopt them. Teach all of us to love you with all that we have and all that we are so we can declare You to all we meet.

April 21, 2016

Grief Brain

Yeah. I have that. Of course, I think the flow went something more like pregnancy brain to mom brain to grief brain. All are similar. All are annoying. I can't even tell you the number of times I have left my phone somewhere in the last month. And my keys. And my kids. OK, I haven't left my kids anywhere. Yet. But with my brain in this state, I wouldn't rule it out. Focusing on anything for more than 15 minutes or so is virtually impossible. It makes it really hard to have any kind of in-depth Bible study or deep prayer time. The smallest things send me into tears or a panic. I cried about carrying out trash the other night. Trash. Making even the smallest decision is extremely tiring and raises my blood pressure. Do you know how many decisions you have to make when you are a recently widowed single parent. My brain cannot handle it. I do not have the emotional bandwidth that comes with making decisions right now.

If I am being honest, there are times when I don't have the bandwidth for my children. I feel like such a bad mom. A failure. They talk to me and I don't hear a thing they say. Some days it takes everything in me to even want to be in the same room with them. Did I mention that I homeschool? And they are here all the time? Because I decided five years ago that this would be a good idea? Some days I just want to scream, "What was I thinking?!?!?!!?" I actually gave up on finishing any school other than history, science, Bible and math this year. (OK, Ethan didn't actually finish math, but he was really close. I at least intend for him to get the lessons finished randomly throughout the summer. Yeah, based on what I've written so far, the odds of that happening are slim to none. And slim is on a train on the way out of town. But it's the thought that counts, right? We should all be worried about my children's education.) Bedtime, while some days I love the coziness and routine of it, most of the time I just want to push them off to bed and walk away. Go hide in my room with the noise of the TV. I hate this. I so desperately pray that they don't feel that irritation, sense me pushing them away, or ever feel unwanted. I love them so much. I don't know where I would be without them right now. Most days they are the only reason I get out of bed or get dressed. Oh, Father, please let me move past this stage of grief quickly, for the sake of my children. Let summer be a sweet time of fun, relaxation, and bonding closer than I could ever imagine. Wrap them in Your love. Call their names. Draw them to You. Reach down with Your mighty right arm of salvation and seal their souls with Your Holy Spirit as You bring salvation to their souls. Oh, how I beg that my grief won't drive them away or harden their hearts. Protect them. Love on them. Teach them joy in the hard now that will carry on throughout all the hard they will experience during this life on this broken planet.

I have slowly been going through things in the house. If you know me, you know I am not super sentimental and I hate keeping things around I know we won't use/wear/listen to, etc. This process has been hard for me, not because I don't feel like I am attached to everything, but because I am afraid I'll get rid of something someone else may have wanted. I fear people will take my getting rid of things as unloving or that I am forgetting Kevin. I have his closet and dressers cleaned out. (I must admit, while I'd rather have him still with me, I am enjoying the extra space for my clothes and shoes. Shallow, I know.) I've been through the storage area and got rid of about 7 big trash bags full of stuff. (I am thankful for a local church that was doing a missions yard sale I could donate all of those bags to last weekend.) His tools are still all over the place. I don't even know where to start. His office. Oh.my.word.his.office. He had so much stuff! I mean, seriously, how did he even amass that much stuff? There's music stuff, computer stuff, camera stuff, and just stuff. Just walking in the door and looking at all I have to go through raises my blood pressure. I am so thankful that I have people who can come in and look at everything and help me decide what to sell, what to donate, and what to toss. Unfortunately, there's been a bit of a delay in setting up his estate, which means there's a delay in me being able to get rid of those things. I am hoping to be able to sort it as I move it to the storage area so we can turn his office into our school room. After 5 years of doing school at a card table or on the couch or at the dining room table or on my bed, we'll finally have a dedicated school room! All three of us find that exciting! I can't wait to pick out paint with the kids, get bookshelves moved, and set up a little reading nook. It will be a fun project we can do together and it will be fun to find ways to keep Kevin in the room with us.  (He has two office chairs that the kids cannot wait to use as school chairs and they are uber excited to be able to use his desktop as our school computer. I'll admit, I am pretty excited about that second one myself!)

One of my biggest stresses is desiring to be a good steward of all that such loving, caring people have given us in the past month. I have never been one who just tosses money around (who can actually do that kind of thing), but I find myself stressing over even the smallest of decisions. Go out to eat? Treat the kids to something special? Planners for school? Visit friends? Donate to those in need? Support missionaries? I want to be a good steward and honor the love and dedication and hard work of those who so generously and graciously gave to us. Father, give me wisdom. Don't allow me to fall into the trap of being stingy or withholding from others while in this strange transition phase. Teach me how to serve You well with all You have provided for us.

Another moment of honesty, I get tired of "counting fish" (keeping track of blessings. Check out this post from Ann Voskamp for the explanation: How to Live Through Anything: The Fish Principle) Sometimes I just want to wallow. I want to throw a pity party. I want things to not be hard. I don't want to find the beauty in the ugly. Can't I just have beauty without the ugly? Some days I really struggle to find something to be thankful for at the end of the day. But, oh, how I need to count those fish in order to keep moving. To see God's hand working. To keep putting one foot in front of the other. To see that He really does make the ugly beautiful. Oh, Father, open my eyes to see Your hand weaving this story together for our good and Your glory. Remind me that, while from my perspective things just look like a mess, You see the whole picture and the beautiful picture it makes.

April 13, 2016

Ways You Can Pray For Our Little Family

Lots of people over the last month have asked me how they can pray for us. I usually stumble through an answer and sometimes don't even give one. It's not because there isn't anything to pray for, just that I am not very quick on my feet (just ask anyone who has ever interviewed me for anything, I need the questions ahead of time so I have time to think about it and formulate my answer!) So, here are just a few ways you can be praying for our family:

-Ask God to reach down his mighty right arm that saves and bring salvation to the souls of my children, Sophie and Ethan. May He give them new hearts and make them new creations. Ask that He will teach them to love Him with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love others as they love themselves. Ask God to teach each of them to trust and obey Him in all things and to spend their lives to make Him known to others in any way possible. Pray that their decision for Christ would be real, deep, and not based on wanting to see their Daddy again.

-We are still grieving and will be for a long time. Every day is full of ups and downs. We had some good discussions today about life, death, and heaven. Pray that I will make the most of the teachable and tender moments that will come in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Pray that God would give me a sensitive spirit to know what they are truly asking and truly needing to hear. It's very easy for me to tune them out toward the end of the day because, well, I just can't handle any more words! Pray that the Lord would give me endurance for the entire day so I can answer all those questions.

-The Lord has provided abundantly for our family! I cannot even begin to tell you all the ways, means, and people He has used to pour His blessing on us. Homeschooling for the next year will be possible (my daughter was very worried about this!) He has provided enough money for us to live, but there won't be much left over for emergencies or savings. Please join me in praying that God would provide a way for me to provide an income for my family while still homeschooling my children (I have made the commitment that I will be obedient to homeschool until the Lord tells me otherwise and, so far, He has not.) I have no idea what this will look like; part-time, full-time, from home, outside the home, days, nights, childcare for my kids...lots of unknowns. He has provided enough that I don't have to rush into looking, but I can't go forever without having something, either. I am thankful that the Lord is giving me peace with this right now, but I haven't had a job since Ethan was born, so it means redoing my resume, interviews, and all those things I haven't done in a long time! I want to be wise in making this decision and a good steward of the provisions He's given us.

-Would you join me in praying that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to Him? I want Christ to have all the glory in my every word and every action.

-Kevin's birthday is April 28. I am still not 100% sure what we will do that day, but I want it to be a day of celebration and looking to Christ. I want it to be this way every year, but I have no idea how to accomplish that. I am asking for God to give me wisdom and direction on what tradition the three of us can do on his birthday each year. (And, if you know me, what I am really looking for is a way to honor his memory while giving to those in need in some area that would have meant a lot to him.)

-Pray that the Lord would teach all three of us how to live out Psalm 113:5-6: "But I will trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for He has been good to me."

-One of my deepest prayers is that the diseases of addiction and depression are over in our family. I pray earnestly that, like the Egyptians at the Red Sea, those diseases that we've seen so much of the last few years will never be seen again in our family. I pray that I will not see them again in my children or any other descendants, from generation to generation.

-At the beginning of the year I felt the Lord gave me Psalm 90:12-17 to pray over our family for 2016. I am still praying that over us: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain wisdom. Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on Your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May Your deeds be shown to Your servants, Your splendor to Your children. May the favor of the LORD our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us-yes, establish the work of our hands."

-Can I be really transparent here? Like, the ugly kind of honest you don't usually voice? There have been times that, in my hardest moments, I've feared whether or not Kevin was truly saved because of his struggle with addiction. It's a disease that is hard to put into words. It's a disease that is hard to grasp. It's a disease that is hard to reconcile with the Christian life. Or what I think the Christian life should look like. Several times I have just gotten on my face, ugly cried like my life depended on it, and screamed out to God for reassurance that Kevin was truly saved and is sitting in heaven right now. Friends, God has answered that prayer every time by sending me words from high school and college friends, directing me to little notes that Kevin wrote to me through the years, random notes I found in an old Bible cover I didn't even know existed, and many other small ways. Would you pray with me that I will not allow Satan's fiery dart of fear take over my thoughts where Kevin's salvation is concerned? Pray that I will not worry what others think of his salvation when I know that God has given me and answer and God's answer is the only one that matters. (I have a big fear of people thinking that his war with addiction means he wasn't saved and I just can't handle people thinking that of my beloved.) When I give in to these fears, it causes me fear for my salvation and doubt whether God will or wants to save my children. That is not how God wants me to live. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-discipline.

-Will you join me in praying that the Lord will give us joy in the hard? Joy in the ugly? Joy in the crazy journey that lies ahead of us? As a child of God, it is possible to be in the midst of confusion and a big, hot mess, and still be filled with joy. I want that for our family. I want others to look at us and not see Heather, Sophie, and Ethan, but to see a loving, merciful God who gave Himself up for us, regardless of where we are or where we come from. God is greater! I want our lives to declare that every day.

Thank you for all the prayers you've voiced on our behalf so far. God is answering them! Thank you in advance for the many more you will voice in the future!

April 12, 2016

When I am in the Storm...

I've recently been listening to Matt Redman's CD Unbroken Praise on repeat. The words to almost every song echo what is in my heart. It is comforting, joyous, and just full of worship.

One song in particular, Songs in the Night, has been a kind of anthem to me. The phrase I keep repeating over and over is "When I am in the storm, the storm is not in me. You will be my peace. I'll wait here." This line has been so true for me over the last month. It has gotten me through moments of doubt, fear, anger, confusion, and tears. If I ever appear calm or in control or like I am handling things well, it is because of the truth of this statement. I may be in a storm, but the storm is not in me because the Holy Spirit is. He gives peace when all seems to be falling apart around us. He gives peace when the storm rages on every side. He gives a peace that surpasses all understanding. I don't know how anyone gets through the death of a loved one without Christ as their peace. When you don't have that peace, the storm begins to brew inside of you and eventually takes over. When the Spirit is in you, it can rage wildly all around, but never gets to the heart. Oh, you'll cry, have pain, feel doubt, fear, and worry, but when you keep your eyes on your Maker, He will pull you through.

I find this hard sometimes, when thinking of Kevin. The Spirit was in him, but in those last moments, he looked at the storm, not the Maker, and that makes all the difference. Oh, but what joy and peace I have that, even in the moment he looked away, God's hand was still there, still reaching out, and still was mighty to save. Would I have preferred that He save Kevin and keep him here with us? Of course. But God's ways are not our ways. Kevin lived some very hard years addicted to a pain medication that would not let him go. He spent years battling depression that wanted to put an end to him. Neither of those diseases is a matter of self-control or simple bad choices. They are a reality we can see of a battle with an enemy we can't. From the moment you turn your life over to Christ, be ready for a battle. Satan wants what is God's and if he can't have it, he'll settle for destroying what is God's instead. That includes you. That included Kevin. He fought. Hard. With every weapon he knew to use. I don't know why God didn't choose to answer our desperate, daily pleas for complete healing of his brain and body while here on earth, but I know that He did give him complete healing of his brain and body the moment his life here ended. For that, I choose to be thankful. And I can only choose to be thankful because, though I am in the storm, the storm is not in me.

There have been many moments in the last few years that my eyes have been on the storm, not the Maker. Those moments are terrifying. In those moments I can't see how I can possibly keep going. It's just too hard. I've tried hard to be real, open, and genuine so you know that it's not all pretty Instagram moments and Pinterest perfect days. It's not! It never will be. But, placing your hope and trust in Christ will pull you through the harshest of storms. You may be battered and bruised, but you'll come out the other side shouting praises and resting in the peace of your Savior who walks with you every step of the way. That is the ugly beautiful of this Christ-filled life.

Are you worried? Look to Christ. Are you fearful? Look to Christ. Are you confused? Look to Christ. Take His hand. Trust His sovereignty. No matter how many steps you've taken away from Him, He will always be there to take you back. I love thinking of Him as the good shepherd, who leaves the other 99 of His flock to go find the one that got lost. Just because you are a believer and the Spirit lives in you doesn't mean you won't make mistakes or struggle or have storms in your life. It does mean, however, that He's always right there, ready to grab hold of you and carry you through the storm. Call out to Him. Take His hand. Allow Him to lead and guide you. Let Him fill you with His peace that passes all understanding. Then you, too will be able to sing, "When I am in the storm, the storm is not in me. You will be my peace. I'll wait here."

April 11, 2016

One Month

My Kevin has been worshiping his Savior for one month now. (Though I highly doubt he's counting or marking the passage of time. He's a little too busy!) It seems like just yesterday and ages ago all at once. Some days it's a bit surreal. I look at pictures of him from years past, where's he's so happy and strong, and it seems impossible that he is no longer here with us. Yet, at times, my heart is so joyous that his struggle and pain are over that there's no other place I would want him to be than right where he is, at the feet of his Savior (Aunt Linda says Uncle Dan is at his elbow!) Some days are hard. Some does are not as hard. Here are just a few random thoughts, funny and sappy, that I've had the last few weeks.

-Kevin must be the one that drank so much milk. Milk has lasted way longer the last four weeks than it ever has before in our house!

-Though I miss watching our favorite shows together, I am finding some freedom in being able to watch shows and movies that were just too girly for him!

-I am almost 40 and single again. It feels so weird. I don't really feel single. I don't want to be single. Yet, I am. Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of dating again (unless God intervenes), but it still feels weird to not be part of a whole. Kevin and I have been together since Valentine's Day 2001. 15 years! That makes me feel old!

-I am thankful that Ethan is so good at Legos and following the directions to put them together on his own. When he's gotten stuck once or twice I have tried to help, but I clearly do not have that engineering mind. The directions just look like random pictures and make me want to sit and cry. But, Ethan puts those things together so quickly! I am glad he is like his father in that!

-I really enjoyed being at the HLGU theatre this week. I LOVE THEATRE! I miss that camaraderie and joy and family feeling you get from spending every evening for months together rehearsing a show. I am so glad that Sophie got to get a small taste of that this year, too. She also enjoyed it. I may at least get one theatre kid! (Ethan will not be that child!)

-I've cleaned out Kevin's portion of the closet and his dresser. He had a lot of clothes. The closet is so empty now that it only has my clothes in it. And I still probably have way more than I need or wear. First world problems, for sure!

-We will have a school room, hopefully by this fall! If I can get everything cleaned out of Kevin's office by the fall (which will be no small task!) then we can rearrange, paint, and have it ready for school. I am very excited about this! The kids have become excited about this. We'll use a portion of the desk he built and his two office chairs to help keep a little Kevin in there and make it more fun for the kiddos. I've been waiting since Sophie was in kindergarten to have an actual school space. I would preferred to get that space and still have Kevin, but we're going to make the most of the situation at hand and enjoy what God has given us.

-Working to finish things up with Kevin's business is hard. I have no idea what I am doing! I am so thankful for my little sister who just jumped right in and handled things because I was too overwhelmed to even think about it. I still don't know how all of that will turn out, I just know that God has never failed us before and He won't start now.

-I have the best family and friends. Words cannot describe how they have loved and cared for us in the last month. I wish everyone could have this kind of support system around them. What a different place this world would be if that was the case!

-Music means even more to me than I thought it could. It calms my nerves, gives me strength, and reminds me of God's promises for my life.

-The ways that the Lord has provided for our family are amazing and numerous. He has provided money, giftcards, food, laundry, and so much more. He has made it possible for me to be able to have more time to find work that I can do from home so I can support my family and continue to home school my children. I have no idea yet what work will look like-part time, full-time, on the computer, or what, but the kids and I have had a lot of laughs over the crazy, random jobs they think I should do. The burden has been eased and God is taking care of things. Though I don't know the details, I know that even now He is working in ways I cannot even see to provide for us.

-There is a much greater urgency in my heart to beg God for the salvation of my children. I end every day with the plea that today is the day of salvation in our home. Would you join me in that plea? Would you join me in asking God to steal my children's hearts, make them new creations in Him, adopt them into His family, become Lord and Master of their lives, and teach them to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Oh, how I fear their decision will be based solely on wanting to see Daddy again, but I pray that it is a genuine, deep down, heart and soul decision for them.

-I am also looking forward to the day that the Lord shows us how He will use this suffering in each of our lives to shine His light and make a difference in this world. Will it be working with widows? Single moms? Children without fathers? Reaching out to addicts and their families? I really don't know, but when the time comes oh how I pray we will each be obedient to His call. May we love God and love others well!

April 09, 2016

We Made It!

This was a long, hard week. Both kids celebrated birthdays this week. We survived our first major event without Kevin. While neither day was without tears (mainly from me), we made it! We survived! We spent time with friends, ate cake, and shared some fun memories of Daddy.

Overall, it was a good week. On top of birthdays, Sophie and I also got to be part of Fiddler on the Roof at HLGU. Sophie did a small dancing part and I helped with a little make up. We both enjoyed it and had fun! I am thankful for friends who stepped in and helped with Ethan, making it possible for me to help. I am still getting used to this whole single parent thing, which means adjusting schedules and things I do because there isn't always someone to watch my kids or something for them to do. I want to scream, "I wasn't built for this!" But, deep in my heart, I know that isn't true. If I truly believe that every one of my days was written in God's book before one of them was lived (Psalm 139), then I also have to believe that I AM built for this because God knew, before I was formed in my mother's womb, that this day would come. I don't feel this, so I must constantly remind myself of it.

The grief has been really up and down this week. I was told this would happen so I was expecting it. I had my first counseling appointment this week (it went really well and I felt so much lighter after going.) I had visits from three college friends this week. That was also refreshing! One friend lost her father when she was a little younger than Ethan and had such good, sweet, wise words for me and for my kids to help us through the hard days ahead of us. She filled me with such hope and joy.

Running is one thing that has been so much harder without Kevin. I totally didn't appreciate his flexibility and ability to watch the kids at pretty much any time of any day. That made running with the girls so much easier. I've gone from running with them 3 times a week to barely being able to make once a week work. Today was one of those running days. And I am sore. Because I did nothing in between the times I ran with them. Please tell me that one day I will pull it together and be able to make a running schedule work and the grief will subside enough that I'll eventually have the energy to exercise alone on the days I can't run with the girls.

One thing I wasn't really ready for is all the selfish moments and thoughts that I have had. I struggle to want to do fun things with my kids. I am tired and I'd just rather nap. It try to meet in the middle and we watch movies together (if you can consider my napping while the movie is playing watching together.) I've thrown myself several pity parties thinking that I'll never again get Mother's Day presents, birthday presents, or Christmas presents. Really? Like any of that matters to begin with and like my kids can't take initiative and do those things for me. And even if they don't, it doesn't mean they love me less or value me less. I am just allowing Satan to use these little things to distract me from trusting God, spending time with Him, and seeing the amazing things the Lord has done and is doing for us. This life isn't about me. It's not even about my kids. It's about Him. Father, help me to remember and live that.

I am still missing my ability to focus for longer periods of time. My prayer time and Bible study are suffering because I just can't focus. I pray more at random times, but the prayers are short and don't feel deep like I had just a few months ago. I take comfort in the truth that even when we have no words, the Spirit intercedes for us. I need that so badly now! I am also thankful for the army of friends, family, and even strangers (thank you, Social Media) who are storming the gates of heaven on our behalf every day. I truly can feel the prayers and they are keeping us going.

If I am being honest. there are days that there's no way I would ever get out of bed if I didn't have children I needed to care for each day. I am tired. Life is hard. I don't enjoy getting used to life without the man who has been my other half for the last 15 years. Sleep just sounds better. Oh, but the love and grace of God placed these two beautiful children in my life. They light up my days. They make me laugh. They comfort me. They keep me going when I just want to give up. I have tears in my eyes just typing the words. I am so thankful for these two precious kiddos (even though I am scared to death that I am now their sole discipler, teacher, example, and {earthly}provider.) Oh, Father, teach me to love You with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and strength so that my children see You in all I do. Lord, save them! Adopt them! Let today be the day of salvation in our home!

Lord, I know there is a long road ahead. That road will be full of hard, happy, sad, scary, joyous, and awkward moments. Teach me to see Your hand in each moment, regardless of the feelings that will well up in me. Teach my body to sleep regularly, peacefully, and restfully. Teach me to start each day in You and to trust in You each moment of the day. Father, teach me how to live in such a way that no part of my life is wasted. Remove my selfishness far from me so my life can be poured out for others in order for Your name to be known. Speak to me and speak through me!

April 06, 2016

Hands

Hands were nearly my undoing this week. I've had the joy and privilege to help out at Hannibal-LaGrange University and do make up for their production of Fiddler on the Roof. I love theatre and I love helping in any way I can. I look forward to every time I get to help there at the University.

I knew this time would be a little different. Tomorrow will be four weeks since Kevin passed away, so emotions and blood pressure and anxiety are high. I am always emotional when I'm in a theatre, it's just my home and I love it (and wish I was better at every aspect of it!) But, I knew there would be added emotions. I did my best to prepare for it and tell myself that tears are OK, even if all the college kids think I am a crazy old lady.

I actually did really well. It was fun chatting with all the students (I only know a few of them, so I met a lot of new students.) And then I started doing old age make up on one of the students. And I had to age his hands. I reached out and took his hands to make them look old and I was transported back to the morning Kevin died.

I was holding his hand when they turned off all the machines and pronounced him dead. That was the last time I held his hand. I so enjoyed holding his hand. He hated his hands. He felt they look old. Older than his 33 years. He'd had to take medicine when he was younger and he wasn't supposed to let his hands be exposed to sun. Unfortunately he wasn't fully aware of that and his hands were exposed to some sun. As a result, his hands did look older and more worn than his years should require.

But, I loved his hands. Those hands played some of the most beautiful music my ears have ever heard. Worship music. Fun music. Silly music. Loud music. Quiet music. Beautiful melodies and solos. His hands flew across any guitar he picked up and transformed it into something glorious. If there are guitars in heaven, I can't wait to hear the music he's playing for his Savior.

Those hands worked hard. Kevin never wanted to be handed anything. He wanted to earn it. Many times he earned it by working hard with those hands he felt so ashamed of every time he looked at them. Those hands held hammers, drills, saws, carried ladders, installed cameras. Those hands worked hard to provide food and shelter for our family. I loved those hands.

Those hands loved this family. He lovingly held our children, played with my hair, stroked my face, and loving put his children to bed. Those hands wiped many tears from my face over the last 15 years. They changed diapers, brushed hair, and held sick children. I loved those hands.

Lord, thank You for memories, even when they're hard. They are reminders that You love us and lavish us with good things. Thank you for Kevin's hands. Hands that so lovingly cared for us and everyone he met. Thank You that he used his hands to serve you and draw many to you. Thank you for the sweet reminder of those hands this week while doing something I love so much. Father, teach the kids and I to use our hands for Your glory. At all times. In all things.

April 03, 2016

Thank You Just Doesn't Seem Like Enough

You.All. This tribe called Calvary Baptist Church is just too much. Too.Much! Not only have they given food, money, hugs, screen doors, and more prayers than I could every possibly count, they knocked it out of the park this weekend fixing up our home. My kitchen and basement are amazing. I can actually see in the bathroom. The new paint is perfect! It's all just too.much. I have no idea how in the world to thank everyone. To be honest, I don't even know who or how many people were involved, so I don't know who to even thank!

My dear Calvary family: thank you for loving God and loving people. Thank you for doing both well! Your words and your deeds speak volumes to me about how deeply you love our Savior and our family. I am blown away by how well you are taking care of our every need. I am so sorry that over the last year or so you've had to learn how to grieve well with others, but I am thankful you were such fast and diligent learners. What you did in my home this weekend is just beyond words! I seriously felt like I was on an episode of Fixer Upper! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I forgot to take before pictures and, sadly, many of you probably didn't see it in person (hospitality is NOT my gift. In fact, the thought of having people in my home almost makes me break out in hives. God has really stretched me in the last three weeks!) so you won't know the true amazing work that these men and women did, but I do want you to see the end result of their hard work. It's beautiful! And it just might make me like hospitality!

Enjoy these beautiful pictures and join me in thanking all those who were here and made this possible!

This might just be my favorite thing! This is my eucharisteo (giving thanks with JOY) wall where we'll be able to count all the grace upon grace God lavishes on us!

Three of the four dining room walls used to be green. I love the new color!

New bathroom vent, new color on the wall, new ceiling, and they super cleaned the tub.

Is this not totally beautiful? Kevin bought this tile 3 or 4 years ago to put in the kitchen, but he never got around to it. They put it in this weekend. I LOVE IT!

They even put a fresh coat of paint on the kitchen cabinets. This tribe is just too much!

That flooring. I just...I can't even!

Is this not just gorgeous?!?!?! (That video chair was Kevin's from high school. The kids love it! I can't even believe it's still in one piece.)

Sophie is pretty excited to have a spot to dance! I am thankful for a spot to exercise when I can't run with the girls. And that bookshelf. Kevin built that for me to hold our school stuff.

I love that I have a new shower curtain! Ethan helped me pick it out, so we got the feminine design with a strong, manly color.

So, Kevin used to have his hair gel sitting next to the faucet at the sink. Everyone always used it thinking it was hand soap. No one will make that mistake anymore!


Father, thank You for the blessing of this amazing church family. We have done nothing to deserve the love that they have lavished on us, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Bless their obedience. Bless their sacrifice. Teach us to use this space they have so lovingly provided for us to honor and glorify You at all times. Lord, use the way our church loves You and loves people to change this community in Your name.

April 02, 2016

My Love

My Kevin,
Though I know there is no better place for you to be than with your Savior, I have to be honest and say that it's hard for me not to want you back here by my side. My life would be easier. Sweeter. Filled. But, I know deep in my heart that wishing you back here is selfish and unloving because there's no better or sweeter place for any believer than at the feet of Jesus, worshiping for eternity.

But, there are so many things I've wanted to share with you over the last three weeks (funny Ethan stories, how little we've done school, Suits will be back on this summer, West Wing quotes, and, of course, I dropped and smashed my phone screen today.) I've reached for my phone to text you more times than I can count. I've called Ethan Kevin almost every time I've tried to say his name. Oh, Kevin, if you could see how this amazing church family is loving on us and taking care of us, you would be so proud. I know that the paranoia of addiction made you feel like an outcast. Like your church family disowned you and wanted nothing to do with you. But what I knew has been proven in the last three weeks. Oh, my sweet Kevin, how they loved you and wanted only the best for you. They loved your servant's heart. They loved to hear your beautiful worship on the guitar. They loved your smile. Your heart. Your laughter. They loved YOU. I wish you could have seen that, as I did, these last three years. I will always hate addiction for stealing that truth from you.

I wish you could see how respected and loved you were by your high school and college friends, too. So many times just in the month before you passed away, you talked about how insignificant you were. How little you impacted people. How little those around you felt about you, for as long as you can remember. My love, that is simply not true. The cards, notes, and FaceBook messages I have received in the last three weeks scream of people who were deeply and forever changed because of your life lived for your Savior.

Oh, my Kevin, I wish you could see how people, some we don't even know, have stepped up to love us well. They have cooked meals, washed laundry, loved on our kids, encouraged with scripture,given financial gifts, and so much more. Kevin, an entire army of women put together the perfect party for sweet Sophie's 10th birthday. All I did was show up. They just did it! Kevin, there is a whole team of men and women at our home right now painting, laying flooring, fixing trim, redoing ceilings, and I don't even know what else. There are just no words to truly say thank you for the love that has been poured over us. All I can do is sit and cry (which isn't all that new) and be thankful that the Spirit can speak praise to God on my behalf because the words just won't come! We are surrounded by people who love God and love others. Who love us and loved you, baby. I know you had a hard time seeing it and feeling it these last few years, but they did. They loved you and they miss you! We all miss you. But, oh, how grateful we are for your salvation and your eternal destination (and I say that so much because sometimes, I just need the reminder!)

May your love for Christ continue to influence our children and be a beautiful part of their salvation story. May the Lord take our broken hearts and broken lives and make something beautiful and God-honoring for generations to come. "So let my deeds outrun my words, and let my life outweigh my songs. Unbroken praise be Yours." (Lyrics from Matt Redman's Unbroken Praise.)