July 16, 2016

Things Just Got A Little More Real

My Love,
Today, it got much more real that you are gone. Really gone. Today we turned your office into our school room. When we moved into this house back in 2007 there was really nothing in the basement except bad carpet. You looked at it an knew right away that we could have a storage/laundry area, a living room, and the office you needed for the business you were about to start. Though you had never done anything like this before, you got your idea on paper and you got to work. We had some help from friends and family, but for the most part, you just did it. All of it. Dry wall, mudding (that's where the help from friends and family really came in handy), electrical, tile, everything. When it came time to do the carpet you knew your limit and hired a member of the church family who was about to head out to the mission field halfway around the world. You dreamed up and designed your office and you put it together on your own. At least, I don't really remember anyone helping. (Forgive me if I am forgetting someone. It was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then.)

As I began dismantling all that you had put together I was overwhelmed by so many things. First of all, I have no idea how in the world you put this monster together on your own. It was a beast to take apart. All at once I was marveling at and cursing you for building things so well. Your attention to detail was amazing and your determination to make exactly what you wanted work is unmatched. (And made my task that much harder.) That was one sturdy desk! By the time I got to the last piece I had to have the kids help me!

I was also overwhelmed by how much I've changed since you passed away. I'm not sure you'd even recognize me. (Not sure whether that's good or bad!) I remember one of the first things the counselor at Valley Hope said to us was that, with addiction, there's no such thing as "you're back!" You are never the same again. The "you" you were before addiction is forever changed. There are bits and pieces of that person that will still be there, but as a whole, that person no longer exists. I am here to tell you that's not just true for addiction. It's true for grief, too. (Well, really, it's just true for life.) The "me" before March 10, 2016 is forever changed. This part of my life will always be "after Kevin." I cry more, I feel more, I ask for help more. I am stronger (physically and mentally) than I ever dreamed possible. Did you ever, in your wildest imagination, think that I would just go grab a drill and dismantle that monster of a desk? Never would that have happened before March 10. I wouldn't have called a company to schedule them to come do something for the house. I wouldn't have called and fought with health insurance. I wouldn't have accepted meals or clean laundry or new floors. It would have never felt so good to put so much sweat into a new room. I never would have prayed so fervently or with such a sense of urgency for the salvation of our children. God is doing a work. I am not sure what that work is, yet, but I can't help but smile at the thought He may have already given you a glimpse.

I had to give a little chuckle at the fact that it was a school room we were making! Never, in a million years, did either one of us think we would even need a school room. Homeschooling was not something either of us planned or hoped to do. We were a little blindsided when we felt God telling us that's what He wanted us to do for our children. If we'd had the space, you would have made me a room when we started homeschooling back when Sophie started Kindergarten. If I had an option, I'd give up the school room in a heartbeat to have you back instead. All three of us would. But, that's not the life we've been given, so I'll just thank you for providing us a room and a blank canvas to make it our own, even though that wasn't your intent for making this room all those years ago.

I was overwhelmed by how much wood was in that room! It filled the living room once I got it all out. But now, I am so thankful you had all of that. All but a little over 20 small pieces of wood that we used in the school room were some part of that monster of a desk. I love that! I love that your hard work is still all over that room. We'll see it and know it every time we enter. The kids love it, too! They feel so big knowing they are sitting at daddy's desk in daddy's comfy office chairs. (Thanks for not getting rid of the old one when you got the new one, by the way! For once, your refusal to get rid of things worked in my favor!) The most expensive thing we bought was the paint. You always looked out for us, and this time you didn't even know you were!

I was overwhelmed with gratitude that you insisted we be debt free (well, all but the house.) Honestly, that is the only reason we can even homeschool now. You worked hard to pay off my student loans, pay off the credit card, and pay off my car. You worked hard in your business to afford paying cash for your truck and you worked even harder to be able to pay cash for our van. You never bought a piece of music equipment without selling something else to pay for it. Again, you had no idea how well you were taking care of us for the future by doing that at the time, but we are reaping the benefits today. Without that, we wouldn't even need this room. I know I never thanked you for that when I could, but I truly am so thankful for your intentional, hard work in this area.

I was overwhelmed at the finality of it all. No more office. No.more.office. I honestly couldn't even picture it. I wasn't sure the day would come. And at the end, I couldn't really even make decisions anymore. (Huge thanks to my family for just doing it and making it work. Which, in and of itself, was a beautiful tribute to you because you would have done the exact same thing!) Erasing your handwriting from your white board was nearly my undoing. But I knew it had to be done. We love you so much. We miss you more than our mere words could ever express. I want to stop time and reverse it and go back to hold your hand one more time. Give you one more kiss. Sleep in with you one more morning. Have just one more conversation. Watch one more episode of The West Wing. But I can't. And I can't live in that. I can't let the kids live in that. Sure, those moments will come and, like John Piper says, we'll "Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have." I admit, I took a few moments before I started taking apart the desk and sat in your chair at the desk one last time. I leaned over it, just the way you were when I found you that terrible, ugly beautiful morning (ugly for me, beautiful for you) and just cried. I cried for all the firsts you've already missed and will miss. Cried for all the times our kids will feel alone and left out because they are the only ones without a dad. Cried for all the anniversaries we won't get to celebrate. Cried for all the birthdays, recitals, graduations, weddings, grandchildren, and so much more we won't be experiencing together. I cried for the years when the kids are out of the house that I'll spend without you by my side. I cried for the family mission trips we so longed for that will now have one less person. I cried and cried. Then I washed my face (OK, not literally, I would have had to walk upstairs to do that and you and I both know I am just too lazy for that when there is work to do in the basement), laid it all at God's feet knowing I could trust the outcome to Him (after all, He saw all of my days before even one of them was lived), and got to work embracing the life I have. And being grateful for it. How many people have family who would give up their whole weekend to redo one little school room? Even after their truck broke down on the way here. And they were up at 1:30 that morning taking their child to the airport to leave the country for the first time. And when they couldn't come themselves, still sent their husband even though it meant being at home with a very sick child all alone. My.family.rocks. They just do. I wish everyone could have them. Except I don't want to share them. I am (hashtag)blessed. And I mean that. There are too many fish to count. My net is bursting wide open!

So, my love, here we go. The next chapter truly will be starting when we have that first day of school (which will be much later than usual because I have done not.one.thing to be ready for the school year. I know, you're shocked. I am the queen of being ready too soon and being overly prepared. We'll just consider it an homage to you!) I am not sure I am 100% ready, but then again, I am not sure I ever really will be so, here I go. We're jumping off the cliff. I wish we were holding hands and jumping together, but I know that God's got my hand and, as much as I love you, His hand is better. Stronger. Wiser. Perfect. With God, all things are possible. Even continuing to move and breathe and live life when it feels like half of me has been ripped away. Even finding His beautiful gifts in the midst of the messy and ugly and chaotic of this broken world. Even taking apart a monster desk that weighs more than our children. 

Lord, give me the strength to keep my eyes on You. Give me the courage to keep moving toward You when life gets to be too much; when I want to give up and let go. Use every moment of each day to reveal more of Yourself to me and to my children. Call Sophie. Call Ethan. Adopt them. Give them new hearts and make them new creations. Fill them with Your Holy Spirit that they may spend their lives pouring themselves out in Your name. Give them a hunger and thirst for your word, for prayer, and for true righteousness. Oh, Father, use all three of us for Your glory! Use this school room to draw all three of us closer to You and to enable us to have the skills needed to share You with those near us and those around the world. Lord, we have but one life here on this earth. Teach us how to make it count.

July 09, 2016

A Summer of Firsts

July 10 marks four months since Kevin breathed his last here on this old, broken Earth. In some ways, I can't believe the time has gone so quickly. In other ways, it feels like the days are just dragging by as slowly as possible. I miss him so much, every day. Mornings and nights are the hardest because there just isn't anything else with which to occupy my mind. We always ended our nights watching TV together. I love watching "our shows" (The West Wing, Sherlock, Studio Sixty, Sports Night, The Office, etc) and remembering all the things that he would laugh at and all the times he laughed at me for getting so involved in the lives of fake people. I watch something new and can decide in about 5 minutes whether it's something he would like or not. There are one or two shows that we hadn't finished watching and, so far, I haven't been able to bring myself to finish those without him. I don't even have the desire to watch them again, yet. Maybe some day.

Through Instagram and Facebook I've been marking this year of firsts without this amazing man in our lives. We've had some really high highs and some really low lows, BUT GOD is with us and for us and getting us through each day. Even the ones filled with tears.

This is our first summer without Kevin and it's been our craziest summer in a long time! Here are just a few of the firsts we've celebrated this summer:

Our first vacation:
This vacation was taken in three phases. First, we headed to AR to see some precious friends. Then, on to VA to visit Kevin's family. Last, we went to IL for the 12th Annual Hazelwood Family July 4th Campout.

Our most exciting phase was the trip to VA. This was our first ever trip to this state. (Kevin had been before but the kids and I hadn't.) It's beautiful and full of history. We drove about 3 hours for our first trip to Washington, D.C. Kevin had been there on a business trip back in November so we did our best to recreate the photos he took then. That was sentimental to me, but fun for the kids. I couldn't pick a favorite, but both kids chose the Lincoln Memorial as they're favorite part of that trip. (It may have had something to do with the fact that the edge of the steps was like a slide. Every kid chose to come down that "slide" rather than walk down the steps.) I can't wait until they are a little older and we can go back to stay a little longer. I'd love to do more museums, see the other side of the White House, visit Arlington, and so much more!

We also got to head to the ocean! Sophie saw the ocean at 13 months but this was Ethan's first time. Without hesitation, E tells everyone this was his favorite part of the trip. It was mine, too! We had such a blast. We could have stayed there for days. It was a really windy day so there were lots of waves, lots of giggling, and lots of fun! I sure hope I get to take them back again one day. I find water to be one of the most amazing creations. Water is powerful and can do such good or such harm. It amazes me.

We also visited Historic Jamestowne while we were there. It was pretty amazing to walk in the actual steps, on the actual ground, where the first European settlers walked. It was very humbling to look over the history and see how selfish and hateful so many of them were. It was comforting to see that many, however, really just wanted a new life, a new adventure, and were willing to work hard to get it. We were able to see lots of artifacts they had recovered and were even able to watch a group of archaeologists working to find more.

There were lots of other things in between there in VA, but I won't bore you with all those details. The last phase was the most relaxing. We have come to love and look so forward to our family camp out each year. (Don't be fooled, I don't sleep in a tent unless there is absolutely no other option. I share my parent's camper.) Unlike the last few years, the temps were low and we were actually wearing long sleeves and sweatshirts most of the time. The kids had a blast just fishing and playing and using their imaginations. The adults had fun just having conversation with other adults!

We actually ended that portion of vacation with my sister and her family here in Hannibal. We toured the Mark Twain Cave, visited the Hannibal History Museum, and ate lunch at the Mark Twain Dinette. So fun! It was the kid's first time to go through the cave.

Here are some pics from vacation:

Our first anniversary without Kevin:
June 14 would have been our 13th anniversary. The day started and ended with tears, but thanks to some amazing friends, there was a lot of love and laughter in between. The day even included and awkward meal at a Japanese steakhouse with the most awkward chef I've ever seen. We'll be laughing about that for years to come! I also bought a dress that day in Kevin's honor. He loved me in yellow and I found a yellow dress he would have loved. I admit, I cried in the dressing room when I put it on and it fit.

Our first Father's Day with no daddy:
Honestly, this was absolutely the hardest day so far this summer. The hard started the night before as I just about had a panic attack even thinking about the day. We had prepared ahead of time with notes and gift cards to hand out because E had asked if we could celebrate Father's Day the same way we celebrated his birthday. Somehow, Kevin's birthday was not as hard as Father's Day. His birthday felt like a day of joy and love and blessings and Father's Day just felt hard and ugly and empty. I think that is mostly due to the fact that, though others have birthdays the same day as Kevin's, it was mostly a day that just we were celebrating. Father's Day is a day that everyone celebrates so it felt more empty and we really felt different for the first time since he passed away. I tried really hard not to let the kids or the rest of the family see how hard it was so I didn't take away from the day for them, so I waited until bed time and just laid there and cried. Crying felt really good that night. I know those kinds of days and feelings will come more and more as the kids get older and realize there's no dad for camp out and dances and fishing trips and daddy/daughter dates. I am praying the Lord holds all of our hands through those days!

Smaller firsts:
We also flew without Kevin for the first time. It went really well. I only had to have one awkward conversation on the plane, so that was a sweet little gift from God! I hate talking to strangers! I bought a grill on my own for the first time (though my dad did help me choose the kind of the grill that would work for me) and even made my first meal on it. Huge thanks to my brother-in-law for putting it together for me and to a dear friend's husband for bringing propane. We are very spoiled! It was the first time returning home from a long trip knowing that Kevin wasn't there waiting for us. That made it a little less exciting to come home, if I am being honest! God was with us the whole time and continued to provide all we needed, in ways we never expected. He has comforted me with His word, provided financially, given me just the texts I needed when I needed them. and never went anywhere even when I cried and threw tantrums and expressed my confusion, fear, and anger. He is so good!

We still have a little more traveling to do before the summer is over and I am sure there will be a few more firsts before school starts this fall. Some days are just overwhelming and I don't want to get out of bed. Some days my heart is so much lighter and I get a lot accomplished. My parenting is super sporadic, but when I'm the fun mom I'm way more fun than I ever have been before and, sadly, when I am the bummer mom I am even more grumpy than usual. I try to be honest with the kids in those low times and let them know I am just missing daddy and things are hard without him. A few times we've all expressed that at the same time. I know more of those kinds of times are coming, too.

Lord, teach me to grieve well. To grieve honestly. Lord, don't let my grieving keep me from seeing the needs around me, especially the needs of my children, my church family, and my community. Father, open the eyes and hearts of my children to see their need for You. Let today be the day of salvation for them. Make them new creations with new hearts that have a hunger and thirst for You, Your word, and serving those You've created without reserve. Teach me how to be the example of all that to them. Lord, move. Move us past the grief. Move us past our selfishness. Move us past our fear. Move us past our hurt. Move us past our confusion. Move us closer to You.