October 29, 2016

As I Take My First Steps Into My 39th Year on This Whirling, Twirling Planet...

Today is my birthday. I have lived 38 years. 38 happy, wonderful, scary, sad, hard, emotional, short, long years. Tomorrow starts year 39. I am not as afraid of it as I thought I would be. I am not celebrating it with who I thought I would be. Year 38 has been one of the longest, yet shortest years, so far. The hardest, but yet sprinkled with lots of good, holy hard. Nothing I ever asked for or imagined, yet full of some of my greatest spiritual, eternal growth. And isn't that really what this Christian, Christ-following, sanctifying life is really all about?

Death will do that to you. It will show you what matters and what doesn't. What is worth your time and what isn't. What is eternal and what will fade away like the melting snow. It sharpens your vision and, eventually, your focus (I am still waiting for that last part!) I never dreamed my Kevin would not be beside me for a birthday. Especially this one. And the next one. And the next one. I was looking forward to seeing what he would inevitably do to surprise me when I hit 40 (and how he'd rub it in that I got there four years before him.) We won't celebrate together today (though he's certainly celebrating, but it has nothing to do with my birthday. Jesus trumps that in every way!) There are no grand, selfless plans of providing water or Bibles or shoes or handing out gift cards with my birthday this year. I admit, I am being totally selfish. I whisked the kids away and we're having some fun, just the three of us, and it's just how I want it today.

What I want has changed so much in year 38. Making people think our lives are perfect and wonderful is a ludicrous thought now. I can't believe I ever thought that was important. Showing only the best moments and leaving out all the real ones is just ridiculous to me on this side of addiction and death. Being real, raw, and honest is the only way to truly live. The only way to truly be able to draw close to my Savior and let Him bring the healing, rest, joy, and peace that I need to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other each day.

Are the days hard? Yes. Is this life impossible without Kevin by my side? No. Why? Because the Lord hems me in, before and behind. The Lord of Hosts has an angel army surrounding me that is far greater than anything satan throws my way. The Lord has seen all my days before even one of them was lived. The Lord is my Rock and my Salvation.

So, as I take my first steps into year 39 on this whirling, twirling planet, I have a theme song. A song to sing over every one of these coming days. I first heard this song toward the end of last year, and liked it, but didn't think much of it. Today, every word is just for me. Every word is what I am begging God to help me live out over the next 365 days as I inch another year closer to 40. Another year closer to seeing Kevin again. Another year closer to meeting my Savior face to face. Oh, how I want to serve Him well with the time I have left on this earth. Some days I just don't understand why we can't just go to heaven as soon as we're saved and skip all this hard, painful, earthly living. Some days I know that without this hard, painful, earthly living there's no way I'd love my Savior or see the deep love in what He's done for me.

This year, I'm not looking back to who I was because I'm gonna be someone I've never been.
Amen! I barely even recognize the woman I was a year ago. And in this new year, I am going to be someone I've never been or even dreamed I would or could be. (Though, isn't this really true of all of us, each year? We're never exactly the same year to year. Only God never changes.) This will be my first full year as widow and single mom. Two titles I don't want, yet have no choice but to accept. I pray God will enable me to be braver than I ever thought possible. Closer to my Father than I've been in the previous 38 years combined. I stand here and wave goodbye to the people pleasing, whiny, fearful, selfish me that was weak and had a shallow faith. I look ahead and set my eyes on things above, on the One above, and press on toward the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenward. The woman I was before was loving and sweet and kind, but I can be so much more. I must be so much more. 40, I am coming at you with joy and hope and peace and rest. Fear can take a hike.

This year, I'm not focused on the cracks in the walls, not keeping track of all the times I fall. This year.
Oh, this is so hard, isn't it? I am going to look at the cracks, own up to my failures, then leave them behind. Learn from them, yes. Wallow in them? No. Let them keep me from serving Christ with all I have? No. Let them keep me from pouring myself out so my kids see Christ in my life and in every lesson we study? No. Let them keep me from having real, honest, raw, deep relationships with those the Lord has placed around me? No. Let them keep me from opening up my home? No. (Honestly, that last one will be the hardest!) I am one who compares and allows my false perceptions and unrealistic expectations keep me from doing the better things. Oh, Father, help me to not do that this year!

So long to last year! It's all becoming so clear, there's no use living in regret.
I have so many regrets as I look at this past year. So many things I wish I had said or done differently. If I had done those things, would Kevin still be here? If I hadn't done some things, would Kevin still be here? I have allowed those thoughts and questions to haunt me for almost 8 months. But you know what, dwelling on that regret does nothing good for me. I cannot change the past, no matter how much I wish I could, and there is a whole life in front of me that needs to be lived. I cannot live that life, here and now, if I spend my time living in regret. Father, help me to look back, learn what I need to be able to serve You better in the future, then face forward and get moving. 

Let's fight a good fight, train our eyes to find the light, and make this year the best one, yet.
Glory hallelujah! And friends, there's only one good fight; the good fight for faith. Lord, help me to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Help me to take hold of the eternal life that I was called to when I made my confession of belief in You. Lord, train my eyes to see the light You bring into even the darkest of days. You are light. Let me see Your light shining on the good days, the hard days, and every day in between. Train my eyes to see You in every situation. There is nowhere I can go from Your presence, so, Lord, open my eyes to see that. When I do, I know it will be the best day, week, month, year, yet. 

This year, I can't wait to see what good will come.
I just almost can't even come up with words to express how much this line makes me want to laugh and shout and dance and whither into a pile of tears all.at.once. It makes me want to give a long, loud, whole body sigh just to think about it. I am weary of the hard. The sad. The suffering. The lonely. The scary. The unknown. The everything but good. Oh, Lord, make this line so! But, even as I say that, I am reminded that Scripture has already promised me that in all things the Lord is working for the good of those who love Him. So, even in the hard and sad and lonely and scary and unknown and the everything that doesn't feel good, He is making good. Lord, give me eyes to see Your good, even when my heart and mind don't want to or can't see or feel it. 

To feel alive instead of feeling numb. This year.
Yes. Yes. A million times yes!!!!! Grief sucks. I feel lost and tired and blah. Compassion has long since jumped ship. Mercy is non-existent at this point. There is certainly little to no filter between my brain and my mouth because I just.can't.even. I know it's hard to explain, but even when I feel overwhelmed with every emotion all at once, it still feels numb. Because I don't feel like me. I am so ready to shake that off and come out the other side overflowing with love and passion and compassion. Oh, Father, make it so! Give me a heart like Yours. Give me a love like Yours. Give me a passion for the things of You and break my heart for the things that break Your heart. Show me how to serve You well by moving beyond grief and into worship and adoration and action.

This year, I plan on thinking less of "I" and "me". I resolve to think of "us" and "we." This year.
I don't know how JJ Heller penned a song that was so perfect for me, but these lines are a perfectly accurate description of both the last year of my life and how I desperately want the next year of my life to look. Grief is selfish. Grief has robbed my ability to think beyond my four walls. Beyond my own little family. I can't even get my thank you cards delivered. And they've been written for almost 8 months! Lord, help my mind to shift from "me" to "us." Help me to think of others as though they are part of my family, living within my four walls. Enable me to stop seeing us as a family of three and to see the whole body as a family to love and pour into each day. I know that I can't have deep relationships with everyone and I don't want to do that, but we're a family and we must love and care for each other. We must love and care for our community and those people who are in front of us each day. Oh, Father, I honestly hate this part. If I could, I would never leave my house. You know that. This part is going to take some serious, Divine intervention. But, praise the Lord (well, praise You, I guess), I have a God that is more than able to change my heart and make me capable of doing this as He goes along beside me. I have no idea what this looks like, and it makes me really nervous, but Father, teach me to see others as You see them. Teach me to love You and love people as Your hands and feet.

Year 39, I am looking you right in the face, taking the hand God is holding out to me, and here we go! I have no idea what you hold, but I know that the Lord will somehow make it all for my good and His glory. 

PS--You will want to hear This Year by JJ Heller and I think you'll love the video as much as I do. It's fun and joyful and just how I want my new year to sound and feel! And the hats, oh the hats!  ;)

October 19, 2016

Some Days...

Some days are just harder than others, aren't they? And it's not just grief. It's life. Some days it just feels like you have to work for everything; the joy, the laughter, the getting out of bed to start the day. Grief just seems to magnify this and make it happen more frequently.

Today is one of those days. It is 8:23 a.m. and I am still sitting here in my bed, in my pajamas and I have made no attempt to get my kids out of bed. All three of us had late nights last night, so I am tired. I know being tired makes me more likely to give in to the depression and fear and confusion and loneliness and emotions and grief. I know it's not good to be tired. But, some days, I just can't help it. And today is that day. I am struggling to get moving. To get motivated. To want to do anything.

And Wednesday is not best day for me to feel this way. It's a long, crazy, busy, wonderful day. We need to get school done. We get to serve some precious kiddos in our Afterschool Adventures program. We get to have dinner with our church family, followed by lots of hands-on fun at Family Quest. Then I have the joy and fun of rehearsing with the church drama team, followed by praise team rehearsal. Wednesday is seriously one of my favorite days of the week, so I hate feeling this way on this day.

Today, I miss Kevin. I miss his laugh and his mischievous grin. I miss his ingenuity and hard working mind set. I miss being married to him and being part of a whole. I miss fighting beside him and for him and with him. I miss praying with him and for him. One of the hardest and weirdest things since his death is realizing there is no longer a need to pray for my husband. So many of my hours the last 15 years have been spent praying for him and it's weird not to pray for him now. I mean, I offer prayers of thanksgiving for him, of course, but he no longer has needs or health problems or any of those other things I have lifted to the Lord for so long.

Today I will not let satan get the victory in this. Today, I choose to pray for the marriages of those I know and love. May the Lord fill their marriages with love and peace and a desire for their marriages to point others to Christ. May their marriages be full of peaceful and respectful words and the wisdom to know when to speak those words. May their hearts be ones of prayer for their spouses and of servanthood toward them. Oh, Father, do a mighty work in Christian marriages around the world, so that they truly reflect the heart and love of Christ to a lost and broken world. Thank You for the gift of marriage. Let those who love you do marriage well, even in the hard and chaotic and messy of this fallen world. Let these marriages be light in the darkness that point others to You and You alone.

I'll be honest, today will probably be a day of wearing pajamas, coloring, working on Family Quest workbooks, and snuggling together while we tell stories of Kevin. Very little school will probably be done because my heart just isn't on school today. And that's OK. Some days are like that. I am thankful that not every day is like that. But it's OK if some days are. They have worked hard the last few weeks and, honestly, it will all get done before the end of the year, so there's no need to worry. (And I am not saying that for your benefit, but to remind myself!) Ethan just came in and cuddled up beside me and the day already feels brighter! Yes, I think this just might be what we need today!

Lord, fill this house with Your Spirit today. Teach us to lean in and trust in You. Let today be the day of salvation for Ethan. Give him a new heart and fill and seal him with Your Holy Spirit. Lord, let the fruit of the Spirit overflow from all of us today so that others will see and know You. Lord, lead. Guide. Comfort. Energize. Give rest. Give hope. Give joy. Give peace. Only You can!

October 15, 2016

When My Heart is Overwhelmed, Lead Me to the Rock That is Higher Than I

Tonight I am feeling overwhelmed by small things that should be simple and not cause me to even have a second thought. Thank you, grief. It's so annoying and makes me feel a little looney.

I feel overwhelmed because Ethan's night light burnt out and we're out of light bulbs. The thought of getting new ones and replacing it has me sitting here wanting to cry. We need one more chair in the school room, but the thought of having to assemble one is more than my brain and emotions can handle. Sitting down to get school prepped has me in tears as I think of all the fun things I want to do with them, but just don't have the energy to accomplish. The silliest, smallest things seem like huge mountains in front of me. They stop me in my tracks. They keep me from doing important things, fun things, sweet things, so many things. This is for sure one of the biggest things I am looking forward to saying goodbye to as grief moves aside. Hopefully sooner, rather than later. I am not very patient with grief, am I? It is such an unwelcome guest.

It is so easy, in these moments, to let the emotions take over and to just give in to it all. But, that is not the life of JOY that Christ has for me. I must look deeper. Dig in. Find the grace. So, Lord, the only way to get to You is to look to you and see all the places where Your hand is in this little chapter of Your story that I am living:
-You brought salvation to my precious Sophie.
-You are working on Ethan's heart in little ways every day.
-You have given me a beautiful family who loves us and takes care of us.
-You have placed us in a beautiful church family who loves well, even in the hardest of times.
-You have seen every need and provided for each one.
-You have filled my ears with songs that lead me to You and declare Your truth.
-You have given me Your word as comfort, guidance, and hope.

And there is so much more! Lord, keep my eyes focused on You at all times. The moment I begin to feel overwhelmed and let emotions take over, grab my face and turn it to You. Speak Your truth to me. Sing Your JOY over me. Let Your praise ever be on my lips!

(Here are some songs I have been enjoying:)
More Than Anything by Natalie Grant
Enough by Natalie Grant
Future by Francesca Batistelli
Hold On To Hope by Ellie Holcomb
My Victory by Crowder

October 13, 2016

At The Feet of Jesus

In his last few months, Kevin spent a lot of time listening to  Feet of Jesus by Steven Curtis Chapman. It is such a beautiful song that I just had to share.

I can't listen to it without crying, for two reasons. One, because I can still picture Kevin sitting in his office chair, guitar in hand, singing and playing this song. It was his heart's cry. He had no peace and no rest here on this old, broken earth in his last few years. He so deeply craved to truly lay everything at Jesus' feet and to feel the peace and rest only Christ can give. Second, I cry because this is the exact picture of what Kevin is doing now. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, free, healed, whole, peaceful, and at rest.

I've debated whether to share this next part or not. It kind of makes me sound like a crazy person. It's very unlike me. I am not one who puts a lot of stock in visions or dreams, not because I don't think God speaks through them (hello, they are all over the Bible. There are like four dreams in the Christmas story alone,) but mainly because I've just never experienced having a vision or dream that really seemed to mean anything other than my brain really didn't get much rest while I was sleeping! And honestly, I have struggled with whether or not this vision was a gift from the Lord to give me peace about Kevin's salvation or satan giving it to me to give me false peace about Kevin's salvation. The enemy is cunning and crafty and will do whatever it takes to make us believe something that isn't true. But then I hear this song and I am reminded so vividly of the vision He gave me, that I cling to the hope and belief that it was a gift from the Creator.

Twice, before we converted Kevin's office into the schoolroom, as I walked into the office, I had the most striking vision. It was the same both times and left me speechless, breathless, and praising God. (Maybe that should have been my clue it wasn't from satan? He would never want to do anything that would cause me to praise God!) As I walked in, it was as if I was seeing Kevin's final moments through the lens of the spiritual realm. Kevin was there, flat on his face, weeping more deeply than I have ever seen him weep. He knew it was the end, that he was about to take his final breaths here on earth, and he knew that he had messed up. Made a horrible mistake. Made a lot of horrible mistakes over his lifetime and did not deserve even the smallest amount of grace from anyone. Especially Christ. He never looked up, but was weeping and apologizing and listing all he had done and why he didn't deserve grace. I never saw Christ. Never heard his voice. He just reached out his right hand to Kevin, as if there was nothing to say or apologize for, took his hand, and lead him home. That was it. Both times.

What a beautiful picture of the love and grace the Lord lavishes on His children. Regardless of their past. Regardless of their current mistakes. He sees the pain. He sees the heart. He sees the need. And He meets you where you are every.single.time. He knew every one of Kevin's sins, poor choices, mistakes, diseases, and struggles. God loved him through every one. He was never far off, but rather close by, the whole time. Kevin may not have seen or felt Him, but He was there. And up to the very last second, the last breath, God was pouring grace and love over Kevin that he did not deserve. But he was God's child. Whom He loved. And died for. The price was paid on that cross at Calvary. Confession was made and sins were forgiven and His child was welcomed home. Amen!

Lord, let it be so for each one of us on this planet. Lord, turn the hearts of men to their Maker this night. Let us see You and know You and draw near to You. Father, if I am honest, none of this makes sense. A holy God sending His only Son to earth to die for people who are evil, hateful, selfish, always choosing stupid things and forgetting about You just makes no sense. To pay the price that we earned for the sin we chose to do is just absurd. But I am oh, so glad you did it! Lord, reveal Your light of truth into this dark world. Bring salvation to many this day as they see You in my story. In the stories of so many others. Oh, Father, thank You for Kevin's salvation all those years ago. Like all of us, he had a lot of ups and downs, moments of doubt, and he made bad choices. But he was Yours and nothing could change that. Thank You! Lord, speak. Move. Bring salvation.

October 10, 2016

Today Marked Seven Months As a Family of Three

Seven months. It sounds so long, yet so short at the same time. It seems like time has stood still, while at the same time so much has happened. I could never imagine a life without Kevin in it. Now I am living it. And it's hard. And some days just suck. But, if I am being honest, it has been bearable. Doable. Not because of anything that I have done, but because God is so good. He lavishes us with grace upon grace. He fulfills every promise and provides for every need. His word is a balm to my weary heart and aching soul. He is the God who saves and He's preparing a place for His children where there is no more sin, no more pain, no more sorrow. Just joy. Pure joy!

Today I did something I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do, but once again, God lavished me with grace and turned it into a beautiful time. Tonight I spent an hour at Kevin's resurrection spot (thanks, Bob Wathen for that beautiful term!) I was nervous going, mainly because, honestly, I wasn't sure I could find it. And I almost didn't. I knew the general area and just started looking for empty vases (Kevin's marker was just placed on Friday and we hadn't been there, yet.) I had a hard time finding it because, to my pleasure and surprise, someone had already been there and placed flowers in his vase. Made me cry. I have the best family, framily, and church family. So much so that I still don't know who put them there and the list of possibilities is so long I'd never be able to guess.

The Lord really blessed my time there, as I sat with my phone playing beautiful music and I looked through scriptures the Lord had given me through the last year and looking over all the prayer requests that God has answered in the last year. Even the ones He answered in ways that would not be what I had chosen. Here are a few pics from the evening.

 Wearing his thumbprint around my neck.
 Isn't it beautiful? Oh, how much more beautiful it will be when all the dead in Christ will rise!
 That yellow blanket is Kevin's from high school. It might even be older than that, I'm not sure.
 This was from a study I did last year. I love that Kevin is seeing that he is also all those thing, yet in their fullest and truest meaning!

 There were tears, and some rain, but it was a beautiful, God-filled time.
 I wrote these in early 2016 when Kevin was wanting to change churches and I was really struggling with being submissive and loving and encouraging and supportive to him. I love that every one of these is still true, even after all the hard and grief.
 Still praying this prayer!
 It's all still true!!!!!! God is so good.
 Clearly, I need to see and hear things more than once for them to sink in. Thankfully, God is patient.

 AMEN! Kevin will never again see the enemy or his destructive lies and deceit. Addiction will never be seen in his life again!

 This may be the "Heather McSmith Version' of this verse.

 While most of the answers didn't come the way I would have chosen, all these prayers (and many more) have been answered in the last seven months.
Though I didn't have room for all the words I wanted to put on his marker, this is the scripture reference that is on it. I am so thankful for the truth in these verses. 

Father, I don't understand Your ways. I don't know why You chose to answer my prayers for Kevin's healing by taking him home instead of healing him here and allowing him to be a testimony of Your healing power. But Your ways are higher than my ways. You see all and know all and I trust that You do what is best in all situations. Lord, I have no idea how You are going to redeem this story. How You will take this broken, hurtful story that didn't end the way I wanted it to for Your glory? How will this story point other addicts and their spouses to You when the ending wasn't one of recovery and peace and a life lived well? I doubt that anything good can come from this, that there will be any redemption in this brokenness, yet I know that You promise to make all things new and right ONE DAY. I look forward to that ONE DAY. Father, in the meantime, fill my heart and lips with Your praise. Teach my heart and mind to trust You in all things at all times. Let my children see You more fully as the good, good Father that You are. Oh, Lord, light the path You have for us, one step at a time. 

PS--Here's a song I've fallen in love with lately. Sound of a Living Heart by JJ Heller is a beautiful reminder to me that being real and raw and honest is the only way to heal. Hiding doesn't help. I also love the line "lift my voice and sing my part." I love the beauty that my story is just one small chapter in the big story that is God's story. I love that my story is but one part of the beautiful song that God has written. And the song isn't complete without my part. If I keep quiet and refuse to see and share God's grace and mercy in my life this beautiful song He has written will be incomplete. Though right now I feel passionless and useless and have no clue how God wants to use me, I know this, right now my part includes sharing all the God-moments He's created in our lives. In the good. The bad. The hard. The sweet. The joyful. The sorrowful. 

October 05, 2016

I Am Over This Whole Grief Thing...

At least my mind is. The rest of me hasn't quite gotten the memo. Actually, I am not totally sure my mind has fully understood the memo. (I told you, it's a crazy train!)

Earlier this week we got to see Kevin's headstone for the first time. The monument company called and said it was in so we headed out to look at it. I was nervous. I wasn't sure how I would react. I wasn't sure how the kids would react. I honestly thought it might just end up being an ugly crying nightmare and I'd have to call in someone to rescue us and get us back in the van and drive us home. BUT GOD was so good. There was not a single tear. No eye even teared up. E walked right over to it, put his hands on it, then promptly sat on it and looked up at me with a big grin. S grabbed her phone (have no fear, there is no number attached to it and it only works on WiFi if I enter the password...but she loves taking pictures of random things on it) and snapped a few pictures. We smiled together, got some information from the owner, and hopped back in the van to continue the day. Not what I was expecting at all!

I got the call today that it was delivered to the cemetery, so it shouldn't be too long before they set it. I am not sure I am ready for this.There is just something so final about it all and I just don't know if my emotions can take it. I just might lose it and be like the weeping widow you see on TV who just has no control of anything; emotions, running nose, crying, anything. I do not want my kids to see me like that. I mean, they've seen me ugly cry more times than I can count, but I don't want them to connect that picture with Kevin's grave because what I want them to see is a mom who is grieving with hope. Because I am. But sometimes, that just doesn't look pretty or like I want it to look. Is it possible to be in grief and be totally shallow at the same time? Because I am.

And so conflicted at all times. There are times when I just feel dumb for still grieving. I feel ridiculous for still being overwhelmed at the most simple tasks. I feel silly for not being able to remember to take my phone or locking my keys in the house because my brain just doesn't function like it used to. Part of my brain is saying to me, "Get it together, woman! It's time to get back to life. You've known for years that death is part of this world, so quit crying about it and get back to living and loving the here and now. Other people are sacrificing their comfort and lives to share the Gospel with people around the world and you're still struggling to get out of bed most days. Seriously, you've been in mourning since his first trip to the ER last April. Suck it up and let's find our purpose and get going." I feel passionless and useless. Two things I hate feeling!

Of course, there's the other part of me that says, "He was the biggest part of your life for 15 years. 15 years! It's barely been 7 months. Grief is real and grief is OK to feel. Take time to be thankful that the Lord allowed you to fall so deeply in love and marry this man. Take time to be sad that it's over and he's gone. Be sad that your children now have to live out their lives without their daddy. But rest assured, the day will come when your brain will clear and your heart will feel just a tiny bit lighter and your passion and purpose will come into clear view. Until then, breathe deeply. Feast on the Word. Pour out your heart in prayer. Dig in deep with the beautiful friends He's placed in your path. And be patient. Look for the grace. There will be time later to pour that grace back out on others."

I wish I could say that second voice is what I listen to most days. But that would not be true. That first voice drowns the other one out about 90% of the time. I know it's a lie. I know that it's the enemy distracting me. Lying to me. Deceiving me so that I will be useless in the Kingdom.

Oh, Father, give me ears to hear Your voice alone. Teach me to tune out the lies of the enemy so I can focus on the voice of my Shepherd. Lord, do the same for Sophie. Tune her heart to Your voice and teach her to ignore the lies the enemy sends her way. Adopt Ethan. Give him the courage and bravery to accept Your free gift of salvation TODAY. Let today be the day You say to him, "You are my son and I am your Father." Tune his heart to hear Your voice and to ignore the voice of the enemy. Teach us to see the grace. Teach us to see the redemption in this hard. Lord, fill in the gaps. You are a good, good Father who loves, cares, gives, provides, and does what we mere humans can't do. Teach us to make our story Your story. Teach to grieve with hope. To see the grace in all the yesterdays and the hope in all the tomorrows.