November 29, 2017

Counting All The Things

This past Sunday (Nov. 26, 2017) we had the opportunity, as a church family, to list the gifts the Lord has given us. To count the blessings. To name them. I had the honor of sharing just a bit of how doing, just that, has been such a blessing, joy, and lifeline for me in the last 6 or so years. Below is what I wrote to say Sunday morning, though I only actually said a small fraction of it! At the end is the link to the song that we sang after I shared.

Anyone who has seen my Facebook page or has been around me long, knows the Lord has helped me develop the habit of naming and counting the gifts the He places in my life. I started this back in 2011, just as a way to give thanks. If I am honest, I didn’t really think too much about it at the time. There were hard moments, but nothing major. Life was good and counting was easy. I had no idea how the counting of gifts when life was good, was going to make it possible for me to keep searching. Keep looking. Keep counting the good gifts when the world seemed to be crashing down around me. When it became a struggle just to get out of bed in the mornings. When I inherited two titles I never thought I’d ever use: widow and single mom. Some of you even helped me create a space on my dining room for us to be able to list the gifts. It’s already been filled once and we had to start over.

Because, oh, counting all the gifts! How God has used that to keep me going. To keep turning my face to Him. To remind me that He is faithful. Loving. Patient. Compassionate. My provider. Healer. Redeemer. That He loves my children and cares for them better than any earthly father could. That He has always been there and will never leave. Counting all.the.things. is preaching the Gospel to myself in a practical, hands-on way. As I have done this, I have begun to see that, through God’s eyes, even the hard, ugly moments of life, are sweet, beautiful gifts from a loving Father.

We can be like the disciples in John 21. After a night of useless fishing, the Lord appears. They have no idea who He is, but he tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. And they pull in more fish than the net can hold. Yet, they count the fish. They count the fish. 153. And once they see and count the fish, there’s no doubt in their minds who that man on the shore is.

So what do we do when life is overwhelming? When we struggle to see His hand moving and working in our lives? As Ann Voskamp says, “You count fish. You pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —- the net actually didn’t tear. That there’s grace in your net. And you actually count them.You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask who it is —  You know it is the Lord. You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153. Far more than 153. It’s a feast! You just keep always counting the fish! It’s when you count blessings — you see Who can be counted on. It’s when you count the ways He loves, that your life multiplies joy. It’s a life that counts blessings  — that discovers it’s yielding more than it seems. The secret to joy — is to keep seeking God where you doubt He is.”  (Click HERE to read the beautiful blog post where you'll find this quote.)

Would you join us today in counting fish? Counting and naming the blessings, the good gifts the Lord has poured into your life? If you look to your right and left, you’ll notice some large canvases. As we sing this next song about the joy and hope and peace found in counting all.the.blessings. we want you to just go to the canvas, grab a marker, and start writing the blessings. You might have one, you might have two or three. You might need a few minutes to think about it, or you may not be able to get up fast enough to write what the Lord has done. However you are moved, write down your thanks as we spend these next few moments praising and worshiping God for being a God who moves. Who works. Who gives good gifts to His children.

Here are a few things our church family wrote down:

 See that misspelled family? That was my son. Who, after I had made a comment in Sunday School about my kids being ungrateful, was the first person up, to the canvas, and to grab a marker to write down his thanks. God is good!

November 05, 2017

Is God Enough?

I was recently asked this question after sharing part of my story. The person asking was completely sincere in their asking. They are a new Christian who, before Christ, solved all their problems with drugs and alcohol and were genuinely asking if I found it true that, even in life's hardest circumstances, God is enough to make it through.

You know, in 19 months, that's the first time I've been asked that question. And I wasn't totally sure how to respond. I mean, I know the church answer is yes. Absolutely yes. But, if I am being honest, it's more complicated than that. Hopefully I can explain.

Yes. God is enough. He is hope. He is peace. He is provision in every form. He is calm in the midst of the storm. He is joy even when life falls apart. But He also knows me. All of me. Especially my humanness. And He knows that I don't always think He's enough and I don't always see that He is working. So, in His love and mercy and grace and compassion, He gives Himself in ways tangible to this human heart.

He gives a loving family that drops everything and comes when I call. They spoil me with presents on Mother's Day and birthdays and all the days that Kevin would have spoiled me. He gives me a beautiful tribe of loving, honest, always seeking Him women to help me do more than merely limp along here on earth. He gives me a church family who holds the rope, pays the bills, and allows me to worship in honesty and sincerity, even when that doesn't look pretty. He gives me two beautiful children who know when mom needs a hug or a break. He gives me the chance to be part of a small group who's struggled and suffered and speaks love and wisdom and truth over me. He gives me the chance to be in a Sunday School class where I can watch the Lord redeem the story of addiction and fear and abuse in so many lives and in so many different, beautiful ways. He gives me the chance to share Kevin's story and speak the truth that addiction and satan didn't win because he was a child of God who was welcomed into the arms of a loving Father, completely forgiven. Completely loved. White as snow. Because Jesus paid it all. For all of us.

Sometimes it's easy to look at that list and miss that, though He has used other people, those are all still gifts from the hand of a loving Father. Gifts that prove He is love. That He loves me. And that He is enough. Because each of those gifts, rather than being a replacement for Him, are an extension of Him. And I miss that sometimes. And I am sad to say, that's not the answer I gave. I was stunned and silent at first. And then I think I attempted to make a joke because I felt awkward. I didn't speak up and declare the truth of the goodness of the Lord. I rarely do when I am face to face with someone. My written words are much more bold and honest.

Father, remind me daily that You are enough. You give good gifts. All these gifts are proof of who You are and how well You love and care for us. Give me the boldness to speak of all You've done when I am asked. Give me the words to share the truth of all You've done in our lives, before and after addiction. Lord, remind me that if all you had done was bring salvation to my soul and had never done another thing, it would have been enough. But, praise God, You didn't stop there. You have lavished us with Your love and grace and mercy and compassion and provision. Lord, let my life speak of You, at all times and in all things.

October 29, 2017

My 40th Year

Today started my 40th year here on this little planet. That just seems like crazy talk. I barely feel like I am old enough to be responsible for two children, let alone to have been on this planet for nearly four decades. The years really have flown by faster than I could have ever imagined. Most have not turned out at all like I had planned or envisioned.

Typically, at the beginning of each year, I have a word that I use as my theme for that year. This year, I feel like it's coming early, with the beginning of my 40th year. Two words are echoing in my mind as I end this birthday: celebration and presence.

I want to use this year ahead to celebrate all.the.things. Whether big or small, whether in my life or the lives of those around me. I want to see the good, the gifts, the joy, and celebrate it. I want to name it. Count it. Rejoice over it. Regardless of circumstance, I want to remember that God is working and moving and praise Him for it. When the fear is threatening to take over, when my heart is overwhelmed, when I think I can't go on, I want to stop and list the ways I have seen Him working so I can be reminded that He's faithful and loving and gracious.

I want to celebrate the milestones we reach. The memories we have been gifted. The life we have here on this earth, with its ups and downs, good days and bad days. I want to celebrate the had beens and would have beens that remind me of God's love in the past. I want to celebrate the here and now that reminds me His love has never left me. I want to celebrate the mundane. The extraordinary. This glorious mess we have found ourselves living. Admittedly, there are many days that don't feel like a gift. Since Kevin's death, I've come to see that, for the Christian, death is grace. But coming to that realization has made time here on this earth feel ungracious. Made me wonder why God is withholding the most gracious thing He could give me. Sometimes it's hard to see each new morning here, each new day, each breath I take as a gift. Wouldn't being in heaven with my Savior be a better gift? But you know what? Each new day here is a gift because it's one more day to speak truth over my children. One more day to love them to Jesus. One more day for Ethan to be able to accept that free gift of salvation God is offering him. That is surely cause for celebration!

One of the biggest things I hope to celebrate in this 40th year is seeing continual redemption of this hard, ugly beautiful, glorious mess of a story we've lived. I have no idea how God will do that, but I am sure it will involve lots of little things. But I want to see and celebrate them all.

I'll need reminders of this, especially on days when grief looms large. When pain seems bigger than joy. When hope seems so far away I can hardly see it. Satan is out to steal, kill, and destroy, and on those days when it feels and looks like he's winning, I'll need to be reminded that there's something to celebrate. Even if that something is that this is not the end. There's something so much better beyond this life. God wins. I am glad I am not in this life alone because I know I'll need my tribe to name the reasons to celebrate for me.

This one is much harder for me to put into words, but oh, how I long for more of His presence. I want to turn over my life, every part of it, to His leadership and guidance. I want to love His word more each day. I want His word to come alive when I read it because He is in me, giving each word fresh meaning. I want to trust Him for every need. I want our family to be able to live out the motto a sweet friend "spoke" (is it still speaking when it's in a text message?) to me about our family: McSmiths are Mighty to Overcome Through Christ. I long for His presence to help us overcome the fear, doubt, grief. He is mighty. He is ever-present.

I want my presence to be more "present" so that I can see Him and others can see Him in me. I want to stop the worrying and fearing the future so I can enjoy the gifts He's given me today. I want to make the most of school each day, knowing that each lesson teaches us more about Him and better equips each of us to serve God and serve others. Even math. I want to be less tied to the to-do list I have created and more ready to listen to what He says and be willing to obey. Willing to toss aside my ideas for His.

Father, You've granted me nearly four decades on this earth. Nearly 40 years of watching You move and work in my life and the lives around me. I have rarely know what in the world it is You've been up to, but I've come to see that I can trust You anyway. Father, I want this 40th year of my life here to scream Your name. To point to You at all times and in all things. Oh, how I need You to make that possible. I need you to place that desire in me each day, because on my own, I know I won't be able to create it on my own. It comes from You alone. Hold me. Mold me. Keep my eyes and heart focused on You. Speak to my children. Bring salvation to Ethan. Overflow the fruit of Your Spirit in each of us. Redeem each tear. Each moment of hard. All for your glory. Oh, Father, my story for Your glory!

October 10, 2017

On Dress Rehearsal, Being Rooted, and 19 Months Without My Love

On Dress Rehearsal
A few weeks ago I read a blog post where a woman was talking about her fear each morning when her husband left for work as she would go through all the things that could go wrong that day. As soon as he would leave, her mind would start listing all the tragedies that could strike their family while he was gone. At the end of the post she said that the reality is there is no dress rehearsal for tragedy. There is no way to know what is coming our way, so we can't sit and stew over it.

I totally agree with her sentiment. We are not God. We have not seen all the days ahead of us so we cannot know what is coming. Sitting around and just waiting for tragedy to strike is not the abundant life the Lord desires for us. Scripture tells us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worry of it's own. We cannot add one moment to our lives by worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow. By worrying about what tragedy may or may not come our way today.

But as I've thought of it over the weeks, I have become convinced that there is a dress rehearsal for the hard times, whatever they may be, that come our way. No, we cannot know the exact tragedy or hard moment that will take our breath away, but we can prepare ourselves to remain standing and faithful in those moments. Our dress rehearsal is being rooted in Christ before those hard times ever come our way. When we have done the hard work of being rooted in the good times, then we are stronger and more steady when the storm winds blow. This doesn't mean there won't be moments of doubt. Weeping and sobbing. Screaming and shouting. But when the storm is over, we won't be crushed.

Being Rooted
Why do we need roots? First of all, roots anchor the plant. The deeper and stronger the roots, the less likely the plant is to topple over in the wind and rain. The roots also take in all the nutrients that are vital to the plant's life. Without the roots, there is no food for keeping the plant alive. Third, the roots actually help the plant to ward off disease. Scripture helps makes the connection from roots to our lives pretty clear in Matt. 13:3-8; 19-23. Plants with shallow roots whither away. They cannot survive. We are no different. Without our spiritual roots, we will whither away at the first sign of trouble or pain.

So, how in the world do we root ourselves in Christ? As I have looked back over the last two or so years, I see three areas where the Lord was working in me, teaching me to be rooted, that have held me tight and safe in the storm. I'll admit to not always knowing that's what was happening. There was some of this rooting that, rather than view it as rooting, I viewed it as a desperate attempt to try anything that would work. That would change my circumstance. But the Lord uses even our selfish, desperate attempts at getting what we want to draw us closer to Him.

Be rooted in the Word.
His Word is one of the main ways God reveals who He is to us. So, if we want to know who He is, we have to spend time in His word. It's through His Word that we can see how He desires for us to live and how to keep moving, even in the fiercest of storms. (Psalm 1:1-3) Spend time reading the Word. Even when you don't feel like it. I cannot tell you how many days there has been nothing in me that wanted to pick up my Bible and read anything in it. But I knew I needed to do it anyway. Even just one chapter. For me, even when I don't feel like it, I do my best read at least one Psalm a day. Some days it's more like I force myself to read one Psalm a day. He has never failed to have something in what I read reach out and grab my heart. Speak right to me. Sometimes it's in the chapter I read, sometimes it's in a verse I see as my eyes drift on the page. Trust me, there have been a lot of days in the last 19 months when my mind could barely focus and my eyes were so filled with tears I could hardly see, but reading just a few of His words would remind me that He's real. He's near. He cares. He sees. He comforts.

But don't stop at reading His Word, write His word, too. This has been a beautiful gift to me in the last two years. Before Kevin even passed away I randomly, or so I thought at the time (though now I know it was the Lord graciously leading me) started writing down verses that spoke to me, reached deep down and brought me hope, or contained promises I was begging the Lord for each day while we battled addiction. On days when I couldn't pick up my Bible, I would pick up my journal and read scripture after scripture and be blown away by how perfectly each of those scriptures, written in a totally different season of my life, fit this new season in which I now found myself. It was a balm to my soul. So, buy yourself a notebook and start writing out the Word. It doesn't have to be fancy handwriting or crazy colors. Just write it out. Get some index cards or sticky notes and write down scripture to leave around the house. Paint the Word of God right onto your walls.

And, of course, memorize the Word. This is where I struggle the most, especially since grief brain is a reality. Psalm 119:9-16 tells us the rewards of committing His Word to our memory. When you have the Word memorized then it's there, ready for you to whisper, shout, cry when that storm wave threatens to drown you. When we know the Truth of the Word, then we will know the enemy's lies immediately and be able to remove them from our minds and fill that place with more Truth.

Be Rooted in Prayer
Prayer is our communication with God. Our Creator. The One who loves us unconditionally. The One who always has what is best for us in mind. (Even when His idea of "best for us" might not match our idea of "best for us.") We can be open and honest in prayer. We can tell God our fears and doubts. We can shout our frustrations. We can admit we are bitter and tired. We can honestly tell him what it is our heart wants. We don't have to hold anything back. This is why I love the Psalms. Every emotion we can possibly imagine is expressed in those chapters. They provide a beautiful framework of honest heartbreak, fear, anger, jealousy, not liking or understanding His plan always being followed by speaking the truth of who He is and praising His goodness and provision. The Psalms have provided a beautiful new way for me to pray, as I simply pray His Word back to Him. I'll admit, this was another area where I thought I was doing something on my own out of frustration over lack of answered prayer. I see now that it was His hand gently leading and guiding me as we were fighting addiction so I would be rooted deeply in Him when it felt like our world was turned upside down in an instant.

Be Rooted in Community
This one surprised me! Addiction was a lonely disease, for both Kevin and I. It created so much shame and isolation that I nearly lost all the friendships I had. He pushed away every friendship he had. Now, I cannot imagine my life without the beautiful tribe of family, friends, church family, and even FaceBook family that now surrounds me. I would not have made it through the last 19 months, especially the first 3 or 4 moths, without those who just showed up to keep life going and the kids and i moving, one little step at a time.

Find a solid, Biblical church body and dig in! Join a small group. Get involved in a Sunday School class. Be honest when you need help. Allow them to walk beside you, in the good and the bad. I cannot even begin to list all the ways my church family has loved us and been God's hands and feet in some of our darkest hours. They washed my clothes, brought meals, filled my freezer, and have given my children an amazing start on their college funds. They give the best hugs. They cry with me during worship when the lyrics hit a little too close to home. They help pay bills.

I thought I had deep friendships before March 10, 2016. They were nothing compared to the friendships I have now. Mainly with the same people, but tragedy has a way of drawing us even closer together. The way my family and the ladies of my tribe have pulled in around me to cover me with their shield of faith when I couldn't lift mine is simply beautiful. I can text these ladies at any time of the day or night, regardless of what continent they are on at the time. I don't have to hold anything back. I send my frustration, fear, confusion, joy, hope, all.the.thoughts! They don't judge. They listen and encourage and point me back to the Word. Always. They point out the lies I am mistakenly believing as truth. They speak truth over my when my mind is clouded and I can't recall what I've memorized. I do this for them as best I can (but I definitely get the better end of the deal!) They spent a week at my house when Kevin died. They wrote thank you notes, made sure I ate, watched my kids, washed my dishes, brushed my hair, helped me make my bed, let me sit in silence when I had no words, let me ramble when I just needed to speak about nothing in particular, they've never stopped praying for me. Not one day. I'll admit, I needed these deep relationships from the moment I found out about Kevin's addiction, but I allowed fear and shame and guilt to keep me from digging in back then. So did Kevin. I firmly believe that if he'd been able to push away the lies and the shame and the guilt to dig into deep friendships, he'd still be here today. He'd be clean. He'd be sharing the miraculous way the Lord delivered him from the pit of addiction and depression.

19 Months Without My Love
This world is fallen and broken. It's hard and cold much of the time. Rarely does life turn out the way we expected or hoped it would. I still spend the first 45 minutes or more of each day asking God for the energy to get out of bed and be a parent that day. Many days it still feels like I am just waiting for Kevin to return from a business trip. Some days it feels like he's been gone for years. There are still a lot of days that include tears of sadness or frustration or fear. There are many more days filled with laughter and sweet new memories and wonderful stories of old memories. New pictures are slowly going up on the walls. The days are slowly feeling a little more normal. A little more routine. There are lots of random little things that will pop up every now and then that just take my breath away and stop me in my tracks as the grief takes over and I think I can't go on one more day. Then I start the power washer and clean the house myself and am reminded in just a small way that we're going to make it. As I was typing something earlier today I almost typed that Kevin had been gone 19 years. It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. All I could think was, "There really could be a day that he's been gone 19 years and we're all still here. There are already people that do not know me as anything other than a single mom. Widow. They never knew me as part of a couple with Kevin. Never knew Kevin." Surprisingly, I didn't cry, but it was weird to realize that it's entirely possible the day will come when I've lived more life without Kevin than with him. I always thought it would be the opposite.

As I still sit and wonder what my role is in this fight against addiction, on the 19 month anniversary of his passing, I got a call from a reporter from the Quincy Herald-Whig asking me to do an interview on a story they are doing about the effects of heroin in this area. Though I agreed, I have no idea what I will say. Again, I feel they want to paint a picture so different than the one I have fought hard, day in and day out, to live. I am praying to find the balance between sharing the pain and sadness and reality of his absence in our lives with the hope and healing of the truth that he's set free and the Lord is providing all we need and sustaining us every day. Join me in praying?

Father, You are good. You are hope. You are protection. You are provision. You are in control. You have seen all of my days and prepared me for each one. You hold me together. You are my comfort. You are my joy in the shadows of this life. Enable me to root even deeper in You. Give me a love and hunger for Your Word. Give me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Lord, steal Ethan's heart. Let today be the day of salvation for him. Teach Sophie, Ethan, and I to love you with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Teach us to love others as we love ourselves. Teach us to be Your hands and feet wherever You have us each day. Lord, move. Move in the lives of those trapped in the chains of addiction and depression. Draw them to You. Speak love and truth deep into their souls. Grab their hands and pull them to safety. Clarity. Health. Salvation. Lord, surround them with a community that loves You, points them to You, and will walk the very hard road ahead of them with them every step of the way.

October 07, 2017

The Perfect Storm

That's what this week has felt like. I haven't felt well all week. There's been very little exercise. Very little restraint with food. Little sleep. This makes for lots of emotions.

My week started with a bridal shower and ended with a wedding. I survived both events without tears, but the emotions were all over the place before and after each event. Oh, how I pray that one day these events will be full of joy and happiness for me once again. I pray that each wedding I attend brings back beautiful memories of my own wedding day; the laughter and nerves and joy and fun and the beautiful family that resulted. Right now, every time I attend a wedding and hear the word forever I want to scream. There's no forever in marriage. There's only 'til death do us part. I do my best not to voice that at weddings and be a total Debbie Downer, I promise! There was a little breakthrough in that today. As the beautiful couple was saying their vows I couldn't help but think back to the vows that Kevin wrote for me. They were beautiful. They were perfect. They were so Kevin. I am so glad now that we decided to write our own vows so I can have those words today. Addiction fought hard to tear us apart, BUT GOD held us tight and pulled us through to the end. There were a lot of ups and downs in our 12 1/2 years of marriage, but, looking back, the Lord was present and near in every one of them. Even when it didn't feel like either was true at the time.

I finally caught Ethan's cold this week. I am such a baby when I don't feel well. Kevin was my perfect complement when I wasn't feeling well. He jumped right in, got things under control, and let me lay around and whine. He took care of the kids and school and meals and just all.the.things. when I didn't feel well. So, of course, when I am not feeling well I miss him all the more. I saw his absence a little bigger everywhere I looked. At home. At church. While playing games with the kids. As I tried to plan trips to corn mazes. Just everywhere.

Of course, when I don't feel well, I don't sleep well. Lack of sleep makes everything feel and seem worse than it really is. It makes the anger come faster and the tears fall heavier. The smallest, most meaningless things drove me crazy this week. Things that don't bother me at all on normal weeks. I was antsy and anxious. Claustrophobic. I couldn't sit still, yet also, couldn't stay awake. It was really annoying. But, the anxious energy lead me to do a little light redecorating in anticipation of more heavy duty redecorating in the coming months. Hopefully. I changed out a few pictures in anticipation of hanging old ones in new places and putting up new ones elsewhere. One of these days we'll repaint and redo the kids' rooms, but for now, rearranging pictures is the best I can do.

My temporary job ended this week. There were some tears and lots of fear, but deep down I know that the Lord is near. He sees each need and provides for them. Never once has He left us hanging and He's not going to stop now. I trust His provision, but honestly, there are still some nerves there. I haven't had a job outside of my home since 2008. I haven't worked full-time since 2005. The idea of getting together a resume and job searching and doing interviews seriously makes me sick to my stomach. I have no idea what a different job will mean for being able to stay home with the kids. Or for homeschooling. But I know the Lord will provide. And I am confident that my small faith will be amazed with the way and the what He provides. This job was perfect for me, allowing me to work from anywhere and to continue to school the kids at home. It paid, to the penny, what I needed each month. It was an answer to months of prayer. I'll begin praying for His provision through a job yet again and I cannot wait to watch Him provide. (And I'll be praying He enables me to wait faithfully and increases my faith and trust in the process.)

This has been a week of lots of prayer. Reading scripture aloud. Praying aloud. Sending texts full of tears to friends. Allowing friends to speak truth over me. Being thankful for friends who truly want to know how life is going. It's been a week of struggling to allow the Spirit's self-control when my emotions wanted to take over and stay in bed. When I wanted to just get a new car or new furniture or new anything that really wasn't needed. When I wanted to choose complaining and grumbling and entitlement over truth and joy and peace. Grief is not just a season. It's a new way of life. It comes and goes. Ebbs and flows. It can master me or be used to make me more like Christ. Oh, how I pray that it makes me more like Christ. That is shows my children that their Heavenly Father is the best Father they could ever have. That it leads my children to Christ at all times in all things. That those who see us grieving will somehow see that we grieve differently than the world. That we have joy. And hope. Admittedly, I still feel directionless and I desperately want to help in the addict's fight against this horrible disease in their lives, but I have no idea how or where I fit into that picture. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But, I will not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worry of it's own. Father, help me to live today, with You as my leader and guide. Lord, teach me to follow You, not my own deceitful heart. Lord, speak and move in my life so that other will know You and trust You.

September 30, 2017

When the Lord Answers The Prayer You're Not Brave to Admit You Want to Pray

So many times in the last 19 months I have wanted to ask God to allow Kevin to send me a message. To speak to me one more time. I wanted to but, of course didn't, because that is just absurd. He didn't become an angel that the Lord sends down to guard me. He's not stuck in some middle world between here and heaven, in a ghost-like state, where he can come visit my dreams or sit at our table. Heaven is perfection; no sin, no sorrow, no tears. It's joy and worship and only good. Why would I even be so bold as to ask God, even if it were possible, to tear my Kevin away from all of that just to have to again look on the pain and heartache of this world? It's just silly. But, I want it so badly. But I know better than to ask.

But the Lord knows. He is omniscient, after all. He knows what my heart and my head want to ask, but they think they know better than to actually put voice to. He knows that I forget it doesn't have to be voiced for the Lord to know what we need or want.

I feel drained. Passionless. Pointless. I feel that every skill and gift I had has been washed away in the flood of grief that has taken over my days since March 10, 2016. I know that God is sovereign. I know that His glory is far more important than my relief. I know that God sees and records each tear. I know that God redeems all things. But some days, it feels like that's going ever so slowly. Or might not happen at all apart from my death here and waking up to new life in heaven. And, while in reality that's a short amount of time, it feels so long. Some days it's so hard to see that there's any plan at all. That any of this pain and grief can be used. And my heart cries out for more. More proof of who He is. More proof that this wasn't just some painful fluke. More reminders of His love and grace and care. The future looks and feels so uncertain and I just want more stability.

Today He gave me the sweetest reminder that this isn't the first time I've felt that way. And likely won't be the last. It came in the form of a letter from my Kevin back in the spring of 2001 when I was just days away from graduating from college. With no plans. No career. No skills usable for a job that actually paid money. (Or so I thought, of course.) There was seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. Mostly because I just wanted to marry Kevin, but he showed no sign of wanting to marry me. He couldn't/wouldn't even say "I love you", which I so desperately wanted to hear him say. I was putting all my hope in the basket of marriage to the man I loved, but forgetting that my Creator has a plan that, though perhaps mysterious to me, is perfect in the way it brings glory to God and goodness to me. But, like today, I just couldn't see it. Here are the precious words from my Kevin that I needed so much that spring, and even more now:

I don't know what to say right now. I truly am at a loss for words. We just got back from the park and I just dropped you off. So many things to say were running through my head and yet I couldn't find the right one to speak. I feel like it's time for me to say some of this to you...even though I know you're not going to like it. I couldn't bring myself to say anything in the car to you that you would perceive as negative. So here I am. First of all, remember that you are very special to me. I like you a lot, and I care about you a lot. That's exactly why I'm sitting here writing this. I worry about you, and I want things to be going well for you. I see you sad, and I want to make you happy. The thing is though, that I USED to be able to do that. Not so much anymore, and rightfully so. Sweetie, I know that deep down, you know where true happiness comes from...and you know it doesn't come from me. This contentment is attainable only through a loving, daily relationship with Jesus. Babe, the last three weeks or so, it has seemed like there's been absolutely no contentment in your life. Every time I've been with you lately, it's almost always been to sulk, instead of to enjoy each other's company. I realize that sometimes this is very necessary...don't get me wrong. Sharing each other's pain is essential to any relationship. Sweetheart, I care about you so much. You have so much to offer. I mean in all sincerity when I say you are the example in my life of the self-less servant I need to be...You are such an incredible girl. You have so much to offer. You don't see that in yourself at times, but I PROMISE's there and everyone else can see it. God has blessed you in so many ways. I know I've told you that before, but it's SO true. I can stand back and see this whole situation and it's, with all your talents, gifts, abilities, strengths; all your many positive attributes...and thinking that there is no future in store for you. Heather, this TURNS MY STOMACH...LITERALLY. You know why? Because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God...our loving Creator and Savior...has incredible plans for His humble servant, His awesome creation...YOU...and as hard as I talk, or type, or write...I can't convince you of this. I wish so bad that you could see yourself as I see you...and as God sees you...FULL of value and self-worth, on account of Jesus Christ. You have SO much, and it's all from Him. Even with as highly as I think of you, it's still limited, and my view of you is still limited, simply because of this human form. But God is not limited, and He sees you in entirety...and do you know what He sees?? He sees the blood of Jesus Christ, His only Son!! That gives you more value than you can ever comprehend! AND AS SURE AS THE SUN IS IN THE SKY, HIS SON WASN'T CRUCIFIED JUST FOR THERE TO BE "NO PLAN" FOR YOUR FUTURE. He has a plan for you, and you know that down deep...SO BELIEVE IT!!!  He made the lowly birds of the earth, and even they are cared for. Since I spoke with you this afternoon, there has been one verse of scripture that has been continuously running through my head. It is Matt. 6:26-27. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow, or reap, or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they??Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...Babe, I want so badly to see you full of joy once again. When you hurt, I hurt with you. "A broken heart that breaks my own" as Shane Bernard put it. How true. Sweetheart...I want you to know...I'll sit and sulk with you all day. I care about you so much, and I am willing to do that. But this is NOT what God has called us's not what He wants for us, fortunately! Paul says this blatantly in 1 Thess. 5:16-18: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Wow! Not only does GOd want us to be filled with His joy, we're CALLED to be! I think that is so awesome. I hope and pray that God will use this to uplift you, remind you of your worth in His eyes, and affirm that even though its only 4 days until graduation and He hasn't revealed to you what the next step is after this summer, He does in fact have a definite step for you to take. In 4 days you will have accomplished something that very few people accomplish...and you're doing it with honors. Now especially is a time to be joyful! Your hard work will pay off, babe, and God will bless you in all you do because you "love Him and have been called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28)...

I couldn't bring myself to admit to God that I needed a word from Kevin. I knew it wasn't possible. Yet, he knew what I wanted and needed, anyway, and made it possible. Thank You! Thank You for being the God who sees. Who provides. Who loves. Who cares. Help me to remember the truths this little baby freshman in college version of Kevin poured out on these pages.  

September 09, 2017

18 Months

18 months. It's been 18 months. 18 months since I held your hand. Kissed your lips. Heard your voice. Laughed with you. Talked to you. Argued with you. Played a game with you. Watched a movie with you. 18 months since I watched them turn off all the machines and all hope of your life on this earth continuing vanished.

A lot can happen in 18 months. The three of us have grown and changed. We've continued to laugh and cry. We've started a lot of things, yet finished very few. We have some new floors and new paint on the walls. We've survived a lot of firsts, all the while knowing we still have a lot of hard firsts and hard moments ahead of us. There's always an empty spot at the table. In the van. In every picture. The stories and memories and pictures are more precious than ever, but many days they just don't feel like enough.

I watched a movie just last night called In Lieu of Flowers. It was an indie fiick that wasn't really what I expected, but had some lines I couldn't shake out of my head. They seemed to so perfectly capture this thing, this seeming monster, called grief:

Therapist: "The Kubler-Ross model of 5 stages of grieving is really only supposed to act as a loose framework for everything from the grief of losing a loved one to the grief of someone who is dying himself."
Eric: "Is there a difference?"

Rachel: "I've been thinking about when I got mono in college. I mean, I know it's not uncommon, a lot of people get it at that age. But, I had it pretty bad. I was in bed for almost a month and my spleen was really swollen. Um, I know it sounds stupid, but, it was huge. The swelling just would not go down and I remember after about two weeks of it I honestly couldn't remember what it felt like to not be sick. To just feel healthy. Of course, two weeks later I was fine and I probably soon forgot what it had been like to feel so sick, but, um, with this, I can't seem to get to that point. For two years now I've been waiting for the swelling to go down. I've been waiting to feel healthy again. And I almost can't remember what that's like anymore."

Rachel: "Does it ever go away? 
Dad: "I don't know, Rachel. But it'll be different, I promise you. 
Rachel: "How? I mean, every time I feel like I might be getting a little bit better, I just go right back to where I was."
Dad: "Rachel, sweetie, that's just not true. Do you remember the first 6 months?"

Oh, how I often feel like I am not further along in this journey than I was that early morning 18 months ago. But that is simply not true. It is a lie of the enemy. I have learned and grown and changed. Perhaps not all the changes were good changes, or at least the changes I was wanting for my life, but I haven't been as stagnant as my mind is trying to make me feel.

Much of the last 18 months has been a blur, if I am honest. It's been a lot of other people picking up my slack and me learning that sometimes I just have to say no. It's been a lot of late night tears and having to admit to my kids I just don't have it all together most of the time. It's been learning to ask for and accept help. Here are some of the best things I've learned since my life was seemingly turned upside down 18 months ago:

God hears and answers our prayers. Not always in our timing or in the exact way we wanted, but it's always in the most perfect way. In the way that will be for our good and His glory. What could have been better for Kevin than eternal wholeness and healing? Yeah, that hurts here as we go on without him, but it's also been a reminder that my idea for Kevin's healing wasn't perfect, left a lot of room for pain and heartache for all three of us, and honestly, was kind of selfish on my part. But God knew, as He always does, what was best. There was no more gracious answer to our prayers for Kevin's healing than for his Father to welcome him home, whole, healed, no shame, no guilt.

I am grieving because my Father gives good gifts. If God hadn't given us the gift of a wonderful husband and father in the first place, we'd have no reason to grieve. We'd be missing nothing. Life would not have been interrupted at all. Each tear is a reminder that my Creator loves me and has lavished me with amazing gifts, each and every day. The pain sucks, but I wouldn't trade any of it if it would mean that we never had Kevin in our lives.

Being rooted in Christ has kept my head above water and was my sustenance when it felt like I was in the desert. It sounds cliche, I am sure, but it's true. The hardest days to keep walking were the days that I ignored my time in the word and refused to pour out my heart in prayer. He's a big God. He can take anything we throw at Him. I promise. His word is full of the words and concepts we need. Read it. Even when you don't feel like it. Even if just one chapter or just a few verses is all you can do that day. Read it. Even when you're angry. Or bitter. Or sad. Or depressed. Or lonely. Or making poor choice after poor choice. Scream your frustrations to Him. Tell Him you're afraid to ask Him anything else because last time you did, He let your husband die. Lay it all on the table. He'll listen. He'll comfort. He'll speak truth. He'll heal. He'll redeem. He'll rescue. He'll rebuild. But you can't walk away. Dig in. Even when it hurts. Even when it's the last thing you want to do. Dig into the word. Continue to pray. He'll show up.

Root yourself in a community committed to always pointing you back to Christ. It will make all the difference. When they hear or see your pain, they'll cry with you. They'll be angry with you. They'll be hurt with you. But they'll also pray over you. Speak scripture over you. Point out the enemy's lies as they cover you in God's truth. They'll make your bed. Brush your hair. Take care of your kids. Do your laundry. Sit next to you while you stare into space with nothing to say. Write thank you notes for you. I don't know how people survive anything in this life without this kind of support. I don't know how we survived when we were pulling ourselves away from it for so long. I believe wholeheartedly that if we'd pushed aside the shame and pride as soon as we realized we were dealing with addiction, Kevin would be sitting beside me as we watched The West Wing for the hundredth time right now.

I've learned so much more, but I have a headache and need to spend some time with the kids before they go to bed. I often go back and read my blogs and, though I can't remember even typing most of them, I am amazed at all that God has done through grief in my life.

Can I put in a little plug, that's time sensitive? If you are in Hannibal, MO Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, come to Calvary Baptist Church to hear the sermons those two mornings. You won't regret it. You'll learn just a few of the things that are essential to surviving in this lost, dark, broken world. You'll learn the truth that God really is in control and that His glory is far more important than my deliverance or comfort. And that's hard to hear. And it's painful in the moment. But, I am oh so glad His glory outlasts and outshines my pain! Our Lifegroups at Calvary will start digging into these concepts even deeper starting Sunday night. We'd love to have you join us. Don't go through the pain and the heartache alone!

September 03, 2017

Riding the Struggle Bus

I am in my seat, buckled up, and in that bus for the long haul, I am afraid. Please tell me I am not the only one?!?! Surely there are others that struggle with life, in big ways and small, and often feel there's no way they'll ever get things back on track again. Not that I would ever want someone else to struggle through their days and feel like there was no end to the hard, but, honestly, it makes me feel a little better about my days when I know I am not alone on this bus!

And there are so many different reasons one could be on the struggle bus. My reasons change daily. Hourly. By the minute, some days!  And some days, all.the.reasons. you are on the bus seem to just pile up all at once!

Why do I even have a ticket on the struggle bus?

Because all three of us are exhausted from a wonderfully beautiful weekend. Because that last sentence didn't say "all four of us." Because I want my pants to be a size smaller but I also want to eat and lay around doing nothing. Because third grade and sixth grade were hard enough the first time I went through them, they shouldn't be this hard the second time around. Because I so desire to love others well, in word and deed, but I just can't make myself do it. Because my daughter is in youth group. Because to serve my children better, I had to give up serving other people's children and quite frankly, I didn't want to give that up just yet. Because I've started watching episodes of Lab Rats from the Disney channel even when my kids aren't around. Because the Lord has sent my friends to the mission field and I've been left behind. Because I am just too tired to shower. Because Missouri is so far away from Texas and Alabama and Arkansas and Romania and South Africa and all.the.places. Because St. Louis often feels as far away as South Africa. Because my kids take so long to wake up in the mornings. Because my son will barely eat breakfast and five minutes later is asking for a snack. Because I feel inadequate for every task the Lord has placed in front of me and I just don't know what to do with that. Because I can sit around a fire with amazing people and laugh and be silly and talk deep things and just truly enjoy myself, and still feel that kick of sorrow and loneliness because I don't have a spouse to go home to at the end of the weekend. Because I look at my life, where I am now, and fear I wasted four years of college and thousands of my parent's dollars on two useless degrees I've done nothing with and can't really do anything with even if I wanted to, yet at the same time I rejoice because those four years brought me some of the best friends who've lived through more ups and downs with me than we ever thought possible.  Because chocolate chip cookie dough is not good for me in any way, but yet, it just tastes so good. Because addiction sucks. Because I am finally ready for fall and summer just now decides to show up. Because I fear my kids see too much of my weakness and will feel like they can never leave home because they don't want me to be alone. Because I want to be alone. Because I feel alone and I don't like it. Because I don't want my life to be about single parenthood and widowhood and addiction, yet I want these hard years and every tear to be redeemed for His glory while I am here on earth. Because publishing a book sounds really fun, yet I don't feel like I have anything new under the sun to say. Because people say I should publish a book and that sounds really scary. Because I feel like the gifts and skills I have are pretty shallow and hard to use in a way that draws attention to God and not to me. Because being a stay at home mom feels silly and lowly and fairly useless. Because the weight of motherhood is daunting and scary. Because I have a bookshelf full of books I have yet been able to start or finish. Because I want to cherish these years with my kiddos as I know they grow so quickly. Because all I have the energy to do most evenings is turn on a movie while we're all in the same room and they watch it while I sleep. Because I have friends who have grown to be deeper friends simply because we all know the sting of grief and that's a crappy (yet effective) way to have a relationship deepened. Because having these two frogs did turn out to be more fun, and more work, than I thought. Because my son wants to dye his hair blue and since I have purple in mine, how can I say no, so I bought blue hair dye. Because grief fights hard to win my days and I often let it. Because I know many of these things are lies from the devil, yet I do little or nothing to fight them. Because I know I must fight to cling to the Truth and to fill my mind with His word!

Father, the struggle (bus) is real. I don't want to be a permanent passenger! Enable my heart and mind and eyes to know the difference between Your truth and the enemy's lies. Give me the energy and ability to get back to memorizing the Word. Remind me that I have only one enemy, and he isn't flesh and blood. Remind me that, in every trial and storm and struggle, You are with me. You go before me. You hem me in on all sides. You see and You provide! Lord, provide perspective to me today and every day. Give me energy for making meal plans and school plans and having no plans so I can just enjoy my kiddos. Fill my mouth with Your words, no matter who I am speaking to at the time. Guide my fingers as I type blog posts, Facebook statuses, work on Bibleman posts, and type the words to speak in just 11 days to some beautiful women who want to know You more. Lord, move in me. Move me to be more like You. To love more like You. To listen to Your voice above all else.

August 28, 2017

How the Lord is Slowly Turning My Bitterness and Jealousy to Joy

One of the many things the Lord has been exposing to my heart in the last year and a half is how much bitterness and jealousy have made their homes there. It's not new. It didn't show up when grief became a new member of the family. It's been there a long time, grief just forced me to drop the mask and the facade, giving me eyes to see the truth that had been waiting there all along. And it is not pretty. At.all. I cannot be a good mother or daughter or sister or friend or anything, really, if bitterness is what fills my heart and thoughts.

Thankfully, the Lord is slowly chipping away that bitterness and jealousy and showing me how to replace the homes they have built with a palace of joy. He's actually doing this through my prayer times. I shouldn't be surprised by this. I know that prayer changes our hearts, but somehow, I wasn't expecting it to change mine. It's not happening as quickly as I would like, but the process is happening. And though it's slightly painful, it's also been beautiful.

In large part, it's because I started a prayer schedule a few weeks ago. Monday through Friday I have a specific focus each day to pray for my friends and family. I decided to do a schedule because, well, I just needed it in order to be intentional about praying. Without the schedule I would often forget to pray or just not make time for it. So, I bought a planner that was just broken down week by week with lots of space for writing prayer topics/needs. At first, I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it, but then I decided to choose one topic each day and under the topic I would list all of the people to pray for in regards to that topic. I often try to send those prayers to those I am praying for each day.

Of course, once I decided what I wanted to do, then I had to choose the topics to pray over each day. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to pray for or how to choose the topics. Then the Lord began to show me five areas where I struggled with bitterness and jealousy. And I knew. Those are the areas where I need to be praying for others (and sometimes myself or my children.)

So, here are the topics:

Monday: Marriage. Because they both start with "m". And I can imagine it doesn't take much thought to understand why I struggle with bitterness in this area. It's hard to look around and see all the other couples who have gotten to grow old together. Raise children together. Who get date nights and anniversary dinners. Who get to spend nights in the ER and the hospital nursing each other back to health. There's someone there to balance your crazy and provide a shoulder to cry on when you just can't take one.more.thing. As I look at all the years ahead of me without my man by my side, bitterness wins the battle. He was taken too early. Fifteen years together just wasn't enough. It doesn't take much for the bitterness in this area to well up within me. So I put it on the list. Every Monday I pray for the marriages around me; the marriages in my family, Kevin's family, and my precious friends. You know what? As I have prayed for these marriages I've slowly begun to enjoy holding the rope for these precious couples in this special way. I still have to fight that twinge of bitterness that the enemy throws my way as I start those prayers each Monday, but it's getting easier and easier to do each week. God is so good!

Tuesday: School. I'll be honest. Sometimes I am a little jealous of the families that send their kids to public school. Because I am selfish. And it would mean I'd be home all day alone, able to do all the computer work and such that I need to get done for my part-time job and other things I help with here and there. I look at other homeschooling families and I am jealous of how fun and exciting their school times appear. I am jealous that their kids seem to enjoy school and work so effortlessly. Their kids are ahead of mine and I convince myself my children will never be able to function in the real world. None of this, of course, is true. They are lies straight from the hand of the enemy. So, I decided that, not only would I pray for our school, I would pray for other homeschoolers I know to have good, successful days. I pray for many friends whose kiddos are in public school and struggling with new schools, new homework, tiring schedules, and all the conflicts that come with more than one child being in a room at a time. I pray for the amazing Christian teachers who pour themselves out daily to love children as Christ loves them and to give them a chance at an even better life than their parents have. Though this is also happening more slowly than I would like, my heart is changing in this area, too. Now I want to see these other homeschooling families succeed. I want my friends who have kids in public school see their children rise up and speak truth to their classmates. I want the teachers I know to have doors opened for them to share Jesus with their students and their parents. It's hard to feel deep jealousy when you are rooting so hard for those of whom you were once jealous. There is more jealousy to get rid of, but I am confident that God will do it, bit by bit.

Wednesday: Friendships. Believe it or not, friendships don't come easily or naturally to me. This summer I had a goal to deepen one friendship and make one new one. I failed on both parts. In fact, I made no effort on either one. I look around and see so many friendships blooming and growing and it has me in tears. I so desperately want to be a good friend, want to reach out to others, yet I just can't do it. I cannot make myself follow through on that desire. So, instead, I sit back and let the bitterness and jealousy grow as I watch others do what I, for reasons I can't name, cannot. So, every Wednesday, I thank the Lord for the beautiful friendships I do have and ask the Lord to bless those other friendships I see. I ask the Lord to build deep, godly friendships for my children and to enable me to encourage those friendships (another thing I find so difficult.) I also ask the Lord to enable me to deepen the friendships I have and even develop new ones. It feels like it's harder for my heart to be changed in this area, but He's s l o w l y doing, a little at a time.

Thursday: Children. The biggest area of bitterness and jealousy for me in this area is watching other people's children getting saved, while my sweet E just seems to not get it and not care. No matter how hard I try. He is just not interested. It means that I struggle to rejoice with others as their children are saved or show the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. So, I pray for their kids. I pray for their salvation. I pray for their obedience. I pray for their future spouses and careers and families. And then I pray the same prayers for my own children. And it has made the joy for the salvations and accomplishments for their children come much more quickly.

Friday: Ministry. Oh, how I struggle with this! I feel so passionless and useless and giftless at the moment. I think deep down, I know none of this is true, but it feels true right now. The enemy has taken full advantage of this and used it against me at every opportunity. He has me believing there's nothing I am doing now that is of any value and that, because of Kevin's choices and struggles, I'll never be able to do any kind of useful ministry. Of course, I am surrounded by those who have sold everything, literally, to go halfway around the world and serve those who so desperately need the Gospel. Those who have the most beautiful gift for knowing just what is needed and not hesitating to make sure it is provided. Those who have taken the hard steps, even when the results were not what was expected, to speak Truth to those being fed only lies. And I am convinced none of those could ever be me. Each Friday I battle those lies by laying the lives of those I know in various ministries around the world at the feet of the Father they so faithfully serve. I pray for their perseverance, friendships, open doors for the Gospel, wisdom, the loneliness that threatens to undo them. I pray for their financial support, mental support, emotional support. I pray for the people they meet with daily and the Divine encounters they will have. Some days I even pray the Lord will open my eyes to see where He would have me serve, using this crazy God-story He's given me to draw many to Him. (But I don't pray that as often as I should. It's combination of being afraid He wouldn't tell me anything and being afraid that He'd tell me just what to do and I wouldn't be up to the task! Both ridiculous things if I believe that He is always with me and enables me to do what He's called me to do.) As I pray for these sweet missionaries and pastors and pastor's wives and faithful servants, my heart is tied a little closer to theirs and I see the value and need of holding the rope from here for those all over the world.

I still struggle each day with bitterness and jealousy. It is not easily banished from our hearts. It takes the daily, intentional work of turning it over to God in prayer and believing God's truth over the enemy's lies. Of course, you have to know God's truths, so that takes intentional time in the Word. Let's be honest, there are many days we don't feel like praying or reading the word. But, the enemy wins if we choose to give in to that and do other things and forsake our time in the Word and prayer. So, some days, you don't do either with joy or passion, but because you know you need to, because you know it is what is best for you. Similar to getting up at 4:30 a.m. for that run or eating that salad for lunch instead of that large slice of cake. But, the more you choose the prayer and the Word, the easier that choice becomes. (And for the days that choice is hard, text a friend that will point you to truth, tell them your struggle, and let them encourage you to make the right choice.)

Father, thank You for the gift of prayer, even when I don't want to do it and don't see it as a gift. Thank You that even when I pray out of obligation, You still hear and You still change my heart. Thank You for the small changes I am already seeing in the few short weeks that I have been intentionally been covering in prayer, for myself and others. Please keep working! Keep molding and changing my heart. Make me one who is sensitive to the needs of others, lifts up those needs immediately, and takes any action that You ask in order to help with those needs.

August 22, 2017

Little Victories

One of the biggest, yet hardest, lessons I have learned in this grief journey I am now living is that you have to acknowledge and celebrate the little victories. Sometimes, they are all you have in a day.

Many of my days begin wanting to roll over, ignore the alarm and the day's responsibilities, and go back to sleep. Two mornings a week I meet two amazing ladies at the crack of dawn (before dawn, actually, because the sun is not up when we meet) to go for a run. I only get out of bed those days because I know others are waiting on me. The other three days of the week are a serious struggle. As I lay in bed I think ahead to my day and it wears me out, mentally and physically. And my feet haven't even hit the floor, yet! Before we've even done it, I know that math will be a struggle for all three of us, mostly involving tears. E will have to hear instructions, one at a time, over and over again before he can remember to do anything, S will cry if I edit any of her writing even though all I am changing is grammar, they're going to want three meals and a countless number of snacks. It's just too much for me to handle or think about first thing in the morning. I find myself complaining to God before the day even starts. I am questioning why in the world He would ask us homeschool, why my kids can't seem to listen, why they can't get along, why I am such a #parentfail when there's not another parent to bail my kids out. On and on the list goes of the failures and hardships that cloud my vision.

Most mornings I can feel myself slipping away into this pit and can stop, force myself to take a deep breath, and turn my complaining into prayers. Little Psalms if you will. I lay before God what I feel like my weaknesses are, thank Him that He has none of those weaknesses and makes up for them in my life, and then ask Him to enable me to see the truth about the situation, strengthen the areas where I am weak, and lead and guide me so that I can point my children and others to Christ. It's usually a long list. It takes a while. Close to an hour most days. And a good chunk of that praying is simply for the energy to even get out of bed and start the day. Once I do that, lay it all at His feet and ask Him to guide the day, starting the day doesn't feel so impossible.

Now, that doesn't mean our days are all sunshine and roses by any means. I still say mean, stupid things to my children and friends. I'd like to blame that on grief, but I think the time for that has passed and I just have to accept that I am human and sometimes I say mean and stupid things. So far, they've all always forgiven me! We've only had two days of school and all three of us have cried through math both days. And Ethan is only in 3rd grade. There really shouldn't be anything to cry about in 3rd grade math. But, no worries, we found a way. I lose my temper at things that don't matter, my kids don't listen, and I still have to take a nap most days to make it to bedtime. I quickly jump to seeing the worst in me and my children. I get easily overwhelmed by dumb things of no eternal significance. I often choose complaining, crying, or weeping and gnashing of teeth over prayer and trust as things arise during the day. I have limits to what I can handle in a day. And I hate it. I want to be able to function like I used to, before grief stole my brain and hijacked everything (or so it feels.) But, you know, when I felt like I could do everything, I rarely asked God for help or direction or included Him in anything. Now I can't imagine going through the day without stopping everything to pray multiple times because it's the only way I can focus, catch a breath, or stop the panic from taking over.

But, still, I seem to be so much better at keeping track of defeats instead of victories. I guess the defeats are easier to see and name. But, I promise, those victories are all around you, you might just have to ask God to open your eyes to them and help train you to see them. I know I sure have. He has answered and, not only has He helped me to better see the victories, He has surrounded me with beautiful ladies who help to point them out to me when I can't see them.

Victory is: getting up at 4:30 a.m. twice a week to run; making something other than cereal for breakfast (even if it did come out of a can); reading even one chapter of a book out loud to the kids; praying before a meal; getting the dining room table cleaned off to have college students sit around it for lunch; taking a shower; not wearing today what you slept in last night; finishing a math paper in less than 2 hours; remembering to turn in your library books on time. The list could go on and on. It will look different for everyone. But, if you look, you'll see victories. Here are three of mine from today:

I know this doesn't look like much, but this little electric power washer was an answer to my prayers today. I felt so defeated after our morning of school. And it's only the second day. I wanted God to just give me one victory. One thing that I could be thankful I was able to do, on my own, no tears involved. Then I remembered that a young man in church, who had fixed my big, clunky power washer and sold it for me in order to purchase this, had delivered it to me Sunday and it was in the back of my car. I ran to get it, hooked it up (no screaming or crying at all---VICTORY!) and was able to clean my deck and one side of my house. Y'all, I forgot my deck wasn't black! I couldn't even tell you how long it has been since we've been able to see wood grain on that deck. (I know it looks black in this picture here, but that's just the reflection from the water.) It's still not the most beautiful deck in the world, but layers of dirt, grime, and mold are gone and I was able to do it without having to rely on someone else. It felt so good! #victory

 You may have seen on Facebook last week that I was tired of the poor way E's Legos were stored, so I bought some bins and a shelf and was determined to make it look neater, even if it really wasn't. The shelf came in today. First of all, just being able to carry that heavy box to the basement and not hurt myself was a victory! Second, S and I put this whole thing together all on our own. We didn't scream. We didn't cry. No curse words went flying. Now, I am quite sure it took us longer than it should have, but we did it! #victory (Now, to figure out where to hang that picture! It's too big for the spot I really wanted to hang it so now I am perplexed. I guess that will just be a #victory for another day!)
 We had an old, non-working security camera on our back power pole that I really wanted/needed to come down. But I don't do heights. And it was really high in the air (at least to me). One of the awesome guys from my small group came by today and took it down for me. E was so excited and could not wait bust the glass to get inside and take it all a part. I am pretty sure I sighed. And there was probably some eye rolling. From me. Not him. (I am almost 38. Eye rolling doesn't look good on me.) Tinkering with the camera just for the sake of tinkering with it did not fit into my plan for the day. If you know me at all, you know I do not improv well, on stage or in life. If there is a schedule it is meant to be followed. I really wanted to just throw the camera in the trash and move on with my day. But then, as I saw it sitting on the counter and the excitement in E's face at the thought of taking it apart, all I could see was Kevin in my sweet boy. So, we made a deal. He had to finish his math, then he could destroy the camera. Math was still hard (not because of lack of skill, but lack of desire to do the work), but the rest of his school work went so smoothly after he destroyed the camera. He did a great job with school and had so much fun finding all the right tools to do what he was wanting to do. I let go of the plan and let him have fun. We both won. #victory

So, as you head to bed tonight or start your day in the morning, ask the Lord for eyes to see the victories, big and small. You see, when we see those, we are seeing the hand of God actively working in our lives and the lives of those around us. When you are looking for the victories, those defeats grow strangely dim in comparison. I have not mastered this and still have to ask God for His vision each day. I sent a frantic voice text to several of my tribe today because all I could see was the defeat of math. But, you know what, our God has conquered math! I mean, if He has conquered death and the grave, math is no match for Him!

August 18, 2017

Year 7

On August 21 we'll be starting our seventh year of homeschooling. We started this journey, rather unexpectedly and having no idea what we were doing, when Sophie started kindergarten. I really didn't think we'd still be here all these years later.

I feel just as ill-prepared this year as I did that first year. And much more tired. And much more overwhelmed. And much more worried about whether or not I am getting any of this right. Because now their needing to get into college/or get a real job one day feels so much closer than it did seven years ago, all the little things of each day seem so much more important. Every decision feels huge! The last two years feel like a bit of a waste because, well, there were many days when not much got done. It makes me thankful that the Lord can do a lot even when all we can give is a little!

Believe it or not, though I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication, I actually started out as a Secondary Education History major. This major was chosen based on two things: I love history and, at the time, it made sense that it was a job I could wear a costume for every day. Clearly, no one was surprised when, barely halfway through the first semester (and without having taken even one education class), I switched my major.

So I was probably the most surprised when God whispered homeschooling into my ear. I have no training at all in education. I had barely even ever taught a Sunday School class, let alone being in charge of the entire education of a child! But, the Lord has been gracious to us. He has surrounded us with many who are ahead of us on this journey and can offer us wisdom. We have a great Co-Op that fills in a lot of gaps and makes school lots of fun.

I wish that I was more creative when it came to teaching, but we've made it, one year at a time, so far. We did lots of fun stuff when she was younger, but I find that harder and harder to do as she gets older. And is learning things I barely understood when I was in school. See why I am a little worried for their future? Oh my!

In the seven years we've been on this journey we have yet to repeat a daily schedule. We just kind of go with the flow and change things around when needed. In the last year or two I've realized they actually do better with doing some lessons in the evening after dinner. Family devotion works best at breakfast. Just little things that I've switched around here and there. This year will be the same way, trying things until we find what works. I am trying an entirely new curriculum for Ethan (other than math) this year. This makes me nervous, but I am hoping it goes well. He needed a change. I hope this is the right one!

I am praying that this is our best year yet! Father, fill all three of us with a love for learning. Give us eyes to see how our lessons and subjects teach us more about God and who He is, as well as how they equip us to tell others about Him. Lord, lead and guide each day. Give me wisdom to know what needs to get done and what needs to be dropped from the schedule each day. Give me a sensitive spirit to know just what each of my children need, day by day. Oh, Father, draw us to You as we spend time learning about the people and the world You created! Use this gift of homeschooling to draw us together. Grant us sweet memories, laughter, and a year of knowing You more!

August 09, 2017

518 Days

I didn't really count days until May 2015. That's when we started counting how many days Kevin had survived without fentanyl. Since March 10, 2016, I've been counting (some days trying not to count) the days we've lived without Kevin. It's 518, by the way.

Part of me feels like a bad Christian that I look at it, most of the time, as the number of days I have lived without him. Shouldn't I be looking at it as the number of days he's been healed, whole, and living with his Savior? Some days, that's what I think. But honestly? More often than not it's the number of days I have survived without him.

Without him here to speak logic to my drama. Without him here to clean the kitchen. Without him here to lead our family devotions. Without him here to deal with insurance companies. Without him here to prepare Sophie for middle school and the youth group. Without him here to teach Ethan how to be a loving, godly man. Without him here to take out the trash on those really cold nights. Without him here to watch The West Wing with over and over. Without him here to wipe away the tears of insecurity and worry and fear. Without him beside me for year 7 of homeschooling.Without him beside me to laugh and rejoice and fight with and fight for and grow old with over the years. Without him. Without him. Without him.

And it sucks. Most days involve tears at some point. Some are tears of frustration. Some of loneliness. Some of fear. Some of confusion. Some just because I don't know what else to do. I shed more tears than my kids will ever know. I am sure they shed more tears than I know. His absence is felt in every moment, whether in that moment or when replaying that moment later. The regrets are piled high. The guilt and shame follow me everywhere I go. Most days it's a fight to find a silver lining and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It's hard not to compare my life with the lives of those around me. It's hard not to be jealous that other daughters and sons get to have their daddies around. Hard not to be bitter that others around me get to grow old with the love of their lives and I don't. It's hard not to wish I was sitting in a hospital room taking care of my man, regardless of why he's there, because that would at least mean he was still with us. It's hard to see why others can walk away and leave addiction behind but it plagued Kevin until the day he died. Did I not pray enough? Trust enough? Fight hard enough?

But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that His ways are higher than my ways. I cannot know the plans or reasons of the Lord here on earth. Once in Heaven, I am not sure those ways or reasons will matter all that much. There is a time and a season for everything, whether I understand or ever know the reason that accompanies the season. Still, I must trust. Can I say, as Job did, even with a broken heart (as I am sure Job had), "You give and take away, blessed be the name of the Lord?" Do I sin by charging God with wrongdoing or do I let go of my agenda and need for control and trust that He knows best? Do I believe that Psalm 147:3 (He heals the brokenhearted, He binds up their wounds) is true? Do I believe Psalm 139 when it says that He knows all about me and has seen every one of my days already? Do I believe that He is with me, has left His perfect peace within me, and leads and guides me in every moment?

If I am honest, I don't always. I spend a lot of time whining and complaining and throwing temper tantrums because this life has not turned out the way I wanted it. I question God's wisdom and decisions. (Why let me get married when You knew I would be left here without him? Why allow us to have kids when you knew the heartbreak they would face living this life fatherless? Why give me dreams and hopes for my marriage and family when you knew both would be torn apart?) I want everything to be back to normal right now. I want renewed energy right now. I want life to be happy and easy and nothing but joy. Right now. But this is a broken world filled with sin, so that is not possible.

On the days that I am intentional to start the day in the Word and prayer, I find myself to be more productive, more joyful, and less bitter. Yet, I still, far too often, choose laying in bed and letting myself wallow over choosing what I know is best for me. As it says in Romans 7:15-20, 24-25 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it...What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Oh, how desperately I want to stay close to the Lord, to trust Him with everything on this crazy planet, and to live my life in a way that brings Him glory and points others to Him. But I also want to stay in bed all day and not be a parent. I want to hide away from the world that often now feels foreign, harsh, and cold. I don't want to reach for my Bible. I'd rather just sit and cry and throw myself a pity party. It's so much easier to be a slave to all the emotions.

That is not what God wants for me. John 10:10 assures us that Christ came to give life. Not just the surviving by the skin of your teeth, holding on with white knuckles hoping to make to the end of the day, kind of life. He came to give full life. Abundant life. But I can't have that life if I leave Him out of the equation. No matter how easy it is to forget about Him. To walk away from Him and toward the grief and despair.

So, yes, it's another 10th of the month. And another 10th that happens to be a Thursday (he died on a 10th that was a Thursday). Yet, today can be a day of hope. Peace. Trust. Rest. Being rooted in the only One that enables me to grow and find joy. In just about a month I will be speaking to a group of precious women and the Lord has had a word in my mind for months as a theme: Rooted. Oh, how I wanted to be rooted in Christ. To be rooted in Christ I must be rooted in the Word, in prayer, and in community that will point me to Him at all times. Man, it's hard when He makes you live out the words He asks you to speak!

Oh, Father, fill me with Your hope today. Let this be a day of sweet memories of days gone by, sweet memories made in the moment with my kiddos, and of choosing celebration for Your gifts of forgiveness, healing, and an eternal home with You. Fill this day with Divine energy. Divine motivation. Divine grace. Oh, Father, give me abundant life through You. Remind me of Your promises and all the ways You have filled them.