A Gift

I have to apologize for not writing in a while. My life recently has been a whirlwind of emotions, mostly really good. I could easily compare it to a roller coaster. The last couple months have been extremely fun and exhilarating, but I feel like I am also trying to cling to God’s hand with anxiousness and fear and hope all at the same time.  My life is not incredibly busy, although running after my daughter has become a full time job, but my emotions and thoughts run me exhausted most days.

I will try and explain as best as I can 🙂

Meeting Tyler and getting to know him and falling in love with him has been a joyous and unexpected surprise. And I know not everything in my life is orchestrated by God, but I am completely convinced that God had this one planned out. I completely give God all the credit. Honestly, there were too many answered prayers to make me believe otherwise. Lets just say that Tyler brings me an incredible amount of joy, and every time he shows me love I am reminded of the love that God also has for me.

With all this new joy and love in my life also comes unexpected pain and sadness. Its like I have opened myself up to feel all the good, but I also feel everything else as well. Less then a year ago, Chris was my first and really my only. I married my high school sweetheart. And our relationship grew to be more mature based on the love and respect God intended for a husband and wife.  Now, in my new relationship, I know and feel love for another and it’s good and wonderful, but it also reminds me of the love I had for Chris and his love for me as well. This is a very good thing. Chris and Tyler share several similar qualities, and Tyler’s character often reminds me of Chris’s. I of course wouldn’t want it any other way, its why I haven’t looked back; but sometimes those qualities remind me of Chris, and I can’t help but miss him.

The only thing that is getting me through is sharing my thoughts and feelings to those who I trust, telling my story to friends or sometimes people who I just met for the first time, and realizing my struggle to a God who understands. About a week ago my good friend Bethany and I hosted a Christmas party at Dégagé Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids. Close to 200 men and women who, for whatever reason, have found themselves without a home, came to our Christmas party. I was able to catch up with some old friends who we knew from a couple years ago when we served at Heartside Park. I was also able to talk to several people I had never met before. One gentleman called me over to talk as I was passing by. He was an older African American who was missing most of his teeth but still had quite a smile. He started asking me several questions wanting to get to know me, and at this point I am very comfortable answering “I am widowed” when the “Are you married?” question comes.

I love this question actually because it makes the conversation go from surface to deep and intentional and real. I believe it’s the only kind of conversations we should really have as followers of Christ. I can immediately be open and real with a stranger, and when these conversations happen a stranger can become a friend in very short time. We talked for several minutes but the words that I remember the most from him is when he said, “Now listen, I can see that you have a lot of joy in your life, and I feel sorry for your husband who passed away because he doesn’t get to have that joy any more. But you find someone else that you can share your joy with, thats what your husband would have wanted.”

Its incredible what you can learn from those who you least expect.

I know that Chris misses me and all of us who he left, but I know that the joy he is experiencing is far greater then I can ever imagine. However, I never considered before that my life and the joy and love I have in life but also the pain, would be a gift to someone else. I never considered that I am a gift to Tyler. I realize how much he is a gift to me. He is the first person and sometimes the only who I share my deepest and darkest emotions too. He knows that I still miss Chris because he is there when I am sad, and he understands. I know my gift.

But I realized that day, from a man who did not have much to give, gave me a tremendous gift of realization that I am a gift to someone else.

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Like the fall leaves, brilliant and changing

Right now I smell crisp air and burnt autumn leaves. I see the bright orange branches dancing against a brilliant blue sky. I hear the crunching of a thousand maple leaves as I speed past on my bike. I feel the wind rushing through my hair and I feel alive in a season that is revealing its beauty through change and loss.

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I wonder if a tree looks forward to its time where its color and brilliance leave us staring up in awe at the wonder of God. Or is it saddened knowing that all its leaves will soon be dead and gone? In a Bible study (Bible Study Fellowship) I attended this morning, I am reminded as God’s beloved daughter, my suffering and loss is for a purpose and it only lasts for as long as it’s necessary to bring glory to Him. I also realized that God is completely faithful. Of course He cannot prove his faithfulness to me if I am afraid to risk and step out in faith. And His light and brilliance will not shine inside of me if I am not willing to let go, to let go of my leaves and be naked and bare before Him.

I am studying Exodus right now. Its unbelievable the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years.” God knew the hard future that lay ahead for His people. He also had a plan to deliver them and carried it out on the exact day that He had promised. Exodus 12:40-41 says, “The people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years. In fact, it was on the exact day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land.” The 30 years when the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt but were not slaves was the generation of Joseph and his brothers. (Genesis 1:6-8) God fulfilled His promise to His people on the exact day He declared. His timing is perfect and reveals to me that He is in complete control of those who love and put their trust in Him. 

I have experienced suffering and I have experienced loss. All of us have experienced suffering and loss and hardship. And I have realized that it can shine God’s brilliant glory and faithfulness if I am willing. I am continually changing and being refined by a designer, a healer, a teacher, a Father. He is creating within me a heart that is drawn to others who are experiencing suffering and pain, a heart that is willing to risk and love unconditionally and a heart that says yes to Him no matter the cost.

There was one more thing this morning that hit me and I want to share it with all of you just like if I was sitting down with you at Starbucks sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I would look at you with sincerity and share how I have realized that I am apart of God’s family and I will choose to always be apart of God’s family but the relationship that I have with the Lord Almighty can change. I can choose to become more intimate and more dependent despite my circumstances or I can choose to slowly drift away from His heart. After a pause of processing these words I would then tell you that I am going to choose to fight for that closeness, that complete dependence and that vulnerable and intimate love with God, my Savior, and I need you to help me and pray for me in doing this.

Pray for me friends that my life will be like fall leaves, brilliant and changing, that I reflect Him in all His wonder and beauty.

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New Life from Dry Bones.

Easter for me is all wrapped up in tradition. Not tradition from my side of the family, tradition from Chris’s side of the family. There were some traditions that we held this year, but it took great effort, like Grandma baking her “to die for” rolls. Motivation in keeping the traditions alive was dead. There was no fire this year and frankly I think we all thought, “What’s the point?” and “It’s not the same.” Chris was the one who felt so strongly about tradition and fought for it. Now, can we really keep the same traditions? Should we, in order to keep it alive, to keep the memories alive? Today, as I was with family, it was like we all just got through.

One think I do know, is that my focus was not on family and traditions this year. This year was quite different. In my remembrance and sorrow of not having Chris here, I clung to the wonderful weight of the Spirit living inside of me. I wept with joy over the story of Jesus raising to life the widow’s son because of His great love and compassion for her. (Luke 7: 11-15) And all of my thoughts keep coming back to how utterly lost I would be without Him. This easter was very different then it ever was before. I was not as busy, distracted, self dependent, and put together. It brought me to my knees realizing the incredible gift that was given to me. Without His sacrifice I would be blinded with darkness and despair. There would be no hope, there would be no life.

But He has created NEW LIFE, by rising from the dead and bring us out of the grave. His gift was new life, because of His great love for us. (Ephesians 2:4-5) Its hard to even put into words. I am overwhelmed by the whole thing and end up in silence because I have no words. The gratitude in my heart is overflowing, and its because of my dependance, my entire identity in Him. He is the one, and only one who has saved me, and He is constantly creating me into something new.

 

 

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new

A birthday and a hope.

Dear Gabby,

DSC_0025-2Happy Birthday my big one year old! Wow, what a day! Did you realize that 38 people came to celebrate your life today? Did you also realize that all of your friends, “brothers” and “sisters” (the kids) outnumbered the mommy’s and daddy’s? Just so that you are aware, we are not doing this every year. You will not  have your own memory of this day, so I am going to do my best in giving you some of my favorite highlights.

 

I was holding you as the majority of people came through the door and as a mommy’s girl you were not quite ready to be passed to another person’s arms, but I know a trick. You love to walk, and although you can’t quite do it on your own yet, its a great way to warm up to someone (someone being everyone who isn’t mom) by holding their hard and showing off your developing agility and gusto. Your tiny feet pitter patter along the hardwood floor and your face lights up along with whoever is holding your hand at your joyous ability. It works every time.

All the kids were your favorite, and it was a favorite of everyones to see you enjoy them. A kiss from Charlotte and giving back one in return would produce three room full’s of “Aww!”

 

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You love sugar! You would have eaten that entire cake if I would have let you. Your baby hands were covered in vibrant pink icing and your face became all of a sudden a very rosy glow. Cameras were going off left and right, and we never got bored of watching your inquisitive and comical expressions as you discovered a new love for sweets. I jumped into your messiness and allowed you to give me a big kiss.We together enjoyed the same taste of the sugary deliciousness of cotton candy. (The icing was cotton candy flavored)

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You were much more involved with opening presents then you were at Christmas. You grabbed that paper at the top and ripped it all the way down to the bottom, the only problem was that you had several helpers who also liked to open presents. Knowing you were not quite as fast, they volunteered to “help” you. Your helpers were Selah, Nevaeh, Lorenzo and Regan. And you, being the kid lover that you are, had no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, having your friends help you open your gifts was the same as playing together and for you it couldn’t get any better. Just remember that when your older.

 

IMG_0386Wrapping paper, bags, clothes, ribbon, toys and people gathered all around. You had just started pulling the tissue paper out of the small gift bag resting in between your legs when Lorenzo, who was sitting next to you, reached out for a toy that was being touched by a toddler. He declared, “Don’t touch that toy, thats DSC_0054my sister’s!” (Lorenzo is my crazy 5 year old who I had the privilege to be a mom to for a year and a half. He is now back home with his real mom along with the rest of his brothers and sisters. This amazing moment shows the closeness of our forever foster family.)

The last memory I will leave you with is the result of eating too much cake. I’m sure your tastebuds were singing for joy at 3:00 but your tummy was pounding its fists on the floor at 5:00. Your grunts and groanings lasted until you fell asleep on your Mommy. I love cuddling with you, so you just slept as I continued to talk with friends. Poor Sadie who was sitting next to me, for by that time, you were only asleep because the mess was in the diaper. But today was a special day and that indulgence was worth it.  Which is why I gave away all your cupcakes for people to take home, it’s only worth it because it was special and out of the ordinary. We can’t do that every day.

The rain came as everyone was leaving. The rain came as wet drops on the grass and pavement outside, and the rain came as a dead and quiet fog inside a big house. It came as it seeped into the loneliness of a widow’s heart. This day was very special, which is why your Mommy cried listening to the patter of rain on the windows.  Your Daddy was not here to smile at me while you were zonked out on my chest. He wasn’t here to push you around on your pink flashy princess car from your Uncle Matt. He wasn’t here to pick you up and help you dunk your ball in the Easy Score Basketball Hoop he specifically picked out for you. He wasn’t here. A heartsick and despondent tune played strong in the wind.  It tangled my hair into knots. DSC_0147The celebration of your one year of life was over and he missed it. Then a blow of consciousness slashes at my heart as I realize He is going to miss everything. There will be many of your special days and there will be no Daddy. And all I can say after the celebration is, I’m so sorry sweetheart.

And as much as I would love to promise you that I will always be there to watch you blow out your candles, I can’t. Life is precious and uncertain and a gift. So, my dearest daughter, you will have to let God be your Daddy. My hope and prayer for you is that through the pain and loss of your Daddy, your relationship with God will become one of complete dependence and love like you have never known before. I also pray that you will trust and feel deep within you the immense love that God has for you. And don’t believe it because I said it, God said it to you. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! . . . 1 John 3:1″ So when you are sad, let God be your comfort and let him love on you. He might take away your pain and He might not. Don’t be angry if He doesn’t take away the pain, for it’s through your pain God is able to be so close to you. He is getting me through, and he will get you through as well. 

 

 

 

 

Dance in the Downpour

Dear Gabby,

Today as you were busy giving sloppy open mouth kisses to your adoring grandparents, your Uncle Dan and I spent our day listening with our ears and digesting with our hearts a host of information, wisdom, and advice from writers who have already gone ahead of us. I am listening to these writers because I want to learn how to write my story and your Daddy’s story so it will not be lost, and that it can be a part of your story.

I’m sorry to say that what I discovered about writing today is very much like that first tooth in your mouth that is still stubbornly hiding behind your gummy smile. It’s there, but it can be quite a process of pain and it is very uncomfortable. And of course to help relieve your pain, you chew on coffee tables, people’s fingers and Mommy’s I Phone cord. It’s taken me a while to realize this, but you are teaching me to work through the pain of my writing instead of screaming about it. And I can only work through it by involving others into my story. Granted sometimes chewing on fingers is easier then chewing on people’s heartstrings. A physical reaction of pain is easier to see from a friend then an emotional reaction to pain, especially the pain in my own life.

I realized today that I have a lot of work and a lot of writing ahead of me. I love writing. I love writing about you and your Daddy and the small drop of knowledge I have of God in the vast ocean of who He is. I will always love to write, but I have to decide if I should still write on the nights when I am sad and lonely, or the nights when I am tired, or the nights when I am lazy. On those nights when you’re dreaming of that first taste of Mommy’s Reese Pieces with your new and long awaited teeth, I will be laying in bed wondering if writing with that much passion, vulnerability and work is really worth it? (I have to admit, it’s very hard to resist those cute beanie boo eyes of yours. Inching closer to me in such anticipation almost transforms me into this programmed robotic mom who would give you anything you wanted.)

So Peanut, if you see me this week sitting down at my computer, but produce a look of confusion, discouragement and anxiety, you will know that your Mommy answered her question. She answered herself; yes, it is worth the “hard” to share the story. It is worth the nakedness to have the open, unfiltered community. It is worth the risk of failure for the chance to love and to live as I have always been called by Christ.

One day, my daughter, you will have many adventures. You will have places that you want to go and things that you want to do. And the best things are when you get to play in the mud and rain and get dirty. Its easy to live in a partly cloudy, predictable and pleasant climate, but where’s the fun in that? Not just the fun but where is the joy, where is the wonder in predictable? I might regret saying this, but I give you permission to live and get messy. I want you to feel the wet and residual clumps of mud between your sinking toes into the earth below, I want you to see the masterpiece of beauty when you create your first finger painting, I want you to hear the cry of other kids who are hurting, I want you to smell the rain in the middle of a downpour, and I want you to speak the truth to your friends through fear and rejection and self-consciousness.

Things are very unpredictable right now and your Mommy feels like she is caught in a downpour. Many adults that I know do not like to get caught in a downpour of rain. Once you start caring about what you look like, you probably wont like it either. But your Mommy is learning to appreciate the downpour, like a child.  In the downpour you can play and dance and feel a freedom that is unlike any other feeling in the world. You just have to get past the heavy clothes which cling to your body, the standing water in your shoes announcing to everyone you’re presence by a “squish” and it reveals your appearance to others; disheveled, imperfect and messy. Is it worth it? Gabby, do you think it’s worth it for Mommy to dance in the downpour?

A perspective on grief and loss.


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Grief and loss are very weird emotions. As our pastor reminded us, it can look different and be different for all of us. What I have realized is that my grief, and I am sure this is true of others, has come in several stages.  There were many tears in the hospital and at home while Chris was still here. After talking to Palliative Care and understanding that Chris has a very short time, there were friends and extended family who came to see him.  For several weeks I experienced and heard each person say good-bye to Chris for the last time. It was hard. It was hard to say good-bye every time someone else did.  It was hard to fight against my emotions that Chris was going to die and I would have loss, but that he hasn’t died yet. It was hard to accept what was really happening, despite knowing in my heart and mind that it would one day. It was hard to not be afraid. It was hard at the end too. (My details below are only to help you have a little better understanding of my grief and pain in order that others will be comforted who have gone through similar situations. It is not for you to feel sorry or be given the horrid details)

For several days, 5 I believe, Chris lived longer then what his hospice nurses expected. He was ready and we all told Chris good-bye. We took shifts to stay with him around the clock. Some of his pain and nausea meds made him hallucinate and laying in a bed all day for several days was causing him to have bed sores. He could no longer stand or sit up without help. He could not hold his own bowels and had to wear a diaper. His feet turned cold from the blood conserving itself towards the organs. He then could not lift or more his legs. He was coherent right until the end. Things were confusing and the lack of blood circulation created some disconnect but when you said, “I love you,” he said, “I love you” back. There were many times when Chris thought it was time and we would all gather around and say I love you and good bye. We would hold his hands and cry. We would pray. And Chris’s body would keep fighting and it wasn’t wanting to quit. His last 8 hours were painful and uncomfortable. All night he was very restless. He would tell whoever was up with him that he had to sit up. Then he would immediately want to lay back down. He wanted pulled and turned and readjusted. When it became my shift at 6 in the morning, he was in pain and was trying to breath through it. His heart rate was high because of the lack of blood. Chris, for several weeks, was bleeding internally. After 1 then 2 then another 2 ml of Roxanol (liquid morphine) and the pain wasn’t subsiding, I knew we were very close, but I was focused. I was terrified that he would be in uncontrollable pain at the end. I gave him another 4 ml and we were at our absolute max. We held hands and I tried to keep him comfortable. When his mom got up and came out to sit beside him I called hospice to have a nurse come out. I wanted someone’s help to keep his pain under control. I got off the phone and came to kneel down beside his bed. I could tell he was still in pain despite that he never complained. Then he said, “This is it, its time for me to go now. I’m going to sleep, I love you.” I said, “I love you too.” I watched him breath as he tried to rest and then his mom and I started talking. A couple minutes later, with both of us beside him, I looked down at Chris sleeping and there was blood draping from the corner of his mouth. His chest rose and fell, never rising again.

My grief was loud and uncontrollable. For 10 minutes I cried hard, clinging to his hand. I could hear myself in my sadness, and I just couldn’t stop myself. Everyone who had gone back to bed was back up and around Chris, each grieving in our own way. Then I just had this release, and I became calm. I stepped away grabbing a tissue. I left to take a shower, and in that moment I felt tremendous loss but also an equally felt relief that it was all over. The struggle was done and the race was completed.

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From the time of Chris’s death until his memorial service I became focused again. It was Chris’s goal that even after he was gone, Christ would be proclaimed to those who attended his memorial. I worked on obituaries, memorial cards, the selection of songs and the order of service. I stayed busy. I compiled stories and asked specific people to read at his service, including myself. Then the day finally came. I had been looking forward to it all week. It was Chris’s long talked about accomplishment. Then all of a sudden we were there and people started showing up and before I knew it we were walking in. In my hand was little Lorenzo’s hand and the rest of the bunch behind me. In what seemed like seconds we were already done with the first slideshow and friends were coming up to read. The entire day completely flew by. I was so tired at the end of the day but, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and couldn’t stop the intense feelings that it was all over. Only this time the feelings were heavy and painfully overbearing. It was all over and now my life has to go on with out him. Everything has been accomplished. His purpose was over. It was a long night.

It has been 3 days since the memorial service and each day is getting easier. There are still times when I cry and other times when I am surprised I’m not crying. I still laugh when my daughter makes a silly face and smile just as much as I did before but I am different. I have changed. Its not bad, its actually a very good thing. I have grown in ways that I feel like its been overnight. I am in a strange middle ground, a land between, but I am learning to find joy in it. I don’t want to be too distracted or busy and I don’t want to be lazy and discouraged.

I want to truly live exactly where I am, in the present. Not in the past and not in the future.

It is not very often in life that you have a chance to start over and seek a new direction, a new purpose. It is scary, but I am not afraid, because I am not alone. God is here and is with me.

Keep on

First of all let me say thank you to all my “sisters” who have lately been so encouraging. I really truly believe that God is answering my prayers through you guys! If ever you feel God nudging at your heart to text a friend, message them or stop by their house to say “Hi”, please do it! 🙂 It very well might take that friend’s love tank from 0 to 100 just by your words. This is what many of you have done for me.

Here is my attempt of giving a synopsis of the last couple of weeks. . .  In my life right now, days are so different from one day to the next. Today has been good. I woke up with a peace and a joy about things today. I showered, fed and laughed with my daughter and took off towards the hospital. The roads were at times slightly dangerous and when I went sliding on the backroads, I laughed at the adventure of everything. I grabbed a coffee and a lunch at Horrocks and was on my way. Chris was feeling pretty decent when I got in and was getting a blood transfusion. He informed me that his hemoglobin was low- 6.7 down from 8.4 the night before. I knew it, he was bleeding internally. Right away I liked his nurse. She has one of those contagious personalities, hard not to like. Despite it being Saturday he got started right away on having a parensentesis done to take out all the fluid in his abdomen (This was mostly blood of course). Afterwards, Chris felt pretty good with the 6 1/2 lbs (3 liters) of blood out of his belly. Can you imagine, a 2 liter plus another half of one, sitting on your gut, no wonder he’s uncomfortable and doesn’t want to eat. Then he went down to do a tagged rbc scan to find where he was bleeding. During this Chris had to lay still for an hour. In the meantime, his nurse, procedure tech and I told stories about our kids and shared pictures. It was like the girls night I missed out on the night before only with nurses I had just met.

Yesterday was a very different story, not a good day to say the least. Chris had a pretty difficult night from Thursday to Friday. Thursday he had 2 blood transfusions and Friday he felt horrible which is very weird considering that blood usually makes you feel better not worse. He puked up some blood and we decided we better go to the ER. We got there at 10:30 a.m. and did not get admitted to a room until 10:00 at night. In those 11.5 hours Chris tried pain medications and nausea meds but could not find any relief. His heart rate continued to climb; 127 . . . 142 . . . 155 . . . 178. He was sitting up but not walking around. The high heart rate was exactly what happened before, I knew what he needed, he needed blood. I talked to the nurse and resident Doctor who came in, I asked if they could check his hemoglobin again but because it was at 8.4 when we came in, it wasn’t a priority. The ER was busy and everything was very slow. It was very emotionally draining for both of us. I would help Chris try and get in a comfortable position, grab his bucket quickly for him to spit into because he was feeling nauseous, and then give him a back rub to help him relax on the padded slab with wheels. I was able to go get some lunch at 2:00 when he was relatively comfortable but the rest of the night I stayed with him. We tried music, we tried going to the bathroom, we tried foot massages, we tried TV, we tried every pain med he was allowed to have, we tried sitting in a chair instead of laying but it wasn’t until 9:00 at night that he finally felt some relief from a beta blocker that was given by a second nurse. Driving home I was exhausted but our marriage, our love for each other grew that night. Chris told me before I left that mentally he could not have survived that night without me. I prayed for peace and comfort for the both of us, I prayed for patience and wisdom. I prayed for strength and God answered.

This has been a good feel of really the last couple of weeks.  Good days and hard days. Days of hope and days of pain. I have realized that my biggest fear is being alone. The fear of loosing him physically but even more the fear of loosing precious days with him mentally and emotionally. The loneliness can be overwhelming at times, and unfortunately its not something that anyone can fix. The confident, fun, engaging and awesome personality that is my husband is just not there most days. Even on the good days, theres no energy left for him to talk kids, life and us after explaining his condition, symptoms and past treatments to 20 different people. A week and a half ago, when he was in the hospital, I had this realization as he was laying there in the bed, and I was knitting in the chair beside him, that we were like an old married couple who were perfectly content to just sit with each other in silence. This really made me smile. I am being given the chance to grow old with my husband.

Even now I know I will have days of joy, love and laughter, and then “I can’t do this anymore” days. This morning I read 1Peter 4. Verse 19 I read over and over again. “So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” This gave me tremendous strength. Its like his voice telling me, “Keep on! I will never fail you. Keep going!” It would be very easy to be bitter or allow someone else besides God to fill the loneliness. Allowing another person or other things to fill the emptiness is in our human nature and it is perfectly reasonably and acceptable according to most of the world. Gabby is an incredible joy I have in my life right now but she is not my everything and she cannot fill what only God can fill. Pray for me as I am looking to God every day to be my source of comfort and strength and meaning.