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.

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?

It has to be a celebration as much as a service to remember.

This may sound strange but I am looking forward to Sunday more then I ever thought I would.  Yes, it will be hard to hear and see the stories and memories of your husband instead of him sitting right there beside you. And it will be hard to come up with an answer when someone asks me, “How are you doing?” It will also be difficult as an introvert, to be the center of attention, and my pain and loss as the center of attention. Despite all this, my heart is already rejoicing just at the thought of hundreds of our friends and family in the same room singing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Worship His holy name!”  I can’t wait for people to hear of our Savior who is still alive, Chris’s very reason for living and who he is with now. And I look forward to sharing with others Chris’s example, in both his life and death, of how to truly serve Christ.

The last week has been hard but good. When everything is quiet and I am laying in my bed its hard not to cry. I miss him and everything about him. Its also hard to not having him sitting beside me, making everyone laugh, when I am out with a big group of friends. Its funny how at first seeing and talking to everyone takes your mind off of things and then you step back and realize that it will never be the same. A part of you is gone. Yet, I have to be thankful that God and God’s people have really taken care of me. Many details and decisions will be successful because of friends, some who I know really well and others who I just met, who have lifted my load. Chris dreamed of a service after his death that accurately portrayed the gospel of Christ. It was my goal to help him make that happen, but I cannot take the credit for this one. Our pastor cancelled his trip to the Ukraine in order to be here to lead the service. A mom that only heard about what happened, not personally knowing us, created the memorial cards. A friend paid for the many many memorial cards! Finally, a really good friend has spent upwards of 30 hours in creating picture slideshows that will help people visualize Chris’s life and example.

It has to be a celebration as much as a service to remember. There will be many at the service tomorrow who are already part of the body of Christ and will both morn and rejoice. Chris is with God, our Lord and Jesus, our deliverer. He is where we all want to be. There will also be some who mourn and wonder how people can rejoice at such a loss. My hope is that through Chris’s life and story the message of God’s grace and love towards us will “make sense” to those who haven’t believed it and followed it for themselves.

I want to also remind you that if you would like to come tomorrow to celebrate Chris’s life, you are more then welcome. It is at Ada Bible Church. It is tomorrow, Sunday, February 23. Doors open at 2:00 Service starts at 3:00

8899 Cascade Road SEAda MI, 49301

Pray for tomorrow that the words and pictures and songs will all be used by God to bring about His kingdom. Thank you also for  so many of you who have been such an encouragement to me through your comments, your cards and your posts/reposts on Facebook. Its much appreciated!

I’m ok with hard, as long as there is hope.


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Last night we were all told by his hospice nurse that if there was anything we wanted to say to Chris, now was the time. In the moment it seems so unreal. Can this really be happening? We’ve been through tough, seemingly impossible times before, can this be any different? We all spent individual time with Chris, giving family members the space and time to be alone. In my times alone with Chris they are often in silence. I have always known that this day would eventually come, and in the past recent weeks Chris and I had a mutual understanding that it was coming soon. We were unfiltered, open and honest. I didn’t hold back in telling him how thankful I was for loving me so well and for giving us a beautiful daughter. I told him how he has taught me how to take the risk and trust God and also to work hard in selflessness in order to be a Christ-like example to others. I told him that I was going to be ok, because he has shown me that my first love is God and that our love for each other is a reflection of God’s love for us. There is very little to say at this point that we both do not already know. So we hold hands and I pray. Sometimes I pray out loud and other times to myself but I know that God is there with us in that quietness. (Isaiah 30:15 . . . In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength . . .”) 

Standing right here in the midst of everything and recalling all of our past memories, it doesn’t seem real, but in the times of silence and prayer it’s very real. I am reminded in those times that this life is not our home and leaving our physical bodies is far from the end. I glimpse for a short time all of this through the eyes of God and there is peace. God knows and loves my husband far greater then I ever could and His plan and purpose is good. And as much as I wish that Chris could live and stay here with me, he will soon be with God in a perfect place that we all long for. 

I am happy . . . I am happy for him and more than ever before I feel the longing to just be done with this world and go with him too. Perhaps this is why the Lord gave us our little girl. She gives me purpose. I know that each of us have a place and purpose and for a short while we will have to be apart. It’s hard to think of much purpose being here besides taking care of Gabriella. I’ve always known that she needs me, and I know that she will help to keep me going, but my heart and my longing right now is to just be with Chris. 

Then a couple days ago here at Chris’s parents house I heard from God that someone else will need me as well – his family. It would be so easy to move away and start over, leaving behind everything that makes me think of my life with Chris. It’s very tempting even now as I am writing this, but I know that God wants me here. Chris’s family is amazing and his Mom and Dad are my Mom and Dad, his brother, Matt, is my brother and his sister, Nikki, is my sister. Being here at their house and taking care of Chris has only brought us closer together. Even in the last few days, my heart is drawn more and more to each of them in a strong and undeniable way. Through the eyes of God I am able to catch a glimpse of his perfect plan. 

There are still so many fears and unknowns. I try not to think about going home to our house in Grand Rapids, cooking now for only myself and waking up without a husband beside me. I know it will be hard, but I’m ok with hard as long as there is hope. And there is hope. There is everlasting hope and beautiful hope. An unseen hope but a hope that I can feel with my entire being. Hope with promises given by an all powerful, all knowing and all loving God. Promises of hope like Romans 8:38-39, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

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.

A Community of Followers

Last week at church our pastor (Jeff Manion) told us about a friend who is battling with leukemia. This man couldn’t contain the joy and love he felt as he continued to tell Jeff how so many Christian families have come along side his family and shown incredible love and support; meals dropped off every other night, help with decorating for the holidays, and countless other ways. This man felt the love and support from other Christ-like followers like never before and he said to Jeff, “If we behaved like this all the time, people would be begging to be apart of this,” 

Sitting next to each other that Sunday morning, Chris and I turned and both looked at each other and smiled because Jeff was also talking directly about our family as well. I can’t even begin to start listing all the ways that other believers have helped us and given of themselves in incredible ways. I have received several cards some with cash and gift cards for considerable amounts and they are from other mom’s that have never even met me before but have heard what our family is going through and want to do something. The school that Chris and I both teach had hosted a pancake breakfast last year when I was pregnant with Gabby, taking care of four foster kids and Chris was in the hospital. A non profit community woman’s group, ladies from all different churches and all different backgrounds, organized the event and raised close to $10,000 for our family! Looking back, that was crazy! Then there are those who come right to the hospital at just the right time when I need them and I am strengthened immensely because it is real self-sacrificing love.

It could be that there are some who help that have other reasons for doing so besides the love of God that is in them but its not the majority. Its when a parent of one of Chris’s former students shows up at our ER room right when I am emotionally exhausted from doing this for the forth time in 6 weeks and is there to help me get Chris admitted instead of being told, “go home there is nothing we can do for him”. Its being given a huge box of diapers, never knowing who they were from. Its hearing about churches, of people all over our state, praying for us.

I John 3: 16-18 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

This is real love and this is the real church. 

How can we do this better all the time? Really the key to witnessing is; find people in need, pour on them God’s love that lives in and through us and love them more then ourselves.  The loving them more then ourselves is the hard part. I also know from our own lives and how it has changed that showing others who God really is and how He loves comes from being able to rejoice in the suffering we are experiencing. It is terrifying feeling like you are being hurled off a cliff and the end is coming up real soon, but it is also incredibly amazing and comforting being hurled off a cliff but held tight in the arms of the almighty sovereign God. I believe that when others can see that, see us falling off that cliff surrounded by the arms of God and we are not freaking out, we are actually at peace and we trust in who holds us, then people are going to look at us and think that that is weird; weird but good.

Imagine with me . . . if you are a “Christian”, you decide right now to do 2 things. First thing, when suffering and trials hit you, you decide to trust God and welcome the suffering in order to experience his love and closeness like never before. Second thing, when suffering and trials hits someone in your church family, you decide to show them the love of God in every possible way in order that trusting God and welcoming the suffering becomes way easier for them. Not only will self-sacrificing love like this help whoever is experiencing the suffering, but it will create a tight knit family who would do anything for each other. Then, and only then, will God himself be able to be revealed through us to the rest of the world. 

(Sorry if there are grammar mistakes- Its 4 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I’m mainly apologizing to my husband who is a English teacher.)