July 30, 2016

freedom

“How can you be gone?” I whispered to one of the many photos on our fridge.
I took a moment to study the faces. One from the dating days, and then one from the parenthood days.

We both got older. A few wrinkles have begun to claim space on our faces, a few grey hairs have claimed space on top.

We grew up, I realize.

We grew up together…

If you’re new to my little blog, hang on. You’re in for a roller coaster. There’s a lot of feelings going on here.

Three months ago I said goodbye to my best friend, my husband. Our children and I laid in bed with him as he slipped away from us, silently changing the course of our lives forever.

We had a happy Christmas, although we had already begun packing to return to our mission field - a remote little village in the jungle in South America. December 30th we found out that Captain had cancer… less than 4 months later we said our goodbyes.

Now, as I’m trying to pick up the pieces of our lives, figure out this single motherhood business, and find balance with working, nothing, homeschool, housekeeping, etc., I’m left in the quiet. The meals have stopped. The random visits from friends offering condolences have stopped. The barrage of affection from every direction has slowed.

There is a time and a place for everything, as the shock of our loss wears off in our community, we’re left in the quiet to figure this new life out.

Please don’t mistake me for complaining; there is a time for rallying and a time for quiet. Now is the time for quiet. It’s needed.  (Please don’t mistake this for a lack of support. My tribe around me is very much involved in making sure there are vegetables in my fridge and that the children have clean underwear.)

Like the gentle breeze stirring the grass, life seems to be gently stirring me away from shock and grief and darkness to light and laughter.

As I grapple with letting go of our old life, and trying to accept this new life, I’m left also grappling with God.

So many questions for God.

One of my best friends told me shortly after Todd died that she wasn’t sure if I would cling to my faith or turn to alcohol. I laughed at her statement, but I also wondered the same thing. Tragedy has a way of making you examine what you believe.

You figure out pretty quick if you have faith that will be scorched and whither away, or if the roots of your faith will fold fast through the storm…

There’s going to start to be some changes that you’ll see in our family. I’ll be writing about it, and I’m sure I’ll be posting on Instagram and Facebook too. After a lot of prayer, thinking and discussing, I’ve made a decision about our lives that quite frankly - feels a little crazy. I still can’t believe we’re doing this, but, we’re going to give it a go.

 I know that this decision isn’t for everyone, and that some people are going to think it’s stupid. But don’t judge me. Unless you’ve lost your spouse and know the emptiness and brokenness our family is experiencing, you don’t get to judge us. We need to heal some more before I’m ready to work and put the kids in school, and we have chosen an unusual way for this to happen…

We’re joining the “tiny home” world. We bought an RV and our goal is to live in it for a year. To take a year and heal, grow, bond, and learn how to be a family of three. We’re going to sick around TN through the winter with a few exceptions (I’ve always wanted to see New England in the fall), and then head west, visit family, see things, and homeschool as we go.

We might hate this. We might last two months and change our minds. And that’s OK. Our animals are coming with us. We’re going to be a traveling zoo. This is crazy town and I know it. I guess I’m just the right kind of crazy. But we need this freedom right now. The freedom to stay, the freedom to go. To cry some days, and have wild adventures other days. The freedom to cling to each other and to explore and to run in the wilderness.

Todd would have loved this.

I don’t know what this next year will bring, but I do know that God is with us. And He loves us. And sometimes that’s all we need to know.








 
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July 19, 2016

survival

“Mama, I need you!”

I walked back to my bedroom where my little boy was laying in my bed, trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep. Those bright blue eyes looked up at me and I sat down next to him.

Earlier we had talked about the sheets we just put on my bed. It was all I could do to make it sound like a happy thing to put these sheets on the bed.

Todd had slept in them.

Just a couple nights, on the blow-up mattress when he was staying with his parents while the kids and I headed out to Washington for chemo treatments. 

He had shoved them back in the cloth bag and they were forgotten.

Until now.

I had covered Sam up and told him to smell deeply. I told him that these were Papa’s sheets and sleeping in them was like sleeping next to Papa.

“Mama,” he said again.
“What sweet boy?”
“I feel like Papa is dead. Can you lay with me?”

Sob.

It’s the little things in our broken lives that remind us how acutely we feel his death.

The skinned knees. Standing at the sink without him hugging me from behind. Riding bikes. Lazy Sunday mornings. The deep void next to me as I sleep…

We live in a different world all of a sudden. A different life. What was meant to be a a temporary stop - Tennessee - has turned into home. What was meant to be our dream - living in the Guyana jungles - is nothing more than a distant memory.

It was never about surviving.

Every time we sat down to talk about our lives in the jungle, or any time anyone else would talk to us about our lives there - we always knew what we would need to survive.

But we didn’t want to go to the jungle to survive. What blessing is there in surviving? We wanted to thrive there.

Now, I’d be happy with surviving.

This is it. This is my life. It’s not the jungle. It’s not with my husband. It’s not what I had signed up for.

There’s a common theme among married people these days - people don’t really mean their wedding vows. I’m not sure I did either, truthfully.

Till death do us part.

Like that’s when the love stops.

Death did part us. But the love didn’t stop.

Sigh.

I don’t want to survive in life. I want to thrive. I want my kids to thrive. I want us to not count cold cereal as a supper meal three consecutive nights in a row. I want us to be able to lay in bed together at night and talk and laugh instead of being so exhausted that I barely tuck them in.

I want us to stop feeling death.

I want us to not feel broken.

I want us to find a new dream.

The shock has worn off. I don’t walk around in disbelief anymore. A semblance of acceptance has crept over our home and we’re starting to eat more vegetables and less frozen waffles.

I often find myself remembering our other life and feeling apathetic over this life. I wonder if someday that spark that we used to have will find us again.

“I feel like Papa is dead. Can you lay with me?”
I looked into those hurting eyes. “I feel like Papa is dead too.”
“I’m really sad that Papa died.”
“I know, sweet thing. So am I. Close your eyes. Ok, Can you see Papa?”
He shook his head no.
“Try to see Papa’s face. It’s smiling at you.”
“I see him!” His eyes were clamped shut but they smiled. “He’s picking me up and giving me a hug!”
“That’s right! Do you hear what he’s whispering in your ear?”
He shook his head no again.
I leaned over and whispered in his ear. “He’s saying, I love you, Samuel. I love you so much!”

And he fell asleep with a smile.

Oh, to dream.
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July 7, 2016

hot mess

For being a Christian, I sure do lie a lot.

The first thing people generally ask me when they see me is, “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing alright, I guess.”

Liar.

For the first time, yesterday I decided to try the truth.

I don’t know what made me say it, but when our supper arrived (our community has a meal train going for our family and is bringing us suppers several times a week), the pastor’s wife asked me the question.

“So, how are you really doing?”

I hesitated for a moment. What would people say if I told the truth?

“Well.” I paused. “I’m a hot mess.”

That’s really the only answer I had. And it was the only truth.

I AM a hot mess.

She followed me into the kitchen and shifted the mess around on the table to set the meal down. I shifted mess around on the counter to set something else down.

The kids came in. I told them to wash their hands and set the table. There were only 2 clean plates left. All others were stacked disorderly in the sink and surrounding vicinity. “Uh, just get a paper plate out for me.”

A few moments later the report came back that the paper plates were too far buried under the mess on the counter for the 5-year old to find.

I looked at Heidi in exhausted confirmation. Yep, hot mess.

I don’t want to be a hot mess, but I do want to be real. I don’t want to say I’m OK when I’m clearly not. Why do we do that? Why is it so hard to say that we really aren’t OK?

This year has been the worst year of my life. My children have learned far to early how unfair life really is. That bad things happen to good people. That sometimes it looks like darkness wins.

But darkness doesn’t win.

And yeah, I’m keeping it real over here with all my belongings in boxes lining the hall wall because I don’t want to unpack. I keep forgetting to put things back in the fridge and having to throw them out. Not because I’m ungrateful or trying to be wasteful, it’s just part of the coping. The honest truth is, I’m in survival mode.

This morning Millie walked into the front room and gently asked me, “Mama, what are you looking at?” She looked at the blank wall and saw nothing. I tore my gaze away from months ago back to the present and smiled at her. “Nothing.”

I don’t know if she understands or thinks I’m crazy, but probably once a day there is a small hand on my shoulder with a gentle, “Mama, what are you looking at?”

I’m looking at Papa, I think to myself. I’m watching him sleep in the hospital bed. I’m laying next to him. I’m watching him slip away.

I know that someday the time will come to move on. I weep at the thought. But I know that someday, I really will be OK. It won’t be a lie anymore. I know that I’ll be able to be present with my kids without them having to remind me to. I’ll be able to stay on top of dishes and laundry. Ok, maybe not laundry because, life, but the dishes I can handle.

Someday…

So there is the truth, friends.

I’m not OK. But I will be.

Until that day comes, I’m so grateful for the community we have here and the support for our family. I’m so grateful for every prayer offered on our behalf. I’m so grateful for the generosity that has been poured out often times from strangers. I haven’t forgot your kindness. I’m grateful that God is holding onto me when I struggle to hold onto Him. 
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July 4, 2016

I can't do this...

The last few moments of my husband’s life refuse to stop playing in my head.

It’s like a song on repeat.

I can still smell the hospital smells on his skin as I lay next to him. I can see the expression on his face as he slowly slipped away. I can feel his chest rising and falling… and then still. I can hear his last breath, and then, silence.

I can close my eyes and I’m laying next to him in that bed again. Holding his hand. Silently hoping and waiting for a miracle, even though I had thought I didn’t have any hope left.

Every ounce of hope in my veins poured out in those last minutes until it was gone. Until he was gone…

And now. Ever day of my life is measured by that day. At first it was one week, then two. One month, then two.

Every tick of the clock is another measurement of time that passes.

Tick. Tock.

I never imagined what a halting stop my life could come to. People keep saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” But I bet you can, if you try.

Life just kind of stopped. Suspended in midair. The wind stopped blowing and all is still. That’s kinda how it feels. Like being in the ocean all alone in a raft with no wind to take you anywhere.

It’s a deep and painful loneliness.

Tick. Tock.

But not all stopped. The children keep going. They keep me from staying in bed all day and from getting lost in the deep retreat of my mind.

They get hungry. They make messes. They get bored.

So on we go. My body goes. I can carry on conversations and even laugh at the appropriate times. I make polite small talk with the other moms on the playground and banter with the check-out lady at the supermarket. I know the things to say, so I say them.

But my heart is still lost at sea, and the clock is still ticking.

How much time will pass before I can feel my heart again? How much time until those last minutes stop playing in my mind? How much time?

Please, don’t answer that.

Sometimes, I talk to God about it. Other times, I can’t find any words, only tears. And still yet I cry out to God in pain and anger and confusion.

Every time I am overwhelmed with life and death and fear I cry out to God that I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t be a single mother. I can’t provide for my children. I can’t do this. Every time, God, in some quiet way, reminds me that I’m right.

I can’t do this.

But I’m the beloved of the One who can help me.

Oh how He loves me. Oh, how He loves me.

My faith didn’t protect me from pain. It didn’t protect my children or my husband. That’s not what faith is for. It’s not a protective measure, rather, it’s the strong line that connects me to God as I walk through this pain. As my children walk through it. As my husband walked through it.

So many people have told me that they were so surprised that Todd died when so many people were turning to God in prayer for him. Todd would have died 100 times to give people the chance to turn to God. This much I know.

God heard those prayers.

He loves Todd so much.

He loves us so much. With every tick of the clock, He loves us.

Someday this will all make sense and we’ll know. But for now, as the wind is still, I will close my eyes and cling to the faith that connects me to God.
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June 22, 2016

changes

 Dear Todd,

Our lives keep going on and on.

Everything is changing. Nothing is the same.

Each change is a stark reminder to me that you are gone.

We have a dog now. And 2 kittens. I call them our therapy animals. I have a new car. The kids needed new swimsuits. I got new shoes. We got camping equipment. I even have my own paddle board now. All of the new things are reminders of what I can't share with you anymore. Camping trips you will miss. Road trips you will miss. Memories you will miss.

It's been two months now since you left us. I can still see your smile so fresh in my memory, but sometimes I struggle to remember the sound of your voice. We watch videos of you and look at photos often so we don't forget.

Today I sat down with a grief counselor for the first time. We met at the park and chatted while the kids played and rode bikes. He says I'm dealing with my grief well. I don't feel like it. I feel like I'm falling apart.

I wish you could meet Samson. He's our puppy. He's a black Great Dane and his eyes look so much like Alex's eyes. I look into them and I remember so many adventures we had when we got Alex. He was such a good dog, and Samson is following in his footsteps. I'd forgot how much I enjoy training a dog. He really is therapy for me. He's Samuel's dog - Samuel got to pick him out for his birthday - but Samson is a mama's boy through and through.

The kittens are so much fun. They are so tolerant of the children constantly carrying them around. Amelia named hers Mary and Samuel named his Moses. They are going to be really good kitties.

We got back to the house just over 3 weeks ago. I thought that once we got back here everything would fall into place and I could think more clearly. Instead, the house feels so empty, just like my heart.

I printed and framed a large family photo to take to your funeral. It's up on the piano now. It's one of the ones we had taken in November with your plane. I stare at it, that was just a few months ago. Already the cancer was spreading throughout your body and we had no idea. No idea that we were spending our last happy months together. No idea of the fight that was to come. No idea of the heartache that was to come.

We were happy.

You were so proud of that plane. I am still proud of you. You know, that plane is going to Guyana soon. James is going to fly it. I know that's what you would have wanted.

I haven't mustered the courage to go look at it yet. The kids have asked to. Maybe someday.

We had a little party for Samuel last week on his birthday. It was small and simple and I didn't spend hours making anything. In fact, all I made was a cake. I was fine until I brought out the cake and we sang to Sam. Then, I lost it.

A boy needs his father.

Sob.

Next week I will spend our anniversary without you. Thirteen years. I'm so glad for the time we had together, but it wasn't long enough.

After that is my birthday, the children are concerned that I'll never get a birthday present again. Haha. There's only one present I want now, and I can't have you...

I wish I could end my letter by saying, "See you tomorrow!" I can't wait for the day when we are reunited. I'll have so many things to tell you, and so will the kids. They keep growing, you know. I see you every time I look at them. Thank you for that gift.

I love you.

I'll always love you.

Someday when we are together again you'll laugh at me for writing letters to you. I hope that I'll be able to remember to tell you all the things I wish I could tell you now. I close my eyes and imagine talking to you and despite the pain of missing you, it actually makes me feel a little better knowing that someday will come.

Love forever,
Cas

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June 5, 2016

his last letter

We got back to Tennessee a week ago.

I walked into our house, where I knew someone had been staying the last few months.

I took a deep breath and let my eyes sweep around.

The kid's artwork, the Christmas cards I had left on the door frame, our books and personal things were all gone from the walls. The worship books and candles were not on the piano. Furniture was moved.

I felt like a stranger.

I just walked into a house. Not our house. Just... a house.

I went into the kitchen and dining rooms.

Empty walls stared back at me. Our homeschool shelves still were full of books. But there was no "Anderson Family Kindness Plan" on the wall.

Even though I knew someone had been staying there, I didn't expect to feel like our home had been violated. It probably wouldn't have mattered at all if my husband had been by my side... but he wasn't. 

It's kind of silly, I now realize, but for some reason I had it in my head that if we could just get back to this house, to where our life was, to where he was, that I would be able to think clearly and make decisions and figure out what I want.

But as I stood in a empty house there was no clarity. In fact, I felt more confused than ever.

It's been a week and I've been halfheartedly unpacking at best. The kids' clothes finally made it into their dresser today.

I don't want to be here.

I suspect that I don't want to be anywhere.

Friday morning we spent the morning out at 12-acre farm that's been offered to our family for 2 years. From the emails back and forth prior to seeing the property, I wasn't sure it was something I could handle. But, with a little help from our amazing community here, it's going to be a sweet little house for us.

I don't know if I'll get there and not want to be there, but for now, it's something I need to try.

I'm going to surround myself with animals and write and be outside as much as I can.

I think I'll love the space and hate that I can't share it with my husband.

I'm still living out of boxes, and I'll continue to do so until we get out to the farm - it will take a few weeks to work on some repairs and such. I'm also having to move our belongings that were moved out of our living space, everything was put in the kids' room.

As I'm going tenderly though the stack of things that once sat beside my husband's bedside. On impulse I put them back where they belong. Then, I sat down on the bed and looked through his things. Books, notes about airplane things, doodles from the kids. On the bottom was a composition notebook.

The man loved his composition notebooks.

I opened it up expecting to find a maintenance log or tax-record log (heaven help my non-record keeping self). It was mostly empty as I flipped though except for the first 3 or 4 pages. I turned the book right side up and let my eyes scan the first page.

My heart stopped.

It was a letter.

To me.

That he started after we found out he had cancer.

I read the first few lines and closed the book. And my eyes.

I can't.

I paced the room a bit, grabbed the box of tissues, and sat down on the bed again, determined to read the last letter he wrote me.

We were letter writers. I'm a better communicator when I write, so we've written hundreds of letters back and forth over the years. As I'm reading this letter, it's not just a letter. This was us. It was only 3 pages long, and then it would be over.

I slowly opened the book and found where I had left off.

Two more lines and I'm sobbing again.

The pain. Oh the pain. My heart. Oh how it hurts.

He never finished his letter. We ended up flying him out to Seattle so fast that he didn't have time to finish it.

He loved me so much more than I ever deserved.

Now his love is gone and all I have are his words and the memories of his love.

Friends, leave memories of your love with the people you love.

Write letters. Take photos. Do the all the things. Go places. Be present.

Don't forget to treasure the memories in your heart.

You'll never regret love.
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