December 27, 2019

The Best Worst Christmas Ever

We had the worst. Christmas. Ever.

If it could go wrong, it did;
[x] Our beloved class pet escaped and seems to be gone forever;
[x] Our Christmas plans got canceled because of the death in the family of my friend, which meant that we were home, thankfully, when on Christmas Eve;
[x] Our house almost burned to the ground (maybe a slight exaggeration but the possibility was there. The power cable to our house exploded and smoked heavily and we lost power);
[x] We spent the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the school, which was still a mess from our Friday party, so I spent half of Christmas Day cleaning;
[x] So while we were 48-hours without power;
[x] We started having propane failure. I was outside in my jammies at 3 am Christmas night trying unsuccessfully to get the heat back on;
[x] After giving up and going back to bed, we woke up at 6 am to 54º in the house;
[x] The day after Christmas I drive all over getting things fixed and come home to discover that the screen on my MacBook is flickering.

Also there is not one photo from Christmas. It was not a magical, tradition-filled day full of love and laughter.

Also we got a puppy.

I spent more than a day wallowing in self-pity.

On top of feeling like this Christmas in particular was the Christmas from you-know-where, Christmas in general is just a hard time for me.

Four-years ago, we had a magical, tradition-filled Christmas full of love and laughter. It was the last happy day in our family. Two days later, 4-years from today, my husband woke up in pain. 

He went from fine one night, to dying the next morning.

Literally.

And so Christmas already packs a lot of emotional punch for me.

But after having myself a hearty cry (and a little sweets binge-eating), I let myself feel the cold, silent void in my heart for just a minute.

The funny thing about feeling so empty is that you tend to realize all the space you have in your heart to fill up. Sometimes I feel so dry and empty that I wonder if I'll ever love again, and other times I feel like my heart is just so full of love with no one to give it to...

These are the thoughts I was contemplating when my kids came into my bedroom. They ether don't notice my tears or are just used to seeing them. I'm not sure. They sat down and cuddled up to me, seeming to feel the weight of my silence.

"So did you have a good Christmas?" I ask neither child in particular. Knowing that we had a crappy Christmas and now I was going to have to try to do something to fix it.

Millie looked down at the puppy in her arms, "This was the best Christmas ever!"

Wait, what?

"The only thing that would have made it better is if I got a hatchet," Sam Added.

I honestly felt dumbfounded.

I smiled, "What made it so good?"

"I've been praying for a black lab puppy for forever." I can verify she had been.

"And I wanted a trampoline so much! Thank you, Mama!" My son, so full of life and energy and excitement.

"So you guys a had the best Christmas ever?"

"We did!"

As they bounded off to take Nugget (I bear no responsibility for that name) outside, I had to stop and think. Was it the best or the worst Christmas?

It's easy as adults to get weighed down by all the things. There's even more weight for single parents. But kids don't let the weight sit on them for long. They feel it, I know they do, but then they shrug it off like a sweater on a 70º December day in the south.

They leave the weight strewn in the grass on their way to jump on the trampoline. When they get there, they call to me.

"Will you come jump with us?"

The weight I bear feels to heavy to jump. Too heavy to set aside.

"Mama come jump with us!"

I walk over to the trampoline as Millie attempts a front-flip. "Wow, that's pretty cool. I couldn't do that."

"Yes you can Mama! Come up here, I'll teach you!"

I hesitate under the weight of everything gone wrong. But I'm not thinking about it for long. In a moment I find myself kicking my shoes, and my worries, to the side as I climb up onto the trampoline.

My kids are overjoyed. Their excitement fills my heart. As Millie begins explaining just what I need to do for a flip, I begin to jump beside her. The more I jump the farther I feel from all the problems waiting for my attention.

Higher and higher we jump before I tuck my chin and throw my body into what I hope ends up resembling a flip.

Both kids come bouncing on me in excitement over landing my "pretty good try" at a flip on my back. As I watched them celebrate my small victory, I wished I could be more like them more often.

"I think you guys were right."

"About what?"

"This is the best Christmas ever, isn't it?"




PS - Sam got a hatchet the next day.
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June 28, 2019

stolen

In 2005 we were living in the Philippines.

Todd had left with the other pilot for a 10-day long trip to fly a medical team to a remote island and back. Up until this point I had gone on most flights with them, but because of the small plane and larger medical team, I had to stay behind, alone.

They left on a Sunday, and Monday I came home at lunch from my office to find that our home had been broken into and everything in the house had been overturned. Sunday, before they left I had taken our file out of the safe with our salary for the next 3 months, our passports, and other important documents. I had meant to return it to the safe Monday morning when I went to my office, but I had forgot it. When I walked in the house, stepping over our belongings strewn around the floor, my heart sunk remembering that file sitting out on my bed. I didn't even have to go into the bedroom to know it was gone.

I went across the street and got some friends to come back to the house with me because I was afraid someone might still be in the house. As we pawed through things on the floor and found places for the strewn items, I was in disbelief that someone would do this. My purse had been left hanging over the back of a chair was lying empty on the table, the contents emptied and half missing. My Philippine driver license was there, the cash was not.

We made our way up the stairs and into our bedroom. I felt sick to my stomach to see my underwear drawer open and my dedicates in disarray. That's when the feeling of violation really hit. Everyone had gone to the next room and standing there alone, I turned around to the bed and that's when I wanted to cry for the first time. Everything was gone.

I followed my friends into the other bedrooms which were mostly empty and then wandered back into my bedroom and sat down on my bed with my head in my hands. I straightened and pushed my hands behind me to prop myself up when I felt something hard.

I had haphazardly tossed my pajamas onto the bed that morning after dressing, and there, under the discarded nightgown, was our file. It hadn't been touched.
Christmas 2004 in front of our house in the Philippines


+++

This morning I woke up thinking of that day. This morning I woke up again feeling robbed. Someone broke in, smashed my heart and my life, and left me to pick up the pieces.

Today we would be married 16 years.

Instead, it's the 3rd year that I've spent this day alone, no matter who I am with.

I don't really know what to do with myself on these days that are filled with "would-haves," and "should-haves," and "could-haves." Like, I cried for a while, but now what? I want to honor his memory, but I also want to stay in bed all day.

I have work I need to do, but find myself staring into the memories.

I need to write papers for school but the words coming out aren't academic.

I need to do a lot of things, but I also need to just feel and remember and cry and sit a minute.

Sixteen years ago I remember feeling like I had our whole lives ahead of us.

Today, I still have my whole life ahead of me. It's different. It's turbulent. It's like a river that's changed so much over the years that it seems like a different river, but it's still flowing.

Each day and month and year that passes takes me farther down the river. Away from that day I married my best friend. Away from the day I lost my best friend. Away.

But "away" isn't always a bad thing, even if it is a hard thing.

And as I travel the "away" path, sometimes I sit down to rest with my head in my hands a while. But every time I sit back up my hands find something hidden that I never really lost.

I still feel the love as real as ever.

I still feel my faith, as strong as ever.

I still feel mt God, as sure as ever.

Some things just can't be stolen.


June 28, 2003 in front of our friends and family

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June 13, 2019

Again

Life is such a beautiful, broken, messy thing.

It's been over a year since I've written anything.

No blog.

No articles.

No book.

No grocery list.

Maybe that last one is stretching it a bit.

I have spent the last 3 years rediscovering who I am, what is in my soul, and what I'm going to do with this life I'm left with.

It's been 3 years and almost 2 months since my world shattered around me. Of feeling a deep longing in my heart that nothing can soothe. Of finding strength, losing hope, and building a protective wall around my heart.

I now live alone in my own head, having pushed away most people or at best keeping some only at a distance. But never in. No one may come in.

I went back to school. Became a teacher. Moved away. Started over with a very convenient reason for not truly opening up to my new community; I'm the teacher. It seemed like a good excuse to stay slightly distant and aloof from everyone, right? Teachers have to have their you-know-what together.

Always professional. Always perfect. Always...

Now I'll stop the teacher train right here and be first to say that I'm not perfect. Not even close. But I have some still notion that everyone else expects me to be.

I've never been a very good actress.

So, I've created this little bubble of isolation around me.

Everyone is kept at arms length.

Everyone. My friends. My family. My community. As painful as it is to admit it... even my children.

Defense mechanisms are so fun. Says no one ever.

In the recent few months I decided to try opening my heart to see if it was still beating. It was, barely. I let someone in and was reminded of how painful a beating heart can be.

Sigh.

It's a good thing (or not) that I'm surrounded by constant distractions. I managed to average 10-hour work days by the end of the school year. You don't want to know how many hours I began the school year working everyday.  My children, who are both in my class, could see the imbalance in my life before I could.

Oh my children. Sweet. Loving. Ever-present.

No really. Ever. Present.

Every.

Single.

Moment.

I am literally almost never away from my babies.

I love them so much.

I'm not sure it's healthy to never have a break. Remember that whole not letting anyone close to me thing? This is one downside.

But this is different. This week, I am alone.

This week, my little guy is at his grandma and grandpa's house. He left last week and girl and I will fly out to spend the summer with them next week. And speaking of girl, she's at summer camp for the first time ever. I'm totally OK with this and not stalking the camp website for photos and borderline ready to drive up there at any moment. Or something.

So for the first time in over 3 years, I am alone.

Alone. What an odd concept.

For a good several hours of the day I'm well distracted by the classes I'm taking online. Research articles, papers, projects, and hours of recorded lectures keep me adequately preoccupied from the void that my children's absence has created.

But then, when I put the books down and walk away from my computer, I'm surrounded by a cloud of aloneness that I find suffocating.

I stare into the empty cloud and I whisper to myself, "This is what you wanted." And I realize that consciously or subconsciously trying to protect my heart from any possible pain is lonely place.

Almost as lonely as death.

But this time, it's not my husband's death. It's the death of every relationship I could possibly have.

Gutted.

Ripped out.

Torn off.

And I'm finding that what I thought was protecting me, is causing me more pain than than I was trying to avoid.

Sigh.

I'm reading a book this week.

Listening to a book, actually (Audio books are the bomb).

It's not a new book but it's very timely in my life and kicking my butt a good bit. Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly." I've had it on my shelf for years now but hadn't picked it up. I had a spare Audible credit and a long drive and thought I'd listen to it.

I think God's been saving me from reading it until this week. Like for some reason He knew that when I was all alone and feeling all the effects of my wall-building that I would need to hear it.

Like somehow every distraction being stripped away and being left to see that I don't have a single meaningful relationship* in my life was a good time to cut me to the heart and remind me that I have an entire life to live and living it this way sucks.

[*To those offended by that please know I'm not saying that I don't have meaningful people in my life. I'm talking about the relationships with you that I'm not contributing to.]

Our hands are meant for holding.

Our thoughts are meant for sharing.

Our lives aren't just for us.

My hands are meant for holding and my thoughts are meant for sharing and my life isn't just for me to live as safely as possible.

I don't want to be alone because I'm too afraid to be hurt. I want to have deep connections and meaningful relationships and close friendships.

I want to write again. And laugh again. And love again.

Life is such a beautiful, broken, messy thing. And I want to share the beauty and the brokenness and and mess.

So this is me. Coming out from living in my own head.

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May 12, 2018

the dance

When I was a kid I danced around the house. A lot. It was my favorite way to irritate my parents. I remember watching Stephanie Tanner dance on Full House and it was all I could do to sit still while she danced.

I feel like dance has always been a part of me, although because I’ve had hip problems since birth, and because we grew up poor-ish, dance class was never an option growing up.

In college I took dance for my PE. I’m not a natural dance prodigy, but even as an adult I have been known to dance around my house.

And then my life stopped.

My dance partner took his last breath and all the dance went out of me.

It’s been two years of still feet. 

So much has changed in my life in the last two and a half years. So much instability in our lives. So much moving from place to place. I deep fog shrouded the first year after my husband’s death, and the second year was a smack in the face of adjusting to our new reality.

And now, we’re living our new normal.

Part of that is learning who I am all over again. I went from living in my dad’s house to living with my husband, with only a very short time in between. I’ve never really been on my own before. So I’m learning who I am all on my own.

This girl I’m finding is pretty neat.

Totally above average in some ways.

But, back to the dance. 

It was so slow I didn’t even notice it creep back into my heart. Like the thawing of the deep winter freeze, spring has slowly bloomed something in me. Something like new life.

All of a sudden I find myself singing again. Smiling again - not the practiced, forced smile I’ve been wearing for two and a half years. A smile that comes from place of deep joy in my heart. And, something I realized today, I’m dancing again.

David danced with all his might. I get this guy. I get the deep welling of joy and gratitude and praise that wants to come out through movement. A song asks the question, “Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still?”

I will dance.

Even now. It might not be impressive by anyone’s standards, but the dance is beginning to slip out when I’m cleaning. When I’m cooking. When I’m forgetting my sadness.

I will dance.
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April 21, 2018

two plus love

Tonight I am laying in bed awake.

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of my husband's death. Is that how you say it? Is it an anniversary or is there some other way I should say that? I don't actually know the proper way to talk about death still. Tomorrow, I will refer to his death using the plural: "years." "Years" sounds like a long time. "Years" sounds like I should have learned the proper way to talk about death by now.

Alas. Not PC. Sorry not sorry. Whateves.

This is the thing I want to say - tomorrow it will be two years since I stood in the ICU hallway conferring with doctors, agreeing to take him off life support. Two years since I sat my kids down and looked my kids in the eye and told them they had to go say goodbye to their daddy. Two years since that day that is etched in stone in my mind. Every detail. Every hug. Every. Last. Breath.

But I'm OK. I mean, I'll cry myself to sleep tonight and tomorrow I'll go through the motions of "Remembering Papa Day" for my kids and I'll cry some more. But I'm OK. Until I sat down to write, I wasn't even really thinking too much about the deathaversary. Deathday? Is there a name for it?

Anyway.

What's really on my mind tonight is my mom. Two years is not only the measurement of my husband's death, but also the measurement of when I last talked to my mom. It was actually in January. We stopped to have supper with her on our way to Washington where Todd was waiting to begin treatment.

I'm trying to figure out how to word this. PC is not really my thing tonight. So bear with me. My mom - she hurt me. I don't think she meant to, and I'm pretty sure she didn't even realized that she hurt me until I told her. I've had over two years to process the pain and as much as I want to say I've moved on and forgive and forget and all that stuff, tonight my heart hurts from this still.

The only thing that hurts worse than the initial hurt was that all I wanted was an acknowledgement of the pain inflicted. That's all I asked for. That's what I've needed to move on. Instead, I feel like a child still. Still wondering what's wrong with me that I'm not lovable enough...  I just want to hear you say that you're sorry you hurt me. Because that's what you say when you hurt someone you love. And I need to know that you love me.

I'm not writing this to rag on my mom. That just is what it is. This is about pain. We all experience pain, don't we? Some more than others. But it's unavoidable. I've endured two years and four months of really intense pain. I thought that the pain would kill me, and sometimes I thought about ending the pain myself. But I have two amazing reasons I didn't. Two things that kept me going. Two little people who are sleeping soundly tonight, not even knowing that more than once, they saved my life.

Guys, I get pain. If you are hurting tonight, I just want you to know that you're not alone. I get you. I get the numbness and the acuteness and the throbbing and the gut-wrentching, heart-stabbing pain. But there's something else that I get - love. I've been loved on like I never could have imagined. Through the pain, I have been blessed beyond measure. My mom hasn't been there for me, but I can think of several "moms" I have in my church. My husband might not be here, but there are many husbands who have jumped my car and moved furniture and unscrewed tight lids and told my kids the correct names for the kinds of balls and the sports they belong to.

The only thing I understand more than pain, is love. And that's because I've been loved well - by my sister, my friends, my community, even the cashiers at the Village Market and the teller at the credit union have told me more than once that they're praying for our family. My in-laws - I don't know what the rules are about your in-laws after your husband dies. Are they still my in-laws? Do I call them something else? Whateves. They are family. They have loved and supported us through hard thing after hard thing. I love those people so dearly...  I hope you guys know that. I love you.

At the end of the day - and it is the end of the day - you only have two things when you close your eyes: pain and love. And when you wake up, you have a whole new chance to add to, or subtract from, both of those things. Happiness isn't in stuff. Happiness isn't in money. Happiness is in love. Pain is unavoidable, but what you with that pain is the key. Love keeps us from giving into the despair of pain. Love holds us tight when we're all alone. Love is what keeps us going until that very. Last. Breath.

"Keep on breathing. Just keep breathing..."was my last mantra to my husband. And it's what I'll leave with you. "Just breathe..."

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December 20, 2017

a spark

“Why don’t you write anymore?”

I paused and looked down to escape my friend’s gaze. I didn’t know how to answer that. “I don’t know. I guess I don’t make time to write anymore…”

While that is actually true, it’s not really the reason I stopped sharing my journey. I stopped sharing my journey because I was afraid of being judged. I thought maybe people were tired of hearing about how sad it is to rebuild your life. I just needed a minute to live in my head and keep to myself.

It’s been One year and seven months since my husband quietly slipped away from us. I can still close my eyes and be back in that hospital room, holding my breath and praying for a miracle. One year and seven months of rebuilding, moving on, finding balance, and making mistakes.

Two years ago I was a missionary pilot’s wife and homeschooling mama getting ready to return to our jungle home in South America. Two years ago I was jealous of an airplane who got more of my husband’s time than I did, and I would go and spend hours scraping paint, filming progress, and hanging out in the hangar just to be with him. Two years ago I was in the full swing of Christmas joy and holiday excitement. Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses and trees and lights and all the things. Two years ago I had no idea that in one week he would suddenly get sick.

We had Christmas, and then we had cancer.

Christmas isn’t what it used to be. I hold onto the memories of our last Christmas as our very last days together as a normal, happy family. I’m thankful for the gift of that last Christmas. But Christmas is also a marker of the end for me.

Sigh.

You know what I miss the most? Our time together on the sofa after we put the kids to bed. The time when we could just chat and hang out and be together. And those moments where he’d come home and just hug me for long moments. And falling asleep at night talking. I miss our inside jokes. I miss praying together. I miss walking hand-in-hand.

Oh, my heart.

The pain hasn’t really lessened. It’s changed. But my heart still feels a void I can’t explain. I have a dull ache in that emptiness that is my constant companion.

But I’m finding a spark of new life in a way I never expected.

I thought that the only way I would ever feel whole again is if I found someone to give all this love to. All the love that has no where to go. If I could just find someone they would fill the hole in my heart, I thought…

I dated way too early trying to fill the void. It was what I needed to try, and I made some good friends in the process, but time revealed to me that, like it or not, I had to go through the process of grief. And it is a process. And I’m going to be in process for quite some time.

But as time goes on, I am finding that my emptiness can be filled in other ways. I am substitute teaching right now, and stepping back into the classroom lit a spark inside me I had nearly forgotten about. I love teaching. I love ministering to young people. I could spend my whole life watching their faces as they learn and grow. I have a newfound mission and calling. I never thought I could be as fulfilled as I was as a missionary, but teaching… teaching fills my heart by the bucketload.

In a week it will be two years since my world came crashing down around me. I will relive all the things we did each day. The day he got sick. The day I took him to the hospital and we heard the word “cancer,” The day I flew him out to Seattle to start treatment right away, the day we left to drive out to be with him, etc. I can close my eyes and be in those moments like I lived them yesterday.

But in a week something else is going to also be happening - I’m starting to apply for full-time teaching positions. I can’t think of anything else, other than being a missionary in the jungle, that I would want to do with my life.

This last year and a half has been a crash-course in so many things. I basically went from living in my dad’s house to living with my husband (there was a short time in between when Todd and I were dating). Until my husband died, I literally had never made a decision on my own. My dad helped me buy my first car and get insurance and all the teenage things, and then my husband helped me decide just about everything after that until a year and 7 months ago.

And since then, I have purchased our tiny home on wheels, spent countless hours renovating and repairing it, put my kids in school, got a job, and on and on. I think that Todd would be proud of me. I hope he would be. I want him to be.

So, this is where I’m at in this journey. I’ve gotten used to being on my own and if God has someone out there for me, I will be happy when that time comes. But if there isn’t someone out there for me, if Todd was my someone and my only someone, I’m OK with that too. Those fifteen years with him were the best fifteen years of my life. I’m blessed to have them.

I’m trying not to be a grinch for my children’s sake. But if you don’t hear much from me for the coming weeks, I’ll be alternating between applying/praying for a teaching position, and cuddled up with my pup living inside my own head a bit.
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