July 18, 2017

tangles

If you want to understand something about grief, borrow my sweet Millie’s dolly Maeva.

Millie came to me this morning, Maeva in one hand, a comb in the other.

“Mama, will you brush Maeva’s hair for me? It’s too tangled.”

I looked down at the dolly she set in my lap and sighed. I knew that was an hour of brushing. Yes, a full hour. A labor of love for the girl I love so much. It’s not for me that I find myself camped on the sofa, working through the tangles in Maeva’s hair and thinking about the tangles I’m working through in my heart.

Brushing a dolly’s hair is basically working through the grieving process.

I try to take a bit of hair to begin with, but the hair is so tangled I can’t even get a small handful free. It’s hard to know where to start, but I know if I don’t, the hair will stay tangled. So I do the best I can. It’s an awkward start. There’s a lot of pulling at the tangles to work enough free that I can start working the comb through.

Finally, I have a little bit of hair away from the rest of the tangled mess and I start the process of separating each hair from the rest until I’m holding a small bit of shiny, straight hair in my hand. I can comb through that little bit easily now. But this dolly has way more hair on her head than any girl needs. For a brief moment I consider giving her a haircut to match Millie’s hair. But even though taking scissors to her hair seems easier, all that hair would still be tangled.

There was a point in my grief I didn’t talk to many people about. I wanted to run away. I was so broken I didn’t want to carry on the life I had been given. It would have been easy to take the scissors to my life and cut myself off. But my heart still would have been tangled. And I had two little people that needed me to start the process of separating the strands of my heart. These are who kept me getting out of bed and going everyday.

I’m not even halfway finished brushing the dolly’s hair before I need a break. My legs are falling asleep from being crossed under me and my hand is getting a little sore. I set Maeva down next to me and stand and stretch. I go and pour boiling water over a tea bag and hop in the shower while my tea steeps.

In the shower, I run my fingers through my own hair. Unlike Maeva’s thick, dark locks, my hair is fine and thin. I’m reminded that grief doesn’t negate grief. I’ve had to remind myself that when I’ve been tempted, in my darker moments, to say to someone complaining about their spouse’s less desirable quirks, “At least he’s still alive!” I’ve also had moments when I have gently reminded to a friend of this after apologizing for talking to me about her failing marriage.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“It’s ok, I’m always here to listen.”

“I know, but you lost your husband. I should just be thankful for life.”

I looked gently into my friend’s eyes, “Just because I am working through a huge grief, it doesn’t mean your grief isn’t real or meaningful.”

Grief doesn’t negate grief. We all walk our own path, and we all have to face our own obstacles. We’ve all traveled different miles. We’d do well to have more grace with each other and stop comparing our griefs against another’s.

I finish dressing after my shower and head for the kitchen. My tea is the perfect temperature. I take it and sit back down on the sofa and pick Maeva back up. There is a stark contrast between the smooth, shiny hair I’ve combed and the knotted, tangled side still waiting for me to work though. Sometimes those tangles in our own lives are noticeable. Sometimes though, like when I pick up Maeva and the smooth hair falls over the tangled hair, hiding all the knots, we can’t see the parts of our lives we’re struggling with.

Another friend, also in the midst of marital struggles, recently told me that she can’t talk to anyone about what she’s going through because people see her picture-perfect family and can’t believe anything could possibly be wrong. But when you turn over the dolly and brush the smooth, brushed hair away, there’s still a tangled mess under there. Brush away the smiles and the lives we present to the public and you’ll see mess in all our lives. Picture perfect only exists in photos, not in real life. Be gentle, my friends, with one another.

I’m now halfway through untangling dolly’s hair. Sigh. I don’t really want to be doing this anymore. I just want to be done. I remember expressing the same exact sentiments about grieving. But if I stop now, all my work will had been for nothing. And if I try to speed up the process I will just rip hair out and do more harm than good.  I grab a larger chunk of hair. That doesn’t work either. The only way to get through this is one little bit at a time. In grief, one little day at a time. One little hour at a time. One little moment at a time.

I can see progress. I’m getting there.

Millie walks into the room and sits down beside me. Her hand reaches out and she gently strokes the smooth hair.

“It’s beautiful!” She quietly murmurs, running her fingers easily though the brushed half.

“What about this half?” I ask her, hold up the unbrushed, tangled half.

Her nose wrinkles and she halfheartedly tries her fingers in that side but they just stop in the tangles. “Ugly.” Was her assessment. She goes back to petting the smooth side.

“But it’s the same as that side, isn’t it? It’s just not brushed yet. But it will get there.”

She thinks about that for a minute and then her fingers slowly return to the tangled side and she feels all the knots, “It will be beautiful too.” She gets up and runs back into the room her and Sam are watching a show.

“Yes, it will be,” I think to myself. Not sure if I’m talking about dolly’s hair or my own healing heart.

I have left the worst of the tangles for last. Sigh.

Another 20 minutes and the unforgiving and unyielding tangles are finally smooth over Maeva’s head. Finally.

The mess has been put right. The tangles untangled.

For now.

In a week, Maeva will likely need to have her hair brushed. The braids that I quickly twisted into her hair will be taken out. Millie loves to see Maeva’s hair cascade around her shoulders and watch it flow as she lovingly spins her around.

The thing about mess is - mess means life. Mess means love. It’s much cleaner to keep Maeva on a shelf. He hair would never get tangled up there. If I kept my heart to myself and never opened it up again it would be much safer.

But we’re not here to be safe.

We’re on the Earth to be free and wild and to live fully and love recklessly.

I return the braided dolly to her waiting little mama, who takes up her beloved dolly in her arms and hugs her close. Her smile both thanks me and rewards me for finishing the task. All of a sudden, an hour of brushing didn’t seem like such a waste of time. Love is never a waste of time.

Did you hear that? Love is never a waste of time.
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July 2, 2017

all this adulting

It’s a very strange thing to go from living the life you always dreamed of to losing almost everything and starting all over.

I’ve heard people say adulting is hard.

No truer words have ever been spoken.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time introspecting. Who am I and what do I want out of life? These are among the most common questions on my mind.

I was confident in my role as a missionary pilot’s wife. Homeschooling mama of 2. Mission project videographer. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do. But now, none of that fits anymore. That’s not me anymore.

Driving 7-hours from one place to another in my 32’ tiny house RV today, I relished every mile. Washington. Oregon. Idaho. The Pacific Northwest. Home. Driving over the Blue Mountains I took in the beauty of this place I grew up in. The last time I lived here, I knew where my place in life was. Oh how things have changed.

I gave myself a year to wallow. A year to cry. A year to give myself an extra measure of grace and a year to feel all the feelings. Not that any of that ends a year after losing your husband, but it was my year to wallow. I thought the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death would be almost as hard as the day he died. Instead, it was almost liberating. I gave myself permission to wallow, and then I gave myself permission to step of out the wallowing and live again.

I still wallow at times. I still cry every once in a while. I still sometimes find myself in need of grace - don’t we all? - and I still have LOTS of feelings. Don’t get me wrong. I left behind the state of constant wallowing but not grieving. I’ll miss my husband till the day I die.

Life for me is much better as I begin the second year of widowhood than it was the first year. There’s not as many firsts. I feel more nostalgia and less searing pain in my heart. I no longer need medication to help me keep it together. Things are much improved.

But there is still so many hard things. Finances. Parenting. Decisions. Oil changes. Travel.

I still don’t have a life plan. I’m impatient and feel like I should know what I want to do with the rest of my life by now. But I don’t. This is an area in which I just have to remind myself to give myself a little grace.

I’d really like to do grad school. But financially that’s not possible. I’d love to go back to overseas missions. But I don’t feel God calling me back to the jungle as a single mom. I’d love still homeschool my kids. But I’m only just barely keeping my head above the water and need to start working soon or else things are going to go downhill. I’d like to start working but I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to live.

With two little lives depending on me and me alone I want to get it right. But I’m not sure what “right” is quite yet. If anyone has a road map for life I could really use that right now. Or tuition for grad school. Snort.

This life is nothing. I’m nothing more than a little leaf on a big maple tree. Life is fleeting and over so fast. Most of us will never be remembered in future generations. A few generations will pass and then I’ll just be a box on ancestry.com with my name under it. It’s not a greatness that will be remembered that I want to strive for. It’s the quality of character and integrity and love that I want to pass down to the boxes under mine.

My wallowing is over. But my life isn’t over. I want to live. And love. And embrace all that I can while I have it. I might not have a life-plan, but I have a love-plan. And I’m OK with that for now…

I’ll pause here to give a little update for those who have made it though my ramblings thus far. I’ve been widowed a year and 2 months now. We have lived in our tiny house RV for 9 months now. Winter was HARD. The rest of the year I actually rather love living in my 320 square-ft of a tin can. Samson the great dane is a year and 3 months and I haven’t weighed him in a while but he’s an impressive beast. Our kitty Moses was killed (we don’t know from what) but little Mary is still in Tennessee waiting for us to come home. We have been on the road for over 6 weeks, driving from TN to Washington, Canada, and a whole slew of places along the way. I met a very nice gentleman a little over 2 months ago and we are in a relationship. He lives in Idaho but if we can find him a job in TN we might be able to talk him into moving.

The children are doing amazing. These little people never cease to amaze me. Their stamina and endurance and ability to rebound are quite impressive. They are such troopers and are excellent little travelers. They continue to grieve in their own ways. It comes out and then they move on. Then it hits again. And they just keep right on going again. Sam is 6 and Millie is 7. Sam is obsessed with dinosaurs and Millie loves horses. Sam starts kindy in August and Millie will be in 2nd grade.

Ok. That’s my update.

I wish each of you peace and love. And a break from adulting when possible.
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March 30, 2017

breaking out

I have learned so many lessons over the past year.

Hard lessons. Good lessons. Painful lessons. Beautiful lessons.

I’ve learned things about myself and what I am capable of, and I’ve also learned where I fail miserably. I sometimes wonder if grief has changed me in ways that will be changed forever, or if some of these changes will lessen with the grief as it slowly retreats back to the ocean until the next wave.

I’ve learned that the people we think will always be there for us… aren’t. My husband isn’t here for me anymore. My mother. Some friends. Funny how people like to say they are here for you, but… where are they?

I’ve also learned about an entirely different world that exists out there. A world full of compassion and love and support. People who grant me the grace I need when I screw up. People who look past my selfishness as I’ve been so focused on my own survival and that of my children. This is the world I have needed.

But as the fog continues to lift, and my mind stops spinning so much, I find that as wonderful as the loving cocoon is that has been created around me in my community is thinning. And that’s OK and natural. My cocoon was what held me together and carried me though, but it’s a temporary covering.

And maybe, just maybe, a butterfly will emerge…

March 22 hit me like a ton of bricks to the face. Eleven months. The last time I will be counting in months since he passed away. Soon, it will be counted in years. I’ve been whirling in a stormy sea of grief, as if he’s dying all over again.

When I laid next to him as he slowly slipped away from me, I watch his face intently. Would I see a miracle? I silently pleaded with God to breathe life back into him and heal his body. This was the moment, God… but God missed the moment… or did He?

I will forever remember that moment. Just like that, he was gone… In that one moment.

But that was just one moment. Our lives are full of moments and I’ve missed so many this last year. But every today we are given is a new day with new moments. Seize them. Cherish them. Hold them close to you.

God doesn’t miss these moments, He holds them in His hands, along with us, and carries us on to the next moment.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, aside from RV plumbing and letting go of homeschooling, was that I can’t make anyone love me.

That’s a hard one.

The heart is a funny thing. Capable of so much more than I ever imagined. Stronger. More resilient. More tender.

I want you, you know who you are, to know that I forgive you for not showing love to me. You still don’t see how you’ve hurt me and I’m guessing you never will. But I forgive you anyway. Not for you, but for me. My heart is letting go of this hurt. Hurt is a heavy burden to carry and I need to lighten my load. There is a scar left behind, but no longer will I carry this hurt around with me.

I want you, you know who you are, to know that I am so sorry for hurting you. I have been selfish and wrapped up in my own world and uncaring about yours. It was unintentional but nonetheless my actions still have consequences and I will accept them. I will try harder all of the tomorrows I am given.

I want you, you know who you are, to know that I’m so very thankful for you. Not in a public, shout-out, telling the world what you’ve done for me kind of way, but in a quiet, eternal, you’ve changed my heart kind of way.

I want you, all of you, to know what maybe I’m still closer to a worm than a butterfly, and I still feel like a hot mess on a freezing day, but your kindness, your support, your encouragement, and your love are not unnoticed. I’m learning. I’m living. And someday I hope to be part of your cocoon.
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November 13, 2016

don't miss the gift

This day greeted me with peace and hope.

Today, I choose to trust in God and His timing. Today, I choose to not say the unkind thoughts rolling around in my mind. Today, I choose to live in this moment, and even though my life isn’t what I had planned on, or hoped for, or dreamed of, this is what’s before me and I don’t want to miss the gift.

I’m in several widow groups online. I read the stories of pain and brokenness and shattered lives. I can relate to so much of it. But then again, I think I’m different. I don’t want to be defined by my pain for the rest of my life. I had an amazing marriage and I was loved more than any one person deserves. But oddly, that doesn’t make me want to wallow… it makes me just want to love all the more. Love is the best decision I ever made.

I recently met someone who made me realize that, contrary to what I thought after Todd died, I can love again. It’s exciting! Things didn’t work out with this person, but my heart isn’t wholly dead, as I used to think, so I’m grateful for the lesson.

I was - and am - well loved. I’m not sure anyone will ever love me the same as Todd did, and I don’t think I’d want anyone to. What we had was so special and I can’t even find the words to tell you how so worth the past 15 years have been. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I will never regret saying, “yes.”

But I have another gift still unwrapped.

I have the potential to have another 15 years - or 5 or 50 - of love all over again. If God brings love to me again, I will be the most blessed woman ever. To love and be loved all over again - I’ll say, “yes.” Every time. I will never regret love.

My girlfriends and I have been having some hilarious, some serious, and some painful conversations on the topic of finding love again. I don’t even know where to meet guys my own age that aren’t already husbands. I’m pretty sure that I can add socially out of practice and awkward to my list of fine qualities I have to offer. LOL.

Yes, I’m still grieving the loss of my husband. I think I always will. A love like that isn’t something I even want to forget or get over. I want his love to stay in my heart forever. Yes, I still cry a lot and have lots of fresh pain and memories. I hope I never forget the painful parts right along with the happy parts. Yes, I have a lot of feeling and emotions and I don’t expect that to ever change. LOL.

I am a widow. I’m not bitter or angry from my marriage. I come with a set of baggage that is unique and not what most people are used to. I won’t stop loving my husband, or talking about him or missing him. I come with two kids who long for a daddy here on earth. We’re a package deal. I feel broken and I feel like I don’t have much to offer anyone, but someday, someone will help my heart to heal and remind me what I can give. Someday.

And, I have really high expectations. My husband set the bar really high. I’m not going to settle for less.

So while I wait for God’s timing, and learn how to open my heart up again, I want to tell you to be brave. Say, “yes” to love. Don’t miss the gift.
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November 4, 2016

the blessings to come

In the dark moments of life it seems that there’s always a light waiting to shine though, if only we look for it.

For me, this light has come in many forms. Sweet cards and letters. Family who is there for me. Friends with open shoulders to cry on. Smiles from strangers who know our story. Hugs from church members.

So much love. So much light.

In Tennessee, it is still 85ยบ and sunny. We’re at the park. My mother-in-law is here visiting us for Todd’s birthday which was last week. Hard day. The kids are playing in the sand with friends and the MIL is watching the pup. So I’m sitting in the shade of a tree and trying to sort some things out.

I know when I have too many feelings that I need to write to sort them out. The hard ones, the happy ones, the yucky ones.

As we enter November and the leaves change colors and drift to the ground, I think about the changes in my own life. There have been so many this year. But those aren’t the ones I’m thinking about.

I’ve decided to be intentional about living in each day. I can’t dwell on the hurt and pain of my past, I need to focus on the blessings that are to come. Each day as I remember to breathe, try to eat, and watch my kids grow I look for the beauty and the blessings in the moments we have together.

I find myself wondering about to blessings to come.

Will anyone ever love me again the way Todd loved me?

Will I ever be able to open my heart again?

Am I too broken to have hope in love again?

I’m inpatient not knowing the future. Life takes time and love takes time. My brain knows these truths, but my heart looks to fill the holes torn through it.

The warm fall breeze reminds me that life is ever-changing. What I once was secure in was ripped out under my feet. I’m no longer naive enough to believe that it can’t happen again. Dare I risk it?

The fear of losing part of my heart again is real and raw.

Yet knowing how much his love was so very worth all I’ve endured, I feel that maybe I can risk it again. Maybe my heart will beat fast and my tummy will flutter again. Maybe someday.

As for today, I’ll face the sun and let the breeze warm my soul. This is the moment I’m living. Someday will come, and patience or not, I can’t rush it. But I can prepare for it. And pray for it. And enjoy the journey to it.
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October 12, 2016

imperfections

Throughout our thirteen years of marriage, I used to get annoyed at the imperfections in my husband.

As time went on, I seemed to notice more and more of them.

Now, as I lie alone in bed at 4 am, all I can remember are my own imperfections.

The times when I was impatient. Unfair. Misplaced my anger.

All too late, I’ve been reminded of one of life’s quiet truths - you can’t change other people, nor are you responsible for their behaviors and actions. At the end of the day, all you can change is yourself. Your actions. Your responses. Your character.

Self, stop trying to change other people. Let’s work on you. On kindness. On patience. On grace - shall we?

Sigh…

Starting over in life isn’t an easy task. Neither is it a particularly gentle process.

We’ve been thrust into a world I was not prepared enter. This world is messy and rocky and often times I’ve felt like I’m failing at every single thing I try to do.

Life isn’t fair. I vividly remember my dad telling me that with a shrug when I was growing up. I never realized how painfully true those words are until the moment I had to say goodbye to my husband.

Life isn’t fair.

It isn’t easy. Or predictable. Or laid out in a neat little package.

Life is something else, something unexpected and complicated.

And here we are, starting plumb over.

It kind of feels like we just watched a really great movie, and then it ended. And you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but you hope they make a sequel.

I wish there was a script we could follow. I need a line prompt right about now…

I feel caught in a world where, even though I’m “doing well,” I’m an absolute mess. On the outside I smile and say, “we’re doing fine, thank you for asking.” I appear to have showered, and my children are relatively clean.

But on the inside, I don’t want to talk to people. Even my closest friends wouldn’t hear from me if they didn’t call me. I can see how easily it would be to close up inside myself and never open up again.

I loved him, and he died.

These other people I love, what if they die too? I don’t think my heart could handle it. It’s too risky. Better to let a little distance in to buffer the potential pain…

What a painful life we live.

If I didn’t have the hope in a life to come, a life without pain and death and tears, I don’t know how I’d make it through this life.

But just because something is painful doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

Knowing what I know now, I’d marry that boy all over again.

Only this time, I’d be a little more gentle when I felt injustice had been done. I’d be more patient. I’d be more adventurous and do more of the things he wanted to do.

I’d kiss him more. I’d communicate better. I wouldn’t have any regrets.

Instead of getting to have my love story with my husband over again, I have a whole life to live without him. Maybe slowly, I can be more adventurous. And communicate better. And live without regrets.

As for the kissing…

It’s a hard thing to imagine anyone else’s lips right now. And I’m good with that.

Back to the starting over bit - we live in a RV-turned-tiny-house. The idea was to go wherever the wind took us. But as it turns out, there was just a gentle breeze and we didn’t go very far. For the first time since 2016 began, we’re starting to feel a little settled. A little stability. Weekend trips have been fun, but it’s nice to just be settled a bit.

Our grand plans of grand trips - it just feels a little hard and a little lonely right now. So we’re just going to hang out here till the wind picks up.

The children are growing. The pup is growing. The kittens have turned into cats. Life just has this funny way of going on, even if you don’t want it to.

As life goes on, hope goes on. Love goes on…

I never wrote thank-you cards. If you were wondering if yours got lost, it didn’t. It’s still in the box. I addressed them and sobbed over them. It feels like it’s the last thing to do. The final item on the list. Once I write thank-you cards, it’s over.

Please be patient if I hang onto them for a little while longer. I haven’t forgotten your generosity. Your kind words did not go unread. Your thoughtful gesture was not unnoticed.

Grief is just a funny thing. It doesn’t make the most sense or is always logical.

Please know, dear friends, that I am grateful for you. For the words and notes and kindness. My aloofness is a protective layer.

I think that someday I’ll shed that layer and emerge from the pit I’ve landed in. Until then, we would love your prayers. If you want to go on an RV adventure with us, we’d love your company. And if you don’t mind that I might not remember when the last time we showered was, we’d love your hugs.
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