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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September 6, 2017

two different lives

It might seem like widows, me in particular, are a little (ok, maybe a lot) bipolar.

In one week on Facebook I made a blubbering post (I’m pretty sure you could hear me sobbing my eyes out through the computer), and then a few days later a shining post about how God is working in my life. Annnd then there’s days like today where I drop the children off at school and cry at a teacher.

Stellar.

Here’s the thing about being a widow and these mood swings - I had an incredible 15 years with my husband. Thirteen of those years I got to be his wife. I can’t think of a greater thing happening to me unless it’s being a mother. I have two amazing children that I get to watch grow up into awesome little people. Buuut. My husband is gone. And my little blessings of children, well it’s really, really hard to raise them on my own. So sometimes I feel so blessed for those years with my husband and sometimes my heart feels gutted of all substance. Sometimes I look at my children and I can’t believe I’m so lucky to call them mine. And sometimes I hear myself and wonder who that lunatic yelling at my kids is.

I’m not really bipolar. I’m not really as crazy as I might sound when I’m sobbing about the laundry piling up and having to cook another supper and having to put our shattered life back together all by myself. It’s hard. And most people can close their eyes and imagine what they would do in my situation, but most people aren’t in this situation and don’t know what it’s like.

I have two separate, totally different lives. One is gone and I want it back, and one is the replacement life that I never asked for and don’t want. It’s a funny thing to have two lives. It take a lot of mental balancing. I often will close my eyes and go back and and live the old life, just for a few minutes. But then when my eyes open, the other half of the bed is still cold and empty.

I know that there is a camp of people out there who think, it’s been 16 months. Get on with your life. I have a special kind of smile for you folks. Spoiler alert: it’s not reeealllly a smile. No amount of crying will ever bring him back. But tears are healing. I can write 500 posts on how much I miss him and it won’t change anything. But my heart feels good to speak his name.

As time goes on, each day draws me further into this new life, there are moments when I see the world of possibilities before me. But, each day also carries me from a life I loved deeply. So some moments I will be filled with hope of our future, and some moments cling to the past life of love. I loved so much about that life. I loved being married. I was made to be a wife a mom. I loved living in South America. I loved the work we did. I loved watching Todd and the children, oh, what a special bond he had with his babies.

But the future - maybe I can love that too. The day after I ordered my GRE prep book I was offered a job - a job with career potential. I looked at grad school and I looked at my other option, and I set the prep book down and haven’t opened it again. I will someday. But right now, I’m of a different and unexpected, yet fitting and fulfilling path. I don’t know what, or who, might be in our future. This morning Millie crawled into bed with me and discussed all the things she’s hoping for in a new daddy. She hopes he hurries up and finds us. She wants him to be kind and playful.

As I sat and listened to her describing the perfect daddy (who sounded suspiciously like Todd), I just smiled and agreed and someone who likes roughhousing is a necessity. I don’t know if there is a man out there who will find us or not. There’s a good chance that there’s not, honestly. Most guys my age are already married. Or don’t want to be a daddy. Or, I don’t know, they don’t have a good sense of direction to find us. But whether or not there is a guy out there for us, we need to learn how to do this new life. I need to find happiness where I’m at. Sometimes I think I’ve found it. It’s getting easier to fall asleep alone, and cook meals for just the three of us, and now that the kids are in school, there are days when I am home alone. And I need that.

If widows, me in particular, seem like they’re a little all over the place, it’s because we are. But I hear that nothing lasts forever. I hear that time bring healing and with healing comes happiness. So just bear with me. I’m a work in progress.
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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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