Finding God

It may seem odd, but my relationship with God reached it’s strongest, most mature level in my darkest of hours.  I grew up in a Roman Catholic family (whole nine yards folks – went to Saint Petersburg, met Pope John Paul II, first set of Rosary beads from there . . . ) but it always seemed more like a duty.  I love a Catholic service – the music, the structure . . . but I didn’t always feel the warmth.  I was at an age when I didn’t realize that you can only get out of it what I put in.

By high school I had a renewed interest and while my parents did not go to church as often anymore, I went on my own sometimes.  I tried, but it wasn’t try in the sense that I understand as an adult.  You have to do more than just show up, that’s only the first step.  Critical yes, you have to get there, but if all you do is show all you will see is a show.  And when you leave you can’t carry that show with you – you showed up and watched.  To take it with you, you have to GIVE.

My struggle with religion and faith was like waves – a constant coming and going.  I struggled to find a place where I belonged.  When Ryan was in the hospital, terminally injured with little hope, I found God on a whole new level.  I found him because my eyes were open and even more, my heart was open.  If you have been on the journey and haven’t yet found ask yourself, “Am I just showing up or am I giving back?  Are my eyes open to the possibilities or do I fail to appreciate the little things God does for me?  And finally, is my heart open?  Am I ready to BELIEVE in a way I never have before?”

Get honest with yourself.  If your answer was no, that’s ok, but now you know where you need to start.  God is there, He is present, willing and ready – are you?

A Mother’s Love . . .

. . . has it’s limits.  Folks, I am not a mean person.  It’s just not in my nature.  If I become mean it took A LOT to get me there.  I’m not always proud of how I act but generally I am kind – sometimes I don’t make that smartest decisions, but I am kind.  Today I am not proud of how I mothered.

Anyone else out there trying to figure out how this solo parenting thing works?  Where once there were two, now there is one . . . except I still (quite gratefully) have two who rely on this one.  My daughters demand a lot of my attention and not always in the most desirable ways.  While I am sure part of it is just the way of siblings, I can’t help but wonder how much of it has developed since their dad died.

Today I lost my cool.  I yelled.  I yelled mean, ugly things.  I immediately felt guilty.  Embarrassed.  Incompetent.  Overwhelmed.  Sad.  Defeated.  And there it is – life felt like it had defeated me.  I couldn’t even navigate the antagonization of one daughter and the vindictiveness of the other.  And it was just one comment!  I had already sat them in time out at the table beside me so I could finish a task and then . . . one mean comment thrown from one of my dearly treasured daughters to the other.

Well let me tell you!  No one, and I mean no one, gets to be mean to someone I love!  But it happened and I hit the end of my rope.  I asked for what felt like the millionth time “How hard is it to be kind?”  Hard.  Folks, it’s really hard.  When you feel like the other person gets more attention, more love, more stuff, more exceptions, just more, it is dang hard to be kind.  How do we balance it as a solo mom with more than one child?  I am exhausted already from the demands of work, grad school, girls’ dance schedules, farm . . . and then they argue.  They fight.  They invade each other’s personal space.  They tattle.  They touch.  They take.  They do what siblings do to annoy each other.

So what does God say to us about raising children?  Instead of losing my temper I realized immediately I should have gone to God in a silent prayer; given the aches and pains of solo motherhood over to Him for relief before I opened my mouth and spouted the devil.

Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”  Aaaahhhh.  I see.  There will be no rod used in this house but have my children been left to their own devices?  I’d say so.  I had work to finish so just let them go do . . . whatever as long as they didn’t bug me.  Have you ever felt like that?  Do what you want as long as it doesn’t bother me.  Oh the guilt!  In focusing on my own needs I forgot to provide for theirs – to ensure they had structure that they could not develop on their own.

Proverbs 19:18 . . . yes, this is it . . . “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”  Hope.  The vileness that spewed from my mouth crushed hope.  Crushed joy.  Crushed the light out of my children’s eyes and made them fold inward.  Discipline is one thing . . . being mean as a way to redirect meanness is another.

Today I failed at parenting.  I failed to reach out to God when I needed help and instead chose to pity myself for having no help.  And in my pity for myself I lashed out at my children for being children.  Let this be a lesson to me . . . when the devils fingers begin to reach into my gut, I must direct my mind towards God to fight back and benevolently discipline.

It’s not easy.  Parenting is hard in and of itself; parenting alone is a daily challenge.  I would not choice another challenge though.  My girls are my everything.

Into the Deep

Into the Deep.  What does that mean to you?  I think many of us have faced trials that make us feel like we are slowly wading into deeper and deeper water without a single rescue in sight.  That is certainly how I felt in the days at the hospital waiting for each new report on my husband’s status while knowing somewhere in my core that it was all for naught – that his spirit had already left his body.  I felt it but wasn’t ready to let go . . . I was wading into the deep with him slowly losing myself.  BUT!  There are so many references in the bible that reassure us that our faith in God will see us through . . .

Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Acts 2:21 – And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Titus 3:5 – He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

Into The Deep is also a book written by Lauren Gaskill.  It will be hitting shelves in November but what I have seen of it and heard about it lets me know that I have not only waded into the deep with God by my side, but plenty of other believers have waded and been saved by God.  It is sure to be a comforting read to renew my faith.

A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime

A reason, a season, or a lifetime . . . this story has been playing across my mind a lot lately.  It is said to describe the people who come through your life.  The only one that is not defined by an ending is the person there for a lifetime.  But what if, what if you believed that would be your spouse?  And now, it isn’t.  This is where I should say that we are never alone for God is always with us but I would be a hypocrite if I said that’s what I’m thinking right now.  Because I am not.

Right now I am questioning who.  Who is my lifetime?  Who can I count on when times are tough?  Who can I call when my friendships falter?  Who can relieve me of child bedtime duties when I am sick and desperately want to crawl into my own bed?  Who will be on the other end of a hug when I climb out of a shower with a tear-stained face?  Who will wrap me in their arms so tightly I know a piece of me will always be left in that embrace.  Who?  Who?  Who?  And why?

Reason, season, lifetime.  Was my husband just a reason?  That’s it?  I can’t believe that and yet he is gone.  The reasons are plentiful . . . he taught me love, he taught me the pain that comes with love, he created my children with me, he grew up with me . . . a house, a job, a family, a farm.  And in the end his story is the reason my faith is so strong.  But just a reason?  Hardly.

Maybe a season . . . a season of growing up, growing older, growing wiser . . . and then gone. The season of young adulthood.  The season when the future seems like eternity and we know we are invincible.  The season when we plant our roots and start to spread our limbs.  The season when we begin to realize all that is possible and hope springs eternal.  But just a season?  That can’t possibly be true.

But a lifetime?  The lifetime of love, hugs, planned vacations, and rocking on the front porch.  Of raising our girls and watching them bloom.  Of dreaming big and chasing our dreams into the sunset.  Where did my lifetime go?  God.  God has a reason.  God defines the seasons of our lives.  God gives us our lifetime.  What is His message for me?  And who is my lifetime?  Ryan will be in my heart and life for my lifetime.  He will live on in our girls and the recipients of his organs.  But who can I go to for my lifetime?

This is where I begin to ask God about friends.  What friends did he intend as my roots?  And what friends did he intend as my leaves? (If you don’t understand this reference check out Tyler Perry’s book.  It’s a good one.)  This is when that leap of faith comes in.  When I am supposed to put my heart and trust and woes in God’s hands.  When I turn it all over to him and trust it will be ok.  But goodness that’s a struggle right now!  I want answers!  But alas, that is a reason . . . waiting, trusting, faith.  Because sometimes it is not a person that is the reason, season, or lifetime, but the lack of a person that is the reason, season, or lifetime.

Who slammed the door?

One door closes and another opens . . . or if the door closes go out the window . . .Recently my friend shared the message at her home church and titled it “Three Doors Down.”  After listening to her practice run I began thinking about the idea that a door slams shut doesn’t mean there are no options.  It just means that wasn’t the option God wanted you to choose.

So when I think about Ryan dying at 38 – leaving me behind with two young daughters – I wonder what the significance of that slamming door was.  Ryan suffered from depression which ultimately means the WHOLE family suffered from it.  Depression doesn’t just hurt the person who has it, it hurts everyone who loves that person.

The Thursday or Friday before Ryan died I was supposed to go to my parents’ to farm sit.  Ryan had disappeared for the afternoon and was unreachable.  A somewhat common occurrence when he was in a slump.  On my own I had to get the children ready, get the small dogs ready, get myself ready, hook up the horse trailer and catch and load four horses.  Yeah.  No easy task there.  I felt so frustrated.  The kids were young and didn’t like being left in the house alone but at the same time I didn’t want them underfoot a large horse who was not feeling cooperative.  The trailer door kept swinging shut so one of them had to hold it but then they would either let it slam shut (scaring both me and the horse crammed together in the small space left on the trailer) or just continue holding it open and the horse would just back right back off.  On second though, maybe frustration is too bland a word for what I was feeling.  One horse refused to be caught whilst the others banged around the trailer wanting to get a move on in that iron oven.

As I trudged to the bottom of the pasture in the heat tears of despair streamed down my face.  It felt like a breaking point.  I was keeping the family afloat and trying not to let others see how disabling Ryan’s depression was for all of us.  I worried about judgement. I worried about scaring the children.  I worried about Ryan.  I really worried about my sanity!  It is one of the first times I remember feeling prayer pulled aloud from my lips . . . “God!  Please!  Please don’t let me be alone in this marriage anymore!  I can’t do it.  I can’t keep doing it.  I am tired.  I am lost.  I am beaten and overwhelmed.  Please God!”

Those words . . . oh how I have played them over and over in my head.  Eventually the horses, dogs, and my precious children were all loaded.  Ryan finally called.  I was still in tears as the vestiges of shattered nerves was wearing off.  Of course he was sorry.  Of course he couldn’t explain his sudden absence.  Again.  The next day he appeared at my parents’ farm.  Jovial, tender . . . the man I married.  The kids were excited.  I was cold.  I told him about my prayer that was compelled from me.  I told him I felt like his presence was a sign from God that I was not alone.  And then on the second night he was gone.  I had finally felt able to go snuggle up to him with no chip on my shoulder.  The bed was neatly made.  His backpack nowhere in sight.  Outside his car was not under the light.

I called.  He was home.  He said he thought we didn’t want him there.  That we were having a girls’ weekend.  He even told his parents that.  For the life of me I can’t make out where that idea came from.  He offered to drive back.  It was 1:30am.  I told him no.  It was dark.  It was late.  There was no sense in inviting a car accident.  Was that some kind of portent?  I don’t know.

The next day I drove home.  We talked.  The roadwork delayed and frustrated me.  I drove past him at a stoplight headed opposite directions.  We’d catch up after his errand the girls’ dance.  We both had plans to be at the same restaurant.  He never made it.  An evening car accident stole him from me.

Anger has burned my soul.  The despair.  The frustration.  Not just for a moment this time but for months.  And now thinking about slammed doors and doors of opportunity I must remember Deuteronomy 31:6 – Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified; for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  I begged God not to be left alone in my marriage but I forgot to make sure HE was a part of it too.  You see, we get so caught up in living that we forget that God is living with us.  He is a part of everything we do.  He didn’t slam the door, I did.  I slammed it when I forgot to acknowledge God’s presence in my life, in my family, in my marriage.  Now, without Ryan especially, I must lean on God even more for companionship; for someone to talk to; for someone to find comfort in.

When you feel a door slam upon your path ask yourself – “Did I slam this door?  Do I need to change me?”  I have found that it wasn’t God slamming the doors in my face but me slamming it in His.  Each day now I will try to be “strong and courageous” knowing that God ALWAYS walks beside me and participates in ALL I do.

Missing touch

I got my hair done yesterday.  It was the usual – color, wash, cut, dry, style.  A normal routine for many of ladies but there’s a part of that normal routine we take for granted — human touch.  Until you are without it you will never realize what a treasure – what a necessity — it is.  I never realized that Ryan’s briefest touch relieved so much stress and anxiety until his touch was gone.  That feeling of release when after a long day you roll over against your spouse and just feel their warmth.  I’m not talking about intimate touch; no, I am talking about simple, human touch.  The brush of a hand through your hair; the shoulder squeeze when he walks into a room; the back pat and hug for a job well done.  No one hugs or touches us as easily as our spouse.  Yes, our children do but let’s be honest – for them it is often more about receiving mama’s love than showering mama with love.  Our kids we wrap ourselves around but who wraps themselves around us when our spouse is gone?

Hug someone of the opposite gender long enough in public and lips will wag, the gossips will start.  Doesn’t matter how innocent the hug is, how comforting or how needed.  No, everyone else’s perspective will prevent you from accepting the offered care and concern.  Anyway, I digress.  Getting my hair done I almost fell asleep.  I felt so relaxed, so at peace and I realized in that moment the value of human touch.

Daniel 10:8 “Then this one with human appearance touched me again and strengthened me.”

The love of our God shines through all those we encounter – His love is what is in their touch.

A new year, a new you

I have entered into another new year as a widow.  There’s something about watching all the celebration around you – the loving couples kissing at midnight, the children with their fathers – that makes a place in my heart ache.  Yep, I had a pity party in the middle of a New Year’s party.  And while I know that is fairly normal for someone in my situation, I had to remind myself not to lose sight of all God has given me.

It’s so easy in a “keeping up with the Jones'” society to get caught up in what our neighbors have, but we aren’t living our neighbors’ lives.  We don’t know what is behind their closed doors or in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds.  It is not our place to judge or to envy even those are two normal human emotions.  We are flawed, but we are already forgiven.

As I enter into this New Year I pledge to try to take stock of my blessings each day.  To turn my eyes from “the Jones'” and instead turn them inward.  To count both my memories and my moments as the gifts they are.  I can wallow in self-pity and in this society would likely be validated and justified – I mean, I did lose my husband to an accident in my 30s with two young children.  OR I can CHOOSE (God gave us choice folks!) to honor my late husband by living life fully.  I can embrace each moment and live it for both of us.  I can find joy in the mundane knowing in a way not everyone can that even the mundane is a gift that is only temporary while we are on this earth.

Welcome 2018.  I choose life.  I choose to live each day like it is a gift; a blessing from God.  What do you choose?