Thursday, December 29, 2011

Performance Living

Going through the motions. That’s what I’m doing these days. The motions…of simply living, that is.

I wake. I perform my morning routine.
I arrive at work. I perform my workday routine.
I return home. I perform my evening routine.

Sometimes, I just sit…performing my “nothingness routine”.

As I pondered this last night, I began to think that, for me, going through the motions really means “performance living”.

I’ve entered a new unfamiliar stage of this grief journey. Nearly 8 months into this, I find lots of discomfort in this new territory. I’ve experienced small fragments of time like this previously since my husband’s death, but nothing this consistent. I just don’t have the energy for true, purposeful living right now. Yes, I’m living day by day, obviously. But, I’ve discovered I’m really doing more “performing”. I’m like an actress, performing the role of Leah, the widow. There are certain tasks that must be performed everyday. I do them, but that’s it. That’s the extent of it.

I don’t like this role, at all. I want to be cast in a new role…one with more pizzazz, more excitement, more joy! I have so much I want to much I want to give back…so much life to live! But, I have no energy right now, so my desires translate into very little.

I’m a fixer, a doer, a Type A perfectionist (yes, I admit it). But, right now, I feel lazy, unproductive, and somewhat “fake”. I feel like I see the shell of a woman I don’t recognize anymore. And, that translates into many areas of my life. I spent the first 5 months of 2011 losing weight in a healthy manner. After Chris died, I lost even more (just due to grieving). But, by August…food became my comfort again. Not good. At all. I don't recognize me anymore and am sickened by what I see in the mirror every single day.

So, I’m struggling right now…with grief, with purpose, with self-esteem, and with trying to regain focus. I simply can’t stand this.

Jesus came for more than this. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 NASB

Lord, I beg you. Show me how to live that abundant life. Give me renewed strength and energy. I want more than this performance living. I want all that You gave up for me on that cross over 2000 years ago. Help me, Lord!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Grief Marathon

Sometimes I think running a marathon would be easier.

Before setting out on the 26.2 mile race, one hopefully trains extensively...body and mind. The big day comes, and if well-trained, the race is no doubt difficult, but possible! Just when you think you can't run another step, you see the sign along the path that says 14 miles! You've done've run over half the journey! You're in the last part now. You can do this!

Somewhere around mile 22, your body wants to cave again. You begin the self-talk, "You're almost there. Four more miles." But, even with every optimistic word you share with yourself, your body wants to cave...until...

You pass a crowd of cheering onlookers. Strangers...urging you on, clapping loudly, screaming shouts of encouragement. It's just what you needed, you press forward and four miles collapse with tears of joy! You did it! You completed the 26.2 mile race! It may have been the hardest, most grueling thing your body's ever endured, but you did it! It's over! Let the celebration begin!

And such is my grief "race" on many levels.

I'm racing through each grief mile...some quite successfully...others find me barely hanging on. And...then I see the "signpost" showing me how far I've come, and I start to think "I can do this...I can do this...".

I continue to run; even walk sometimes. The grief miles become even more difficult this time. My body is so exhausted from the long endurance of this "race". Suddenly, a crowd of onlookers start to cheer me on. I hear the applause, the words of encouragement, the whistles, and the shouts of praise. It's just enough to get me through the next set of miles.

And yet, there are two distinct differences I've discovered on my grief marathon that don't exist in a regular race. In my case, there was no training of mind or body. I just suddenly found myself on the racetrack, and the whistle suddenly blew, signaling the start...whether I was ready or not.

But, the biggest difference? It doesn't have a definitive end. There aren't just 26.2 miles of grief to endure. There is no celebratory finish line. Will it get easier? Yes - I trust that it will, in time. But, as for ending...I'm not sure that will ever happen. So, for me, I have to learn how to cope on this lengthy race that I was not prepared for even remotely. But, right now...I'm just soooo tired.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm Trying So Hard

I’m trying so hard. I’ve never fought the tears back as much as I have this week. I don’t want to cry. I really, really don’t. I’ve cried enough tears to start a new lake in the last 7 ½ months. Why can’t this week just be different?

This week we celebrate the greatest gift that has ever been given (or ever will be) to mankind…the birth of the Messiah! My Jesus! That alone should give cause for jubilant celebration, a bigger-than-life smile, and euphoric joy of the eternity that’s yet to come for all believers!

But, for me…grief is trying to win out. And, I’m trying just as hard not to let it! Grief doesn’t win in the end. God does! Because, in Heaven, there will be no more tears, mourning, or sadness. But, this isn’t Heaven. I’m not Home yet.

Instead, my Chris is already Home, and I’m here…missing him terribly. Listening to the thunderstorm outside isn’t helping things either. I just want to lay my head in his lap and sob until the tears won’t come anymore. I just want to feel his large hand rubbing my back and moving my hair out of my eyes like he used to do so tenderly. I just want him to tell me it will all be okay. But, I know I can only dream of such things.

I feel guilty for even feeling like I do at times. People have gone out of their way to make this first Christmas without him so very, very special for Anna and me. And, it is. I know it would be so much harder without all the love that’s being poured out upon us so abundantly. For that, I am thankful beyond words.

I think that’s part of the reason I’m trying so hard, but I think I might be losing the battle this evening. The tears continue to leak out whether I want them to or not. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Immanuel - God With ME!

Happy Tuesday blog friends!

If you happened to stop by after reading my post on A Pinkdaisy Life, welcome! So glad to have you join me here as well!

I honestly can’t believe it’s here. December 20, that is. Five days until Jesus’ birthday! I really want to throw Him a grand party after all He’s done for me! But, this year might be a little subdued. I’m still deeply hurting in my new role as a 39-year-old widow. And yet…my Savior understands that too.

Even so, He’s been so good to me this year.

Even with such great loss, my Jesus has been by my side every step of the way.

Even with the magnitude of tears I’ve cried, He’s caught each and every single one.

Even with the agonizing screams of grief, He’s never wearied of hearing my pain.

Even with an ungrateful spirit at times, He cradles me in His warm embrace.

Even with question after question after question, He continues to listen.

Even with my broken shattered heart, He’s still mending and healing me.

And so…in my continued preparations for this first Christmas without my precious husband, I rejoice in who Christ is…Immanuel…God with us…God with you...God with ME!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Angels Among Us

Several days ago, God began blessing my daughter and me through a most unexpected, yet very generous & simply unbelievable, way.

Last Wednesday, December 14, we were greeted with a beautiful basket containing candy, ornaments, and other amazing goodies and a card that contained the following excerpt...

"Dear Leah and Anna,
This is the beginning of your 12 Days of Christmas! Consider all these gifts, as they have come from the lavish love of Jesus. You both are in His thoughts continuously and also in the thoughts and prayers of many of the saints. You are both loved beyond measure. I know that this Christmas will be remembered as the 1st one without Chris...but also remember it as the Christmas season that prayers, grace and gifts were lavished on you both!"

The note continued to say that we should check our porch each morning from now through December 25!

Blog friends, I'm struggling to even type this post, because the tears are literally pouring out of my eyes right now. The very Sunday before all this began, I asked the ladies in the Sunday School class I teach to share their most memorable Christmas gift ever received (aside from Christ's gift of salvation). Little did I realize that my most memorable gift was coming later that week.

This has literally blown my mind.

Not because the gifts are so amazing (even though they are).
Not because it's created a sense of sweet excitement in our home this first Christmas without my amazing husband (even though it has, and the excitement is helping us cope).
Not because I think I deserve any of this (because I know I most definitely do not).

It's blowing my mind, because I feel extremely loved right now. Extremely loved. When life is most difficult (as it has been these last 7 1/2 months since Chris' death), knowing you are loved isn't enough. You need to feel it...see it...taste it...touch it...hear it. Friends, I have done just that!

I have no idea the identify of these Christmas Angels among us. Just when I think I've figured it out, I'm thrown a little off track again. I need to quit trying to figure it out...I know...I know.

I simply pray that this is blessing my gift-givers as much as it is Anna and me. I pray that the Lord bestows immense blessing and favor on each hand that was involved in this. my Christmas angels (I pray you're reading this) will never fully know the depth of this blessing! You have made this widow's heart sing (Job 29:13b NIV).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Don't Know Why...

I really can't think of any reason why God continues to bless me like He does. There are so many other people that deserve blessing far more than I do.

There are women experiencing their first Christmas as a widow and are even more lonely than myself.

There are so many unemployed moms and dads this Christmas, praying like crazy that someone...anyone will provide Christmas for their little ones.

There are Christian brothers and sisters across this continent being persecuted for worshiping the same Jesus whose birth we so openly celebrate in the United States.

There are disabled veterans that continue to be plagued by the harsh indifference they receive from their "fellow" Americans day in and day out.

There are still orphans praying for a mommy and/or daddy.

There are loved ones, in the care of Hospice or family members, anticipating their last breaths.

There are homeless men, women, and children that just crave a roof over their heads.

There are still infertile couples that would give anything to see the pregnancy test declare "positive" this year.

There are hurting moms and dads praying their prodigal son or daughter would choose this Christmas to come home.

There are drug addicts and alcoholics that would give anything to be clean and sober...forever...but are waiting on that miracle to get them there.

There are victims of cancer, still waiting to hear the word "remission".

So, why me? Why does God continue to bless undeserving me?

Honestly...I think it's for the same reason He gave His life for me 2000 years ago. His love for you, for me, and for those yet to come is already 100% complete. There is nothing we can do or not do to make Him love us any less or anymore. We just have to say "yes" and "thank you" to that love!

In the same way, I choose to say "yes" and "thank you" to His blessings. Some days, His blessings are obvious and enormous. Some days, they are much harder to see.

I don't know why He chose me, and I don't know why He continues to bless me so much, but I'm eternally grateful that He did then and that He still does now!

I love you, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best Laid Plans know what they say about "best laid plans"? My intentions of blogging Monday through Friday have, well...let's just say been challenged a bit this past week.

I faced another grief tidal wave last week. Now, 7+ months into this new life as a widow, I still struggle to know how to battle those giant, pounding mounds of grief water that tend to shatter me...for a day, or two, or three... I've learned enough about grief to know that there is no "magic" formula to its ending, there is no timetable to follow, and honestly - there is no end to it.

Yes, there will be an end to some parts of this journey, but memories of my precious husband will never, ever leave me. God gave me such a gift in him and in our marriage! I was blessed indeed, and for that I will continue to give thanks and yet grieve that which I no longer have until the day God calls me to the land of Glory!

Just as the tidal wave started to pass, a new wave arrived! This time - one of physical sickness. Within three hours, I went from laughing with the sweet ladies I teach every Sunday morning, while we enjoyed our Christmas potluck luncheon...

Connect Group Christmas Potluck Luncheon & Ornament Exchange
to feeling like this...

No - this isn't me. My picture would look much worse!
I've literally been rendered pretty helpless right now. Fever, body aches, chills, headache, upset stomach, nausea, you name seems to have temporarily taken over my body. My plans of having a productive Sunday afternoon and evening yesterday abruptly changed.

We have company coming this weekend, and I still have cleaning to do, grocery shopping that needs to be tackled, Christmas shopping to do, and the list goes on... But, interestingly enough, I can't do any of it now, because my body won't let me. I've slept about 19 of the last 24 hours, and even that doesn't seem to be enough. So, for now, I succumb to this "bug" that seems to have invaded my space. And, I pray that it leaves QUICKLY!!!

Interestingly enough, this reminds me of another time - the first week of May, 2011. Life was busy, as usual, and I was puttering along through it as I always do until I realized my husband was missing and then later gone. Quite abruptly, my "plans" changed, and nothing else seemed to matter except trying to cope and exist through those first days and weeks of widowhood. 

A "planner" by nature, God has really had to work on me in that area. It's so easy for me to have everything all mapped out and then when something doesn't go as planned, I unravel a bit. But, as only God could ordain, part of that planner in me has also changed. I'm still very much Type A, but I've learned that my best laid plans can be snuffed out at a moment's notice. And so...I have to leave my plans in His hands! His plans for me are the best anyway (no matter how crazy that may appear at times). Therefore, I lay even my plans at His altar, as my act of worship this day!

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it's the LORD's purpose that prevails. ~Proverbs 19:21

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

31 Weeks

What does it mean to survive the first 31 weeks of widowhood? Today marks that day for me, and I can assure you that my answer today is different than it would have been at 30 weeks (and probably different than it will be at 32 weeks). Before I go further...I need to offer up a little disclaimer...

Today's post does not, in any conceivable way, diminish the healing work that God is doing in me. Please hear me on that! I love Him more today than ever before, and I owe Him everything! Everything! He is with me on this journey. He is truly Immanuel to me (God With Us, as that name literally means). He is cradling me in the palm of His hand. He is catching every tear I cry. He loves me with an unconditional love. He will not leave me stranded on Grief Road - not even for a second.

With that said, today stinks! I hurt. I ache. Another tidal wave ensues. Tears are pouring. The grief is so thick today, mainly this evening.

I am so, so sad! I know I will see Chris again in Glory, but I want to see him now!!!!! I don't want to travel the next two and half weeks until Christmas without him. And, I am already dreading waking up Christmas morning this year as a widow...without my precious man by my side.

Sometimes, I don't know how to do this. So, I don't. I let God do it for me along with all of my prayer warriors. I am sapped of strenth. This feels like the early days all over again. I don't want to make decisions. I can't make decisions. I have no energy. I don't want to do anything. I don't even feel like writing this post. But, I'm doing it anyway, because I'm waiting on my daughter to get ready for bed. Otherwise, I'd already be there.

I am so thankful to have Christmas to celebrate, but I'm so tired of the pain that goes with it this year. I feel like screaming from the rooftops, "I'm hurting here!!!!!!!!!!!" But, that's a selfish response. I don't want to be selfish. This life isn't about me.

So many mixed up thoughts. I'm exhausted from thinking. I'm all "thunked" out!

The tidal wave is winning tonight. Thankfully, I know the One that ultimately wins in the end!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I See You...I Miss You

I see you everywhere.

-I see you in pictures all over the house.
-I see you in ornaments hanging on the tree.
-I see you in the deer that leap across my path in the early evening hours or the wee hours of the morning.
-I see you on the couch sitting beside me as we watch our favorite Christmas movies together.
-I see you in the kitchen whipping up batches of yummy goodies.
-I see you in your sister’s crystal blue eyes – your eyes.
-I see you in “our spot” in church sitting right beside me.
-I see you in the bathroom using your sink to get ready in the mornings.
-I see you decorating a gingerbread house with Anna like you do every December.
-I see you kissing me goodbye as you leave for work each morning.
-I see you putting out the trash every Monday night.
-I see you helping your mother hang a new light fixture.
-I see you giving announcements in our Connect Group.
-I see you baking cookies to take to the Christmas program outreach night at church.
-I see you saying “I do” to me with a smile on your face, quivering voice, and tears forming in your eyes.
-I see you in the memories that continually flood my mind.

And yet…I don’t see you at all. I miss you Chris…from the depths of my being …I miss you!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jesus Loves Me This I Know

If you hopped over here from my post on A Widow’s Might today – thank you! I’m so glad you decided to stop by this little corner of my world.

I was completely honored when LeAnn Rice asked me to join her small team of bloggers on A Widow’s Might. I had no idea that God had this in store for me 7 months ago, but LeAnn did, as He whispered my name to her the very day Chris died (and, we had never met at that point and only barely knew of each other).

I remember so clearly the day LeAnn asked me to pray about joining her blog team. She shared the story of how she’d been praying for quite awhile for someone else to join the team but wanted God to lead her to that person. She knew it was me on the day Chris died, and she thought I would think she was crazy for sharing that with me.

Crazy? Not in the least! I’ve learned to listen closely for that still small voice of His. There have been many times that the Lord has revealed something to my heart that seems completely insane. But, when I act upon it, in obedience to whatever He reveals, it always reveals His Glory!

That’s what we’re here for anyway…right? To Glorify Him!

This life isn’t about me.

It’s not about my grief experience.

It’s not about my faith (or lack thereof, at times).

Life doesn’t care how many blog followers I have or how many comments I receive (even though, I have to admit it makes me smile).

This life isn’t here for me.

But God…my sweet Lord…

God has allowed me to be here…at this time…in the history of the world He created…for one purpose…to Glorify Him!

I try to do so daily. And, I know that I mess that up more times than I care to admit. But, I still live to Glorify Him.

I want to Glorify Him most especially with “my story”. I’ve said it so many times before, but He’s given me a story to steward. And, I want to steward it well. He’s been writing my story for nearly 40 years, and He’s woven all over it. And, others need to hear about what He’s woven in me. And so I share…

Some might argue I share too much. Others might say that I don’t share enough. It doesn’t matter what others say anyway. It only matters what He says!

And so today…I shared more of that story on A Widow’s Might. Friends, God has been carrying me every single day of these last 7 months + 1 day. Every single day. There is absolutely no way I could have made it this far without Him. No way. I know that much about myself. But, one thing I know for certain…Jesus Loves Me This I Know! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Even So I Still Say...

I had another single mom friend of mine and her daughter over for a “slumber party” last night! We had it all planned out. We attended a Christmas show at our church (that my Anna is in this year) and then we came back home…lit up all the trees and decorations, and ate a bunch of fun food. That’s what you’re supposed to do at slumber parties…right? Then, we decided that we’d play with the Wii and do a little “Just Dance” for some laughs. The problem? The Wii is suddenly broken.

In my mind, I’m thinking…seriously? Now, Lord? I know it’s just a “thing”…but, it does bring us laughter and enjoyment, and it’s not easily replaced. Really?

But, with my mouth…I simply said, “No big deal. I’ll fix it later. Let’s watch a movie instead.” So, out came Alvin & the Chipmunks on DVD. (Later came too…I tried to fix the Wii…it’s still broken…my daughter and I are a little heartbroken.)

This morning, we slept in a little and then got up and spent time slowly getting started for the day. We later ventured out for some window shopping and girl’s lunch out. Three out of the four of us woke up not feeling so hot. So, our lunch out wasn’t quite as entertaining as it could have been. But, surely ice cream would do the trick.

A trip to Cold Stone was our next stop. It hit the spot for me and helped my scratchy throat, but I still had that silly broken Wii in the back of my mind.

We all came back to the house, took naps, and then Anna headed back to the church for two more performances of the Christmas production. In the meantime, we had another surprise brief visit from an out-of-town friend. We enjoy coffee and chat time together, but it was soon time for our girl’s adventure to end.

We said goodbye to LuAnn and thanked her for popping by. Carol and Ella also got ready to head home. Safely back in their car, ready to take off – the car decided it didn’t want to start. After a couple more tries, we determined it must be a dead battery. Here we were – two women trying to figure out how to jump off a car. We had a little help over the phone from Carol’s dad. And, we successfully got the car to crank.

Off they went…I waved goodbye and headed back into the house to work on the Wii again. It was no use. It’s dead with a game disc stuck inside. I didn’t know what to do. I just kept thinking – now would be a good time for a meltdown, Lord. But, He wouldn’t let me have one. Instead, I just grew more bitter and the “not fairs” started to roll off my tongue.

It’s not fair that Carol and I had to stand outside and try to figure out how to jump off a car.

It’s not fair that the Wii is broken, and I can’t seem to fix it.

It’s not fair that the husbands in our lives are no longer with us, and we are “stuck” playing both roles more often than we like.

It’s not fair that the Christmas season is here, and we feel lonely again.

It’s not fair…blah, blah, blah.

I just had to whine a little. Sometimes, that’s all I can do.

Finally, I decided to cuddle up in my chair with my Bible on my lap and read. God’s Word never returns void. Never.

Please give me something tonight Lord. Please. I’m empty, and I need to feel your Presence. I need to get over this bad attitude. Please help me!

And He gave me this…

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” ~Psalm 90:2

That’s it! God is God…from everlasting to everlasting. The same God that brought forth the earth and all the world out of nothingness…the same God that created me…the same God that continues to reach for me and rescue me from the depths of deep grief waters is the same God that can take care of a broken Wii and dead car battery (and a broken wireless router that also died this week).

Who am I to ever doubt Him? I guess I just get weary of “doing hard” sometimes. But even so, I still say…

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Scared

Generally, I'm about as fearless as they come. There is very little I'm afraid of, and I have quite the adventurous spirit - making me a bit of a "daredevil" at times. I'm just wired that way, and it's certainly made for interesting experiences in life (with hopefully many more to come).

However, I have to admit something. I'm scared. I'm actually scared...of grief.

You're probably thinking...why now? After nearly 7 months as a widow, she's just now figuring out she's scared of grief? What's to be scared of? She's already survived 7 months.

Actually, I've been scared of it all along. I'm just admitting it now. It's really hard to explain, and I've been trying to sort out my feelings over this, hence the blog post about it. Like everything else along this journey, I find it makes more sense to me (even if to nobody else) if I write about it. So, here I am...

Honestly, I'm scared of the unknowns of grief. I'm scared of the peaks and valleys. I'm scared of the waves that come out of nowhere and try to "carry me out to sea". I'm scared of losing control over my emotions (it's happened a couple of times already) - especially in places not conducive to such an "event". I'm scared of people getting tired of my grieving, thereby losing my support system. I'm scared of forgetting something important (my mind is still very muddled these days). I'm scared of not having a shoulder to cry on when I need it most. I'm just plain scared.

I know the "Christianese" responses to the above. I know what the Bible says about fear. I especially know the part about there being no fear in love, and God's love casts out fear. I know that I need to just leave this at the Lord's throne for Him to deal with. I know all of these things, but right now...knowing them and living them out are two entirely different things.

Entering this season of Advent and Christmas is very emotional for me. Very, very emotional. This makes my grief fears all the more prevalent. I don't know all the answers for what this next month holds, but I know the One that does. I'm desperately clinging to Him now. I don't want to be scared anymore.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Serving My Way up the Healing Ladder

I've heard it said many times of the best ways to receive emotional healing is through serving. Now, I'm not talking about masking feelings or hiding from emotions that need to be dealt with. I simply mean serving even while healing, which can often bring a greater depth and meaning to the healing process.

I know, because I'm there.

This past Sunday, I began serving as a Connect Group leader (a/k/a Sunday School teacher) at my church. I have the privilege of teaching a wonderful group of ladies each Sunday morning. I was actually planning to be the assistant teacher for this class last spring and met these women for the first time the week before Chris died. But, May 4 changed everything.

I had to temporarily pull away from ministry of any kind. I was in no condition to minister, but I needed ministering to on many levels. I am also a speaker, and shockingly I was able to share even if only for two 3-5 minute segments this past July...just two months after my husband went to Heaven. Even then, God spoke through me, because I wasn't ready for ministry.

I look back at some of the blog posts I've written these last (nearly) 7 months, and I know those words had to be from Him...I hardly remember writing them.

But, this past September, I began sensing a change. I knew God was preparing me for ministry again. I began to doubt Him. I knew He gave me a story to share, and I need to be a good steward of that story, but does He really think I'm ready to serve again?

He was relentless. He wouldn't stop pursuing me. He clearly spoke to my heart that I was acting like Jonah and trying to escape his plans for me. Seriously? OK...I gave in.

What is it Lord? What do I need to do?

Leave your Connect Group at church and return to the ladies group, as a participant. I'll guide your every step.

Not that! Please...don't make me leave my comfort zone. This was my class with Chris. This is the class that has supported me every step of the way since May 4. I'm afraid I'll be a burden to the ladies. Let me just stay where I'm at.

I'm not asking you to teach (yet)...just obey me and return to that class. I'll take care of the rest.

And, I reluctantly (yes, I admit the reluctance) obeyed. I told my Connect Group friends "goodbye" and begged them to not forget me. You'd think I was moving to Tibet or something. I was just going a few doors down the hall. But, it was hard. Or so I thought...

As soon as I walked into the door that first time back in mid-October, I felt an overwhelming peace wash over me. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. And, so I sat under the teaching of my friend, Lorie, for several weeks before the call came.

One of our pastors called me in early November to let me know that Lorie would be stepping down from her teaching position to ready her family for an out-of-state move. Would I pray about taking over the class?

And...there it was. I knew the answer already, but I agreed to pray anyway. The very next week, I called Pastor Bill up and said "yes". I knew it was all part of God's greater plan. If I said no, I would be disobeying Him. I couldn't do that. I shared my Jonah story with him, and we both laughed at how God so clearly reveals Himself to us sometimes - even when we refuse to believe Him.

And so...this past Sunday was my first day teaching the class. It felt SO good to be in the servant seat again. It felt so good to be giving instead of always receiving. And, in doing so...I believe I climbed up another rung on the healing ladder!

To God be all the Glory!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Praises!

Thanksgiving Day morning - my girl and me!
Thanksgiving came...and went! All-in-all...I think I did surprisingly well for my first Thanksgiving as a new widow.

We traveled about 3 1/2 hours away to enjoy the festivities with friends. With only one exception that I can recall (last year), we've spent Thanksgiving with the Hampson family every single year since 2003. We've created many Thanksgiving traditions throughout that time, but in recent years...our lineup has looked something like this...

Wednesday evening - Travel and arrive at the Hampson home. Unpack and laugh, laugh, laugh.

Thursday morning - Chris and Brett rise at the crack of dawn to go hunting. Kandi, Leah, and the other "womenfolk" start working on the food festivities. After returning from the "big hunt" - Chris and Brett would head for the newspaper run. Gotta get their gals the sales ads! We also have the Macy's T-giving Day parade playing in the background.

Thursday early afternoon - EAT!!! And football!

Thursday late afternoon - Chris and Brett would go out hunting again. The ladies head to Michael's - (up until this year) one of the few stores opened BEFORE Black Friday. We have specific things we look for every single year at Michael's but not without our coupons handy!

Thursday evening - Eat more. Play games. Crash early to be able to get up pre-dawn for Black Friday shopping.

Friday morning - Men head to the woods for more hunting (and hopefully "finding"). Women head to the stores for hunting of their own (bargain hunting, that is).

Friday evening - Games and laughter! Early to bed after a long day of hunting and shopping!

Saturday morning - Head home to start decorating for Christmas!

This year looked similar to years prior with the biggest exception - NO Chris!

--Brett hunted alone.

--Kandi went for the newspaper run.

--I watched Chris' favorite NFL team (Green Bay Packers) beat the Detroit Lions without him.

--Upon waking (alone) in my bed, the first person I spoke to that morning was the Lord, my new husband.

We spoke of Chris often. We laughed over funny memories we shared with my "Superman". But, it was evident. We all missed him.

I never had a full blown "meltdown" - praise God for that! I shed many tears in private, but all-in-all I was able to smile quite a bit. This would have been completely impossible with the prayers of so many people. Boy - I know that too well!

I'm so thankful God carried me through this special day, and I continue to pray for more of the same all the days leading up through Christmas. That was always Chris' favorite holiday!

I miss him more now than ever it seems!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My First Thanksgiving as a Widow

It's here. Another of the many days I've been awaiting with guarded anticipation. My first Thanksgiving as a widow. In truth, I don't like this place I find myself. I don't like being a 39-year-old widow (yes - I'm still 39 for another month or so...ha!). I see the Norman Rockwell paintings of families on Thanksgiving Day, and mine looks nothing like that. But, God's plans for me are better...always better! I'm trusting in that fully. I don't have to like it, but I love Him, and I trust Him. And so...I CHOOSE to be thankful today.

In reflecting on this first Thanksgiving as a widow, I made a list of 10 things I'm so thankful for. Sure - there are many, many more. But, here are 10! I also asked another new widow friend of mine if she would consider sharing 10 things that she's also thankful for on this, her first Thanksgiving without her hubby by her side, also. Cindy Cain said she would be delighted to do so. Interestingly...ours are similar in many respects! :-)

It is our desire that no matter what you've gone through this year, what you're enduring right now, what tragedies might be creeping up to your doorstep even as this is typed...our prayer is that you can CHOOSE to be thankful despite these circumstances. And know...PLEASE know...God loves you so much, and His plans are ALWAYS better, even if that's hard to see right now.

My friend, Cindy Cain
Cindy Cain – 10 Things I am Thankful for Despite Loss:
1 – Reflecting on this year, I cannot help but to list the thing I am most thankful for - my relationship with my Savior. The motto that my husband and I lived by is: “Through It All, Faith”. Well, this year I am thankful that Through It All, God Is Faithful!!!! No matter what, God is Faithful.

2 – This year, more than ever, I am thankful for the gift of adoption and my two sons. God chose them for us, and I could not be more thankful for the precious ones He placed in my life.

3 – I am thankful for being blessed with more than 30 years of living life with my beloved, who now spends his days with Jesus. Though the past 11 months have been extremely difficult, I cannot help but be thankful for all of the years we had together, for the memories those years hold and for a sound mind that is able to recall those treasured moments.

4 – How could I not be thankful for the beautiful granddaughters God has given to my family and of course the blessing of another grandchild coming in May 2012? They are precious reminders of His Faithfulness and Love.

5 – Freedom! Though the freedom we have to worship openly in the United States is being challenged on a daily basis, I am still grateful for its viability.

6 – Provision! God does not promise that we will never have trials or tribulations but He does promise to provide our needs as we walk this journey on earth. This year He has not only provided our needs, He has also chosen to bless us in creative ways that could only come from His hand.

7 – Work! Yes, I am thankful for work! It is a privilege to get up 4 days a week and join a group of ladies who have one purpose for their day and that is to minister to the needs of sick children and their families. I am grateful for my job and the blessings it provides in my life.

8 – Peace! In the midst of unspeakable pain God has given me peace. Peace in knowing that He is more than enough No. Matter. What!!

9 – Opportunities! While I have spent a good amount of time shedding tears of loss and sadness, God has given me numerous opportunities to worship Him and glorify Him through my grief walk. He has also given me opportunities to be a light in a lost and hurting world by trusting Him to walk this journey with me while allowing others to be blessed through sharing, caring and being available to speak truth into their lives.

10 – JOY! Though true Joy has come in small doses during the past 11 months, I am continually thankful for its presence. Understanding the difference between joy and happiness has been a learning process. Within the unhappy moments of my life there is an underlying Joy which pulses from the depths of my soul. It comes from a knowing that God is in control and this life is but a momentary blip of my forever with Him. For that Joy and promise I am most thankful.

Chris & Me - Thanksgiving Day 2007
Ten Things I'm Thankful for on This First Thanksgiving as a Widow:
1 - My Savior. Without Him, I am nothing. I could never walk this Grief Road without Him. He is my Life Preserver. My Anchor. He is my source of Pure Joy.

2 - Anna. My beautiful daughter. Her laughter and her smile lights up my life. Her passion for the poor at such a young age astounds me. Her love for the Lord is contagious. Sure - she's imperfect, but she's perfect for me! God knew exactly what He was doing when He placed her in my life!

3 - My support network of friends and family. Astounding. Amazing. God has blessed my socks off with love from people all over this world (YES - world!). I am totally undeserving of this kind of love being poured out upon me, but I am oh so very thankful!

4 - My country. Granted, things are a bit of a mess right now, but I'm still proud to be an American. I'm still thankful that I can profess the name of Christ without being in fear for my life. That I can worship corporately and publicly and not hidden out of fear.

5 - My job at Blue Ridge Broadcasting. It was no "coincidence" that I received an offer to go to work for this blessed organization on the very day that Chris took his life. Even on the day that my heart was about to be shattered by the one I love, the One that loves me most was already weaving together His next step in His greater plan for me.

6 - Ministry opportunities. WOW! Just WOW! God is beginning to open doors for me that I never dreamed would be open again or even for the first time. And, what He's revealing to me is that NOW is the time He's been preparing me for...NOW is the time He's planning to use me to minister to others in very unique ways. I no longer ask "why now?"...I just walk through the doors He tells me to walk through.

7 - Grief. Yes - I'm thankful for this emotional monster. With it, I am learning to be more mercy-filled and compassionate. With it, I am more understanding of others going through similar journeys. With it, I am more patient. With it, I am more humble. With it, I am learning and trying to be more Christ-like.

8 - Heaven. I've always looked forward to Heaven, but now I LONG for Heaven. I dream of Heaven. I can't wait for Heaven. And...I'm so thankful that this life is just a smidgen of time compared to eternity. And to think...God is preparing a place for me RIGHT NOW...a very special place! I'm so thankful to have Heaven to look forward to. Thank you Jesus for saving me!

9 - Laughter. Oh, I am so thankful for laughter. God has truly surrounded me with people that know how to make me laugh. It truly is healing medicine for me!

10 - You. Yes...I'm thankful for you. I'm astounded that so many of you continue to stop by here as often as you do and take time to read the little nuggets that I write (depressing as they are sometimes). You encourage me. You uplift me. You delight me. You keep me going on difficult days. You are being the hands and feet of Jesus to me! Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Never Alone

I can't tell you how many times I've replayed Tuesday night, May 3, in my mental CD player - over and over and over.

Track 1 - Can't get Chris to respond to my texts or calls
Track 2 - Something's wrong - need help
Track 3 - At the police station filing a missing person's report
Track 4 - Back home waiting on a pastor friend to arrive
Track 5 - Driving all over the fog-filled Blue Ridge Parkway roads looking for Chris' missing truck
Track 6 - Realized it was no longer Tuesday, May 3
Track 7 - Worrying that Chris is all alone, hurt, scared, cold, wondering why I haven't found him

Track 7 is the one that I now have the answer to, but it's also the one I keep playing, because I often wonder...

How long was he alone before he made the choice to end his life?

Was he crying? Was he stoic? Did he pray?

Was he cold - it was such an usually ugly weather night?

Did he think about me? Did he think about Anna?

Was he scared? Did he ever feel abandoned?

Why oh why couldn't somebody have been there to stop him? Why?????????

And then...He speaks to me He has so often these last 6 1/2 months.

My precious daughter, I was with him the entire time. Just like I've promised over and over, I will never, ever leave you or forsake you, I NEVER left Chris and was there as he took his final breath on earth and entered my presence in Heaven. I can answer every single one of the questions you keep asking yourself, but it truly doesn't matter now - does it? Just rest in the fact that Chris was never alone. Never. I whispered to him many times that evening, just like I'm whispering to you now. And, I tenderly held him. Just know this...he told you this himself in his last email to you...never doubt how much he loved you. Daughter, let that be enough to satisfy those unanswered questions. But...even more...never doubt how much I love you. Chris was never alone. And...what's more...neither are you my beloved! Even now, I'm catching those tears as they fall from your eyes. I. Am. Right. Here. Feel my Presence surrounding you - just like I did for Chris the night of May 3. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If Trees Could Talk

"I've been told this day was coming for many months now. My Creator announced to me in August that He had a very special plan for special, in fact, that it would require my leaving the only home I've ever known...forever. My home...this beautiful farm displayed with so many of my pine-scented friends. Some have been growing here for over a decade. Others are just new saplings. But me? I'm almost 10 feet tall, so I've seen a lot of friends and family leave our homeplace through the years. I've gotten used to it actually, but it never really hit me that my day might actually come too. Until today. Even after my Creator told me several months ago, I never really thought it would happen until now.

I wondered if it would hurt. You know...when they take that loud buzzing thing and cut me from my base. I've seen it happen so much...the noise...the topple...the dust. But does it hurt?

But, Creator tells me that somebody else...a lady...has been hurting a lot more than what I'll experience today. In fact, He tells me that the small sting I might experience in the process is worth it for the joy that it will bring this lady. I don't know why she hurts, but Creator tells me He needs me to do this for Him, because He loves her so and wants to see that smile on her face when she sees me for the first time.

I knew her voice the first time I heard it. I can't explain how I knew it was her...I just did. She kept looking at lots of trees all around me but seemed so disappointed. I often heard her mutter to her friends that were with her, 'I know I'll know which one it is when I see it.' Was she talking about me? Was she looking for me?

I could feel her footsteps getting closer, and then I saw her, and her face beamed with joy when she took her first look at me. Creator affirmed it was her.

This is the one, my beloved creation. I need you to go live in her home for the next 6 weeks and bring her abundant joy.

I don't know how to do that?

Just by being there.

He whispered a few more things to me...something about her husband now being with Him in Heaven, something about her sadness over the upcoming Christmas season, a little about how she's expecting me to bring her a lot of joy and how many of her friends and family have sent her many items to adorn me with.

I want to feel honored to be in this role. I really do. But, I'm a little sad, because my own death is near. Is this what it's come to for me? All of these years in this beautiful place to be over in about 6 weeks (provided she generously waters me daily)?

But, my wise Creator shared one more thing with me that clearly told me why I had to do this (and why I should be honored at the opportunity...

He reminded me that often it takes death of one thing to bring life to another."

Me and my 'Chris Tree'!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Right Side of the Couch

I sat down on the couch and turned on the remote to browse for television "background noise". I pulled my laptop closer, as I planned to spend time editing some pictures I took for a friend recently. And then I realized it. Something so minor to the "normal" person but yet so profound to this grieving widow. Actually, two significant events just took place, and I almost didn't realize it until God pointed them out to me.

1) I turned on the TV. I. Turned. On. The. TV. This is HUGE! You're probably thinking this lady has really flipped out now! Just stick with me for a minute, and I'll explain.

The night my husband disappeared, the day before he was found dead, we had our usual Tuesday night family activity planned...watching The Biggest Loser! Instead of watching The Biggest Loser, I was driving around our city looking for my husband, knowing that something had to be wrong - he never missed our Tuesday Biggest Loser night! Since my husband's passing, I haven't watched any TV. The TV has been on some but only if my daughter has turned it on or if visiting friends have turned it on - but not by my own hand.

And so...Friday night, I sat down and turned on the TV. Granted, I turned it on to some digital music channel (just for the white noise), but I used the remote and turned it on nonetheless.

2) Not only did I turn on the TV, but I sat on the right side of the couch. Again, you're probably wondering "what in the world"? Whenever Chris and I sat together on the couch, or cuddled on the couch, or better yet - fell asleep on the couch...he was always on the on his right! We were such creatures of habit. However, after his death, I sat on the left side. Always. I think it was my way of drawing closer to him in some strange sort of way. I even slept on the couch for the first couple of weeks after He went to Heaven, and I always laid my head in the exact place where he would sit.

But, Friday night...I went back to the right hand side of the couch - where I always sat before. Again, it was completely without forethought. I just plopped down, picked up the remote, and it was then the Lord whispered to my heart,

"Look at you now my daughter! Look at where you are and what you're doing!"

I sat slightly stunned. And, He continued...

"You may think this is insignificant, but it's very significant. You keep saying you need to see with your eyes the healing I'm doing in your heart. Take a look and see my child. Take a look..."

The right side of the couch...the remote...and a smile on my face! Thank you Father!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Surprising Question from an Unlikely Person

I'll admit it. I'm not the most observant person...especially when it comes to remembering what people where wearing. (Ironically, I'm very much a visual learner.) I've always said that I would probably never be able to identify a criminal in a lineup or anything of the sort, because I struggle to remember the details of what someone might have looked like or might have been wearing.

I came face to face with this deficit of mine when having to describe to the police back in May (when my husband was still considered missing) what he was wearing when he left the house that morning. I honestly couldn't remember. I was mortified that my memory lack might hinder the investigation. As it turned it, he was found anyway.

Interestingly, I have been wearing a very special pendant almost everyday since about a month after Chris died. It's quite unique, and I had never even heard of this type of thing until the funeral home offered it as a service to me. It's called a thumbie. Yes. A thumbie. Simply put, it's an impression of a portion of my husband's actual thumbprint. The funeral home offered to capture his thumbprints for me and keep them on file in case I wanted to capture it in memory form (via the thumbie) down the road someday. I did ask them to go ahead and do that, and I would look into it later.

It wasn't much later before I ordered my own thumbie pendant. You have no idea how much comfort that is around my neck. It might sound silly, but it is such a treasure to be able to reach up and rub that little thing and actually feel the ridges of my husband's print. What a treasure!

Like me...however...there are a lot of non-observant people in this world. Or - maybe they're are just afraid to ask about it, because I've been wearing it since June, and I think I've only had 3 people ever ask me about it. Two of them happened to be within this past week. But, the most unusual conversation I've had about it was a Casting Crowns concert.

Working for a radio station AND being shutterbug...I've had the privilege of being able to attend several station events as the photographer. Tonight was one of those nights. Casting Crowns is on their Come to the Well tour with Lindsay McCaul, The Afters, and Sanctus Real. I had the honor of being able to meet the various artists before the concert began. When it was time to meet the Casting Crowns members, I was beyond thrilled to meet the amazing songwriter, Mark Hall. Such a down-to-earth, humble man.

3 of the Casting Crowns members (lead singer Mark Hall in the center) with Jon Matthews and me

However, the most interesting conversation I had was with Juan DeVevo - guitarist and vocalist with Casting Crowns. He spotted my thumbie - kept staring at it actually and then asked the question, "What exactly is that  you're wearing if I may ask?"

I thought he meant my station badge or nametag at first - ha! ha! - but, I quickly realized he was referring to my thumbie. I paused. Oh boy. I'm not often asked this question and certainly didn't expect a Casting Crowns band member to even look my way long enough to notice my necklace.

And, so I shared. I told Juan what it was...what it stood for...and briefly that my husband went home to be with the Lord in May. I think I shocked him actually. That wasn't the answer he was expecting, but he was so gracious with his response. And, I was so thankful that God gave me the grace to share about it without curling up into a ball of tears! He is so good to me!

You just never know who might be paying attention...

What a fun evening!

Me, Juan DeVevo, and Jon Matthews (I'm wearing the thumbie - you can see it if you look closely.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Operation Meltdown Thwarted

Nothing frustrates me more on this grief journey than trying to figure out what might trigger a meltdown. Just when I think I've mastered it...I'm surprised yet again. And, sadly, I know that grief is completely, why am I even trying to figure everything out? Well...that's just my put it bluntly.

I'm Type A. I'm a recovering perfectionist. I'm a first born. I'm a planner. I'm organized (or at least I am in some settings - I used to be in EVERY setting). I'm just one of these "I've got to figure it all out" kind of gals. But, you know what? God is really trying to shake some of that out of me. And...He's succeeding perhaps more than ever before.

I'm realizing (even though I'm not happy about it) that I will never fully figure out this grief journey. I'm just having to walk it day by day (sometimes hour by hour), trusting that God will get me through each and every meltdown or panic attack and set my feet back upon the Rock when I stumble. Friends...that's hard for me to admit and even harder for me to accept. If there's a problem...I want to fix it. For me, grief is my "problem" right now, but there's nothing I can do to "fix it". I just have to go THROUGH it!

Saturday evening took me to a special gathering with some people I work with and a group of sweet guests. I had been looking forward to this night for weeks. But...

There's the "but" again...

As I drove the 8 miles from my house to the venue...I went from excited to sad to scared to practically panicky. The only thing that I can think of that triggered this was the fact that I realized Chris wouldn't be with me, and I would be attending something that would find me around lots of couples. No - I wasn't the only single lady there, but it didn't matter at the time. I was without Chris...and HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE WITH ME!!! Amongst the sadness, anger started to creep in a bit. I kept trying to suppress these irritating emotions. I had to pull myself together and quickly! I pulled into the parking lot, parked my car and sat there. Just sat there with my chest mind heart eyes fighting back throat closing. What was happening to me? I couldn't move. I just sat. I watched couples walk into the building - hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm. Lord, I need help right now. Show me what to do.

I think I was on the verge of my first ever panic attack or perhaps just another meltdown.

Just then, I felt Him whisper to me to call in a couple of prayer warriors. And so...I sent 3 texts. Just 3. Only these 3 ladies and God knew what was happening in that moment. But, they prayed. They texted me words of comfort, and just when the enemy thought he had me in the palm of his hand...Operation Meltdown was thwarted. The prayers of faithful pulled me out...yet again!

Friday, November 11, 2011

And the Winner Is...

First things first...without further ado...the winner of my Day 40 Blog Giveaway is (drumroll please)...

Kandi Hampson - 11/10 timestamp 6:35 pm

Congratulations Kandi! I'll be in touch to share with you how to download your free software package.

Now - just because the rest of you didn't win the full software package this time, I do want to pass along another discount/coupon option that My Memories has offered me for my readers! I'm crazy about their products, and I'd highly recommend you get the My Memories Suite for your very own (but, I know that coupons help!).

Here's how it works...

The code that I'm going to share momentarily provides a $10 discount off the purchase of the My Memories Suite v2 Scrapbook software AND a $10 coupon for the store (a $20 value!).

Upon checkout, be sure to copy and paste this code to take advantage of the special discounts:


I'm going to make this blog post a short one today. The giveaway has been lots of fun! Thanks for participating!

Thanks again for SO many of you joining me on my 40-day consecutive blog writing journey. I have so much already brewing in my heart to share as I continue down Grief Road. I could almost start another 40-day journey, but I'm not going to do that just yet. :-) 

In the meantime, be blessed sweet blog friends! You are loved!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Ninth Without Tears

Just a quick reminder: the Day 40 blog giveaway is still ongoing through 9:00 pm ET this evening! Check it out and be sure to enter if you haven't had a chance to do so yet!


I've frequently written about the 9th. It's always been our special day each month. Chris and I married on an August 9th. But, we celebrated our marriage anniversary on EVERY 9th. Most of the time it was just in small ways, but it always included us watching our wedding video and him giving me flowers. Always. Always. Always.

Five days after Chris died, I experienced my first 9th. It happened to be the day after I buried his shell (on Mother's Day). The house was full of flowers, so I didn't really miss his flowers just yet, and my mind was too warped to even comprehend the fact that I wasn't watching our wedding video.

My second 9th without the love of my life (in June) came with a kiss from heaven. I received flowers from someone that had no idea what the day was but just felted prompted to bring them to me. I knew then that the Holy Spirit had written my name across her mind, and she delivered something more precious to me than she could have possibly known.

July 9th found me at out favorite place, the beach. I drove my sister-in-law down there for the day. We happen to live about 5 hours from the beach, but she lives in Kansas and had never seen the ocean with her own eyes before. Since they were in NC visiting, I knew we couldn't wait another day - she had to see it! It was a bittersweet day. My heart ached for my true love that day - more than ever!

The next month would have marked our REAL honor of our blessed wedding and the precious vows we exchanged. August 9th for me this year was not only the hardest 9th I've had to endure since Chris' death, but it was also one of the hardest days for me, in general. But, through all the pain and the buckets of tears, I felt loved immensely. God held me tight that day!

September 9th was lonely. It was another dark day for me.

October 9 found me in New Jersey and later on a flight home from Philadelphia. It also brought an interesting "heart to heart" talk with the Lord. I cried that 9th too, but God began a new type of healing on my heart. I could literally feel it.

And most recent 9th without Chris. I thought about him constantly. I received an anonymous gift of flowers on my front porch with a "Happy Anniversary" card. I loved them! I tell people all the time that cards and flowers are my "love language". :-) But, the most incredible miracle occurred. I never cried yesterday. I was sad but not overwrought with sadness. I was lonely but not overtaken with loneliness. It was a good day. A freeing day. A healing day.

Now, I know that December 9 could be completely different, but I'm thankful for the gift of today. It was a refreshing walk along Grief Road.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 40 is Here with a Giveaway!

We're here friends. The end of my 40-day consecutive blog writing journey. I can't believe I'm going to actually say this, but out of the 3 times that I've done a 40-day journey like this - I do believe this one to be the easiest! heard me right! Out of one of the most chaotic times of my life, I've found this to be very therapeutic and joy-filled. So, where do I go from here?

I don't want to make promises I'll have trouble keeping, but I will tell you my blogging goal from this point forward. My GOAL is to blog Monday through Friday. Yes - it's simply a goal. I'm not going to hold my perfectionistic self to that standard as a rule, because I'll fail...for sure. And, then I'll disappoint myself. So, it's goal. I'll do the best I can and simply leave it at that.

To end this 40th post on a fun note...I have a giveaway to announce!

It's not too hard to see that I'm all about making memories. An avid scrapbooker, it's always been a passion of mine, but with my husband's death, I'm even more bent (if that's possible) on preserving memories, hence my Chris Tree project, among other things.

Very recently, I was introduced to My Memories, the #1 rated scrapbook software. For those of you not into scrapbooking, don't look the other way just yet. You just might be surprised! As a paper scrapbooker for years, I've been hesitant to even try digital scrapbooking. It just seemed to take the creativity out it for me. But, I said that - assumed that - without even trying a digital scrapbooking program. Until now...

My Memories gives you the ability to simply pop in your digital pictures into an already pre-designed template if you lack the time or creative juices to try anything else. That's a perfect solution for busy people that want to capture photo memories in a creative format (like a scrapbook) but don't have the know-how or drive to do so.

However, My Memories also offers the ability to create your own design. Simply start with a blank slate - of various size pages - and, be as creative as your mind allows! Here are two of my own "start from scratch" creations:

Friends, these were sooooo easy to make - trust me! And, they weren't even from a template! With My Memories, you can not only create digital scrapbook pages, but you can also do cards, calendars, photobooks, etc. So many possibilities! Now that I've gone on and on about this software...let me tell you about the giveaway.

The folks at My Memories have donated one free My Memories Suite (a $40 value) for me to giveaway on my blog. You actually have a couple of opportunities to enter, but you can't do #2 without doing #1:

1) First of all, please visit My Memories and then come back here and leave a comment telling me your favorite digital paper pack or scrapbooking kit.

2) Either start following My Memories Suite on Twitter by clicking here or "Like" their Facebook page by clicking here - OR do both! After doing so...come back and leave a SECOND comment telling me you've done so. This will get you entry #2 in the giveaway.

That's all there is to it! The giveaway will run today and through 9:00 pm ET Thursday. The winner will be announced on Friday's blog post. Be sure to enter and share the giveaway with your friends.

There will only be one winner, but I'll also announce on Friday a huge discount opportunity for anyone that doesn't win and chooses to still purchase the software or anything from the My Memories store. So, be sure to check back on Friday!

Thank you for taking part in this 40-day consecutive blogging journey with me! It would have been very lonely without you! Let's continue the journey together...shall we?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11 More Days

It’s only 11 more days until my Chris Tree arrives. In one of our favorite holiday traditions, we’ll be traveling about an hour further up into the mountains to a beloved tree farm that we go to each year to cut our own tree. My husband was passionate about having a LIVE tree, so I’ll actually be getting two this year – our “normal” family tree and now the Chris Tree. We usually go the weekend after Thanksgiving to procure the trees, but I’m actually going with some dear friends that will help me bring them back home, and the weekend before just works better. I’ll be watering those babies well to keep them nice and fresh through Christmas!

Thank you to so many of you that have generously participated in this project with me by donating ornaments for the tree. You have no idea how much that has blessed my heart! Chris would have been blown away by this kind of Christmas love, and I pray that God allows him a glimpse of it from heaven. If you are still planning to participate, feel free to email me for the address to mail your ornament to ( I’ll still be placing ornaments on the tree long after it’s decorated, so it doesn’t have to arrive by the 19th.

Lastly, I’m still collecting addresses for my Christmas card list this year! I would love to send you a card from our family (my girl and me)! It’s something that brings me a lot of joy during the Christmas season. If I don’t already have your mailing address, and you would like to receive a card from us, then please email me your address, and I’ll make sure to add you to our list!

Please pray for us as we enter this first holiday season without Chris. Please pray that Thanksgiving is FULL of us GIVING GOD THANKS for the multiple blessings He’s given us. Please pray that I don’t dwell on what I don’t have (my husband) but give thanks that due to the security I have in my eternity – I’ll be reunited with him again someday soon.

Please pray that I won’t feel loneliness – especially the closer we get to Christmas. This holiday was a BIG deal with Chris…a VERY BIG deal! From decorations, to baking, to watching Christmas movies, to traditions – we celebrated Jesus’ birthday BIG! Please pray that I can still celebrate BIG!

Tomorrow will be Day 40 of this consecutive blog-writing journey. I can’t believe it’s already here! I began this journey with a giveaway, and I plan to end it with a giveaway as well! So be sure to come back and see what I’ll be giving away!

I treasure you, my blog friends! You bring light into my dark days!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Worship God Anyway!

Several Sunday afternoons/evenings for the past couple of months, you might find me at my friend, Jill's, house. Jill and I have been friends for right at about 7 years. She was my first Sunday School teacher after moving back to the area and attending the church we do now. We've discovered through the years that we have a lot in common, and even though Jill serves at another church now, we've remained in touch.

As a matter of fact, Jill was at my home when the news of Chris' death was delivered to me.

She's a divorced, single mom and has been for many years, but her single mom status has never kept her from doing for others and being a faithful friend to me. She delivered casseroles to our family after two surgeries that I had fairly recently. She and her college-aged daughter came over and cleaned the house for us in the early weeks following Chris' death. She helped to financially support my mission trip to Africa in June, 2010 - even though I know she lives within a VERY tight budget. She's prayed for me on countless occasions - a gift no price tag can be placed upon!

And so...about a month after Chris died, I received her news. I was shocked and saddened to learn my friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer! Honestly, I've known of many, many people that have had cancer, but Jill is the first single lady close to me that I knew to receive the diagnosis.

I immediately prayed...for the obvious...HEALING! But, I also prayed that she would be surrounded by love and care! As I know all too well, it's very difficult to be single and go through something so tragic. I prayed she wouldn't have to beg for help but that people would simply respond. They would not wait to be asked but would do the asking. It's so hard to ask for help, but people can't read your mind also, so I prayed that God would give Jill strength to ask when needed but would allow His Spirit to speak to those in her support network to do SOMETHING...anything!

She's shared that she's been abundantly blessed with a large support system! Praise God! But, she's also been very lonely in recent days. Jill admits that having visitors helps to take her mind off the pain from the chemo.

And, so I visit. I love to visit as much as I can on Sunday afternoons. We never seem to have a loss of conversation. We each share about the painful journeys we're walking right now, although drastically different (yet interestingly similar).

Yesterday was a difficult day for Jill. She was in a lot of pain and nausea had returned (that had amazingly been gone since being on this new chemo drug). She was exhausted. And yet...she still wanted to worship! She expressed that she hadn't been able to worship God with anyone else in quite awhile, as she's usually very sick on Sundays. Therefore, would I consider doing her cancer Bible study with her? Of course! I would love to - any chance to study the Word with someone gets me giddy (even in these difficult circumstances).

She hands me her Bible and the study book opened to that day's study. She then shared, "You're going to think I planned this, but I promise I didn't." I looked down at the title of the lesson...Worship God Anyway! We had just finished talking about this very thing. I shared that sometimes I just gravitate towards God - not getting enough of Him. But there are the other days. The ones when my grief seems so thick that I can hardly get out of bed, let alone spend time in worship, but I have to do it anyway. it was, staring me in the face. I smiled. That God of mine...such a sense of humor He has! As I read her study aloud to her...I'm the one that's blessed! I see scripture over and over that reinforces the concept of worshiping God anyway! And then I see THAT scripture...the one that has been following for me around for awhile...the one that I even used on my husband's funeral program:

Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud 
   and there are no grapes on the vines, 
though the olive crop fails 
   and the fields produce no food, 
though there are no sheep in the pen 
   and no cattle in the stalls, 
YET I will rejoice in the LORD, 
   I will be joyful in God my Savior. (emphasis added by me)

YET...I will rejoice! YET...I will worship! YET...I will praise Him!

Even through the tears...I worship Him.
Even on the Tuesdays and Wednesdays (my hardest days each week)...I worship Him.
Even on this Monday, as I battle a nasty stomach bug...I worship Him.
Even though I don't know how I'll get through my first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Chris...I will worship Him.

Even when I don't feel like it...YET...I choose to worship God anyway!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Full Circle

Good late evening blog friends! Better late than never. There's still a little less than an hour left in this day (on the East coast, that is), so I haven't skipped a post yet on this 40-day journey. Whew! But...I wonder how many of you are out there thinking I did right about now?? Ha! Ha!

As God would have it, he's allowing me to see a little more of His hand in my life with this "Gilgal thing" that I referenced in yesterday's VLOG post. To know more, either watch that video post or simply read about in Joshua 4 and 5.

In a very quick summary...Gilgal was the first stop on the Israelites journey into the Promised Land. It was the place where God essentially brought them "full circle".

Full circle...hmmm....I have recently had an opportunity to witness God doing that in my life in a very specific way. A few weeks before my husband died, I was asked to be an assistant teacher for a women's Sunday morning class at our church. I was excited about this opportunity to serve in my own church, because it seems that so often as a speaker, I have the opportunities to serve more in other churches or places of ministry. To be able to teach and share in my church is an absolute blessing.

I attended that first class back on May 1, when my friend Lorie and I were initially introduced to the class. We were so excited to be joining this amazing group of women and to be able to serve together as teachers of God's Word (my FAVORITE thing to teach)!


My life shattered just 3 days later, when my husband's lifeless body was discovered, and my journey down Grief Road began. I didn't return to the class after that. I needed to go back to my place of "comfort" - the class my husband and I had attended together since we were first married. These were the very people that discovered my husband after his suicide...the very people that cared for me in the days, weeks, and months following Chris' death...the very people I've been doing life with for quite awhile. I had to go back to that class. There was nothing left of me to give to anyone else at that point.

As the weeks have passed, God has been speaking VERY clearly to me about returning to this class. But, I thought...Lord, you must be kidding. I certainly must not be hearing you correctly. What do I have to offer - especially now?

He never stopped pursuing me. He actually led me to the book of Jonah to study, and I studied Jonah from late May through mid-September. I know...I can one person study four little chapters for that long? Trust's possible. I kept wondering why I couldn't get out of the book of Jonah...why I couldn't move know, to something else - anything else?

And then...I got it. God wanted me to see how I was running from my own "divine interruption". Just as God divinely interrupted Jonah's life by asking him to go to Ninevah, Jonah ran and tried to sail to Tarshish. Much like Jonah, God clearly told me to return to that class back in June, but I didn't want to...I wanted to stay in my own place of my old class. I was clearly disobeying. Clearly. It's not that this ladies' class is composed of "Ninevites". Quite the contrary, actually. It was just a symbol of me running from what God had clearly commanded me to do. I was Jonah, trying to sail to Tarshish rather than obey God and go to Ninevah.

But, in early October, I changed. I obeyed. I said "goodbye" to my old class and by mid-October, I walked back into my new class, but this time as an attendee - not with the intention of teaching (or so I thought...).

A couple weeks ago, the pastor over these classes at our church called me and informed me that Lorie would be stepping down as the class teacher, as her family would be moving out-of-state in the next month or so (I knew about the move - just didn't know when she would be leaving the class as teacher). And then came THE question...the one God had been preparing me for by asking me to return to that class..."Leah, will you pray about taking this class? I really think you have a lot to offer this group, especially in light of what God's been teaching you these last few months."

Oh boy. Here it was. this what Jonah was all about?

I promised to pray. I promised to call him the next week with an answer.

I did. I answered. I'm obeying. And, this morning, we announced to the class that God would be moving me into that role at the end of this month. November 27 will be my first day back in the role of "teacher". Please pray for me. I want nothing more than to serve God well and glorify Him completely! Thank you friends!

P.S. A little 4th grade teacher is in this class! Talk about "full circle"! :-)