Thursday, July 28, 2011

A She Speaks Miracle

Leah, Heatherly, and Leigh (at left)

I didn't know what to expect, and was honestly very hesitant to go just a little over eleven weeks after my husband's tragic death. But, prior to that, I had so looked forward to my 2nd annual She Speaks conference. So, through the financial and logistical generosity of others...I went...this past weekend.

God met me there. Big time. I can't begin to convey everything that took place in one blog post, and I'm not even going to try. But, there is one major event...that I just have to share now. I only hope these words do it justice.

I was registered for the Speaker's Track (like last year). Attendees have the choice of participating in one of three tracks, but our breakout sessions can come from any of the three. Since I was already registered for the Speaker's Track before the "events of May 3-4", I decided I'd just continue down that path. As a Speaker's Track participant, I would be expected to prepare two short "talks" for evaluation by speaking peers and a Proverbs 31 Ministries professional speaker. I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to emotionally do this or not, but I prayed for weeks that God would be glorified through me this weekend regardless of what I was or was not able to do.

That said, the first talk was Friday evening. Only by God's grace, I got through it without shedding a tear. I was stunned! It certainly wasn't the best talk I've ever written, and it definitely wasn't the best delivery. However, God brought me through it!

Saturday morning typically brings back-to-back breakout sessions. I was registered for several writing sessions actually, but this is when God intervened with a different plan...His plan! Now, before I go any further, I have to say that I've asked permission to share the events that follow, because it involves a bit of transparency from a sweet friend of mine. I'll use her first name only, at her request, but if you happen to know who I'm talking about...let's just leave everything on a first name basis please.

Before breakfast, my friend Angie came up to me and asked if she could share something with me whenever I had a chance that day. "Sure," I replied. I could sense that God was working up something big for sweet Angie, but I didn't know what part I was to play. I was just willing to be a listening ear.

I grabbed Angie right after breakfast, so we could sit down and chat. Yes...I had sessions to attend, but God said to skip them. This was far more important than a writer's session. And, so we sat down...and the conversation began.

I'll have to back up briefly and share that I learned the night before (Friday night) that Angie doesn't cry. At all. As a matter of fact, Angie hasn't cried in nearly 20 years. 20 years folks! It's not that Angie doesn't get emotional. Oh...she most certainly does! However, she's learned how to suppress those feelings when she feels like she's about to cry.

So, during our nice long conversation Saturday morning, we talked even more about that, among other things. Angie must have felt safe in pouring out her heart to me, and I'm so glad she did! She talked, and I listened (and talked some too). I lovingly expressed concern over her choice to suppress her tearful emotions. She finally admitted that she knows when the walls started going up nearly 20 years ago, and she knows God is working through her to tear them down, but she's still resistant to the tears. She's fearful that one tear will lead to a gushing of tears. I smiled, because I know that's where God will eventually take her. So, how did our conversation end? With these words that I shared, "Angie, I'm going to be praying for you about this. I'm praying that you have a 'Niagra Falls' experience. I'm praying the floodgates open, and you learn how to cry again. I'm praying God meets you where you're at and heals you. And, if I have to...I'll fast over this." Angie simply smiled, and we parted ways for a few hours.

I went back to my room to get ready for talk #2, but as I walked, I prayed for Angie - just as I said I would. However, I was really struggling emotionally at this point. With talk #2 just around the corner, I was fearful - once again - that I wouldn't be able to get through it. But, God whispered to my heart. It's not about the talks Leah. Your reason for being here this weekend is so much bigger than that. Just wait...and watch...and you'll see My Glory.

Now...I'm going to fast forward...right through talk #2. I'll share more about that in a future post (but, yes...God brought me through that one too). I'm jumping ahead to post-dinner.

We had the privilege of getting to hear the radiant and godly Ann Voskamp. If you haven't yet read her book, One Thousand Gifts, you really should give yourself that gift and do so! You will be so blessed. Well, she certainly blessed us that night, and my heart was already softened to the absolutely divine grace that God allows me to walk in each day. I was abundantly full of joy at that moment! But then...

Our worship artist closed out the evening with one more song. It happened to be Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone). This was Chris' favorite song, and we even played it at his funeral. I've heard it a couple of times since he died, but I apparently heard it with different ears this time.

I could feel my throat tightening, my chest aching, my eyes filling with salty water, and then it own Niagra Falls. I began to sob, and I mean sob! I couldn't stop it. And, I'm not sure I even tried to at this point. I was losing complete control of my emotions. Suddenly, I felt the arms of my friend, Lorie, around me, and I heard her cries as well. Then, I felt someone else in front of me, someone else behind me, another lady at my knees praying, another sweet sister to my right side. I was surrounded by the tangible of love of Christ through my She Speaks sisters. The tears continued...abundantly poured. I struggled to breathe at times, and one of my sisters kept whispering, "take slow deep breaths, Leah. God is right here with you. He. Is. Here." I've cried a lot since Chris died, but this was probably the deepest sorrow I've felt in several weeks. It was so deep that I honestly didn't truly understand what was happening to me until God calmed me down and told me to look back and see who was rubbing my back. As I did, I smiled so big with new tears pouring down my face...

It was my friend Angie...crying! I was witnessing a miracle. My friend that hadn't shed a tear in nearly 20 friend that has had tremendous walls built up that nothing could seem to friend that shared with me earlier in the day...the same CRYING! God had already and so quickly answered my prayers for her. And...He allowed ME to not only witness the miracle but to be used in the creation of the miracle.

The sorrow that God allowed me to endure that evening...for what seemed like an eternity...wasn't about me and wasn't for was for Angie. All for Angie! And, to see that look on her face when she realized what was happening...I'd let Him put me through that all over again...just to see His glory through Angie's miracle!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You Are Loved

(The pic has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post. I just thought I'd send you a little smile. They've been far and few between lately, so I thought I'd share the biggest one I've had in awhile.)

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times since Chris died (11 weeks ago today, actually)..."I'm sorry I'm complaining. I know my problems can't even compare to what you've gone through." It breaks my heart every time I hear it.

While the death of a spouse does take the top spot on most stress scales, and the suicide of a spouse probably compounds that even more...the problems that others are experiencing are still just as real. I admit that Chris' death has certainly put all of my past challenges and present challenges into perspective, and they certainly don't compare even remotely. That's MY experience and MY experience alone. Prior to his death, I had other problems that ranked at the top of the list.

So, for you, my friends...don't discount your problems just because you haven't experienced what I've experienced. And...I praise God that most of you reading this haven't. But, I still care. I still pray for you. And, I still hurt when you hurt. Your problems are still real. And, you know what? The same God that is with me...comforting me...healing me...wants to do the same for you!

Thank you for loving me with your words of comfort, your precious prayers, and your sweet treasures! I don't deserve any of it...but God has chosen to bless me by you. Just know how much I thank Him for you...most of you I've never even met and may not this side of heaven. But, you are most precious to me blog friends! You are loved!

(P.S. This will be my last post before She Speaks. I leave Friday morning to attend this amazing weekend with 650 other women in Concord, NC. I covet your prayers as I attempt to speak Friday and Saturday evenings in an evaluation first time speaking since Chris died. Thanks friends!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another Kiss from Heaven

I shared on a previous blog how I went back last week to the site where my husband took his own life back in May. You can read more about that visit by clicking here.

My daughter has also been asking to go there as well. She felt that seeing it with her own eyes would help with some closure (like mother, like daughter). So, this afternoon, we took off towards the dense woods with a couple of friends to revisit what has become a rather sacred place to me.

This time, I spent some time really up close and personal checking out greater details of the area...

The stream behind the campsite...

The tree with a "Y" shape, much like my own question (Why?)...

The spot where my husband took his last breath...

After about 30 minutes, we decided to head back to the car to prepare to leave. One of the ladies in the group picked up a couple of stones from the area as a keepsake, of sorts. She called them her "Chris stones". Well, of course, we had to follow the rest of us headed back down to the campsite to search for our own Chris stones.

Being at the tail end of the group, my friend directly in front of me bent down and picked up a stone and said, "I've found your stone." I looked at her questioningly, but she told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand.

I obeyed.

And, in my hand, she placed this...

Another kiss from heaven...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It Stinks!

I'm now 10 weeks in...10 weeks of discovering this new thing (to me)...grief. I can attest quite frankly...IT STINKS! So far, there has been nothing beautiful, nothing magical, nothing glorifying about this simply stinks.

Now, while being a "Negative Nancy", I'm also totally convinced that something beautiful and God-glorifying will come out of this. Because, I KNOW "that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) Well, boy do I love Him, and I'm blessed to be called according to His purpose (even though I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that might be).

However, in the meantime...grieving stinks.

Today, I turned another page. I began professional counseling. I know...I know...some of you might be thinking...just now? Yep - the thought crossed my mind too. However, I honestly thought I could "handle" things with my own little therapy concoction, and it simply wasn't enough. I needed more help.

I knew that my therapy session would be nothing short of difficult, but that was an understatement. It was raw. It was real. It was what I needed. stunk! Thankfully, God led me to somebody very experienced in grief counseling, and he knew just how to get to those places that others quite can't reach, including me. hurt.

Friends, I also think I'm just beginning to go down some of the dark roads of grief. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula in this process. Everybody experiences it differently, and I've heard the ocean analogy several times now, which makes the most sense to me. Sometimes, I'm out there just relaxing in the waves...softly floating up and down, and then out of nowhere...a wave comes crashing in over my head. I'll come back, catch my breath...start the gentle float again...then comes another one. So true. So true. My experience with grief exactly so far!

And now, here I am about a week away from my beloved She Speaks conference in Concord, NC. This precious time spent with my sister speakers, writers, and ministry leaders. A time for refreshment, renewal, education, fun, fellowship, and worship. I'm supposed to be speaking again this year in another evaluation group. I have nothing on paper. I have just limited thoughts on what I'm to speak on. I have fears of falling apart. And, all I want to do is experience the love of Christ all over me that weekend, like I did last year. But, I'm afraid this grief "thing" might get in the way of a beautiful weekend. And that would most definitely...stink!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From the beach to the woods...

Oh...what a weekend!

This post can't begin to capture the emotion of it all.

Friday night, I left my house at 9:00 pm with my sister-in-law, Shawna, who came to visit with my brother and their son. We were en route to the beach, because Shawna has never seen the ocean - except in books or on movies. She grew up in Kansas (and still lives there), and growing up in a family with 5 other siblings never afforded them the opportunity to take many vacations, let alone vacations to either coast half-way across the United States. Well, I knew I had to do something about that. Even if only for a few hours.

The spontaneous, adventure-seeking sister-in-law that I am, asked her if she'd like to make the 5 hour trek to see it - in person (and hopefully catch a sunrise too). She was all too quick to say...YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, a few stops and 6 hours later - we arrived in Myrtle Beach, SC (a little ahead of sunrise). We piddled around for a couple of hours and then finally made our way down to the ocean at the break of day. The sun didn't perform a brilliant show for us this, as it was blanketed by a thick veil of clouds. But, the sea...the glorious sea...still showed off the majesty and splendor of Creator God! And...Shawna was amazed...

For me, the trip was bittersweet. To see the joy on my sister-in-law's face was priceless. But, the last time I went to this exact same spot was in April...with my sweet Chris! I miss him so. The beach was a haven for us, and we both planned to live by the sea one day, Lord willing.

I needed to try and rest for a few minutes since we were going to turn around and head back by noon to pick up my daughter at the airport. I placed my towel atop the sand, got down on my stomach, and with the sun just starting to poke through and warm my back...all I could do was cry...salty, sandy tears. Today also was another monthly anniversary. It was another 9th (this time our 35th month of marriage). It was another day that I would normally walk home to later find the flowers my husband brought me to celebrate...those individual monthly anniversaries. More salty, sandy tears. And...the sleep? Maybe 10 minutes. Too many thoughts going through my mind to rest my brain.

Fast forward to today...Sunday. I had asked a couple of friends from church if they would do something very special, yet difficult, for me. Would they please take me to the location where my husband took his own life? Yes. I wanted to see it. I had to see it. There were so many there that day, but not me. I was waiting at the house in case he came home or other news reached us there. But, I was not out with the search team. I was not there to see the truck parked or the pitched tent that contained his broken body. And, I knew I had to. I had to go there and see it for myself. The visual person that I am needed to see everything in order to progress in this healing journey.

So, this afternoon, we went. I am forever grateful to these precious saints for giving me a couple hours of their Sunday afternoon to drive me deep into the woods to see this...

The place his trucked was parked that fateful day...

The place where the tent was pitched that contained my husband's body...

The place where he hung the key to his truck... difficult as it was. It helped me to go there and see everything for myself.

So, later this evening. I went to the cemetery to "talk" to him about it.

And, I've been talking to Him (to Abba) about it the rest of the evening. "I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy." Psalm 116:1

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Let Me Clear a Few Things Up

Thanks to each of you that have been faithfully following this journey of grief I've been traveling. Thank you for the massive amounts of love and prayer I've received. I know this is a result of being so transparent, because probably wouldn't even know this recent tragedy I've experienced ever even happened in the first place.

However, being transparent also comes with a cost. It allows folks to see a snippet of you...but not enough to make fair judgments. It allows people to faithfully pray for you when you ask for it...but when you might be a little blog or social media quiet, it's easier to forget. I understand that. We all have lives to live, which include our own set of difficulties. But, being transparent also causes many people to want to offer advice, correction, rebukes in love, etc. over the way you should/should not be feeling. That's where I'm struggling today.

Monday's blog post is still what I'm clinging to...I CHOOSE JOY! Even in the midst of the pit that I've found myself back in today, I still choose joy. However, I find that there are some days that I find it a little easier than others. Today is not one of those days.

Today...I see Chris' face in a picture on my phone, and my heart flutters with panic over suddenly realizing my loss all over again.

Today...I pick up a piece of paper that he's written on, and I'm stopped in my tracks just staring at it and retracing every letter with my fingertip.

Today...I face the fact that while I'm progressing in many "normal" respects to what the "experts" say I should be doing, I've got a long way to go.

Today...I find myself angry over the lack of local support groups for CHRISTIANS that have lost a spouse to suicide.

Today...I am bewildered over the number of people that think I should act a certain way (or not post certain words) throughout this process "because I'm a Christian" and yet have never walked in my shoes.

Today...I am frustrated that I'm having to deal with this pain to begin with.

Today...I am angry over the fact that I should be excited about my upcoming She Speaks conference, but instead...I'm a bit overwhelmed and question quite often if I should even be there (don't worry P31 gals...I'm still coming).

Today...I am overwhelmed at the amount of "stuff" still on my to-do list.

Today...I am probably in much greater need of a vacation more than ever, but that doesn't appear to be in my near future.

Today...I STILL choose joy through this process. Today...I still give thanks for ALL of God's blessings - some I have yet to see.

But, today...I felt the need to clear up the fact that I'm still hurting deeply, and it's normal. I still have good days and bad days all mixed in together, and that's also normal. But, unless you've walked exactly in my shoes...there will be a piece of this that you won't understand. And...that's also normal. Just please don't judge my grief, and how I go at it. It hurts enough as it is. And, if it's too painful to watch, you certainly don't have to hang out here with me.

What Satan would love to see me do is "shut up" and internalize everything. Well, that is one thing I'm definitely not going to do. So, if you feel led to pray when I send out a prayer request...bless you and thank you! If you feel led to comment a word of encouragement...bless you and thank you!

Some posts are just going to be REAL and probably not too pretty. This is one of those, because I'm...

Continuing to heal...

Monday, July 4, 2011

I Choose Joy...

July 4. Independence Day. A day of celebration for most. A day of dark memories for me.

Two months, to the day, my husband's broken body was discovered deep in the woods, and I learned he had left me for his true Home. A day forever etched in my mind, and if I think too intently about it, grief implodes my heart to learn of another marriage ended.

I say "another marriage" as it was eight years ago - to the day - that my first marriage dissolved as well. God certainly redeemed the years eaten by locusts, but it tears at my heart to know that I had to walk the road of divorce. Many times, I thought it would be easier to be an inmate in a real prison, because the stigma of divorce, regardless of the reasons - of which most reading this will never know - the stigma...created a life of prison for me. Until...I chose joy. I chose to be joyful for that time, because God deeply revealed Himself to me then. He not only showed me who He is, but he unveiled who I am IN HIM!

So, as I chose joy eight years ago in the darkest of times, the deepest of failures and regrets and "why me's?"... I couldn't have imagined that now...I find myself two months beyond a time even darker. A time drenched with the greatest of sorrow over the loss of an earthly love greater than I've ever known. Again, I enter the "why me?" stage...again, I question my failures. Again, I choose joy. And, my IS a CHOICE! Joy doesn't blanket me without my first choosing it to be my covering. Taking a fly over view of my circumstances produces no joy, but looking microscopically, I can't help but choose joy.

I was deeply loved by this sweet man that, for vague reasons, took his own life.

I was given nearly three years of marital bliss with him. And, I do mean bliss!

I felt worthy of being loved again, as he reminded me daily how special I was to him.

But, you know why else I choose joy?

Because I AM deeply loved by a Precious King that chose to die for Me - insignificant me!

I have been given a future of being the redeemed bride of The Bridegroom, Who is even now preparing a marriage feast for me in Heaven! That is an eternal bliss that will never end!

I have been reminded by my one true Love that I am always worthy of His love - the only love that will ever be complete!

For that...

...on this day that the enemy seeks to steal from me
...on this day that the enemy wants to find me miserable and drowning in a pit of sorrow
...on this day that the Lord has made


Sunday, July 3, 2011

His Chains are Gone!

Each and every week, I'm blessed to be part of a God-fearing, God-loving, God-exalting, God-glorifying church that unabashedly teaches the truths of God's Word. In my 7+ years there, I've sat through some pretty amazing worship services, but I honestly believe today tops them all (or comes pretty close in my recollection).

As I sat through the symphonic sounds coming from the orchestra, the presentation of our Nation's colors, the spine chilling rendition of God Bless America, worship songs that ushered me to the very throne of God, and a message by the cleansed-by-the-blood-of-Jesus Oliver North, I was blessed beyond words! Simultaneously, I was saddened...deeply saddened...that Chris was not here to experience this. To top it off, we sung one of Chris' favorite worship songs, Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone). We played that at his funeral as well, and it continues to wet my eyelashes each time I hear it.

No sooner as the thought of Chris missing this blessed service crossed my mind, God spoke quickly and deeply into my spirit something like this...

"Daughter, if you think he would enjoy the worship you're experiencing right now...just wait...he's currently experiencing the ultimate worship service here in heaven. And...for the record...his chains ARE gone!"

Thank you, sweet Father! Thanks totally and completely to you and you alone...HIS CHAINS ARE GONE!