Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Chris Tree

I am so stinkin’ excited about an idea that’s come to me from various sources! I’ve actually been playing around with a thought along this path ever since my hubby died in May, but I just didn’t know the specifics…until now!

First…a little background information, and then I’ll spill the beans…

My sweet husband LOVED Christmas! Now, I know there are a lot of people out there (me included) that just love that “most wonderful time of the year”. But, I’ve never met anyone that loved it as much as he did. He loved it so much that on the 25th of every month, he would watch a Christmas movie just to keep the Christmas spirit alive all year long. It was never about the gifts for him…it was purely the season. But, he loved to shop for that perfect gift for that special person in his life. For me, he would search high and low to find me a new Nativity set every year, because I collect them. But, for himself, he simply wanted others to be blessed…he never wanted money spent on him. As a matter of fact, last Christmas he announced to his extended family that he would rather they “shop” out of the Samaritan’s Purse or World Vision catalog for a gift that could be used in a 3rd world nation as his Christmas gift this year. Always so giving and “others focused” that man of mine was!

(Just a little side note: a memorial fund was set up immediately following Chris’ death in his hometown in Virginia, and all of the gifts received went to purchase goats, cows, sheep, chickens, etc. for those developing nations that Chris had such a heart for. He would be so pleased!)

Anyway…I’ve been really wanting to find away to make this Christmas season one of joy and not of dread. I, too, LOVE Christmas! And, I learned to appreciate it with child-like giddiness again because of my husband. But, this year, I’ve already been feeling a sense of dread over that season. It won’t be the same without my husband. To think of the many things that will be void during this special season because of the absence of my Chris brings me immense sorrow. So, I’ve been desperately trying to find something to replace that sorrow – even now.

So, that’s where my idea for a Chris Tree comes in! I want to put up a tree strictly in Chris’ memory (in addition to our “normal” tree) this year. I envision a tree that has everything to do with Chris…his passions, his hobbies, his loves, his journeys, etc. Celebrating CHRISTmas was so much a part of his makeup – that I can’t think of a better way to celebrate him at that time of year than by having a tree of his own!

But, I could use a little help (and...wow...those are hard words for this girl to write)! I've had so many requests from people asking what they can do for Anna and me or how can they help out a new widow? Here's a small but practical way. It’s a little daunting to think of trying to find enough ornaments to fill an average-sized tree when it’s now just under 4 months until Christmas. So, like so many of us, maybe you have some ornaments that no longer mean anything to you that you’d like to get rid of or run across an ornament or two in a flea market or yard sale that might fit Chris’ tree perfectly. If so, would you consider donating it to his special tree? If you’re interested in doing this, please contact me by direct message on Facebook or by email: leahgillen89@yahoo.com, and I’ll be happy to send you the address to which they can be mailed.

To give you some ideas of the types of ornaments I’m looking for, anything to do with…

Scuba diving
The beach – ocean
Hot sauce
Silly hats
Fire and rescue (Chris served on the fire dept. & life saving crew for many years!)
The song Amazing Grace
Superman (long story with that one)
Green Bay Packers
Fish fries
Australia - Great Barrier Reef (his dream scuba trip he took many years ago)
Anything w/ his name or initials (CAG)
Jesus (well, obviously all of CHRISTmas is Jesus-centered...but, something specific that might "look like" Chris)
Or anything else that God might lay on your heart

Thanks friends! I know this is a strange request, but I think it can be something utterly amazing with the help of others! And…it would absolutely “bless my heart” (one of Chris’ favorite expressions by the way…ha!).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Still Celebrating His Birthday...

Without it...his parents would have never had their little boy.

Without it...his sisters would have never had a brother.

Without it...the Glade Spring Fire Department would have been void of their chief & fish fry master.

Without it...hundreds (if not thousands) of onlookers would have missed seeing all the funny hats that he wore.

Without it...many lives would have existed with a huge unexplainable void.

Without it...my daughter would have never had a step-father that adored her and would be content to play game after game of cards with her.

Without it...I would have never met my soulmate, my best friend, the love of my earthly life, my beloved husband.

So today...even though he's been in the arms of Jesus for nearly 17 weeks...without my husband's birth 46 years ago...many people (especially me) would have missed out on one of life's greatest blessings!

So for that reason, I'm still celebrating his birthday...

(These are just a few pics of us celebrating Chris' birthday last year at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA. What wonderful memories we have from that weekend!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New ministry I’m excited to share with you!

Hi friends! I’m taking a timeout from my usual blogging (lately all about my grief journey) to share with you something that I’m so excited about and very passionate about…DIY Ministry. You may have seen the new header (look above right under my blog title) or the new button to the right under the She Speaks Graduate button. Either of these links will take you to DIY Ministry created by sweet and mega-talented friends of mine for the sheer purpose of aiding others in the technological “issues” of ministry. Oh…how I need that!!!

To share in their own words…

“Ministries expanding into online platforms is a growing concept and it is catching on at an alarming rate. Thousands of people log on to social networking sites, write or read blogs, and participate in forums on a daily basis. They enjoy being a part of an encouraging and uplifting group of Christians but some long to do more. They long to lead. The problem is that they don’t know how. We intend to help remedy that problem.”

Maybe you’re a blog writer that really wants to do more with your blog and simply don’t know where to start. Or…maybe you’re a devoted blog reader that simply longs to have a blog of your own but are completely overwhelmed by all of the options that you keep running into. That’s one of the many reasons DIY Ministry exists. I really encourage you to take time to browse their website and see for yourself. But…in a nutshell…here are just a few of the services they provide:

Articles & Tutorials
Website Training
Personalized Help
Web Presence Assessment
Live Online Workshops
Wordpress Tutorial Videos (which are AMAZING by the way!!!)
Content Specific eBooks

I personally love the Wordpress videos!!! I can’t stress that enough! Speaking of Wordpress…

Just a little heads up about the things to come with my own personal blog…it’s moving to Wordpress in the near future! I can’t tell you how jubilant I am about this, and it can’t come quickly enough for me! As a result, DIY Ministry is becoming a resource that I find I can’t live without. Stay tuned for updates about my new website in the weeks ahead, but just know that I’ll also be moving to www.leahgillen.org. That’ll be a lot shorter to remember than the current name of this site. Ha! Ha!

Be blessed blog friends & prayer warriors!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heart Flutters

I caught a glimpse of him as he walked his elderly wife to the truck and then proceeded to unlock and open the door for her. She gave him a genuinely respectful smile, and he slowly made his way to the driver’s side of the vehicle. With a quick start of the engine, they were soon gone.

My heart fluttered. I was happily able to observe what appeared to be a simple, yet sweet, true love – now fully blossomed – more-than-likely in its last years on earth. I was able to witness chivalry alive and well. And, I smiled.

My heart fluttered again. This time, the flutter came from the fact that the discovery of my husband’s death by suicide 16 weeks ago today began a nightmarish journey that would result in my true love never being able to fully blossom. My heart fluttered again, while reminiscing the memories of my own gentleman of a husband doing the same thing for me many times during our courtship and marriage. But, this time, my fluttering heart produced a cavernous loneliness. And, I cried.

No sooner had the first tear fallen than my spirit quickened to His still, small voice…

I am near. You are not alone. If you only knew, my daughter, how close I am right now to you.

Oh...Heavenly Father…reveal more of yourself to me. Let me truly feel your nearness. I long for your Presence. My mind knows you are near…please, allow my heart to come to that same understanding as I walk through these painful days of grief.

Pure emotions. If nothing else, I’m trying my best to be honest with my unadulterated emotions during this grief process. I can honestly say that I haven’t always done that. I’ve been a great actress at times, if I do say so myself. But, I cease to pretend. I’m choosing to face the emotions…head on…no matter how painful.

Be near, Oh Lord, be near…

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Parable of the Coinstar Machine

It was time to roll the change. The coin jar had been collecting dust, in addition to several year's worth of coins. And...our mini-vacation over Labor Day Weekend is right around the corner...could use more dough for that too. So, what's a girl to do? Head to our local Coinstar machine, of course! No more rolling change for me. Time is too precious these days.

My teenager was not too keen on seeing her middle-aged mother walking into our local grocery store with this jug of coins in her arms. But, she tagged along, nevertheless. Inside the store, I spotted the lean, mean, green machine that was going to turn my years of toil into greenbacks. I quickly read the instructions and just started dumping the coins.

The chinking and gurgling noises began. The machine was counting. Everything was going along smoothly until we got to the $6.00 mark (not too far into my coin jar mind you). Suddenly, my daughter pointed out that coins were spilling out from the machine and all over the floor! The message on the machine's computer screen then read, "the machine is now full". What do you mean full? I just started. It took me a moment to fully understand the ramification of what just occurred. In the meantime, I continued to try to pour coins down the machine. As a result...I just jammed it.

At first, I tried to fix it myself. I started digging my coins out of the machine...one by one. I soon realized it was going to take me all night at this rate. But, I wasn't about to walk away at that point. I had to fix it! Then, one of the managers came up to help. He opened every nook and cranny of the machine that he had access to, but nothing got him into the area of the machine where the coins were actually housed (and where my were jammed). Only the Coinstar machine owner/operator could access that area.

Finally, after about 20 minutes of creating a scene, embarrassing my teenager, wasting the manager's time, and capturing the attention of every cashier on duty...I walked away. I simply said to the store manager, "Well, I obviously can't fix it. You obviously can't fix it. We'll just have to wait on the owner to fix it."

About 10 minutes later, as I was getting into my car, laughing over this whole "stupid scene" with my daughter, the Holy Spirit whispered...

That's how it is with your grief, my daughter. You've been trying to "fix it" by taking matters into your own hands. Sometimes, you've even involved others to try and "fix you". But, it's time to "walk away" and let Me work. I'm your "owner/operator". I made you. I know how you tick. I know the people that I plan to use in your healing. Now, just walk away...step aside...let me do the fixing.

Right, as always. I'm a "fixer", by nature. If I can't fix myself, I'll try to fix somebody else. And now...as I journey Grief Road, I've tried to find others to fix me, so to speak. But, all too often, I've been trying to figure it out on my own. I can't anymore. I'm not saying that God won't use people to assist with my healing. He will, and He has, and I need people now more than ever to come alongside me. But, I'm going to leave the orchestrating up to Him. I've jammed everything up...and, I can't fix me anymore.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Things That Make Me Smile

I feel like so many of my recent posts have been "doom and gloom", or at least that's what it feels like to me walking through this painful grief journey. For my own sanity, I spent some time just writing down a list of things that make me smile. I needed to be reminded of those things...especially now. Maybe you have your own list, or maybe this list will prompt you to create your own or to bless somebody else with a smile today.

40 things that make me smile (in no particular order):

1. My blog readers and commenters
2. Flowers
3. Being used by God
4. Seaside sunrises
5. Getting hand-written cards or notes in the mail
6. Water – not the drinking kind – the relaxing beside or within kind (lakes, oceans, rivers, etc.)
7. The name of Jesus
8. Peanut and/or Almond M&Ms
9. Africa
10. The color pink
11. A friend that can know or figure out my needs and meet them w/out me having to ask
12. Babies
13. Authentic worship (makes me cry too – but those are joy-filled tears)
14. Surprises!!
15. Encouraging words from friends
16. Going to NFL games (ANY – but especially those of my Carolina Panthers)
17. Connecting with women that love Jesus & with women yet to know Jesus
18. The beach
19. Spontaneity
20. Being able to meet a need even in my lack
21. Studying God’s Word
22. Hugs
23. A clear night with a sky full of stars
24. Really good Mexican food
25. Hazelnut coffee w/ hazelnut creamer
26. Orphan smiles
27. Listening to my daughter pray
28. Serving on a mission trip
29. Milk Duds
30. Chonda Pierce
31. Hiking to waterfalls
32. The beauty of autumn colors
33. Seafood
34. Seeing the facial expressions of people after experiencing a biblical “ah-ha moment”
35. Adventurous activities
36. Decorated Christmas trees
37. Learning that people are earnestly praying for me
38. Moonlit walks on the beach
39. Seeing/experiencing a miracle!
40. Butterflies

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Widow's Ramblings

I admit it. My view of a widow was rather narrow-minded. To me, she was elderly with curly white hair. She had the love of her adult children to surround her during her early days of grief and the support of her neighbors and fellow church members in the extended sorrow-filled weeks that followed. Her deceased husband’s life insurance policies and other planned benefits would easily sustain her for the rest of her days. She was sweet and precious…just old.

While that vision of a widow does, indeed, exist…that’s only a small fraction of those represented in that not-so-elite group of ladies.

I know. Because I now belong to that group.

As a young widow, I don’t fit the mold described above at all. Not even close. There are times I wish I was an elderly widow, because I know my days on earth would be that much fewer. Instead, if the Lord tarries, I more than likely have many years ahead of me. That should excite me. But, for now, it simply brings a case of drudgery, lots of unanswered questions, and a little bit of fear, if I’m to be honest.

How am I going to handle my empty next in four years? It will be truly empty when my daughter goes to college. Nobody to live the second part of life with. Nobody to grow old with. Just lots of memories that continue to haunt me.

What’s my purpose in life? You can bet I’ve been asking that of the Lord quite often? “Now what, God? What am I here for now? You say you are the husband to the widow. What does that mean? Because I feel so lonely right now. I certainly don’ t feel like I have a husband.”

My mind races all day long. I can’t seem to shut it off. I struggle to focus (as you can see from this blog post). My memory is very sketchy right now. While I know these are all symptoms of grief, they are still very real issues I’m consumed with on a daily basis.

Sometimes, life is just so stinkin’ hard. This new title of mine – widow – also just stinks. And, I honestly don’t have anything beautiful to write or encouraging to share. For now, all I have are my ramblings…such as they are.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Ugly and the Beautiful of August 9

I haven't posted since August 9, last Tuesday. I've really been emotionally void of words. But, I wanted to follow up and at least give you, my sweet and faithful blog readers, a glimpse of how my first wedding anniversary without my husband faired.

You know the timeless question...I have good news and bad news...which do you want first? I'm going with the bad...or, as I prefer to call it - the ugly. It's not that there was anything bad about the day, per se. But, there was a lot of UGLY.

The ugly consisted of...

Tears...loads and loads of tears. I'm talking about ugly cry tears. Probably the 2nd or 3rd hardest cry I've had since learning of Chris' death.

A visit to the cemetery that ended with me driving around for an hour...lost...not in location...just in life.

Disappointment...HUGE disappointment in so much.

Ache...literal ache...body, heart, soul, and spirit.

But, there was also beautiful in this day...

A couple of sweet cards that arrived in the mail from precious friends.

A beautiful arrangement of flowers delivered to my home from my sweet friends, Brett & Kandi.

A get-together with the precious women from my Connect Group at church. They wanted to ensure that I wouldn't be alone.

A lovely bouquet of flowers created by the offerings of each woman that came to our Connect Group ladies' night get-together.

Flowers were always a very significant part of our celebrations! My romantic husband loved giving me flowers, and that's something that I've missed the most. Not the feeling of being doted upon by him...just the feeling of being loved by him. He expressed love in so many ways, but he never failed to express his love through a colorful floral display on each of our monthly and yearly anniversaries!

But, perhaps the biggest BEAUTIFUL of the day, were all the prayers being lifted up on my behalf. WOW. Just WOW! I received message after message of the masses of people praying for me through that day. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I shutter to think what I would have looked like without that very important prayer covering. I know how hard the day was with it, so I don't want to envision even a glimpse without it.

Even with the ugly...I continue to praise my sweet Lord for being so very real to me. Without Him...I am nothing. Without Him...I could not do this. Without Him...I'd be so lost, so miserable, so hopeless, so spiritually ugly.

But, with Him...I will make it. With Him...I will be restored. With Him...I have eternal Hope. With Him...even though grieving...I strive to remain spiritually beautiful...because, I am carved in His image!

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Look Back at August 9, 2008

My heart hurts today. I don't have much to write. So, this post is mostly one of pictures. On this day, 3 years ago, I became Mrs. Christopher Gillen. Our marriage ended much too soon when he went to live with Jesus on May 4, 2011. I ache today. We should be celebrating the absolutely beautiful marriage that God gave us. It was amazing! I never felt loved by a human being more on this earth than by my sweet Chris. Oh...how I ache today...missing him so much. The "what ifs" plague me. And yet...I rejoice in the God that has me in the palm of His hand right now. Sweet Jesus, let me feel your nearness today!

Sunday, August 7, 2011


It was the same way I've spent every Sunday afternoon beginning May 8. Sitting at my husband's grave.

Typically, I spend the time there praying, talking "to Chris", crying, singing, reading God's Word, journaling, and once I even laid down right beside his grave. Maybe that seems a bit absurd, but until you've walked in my shoes...I would hesitate to judge the absurdity.

But, today wasn't typical. At all. Today...I did nothing. I sat there. Nothing. No praying, no talking, no crying, no singing, no reading, no writing, no laying on the ground...absolutely nothing. I think I'm emotionally drained. Sure...I've cried today...several times. Just not at the grave. I've done many of these things...just not at the cemetery. I was completely numb.

Ironically, I was sitting in that cemetery in my jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt in 92 degree weather, and I felt nothing. The sun was blazing down on me, but I felt nothing.

And...it scared me.

I was scared that my grief had taken over to a place that I could no longer manage. I was scared that I would never overcome this. But, honestly...some words that I read from a book on grief that I just finished the night before started to make sense as I was sitting there. It was a chapter on coping with a traumatic death (like a suicide). The author, a Christian with years and years of experience on the subject - first-hand and through his work as a licensed therapist, shared it this way...

"A traumatic experience literally disrupts the functioning of your mind and inhibits your ability to reason. It overwhelms your coping ability.

Trauma leads to silence...

Trauma leads to isolation; no one seems to understand the experience you had.

Another way people reexperience trauma is through numbing..."

These are just a few excerpts, but they actually started to make sense to me. This is what I've been feeling for about 10 days (or so) now...an inability to reason, silence, isolation, numbness...basically...nothingness. I don't like it, but it seems to be part of this ugly new territory I find myself in. I recognize that it's temporary. But, it's still something difficult to journey. The only comfort I seem to find is that even Jesus was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and the psalmists ventured paths of despair and back more times that I can count. I'm not the first, and I won't be the last.

It's just so hard, friends. Grieving is absolutely exhausting. I try to be strong for those that are looking for me to be strong. I try to be real for those that want to see real. I am both...real (what you see is what you get) and strong (but only at times). However, right now...I'm in terrible pain, and I'm simply exhausted. Hence, the nothingness.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

13 Weeks

13 weeks today:

- My husband's lifeless body was found in the woods, a result of his own suicide.

- My husband was completely healed of any mental illness and anguish that took over in his final days, as He entered the gates of heaven and the arms of Jesus.

- I discovered the depth of my life's greatest sorrow.

- I learned how loved I am by those closest to me, as they cared for my broken heart and broken spirit.

- Life, as I knew it, stopped.

Now, 13 weeks later:

- My own body is regaining life...little by little.

- I am being healed of mental anguish and unspeakable grief...again, little by little, and I know this will be a lifelong process.

- I continue to feel the depth of my life's greatest sorrow daily.

- While I continue to feel the love of friends, God remains most active in caring for my broken heart and broken spirit.

- Life, as I know it, is changing...is scary...is painful...is brief...is mine to live to fulfill God's purpose, and His purpose alone.

I miss you so much Chris. My heart aches for you. I love you deeply. I can't wait to see you again! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Miss My R

It's the little things that get me. Those that many never having walked this journey of losing a spouse might label insignificant. But to me...everything seems significant while grieving. Just as I'm learning to thank God for all the little things - no matter how small - I also tend to notice the little things that create a jolt of pain in me.

Last week, I was addressing an envelope to a woman that I know is recently divorced, and as I wrote out the salutation...Ms...it hit me. I wonder how she felt going from Mrs to Ms. I wonder what she felt having to remove her "R". Did she do so herself, or was it thrust upon her by the mail she received?

My grandmother was divorced after 35 years of marriage, and she never stopped using Mrs as her salutation. In her heart, she was still married, as her vow still stood.

Interestingly, that's how I feel. I'm not ready to lose my R. I still feel married. And, while I know that's not physically true...it's still painful to see on paper, going from Mrs to Ms. It feels like an abandonment of sorts. I didn't choose to give up my R. My R left me.

But, in His own gentle way, God reminded me that He hasn't abandoned me and never will (Hebrews 13:5). And, He also showed me something that I know, but it hasn't sunk in yet: God is my Husband now (Isaiah 54:4-5). While I know these things to be true - beyond a shadow of a doubt...

I still miss my R.