Thinking About Heaven

I read a book where a man was medically dead for thirty minutes. He wrote about his experience in going to Heaven during those thirty minutes. I didn’t really enjoy the book (I thought the writer was very negative and felt way too sorry for himself!) but there was one part that really stayed with me: he said that when he arrived at the gates to Heaven, everyone he had ever loved and lost was there to greet him. This got me thinking of course about Steve but also others whom I’ve loved that have died: my dad, both of my grandmothers, Steve’s grandparents, and several friends throughout my life.

Recently, a woman that I was blessed to know passed away from cancer. I was encouraging her husband so I said that perhaps she had met Steve in Heaven. This brought me back to that book I read and made me think about it again. I wonder if everyone I’ve loved and lost will be waiting for me at the gates of Heaven? That would certainly be Heavenly but even more, I wonder if they are with each other now? I would like to think that Steve and my dad are watching over me together. My dad died before I ever met Steve but there’s something comforting in thinking that these two important men in my life are with each other now. It makes me smile to think that Steve welcomed my friend, Faith, who died of cancer in 2009, even though he never met her and, even better, that they are waiting for me too.

My sister miscarried twins last year. One of the things, besides prayer, that helped me get through that loss was picturing Steve holding those babies. He was an incredible uncle and loved each of his nieces and nephews very much. Steve was an uncle long before he was a father. He had a natural way with children. Once he became a father, it was even more evident in the way he held our babies close to him. I have pictures of his nieces, nephews, son and daughter sleeping on his chest. I know this image comforted my sister as well…the thought that Steve would take care of her babies until she gets to Heaven to do it.

I know what the Bible says about Heaven but I’m not sure what to think about my loved ones who are there. I believe they get new bodies when they leave their Earthly ones behind, but are they really the people we know here? Will Steve remember me when I get there? Will my dad recognize me? I can only hope that they will know me and surround me with their unconditional love when I finally arrive at the gates of Heaven.

Heaven is a place so wonderful that it’s beyond human understanding. It helps me when I am grieving the loss of a family member, friend, baby or even an acquaintance to imagine it filled with the people I love. It makes me even more happy to think of them all together, waiting for me. Perhaps this is an unrealistic view of Heaven but it’s my dream so I will hold onto it until the day that I truly find out what it’s like.

A Love Beyond Words

I’ve had a lot going on lately and haven’t been able to figure out how to put my thoughts into words. So, I think I will start by telling a story and see if the words find their way out tonight….

After I had my second baby, I became really homesick. We were living in Georgia but all of our family was in Michigan. Our son was 2 and 1/2 so we had two babies at the time. Let me preface this story by saying that I am generally pretty emotional, without having the hormones of childbirth coursing through my veins. So, Steve was very patient with me as I cried and told him how much I missed everyone. I was concerned that our children were growing up without their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Several months passed, however, and I was still homesick. We could no longer blame it on the hormones of pregnancy! I wanted to live in Michigan. This was the only time I can ever remember that I truly wanted to move back there. Steve loved living in Georgia and he loved his job on a large fire department. Looking back at that time, what is most amazing to me is that he would truly do ANYTHING to make me happy, even leaving his job to relocate our family back to Michigan. On the other hand, I loved him too and I would not let him sacrifice his happiness for mine. Since being a firefighter was so important to him, we agreed that he would apply to some fire departments near our hometown in Michigan and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Steve interviewed for a position with a small fire department in the town where we used to live. I was concerned that he would become bored working for such a tiny department. He was willing to make the change, however, so that we could raise our children near our families if that’s what I wanted to do. We had a lot of conversations and finally agreed that if he got the job, we would take it as a sign from God that we should live in Michigan. If he didn’t get the job, we would also take that as a sign and I would be content to stay in Georgia.

He did not get the job. I never again had the urge to move back to Michigan. It was as if God had removed that desire from my heart because my marriage was the most important thing in my life and what really mattered was for us to be together. I couldn’t imagine asking Steve to do something that would make him miserable and I felt a love beyond words knowing that he would do anything for me.

When Steve died, I was asked over and over again to move back to Michigan. Even being widowed with three young children, I never had the urge to do so. Somehow, over the years, Georgia had become our home. Steve is buried here. I couldn’t imagine leaving him and going back to where we started as teenagers in love. It’s almost as if I would be moving backward, instead of forward like I needed to do. I have often thought of “starting over” somewhere new but never back to Michigan. My children have strong relationships with their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents so they haven’t missed out on living there. I guess God really did remove that desire from my heart all  of those years ago when He showed me and Steve that we belonged in Georgia.

My Bucket List

I turned 40 years old last year and I made some MAJOR changes in my life too. It was a liberating year where I felt as if I started becoming the woman that God has intended for me to be. I took my children to the beach for
Father’s Day, just the four of us and simply because I felt like it! I took a trip by myself to a place I had been wanting to visit; I met a friend there and had a great weekend. I repainted some of the rooms in my house and I bought new furniture. I started dating again. I started making my life my own.

I’ve been thinking about how to continue moving forward, healing, growing and becoming a woman of God. I’m enjoying my life, exploring new interests and meeting new friends. So…..I’m envisioning a kind of “bucket list” for the next chapter of my life!

In the movie, “The Bucket List,” two terminally ill men decide to travel the world doing a bunch of things that they have always wanted to do before they die. The movie is quite funny as the men do daredevil things like jumping out of airplanes and climbing mountains. Along the way, however, one of the men discovers that he really loves the life he shares with his wife and children. The other man repairs a broken relationship with his daughter. They both realize that the relationships in their lives are more important that what they have or haven’t done. What a lesson to learn before leaving this Earth!

I don’t think I’m terminally ill and I have no desire to jump out of an airplane! But, there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to do. Studying the Bible has been a desire for me but I’ve constatntly had an excuse of some sort. This year, I have committed to two Bible studies. The first one is a woman’s Bible study that I started today, “Embracing Your Strengths.” I have already met some new women and know that I will love doing this! The second is one on parenting called, “Parenting by Design.” I am leading this Bible study at my church starting in March. I am excited to grow in my faith and my relationship to God by reading and studying His Word.

I was a competitive dancer when I was younger. I have done various forms of exercise over the years but have not done anything consistently since Steve died. I have been busy raising my children and really didn’t put too much priority on making time for working out in my life. I recently started a bootcamp, however, and it’s had some really great side effects. Not only do I feel stronger and healthier, but I’ve met some new friends too! I signed up for my first race and I’m excited to do it with my bootcamp friends. I can check this off the bucket list in May!

Enjoying every minute that I have with my children is also at the top of my list. I cannot believe that my son is already a teenager! I do not have that many more years until he will be off to college (hopefully!) so I want to cherish all of the time that I have with him. Cameron and Caitlin have been asking to visit Washington D.C. for several years but I’ve been waiting until my little Connor was old enough before I took them there. We are going this summer but I am a little nervous about taking them by myself. I know I can do it, but it is kind of scary thinking of being in the city and going to so many places. Hanging out at the beach is very different than riding trains and going places where I can get lost. I am most definitely directionally challenged so we’ve gotten lost plenty of times! I am going to push through my fear, however, and take them anyway. I will check this off of my bucket list in July!

White House at Night

So I guess my bucket list consists of going outside of my comfort zone spiritually, physically and emotionally. It has to do with building stronger relationships and being healthy. I am excited to develop new interests along the way too. My journey has taught me that life is very short so……what’s on your bucket list?

Holding Onto Faith

There is nothing worse than when my children are hurting and I can’t take away their pain. I have held them so many times while they have cried, gut wrenching sobs, because their Daddy is gone. I have listened to them ask me why the God that we worship would take their Daddy from them. I don’t have an answer for them. All I can do is reassure them that God really does love us and I believe He took Steve quickly rather than let him suffer from his injuries.

My daughter has a friend who’s mother will probably pass away in the very near future. She has fought a brave battle with cancer but it doesn’t look like she will survive much longer. Caitlin, at 10 years old, knows too well how lost her friend is going to feel when her mother actually dies. Caitlin has cried for her friend, missing her own dad as the situation brings up Caitlin’s grief all over again. I just hold her while she cries, hiding my own tears. I have always tried hard to be strong while my children are grieving. I am afraid that if they see that their pain triggers my own, they will hide it from me. They have seen me grieve many days and nights all on my own. My babies need to know they can count on me to be strong when they are hurting.

So, I hold Caitlin and I reassure her that her Daddy is seeing her grow up into a talented, smart, generous and beautiful young lady. It’s all I can do as I hold back my own tears. My heart is breaking for Caitlin’s friend, for her brother and for her father. Our family knows all too well the loss they will feel when her mother finally goes Home.

We will continue to hold onto our faith and we will pray that Caitlin’s friend’s family has a strong faith too. It is what has helped us survive losing Steve.

What is Strong?

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night. Her mother died about six months ago and she was saying how people have told her that she’s so strong but she gets tired of it. I can totally relate to that!

My own father died when I was nine years old. That was my first experience with death and grief. My grandmother died when I was sixteen years old. Another big loss. By the time Steve was killed, I had experienced several losses and, unfortunately, knew about grieving. I understood, way more than anyone else, the pain that my children were feeling because I had felt it too as a child. I am not sure if those early losses were God’s way of preparing me for Steve’s death or just an unfortunate coincidence in my life. In either case, I believe they helped me to move forward after Steve died. Since I already knew from personal experience that there was life after death, I could just put one foot in front of the other with the faith that I might feel better someday.

I am blessed with friends who have known me since before my father died, over 30 years ago. They have known me through all of the losses in my life. When Steve died, one of them told me that I would survive his death too because I was one of the strongest women he had ever known.

Strong. What exactly does that mean when your life is suddenly changed? What does it mean when you are abrupbtly widowed, motherless, fatherless? I certainly never felt strong and I do not feel it now. In the midst of grief, I would venture to say that no one thinks they’re strong when it feels like your heart is being ripped out of your body.

Even when you know that a death is coming, as with an illness, no one can prepare you for the grief that will follow when your loved one actually dies. My father died suddenly. My grandmother had cancer. By the time she died, we were so relieved that she wasn’t suffering anymore. But the grief felt the same. It was still a shock to lose her. It’s as if your mind cannot completely comprehend that your loved one is gone so your body hurts in a very real way. I felt physically ill. I couldn’t concentrate. I would become irritable for no reason. I cried often. It didn’t matter that I knew her death was coming, it still hurt when I could no longer hear my grandmother’s voice telling me that she loved me.

Losing my spouse was the biggest shock to my system and has caused some residual effects because of it. I had a therapist who likened my body’s reaction to Steve’s death as similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Certain smells (like those in a hospital) can trigger an anxiety that I never knew before he died. A day in the calendar (like his birthday) can render me completely useless as I stay curled up in bed crying and exhausted. On days like these, I don’t try to be strong. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other with the faith that the pain won’t last forever.

So what does strong mean to me? It means that I continue to take care of my children, no matter how bad I feel. I pray and have faith that the pain will get better. I reach out to others who support me while I’m grieving; people who don’t question WHY I’m still grieving but who understand that crying is not weakness. When someone calls me strong, all I can think is, “What choice did I have?” I guess I could have curled up and died after Steve did. I certainly wanted to do that! But, I had two young children who still needed to be fed, needed clean clothes, and needed their Mommy. I have always thought about what Steve would EXPECT of me. He would expect me to care for our children, to give them the best life possible without him. It’s the same that I would have expected had I been the one to die first. I have no doubt that Steve would have continued to be a fantastic father to our children despite his pain. So, in my eyes, I had no choice but to honor his memory with these children we created. If that’s being strong, then I guess I am but I certainly do not feel it. I am just living this life that God has given me.

Letting Chemistry Guide Me

The chill that goes up your spine when he kisses you. The tingle in your stomach when you know you’re going to see him. The rush you feel when he holds your hand. Chemistry. It’s what makes relationships so heady in the first few weeks and eventually drives them to the next level where you actually fall in love.

Chemistry is amazing but equally as elusive. I’ve been on MANY dates and I can tell within the first few minutes whether or not I feel it. When I do, it’s easy to talk, be affectionate and enjoy the company of the man I’m dating. If not, it can be torture to make it through the date at all.

When I met Steve, he was just 15 and a half years old. No one in their right minds would ever have guessed that those two teenagers would spend the rest of his life together and in love. It was chemistry. It was easy. Our relationship had it’s fair share of ups and downs for sure (we broke up like a million times in high school!) but we always ended up back together for some reason. One year passed. Five years passed. Nine years later we were married. Five more years. Then our last anniversary together….ten years of marriage. The thing that makes chemistry so amazing is how easy it feels to be with the right person. You don’t even realize how much time has passed until it has. Or until they are gone.

I was getting ready to move into my new house a few years ago and I came across my old high school yearbooks. Steve had written in them that he was going to marry me someday. Is it possible at 16 years old to know who you are going to marry? Could his love really have been so strong? I would like to think so although I didn’t know that I would marry him until much later in life. I always felt strongly tied to him; he was my best friend.  Perhaps many high schoolers think they will marry their girlfriends but Steve really did marry me. He loved me his whole life. I am so blessed that he chose me.

As I continue dating and trusting in God to send another “right” man into my life, I will let chemistry guide me. I believe that my instincts are God’s way of speaking to me. When I’ve ignored them, I have stayed in bad relationships far too long. On the contrary, when I have trusted my own intuition, I am happier and more content with my life.

So I will let God speak to me as I continue dating and putting myself “out there” in search of the right man with whom I can share the rest of my life.

It’s Going To Be A Great Year

 

It's a New Year!

As I sit here on New Year’s Eve thinking about the past year, I feel really good about the changes I’ve made in my life during 2011. I faced some heartbreaking choices and I ended my marriage. A sad but necessary decision to improve both my life and the lives of my children. I’ve embraced being single in a way I never did before now. I’ve discovered a peace that I haven’t felt since Steve died. But, it’s been a long, hard year to get to where I am now….

Last year at this time, I had the unsettling feeling that 2011 would be the year I would have to accept my marriage for what it was or decide to end it. We had been in marriage counseling for many months and things were not getting better. I knew that my children were unhappy and it was breaking my heart to be living in a home with so much conflict. I was praying for guidance, taking anti-depressants and experiencing an anxiety that was overwhelming. It really came home for me when one of my friends asked me, “What are you doing to your children by staying in this marriage?” What would Steve want me to do? What would he EXPECT me to do? The answer was obvious but so difficult to actually make.

The morning that I asked for a divorce, there was no fight. No argument. No trigger. I just knew there would never be a “good” time to break up our family. We may not have been a family for long (just two and a half years), but we were a family nonetheless. There were four children involved in my decision (my stepson and my three children) and I was heartbroken at the thought of hurting them. So, I just asked for the divorce and he agreed. That was it. We told our children that afternoon. Their only concern was whether or not they could continue to see each other. We assured them they would still spend time together and we started the difficult process of ending a marriage.

I was not prepared for the grief I felt during my divorce! It felt so familiar to me but completely different at the same time. How could I be hurting so much when this was my CHOICE? Steve was taken away from me and this time, I walked away. How come the feelings felt so similar? I grieved my way through, with the help of my counselor, and accepted that any loss of a relationship is still a loss.

When I came out on the other side a few months later, even my 10 year old daughter noticed a change in me. “Mom, you’re so much happier now,” she told me one day as we were riding in the car.  My friends started commenting on how good I looked. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was feeling more like myself than I had since the day that Steve died. I began to believe that healing was happening in my life and it felt awesome!

I started working out and eating healthier. I’ve surrounded myself with positive people and met some new friends along the way too. I began dating again and even ended a short relationship when it wasn’t making me happy. I’ve become stronger this past year in ways that I never could have thought possible since I lost Steve. What I’ve discovered is this: when I remarried after losing Steve, I thought that I had to be married to be a good mom. Now, I know that I am a good mom when I am taking care of myself emotionally, spiritually and physically. Being happy for me no longer depends on whether or not I am in a relationship with a man. It has taken me seven long years to get here, but I have finally arrived!

I like being in a relationship so I am dating and enjoying the prospect of finding that someone special. It’s completely different this time, though. I don’t hesitate when I feel like a man isn’t right for me. It’s liberating to be able to tell someone that I don’t want to date them anymore because I refuse to settle for anything less than complete happiness this time around.

I am also starting a couple new Bible studies, continuing to workout, exploring new hobbies (who knew that painting could be fun?!) and just loving my life right now. 2012 is going to be a great year…..I can feel it!

My Christmas Wish

Ready for Christmas

I haven’t blogged all week because I’ve been busy getting ready for Christmas. Last minute shopping and wrapping because I tend to spoil my children a bit at this time of year. But, tonight, when I went to church to worship and celebrate the REAL reason we have Christmas, I found myself feeling really sad….

Sad that Steve has not been with us for one more year. This is our eighth Christmas without him and it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. As I look at my children, it seems as though he’s missed their whole lives and I guess, in reality, he has. Cameron was just a little boy, six years old, when we had our first Christmas without his Daddy. Now, he’s a teenager, with his own tastes in music, his own opinions and he’s even had his first kiss! At just three years old, Caitlin was still a baby when we lost her Daddy. She’s no longer a baby but a strong-willed, athletic, smart and kind hearted little girl. Since Connor was born after Steve died, he has grown up without his Daddy altogether.

At church tonight, I was overwhelmed with a longing to celebrate just one more Christmas with Steve. One more time to go to church. One more time to have him with me as our children open their Christmas presents. I cried and knew that God would understand why I was so sad.

I am often overcome with emotion when I am in church. It is there that I feel God’s presence and I truly know where Steve is (with God). After Steve died, I remember walking through my house feeling lost, like the other half of me was suddenly missing. I felt Steve’s absence with every inch of my being. When I went to church, however, a strange calm would come over me because I could look at the altar and know that he was in Heaven with Jesus. I didn’t have to wonder where he was when I was in church. My feelings changed from bewilderment to sadness. Even though he was in Heaven, I selfishly wanted him back here with me.

If I could have just one Christmas wish, it would be to have Steve back so that he could share in the joy of celebrating this holiday with our children. I know he would have fun wrapping their presents with me, cooking Christmas dinner and going to church as a family. I know this is a selfish wish, though. Steve is enjoying eternal life in Heaven but I just miss him so much during the holidays. Even after eight years, I can still hear him laughing. I know he’s smiling down on us from Heaven and this will have to be good enough for now.

I look forward to the day when we are reunited and I can spend Christmas with my soulmate again.

Paying It Forward

I’ve spent my weekend shopping and wrapping gifts for families that I don’t even know. Our church does “Angel Tree” and my children convinced me to get three angels from it this year. Yesterday, I bought clothes for a 15 year old boy, and toys for a 4 year old boy and a 15 month old girl. In addition to these, I drove some of our church youth out shopping for their own angel. The kids were super excited because our group had enough money to buy a really cool bike for the 10 year old boy on our angel. It was awesome to see the excitement of the youth when we found the bike and still had enough money to get a matching helmet. It’s truly what Christmas is all about: giving to others who are less fortunate than we are.

As I was shopping for my angels, I kept thinking about the strangers who took care of us during that first holiday season without Steve, when we were the family in need. I remember being overwhelmed by the love that I felt from people I didn’t even know. I felt God all around me in a time when I could easily have felt completely alone.

When Steve died, I began receiving condolence cards in the mail. Many of them were from people that I didn’t even know, from all over the country. I didn’t know how these people knew about us or got my address but it was comforting to know that so many people were praying for us. Many of the cards told of prayer lists and even masses that were being said for our family. The most surprising part was the number of cards that contained checks! It was completely unexpected and I was so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that I could only attribute it to God. I really had no other explanation.

There was a day, a few weeks after Steve died, when a firefighter came to pick up my van. He was not a friend of Steve’s and he did not work for the same department. He had arranged for new tires to be put on my van. Again, another stranger reaching out to us in our time of need.

As the Christmas holidays approached, I was contacted by Steve’s fire department to supply a wish list for my children. When I went to his fire station, they had gotten EVERYTHING on the kids’ wish lists! It was incredible the number of toys my children received that year! There was a woman at the fire station that day and I didn’t know her. The firefighters asked me to come into the office because she had something for me. This kind woman told me how she lived in a neighborhood near the fire station and had heard about Steve’s death. She said that she was thankful for him (she had never met him) because he served her community. I started crying as she told me how she went door to door collecting money for our family. That woman gave me a check for $2,000! I was sobbing! Never in my life had strangers wrapped their arms around me in prayer and support as they did when I lost Steve. I was a Christian before he died but in the midst of our tragedy, I felt God’s love all around me. It was truly amazing.

In addition to the toys, several other fire stations sent me gift cards that I used to buy a new washer and dryer. I was working at a school and the teachers gave me LOTS of gift cards that I used to buy shoes, clothes, school supplies, many things my children needed for months after Christmas. God had made sure that our family had everything we needed while I was going through the most difficult period of my life.

As I look back, I wish I had written thank you notes. I wish I could tell all of those people how much it meant to me when they reached out to us. At the time, I was so exhausted that all I could do was cry and say thank you. Now that time has passed and I am stronger, it’s my turn to give back to others in need. I especially love helping people that I don’t know because it feels like I’m “paying it forward.” My hope is that the families who receive our Christmas presents will feel God’s love in the same way that I did. When a friend helps you, it’s because they love you. When a stranger helps you, it’s because they love God. Perhaps those families will pay it forward when they are stronger too?

A Magical Season

My favorite part of the holiday season is the magic and wonder that I see in my children’s faces. I just love their excitement when our Elf on a Shelf shows up on Thanksgiving. They start talking to him and telling him what they want Santa to bring them. They’ve named our Elf, Bob. Funny name for an Elf but he’s all theirs and they love him.

Then there’s this thing called “Portable North Pole” that sends video messages from Santa to the children too. My kids love it and wait excitedly for theirs to arrive. My oldest son doesn’t believe in Santa anymore but he still enjoys his video. My daughter (10 years old) figured out that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real but, even though we had the “Santa talk,” she still believes in Santa. I’m pretty sure this will be my last year for her to believe so I’m going to enjoy every minute of it! My six year old believes in all the magic and wonder of this season.

Steve always enjoyed the holidays. He would hang lights on our house and scare me to death by climbing on the roof to do it! This is the one time of the year (okay, second time if you include their birthdays!) when I don’t worry about spoiling my children. I have tried very hard to raise them with the same values and morals as I would have had he been here with me, but it’s been hard not to indulge them when I know they are missing out on having a father. My two oldest, the ones that knew him, have spent so many days and nights crying for their Daddy that I just want to see them smile. Sometimes, that means giving in and getting them something they’ve asked me to buy them. It’s been a real struggle for me to keep that urge in check and remember that raising them to be thoughtful, caring and generous people means that I have to say no when I really want to say yes.

Steve and I were Christians and active in our church. This is a magical season in the church because we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I’ve continued to keep Jesus in our holiday and it makes me feel even closer to Steve because of it. This is a time of year when I can miss him but really feel that I know where he is. He is in Heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It helps me to celebrate the birth of Christ and it keeps my children focused on the true meaning of Christmas too. I love it that my daughter uses her own money to buy toys for kids in need and my son is active in his church youth group. My little guy is just now beginning to understand that not everyone has the money to buy what they need or want. I will take him shopping with me this year when I buy gifts for our church Angel Tree so that he can see how we give back to others during the holidays.

This is such a bittersweet time of year for our family. We miss having Steve here with us but I can feel him smiling down on our home. It is filled with Christian faith, love, tradition and generosity; all the things he would have helped me instill in our children. I am proud of how I am raising them and I will enjoy every minute of them during this magical season!

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