Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Tree of Life"

It’s done.
It’s been a while in the making.
One year, nine months, and two days, to be exact.

On January 16, 2016, I dared to walk through the doors of the St. Luke’s Hospice House once again, knowing that it would be an emotional challenge for me. 

But I also knew it was time.

Time to go back and remember…
Time to go back and acknowledge the impact this place had on my life.
Time to go back to the place where I had last seen my precious husband alive.
Time to go back and thank the precious nurses who walked beside us during those last hours.

I entered, unsure of how to go about this process.
The receptionist…well, I’m not sure she knew what to do with me.

She looked me over a bit, then asked me the question all receptionists everywhere ask–
“How can I help you?”

It was then that I found myself unable to speak clearly over the crazy emotions that burned in my eyes and stuck in my throat like an old sock.

I stuttered and stammered around a bit and finally squeaked out that I had lost my husband two years prior in this facility and I had come back just to visit and to take a quick look around.

Then she said something I’ll never forget.
She kind of harrumphed and stated firmly, “Well. You aren’t doing very good for it being three years, are ya?”

I didn’t bother to correct her. It didn’t seem to matter all that much at the time.

Because no. I wasn’t doing well. At all.
I was walking where I had last walked immediately following my husband’s death.
Memories and emotions were slamming me around, 
            crushing me first on one side, 
                    then piercing me on the other.

I wanted to be there.
I needed to take this step.
But I needed to do so without an audience.
Without judgment.
Without censure.

So I just calmly asked for the receptionist's permission to walk around and maybe head back to the nurses desk. She waved me on.

There was another occupant in THE ROOM.
I wondered what their story was. How much longer they would occupy that room.
I wanted to have a chance to go in, but it wasn’t to be. 
And that was okay.

I walked around the halls, remembering different scenarios that had occurred in different locations as I did so. We were there less than 48 hours, but so much had happened in those hours.

I visited with some of the nurses at the desk, once again barely able to squeak out my reason for being there. They were so kind and understanding!

One nurse on duty perked up. “Oh, yes! I think I remember you! Did he have a blanket with a picture of your kids on it?” Yes. He did! I thought it special that she remembered.

The nurse who stood on the other side of Michael’s bed with me that last night – literally ALL night long – was on maternity leave. So I left some information in hopes she would eventually contact me. That’s another story for another time. She was one amazing lady…I will never forget the gifts of her presence, comfort, encouragement, help, and even prayers (I’m pretty sure). She didn’t HAVE to stand there the entire night. She could have come up with reasons to escape and catch her breath but she didn’t choose to.

She didn’t leave us alone. And I’m ever so grateful.

I also took time to visit the little chapel. It is just down the hall a short way from what was Michael’s room. It’s a serene little room as most chapels are.

But it was the stained-glass window that caught my attention. This one, in fact.

The window was called “The Tree of Life” and was created by local artist Gene Roper for the facility which had opened just six months before our time there.

As I sat there, surrounded by the peace of the place, and uplifted by the light shining through this beautiful window, I decided I might need to do something special with this window in mind.

After Michael died, I picked up some paints, some tiny canvases, and some tiny brushes and painted some things that had meaning to me as a way of remembering them and as a way of processing through some emotion. Painting became one of my favorite therapeutic activities. I didn’t want it to be a high pressure pastime, so I usually just let it flow…whatever happened, happened…learning more and more each time I painted.

I decided to paint the window.
I sketched it not long after my visit.
But, painting stained-glass that looks like light is shining through it seemed like a challenge for which I wasn’t quite ready. So I stashed away my sketched canvas and there it sat. For too long.

Then, one day, I decided this project NEEDED completion.

I began.
I worked on it in spurts, learning more as I went along.
And last night, October 18, 2017, I finally completed my memorial project.

And now I share it with you.

Thank you.
Thank you for praying for us...for me.
Thank you for reading my thoughts expressed here.
Thank you for expressing such love and care and prayerful support.

It has been vital to my survival some days.
It has been a blessing and a help and a lift.
It has been invaluable to me.

Thank you.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Part Two

Why "Part Two"? Because this is the rest of the story...written in response to a request to share how God has chosen to use my journey to help others.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. 
When they are troubled, we will be able to give them 
the same comfort God has given us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Is there a purpose to my pain? Is there a point to all this struggle?

I asked myself those questions time and time again as I watched my husband suffer and slowly, yet far too quickly, decline. And God answered time and time again by opening little windows into what He was doing with our story. He allowed us the blessing of seeing lives affected positively and even changed by Michael’s story and testimony.

And it helped. It gave us courage. It gave us a reason for our situation. And having a reason somehow made it all a bit more bearable. We knew these windows into God’s plan were a blessing. And we knew that not everyone gets that blessing.

Is there a purpose to my pain? Is there a point to all this struggle?

I asked myself those questions time and time again as I faced the demon of depression, experienced panic attacks, and felt very, very, very alone when facing some serious and extremely difficult situations. Relationships were fractured, hearts were hurt, and hope was nowhere in sight.

And…at the time, I couldn’t find a good answer. It seemed…unfair. Was God only going to use parts of our story to help others? Was this pain all for nothing? If it came about just to teach ME something, why couldn’t God just make it plain so that I could learn the lesson, move on, and stop having to deal with all of this trauma!

Is there a purpose to my pain? Is there a point to all this struggle?

I asked myself those questions time and time again as I endured the grief of losing my very best friend. I asked when I cried myself to sleep night after night. I asked when I faced decisions I felt unprepared and unqualified to make. I asked when grief-induced depression rendered me helpless and useless for anything and to anyone.

And, slowly…slowly, but surely, God began showing me here and there, in little bite-sized pieces, that…yes. There was a purpose. There was a point. There was a reason.

In some ways, this journey has just begun. This story is just starting to unfold.
But here is what I know now.

My God held me as I endured my pain!
My God comforted me in my darkest, most lonely moments!
My God never left my side for even one second as I lived through my worst nightmares!
My God has fulfilled every promise He has made to care for me!

My God now asks that I share what I’ve learned with others.
And He is gently teaching me how this works!
He is teaching me there is no need to resent my pain.

You see, my pain allows me to see one face in a crowded room as it crumples in response to some inner pain. It moves me to head straight for that person and offer a hug and a few words to show my concern.

My pain means I’m not afraid of the hard questions people ask me as they work through their own challenges. It means I can truly hear them and validate their emotions, keeping them from feeling so alone.

My pain has opened doors for me to reach out to so many people, from all walks of life. An atheist mom friend asked me how I could deal with the pain of losing my husband…and I got to talk to her about God’s grace for over an hour. A receptionist at a doctor’s office has asked me for marriage and parenting advice several times. I express comfort to other struggling widows who share their needs in a Facebook group and I swap coping and survival techniques with some widow friends who also homeschool. I walked alongside a dear friend via texts until she entered her darkest challenge yet and I could no longer support her in that way. Moms ask me for help dealing with the tough stuff of raising kids, cancer patients feel free to share their fear and anxiety with me, caretakers share their struggles and discouragements with me, college kids ask for advice and share their heartaches, women share their emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, and even marital challenges, and the list goes on.

I text, email, and use FB messenger to listen to, encourage, empathize with, and counsel hurting people. I’ve taken phone calls and listened as a young person shared his suicidal thoughts and his struggles facing his own pain.

People seem to know they can unload on me. I’m glad.

I write about my crazy emotions on my blog, and something about that resonates with people. Sometimes they even tell me it is helpful to them as they climb their own mountains.

I cry for people. I cry with people. I pray for people. I pray with people.

This somewhat scattered ministry has led to an official, although volunteer, position with an organization called Crisis Family Care. The director, Butch Heath, does personal and couples counseling, phone or in person; he teaches seminars and does marriage intensives, etc. all working toward rebuilding families and marriages and lives wherever his help is needed! He asked me to join his team answering email inquiries for help from locations outside the U.S. So I have been communicating with people in locations from Africa to Canada, offering encouragement, prayer, resources, and some basic Bible based insight into their situations.

This is new ground for me. This is sometimes uncomfortably new and scary. But – If I truly believe God, then I also must believe that this…this ministry is part of the purpose for my pain. My heart has been changed dramatically because of my pain. My mission for this season of my life seems to be being available to hear and respond to the pain of other people. That might mean chatting with someone until 3 AM. That might mean setting household chores aside to text or talk for a while. That might mean dropping everything to pray with someone right before they face a challenge.

I pray often that God will use my words, written or spoken, to be an encouragement and help to someone else and lead them toward finding hope and healing in our great God.

And in some ways, at some points, it seems He is answering that prayer.

For the Kingdom,