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Monday, May 30, 2011

Give Me A Break

I'm not sure where to even begin. The last two, or is it three, weeks of my life have been hands down the most physically and emotionally challenging I have ever experienced. I am living in a fog. I rarely know which day it is, where I am suppose to be, or what I am expected to be doing. It started with an estate sale, and then it moved directly into my upcoming move. I've realized from talking to people that I failed to even tell a large group of my inner circle that I did sell my house. All of these things are perfect, and amazing, provisions from God. He has been so faithful, so good. I am letting Him move me each morning, and I think I am making progress. It is from around 4:00am (thanks to Isaac) to about midnight or later each day. I know God is providing in miraculous ways, and yet I'm tired. I am ridiculously tired.

The massive amount of responsibility and tasks that are laid out before me are so overwhelming I catch myself running in circles throughout the day too many times to name. By far the hardest part of the entire thing is the seemingly unavoidable half-hearted effort that the rest of my life is suffering. I struggle with my work. Obviously, there is no time to write. By the end of the day I'm too exhausted to open my books begging to be read, or worse, my Bible. I feel confused in almost every conversation; as if I have been living on some other planet, and I'm clueless to anything that has taken place on this one for months. There are friends I want to talk to, need to talk to, but I feel helpless to take the time out to do so. My house is a disaster, dinner never gets made, and I feel a mess 24/7. And forget about emails, bills, or any other commitments I would normally be on top of.

And then there is Isaac and Evelyn. Oh man. I feel like Isaac's first year of life is passing so fast at times I catch myself thinking he is four months old (the age he was when Matt died). Evelyn is so hungry for my time and attention it breaks my whole being. Nothing I can tell her will make her understand that this must get done, for all of our sakes. Or more importantly, that it will come to an end. Other people in my life show her the attention she needs, and she is cared for, but she misses her momma and I don't blame her. She is such a beautiful, bright, and wonderful girl. I hope someday she will be able to understand that I was doing what needed to be done for our family, and she will see me as strong. Right now though, that hope does neither of us any good.

The emotional piece of the sale, and now the move, would be enough in itself for any human. The constant line I waiver over missing Matt terribly, and wanted to yell at him until I'm hoarse over the mess he has left me with is a daily internal struggle. I continue to be dumbfounded at the things he left behind, and then heartbroken as I throw them away. There is part of filling a trash bag without the worry that my husband will later go through it (checking for things that were not 'really' trash) that is freeing, almost exciting. And again, part of it that is heartbreaking.

As I write, I am tired. My back is killing me, I am in desperate need of a shower, and tomorrow only brings more of the same. I have little to say, but that I am still here. I am still moving forward, even if it doesn't feel like it. I long to write often, and more, but it is simply something I can not do right now. A couple of weeks, that is my hope. Push myself a little longer, a little further, and there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I'm not sure I have asked for prayers before, but I am now. I need strength, and endurance. Evelyn needs peace, and understanding. Isaac needs to sleeps longer;) I ask that you only take the time to pray over my family 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. God continues to be abundantly faithful to me. There is no doubt that without His strength, that shows up each morning, I would be locked in a padded room. Please pray for Him to continue to pour this superhuman strength out into my family, to continue to be glorified through my journey, and that I would be reminded that His grace is actually all that I need anyway.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 "9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. "

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Mother's Day

I woke up this morning unaware of the holiday. Sleepy, I begged Evelyn for 20 more minutes of sleep, but before we could come to a compromise Isaac began crying. I had no choice but to get up. I got Evelyn breakfast, and the cartoons rolling. I let Maggie outside. I feed Isaac a bottle, and put on his clothes. I started to get ready myself when Evelyn popped into the bathroom asking for a M&M cookie. I replied that a cookie wasn't a very good breakfast choice. She asked if she could have one later. And then the truth comes out that I had actually eaten the last of the cookies. . .oops. She starts to cry, and then Isaac starts to cry, and then it hit me.

Happy Mother's Day.

Filled with self pity we made it to church half way through the first worship song (not bad if I do say so myself). And it was here, in the midst of my faith community, I received more than one bouquet of flowers, numerous cards, an angel which signified courage, an invitation to spend mother's day with a friend, and far too many heartfelt hugs to count. On top of all this there were two men in leadership bending over backwards to ease the stresses in my life (and these two were just from today. Each leadership family has given to me their time, skills, and resources without a moment's hesitation over these last three months).

When I got home and started unpacking my diaper bag filled with all my mother's day gifts I became so over joyous that I have the opportunity to be part of a church so filled with God's love it literally oozes from the front door. It was the one reason Matt kept coming back. He would repeat over and over how much he just liked the people (stereo-typing most church goers along the way, but none the less). He saw it. As a body, through the Spirit, these people showed Matt who Jesus was. They continue to show Jesus to me every week. I hope that is what I am reflecting as well.

Our church has been without a lead pastor for almost two years. . .we are just three years old. To say we've had it hard would not begin to describe the turmoil we've seen, felt, and been through. Our numbers have dwindled, our finances are tight, and we fill the pulpit with whomever we find available, and yet, here we are. The love for each other hasn't changed. Our hope to reach others for Jesus has not slowed. Our community outreach remains active. Our prayer warriors fight. Our youth remains beautiful, active, and bonded. And our leadership? Continue to amaze us all.

This is what a church should look and feel like. People who love each other like family. People who want a church to be about what it looks like to be a body of Christ. People who aren't swayed by who is in lights on Sunday mornings. And part of this battle is about to end, since come July 1 we have a new pastor joining us. We are thrilled. I'm sure this won't be the end of what we will have to go through in order to become what God is calling us for, but it is a step in the right direction.

If I can say one thing, it is this. . .if you live in Scott County and don't have a church I am inviting you to LifePrint. If you have a church, but there are times you wonder if God is really there Sunday morning, I'm inviting you to come meet Him at LifePrint, because man does He show up each week without fail. I realize most of my readers aren't near me in location, but I don't think that is the heart of it. The heart of my message is this: saying you are a Christian and skipping out on church for whatever tired excuse we each may use from time to time is not reason enough.

Be part of a church, of a community. It is essential to our faith walk here on Earth, we are called to do it. Have church in a basement, or a bar, or a school, or a warehouse, or a shopping mall (shout out Mars Hill;), but have church! These people, this church, this belonging is your connection to the body of Christ. You alone will fall short. You alone will not be able to discern. You alone will let doubt and temptation overcome you. And, God forbid, you encounter a loss on this fallen Earth similar to my own you alone would not make it through. My family, friends, co-workers, and so many more have poured it out to me in ways I can not describe, and I don't want to take from that in any way. This isn't about that, this is about what it feels like to be a living in this time, in this culture, and knowing you are part of this church described by Paul in Romans 12. I am part of that church, and it helps me to grow with Jesus, it is fundamental, it is transforming, and it is life giving!

Finding a church can be hard, I've been there. Insecurities we hold to in regards to what others may think. Thinking we aren't good enough because of past mistakes. Just walking in the door can seem unbearable at times. But do it anyway. Do it for yourself, for your marriage, for your children. It may take a while. And when you do find the one it will probably be hard. The body of Christ is worth fighting for. It is worth being a part of. It is one thing we are called to do.

Thank you to LifePrint Church for showing me Jesus each and everyday, and to God for leading me to them!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I am Stephanie, and for now, I am a Widow

I was reading a widow's blog today, who in February of this year marked the two year anniversary of her loss. She speaks of being able to let go of her 'widow' title. Of how that title holds her back in some regards, and how she is ready to shed that weight in order to become a whole person again. Even being only three months into my widowhood I get it. There are days when I am telling someone a story of my pain, or the pain of my children, and the sadness in their eyes overwhelms me. It cries out for me to stop. Often when I retell these moments to others it almost appears more painful to them then to me; I suppose it is because these retellings are, for now, the entirety of my life. And in these moments I wish I did not have to hold the title of widow. I know that their sadness comes from a place of compassion, and for that I am deeply grateful. But I also know that compassion can be painful, and that is not something I wish to bestow onto others, especially those I love.

Yet even with this longing to once again be a bright and vibrant young woman, I know that I am no where near where this other widow has found herself. Time will move on for me, and someday I will publish my own blog post about being ready. I imagine I will continue to write, but find a new blog in which to do so, as to not continuously label myself. I don't know when this day will come for me, but I know that today is not that day.

I am lucky to have friends surrounding me, taking me out to have fun, and spacing myself from my role as mother to let go of my worries for an evening. I enjoy it so much. I enjoy my friend's companionship, the dancing, the letting loose, but there are still those moments when I encounter someone who doesn't know me. My story inevitably spills out of me like a child unable to keep a secret. And that is what I feel like if I don't share, like I'm holding a secret. For me to not introduce myself, and share my story of loss and my title of widow, feels like I'm carrying an ugly secret.

This can lead to awkward moments. This can lead to tears in a bar. This can lead to free drinks given the right opportunity. And I know it isn't always easy on my loved ones. For when I share, they feel the pain of their empathy for me, and we all hurt together in those moments. The moments when we are supposed to be spending time forgetting. And still, I am not there yet. Even though at times I wish to be where this other widow is, I am not.

I will get to where this widow is. I am determined to. I will not always be a widow. I will not always appear to others as a sad story. I will move forward. I will someday look back with joy, and not sorrow. Someday, not today.

To end, a story about one of these moments to allow you a moment in my shoes. I'm getting ready last night to go out on one of my evenings away, and the doorbell rings. Evelyn races ahead of me, and I struggle to get dressed before she opens the door to a stranger. As I come down the stairs I see a man, mid 50s, with a commercial van parked in our little road. The van has a picture of a huge cow on the side. "Oh God no," I think to myself, "it is Matt's meat guy."

Matt was the type of guy who made friends with just about everyone, and it was sometime last summer that this meat guy showed up at our door selling steaks, and Matt fell a little in love I think. I'm not sure if it was the sheer volume of meat this guy was slinging, his prices, or the fact that he would always let Matt bargain him down in price a little, but Matt was thrilled about the service this man provided. And in turn each and every time he came with Matt's new gigantic box of steaks Matt and the meat guy would chat for hours.

I knew this day would come. There have been others similar. It's the people who didn't know us enough to find out about the funeral, but yet still hold a place in our lives. I open the door, the dog is yelping like a crazed animal, Evie is bouncing up and down the porch trying to show off, and this guy asks me if we need any more meat. (My fridge is full of this guy's meat right now, since Evie and I aren't exactly grilling up steaks left and right at the moment). I replied no, and he presses for Matt. Evie, near by, is clinging to my every word. The house is up for sale, Matt is not around, I needed to tell him. I close the screen door behind me, inch a little closer to him, and lower my voice in hopes Evie can be shielded from the news she already knows. "My husband died in early February unexpectedly."

The pain in this man's eyes was unbearable. It took five eternal seconds for him to register the statement. He looks around to me, Evie, the dog, the house, the for sale sign. "Didn't you all just have a baby?" More pain. I really thought for a second he was going to sit on my front step and cry a few tears. He hurt so much for us. It was his pain, and not my situation, that made me want to cry. He told me how much he liked Matt, and enjoyed their conversations. I told him that Matt felt exactly the same way, and that seemed to bring him a little happiness. I could tell it was hard for him to walk away. To not know what to do, or say. I tried to ease the pain with lighter notes on how much meat I have left in my fridge, and how those steaks were the last thing I ever cooked up for Matt. He backed away facing me, heading towards his van, slowly. Continuously showering me with regrets.

It's those moments where I wish I was ready to let go of 'widow'. It's so hard. Hard for everyone in their own way, in their own right.

I'm going to miss Matt's meat guy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For the Love of MattyO

There are certain extremely difficult things I must face when I address my loss. One of these is anger I hold towards Matt, some unresolved old stuff, some newly surfaced knowledge. For those of you who know Matt, I imagine you can relate. He was unlike any other person I have ever known. This was an amazing thing, and at times an unrelenting frustration. I don't know why Matt struggled the way he did in life. He seemed to have such a hard time relating to people in the same manner in which others related to one another. And more over, what was it about this social hyperness, or social abnormality, that drew me to him? I find comfort in knowing I wasn't the only one that was drawn to this fact about Matt. So often living with Matt was like living in some sort of fantasy world. The lines were always blurred. No right or wrong. No white or black. No normal or crazy. Nothing concrete. It was all full speed, all encompassing, all the time.

As I now have a chance to reflect on our love that was cut off far too soon I can't help but wonder what he really thought. What he really thought of me, of who I had become to him, of the changes that occurred in his life as a result of me. He never told me these things. He never even led me to believe, with any certainty, one way or the other. His mind raced from one obsession to another, rarely taking pause to take in what was going on around him. He had an ability to distance himself from real life. A way of taking almost everything that caused others worry or anxiety, and truly tossing them aside. Not so that he could pick them up at a later date, but just an actual carelessness. He never had a real deep sense of the world around him, never grasped the consequences of actions the way the rest of us do. He just did what he wanted, how he wanted, when he wanted.

This seems so bold to describe him in these terms, and yet, this is the truth of my most recent internal struggle that pains me to try and define. I loved Matt dearly. I always knew that I wanted to stand by him regardless of his actions, to show him that unconditional love existed, even for him. I failed miserably at times. I stumbled, and lost his trust many times. It was hard to hold a conversation with him on anything that was close to my heart; he just seemed so distant.

I longed so often to hear him assure me that he made the right choice in marrying me. He loved me deeply, and would not have chosen any other path for himself. That he believes my involvement in his life was altering, and he appreciated what I had done. I want to know that he viewed my years of toil over addictions, co-dependency, and obsessive behaviors as a sacrifice I made to him. A sacrifice that he recognized. But when I would find the courage to approach the topic, longing for approval, understandable defensiveness would ensue, and I would leave the conversation confused and most often hurt.

So now I look back. Our two children are my rock in this uneasiness that I now wrestle with. They are perfect, beautiful, and without him I would not have them. Without me, he wouldn't have either. And so that part is crystal clear. But there is a cry within my heart to say, 'What about me?'. What was this crazy upside down love for? Was our love, just like so much of my life with Matt, a fantasy? Was what I felt in my heart not the reality that I thought it was?

These thoughts come from things I have reflected on, and discovered since his passing. Some of them are hard to take in. Some of them make me want to scream. I read blogs of other widows, with their perfect love, and beautiful grief and I feel a voice inside taunting me that my love was different. If Matt's relationship taught me one thing it is that love/marriage is hard. Even for those who appear to have it all figured out; they don't. It takes years. Years that Matt and I weren't able to enjoy together. So maybe I would have found my insecurities replaced with knowing if we only had the time we deserved.

I need to put these fears to rest. Instead of focusing on what it was that I was to Matt, I need to replace it with what he was to me. He taught me so much about life; how to take each second as it arrives, and not to worry about the next. He taught me that the best way to enjoy your children is to get in their shoes and join them in the fun. He taught me that nothing matters as much as you think it does. He taught me how to love hard, fight hard, and push aside fears of what others thought. As I was writing this I was reminded of something Peter Rollins had wrote in a blog post on Valentine's Day. It's description of love was so clearly Matt and I it took my breath away in those first days after Matt's passing. Here is an excerpt from that entry:

"Love is so humble that it seems impossible to ever really catch anything but the briefest glimpse of her. She is like a tiny field mouse dwelling in the dark. Should we hear her scratching in the corner and shine a light she will, quick as a flash, scurry away so that we catch sight of only the tip of her tail. Indeed love is so bashful that we often forget about her entirely."

Maybe what I wanted was to be able to shine a light on Matt and I's love. To catch it. To hold it up for the world to see. To define it. To label it. To put it in box, neatly stuffed with pink tissue paper, and store it on a shelf. But maybe our love was constantly in motion. Maybe the passion that I felt for Matt wasn't just his person, but our persons together. Maybe I won't be able to describe it, find it, pin it down, or name it. . .but it was there, it was real, and it will always be ours.

This is a poem I wrote for Matt in 2007, I had read it at his funeral. It seems an appropriate time to share it with my readers.

Meant to Love

I woke up in a crystal blue lake today.

Surrounded by beauty, love, clarity.

I felt alone but only for a second,

for I knew he was with me.

He took his hand in mine and we gazed down at our toes wiggling in the sand beneath the water

That crystal blue water, reminisced of his eyes

As now sets in, and then fades away I cannot forget to remember

The mud we trudged through not long ago.

And whether we are right now, or lost from then I know I love him

Not for who he was, not for who he is, but because we were meant to love.

Our love is is one not of chance but of a greater belonging

That in which he is a part of my soul

This has always been