Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That's why I need Jesus....along the road

These pictures are of Holden and Elley's first day of school , El Bell's birthday(sorry, she doesn't like to wear clothes) and our day at the water park. These make me smile because I see joy in my children and Beeney (Mary Blake). I love to see them laughing and it reminds me that I can laugh and have fun too.

How am I doing? It's such a hard question to answer. At this moment, I want to yell at the computer because it won't cooperate.
Let's see, the things I don't expect to be hard really are hard and sometimes I feel like the grief is like a punch in the stomach. I have to take a deep breath. Then, the things that I build up in my head to be hard sometimes aren't.

For example, I got everything ready to take Elley to her little preschool open house and we jumped in the car, just the two of us, and I immediately started sobbing. I cried the whole way to church. Looking back at El and seeing her all alone in the back seat without her sister and best friend to talk to and laugh with and say "we're going to our new school." She just seemed so lonely. She was very quiet the whole way and although she can't verbalize it as much I know she feels the loss. So I'm praying as I drive "ok Lord, I can't go in like this....I can't even form a sentence....maybe Caroline will be there already and she can take Elley in for me and take her supplies. If you want me to go in then you've got to calm me down. If not, then I'm really fine going home and we don't have to do this today." I sat in the parking lot and slowly the tears stopped, we went through those doors, and it was fine. The ache is hard to carry in moments like those and I just pray, "Lord I'm giving this to you, I can't do this, I can't hold up under this burden....please carry this for me." And just when I think it seems unbearable, I realize that I'm still walking.

I get out of bed every day. I enjoy my kids. I laugh, cry, stare, wrestle with fear, try to love my husband well through this, worry, pray, try to explain how I'm doing, ask God for wisdom to help my children deal with this and want to take the pain away for them, feel very overwhelmed, wonder what we're going to eat for dinner......

One minute I'm so thankful for the four years we had with Lew and the next I'm asking "Really God, is this our story? Really, are you asking/telling us that we must walk through this? Really!!??" Give me grace to say "Not my will, but yours be done." But, oh God, I so want her here with us...But, oh yeh, that's right, she's better than she has ever been, she isn't going through what we are. In heaven, there is no more night! Thank you Jesus. Thank you that one day, we will see you face to face and there will be no more distractions. There will be no more fear or worry or SIN or death or struggle....I've read the back of the book and thank you that this is not all there is.

I struggle with right perspective. In everything there are two ways to look at it. I pray constantly for grace to choose His way. Grace to say "You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name." By your grace....not by willing myself to choose it or mustering up anything in myself but all through Him. Thinking about Alaina dying in my parents house, the house I grew up in and now having to face it every time we go there. One friends perspective on this.... " How wonderful that she died in that house, the place that she loved to go, the place where all she knew was love and the fun and laughter that happened there." I thought to myself, "that is precious and THAT is how I'm going to choose to see it." I'm not saying it won't be hard going there but it so helps to think of the life she loved in that house. When we celebrated Elley's birthday this weekend and she was so thrilled over her big girl barbie cake my heart goes to "Lew would be loving this....she would think this cake is the most awesome thing ever, she would be as excited as Elley." But, I choose to be excited for Elley and enjoy the moment with her even though there is such sadness in my heart. I'm reminded that Lew is at the best celebration of her life.....so much better than a barbie cake and birthday.

You've heard me say before but don't you see how the loss is felt everywhere. It follows me around and I yell at it to leave me alone but it's stubborn and won't leave and it's a daily battle. A daily surrender to my flesh, a surrender of MY will. God causes me to lay it down...to let go and stop holding on to anything here. This is really where I want to be....obedient to whatever he has for us, to be about the things of Jesus...to live gospel centered. Of course, I want to do this with Alaina here but that's just not God's plan.

AND, all of this on top of my own daily sin. It's only God guarding my mouth that I haven't yelled at people. (ok, these are all random and not related to each other) In my head I'm yelling(at whoever) "Enough of all your judgemental crap, I mean attitude :) .... Did you really just tell me I will be charged the aftercare fee for school when I'm three minutes late to get Holden?" Seriously, I wanted to say, "that's just what I needed you to say to me this afternoon since I just buried my daughter this summer. I'm doing the best I can to get him to and from school!!!!! How about some extra grace here????" See, this is where my thoughts go. And I say this just one day after telling Billy "you don't just yell out to people that our daughter just died, they will thing we are total freaks." No sooner do I tell him this do I feel the urge to yell it at the lady at school....just because I didn't that day doesn't mean I won't ever....I just don't know what will come out. It's a hard place to be. Sometimes I want to say in any given conversation "Um, I know your mouth is moving and words are coming out, but I'm just tired. I'm going to walk away now." I'm just so judgemental. In my heart I am so judgemental of moms who I feel are too uptight or controlling and I'm sure they're judging me for being too laid back. I think my way is the right way. It's MY pride. Not sure how all this relates, I'm kinda rambling. I guess what I'm trying to say is there is nothing I hate worse than a judgemental attitude, a prideful spirit( which I have) or feeling the need to "have it all together." I guess several years ago I realized NOBODY has it "all together" and if I ever start to think they do then I so don't understand sin and the gospel. In reality those that seem on the surface to be "Mr. or Mrs. together" are the ones who are probably the most "messed up." :) We all have our junk, our pride and weaknesses. Especially as women we are so driven by what other moms think of our kids and are we going to get the mom of the year award.....This is why we need JESUS. He knows how broken and sinful we truly are and loves us in spite of our deepest struggle. Did I just sound like a preacher? Preach it sista :)

One of my favorite songs at NPC...not sure of the name but the chorus was
"Not the righteous, not the righteous....sinners Jesus came to call."

"None but Jesus, none but Jesus, can do helpless sinners good."

Please pray for Billy. He's struggling just like I am and we're working through it together, but I ask that you pray for him specifically this week.
Until next time,

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Word From Daddy...

A Word From Daddy,

Many of you have asked if I would share my thoughts on this blog (ok, not many but a few, really just two and one of those was my mom.) So for all two of you that may read this… here you go... Honestly, I don’t see how Hope does this blog stuff. She’s so good at articulating how she is feeling / I find it very difficult to summarize what’s going on in my heart. Every time I try to write something I just sit here and get frustrated – I’m just not that good at writing out my thoughts. I think it’s also hard for me to let the entire world have access to my heart – therefore, this will not be a normal activity for me.

I had driven all day from Butler, AL to Chicago on Tuesday, July 1st to finalize a moving company to move our family from Chicago to Cullman, AL. I got in about 2:00am that night. I awoke to a cell phone call from my good friend Dick Albaugh. He just said, “Hey, you at home? Ok, I’ve got to call you back.” (I later found out that phone call was to make sure that I had made it home before Hope told me about Alaina) A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was my wife and it was to become the conversation I’ve replayed in my mind a thousand times: “It’s not good Billy, it’s not good… Alaina died this morning”, Wait, I didn't hear her correctly, "What?" "Alaina died." I fell to my knees and we both wept like never before. The pain is hard to describe, other than to say I’ve never hurt like that before.

Within minutes close friend were showing up at my house in Chicago. My wife had called my friends first (before she called me) and asked them to head my way to be with me right after she informed me of the news. To this day, it boggles my mind how Hope had the whereabouts to think to call my friends before calling me. Within 30 minutes of giving CPR to her daughter she was thinking of others. She was thinking for me and wanted to make sure that I had support as I received this horrible news. (Hope, thank you for showing me love in such a remarkable way. My words don’t give my appreciation justice.) Those friends, who came by my side, thank you. I don’t remember anything said during that hour, but I do remember that you were there with me and helped carry my burden with your love, compassion and tears. Shortly there after my new company called and informed me that they, through a vendor partner, had a private jet on its way to a close airport to pick me up and fly me home to be with my family. Thank you for that. When I saw Hope for the first time my heart sank even further and we embraced like never before. Both of us had lost something we loved with our entire soul. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life when it came to comforting my wife. This was something that I couldn’t fix.

The first several days I would wake myself crying. However, through this entire ordeal I’ve never felt compelled to ask “why”. I don’t think there is an answer for such questions this side of heaven, at least no answer that would satisfy. Going down that path would just leave me frustrated, angry and bitter at God and life itself. I have a much better appreciation of studying the characteristics of God like never before. You see, Hope and I have believed for some time now that God is truly in control of all things. All things happen for his glory and ultimately for my good. I’m not sure how I would help someone through something like this after the fact. I think we are handling this horrible situation in a healthy way because of what we’ve believed for years about God… That He is good, no matter what, all the time. Because of his grace we have continued to believe these truths about God, and that’s why we are doing ok and are going to be ok in the long run. I’ve also thought much about the “Victorious Christian Life” that the Christian world likes to throw around and treat God as if he has Santa Clause qualities – giving you what you want, when you want it, and life without pain, death or sorrow. Well, I firmly believe we are living the Victorious Christian Life right now. The victorious Christian life is not a life free of troubles… It’s about allowing Christ to walk with you (and some times carry you) through those quandaries. He is with us now and I too hear the train daily.

I am tired. If I’m an 8 cylinder engine I feel like I’m only operating 2 cylinders right now, but the engine is at full red line (8,000 rpm). (For you women – that means maxed out). I’m not able to think clearly and get overwhelmed and frustrated at the simplest of task; i.e... It took me eight hours to put together a simple filing cabinet last week!!!
We basically went through the perfect storm when it comes to stress levels:
Selling a house (in the worst market in 20 years and losing all your equity)
Finding new housing
Leaving a great church
Finding a new church
Leaving close friends/relationships
Having to make new friends
Leaving a job that I enjoyed
Starting and learning a new job
Family being separated for three months due to new job
New schools for our kids
New friends for our kids
The death of our daughter, Alaina
And Holden and Elley losing their best friend

I’m sure all the psychology books would recommend some type of institution for someone who has experienced these things with-in the time frame we have. However, God is holding us together – through his word and through his people, the Church. I believe things would be much more difficult if the people of Naperville, Eastern Shore and Christ Covenant Presbyterian Churches had not acted as they have. (FBC of Butler and FBC of Orange park for our parents.) These churches and other friends have been a great example to me of ministering to someone in need. At some point I hope to personally thank everyone for all you have done. However, right now, the thought of writing thank you notes is somewhat overwhelming with everything else going on. For right now… just know that I am thankful for all you have given to me and my family.

As far as my new job goes: Territory Manager for Sunbelt Fire in North Alabama: I love it. The fire industry has some top quality guys and the people I’ve met thus far will be friends for life. I truly believe this is where God wants me and hope that Sunbelt Fire will keep me around for a while. Sunbelt, thank you for all you have done.

I love Cullman and our new church and look forward to the many new relationships that God has in store for me.

Click Here to Listen to Alaina's Funeral:

If you would like to listen to Alaina’s funeral please click on the link above. It was the most memorable worship time of my life and we want to thank all those who were involved and attended. The recorded music does not come close to effectively reflecting how wonderful the singing was due to the quality of the recording (Keith and Karen - you guys were great - thank you). This link also has a copy of the handout given at the funeral.

This is my last post for a while… I’m exhausted from writing. Mom, I hope you enjoyed this.

P.S. Dr. A, you won’t ever lock up these guns; they don’t make locks that big!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

He is faithful...along the road

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns." Psalm 46:1-5

This is one of the many verses I've found as I've opened new cans of formula and boxes of diapers for Mary Helen. It is incredible to me that even when I don't have the energy to pick up my bible, God puts the Word in front of me some other way. Jennifer W. (I think this was you), THANK YOU for encouraging me in this way. She put a notecard with scripture in every can of formula and every box of diapers...Thank you friends for the diapers and formula too! God is faithful when I am at my lowest. See, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still the same Good and loving heavenly Father....the One who is powerful enough to carry us during the most devastating time of our life.

ok, so a little over a month ago I did what I've ONLY always read or heard about. I planned my child's funeral....I sat in our car behind the hurse and thought "Is this really happening? Is this really me?" "Are we really going to bury her?" Just before the car pulled away I looked up and saw my new pastor and his wife Allison standing close to our car. Billy rolled down the window and they walked over and leaned in and Allison said "We're ready to love you!" Ok, I had met her once, the one Sunday I visited Christ Covenant. God so used her in that moment to encourage me. It's like he was saying "See, I am the same God in Cullman Alabama....I will provide for your every need.....trust me."

Looking back, it was ALWAYS God's strength, God's grace, God's mercy, God's peace that allowed me to walk through those awful days....and it continues to be His faithfulness every single day as it is still SO hard. And, God used His body, the church, to rally around us. I will never forget Lori, Wendy and Slade sitting at my parents kitchen table with us and helping plan Alaina's funeral. They helped us think when we couldn't think clearly. Wendy even wrote my to do lists :) What incredible friends. Karen, our pastors wife in Chicago totally took over getting us a moving company....my Chicago friends cleaned our house for the new family to move in....so many friends drove or flew from Chicago to be with us....so many made plans on such short notice....friends and family who helped with Holden, Elley and Mary Helen.....the hundreds of cards and words of encouragement...the FOOD....the financial support.....the PRAYERS on our behalf.... the friends who have loved and welcomed us to Cullman....I know this isn't even everything, and I'm overwhelmed even as I type.

My days are hard yet filled with hope because of Jesus. The things that frustrated me before are much more frustrating now. Holden and Elley (and even laid back Mary Helen) are much more needy these days. We're all needy. My pride....see, I've never wanted to be the "needy" friend. Just days after the funeral we were still at my parents house and my dad and Billy weren't' there for some reason, it was just my mom and I with Holden, Elley, Mary H. and my nephew, Clemson. Elley and Mary H. were crying and Clemson and Holden were running in the hallway and slamming themselves into the door. I could feel myself about to "lose it" and of course, it was starting to get dark outside. Finally, I called to my mom as I was sobbing, to come in and help me (she was working in the yard) "I just can't do this right now!!" Like I said, the things that would normally be a little stressful are now a LOT stressful. I know that's not good English, but oh well. On the outside, I'm sure much of our life looks the same. I go to Walmart(and in my head I dare someone to be rude or short with me....I picture myself yelling "Don't you dare be mean to me, I just lost my 4 year old daughter!!") Sometimes I'm scared to think what may come out of my mouth. I feed the children, we play, we are taking care of all logistical things like school and school supplies.....all that "normal" stuff except it' s NOT normal anymore. It's painful. It hurts. It feels like sometimes your heart is going to explode.

Yet, I prayed something this week. I asked God to remind me of his goodness and love for me. There is a train track very close to our house and trains pass through all day. So, I prayed that every time I hear that train I would be reminded of God 's grace in my life, God's perfect love for me. It's faithful to "pass through" every day, several times a day and it's loud and clear and distinct. I can hear it no matter if I'm at home or in "town." It's my Father's goodness and grace no matter if I'm doing "ok" in that moment or really struggling....it's His faithfulness to always remind me of who HE is.