Friday, December 13, 2013

Exceeding Our Reach

I never, never thought I'd be facing my 30 year anniversary alone. Jay and I had talked about how we wanted to celebrate; after all this was a big one. We thought we could renew our vows, maybe go to Hawaii, try to get the kids on board for a family trip... but all plans came to a halt when our daughter Danielle's boyfriend Adam hit us with a big surprise. He sat across from us over sushi one night almost a year ago and I'll never forget the words he spoke; "I love your daughter and I want to spend the rest of my life with her".

My face immediately dropped into my hands as uncontrollable [happy] tears flowed from my eyes, and Jay just sat silent. I wasn't sure what he was thinking, nor did I care much since I was too busy dialing Adams mom so we could scream together with excitement over the phone. When things calmed down--meaning when I calmed down--we began to discuss what the next few days would look like as Adam laid out his plans for the proposal and the future he envisioned with our "little girl".

On our way home that night--after saying goodbye to our future son in law, Jay played the song What a Wonderful World [this was the song chosen by Danielle since Jr. High to be hers and his dance at her wedding], and suddenly this poised and well reserved daddy came crashing down. He cried the whole way home. Jay had always been kind of shotgun father who never fully trusted anyone to be good enough for his daughters, but Adam got to him. As much as he didn't want to see his little girl grow up, he knew Adam was "the one" and suddenly our focus gladly went from planning our 30 year anniversary to planning a wedding instead.

But now here we are, and so much has changed since that night and I find myself marking 30 years of mine and Jay's marriage without him by my side. It's hard, and inside I'm sad, but what a legacy we've left for our children. Danielle and Adam are standing at the threshold of the marriage journey and it won't be long before the rest of my kids are there as well. Together me and Jay have shown them that marriage has a bigger purpose than what could ever possibly be known without the power of the Holy Spirit. We taught them that faith is necessary on this journey, and that hope is given to those who trust Him.  We showed them that marriage is sacred and that if they entrust it to God, He will use it to teach them the ways of agape love. They saw two souls-their parents- who knew how to fight a good fight for their faith and for each other, and a God who was and is and always will be faithful and true. This is the legacy that we as man and wife, mother and father, leave to our children, and I think it's a great way to celebrate 30 years.

A quote from Robert Browning, a well known poet says, "Ah but that a man's grasp should exceed his reach or what's heaven for". I just want to say, "Thank you Jay for taking my hand and reaching with me. We exceeded our reach and God smiled on us. I'd do it all over again, and yet we don't have too. I can't wait to see you again my precious love".

A gift from my son Ryan. God is good... :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful hearts...

In my family we've always kept a Thanksgiving tradition that had been taken from a scene in the movie The Grinch where Cindy Lou Who has her fork pitched into a dinner roll. My kids always loved this scene because the dinner roll looked so good, so every Thanksgiving they would reenact it and pose for a picture. This last year Jay was feeling especially playful and gave us a warm memory to look back upon. 

Now he feasts in the light of God's glory and as we remain here on this earth, we'll continue to raise our fork pitched dinner rolls with thankful hearts because of it. Soon, we'll all be feasting together again, and what a great day that will be!!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving tomorrow with your loved ones and enjoy your feast! 

God is good... :)


Monday, November 25, 2013

With Suffering Comes Opportunity

Recently, I took my car in to get an oil change and while I was there the mechanic asked me if I remembered when I had last changed my air filters. I thought, 'I have no idea!' I had never handled the car issues before--that was Jay's department. But after hearing the mechanic say this, I realized that I better learn what this car care stuff was all about and told the guy to go ahead and just give everything a quick check up. It turns out that it didn't need oil at all! How was I supposed to know that? I just saw this little light thing go off in my car and I assumed it meant 'get oil'! I guess I have a lot to learn about car care, but the trip wasn't entirely in vain. He did discover that the air filters I had in place were the wrong size. When he said this, a little light bulb went off in my head because for the longest time Jay and I couldn't figure out why the air conditioning was so weak in our car. In fact, we finally had just surrendered to the idea that the air system just didn't work well; now it seemed the problem may have been solved!

I told the mechanic to go ahead and replace the filters with the proper sized ones, and sure enough when he did, the air worked great! In my excitement I reached for my phone--since I'd of course want to share this discovery with Jay--but within the very second I thought to call him, I realized yet again that he was no longer here. I often think to myself, 'how many times do I have to go through this'? I suppose it's a knee jerk reaction that will take some time to fade. Thirty years of reaching for my phone, calling him, and expecting him to pick up is a habit that will be hard to break. It makes me think about what a precious gift we had together. These were the small moments that would be so unimportant to anyone else but to us; they were ours to share.

I find myself having to beat those moments back throughout my days so that I can press forward without feelings of heartache overtaking me. Eventually though, they catch up with me and I hit my emotional wall. When that happens I find it to be a bittersweet experience. Yes it's hard to crash, but when I do it feels good to be forced to stop and let myself have a good cry. I'm aching inside and it feels right to let my body express it. I'm also able to allow my thoughts to melt into my memories of Jay with no need to ward them off to avoid upset. I can just go with it and feel all I want and feel him all I want, too. But the most important purpose that those bittersweet days serve me, are that they remind me that I have to be completely reliant upon God because I can't endure any of this without Him. Seasons of suffering have a purpose, and in my suffering I'm gently and lovingly reminded that He is my sole strength and hope, and by the power of His Holy Spirit He will rise me up again.

Philippians 4:13 says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It's a scripture said often and sometimes too loosely. To tap into this supernatural power of claiming such a magnificent promise, we have to be solely dependent upon the one who promised it. Pain and suffering can not be avoided in a broken world, but with suffering there is opportunity to be that much more dependent upon a God who's refining his children for glorious things. Through the redemptive power of the cross, He lifts us up from the floor and makes steady our feet, so that we can take to the heights where our ankles do not give way. How wonderful is that? And how wonderful is our God?!

"Father, thank you for showing me in my pain how much I need you. You are my strong shield. You protect me when I'm weak, and in my weakness you supply me with the strength to stand again. How blessed are your children to know this depth of love and redemptive power? Thank you for the cross that makes it all possible and thank you for the gift of your son Jesus".  Amen.

God is good... 

2 Samuel 22 31-37
31 As for God, his way is perfect:
     The Lord's word is flawless;
      he shields all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the Lord?
     And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
      and keeps my way secure.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
      he causes me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
     my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You make your saving help my shield;
     your help has made me great.
37 You provide a broad path for my feet,
      so that my ankles do not give way.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taking My Hand

One of the things I miss most about Jay (besides everything) is his love for music. He loved all kinds of music. Classic rock (of course), R&B, jazz, country....he loved it all. He truly felt that he had missed his calling; he dreamed of picking up the drums again some day and playing in a band, In the meantime, I was his drum. Since the time we began dating to the time God took him home, he would often use the steering wheel with his left hand--and my left leg with his right hand--as his drum set in the car. He would passionately play to the beat of  his favorite songs, and I loved it! You might be wondering how he steered the car. With his knee of course!

Now I on the other hand, have no sense of rhythm. Although I appreciate music, I have no idea what's what as far as notes are concerned, and the understanding of instruments and beats seem to go right over my head. Jay thought this was funny and he felt strongly that if I just paid attention to his teachings I would be able to learn how to "feel" the music. This seemed a lost cause to me as it was simply a language I didn't understand.

One day while driving in the car he started to beat on his "drum set" in his usual way, only this time I was holding his hand and I didn't let go. This wasn't the first time this had ever happened but for some reason on this particular occasion I thought to let his hand guide me through the beats. It was kind of like when you put your fingers on one of those automatic pianos and you actually feel like you can play Beethoven for a minute. I was able to feel the music through Jay in a way I had never felt it before and what can I say, I felt like a rock star!

When I told Jay about this he got so excited that he started doing it regularly. I'd actually get excited whenever he'd reach over to take my hand knowing that he was going to start teaching me how to feel each beat. He would try explaining the different instruments to me but I still didn't get it--and it really didn't matter. It was something we enjoyed doing because it made us feel connected.

In this last year of Jay's life, his music genre narrowed down quite a bit. He mostly listened to Jars of clay, Needtobreathe, Bebo Norman; basically just worship. He had it playing in the morning when he woke up, and at night when we'd go to bed and in all the hours in between. Looking back, it blesses me to see how much his heart was worshiping and praising God.

One of his favorite worship songs was by David Crowder Band called How He Loves. I remember so clearly the day Jay told me that he wanted me to hear this song. He played it for me and as we listened to it, he became emotional. He talked about how the song made him feel, and I could see that he felt so humbled at the thought of a Father who loves him with such depth. I remember thinking, 'wow, I love this song too but I don't get moved like that.' He often played it in the mornings as he'd be getting ready for the day and he loved singing it out loud. Jay loved to sing in the shower. I can still see him squinting his eyes and buckling at the knees as he passionately sang through the chorus. It's a visual I'll always have and always cherish.

One day after Jay went home to be with the Lord,  I was standing in my room by the shower and the song How He Loves came on. For a minute I became overwhelmed. It reminded me of Jay, and with that came the sting I often feel because he's no longer here. But all of a sudden, the sting was gone and I found myself  in a much different place. I found myself in the presence of God as I became lost in that moment of worship; I became lost in His deep love for me. As I closed my eyes I could see Jay's hand on mine as he carried me through each note teaching me how to feel what I needed to feel, and what I felt was God. 

I'm so grateful that I can still feel Jay in the depths of my soul--where he continues to take hold of my hand-- and where our marriage continues to teach me the deeper truths of God's perfect love.

God is so good... and oh how he loves us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A New Season

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... Ecclesiastes 3:1

With the arrival of Fall my family and I find ourselves faced with another challenge: stepping into a new season without our beloved Jay. Something as simple as a gray day, or walking past a store window with a Thanksgiving display, can set off an unexpected reminder that were moving forward without him by our side, and it hurts. Moving in and out of seasons represents another form of saying goodbye--and yet seasons have their purpose.

About five years ago we officially started a family tradition of going to Oak Glen to kick off the arrival of Fall. Every year it was the same routine; we'd start with a picnic followed by a hike, and end up at Riley's Farm for pie, pumpkin fudge, a walk through the petting zoo and other activities they had going on at the time. It was the kind of family event that we'd talk about all year long, and it was something we all felt very committed to. Every year just seemed to get better, and better. As the kids grew older, these traditions became increasingly important to Jay and I because we knew they would be getting busy with their 'adult' lives, but the Oak Glen trip was sacred ground. No matter what, everyone made sure they wouldn't miss this day. It had become special to all of us. It was an anchor that kept us close despite our busy and growing lives. 

One of our most memorable trips to Oak Glen was two years ago in 2011. Although we had many, this one truly was special. It started out like any of our other trips with the first stop being the old schoolhouse for our traditional picnic which was always the same--sub sandwiches, salads, chips, and cokes--and then we'd head out for our hike to Los Rios ranch to walk it all off. This year after our picnic, my parents decided to drive to Los Rios Ranch with their friends Larry and Sue instead of doing the hike...but not us. That would break tradition!  Besides, we so looked forward to that beautiful hike every year so we went our separate ways and decided we'd meet up with them on the other side. This turned out to be a beautifully orchestrated gift from the Lord because anymore it was very rare that just the six of us would all be together at once. There we were--our family core on this beautiful hike, and it felt so good. At one point Jay and I lingered back watching the kids walk and goof off, and we both just smiled at each other. We didn't have to say a word, we knew what each other was thinking. 

As we got to the other side of our hike ending up at Los Rios Ranch we couldn't find my parents.The protocol would typically be to head back to our car and drive over to Riley's Farm- assuming they'd be going there as well- so we could all have our traditional apple pie dessert, but we were all so famished after our hike that we couldn't wait and decided to break tradition (gasp!) and eat at Los Rios Ranch instead. We headed into the store to get our pie, and if I remember correctly they were out of pie (gasp again!). We ended up getting an apple crisp instead. Again, it didn't matter much since we were all so famished, and the next thing I knew we were all sitting under the shade of a tree, each with a fork in hand, and we went at it. No plates, just the apple crisp, us, and six forks! That crisp was gone within minutes as we attacked it using our forks as weapons to ward off other forks from coming into our apple crisp territory. Turns out breaking traditions can be very rewarding. 

After resting a bit we needed to hike back to our cars so we could finish out the day at Riley's Farm before it got too late. Along the hike there was this beautiful tree that was fallen over and it was a perfect setting for a family picture. Jay had been learning how to use the self timer on his camera phone and he wanted to try it out so that we could all be in it so we waited patiently -not really- while he figured it out. Eventually he got it to work, and we were able to capture the day and it's meaning, in one shot. It was one of those moments you can't plan because they're not ours to plan--they're gifts from God. There we were, a whole family. That's the power of redemption! That's the power of a very real and loving God. 

When Jay got home that day he posted our new family picture on his Facebook wall and he wrote one word--"Wow..."

When Jay passed away this past July our dear friend John messaged me and asked if we'd be home because he wanted to bring something by. I responded to him that I was in San Antonio and that I wouldn't be back until the next day, but that my son Ryan would be there. John said that would be fine; he just wanted to drop something off.

The next day my daughter Danielle and I arrived home late and were exhausted from a very long day of travel. My son Ryan was still awake going through all of the many photos that we needed to sort through to have ready for the day of Jay's funeral. Everyone was so busy with their own assignments and there seemed to be no relief in sight. Then Ryan reminded me that John came by and dropped something off. He lead me to the refrigerator and can you imagine what was inside? Apple crisp from Oak Glen! John knew nothing about our apple crisp story; he said he just felt like bringing it over, but what a precious gift he brought us! He was used by God to remind us that our Lord intimately knows us and cares about the details of our needs, and the details of our lives. That apple crisp was a beautiful detail, of a beautiful memory, of a beautiful day. 

Seasons have their purpose and I'm grateful for that one. I don't want a Fall without Jay, but I will step into my new season trusting God with the details of my life--every time I do, He gives me a "wow..." 

God is good... 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Reckless State of Mind

I'm a pretty conservative person. I like to play it safe for the most part, but when Jay passed away, I felt this strange recklessness inside.  Typically I'm afraid to fly but when we had to go to San Antonio Texas to be with Jay and bring him home, I had no fear at all about getting on the plane. Even though I had some of my family with me, I figured that if anything went wrong--and the plane went down--we'd all just be getting a ticket to paradise. I wasn't the only one feeling this way. My son Ryan told me he was feeling pretty reckless as well. He said he felt like he could make himself a cape and head out to fight crime (he's a Batman fan). The point is that we were experiencing the reality that our lives come to an end and that there's nothing we can do about it. We were experiencing a confidence we had in our afterlife that stemmed from a certainty we had about where Jay was.

The Heavens are real. Our God has made us a home and nothing on this earth can affect that truth. Philippians 1:21 says it all: Paul says, "To me to live is Christ, to die is gain". Me and my son Ryan were feeling a recklessness because of  God's promises and developing a better understanding of His eternal plan. Heck, somebody sew me a cape!!

Being in this "reckless" state of mind had me feeling pretty good. I went from playing it safe to throwing caution to the wind--and I liked it! For years I had talked about getting a tattoo and now that I was in this new mindset, the time felt right. My kids had heard me talk about it for years. So much so, that everyone was pretty much convinced that it was an empty threat kind of thing. Jay wasn't always supportive of my idea to get a tattoo but over time, he liked the idea and, in fact, wanted to give me one on my birthday. The truth is that I was all talk, that is until now. I never knew what I wanted or where I would place it, but finally I had all that figured out and It was time! My son set the appointment and I waited anxiously to go. I was pretty...whats the word? Amped!

When we arrived at the tattoo shop, I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face. Under normal circumstances walking into a place like this would have been intimidating to me, but now I was fearless. There was this chair I was to sit in and it was pretty cool looking; I'm not gonna lie, I was feeling pretty tough. I showed the guy my design, he worked with it a bit, and then it was time. I barred down as he took to my wrist and starting doing his work with his tools. Before I knew it, it was over. The whole process took less than 15 minutes and afterwards I was on a major high. I was so excited! As I went to bed that night it stung a bit and I thought about how Jay would be reacting to my new tattoo. I could see that smile he would make when he was tickled inside. Kind of a smirkey, crooked, grin. I felt good. I fell asleep with the same kind of smirkey, crooked, grin just thinking about it, and thinking about him. 

When I woke up the next morning the first thing I felt was the stinging on my wrist from my bold and reckless act the night before. Slowly I rose my arm up and as my tattoo came into sight I literally could hear the silent scream in my head-"I have a tattoo!!" Panic soon set in as thoughts raced through my mind. "Oh my gosh, I'm going to have this on me for the rest of my life!" "What will this look like when I'm 80?!" "It's too loopy!" I sprung up from my bed and was immediately pacing. Yes, I could still see Jay with that smirky grin--only now It was more of an, "I told you so" kind of grin. Within minutes I was downstairs googling tattoo removal. I even called a place to get price quotes. So much for feeling tough! So much for feeling fearless!

Eventually I calmed down and I'm happy to say that I have now come to adore my tattoo. I mean really, I kind of don't have a choice, but it has grown on me. It's special because it has such a precious meaning to me and it's a reminder to me that I'm a fighter. A fighter for what matters--a fighter for faith.

Jesus told a doubting Thomas "because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed". My husband and I used to tell our children that faith is believing with your heart what you can't see with your eyes.  A more adult explanation of faith is this: "Faith is not a certainty based on physical perception, but is trust grounded in insight into the reality of God, what God is capable of doing... Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."Arland J Hultgren  

We are called to walk by faith, not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7]. It's not easy. Forces work against the believer to make them quit and lose hope, to tire and give up. But never give up! God promises to guide us on this journey as He reveals His truths with each step that we take. It's a continual and infinite work until the day we go home and is only possible by-- believing with your heart what you can't see with your eyes. If you believe with the faith of a child, you'll find the strength of a warrior inside. 

"God thank you for your holy spirit that guides us, teaches us, strengthens us, equips us, and does in us what we can't do for ourselves. Help us, your children, to rise up and be the warriors you want us to be". Amen

God is good... 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Through the Valley's of Shadows

I miss him. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss him. Outwardly I press on and I see my kids press on. I see our family and friends press on, but we all still ache and will continue to ache for a long time to come. It's like a cloud has made it's home over our heads, and we always know it's there. I have my good days, and I have my bad days for sure.  I have days where my heart is full of rejoicing at the thought of Jay's eternal home, and then I'll have days where I pass by his picture--one in particular by my bed, and I say, "I'm mad at you today". I of course immediately retract that and recognize it as pure jealousy. He got to go home to be with the Lord while I have to stay here and feel his absence. No matter what mood I'm in, God is there. He's reminding me of His faithfulness and He's guiding me through the unknowns as I walk in territories yet to be understood.

Part of this guiding began to take place one particular morning when I would wake up to make a big decision. I had decided, "no". That's right, I had decided "no!". I decided I wasn't going have it; I wanted Jay back and his dying wasn't in my plans so, "no!". As this thought gained momentum in my head I found myself acting out my frustrations in the form of a fit. I smacked every limb as hard as I could into my mattress giving it a good beating. I grabbed my pillows and beat those too! I yanked and pulled on my sheets until I was pretty much tangled in them, and then this time [out loud] I firmly said, "no!".  After all, I needed God to know I meant business. Yup, I threw a fit with God. I honestly haven't thrown a fit like that since I was five! The whole thing was pretty interesting to me and I laid there out of breath feeling exhausted and defeated. Jay was still gone despite my demands and there was nothing I could do about it. I looked up at God huffing and puffing and said--"What was all that about?".

The bible says that God counts our tears. You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 One commentary explains it in this way- "David's point is that God cares. He knows what is going on and He hasn't forgotten His children or lost track of what has happened to them". God was not at all surprised by my fit, and he cares about the pain I felt that led me to it. He's bottled up every tear I've shed because it matters to Him that I'm hurting. I was able to curl up in my tangled sheets with the comfort of knowing that He understands and that He'll guide me through every step of my grief, but I still had fear and pain in ways I had never known, and I wasn't sure if I would ever feel different especially now that my "no" didn't really have much of an effect.

These feelings of uncertainty and fear began to overtake me. I kept my thoughts on God, read His word, and sought His help, but still my anxieties grew and I was confused about it. I was buckling at my core and I needed help; I needed His direction and yet I felt alone. Yes, it was so good to know that God cared about my pain and that he was storing up my tears--but where was He? My body was shaking now for two days in a row and I was having trouble breathing and focusing my thoughts. I was scared, and my body was letting me know it. Feeling at a loss for answers I felt the Lord calling me to come to Him in a face down kind of way-- you know, the full surrender thing. I listened. I felt depleted, and I had to trust that my God could revive me. I went to bed that night doing what most believers do in this kind of situation. I listened to Psalm 23 over, and over, and over again. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me... and yet, I was very full of fear.

That next morning I woke up, dreading another day of the "shakes". Lying in bed I started to follow my usual routine of grabbing my smartphone to listen to some scripture before starting my day. I always go to becuase they have audio and I find it to be a very useful tool. But on this morning, my brain was feeling pretty fried--I thought I'd attempt to jump start it by checking out my Facebook wall first. It turns out that this decision was actually an act of God. He had something waiting in my news feed for me to see-- it was a thought that He'd want me to consider, and a work that He would equip me to begin. It was a quote from my favorite author-- "Fears are facts. There is a danger in saying that because a thing is wrong, it does not exist. Fear is a genuine thing; without it there is no courage. The courageous man is the one who overcomes fear. There are things in life that make us hold our breath, then in faith we look on to the end. "-Oswald Chambers

Through this message God was guiding my thoughts to give me a new understanding in this unknown territory I'm in. I felt a type of renewing happening inside, an assurance of who I am in His eyes, and then He spoke a further direction into my heart. I heard the words "gird up". As I heard these words my thoughts flooded with memories of my past. The valley's, the mountaintops. The long periods of silence, the waiting, the seeking, the hoping--the banking everything on a reckless abandon to Him which at times made no sense in my circumstances--and now He's saying to me, "I have been refining you. You are not who you used to be. Gird up". This was a gentle command to see past the shadows of death and to recognize--"...for thou art with me". He's always been, and He always will be.

"Thank you Lord for your faithfulness. No matter how lonely the valley or how deep it will go, we, your children, will never be without your light". Amen

God is good...
Bebo Norman-Drifting

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quiet meant time to think...

The days following Jay's funeral were the hardest. We all needed rest but rest meant quiet, and quiet meant time to think--and to be honest--that scared me. I knew that I would miss Jay even more as things settled down and that I would rely on my images of our life together to bring me comfort, but from the moment I had found out that he was gone, images of our life together seemed to be something my mind would not produce. I couldn't picture him walking around the house or playing with our dog, sitting in his office, walking up the stairs.. nothing.  I thought for sure that when the world stopped spinning and the quiet came that my memories of our times together would come back naturally, but they didn't. I tried to stir up my thoughts by thinking about some of our favorite moments together but my memories were more of a fog that didn't seem real, and my images of  Jay were fuzzy and unclear. It disturbed me, but I knew it was my mind's way of protecting itself and I had to trust God with whatever process He saw fit, and thankfully that would soon be revealed. 

There was a spot in our bathroom and every time I'd cross over it I'd begin to cry. It started out as a cry that I could quickly gain control of, but slowly it progressed into something deeper. I often would have to sit and ride it out, but still I couldn't understand why it kept happening. All I knew was that I hurt, and crossing over this spot made me feel the hurt over and over again. I had gotten myself into the habit of avoiding the area as much as possible, but one day being in a rush I crossed over it unexpectedly. It was in this moment that God would reveal to me what my mind was now able to handle. This was the spot where Jay and I connected every morning. No matter which one of us made it to their sink first to get ready for the day, when the other came in, we'd meet in the middle [the spot] for the good morning hug. Just like that I could see him standing there holding me. I could feel him, and it hurt. The cries I let out before this moment, every time I passed over this spot, prepared me for this heartbreaking picture in my head and it gave me the ability to withstand the images of what I had lost. I was able to embrace the pain and the tears of my reality as God had brought them on slowly for my sake. I believe it's important to embrace pain with the trust of God's presence. He will always be faithful. 

As time began to move forward without Jay, getting back into the routines of life made no sense to me. How could the world keep moving when my world and the world of my family's had completely stopped?  But the truth was that the world didn't stop. It kept spinning and I no longer felt a part of it. Hearing people laugh, and seeing the energy of people as they hustled through their business, became a path I simply had to cut through to accomplish what I needed to get done each day. It exhausted me, and it made the smallest tasks seem like the biggest endeavors. Going to the grocery store was about the only thing I could handle for a while and I wasn't very productive with that. I would head out with a list of grocery items that were pretty basic, and I would be lucky If I could manage to get one thing. I would feel fine leaving my house but by the time I'd get to the parking lot, all of my energy would dissolve and so would my productivity. 

One day as I headed out to run an errand I could feel my "energy dissolving" as I got closer and closer to my destination. I considered turning around this time but there were things I had to get done. As I pulled into the parking lot, the Lord put a scripture on my heart. It was Hebrews 13:2-Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. This was a beautiful thought to me: to consider that angels are roaming the earth, and that they truly exist. I found myself calling out to God, proclaiming this truth, and asking him to put angles in every direction of my path. As I drove through the parking lot, every person I passed appeared angelic to me and I found a new source of strength from within. This beautiful picture of angels surrounding me gave me the energy to get done what I needed to get done and at times I even felt carried. It was a very productive trip to the store that day and it continued to be that way throughout the rest of the week as I called out to the Lord for His help. 

I had told my daughter Danielle about what the Lord had shown me, and how I had been able to get through my week trusting in God's promises, and believing that His angels were present to help get me through my days. I could tell that the thought comforted her, but as God is so intimate and personal with his children, He would have His own plan to show her directly what I was talking about. Days after I had shared my angel story with her, we went to the grocery store to pick up some weekend supplies. We were in the fruit section coming around a corner display when we bumped into, dare I say it, a jolly old man. We laughed as we almost hit each other with our carts and then we quickly moved out of each other's way. As Danielle and I rounded the next corner, we bumped into our jolly old friend again. This time we laughed even harder, and finally he said that since he kept bumping into us he wanted to tell us a joke. The first joke was corny but so cute, and his charm worked it's magic on us as we laughed harder than what the joke itself was really worth. Then he asked us if he could tell us one more. "Are you church going people?" he asked. "Yes!" we said. He then asked us what God's first name was. We were stumped. Outside of God, I had no idea what to guess. He said, "It's Andy!". My daughter and I looked puzzled, and he went on to explain, "Andy walks with me... Andy talks with me..." It was so precious, and it gave us a good laugh. We needed that reminder that God is always with us, "walking with us, and talking with us". We're never alone, even when it feels so quiet, God is always there.

I told my daughter that I really believed that God had surrounded me with his angels  all week, and that I wouldn't be surprised if this jolly sweet man was an angel himself. My daughter was so excited remembering that I had shared all of this with her a few days before, and now she was witnessing an experience to call her own. This sweet man made us feel so good and so encouraged. He was just what we needed at the end of a long and challenging week. We went on to get our shopping done, and headed home on an angelic high, and both of us were praising God for His faithfulness. If this sweet jolly man wasn't an angel, he certainly was to us on this day. How much more should we value the opportunity to be someone's joy and encouragement--someone's reason to honor and praise God?! I want to make someone smile who needs it, or make someone laugh if they've been crying all day, or remind someone that God is with them even though they feel alone... I want to help carry someone through their path. I should be so fortunate to be mistaken for an angel. God bless that man, whoever he was! 

"Thank you God for bringing back the images of Jay that I hold so dear, and for preparing my heart to withstand them. You are my sole strength. Your angels have carried me, but you are my great caretaker who sets them on my path. I trust you, and I praise you wholly". Amen 

God is good...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I felt profoundly calm...

The day of the funeral there was still so much to get done. As soon as the day started we were still printing out pictures, gathering paperwork, and making sure our check lists were complete. Everything was moving so fast as we worked against a ticking clock, and then suddenly it all just seemed to stop. The fast pace seemed to come to a standstill  as we were faced yet again with another level of acceptance--it was time to go to Jay's funeral. My thoughts were on my kids as they were about to say good-bye to their dad. They were so young, and it felt so wrong. I didn't want this for them, and neither did he.

When we got to the chapel, we were able to have a moment alone with him [Jay] before the funeral service began. Being near him, made me feel so at ease, I literally felt like I could pull up a chair and just sleep. My kids (all adults) were so strong as they faced this moment of truth. I kept wanting to see them as little girls and boys but they weren't, and they were having to grow up even faster now as they processed their grief. I felt both heartbroken, but also looked upon them with a sense of pride for who they were. As I watched them I saw strength, unity and courage. I was witnessing what Jay and I, in our life together, had instilled in them. What I was seeing was a legacy left behind by their dad and I felt proud. Proud of them, proud of Jay, and proud of us. 

As everyone began taking their seats, I mentally started arranging where my kids would sit. I was keeping the spot at the head of the pew open (just out of habit) for Jay. When I realized what I had done, I told my son Ryan to sit next to me in his spot. It just felt right.  The service began, and Jay's life began to play out as stories were told. The pastor leading the memorial service was our dear friend Steve and a special part of Jay's life. The men who gave the eulogies -Mike, Chris, and Ben- were men who represented the friendships that Jay had formed from the very early years to date. Along with Pastor Steve, every era of friendship was represented, and the common thread that all of these men shared with each other, was that in their friendships with Jay, God was in them all. This thought comforted me because I knew that Jay was a man who was continually working out his faith. Jay's twin sister then got up and shared (as only a twin sister could), and then our children. How many times can I say how proud I was to see our children so strong, and so mature? They talked about their dad, made us laugh and cry, and I saw Jay in each one of them as they carried themselves through it all with strength and poise. Everything was beautiful--everything felt right

When it was time to go to the grave site, our boys Ryan and Trevor took front positions as pallbearers as they carried Jay carefully to his final resting spot. I wanted to protect them both from the pain somehow, but I couldn't. They were doing what they needed to do, and they did it well. At this time people had an opportunity to come up and share any personal thoughts or stories. A friend of his named Gaddiel spoke and said something that I'll cherish forever. What he said about Jay was that, "he saved marriages". What a great thing to have someone say about you when you leave this earth. It was another honorable moment for him. I was so proud of this man!!

When the time had come to lower him into the ground we were able to have a moment of privacy once more. One by one we came along side his coffin and just held onto it, not wanting to let go. Eventually we all took our seats so they could begin the lowering process but I felt an overwhelming need to be with him one more time, alone. I realized that this was my last moment with him and that there was still more I needed to say. I had to tell him I'd be okay, that the kids would be fine, and that we'll make him proud. I had to tell him that I'll continue to fight the good fight, and that we'll be together again soon. They say that  funerals are for the living, and this moment was definitely for me.

We had his favorite CD playing (Good Monsters by Jars of Clay) while they lowered him into the ground, and I felt profoundly calm. Oh death where is your victory, oh death where is your sting? (1Corinthians 15:55) Jay was gone, but not. His body no longer here, yet he was still very much alive. That is the redemptive power of the cross. I'm not going to make it sound easy because it's not. Jesus cried when Lazarus died. John 11:35 says He wept. Death is the result of sin. Simply put, our world is broken, which means we're broken too, but we're not abandoned to that state. God gave us a way, and that way is through the cross. Yes, I felt the victory, and yes I also felt the pains of death at my own personal loss, but victory conquers death! As much as I have sorrow, I have 100 times more joy because my faith in the cross drowns out that sorrow. This was Jay's faith as well, and his journey on this earth reflected that. In his short 50 years of life his story was now complete , and so was the story of our marriage.

I love Jay with all of my heart and value our journey together both as man and wife, and as two broken people seeking God's truths. We are an unlikely love story that almost didn't happen, but we fought. Only by the redemptive power of the cross, were we given a love that developed in the realms of God's majestic design. This love became something deeper than what we both had ever thought possible. We found ourselves in this last year very grateful for it but not really understanding it, that is until now. Simply, God is faithful.

"Enjoy your rise from the ashes my love. I can't wait to be with you again and celebrate together in the light of His glory".

God is good... 

Monday, August 26, 2013

He didn't look back...

Within hours of finding out that a loved one is gone, you're forced to answer questions that you wish you could avoid, but avoidance is not an option. All of our minds and bodies were in shock, and numb motions carried us though the hours as we made phone calls, had family meetings, and figured out all that needed to get done to prepare for the days ahead. Nothing was easy and no decision was simple, but doing everything right for Jay was most important now. Every decision we made from this point on had to honor his life as we prepared to say good-bye.

The following day we had to leave for San Antonio to be with Jay. All I could think about was getting to him. I was missing him and things still weren't making sense in my head. "Where are you Jay", became a continual whisper I could hear in my mind. Although I knew he was gone, my soul couldn't stop searching for him. Aristotle says that a friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. Jay was my best friend--without him I was feeling lost and severed.

We got to our hotel room about 1:30 a.m and headed straight to bed. It was a long day, and I was ready to end it because it meant that I was that much closer to being with Jay. Before falling asleep I asked God once more for that dream I had wanted so badly--the same dream I had asked for the night before. "Please God let me see him one more time to say good-bye".

When I woke up the next morning I couldn't move. Seeing Jay was now just hours away and I didn't get that dream that I had asked God for. I felt empty. I reluctantly decided to go through the last thread of text messages we had with one another. It was a hard decision to make; I didn't know how I'd react but it was all that I had and I needed to feel him.

As I opened the conversation, I scrolled up quickly to begin reading our last exchange of words. He was telling me things like he had just landed... he was going to eat... he'd be calling me soon. It was our normal routine of text messages but now they had new meaning. They were now words that reminded me how precious our routines were, and how much of a fit we had become. No matter where we were, we always had each other. This felt good to think about, and it gave me some peace, but God had something even more precious ahead. Something I believe He had planned for this very moment.

As I continued to scroll down through the text messages of that night, I saw that Jay had sent me a picture that I somehow missed. It was the picture of the phoenix sunset he had posted on his Instagram and along with the picture he messaged, "Phoenix rising to the South Texas sunset. Makes me miss you". I laid there in bed starring at this picture in disbelief. I felt overwhelmed and grateful. I was now just hours away from seeing Jay, but in God's perfect timing I found myself looking at this last sunset of his and he was saying it made him miss me.

In Jay's limited and earthly perspective I know he didn't want to let go. I know that his heart longed to be with me, and all those that he loved. My heart tugs when I think about it just as I know his did, but I also know that eternal perspective would change that. I believe that once his eyes caught the sight of Jesus' face, he didn't look back. I picture him sprinting--his flip flops flying off of his feet as he ran into the loving arms of his Savior. Yes, Jesus is real, and He embraced him! I could hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant" as Jesus held him safely. I was so happy for him. He made it and he was free. He now had rest, and his new outlook- the eternal one- allowed him to let go. There is no doubt in my mind that he didn't look back and knowing that made it possible for me to say good bye. God had answered my prayer.

"Thank you Lord for allowing me a glimpse of heaven through Jay's eyes. Thank you for embracing Him, and through the gift of his last sunset you embrace us who loved him. You are faithful and true, and worthy of all praise."

God is good...

Monday, August 19, 2013

A moment of peace in the midst of our agony

Ending the first night without Jay seemed impossible to do. My daughter Danielle had crawled into bed with me, lying on her dad's side, and her fiance Adam sat on a foot stool beside us. We were all so tired but nobody wanted to close their eyes and end the day. We knew that falling asleep meant waking up to the same reality and we were all still hoping that somehow it wasn't true.

My son Ryan came into the room and asked us if we had seen a picture that his dad (Jay) had posted on Instagram the night before. We didn't know anything about it; none of us had even seen it until this moment. What Jay had posted was a picture he'd taken of the sunset as he drove to his hotel room the night he passed away. This would be his last sunset. He loved sunsets and clouds. They were peaceful to him and he often took pictures of both, but this sunset was more special than any other he had taken before. I believe this was a special gift from God to Jay, and to us all.

What he had posted on Instagram- this beautiful sunset- had the appearance of a bird with it's wings spread out, and along with the picture Jay posted the words, 'Phoenix rising as the sun sets in South Texas'. As quickly as Ryan showed us the Instagram, Adam googled the meaning of the Phoenix and read it to us: "In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of it's predecessor. The phoenix was subsequently adopted as a symbol in Early Christianity".

This Instagram was a golden nugget.  It was a moment of peace in the midst of our agony. This picture along with the words Jay had written, had meaning and purpose. I had been feeling so guilty that Jay was alone, out of town, and without me by his side when he passed away. But when I saw that sunset I knew he wasn't alone at all. God was with him, and He was calling his boy home.

I held onto this nugget knowing that it would give me the courage to close my eyes, sleep, and wake up to a new day, but before I fell asleep I spoke to God and asked Him for a dream. A chance to see Jay again--just one more time to say good-bye.

The next morning when I woke up I felt the immediate sting and reality that Jay was truly gone, but what was also on my mind was that nugget God had given us the night before. I thought about Jay's Instagram--that beautiful sunset and the words that he wrote. I was happy for him. I didn't get my dream, but in the midst of my agony I had peace. 

"Thank you God for my beautiful nugget that pulled me through the worst day of my life. For your faithfulness, and to your glory, I praise you". 

God is good... 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

A new journey...

On July 17th my husband Jay got to go that mountain high above and hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant". My heart truly rejoices in his new found joy, peace, and eternal presence of our loving Lord, and yet my heart stings. His hand will never again lay over mine and cover it completely. I won't be able to lay my head on his lap while watching TV, and my phone that buzzed at least 10 times a day with his picture popping up on it, won't be doing so anymore. 

What seemed like any other day, getting ready to head out the door with my list of things to do, turned out to be anything but normal. I didn't get my usual,"Good morning beautiful", text message from my husband who had left town on business the day before. It concerned me, but he was a very busy guy and I felt that he must have been unusually rushed. I sent him a text telling him that we (he and I) had bought our daughter Danielle a dress for her engagement photo shoot the night before. It was really one of the first steps we'd taken towards her wedding day so it was a big moment for us, and I knew he'd be eager to talk about it, but to my surprise he didn't respond. No text, no phone call... it just felt all too silent, and far from our normal good morning routine. 

Seven months ago my husband Jay had developed complications with his heart. It suddenly wasn't performing as it should be, and after some tests were performed he found out in February that he had been born with a heart defect that we had never known about called Myocardial Bridge. Basically, part of his Coronary artery was kinked and had penetrated into his heart muscle rather than wrapping around it as it should have. A lot of people live with this condition and are fine, but in Jay's case he developed Myocardial Ischemia which means that the heart muscle wasn't getting enough oxygen-rich blood. This was affecting blood flow and causing his heart to behave very unpredictably. He underwent a procedure called Cardiac ablation which could help bring a normal rhythm back to his heartbeat, and bring some normality back to his life, and habits. The risks seemed to be very small and my husband so desperately wanted his old way of life back. He hated being made to slow down. Anybody who knew him, knew that. 

Needless to say I was concerned about his heart that morning, as the routine of text messages I normally would have been receiving weren't happening. My phone was silent, and my anxiety grew. I called him a number of times and each time he still wouldn't answer, and then finally someone did--but it wasn't Jay. A man answered, told me he was a lieutenant from the police department, and he asked me who I was. He didn't have to say a thing, I already knew, but he continued to tell me what I didn't want to hear. He said there was no easy way to say what he needed to say, and then he told me that Jay, my husband, had passed away. I made him say it 3 times, kept acting like I heard wrong, but I knew I hadn't. Even upon hanging up with the lieutenant, I felt like Jay would call me right back and say that everything was okay, and that it was all a big mistake. My mind couldn't accept it. Thirty years of marriage and I was in love, and this was not supposed to happen. I was not ready to let go. Then again, nobody ever is. 

Over the next hour the pain and reality became my children's pain and reality, and as the day unfolded it became the pain and reality to all who loved him. July 17th turned out to be anything but a normal day, and forever marks the beginning of a new journey into a deeper understanding of God's love and grace for us all. 

And so this journey begins... 

I love you Jay-