Sunday, March 16, 2014

I will follow You....


     The following video was filmed in March, 2011. It was used in my church's message about how we should be there to help others in their time of need.


   

     When Brad died, I had an enormous amount of love and support from family and friends. In just a few months, I'll be able to return the favor...and then some. This incredible story started in a parking lot at Little Rock Christian Academy all because of a bumper sticker.
     One day in the fall of 2012, I was waiting in the parking lot for Nate to get out of school. It was a nice day, so I had the window rolled down. Someone walked up from behind my car and told me she loved my bumper sticker and wanted to know where I got it. Let me throw in here that I really am not a fan of bumper stickers, but I did like this one enough to put on my back window:




    The woman introduced herself as Melody Taylor, and I introduced myself. In a matter of minutes, we had managed to discuss her returning from Kenya as a missionary, her ministry Go Near and how the ministry specifically helps widows and orphans. I then told her I was I widow. We visited like we had known each other for years, and she mentioned that they were planning mission trips in the future, and maybe I would like to go in the future. The seed was planted.
     Fast forward to the summer of 2013. Nate came to me and shared that the night before, he was unable to sleep. He said he got out his Bible and began reading. He said he clearly heard God telling him to go to Africa. I mentioned Go Near, and that maybe he could go with them one day, but the conversation ended there. We really didn't talk about it again until recently. More about that later.
     In November 2013, we were sitting at the computer trying to decide where we wanted to spend our Christmas money. Every year, my (very small) family draws names for gifts. The money that we save by not buying gifts for everyone is used to do something for someone else. For instance, in previous years, we have picked angels from the Angel Tree, given money to Heifer International and World Vision. This year, I wanted to give to Go Near, but I had also been thinking about sponsoring a child. While we were looking at Go Near's webpage, I noticed something new. They had a new child sponsorship program! We looked through at all the children's faces....read their stories, and knew God had someone in mind for us. The stories were heartbreaking. Yes, we as a family have endured an extremely difficult tragedy in the loss of Brad, but these children had not only lost a father, but also a mother, with no family to care for them. We were drawn to their precious faces. Some had timid smiles, some had big grins, and some had no expression at all. I wanted to reach through the computer screen and just give them great big hugs! With numerous faces to choose from, we decided we would find a girl Nate's age, and a boy Allie's age. We chose Ann and Comfort. Both of these children are being raised at the ABC Children's Home in Nairobi because they do not have either parent. They now no longer have to worry about how their physical needs will be met.  As we continued to look, we found a face we could not refuse. Sweet little Gaby. She lives at home with both her parents and her 7 siblings. Because we chose to sponsor her, she can now attend school, and her family is provided with one meal a day. When we looked at her birthday, it was no coincidence that she was born the year that Brad died. We only wished we could do more!
     God knew our hearts....He had been preparing us over months and months. Now we are in February 2014. I noticed a post by Melody on her Go Near Facebook page that she was hosting an informational meeting on summer trips to Nairobi. The meeting was on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. I thought maybe I should go to find out more. That night, I began reading the chapter for my church core group meeting the next day. Can you guess what the chapter was on? Global Missions.  One of the tasks was to pray that I would be open to going wherever God needed me to. It was becoming clear it was Africa. I began praying and asked my core group to begin praying. I asked them to pray specifically that God would make it clear, and that I would be able to forfeit my Sunday afternoon nap to go to the meeting!
     Every year our church hosts youth retreat weekends, known as Winter Chill. Nate has always enjoyed going, and he went again this year. When he returned I asked him how it went, and he replied "fine." Typical for a teenage boy. I didn't press, as I knew he had been through so much and I'm sure it was an emotional time for him drawing closer to the Lord.
     Later that week, I told Nate there was a meeting the following Sunday about going to Africa with Go Near Ministries. I knew that this was something Nate was interested in, and wanted to possibly do some day. I just didn't know if he was ready. He seemed excited, and said he would go with me to the meeting. On Sunday, I didn't nap (!), but Nate didn't want to go. So, I went to the meeting alone. As the director began showing slides of the children and the widows, their faces were pulling at my heart. I was nearly to the point of tears as I realized this was what God was calling me to do. My heart was about to jump out of my chest as my excitement grew. I had not felt this way in a long time. It was a joy from deep within my soul....something I truly had not felt since before Brad died. I knew without a doubt this was what God had planned. I've written this countless times before, but the night that Brad died, I told my pastor "I will use Brad's death for God's glory." I was ready to go! I felt God wanted my kids to go with me. I realized that the date was going to be a conflict for Allie. She had not mentioned anything about feeling called to go. I sent her a text, telling her I needed her to think about something. I needed her to decide if she wanted to go to Brookhill (camp) or to Africa. She asked what we would do in Africa. I told her we would love on others and share about Jesus. She replied right back. "I want to go to Africa. I want to tell others about Jesus." My heart soared and my eyes filled up with tears. It then hit me, we would be able to meet our sponsored children! I thought my heart would burst.
     I left that meeting with the firm knowledge this was what I was being called to do. When I got home, Nate asked about the meeting. I told him it was so great and that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to go and love on those precious widows and orphans. Nate then shared something that blew me away. He said that during Winter Chill, the pastor asked everyone to right down something they felt God was calling them to do. Nate wrote down "Go to Africa."
     Could God be any more clear?!
     We had our next meeting last Sunday, and it was about raising funds for our trip. I hadn't even given thought to the cost. The director shared that not everyone is called to go to Africa, but some are called to share in the journey by supporting them financially. So, I came home and set up a fundraising page. I emailed it out and by the end of the day, I had nearly $500! I have not received anything since then, but I know that God has called us to do this, and I know He will provide a way!
     I am beyond excited about this trip, and can't wait to continue to share our journey. What an incredible God we serve. We all still miss Brad so very much, but we are put on this earth for a purpose. Brad's purpose was fulfilled, and as much as we miss him, our purposes are still here on earth. Please pray for us as we prepare our hearts and minds for this incredible journey. Pray that we will be open to God's calling without doubts or fears. Pray for a way to be provided. Pray for the precious widows and orphans who have experienced a loss like ours, but in conditions none of us can imagine. Pray for the others who are going with us.
     Before Brad died, there was a song being played on the radio by Mike's Chair called "Let the Waters Rise." At the time, I thought it was sent to me because of Brad's work situation and some other things we were battling. When Brad died, the song took on a completely different meaning. Now, when I hear it, I feel like the words that stand out to me the most are "I will follow You..." I chose to follow Him when Brad died, He'd been faithful before, and He would be faithful again. His love is enough, and I am willing to go where He wants me to!
     Here are the lyrics:

                                                   "Let The Waters Rise"

Don't know where to begin, it's like my world's caving in
And I try but I can't control my fear, where do I go from here?
Sometimes it's so hard to pray when You feel so far away
But I am willing to go where You want me to and God I trust You

There's a raging sea right in front of me
Wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees
So let the waters rise if You want them to
I will follow You, I will follow You, I will follow You

I will swim in the deep 'cause You'll be next to me
You're in the eye of the storm and the calm of the sea
You're never out of reach
God, You know where I've been and You were there with me then
You were faithful before, You'll be faithful again, I'm holdin' Your hand

There's a raging sea right in front of me
Wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees
So let the waters rise if You want them to
I will follow You, I will follow You, I will follow You

God Your love is enough, You will pull me through, I'm holding onto You
God Your love is enough, I will follow You, I will follow You

There's a raging sea right in front of me
Wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees
So let the waters rise if You want them to
I will follow You, I will follow You, I will follow You

     Four years ago, we went as a family on a short trip for Spring Break. A month later, Brad was gone. This is a journey I would've never chosen, but it's what God has chosen for me. I am drawn back to the words I wrote right after Brad died. "I am certain that God is Sovereign and His plan is perfect." This has not been an easy road. It's been extremely difficult. Yet, God has been with me every single step. I am so humbled by His grace and His plan for our family!

     If you would like to partner with us financially on our journey, here is the link to our fundraising page:

Mooney Family's Kenya Mission

     If you aren't able to give financially, we would appreciate your prayers!

My life has changed, My God has not....
Blessings,
Jennifer

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's 2014??

     Hello again! Obviously, I've fallen down on the job of keeping my blog updated. It's been a rough 7 months. But, with a new year comes new opportunities,  new adventures and a new attitude. Not that I've had a "bad" attitude, I just have a different attitude. I've always had an attitude of gratitude, but these past few months I've found it difficult to be grateful for anything. The grief process is unpredictable, very personal and unique. My grieving has been done on a part-time basis all this time, because I grieve for my children on top of trying to be a good mother alone. I still miss Brad so much. Even the littlest things trigger memories. The memories are sweet, but they are also very sad because it is a glaring reminder that Brad is gone. Of course I am comforted by knowing where he is, but the human part of me wants him back. So, I do a little grieving every day. Some days are harder than others. Some days are just awful. I think it will continue to be like that for awhile. After all, I lost part of me. There are times my heart literally hurts when I think about him. I just have to cry a little and keep moving.

     The last time I wrote, it was Father's Day. Shortly after that, we put our house on the market. I had been contemplating finding a smaller house with green space behind us, not really thinking the kids would be on board to move again. I mentioned it them, and they shocked me with an eagerness to move. The kids and I talked about it, and we all agreed it was what we wanted to do. We had a lot of people questioning us as to why we were moving from a beautiful home in a fantastic neighborhood with wonderful neighbors. Initially, I really didn't have an answer except I wanted a smaller house with a smaller payment. Plus, a green space behind us. It was my sister who finally hit the nail on the head. She said, "I don't feel like you have ever made this your home. It just feels like a place you live." That was it! I believe we never could get fully settled because it was our first house without Brad. We moved there from our dream home on the golf course, leaving all visual reminders of Brad. So, I think that is why we never felt settled.

     Back to putting our house on the market….I visited with my realtor, we looked at some houses and found one we all loved. We put an offer in, but I hadn't even listed ours yet. It took a couple of days to get it listed, and in the meantime, the other house sold. Remarkably, our house sold the next day! We were in full speed mode trying to find a new house. There weren't a lot to choose from, but we did find one that seemed like it would be a good fit. We made an offer, and in just about 6 weeks, we were moving into our new home. A little smaller, with a green space behind it. Actually a big green space - Shinall Mountain is our back yard! I stand on our deck and just soak in all the nature around our house. When the wind blows, the trees roar. When it rains hard, several streams flow down into a rushing creek. At night, the stars shine brighter as we are quite a distance from the lights of downtown. As God often does, he presented us with a gift in addition to the beautiful mountain behind us. He blessed us with wonderful neighbors, with one family right next door to us who also has children at Little Rock Christian Academy. I immediately knew we had made the right choice. The one bummer - my house payment did not get smaller. I had re-financed my other house and gotten a great rate. Rates went back up, so my payment ended up being almost exactly the same! It was a less expensive house, though, so overall I did come out ahead. I think Brad the Banker would've approved.

      We moved in on August 30. The kids had a couple of weeks of school under their belt. (hard to believe they are in 6th and 9th grade - they were in 2nd and 5th when Brad died….)

Beginning of 6th and 9th grade…now 12 and 15


 Memphis, 2010…2nd and 5th grade, about a month before Brad died...



So, as if moving an entire household in 6 weeks isn't enough, shortly after we had yet another traumatic incident. Nate had decided to play football. He played in 6th grade, but ended up having to leave the game with a broken arm. He decided that he didn't want to play after that. When he didn't make the basketball team (very hard for us both) he decided to play football. I was thrilled, as there is nothing I love more than watching my children participate in a team sport. (I also knew Brad would want him to.)  On September 12, the team had their 2nd game in Lonoke, which was about a 30 minute drive away. Nate was having a fantastic game, getting several tackles. (Number 3 below.)

I was visiting with friends, showing them Nate's twitter post. It was Brad's earthly birthday, and Nate posted "this game's for you, Dad." It made my heart smile and break at the same time. Some time during the 2nd quarter after a play, we realized there was a player down. Of course we were all concerned. My concern turned to fear when I saw the player writhing in pain and I could see his jersey number. "No! This cannot be happening again!" I cried out. It was Nate. He wasn't getting up. I was relieved to see him move enough to know he wasn't paralyzed, but at the same time, he wasn't getting up. He was down for what seemed an eternity when I saw the coach sprint to the other side of the field. My heart sank. I knew something was bad wrong. I watched as the coach ran back to Nate and the trainer. They pulled out the leg brace. It was then that I saw the paramedics carrying the back board across the field. Oh, this was bad and NOT how I wanted to visualize my precious son! I sat in the stands crying, waiting on them to get him ready and bring him across the field. My dear friend Andy came up behind me and said "It's ok, he's going to be ok. It's just a leg." I know she was trying to be reassuring, but all I could think of was the seeing him coming off the field crying when he broke his arm, and here we were again, this time much worse. On Brad's earthly birthday to boot. Poor Allie had gone to get me some popcorn, and she returned right as I was finally able to go down to be with Nate. I just shoved the popcorn towards my friend Carrie and said "Take this, and take care of Allie, please!" I quickly told Allie that Nate was hurt and she needed to go with her friend Emma. I knew she would be in good hands with them. When I got to Nate, he was obviously in excruciating pain. Oh, how my heart hurt! Before we left, I was able to see Allie and give her a hug. How my heart hurt for her, too! She witnessed her dad's collapse, and now this. The paramedics let me ride with Nate in the ambulance.

     We went to Arkansas Children's Hospital where we were immediately taken to a room with nurses and staff coming in and out. The doctor (Doogie Howser, lol!) came in and began taking the splint off Nate's leg. I was not prepared for what I saw! Nate kept trying to see it, and I asked him if he was sure he wanted to. He said he did, but he still had his pads on, and really couldn't see anything. I told him "It's not Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina player) bad, but its bad." His leg was visibly distorted, but thank goodness there was no bone protruding. Little did I know that was NOT a good thing. More on that later. The doctor began moving it around, and Nate screamed out in pain. I got right up in his ear and began praying for God to ease his pain and help the doctor work fast, but it was difficult as Nate was crying out, I began crying, too. "Brad should be here," I kept thinking to myself. The doctor got Nate's leg as straight as he could, then began wrapping it in a splint. He explained that would keep it stabilized until they could perform surgery the next day. He also told us they would be watching for complications such as Compartment Syndrome, etc. (here's where I tuned out….what are the odds we will have complications?) Our family friend who drove my car to the hospital is a physician on staff. He (Ken, Carrie's husband) was invaluable. Nate had a few of his fellow teammates drop by, and then his coach came. He and Ken stayed with me until nearly midnight when I finally made them leave. I appreciated their concern and willingness to stay with me, but I knew they had work the next day, and I assumed we would be moved to a room soon. They left, and we were finally moved to a room. Let me interject here how blessed we are to have Arkansas Children's Hospital! Nate had a private room, and I had a "bed." He had a tv, xbox, a computerized system that controlled both of those and had live video feed of the helipads, menus, and on. The nurses were all super sweet and attentive and supportive. I was glad my friend Andy had spoken up for me and told the paramedics to take me there!
     After a pretty fitful night of sleep, the orthopedic surgeon came in to see Nate. At some point, Nate had received an x-ray that revealed he had broken both bones in his lower left leg. The doctor told him that he was an "add-on" case, and would most likely not get surgery until late that afternoon. At that time, Nate's pain was pretty much under control, and he was content to watch tv. My parents were there (also invaluable), and there was a general feeling that everything would be ok. By around noon, Nate began hurting really bad. I just dismissed it as a low pain tolerance. I had memories of him crying over the littlest things when he was younger. The nurse, however, looked concerned and said she was going to call the doctor. In less than 30 minutes, the head resident was in Nate's room. She began asking him questions about his pain, then undressed his leg to look at it. I could tell Nate was really hurting, and any touching or moving was unbearable. The resident said she was afraid it was Compartment Syndrome, and she would need to perform a test on his leg. Imagine a tire pressure gauge, except this one had a long needle attached. Here I was again, praying into Nate's ear as he cried out in pain. Again, wishing so badly for Brad. After some discussion, the resident asked to speak to me out in the hall. She said that she was pretty sure it was Compartment Syndrome, and Nate would require surgery immediately. I could tell her adrenaline was pumping. I heard her tell the nurse to call the OR and inform them Nate was to be next, this was an emergency. It's amazing how God provides a shield, a veil….a strength needed to see you through a traumatic event. It was the same way when Brad died. I was having the same feelings. Almost an out-of-body type feeling. I was on auto-pilot, ready to take on whatever was coming our way. God was holding me. In walked a young doctor who introduced himself as the orthopedic surgeon who would be performing Nate's operation. He briefly explained what Compartment Syndrome was, and what all the surgery would entail. Because his bones had not broken through the skin, the pressure from the blood rushing to the injury was building to a dangerous level. If the surgery was not performed within a few hours, his muscles would begin to die. Not only could Nate lose his leg, this condition was also life-threatening!

     I was allowed to go with Nate to the pre-op room. He seemed a little nervous, but it didn't take long for the "happy juice" to kick in and he wouldn't have cared if the walls fell down around him. My parents, my sister, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law came and sat with me in the waiting room. They explained that they would let us know when the surgery began, and a nurse would call every hour with an update. Hour one, of course, was when I had chosen to go get something to eat. The nurse spoke with my sister-in-law, and she said everything was going fine. Hour two came and went, with no update. Hour three. No update. Finally, after 4 1/2 hours of surgery, the doctor came out to visit with us. He said Nate had made it fine, the surgery went well, and it was definitely Compartment Syndrome. He said Nate had long incisions down each side of his calf that would be left open and attached to a wound vac until the muscles healed. He also said he placed a rod in his calf through an incision in his knee, and there would be scars on his outer ankle and outer knee where the screws were. He showed us the x-rays…



The doctor said the plan was to go back into surgery in 2 days to try to close the incisions. If he wasn't able to, then we would wait 2 more days and go into surgery again. I don't know how I processed all that information. God was my ears and my brain during that conversation!


    Since I have already written way more than I intended, I will condense the rest of the story! Nate had lots and lots of visitors. They brought balloons, candy, cookies, treats, etc. Everyone went above and beyond with their care and concern for us.




 Two days after the initial surgery, Nate went back for another. This surgery was over quickly. Unable to close the incisions, the doctor informed us. So, back to the room. Poor Nate was hungry before surgery, then had no appetite afterwards. He lost a lot of weight. Two days after the 2nd surgery, Nate had another surgery. This one was a little longer, but nowhere near the 4 1/2 hour initial one. The doctor was able to close one side. Yay! However, that meant yet another surgery. If you're keeping up, we are on day 7 in the hospital. Finally, the last surgery was successful. Next was physical therapy to teach him how to use his crutches. Unbelievably, had he not had Compartment Syndrome, he would've been able to walk without crutches right after surgery!


Finally, after 10 days and 4 surgeries we got to go home!

   



     Nate missed several days of school and when he returned, he was on crutches for a few weeks. I'm so proud of him and his strength. He is proud of his scars, and getting around really well. He is still receiving Physical Therapy, but we are hoping for a release soon so he can try out for the baseball team. Baseball is his first love, and he's good at it. I'm praying that he can overcome this adversity and rise above it to be able to do what he loves most. I'm certain God is using Nate in a mighty way.

     Not to leave out Allie, but she was a trooper. She was content to stay with her friend, Emma, and didn't miss a beat when it came to schoolwork. It took her awhile to get up the nerve to see Nate in the hospital, but she did visit him a couple of times. Not once did she ever complain when Nate needed my attention or care. She's got such a sweet spirit.

     As you can imagine, I was physically and emotionally drained for quite awhile. Halloween, hunting season, Thanksgiving and Christmas are all huge grieving triggers. Not to mention we had only been in our new house for 12 days when Nate was hospitalized. I struggled with my relationship with God. Meaning, I really didn't have one. I just trusted that God knew my heart and knew how much I was hurting. I became very selfish, and any time alone was spent doing mindless activities, crying or sleeping. I did what my kids needed me to do, but I was not interested in doing anything else or seeing anyone. It was a difficult fall. I still go to counseling to help me work through this thing called life, and my counselor challenged me to take the step towards God. I accepted the challenge, and began taking baby steps. I'm still taking baby steps.

     However, all that said, I have put on my big girl panties and have a different outlook on life. Last spring, my 2 best friends began taking a weight loss product known as Plexus. I needed it, as I had gained a lot of weight since Brad died, but I just wasn't ready for it. I finally had started taking one of the products before Nate's injury, but ditched it while we were in the hospital. I began taking it again in October. I had lost 9 pounds and could really tell my cravings had decreased. (I have a HUGE sweet tooth!) But with Thanksgiving and Christmas comes candy and cookies and cake…and I indulged and quit taking the Plexus. In addition to some heavy grieving, I did some heavy eating.  I gained every pound back.  I knew I needed to make a change. I went back and forth between caring and not caring. Finally, I started taking the Plexus Slim the day after Christmas. I decided to test it one day and didn't take it. Wow. I ate nearly an entire bag of Oreos in one sitting!! That was all it took. On New Year's Eve, I went to my friend's house and signed up to sell Plexus as an Ambassador.

     Fast forward to today. I've been faithfully taking the Plexus Slim every day. I've started taking some of their other products as well. I feel better than I've felt in a long time. I'm a believer in these products. It is no coincidence that I am where I am. As a Speech-Language-Pathologist, I can pretty much get a job at any time. I worked during the school year last year, but took the summer off. I quit altogether when Nate had his injury. I just felt like the Lord wanted me home. I have struggled with not working in my field, but my friend (who is my Plexus sponsor!) put my feelings into words. She said, "You get so emotionally attached to the kids. You just don't need any additional emotional dealings right now." I thank God for my friends. They have helped me in so many ways. So, right now, I'm taking a break from speech therapy, and singing the praises of Plexus!

     On April 23, 2010, I weighed 118 pounds and wore a size 2. When Brad died, so did my appetite. I remember my friends begging me to eat something. My doctor told me to drink Ensure. I was so very thin. Several months later, my appetite returned. With a vengeance. I pretty much have been eating anything I want to, (a lot of ice cream!) and have not exercised (seriously) since April of 2010. Today, I'm about 40 pounds over that and refuse to look at a size tag. I have worn sweats or jeans every day. Now that I'm taking Plexus, I just feel thinner. I've lost a couple of pounds, but I've not been taking the products correctly. Now I'm on the right path, and I'm sure that I will begin to see a change. I'm committed. I've done it before after the birth of Allie, and maintained it until Brad's death.  That feeling has returned. I don't anticipate fitting into a size 2 again, but I do envision a slimmer body, but most of all, a healthy body!

    Since taking those baby steps towards God, He has met me every step of the way. Of course I wish my circumstances were different. But my feelings towards Brad's death have not waivered. I still feel certain it was his time, and I am still committed to using his death for God's glory. Our current sermon series is on grace. What a gift from our loving Father. Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful for things when you're trying to process that the love of your life is never coming home and the father of your children will never be around for their milestones. I've never been angry at God, but boy have I been angry at the situation. Anger is not an emotion I am used to. It has been a challenge to work through it. Yet I know it is something I have to do. God's grace truly is amazing. He is always waiting for me with His arms open wide. No questions, no condemnation. He knows my heart and how I hurt….but He also knows the big picture, and is never leaving my side as I walk this journey He has laid out for me. I am certain 2014 is going to be a better year. It is hard to grasp that Brad has been gone nearly 4 years. Sometimes it seems like so long ago. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. I am giving myself some grace in my grieving. Brad and I had such a special relationship. He was such a hands-on, involved dad. He is missed so much. I have always said "my life has changed, but my God has not." That is still so true. My life has changed, and will continue to change. He has not changed, and He never will. I am grateful I serve a gracious and loving God. I'm actually looking forward to what 2014 brings!

My life has changed. My God has not.
Blessings,
Jennifer

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day


     To all the fathers who have influenced my life, I have been blessed beyond measure, and I am so grateful. 
     To my mom's dad, Nick, who I never got to know….His legacy lives on through my mom, and I know he was a wonderful man. I love hearing stories about him playing football for the U of A and OBU, how he helped others with his generosity, his accomplishments earning him a place in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, but mostly to hear my mom say he would've loved me, and I would've loved him. 
 
 To my dad's dad, Grandad. I'm pretty sure I was his favorite. ;-) I have vivid memories of making mud pies in his back yard, sitting on his couch eating the cinnamon toast he made for me while we watched HeeHaw, to him being at church any time the doors were open. I'm certain he influenced my dad in many ways, and guided him to being the father he is. 
     To my dad, you have truly been an example of humility, strength, trust and unconditional love. My fondest memories as a child are those that I spent time with you. From sitting at your desk in your office, Razorback games, weekends in Memphis, to the beach, I wouldn't trade anything for those times. You have been my encourager, my example of true faith in difficult times, but most of all, you have loved mom and because of that, I grew up knowing what kind of marriage I wanted, and how I deserved to be treated. You helped Brad learn how to play golf, and I believe he learned a lot about being a good husband and father during the times spent with you. You've made every effort to be at Nate and Allie's games, programs, etc…I know they will always remember that. The one thing that sums you up to me, is when the doctor told me that they had done everything they could to save Brad, I felt your arms around me tight, and I remember you saying "I've got you." You are everything a father should be and more. I love you so much and am so proud to be your daughter. I will always be your little girl.
   
To the father of my children. How my heart aches for them to not have their dad. He loved Nate and Allie with every fiber of his being.  He taught Nate how to throw a baseball when he was 2 years old, then spent the rest of his life cultivating and coaching him into the incredible baseball player he is today. He taught Nate the love of hunting, country music and sports. He called Allie "baby girl," and treated her like a princess, but he also taught her to throw a ball. He always included her when was practicing with Nate. He taught her how to burp on command (ha ha!). He taught them how to love life, how to love others, how to treat others, and how to do the right thing, even when it was hard. He was a firm but fair disciplinarian, but never let them feel belittled. He was adamant that he say prayers with both of them each night. He never wanted them to see him stressed or worried. He wanted them to feel safe, loved and never afraid to hug him. I feel certain the last memories they have of him are of laughter, unconditional love, time spent together, but mostly his love for God and his desire to put Him first.


     Lastly, to my Heavenly Father. I know without a doubt that my grandfathers and my husband are with Him right now. What a privilege to know that. Because of my father's and grandfather's influences, I grew up in church, was taught what a loving and faithful God we have. I've learned that being a Christian is not easy, but when you believe with all your heart that God is in control of your life, you can survive difficult times. I had a wonderful and easy childhood. Adulthood has not been as easy, but God has been there to guide me, comfort me and bless me. Brad and I used to say that while things weren't perfect in our lives, or marriage, that we wouldn't change a thing. We had our share of ups and downs, before and during our marriage, but God always straightened our paths. When Brad and I struggled with infertility, when we thought we would never become parents, we turned to God. We would've never made it through that journey if it weren't for Him. Now, I am a mother to 2 incredible beings. Each of them have pieces of Brad that I see or hear daily. I see a love for the Lord in both of them. I am so grateful for that. While I would change the fact that Brad is not here, I know that if he could, he wouldn't. I look forward to the day that I will be with my grandfathers and Brad again, but mostly I look forward to being with the creator of those Godly men, the creator of the universe, the earth and all things in it…..but until then, I will treasure the time with my earthly father and continue to praise the One who gave him to me (and a mom that is just as special!).































Tuesday, April 23, 2013

THREE YEARS….Can we really grasp the concept of eternity?

As I sat down to begin writing, I glanced at the clock:  April 23, 2013. 11:58 p.m. The magnitude of thoughts swirling in my head cannot be described. I have been anticipating, dreading, thinking about - dwelling on - the date to come. I look again. April 23, 2013, 11:59 p.m….

Now it's here. April 24, 2013. 12:00 a.m. Three years ago, April 24, 2010, my world was turned completely upside down. My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. My dreams shattered. My best friend gone. The father of my children taken far too soon.

The old cliche' "Time heals all wounds" is just not true in my case. My wounds will never completely heal from this. However, that said, God is mending my wounds. He is still slowly stitching up the rips and tears, gluing back the shattered pieces, filling the empty spaces with His love. What I want to convey in my message is that I know God has a plan for me, but I have resolved to grieve for as much and as long as I need to. I have been moving forward at a snail's pace. Occasionally, I'll quickly jump over a few obstacles or slide down a hill backwards uncontrollably. For the most part, though, it is a slow journey forward. I have wrestled with being frustrated that others around me want me to "be ok" or want to help me "move forward," when I want to sit in my grief. I am a people pleaser, so my initial reaction or even feelings are for and of others. I don't want my friends to feel uncomfortable or helpless.  But let's be real here. Three years ago, April 24, 2010, I watched helplessly as the person God chose for me to spend my life with slipped through my fingers and into God's hands. I was there as he struggled to breathe. I watched him turn blue. I watched him stop breathing. I watched the paramedics shock him twice in our living room as I sat in the corner sobbing and praying that God would not take him from me.

I don't pretend to even begin to understand why he had to go so soon. I do know this, though. God's grace has and will see me through this. I've shared this before, but I  had a peace in the hospital after the doctors had done everything that they could to save him. I still have that peace. I know there is a reason. It doesn't make it easy. I miss him every day. Some days are harder than others. The first year I was numb. The second year was harder. The third year was a little easier, but became hard again. It will be this way the rest of my life. Life is not how I pictured it. However, I can boldly say that even though my life has changed, my God has not. He has been with me every step….whether I've been on my knees praying or lying in my bed, sobbing. He knows my pain, and He knows my heart. I've not been the picture-perfect Christian. I've failed at so many things, and Satan has endlessly attacked me. I almost cringe when someone tells me how strong I am or what an inspiration I am to them. I am just like anyone of you who loves the Lord. When He chooses a different path than you would've liked, you have two choices: follow Him, or go your own way. When you truly love the Lord, you follow Him!  I've learned it's still not an easy path, but letting Him lead is much easier than trying to find my way alone. I am weak, and He is strong.

I can always tell when I've not written in awhile. My thoughts are a jumbled mess and I struggle with writing in a way that will be meaningful and purposeful. I've had in my head the last few days, that I would sit down and write about the fact that Brad has been gone 3 years. When I talk with others about that, it is nearly incomprehensible. Three years? I've been a single parent for 3 years? I've gone to bed alone for 3 years? I've not seen the love of my life in 3 years? Yet, almost simultaneously, I think it's only been 3 years? It seems like an eternity….a lifetime. Which finally leads to the title of my post. Eternity. First of all, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I pray you will come to know Him as I have. I honestly do not know how anyone who does not have faith can lose someone close to you and make it through one day. As humans, we cannot fathom eternity. To a child, even a day can seem like an eternity. Three years has seemed like an eternity to me, but one of the many things God has taught me through this storm is that this life is not about us. This life is finite. This life is not our home. My eternal perspective was changed the day Brad died. Before Brad died, I truly did not think much about death or Heaven or eternity. Don't get me wrong - I thought about it! I just look at life so differently now.

My heart hurts for my children who are growing up without their earthly father. I am trying to teach them that their Heavenly Father has and always will be with them. It's tough enough to grasp as an adult. I look at my children and marvel at what incredible beings they are. I see God working in their lives. They are growing up so fast. Last night while eating dinner, Allie quizzed Nate and I about Samson. Her teacher had posed the question at school,  "How did God's plan change when Samson told about his weakness, disobeying him?" Nate and I thought about it, and I (stupidly) said "he used Samson in a different way." (thinking about how we watched the story of him in the tv series "The Bible," and how we talked about the consequences of disobeying God.) How humbling it was when my 11-year old daughter said with a smile, "God's plan didn't change." Chuckle. Yes, Allie, you are right! His plans NEVER change! He knew us before He even formed us. He has our lives planned out before we are even born. God has set eternity in our hearts by calling Brad to Him earlier than we would've liked. I would never have chosen this road, but God has consistently been showing me glimpses of His plan.

In the words of a life-long, very dear friend: I am not ok, but I will be. I am going to take all the time I need to let go of Brad. God will let me know if I'm not moving fast enough. He is teaching me things that I need to learn. I know God wants to use my story in a mighty way. Not in anyone else's time, not in my time, but in His time.

My life has changed, but my God has not. I am His for eternity.

Blessings,
Jennifer

ps, as I close at 1:15 a.m., April 24, 2013, it really irritates me that the date on my post is apparently PST, not CST! I want it to read the right date and time! And with that, I smile…. Brad is still such a part of me! He was such a perfectionist! I love you, Brad!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (The Voice)
For everything that happens in life - there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven.


     Every day, I receive the verse of the day in my email from The Voice translation. Today, the first day of 2013, is my favorite verse - my life verse - my reassurance for all things good and bad. When I look at that date - 2013 - all sorts of things run through my mind. My first thought is how far away 2010 seems. My second thought is in 8 months, I will have a teenager in high school, and a pre-teen in middle school. My third thought is our family verse we have clung to since Brad died: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  Yes, indeed. I've done things I would have never been able to do in my own strength…namely experience the death of my husband of 19 years, and raising 2 children on my own. Those are things that happen to other people, and you think "I don't know how he/she does it." Well, I know how I've done it: through the grace and love and strength of Jesus Christ. This is not the path I would've chosen, but I have chosen to follow the path God gave me. I don't want to give the illusion that this has been easy. It has been the most difficult, sad, challenging, heart-wrenching, darkest time of my life. However, all that said, I am still here on earth, and God is working in and through me. As I told Allie the other day, we are a small part of a bigger picture. God sees it and knows what is best, even when we don't see it or understand it - or even when we don't like it. It's not our call. It's not our plan. The only (and best) choice we have is to follow Him as closely as we can. We are human, and we fail on a continual basis. Yet, I know inside my heart that God understands and He is loving, and kind, and forgiving. Just as I, as a parent, have to teach and correct my children, God does the same with me. As soon as I ask for forgiveness, His loving arms wrap around me and I know I've been forgiven. Even when I do things over and over that I know do not please Him! What an amazing thing.

     When I began writing this blog in 2011, I was just coming out of the fog of being thrust into an unfamiliar, unexpected, unwanted tragedy. Today, on the first day of a new year, I see healing. I see where God has patched together pieces of my heart that were torn to shreds. My heart will never be the same, but it can and will be different…and that's ok. I have repeatedly said "My life has changed. My God has not." Someone mentioned to me the other day that they did not like change. Does anyone really like it? I think the answer is probably no, especially when it involves the loss of a spouse, a child, a grandparent, or even the loss of a life as we "expected or thought it was supposed to be." The one certain in life is death. It is sorrowful that some of us have to experience sooner than we would like, but not one of us is better than the other that we would be spared something so tragic. I have never said "Why me?" I've said "Why NOT me?" I will admit, though, I have said "Why MY children?" True to His nature, God gently reminds me "Why NOT your children? They were mine to begin with." I know He has something incredible planned for my children. While it pains me so much to see them hurt, I have to know that God is in control and He has a plan far greater than anything I could ever come up with.

     It is here that I find myself referencing my favorite verse again:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (The Voice)
For everything that happens in life - there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven.


     This verse has seen me through many difficult times….many different seasons. Brad and I had a broken engagement. (I will add one word here: forgiveness.) We struggled with infertility for years, which affected our marriage. We moved 8 times in less than 15 years. Brad endured several jobs until he found the perfect one, only to have it turn into the worst one of all. The recession hit us like it did everyone else. However, through it all, I was reminded that there is a time for everything! God is not a God of chaos. He knew us before He even knitted us together in our mother's wombs. We only need to read David's words to have this reassurance:



Psalm 139

New Living Translation (NLT)
Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

     Verse 16 was emphasized by me. He has our days planned before we were are even born! He knew Brad would be taken when and where he was. Again, it doesn't make the situation easier, but it does give me a peace that passes all understanding. A peace that God gave me on the night I had to say goodbye to Brad. I distinctly remember telling my pastor that I had a peace about it. A peace I still have today. 

     Looking at the calendar, I see a lot of things. I see nearly 3 years of living life without someone I loved so, so much.  I also see a year full of possibilities. I see a year of things to look forward to. I see a year I know God has already planned for me and my children. My prayer for those of you reading my blog is this: that you may know that God is in control of your life, and that He has a plan greater than we can ever imagine. This life is fleeting, and there is a life ahead that is eternal…and far better than the one we are in now. I pray that you will understand and cling to Ecclesiastes 3:1, that there is a time for everything! Mostly, I pray that you will open your heart to receive God's peace for your life. That whatever your circumstances may be, God is there…He knows and understands…and regardless of what those circumstances are, He wants you to live your life for Him, knowing:  

For everything that happens in life - there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven.

Happy New Year!
Blessings to you all,
Jen

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A time to cry...

     I've felt it building for a few days now….the tears are here. I think the combination of the upcoming holidays and the succession of birthdays (Brad's in September, Allie's in October, and Nate's last week) have precipitated this "meltdown." I hate to call it a meltdown, because that's really not what it is…but I don't have a word for it. I'm sad, lonely, overwhelmed….I feel empty, distracted and, well, cheated.  
   I feel cheated  of the family I had. Cheated of being married to my best friend a long time. Cheated of having a partner to help raise my children. Normally, I am a happy person. It's just my personality. You will be hard pressed to ever see me anything else. I hide my grief well. Not only is it my personality, it's also the expectations of those around me. No one wants to hear that I'm not doing well. They want to say "How are you?" and they want to hear me say "I'm ok." So, that's what I say. A friend has tried to tell me on a few occasions that my answer should be "No, I'm not ok, but I will be." I've said it a few times, and I know it's true. I will be ok. I know that. It's the getting there part that is hard. It will just take time. You don't "get over" watching your husband die in front of you. It will be with me forever….
  Once I came out of the shock, I learned the last couple of years that my grief is like a roller coaster. I've written about this before. It is a ride of extreme ups and downs. The last few months have been a kiddie ride. The ups and downs have been pretty level, with just a few dips here and there. Well, I'm back on the BIG roller coaster again. I guess it should come as no surprise to me, but I admit it really does. I am plummeting down the big drop, gripping on to the safety bar (God!) as tightly as I can. I want to be ok so bad, but reality is it will take time.
    I guess the purpose of this writing is to ask for a couple of things. I've learned I have to ask for things, and that is not easy to do! Firstly, I so desperately need your prayers. The only reason I have made it this far is through God's unbelievable grace and mercy, and the prayers of others. Secondly, I need your patience and understanding. I have so many friends and family that love me and care about me. I need those friends and family to step in and help with my kids and to give me some time to grieve. I fell into a deep depression last year. I will not allow that to happen again! I will, though, allow myself some "down time" to grieve and relax and recoup. I know I can trust my friends and family will understand and be patient with me as I navigate this holiday season.
    I am such a "people pleaser," and never want to let anyone down. I feel guilty when someone gives my kids rides or does something to help me out. I'm trying to accept the help without the guilt, but it is hard. Brad was such a big part of our lives. Bottom line: I miss him. Living life without him is so hard, but I do it. I have no choice. There are, though, days that are harder than others. This is one of those days. Thank you for letting me share my pain. I'm not ok, but I will be….

Blessings to you all~
Jen

Monday, November 5, 2012

Answered Prayer



Before Brad died, I was very faithful about writing in my prayer journal. I'm ashamed to say that I failed to continue this important practice when Brad was called Home. There is a website that would send me email and/or text reminders to pray for things I had written about in my journal. I am writing about it to share this amazing prayer I ran across, but also, to hopefully keep me accountable to continue journaling my prayers. Prayer is such a powerful thing…I know I would not have been able to be as strong as I have been without God, but also the prayers of others. Here is an entry I ran across a few weeks ago, but found again this morning. I just felt the need to share it. I found this under the journal chapter of "Brad's Job." Brad was very unhappy in his job, and was looking for another one. Look at the date, then I italicized a few of the words for emphasis....



04/14/10 - Lord, I again ask you to move Your hand in this situation. I hope that Brad and I have shown patience, but I am becoming weary in this situation.  
Brad is so unhappy, I just ask that You send him the right job, or that his circumstances would be changed to give him a peace. I am grateful for all You've done. We would not change a thing, but we are both weary of this situation. Please show us Your presence. 
Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but it definitely was an answer! God knew that the only way Brad could have a peace in the situation was to call him Home. While it is still hard to believe sometimes, and it is still VERY painful and difficult at times, I still have a peace that God gave me that Saturday night. This is part of His amazing plan…one I don't have all the pieces to, but one I am certain He has orchestrated. I've said this repeatedly: God is not a God of chaos. He did not randomly decide to call Brad Home that day. He knew before we were even formed that Brad was to leave this earth where and when and how he did. Our simple human minds just cannot grasp how infinite the love of God is for us, and how He wants to use us in this corrupt world. I am challenged every day to do what God has called me to do….but little reminders like this, and a few God winks yesterday, I press on towards the goal. (I'll write more about yesterday's amazing circumstances later…)

God is always faithful. My life has changed. My God has not.

Blessings to all~
Jen