Saturday, May 30, 2015

He's Been Faithful to See Us Through: Five Years of Life With the Five Percent

In some ways my children and I have grown up together since we have been "three".  As they have gone through their changes I have changed.  As they have been challenged, so have I.  I think they have taught me as much as I've taught them, definitely more than I expected to learn.  They have both tested my sanity and kept me sane.  Motherhood has been an adventure of  heartbreak and hurray, holding on and letting go, troubling times and celebrations, confidence and uncertainty.  God has seen us through it all.  He's been that force that kept me going in the absence of their father.  To let me know I could keep going when I felt like stopping.  I still struggle with the fact that I'm still one person.  I find myself trying to overcompensate for it even though the reality is I can't.  That's something I'm still learning to put in God's hands.  But, we have enjoyed a lot of triumphs over the years.  It's sometimes hard to believe they were so little once.

It wasn't long after Thomas' departure that I started facing important events without him.  Just weeks later we were at church to have Elijah dedicated to the Lord. 

But unlike Ariana's dedication, the children's Godparents stood with me during the ceremony.  That was the first of many.  Between the two children we've done eleven birthdays, seven "first day of school", two graduations, several recitals and performances, Ariana has entered middle school and Elijah will enter Kindergarten this fall.  But somehow we made it to where we are today.  It's been a ride.  Finding ways to use their gifts and energy has kept me on my toes, used a lot of time and highway miles.  It's all been worth it. 

Elijah started preschool.  And while he loved to learn, he wasn't real traditional either.  He wasn't much on his school work during the day; but the technology based learning he got into when he pirated my tablet was another matter.  Then the transition from the first year of preschool to the 2nd tested my faith.  He didn't understand moving to another class.  At one point he even stopped talking. 

His teachers had to meet him halfway in a lot of ways, engaging him talking about outer space, science, trains and football.  Those are things he continues to be obsessed with even now.  He could name all of the planets at age 3; but the eight basic colors not so much.  Knows it all now though and more.  Still not much on worksheets though.  But we made it.  Kindergarten, here we come.
During all of that though, both roads were rough.  The path to finding out Ariana was Dyslexic was one of the most challenging times of my life.  The time before we found out, was like I was treading water while she slowly drowned three feet away.  It was close to three years during which I dropped an insane amount of money I couldn't afford on the wrong kind of help.  It was close to three years I spent being told I wasn't doing enough to help her.  It was close to three years of homework time ending with tears or just giving up and going to bed.  It was close to three years of her hearing she just needed to try harder, occasionally from me.

The first clues probably showed up in Kindergarten.  The struggle intensified though in first grade.  In 2nd grade her teacher experimented by asking her the same test questions in a different order immediately after she graded a test.  Written test grade was an F.  But she answered all but one questions correctly when asked in conversation.  She knew the material.  I was more confused than ever.  We sometimes took trips to escape the everyday grind.  She was finally diagnosed in third grade.  For 4th grade I hired a Reading Specialist and a homework helper.  She had classrooms accommodations and adjusted tests and homework, the implementation of which her teacher was brilliant.  She flourished.  She even won the Science Fair.

The following year was a whole different challenge.  I dove deeper into the world of Special Education Law, various reading programs and therapies.  I ended up with a 2nd homework helper by the end.  I had to hand it to my daughter.  She pushed through at times when I wanted give in.  She worked on homework from the last bite of dinner until way past my bedtime without complaint.  Knowing about the Dyslexia gave us both more patience.  I can admit, a lot of the time she displayed more of it than I did.  My soldier finished.  The last year of Elementary school challenged us to the point though that a transition from private school became necessary.

At the start of middle school we found ourselves in a new place with some familiar features.  The new school still had documented expectations of character, uniforms, small classes, carpool and it was all in one building.  This might have been the toughest first day of school for me.  I think it was tougher than leaving her for Kindergarten.

It was a relief to have an active (IEP) Individualized Education Plan set up prior to school starting.  With placement in a special learning summer program, I saw our confidence return enough to pursue her dream of an education in music.  Prior to school starting, I placed her in her very first after school activity.  She just finished her first year in a local group of young singers.  They just happen to meet just 10 minutes from her new school.  They had a winter concert, a spring concert, and some other performances in between.

God's had His work cut out for him the last five years.  But even when I felt alone, in my mind, I knew He was still there.  It's just who He is whether we deserve it or not.  With every challenge, I still see His faithfulness to us.  In my times of anger, and moments of unbelief, He'd show me that one little thing so I'd feel His love.  When I look back on all of these moments and some others, there's always a twinge in my heart; but I'm grateful He's kept me in a place where I can experience joy in the small and large things. This tragedy nor the circumstances we faced afterwards had the power to steal that from me.  As we go on, I'll do my best to hang on to that because while I know we have more challenges ahead, I also know God doesn't change.  He's got nothing left to prove, never has; but He's been strong for me.  And I need Him.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Help, I Want to Trust You: Five Years of Life With the Five Percent

Of course I couldn't get it all in one blog post right? 

Losing a spouse does something to your world.  I had thought a few times what it might be like if Thomas didn't survive one of his episodes; but nothing prepared me for his departure.  Something blew up that day in March and a lot of damage was left.  But slowly and surely as I allowed Him, God put our earth back on its axis and we put a life together as a family.  I didn't always make it easy for Him; but He did it anyway.

This Didn't Mean God Had Left Us

Not as easy as it sounds when you spend years hoping for a miracle; but one thing was for sure.  I wasn't going to get through this without God.  I wasn't wired to do that.  He was a major part of my life before this happened.  I was dependent upon Him everyday.  So navigating life on my own at my lowest point wasn't an option.  Interesting thing is it was being at my lowest point that had me considering it.  Yes, I said it.  I thought of walking away. 

Things were just that dark.  I had to work hard to get past the "I can't believe you left me here with these babies" with Thomas and the "I believed and what did it get me?" mentality with God.  If I'm honest I still have trouble with that first one. 

I read a book by a woman who lost her husband when he was killed in the line of duty.  She said she looked up and asked, "God, are you even there?"  The struggle is real.  So was Thomas' struggle; but as long as he had breath, there was at least a small chance.  When he'd taken his last that was gone.  So what was left?

This is Elijah.  He's about a day old here.  And what very few people know is that this is a person I longed to have in my life for what seemed like forever.  For various reasons I had always wanted to give birth to two children.  This isn't something you can really discuss with people in a world where so many experience the difficulties of infertility and infant loss.  You come across as ungrateful expressing sadness over not having the number of children you want.  When I did choose I thought carefully to mention it, I was told to just be grateful for the one child I had.

But it was more than that.  No one was infertile.  This was another thing the illness stripped from us...from me.  It was insult to injury.  I wasn't going to have another baby because our marriage...well, it wasn't like many other ones.  So when I look at my souvenir from that one rare night on a rare vacation, it's like God returned something to me.  Even now five plus years later Elijah represents knowledge that God had not forgotten my desires.  It felt like He remembered me.  It felt like He remembered us.  See after Thomas' health got to a certain point, I didn't say I was done having children.  Someone I love had advised against that.  But I had stopped asking God for another child.  But there was still someone asking.


Everyday she asked.  Every single day that God mercifully gave us, she asked for a little brother.  She sometimes tells him he wouldn't be here without her.  So when I thought about picking up the pieces of my life and walking a different path, I held on sometimes by a thread to the fact that God remembered me...He remembered us.

Some days in our family it felt like Thomas was all that mattered and after he died, there were days it felt like God left with Thomas; but that's a possible side effect of grief as a Christian.  I knew that.  Eventually I settled on the knowledge that it was going to take God's presence to put the pieces back together. 

It doesn't mean I've done everything right.  Far from it.  I've had dumb days and done some dumb things.  I've gone one way with my little family and had to turn and go another and had that to admit to my daughter in the process of making the correction.  I've had days where I didn't handle the pressures the way I should have.  See, there was some distance between knowing God could and would heal my heart and actually handing Him the pieces so He could do the work.  After March 9, 2010, that took a level of trust I struggled with more often than I like to admit.

God Knew I Was Ticked Off

I talked about being mad in the last entry and I see and hear  and read about not having such emotions towards such a kind, perfect, loving being.  But God is also omnipotent.  As much as I tried especially in those early months to focus on Thomas being free from the suffering he endured, that feeling of abandonment persisted.  As much as I tried focusing on my children not having their father to even talk to was like a 50lb weight. 

So yeah, I dealt with anger.  The only reason it didn't conquer me was because I admitted it and went to Him with it.  But it took me over a year.  I cried for Thomas more often than people know.  But for too long, I was so caught up in how I wanted to handle this, in wanting my daughter to see God could make things alright, in wanting people to see God could make it alright, I didn't really give Him every piece of my broken heart.  I broke down under that pressure around month 18.  I had said, God I trust You.  He had nothing left to prove right?  But after tragedy, the honest thing for me was...Help me, I want to trust You.  It worked in the Bible right?  (Mark 9:24).  I say this a lot; but God is a big boy.  When I said, "God I'm mad," it seemed His response was "Now we are getting somewhere."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Life Out of the Boat: Five Years of Life With the Five Percent

Statistics state that five percent of America's children live with a widowed parent.  That is actually less than the percentage of children who live with neither biological parent.  So it's a small group.  I regularly communicate with men and women in my online widow support group, others who can emphasize with the ups and downs, the triumphs and complications of raising children solo.  In my three dimensional world, I very often feel as though I don't fit in. I've learned to live with it....mostly. 

Here I am five and a quarter years on the road since my husband's death and that is after years as his caregiver.  If I had to pick a few words to describe it?  It's life out of the boat.  That's what it feels like walking this path.  It's an adventure.  There haven't been any dull days.  The challenges have been significant and so have the triumphs.  I have felt pain I didn't know was possible.  I have felt pride I hoped for and love I knew I would.  We have gone through a lot of changes.  I mean now they are 12 and 5.  So I have a child a year from entering the teenage years and another who will start Kindergarten this fall.  At the start of this journey I had a little girl and an infant.

These folks are growing fast.  Everyone agrees on that.  For the most part I like our life.  The children are loved.  They have had nice things, they've been on vacations, they've had challenges facing new things.  They pray and believe in Jesus.  They've also questioned Him as to why their father isn't here.  Well, Ariana has questioned Him.  Elijah?  He questions me.  I can't fix that.  God walks us through and I'm grateful.  He's seen us through some rough periods and shown me the beauty of motherhood no matter what I was facing at the time.  He's been kind.  He's been my protector.  He's been the breath of life.  I love Him like a love song.
Now that all of that is established, here's what else I have to say about it.  I mean we're talking about a grief journey after all.  Let's be real. There's been many days, I really wanted to find that boat and my conversations with God sometimes showed it. But He could handle it.
God, I...I'm Tired...
I don't always remember to project that I'm so full of faith.  One day I see a meme that says "A Single Mother Who Believes in God Never Raises Her Children Alone," and I think to myself, "Amen!  He's Amazing!"  If I see it on a different day, my mind spins and after I say "Amen! He's Amazing! I love Him like a love song; but dang, I'm tired.  Dang, it was me changing every diaper, wiping every nose, wiping every other part that doesn't need to be named. God thanks by the way for stretching my check so I could get the diapers.  God I'm tired.  There's no more diapers.  The boy practically toilet trained himself once he decided he was okay with it (and yes, I waited) and I still get tired; but that's okay.
God, is This The Right Way or What...
There's this thing called "decision fatigue" and I'm here to tell you the struggle is real when that one person that's equally invested in the children is gone. In the past few years I have been on a journey, not just as a widowed parent, but also a parent of a child with a learning difference.  I've had to make a number of adjustments in how I parent and in how I manage education.  It meant going off of the path Thomas and I had decided on for the children.  We had decided on a private Christian School.  But it became necessary to change schools to get the IEP my daughter needed. 
I lost a lot of sleep deciding on a new school. Gone are the days you just send your child to the school closest to your house.  Choices range from the base public school to the local magnet around to any charter within driving distance and the two private schools with programs in place for children like Ariana that didn't cost more per month than my house. 
On the first day at her new school, she looked a lot like she did every other first day of school, freshly permed hair, a new backpack with supplies and a uniform.  She couldn't believe I managed to find a school with a tighter dress code than her old one.  I drove away still wondering, God is this the right way or what?  The waters calmed on that one around the 2nd IEP meeting.  It was around that time Ariana introduce me to several new friends. 
God, Another Loss...
Then I had to pick a new home.  I mean it makes sense going from two working people to one just after adding a second child was bound to cause some financial adjustments.  Add to it the fact that at times I just didn't have my head together to make the decision I should have and I really had little room for error. 
Our home became a weight I could not carry alone.  I made the most sense to find a new one that would be easier to care for and more affordable.  But after being in the same home for nearly 15 years making the transition was like a shock to my system.  And the question of whether I should stay and fight to keep it ran through my head all the way through the first two months after the move.   Some days I think of the other house and it just feels like another loss, one more thing taken from me. 
But I realized this move was God's way of giving me something.  See, when I walk around our new home, a cute little town house in the same area, there's no traumatic memories in any room.  It's not Thomas house, it's ours and in several ways, we brought him with us.  I realized I had fought a fight; but it wasn't necessarily a good one.
God, Help, I Want to Be Enough...
They are loved, they eat, they have experienced a lot of things already that some people never will.  I run around getting Ariana to choir rehearsals because she loves to sing and her new school doesn't have a choir yet.  Okay so some of it is my sheer determination that they won't feel inferior to children with two parents who either share a home or don't.  They don't have anyone to call daddy there when they wake up, to call on the phone, to write to who will write back, to talk to who will talk back without some supernatural visitation.  It hit me like a ton of bricks when I took this photo of them on Father's Day in 2012.
That's the time of year we get to hear it seems every other minute how important fathers are.  And they are; but it also comes with a message how children with one in their lives turn out so much better, have more confidence in themselves, make better grades, I mean you'd think the air must be better or something.  I took on the mentality that I wasn't going to cower under that notion.  I've raged against it this whole time.  No one was going to tell us we weren't a real family.  No one was going to suggest my children couldn't have every chance.  Okay it was part determination, and part anger.  It was like the world was trying to say I wasn't enough no matter how much I dedicated myself to my children like I didn't battle with that in my own mind oh all the time.   
God, I'm Mad...
Yeah I get angry.  He was sick and then he died and it was rough.  I lost my husband.  Four people lost a father.  A son was lost, a brother, an uncle, a mentor, a friend, a community leader, you get it.   I would like to be able to say that over the time since Thomas died, that I always keep it in the front of my mind God's grace that keeps us and His love that carries us and His faithfulness that strengthens us.  In truth I confess I ask His forgiveness because I don't.  I'd love to be able to say that I have never wallowed in grief or let the pain and fear take over at all because of the knowledge of God's hand on our lives. 
I can't do that.  I would love to say that I kept my eyes on Jesus every moment and because of that He kept us.  But I know there were many days He did that despite me because I was all in my feelings.  The heartbreak, feeling abandoned, cheated and deserted, the anger, the fatigue, it's all real.  I take time for breaks.  We like to have fun.  It releases stress.
God, Thank You for Not Leaving Me...
The thing about life out of the boat is I've felt His love for me in ways I never imagined.  His patience I can't even describe it.  I've seen that even when I take my eyes off the prize, Jesus never does.  If I turn my head because some life change brings that heartbreak, fear or anger to the surface, eventually I close my eyes and lean back looking for that feeling that He's still there.  When Peter lost focus and began to sink, Jesus extended His hand to save him (Matt 14:22-33).  
Yes, I feel the challenge of solo parenting.  School volunteer hours requirement anyone?  But Jesus has handled every emotion, every bout with depression, and every fit of anger.  He's seen me through battles with fatigue and irritation and the times I acted on shattered faith.  Had He not I would have drowned.    Grief tried to blind me to what is in front of me; but, His love continues to conquer it.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness (Col 2:10).  And my babies.  They're worth it all.