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"Spring will come and so will happiness. Hold on. Life will get warmer."

Day 116 - March 29th at 11:25am

My heart is broken this morning. Why does this have to be so hard? Why does everything have to be soooo stinking hard? Last night I went by the parsonage because I wanted to see everything completed before the new pastor moves in today. As I pulled in the driveway, I felt a sting of sadness as I knew things were changing, yet again. I looked through the windows and saw MY church members, sitting around in the living room floor, some working, some talking, some screwing knobs into place. I saw the things I had picked out for the parsonage... the cabinets, the counter tops, the tile..... everything that would make the house into a lovely home. It looks so amazing. Anyone would be happy to live there. I'm so proud of the hard work everyone has put into making it beautiful. But it still made me sad. Pastor Mike would have been so proud. Who knew that instead of selling this property to build revenue, to add an addition onto our church, we would be renovating it for our replacements to live in? It's sad really... how life takes a turn that we aren't ready for. If anything, seeing everyone last night reminded me that I made the right decision in leaving Abundant Life. I think I would always be jealous over the new relationship that our members formed with the new pastor. And that's not right... or fair. For anyone. When you've spent 12 1/2 years pastoring a congregation.... when you've dedicated their babies, sang in their weddings, counseled them and buried their family members, you have a tendency to get attached. Mike and I were never good at pastoring from a distance. The only way we knew how to do it was to get in there with our hands and just love. Love hard. Love strong. Love intentionally. And now all the love that we have sewn into this congregation will be reaped by someone other than us. I've never had the experience of leaving a church we pastored because Abundant Life was the only church we ever pastored. I think the Lord gave us the best, first. I can't help but think about the revival message last night. The pastor preached on Noah. I've never thought much about it, but I can really identify with what Noah must have felt like in that boat. Tragedy struck and he finds himself in the middle of the ocean in a boat. A boat with no rudders, no steering wheel.... only a tiny window to the outside that I am much too short to see out of. I feel the waves of sadness and grief and the comfort of the Holy Spirit rocking this boat back and forth, back and forth, wondering if it will ever land on solid ground again. But just like Noah, I know the day will come when it will be time to send the dove out. In this case, the dove has been sent out and did not return, which signals it is time for your next adventure. Will it be hard? Yes, it will. But it's time. So church, just know you have my blessing. Make new memories. Laugh hard, and often. Win souls for the kingdom. Minister like you've never ministered before. Get along. Be happy. Show your new pastor why Mike and I stayed so long. Show them how awesome you guys are. Because trust me when I say.... you. guys. are. awesome. I love you so much and I am so proud of you. And it's time for your next big adventure. Know that you have my blessing. I will never forget you and I know you'll never forget me. So, for one final time, this is Sister Ashley, signing off. We will always be "in this thing together," no matter where life takes us.

Day 119 - April 1st at 9:05am

I was looking through my Facebook memories this morning and I saw that 3 years ago today, Mike was in Ecuador. He loved being on the mission field. Sometimes it feels like he's just gone on a mission trip and he will be home soon. I wish that were the case. It's hard to believe that it's been almost 17 weeks since he left. We were one of those couples who enjoyed doing everything together. We talked multiple times each day. We texted. Chatted. We would meet for lunch. I don't check my phone to see if he has sent me a message anymore and truthfully, dreaming about him at night is very painful and I don't like it when that happens. This slow moving grief train I'm on runs at a snail's pace. I feel so impatient. I found out yesterday that the house I put an offer in on, after much waiting, I can get BUT they aren't willing to come down to the price I'm willing to pay, that, in my opinion, would make this house a good option. I could build a house in that same neighborhood for around the same price and it wouldn't be 12 years old. I took it as a sign that this wasn't where the Lord wanted my family. I haven't even been looking at other houses really because I just wanted to be done. I think the thing I wasn't prepared to hate most about grief was the loss of control that I feel about my circumstances. Losing Mike was the center piece of the puzzle, but then everything else stems out from there. The house, the job, the van, the life .... overwhelming changes at every turn are the ripple effect of losing Mike. A friend told me last night that I have control over those changes, but I don't feel like I do. It's like I play these scenarios in my mind.... if I live here, then it takes me this long to get the kids to school and if I work there, then I don't have summers off and if I buy this house, then I know I have to work full time so we can pay for it and if I buy this other house, then we live too far away from mom and dad. I just hate not having the answers right now. It drives me crazy. I don't typically make rash decisions.... I sit on them and think and think and think.... waiting for the perfect option. But the overwhelming sense of needing to do something eats at me. I've never experienced anything like it. It makes you wonder if you're losing your mind. As much as I dread the "firsts" that come my way, I equally loathe the "lasts" as well. I can't complete activities without thinking "This is the last time I'll do this or that." I just long for normalcy. The normal 'ol stuff that I've taken for granted over the last 15 years. That's what I want. I dream of the day when I will wake up and feel normal again instead of this rollercoaster of up and down and up and down. People tell me the day will come. It's sure taking its sweet time and the truth is, I know that day is probably years away. We will continue to experience change after change for the next little while..... all things I cannot control, as much as I want to. I know the Lord is trying to teach me things about myself, but my "teachable spirit" is rebelling, protesting even, crying for the life I wish I still had. I wish I had really taken the time to appreciate the life I had been given. Like really, genuinely appreciate it. Laying in the bed. Watching our favorite shows. Going to the mountains on picnics. The occasional drop off by the preschool to bring me something I had forgotten. Being aggravated when I felt like he spent more time on church stuff than with us. I miss it all and I would give just about anything to have it all back. I'm still waiting for the day to come when I think I wouldn't bring him back, because my selfish self would bring him back in a heartbeat. I know that sounds terrible and it's not at all what you're supposed to say, but it's true. So, if you would do me a favor, and take a moment to really look at your life today and appreciate the ordinary mundaneness of it.... don't take it for granted. Relish in it. Appreciate it and above all else, make sure your spouse knows just how much you love them. I wish I could tell mine one more time.

Day 120 - April 2nd at 6:13pm

Well, at least I got "visitation rights" with my 3 kiddos today. They've been with my parents since Thursday evening because of my preschool obligations, but I planned on them coming home tonight. They have begged to stay with MawMaw and PawPaw one more night and MawMaw has conveniently washed their clothes. And I just realized I have a 7 page paper due by tomorrow night at midnight that I haven't even begun researching for. So..... I guess I know what I need to get started on, but I really just want to go to bed. I'm exhausted.

Day 121 - April 3rd at 9:23pm

I finally got my babies back. It feels nice to have everyone under the same roof, but I did enjoy a little time to myself. Decluttered Living, aka my "Clutter Girls," came back today and we worked on more stuff. This process moves so slow it seems, although we are working very deliberately and quickly. We worked in my bedroom and the process seemed a little less painful today than in days passed. I learned that I have way too many shoes, way too many clothes and Mike had way too many books. It will be so nice when it's all done. Where's that genie in a bottle when I need her? I went to Grief Share class tonight and I find that our little group of grievers are bonding through our experiences, even though it is a wide range of ages and reasons for loss. It's comforting to know that there are others who are at different points on their grief journey and that although I may do something a certain way and someone else chooses to grieve in a different way, there is no right or wrong way to do this. And regardless of how much I want to "feel better" there is no skipping the pain. (As much as I desperately want to.) I do find that my journey seems to have different components than others, just because of my age and the suddenness of Mike's death. I think the loneliness though is something everyone in the room has struggled with..... the need for companionship, intimacy in relationships, friendship. Night time is the most challenging for some people in our group, but not me. I seem to cry more in the mornings, which I found odd. Acceptance of the fact that grief may stick around longer than I want will come. But someone reminded me today if I can just move an "inch" each day, then at least I'm headed in the right direction. I can do an inch. That feels manageable. And inch by inch, I'll know I'm that I'm headed towards my new normal and whatever things God has in store for me. I can do this...... an inch at a time.

Day 122 - April 4th at 6:53pm

As much as I wanted Mike's headstone to be in, I wasn't prepared to see it. I did not know they had put it in today, so I drove by just to check. As I pulled in, an overwhelming sadness engulfed me to see mine and Mike's names on this piece of stone. His temporary home is now complete, aside from flowers that we will change out as often as possible. Oh how I wish things were different.....

Day 124 - April 6th at 9:19am

4 months: This has been the slowest 4 months of my life. So much indecision. Yet so many decisions. My emotions and feelings change when the wind blows a different way. I wonder if this new characteristic will stick around forever or is it just temporary? I sure hope it's just temporary. This morning alone has been a reminder of Mike's absence as I made bacon, eggs and killed a wasp.... all jobs that would have been his. His headstone was put in place this week. A stone reminder of his final resting place. I miss not having someone with the same vested interests as I do in our children. I miss him not being here to share responsibilities. I miss his friendship. Annabelle told me yesterday, "Mommy, my teacher told us to raise our hand if our mommy's and daddy's never fought and I had to raise my hand because you and daddy never fought." I'm so thankful that her memories are not of us being hateful and mean with each other. I met a guy yesterday whose wife committed suicide the month before Mike died and our experiences with death and grief were so different. I guess everyone who walks down this road has a different experience. All I know is about my own. I had lunch with a lady yesterday who lost her husband about 5 years ago in a motor vehicle accident. Her journey brought me such peace. I feel like the Lord gave me a snapshot of where I could potentially be in 5 years. Some days I want to run away and start completely over. Some days I just wish I could sit on the couch and be hugged for like 12 hours straight. Some days my fuse is so short that I have to apologize to my kids for fussing so hard. Other days I can open my sunroof and sing. It's a wonder I haven't forgotten a kid or two somewhere along the way. The Lord knows it would be possible with the way my mind is. I stink at waiting. I didn't realize how impatient I really am until Mike died. I want to be through the sadness, I want to be through the grief, I don't want to hurt anymore or be sad. I want my mind back, my life back. If it were only that easy. I was talking to a friend last night about my love for traditions. As I typed out our yearly traditions for the 4th of July and Thanksgiving, my heart ached because I hadn't thought about those things yet. Will we still go chop down our Christmas tree? Or will it be too hard when I realize I can't get the tree off the top of the van without him? Will we still go to West Jefferson over the 4th? Or will it be too difficult not to see him fishing in the New River.... Maybe we do need to make new traditions. But my kiddos love tradition as much as I do, so I don't know if missing those things will made them even sadder. I just don't know. That's my answer for everything these days.... "I don't know." If I had a dollar for every time I said that I could buy me a really nice house. :) I'm speaking at a church Sunday morning. It will be my first speaking engagement since he died. I'm trusting God to give me the right words to say to a congregation who loved Mike before I did. How do you encourage others when all you have left is broken pieces and shattered dreams, but yet, I will. I'm not sure how. But I will. God will give me the words to say. So if you could say an extra prayer for me today, I could really use it. I am trying to do my very best to "Be still" and know that He is God.


It has definitely been a difficult day for me..... actually one of the most difficult I've had in a while. But I did just find out that I am cleared to graduate in exactly one month from today so that does a lot to brighten my spirits. 👊🏻 Fist bump for me! 💥 yahoo! AND.......... all of my kids made A/B Honor roll at school! Yeah! #Vanderburgsmarts

Day 127 - April 9th at 2:06pm

I drove through Gastonia this morning on my way to speak at The Refuge Church and I couldn't help but think about how long it had been since I drove through Gastonia on a Sunday morning. When Mike and I were first married, we attended church in Gastonia and I couldn't help but remember those times. I remember being pregnant with Abi and I was dying for livermush on a bun for breakfast. It was Easter morning and nothing was open, so Mike drove to the grocery store and fixed it up for me at home. That's just the way he was. It did feel different that he wasn't there today. Mike supported me in everything that I did. He was always so quick to say "You did so good" or "I am so proud of you" or "You look so pretty today" or "You are such a good mama" or "You did so good on that song today" or "Praise and worship was awesome!" I could go on and on. I did miss his affirmation when I was finished speaking today. Because many of the people there loved Mike before I did, I enjoyed their stories about him prior to he and I meeting. When I think back to my size 4 body of 16 years ago, I can honestly say that Mike loved me regardless if I was a size 4 or a size 12. If I was pregnant with our children or looked great in a swimsuit, he loved me the same. I would have trusted him in a group full of supermodels. I knew he only had eyes for me. He could be trusted. A lady in the congregation, Donna, made a comment this morning that I wrote down... "A faith that can't be tested is a faith that can't be trusted." I couldn't help but apply that same concept to relationships. God can be trusted.... but can we? With our fickle emotions and our confused minds? With our lack of self control and discipline? Can we be tested and tried and come out fine on the other side? One of my friends texted me this morning to let me know the they were praying for me today and that I was strong. I thought about that word "strong" for a few minutes because truthfully, I've never felt weaker. But the Lord reminded me that "His strength is made perfect in my weakness." But how can I be effective in weakness? When weakness is all I have..... when I'm the one who is uncomfortable around raw emotion? When I'm the one looking for answers? And somehow.... in a way that only God can, He ministers to people by people who honestly have nothing to give, except themselves. Some of my favorite messages of Mike's were simple and profound. I didn't have a lot of eloquent words to say today, but I did try and say what the Lord would have me to say. His Word is always enough.... thanks for praying for me today.


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