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"Don't curse the darkness, praise the Light." Rev. Michael Vanderburg

Day 128 - April 10th at 7:23pm

I wonder when I will become my unobservant self again. It seems that since the accident, my brain divides things into 2 categories: pre-accident and post-accident. Since the accident, I notice things I didn't notice before. I worked on my school work this afternoon at Chick-Fil-A and to the dad who came in carrying blue prints, I wanted to say, "Talk to your son while he eats. Ask him about his day." To the husband leaning into his wife's open car door, I wanted to encourage him to, "Kiss her and tell her you love her." To the husband rubbing his wedding band while he ordered his food, I wanted to say, "Thank you for proudly displaying that you are taken." I am trying to "Be still and know...." I really am. My friend reminded me today that in the Bible, more times than not, God did not lay out the plan, but simply told them He would give it to them as they needed it. Why can I not be ok with that? I've struggled with that. My friend also reminded me that God's plan has not changed, but my role in it has. I found peace in Mike's leading and my ability to submit to his authority in our home. It didn't mean that he always knew what God was doing, but since I wasn't leading, I didn't feel this unrest, because that was his job. My job was just to follow his leading. I was comfortable in that. I hadn't thought about it in that context. I really don't like leading that much. I was much better at being submissive. I guess seeing all those people today made me feel a little jealous.... wishing I had the opportunities that they have. I just wonder if they realize the gift that they have been given.... in their spouse, in their children's father. I need to remind myself of the same things I told the church yesterday..... God tells us that "I Am _____" and He wants to be whatever we need, whatever we could put in that blank. Whether we desire peace, joy, intimacy, love.... He can be all those things, and WANTS to be all of those things, to and for us. I pray we will all be encouraged to allow Him to be "I Am" to us in our circumstances.....

Day 129 - April 11th at 11:41pm

I announced to my preschool parents today that this will be my last year with them. It makes me sad when I think of all the wonderful families I have met over the last 7 years, but I know this is the right thing. I have full confidence that the new director will do a fabulous job taking our preschool to new heights. I'm still not sure what I'll be doing next...... shocking, I know..... but please continue asking God to show me His path for my life. The preschool will always be near to my heart and I am thankful the Lord allowed me to be a small part of the families and teachers lives that have came through our doors. I will miss it tremendously, but I know God has a plan.....

Day 130 - April 12th at 6:13am

4:51am and I'm awake. My mind is turning in circles. Trying to solve all of life's problems, and then turn them off again, so I can go back to sleep. The Lord allowed me to meet some new friends last night who could identify with what's it's like to experience tragedy. There is comfort in knowing there are other people who have gone through this and are being successful. Sometimes I look around and think, "Who am I?" I'm glad to know that other people who also have gone through grief can identify with what it's like to have to figure out who "you" are again. I know that must sound kind of crazy to people because the outside of Ashley is the same, but the inside is different. I feel like half of a person and through this process, I have to become just "Ashley" instead of "Mike's wife, Ashley." I don't even feel like the kids and I are a family anymore. I know we are in my head, but my heart says we are just half of a family. And I'm just half of a person, who's trying to do double the responsibilities. Yesterday, I found myself being so overwhelmed, trying not to let any of the kids down, with soccer games and softball games and projects that have to be turned in...asking friends for help because I can't be at all those places at the same time. I just want things to go back to the way they were. I don't want to be an "only" parent, which is different from being a single parent. I don't want to go through the process of dating again, although I do want to remarry. I don't want to do 99% of the stuff I do each day, and yet, I know it has to be done, so I do it. Sometimes I wish running away was a valid option. Even if it was just for a whole day, but I would get there and wish I wasn't alone. Or I would get there and realize I wish I was alone. That's the way my mind is these days.... it can't decide if it would be best to push people away or hug them tightly and never let go. It's a push and pull, a tug of war and it's a wonder I'll have any friends left when I finally find myself again. I feel so fickle. And even in my fickle, weak mind, the decisions continue to come. I don't want to do the wrong thing. Within a year's time, I will have lost Mike, my job, my car, my home.... and those things are really just the tip of the iceberg. I have also lost my peace of mind, my stability and life as I knew it. I was listening to a preacher speak on adversity last night while I was driving to get the kids and I just wanted to ask him, "Do you really have any right to tell me about adversity? What do you know about adversity?" He spoke about it so nonchalantly. Like, "oh! Not a big deal. You push through it. God has a plan. You were more dependent on circumstances than God and He's trying you so you can do something bigger and better." Then I wanted to yell at my radio, "So it's my fault Mike died then? Because of MY shortcomings and the things God is trying to teach ME?" These waves of intense grief stink. People constantly look at my face and try to read where I am at on a given day. Do I seem like "the old Ashley" or am I "a grieving Ashley" or lately, "a blank Ashley." Blank. Not good, not bad, not happy, not sad, just blank. Going through the motions. Yet constantly trying to figure out something that would make me feel better. Usually buying a new outfit helps. (Temporarily at least.) I should probably find something better to do than shop when I'm feeling super sad. Oh well. Baby steps I guess. Sometimes I feel like a broken record and I wonder if the things I'm telling you are different than the things I said yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.... wishing I had something profound to say, but instead, it's just the aftermath of a broken heart. With more questions than answers. And more pain than peace. I just want to forget. To pretend. Fake it til I can make it. But there's really a war waging within all of us. The constant push and pull of wanting to do good, but our flesh being weak. The struggle is real and we must feed the Spirit man inside of us to overcome the fiery darts Satan throws at us. So, I'll try and go back to sleep for another hour and pray for a supernatural recharge to make it through the day.

Day 133 - April 15th at 9:01am

Easter was always Mike's favorite time of the year. He loved Easter. I remember the first year we were married, I had moved to his church and we did not have anything special, musically, planned for that year and I missed being a part of that. He wanted to take me on a little trip to take my mind off it, so we went up to Banner Elk, where we stayed in a sweet little Bed and Breakfast. I think back on that time so lovingly. My friend and I were talking last night about the constant change that goes on around us. The Lord allowed me to remember all the Easter cantatas that the church did over the years and how I would think about the people who were there one year and not the next. It was at that time, I began to realize that things will never again be as they are in this moment.... and how important it is to really enjoy the moment that we are in right now! Sometimes that is hard for me, especially when I'm really busy. And being really busy is something that I've been here lately. I find myself being intentional about hearing my kids laugh. (Especially the deep belly laughs) Loving to see Abi hold Anna's hand as we walk from store to store. Loving seeing Eli putting his hat on his baby cousin and pulling it off again just to hear his little baby chuckle. Just loving to be with my kids, and my family, and my friends. At the same time, there's a missing piece that becomes evident when you automatically pack 5 beach towels instead of 4... or when you realize Mike isn't there to do the things that he would normally do as we unload the car. Then the frustration sets in as I don't want to have to remind the kids that they have to be observant and help me in ways they used to not have to. Grief changes you. It makes you more sensitive to things around you. It changes the way you look at things. When I think about last Easter, it was our first Easter in our new building. We had to bring out chairs for our Sonrise service. A sweet elderly lady was there early cooking breakfast, as she always did. Our sound guy was running around getting the sound system set up for outside, while I had no clue that the next year I would be trying to escape the memories of being a pastor's wife for the last 13 Easters. One person's bad decision altered the course of life for hundreds of people. I've never really been able to identify with what Mary must have felt as she saw Jesus dying, but now through Mike's death, I know first hand what that feels like. It's terrible. And yet, Jesus had to die. He chose to! His death and resurrection changed MY life. And even though I struggle with the "why" part of Mike's death, I can say I've also thought like Jesus did when He said "My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me?" Because I've felt that same way. But inch by inch and day by day, as I strive to live each to its fullest, I can look back and see that progress has been made. Sometimes when I get on the Disney cruise, I'll look around and see that we are moving, even though I can't feel it. That's what this is like to me. I feel like I'm going nowhere and then I look around and realize I've actually made progress and I'm heading to a new place. Through Jesus' death, we can all be heading to a new place... our heavenly home! And I pray that if you don't know Him.... and I mean really know Him..... that you will this Easter. I don't see how people make it without the Lord.... and I don't ever want to find out. Blessings this Easter, Ashley


(An except from Michelle - 1FitWidow) It's always interesting to me when people use the phrase "move on, " or they tell me that my remembrance of my late husband is a slight on my new husband. Listen, grief is not a 5 step process, and new experiences, joy, or love do not end grief. Case in point, at dinner recently my 8-year-old son asked me a question about Mitch. I answered, and he followed it up with: "Mommy, I wish my Daddy was still alive." This was said in front of my new hubby and our combined kids. No slight intended by his innocent statement. Just the reality of a baby boy missing his Dad in Heaven. There is no moving on - there is just moving forward into a new normal. Yes, it is possible to honor the past while embracing the present. Yes, it is possible to grieve while living happily beyond loss. The two are never mutually exclusive. Good night world, Michelle ❤️

Day 134 - April 16th at 9:24am

This Easter is the first one that I've experienced away from home. I chose that intentionally.... to lessen the sting of Mike's absence and the fact that I'm not currently involved in music ministry & I am no longer a pastor's wife. We decided to find a Sonrise service on the beach and mom struck up a conversation with a lady who invited us to her church, who just so happened to have an Easter Sonrise service on the beach, and just so happened to be Church of God. We set the alarm for 5:45am and away we went. While walking up to the pavilion, I could hear the musicians warming up, singing, "Because He Lives." The oceanfront pavilion was beautiful with all the white chairs set up and as the praise team began singing, "How Great is Our God," it hit me that this is Mike's first Easter in heaven. As much as he loved Easter on earth, my small mind imagines the celebration in heaven to be much more grand. After the songs were concluded, the pastor got up and spoke and the message was on point for where I am in my life right now, but the main thing that jumped out at me was, "changing our perspective." Although our conditions and circumstances change, if we change our perspective, then as Saul's name changed to Paul on the way to Damascus, so can our point of view, as we desire to see what God wants to do in and through us. The process of change is painful. When we think of the flower going from seedling to colorful petals, we think of a beautiful process, but my process feels a little more painful and ugly. You don't experience death without also experiencing change..... just as we cannot experience Jesus' death on the cross and not change ourselves! He encouraged us to change our perspective so we can see God in everything around us. I couldn't help but think about the heightened sensitivity I experience in situations these days, but I also felt like God was encouraging me to look for Him as well. He tells us if we seek Him, we can find Him! I found Him this morning as the sun shone so brightly on my face.... the warmth and brightness blinded me. I could only see the silhouette of the pastor speaking. The tall guy in front of me would move and the sun would leave my face and I would shift my position to find it again and I prayed, "God, let me be so focused on You that I am literally blinded to anything else except following You." I don't want to go to the right or to the left. I want to be in the center of God's will, even if that means making tough decisions that hurt and even if that means sacrificing my wants and desires to follow God more closely. I don't feel married to Mike necessarily anymore, but I do still feel like a wife. And I know that my heart's desire is to be a wife again, but I have to also have peace with the fact that if it isn't His will, then I need to be ok with that too. That's painful. It forces us to trust God and His plan. I felt like I had already been through this test once in my life and passed it.... that's how I ended up with Mike to begin with. And now the test comes back around again, except this time, the stakes are higher as I have 3 children to consider. I would do anything for them. And as I encourage them to allow me to provide and care for and protect them, I have to trust that God is doing the same for me. It's easier said than done.... my impatience gets the best of me, but I'm asking God to continue giving me little flowers along this journey as a constant reminder of His presence, that He will never leave me nor forsake me. So as you go through this day, my prayer for you is that you see God in every place you go and in everything you do. In every smile you encounter and in every hug you receive. I'll be looking too...... "You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13 Happy Easter. ❤️

Day 136 - April 17th at 8:37am

I woke up crying this morning.... dreaming about Mike. In the dream, we were together, driving in a car. He had a rose flower boutonniere on his shirt and the pin had made a little hole. As we drove, we came to a dumpster of things that I had thrown away since his death, mainly mine and his clothes. Hanging on a tree limb was one of his shirts, a favorite one of mine, a button down plaid with predominately pink colors with a touch of blue. He said he was going to put that one on, since his had a hole in it. As we were about to get back in the car to leave, Mike bent down on his knee to help an elderly man do something to his car. It was at that moment, I realized in my dream that Mike was gone and I laid down in gravel, in the fetal position, and woke up with a pillow full of tears. Dreams are so cruel. I'm sure some people wish they could dream about their loved one who is gone but I don't. It just hurts too much and now I can't get it together for crying. I hate dreaming about him. I feel like any progress I've made is lost, as I go back to square one and start over. It feels like my mind plays a cruel, mean joke on me like "Ha ha! See?!? Just joking. He's not really here. He's gone." I wonder how long it takes for the dreams and the memories to turn from sad ones to glad ones? Facebook memories are like widow kryptonite as each day you hold your breath, hoping there's not a memory out there that will throw you off the deep end. The emotions associated with grief are so great that I can see why people would commit suicide and why they would turn to alcohol and drugs.... especially without Jesus. I mean, I know Jesus personally and consider myself to be a strong believer, but I can easily see how people would look for anything and everything to dull the pain associated with grief. It's awful. The most terrible thing I've ever been through. I wish there was ample words to help you understand what it's like, but there's not. You're laughing one minute but so sad the next.... you feel like you're losing your mind..... there is no "snap out of it." There is no "sleep it off." There is no "go on vacation and you'll feel better when you get back." Just these muddied waters that you force yourself through. And I'm tired. So very tired. You know how it feels when you've been sick with the stomach bug, but you have stuff to do... and you're not throwing up anymore, so you put some clothes on and come into the living room, hoping to accomplish something and you feel so bad, your energy is gone, and you literally have to force yourself to load the dishwasher or throw in a load of laundry? That's how I feel. You see what needs to be done, but you have to talk yourself into doing it. It's getting some better than it was in the beginning, but the feeling of being "sick" is still there. I would not wish these feelings on my worst enemy and still all of us will experience great loss at some point in our lives. We will all lose a parent or a spouse or a child during our lifetime, someone we love the most, and the Lord gave us these tears and emotions to help us through, but these days are so very painful. I think it's human nature to want to skip out on pain. I remember the morning I was going to be induced with Eli, I told Mike, "I'm really dreading this!" I had already birthed Abi (without an epidural) so I knew how bad labor and delivery hurt. The thing I kept reminding myself was that it was only going to hurt for a few hours, but it would all be worth it in the end, because I would be holding this sweet baby boy. In grief, the pain lasts indefinitely, and there's no real finish line in sight. No baby to hold so you forget the pain. My Grief Share book says to embrace these painful moments of grief so you can experience them and press through them, so that is what I will do. Thank you all for your support through this journey.... I don't know what I would do without you.

Day 139 - April 20th at 9:10am

Although this isn't our first trip away, each day presents its own set of challenges when there's a gaping hole in your family unit. Small things .... like Abi picking up a coffee cup and saying, "Daddy would like this," to us randomly talking about babies and Annabelle saying, "Mommy if you had another baby then there would be 5 of us again!" Eli is used to having his daddy to play with him in the water, when he swims in the pool or gets in the ocean, so he has really missed that. It breaks my heart. On the flip side, we have tried to create new memories, and we have had a nice time, but most of the time it pales in comparison to the emptiness you feel in your heart. I'm so ready to not be sad anymore. There's no way to escape all this.... you just push through it. Sometimes I feel like the grief is stronger now than it was in the beginning.... that some of the numbing is wearing off. It wears you down. I've joined a Facebook widow group and sometimes I think it makes me feel sadder by reading their stories instead of better. I read a story of someone 6 years out and she is still facing the same struggles I am! If I feel like this in 6 years then you'll be visiting me in the psych ward, because I will lose my mind. Seriously. As everyone around me goes back to life as usual, we are still trying to figure out what life is like for us. And we are no closer to figuring that out than we were 4 1/2 months ago. And sadly, that "new normal" will probably be years down the road. I'm feeling down this morning..... I would appreciate an extra prayer or two today.

Day 142 - April 23rd at 7:31am

As I look back over the last week, I see nothing but the faithfulness of God. Sure, I hit a few really low places, but I made it through and we had a lot more really high places than low. I enjoyed laughing with my family and playing board games. I enjoyed time with my nieces and nephew, even if the baby did bite the most sensitive part of my bicep with his two tiny razor sharp teeth. Lol. I loved seeing the beach and getting some sun on this super milky-white skin. I enjoyed parasailing with my kids and sisters, and yesterday I finally got to see a rainbow, actually it was a double rainbow! It was so big and bright! Reminds me of the promises of God that I'm holding tightly to right now. The Lord opened a door yesterday to speak to a group of ladies at a local church and I walked into that fellowship hall unsure if the words I would speak would bring life to these beautiful ladies who ranged in age from 16 - 90. I always hope my message can be one of encouragement although it is birthed through such heartbreak and pain. I left there knowing that God's Word is always enough... and the words spoken were exactly what God wanted his daughters to hear. I have another open door this morning and I'm trusting God to move again as I speak to youth and adults at a church where my grandfather pastored many years ago. I'll never forget sitting on that hard, wooden bench at my grandpaw's funeral when my uncle challenged us to answer the question of who would now pick up the mantle and carry it since Grandpaw Downs was gone. Me and the trio I sang with at that time, had planned to sing "The Unseen Hand" but during the message we felt led to switch it and sing, "Im Glad Im a Child of the King in the Sky." During his funeral, I knew I was the one who was supposed to carry the mantle and I met Mike the following month. The similarities betweenmy grandpaw and Mike were uncanny.... their preaching styles and unwavering love of the Lord, even the fact that they were both saved later in life. I thought Mike and I were meant to carry the mantle together, but today I will carry it alone, praying that I'm worthy enough to minister to a congregation who needs a word of encouragement. Yesterday evening, I was walking outside and out of nowhere, the skies opened up and it began to pour huge raindrops! As the rain fell, I ran to the building and I couldn't help but laugh. I was soaked! My hair is naturally curly and I have to work hard to keep this red hair straight, so when the rain came, it messed it all up. I couldn't help but think about something Mike always said, "Don't curse the darkness, praise the Light." Yesterday, the Lord reminded me to praise Him in the rain, even if it did ruin my hair, and I think it's one of those moments I will always remember. Thank you so much for praying for me. It means so much to me to know that I'm not walking this road alone and that I have genuine friends who love me and are praying for me... I hope you'll be in church this morning "praising the Light." Much love, Ashley ❤️


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