6) JOY FOR THE JOURNEY
"I feel like I'm underwater by 2 inches and I'm struggling to get to the top to breathe again."
Day 40 - January 13th at 12:45pm
I didn't know it was possible to feel longing and excitement, while also experiencing dread and sadness at the same time, but I am. I'm hoping the family time, sunny skies and the warm temps will be good for me. The kids are so excited and I'm looking for ways to create new memories each day. (The last 9 times we did this Disney cruise, Mike was with us). People have been so kind with sending me "vacation money" specifically so I can do new excursions with the kids. You know, now that I think about it, I've never even gone to Disney without Mike. The kids were asking who was going to ride rides with them because Mike was the one who did that while I rode with Annabelle, since she is younger and shorter. I said "Well, I guess it'll be me now" and they were ok with that answer. There's adjustment and compromise around every corner. Eli asked me 2 nights ago when I would sing again. I had been singing at the table and I said "I'm singing right now!" He said, "No, I mean really sing.... like at church." I hadn't even considered that he had noticed. I didn't have an answer for him. I have no doubt that I will sing again, it's just a matter of figuring out how and where and when to plug back in. I'm hoping the Lord will speak to me over these next few days as I desire to lead our family. I've seen Eli mature so fast in the last 5 weeks. Yesterday he helped Anna find her cheerleading outfit for pictures, complete with shoes and hair-bow. If you had seen her room you would understand what an accomplishment that is. What's funny about that is his daddy was always the finder of lost stuff. I would always accuse him of hiding it just so he could be the hero and find it. Abi's necklace broke and if Mike were here he would be figuring out some way to fix it so she could still wear it. My solution is "We will have to see if we can find you a new one." The kids want to eat at a restaurant we enjoyed last year but I want to try someplace new, where I don't have to think about how much Mike liked it. (We actually ate there 2 times last year!). So, if you think about me over the next few days will you pray for me? And the kids? Pray that gentle reminders won't be so painful for us and that we can enjoy being a family, however incomplete we might be feeling. I know we have to tackle all these "first" and the sun comes up whether I want it to or not, so I will choose to embrace the day and whatever comes with it. I'm thankful for my parents and the fact that they do this trip for us each year.... and I'm thankful that although I wish the circumstances were different, I know this is good for us and the timing is too. So, I guess I'll suck it up, eat a Mickey Bar and make new memories.
Day 48 - January 21st at 9:00am
Well, I made it. I successfully navigated through a week long vacation full of firsts. I have to admit that I was equally dreading it as I was looking forward to it, but in the end, going was definitely the right call. There's something about being away that cleanses your mind and thoughts so you can successfully sort through them all and for me, it allowed me the ability to make decisions about our future. I intentionally planned a lot of new "firsts" for us because I wanted this trip to feel different than our previous ones. Annabelle tried snorkeling for the first time and although she freaked out a bit when the fish got too close, it made her "top 3" vacation favorites. (That's a game we play after each trip where we tell our favorite things about the trip). I did notice that she seemed a little more sensitive this time, so I had to be aware of that.... Eli did not want to do anything that he and his dad did together on our last cruise. Anna, Abi and I rode bikes but Eli didn't want to and I know it's because that was something he and his dad always did together on Castaway Cay. Abi wanted to try parasailing and I had to be her parent guardian. I was a little scared but it turned out to be THE most amazing excursion ever. We both enjoyed it and when Anna turns 8, she wants to do it too. I couldn't talk Eli into trying it with us, but actually he would have loved it.
It all started when we arrived at the port terminal Monday morning. A lady approached me and said "Are you Ashley? We would like for your family to be our 'Family of the Day!'" Every cruise, Disney picks a family to be the first ones on the ship. They give you tons of Disney pixie dust and loads of treats. It was like a dream. At the same time, I knew the cruise ship was aware of Mike's move to heaven and it took me a few minutes to get past the feeling that I was benefiting from his death. I know that sounds weird, but in my heart I couldn't really be happy because I knew if Mike were here, they would have chosen another deserving family. The kids were over the moon, so that brought me back quickly from declining and then when I realized they were including my entire family, I felt ok about it. They gave the little kids each stuffed animals, we had a special picture made with Mickey, we had our own private table while we waited to board the boat. My niece, Caris, wondered how we could be the Family of the Day when all of our family wasn't there, meaning uncle Mike. I think we all felt that way. I have heard it compared to learning to live with an amputation. You feel like you should be able to move that arm or leg, but when you do, you realize you can't. And the phantom pains are so real and they hurt so bad. They just sneak up on you when you don't expect them. I was standing at the tram stop waiting to board on Castaway Cay when I thought about Mike's moms first birthday (which was yesterday) without her son. Then I thought about Valentine's Day, our anniversary, the kids and my birthdays, everything we will do without him over the next year. It's literally like I'm living a second life. It's ironic that the place where we went to swim with the dolphins was the same place Mike and I went on our honeymoon, Blue Lagoon Island. I haven't been back since. It felt lusher and greener when we went there 15 years ago, although it was also lovely now. On that ferry boat ride to the island during our honeymoon, my straw hat blew off into the water and I couldn't get it. It only seemed fitting to wear a straw hat this time too, but it didn't blow off. :) I found loose change twice during the trip at Magic Kingdom and SeaWorld so I picked it up and put it in my pocket as a sweet remembrance of Mike. The kids each, on their own, using their own money, surprised me with a gift during the trip, which was so sweet. Abi, Eli and Anna went 90mph the whole time and we had a hard time fitting in everything we all wanted to do. The weather was more perfect than its ever been on a January cruise in my opinion. It was fabulous. 80 degrees, sunny, perfect. The seas were even in compliance as they were nice and smooth the whole time. It was also nice that not many people (aside from those we sailed with and those I met from our Disney Cruising Facebook page) knew our situation so there weren't many condolences from people, and truthfully, that was nice. It allowed me to keep myself in a positive frame of mind and to live in the present. The truth is, I don't know what tomorrow holds. God knows, I wish I did! I've asked him a bunch of times, but I remain standing on the promise that He will open doors and shut doors and all I have to do is walk. So I will walk. If you were to ask me about the one thing that I took away from this trip, it would be that God is faithful. He never leaves us alone. Never stranded. He provides, supplies and multiplies. He showed me that He is Lord over the big and the small. I'm grateful to be a piece of His plan. Be blessed..... ❤️ 🚢 🌴
Day 49 - January 22nd at 11:18pm
I did something today that I never dreamed I would have to do... I told our congregation of 12 and a half years that we would not be staying. I put so much thought into this decision but ultimately I know that this was the right call. I wrote a letter to read to them because I felt it would be easier to tell them everything without leaving important details out that I might have done if I had just tried to speak from my heart. I read it 100 times hoping to be numb to the words so that I could read it without crying.... yeah - I made it a whole sentence before bursting into tears. How do you tell people that you love so much that God is moving you in a different direction? How do you help them understand that it's better to leave now than to take a chance of hurting the church worse by waiting until a later time? Sure, in a perfect world I wouldn't see Mike's handiwork around every corner and maybe, just maybe I could work through the hurt and pain that I see on the church members faces as we all strive to do what Mike would want. In a perfect world I could work alongside the new pastor and his family and there would never be conflict. I could work past the hole in my heart that grows when I walk into the sanctuary and the emptiness I feel when I think of someone new sitting in his office. In some ways, I know that staying would stifle what God is desiring to do in our midst..... in the church, in me and in my children. I wish the golden pen would drop from the sky and would spell it all out for me, but that won't happen. As I cried long into the night last night, I relive the "unfairness" of this whole situation and it just feels so stinking unfair. If we were leaving to pastor another church, Mike would have been the one up there resigning before our congregation and I would have been the one chewing my nails at my seat. (You know how I hate conflict). But today, it was me who stood before God and everybody spilling my guts and hoping..... praying.... that they could understand why it has to be this way. God definitely has a plan..... now we must walk in it. 👠
Day 50 - January 23rd at 1:54pm
How is it that you come back from an amazing vacation and yet everything you left behind sticks around until you come back?!?!? I liken it to a snow globe that has been shaken. Going on vacation allowed that snow to settle inside the glass ball and gave me an "I can tackle the world mentality." I came back with such a clear mind to complete the mountain of tasks like scanning the stupid medical bills that have come to me in the mail from the accident to send to the attorney .... so the hospital can put a lean on ME .... Me! Which, in my opinion stinks, but regardless, that's what they do..... and then sending out 2.135 million thank you notes and figuring out what to do with Mike's wardrobe (which is much larger than my wardrobe might I add.) Its so overwhelming. People want to help but there's nothing that can be done unless I facilitate it. It's like a church workday.... if you don't have tasks ready to assign, people stand around and do nothing because they don't know what to do. It's not their fault, but they just don't know. It would be like me coming into your house and going through your stuff and figuring out what to keep and what to toss. I just wish I could do it all myself. I know that's wrong, but I do. I HATE asking for help. When I was 16 I got my first job because I HATED asking my parents for money. I have always been so independent .... and maybe a little proud, but regardless, that's how I feel. I keep reminding myself that "a proud heart goeth before a fall," but I just want to fix it all on my own. The Lord graciously sent a friend that I could talk through this process with, to help me determine what would be "one mans junk" worthy or "donation" worthy from a sell value standpoint. I've been in "Dave Ramsey saving mode" for so long now that the thoughts of tossing out something I can sell makes me feel bad. Let's face it though - I need to save every dime I can because I don't know what the future holds. But maybe if I have that certain dollar thresh hold amount in my mind, it will allow me the opportunity to make good choices about what I do from here going forward to avoid keeping a bunch of stuff that I don't need to merely yard sale later. You know, I started this post early this morning when I was feeling quite frustrated and then I was never able to finish it. As I look back on the events of the day, I am grateful for the people that God has sent my way. Did they know that they were helping me today? No, probably not, but that's what God does. He shows you His love through His people. A friend stopped by my office today and although I didn't realize she lost her mother at a young age, she was able use her painful loss to help me relate to what my children may be experiencing. She put a different spin on things that I hadn't even considered and even allowed me to think through some things that I haven't spoken to anyone about, but yet felt I could share with her. I am thankful for people who are willing to be the mouthpiece of God. May we all desire that for ourselves so that we can help others in their most trying times. You will never fully know how much people need you AND how much God can truly use you ..... until you are willing to be used. ❤️
Day 52 - January 25th at 8:16am
Yesterday was a terrible day for me, but if you were to ask me about a specific event that made it so terrible, I couldn't pinpoint one. I just felt sad all day long. I woke up with the same feeling this morning. I just want to be past this already. I don't even feel like I'm in control of my own life. I'm definitely not in control of my emotions. We have experienced the death of a good friend, who passed away on Monday..... maybe it's that. Maybe it's the thoughts of attending the receiving of friends or singing at the funeral. Maybe it's that I talked to the trooper who's assigned to our case. Maybe it's the sadness of knowing we won't be celebrating Valentines Day or our Anniversary. Maybe it's that I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life. Maybe it's that I know our lifestyle of ripping and running has to change or I'm fighting a losing battle with homework, basketball, cheer, church and life. Maybe it's that my stomach is back to being unsure of itself again. Maybe it's this or maybe it's that, but regardless, I would appreciate an extra prayer or two on my behalf today. ❤️ I sure need it.....
Day 53 - January 26th at 8:16am
I'm a positive person by nature. Someone told me to try to avoid negativity or conflict and I really do think it's helped. The Lord reminds us of that too in His word, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report..... think on these things." And as much as the potholes stink when you hit them, they do teach us things. I know that I refuse to live in that place of dispair. Being there two days was hard enough. Will I hit another one? Probably so, but even then I won't make it my home. I refuse to take medication to rid myself of the feelings of grief. (Note: this is a personal conviction and not designed to make anyone feel bad if you needed to..... I just know for me, I didn't want to ---- I have tried some vitamins though.) I will be thankful for the people that God has divinely placed in my life for such a time as this. Every day, people minister to me and encourage me. I was used to being the one who encouraged others! Instead it's others who now minister to me. The role reversal is a little hard, but I know God is having to teach me a little about dependence when I've been so independent for so long. My fellow widow-club-mates are such a blessing to me. They are definitely the silver lining to my cloud. I admire them for how far they are on the journey. They encourage me to keep on going. I've learned so much about myself, but I do miss the old girl. She's starting to come back a little bit. :) I've always loved joking and kidding around and laughing, maybe a little too much, but I do hope she comes back eventually. I truly never realized how proud of a person I've been until now. I was surprised by it even, and how much it hurts my heart to really let people in to help. I've reveled in the fact that I could always do anything I wanted to, by myself. Sure, I've worked myself to death trying to accomplish so much, but I've always done well under pressure... until now. I could always see a task that needed to be completed and could methodically complete the task in my mind and then complete it in real life. Now, finding a complete outfit to wear each day is an accomplishment. You know how it felt when you had a new baby? I do. Nursing and changing and holding were the main components of your day but I never felt like I accomplished much. That's what it feels like now too. I got home last night and realized that although I ran payroll yesterday, I failed to send it to the processing company. It's really like I have pregnancy brain! Annabelle had an assignment in her Bible class where she had to tell of a time that she felt God give her peace. Another one she had to tell of a time God showed her provision. Working with her on that assignment, I knew that it was easy for me to answer those questions. His provision is like a lighthouse. When I swiped my card for groceries on Tuesday and it said "accepted" it was a sign of his provision. When I open the mailbox and see I have a card from a family or church, it's a sign of his provision. I know the day will come when I'll open the mailbox and there won't be a card, but until then I'll think of it like the widow who, when she placed her whole trust in God, she checked her oil everyday and everyday she found enough. So today, I know that God has given me enough. I have enough oil to get me through singing at Mike Harris' funeral today. Enough oil to really let people in to help. Enough oil to give me joy... enough for today.
Day 53 - January 26th at 10:16pm
Well, this guy riding his bike up hill was my inspiration today and he didn't even know it! If you could've seen how his calves looked.... wow! They were so tight as he worked unbelievably hard to make his way up that hill! He even had to stand a little just to make it up. But as soon as he got to the top, he began to sail down the hill at record speed. I wanted to give him the thumbs up as I passed him just to say "Way to go buddy! You made it!" And guess what?!? I made it today too! I sang my heart out and ministered to a family who needed to be reminded that God is control, no matter what! ❤️ #intheeyeofthestorm
Nothing beats the thrill of lugging a 50 pound sleeping child from their bed to the minivan so that you can drive 23 minutes one way to pick up your two children from their away basketball game said no mom ever.
Day 55 - January 28th at 8:22am
It’s very humbling to know that in a few hours, friends will come together to raise funds for me and my family. In the past, I would have been the one working along side them to raise funds for the preschool. I had to drop some donations off by there last night and when I pulled in, I saw all these cars and people, some that don't even know me! They were there working, preparing for a successful, profitable day. Truthfully, I wish I was on their side. I wish I was there helping raise funds for another family, or cause, that wasn't for me. But the reality is that I have to take care of my children and they want to do this for me. I have to look at the big picture of what life will be like in 5 - 12 years when I'm putting them through college and making sure they have braces on and clothes to wear as they are all growing so fast. I wish I could see a snippet of what life would be like in the next 5 years. I really do. I'm such a planner that the thoughts of the "what ifs" weighs heavy on my mind. The loss of control that I have felt through all this is very overwhelming. I feel like I'm underwater by 2 inches and I'm struggling to get to the top to breathe again. I've struggled with the desire for newness. I asked my counselor if that would be a permanent change or if I would eventually revert back to my old patterns and she said she has seen it both ways. Something new and fresh feels so inviting..... whether it be new hair or new clothes or a new job or house.... it feels better than something I experienced with Mike. I know each person's grief struggle is unique and based on personalities and preferences, but for me, the world of widowhood is so diverse, that requires a trust in God like has never been required of me before. I don't want to be like the children of Israel, who God provided for daily, but they always questioned if He would really do it "this time." When I read that scripture, I just want to shout at them "Come on!!!! Didn't you just see what God did for you?!?!? Why can't you see it?!?" But aren't we all just like that? We think, Lord, I know you did it then, but are you really going to do it now? For me, I like to know the whole picture. Only having a piece here and there makes me feel stressed. I like looking BACK and seeing how God worked things out to my good, verses anticipating how He will do that for my FUTURE. In some ways, it should be a comfort to know that God will make the decisions for me as He opens doors and closes doors, but part of me desires to hang onto that. So the prayer I'm praying over myself today is that I will be able to place my hopes, dreams, desires and plans into the hands of the Father, knowing that although I don't know the future, He does. I just need to follow Him and draw closer to Him and HE will work all things out for my good.
I think about Ruth so much. She refused to leave her mother-in-law and go back to her home, although her sister in law, another widow, did. As would be customary, Naomi didn't have another son she could offer Ruth to marry, but Naomi knew it was time for her to return home, and Ruth followed. The Lord allowed provision through friends who dropped extra grain so that Naomi and Ruth could be fed. Then at the end of the story, Ruth's widowhood became a testimony of an intentional God who had greatness planned for her as she trusted Him. Through great loss comes a greater platform to share Gods goodness. I know that some of you who read this wouldn't recognize me if we passed each other on the street, and the only reason you're reading it now is because you want to know what I have to say and how I'm coping and how you can pray for me. If Mike hadn't died, that wouldn't have happened. Does it make it worth it? No. Nothing will ever make it worth it for me. But can I find a little joy for the journey in knowing that I'm helping others in their faith walk? Yes. Be blessed today....