Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give Yourself Permission

Last night was a late night.  I knew I'd face some big adjustments coming home from our vacation.  As it turns out, my son rather enjoyed sleeping in the same room with mommy, and decided we should continue it at home.  A three and a half hour battle ensued, after which I was finally victorious; and he fell asleep in his own room.  If I could have turned in a resignation slip on my life, I would have. I was that worn out and frustrated.  I knew at 11:30 pm, that waking my son up for preschool at 7:45 the next morning was going to be a challenge, if not impossible.  When the alarm started going off at 7, I made the decision.  I gave myself permission to forgo our normal schedule and let him sleep in.

Setting aside a schedule? Missing preschool?  Canceling a business meeting? Nine months ago I would never have let myself out of these commitments.  And if I had, I would have beat myself up for days about being irresponsible, wasting money, or being lazy.  Yet over the course of the last year I have learned sometimes I need to give myself permission to back out, for something more important.  After a long and crazy busy week on a cruise, both my son and I were overtired.  And it showed in our emotions and interactions with each other. Add to that the cold we were both fighting, and a little extra sleep was probably the wisest choice.  I wasn't being irresponsible or lazy. In fact I was doing the opposite.  Setting aside a commitment and schedule for our best interest: our emotional, and our physical health, was the right choice.

I give myself permission to rest when I need it. I give myself permission to stay home from events when I need it.  I give myself permission to take extra time for me when I need it.  I give myself permission to recover and to heal!  After all, I just walked out of tragedy, three years worth, and it takes a toll on a person.  I'm in a healing process.  Think about your physical body.  When a muscle is injured, it hurts.  Not just at the moment the injury occurs, but even after.  The mobility and use of that muscle is limited.  The impact of that limitation comes on suddenly, and with time it slowly improves.  But it is gradual and it is a process.  The same applies to tragedy and loss.  When tragedy hit my life, my mobility was impacted dramatically.  And as time goes on the pain subsides, and I begin to regain mobility.  But it doesn't happen overnight.

 I remember vividly the first time I gave myself permission, without feeling any guilt.  It was last May when I was experiencing an emotional meltdown.  I was completely overwhelmed.  I had lost my husband, and repressed my grief.  I was teaching, running a business, and trying to figure out single motherhood.  I was involved in 2 moms groups, and serving weekly in a healing ministry.  It was so much more than I should have been doing, and more than I could handle.  It was the equivalent of running a marathon on a sprained ankle.  My mobility was limited, but I just kept going.  It hurt. And I crashed! I rolled over that Thursday morning as my alarm went off, and I knew I didn't have it in me physically to go to the last moms meeting. So I texted in that I wasn't coming.  I went back to bed without even flinching. Even though I was the leader of that small group, I knew I needed to take care of me at that moment.  And I did.

Since then I've become better at giving myself permission.  I can't say I'm perfect, or that I don't miss opportunities to step back, but I'm better.  Today was one of those days where I did what was right for me, and my son.  And I'm proud of myself for being bold enough to make the call.  I proud that I've learned to give myself permission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Not a Competition

While wading through the crystal blue waters of Roatan, I met a very interesting divorced woman, also a single mother.  We commented on how nicely our children were playing together, and she quickly began telling me her "sob story."  She was a single mom of 4 children, who's ex husband had an affinity for sleeping with younger women while they were married.  It was a sad story.  As we spoke, I shared a just a few details of my story, not really wanting to divulge all the details to a complete stranger in search of their pity.  I'm not really a pity-party kind of girl.  I always end up pulling people out of the pit, instead of crawling in it with them. So right off the bat, this was an odd connection.

Fast forward a few days, to the beach on Cozumel.  This same woman arrives to the beach, shortly after me, along with her friend.  They find a beach chair right next to mine, and we begin chatting.  I begin talking with the friend, while this woman goes off to situate her children.  The friend and I happen to have a few things in common, and so I share a bit of my story with her; my way of saying, "I can relate."  As the woman returns, she comments to her friend, "My story is worse than hers, isn't it?" I couldn't believe it. Did I really just hear those words?  Are we now moving from a sisterhood of women who have "been there, done that", to a competition of whose husband was worse?  This is not a game that I am going to play!  I let the comment slip past, and continued a rather light and fluffy conversation until they left. But that comment has stuck with me since I heard it.  And it definitely rubbed me the WRONG way!

In contemplating that whole situation, I have realized several things.  First of all, the way she presented herself offended me.  It shut me off to her.  It made me feel that she wasn't sharing to relate or help me, but was looking for sympathy, even pity.  It was all about her.  I made a mental note to myself to be careful when I share my story to others to watch my motive, and how I come across.  Do not share for pity.  If I choose to share it should be with a sincere heart, and to glorify God for His faithfulness throughout a horrible situation.  I should always share with the intent of helping the other, not one-upping her.  As God has brought comfort to me in my affliction, now I must bring that comfort to others in theirs.  If I can keep this motive evident in the way I talk with women, then they will receive from me the words which God is placing in me.  They will receive the comfort and God can use me to help them through their time of difficulty.

Second, I realized that regardless of who had been through more drama, or the worst situation, is irrelevant.  Her pain was worse to her because she lived it!  She didn't live my story, so no matter how horrific it was, it wasn't real to her.  No matter who I meet, their story is worse than mine in their eyes, because they lived it.  What an powerful realization! As God continues to bring me before women who are hurting, women who have been abused, and women who have been betrayed I must remember this.  Their reality, to them, is worse than what I have gone through.  I need to talk with and treat them through this light.  It doesn't matter if my situation was worse, they didn't walk mine.  They are walking theirs.  And to them it is their own personal hell.

Finally I learned that we are not in competition.  As women we have a tendency to see each other as competition.  But wounded women shouldn't wound each other.  Instead of competing for pity, attention, or accolades, we should be joining together.  I feel a sisterhood with each widow I meet.  Each woman who has struggled with her husband's addictions, or has been betrayed,  I identify with her.  I want to link arms, walk together, and help her conquer the struggles she faces.  I don't view her as the enemy; someone who could steal my thunder.  But rather, I lay down my story, my attention, for the sake of her victory.  It is my hope that as you read these posts we continue to link arms and walk together.  That as I share my heart and my experiences you find strength and comfort.  That God is binding us together virtually as a sisterhood of women who are conquering the challenges of life.  

I don't want attention.  I don't pity.  I share because I want to help YOU! I want you to know you are not alone.  There is a woman out there who understands.  I get it.  I'm hear to say what you are experiencing is normal! Its part of the process, so keep walking it out! And I tell my story to bring you hope.  What God is doing for me, He will do for you!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Be Aware

My son and I were returning to the ship after a long day at the beach in Grand cayman. As we are sitting aboard the tender, on our 15 minute trip from shore to the boat my son falls asleep. Not just an ordinary mid day nap. No this is the "might as well be dead because no matter what you do I'm laying here... unresponsive" kind of sleep. It wasn't until we arrived along side the ship to embark that I realized the dilemma I now faced. As the boat is violently rocking side to side I debate it my mind how to carry my 34 pound son who is nothing more than deadweight. How am I realistically going to carry him, my purse, beach bag and shopping bag safely out of the boat, up the stairs and over onto our ship without either of us crashing or falling as the boat thrashes side to side? I look around and think to myself,  "I'll wait until it's just about our turn and as I pick him up, juggling his flailing body amongst the bags, someone will notice and offer to help." So as our turn arrived I shuffled him and the bags around, grasping to anything I could reach along the sides of the boat, to keep steady through the waves. 

Now earlier in the day a woman aboard my trip had complimented me on how brave I was for traveling on my own with a 3 year old. I told her that in the past year ive learned to be brave. You either get brave and attempt things on your own or you sit home and miss out. I've decided life isn't gonna stop for my son and I just because it stopped for Jonathan. So challenging, difficult, or even scary at times we are going to enjoy life!  And we did!  We enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach together. 


I've also learned that being a single mom is not in any way easy. Sometimes you can handle all it brings. Othertimes it can be completely overwhelming. I've lost all sense of "superwoman" pride. I don't have to be able to do it all and my own and thats okay. There are going to be times that I need help. It's not a reflection of me. And accepting help when I need is not a sign of weakness as I used to feel. It's a sign of strength. It takes a strong woman to realize her limits and accept the blessings God sends along the way. He didn't create a superwoman. He created a mother to be part of a team, and my design didn't change just because I became widowed. I still need to be part of a team to raise this boy. That hasn't changed, however my "team" has. 

Today I was counting on the kindness of strangers to be my teammate. And I was left dissapointed and frustrated. I stepped cautiously across the ship, my son sagging lower and lower with each step. Eventually I reached the top of the steps unassisted and extremely afraid. Carrying myself across the bridge to the ship without falling would have been an amazing feat. Could no one on board the tender have noticed my struggling and that I was alone? I suppose for a small number that may have been true. But what about the rest? Were they too consumed in their lives to want to interfere?  Perhaps they didn't want to be bothered?  Whatever their reason I was extremely disappointed in my fellow cruisers. Not one person offered to help. That is until I made it over the bridge, through security and baggage scanning. When I arrived in the elevator to head to my room a very young couple in their twenties offered assistance. Which I gladly accepted, although I had already made it through the obstacle course that was the ship re-entry, and was in the home stretch. [I should mention that I did ask for assistance from the crew to cross from the tender to the ship because I was afraid I'd drop him. And the ship staff assisted myself and my son across.]

So what's my point in sharing this story?  It is not meant as a complaint or a way to vent my frustration with the world. Rather it is meant to be a thermometer for us, myself included. Let's not be so consumed with our own life that we miss the opportunities in front of us each and everyday to be Jesus to the world. Open our eyes. Look around. Do u see a single mom in need, balancing a sleeping child and shopping bags?  Offer to help, for likely she is hoping someone will notice her and come to her rescue. Perhaps it's the widow who doesn't now how to prepare her house for winter and needs a helping hand. Maybe it's an older woman at your church who is lonely and longs for an invitation to dinner. Let's open our eyes. Let's be the blessing God sends to those in need. Lets be Jesus to the world! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jonathan-ized

I catch myself at different times saying something I haven't heard in over a year.  And my first thought, "I've been Jonathan-ized."  When someone I cared about betrayed me, my first words were "What a pig-dog!" Yes that was a Jonathan phrase.  Or when I was working hard to paint some rooms in my house, I was "jammin'".   Its those little phrases and actions which are so uniquely him.  And I continue to find them coming out of me, even as time passes.

In a way its really refreshing.  It's a small way that he left his mark on my life.  Its a simple reminder that even though its seems like a different life, lived by a different woman, I really did have him in my life.  Its a reminder that I was once one with another, someone that I loved.

There are other ways he left his finger print on my life, deeper than simple sayings.   Jonathan taught me how to include children into everything we did.  When I married him he had a 5 year old daughter, who quickly became my daughter as well.  And when we had her over the weekends, she was always included in whatever we were doing.  Whether it was raking leaves, making dinner, or painting a room.  We would always simplify the task to include her.  That is something I have carried with me.  When my son expresses interest in making dinner, or helping me paint my bathroom, I make a way for him to help.  Thank you Jonathan for teaching me that.

The biggest life lesson I learned from Jonathan, although it was rather indirect, was to see the best in people.  As I've shared before Jonathan had struggles.  He was emotionally damaged which led to many of the "symptoms" and issues he struggled with in life.  But I never defined him by the issues.  I separated the man from the problems.  That's a very hard thing to do.  But for me, with him, it was easy.  I always saw the best in him.  I always believed he was able, and capable. I knew he was not the man he appeared to be by his actions.  Jonathan taught me how to look past a person's struggles and see the heart of the man inside.  Because of that I can say in confidence he was a good man.  He was so much better than what he settled for in life.  I never stopped doubting, I never stopped believing.  I always hoped he would see what I did, and become the man he was created to be.

Someday when I enter heaven, I am going to meet that man.  I will finally see the man on the outside matching the man I knew to be on the inside.  I'm going to see a man who is free.  He will be emotionally whole: no limits, no chains, no walls.  Its going to be amazing to truly see the man I loved exactly as he maker designed him to be!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Been One Year

Today, November 24th, is the one year anniversary of my husband's passing.  And so today, I want to introduce him to you.  But before I do, there is a song.  This song was on my heart all night as I tossed and turned that night.  I hardly knew it.  And when I awoke and listened to it, God spoke to my heart: This is what Jonathan would tell you today!  You need to know that Jonathan loved the Lord.  But he struggled deeply in this life.  He lived in bondage, and in chains.  And those chains held him back from experiencing the true love of God that He desires for us to know.  This song has continued to bring such healing, peace and confirmation to me throughout the past year.  Because I know that he is finally free!

This is Jonathan's song to me from heaven.  Born Again, Third Day

Friends, I would like to introduce you to my late husband, Jonathan.  Below is his obituary.

Jonathan, age 38, died on Wednesday, November 24, 2010. He  graduated from Ferndale High School. He was the president of Excellent Window Cleaning, in Rochester, Michigan since its formation in 1995. He was passionate about his business and loved the challenge of taking it to new levels. He cared greatly for his employees and partnered with them to succeed in work and in their personal life. He was a leader in the International Window Cleaning Association, having served several terms on the Board of Directors, and most recently served as Secretary. In 2009 he received the Ettore Award for lifetime achievement in the window cleaning industry. Jonathan enjoyed sunset cruises on the boat, and rebuilding classic cars; a 1951 Ford Truck & 1960 MGA. He was a devoted father. He loved the time he had with his children (Shannon, 13; Gabriel 2) and when they were with him the whole world stopped. He would spend hours on the floor playing games or scooping beans with construction tractors. He loved simple walks down the street, and summer trips to Crystal Mountain with his family. He and his wife would enjoy weekend trips to  Lake Michigan, classic car shows, and any adventure they found themselves in. Surviving Wife: Jennifer - they married July 13, 2002 Surviving Children: Shannon and Gabriel 


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Single Mom

Today was a hard day.  Perhaps I'm a little emotionally sensitive with the anniversary around the corner.  Perhaps I'm a little overwhelmed preparing for the trip.  But today was just plain tough!!!  Being a single mom is by far the most difficult side-effect of my late husband's death.  I can deal with the grief.  I can learn how to take care of my car.  I can even assume his duties around the house and at work.  But I can't become a dad.  There is a huge void that was left in our lives, and no matter how hard I try I can not fill that spot. I'm not a dad. I never will be.  I can't be both mommy and daddy.

Single motherhood is hard.  Its challenging.  Its draining. It wasn't my choice.  I have been thrown into it and I'm really trying my best to be a good mom.  But days like today I look at myself and feel like the worst mother in the world. I hate how I had little patience today.  I hate how I couldn't get my 3 1/2 year to comply.  I hate the looks people must have given me as I struggled with him in Kroger.

There is a reason that God required a mom and a dad for a baby to be created.  Because we are not made to do it alone.  That child needs both a mother and a father.  And to be honest, the mom and dad need each other. There is a support, an encouraging, a help and a relief that comes when you parent together.  I don't have that anymore and it breaks my heart.  There is nothing more disappointing than wanting to be the best mom that you can be, to guide, protect and help your son, but because of circumstances you are a substandard mom.  I'm not saying my feelings are realistic, I may be a totally awesome mom in reality, but I don't feel like it.  I know in my gut that I am doing the best job that I can, but I often walk away feeling that I fell short of what I am capable of.  I wonder if other single moms feel that way too.

I'm trying to take one day, one moment, one issue at a time.  I'm trying not to overwhelm myself with the big picture. I'm trying not to blame myself for my son's behaviors and actions.  I'm trying...    I'm trying to lean on God for strength and wisdom.  I'm trying to approach situations differently with him when something isn't working.  I'm trying to stop and enjoy the simple moments with him.  I'm trying....  I'm trying to be more patient.  I'm trying not to react in frustration.  I'm trying to hug and cuddle and love him more.  I'm trying....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big Shoes to Fill

One year ago, I walked into the office, as the guys were sitting at the table getting ready for their daily routes to start.  Their eyes fixed on me.  I'm sure their minds immediately began to race about all the possibilities, trying to figure out why I had come that day.  And to make it worse, I came alone.  I was not a usual fixture at the office.  I was not an employee, and the only time I came around was to see my husband.  But that day I entered, alone.  And he wasn't there.  I wonder if they knew.  I imagine my face must have shared some hidden secrets.  Maybe it was the tear stains, the impression of sadness, or the dullness of shock.  Looking into my eyes as I approached the table full of young men, what did they see?  Redness, puffiness, despair, unbelief?

Jonathan living his dream!
I don't even remember what I said to them.  How do you tell a room full of men who respect, honor and love their boss that he died of a drug overdose?  How do you comfort a room full of strangers?  How do bring news of ultimate sadness, shock and waste, and expect them to continue on their day as normal?  I can't tell you how, I just did.  And then sent them all off to work, because that is what Jonathan would have done.  After all there was no excuse not to work.

The guys at work were his family.  And throughout the funeral process we treated them as such.  They had reserved seating, they helped select items to display at the funeral, and they were the pall bearers.  We even had one of our work trucks in the procession.  They loved Jonathan.  He was their boss, their friend, and their big brother.  As one employee told me, "He was the best boss we've ever had." Watching him fall apart was just as hard on them, as it was on me.  And his death shook their world.

So when God told me to keep the business, I was intimidated.  I knew I had BIG shoes to fill.  They adored Jonathan, and they had this bond that I can't even explain.  He knew how to build a culture in that company which causes employees to spend their own money to buy each other logo apparel.  Really? Who besides the owner does that?  He knew how to get them invested in the company.  And he was an amazing business man. He was smart.  He had a system and a procedure for each part of the business.  He had a strategic plan that worked.  He was a national example and leader in the industry.  At the national convention people would seek him out for advice and information.  How could I ever compare to that?

Jonathan hard at work.
I quickly realized I couldn't compare to Jonathan.  I couldn't fill his shoes.  I couldn't replace him.  No one could.  And recognizing that set me free.  So as I entered in the office the first day as the new boss, I said "I may not be Jonathan but I'm a lot cuter!" And from that moment I set aside intimidation and put on confidence.  I have gifts and skills which make me a great leader.  They aren't the same strengths and gifts that Jonathan had, and that's okay.  I simply need to be the best leader I can be, and just be me!

I'm true to who I am and its working.  The pieces I bring to the leadership of the business were greatly needed.  My team has welcomed me with open arms, and together we are forging a new future for the company.  What Jonathan started, we are continuing. And we are now the heart and soul of the company.  When I first started I would say, "this isn't my passion.  It was his."  But today I can no longer say that.  I love what I am doing.  I love working with an amazing team of sharp, dedicated, and talented young men.  And somehow the business has become a part of me.

Lately I've been wishing that I had something very special of Jonathan's to remember him by.  Something that was important to him that I could keep.  And I realize that I do.  Its not tangible. I can't hold it or put it in a drawer.  Rather its a place that I go, its a team I work with which he assembled and developed, its a vision we all work towards.  I have his most precious possession with me always, his business.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Regrets

Its been a year since he died.  It feels like forever!  I've been doing a lot of reflecting.  I've been seeking closure.  I've been healing.  One of the things I've had to deal with is regrets.  I think everyone who loses a loved one deals with regrets.  And while I can't go back and change a thing, I still carry these around with me.

Regrets
1. That I stopped saying I love you
2. That I gave away his things to quick
3. That I don't have his Bible
4. Not having anything prepared in the event of his death
5. Putting pressure on myself to do it all and not taking time off of work to heal
6. Denying my need to heal
7. That his life was cut short, and wasted

These are my regrets. As I continue to walk out this healing,  I'm sure there will be more.  I made some mistakes.  I did things that were right at the time, but after his death, I wish I had done differently.  But in all fairness I did a lot of things right.  There are a lot of things which may not have been the easy road, but they were the right road.  Here's my list, the things I don't regret.

What I don't regret
1. Taking a stand for my son and myself
2. Honoring him as my husband at funeral
3. Keeping his personal issues private
4. Marrying him
5. Staying when everyone around me said to leave
6. Loving him
7. Doing everything I could to save him

And there are probably more of these too.  The further away I get from his death, the more I process what happened.  I've been through almost every difficult situation a married woman could face.  And it takes time.  It takes time to process, to understand, to reflect and to heal.  I'm grateful God has given me the time to do so. I'm grateful He led me to start blogging- sharing my personal journal with the world.  Because had I not done so, my journal would have gone unwritten. Leaving me with a shallow and slow healing,  and holding back the opportunity to touch the world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Proactive Distraction

Some of the best advice I received from my counselor in the weeks following Jonathan's death was to be proactive about the holidays.  Since he died on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years were right around the corner.  And without a plan they were sure to feel like salt in our open wound of death.  She said not to wait and see what would happen on the holidays, but to make a plan, perhaps even go out of town.  It was great counsel, and I followed.  My son and I went away over New Year's to an indoor waterpark and had the best New Year's Celebration I can remember!

Since the approach worked so well for New Years, and even our wedding anniversary I figured a little proactive distraction would be perfect for this first year anniversary.  I really didn't want to face being in our home, where he died on the day he died.  It seems a little overwhelming for me.  In addition family holidays are not the same.  Not only has Jonathan left a hole, but out of the 8 family members that were regulars, 4 have passed away in the past 2 years, including my sister last spring.  So the 4 of us staring at each other, with empty spots at the table just isn't appealing. Its time to start making some new traditions.

Our new Thanksgiving tradition is skip town and head to the Caribbean.  That's right, this year I will be sailing aboard a cruise ship over Thanksgiving.  I anticipate this will help me to walk through the first anniversary a little easier.  In no way to expect it to take the hurt, pain, or sadness away from the anniversary date.  I know I will still feel those things.  Perhaps my parents and I will have a conversation about him.  Maybe I will order steak that night in his memory, or even play a hand of texas hold 'em in his honor.  I am sure in some way I'm going to commemorate the day.  But having somethings to look forward to, instead of dread, are going to make the day bearable.

I'm curious to see how I handle cruising without him.  We had gone on 2 previous cruises, both with my parents.  And now hear I am ready to embark on a caribbean exploration without him.  I wonder if visiting Islands we had previously been to together will bring back memories.  Much like walking into Lelli's Restaurant brought me to tears so unexpectedly last fall on my dad's birthday.  Everywhere I looked I saw him, we had many memories in that restaurant, and it showed on my face the moment I entered.  Will that happen on the ship?  Will I remember the stair way where we took pictures? Will I be saddened swimming in the pool without him?  What will I feel as I pass by pirate themed merchandise on the Islands, or walk past a cigar shop?  They are all memories of him and our previous trips.

I hope that as I venture on this trip that I will remember him.  I hope that I will be able to, for a moment, forget the hurt, pain and frustration of the last few years and remember a different man and a different time.  I want to remember how in love we were on that first cruise.  I need to recall the fun adventures we found on the ship.  I think that I need to remember those times.  I believe it is part of my healing.

I believe that God has a plan for this trip, and He has healing on His mind.  I know He is going to get me through the anniversary day, and it is going be beautiful. Instead of sitting home and inviting overwhelming grief, we are going to be walking the sand beaches of Mexico.  We are going to be reflecting on this past year.  We are going to be remembering Jonathan.  We are going to be sad.  But we will be together.  And we will be okay!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

At All Times

I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually fill my mouth. Psalm 34:1.  In the past I read this verse and I understood it as always be praising God.  Like the old song says, "Praise Him in the morning, Praise Him in the noontime."  And I do believe it means that.  But after you've experienced a tragedy in your life: the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a betrayal, losing a job, this scripture takes on a much deeper meaning.

Praise God at all times.  Praise Him when your marriage is strong, and praise Him when its not!  Praise Him when you find out your pregnant, and when you can't conceive.  Praise Him when you can hold your husband in bed at night, and when you have to leave his body in the ground.  At every stage of life, in every situation, we are to Praise God.

Why does He want us to do that?  Doesn't He know how frustrated and angry we are when facing a tragedy?  Yes He does.  And He even understands your questioning.  But God is not the problem, He is the answer.  When we praise Him we are admitting to the fact that yes life sucks right now, but God you are bigger than this problem.  You still love me! Your love for me didn't stop the day this tragedy happened.  And you have a way to turn this around for good (Romans 8:28).  When we magnify God, He becomes bigger in our eyes, and the problem becomes smaller.  We give Him the place He deserves, Lord of our life.  When we praise Him in the good, bad, and ugly times of life, we are building our hope in an unchanging God.  He is good!  He is always good! And I trust Him.

Anyone can praise God when things are going well.  When you move into your dream house, when you get a promotion, when you meet and marry the man of your dreams.  But the true test of our faith and trust in God comes in the hardest of times.  Can you praise God when your spouse betrays you, when you live in the hell created by a loved one's addictions, and when you walk into an empty house the day of the funeral knowing you will never see his face in this world again.  Can you praise God then?  

God you are faithful! You have good plans for me!  You make me an overcomer! You are good.  God you work things out for me because I love you and am called according to your purpose.  You are my Healer.  You are healing my heart.  You are taking away this sorrow! You are my comfort!  I turn to you Father.  I know you love me! I know you love me! I know you love me!  And I love you too!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Different Faces of Loss

Loss has so many angles to it.  Its a complex creature.  When I buried my husband last November, a significant part of my life died.  He was not only my husband, he was my provider.  He was my friend.  He was my children's father. He was a businessman, and a boss.  He had so many different roles and I believe each one must be grieved and healed.

Mourning my protector:
I've been writing a lot lately about being alone.  I've been taking many different adventures on my own- traveling to Indianapolis for the Monumental Half Marathon, heading into downtown Detroit for  The Call, or just going out to dinner by myself.  The desire to take these risks, and the victory that comes with each feat, is proof that I have healed over the loss of my protector.  I didn't even realize he was, until I felt that void.  I needed to grieve for my protector. And now that I'm independent, I recognize that void has been healed.

Mourning my children's father:
I vividly remember one Sunday morning at church when I couldn't stop crying.  All I could think about was my son and the fact that he didn't have a dad.  That truth had been reality for well over 6 months, but that morning the reality hit me.  Grief does that.  You'll be fine for months, then out of no where you have this thought and its as if its the first time you ever had it.  "He's really gone."  Thats what happened that morning.  And I wept at the altar.  I wept for my son. I carried his loss.  And then I prayed.  I prayed for God to heal my son's heart.  That God would be the Daddy he needed until his "new daddy" came. And I prayed for that new daddy. I asked God to give me wisdom, and patience to allow the right man into my son's life.

I have mourned for him.  I have mourned my husband. I have mourned my friend. I have mourned my marriage.  I have mourned my children's father. I have mourned my protector, and my provider.  Most of all I have mourned the life that was needlessly cut short. I find great sorrow in the wasted life.  And I trust God to help me overcome that.  I know I can lay that sorrow, hurt and grief at the foot of the cross.  For he promised to turn my mourning into dancing, and my sorrow into joy! (Psalm 30:11, Jeremiah 31:13)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Single Again!

Single-Again.  Its a term I've come up with to describe those of us who having been married, now find ourselves single.  Its a very weird, very uncomfortable place.  Because you have been married, you are in a very different place than those who have remained single.  Which is why I created a special term to describe it.  

Singles know who they are.  They have always been the same person.  Single-again people however change.  When we were single, we were completely ourselves, our likes, hobbies, beliefs, and routines.  Then we got married.  And in marriage, you can't remain yourself and survive.  There is a blending, a melding together that happens.  God describes it as "the two become one flesh."  Thats exactly what happens.  We start with MY way, and YOUR way, and in the end we have OUR way.  We develop a way of life together, with a blended routine, blended likes, and blended hobbies.  We take on a new identity, and it fits in that married life.

On the day my husband died, that married life ended.  And so did that blended woman.  I am no longer blended with my husband, so the things which defined me in that relationship no longer fit.  The hobbies we had together, I no longer enjoy as I once did. The routines we had as a family changed.  And I am not that single woman I was 9 years ago either.  Both of those definitions of Jennifer have ceased to be.  So who am I now if I am not the women I once was?

Enter redefinition.  Yes there is a season of redefining yourself which happens when you are single-again.  You have to relearn yourself.  And you find that who you are is not who you were, and probably not who you thought you'd be.  I've found it hard to answer some of the simplest of questions: what are your hobbies? What pastimes do you enjoy?  As I mutter through a bunch of ummms, I realize I have no concrete answer.  "I don't know"is the best answer I can provide.  

Redefining yourself is a glorious experiment.  Its the opportunity to step out in ways you never before have.  Its the chance to try things you never may have.  The box in which you resided is torn apart, and while that feels scary and vulnerable, you are free! You are free to run out of the box in whatever direction you choose.  I have grown as a person in this season of redefinition.  I am not the woman I once was.  Just like the latest box of Tide detergent, I'm new and improved.  In all honesty very little has changed, just a slight adjustment, but the results are more powerful!

The new and improved Jennifer is a runner!  She enjoys traveling on her own to different destinations to run 13.1 miles, just to get a little race bling!  She's independent, confident, healthier and skinnier.  The new and improved Jennifer is a passionate worshipper.  She has broken out of her box of intimidation and public approval and freely worships God as if no one is watching.  She's madly in love with Her Jesus, and is experiencing Him tangibly, and hearing His voice as never before.  The new and improved Jennifer is a blogger.  She writes each night of the struggles, emotions, events, victories and struggles she has faced.  She shares her heart with a world full of strangers.  She's comforted, encouraged, and strengthened by the simple act of journaling.

It's time to let go of the past, and recognize that while being single-again feels like a wet sock, it is a beautiful season.  A season of unlimited potential; full of adventure.  Embrace your singleness.  Let God redefine you into the new and improved version.  You may just find, like that box of Tide, that you like the results!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Call Detroit

This past weekend over 35,000 Christians came to Ford Field in Detroit for a 24 hour fast and prayer meeting.  Despite my intense desire, I was very hesitant to go .  God has been helping me to understand my limitations, which are so different now as a single widowed mom.  I tend to act on my past capacity, and think I can handle much more than I can.  I commit, and I overbook myself.  Then I am drained, tired, and full of regret.  It happens enough times, and you begin to hear God's voice saying, "did you ask me about this?"

As The Call approached I knew I wanted to participate but I didn't want to over do it.  I was sensitive to the fact that I need to have enough energy left after the event to parent my son.  I knew it would be best to go just Friday evening. It was a hard decision, and I used a lot of restrain to stick to that commitment.

Another journey of the "alone" season began, as I hopped in my car and headed down to Detroit, all on my own.  Another big task. I'm a suburbs kind of girl, not used to the city, and I hardly ever go down there, even with someone.  I basically had never been to Ford Field and didn't have much clue where I was going beyond simple directions from a friend.  Just like every time God has led me to take a step, He was there to meet me.  And on my own I drove into Detroit, parked and walked 3 blocks to Ford Field.  Yes! A victory! I conquered that dependency giant.

God is developing an independency in me that I've never experienced before.  I'm pulling back from my dependency on others, whether it be a husband, or a friend, and I'm becoming independent of people.  The more independent I become, the more dependent on God I really am.  As I pull away from other's support, help, guidance, I learn to trust more and more in God.  And he meets me each step of the way.

It was best said by the stranger who stood next to me at The Call, "Your here alone?  Your so brave!"  Funny I never saw it like that. Its just become my life: doing everything on my own.  No longer does the in availability of a friend stop me from doing what I desire to do.  I not only drove to The Call alone, but I spent 6 hours there by myself, just enjoying God.  And I find that I am actually free to worship Him more sincerely when I'm on my own.  At the beginning of my blogging journey I dreaded being alone, but I have now come to embrace it and enjoy it.

God did several things in me during this fast and prayer meeting.  First of all, He made a way for me to return to the call for another 7 hours on Saturday. Which of course meant I had to drive down to Detroit alone, again. I even got lost twice on my way home in the city.  And I survived! While at the meeting God  spoke several things to my heart.  He reassured me that His promise for me still is true regarding my future and that I can trust Him!  Finally, He confirmed the private details He's been showing me about my calling from the platform through a nationally know minister.

Once again, the adventures of my weekend drove me deeper into my sole dependency on God.  It showed me what I'm made of, and how with God all things are possible.  Yes this girl who was once afraid to stay home alone overnight, is now facing the dependency giant, and slaying it!  God is giving me opportunity to face every intimidation, and empowering me to conquer. Nothing will have a hold on me!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Positive Focus

As most of you know, the one year anniversary of my late husband's death is quick approaching.  He died the day before Thanksgiving last year, and this year it actually falls on Thanksgiving.  I was really concerned about how hard this month was going to be, especially when the 1st of November was so tough.  But I've been doing extremely well, considering it all.  I'm not saying I haven't had moments of emotion, or that I haven't grieved, I have.  But overall I've been emotionally stable, and full of more joy than I expected.  I believe its for one reason: I have had positive things to focus on!

I thank God for getting me into running, and stirring my heart to run a half marathon before the one year mark.  It has been probably the biggest focus of my life for the past few weeks.  If you didn't read the blog "The Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon" you don't know what an amazing weekend it was, or how healing that 13.1 mile accomplishment was for me.  That race was so much more than just that weekend.  Its been a focus, something which is consuming a decent amount of time in training daily.  And even though its over, I still revel in the glory of that moment!  It has been a source of positive thoughts, positive actions, and positive emotions.

I also have my focus on working on a schedule during the day with my son, which I wrote about in "Time to Stop Reacting". This has set my mind on what we are supposed to be doing during the day: staying on a schedule, spending quality time with my son, and being proactive in completing tasks I need to complete.  I've been alert and aware of these things all through out our day.  And its been extremely rewarding.  I feel accomplished because of the amount of tasks I can check off, I'm appreciating my son more and the time we spend together. The structure has helped my son's behavior to improve dramatically, which has reduced my frustration and brought a greater satisfaction when interacting with him.


Finally another major focus of my time is the classes which I am taking for Rochester Ministry Training Institute.  I have 3 classes which require outside reading and homework.  And the content of these classes is so rich.  I'm flooding my head with new levels of understand of God, His Word, and the way ministry works.  


Since I have so many positive focuses in my life, the majority of my time is spent focused on positive: what I have, what God's showing me, and preparing for my future.  The beauty of a positive focus is that it keeps the negative thoughts away.  You can't be positive and negative at the same time.  By filling my life with things that are rewarding, valuable, exciting and positive, I am giving my emotions a heading. Much like a ship sets sail knowing what direction it needs to be going to reach its final destination, positive thoughts and activities set the course for my emotions.  


I wish I could say I was smart enough to think of this on my own and plan it on purpose.  But its God's leading that helped me to plan this month in a way that I would dictate its direction, instead of it dictating me.  I've had hard moments: moments of regret, sadness and grief.  but they have been just that: moments.  I know I'm barely half way through the month, and the anniversary date is still ahead, but I know that with the focus I've had, I will be able to handle what still awaits me.


God reminds us in Phillipians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."  And I would add, participate in these things.  For God has said that as we think, so we will become.  So if I think on positive events, instead of dwelling on and mulling over the negative one, which I can't change anyway, I will become positive.


I challenge you today, what negative event are you focusing on? Stop!  Plan some positive activities and thoughts into your life.  Your focus will shift and you will experience peace, even in the midst of challenges.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seems Like an Odd Time

I am taking a marriage class. "Really?" I ask myself,  "Now?  Isn't this the absolute oddest time for me to take a marriage class?"  And its not because I'm single.  Before I was married, or even dating, I took a marriage class, and it was extremely beneficial.  It helped me to learn quite a few things I didn't know about Christian marriage.  I took another marriage class with my husband during the course of our marriage.  And I even went through almost a year's worth of marriage counseling.  All that was amazing, and very appropriate.  But now I am a widow. I'm purposely not dating right now.  And I am still healing from the loss of my husband, and the issues which we had to face during those last 3 difficult years.  

It doesn't make any sense to me in the natural that I would find my self at this stage in life taking a marriage class.  But God's timing and God's plan doesn't always make sense to us.  Sometimes it does feel a little awkward to be in a marriage class after just losing a spouse. But even as I am sitting here writing this I am realizing how amazingly appropriate it is.  

My husband and I had been through some very difficult times, and through that season of reconciling we attended amazing marital counseling.  After going through that type of situation and seemingly making it through, you think you know a thing or two about marriage.  To be honest, I learned a lot about marriage in that season, which is going to tremendously bless my next one, when the Lord brings it.  But you almost feel like you know it all; after all we reconciled after a tremendous blow to our marriage.  I forgave, I accepted, I did everything right.  "I don't need a marriage class, not now." Between all my experience, previous knowledge gained, and the fact that I am not pursuing a relationship right now, the topic of "marriage" just doesn't entice.  Don't misunderstand me here, I am not saying I'm an expert on marriage, but I did feel very confident that I have a good handle on the topic.  After all I lived it.  But I humbled myself to the schedule set before me for my ministry school and I am taking the class.

I expected the class would confirm somethings which I've already learned.  And I expected to learn a few new things as well, that I could put in my back pocket and save for the future.  I expected to feel uncomfortable and awkward at times.  But what I didn't expect was the healing that God would bring through this class.  This healing is two fold: understanding and confirmation.

I'm receiving some very in depth understanding about my late husband.  God is revealing layers of him.  There were external characteristics he had, which I could easily recognize and associate with difficulties in our marriage.  But God is now peeling those layers back, and helping me to understand why he was that way.  This weeks class really helped me have insight into him, and the more insight I get, the more peace I have.  Its as if I'm getting little slices of closure.  There were several things which I began to really understand, and I'd like to share one of them with you.

The topic was esteeming your spouse.  The main point for the first half of class was how you can't give what you don't have.  If you don't esteem or value yourself you won't be able to give it to your spouse, and you won't receive it when your spouse gives it to you.  One of the hardest things I struggled with in  our marriage was his inability to give and receive love.  It took me years to accurately identify it.  It was extremely frustrating.  I would tell him what an amazing business man he was, or how smart he was, or how I admired him for working so hard for our family.  And he would literally reject it.  It wasn't a fake, "no I'm not" to encourage me to say more.  It was much deeper.  He would feel that I was being condescending to him.  He couldn't receive the sincerity of what I was telling him.  And tonight I understood finally why.  He didn't see it.  

He was surrounded by hurt his whole life that when genuine (me) came along he didn't understand it.  Its sad that he never saw himself the way I did.  In one of our last good conversations I told him that.  I told him that even though I believed in him, it wasn't enough.  That he needed to believe in himself.  Despite the best counseling, and the availability of God's love, he never overcame that negative self opinion.  And it is what destroyed him in the end.  But here's the healing or closure I received tonight: My husband wasn't rejecting me when I'd esteem and honor him, he was rejecting himself.  I also had a fresh reminder that yes my husband did love me.  He just wasn't able to express it to me because he didn't love himself.  You can't give what you yourself don't have.

There is also the healing God is bringing by confirming my actions.  I am not perfect, nor was I a perfect wife.  But I always tried my best.  I was teachable, and would always adjust myself for his needs.  In our difficult times, I did all I could to try to make it work.  I followed the strategies given by our counselor, I listened to what my husband needed of me, and I gave grace, grace, and more grace.  I gave second chances. I gave forgiveness.  I let go of my offenses.  I closed the door on the past and I gave our marriage a new start.  But in the end it didn't save our marriage.  We had a little over a year where it seemed like we had made it.  However, the months before he died our marriage literally was falling apart.   He fell back into some of the destructive behaviors he struggled with, some to my knowledge and some I wasn't aware of.  Then he died.  Had he not, our marriage would have ultimately failed, he just died before it officially could.  

But by sitting in this marriage class, each week God reaffirms me.  As the material is taught I am reminded that I did these things!  I fulfilled my role as wife, with a pure and loving heart.  I did what God expects a wife to do.  I did it in the good times.  I did it in the bad times.  I did it in the really, really bad times.  And I did it when he died.  It wasn't dependent on Jonathan's behaviors, it was dependent on the fact that he was my husband and for that reason alone he deserved it.  It wasn't easy, but I did it!  And God is pleased with me for always honoring my husband.

As I sit in this marriage class I'm being healed.  God is confirming to me that I did all He expected of me as Jonathan's wife, and that I did it well.  I'm grateful for God reminding me I was a good wife.  I'm receiving His pleasure in me, and it heals my heart.  He's helping me to understand the deep inner workings of my late husband, and it frees me.  It releases me from hurt, from questions, and from blame.  It reassures me that he did love me.  So while this may be the most awkward time ever to take a marriage class, I'm so glad I am.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Changed

There is something about experiencing a tragedy that changes you.  Its not necessarily a bad change, but its change nonetheless.  I have experienced two major "moments" in life which caused a season of rediscovery:  realizing who I am, what I enjoy, and why I believe what I believe.  Those two events were the major shake-up in the foundation of my marriage, and 2  years later the loss of my husband.


The change happens differently for each person.  It could be a change in your physical appearance, your style, your hobbies, how you spend your time, even your beliefs.   When we encounter tragedy our life changes in such ways that certain pieces no longer fit in our new lives.


I've felt this very recently as I've been beginning to make new friends. People will ask me what I like to do for fun.  And I sit there and have to really think about that.  That is not a normal response.  I'm sure when I mentioned that question you immediately had 3-4 past-times hit your brain, automatically without the need to think about it.  But not me.  See 2 years ago, had I been asked that question I would have said: scrapbooking, boating, taking walks as a family, and trips to the west side of the state.  All those activities were things I enjoyed, and most of them were done with my husband.  But today none of those activities are things that I do.  It doesn't mean I no longer enjoy them, because I would.  But they do not fit into my new life.  


Scrapbooking was my passion for 10 years.  But now, I simply don't have the time, the energy or the emotional determination to plan and craft a detailed scrapbook page.  I have no interest in it whatsoever.  As for boating, traveling to the west side of the state, and family walks, well... those were things Jonathan loved and enjoyed, and I don't find the same satisfaction in them I once did.  Really they were his interests which became our activities.


With the lose of a spouse, or even the lose of a marriage to divorce, there is an additional death which occurs.  Part of you dies with them.  And what is left is different.  You will never be that same person that you once were.  That life you had is over and done.  But the part of you that dies, leaves room for new life to spring forth.  Your life changes, and again, it isn't always for the worst.  "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives." John 12:24 (NLT)  


When that seed of our old life dies, what springs forth is a fresh new opportunity.  There are so many wonderful things I am doing right now that I would never have experienced had my husband not passed away.  First of all, I am running his business, and I am loving it! I can't describe the passion that is building in me for this company, and primarily the staff that works in it.  I am constantly challenged and am honored to lead some of the most dedicated and driven men.  I get to support them as they succeed and its so rewarding.  I have also started running, which if you follow my posts you know the amazing healing impact it has had on my life.  I'm in the best physical shape of my life, I'm losing weight, and I'm accomplishing difficult goals.  Finally, I'm blogging.  I am not a writer by nature.  I've never enjoyed writing or been particularly good at it.  But blogging creates such an amazing platform for healing.  Not only my personal healing, but to use my life as an inspiration to others. My heart is to become active in God's calling for my life: to reach women and I recognize that this blog is already touching women I don't even know, and may never meet.


When Jonathan died, a part of my life died with him.  The woman I was on November 24, 2010 is not the same woman I am today.  My old life was buried with him, and everyday I am discovering new trails along the "new life" path.  Its confusing, its exciting, its refreshing.  I'm rediscovering "Jenn":  Who I am, what I enjoy, and what God wants to do in and through me.  I'm not sad for the part of me that has died and been sown into the ground, because I know it will bring forth something great! Sometimes you lose a part of who you were, to make room for who you will become!  I'm not afraid for the future.  For I know God has promised to take me from glory to glory!  He has said that no matter how wonderful my yesterdays were, my tomorrows are going to be even more amazing!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When the day comes

Everyone one of us will encounter one of those days. Its the kind of day that shapes your life, you remember the most odd details from that day.  I remember where I was when the space shuttle challenger blew up.  I remember what I was doing, what I was wearing, and who first told me about the attack on the Twin Towers.  From my own personal life I also have a vivid recall of the blue shiny jammies I wore at age 5 when my dad moved out.  I clearly remember the date 1/26/09, the day my whole life as it was started crumbling.  And on 11/24/2010 when I got "the call" at 5:15 in the morning that my husband had an accident and was in the ER.  Its days like that which impact your life in such tremendous ways.  You almost never see them coming, and it seems as though there is no time to prepare.

One of the great lessons God showed me this weekend was the importance of training.  Come along on a journey with me, and you'll see how it all fits together to those days described above.  I had a "big day" this past weekend, it was the day I ran my first half marathon.  Thats 13.1 miles for you non-runners.  I'd say that's a major life shaping event which I will never forget.  But it didn't start on Saturday.  It started 2 months prior, when I went out and took my first run in preparation.  I was preparing for the big day- even though I didn't even know when or where I was racing.  I went out for 3 strengthening runs each week, starting at 3 miles and increasing up to 5 miles.  I even worked harder by taking my son along with me in the jogging stroller.  During these runs I built capacity, strength, and determination.  Every Saturday I went out for a long run, starting at 4 miles and ending at 9.  I built endurance, I saw my speed increase without effort, I learned to encourage myself when I got tired, I broke every personal record, and I built my ability with a few hills.

This training period lasted for 7 weeks.  It slowly built up my body and muscles to handle a 13.1 mile run.  It got my heart in shape, where I could run over 2 hours, and not lose my breath.  It helped me build confidence and more importantly endurance.  I learned how to work with my body to go the distance.  I was able to try out different methods: pacing, what to eat, what to drink, etc.  When race day came, I was ready.  I was confident.  I knew I was prepared, and that I was going to cross that finish line.  I knew my running well enough that I was able to set and meet a reasonable goal of under 3 hours.

As I ran, I knew the impact my training had on me.  When I passed the 9 mile marker, and I wasn't out of breath or even remotely tired, I knew it was the training kicking it.  When other people started slowing down, and taking more walk breaks, I kept going steady as can be.  I actually had a slightly faster pace the last half of the race, than the first.  I knew when to drink and when not too.  I was completely sure I was going to make it.  And to be honest, while it wasn't "easy", its wasn't a struggle either.  Don't get me wrong, running 13.1 was hard, but because I trained for 2 months and my body was ready I never had a moment of "I can't do it", "I have to walk", or "I just wanna die!".  That didn't happen to me.  After 9 miles I started counting down miles and encouraging myself. I knew I could do it, and mentally it was a very easy sell, because of the training.

Life is exactly the same way.  Remember those days we mentioned before? We are all gonna have them.  Maybe its the day a loved one dies, or you or your spouse lose a job.  Maybe its the day that someone you love receives a horrible diagnosis, or you have a break in a close relationship.  Life is hard, and it happens to everyone.  It seems like it happens out of no where, and you feel unprepared.  But that is not the truth.

We all have a "training" season in life.  Its the good times.  Its when everything is going well.  And how we "train" determines how the event effects us.  I trained for the half marathon and when the day came I conquered.  I was a victor.  I came through it without injury or harm. I came out stronger!  Imagine if I hadn't trained, how different that day would have been.  I wouldn't have finished.  I could've been injured or even died.  I would have left feeling like a failure and a defeat.  I would have said that a half marathon is just too big of an obstacle for me.

So the day my world fell apart, when my husband confessed his secret life to me, or the day he died, I was prepared.  I had been training.  I have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Everyday I spend time with Him.  I read the Bible, I pray, and I worship Him.  Training. When I encounter challenges, even the small ones, I seek Him.  When I read the Bible, it shows me how to live, and I choose to follow those ways.  Training. I sing praise and worship songs to Him, and I thank Him for what He has done in my life.  I attend a church that teaches me how to live, and gives me a personal encounter with His presence.  Its all training.

People would tell me through the funeral process, and even now, "You are so strong".  And I respond, "I'm not.  I'm a girl who knows how to connect with God."  And its true.  Because of my "training" time, I am able to walk through this season knowing I can do it, knowing I won't fail, breathing comfortably because I've set my pace right.  I know I'll cross the finish line, and I'm counting down the miles.  I'm not in a state of despair, or  injured beyond repair.  I'm putting one foot in front of the other saying, "Go on Jenn, 3 more miles.  You can do this!"  I'm not saying its been easy and it hasn't hurt.  It has hurt, more than I hope any of you will ever experience.  But when the day came,  I was prepared.

These days, difficult life events, will come.  But its the training you do now which will determine how you come through this: victor or victim.  I've decided I'm crossing the finish line and I'm gonna receive my medal. I'm gonna let this experience make me stronger,  How about you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon

This weekend was the most amazing weekend of my life! It all started about 2 months ago with an invitation to run a half marathon in San Antonio with Dave Ramsey and his team.  When I got the email something in me stirred.  Even though I just began running I had this pull... and when I saw the date was 12 days before the one year anniversary of my husband's death, the pull became stronger.  I thought, I've just walked through one of life's hardest experiences and how awesome would it be to do something so amazing within the first year?  Yes I need to do this! I need to run a half marathon before the one year mark.  While many people do things like this in some one's memory, for me it was quite different.  I had to do this for me.  I had to show myself that I can make it through difficult situations. (For more on why I ran the half marathon see the post "I have to do this" from October.)

So I started training, 8 weeks ahead of time.  At the 4 week mark I realized it would be a poor financial decision to fly to Texas to run the half marathon.  I resolved that I couldn't go.  The disappointment was overwhelming, but I pressed through, deciding to keep training anyway.  I specifically remember where I was on the trail on my 6 mile run when I decided I have to do this.  And I started praying for God to make a way.  The following week I found a closer race that fit my "deadline", the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon.  It was a lengthy drive, but close enough to make it fit the budget.  So I cut another week off the training plan, and committed.

About 2 weeks before the race I started asking some girl friends to come along.  Each one I asked wasn't able to.  It was then I had this gut feeling the that I was supposed to do it alone.  I continued to ask friend after friend, and each time they couldn't go, I knew in my heart that's how it was supposed to be. For some reason God was telling me, through the "No's" and in my heart, "go it alone girl!"  So that's exactly what I did.  Now let me preface this by saying I was married for almost 9 years.  My husband was an organizer, a planner, and took really good care of me.  I always felt safe when he was there.  When we went somewhere, he drove.  He made hotel reservations, printed maps, etc.  So for almost a decade I'd followed his lead.  So driving 6 hours to a new city, staying overnight in a hotel, running a half marathon and driving home the same day, was a pretty new experience for me!

Friday I arrived in Indianapolis and I walked from the hotel, several blocks, to the expo for check in.  I had no idea where I was, and little idea where I was going.  I was all alone, a young woman, on the streets of this strange downtown city.  Not at all a scene I've lived out before.  On my way back, as I looked up at the high rise buildings, my head held high, heels clicking on the side walk, I smiled with such a confidence and satisfaction.  At that moment I thought, look at me... I'm alone, I'm comfortable, I'm content, and I'm "making it happen" (as Jonathan would have said).  A new level of independent confidence hit me.  I was having a great time, and I was all alone.  For a social person this sounds like an oxymoron.  But it was true.  The whole day I had accomplished some pretty significant tasks, and the race hadn't even started yet.

Fast forward to the next morning- 36 degrees, or so, at the start line, I'm standing there ready to go.  An excitement fills my heart that I can't explain.  I've worked hard, I've committed, I've trained.  And now I'm ready.  Let's get this party started!

My first goal was to finish under 3 hours, that's 13.1 miles running at a pace of 13:44.  I knew I could comfortably run faster than that pace, but hadn't run past 9 miles... ever! So I decided to run at 13:30 for my pace, because I knew I could do it very comfortably.  Then if I had extra energy I would speed up at the end.  My second goal was to finish... and finish without walking.  One thing I learned during my training was if I paced myself right, and could breathe comfortably I really can go the distance.  I think endurance is my strength.  I'm not the fastest runner out there, but the tortoise wins the race, right?

It took 6 minutes after the gun went off for me to reach the start line.  Apparently 10,000+ people were running the race, so it took some time.  I set my pace, breathing comfortable, and started off.  It was a little cold, but made for perfect running weather.  In the first 1/3 of the race, I continued at a steady pace, as person after person made their way past me. I wasn't worried because I knew I had to maintain for 13.1 miles.

I stayed steady, talked to a few random people along the way, and had a smile on my face when I thought about what I was doing.  I made sure to take it all in.  Turning my music down for all the water stations, or entertainment, reading every sign, and thanking officers stopping traffic.  I read many great t-shirt backs along the way, and enjoyed the cheering crowds, along the way.  I had enough energy to talk, smile, and shout along the way.  I gave high fives to teens at the water stations, while Eye of the Tiger, or Rocky's theme song played in the back ground.

Towards the end of the race, I was still comfortable and steady with my pace.  At this point I began passing people, those who had slowed down or were walking.  When the last mile hit my legs were tired.  I could feel a dull pain starting in my thighs.  One more mile... I can make it.  No walking, just keep going. Then I got a text from my BFF, perfect timing.  Between that and the cheering crowds I was able to push through, and I crossed the finish line at 2:48:55.

The moment my foot crossed, and I started to walk, a flood of emotion hit me.  I can't put into words what I felt, it definitely wasn't sadness.  It was as if all I had been through the past few years, had just been washed over by what I had done in the last 3 hours.  Like the tide coming in, pushing over the sand castles of yesterday, and leaving a fresh beach ready for a new day.  And I started to cry.  Not a single tear, no this was a face contorted, serious cry.  I wasn't expecting this response.  It was the joy of knowing I had done it! I had taken what was horrible and let it fuel me to do something amazing.  I DID IT!!!  The only problem with this emotional outburst was I couldn't breathe.  I had been breathing just fine the whole race, but the moment I started to cry, my breath was taken away.  I managed to stop crying, and regained my breath.  Once again taking it all in.

There I stood in the middle of thousands of people, medal around my neck, a half-marathoner! It was the most amazing moment of my life.  I felt so accomplished, so proud of myself for completing this race!  I had never felt that way about myself or any accomplishment, ever!  And even though I was there alone, I didn't at all feel like I missed out.  I believe I was supposed to be alone.  God needed to show me something about myself that I have been struggling with for almost a year now: All I need is God!

I've said it a million times, I got a tattoo to symbolize it, and I wear rings to remind me.  But it wasn't until I traveled to Indianapolis and ran the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon that I truly understood and believed it.  Jesus is all I need!  I don't need a man to believe in me for me to accomplish great things.  I don't need his support, or encouragement to push through when it gets hard.  Every part of this half marathon journey has been on my own: just me and God.  From the training, to the trip, to the race; He's been the only one there with me.  And I did it!  He really is all I need.  With God I can do anything!  I can do great things by myself.  And even more than that I can enjoy them.

This weekend I had the most amazing time of my life, and no one was there to celebrate it with me.  And that's okay.  Its actually more than okay- it was perfect.  I did this race for me.  And I know that it changed my life.  It gave me a level of contentment I don't think I have ever had. It proved to me that I am a survivor- more than a conqueror!  I'm really am alright, just me and God!