Friday, December 30, 2011

Living Outside the (Gift) Box

I was in Julia's classroom, helping with her Christmas party a couple of weeks ago.  I had one of those moments that illuminated the reality of my life.  Three years ago I was in the same classroom, helping with the same party for my boys.  It was déjà vu.    The same classroom, the same teacher, the same excitement and activity.  The cast of characters is different, but only slightly. 

What struck me was that three years ago at this very time, we are unware of Marc's illness.  We were oblivious to the pain we would suffer in two short months.  If you would have told me in that moment what my life would look like three years later, I would have been incapable of comprehending it all.  If you would have told me that my husband would battle cancer, lose the fight, and I would be a widow in eighteen months, I would have panicked.  If you would have told me that in three years I would be engaged to be married again, I would have told you that you don't know me and that would never happen.  Never say never. 

So here I sit, three years later with a different path set before me than the one I had planned.  I had made assumptions three years ago that life would look much like it always did.  In my mind I had made sure of it. It makes me wonder about life three years from now.  I know better now.  I got to this point day by day -- one day at a time.  For God being so infinite, He seems very concerned with wanting us to live in each day and not worry about the future. 

I guess that's the lesson I want to share.  Three years ago I lived inside my comfortable box.  Like most of you I had a formula -- a safe formula -- for happiness.  I insulated myself to the best of my ability against illness, financial loss, bad relationships...risks of any sort that would threaten my current or future happiness.  I controlled the details and thought I had covered the bases.  Perhaps in the back of my mind I thought that if I did all the safe things, harm would not come to me or those that I loved.  I was wrong. Obviously.  Life is not formula.  A friend once told me, "God is concerned with your holiness, not your happiness."  Sounds brutal, but it's true.  What I have learned  is that I am much more happy ditching my formula and seeking God's will.  Sure it is a lot more scary and there are risks, but there is much more freedom outside the box.  I have learned to love easier, relax and not worry so much, fear less, and share the gifts with which God has blessed me.  Let's face it, when we live inside our very small boxes and protect ourselves, it doesn't leave much room for much else. 

I would encourage you in this season of giving and in ancitipation of the New Year, to let go a bit.  You have no idea what tomorrow or three years will bring.  Sure it's frightening to think about the possibilities -- they are as infinite as the Lord we serve; however, I would contend that ditching the formula and getting outside the box provides amazing freedom.   For some of you the thought of this will frighten you.  Likely you will add a few more safe variables to your formula to extra-ensure your happiness, perhaps thinking there is no way you want to ever risk being like me and living through the likes of our losses.  Trust me...the the thought process that "it can never happen to us" doesn't work.  I tried it.  I would encourage you to simply enjoy His Daily Bread, rejoice in the day that the Lord has made, and love one another.  Take it from a reformed box dweller -- it's better on the outside. 

So with that....may God bless you and keep you in the coming year.  And, may you find the faith necessary to trust Him...

With love and gratitude....

Living outside your own box means......

Singing your heart out despite stage fright -- ahhh...the body language says it all.

Staying on your knees praying for our innocent children...then rejoicing for each healthy day we have.

When in Rome....dress as the Romans.  Steve...the Carhart looks great on you!

Trusting someone else to parent your child....and teach them about sharp projectiles. Yikes!

More projectiles....

And more....(okay, I'm proud of this shot....see the arrow leaving the bow...oh, yeah!)

Making time for messes and less than perfect help.

Blessed to be able to love more abundantly....

Celebrating the differences in personality with those we love.  Yes, I am wearing pink work boots :)

Loving your neighbor...

Keeping our sickness and in health...for richer or good times and bad.  I love you Jenni and Steve!  So proud of you!

Celebrating being a future Grandma at age 40.  Again...yikes!

Leaving messes like this to wait.....

To enjoy moments like this!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Slalom Amazing

Marc was blessed to end his career at a phenomenal consulting company.  Slalom Consulting/ Two Degrees, was a wonderful place to work.  Marc loved his assignments and his co-workers.  In addition, they always made the families of the employees feel valued and appreciated.  We were blessed by Marc's job tremendously over the last few years. 

When Marc became ill, Slalom continued to be supportive and proactive in helping us.  They provided amazing benefits, disability, and extra touches that made our lives a bit more bearable. When Marc couldn't work full time, they found part time work.  When he couldn't commute any longer, they provided jobs he could do from home.  When he finally had to take permanent leave, they were in constant communication and provided help with figuring out disability and health insurance.  I have never heard of a company that is so invested in the welfare of their employees and families.

It's been over a year since Marc passed away and yet we are still in communication with our friends at Slalom.  This week the kids and I received another over-the-top blessing from them.  One of the hardest things for me to part with was Marc's laptop.  It was his tool...the item that he used daily for work.  Every time I opened it up, I would see his fingerprint smudges on the screen and remember him staring at it deep in thought.  It was company property, though, and I knew I needed to return it.

After hemming and hawing over it for months, I finally contacted Niki, our HR contact at Slalom.  She has always been a gem of support and encouragement.  I apologized for my procrastination and made arrangements to send the laptop back.  It was then that she told me that if I wanted to keep it, I could.  Or, they had another plan -- one huge over-the-top plan that would bless my kids.  She left me to think about it and talk to the kids about it. 

This week the over-the-top plan came to fruition.  Friday morning Niki left her huge work load and personal holiday demands, boarded a plane in Seattle and flew to Portland.  She then drove an hour to our home and personally delivered four laptops to the kids.  Each laptop has Marc's files on them -- pictures, music, and documents.  Each of them now has access to "Dad's" computer whenever they want.  In addition, the IT group copied all of the emails Marc and I had sent back and forth over the years.  Every request for a gallon of milk, to quick notes of encouragement back and forth, are all on a thumb drive.  Priceless.

I can't explain how much this means to me and the kids.  While the gifts have been overwhelming and appreciated, we are more touched that this company has invested so much in us on a very personal level. They don't owe us anything.  They don't need to continue to reach out, and yet they do.  Their kindness has been such a tremendous encouragement and blessing.  We have nothing we can give them in return -- a humbling place to be.  We can only offer our gratitude.

To our friends at Slalom, Niki -- Thank you!  Our cup overflows!  Your generosity has been incredible.   Merry Christmas and may God bless you and keep you all. 

Thank you, Niki, for taking time to be with us and bless us so abundantly.  We loved spending the day with you!  Thank you!!!

We were able to surprise the kids on Friday.  They had no idea that Niki was coming.  She staged the computers and was able to surprise them when they came downstairs.

Ooooh!  Exciting!

Working with a six-year-old and a laptop.  Niki is one patient soul!


Deep in thought.  I've seen that look before....

With love and gratitude....

Friday, November 11, 2011

Confessions of a Dating Widow

Ecclesiastes 3

A Time for Everything
  There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
  a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
  a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.

I haven't blogged much lately.  People inquire when I'm going to write again.  I am vague...passing off my lack of posting as a result of a busy schedule or lack of inspiration.  While it's true I am busy, I do not lack for inspiration.  I find something each day that makes me want share God's provision and goodness in our lives.  The problem is that one of life's greatest blessings right now can be...well...let's just say it's complicated...and personal...and private.  But, then again, not....

Many of you know that the kids and I have someone very special in our lives right now.  Some of you aren't aware of this yet.  The uncomfortable part is when you aren't aware and then become aware of it for the first time.  There is the double take, jaws drop, stammering questions follow, and then my long explanation -- the explanation that I somehow feel I need to give to justify my seeing someone.  I guess in my mind we have multitudes of friends and family that have supported us with kindness and prayer for nearly three years.  You have all walked with us, literally, through the valley of death.  We humbly sought your prayers, gratefully received your help, and have been so happy to share our blessings with all of you.  And, now we have a monumental blessing to share and I am reluctant to be open and transparent. 

So, this is the day I "get over myself" and acknowledge the fact that those that love us will share in our happiness.  One would think that if I am willing to share my deepest grief that I should be able to share my joy as well.  Hmmm...there is the rub.  Sometimes I feel guilty being happy.  I get the feeling that those around me expect me to grieve long, hard, and constantly -- meaning that I should not move forward with life...that I should stay stagnant.  Perhaps in that stagnancy I would appear more loyal to Marc.  I know Marc did not want that for me or for his children.  I'm pretty certain that God doesn't want that for us, either.

Yes, there is a special man in our lives.  His name is Brian.  I'm not going to share the whole story here today...or perhaps any day.  I think the other part of "getting over myself" is acknowledging the fact that I don't have to give a long explanation.  Suffice it to say that neither of us were looking for a relationship, but some intuitive friends had hopes and introduced us.  We are both grateful for their involvement.  All I want to share today is that he is a good man.  He is a huge blessing to me and my children, and we love him dearly.

I am happy to share this with you all -- it makes me smile to think that we are supported in this.  I would ask that you continue to pray for us.  While this season in our lives is exciting and full of hope, it also changes the landscape for the future and poses certain challenges.  We would be grateful for your continued prayers as we navigate all of this.

In the meantime, if you see us out and need to do a double take!    Just wander over and I would be happy to introduce you :)

In the meantime, here are a few glimpses of our world with Brian in it...

Brian and his mom, Anne.  She is a blessing, too!

My boys getting the opportunity to learn something that I can't teach them.  Bird hunting....Fun!

A Halloween princess delighted with her dedicated escort....

With love and gratitude......

Thursday, October 6, 2011

365 Days of Grief

46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? 47 Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.[h] 49 But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell.[i] And the ruin of that house was great.”

Luke 6: 46-48

I have been trying to write this post for over a week now.  I've been reflecting, struggling to communicate the jumble of emotions and thoughts in my head. 

A week ago the family came together to remember Marc and his passing a year ago.  It was a delightful evening -- lots of laughter, great memories, and a sense of relief about finishing the year.  Marc would have been pleased.  We enjoyed his favorite dinner, his favorite beer, and spent time talking, looking at pictures, and remembering what an amazing man he really was.

I had dreaded this past year.  While we always held out tremendous hope for Marc's recovery, we were never in denial about how serious his illness was.  I always knew that the monster could claim his life...and it did.  I remember falling apart several times -- terrified at the thought of losing him.  I wondered how I could face a day without Marc here.  How could I walk through our house, look at our children, touch his things, without falling apart every single day?  How does a person survive such a profound loss?

I have learned that the dread was infinitely worse than the reality.  I have found that living and finding joy -- in a word...surviving -- has been easier than I could have fathomed.  Perhaps that sounds trite.  It's not.  I miss Marc.  I miss staring into those loving blue eyes.  I miss his steady friendship.  I miss the safety of having my husband here.  I miss him.  However......

Elo called last week on the anniversary of Marc's death.  She called to let me know she was praying for us and to encourage us.  We talked for a long time about the last couple of years -- God's faithfulness, my amazing group of friends and family, and our church.  She then asked a very difficult question.  She hesitated and asked, "If you could change it and make it so that Marc lived, would you?"   I answered quickly.  No. 

Perhaps that answer makes you gasp.  How could I?!?   Yes, I would love to have my husband here with me right now; however, I wouldn't want to give up what I have learned about God -- who He is and His promises.  The things I have learned about the Lord in the last two and a half years are worth more than I can express.  Those things have been learned through tremendous pain and suffering.  I couldn't know these things without the loss.  My faith was tried and I have been set on a higher place.  I wouldn't want to go back and not know these truths.  If I could still have Marc here and know what I know now about my savior, I would; but, I don't think that's possible.  I can't have both.  So, the answer to the question remains the same:  No.

As I reflected on Elo's question this week, I started digging deeper in my heart.  Am I really okay?  Are my kids really okay?  Perhaps we just think we are okay.  Maybe we are all in denial.  Why has it been so peaceful this last year.  Why has the transition seemed smooth.  Yes, it's been a lot of brutally hard work, but it hasn't been the impossible tragedy I imagine a couple of years ago.  We don't wallow daily in grief.  While there are sad moments, they don't persist.  We have been surprisingly encouraged by the blessings God has placed in our lives.  Seems too simple....probably wacko to some of you. 

So if we aren't in denial, perhaps it calls into question the depth of our relationship with Marc.  Was our love for each other superficial and, therefore, disposable?  Are we not more sad because we didn't value him?  No!  We love Marc and miss his presence very much; however, Marc isn't gone.  He just isn't here.  It's hard to agonize over his absence when I know full well that I will see him again.  All is not lost. 

As I have worked around the house this week, I have smiled a lot.  I am constantly reminded of my sweet husband.  This house, especially, reminds of Marc.  We built it together.  He is in every detail of my home -- from the basic design of the house to the smallest fixture.  A song kept popping up in my head this week.  On Christ the solid rock I stand/ All other ground is sinking sand...I kept humming it to myself -- white noise...background music to my days.  I then stopped short.  That was it!  The secret to 365 days of grief!  Why has it been peaceful?  Why has the transition been smooth?    That song referred to the verses in Luke.  The man that builds his house on rock (Christ) will withstand.  Built on anything else,  it will fall.  Marc built our home on God's truths.  As hard as it was, and contrary to our culture as it was, we kept the faith.  Marc dug deep and made sure the foundation of his home -- his family -- rested on the solid rock of Christ.  And,  guess what?   The storm came and we have withstood.  Why am I surprised?  Why do I think to question it?

Folks are quick to compliment me and the kids.  People think we are amazing.  People don't understand how we do this every day.  Guess what?  We don't.  What you see isn't us.  The hope and joy you see in me and the kids doesn't come from us.  It comes from somewhere much more....perfect.  When you look at us...anything good you see....isn't us.  It's a reflection of an amazing and faithful God.  It's Jesus.  Don't miss it.  I would encourage you to check the foundation of your home.  If the storm comes, will it withstand?  Just wondering....

While you ponder the bigger questions, check out some of my favorite pictures from the last couple of years.  Images that encourage my heart and remind me of His faithfulness....

When the storms hit, who prays for you? 

Camping in 2009.  We didn't know he would be gone one short year later.  Good memories!

I watch my boys becoming more like their dad every day.

 Comforting in the midst of his own grief....

Last Family Photo


Irrepresible joy on my kids faces...


And again.

Sweet Comforts...Nothing beats a grandparent when we need cheering up.

More fun...

Our beautiful, courageous kids.  Marc would be proud.

The annual "Odyssey" that the boys do every year.  They carried on the tradition without their dad this year.  Thank you, John and Brian....

Learning a new sport...It happens to be their Dad's favorite.

Becoming a young lady...Growing up so fast!

Monumental firsts...

Stubborn vs. Stubborn
This picture just makes me laugh.

And life goes on...
Hoping you and yours find that solid foundation.
With love and gratitude....

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Pickle

I was seventeen.  It was late June and my grandmother was visiting from Indiana to celebrate my graduation from high school.  During her visit she had suffered some significant heart complications and had been hospitalized.  When she was released she came back to our home to recover, hoping that she would heal enough to fly home.

I had graduated and was working downtown during the week.  I was off on the weekend and my mom needed to run some much needed errands and get a break from being a caretaker.  I begrudgingly agreed to look after Grandma and make her lunch while Mom was away. 

What I remember most about my grandmother is that she was slow moving.  Being slow could be a positive characteristic at times.  Grandma was patient -- she never rushed a conversation.  Grandma was methodical -- nobody else was interested in darning our socks.  Grandma was thoughtful -- she always gave generously and appropriately.  However, slow could also be a detriment.  Grandma walked slowly, talked slowly, and even ate slowly.   I wasn't much different as a child than what I am now.  I have always been focused on getting through things, whether it's a meal, a project, or a problem.  Puttering through life has never been my mode of operation.  I can recall dining with my grandmother when she would visit.  One of my parent's rules at their table (that I have continued in my home) is that we wait until everyone is served and has eaten before we are excused.  There are exceptions, but one the whole we were never allowed to eat and bolt from the table.  That was never a problem until Grandma visited.  I have never in all my life seen anyone that ate as slowly as my grandmother did.  She would balance one pea on her fork, carefully move it to her mouth, and chew it as if she had just pulled a plug of jerky.  I can remember my eyes bulging and my jaw dropping as I willed the woman to masticate.  If allowed, I would have manually moved her jaws to expedite the process.  It was traumatizing.

I found the whole slow routine to be...well...aggravating.  It often drove a wedge in our relationship.   So, on that June day I was already highly annoyed at having to hang out with Grandma.  I had more important things to do.  Lunchtime rolled around and she requested a bologna sandwich.  I built the sandwich and served her at the kitchen table.  I remember being struck by how frail she suddenly looked sitting there.  She requested a glass of milk and some leftover vegetables to go with her meal.  I served them and asked if there was anything else she needed.  I had to get back to my important stuff...whatever that was.  No.  She was set.  Great!  I started to walk away and she stopped me.  "Oh, could I get a pickle?....."

I will never in my life forget my response to that simple request.  I stopped in my tracks, my shoulders slumped, and I sighed.  I walked the five enormous steps back to the fridge, grabbed the pickles, speared one, and put it on her plate without saying a word.  Then I walked away. 

Grandma died later that week. 

I will never forget that interaction as long as I live.  I regret it.  I was selfish, focusing on my wants and perceived needs.  I would love to go back and serve her a pickle with a sweet attitude.  I would love to go back and have the maturity and patience to sit with her while she spent an hour eating a bologna sandwich and a dill pickle.  I can't.  She's gone and I'm left with the memory of a moment that I didn't get right. 

I have carried that memory, and the lesson it taught me, for over twenty years.  This week will mark the one year anniversary of Marc's death.  I have spent a lot of time contemplating those last few days with my husband.  I wish I could say that I did it all right-- that I was always thinking of his needs and not my own desires.  I wish I could say that the pickle lesson had been a the forefront of my mind in those last days and weeks of Marc's life.  I can't.  Sure, I can pass off my actions and attitudes as responses to grief and exhaustion, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter.  There were times when I was more concerned about getting sleep and having a moment to myself than I was about meeting my husband's needs.  I can't get those opportunities back.   I'm human, prone to bad behavior and being selfish.  Flawed like everyone else. 

What I can do is be transparent and share with all of you the lessons I have learned -- the need to give and serve with a loving spirit.  I have been struck this week with hearing about some of the horrible and selfish ways folks are being treated.  I cringe.  Does that husband know how cutting and demeaning his words are?  Does that wife know how disrespectful her actions are?  Does that teenager know how selfish she is being?  Does that person know how terribly their critical spirit is hurting my friend?  The hardest part about living past Marc's death has been watching a world that doesn't get it.  It's painful to observe the person that only thinks of themselves first.  Don't learn the lessons I have had to learn the hard way.

I reread some of what Marc wrote to me and the kids before he died.  I think a year later it is worth repeating.

Do not forget the compassion and affection you have for others. Show it daily. Never withhold from expressing your love to those around you. Hold your children daily. Never be afraid to show your soft side. It is a gift from God.

Serve God first. Serve your spouse. Then serve others. You are last. This life is not about you. It's about who you are for others. In this you will mirror God's love for His people.

Remember that you are not of this world, but God has put you in it and has given you instructions to follow. Tell the truth always. And, in everything that you do, love, love, love.”

I would encourage anyone that cares to not have regrets, to think on those words.  From someone who has been in the unenviable position of losing several dear loved ones, take my advice.  Actually, take instruction from Christ.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  John 13:4 

Don't have regrets.  Get those moments right!  And, love, love.

Thank you for supporting me and my family over the last year.  Your love, prayers, and encouragement have been a tremendous blessing to us. 
With love and gratitude....

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cloud Cap

Dollar Lake Fire on Mount Hood, August 30, 2011
"On Mount Hood, firefighters wrapped the historic Cloud Cap Inn with fire-resistant material to protect it against the Dollar Lake fire, which has grown to 1,500 acres. The lodge was built in 1898 as an elite destination resort reached by railroad and horseback, and is used now by the Crag Rats mountaineering group, Mount Hood National Forest spokesman Rick Acosta said.

The Dollar Lake fire was ignited by lightning over the weekend and was burning in heavy forest at about 6,000 feet near glaciers on the north flank of Oregon's tallest mountain. A regional management team took over the fire. Thirteen hand crews were ordered to supplement the smokejumpers and initial attack teams already fighting the fire.

Firefighters faced winds up to 25 miles per hour.
Three campgrounds have been closed, including Cloud Cap, Tilly Jane and Lawrence Lake. The Vista Ridge, Gnarl Ridge, Pinnacle and Elk Cove trails are also closed.
The fire is burning in the same area where the Gnarl Ridge fire burned in 2008."

The kids and I had the unique opportunity to stay at Cloud Cap two weeks ago.  We were invited by Brian's brother, Dale, to celebrate his birthday on the mountain.  Dale is one of the infamous Crag Rats -- part of the mountain search and rescue team on Mt. Hood.  We felt fortunate to be included that weekend to enjoy the lodge and the surrounding wilderness.  

To say it is breathtaking would be an understatement.   Marc and I hiked through this area fifteen years ago on a four day trip around Mt. Hood.  I remember it vividly because it was the first sign of civilization I had seen in three days.  All I could see was the potential for a flush toilet.  After hiking with four men, a trowel, and one scant roll of toilet paper, the lodge seemed like an oasis in Hades.  We were not able to use the facilities, but I remember it well to this day.  I digress.

I was thrilled to be back in this place a decade and a half later.  This would be one of those places that you can see and touch God's power in a very tangible way.  I love high places that offer new perspective.  Cloud Cap is amazing and it grieves me to know that this place is threatened by fire. 

I thought I would share some of the pictures that I was able to capture.  I still marvel at the beauty and the power of mountains.  And to think....God can move them!

Mt. Hood as the sun is beginning to go down.

Girls standing in the wind and watching the clouds swirl by....

Striking the Pioneer Woman Stance

Adam and Sophia

Brian and his sweet mom, Anne

Lenticular Clouds....worth googling.

Wildflowers and a mountain shrouded in mist....gotta love God's creativity and beauty!

This picture does not do the sunset justice....Amazing!

Ben on the big rock that marks the elevation.  The trees behind him mark the scars of the last wildfire that ripped through this area. 

We settled down that evening in front of a monster fire.  A perfect ending to a surreal evening.

Sunrise!  Bright and bold!

The sun coming up over the hills. 

The walls talk at Cloud Cap.  Those that have visited and climbed the mountain engrave their names and the date on the walls.  There are hundreds of entries.  Ben found the oldest date out of those we looked at.  1899.  Sad to think that this history is threatened by fire.