New year, new profession…

It’s just the third day of the New Year, and I’m sitting inside my home, watching big feathery wet snowflakes wafting down from the sky. So much has changed in this past year; I can hardly wrap my head around it all. I gave up my weekly writing gig at our local paper…not enough time to devote to it.

I’ve been “too busy” to blog. I’ve been “too busy” to do many of the things I love. Without going into the boring specifics of the past couple of years, I found myself in need of a full-time job, basically for health insurance for my family. An opportunity presented itself at the perfect time, and I began a full-time remote position as a stylist at a subscription clothing service in 2017. Setting my own hours?

Working from home in my pjs?

Being able to log off, go pick up my kids from school daily?

The best health/dental/vision insurance of our lives? …All positives. The negatives?

Sitting in front of a computer, inside my house, for 40 hours a week.

Having practically no adult face-to-face contact or interactions.

Feeling isolated from coworkers & the branch office–there was no incentive to go to events, no pay for the 2 1/2 hour drive to get there.

No chance for advancement, no cost of living nor yearly increases at evaluation time.

But the worst part? Not being given the tools to be successful in my position.
Not hitting the metrics set by said company led to my being disciplined. Several times.

My superior was just following protocol. She was probably being called on the carpet due to my inconsistencies (directly related to not having necessary items to do my job well). I became so disheartened that I would begin saying, “I hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job…” as I signed on for another 3 to 4 hour stressful session of styling.
AJ said, “Just quit Mom, we don’t like seeing you this way! You’re miserable.” Aah, but you see, young grasshopper, it’s not that simple.
When I was a married woman, it would’ve been a no-brainer. Mark would have told me to quit (he did that a couple of times during our 25 years together). I would have written a beautifully succinct resignation letter and given this place two weeks’ notice. Instead, it finally (after seven years, I know, I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes) hit me:

I am the breadwinner of our party of three. I am it.

Health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, bill paying, home improvement projects, and 150 other tasks all fall in my lap. I’m the one who checks to make sure all the doors are locked and the alarm system activated before bedtime. With these responsibilities, I was stuck until I could find a viable alternative to my current situation. I began looking in earnest around late May or early June 2018. I found it impossible to condense all my work experience on a single sheet resume, but made it as short as possible while extolling my skill set. As I was perusing the job possibilities, my 15 year old son, Ben, had a heart to heart with me. “Mom, why are you looking at clerical positions? You know what Dad would say if he were here?”

No, Benjamin Wallace, but I’m sure you’re going to enlighten me…”He’d say you have two college degrees. You should use them. Aim high, don’t settle!” In my life B.C. (before children), I was a medical technologist and a clinical laboratory database administrator. But that was close to 20 years ago!

I gave it up to be a full-time stay at home mom, thinking I would never have a reason to go back to the clinical setting. But as we all well know, many times life doesn’t turn out the way you plan it. Instead of moving to central Kansas in 2013, I became a widow in 2011. Plan A, then B were gone; heck, I think we’ve gone through at least 7 or 8 more in the years since 2011. My best estimation is we’re currently on Plan H, for “HOWELL.” Taking the advice of my very wise son, I reorganized the resume and put in applications at the local hospital and city. I was a bit surprised not to get at least an interview with the hospital, considering I worked there for almost 7 years, leaving on what I thought were good terms. (Heck, I doubled my salary by leaving…any one of the superiors there would’ve done the same).
Sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, which is situated in a clinic here in town, I had a mini-revelation: the Clinic had a laboratory.

I pulled up the website while in the waiting area. They had an opening for a medical technologist.
After arriving back home, I filled out an application and finished all the on-line processes. The next morning, around 11 am, they called wanting to interview me. Sitting in my pajamas, working in my home office, I asked if we could possibly schedule something for the next day. Long story short(er), they didn’t offer me the medical technologist position. After my interview, they formulated a job description that would play to my administrative and computer skills.

Yes, I accepted a job I didn’t interview for, before I had the opportunity to look over said job description.
I didn’t even know what my official job title was until I went in for my pre-employment physical. I joyously sent a message to the hospital HR department, saying I was no longer in need of a position & to pull my applications.

I had to cancel another interview with the city as well. The new job began last month.
I’m slowly settling into a routine. I haven’t worked outside the home, full-time, since AJ was a baby.
That baby turned 17 the day after Christmas. I’m loving the adult interactions, having a reason to get up, get dressed, and get out among the living. I could not for the life of me find my ASCP certification certificates, nor my two diplomas from Murray State University (necessary documentation for my position).
My best bet is that Mark Howell put them away some place “safe”whenever we were reorganizing our home office about 10 years ago.
You know what? I found out replacements can be ordered ūüôā The best thing that’s happened in the past month is my happiness and contentment have returned.

I’m no longer stressed about meeting metrics or being held to impossible standards; I don’t have to choose between my integrity or my job. The boys noticed the difference as soon as I turned in my notice. “Mom, you’re like a different person. You’re so happy!” I don’t want my sons to look back on their high school days and remember my yelling at the computer, saying how much I hated a job. I want them to see their mother working a full-time position, using her degrees and certifications, in a job that even the 15 year old computer geek is impressed by. (Dude, a lot of your knowledge came from moi.) When they were younger, I worried they might never see me as “more” than a stay at home mom. I wanted them to know I had a career until age 40.

I walked away because I could, and it was what was best for our family. Now they’re adapting to my not being able to stop, drop everything, and be chauffeur.

Or lunch delivery person before the band leaves on a 4 hour trip for a football game (Whataburger travels quite well in a backpack).

I can no longer pick up the younger one at school. Instead we’re depending on the kindness of friends to fill in the gaps. I’m missing several of the older one’s varsity basketball games, after promising to be in the stands for every game possible.
His response, “Mom, it’s okay. You’re a working woman now.”
I’m truly excited for this new year, this new opportunity for a career.

A re-start, an annotation to the previous chapter, the beginning of a completely new one.
And I have time to do what I truly love…..write.

You may get tired of reading my sometimes-disconnected-almost always-funny musings. I’m back, baby.….

I’m jealous…

Subconsciously I’m in turmoil.

Oh I may look calm, put-together, and self-assured on the surface.¬† I’ve actually become a master (mistress??) of the look.

You know, the look of “normal.”

The look of a person who has moved forward, despite some crappy circumstances.

The look of a person seemingly content to sit at sporting events, cheering on her kid…alone.

The look of “happy-happy-joy-joy” everyone feels more comfortable being around.

I assume the look to avoid what many have said to me:

“Aren’t you over that yet?”¬†

“Why don’t you move on?”

“It’s time to let it go.”

You don’t “get over” the loss of a spouse to death.

You don’t “move on” in life.¬† You can, however, “move forward,” and my family is living proof that can be done.

Let it go?

You’re kidding me, right?

For over two thousand days (2,061 to be exact), I have awakened as a widow.

No matter how wonderful those days may have been (and there have been many more good days than bad), that simple fact remains.

I. Am. A. Widow.

My sons awaken to the realization they are still orphans (Biblical definition: fatherless).

And while we’ve made a new life, one that incorporates the best of their dad’s legacy while still moving forward, they are missing out. Big time.

Today, it hits me like a ton of bricks–my subconscious turmoil is jealousy.

I am jealous.

I am jealous of two-parent households.

I am jealous of kids who have their dads cheering them on from the stands, offering batting stance tips and advice on fielding.

I am jealous of women who awaken as wives, their husbands snuggled in close beside them in their beds.

I am jealous of extended families who make themselves available to help one another with what to me are logistical nightmares at times.

My sons have me.  Period.

Uncles, aunts, and two cousins live states away, as do both grandmothers.

Questions about sex, dating, shaving, and peer pressure?  Fall to me.

Teaching them to drive?  Me.

And while I look all calm and pulled together on the surface, I’m like those ducks you see on ponds, gliding along beautifully—underneath that calm, under water? They’re paddling like crazy.

I’m paddling like crazy to maintain the beautiful glide.

I’m also working on this green-eyed monster, ’cause it doesn’t jive with the whole being a Christian thing.

Naming it and claiming it are good first steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is difficult…

Have you ever felt like you’re watching yourself from another vantage point, almost in an “out of ¬†body” experience?

I see myself walking around, going through the motions of life, but remaining detached and unaffected.

This month has paralyzed me.

Certain memories (that I was pretty sure I had processed and moved forward from) have come back with a vengeance.

Unfortunately I’m replaying them all this week, surprised and dismayed at details I thought had long since been forgotten. ¬†Hospital, surgery waiting room, ICU, confused and helpless doctors, ventilators and tubes, codes and crash carts….a daddy looking at two little boys, giving the “I love you” sign to them as they leave his hospital room. ¬†It is their last memory of a strong, handsome, loving, pretty-close-to-perfect father who loved them more than anything on earth besides God (and on most days, me)…

I’m treading water. ¬†Barely.

With God’s help, the boys and I are doing well. ¬†There’s been rebuilding. ¬†And restoration. ¬†We’ve put in the work, but God’s done the healing. The three of us have our feet firmly planted again on solid ground.

Then why do I feel like I’m in quicksand?

I’ve never hidden my emotions from my sons, and they, too, are processing their grief a bit differently this week.

We’ll survive, God promises it.

 

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Through it all, we cling to the realization we aren’t doing this alone.

Next week, we’ll turn the calendars to August and collectively breathe a sigh of relief.

We’ll settle back into a more normal routine. ¬†The bad memories will again get filed away, and we will focus on all the wonderful blessings God has given our family.

I’ll re-inhabit my body and do more than “go through the motions.”

Life is difficult.

Life is beautiful.

Surprisingly, it can be both at the very same time.

We’re living proof.

 

Waiting for the Lord—or is He waiting for me?

 

markfishingblog

I’m waiting.

Waiting to see how my health insurance coverage will turn out.

Waiting to see if I have to re-enter the workforce full-time after the first of the year, just to acquire insurance for my family.

Waiting to hear back from a book publisher.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I feel stuck. ¬†I’m worn.

I’m tired of being chief cook and bottle washer, breadwinner, chauffeur, only parent, landscaping guru, keeper of the vehicles, financial advisor, vacation planner, decision maker—as my father would have said, “jack of all trades, master of none.”

I may look like I’ve got it all together, but this Jesus girl is filled with insecurities about the future. ¬†Heck, I have insecurities about the present.

We made it through the absence of Mark yet again yesterday, on what would have been his 60th birthday.  Five October 25ths without his laugh, his love, his strong hugs, his wisdom, and his physical presence.

It was tough.

For any person reading this still blessed with your significant other, I don’t expect you to get “it.”

“It” will not go away. ¬†(Heaven knows I wish it would at times.)

“It” will not completely heal.

If you think I’m beating a dead horse, so to speak, just do me a favor and quit reading this. ¬†Right now.

Grief is a life-long process for those left behind.

“It” gets better, you heal through the grace of God.

But it’s always there.

If you don’t get it, trust me—someday you will. ¬†For your sake, I hope your “someday” is many, many, many years down the line.

Death is a part of life.

An integral part.

The more I pray about my waiting game, the more I see that waiting for problems such as health insurance coverage, book deals, job possibilities, and the future of my family to be reconciled are trivial.

I should be waiting for the Lord.

He is my problem solver.

He is my portion.

He is enough.

He knows I still cry everyday, at some point, without fail.

He sees how difficult it is to walk into a Sunday School class full of couples, and feel like a fish out of water.

Unfortunately, he hears as I utter a not-so-nice word while trying to crank a self-propelled push mower that will not cooperate.

In one simple verse, the Psalmist David gives me the solution to all my self-imposed problems.

Wait for the LORD.

Be strong.

Take heart.

And wait  

FOR THE LORD.

Psalm 27:14 (NIV)

People will fail to meet my expectations each and every time.

But God?  He fails not.

He doesn’t grow weary.

He doesn’t mind my anger. ¬†He forgives me for saying that curse word over the mower.

He checks in on widows and orphans.  We have a special place in His heart.

He wipes away the hot tears dripping down my face.

He is enough.

If He can bring a dead man back to life, he can most certainly help my family with health insurance.

The photo above is from a series sent to me after Mark’s death. ¬†They document a work trip down the Brazos River several years ago. ¬†I’ve looked at the photos dozens of times, but never noticed this one until now.

All others show a beaming fisheries biologist, doing what he loves and getting paid to do it (how many of us can identify with that?).  His smile lights up every picture.  I needed those.

This photo, however, is a metaphor for my family’s life now. ¬†His back is turned. ¬†He’s got his fishing rod in hand, waders on. ¬†His glorious plan has come to fruition.

At almost 4 1/2 years since his heaven-versary, Mark’s got important things to do. ¬†He knows God has us in the palm of His hand.

In other words, he’s got bigger fish to fry. ¬† And while he is in heaven cheering us on, he knows that God’s got this.

So he can enjoy his happily-ever-after without worries.

His back may be turned, but we’ll never forget his smiling face.

I see it in the increasingly-chiseled features of our 8th grader.  I hear him in the soft wisdom  voiced by our 7th grader.

I feel his hugs while in their strong arms.

I give every trivial, hard, silly, crazy problem to the Lord.

He’s been waiting for me to do it.

I will not be stuck.  I will not be defeated.

I will be strong, take heart, and wait.

For the Lord.

 

 

 

 

Focusing on what you have…

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus

My 13 year old, who lives-breathes-dreams-sleeps basketball (baseball is a close second), is out front, practicing his shots and moves.

After a 3 month ordeal in getting a replacement backboard for our basketball goal (that saga is best saved for another posting), AJ is back in business. ¬†He’s making up for lost time before basketball tryouts at his middle school.

On this occasion, one of the cooler days of late summer, I put aside my “to do” list. ¬†Instead, I pull up a lawn chair in the shade and watch.

Tall I am, but not blessed with the natural athletic abilities he has–I’ve found it much better to sit on the sidelines and cheer him on.

His lanky, increasingly-muscular frame moves gracefully as he dribbles and shoots. ¬†“Nothing but net” from practically every spot he shoots. ¬†Lay ups, hook shots, free throws, 3-pointers—the boy’s got game. ¬†And that’s just not the opinion of a loving mother; I grew up in a family where two uncles played Division 1 college ball (both on full scholarships). ¬†I know game when I see it.

A smile sneaks across my face as I watch him do his thing.

And then I glance at my watch.

It’s 5:17 p.m.

The smile remains, but the tears come.

My son is playing basketball in our front driveway alone.

If his dad were still alive, this would be the exact time his Toyota truck would be turning onto our cul-de-sac.  The boys and I joke we recognized his motor sound.  And instead of slowing down as he turned onto the street, he would punch the accelerator, getting that little silver truck into the garage as soon as possible so he could spend time with his two treasures, Andrew and Ben.

I’m sure I was a close second on his list, but they were more fun to play with.

He should be here.

He should be exiting his vehicle, grabbing the ball from his older son, and taking it to the hoop.

He should be giving him advice on blocking, shot technique, and zone defense.

It’s not fair.

This boy–who picked up a ball before he could crawl, whose first word after “dada” was “ball,” ¬†who got his first t-ball set up at age 1 1/2, his first basketball goal at age 2–needs his father. ¬†So does his younger brother, blessed with a set of talents very different but still amazing.

They don’t get him.

And as AJ continues the dribble, bob and weave, shoot routine, my tears continue to flow. ¬†He glances my direction and immediately comes to my side, asking what’s wrong.

Over the past 4 years our tears have come easily.  We all 3 cry.  Tears, for us, are healing.  For awhile in public I tried to hide them, or explain them away when folks would notice.

No more.

We cry.  We laugh.  We sometimes do it simultaneously.

aj collage for blog

After he finishes up, I search for the photos seen on the left side of this collage.  Mark helping AJ make his first basket on a regulation-sized goal.  He was 20 months old.  On the right, AJ as a 13 year old player.

He may look like he’s alone in these, but both he and I know better.

His dad, although not here in the physical sense, is right alongside him. ¬†He’s whispering advice, giving encouragement, and busting with pride as his mini-me conquers the court and his opponents.

We are called to rejoice for what we have instead of grieving the things we have not.

Life’s not fair. ¬†It’s a gigantic bitter pill our sons had to swallow at ages 8 & 9.

Grief has made them stronger, more resilient, more empathetic, and better people, in spite of their loss—one they will never recover from. ¬†It’s an integral part of their souls. ¬†It’s a big part of who they are, who they will be as adults.

I tell AJ I’d give a million dollars to have his daddy drive up in his truck and join in on the fun. ¬†I don’t have that kind of money, and even if I did, it wouldn’t bring him back.

Instead we have to rejoice for the time we had him.

Moving forward doesn’t mean moving on. ¬†It means living life to the fullest each day, despite great loss.

We’re getting pretty damn good at it.