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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a lost love

My fifteen year old is the sports guy of the family.  His dad bought a t-ball set up when our boy was barely 16 months old.  My father, who only lived to see his grandsons at ages 2 and 8 months (a sad thing, too, I know), lived long enough to be amazed at the strength and accuracy his oldest grandson could throw a baseball.

The boy’s daddy grew up loving sports, especially baseball, so theirs was a match made in heaven.

From the time the little boy could play organized baseball, he did just that–with his daddy alongside him as a team coach. ¬†They went everywhere together, the two practically joined at the hip. ¬†Practices, games, pitching, catching, and batting in our expansive 1/2 acre backyard—it was all so very good for many years.

Until his daddy died. ¬†AJ was 9, his little brother barely 8, in 2011. ¬†Baseball was suddenly very painful for us all. ¬†I’ll never forget that first drive to the Little League fields, where my nine year old was trying out for fall league–without his biggest fan beside him. ¬†With two different coaches wanting him on their respective teams, my kid prayed about it. ¬†He came to the conclusion that the coach most like his dad, belief-wise, was the right choice.

He continued to play ball. ¬†We even went to a World Series game in the fall of that year, because our beloved Texas Rangers were playing mine and Mark’s favorite childhood team, the St. Louis Cardinals. ¬†Stepping into that stadium without his dad was hard, too.

We adjust our sails to weather the “hards” we encounter. ¬†They simply became too numerous to keep track of.

And somewhere along the way, the boy begin to lose his love for America’s game. ¬†He began to love basketball and found out he’s pretty darn good at that, too.

Basketball became his primary focus.  Baseball, a game he played in summer on a YMCA league team with friends just for fun.

Then high school happened.

The stakes are much different at this level.

He earned his rightful place in the starting five of the freshman basketball team.  It was a fun season to witness.

Basketball season ended and he decided to try freshman baseball.

The first day after practice, I could tell he was frustrated.  The team, shall we say, needed a lot of work.  And for better or for worse, the kid got my gene for impatience.

He was ready to quit. ¬†“Mom, I just don’t have the love for the game anymore. ¬†Ever since Dad died, it’s been a struggle. ¬†I go out to play without him. ¬†I don’t watch it on television anymore, that’s something he and I did together. ¬†I don’t think it’s my game anymore.”

I take part of the blame for his falling away from the game. ¬†We don’t make the pilgrimage to Arlington to watch the Rangers play anymore. ¬†If there’s something else on TV, we don’t watch MLB.

But Howells aren’t quitters, I gently remind him. ¬†“I know it’s hard right now. ¬†Please give it a chance. ¬†You’ve committed to play, people are depending on you. Get through the season…who knows? Maybe you’ll find that love again.”

He begrudgingly agreed.

I won’t lie, the first game he played, the first at-bat he had, as a freshman? My heart was in my throat.

It wasn’t pretty. ¬†In fact, it was darn ugly–the score? 18-0.

The one bright spot was his triple. ¬†When that dinger went long, my heart slipped down out of my throat and damn near beat out of my chest ūüôā

He’s most always played first base, but was in center field. He complained of boredom, standing around in the outfield while our pitching struggled. ¬†I didn’t have any answers, just letting him vocalize his frustrations.

The next game was a bit better, they “only” lost by 7. ¬†A couple of base hits, including another triple, switching from playing center to short stop later in the game. ¬†His mood? ¬†A tad lighter.

Yesterday’s game was in a neighboring small town. ¬†I made the drive over, praying that he would use his abilities for the glory of God and have a little fun in the process.

At bat? A triple, base hit, a walk, a run scored and a RBI.  Starting out in left field, he moved back to first base quickly.  It looked like the boy was back at home.  We lost 4-3, errors lost the game.

I hugged him after the game, then drove back to the high school, waiting for the bus to bring the team home.

He piled into the car, tired but with a twinkle in his eye.

“Mom, I’m beginning to remember how much I loved the game. ¬†I’m starting to enjoy myself. ¬†And Dad? He’s there with me, I can feel him.”

“Basketball’s still number one with me, but I think this is going to be okay.”

Says the boy who was asked by the head coach to move up to junior varsity just yesterday. He’ll play for both teams, which means Mama will be driving to the Metroplex quite a lot the next month and a half.

But it’s all good.

He’s rekindled his love for America’s game, and I am so very grateful.

They say “time heals”….that’s a crock. ¬†Time will never heal the void of two young men missing their extraordinary daddy.

Time softens.  Time gives perspective.  Time allows you to get used to a normal you never asked for.

And God alone heals.

ajburk

An open letter to grief

Dear grief,

I hate you.

For a bit over four years, I’ve battled you on a daily basis. ¬†In the beginning, I was numb–really I think it was shock.

I’ve lost loved ones in my lifetime prior to this. ¬†Grandparents, a 44 year old uncle, a 46 year old aunt, my dad, my father-in-law, and several close friends. ¬†You took up residence with me for quite awhile. ¬†The most difficult being the loss of my dad, I remember crying in bed on a nightly basis for months. ¬†I was so blessed to have a husband who loved me, who held me close while I cried.

Then a little over four years ago, the unspeakable happened.  That loving husband and daddy to two little boys died.

And grief?  You welled up inside me, spilling over like hot lava from a volcano eruption, pouring out all over my world.

You damaged everything I knew and loved.

Not only was I dealing with my grief, but also the unimaginable grieving of two boys–old enough to grasp the depth of what they had lost, and smart enough to ask the tough questions.

I didn’t know how we’d get through you.

Counseling helped.

Immersing ourselves in our faith, our church, and being surrounded by a loving support group of friends and family also gave us the lifelines we needed.

All I knew for sure was I had two boys depending on me to suck it up, and I needed to find some semblance of normal.  Not the wonderful, safe, lovely normal we previously had, but a new one, fashioned on a wing and a prayer.

If you’ll excuse the language, grief, you are a sonofabitch to live with.

I never know when you’ll rear your ugly head. ¬†For the first two years or so, you were a constant companion, no matter the circumstance. ¬†We assumed you would be with us every waking moment. ¬†You were with us, at times, in our dreams.

Then, slowly and deliberately, you stepped back from the spotlight, content to roam around the periphery of our lives.  We began to laugh again, to have fun, to really enjoy life, all without any guilt.

Oh sure, you decide to pop up when we least expect it, but the times without you are now more numerous than those with you.

Not only do I hate you, grief, but also your siblings: guilt, regret, and fear.

Guilt and regret, when coupled with grief, keep one looking in the past. ¬†“What if I had done this?” ¬†“If I had only…” “Why did he not…?”

None of these are healthy. ¬†Nor do they do my family any good. ¬†It’s a bit like worrying. ¬†Worrying won’t change anything, and will only rob you of joy in the present.

Fear is your worst sibling, I call it the “black sheep” of the family. Fear is the absence of faith. ¬†When fear creeps in, right alongside grief, it’s a one-two punch of bad. ¬†The only way to beat fear is to face it, head on.

But as much as I hate you and your siblings, today I had an epiphany:

I am a better person because of you.

You, with your twisted pain, have molded this family into a unit far stronger than I could have ever imagined.

We’re tough. ¬†We don’t take anyone or anything for granted.

We grab hold of each day as the gift it is.

And my sons?

They are astonishingly normal, in spite of you (and me).  Empathetic, sensitive, confident, full of hope for the great futures that await them.

Secure in the knowledge that even in the midst of a terrible, crappy situation where their dad is in heaven, they are still so blessed.

They are confident, young Christian men who are already making a positive difference in their little corners of the world.

And although I wish their dad were still with us, physically, we know he is with us nonetheless.

Because of you, grief, I am a different person.  A more compassionate person.  A better person.

And I’m going to spend the rest of my days helping others deal with you.

You’re ugly and messy and a hard pill to swallow. ¬†But battling you makes one strong. ¬†When you are cut down to size, with God’s help, you really aren’t so scary. ¬†You’ll always be in the shadows, but you’ve finally learned your place.

Death is a part of life. ¬†Our society sweeps it under the rug, it’s a taboo subject most are too uncomfortable to discuss.

Although you will never be welcome in a household, some good can come from you.

I thank you for the lessons learned, the love that’s multiplied because of you, the hope that’s sprung in our hearts in spite of you.

Hey, grief, don’t get too comfortable…I still hate you.

But you’re evidently an integral part of the plan God has for my future, the future of two boys. So I accept you for who you are.

We’ll tolerate you for the rest of our lives.

Respectfully,

Nancy

Second (or third, or fifty-third) wind…

August.

My family survived July; we’re getting our second (or third, or fifty-third) wind, as the summer wanes. And as much as I wanted July to be over—specifically July 30 and 31—I want August to Just. Slow. Down.

Time, as the old Steve Miller Band song pontificates, keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into the future.

As I turn the calendar pages to August, the first day of school glares back at me. I don’t want this summer to end.

I long for just a few more days of laziness, of staying up late and sleeping in.

A chance to snuggle on sleepy-eyed, messy-haired boys, before they awaken enough to realize they’re being loved on.

I want a few more evenings of no school-related obligations, where I can sit on the couch between two laughing, increasingly-long legged children as we watch borderline-inappropriate-boy-humor programming.

I want to freeze these moments in time.

I¬†keep two school pictures of the boys on prominent display in our front room–they were always on Mark’s desk at work. ¬†Taken during the last school year he was with us (2010-2011), our boys 3rd and 2nd graders. ¬†

This is how they looked when their daddy was alive.  

This is a moment forever frozen in time.

A time where we all had the world on a string, where laughter and fun echoed throughout our household most every day. ¬†AJ and Ben really didn’t have a care in the world. ¬†Loving parents, a nice home, everything they needed, along with a few things they wanted–they couldn’t ask for more.

As I look at these photos, it seems like a lifetime ago.  

Two little boys, one tow-headed blonde, the other, dark eyes dancing above a snaggle-toothed smile, had no idea how life would change that summer.

And although I want to take away the pain, I cannot.

It’s a pain they will never “get over.” ¬†A longing they will always have. ¬†A void no one or no thing will ever fill.

My job?  To stand in the gap and fill that void as much as I humanly can.   I trust God to fill in the rest.

On days like this, the responsibility overwhelms me.  I have so much to teach them, so much to tell them.

And so little time.

They tell me on a regular basis that I am enough.

I know, deep down, I am only enough with God’s help.

Summer’s waning. ¬†

And I’m not ready to give them back to Barwise Leadership Academy.

Two weeks and counting.

What will you do with your children today?

Whatever it is, make sure it counts.  

For starters here, at least, I’m heading in for some sleepy-eyed snuggle time, then we’re heading to church. ¬†God likes it when we visit His place.

The True God who inhabits sacred space is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.

Psalm 68:5 (VOICE)

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2010

July stinks

I hate July.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I truly dislike this month.

This month holds too many memories.  Most of them wonderful, great, and fun.  Some of them, however, are very, very bad.

July 30, 2011, was the day we lost Mark.  That day, my life forever changed.

That day, our sons’ lives forever changed.

I became a widow.

They became orphans, at least in the biblical sense.

I felt like my arms had been cut off.  I lost my best friend, husband, lover, confidante, and biggest cheerleader.

My boys lost a wonderful role model, someone who was compassionate, just, loving, patient, and had integrity to spare.  They lost a dad who loved them beyond compare.

Life goes on.

We adjust our sails and move forward, because that’s what Mark would want us to do. ¬† I have two boys to raise, and by the grace of God, we’re doing okay.

And while there’s been great healing in all our lives, and we’ve forged a new path, July still takes us back to the surreal place in time where we were forced to say goodbye to not only the best man we’ve ever known, but also a way of life.

So we hurt.

And grieve.

And cry, in the midst of smiles, remembering.

Life’s not fair. ¬†You play the hand you’re dealt.

I’m determined to play the heck outta this hand until the dealer’s out of money and the casino’s closed ūüôā

“God in His holy house is a father to those who have no father.

And He keeps the women safe whose husbands have died.” ¬†

Psalms 68:5 (NLV)

Howell, Party of 4, Wilderness Lodge, Walt Disney World, August 2010

Howell, Party of 4, Wilderness Lodge, Walt Disney World, August 2010

Wandering in the desert

It’s mid July. ¬†And it’s hot here in Wichita Falls. ¬†Not hot enough to qualify as a desert, thank-you-very-much, but hot enough for this Kentucky native.

I’ve been absent from this, my “first love” in writing, for months.

But no more. ¬†I’ve come to realize that I cannot be all things to all people, and I’ve re-aligned my commitments and priorities. ¬†As much as I loved being a part of both A Widow’s Might and aNew Season ministries, those responsibilities were beginning to keep me from this, my first love. ¬†I will never be able to express adequately both my love and my thanks to a group of women I worked alongside for 3 years.

Because of that opportunity, I am now a published contributing author, part of 4 seasonal widows’ devotionals (http://www.amazon.com/Love-HER-Life-Devotions-Ministries/dp/1499676255/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436980258&sr=8-1&keywords=for+the+love+of+her+life).

Because of that opportunity, I have grown spiritually by leaps and bounds.  I have discovered a sisterhood of women, all part of the club no one wants to join.

But God is calling me to follow in a new direction.  One that I am so not equipped for.     He assures me He will do the necessary equipping, as needed.

I’ve argued with Him, asking:

“Are You sure, God?”

Questioned His nudging:

“Do You really think I can do this?”

Attempted to barter with Him (yes, I know, not a good idea!):

“Just let me keep doing what I’m doing, at least until xxx date. ¬†Then, I’ll be ready to take the plunge.”

He’s having none of it. ¬†So I finally surrendered. ¬†Cried “uncle.” Threw in the towel.

I’m listening. ¬†No more excuses, no more one-sided arguments.

God’s a great negotiator. ¬†He ALWAYS wins.

Another chapter in the re-invention of Nancy has begun.

I don’t know how my story will end. Heavens, I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring.

But surprisingly, I’m not worried.

The best Author ever is in charge of writing it.

The one thing I do know for sure is that it certainly won’t be boring.

All for His glory, that’s my motto.

 This is what the scripture says:

‚ÄúIf you hear God’s voice today,
    do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were
¬†¬†¬†¬†when they rebelled against God.‚ÄĚ

Who were the people who heard God’s voice and rebelled against him?

All those who were led out of Egypt by Moses.

With whom was God angry for forty years?

With the people who sinned, who fell down dead in the desert. 

When God made his solemn promise, ‚ÄúThey will never enter the land where I would have given them rest‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒof whom was he speaking? Of those who rebelled. We see, then, that they were not able to enter the land, because they did not believe. ¬†

Hebrews 3:15-19 (GNT)

Equip me, God.  Enough to get through today.  No more wandering in the desert, I promise.  Nine months is my limit.  My thirst is parched, my soul hungry for You.  I know You are enough.

Tomorrow, we’ll do it again. ¬†And again the next day….until I’m who You want me to be.

love, Nancy