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.….

Savoring the sweet….

In this roller coaster ride called life, you’ve got to savor the sweet.

There will be sour, dour, unhappy times–of this you can be sure.¬†¬†Some folks seem to get more than their fair share of the unhappy, which makes the happy & sweet even more precious to behold.

Every once in awhile, God gives me a glimpse of the bigger picture, one that I have cursed, cried about, begged to have taken from me numerous times in the past almost-six years.

I didn’t want to be a solo parent.

I didn’t want two little boys to be without their daddy.

I didn’t want to learn how to mow the lawn, weed-eat, take the vehicles for oil changes, inspections, and registrations.

I didn’t want to be responsible for making every adult decision in my household.

I didn’t want to even tend the garden out in front of my house.

And that’s just the few things I came up with, right now, off the top of my head.¬† Heaven knows there are hundreds more.

I still remember the first time I was given a respite, where God, in all His glory, gave me a few moments of peace in the first few months of this gig I have now embraced (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em).¬† I was waiting for my boys to come out from their elementary school.¬† It was a lovely, bright spring day.

I sat at an old picnic table, way past its prime at the time.  There was no one else around.  The wind was blowing slightly, rustling the new leaves in the huge trees above me.  The sun lazily peeked through them; birds were going about their business of courtship, with lovely tunes filling the air.

In that moment, all my worries and sadness slipped away.  I felt content. I felt peace.  I knew my boys and I were going to make it.

That moment lasted maybe 30 seconds.  But it was exactly what I needed to keep plodding along.

There have been other similar moments throughout the past few years, but the first one will always be memorable.

Yesterday, God gave me another.

The eighth grader gets picked up from school first, so we have about 10 minutes of alone time, just the two of us, while heading to the high school to retrieve the freshman & two of his friends.

Some days, we just have small talk.¬† Some days, we don’t say much at all.¬† Still on others, we jam to music, singing along if the tune’s worthy of our pipes.

Yesterday, though, Ben clearly had something he wanted to share.

“Mom, I’m really glad you don’t have to work out of town, or crazy shifts, where we wouldn’t get to see you.”

Ben, so am I.¬† Your daddy and I worked long and hard–we are so very fortunate that I am able to be here for you and your brother.¬† Many parents don’t get that opportunity.

When I probe a bit further, I find he’s worried about a fellow student.¬† A student with both parents living.¬† One works nights, the other, days.¬† This kid rarely ever sees the one parent, who is either sleeping most of the time the kid isn’t, or when not sleeping seems to have priorities other than family time.

My kid, the one who lost his dad at age 8, is putting himself in another person’s shoes.

“Mom, I feel sorry for him.¬† I know that he has both his parents.¬† And I really miss Dad.¬† But I want to tell you, you’re like having two parents.¬† You do it all.”

I’m like having two parents.¬†

That is, most likely, the sweetest sentence I have heard in years, outside of “I love you.”

He’s being all matter-of-fact.¬† And I just lose it, right there on Kemp Boulevard, next to Applebee’s, in the midst of after-school traffic.

Tears.  Nose running. Laughing and smiling.

“Ben, you’ll never know how much that means to me.¬† You’ve made my week.¬† You very well made my month!”

God, once again, knew what I needed whenever I didn’t have a clue.¬† A spring-time glimpse into the bigger picture.

A picture that evidently includes two empathetic, loving young men, developing beautifully in spite of the fact their dad is in heaven.

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#thanksGod

 

 

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

Breaking up is hard to do….

It’s not you, it’s me.

I have watched as this Presidential election has pitted friend against friend and divided families.

For the most part, my family has tried to stay above the fray, not using social media for anything except positive posts, family photos for the grandmas, and dog/cat logs.

But this morning, things are different.

I thought things would be better on November 9th.

My social media newsfeeds tell me otherwise.

Never one to stick my head in the sand (found out a bit over five years ago that doesn’t work–believe me, I tried!), I have decided I have outgrown social media.

It’s lost the intended purpose for which it was created–a way to stay in touch, a way to share joys and concerns, a way for my sons’ family members living far away to see how much they’ve grown and matured.

So I’m breaking up with you, Facebook.

It’s been real, Twitter.

Except for the occasional grandson picture for Mary Ellen & Sandra, and cross-posting of my blog (which I have greatly neglected BECAUSE of social media), I am done.

Finished.  Stick a fork in me.

For those of you who have not subscribed to my blog, please do so, because here and only here you are going to get me, the real me.  100% of who I am.

Some of you, after reading future posts may decide to unsubscribe ūüôā

I’m just a widow, raising two sons, instilling in them a sense of justice, to be colorblind when it comes to skin tone (all souls are the same color, don’t you know?).

They’ll treat women with the respect they deserve, as equals, capable of achieving anything–they see a strong woman leading their family, after all,¬†which is a humbling realization for this left handed girl from Western Kentucky.

They don’t see nationality, gender, religion or lack thereof.¬† They will¬†treat each and every person as if they have worth–because they DO.

I’m going back to my first love, blogging and writing. ¬†Facebook has been a sorry substitute for what God has called me to do. I’ve spent way too much time staring at a screen, getting my panties in a bunch over crap that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. ¬†The view on social media is much like a racehorse’s wearing¬†blinders; you don’t get the real picture of what’s going on around you. ¬†You see one path, oblivious to anything and everything else.¬† In the process, you can become jaded.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing when you’re a racehorse.

But it can be dangerous¬†when you’re a human being. Seeing the whole picture is what sets us apart from the racehorse.

The greatest thing He has called me to do is to love. ¬†A close second is be a positive role model for two teenage young men, who are looking to me today for guidance more than they have in years.¬† I assure them we’re going to be okay.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a world to change and boys to raise.

In other words, I have bigger fish to fry than “liking” posts or “retweeting” profound prose.¬† I am weary of social media.¬† It’s become a cancer instead of a cure.

In the end, when all is said and done, all we take from this earth is love.

As for me and my house, we¬†will continue to love extravagantly without any stipulations, to feel others’ pains and empathize, and most importantly live large (a favorite saying of my late husband).¬†¬†The three of us want to take so darn much love with us when we head to heaven that we’ll need extra bags to put it all in ūüôā

“It’s not you, it’s me….” ¬†And this breakup is amazingly freeing.

I highly recommend you do the same ūüôā

“So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the best one of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (GW)

Three little words

Hate. ¬†Bigotry. ¬†Racism. ¬†Refugees. ¬†Bombings. ¬†Hunger. ¬†Homelessness. ¬†Death. ¬†Grief….

The list goes on and on and on.

How does one go about explaining to their children the dire and desperate events going on in our world today?

My sons are intuitive, intelligent, and empathetic.  Nothing much gets past them.

One of the first conversations I had with them after their dad’s death includes this promise:
“No question or circumstance is ever taboo or off the table. ¬†If you have a question or concern, come to me. ¬†I may not know the answer, and if I don’t, I will be perfectly honest and tell you so. ¬†We will search for the answer together.”

I’ve held up my end of the bargain. ¬†In the past four plus years, we’ve broached most every subject imaginable–some easier dealt with than others. ¬†You name it, we talk about it. ¬†With God’s help, I’ve created a safe place for them to fall, somewhere where they feel valued and loved. ¬†Somewhere they can ask the hard questions and get real answers.

But the world events of the past month?  I have no answers for.

The three of us feel suspended in a parallel universe. ¬†One where we’re striving to follow not only God’s words, but also the teachings of His Son.

We’re being bombarded with leaders in both political and religious arenas, spewing hate, fear, and racism, all in the name of Jesus.

The scarier part is the legions of people professing to be Christians hopping on board, right alongside them.

Evidently history is doomed to repeat itself.

Remember the Japanese internment camps inside the United States during World War II?

How about the countless Christians who stood by quietly as they watched their Jewish neighbors be systematically ridiculed, beaten, made homeless, and shipped off to concentration camps during that same period of time?

I don’t have answers for the events now shaping our world.

But God does.

When my 12 year old tells me, “Mom, my generation is pretty much screwed,” how should I reply?

The former pessimist inside would have nodded in agreement. ¬†Praise God she doesn’t live here anymore.

Instead, I tell both he and his older brother that while yes, the circumstances of the world seem dire, they and young people like them have a unique opportunity.  They can be the light, a formidable change in this broken world.

I see the worry etched across his brow ease as my words soothe his soul.

In times such as these, all we can do is keep on keeping on.

Teach your children well. ¬†Spend time with them in God’s word every day. ¬†Pray with them and for them.

On our daily drive to school, I pray over each of them out loud, asking God to envelope them in his arms throughout the day.  I give them to Him as they exit my vehicle.

They leave me with a smile, a light in their eyes that hate and racism and bigotry cannot extinguish.

And the three little words I say, without fail, as they leave?

“Go with God.”

As I receive text messages while at work last week, advising parents of school lock downs as a precaution due to a shooting at a gun shop, I have no worries.  My God is bigger.

While I witness another parent worry, call, and panic over the status of her child, I remain calm.  My God is in control.

In the midst of world chaos, uncertainty, and so many wolves in sheeps’ clothing parading across social media and the political arena, I am resolute. ¬†My God sees through the facade and is taking copious notes.

“Go with God” no matter the circumstances.

“Go with God” no matter what leaders may say.

“Go with God” for peace in the midst of the hurricane of life.

“Go with God” and never settle.

“Go with God” without any stipulations ¬†such as “unless” or “but.”

Take Him with you every second of every day.

Go with God.

 

 

 

 

Let us be transparent

My paternal grandmother died of an aggressive form of colon cancer when I was just 10 years old.

It was the early 1970s, well before the advent of modern chemotherapy, radiation, and experimental treatments.  Surgery was, at best, the only viable option.

I don’t remember specifics, but I do remember that she kept her symptoms from her grown children for months before her diagnosis. ¬†You see, she didn’t want to worry or inconvenience anyone.

Her surgery was deemed “successful.” ¬†Her oncologist assured our family that he’d gotten it all. ¬†“She’ll die from something else like old age, but not this cancer.”

(insert famous last words here)

Within a couple of months, the cancer was back, with a vengeance.  Short of a miracle, her frail body would succumb to this awful disease.

Someone in the family, one of her children, decided that we would not discuss her terminal situation in her presence.

So we didn’t.

We didn’t get the opportunity to tell her goodbye.

Instead, we washed our faces clean of the tears, plastered on fake smiles, and talked optimistically about life.  Her future.  Her getting better.

At the time, I didn’t understand why we were lying to her.

She knew how sick she was.  She was no dummy.

She was a strong Christian, a Pentecostal lady who spent Sundays shouting and praising her Lord, even while standing in the kitchen, preparing lunch for a dozen people.

She knew.

And now, 40 years after the fact, I look back and realize what a mistake that was.

We didn’t tell her what she meant to us. ¬†We didn’t get to say goodbye properly. ¬†We danced around the elephant in the room, day after day, night after night.

It was a long, arduous, painful process, her death. ¬†She knew how much she was loved. ¬†I just wish I could’ve told her one more time.

Here in the 21st century, folks still generally deal with death like an awkward teenager’s first attempt at driving a car.

We don’t know what the heck we’re doing.

Let’s don’t talk about it and maybe it will go away.

It’s like sitting in the driver’s seat of a car for the first time. ¬†You see the steering wheel, the gear shift, and the pedals in the floorboard. ¬†You know the goal (driving said car), but putting all of the working parts together takes time and practice.

That’s your soul journey in a nutshell. ¬†Your soul sits in the driver’s seat of your life. ¬†You see all the gadgets and pedals and gears, but putting it all together? ¬†Takes a lifetime to get it right.

And the best way to live your journey is to be transparent.

My grandmother should have been told, “You are going to die from this awful, terrible disease. We’re going to spend whatever time you have left telling you how much you are loved. ¬†How much you mean to us. ¬†We want you to tell us stories, give us some pearls of wisdom to get us through the difficult days ahead. ¬†Let your faith be our guide.”

She died in 1973.  I miss her every day.  She was one of the biggest Christian influences in my life.

Honesty.  Transparency.  Facing the tough diagnoses.  Choosing to live well in spite of the bad.

It’s what quenches souls.

It’s what connects you to others.

It’s what sustains you while in this imperfect dance called¬†life.

That, my friends, is where God is glorified.

While my soul’s sitting in the driver’s seat of this temporal life, I’m going to tell it like it is for anyone that cares to listen. ¬†I’m teaching my sons the same.

Transparency sometimes comes after hitting rock bottom. ¬†It’s a freeing moment when there are no more secrets.

Transparency allows those who practice it the ability to live without regrets or hidden agendas.

If nothing else it certainly makes for an interesting dress rehearsal ūüôā

“Happily ever after??”

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The reality is you have no idea where your life will take you tomorrow. You are like a mist that appears one moment and then vanishes another.

James 4:14 (VOICE)

“And they lived happily ever after… The End.”

How many times have you seen the above words, either at the close of a fairy tale or the end of a movie?

How many times have you, as a parent, read a story to your children that concluded in this manner?

Attention, people of Earth: ¬†There is no such thing as “happily ever after” this side of Heaven.

It’s a crock, a pie-in-the-sky term which plays to our romantic side and wistful daydreaming.

No one, no matter how lovely the life or the relationship or the family, lives happily ever after. ¬†“Happily ever after” gives a false sense of security, a technicolor existence that can never live up to those three words.

“Ever afters” eventually come to an end.

And endings are not pretty, at least the ones I’ve experienced in my life.

Endings are messy.  The majority are not wanted by at least one of the parties involved.

Endings may evoke sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, and anger.  They may cause great pain.  Lives are forever changed by endings.

Death is the ending feared most by the human race. ¬†But let’s face it by taking the bull by the horns. ¬† We’re going to die some day. ¬†As James so eloquently puts it, we’re like a mist, a vapor–here today, gone tomorrow.

Endings are inevitable.  We cannot get around them.

Embrace that reality.  Incorporate it into your daily living.

The sooner that simple fact sinks in to our sometimes-thick skulls, the sooner we can go about the business of living “happily every day.”

Whether you like it or not, at some point in your life (or at many points in your life), an ending you’re not prepared for will occur.

Your “happily ever after” stops.

The best way to deal with the reality of endings is to live fully in the moment.

Every minute of every day, every day of every month, year after year after year–don’t take your happy for granted.

Choose it.  Live it.  Experience it.  Love it.

Instead of happily ever after, live happily every day.

Then when “the end” comes, you can face it with no regrets.

Just another day

26 So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

27 And He Who searches the hearts of men knows what is in the mind of the [Holy] Spirit [what His intent is], because the Spirit intercedes and pleads [before God] in behalf of the saints according to and in harmony with God’s will.

28 We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.

Romans 8:26-28 (AMP)

7/22/11 Ben, Mark, and AJ

7/22/11 Ben, Mark, and AJ at Six Flags over Texas

To 99.9 percent of the world, yesterday was “just another day.”

For the Howell party of three, it signified the 4th year we’ve walked this earth without Mark.

I keep thinking and hoping July 30 will not hurt as much as the years pass. ¬†So far, that’s been the farthest thing from the truth. ¬†And for those of you who have never suffered a loss of a great husband or daddy, you most likely won’t get “it.” ¬†If you’re in that category, you might want to save yourself some time and stop reading now ūüôā

Time stopped July 30, 2011, a little before midnight.  A great guy died.  At least time stopped for those who knew and loved him.  And for those of us closest to him?  Life as we knew it stopped with his last breath.

As the intensive care nurses coded him (protocol followed, short of a miracle, there was no hope), I felt part of me washing away with the bitter tears I cried.  His spirit, so tangible in the room, had bigger fish to fry, so to speak, and I felt him leave.

And as difficult as July 30 was and is for me, today, July 31, is worse. ¬†For today is the date I had to drive over to a friend’s home and tell Mark’s sons that their dad was gone.

It’s been four years.

By the grace of God, we’re healing.

By the grace of God, we’re moving forward.

By the grace of God, I’ve found purpose and meaning in a single life unimagined before his death.

By the grace of God, our sons are emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy, despite the gaping hole left in both their hearts.

As I watched the clock yesterday, trying to make the hours go by faster, I heard from a few friends and family.  They remembered.  They know what July 30 means to us.

The words spoken, the texts and messages written?  Touched us deeply.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for remembering. It might not be a big deal to you, but it certainly was to us.

Life goes on. ¬†It was “just another day” to everyone else.

For everyone who has a day on their calendar like July 30 is on ours, know that we get it.  We understand your hurt.

We acknowledge that while the world says to “move on and heal already” (infamous words from someone so clueless it’s laughable), it is perfectly fine to just move forward.

Moving forward is healthy.

Moving on? ¬†For this household, at least, it’s not an option.

I trust God to continue to make beauty out of our ashes. ¬†He’s in full control.

Someday, we may understand why life as we knew it stopped 4 years ago.

Until then, we’ll keep moving forward, in this, our next chapter. ¬†We’re depending on God to pen beautiful stories for all three of us.

Hope floats

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go.

It‚Äôs an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.” ¬†¬†Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Message)

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Hope. ¬†It’s the connection between mere mortals and our Creator.

Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Especially this week, full of memories I’d rather forget. ¬†I replay the events from 4 years ago, a routine surgery gone terribly wrong. ¬†I walked into the hospital with my healthy husband. ¬†I walked out 5 days later as a widow.

Try as I might, the events play over and over in my head, like a macabre highlight reel stuck on “repeat” or “rewind.” ¬†Last Sunday, 7/25 (the date of his first surgery), my phone, kept on silent by my bedside, vibrated twice at 4:30 a.m. ¬†That’s the exact time we’d awakened to go to the hospital, 4 years ago.

Talk about a wake-up call.

I just went ahead and got up for the day, there was no going back to sleep afterwards.

Hope assures me, however, this is not how my family’s story will end.

Hope tells me I must keep my head up, looking ahead. ¬†Looking back will bring only pain and a litany of “shoulda-woulda-coulda” moments.

Hope reminds me this is only a dress rehearsal, this thing called “life.” ¬†It passes in the blink of an eye.

Hope insists God will restore us. ¬†Hope declares His purpose for our lives will eventually be revealed, and that any pain will be used for His glory. He’s given us glimpses, and it’s going to be beautiful. ¬†But right now it just hurts.

When we’re weary, replaying sad events in our minds, hope is the nudge that refocuses us.

It’s an unbreakable lifeline, hope. ¬†No matter the circumstance or situation, hope remains.

So we continue to hope. ¬†“Hope is an anchor, firm and secure.”

“Hope floats..”

In the meantime, my boys and I will keep plugging along, fixing our eyes on an unknown future–trusting it to a known God.

Grabbing onto the lifeline, not letting go.

Hoping for better days in August.

Family

I love my family.

Are we perfect?  No.

But boy, do we know how to have a good time.

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This past week my sons and I have been with my mom, brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces, near Branson, Missouri.  We rented a cabin and spent 24/7 with one another for 5 days.

I consider it a success because we all survived and no one got hurt (physically or emotionally!).

During that precious time, I got to drink coffee with my brother in the mornings.  I drank something a bit stronger with him in the evenings.  I watched him be a daddy and husband.  I observed his sweet demeanor with our mom, who lives near them in Kentucky.

My boys got unlimited time with their only cousins, both girls. ¬†The older will be sixteen next month, the younger is eleven. ¬†It’s amazing to see how all 4 easily fall back into a routine, enjoying each others’ company.

My sister in law is a jewel; I love her strong will and her ability to find good in all circumstances. ¬†She’s a great mother, to boot.

My mom, who is getting older, sure enjoyed watching her grandchildren, and relished having 7 of the people she loves most under one roof, if only for a few days.

My boys and I hadn’t seen them in a year.

I’m almost ashamed to type that sentence above….but living so far away makes visits more difficult.

Life passes in a twinkling of an eye.  You never know how many days the good Lord has for you in His book.

So make time to visit those that you love.  Whatever cost or inconvenience or rearrangement of schedules necessary is well worth it.

Make some memories. I hope we get the chance to do it all again, sooner instead of later.

I know my boys will remember the zip-lining, the roller coasters, and “throwed” rolls from Lambert’s Cafe.

I’ll remember the laughter, the conversations, and all the hugging.

But the zip-lining was pretty cool, too.