Be an encourager. Speak life. Speak hope. Speak love.
Speak when it’s safer to remain silent. Let your words be arms of compassion.
Stand up. Speak out. Be the change.
The world could sure use it.
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:
“If you hear God’s voice today,
do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were
when they rebelled against God.”
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, “They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest”—of 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.
“Mom, was I only 8 whenever Dad died?”
That question came out of left field earlier this week, as Ben and I travelled from school to home. His brother, at football practice for another hour or so, was absent from the car. It was just the two of us.
“Yes, Benny, you were. That was a little over three years ago.”
“Well, Mom, that just really sucks…”
“I know, Ben. And unfortunately it will suck every day for the rest of your life. You and your brother don’t have your dad physically alongside you anymore. But you know he’s with you, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Mom. But it still sucks.”
Then, not a day later, Andrew (AJ), out of the blue exclaims, “I just wish I could hug Dad one more time.”
I know, boys, I know.
As great as we’re doing (and we are, thank you very much, God), we still have these moments. We always will.
My dad’s been gone for 10 1/2 years. I miss him every day. But I was lucky to have him for almost 41 years.
In comparison, AJ and Ben were merely 9 and 8 when Mark died.
I gave up on asking God “Why?” years ago. Some answers are just not here for us to find, this side of heaven.
There’s a greater plan for my boys, one that God is orchestrating.
The day their dad died, for all practical purposes, a big chunk of their childhoods died along with him.
With no way to prevent it, I decided, instead, to embrace it.
Our family motto? 100% transparency. In everything I do for the family. That’s how we roll.
No question or problem or issue is off the table. I made that commitment to them shortly after their daddy died. Come to me, you can ask me anything. No judging. No repercussions. No uneasy shifting in my chair when the tough questions arise.
I will tell you the truth. And, if you ask something that I don’t know, we’ll search for the answer together, as a team.
They feel comfortable with this arrangement. Believe me, as the teenage years come down the pike, I’m getting more questions and inquiries every day.
Forced to grow up in July of 2011, AJ and Ben have wisdom and experience beyond their biological years.
Their faith, their empathy, their love for me and for each other (whether they admit it or not!) amazes me. Thinking on a whole different plane than most kids their ages, they seem to be settling in to a comfortable routine with school and extracurricular activities.
I told folks, after Mark died, they had a good start. It was my job not to screw them up. And I really wasn’t joking when I said that.
By the grace of God, I’m not…at least not today 🙂
And at moments like this, on the day before what would have been their Dad’s 59th birthday, I remind myself to be thankful. We are healthy, we are happy, and we are living well.
It’s how their dad rolled.
Three lives well-lived. It’s the best way to honor their daddy. I know he’s proud.
Thank you, God, for healing. For sweet memories. And for the privilege of being Mom to AJ and Ben.
p.s. Please help me out, God, when we get to the questions about puberty. Amen
I haven’t blogged in months. The last entry, posted in May 2014 extolled the wonders of the new love I had found.
Guess what? I’m now single. And darn happy about it.
Not three weeks after I published that post, I came to the realization the man I’d been dating, that I loved, was NOT the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Without going into details, suffice it to say he was jealous of a dead man, my late husband. He was never going to be okay with my mentioning my first love, with my posting pictures of my boys and their dad on social media on special days like Father’s Day. He wanted to control who I saw, where I went, and who my friends were.
Looking back, I ignored many red flags, thinking my love would be enough.
But when the rubber met the road, I knew I had to cut my losses, save my sons and myself, and end the relationship.
“When it was good, it was very, very good. But when it was bad, it was horrid.”
A year ago, I opened myself up to dating for the first time in 28 years. I was a vulnerable widow, sad and lonely. I was taken advantage of.
Since the end of the relationship I have worked on me. Spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
I have finally figured out who I am, apart from Mark Howell.
Apart from any and all men, for that matter….even Andrew and Benjamin.
I’m happy, truly happy, for the first time since July 30, 2011, the day which forever changed the course of my life.
I’m not who I was.
And praise God, I’m not who I’m going to be.
But for now, I kinda like who I am.
Believe me, I’m not perfect.
I have questioned God the past three months, asking why in the wide world of sports would He have allowed a seemingly-perfect man into my life, and into the lives of my sons, whenever he was most definitely NOT the right man for me, for my family.
Haven’t we been through enough?
A close friend asked two important questions:
“Are you stronger than you were before you met him?” and
“Did he show you that you could love again?”
To both, I answered a resounding “yes.”
Her follow up statement rocked me to the very depth of my soul: “Then he’s served his purpose for coming into your life. Now thank him, and move forward.”
So thank you. For showing me that I can be loved, and can love. For reinforcing what my late husband knew all along–
I am one badass strong woman,
capable of being the head of household, making decisions for my family, with God’s help.
I finally realize that I. AM. ENOUGH.
If there’s not another great guy in my future, in God’s plan for me?
That’s okay. I had one in my life for over a quarter of a century. Some women go their whole lives without that.
I will survive. Actually I’m doing quite well.
I’m wiser, happier, and more sure of who I am and what God wants me to do with this, the rest of my life.
You may have come to me, practically with a red bow around your neck. But looks and packaging can be deceiving.
I wish you nothing but happiness. I hope you find peace, and someone that will love you in the way you really and truly deserve. I pray for you every day.
Look out, world.
The reinvention of Nancy is going nicely.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
p.s. “Lovebug” is keeping her nickname 🙂 Lovebug, out ♥
Cannot believe I haven’t blogged in four months. That’s a new record for me. The last entry post was on the second anniversary of my becoming a widow.
So much has happened since.
I’m switching gears.
After twenty eight months of being Mark’s widow, of trying so hard to fit the mold of what I thought I needed to be for my sons and for myself,
I relinquish the title.
Yep. You read that correctly. The long-suffering widow is no more.
I feel like I’ve been in the world’s biggest-slow-to-change chrysalis or cocoon. Put into it against my will, I’ve made it a comfy space, filled with memories and mementos from a time in my life that is over. Although I didn’t like it at first, the confining size and close quarters became second nature. It has been my safe spot through my grief journey.
But all good things must come to an end. In the past two months, I’ve evidently morphed from a caterpillar into something more beautiful, with wings. And this little formerly-cozy snuggie has become too tight. I can’t stretch my wings inside its small perimeter.
I’ve outgrown the space. I’ve changed.
My most important role, that of mother to two of the most exquisite boys God ever created, remains the same. I can be a good mom whether I’m a caterpillar or a butterfly (or any variation thereof).
But what about me? I am ready to be known as something other than “just” a widow. That adjective is one I have worn with honor, but I no longer want to be defined by it anymore.
I am a single woman, 50 years young. There’s much more to life than sitting in a dark cocoon. The chrysalis, filled with photos, memories, clothes, and other reminders of a lifetime ago, needs to be cleaned out.
My boys will be given first choice of any and all of their dad’s stuff. And a lot of stuff there is, in a storage building and a closet that I have yet to touch.
His closet holds a plethora of clothes, shoes, and baseball cards. His sons will get first dibs. The rest will be given (with their approval, of course) to either Goodwill or AmVets.
He certainly doesn’t need them anymore.
And neither do I.
This healing, this breaking out of my cocoon, is both exciting and a wee bit scary for me.
It’s past time to do this.
The best example I can be to AJ and Ben is an active, happy, single mom, who is embracing life and all it has to offer with open arms and open hands.
No holding back. Nothing off limits.
And my heart?
It’s open, too, for the first time in a long time.
That, in itself, is a miracle.
A close friend tells me today I have been in survival mode for the past 2 plus years.
I like that comparison.
But I’ve been there, done that. Surviving isn’t living, it’s just going through the motions.
There’s so much more to life than just surviving.
Yesterday I laid down my widow’s millstone at the altar during Communion, asking God to help me spread my new-found wings.
Last night I momentarily reconsidered, struggling to get that heavy thing back around my neck.
Lucky for me, it doesn’t fit over the wings 🙂
It is my hope and my fervent prayer that God continues to use me in the midst of my circumstances in order to help others.
Because I’m so much more than “just” a widow.
Thank you, God, for restoration. And for helping me begin writing a fresh new chapter in my life.
This unimagined journey has finally become sweet.
It’s about time.
A little before midnight tonight, I will mark two years as a widow.
Over a million minutes. Over 62 million seconds! So much time has passed–yet again, so little time has passed. Does that make sense?
Life “b.w.” (before widowhood) was grand. I didn’t worry about anything. I had a big strong husband to take care of me. He and I were a perfect match. Fitting together like a hand-in-glove, we tackled life with enthusiasm and as a tag team.
We had meticulous plans.
Life “s.w.” (since widowhood)? It’s definitely had its moments. See those 730 days listed above? There was a time I didn’t think I could make it through one of those days without Mark.
But I didn’t have a choice. Looking back, that was my greatest blessing.
Little boys, depending on me for some normalcy, craving reassurance we were going to make it and be okay, gave me all the reason I needed to live and push forward.
I was clueless as to how to live without Mark. I’d been with him since I was 22. At his death, I was 48, with 8 and 9 year olds to raise.
Oh, the things I’ve learned. And oh, the things I have yet to learn!
Through it all, through each and every one of those 62 million seconds, God has been beside me.
He has been faithful.
He has carried me when needed.
He has caressed and carried my boys continually.
He has comforted me.
He has chided me.
He has shown me glimpses of His glory whenever I needed them most.
He has given me counsel.
He has been a great listener, never tiring of my pain or my tears.
He is ever-present!
There have been times I have faltered. I have done things I am not proud of. I have failed to be the child of God I know I am called to be. How great is our God that He never runs out of grace to forgive me, dust me off, and set me back on the path I need to follow?
Two years ago, I wondered what would become of my boys and me. Today, I know what we have become. We have become more patient. More tolerant. More empathetic. More mature in our faith. More pragmatic. More spontaneous.
We look each other in the eyes whenever we say “I love you,” and we mean it.
We never take a day for granted because of what we’ve weathered.
I asked God to help me to figure out the plan He had for the Howell party of three within these first two years. I wasn’t giving God a deadline. But July of 2013 was the month we were supposed to retire and move full time to Kansas family land. It was my hope that I would be able to discern what God wanted for us before the two year mark of widowhood was upon me.
Pulling back the dark clouds from time to time, God gives me sneak peeks into what He has in store for us.
I know what I am supposed to do, and I’m doing it.
I’m supposed to continue writing.
I’m in the process of building a getaway cabin on that family land in Kansas. It will be our oasis, a place where the boys and I can get back to the basics, and rip and snort on the land.
Maggie the wonder dog will be hunted. A lot.
Our main residence is to remain here, in Wichita Falls, for the foreseeable future. We’ve been here 21 years, and have an established support system of friends and church family. We love and are loved.
The future looks bright for all three of us, even in the midst of such loss.
That, dear ones, is something only our God can accomplish.
It is to Him that I give all the praise and the thanks.
Because two years ago tonight, my (our) future looked pretty bleak.
God restores. God repairs. God reigns.
I still hurt, and I will always grieve the loss of Mark Harold Howell from my earthly life. But I know I will see him again. And in the meantime? I plan on making him mighty proud.
I wrote my last posting while knee-deep in the midst of a self-imposed pity party. Now, it’s only the second or third one I’ve allowed myself since losing Mark. I’m not proud of myself for taking it, but it was necessary.
I stayed in my pajamas all day. I cried. I prayed. I searched scripture for encouragement. I spent a lot of time in bed. I ignored the phone.
I even took a two-hour nap that afternoon.
During that day, my boys understood and gave me some space. I made sure all of their needs were attended to but kept my distance. Told them that “Mom just needed the day to cry and pray” and that I would be better the next morning.
And I was.
I slept the best I had in weeks, and awoke with a fresh perspective and a renewed strength in what God expects of me.
He expects me:
*to get moving.
*to keep writing for outdoor enthusiasts, single mothers, and widows.
*to get off of my backside and reconnect with His big old beautiful world.
*to finish my book proposal and send it in to the editor that’s been waiting for it.
*to strive to be the best mother and child of God I can be.
In other words, I get to keep my big girl boots on. Permanently. It’s not pretty sometimes, but it’s my life.
Instead of wishing for the one thing I cannot have anymore (the love and physical presence of Mark), I must focus on the many things I do have.
I. am. blessed. beyond. measure.
Armed with that fresh perspective, I faced a big hurdle and, with God’s help, I cleared it. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but to those who know me well will understand completely.
I cooked crappie Saturday night. And we enjoyed it.
Why, do you ask, is cooking crappie a big deal?
Mark provided those fish, that’s why.
As an avid outdoorsman, he took great pride in providing food for his family. Over the years we’ve had pheasant, quail, duck, crappie, catfish, and crawfish that he hunted/caught/harvested. The running understanding was, he would catch/hunt/kill and dress it—then I would cook it. That arrangement worked well.
Two days before his fateful surgery, I asked him what he wanted for his “last meal” (not knowing at the time that it would be, in fact, his last earthly meal). Ribeye? T-bone? New York Strip?
Nope. He wanted crappie, fresh caught from Lake Arrowhead.
I cooked my husband those crappie. Along with homemade hush puppies, coleslaw, and all the trimmings. He ate his fill. Then he ate some more. We laughed, joked, and enjoyed the family table conversation with our two boys and my mother, who was visiting from Kentucky.
Only 6 short days later, he was gone.
Everytime I have opened our freezer door in the past almost two years since, those crappie fillets, painstakingly cleaned, dressed, and portioned in Ziploc bags with his handwriting on the labels (species, location caught, and date) have glared at me.
But I could not bear to cook them.
I’d even gone as far as to pull out a bag and begin to thaw it in my refrigerator….only to have second thoughts as sad memories flooded my mind. The frozen bag went back on the freezer door.
This past Saturday, I was ready to try it again. I pulled out a bag, and smiled at the scrawled Sharpie printing, so distinctively Mark’s, and began the thawing process in the refrig. The boys and I were having crappie.
And we did. With the boys’ approval, I fried crappie and made homemade onion rings. We sat around the family table, the three of us, and gave thanks for the food.
We used the family blessing, one that Mark brought home from elementary school, probably 50 years ago (back when prayers were still taught in school):
How long will I have to watch my boys suffer?
This is a rough time of the year for us.
The two year mark of losing Mark will be July 30th. Yes, two years have come and almost gone since two little boys lost their daddy, their rock, their comforter and protector. Their notion of what a man should be. Their biggest fan, the one they trusted to always be there for them.
He’s gone. And they are left with me. I am a poor substitute, masquerading as a strong, confident woman who is unafraid of the future. If they only knew. I feel like I am “all hat, no cattle”–at least today.
On the surface, I’ve got it all figured out. Boldly embracing our future, even without Mark beside me. Making decisions, formulating plans, starting to feel comfortable (finally!) with all of the responsibilities he took care of.
Underneath, in the deep recesses of my soul, I know I couldn’t do one of these things without God. I lean on Him. All the time.
Sandwiched between the surface “Nancy”(who is supermom, encouraging widow, outdoor writer, and all-round good egg) and the inner “Nancy” (child of God, with knowledge that He will make something good out of the bad we’ve been dealt) is the vast realm of flux I will refer to as vacillating Nancy.
Vacillating Nancy ebbs and flows. In this subconscious, middle ground of my mind, I can be anything and everything. I run the spectrum, from great mom, a wonderful “decider” (sorry, W, I couldn’t resist), household diva and designer to poor old pitiful me, someone who doesn’t even want to get out of bed.
Most days, I’m somewhere in the middle. Doing what is necessary, but not going the extra mile. You know those days…where you wash a spoon just so you have something clean to stir your creamer into your coffee. Where laundry piles up as long as there’s clean underwear in every person’s drawer.
I wanted to be further along in this grief thing by now. I know there’s no set schedule, no calendar of milestones to hit. And we’ve been doing fairly well.
So why do I feel like I’m on a downward spiral?
It began on Sunday. The boys and I headed to church for the 10:50 service. Vacation Bible School was the previous week, but we did not participate. Chances are, we’ll never participate in another VBS. Two years ago, while Mark fought for his life after surgery, our boys were in VBS nightly. My mom tended to them while I never left Mark’s side in the hospital. Smart boys, they knew, every night, as they participated in mundane crafts and singing songs that something just wasn’t right. Add in the fact that a bunch of kids attended that had most likely never set foot in a church, a schedule that wasn’t followed (they got out late most every evening), and it was total mayhem.
Let’s just say that VBS brings back a bunch of sad memories we don’t want to revisit.
We found our seats near the back of the sanctuary. Great. VBS kid’s music, performed by the most happy children’s professional choir ever assembled, was piped loudly throughout. The front area was draped with a mural from VBS. A quick glance at the bulletin showed that VBS was highlighted throughout, but there was a sermon scheduled. I thought we could tough it out.
But my heart began beating faster. My breathing became shallow and quick. That music, which must have sounded lovely to everyone else, taunted me. Happy children singing was the last thing I needed to hear.
A.J. could tell something was wrong. I leaned over and told them I didn’t think I could stay. They felt a bit uncomfortable as well, so we fled, a mere 5 minutes or so after arriving. Two sets of friends knowingly hugged me as I cried big old tears while exiting the building.
It was a rough day, but we made it.
How many more rough days and nights will we have?
Lord, how long do I have to cuddle and hold my boys while they cry themselves to sleep?
Will I ever get used to being single? I long to be part of a couple again.
How do I get rid of the self-doubt, the sadness, the uncertainty that creeps in from the vacillating desert that ebbs and flows between who I want to be and who I am?
How long, God, how long?
I pray, fully expecting God to answer. He has done so much for my little family in the past two years. We are healthy. We are financially stable. We are loved, have great friends, a church family that cares for us, and are moving forward, living life.
But we need more.
We need deliverance from the next week and a half, where memories give us pause and dread.
We need assurance that we will continue to heal, because right now, we aren’t real sure.
We need to cash in for a couple of delayed blessings, Lord….You know, the ones You are withholding until they are ready? You know patience is a virtue, and it doesn’t come easy for me.
I want one night where we can all go to bed happy, without one of us crying ourselves to sleep. It doesn’t have to be me, Lord. I can deal with my tears, but my sons’ tears break my heart. I feel so helpless. I can’t do anything but hold them and cry alongside them.
I do not doubt Your love nor Your willingness to get us through this. I know You watch over us always, even when we are in the difficult places. I know that You will not give us more than we can bear.
But I want my boys to have a little peace. Please.
My hands are open in praise, even as tears roll down my cheeks. I thank You in advance for seeing us through this.
I trust that You will deliver us. I will wait.
For as long as it takes.
Dear A.J. and Ben,
Today is Father’s Day, 2013. A day set aside to celebrate dads of all ages. A day to sing “Faith of Our Fathers” at church. A day where kids scribble handmade cards to dads with lots of x’s and o’s. A day where hugs are a prerequisite. A day where a daddy might get to choose where he wants to eat. A day where dad is feted with gifts. A day that we no longer get to celebrate like we once did.
It sucks to be without your dad. I miss my dad, and I was lucky enough to have him for almost 41 years. Your daddy was taken away WAY too soon, leaving you at the tender ages of 9 and 8. I know how much I still miss my dad each and every day, and I cannot fathom the intensity of your feelings, without Mark Howell beside you, leading and guiding you in a way that only he could.
I loved your daddy with every fiber of my being, from the tip top of my head to the soles of my feet. He was pretty terrific. And while he loved me and the life we made together, just the two of us, I have never seen him happier than he was the days that you two made your appearances here on this earth.
A.J., whenever you were struggling to make an appearance (it was all I could do to get you out, even with a lot of help from the doctor!), your daddy was leaned up against the wall of the labor room, watching my progression. He was merely 5 feet or so away from me. I can see him just like it was yesterday–laughing and crying at the same time. He was experiencing a little bit of heaven, right here in Wichita Falls, watching his firstborn son make his entrance. And what an entrance you made! I think you screamed for two hours straight, wanting to make sure that you were heard. I think you were ready to get out of that dark cramped space inside of me, ready to shower us with your zest for life and your compassion.
Ben, your birth was so very totally different from your brother’s. We scheduled your birth, leisurely making our way to the hospital. Your big brother, 1 1/2 years old at the time, was still fast asleep in his crib at home, with the Kentucky grandparents keeping watch. A.J. had no idea that his world was going to be turned upside down from that day forward. The labor room was calm, serene, and you made your appearance “sunny side up”, eyes wide open as you slipped into our family. Whereas your brother arrived screaming (he was a bit under duress), you arrived calm, quiet, with those big brown eyes checking out everything in the room. The doctor laid you on my chest, and your daddy cut your cord. He smiled that big old Kansas smile, and welcomed you into the family. It seemed like we were there, just the three of us, for an eternity.
I long for your daddy to still be with us, but we all know that he can’t be. I’m doing the best I can to take up the slack, to be everything you need in both a dad and a mom. I know I can never replace him, but I was closer to him than anyone else in the world. I spent 25 years being his love, his best friend, his partner, and his wife. Thinking about what Dad would say to you today, if he could be here, I have composed this list, just for the two of you:
1. You are great boys, and I am so very proud to be your daddy.
Okay, that’s enough for today. I have some balloons to order and pick up. For today, you want to send messages to your sweet daddy up in heaven, carried on purple (is there any other color??) helium wings.
We know where your daddy is. We know that we will see him again someday. We also feel him close by on a regular basis.
Together, we can get through anything–as long as we have God and Daddy on our sides.
I love you, A.J. and Ben, more than anything in this world. So does your daddy.
all my love,