Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rise Up

I drove home after Rhea’s services and was so incredibly lost.  It had been two weeks of massive noise and chaos, and yet my world was so still and silent.  After having people in my home for days, it was time for the three of us to try and figure out life.  This was still at the time that I was living off of string cheese, apples, and V8 Energy.  Food made me nauseous, but I had a house, refrigerator, and now a new deep freeze full of it.   I was barely eating and sleep was a laughable subject.  I had two little girls who needed normalcy, and I wanted so badly to give them that.  That was my job as their mom.  However, I wasn’t in a position to do that, and I found that out in a very scary way.  (I have shared this account only with a few people in my life, my family not being part of those few, because I was stubborn and ashamed that I couldn’t get it together.)  We had been home, just us, for almost a week.  My lack of sleep caught up with me, and I completely crashed one day, and by crashed, I mean I slept through an entire day, breakfast through supper.  Very understandable, except I had a brand new 4-year-old and a 5-year-old at the house.  I woke up at about 8:30 at night in extreme panic, only to find my 5-year-old, my sweet Joanna, had completely taken care of everything all day long.  She fed herself and her sister breakfast, lunch and dinner, they watched tv, played with toys and everything else.  They had pop tarts, fruit snacks, juice boxes, lunchables, anything that she knew how to do.  I remember kneeling in tears on my kitchen floor that night and just holding both of them.  And my Joanna humbled me once more and said, “It’s okay, Mommy.  You were so tired and needed a really long nap.”  My five-year-old was taking care of me.  This new world I was placed in was so incredibly hard to breathe in, let alone live.  But, it was that moment when I vowed to myself, as I sat crumpled on the hardwood kitchen floor with my daughters in my lap, that I would rise from this, for them.  That same night, after I put my already too grown-up daughters to bed, I started my search for a counselor, for all three of us.

I’ve made almost every single decision in my life, the past 3 ½ years, with the forefront being what my girls needed.  For over a year I gave up half of my therapy session to focus on the girls’ grief and how to help them, moved homes, stopped working to be a better mom, and those were just some of the big decisions where their needs were forefront.  This is just what moms do.  We put our kids above us.  Some days, the absolute only reason I choose to get out of bed is for them, because they need me, because they need to see what living life looks like, because they need their mom.  And that is exactly what I needed too.  I needed a reason every day to get up and start the day.  They’re my reason.  And, it’s not enough.  I have to be a part of the reason, too.

I’m never going to be able to switch my focus from my girls’ needs.  That’s just not possible as a mom.  But, I’m trying to add myself into the equation.  My counseling is geared more and more towards what still needs healing in me and less on just how to make it through everyday life.  I’ve figured out how to make it through days.  Now, I’m working on making the days something I want to be a part of, because it’s my life, and I should live it for me too, not just for my girls.  

Church is for me, it’s for the girls, too.  But, my hour in worship while the girls are in Children’s Church, however so exhausting it may be, is for me.  It’s my healing.  My counseling is geared more and more towards who I am now, because Lord knows I am not the same person I was 3 ½ years ago, 2 years ago, 1 year ago, 6 months ago, or even last week.  And, I’ve been accepted into an intensive therapy program the beginning of November for people who struggle with PTSD .  I’ll be learning how to help myself and how to put my focus where it needs to be in my healing.  

Last week, a friend of mine left a note on my desk and it said, “Listen to Rise Up.”  So, I did.  This song has been my beginning and end of every single day for a week, sometimes on repeat.  My struggle is deep right now, and a lot of days the ache in my heart is heavier with every single step.  I know some may look at those words and think how dramatic I must be.  And to you I say that I can only wish that it was just me being dramatic. I cannot express to you how some of my days are purely for my girls, and that in a way, is kind of scary and sad. It is not going to be enough for me anymore.  I will move mountains for them and ‘rise up’ daily for them, that will never change.   The change is that I am trying to learn to do it again for me, too.  

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
In spite of the ache
And I'll do it a thousand times again

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hope in Joseph

About a month ago, I was messaging with my friend Jess and the discussion of Joseph and his trials of life was brought up.  Most of the time, I automatically default to Job or Jeremiah when thinking of times of trial biblically, so Joseph has been on my mind since that discussion.  Then this past weekend, I was able to have some one-on-one time with Abigail while Joanna was at a sleepover.  She got to pick the movie from Netflix, and she chose Joseph: King of Dreams.  She watched it a couple of weeks ago with her sister, and she said she really wanted me to see it too.  So we snuggled up on the couch, and watched the story of Joseph together.

I know the story of Joseph, and studied it in college with Dr. Bayer at SBU.  It’s not new information, but watching the movie was a fantastic refresher.  Joseph’s life was kind of a gigantic mess.  He had these wonderful moments of happiness, incredibly loved by his parents, but was set apart from his brothers, which caused this intense animosity.  When he was sold into slavery by his brothers, his trials really began, leading him to a monumental amount of time in prison, both literally and metaphorically.  He was so very low and found himself angry and confused by the plan God had for him.  Then there was this moment, while he was at his darkest, where he started to hope and trust again.  In the movie, there is this dramatic song about how God knows better than we do and to trust in His plan.

I’m Joseph.  I don’t have a movie, a super cool coat, or a dramatic song with a chorus singing as I work through my trials, but I’m totally Joseph.  I’m still in the prison.  If I’m being honest, I feel like I still have a long time left in the prison.  I’m way in over my head right now with all my life and grief junk.  

I’ve had extremely low days recently, and then I’ll follow with a day or two where I’m on top of the world.  I was worried when I started having this pattern in my grief.  Sonya, my counselor, says it's normal and not to freak out over the pattern. She says when I’m having my low days and I’m sitting with my grief, that I’m giving my body, brain, and emotions what I need at that time.  I’m processing and I’m working through the hard stuff.  It’s overloaded processing which is why I feel so low, my anxiety is elevated, and I’m overwhelmed with everyday tasks, not to mention the extra tasks.  My brain and emotions just can’t keep up with it all.  I either then completely shut down, or I have an anxiety attack.  This has been an everyday thing for about 4 weeks now.  You know when you want your computer to do something, and it just isn’t processing the information fast enough.  So, you think that in order to speed it along you should continuously click on whatever it is you want it to do.  Then, your computer flips out and opens 16 different tabs of the same website, or your printer shoots out 20 copies of whatever you wanted to print or you get an error message asking if you wish to report the problem to Apple.  All because you got click happy when your computer couldn’t process fast enough for you.  This example right here, this is my brain right now with everything I’ve been trying to process and work through.  I have to find a way to slow down and be patient with the process, so I can keep up with everyday life as this portion of my grief works it’s way out.  

The multiple days of low and overwhelmedness is taxing.  But, when my body and mind catch up with each other again, and I wake up refreshed and happy to start my day and take on the world with the girls, that’s where my hope is.  Those are my days of hope, that I’m not going to be in the prison forever.  Joseph was suppose to have his days in the prison.  He didn’t understand why, and he felt betrayed by God almost at times during his processing stage.  I don’t understand why this is the plan.  I do not understand so many things.  I’m trying to get to the dramatic song in the movie where Joseph realizes that God knows better than we do, and we just have to go with it.  And though, I don’t have a chorus singing behind me and a big dramatic song to show my hope, I do have hope.  It’s not quite big dramatic song worthy yet, but it’s there.  I’m just going to keep pushing myself towards the hope, and being brave on the days I can’t see it as clearly.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Important Stuff: a harsh reality

When I think of Rhea, as my husband, I think of how incredibly cherished he made me feel daily.  He totally rocked as a husband.  He had OCD, clinically not just made up, so he was an awesome help around the house.  I never had to ask him to do anything; he just always did it, whatever it was.  I would put the girls down or give them a bath, and he would pick up the kitchen or fold laundry.  Truly, we made an awesome team.  He was attentive and asked me about my day and always put my needs before his.  He cared about my passions and watched my silly TV shows with me, because I liked them and they made me happy.  He always said my job as a mom was way harder than his, and I deserved to be pampered.  For real, ladies, I kinda hit the jackpot with Rhea.  No, it wasn’t all perfect, we had a few bumps here and there, but really, it was good.  Our marriage was really wonderful, something for the books. 

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a battle buddy of Rhea’s and asked Clint to help me build shadow boxes for Rhea’s military honors and awards.  The girls and I took everything over to Clint’s house where Clint and I took over the kitchen table with documents and computers, and his amazing wife, Rachel, kept track and watched all 5 kids. 

During the process of building the shadow box online, I started to get really upset with myself.  We went through his awards, built his ribbon rack, went through patches and unit crests and unit awards, etc.  And, I couldn’t do any of it, without Clint.  I knew nothing.  The military, the Army, Rhea’s entire world and passion…I knew nothing.  I cannot tell you the amount of nights I watched Rhea pour over his military awards book.  Or, how much time I watched him build shadow boxes for other people and ribbon racks for his own soldiers.  He would work countless hours on his own military book, or as Clint called it, his “I Love Me” book (apparently this is what they all called it and everybody pretty much has one in the military.)  This was a huge part of him and of his life, it was important, and I can’t explain one piece of it to you. 

Since that night, I have been incredibly heartbroken.  I realize that I messed up.  Rhea always made what was important to me, important to him.  He really did, from my job, to singing, to my soap opera, to my books that I read, it was all important to him.  I did not do the same, in this major part of his life.  I was not all that he was to me, for him.  I dropped the ball, and I’m devastated by it.  I don’t get a chance to fix that.  That chance for me is gone with Rhea. 

I talked and cried heavily about this in my last counseling session.  There’s not a thing I can do about this.  It’s just something I have to deal with.  The few people that I’ve talked to, other than my counselor, have told me not to be so hard on myself.  And, yes, I know Rhea would say the same, and he would say that it’s just boring Army stuff.  I can’t do that though, I am upset with myself, and rightly so.  This is a huge deal to me.  My counselor, Sonya, she totally gets that.  I didn’t do this aspect of my marriage right.  I can reflect on that now and see it clearly.  It’s not me being hard on myself, it’s just me realizing something that I did wrong.  I didn’t make his important things, my important things.  He ALWAYS did that for me.  He deserved the same from me.  So, Sonya, said to me near the end of my session, “Now what? How long are you going to allow yourself to be upset about this? And what can you do about it?”  I’m not sure this is something I can get over.  And, there is not a damn thing I can do about it now.  But I can learn from it.

Here is the truth that I have learned; I refuse to make this mistake again.  It’s too unbearable to live with.  I will not do this to my children.  If dance is important to Joanna, then dance is important to me.  If soccer is important to Abby, then soccer is important to me.  Whatever their passion is at the time, that is my passion, too.  And if someone new comes into my life down the road, I will pay attention to what’s important to them and make it important to me.  And, as for Rhea’s passion, I can’t redo that time in my life.  What I would give for that? You have no idea!  But, I can make it important to me now, and I can learn and teach his daughters about his passion and love for the military. 

I think, Rhea probably has been laughing at me as I look up and study the different ribbons and awards he has.  How, I myself, have been looking up words and verbiage in his memorandums found in his “I Love Me” book in order to try and understand what indicators need to be put on which ribbons and why.  The medals are beautiful, and so intricate.  His passion was a wonderful passion, and is really very interesting to learn about.  I don’t know why I didn’t make it important to me, for him.  I’m so incredibly sorry that I didn’t.

My words of advice for all who read this, if you love someone, show them by making their life and their passions important to you.  Make time for their stuff, even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense to you.  Make what is important to them, important to you.  Don’t mess that up.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Readying My Heart

I set a goal for myself after VBS to attend church before August 14th.  So, I went to church last Sunday.  I made it the entire church service.  I felt good about it.  I was a little anxious, but I talked through all the worst-case scenarios in advance with a friend and role-played some conversations that could possibly happen.  I’m going to pat myself on the back here, folks.  I totally rocked it and met my goal!

Now for complete honesty…I went, but that’s about as far as it got for me.  It was purely about being there.  Not about anything else.  I didn’t have much feeling or emotion.  I was simply focused on making it through an entire church service.  I brought my Bible, but didn’t open it.  I stood and sat with the rest of the parishioners of the church.   I didn’t sing and I didn’t pray.  I was merely there.  At first I felt wrong, like if I was there I should be doing it all.  But, that’s not true.  This is a relationship I’m working on here.  I’m not going to fake it.  I’m going to be as real on this journey as I possibly can be.  And doing things that don’t feel right yet, or authentic, is not being real. 

The hardest out of it all, is not singing, not worshiping.  If you know me at all, you know that I sing.  You know that I was once a praise and worship leader and that putting my heart completely in a song to proclaim my love of Jesus was nothing but basic nature for me at one time in my life.  I can’t do it right now.  I can’t sing praises to Him.  It breaks my heart, but I just cannot actually do it.  Not yet.  I sat next to my friend, Jackie, and she processed with me a bit after the service (also I was avoiding the flood of people in the foyer.)  She mentioned that she had noticed I wasn’t singing, and then she thought about it for a while.  She had the absolute best words to describe it.  She said it was like being asked to sing a love song to someone and not actually being in love.  Exactly!  I’m not there.  I don’t have praises to sing, yet.  I am still hurt, broken, and angry.  When I come through this, then I’ll praise louder than anyone else.  I miss it…I really do.

That was last week, but Sunday came again this past weekend.  I went to church again.  Once more, I made it through the entire service.  I still didn’t sing, and I still didn’t pray.  I did, however, open my Bible.  Actually, I opened Rhea’s Bible.  When Rhea went on deployments he always took a soldier’s Bible.  Mainly because the conditions were so bad he didn’t want to ruin his good Bible.  So, during the last deployment he left his Bible and asked if I wanted to take it to church with me.  He always marked in his Bibles - highlighted, wrote notes in the margins, wrote prayers of his at the bottom of the page, etc.  While he was gone, he asked me to do the same in his Bible.  He wanted me to highlight the passages from church and Sunday school, and write my thoughts on them in his Bible, and I did.  It just feels right to take his Bible with me now.  I actually didn’t even consider taking my own, I went straight to his on my dresser.  But, as I was saying, I did open the Bible this week.  And one of the passages this week that we looked at was in Psalms.  And it just so happened to be a passage that Rhea had read.  It was highlighted, it was written around with his handwriting, and it took my breath away.  I didn’t even read it.  I just placed my hand on it.  Like, he was here, he was right here.  My hand was where his hand was.  It was the day for me to open the Bible.  It was real, and it was the right time.  All the other times will come, too.

I can sit here and think about all the things I’m not doing.  I can tear myself apart for not being further along in this journey.  But really, this is very difficult and though they are baby steps, they are all really big and important steps.  It is nothing to be rushed.  My heart has to be ready.  This is a process, every single week, of readying my heart.  I have built up all these walls and guards around my heart.  I am not ready to surrender it yet.  When you have been there, when Jesus was your safe place, your refuge, your strong tower, and then your entire world crumbles and He didn’t stop it for whatever reason, it’s so incredibly hard to say, “Well, yeah I get it, it was just his time, Jesus.  We’re still cool.”  No, I don’t feel that way.   But hear me when I say, I want to be a version of that. 

This is truly a struggle for me.  I never thought I would be a person who would struggle with their faith.  I cannot tell you how many people, family, and friends who have told me to just trust in Jesus, to lean on Him.  This is not something I can do in this moment.  I just think that I was up to bat in my faith, and I got hit 50 times in a row over and over again with a curve ball to the gut.  And now, I’m back up to the plate.  I’m not going to stand there easily without fear.  I’m going to jump out of the box and waiver.  It’s hard to trust that the same exact ball isn’t going to hit you in the gut again.  And I’m just supposed to trust.   It sounds so simple to say it, and I truly wish it was that simple for me to do it.  It just isn't that easy.  But, I will be patient, and I will ready my heart for when it is time, and I am ready to trust Him again.  I will wait until each moment feels right. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Baby Step

Baby Step: a tentative act or measure that is the first stage in a long or challenging process

I took a baby step.  I took the very first step on my journey back to building my relationship with Jesus again.  I signed my girls up for VBS.  It did take me three times of filling out the form, exiting out of the form, then going back in and filling it out again before I finally actually submitted their registration, but I did it.  This baby step induced a massive amount of anxiety in me.  The anxiety is not about the girls going to VBS.  They’re totally okay with it.  The anxiety and actual baby step is going to the place where the VBS is at, my home church.  The church Rhea and I called our church family.  The church where Rhea and I sat side-by-side, Sunday after Sunday, praising Jesus and learning of His teachings together.  The church that held me up and never left my side as my life was pulled out from under me.  The church that taught my daughters who Jesus is.  The church that houses some of my favorite women of faith that I call my friends.  The church that has my pastor that spoke of my husband and prayed over him and my family at his funeral services.  The same church and people that I walked away from as my relationship with Jesus changed. 

Last night was the actual first night of VBS.  I spent about an hour, prior to leaving, battling with myself.  “It’s going to be okay.  I can do this.  It’s going to hurt.  It’s going to be uncomfortable.  AND I can do this.”  Then 10 minutes later, “Why are you doing this? This is too hard.  You walked away from them, they would be crazy to welcome you back.”  Then I would teeter back the other way, “No, I know these people.  They aren’t like that.  It is going to be okay.”  By the time I actually left the house with the girls I was already emotionally drained from the battle within me.  We did somehow make it out the door, and we started down the familiar 30-minute drive we use to drive every Sunday, and I fought back tears the entire way. 

I purposefully parked a little ways from the church so I could brace myself before actually seeing people, and the distance also meant that I couldn’t run and make a fast get away.  This stuff is hard.  I’m going to want to run away sometimes.  I just knew that last night I had to actually do the hard stuff.  I had to put myself out there.  I had to take the baby step.   I don’t think my car door could have been any heavier as I opened it to step out onto the pavement.  Each step up the walk I felt so much weight and shame piling up on my shoulders.  I was literally willing myself to put one foot in front of the other.  The first eyes that met mine as we moved closer to the front doors of the church were none other than Pastor Rusty.  He turned from the conversation he was participating in, walked straight up to me with wide-open arms.  (Pastor Rusty is kind of a hugger.) He pulled me in and said, “It is so good to see you, we love you, and we’ve missed you.” 

We continued on up the walk and he led us to registration.  When I actually took my first step into the church, I was flooded with waves of emotions and memories and anguish.  I felt as though I could not breathe and my heart was actually aching.    The girls were answering the questions at registration, making sure they were in the correct group, and I was simply nodding my head and leading them to where they needed to be.  I tried to speak when I was spoken to, but I was struggling to focus on what was happening in front of me.  There was so much going on inside my heart and head at the same time that I couldn’t even think clearly.  I was telling myself – breathe, walk, don’t cry, breathe, walk, don’t cry.  I needed to get the girls where they needed to be so I could get out of the actual church.  I got them to their group leader and bee-lined it for the door.  I needed air and space.  I heaved myself back towards the car and stopped myself halfway down the walk.  I put down my things on the redbrick landscape wall that sets outside of a neighboring small town museum.   I was shaking, confused, and barely hanging on.  I was seconds away from a full-blown anxiety attack.  I had to coach myself.  “Slow down, Leah, and just breathe for a second.” I started a grounding technique my counselor taught me and have used many times before. 
I closed my eyes.  What are three things I can hear?  I hear music from inside the church.  I hear laughter and talking of the people standing in front of the church.  I hear a car door close.  What are three things I can touch?  I feel the roughness and ridges of the brick wall.  I feel a slight breeze on my skin.  I feel the leather of my shoes.  I opened my eyes.  What are three things I can see?  I see honeybees buzzing from flower to flower.  I see words on the window of the museum.  I see purple flowers with fuzzy black centers.
Thankfully, I was breathing slower and had calmed down enough that the shaking in my hands had stopped.  There have been times that I’ve had to complete the technique 3-4 times before I am calm enough to stop. 

My only plan going into this night was to not completely lose it.  Not the most detailed plan I’ve ever had, but it was the best I could come up with.  I almost completely blew that plan. 

Everything that had happened so far, felt like it had been hours.  Nope…20 minutes.  I still had another 2+ hours to go, and I wasn’t leaving the church, because I needed to be close to my girls, more so for me than for them.  And, I couldn’t go in the church (just figured that one out the hard way).  So I quickly drafted a plan B.  I went to the car, grabbed my water and my iPad and walked back up to the church.  I was going to read outside on the sitting ledge at the front of the church.  I could totally handle that.   

You know that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  Yeah…I’m fairly certain his sides were hurting from laughing at my plans all night.  I sat, pulled up my book on my iPad and started reading.  Not five minutes after sitting down, Pastor Rusty sits right down beside me.  It started out with just catching up, small talk, work talk, the girls, etc.  I knew the hard stuff was coming, and it did.  But, when it finally came to that part of the conversation, the words just flew out of my mouth before I even could really think about what I was saying.  It’s like the words couldn’t wait to get out, and this finally felt like the right person and the right place to say it.  There’s this thing about Pastor Rusty, he is just so sincere and compassionate when he listens and talks to you, that it just feels okay to say the hard stuff.  So I did.  I told him where I was at, how I feel let down, how I feel like I trusted and leaned and had my whole faith and hope in Jesus and then it felt like He didn’t do what I needed Him to do.  And Pastor Rusty nodded his head and said, “I get that.  I don’t know what it feels like to go through what you have gone through.”  He didn’t judge me or make me feel like I shouldn’t feel that way.  He validated my feelings and my hurt.  I felt cared for and loved.  We talked about where I was at with church.  I explained that I’ve been to 8 churches in 2 years and just don’t feel at home anywhere.  None of them feel right.  And then he asked, “What are they missing?”  No one has ever asked me that before.  I just looked at him, tears streaming down my face, and said “…Rhea.” And again, he nodded his head and just let me sit with that for a bit.

There’s a reason why I chose to do the hard stuff last night.  There’s a reason why I didn’t run away.  I needed this.  I needed to say these words out loud and hear them and still feel loved by the person I told them to after saying them.  I got that last night.  The weight is still heavy.  My shame of walking away from my church is still there.  My heart is still broken.  I’m still mad at Jesus.  All of that stuff is still there.  But, I feel like I know where to start mending it now. 

Pastor Rusty discussed with me about different things that churches have to offer.  He told me that he thinks our church is one that offers hospitality, but to put my focus on the word within the word hospitality, and that is hospital.  Our church is a place that works like a hospital.  It’s going to be my hospital.  This church is going to help me heal and gain strength and trust Jesus again.  It may not be where I end up long term, but it feels like a good place to start.  It feels more like home.  Rhea still isn’t here, but he was here with me.  That’s going to have to be close enough for now. 

I’m going to have to take it slow, and take baby steps.  Problem #1 to address: how to actually be in the church for longer periods of time than just 5 minutes without going into an anxiety attack.  I have a feeling this is going to need some help from my counselor.  This is going to be a rough ride, and Lord knows it is not going to be pretty sometimes.  I know I’m going to push back and fight along the way.  I know I’m going to run away sometimes and fall apart.  It’s going to be okay.  I’m going to breathe.  I’m going to keep moving forward.  I’m probably going to cry a lot.  And, I’m going to heal.