Sunday, December 7, 2014

One-Year Update...

Annette, it's been a year. 365 days. 12 months. 52 weeks. 8,760 hours. However I write it or say it, it's a long time in one sense, and it's just like it all happened yesterday in another. We never went even hours without saying "I love you" to one another. The only days we didn't share many kisses, hand holds, or hugs, were the days where we were physically not together.

We sang together all year round, but especially at this time of year. Man, did we sing together a lot! In church, at home, in the van or truck...worship songs, 80's Rock ballads, Grease Soundtrack, Xanadu Soundtrack (actually, only you loved that one and I just loved that you loved it!), just about every Christmas song that played, and LOTS of just made up lyrics along the way.

We prayed together, often, but that's one thing I wish we'd have done even more of together. We prayed for a family, and God blessed us with that. Then, we REALLY prayed...for patience, much wisdom, guidance and answers. God was so faithful to always provide all that we needed, and most of what we even wanted together.

You were an incredibly powerful woman in a very petite body. You were so much stronger than you ever thought you were. You were wise, calm, focused, and exactly what I wanted and needed. You were a mom to our boys that made an eternal impact. You were a wife to me that went so far above and beyond all I imagined a wife would be. And you were the best friend I could have ever imagined or asked for.

You loved God so much. You weren't judgmental to those you disagreed with. You didn't waste your time on petty, non-Gospel issues. You expected a lot from me as your husband, your best friend, your co-parent, your lover, and your head of household...and I'm so glad you did! You made me a better man, a better dad, and a better person and a better pastor than I was on my own by continually challenging me to be the Godly man, husband, dad, pastor and friend that I am called to be. We grew together to truly be one in Christ.

I hear your laugh often. I sense your "Joe" tone at times like when I'm mixing all different clothes in to wash at one time (I haven't ruined anything yet!). I start to tell you things or pick my phone up to call or text you often. I miss listening to your wisdom and input about most everything. I have awakened with the split second thought that it's a year ago and you're lying next to me in bed.

This has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do…to live alone, without the biggest part of my earthly life…to rethink a future that now doesn't include growing old with you…to be the only parent to our two special boys…to raise them in a way that honors God the way we did together, and to do all the little things you did and did SO well.

Would I change things? Would I choose to have you back? As much as I love you, God loves you infinitely more, and He chose to allow you to go home earlier than I would have liked. I wouldn't ask you to leave Heaven, even if I could (that is our ultimate goal as followers of Christ!!). If it were possible, I would re-live this entire year with all of its pains, if it meant I could see you, hold you and kiss you one more time. But I am not living in a life of “what ifs.” I am striving to walk in Him. I've done it well at times this year, and I have fallen and gotten back up at times. I've gained clarity with each passing month, and am learning more and more to be whoever the "new" me is. My life was eternally impacted by the time, friendship and love I was privileged to share with you. Without you, my life will be forever different than I ever thought it would be for as long as I live on this side of Heaven. There will always be a huge part of my heart that is filled with all you were to me, but I'm getting to a point of beginning to dream new dreams, which is strange, since every dream I had dreamed for the past 20-plus years included you. It still hurts to dream of a future without you here, but that hurt is quickly replaced with a joy that comes from knowing you are with our Father (and with your earthly father!). I pray that I will be able to live a life that seeks to honor God, which will also honor the memory of you.

For those reading this and following our journey, thank you for your continued prayers, thoughts, and various forms of contact (calls, cards, texts, emails, etc.)…each one truly seems to come at just the right time! I hope you’ve felt the love that Annette and I shared with one another, which was firmly rooted in our love for God above everything else. I would beg you each to consider the relationships in your life, especially your relationship with your spouse and your family …cherish each moment you have with one another! Forgive OFTEN…share life, live life together. Be sure you are not putting your eternal hope and trust in any of those relationships, as they will end one day. Instead, trust in the one relationship that will last for all of eternity. Put your relationship with God first, and trust in His plan and purpose for your life, and put Him at the center of your earthly relationships.

The boys and I truly continue to covet your prayers and support. I’ve known that this year of firsts was going to be tough, and it has been. Through this year, the journey has been made easier by the love shown to us by so many of you. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve taught through some different aspects of the Christmas story, God has calmed my heart with a few of the names that were given to Jesus: He is the Wonderful Counselor, always here to listen and give guidance; He is the Prince of Peace who continually brings peace back into my life as I seek Him above any anxiousness or concern about my future, whether it’s next week or five years down the road; He is Immanuel, God with me, always with me, always for me, always my all in all.

Have a Merry CHRISTmas!
Seeking Him,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pre-Holiday Update...

What a strange stage of life’s journey we are walking. It seems as if every day is a series of dichotomies…great visits with my family, which bring with them waves of sorrow. I love sitting and sharing stories about Annette, and yet it’s still so hard. I love being with Betty (Annette’s awesome mom) and talking about Annette and Linden, but again, there is still such great sorrow as we miss those two incredible people who were so influential to our lives. I miss Annette every single day, in everything I see and do, and yet I am praying for God’s timing to bring the right person into my life who will accept me, the boys, the ministry, and just the general craziness of our lives. Like I said…dichotomies!

Tomorrow we are heading to the annual ceremony for the Gift of Life Organ Donation organization. There will be families represented of those who have given and received organ donations within the past year. There is a special part of the ceremony in which we will pin a quilting square onto a large quilt that the organization will use in different ways. We were allowed to design and create Annette’s square, and I am thrilled with how ours turned out as a special lady in our church was able to embroider the square. The design is a picture that Annette loved, and actually wanted to have tattooed on her wrist for our 20th anniversary this year (I know, you may gasp at that…she wanted us both to get tattoos!!). I added part of Matthew 25:20, which is a phrase that I know my sweet girl heard the Lord say as she entered into His Kingdom.
Brian and I will leave right from the ceremony in Harrisburg and head toward Illinois where we will spend the week with Michael in Chicago. We’re going to see the Lighting of the Tree, go to the Ringling Brother’s Circus, and just enjoy our time together. We are all three super excited about the week, and even though I’ll miss being with the whole family, I’m glad it will be completely different than any other year for our first one without Annette and Linden.

I so appreciate the prayers of our friends, family, and those who have just heard our story and followed it for the past 11-1/2 months. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a ramping up of emotions as we approach the first Thanksgiving without, and the one year mark for both Annette, then Linden going to be with the Lord. But through all the waves, God is continually faithful and carries me when I can’t move forward on my own. I love listening to Christmas music and reminiscing about the MANY sing-a-longs Annette and I shared over our 20 years together, and I can’t wait to make cookies and decorate the house when we get home next week. I have pretty much been a Hallmark Channel addict for the past few weeks…DON’T JUDGE ME!! I love the cheesiness, the romance (I never realized how many of these movies have Widows/Widowers!!), and I only miss snuggling up by my girl to watch them together. I will still watch “White Christmas” someday very soon, I’ll still watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I’ll still watch the Michael Buble Christmas Special, and I’ll still miss Annette terribly through every one of these awesome things. But, God is healing, He is filling, He is leading, and that’s all I need…I’m trusting His plan. It’s not going to be an easy holiday season, but I pray we will keep Him as the focus above and through our hurt for those who aren’t with us.

And I just want to say one more thing…if you are married, please take time to work on your marriage. If you don’t think you need to work on it, you’re already in trouble. Tell your spouse how much you love them…remember the things that made you fall in love with them, and focus on those things. And, most importantly, put Christ at the center of your marriage. I would give anything to spend another day with Annette as my wife. I know that it’s very easy to take your marriage for granted, but please, right now, work on it. None of us are promised our next breath, and I was so blessed to share in each of Annette’s breaths, right up to her last one. I pray that you can all make your marriages special, and that you will put the work into your marriage that it takes to make it strong. I would not change one thing about what made our marriage and our life together so good, while making the hurt so deep and hard without her!! The pain I feel without Annette is because of the incredible bond we shared together, rooted in Christ, lived out together, and I wouldn’t change it. I can’t do anything more, but if you are reading this and are married, please…well, I already said it above.

Until my next rambling….

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Real-Life Example of How Grief Hits...

** Warning…sadness may ensue if you read this, seriously! Don’t want to be a downer, just sharing the rawness of my grief journey tonight **

So this is how it hit tonight…I had a really good day, Brian had a good day, and we had a good evening just kind of chilling. I had seen several stories about Garth Brooks stopping his concert and singing to a lady the other night. She was holding a sign that read “Chemo this morning, Garth tonight.” He sang “The Dance” directly to her and gave her his guitar…very cool. Then, this evening, I saw an interview with him and the lady from the concert and he sang just a few lines of the song, which opened up a flood of memories and thoughts about my girl, Annette. We saw him back in 1990 at The Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, right when he was hitting it big and we loved watching and listening to him over the years. Something tonight just really hit me with the lyrics:

Looking back on the memory of,
the dance we shared 'neath the stars above.
For a moment all the world was right,
how could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?

And now I'm glad I didn't know
the way it all would end,
the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain,
But I'd have had to miss the dance

Holding you, I held everything.
For a moment wasn't I a king?
But if I'd only known how the king would fall
Hey, who's to say?
You know, I might have changed it all

And now I'm glad I didn't know
the way it all would end
the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain,
But I'd have had to miss the dance

Yes my life,
It’s better left to chance
I could have missed the pain,
but I'd have had to miss the dance

So I was still holding on okay, and I took Copper for her evening walk around the neighborhood. As we came to a street nearby, I saw an Ambulance in a driveway. There were no lights on, and I have no idea why it was there, but just seeing it took me back to December 8, 2013, at about 9:30 am, when I was standing outside the Ambulance at church as the paramedics loaded her in. I was very concerned up to that point, but something at that moment, maybe because I wasn’t holding her hand anymore since she was in the squad…it just broke. I felt completely helpless, and it was literally like one of those slow motion, “life flashing before your eyes” moments. I prayed that God would just control the entire situation. I prayed for her healing, but for His will to be done. I selfishly prayed that I didn’t want to lose her, and that I didn’t want my boys to lose their mom, and that she was such a rock for our family and we needed her here. I prayed for peace in the midst of that insane morning, and God provided it. He provided it in the form of church family and friends. He provided peace in the form of Gene being able to get Linden and Betty to York in the snow. He constantly provided it in His “still small voice,” in the midst of all the calls, details, doctors and nurses updates. Many of you may not know that Annette was gone within about an hour of telling me that she had a headache, but that the hospital kept her body going as they prepared her for the organ harvest and donation process. They moved her into an ICU room at York Hospital, and as she lay there, I looked out of her window and there was the most beautiful evergreen tree. The tree seemed completely out of place, but WOW was it beautiful as the snow fell and weighed its branches down…if Annette could have seen that, she would’ve been all smiles!! It was just another gift from God as we prepared to say goodbye to her earthly body.

Tonight, as I walked with Copper, I was listening to some music, and I flipped on a song called “Homesick,” by Mercy Me. God has used this song to calm my soul several times over the past 11 months:

You're in a better place I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord won't You give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord 'cause I don't understand Your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But even if You showed me, the hurt would be the same
'Cause I'm still here so far away from home

In Christ there are no goodbyes
And in Christ there is no end
So I'll hold on to Jesus with all that I have
To see you again to see you again

And I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord won't You give me strength
To make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

I know I just did my 11-month update yesterday, but many people ask me how I am and how things go. I just wanted to share this simple example of how grief hits, will continue to hit, but how He is STILL faithful, in control, and still in charge of His perfect plan (which I still don’t like, but I still absolutely trust!).

That’s all for tonight…have a blessed night. And PLEASE, cherish those you love, and don’t take today or tomorrow, or any day with them for granted!! Trust in Him, that His Word is true. Know that He will take care of the hurt, the pain, and the sorrow, if you trust in Him. He will bring beauty from the ashes, and I’ve never been more convinced of His promises and His Word than I am as I walk this journey.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Eleven Month Update...

Well, here we are, 11 months into this new chapter. Actually, it seems more like a "sub-chapter" between last December 8 and the last few months. I really have a hard time grasping the fact that it's been almost a year since I kissed my sweet Annette goodbye for the final time in this lifetime, since I stroked her hair, held her hand, and prayed with her. Some of my close friends have mentioned lately that I've been more like myself over the last two months than I have since she went to be with Jesus. I can sense that, too, though "myself" is different than it has ever been. I have learned a LOT about myself this year. I've been challenged in many ways. I've grown to absolutely rely on God like never before, which saddens me that it took this to drive me to that complete reliance. But, I'm here, and it's good, and it's right.

Our family is doing well. We are spending Thanksgiving in Chicago with Michael, and then he'll be home for two weeks over Christmas. Both boys are doing well in school. I've been getting the final boxes unpacked at our new home (FINALLY!), and getting things hung up. There are so many memories in every box, every picture, every meal I cook, everywhere. We had an incredible marriage and an even better friendship. I miss her every day, and so often I reach for my phone and start to call and tell her about something that happened or a thought I had. She was such an encourager to me, supporter, listener...and so much more. I've gotten to the point where I'm excited about the next chapter beginning. Annette and I actually talked about it several times, and it's crazy that the last time was the Tuesday before she passed away. I always thought we were talking about it for her to be ready to move ahead...never thought it would be me. Anyway, it's in His hands!

Thanks so much for the continued prayer for me and the boys. We are walking the journey, and absolutely trusting His leading. I pray that I don't get ahead of His timing, and that our family can be used to be a strong testimony for Him. I'm at a point of better clarity than I've been in a long time, and I pray constantly that as He gives me wisdom, I follow it.

Until next month,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

10 Month Update...

It just doesn't seem possible that it's been ten months since my life was altered for as long as I will live on this side of heaven, but it has been ten months. Ten months since I held her hand, heard her say she loved me, made dinner together with her, talked about our dreams, worshiped by her side, prayed with her, and the list seems endless. It is a terrible pain to miss the person I have been closest to and loved more than any other for so long and so deeply. But, I wouldn't change a single thing about our love for each other that causes it to hurt so badly now. I pray that everyone would have a love in their lives that, were they to be parted by death, would leave such pain as I am feeling. The hard times are a little more spread out now, but they are deeper when they hit, and I continue to just walk through them and grow.

Someone asked me recently what I attributed our great relationship to, and it was an easy answer for me. Our friendship (we just plain liked each other), our ability to let stuff go, our affection for one another, our desire to always try to please the other (we knew each other's "love language"), and above all else, these were ALL rooted deeply in our love for the Lord.

I feel that through this past month, I've gained more clarity in my life than I've had since last December. I finally have been able to plan more than a few days or weeks out. I'm able to read more than just a sentence or two and actually comprehend without several re-reads! God has taught me so much about myself over the past ten months...some things that I don't like and am working through, and some things that I never thought I would be able to do, He's shown me that I can. I am learning a lot about my boys, and praise God that they are both growing and maturing in Him and in life. Brian and I are actually headed out to see Michael earlier this week, and he is doing great at the Ranch. He should graduate his program in late January or at least by mid-February. Brian is having a great junior year so far, and I can't say enough positives about the teachers and staff at Dallastown High!! I have postponed my trip to India with Gospel for Asia since Michael will be coming home around the time I would've been going, and we will need to all three be together when he comes home.

My church, Mason Dixon Baptist, has been nothing short of phenomenal as we are all walking this journey together. Annette is missed by so many more people than just me and my family. Even though I know this, I realize that I don't always acknowledge it the best. I've read that this happens with the grief process, and adding the fact that I'm just a slow man to the equation explains it even more. Thank you for the continuous notes, texts, calls and seems like every one comes right when I need them!

I'll close this ten month update with this thought. When God called Annette home last December, my girl was ready and left nothing in her life undone. Yes, there was some laundry and silly things waiting for me to finish, but as far as living her life and loving those around her and being a true reflection of was all done and done WELL!! This has been part of my prayer life for the past few weeks, to make sure I'm living in a way that gets the most out of life on this side of heaven so that I'm ready when it's my time to go where Annette is already.

I am looking forward to getting through this first year and especially through Christmas. Last year was pretty much a blur as Annette's awesome dad, Linden, went to be with the Lord just days before Christmas. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had my first listen of the season of Michael Buble's Christmas album yesterday and today...I can hear Annette sighing now as she was playfully annoyed with me last October when I started listening to it!

I do so appreciate the prayers and thoughts for me and the boys. I'm striving to be the Godly man, dad and pastor that I'm called to be, and I will take all the prayers I can get!! I've been reminded by some good friends that God has given me a special ministry that I never planned on or wanted, but He continues to bring others in my path who are walking this same, hard journey. I have said that I don't want to walk through this just to walk through it, I want God to use it for His Kingdom and His glory.

Until next month's journey update,