The Suburb Woman
Posted on October 28th, 2015

​Michael and I married 12 years ago today in the primitive Cades Cove, Tennessee Missionary Baptist Church surrounded by the majestic Smoky Mountains in their full fall brilliance. He was the love of my life and the day could not have been more beautiful. 

He opened the world up to me through travel, books and adventure. Michael loved Grace as his own and Samuel completed our sweet family.

When we received the devastating news last December, I could only focus on the great loss that was coming with his decline then death. Everything I believed and every dream I had was dying too. More than holidays and other firsts, I feared today would be the most difficult because it was, "Our Day."

Instead, I will smile and choose to remember the life we shared and all the wonderful memories that will forever be in our hearts. God is good and his mercies and grace do not fail. I picture Michael surrounded today by more natural beauty than he could imagine, climbing every mountain he wishes without tiring, and engaged in endless conversation with his historical and biblical heroes, family and friends.

Michael, you are missed and you are loved. Happy Anniversary.

Posted on October 12th, 2015

​Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. Last year I was seated at this joyful table, in a beautiful house, overlooking a magnificent landscape, breaking bread and enjoying wine with old and new friends I consider family. The memory will always be fresh in my mind. I knew in my heart it was a special moment to not let sadness creep in, but fully embrace it as a celebration of the end of a year lived with purpose and thankfulness. 

So, if I can celebrate Thanksgiving early this year with my Canadian friends, this is just a few of the things I'm thankful for:

The grace of my salvation and a God I see as a good and loving father.

To have gained a deep heart knowledge now of what it means to believe in God and live by faith - not just a head knowledge. 

To have learned to have grace with myself on tough days.

To be alive, have my health and feel hope again for the future. 

Two beautiful, healthy children who have walked through hell with me and still laugh, hug and love. 

Discovering I can smile with my eyes.

Learning I'm capable of not just surviving, but thriving when I don't place my confidence in my own abilities, but in God. 

For parents, a brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece who were here from the beginning, to the very end and loved us back to center. 

Friends who I have chosen and have chosen us to be "family" - the kind who can sit with you, say nothing at all, yet they've said everything. 

Work I'm passionate about while surrounded by people and professionals I respect immensely. 

For someone who will show up on a summer Saturday morning to help plant grass on a fresh grave while encouraging me from their own difficult experiences to trust God and that life will go on. 

A comforting home and a haven of a backyard. 

Sunrises and sunsets. 

Silver linings on a cloudy day. 

Music.

Posted on October 7th, 2015

​Two years ago today, Michael underwent surgery at MD Anderson to remove a small, but malignant brain tumor. We learned from pathology reports it was an incurable grade four cancer. His diagnosis was "terminal" and life expectancy was 18-24 months. Sitting alone in ICU with him that day, in so many ways, it felt like the diagnosis and prognosis for my sweet little family as well.

A year ago, we were enjoying what would be our last trip together. It was poignant those days were spent on Cape Breton Island in the company of friends. While our time was unencumbered by treatment and doctor visits, I knew in my heart it might very well be the last moments to feel that way… 12 months had passed.

Today, Michael has been celebrating in heaven for four months the gift of his salvation and freedom from a physical body that failed him. We are living and surviving what I feared would be an unsurvivable loss. We feel more happiness than sadness and more hope that despair. Prayer is powerful and God is good.

October has played a significant role in my life the past 14 years. It is the month we met, the month we got married, the month that ushers in my favorite time of year, the month we always traveled, and the month that changed our lives forever. It’s ironic, even now, how special this month is becoming in my path forward too.

In 2013, I posted the words of a song called “Blessings” by Laura Story I listened to continually at that time. The main question was, “What if the trials of this life are His mercy in disguise?” It was meaningful the singer/songwriter composed the song as a result of her husband being diagnosed with a brain tumor. However, I couldn’t fully embrace how any trial I faced then or over the coming months could be remotely considered a mercy.

While visiting my favorite local coffee shop on Monday this week, I saw a friend I haven’t seen much in the past couple of years. He immediately began to tell me how by sharing my story – the struggles, the doubts, the pain and the grief – inspired him to embrace the recent news of being laid off from his job with enthusiasm that God has something bigger in mind for him. Wow! I was speechless. I coupled his story with another friend telling me a few weeks ago she had turned in her resignation for a job she loved because her priorities had shifted to focus on her marriage and three-year-old daughter. As a result of taking that bold step when considering how quickly time passes us by, she got to keep her job and create a schedule that allowed her to accomplish her balance.

In addition to praying for strength and comfort, I constantly prayed the pain would not be wasted and God would keep His promise to make all things new. It’s almost overwhelming at times to witness all He is doing in my life right now that could only come from Him. It’s comforting and encouraging to hear from others that my openness and honesty through writing challenges and ministers to them. I truly believe with God nothing is wasted if we surrender it to Him.

I also embrace the message of “Blessings” more wholeheartedly and in a spirit of joy today than the desperation I felt two years ago. And what I wish I could tell myself then with the knowledge and experience I have today is this; “Yes Lori, the trials of this life is God’s mercy if you will open your heart to the great work He wants to do in you.”

BLESSINGS

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Posted on September 22nd, 2015

​When you’re pregnant, you pick up the classic “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” Once the baby arrives, there’s the “What To Expect The First Five Years.” To help you plan a wedding there are guides, planners and shows. You want to cook? You can find limitless instruction videos, cable channels and books. To take a trip you pick up a travel guide or scour the internet so your vacation can be as planned or as carefree as you’d like.

I often wish death were that easy. You could just pick up a book or a guide when you’re panicked and be assured by a bevy of experts what you’re feeling now lasts x-number of days and the next feelings will be blank. It would go on to adequately prepare you how to best approach comforting your children, consoling yourself as well as knowing how and why not to feel guilty on the days you smile. The book would take you through milestones and timelines, so you wouldn’t have to guess, overthink, fret and worry about what you’re doing wrong or right.

Just like there are no detailed guides for death, being able to find someone who knows what you’re feeling exactly how and when you’re feeling it during this inescapable journey at my age and with children is rare. Two weeks after Michael died, in an uncharacteristic move I sent two messages to total strangers who I had seen obituaries of their spouses on social media via mutual friends. One was a woman whose husband died suddenly the same day as Michael. The other was a man whose wife died suddenly a couple of weeks before. I simply shared my sympathy and my pain.

While I never heard from the woman, a few days later I heard from Robert. He answered my question of “does it get easier?” with, “I can stay busy during the day, but the nights are still painful.” Even with the support of family and amazing friends, this kind of grief is lonely and isolating. His words brought comfort to me.

I was armed in the ensuing weeks with about two dozen books on grief, grieving, pain, loss, heaven, faith and grace. Since I couldn’t sleep, I spent significant amounts of time reading. Some books I finished in one setting while others I read over a period of days journaling thoughts and dog-earring pages with highlights I wanted to reflect on later. A few I only made it partly through because I couldn’t relate or identify with the messages at that time.

My plan was to seek a life comforted by solitude, encouraged by independence and buoyed by continuing my vow to Michael. When I left for a short trip to Nashville in mid-July, I felt it was a good place to start applying next steps for this new plan. Although the pain followed me – walking the streets of Nashville, visiting music venues, dining on my own, smiling, “dancing it out” (of which you must be a Grey’s Anatomy fan to understand), and spending time with dear friends solidified my view of my new normal alone.

But the key word in this idea of how to go forward in life was “my” – it was MY plan, not God’s. The stages of grief are real and the fact you can experience all in an hour or over a period of weeks is true. But how you cope, struggle, agonize, heal and move forward are uniquely individual and must be put in God’s hands no matter how confident one is in their own strengths and abilities.

One book I picked up is called Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. I started reading it while traveling to Nashville, but put it down because I couldn’t grasp the message of death and rebirth, the value of bitter with sweet and that “there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.”

However, time is a friend and I can see now how God has been working in my life in ways I was simply too blinded by my sadness to see over the past several months. It began when Robert offered in his reply to meet to share our respective experiences and pain. God took my uncharacteristic message and his unlikely response to shine a “sliver of lightness” into my dark night. I distinctly remember the rawness of our first meeting. It was a Sunday afternoon at a restaurant. Mere strangers, yet for two hours we openly shared our loss, guilt, regret and struggles.

I found comfort in talking to someone who knew what I was feeling and thinking without having to explain or who wasn’t panicked or hurt by even my darkest thoughts. We agreed it was helpful to talk and planned to find time every couple of weeks to meet as an impromptu “support group.”

Robert is an accomplished and respected chef. I’m a foodie. So, many of our conversations revolve around food as have our “support” meetings. When a conversation this past weekend involved his explanation of the importance of bitters when it comes to complimenting and enhancing the sweetness of certain foods and drinks, I recalled the book I started in July. I picked it back up last night.

Niequist describes bittersweet as the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter with the sweet, and a life with nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through… Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. It is courageous, gutsy, earthy.

She also explains how when you haven’t yet had your heart really broken, the gospel isn’t about death and rebirth – it’s about life and more life. But when you’ve faced some kind of death – the loss of someone you loved dearly, the failure of a dream, the fracture of a relationship – all of a sudden rebirth and new life is very, very important to you. I’d never thought of life that way. I guess I’d always seen God’s blessings coming only through what I perceive as good things, sweet things. But it is bitter – excruciating painful – to watch a dream die and then to attempt to embrace God’s blessing of rebirth. I also now understand by putting my life and plans in God’s hands I can make it through more than I thought.

I’ve received wise counsel from those who’ve traveled this road before me. Early on they told me not to commit to alienating myself from the possibility of feeling again. A dear friend recently reminded me when I shared my feelings of guilt with her that I kept my vow and I honor Michael’s memory and our love by being happy and thriving versus just existing. My counselor said he believes if Michael is able to see me from heaven he now sees me through God’s eyes and wants me to be happy.

The truth is I began mourning Michael’s terminal illness and untimely death two years ago this week. While I didn’t let go of hope, I learned I was capable of more love than I ever imagined. I fought fiercely for his life and I gave Michael the most peaceful passing I possibly could. I kept my vow. I walked every step with him and he had no doubt I loved him and always will – and there aren’t too many people who could understand that as personally as Robert does.

While reading Bittersweet again, it was as if these words leapt from the page and into my heart: “I don’t believe God’s up in heaven making things go terribly wrong in our lives so that we learn better manners and better coping skills. But I do believe in something like composting for the soul – that if you can find life out of death, if you can use smashed up garbage to bring about something new and good, however tiny, that’s one of the most beautiful things there is.”

Amen.

The truth is a guide to life after the death of a spouse would never work with a set of timelines, guidelines and detailed explanations. A journey such as this is uniquely personal and one you have to take at your own pace and your own time with God's help.

And what do I ask God for when I think about my future?

I want His continued guidance and hand in my life. I want happiness and comfort for my kids.
I want to smile more than I cry.
I want to grow new dreams from the ashes.
I want to bring life from death.
I want to taste the bitter with the sweet.

Posted on August 16th, 2015

I’ve been needing to write about what I haven’t wanted to acknowledge… I’m sad AND angry. 

I’ve never done well with either emotion. I’m a fixer, I fix things. I’m also not a fan of pain. Who is, I guess. I’m most notable for building walls around my heart and if my safe places no longer feel safe then I just go inward. Honestly, right now I want to hold on to the love and all my beautiful memories of Michael and feel nothing else. 

And who am I to fixate my anger on? Michael for leaving? It is something he would’ve never chose. Doctors who treated him? I’d be lying if I said I haven’t gone over details again and again in my mind wishing I had done this or caught that… but I know in my heart we as well as his team of medical professionals did all that could be done. 

Angry with God? Well, that’s where I’ve landed for now. 

It is well documented through my previous writings all the ways I held tight to the promise God was in everything and all that we were going through. I’ve wrote confidently He would not waste a hurt and won’t leave us alone. And that’s all fine and well until your hope no longer has a heartbeat and you find yourself explaining over and over to your son how God didn’t give his dad cancer. 

You also find yourself planning to be away for Christmas and New Year, thinking of all the firsts coming up and how to protect yourself and insulate your kids from as much as possible, when you realize – it’s not just “the firsts” – it’s every day… Drinking coffee in the morning, sitting in one chair with the other one empty on the patio, swimming alone in the pool on a Sunday afternoon, stopping yourself from sending a text or making a call, preparing a favorite meal, reading a book, donuts with dad, the laughter of a family at meet the teacher, a sick child in the middle of the night, hearing a song… the list is endless. 

And I’m right where I never wanted to be… raising two children on my own and not having someone to share it all with. And when the smoke clears who can I blame for all this pain, heartache, fear and loneliness? It becomes the only one I believed who could have kept us from it… and HE didn’t stop the runaway train.

Yet in the midst of it all, I’ve never read my Bible more than I have in the past eight months – daily the last two. I listen to nothing but Christian radio and I pray my go to prayer almost continually, “I trust you Jesus.” I’ve consumed theology books trying to understand why I believe, work through my doubt, and try to manage the anger and sadness that is like a fog off the coast that rolls out during the day and back in at night. 

Ironically, the message I keep getting is… be angry, be broken, and then be redeemed. 

I’ve cried at some point every day for the past several months in the midst of some moments of joy. Has my heart turned away from God because I am wounded and believe He is to blame? No, not completely. But these past few weeks I’ve had moments I’ve wished I could.  

Even if I’m mad at God, I try to remember Michael never was and he was the one dying. I keep thinking back to him reminding me this life is but a vapor and then it’s gone – but where we are going is eternal. He was the one who lost his ability to read, to write, to walk and to talk. Yet, he kept smiling. So, why can’t I take comfort in that? I keep feeling like I’ve been robbed.

I’ve also found the way I “hear” God is reading the bible, through music and devotionals. This week I heard a song on the radio I liked and when I went to iTunes I heard a completely different song by the same artist with exactly the words describing how I feel. That’s probably not an accident. One of the lyrics of Jason Gray’s, “Not Right Now” says: “Don’t tell me when I’m grieving, that this happened for a reason. Maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die for new ones to come alive… but not right now.” 

Then, my devotional this week ended with the story in John 6 when Simon Peter replies to Christ at the Lord’s Supper – “Lord, to whom would we go?” The author writes: “Sometimes what God seems to say about Himself through our circumstances is just too hard. We want to turn away. The temptation is to say in our hearts, what does it matter? God is going to do what he wants anyway. Why should I pray? Why should I trust Him when he has allowed the worst thing I can imagine to become a reality in my life? How can I love a God who would allow this to happen? We are left with a choice – turn toward Him and cry out or turn away and alienate ourselves.”

Amen and amen.

Michael gave me an incredible gift when he came into my life. I learned what it meant to truly trust someone, how it felt to love someone unconditionally, how I should be loved by someone, and to have confidence in myself. The beauty of all he gave me has made his dying that much more painful. So, I’m very broken and I’m angry. 

However, knowing that Michael’s life continues beyond the grave and in the presence of God is the only comfort I can cling to with confidence and in time I do believe my suffering will be redeemed.

Just not right now…

Lyrics to "Not Right Now" by Jason Gray:

You could see the smoke from a mile away
And trouble always draws a crowd
They wanna tell me that it'll be okay
But that's not what I need right now
Not while my house is burning down

Tell me if the hope that you know is true
Ever feels like a lie even from a friend
When their words are salt in an open wound
And they just can't seem to understand
That you haven't even stopped the bleeding yet

Don't tell me when I'm grieving
That this happened for a reason
Maybe one day we'll talk about the dreams that had to die
For new ones to come alive
But not right now

While I wait for the smoke to clear
You don't even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here
And together we can pray for peace
To the one acquainted with our grief

I know someday
I know somehow
I'll be okay
But not right now
Not right now
No, not right now





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