Why is This Still Hard?

This weekend was one I was looking forward to. It was the weekend of Hills Alive—a free outdoor music festival in its 29th year put on by my radio station. It’s an amazing feat. Through local business sponsors and donations from our listeners and churches, this two-day festival hosts over two dozen Christian bands and artists on two stages and nobody pays a dime to get in. No tickets. No fences. It’s amazing. Artists who come for the first time are astonished by our organization, our hospitality, our crowds, and the overall fantastic feeling in the air.

I’ve worked Hills Alive for six years now. I usually act as an assistant to my friend and coworker, Tanya, in the product tent. As Hills Alive approached, I began to wonder how I’d do this now that Kraig isn’t here to help. I usually work 13 hours each on Saturday and Sunday of Hills Alive. What should I commit to? What could I do? I talked to the kids about the lineup and discovered the main two bands they wanted to hear this year were For King and Country and The Newsboys—the final two acts on Sunday night. Perfect. I figured I could still be there to help. The kids are old enough to stay home—especially if I called to check in.

Plus this year, I had something special I wanted to attempt. I wanted to personally thank a few of the bands for songs of theirs that God used to help me walk this last year of grieving. I wanted to give them encouragement that these songs weren’t just nice music—God used them. Usually if I can meet an artist, that’s nice but I don’t make it a goal. This year I had a list.

First I wanted to thank The Afters for the song Broken Hallelujah that reminded me that even in my brokenness, I could offer God the best that I could muster. I discovered a band member setting out t-shirts, so I explained my story—the loss of my husband and what this song had meant. I thanked him. He looked incredibly touched as he said he was one of the authors of that particular song. He asked me to stop by later and share that with the rest of the band. They were encouraged.

Next, I needed to thank Unspoken for their beautiful song Lift My Life Up. This song begins, “You’ve brought me this far, so why would I question you now. You have provided, so why would I start to doubt?” This song points us to the faithfulness of God as a reason to give Him all we are. I ran into two guys from the band and thanked each. Both thanked me for sharing, telling me when they give up so much time from wives and families to do this job, it’s stories like this that keep them going.

One of the most challenging artists I needed to thank was Steven Curtis Chapman. After 26 years of playing, he is pretty big in Christian music. His one-on-one time is limited. I knew I might not get a chance but when one presented itself, I thanked him for Glorious Unfolding (that I’ve blogged about). He smiled with the understanding loss has brought to his life. Then, I thanked him for an older song, Meant to Be. I shared with him that though I knew he’d written it about adoption, my son with autism had heard something different there. Ryan, years ago seeing it on a Veggie Tales, had come to me and said, “This song makes me think of my autism and how I’m meant to be touching the lives I touch.” Wow. Steven’s jaw dropped and you could tell that blessed him. He gave me a hug.

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Steven Curtis Chapman and Jenn

Last on my list of artists to thank was a newer band called Love and the Outcome. This delightful husband and wife team arrived with their merchandise and I was bursting to tell her my thank you. Their song He is With Us was one of the first songs I reached for the week Kraig died. “We can trust our God, He knows what He’s doing. Though it might hurt now, we won’t be ruined.” Amen! God can be trusted. She was touched, as was her husband. They were sweet and enjoyed Hills Alive immensely.

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The girls and I with Jodi & Chris from Love & The Outcome

Those were the high points of the weekend. The low points caught me off guard. Why does the unpredictability of grief still surprise me?

As Saturday progressed, the kids did OK. But with each call home to check on them, I now realize my stress and guilt at leaving them was rising. They were fine but I felt conflicted.

As Sunday arrived, Lucy begged me not to go back. I promised I would come get her in the afternoon. As they day went on, someone pulled me aside to gently tell me about a mistake I’d made. I was mortified. They were worried I’d be offended. I wasn’t, but I felt terrible I’d screwed up. I realized my emotions, like my stress level, were high and I needed to go for a walk to calm and try to let it go. Mistakes happen. Learn and move on. Easier said than done sometimes.

But when I picked up the kids later, grief sucker-punched me hard and the emotional dam overflowed. It was the simplest of things. I took them to eat in our food tent. As I walked to the table with them, I realized the last time I’d done this with them Kraig had been here too. A knot settled in my stomach and the food lost its taste. I wanted to finish eating and escape. I let the kids go explore and confessed my grief to my friends, Tanya and Julie, and received assurances it was OK to cry. So I did.

After I composed myself, I headed back stage to prep for introducing For King and Country along with the other DJs on stage. I had met this wonderful band last year. I greeted Joel, one of the singers, and asked about his wife. He remembered me and gave me a kind hug and asked if I’d had a good year. The emotions, already so close to the surface bubbled up and I blurted out, “No. My husband died.” This compassionate man gave me another side hug, this time saying, “I’m sorry…At least we know where he is.” He only had minutes before he needed to be onstage. This gesture was kind. I thanked him.

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Luke & Joel (For King & Country) backstage

The rest of the evening was a mess of me trying to be a mom and help in our increasingly busy area. I felt like I wasn’t doing either job well. Lucy was clingy until she found Tanya’s kids were fun to play with. The big kids scattered but kept needing my attention. Before I knew it Julie was trying to relieve me from helping in an artist’s booth because Ryan needed me and then I was sobbing.

I missed my helper! I missed being able to do this and not have to worry where the kids were or what they needed. I had two jobs to do and both were pulling at me. I had come into the weekend feeling as though I might tear up thanking artists. I did not expect dinner and keeping track of kids to reduce me to tears! Why is this still hard?!

Why am I surprised that taking a six-year-old and an autistic son, plus two other kids, to an outdoor music festival with 50,000 people is going to be stressful? Why am I surprised that my Kati wanted me to come sit and enjoy music with her when instead I was manning the tent? Why am I surprised that as the evening wore on, my answers to Lucy and Ryan were not as patient as they should have been?

I realized this was hard because this is another first. This was another new thing to figure out without him here. I have to figure out how this should look next year. I have to learn and move on. Maybe that lesson applies not only to the mistake I made this weekend but to my juggling act.

Maybe in order to let the mistakes of the weekend go I need to follow the advice of For King and Country’s newest song and “Fix my eyes, on You.” If my eyes are fixed on Him, hopefully I will take the learning moments from it and let the rest go. Hopefully the kids will look at the good from this weekend. Hopefully I will be able to focus on those amazing moments with gifted musicians and the incredible support of good friends. Hopefully moments of grief overwhelming me will continue to get further apart. Hopefully this will continue to get easier as I keep returning my gaze to the God who hasn’t left me once this year.

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Another Milestone Survived

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. Is that how I say that now? It used to be my wedding anniversary? Grief brings with it a whole new bag of verb tenses and extra words that don’t quite roll off your tongue well at first. “Late” in front of husband and “was” instead of is are things you hesitate with at first but slowly become the word you reach for more easily. But yesterday wasn’t a grief day because of friends.

I saw the date on the calendar a few days out. This would have been 21 years. I didn’t want to set myself up for it to be a bad day in general but I wanted to be ready so it wasn’t. My friend, Kottie, understood that. Her father died a year before Kraig and she has helped her mom get used to these words and these milestones. She offered to be what I needed—company. No sad shakes of her head or what I like to call the “pity tilt.” The pity tilt usually looks like this: head tilted to one side, sad smile affixed, and the “How you doin’?” tossed in. It might also be accompanied by a well-meaning hand rub against your arm and the head bobbing a bit up and down. Note to readers: the pity tilt is not welcome when someone is having a day without grief. The pity tilt has a shelf life of about the first few weeks after a loss. After that, beware the tilt.

Kottie had none of that. She just offered to hang out so that I wasn’t alone with the kids on what should have been another celebration only it’s not. With her I could cry if I needed to or just have a Seinfeld-ian conversation—i.e. talking about nothing.

I scheduled a full day. I learned early on this keeps me from becoming morose. I’m not hiding but I’m also choosing how my day will go instead of letting grief choose it for me. In the morning I needed to grocery shop and in the afternoon I needed to get my hair colored and cut so I look fantastic for my conference next week. In between, I took my girls to play with Kottie’s kids and talked to her about nothing and everything while she decorated a cake. That’s what she does—makes amazing cakes for all occasions right out of her kitchen. She even lets me eat cake scraps and lick the icing off a spatula. Sublime.

We had a good laugh that I had also come over on my birthday last month and she’d made me a “grief birthday cake.” It consisted of cake scraps—the cuttings off the top to make the cake flat—slapped onto a plate with a scoop of buttercream just dropped on top. She was up to her eyeballs making two wedding cakes and felt bad she couldn’t make me a real one. But we both laughed when she said, “Hey, this one kind of represents the year you’ve had so.…” Her mom thinks she might be onto a new market in grief cakes. I love that she can laugh with me.

Later a friend I made in MOPS who cuts my hair did an amazing color. I was splurging here. A beautiful, multifaceted highlight and lowlight color is not in my normal budget. Covering the greys usually involves a box I got at Walmart for eight bucks. But Shayla does an amazing job and my hair will look great for my trip next week.

I also decided that as close as my trip is, working on my book on grief was NOT a good idea on this day. Today was a day for a break, not reliving things.

After running errands and heading home to make dinner for the kids, I realized I did want to do something that night. Kottie and Chelsea had offered and I decided I didn’t want to just sit home. The kids were all enjoying a down day and said they’d be fine if I met up with friends so I texted Chelsea. She agreed that chips n’ salsa somewhere sounded amazing and she’d be by to get me as soon as she got presentable. She texted Kottie and our impromptu escape was on.

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Chelsea, me, Kottie

Chelsea accidentally chose the restaurant where Kraig and I celebrated our anniversary last year. But I realized I was OK. It was just a place. I would choose to focus on this moment not the ghosts of what were. The evening was beautiful and we sat outside enjoying the music from the nearby Main Street Square. We talked and laughed and ate chips and wondered what had put our server in such a nasty mood. We laughed a lot. We had a smiling waitress take a picture of us and then we headed to our respective homes.

God has given me friends to keep the sorrow at bay at times when it threatens to raise its ugly head. There was only one moment during the day when I struggled a bit, missing some small, sweet thing Kraig used to do. I call that progress.

The story of my life is moving on into its new chapters with grace and laughter. His memory is still there but the sting of it has lessened tremendously. Grief is becoming a more infrequent companion on this journey and that’s fine by me. God did not call me to sorrow and promised that joy will come in the morning. I’m seeing more and more light on the horizon and it is beautiful. So here’s to another first survived and another milestone passed. And here’s to good friends on the journey.

Adventures in July Pt 3: I passed the test!

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finishing its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 NIV (emphasis mine)

Ever feel the ecstasy of passing a huge test? I felt like that this week. It was a test of my faith. God promises that the testing of our faith brings perseverance. It’s worth it in the end. Sometimes it does not feel that way. This time it did.

Since I returned from my fantastic Denver get away, I had been having trouble breathing. We take breathing for granted far too often. Being unable to get an easy, deep breath, was unnerving to say the least. A coworker at the radio station agreed that I am trained to breathe correctly. He laughed, “You breathe for a living.” So why was I unable to get a deep breath without a struggle?

I went to the internet. Seriously a dangerous thing. I looked up altitude sickness and depending on which site I visited I was either going to be dead in 10 minutes if I didn’t get to an ER OR I just needed to rest at a lower altitude for 1-3 days. Yeah. Thanks Google.

So I spent Sunday taking it easy and drinking water. By Sunday night it was getting worse. Monday morning I called my doctor. The nurse agreed I should take it easy and drink water. By afternoon when it was still hard to breathe deeply, I called back. I explained I was trying not to overreact but since I’m all my kids have, I didn’t want to miss something huge. She agreed and brought me right in.

After seeing my recent labs proclaiming I’m healthy as a horse, they ran a few tests. My BP was excellent. I was getting enough oxygen. The EKG showed my heart working great. The chest X-ray was clear. So off to draw blood I went and told they’d call me tomorrow. Oh, and I should see an allergist about the pistachio thing. (See Adventures in July: Pt 1)

The next day while the allergist was testing me to confirm pistachios were my kryptonite, the nurse called. She calmly explained that my something-or-other test was positive and that was not good. She’d made me an appointment in three hours at the hospital for a CT scan to rule out a blood clot in my lungs. Tears rushed to my eyes. I tried to stay calm as I asked if that was quick enough. She said this was just a precaution. “Blood clot” in my lungs and “don’t worry” didn’t seem to belong in the same conversation.

I called my friend, Deb and told her I was trying to stay calm and figure out what to tell my kids. Deb prayed with me. As I drove home, I called my sisters and a couple of friends and the fear tried to overtake me; fear of the what-ifs and absolute panic at having to walk back into the same ER where Kraig died.

Let me tell you since his death I have been terrified of entering that place. I’ve been scared my children will need urgent care or ER services since I believe both missed what was happening with him. The thought of meeting Deb at the ER doors was a terrible déjà vu. How was I going to do this?

And then it hit me—a simple thought. Money where your mouth is time, Jenn. Do you really trust God as you’ve been proclaiming the past 10 months or do you trust your own strength? There wasn’t an ounce of my strength that could force my feet through that door. So that’s what it boiled down to: did I trust Him?

Did I trust Him to care for me? Did I trust Him to care for my kids if this was serious? Did I trust Him to take care of them if the worst possible scenario happened and I did not walk out of that ER?

The answer came clear and strong, like a loud voice in my mind. Yes. I trust Him no matter what.

The overwhelming peace that blanketed me with that answer was phenomenal. It covered me like a shield in a comic book movie. I could sit with my kids at home for that three hour wait without feeling terrified or panicked. I could snuggle Lucy and not feel afraid. I could walk up to that ER door with no tears, no trembling, no what-ifs.

In fact, as I sat in the CT prep room, praying and thanking God for Him being in control, the enemy started lobbing terrible flashbacks at my heart of that night Kraig died. Let me share these are images that haunted me for a long time. Images that stole my breath and brought choking sobs before. This time, if I may continue the comic book metaphor, they stopped at the edge of my force field. They stood at a distance, blurred and without power.

I sat on a comfy couch and laughed to myself that I was experiencing a fire that purified my faith. I wondered if the three men in the fiery furnace had comfy couches to sit on and marvel about the peace that surrounded them like a bubble.

The CT scan found no blood clot. The chiropractor adjusted a rib the next day and my breathing began to ease. I still wasn’t 100% but the rest could be stress finally catching up with me. (No idea what I had to be stressed about. Smile.)

But as I walked out of there, I felt the elation of having passed a huge exam. I kept my focus unwavering on the God who can be trusted. I lifted my gaze from the waves and walked on the water keeping my heart set on Him. He surrounded me in His force field of peace and calm and the fiery darts the enemy lobbed at me had no effect. None.

There will be other tests of my faith in the future. This is a lesson most of us have to struggle through again and again. But for this one, I passed. And that filled me with joy unspeakable.

Adventures in July Part 2: Friends with History

miriam and todd Miriam and Todd are some of my oldest friends. I almost typed “our” but that doesn’t apply anymore. Kraig and I attended college with Todd and he was a friend on the edges of our main circle. After college we reconnected and met his wife, Miriam, when I was pregnant with Ryan, our second, and they had two little ones. They were the friends we could always hang out with. We’d pool resources for dinner and play cards while our toddlers and babies frolicked.

At Kraig’s funeral, I included a song by Andrew Peterson called Dancing in the Minefields about the beautiful ups and downs of marriage. Miriam, during the open mic time, thanked me that Kraig and I had danced with them through their minefields. We’d stuck by them through some rocky seasons. These are friends with history, with deep roots.

This week I was overwhelmed to see the good and plentiful place God brought them to. I was honored to reconnect with this woman. Have you ever known someone who has struggled and then see the joyful outcome when they persevere and are blessed beyond imagining? This is the joy I felt. My friends are blessed and they are in turn blessing others with extravagant generosity—like their widowed friend and her four kids. They have worked hard and are reaping the rewards of that work. They now own two Kid 2 Kid stores in the area that Todd proudly showed off to me. I just kept hugging Miriam I was so happy for them! Her home is beautiful, her family also grown to four kids, and she has always been an amazing hostess.

After my exciting arrival that first night, we prepped the next day for the first adventure she had planned: hiking the Rockies. Ryan had this as a must on our to-do list and Miriam picked hiking at over 10,000 feet to St. Mary’s Glacier. It was a short hike however I got a lesson in high-altitude exercise. Short is relative uphill at that height. Probably wasn’t the best choice the day after ending up in the ER but Miriam was patient with lots of breaks and encouragement to drink water.SAM_0310

The view was stunning and worth every wheezy step. I had a moment when I thought this was kind of like my last year. Grief was hard and required lots of breaks and intentional times of taking care of myself to keep going. But I know the joy of pushing through will be worth it. I had one moment fighting tears as we came upon the glacial lake and I thought, See Kraig? I promised I’d keep taking them on adventures. But this was not a time for tears.IMG_1039

The air was crystal and the water freezing. We explored the water’s edge and rested as each needed it, eating our packed lunches. At one point, Max, Gioia (pronounced Joy-a), and Lucy wanted to simply toss rocks into the lake so I enjoyed the break and watching the “littles” while Miriam took the big ones to see about climbing a glacier. Kati’s eyes were alight with accomplishment when she came back down. The boys were thrilled.

We headed down the mountain for the exciting next stop—Build-a-Bear. Lucy had birthday money to burn and I just decided to bless Kati. We don’t have a Build-a-Bear in Rapid City and the joy of the experience was truly magical. The boys meandered to the Lego shop for a few treats and Jarod even found a new bowler hat in the mall to add to his collection.

We finished the day at a Denver landmark that Kraig had long talked about taking the kids to—Casa Bonita. This Mexican restaurant has been around since the ‘70s. To say “restaurant” does not do it justice. It has more levels than I could count and more rooms tucked away with things for the kids to do. You do not go for the food (and many friends warned Montezuma may or may not pay me a visit after). You go for the experience. Holy cow was it an experience! From cliff divers into the central pool to arcades and magic shows, the kids were hooked. The food had no effect on my kids, probably a testament to the iron-clad stomachs my cooking has developed in them and the prayers I was saying. Kraig would have been happy to know I finally took them.IMG_1045

Day 3 was our Water World extravaganza (see Pt 1) and early that morning I was “discovered” on Facebook to be in Denver by more friends with roots. Bob and Nita Buchanan had been our pastors in college. Their daughter was visiting from Maryland. I know several people in and around the Denver area but knew that Miriam had been wanting to really show us the sites so I had tried to keep our trip a little low-key online. But after Water World, we discovered we could meet for some coffee. Miriam graciously said she’d get the kids in bed and I should go.

Bob had been the pastor who married Kraig and I. He and Nita had been our mentors. They had provided a place where our circle of friends could come and talk and ask questions and wrestle with our faith in a safe place. Nita had been a place I could turn for advice over my years as a pastor’s wife when ministry left me wounded. Seeing them was fantastic. It had been ten years.

They laughed with me through my pistachio story. We each shared where life and ministry was taking us. They follow my blog and said they were praying for my conference later this month. We laughed through old stories and enjoyed hot chocolate. And all too soon, we needed to head our separate ways. It was a wonderful side trip on this vacation that ended with reminders I know more people in Denver who have a home waiting to host us in the future.

Day 4 was Independence Day and we jumped into it with more plans starting with IKEA. Oh how I love IKEA. My kids hadn’t been and with a new home in our future, there were a few things I thought IKEA could help me with. The girls decided a furniture store didn’t sound fun despite my assurances to Kati that she’d love it. But we decided to leave Todd and Miriam’s oldest daughter to babysit the littles and Kati while we took the boys to find some pieces for their new rooms.

Again God had provided. Before the trip I received an unexpected blessing in the mail and so I felt I could look for a few nice things. We’d figure out how to get them and the kids home from Denver later.

Jarod and Ryan were impressed. And because it was July 4th, IKEA was offering free lunch with purchase—for all of us! So I got to bless my friends who had not let me buy anything except Water World. Free Swedish meatballs—yippee! We found pieces for the new house for the boys’ rooms and my living room and a few of those extra things IKEA always sucks you in with. (Seriously, when it’s that cheap, how can it add up that fast?!)

After IKEA was another gift—Todd treated us all to a movie. We decided on How to Train Your Dragon 2. SPOILER ALERT: Not a good movie if your children are recovering from the death of their father since they kill off the dad. Gulp. Seriously? Ryan left for the bathroom during that scene, most likely an act of God. Lucy ended up sobbing but still wanting to finish. It hit Jarod hardest.

Todd was feeling protective of my kids and feeling the absence of Kraig. As I’ve walked the journey of parenting them through this, I’ve said repeatedly that there’s no manual for this. You have to pray and figure it out as you go. Todd realized I was struggling with how to help my man-child and took him for a walk to talk. It helped. I was thankful.

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Technical problems but worth it to tilt your head and see her smile!

He also gave Lucy a gift that brought me to tears when he offered. Todd took Lucy on her first motorcycle ride. It was just around the block on our last day but she was thrilled. My heart struggled to keep my smile in place. It was the simplest gift but so big.

We watched fireworks from on top of their roof. It was the best display the kids had ever seen. After we got over the repeated pleas to sit down and be safe, it truly was an experience they will cherish.

And then our trip was up. After getting the grand tour and some shopping in at their newest store, we were off. We did have to hit up Chick-fil-A first. I mean, it’s a crime there’s not one in Rapid City so we really had no choice. Yum.

Returning home with a van packed in like sardines and tired kids was a long drive. The stop in Wheatland for gas was full of jokes about how quickly we could leave town this time. The miles passed slowly when I started considering I was coming home to a whirlwind July that included packing an entire house with four kids and heading to the most exciting conference I can think of. So I’m glad we took the intentional time to have amazing adventures before I had to really buckle down and make the kids help with it all.

God keeps providing for ways we can work through this journey of grief. This week He used friends with history. I pray they receive blessings tenfold for the way they helped me through what was Kraig’s favorite holiday weekend. It could have been so full of what was missing. This was the perfect way to spend it. Perfect.

SHAMELESS PLUG: If you will be in the Aurora or Arvada areas of Denver’s suburbs and you have kids or grandkids, might I recommend the Kid 2 Kid stores? They are stocked with quality, gently used items and belong to the dear friends who blessed my socks off this weekend!

 

Adventures in July, Part 1: Wristbands

This week we tackled new adventures with dear friends in and around Denver. These are friends with history. I’ll talk more about that in Part 2, ‘cause seriously this week was full of the unexpected and would not fit all in one blog.

This was a trip the kids had been looking forward to with glee. We’d only been through Denver as a stopping point. This time we were going to do lots of cool stuff. After Kraig’s funeral, Todd and Miriam Frick told me that they were now blessed with a huge house and that any time I needed to get away, to just call. As spring rolled around, I began to look at our summer and realized that might be a great thing to put on the calendar. Schedules were compared and the week of July 4th was chosen.

As we prepped for this week, I had one loose end—the dog. That dog Kraig insisted we needed that I tolerate for the sake of the kids. And again, God sent someone to help. Nelda used to attend my MOPS group and told me she’d been waiting as others had helped care for practical needs I had since Kraig died. This was something she could do. Such a blessing.

So that left an uneventful 7-hour drive to Denver with four kids and me, the only driver. Should be easy, right? I took some Starbucks with me. We had movies and snacks. Ryan even asked if he could try pistachios. Sure. Nuts are a healthy snack. I hadn’t bought them in about 4-5 years and I didn’t like them that much but why not?

Just into Wyoming we stopped for a potty break and I decide to have a handful of pistachios. Not great. The kids had mixed reviews as well. The nice lady at the gas station told me I had about 48 miles to the town of Wheatland, our lunch goal. Let’s go kids!

About ten minutes down the road, the itching started. First, oddly enough, my eyelid. Then, my neck and my hands. As the miles flew by, I started feeling strange. Is it getting hot in here? Why am I having a bit of trouble breathing? I commented to Kati that there must be some pollen here I wasn’t used to. As Wheatland approached, my chest started to feel tight and I realized my upper lip felt funny. Oh my word—am I having an allergic reaction? You have GOT to be kidding me!

I saw the sign for the hospital on the same ramp as Arby’s but thought, This is silly. How bad would that traumatize the kids?! So we pulled into Arby’s and as I got out, feeling my breathing getting more labored, I asked the kids, “Do I have a rash?” They all looked at me strangely and said, “No but you look sunburned.” I told them to check out the menu while I made a beeline for the bathroom mirror.

When I say I was red, I mean lobster, Technicolor, kinda looked like a giant Oompa-Loompa red, head to toe! And it was then I realized the edges of my vision were going dark. Oh Lord. If I they have to call an ambulance, my children will be scarred FOR-EVER. I realized the hospital was one block away and we needed to go NOW while I could still drive.

So out I went telling the kids we needed to go to the ER right away, we’d get lunch later, but mom was having an allergic reaction. Oh God, please help me keep them calm, I prayed. I kept my voice even, no tears, and kept saying, “It’s going to be OK. This is fixable. They just need to give me a shot and I will be just fine.” Oh God, please let that be the case.

We pulled into an empty parking lot and I got them to hurry because my breathing was getting harder. As the nurse came around a corner from the ER, I waived a hand over myself and said, “This is not sunburn. I’m having a reaction to something and I’m having trouble breathing.” Two nurses ushered me right back and began taking info.

I told them my suspicion was pistachios, though I’d had then once before. But I have no food allergies and that is the only thing unusual I’d eaten. I told the kids they could wait in the waiting room and the boys said yes while the girls would not leave me. As I started texting friends to pray for the kids I realized I needed to tell the nurse why they might need to be watched as well. I could not even sit up so I just said, “My husband died 10 months ago and my kids are probably scared. Could you check on my boys in the waiting room?” She squeezed my hand and whispered, “Oh my word. Of course.”

As she walked out and the doctor came in to say what they’d be giving me, Kati started to cry. He left and then Lucy, with no tears, said, “We’ve already lost our Daddy….” That did it. As tears would not stay back any longer I just kept saying, “I’m going to be fine. I know this is scary but they will give me medicine and I will be OK.”

After about 45 minutes that included an IV full of fluids, meds that made me feel awful, and more that made me feel better, we were done. The nurse had realized I was the only driver so asked the doctor if they could give me something other than Benadryl. We left with prescriptions to fill at a pharmacy a block away and instructions not to eat ANY nuts for a few weeks and then only with an EpiPen handy (FYI – I will follow up with a doctor here first.). And just like that were back on the road.

I had Kati texting friends who had seriously asked if they needed to hop in a car and drive over three hours to care for the kids. Bless them. We texted Miriam we were back on the road and then I began looking for ways to make the kids feel OK. They did great. Amazing, actually, and gladly tossed the entire bag of pistachios out.

We decided to call this our “incident” on the drive to Denver. After I knew they were calm, I started pointing out the ways God took care of us. I could have eaten the nuts at a point when a hospital was not nearby. We made it there. It was a quick fix. Then I realized I needed to shut up so they could let it go. I saved my hospital wrist band as a bizarre souvenir.

On our second day in Denver (I’m not going in chronological order), I got a better wrist band. We took the kids to Water World. My kids had never been to a real water park and we discovered this is the biggest in the US. Wow does not even cover it. Miriam talked me into splurging for the extra VIP tube rental that earned me the better wristband. We didn’t have to walk the five-person inner tubes up to the top of the hills since the altitude was already bugging me. Worth. Every. Penny.

We had an amazing time and learned that at over a mile-high, three times applying sunscreen still misses spots. Oops. Their favorite part was the wave pool and the laughing and chatting and excitement in their eyes as they tried wild things was fantastic. Hearing myself and Miriam laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe on a tube ride with the little girls was something I hadn’t done in far too long. Getting to take the little kids and Ryan off to easier rides while Miriam took the big kids on daredevil slides was perfect.

We stayed almost the entire day, swimming and snacking, and laughing. God provided for the cost months ago and I didn’t have to worry about a thing except finding them in the crowded wave pool or whether Fearless Lucy’s tackling of a huge water slide alone was really the best parenting choice. She loved it.

Two very different wrist bands graced my wrist this week. But oh did both have stories we will be able to talk about for a long time. (Next Part 2: The Blessing of Friends with History)

Maybe…

I sold my house today. Or at least accepted an offer to sell it. I’ve been trying for two months. I’ve been wanting to for two years. Provided it passes inspections and the VA guys don’t want me to do a bunch of stuff that I can’t or won’t, I will be moving into a bigger house in a different part of town. I’ve hoped for this, packed and cleaned for this, prayed for this, and all around talked it into the ground.

So why do I feel like crying?

Why do I feel like I’m on a roller coaster and want to get off?

Why do I feel like I want to call my realtor and have him rip up the paperwork?

I stay up dreaming of how nice our new one will be. I pin ideas for how to decorate on my Pinterest boards after the kids go to bed at night. I play with layouts on furniture websites. I shop online for a new couch and imagine how the new kitchen will work better. This house is bigger, better laid out, and in a nicer neighborhood with nice features.

It’s also not in a neighborhood within walking distance to two schools that I’ve developed amazing relationships with. It also does not have a fairy tale back yard. It also means I’ll have to drive further to church and work. Only ten minutes but in Rapid City that’s an eternity.

Maybe it boils down to it’s not here. It’s not known. It’s not what I’ve gotten comfortable with. Maybe this is why they tell you not to make any major decisions in the first 6 months to a year of grieving. (Though in all fairness, the move will take place at the 11-month mark.) Maybe a part of me sees this as truly a final goodbye.

This is the last house we bought. This is the place we brought Lucy home to. We didn’t think this was perfect but he thought we could make it work. He never wanted a bigger, better house. He wanted to make do and stay put on a nice street close to everything. But he’s not here anymore for me to convince of his wrongness. He’s not here to talk into the new one.

So many people thought I was selling to escape memories or start over fresh. Until people started saying that, it hadn’t occurred to me. Actually, now that its becoming real, those are the things that would anchor me here. Memories.

I never wanted a fresh start. I liked the start I was on. I trust that God had reasons that are best for me. That’s the thing I am surer of than anything else on this journey of grief. God can be trusted. He has a purpose! But running away from this place is not what I’m doing.

As the urge to sob started to make me feel panicked, I texted my friend Deb and she talked me off my ledge. She reminded me of a few basic truths. I had prayed about this. I had given it over to God and asked for Him to close any doors I should not walk through. I trust Him. The panic lifted a bit.

And then my eldest son walked in and I asked him, “Are we doing the right thing?” His answer was calming. He said that yes, this was good for us. We need more room. We need a bigger house. This isn’t perfect but it is good. He agreed that leaving what we know was causing me to second-guess. I love that he’s getting old enough I could have that conversation with him. He’s almost 16. Old enough to have an opinion that means a bit more. Old enough to share with me the calm demeanor he sometimes possesses, a reflection of his father.

Maybe I need to do this so that grief knows it does not direct my paths or tell me what I can’t do. Maybe I need to do this because I can. Maybe I do this because I have not let grief leave me frozen in place. Maybe I need to take this next step as hard and sad as it is because joy comes in the morning. Maybe this is another closing chapter and turning page.

So tonight I will pray that God continues to be in this. I will get my kids ready for a fun-filled weekend with the blessing of old friends. I will let myself be sad in a goodbye but I will also let myself dream of a happy new hello. I will give myself permission to let another unexpected wave of grief wash over me. But I will not stay in grief. I will keep moving forward into the unknown because whatever else awaits me, I know God is already there.