Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines Times Two

Will there ever be an end to the confusion of grief?

Today I awoke to a wonderful text from a wonderful man asking me to be his Valentine? I slept last night in this man's sweatshirt that smells like him, and every time I woke up I would thank God for sending me Practice (a name I will explain in a bit.)

I texted him back and replied that I will be his Valentine for always and forever and then . . . the tears began to stream . . . a trickle at first and then the dam broke! Cry and cry and cry! And then I remembered that last year I took a rose out to the grave and that this year I should probably do that, too. More tears!

I really thought this Valentine's Day would be filled with all joy. You see, I am just so thankful to our sweet Lord for His grace and kindness in bringing the kids and I Practice. Last Valentine's Day - my first without Chad and in the darkest days of my grief (four months after Chad's death) - was HORRIBLE!!!!! Absolutely terrible. Add insult to injury, I was working at a flower shop and was filling out cards to 'lovebirds' all day (PUKE!)

So, as the anticipation of this holiday has approached, it has not been with fear and trembling . . . but with gratefulness in my heart to God, and Practice. You see, I was not expecting this. In fact, I wasn't looking for it and I wasn't even sure I wanted it. I knew that to fall in love again would mean having to trust that my heart would not be ripped in two again. I had gotten myself to a place in the grieving process where I knew I was o.k. as ME. I didn't NEED anyone. The kids and I were operating in our 'new normal' (again, PUKE!) and I wasn't sure I wanted to put my heart out there knowing that if I fall in love again there are no guarantees that he won't die too. In fact, (I'm sure you are all smiling!) the guarantee is just the opposite . . . yep! At some point this one will die, too!

Then a friend asked me if I would be willing to try a blind date. Sure. Why not. I needed some practice if I was going to get back out there. I thought having someone to go to dinner with, or chat with at the end of the day, or go to a movie with would be fun.

Enter ‘Practice.’ (His real name is Jim, by the way.) He lives about 35 minutes from me and is a farmer. I know, I know . . . we ALL thought I would find some metro-sexual musician from Nashville, didn’t we? He is divorced (a biblical divorce on his end, for those of you already beginning to look down the end of your noses) with three children. Well, I had already informed the Lord (not long after Chad died) that I did NOT want a divorced man with three kids! Too much baggage! (Like I don’t come with an entire entourage of baggage . . . nice, Sarah!) And a farmer? They still have those these days! Yes, I can be a real, stuck-up snot sometimes. My pastor looked at me before this date and said, “Sarah! Farmers are wonderful people and they are VERY smart.” (He was right!)

So, I truly went on that first date just for practice. What I was NOT expecting was to fall in love.

Let’s be real now, folks. The first thing I noticed about Practice were his looks. (Maybe I should just leave it at that and let you figure out if they were good or bad . . . Nah!) I had certainly never been on a blind date and truly the most nerve wracking part of it was having NO idea what he looked like. Of course, there are pictures of me everywhere . . . so Practice knew what he was getting when he called to ask me out. He told me that he is bald and a mutual friend had informed me that he ‘wears it well.’ I had NO idea what to expect. Well, let me just tell you . . . he wears it VERY well. Practice is VERY good looking AND, this is girl talk now . . . guess what? When he took his coat off at dinner he had a short sleeve shirt on and guess what was under those short sleeves? VERY nice biceps :-) Well, I noticed those RIGHT off but tried hard not to let on.

And then this wonderful thing happened . . . we started to talk. We talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and haven’t stopped since. Some nights we talk on the phone for three or four hours. We are both exhausted because with six kids between us and two full-time jobs the only time to talk is late at night. A sacrifice I am willing to make :-).

The truth is . . . that not long after we started dating I began to realize that Practice had all of the qualities that I had been praying for since Chad died. Honestly, and I do mean honestly . . . I did not think I would ever find them again. Not all in one package. I thought I would have to compromise. I had had the very best already, and I was not willing to compromise, so I just figured I would be alone.

This week, as I was working on writing the book, I was reading through my journals. In December of 2007, just about eight weeks after Chad died I cried out to Chad in my despair and asked him to please send us someone who would love us. Someone who would love the WHOLE package . . . me, the kids, the ministry, AND our memories of Chad. Then I made a list and asked Chad to work with God to find this man. Practice has EVERY thing on the list! God is truly amazing!

On our first date, Practice looked at me during those hours and hours of talking and said, “I want you to know if we continue to date, that I understand that a part of your heart will always belong to Chad and that I will never try to change that or take that away.” I know that I began to fall in love with him right then and there.

He is kind and loving and wise and smart (yes, there is a difference between wise and smart!) He is a very good daddy and has wisdom in how he handles his babies and all that they have been through. He loves God and loves Christian music . . . especially this local girl from Midland now, I guess :-). And, have I mentioned the biceps?

Here we go, now. Here is me, being transparent with you . . . I was NOT prepared for how hard this would be! Practice has put a beaming, happy smile back in some deep, dark places. Places that I didn’t know if I would ever feel life in again. But the truth is . . . everyone says ‘just have fun.’ Well, that’s great when you are 17 or 20. That is when most people date, you know. A large part of those reading this blog probably dated when they were young and hopefully, will never have to date again. Well, let me tell you . . . this is NOT fun! You see, I am a wife. It is very deeply who I am. I was a good wife, a great one, maybe, and I loved every minute of it. I know how to do it! To now have to go back and be a girlfriend is both frustrating and painful. You see, I know what it is to lie in a man’s arms all night long. To be held and caressed and snuggled so close. And now, night after night we must say goodbye and leave one another’s arms. That hurts.

One of the most fascinating parts of all of this is that I am finding that the ‘wife’ parts of me that died the day Chad died are coming back to life. I want to cook for him and clean his house and help him plan birthday parties and . . . I want to pray and pray and pray for him (the MOST important role of a wife, by the way.) It is clear to me . . . and perhaps a discussion for a different blog . . . that there IS a distinction between wife and mother. While they may go hand in hand, they are two VERY different roles.

Oh, don’t get me wrong . . . it is fun! Today we get to spend the entire day together and I absolutely cannot wait! All EIGHT of us. The six kids and Jim and I. (His kids are wonderful, by the way.) How wonderful! The kids adore one another. We continue to pray that God will lead and guide and direct us and that He will continue to confirm all of this through these precious children . . . and He does.

But dating at 37 and 34 with six children watching every move . . . six children who, themselves, have all been through enormous hurt and upheaval in their lives . . . is not fun . . . it is terrifying! There is no ‘manual’ written on how to do this (please don’t start sending me books . . . I don’t have time to read. I would be open to the Cliff’s Note version via e-mail, though :-)) As a mama and a daddy – our hearts long to do this right so that we make this as easy as we can for the babies. There is nothing ‘normal’ about ‘us.’ We are not 20 year olds trying to find our way through college and wondering who to go to the next big game with. We are thirty-somethings with kids and careers and our own homes we are trying to maintain and extensive friendships and the list can go on and on.

And then add into it . . . Chad. My beloved. And on this Valentine’s Day 2009 . . . I am SO very, very thankful that there is a new smile in my heart named Practice . . . but at the moment that Practice texted me at 6:38 this morning and asked me to be his Valentine . . . the tears began to roll. The reality is, I will NEVER stop grieving Chad. No matter who or what comes into my life. No matter what joys come in the future . . . Practice was right, back on that first date . . . There IS a part of my heart that will always belong to Chad. It will always mourn the loss of what I THOUGHT was going to be my life. I am thankful for hope and new beginnings, but I will always be sad for what ISN’t. It is all very confusing deep inside. How can I weep for one man and long to be in the arms of another?

Practice called, and I was crying, and he listened and loved on me and told me he’ll get here just as soon as he can . . . and the truth is . . . today, I think I get to have TWO Valentine’s . . . one here on Earth . . . and one in Heaven. I love you, Practice! I love you, Chad!

Monday, February 9, 2009


I wish I could say that I KNEW that this would happen. The truth is, I TRUSTED that it would . . . . I HOPED and PRAYED that it would . . . but if I am to be totally honest with you . . . I don’t think I can say that I KNEW it would happen.

None the less, I believe that I am living in the place where old and new are colliding . . . and new is taking hold and running away with me. I feel that I am standing on a precipice, really. I stand at the place where happiness, not joy, but happiness has crept back in and hope for a good future is now reality - not just trust.

Joy is unconditional. It is a promise of having the Spirit of God alive within us. It is not dependent upon our lives or the circumstances of them. One of the most painful and often confusing aspects of having walked through grief was the knowledge that happiness IS situational. That bothered me. I am, by nature, a very happy person. I choose to view the cup half full not half empty. I didn’t like not being happy. I didn’t like that my happiness could be dictated by circumstances in my life that were completely out of my control.

Today, I wonder if YOU have ever stood in this place? In the place that you trusted God for? In the place that you hoped and prayed for but never actually knew if it would happen? Have you ever been here, my friends?

I guess that is the beautiful thing about trust. Trusting God really and truly goes back to a core of KNOWING that God truly wants the best for us.

Maybe the hardest part of trusting God does not lie in trusting Him – but lies in not trusting ourselves. You see, I can want something so badly that it hurts . . . but that doesn’t mean that it is what is best for me. God knows that. So sometimes I struggle in the actual ‘asking’ for what I want . . . . and calling that ‘trusting’ . . . . when what I want might actually be hurtful to myself or my family down the road . . . and GOD KNOWS THAT!!!!! (I could go into an entire dissertation now about the true meaning of prayer . . . a laundry list of our wants OR a sweet fellowship and communion with our Savior?)

Maybe that is where that sometimes constant struggle within ourselves comes from. I know what I want but it might not be what is best. I know what I would like to see happen, but only time will tell. That is a rather precarious place to be, my friends. And so, it all comes back to trusting that God knows and wants what is best in our lives and there is a choice . . . I will bring this back to me now . . . I have a choice to either trust Him and ‘rest’ and not fret . . . or be a wreck.

Honestly? Sometimes I AM a wreck! Sometimes I just can’t see past the end of my nose . . . or I’m PMS’ing  . . . or I am not taking it all to the Lord CONSTANTLY!!!!!!! But, usually, at the end of being a wreck I figure out that truly, the only place I want to live is in trusting Him, and I find my way back to resting.

So, today I find myself beginning the climb out of this dark valley of grief . . . well! That is not true at all! I am not beginning my climb – for that happened on October 7th, 2007. No, today I find myself NEAR the very top of the mountain. You know how sometimes when you watch rock climbers . . . when they get to the very top there is a lip they must go around or a patch of snow or ice they must get around to actually get to the top? THAT is where I am at. It is not all clear. Actually . . . there are MANY questions! I am trying not to be a wreck in all of those questions . . . but in those questions lies the place where the grief of the past and the hope of the future collide.

This is the place of God’s promises. This is the place where quoting Jeremiah 29:11 on the darkest day of your life, and telling your kids that God is good and we are choosing to trust Him JUST after telling them that their daddy is dead, and resting in Him for months when the questions go unanswered . . . .begin to merge with the knowledge that FEELING and TRUSTING are two very different things and today, the things that I could truly only TRUST for a very long time are now things I FEEL!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thank you, Dr. Sowers!

It is amazing, isn’t it, my friends? Tracing the hand of the Lord in our lives? Think about it … Where were you 10 years ago? Where are you now? Are you where you thought you would be? Has the path, the road, been what you thought it would be?

About seven years ago Chad and I wrote a song about this very concept. We were marveling at the path our life had taken . . . a path that we never expected. We marveled at how many curves, dips, valleys, and yes . . . even mountain tops had been placed along our paths. We chuckled as we looked BACK . . . knowing that if God had given us a map when we first became believers . . . a map that showed EVERYTHING . . . all those dips, bends in the road, the sharp curves . . . that it would have been our human nature to try to find the short cut! In our humanity we would have searched for the way around the hard parts. And yet, we knew on that day all those years ago, that each of those twists and turns had been allowed along our path because of the character, perseverance, and spiritual growth that would spring forth. In that moment we penned the words :

You know me better than I know myself,
You know what I need more than anyone else,
You know my heart more than anyone can,
So I lay down my life and give you all that I am.

Now, jump forward seven years. Suffice it to say that my life has not taken the path I thought it would. Duh! I would like to tell you the story of a very sweet and wonderful man in my life . . . and let YOU marvel WITH me at the sweet hand of the Lord and His nudging along my journey . . . and may it cause you to trace His fingerprints in your life!

I graduated from Traverse City High School back in 1992. That summer I came down with Mono and spent the entire summer on the couch trying to recover and be well enough to head off to college in the fall. I had grown up Wesleyan and was planning to attend Indiana Wesleyan University. I had my books all bought, knew my schedule, had corresponded with my roommate, etc . . . I was set! IWU was starting classes the Tuesday after Labor Day.

I was already ‘singing concerts’ by this point and one Sunday the middle of August I did a concert at a church in Traverse City. The next day, as I lay on my couch resting, I received a call from the Anderson University Admissions Department. The man introduced himself to me and said that he understood that I had applied to their school (uh, yeah, NINE months ago!) and that somehow I had fallen through the cracks. He was wondering what they could do to get me to come to their school. I very kindly replied that I was going to IWU and no thank you. SIX CALLS LATER the man would NOT leave me alone! He kept offering to meet whatever money IWU was giving me and I kept telling him NO! My mom was at work that day, and finally she called me and said “Sarah, I think maybe we need to check this out. Maybe God is trying to tell you something and we can’t know until we go visit the school.” Now, the kicker in all of this is that this is Monday . . . I am PLANNING to leave for college in three weeks . . . . and Anderson University starts ONE WEEK from today!

I called that man who kept calling me and told him that my mom and I would be down the next day. She took a couple days off work and we left for this college that we knew nothing about . . . other than they had a great music program. We drove down on Tuesday and spent Wednesday touring the campus and auditioning for the head of the music dept and another professor. I sang a couple songs that I regularly performed in concert (southern gospel) and they then informed me that they don’t sing that kind of music there . . . they only teach classical music because if you can sing classical you can sing anything. I was thinking, “wait a minute . . . the Gaithers are on the board here . . . this is where you come to become a Christian singer and you are telling me you don’t sing that music here?” Hmmmm. But, I did my audition and left.

I will never forget sitting in the Motel Six that night . . . knowing that Anderson University was the place I needed to be. It was so clear. I looked at my mom and said, “this is it . . . this is where I need to be.” She knew it, too. So, Thursday morning we went back to the campus, told them I was switching schools, they called IWU to let them know and we drove the eight hours back to Traverse City. I now had TWO days to pack for school, say my goodbyes, finish recuperating from Mono, and leave for a university and city where I knew NOONE!!!!!!! I was terrified! On top of all that – Chad and I were madly in love and I was about to move eight hours away!!!! Oh my!

Remember that audition I did for the head of the music dept.? Well, his name was Dr. Richard Sowers. On Monday morning I began the rounds heading to all my classes and discovered that not only had I ‘made’ it into private voice . . . .but, Dr. Sowers got to hand pick who he would have in his voice studio and I had made his list! What a privilege!

At this point in my life I was a very broken, hurting, wounded young woman. My parents had split up when I was eleven, and I had had VERY little contact with my dad since then, and I was truly broken and wounded. Loving and being loved by Chad was so hard . . . I lived in constant fear that he would leave me, too. And now enters into my life this wonderful, father-like figure ~ Dr. Sowers. We spent MANY, MANY hours together just by virtue of me being in his studio and ALL the hours of rehearsals, tours, classes, etc . . . Over the next few years Dr. Sowers became one of the sweetest persons who would ever weave their way through my twisty, tourney path. He was always wise, loving, kind, and willing to listen. He knew I was broken and very quietly offered wisdom and gently loved a young woman who really didn’t know what it was to have a father. I will never forget the night that Chad proposed to me . . . .without me knowing, of course, he took that ring in and showed Dr. Sowers before he popped the question to me.

Chad and I soon got married, and l left college a year sooner than I had planned and finished my degree in Midland where Chad had secured his position with the Midland Police Department. I lost touch with Dr. Sowers and many of my college friends (thank goodness for Facebook, huh?.) Over the next twelve years I saw Dr. Sowers a couple times – just very briefly. I always held him near to my heart, though, and thought of him often. I had become a voice teacher myself and I taught my students the vocal techniques that Dr. Sowers had taught me on a weekly basis.

About five weeks after Chad died it occurred to me that in the constant flurry of activity – the unending press attention, the non-stop ring of both the phone and the doorbell, and the constant watch of family and friends – that I had not been alone with my children since before Chad died! I needed to get 200 CD’s to Nashville, and rather than ship them I decided to drive with one of my best friends down to Nashville and get the kids and I OUT of Midland. I needed a break, I needed to be with my babies, and I needed to be somewhere where nobody knew who we were for a while!

I had received cards from several special people at Anderson University, and we decided to pop in on our way to Nashville. I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Sowers. We hugged and talked and then I will never forget what happened next. Dr. Sowers sat all three of my kids down and told them the story of the day that he turned sixteen. It was Father’s Day . . . AND his birthday . . . AND the day his daddy went home to be with Jesus . . . very unexpectedly . . . just like Chad. He then told my kids that it was going to be very hard but that they would be o.k. . . . AND that even though it didn’t seem like it at times . . . that their mama would be o.k. eventually, too. Once again, this kind and wise man who had spoken into my life SO many times SO many years before, was speaking into my life again . . . and even more special . . . into the lives of my precious babies.

Last week Dr. Sowers surfaced again. He found me on Facebook and made his way to my blog and once again his words and wisdom encouraged and uplifted me.

And it occurs to me, that in August of 1992, sitting in a mobile home in Traverse City, Michigan, when that first phone call from Anderson University came . . . there was no way I could have known that a man named Dr. Richard Sowers was about to enter into the journey of my life and be the hands and mouth and mind of God reaching into my life. Never could I have known that Dr. Sowers would gently help to shape the woman that I was becoming and therefore leave an indelible print on a marriage that was going to end far too soon. Never could I have known that he would speak into my children’s lives one day and minister that same grace and wisdom to them that he had to me on so many occasions. Never . . . . could I have imagined . . . the path that just that one relationship in my life would take.

My friends – God IS so very good! In Matthew 10:29 He tells us “Are not two sparrows sold for just one penny? Yet, not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of our Heavenly Father.” You see, those sparrows aren’t worth much . . . yet the Word tells us that NOT ONE OF THEM is out of the faithful keeping of our Heavenly Father.

I don’t understand the course of my life. I AM NOT where I thought I would be ten years ago. I will never, this side of Heaven, understand why Chad had to die. I will never understand why my babies have had to bury their daddy and why we have all had to endure this horrible, horrible grief! There is SO MUCH that we will never understand! But remember how I said that Chad and I were in awe of the dips and valleys and mountains and curves and that if God told us they were coming, our human nature would be to try and avoid them? This is certainly one that I would have done everything in my power to avoid . . . EVERYTHING!

But one thing I do understand is that God is in control. And, back in August of 1992, He chose to weave a wonderful man into the complex, wonderful, horrible, delightful, painful, lovely tapestry that would become my life. There is a purpose in ALL of that. It would boggle my mind to sit and try to figure that out . . . so I must simply rest in knowing that God is SO big, and SO loving, and SO all-knowing that I can trust the ‘weaving’ of that tapestry even as it is constantly going on around me. Really, what that does, is free me up to know that no matter what comes my way God already has the tapestry being woven and I can rest in Him.

And so I wonder, my friends, what part are you playing in the tapestry of other people’s lives? Are you speaking life and love and encouragement into those around you? Are you being the Hands of God, the mouth of God, and the mind of God ministering to those around you? Does your heart beat with the love of God? In all honesty . . . those were traits that did not come easily to me and I prayed for years that God would help me to be an encourager! Are you praying that God would do that in your heart as well?

And on the flip side of that . . . today, in the midst of your struggle, perhaps as you mourn a loss, or maybe as you question where your job went, or maybe as you wrestle with a marriage that is falling apart around you . . . are you trusting that God is big enough to care about the weaving of the tapestry of your life? Are you able to rest in the fact that God is good? Period! You don’t have to figure that one out . . . you just have to trust it! My friends, Matthew goes on to say in verse 31, “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to Him than a whole flock of sparrows.”

Rest in Him, today. Know that the dips and valleys and curves all serve a plan and a greater purpose and that truly, even when we hate it or question it or wonder about it, God sees the entire map and is directing you down the perfect path for where He needs to take you. Romans 8:28 tells us that He can make ALL those tough roads work together for good in your life . . . and that is exactly what He will do! He is so faithful!

And, Dr. Sowers, when you read this . . . please know that I love you dearly and am so thankful for the indelible mark you have left on my life! Thank you!!!!!!