9 years, 2 months, 5 Days

I had not had my coffee yet on the Tuesday morning when I saw the call from the 904 area code.  I declined it at first, like I do almost every actual phone call; but something told me to call the number back.  The voice on the other end was a familiar one, but at same time shaky and sad.  It was his sister “I needed to let you know that he passed away”.  I immediately found myself in a daze but immediately began texting my close friends and family.  None of the knew what to say and I instantly felt nothing but utter confusion.

I know that between my friends, they were ready to have a party because they have walked with me through these years. They are relieved that I don’t have to look over my shoulder or ask them not to post location setting pictures with me when in Jacksonville area.

I walked around in a daze for two weeks with an inexplicable range of emotions.  It felt like a double dutch loss;  because my prayers for him continued to be that he’d find Jesus, get happy and healthy and move on with his life.  I never sought nor craved reconciliation, but I wanted him to get better.  I don’t expect anybody to understand that; but very young in life I found it more productive to be a forgiving person and one who would harbor no bitterness.  Unmerited favor allows that to be the true picture of my heart.  So while he deserved none of my prayers or mercy from God, neither do I when we are keeping it real.

Two weeks after I got the news I was still stumbling through my days, starring at my computer at work and ready to go back to sleep around 10:30AM.  And I did that, I knew I just needed time to work through it, and working through it included the classic Watson shutdown.  People who knew me well navigated it beautifully.  Thank God for text messaging!  As I worked through it, I was able to identify my sadness and how it stemmed from the circumstances of his death and his decisions to abuse alcohol and drugs.  He was estranged from every family member, including his children.  So, yes, yes I was very sad.

I was, indeed back in 2007 playing it all through in my mind and suddenly these lyrics popped up in my mind and reminded of how it felt that first year.

“You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be”–Danny Gokey

If you knew me in 2007 and especially if you were in my life everyday like friends at work and students, then I say THANK YOU to you.  His death felt very similar to that year.  If you hired me for CCHS, if you were a student who sat in my classes, If you were the friend that bought me an alarm clock so I would wake up in time for school, I say THANK YOU.  If you were part of the ministry that is Calvary Baptist Church you sent countless cards, sat in waiting rooms at hospitals and some how found a way to love me.  You, you are the reason I am here today proclaiming Him and Him alone.

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At CCHS in 2007 pretty soon after I left and as you can see by the needle bruise in my arms, I was getting weekly rounds of IV medication for my heart.  I just kept telling them it was not broken but shattered.

As I began to understand what I was feeling about his death I found myself playing this song over and over again, just like those early days it does not seems as though the rain is ever going to stop, ever.  I found myself in an unsuccessful stand-off with God because the emotions of it all definitely included anger in my heart, as it seemed not the surface that my prayers for him were not heard. I am a veteran when it comes to stand-offs with Him, but this time I found myself begging for Him to walk me through it; and stop trying to comprehend the mind of God.

“I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm”  Casting Crowns

And so, the earth kept spinning in those early days and it continued to spin after his death.  I was reminded more than once that “Jesus is behind you” which is something 5 year old Kayla told me more than once.  And, indeed I felt Him then and feel Him now.  If you knew me in 2008, you definitely sat at hospitals with me.  You  brought me cheese crackers for lunch.  You were one of many who let me borrow their car because he had not paid the car payments. You prayed constantly and made a point of checking on me frequently because I had not yet had the ability to truly lift my hands to Him; this was the year that I learned that “sometimes He calms the storm, other times He calms His child”  That was true 2 weeks ago too, just as true as it was in the beginning.

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So, the cool thing about a teaching gig is you get to hang out with these boos all summer.  They are in 8th and 6th grade now.  Still very sick during these times with the worst yet to come

I looked in the mirror and saw the same thing you see here.  Straight up exhausted.  I was void of any capacity to have emotions, it was difficult enough to remember to breathe.  If you knew me in 2009 and are still my friend, you deserve a medal.  This was the year of the 5 day hospital stay with doors that locked when somebody left.  If you knew me then, you worried often, but chose to stay in my life, when I didn’t even care if I had one.

That part wasn’t true two weeks ago.  Even so, my body’s war against it’s self exasperated under all of the stress.  However, unlike 2008, I knew I needed to remember His promises that saved me then and now sustains me when pain and suffering comes knocking at my door.  Two weeks ago, I realized one of my favorite promises, also reflected in the tender voice of Steven Curtis Chapman. And this song as carried me through, no doubt you too.

“His strength is perfect when ours is gone, He’ll carry us when we can’t caring on, raised in His power, the week become strong, His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect” SCC

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When Crissy asked me to move in with her for “3 months” so that I could save money, I wouldn’t even let Sydney in my room, much less on the bed with me.  This was after 2 major surgeries within 6 weeks of each other.

I was not alone.  Three months at Crissy’s house turned into a year, and ultimately six.  Around this time I was beginning to get some fight in me to live, and stayed in counseling. When I got the phone call two weeks ago, a call to my counselor was the only call I made, and if I could have texted him I would have.  We stared our business in mid 2009 in between surgeries and moved to Crystal River.  I knew that move was an opportunity to go dark,  figure out who I was and not identify myself with some story.  I did that, and had good moments like this one at a Rays game.  Crissy is my anchor and my champion. Two weeks ago, I was still on the phone with his sister and I told Crissy that he died, and I could see her filtering her words as the thoughts rushed through her mind.

Most of you loved me from afar in 2010, as I really did squeeze my world into a very small space.  Living in a new place in a new church was hard enough already.  But I am grateful for those of you who did love me well from afar and in my everyday life.  It was (as it is now) awesome to be close to Crissy’s family, who had become my family too.  So, two weeks ago when I got the news, I had all at them at my disposal, and I used them too.  I missed my friends in Clearwater, but this year was necessary to figure some things out; and for the most part the message resounded to me to become a good steward of the pain, all of it; and to give it the respect it deserves.  It was a quiet year, and I needed that quiet; and I needed it two weeks ago; I found myself playing another song over and over, also penned from Steven Curtis Chapman.  A good reminder that He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  This year ended with 4 auto immune diseases and the gravity of my new normal was often too much to handle, but I remembered.

“Your’e my hiding place, safe in your embrace, I’m protected from the storm that rages, when the waters rise and I run to hide, Lord in You I find my hiding place”

I found myself in that hiding place 2 weeks ago, and I have enjoyed the shadow of His wings, loving feeling embraced by Him.

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Well, the 3 months had certainly passed, but Cris quickly became my sister, a life raft, a friend and a business partner.  Love this girl.  At a Rays game, we were there for the eye candy.

Wasn’t I just 22?  How did this day come, the day on the very first day of December that changed the first number in my age.  Actually, I was ecstatic to make it to 40, and I think I celebrated it the whole year after.  I was still sick, still trying to figure it out, but something came back this year, a light in my eyes, laughter from the deepest parts of me, and acceptance of promises that sustained me then and were tools for me two weeks ago.  Peace…perfect peace, it is a feeling like none other and I caught rare glimpses of it then as I do now, when I keep my mind stayed on Him.  This was a busy year for us in the business, and we were finally out of culture shock from the move.  I began to love and embrace this beautiful part of Florida that is quite literally a blend of Jacksonville and Tampa.  Shadow joined my home and as time went by, my heart.  That puppy did a lot to restore my faith in life.  Shadow loves me unconditionally and even as soon as last night, likes to lick  the tears, literally, as they roll down my face.

This was the year where I had some to work on restoring some relationships, and some stayed and some left.  These were friends that I hurt; ones who were sad because I still didn’t understand my value.  It also the year to be around non toxic people and people who would build me up.  Some of my friends still didn’t understand and I let some of them go, they were the ones that needed to leave.  I reconnected with a very good friend of mine through Facebook; she was a buddy from the Camp Victory Days, we became instant friends the summer we worked together.  Later, the reconnection would mean everything and two weeks ago, she was one of the first people I texted.  Though the song would come out many years after this year, it was a message I was sending without saying it.  This was also the year that he came back with life threats that required a court appearance just months before my birthday.  I could have written this song myself.  If you continued to be in my life this year, or you were added to my life, you begin to see light.  You began to see life.  You definitely began to see fight.

“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me”

Plenty of you believed in me, and some of you stayed with me as I found fight and while I needed that same fight 2 weeks ago, it was there, I did not need to search for it, I just had to use it.

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Just one year post auto-immune (4) diagnoses in Daytona for my 40th birthday with my Jax peeps; Michelle had the helmet in the car, so I thought I would embrace it, just like I did turning 40, happy to be alive.

Anytime I am next to this girl, there is a feeling that I can not explain.  She is my sister cousin, and this was the year I got in my car and drove to our childhood summer home in Saluda, North Carolina.  Health wise, this was a good year for me as I started to navigate the waters of life in the real world, life in the sunshine and life in the pain.  Still in counseling, I began to tap into some anger, and worked that year to process anger, an emotion not familiar to me.  Every now and then this song shuffles on my iPod and I think about him, and I think about what a stupid, stupid boy he was.  Identifying this song to him is healthy as it serves as an example that I was learning that I am valuable and special and loved, so incredibly loved.  If you were in my life in 2012 either directly or indirectly you were beginning to see a miracle in front of your eyes.  I often times pull from the strength of this year, strength from you, and your faith to get through new pain, or old pain revisited.  Two weeks ago you got a message from me in that little blue box on your phone, you taught me reach out to you; you reminded me of my value, you screamed this song at the top of your lungs with me.

“Well she was precious, like a flower
She grew wild, wild but innocent
A perfect prayer in a desperate hour
She was everything beautiful and different
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in
Stupid boy, it’s like holdin’ back the wind

Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in
Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind
She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice and that’s what happens
When the only voice she hears is telling her she can’t
Stupid boy, stupid boy
Oh

So what made you think you could take a life
And just push it push it around
I guess to build yourself up so high
You had to take her and break her down

She laid her heart and soul right in your hands
And you stole her every dream and you crushed her plans
She never even knew she had a choice and that’s what happens
When the only voice she hears is telling her she can’t
You stupid boy

It took awhile for her to figure out she could run
But when she did, she was long gone, long gone” Keith Urban

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Road tripped it up to the mountains to spend some time with some of my favorite people at my favorite house in Saluda, NC.  Healthy, for the first time that I could remember

I remember lying in bed on New Years Eve thinking I needed to make another forward step in my life, I wanted to carry the momentum from 2012 into the new year.

One day Crissy mentioned training for the half marathon at Disney.  I was ALL IN.  I love to run and love the training schedule, the long runs, the cadence of my steps, and the music that plays on my phone.  Health wise, this was probably the BEST year I had, and I was determined to punch every disease in my body straight in the face.  There were ice baths, lots of Advil but  I found the strength to dig in deeply.  I ran it with Crissy and Jenny and there was such raw emotions as we crossed the finish line together.

As I unpack now, I keep looking for my medal to hang in my room so I get a glimpse of what is inside of me–what can be accomplished.  This was the year that for the first time I felt the gravity of my healing story.  I began to know and understand that in some way I needed to make a difference in the lives of especially domestic violence victims, but also children who are abandoned, neglected and abused, as I had been all three.  It was the memory of that finish line 2 weeks ago that finally broke the stale mate with God, and brought tears, as I realized that the half marathon should have never been able to happen, but it did.  I left something behind me at every mile and the finish line was symbolic to me to finishing a part of my life and move towards the future, with great hope and with tools to dig in deep and know that there were no boundaries.  I had this song on my phone during the race, it was my fastest mile.

“And what if my chances were already gone?
Started believing that I could be wrong
But you give me one good reason
To fight and never walk away

So here I am still holding on

With every step you climb another mountain
Every breath it’s harder to believe
You make it through the pain, weather the hurricanes
To get to that one thing

Just when you think the road is going nowhere
Just when you almost gave up on your dreams
They take you by the hand and show you that you can
There are no boundaries!
There are no boundaries!” Kris Allen

2013.jpg

Maybe I was in it for bling, but mostly I wanted to kick my 4 auto immune disease’s butt.  So, I trained for 12 weeks and finished my first half marathon.  It was a sweet and tender moment when Cris, Jenny and I held hands and ran across that finish line

The funny thing about having friends younger than you is that you get to celebrate their mile stone birthdays knowing in your head that it just gets better.  In truth, 2014 was probably one of the best years of my life.  I was finding a way to make people a priority in my life, as Aunt Viv’s death a few years before had rocked us to the core and we realized that time was precious and we got better about calling and seeing each other.  Michelle’s 40th birthday was at the beach and the sunset was perfect.  We laughed so hard, we acted like we were 30 years old by attempting to walk the strip at the beach but ended up spending all of that time looking for my phone!  Business remained steady and we began to move towards other people helping with each department, this set me free and took a fair amount of stress off of me.  The funny thing about friends, is well, the good ones are always one blue text box away.  So, two weeks ago it was second nature to fire off texts to certain people, and I will always say I am the luckiest person alive.  I was given the opportunity to speak in Amy and Chuck’s church in PA, and it was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life; and it solidified that I wanted to make a splash in this world.

We ended 2014 at Disney World tugged safely on our balcony to watch the new year ring in,  without the fight of the crowd.  I began writing in 2014 a lot more and am grateful to have captured those emotions during the early years.  While this song was not out in 2014 it explains perfectly what I want from life moving forward.  So, when faced with some of the same emotions of the dark times 2 weeks ago, I try to remember this and that making your mark means you are probably going to have some.

“You will notice me
I’ll be leaving my mark like initials carved in an old oak tree
You wait and see
Maybe I’ll write like Twain wrote
Maybe I’ll paint like Van Gogh
Cure the common cold
I don’t know but I’m ready start cause I know in my heart

I wanna do something that matters
Say something different
Something that sets the whole world on its ear
I wanna do something better
With the time I’ve been given
And I wanna try
To touch a few hearts in this life
Leave nothing less
Than something that says “I was here”

And I know that I will do more than just pass through this life
I’ll leave nothing less than something that says “I was here” Kristin Chenoweth 

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Michelle’s epic 40th birthday party.  Could have asked for a better sunset,  rather than fall  off the swing, I decided to bring it to me, arms wide open, ready for whatever

I don’t know how it happened, but 2015 began by entering my third month staying with Crissy’s parents while my house got built.  It was an amazing year, but the very first day of it I found out about a close friend of mine died from the flu.  She was my people and though we had sporadic communication, usually in the middle of the night, I always knew that there wasn’t anything in the world she would not do for me, so I had sadness and that sadness was similar to what I felt 2 weeks ago.  We also lost a client, who I counted as a friend just 2 months later.

This was also the year that my beloved Alma Mata closed its doors after almost 50 years.  It was shocking, affected people I love and I no longer had the option to drive on that beautiful campus was honored to speak at the final ceremony and while I was scared to death, but understood the massive honor it was to speak.  The closing forced one of my close friends to move away, I’m still trying to get over that one.

Building my house was an amazing, often frustrating , experience.  But living with Crissy’s parents was an experience that most of you had when you were growing up in your homes. There was food in the refrigerator, there were hot meals every night, there was getting glimpse of what a normal child hood must have been like.  I spent the year taking pictures of the process of my house and remain stunned that after all that I have been through that I have a brand new house.  Sometimes I look around dazed like it is a dream.  It was an amazing experience to see that our Redeemer lives, and that He puts people and experience in our lives, that help us heal.  Often using  #redemptionstory on picture posts, I sometimes wish that I would have emphasized that my story is still being redeemed.  So, two weeks ago, after much daze and confusion, I remembered my Redeemer, and I almost shouted this song at the top of my lungs.  The year ended with some of us attending Brian’s wedding and dancing with strangers at the reception.  I look at the picture below and I see light in my eyes, when I look in the mirror now, I see the light in my eyes.  I am so grateful.  I am redeemed as I know that my Savior lives.

“Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?
And who told the ocean you can only come this far?
And who showed the moon where to hide till evening?
Whose words alone can catch a falling star
?

Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testifies
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives

Ye-e-eah
The very same God
That spins things in orbit
Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I’m broken
They conquered death to bring me victory”

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2015 was a rough year with a significant loss of my friend Pam.  She died on the first day of the year.  It was then I was going to begin capturing the moments and not letting time go by that we can’t get back.  This is Michelle and me at one of our friend’s wedding

And so  I ask, “what now?” and the word that comes to me is freedom.  I am grateful for the last 9 years and while there will always be scars, two weeks ago I was handed a key to freedom of fear; and it reminded me of how I got here from there.  This is the year the book will go the publisher; and, as usual a song resounds in my ear, the second part of the song from Danny Gokey, who, just like me walked through dark times, chronicling it as it happened, leaving room for incredibly organic response. So it is a New Day, A New Time and I am so grateful.  Thank you for being on this journey with me.  I thank God for all of you, every day.

“Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good”

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So, as I look forward to the future, this chapter of my life has been padlocked away, with Him being the key to open it in case I need it to help others.  And the most simple song plays in my ear…..

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

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