Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Here's me with my sister and my mom while we get ready for the Thanksgiving meal together.

It's Thanksgiving. I called my mother on the phone a little while ago (even though I am going to see her soon!). She said she was thinking of me because she was "thinking it might be a ___, well, you know, a ___ ". I said, "Mom, do you think it's going to be a SAD day?" That's what she was thinking but didn't want to even say the word, sad. Isn't she cute?

No, while there are plenty of sad thoughts in this day, I am more thankful than anything. In fact, I am so thankful that I even tried (for hours) to get through to K-Love Radio that other day attempting to the be the , "I'm thankful for..." representative of the state of North Carolina. I never got through but I can say more things on my blog that I am thankful for today than I could on the radio. goes.....!

I am thankful that I am a Believer of Jesus Christ because He lives in me. There are countless times in my days that I am so aware that I probably would not think a certain something or do something in particular if it were not for that! The same Spirit that lives in me is the One that lived in Jesus. THAT is a very profound and humbling truth! (Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father.") I am thankful for faith, hope, and the promptings and 'voice' of God that give me directions, discernment, and peace. I would not have the confidence in God's promises. I would not be sure that I will join my Vinnie when I leave this earth - I would not even be sure where Vinnie might be right now either. I am thankful for this because I would never know God, be close to Him or even have the chance if it weren't for the blood of Jesus spilled on a cross that I deserved, to pay the penalty for my sins because I would never be able to. Now THAT is love! (The photo above and below are of my two nephews. They keep the couch warm while we ladies get dinner ready! I should add though that they did help their mom make desserts this week. They are good kids.)

I am thankful that God is at work in my life and in my family's lives. It's such a joy to see prayers answered, to see maturity in each of the kids, their spouses, their children. I love to hear the little ones sing songs they learned from Sunday School classes. Even my grandson Tyler has learned almost the entire song, "Here I Am To Worship" because it was grandpa's favorite song. I am so thankful to have my kids living near enough to see them pretty regularly. I am thankful to have a lovely little house to spend time with them in. I am thankful for my home, my church, my friends, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, my mother, sisters and all the amazingly wonderful people who have helped me, counseled me, spent time with me, cooked for me, and are nudging me along the path of finding my new life.

I am thankful that winter is only a few months here - although it's been too cold for these parts so far this year! I am thankful that it's usually a mild winter. I love the spring. Life emerges again and I am thankful for this reminder of new life. I can hardly wait to open my windows and listen to the millions of birds around my house when the spring comes! I hope to see millions of hummingbirds! They are so beautiful!

I am thankful for electronic technology that allows me to send notes to friends around the world and even call the other side of the earth without a flaw. I am thankful to be knit together in God's work around the world through prayer and financial support.

I am thankful and that is a pretty big step from the painful person I was just three months ago. I am thankful to know, with all my heart, that somehow I will get on with my life and discover what things God still has planned for my life in the days ahead. I am thankful to know that God will turn my mourning into dancing. That is an awesome promise for someone like me in a place like this and in the loss of the most best friend I may ever have in this lifetime. I am thankful.

The photo on the right is of the campfire that my brother-in-law made tonight in honor of Vincent and Michael. If they were here, they would have been hanging out by this fire most of the night, as they were many times in years past. Now they stand before the One whose eyes are ablaze but we were thinking of them anyway, in front of our little campfire.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Friends...New Things To Do

Well, I can honestly say that I have been having a wonderful few days. I went to choir practice last night and I was invited to go have hot chocolate with one of the ladies in choir who is not married. She's younger, like maybe in her mid to late 20s. I was tired; I had planned to go grocery shopping after practice, but I felt like it was my first opportunity to act single. Get that...ACT single. I am single. It's going to take a long time to get used to that concept. I am still Vinnie's wife - well, it's just weird.

So I ended up going to Starbucks about 9 and stayed an hour - until the place closed, then went outside to talk for another 15 minutes in the cold! I went shopping after that! I know it was late and it would have been good to go to bed right about then, but there were no lines in the store and there sure would be after work the next day, especially with Thanksgiving just days away. It was good to chat with girlfriends. I haven't really felt like I've had much time with girlfriends. It was wonderful!

Tonight I had a gold party. Friends are supposed to come over and bring old gold. The gold people examine the gold and but it from you. They give you cash. Not too many parties let you go home with money. It's fun. But only one friend showed up! It was okay though because two other friends gave me gold and they got good money for their gold too. But the party didn't last too long since there weren't any other guests. When the gold people left, I had another lady to stay and chat with me! Oh my was so nice to have company! She stayed until just a little while ago - 11 PM! Yikes! I am becoming such a night owl! I really need to go to bed but I just have to say that I like girlfriend time. I have been with married ladies for so long and when I am free to be with them, they are with their husbands. That's appropriate but for me, I need to look for friendships where husbands can spare the girls for a night once in a while and/or some other ladies looking to spend girlfriend time with me. One young lady wants to come bake cookies together with me for the holidays! How cool is that?! And another lady I haven't spent time with since we were home with our kids, wants to have a night together to visit while her husband is involved in hockey season, and yet another wants to go to a movie with me one Saturday!

I am so excited to think about new things - new things to do with my spare time (oh gosh if I could just get through all the banking stuff that has piled up over the past three months. Will I ever get it off my plate so I can really have time cleared up to go have girlfriend time? It doesn't feel like it!) Anyway...I am beginning to see, for the first time since Vinnie died, that I might have a life of my own. I'd trade it in a heart beat to have my Vinnie back. I'd give almost anything with my integrity for that! But I also know there's nothing I can give to have that. He's not coming back here and I have to stay. He'd want me to live and seek the life that God wants for me now. I have a choice to either stay buried at home in loneliness, trying to understand how God can fill the void of my husband no longer holding me in his arms while we dream and reminisce together. The only way that earthly void is going to be filled is with some earthly flesh and blood and girlfriends will fill that void pretty well. It seems to be a good fit for now. I feel young again and excited to see what kinds of new friendships God will put in my path in the days, months and years ahead.

Soon I'll start putting up pictures of me and my friends on my blog! But since I don't have any yet, you will continue to get pictures of my Vinnie - old and recent ones. Hope you love looking at him from over the years. He was a very special man, very special. I will always love him from the bottom of my heart. He was the love of my life. He always will be...but it's different now. It's different now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Living for the Glory of God

One thing that someone who is grieving, especially in the beginning, does not want to be reminded of is the Truth, a Promise from God, found in Romans 8:28. If you are a Christian, you probably know this verse by heart. It says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." This is good news for those who are struggling with a difficult situation or if a friend or family is a difficult situation. It's good news for those grieving too but it's not what they really want to hear in the beginning. That is because it's hard to remember when your heart is aching to such a heart ripping wrenching way, that it's not about "me"! It's easy to forget that we are to live for the glory of God. It seems like we are being attacked, someone's been taken away from "me"; why? I know a family member who wondered, "why does God need him, anyway, [when we needed him so much more, I think could be implied here] with anger over a mean old God who would do such a thing to "me". It's not uncommon to hear or think this way at a time of grieving, especially if those grieving do not have a true Biblical perspective or personal joyful relationship with God.

I am not sure what God's plan is for my life now and I cannot tell anyone why Vinnie had to die and two months later, why his son died too. I cannot answer that question at all. But I can say that God will bring good out of the situation. That is a promise. I know this because it's been proven in my life many time over and over again over the years with my Vinnie. And God hasn't changed one bit! One reason why sometimes it's difficult to understand this promise to be true is when the expectation of 'good' translates to mean that the good is for "me". But if our lives have been surrendered to God, and we understand that God has a purpose in all things as they fit in the big scheme of things (God's scheme, not our own) we can begin to see that the "good" is sometimes for other people's good. Over time other's 'good' because our joy. Let me give you an example of this in my life.

Several years ago, when Vinnie and I joined the church I am not a member, I sang on the worship team. I remember being in the New Member's class (which I think was the first New Member's class at our church) and was asked what kinds of ministries I might like to be involved in. I remember distinctly saying that I am pretty enthusiastic about several ministries and would love to be involved in any of them except children's ministries. My justification for this comment, even though I do like children, is that I didn't believe that children liked me.

One weekend the worship team went to a worship worshop. It was amazing and it changed my life, really! When we came back I wondered why we weren't making an effort to teach the things we had learned to the congregation - but we didn't. I remember talking one day to a friend on the team about my passion to teach what we learned at the worshop but felt like it should be taught to the children. I remember her saying, "That's a great idea, Gail, why don't you talk to the children's pastor and start something for the kids?" I explained that I'd have to stick to being a helper or write curriculum because no one would want me to teach kids. Kid's don't like me, remember?!

Well, two years later, I believe, she finally gave up on me starting something for the kids and she started something with the kids instead. It was a big success but she could not handle it alone. So in a church prayer meeting one night the pastor asked if we'd pray for a helper to come alongside my friend and help lead worship with the children. A little voice told me that if I didn't speak up, someone else would take over my job! I told th pastor that the helper had already come forward. When he asked who the helper was, I said a meek little, "me".

It took five weeks before I was brave enough to get in the front of the room with the kids but once I got over the extreme fear, I was hooked! I loved it! They loved it! I eventually took over all the grade school Sunday school classes and teachers, schedules, etc. Then I went to a conference to learn how to apply a new curriculum I'd found for the grade school kids. I remember hearing a little voice every once in awhile that weekend, telling me that I could do things their way when "I run the children's ministry". This didn't make any sense. There was a children's pastor who did that and I was not qualified to teach boo-coo to anyone! I kept shrugging off the voice because I didn't understand what I was hearing and why.

About six weeks after I returned from the worshop, the children's pastor stepped down! Oh my goodness...this wasn't happening, right?! But it had nothing to do with m
e...I wasn't qualified to take his place! So I didn't say anything to the pastor. Three months went by and it was decided that no one would be hired to replace him in January when the new budget took effect. I thought they must have flipped - no one replace him...what's going on?! But I finally could not stand it anymore. One day I finally sent a long letter to the pastor telling me what I'd been experiencing, and that I felt like God was telling me to take over the children's ministry! I was stunned when he said he agreed that it seemed like God was using me and leading me to do something so we approaced it slowly and experimentally for a while. By six months it was clear. I was the children's minister for almost four years!

I didn't want to work with children! I went to one worship conference and it changed my direction in the life of my church! God used something I did for good and though in time I could see the good in my life - it was initially for the good of the church and the children. We jsut never know what the heck God's up to!

So how and what does any of this have to do with God using all things, even death, for the good of those that love him? Well, like I say, God is the same. He doesn't change - never! He does have good to come from Vinnie's death. It may not be for my pleasure (and his death is not for my pleasure - for sure. It's very painful!) but the ways God will use his death and the change in my life, it will be for His glory and it will eventually be a WOW experience - one that we all look back on with amazement to see how God would use the past and present things in my life to get on with the future, a future that promises to hold great things that will bless others. It helps me to know this truth because I know that Vinnie's death will not be in vain. It helps me to know that Vinnie's death could lead to so many people being blessed and even coming to knowing Jesus. This would thrill Vinnie to pieces!

I've had several ideas come to mind about how God would use my experiences in grief and all the other experiences I've had in this lifetime and how God would bring them all together to bless many lives around the world. I won't share them yet but I believe God does have a plan, a very exciting plan, one that will allow many people to learn to grow through their suffering, will help them know Jesus, and will bring more people into God's Family. I hope you'll join me in praying for God to reveal what His plan is and to give me wisdom to discern what it is so I won't miss the doors that open in that direction! Because my life is no longer mine but His, He has a plan and purpose for it, I am to live for is will not mine, and though my sorrow is as deep and painful now as it was two months ago, I can and will still know joy. My joy comes from the Lord and from living for Him, not myself. I am so thankful to know the joy of living a life much less selfish than the one I used to have, even though it means having great losses along the way. I know that God's plan is awesome and I am honored to play my part in His story!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Discovering My New Husband

Who would have thought back in 1951 when the little guy on the left was born that he's die such a painful death and would leave this planet just 56 years later?

During the time Vinnie and I were married, we had many dreams. We had plans, goals, and tasks we shared. He usually washed dishes for instance, and while he was a wonderful cook, and did cook once in awhile, especially when we had company, I did most of the cooking - he cleaned up. I cleaned the house and he took care of all home repairs and car maintenance. I did most of the grocery shopping although we loved to shop together. The only problem there is that we'd over spend when he did the shopping or when we went together. He did the bookkeeping and I took care of the kids needs (pack back packs, make lunches, that sort of thing) and I did the laundry.

I suppose you might be getting the idea - I've lost not only my friend, my buddy, but also the one who helped me get a lot of things done around the house and in our family. Until one is suddenly left alone, there's little thought to the fact that all the things done before still have to get done (take out the trash and take it to the dump once or twice a week, mow the lawn, cut the hedges - the list goes on!) but now it is done by just one person. It's difficult to figure out how to get it all done, especially when life goes on and on and before you know it, when you haven't figured out how to get it all done, it all piles up! That's kind of where I am now. I could use a week off to catch up!

So I am missing my husband for many reasons but I keep coming back to this one verse in Scripture. "For your Maker is your husband - the LORD Almighty is his name - the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;he is called the God of all the earth." I think God really wants me to chew on this because it keeps showing up. My girlfriend just sent this to me last night in the context of an email! I love that! God has ways of speaking to us and getting our attention! It's so cool! This verse is cool because it says God is a lot more than just a Husband. Can any of you say all these things about your earthly husband? No! Let's look at all God is to us.

Maker/Husband: God is our maker. He knows EVERYTHING about us - everything! And a husband sees his bride as beautiful, lovely, breathtaking. God sees me that way too! I am not beautiful in the earthly sense (although my sweet Vinnie thought I was beautiful!) but when looks at me covered in the blood of His son, Jesus, he sees me as one of the most pure and lovely women here! The Maker is my Husband. No husband on earth can know all there is to know about us, girls. I have told countless young wives to stop hoping their husband will figure out that they'd like to be surprised by roses on occasion. If you want flowers, don't hint and then wonder why he didn't get it! Just ask. Just tell him what you'd like. He will love that you didn't make him guess. But the Father in Heaven knows us through and through. He made us! He knows what we will absolutely love better than we know about ourselves! That's a wonderful husband!

the LORD Almighty is his name - Imagine being the wife of the president of the USA, one of the most powerful men on earth. Now imagine being the wife of someone even more powerful that! Imagine being the wife of THE most powerful, the one whose name is above all others, one so powerful, He oversees ALL things and all at the same time too! Now there's a powerful husband. Let me tell you - the wife of such a husband is pretty important! So am I. I play a role in the big scheme of things that is just as vital as any leader over this country. I am not important in and of myself, but my husband is LORD Almighty. I am honored to be his special beloved!

the Holy One of Israel - Because I really miss Vinnie and am magnifying the best things about him and our relationship as I write in this blog, you haven't heard much about the unholy Vinnie. He was hooked on old movies. He was sometimes short tempered. He was not always able to or patient enough to understand me or one of his kids. He had, like all humans in this earthly state, was imperfect. I excused his lack of perfections as he excused and had grace for me in mine. But I am wife of one who is never unholy! He is always pure, true, lovely, and perfect! Wow...even though I am not perfect, there's so much grace for me that He loves me anyway, and He remains pure.

your Redeemer - This is my favorite part! A redeemer back in Biblical days (and maybe it's still a practice somewhere in the world today) is one who buys a person out of slavery. They might do a number of things to achieve this but the end result is the same - someone is set free. I've given a lot of thought to this idea in times past. I've thought about if I was a slave to a master that I'd been a slave to my whole life and all of a sudden one day, someone tells me that I am no longer a slave! I think I would be lost. I would not know else to do except be a slave. In that moment I think I would probably want to find the person who set me free and be his slave. After all, if you only knew how to be a slave, wouldn't you want to be slave to one who wanted you to be free? I would! I can picture myself running after the redeemer and begging him to let me serve him all the rest of my days!

Well, truth is that I have been a slave. My master at one time was drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, immorality and all the things of the world. I was under it's command on my life and I was it's slave. Then Jesus revealed himself and told me what He'd done for me - that he had set me free, and I wanted nothing more than to be his servant. But this redeemer, with so much love for me that he gave up His life to set mine free, is my Husband!

The last concept of Husband that comes to mind is that of an intimate relationship. God wants an intimate relationship with me. In the Garden of Eden, God walked amongst Adam and Eve. Imagine seeing God with our own eyes walking right next to us? It's breathtaking! Because we live in a fallen world, He cannot walk with us like that (yet) but through the person of Jesus, we can experience God as our Husband. He desires us to know Him in the most intimate ways. We grow in this intimacy through a life of prayer and being attentive to the ways he speaks to us throughout the day and reading His word. I've called on God at times when I was so desperate for Him that I could literally feel arms around me!

God isn't going to come down and wash my dishes for me or check my car or take the trash to the dump! He's not going to climb into bed and rub his soft feet over mine, he's not going to have quiet conversations with me in a beach chair while waves wash over us. But God does 'talk' to us. I've heard him tell me to turn to certain passages in the Bible. I've heard Him tell me that Vinnie was going to die and He even told me 6 months ahead of time what month it was going to happen. I've had to develop 'ears' to hear him and recognize His voice. It's not audible with human ears but is the whisper of a Husband always audible? How many times did I know Vinnie was saying, "You are the love of my life" and words never spilled out of his mouth?!

I am not saying it's easy to adjust to having a Husband now with so many challenges in the way of experiencing Him. I wish I'd been more able to know the joy in knowing God as my Husband long before I lost my Vinnie. I might be more practiced at it now that I really need to know Him in this way now. But now is better than never! I have a Husband who's perfect, who knows me more than I know myself, who is never about His personal gain, who loves me beyond my wildest desires, and set me free from bondage to the things that would eternally destroy my chances of ever knowing Him. And because of that, I will one day be with my Vinnie again too. Now THAT is a package deal, isn't it?!

If you are wishing for a more perfect husband, ladies, know this - you will NEVER find him here! Some may come close but for all the little ways he doesn't make the mark, there is the Perfect One ready to fill your heart in the sweetest ways. Every missing aspect of your earthly one can be found in your Heavenly one! You may just need some help dusting off the antennas to know where He is and how He wants to satisfy you completely! Join me on the journey of discovering who our Husband is!

More verses on God as our Husband.

John 3:29
The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
Isaiah 61:10
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Revelation 19:7

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Revelation 21:2
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Revelation 21:9
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."
Revelation 22:17

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Just The Way It Is - NOW!

Here's Vinnie 30+ years ago in the US Army. What a handsome guy, right?

I have had an amazing week. It started out so sad, exhausting, almost depressing. I seemed to cry at every turn last week and I was beginning to wonder if it were really possible for me I live without Vinnie. But Thursday I had a few events suddenly change course - you know those days where you think something is going a certain direction, you proceed to do all the things that it takes to get the task done, you think all along how awesome God is that He put such a perfect plan together - and all of a sudden, the door SLAMS shut! That was my Thursday.

While the day started out sad as did the other days of this past week, I suddenly found myself asking God, "What's going on? Why did you do this? I am not upset, in fact, I am sure you shut this door but I sense you are trying to teach me something here. Please show me what it is!" I began to think about the fact that I am bull headed sometimes. If I see a need, I sometimes don't wait on God - oh, I do pray about it, but since I am so sure something needs to be done and no one else is going to do it (of course, ha! ha!) then I best get all the steam I can power up and Gooooo! That's me! So by the time I went to bed on Thursday, I was doing a lot of talking to God. I also attended my Thursday night GriefShare group and came away realizing that in fact, I can and will, live my life without Vinnie. It is possible and will happen, because God took Vinnie and left me here. It's that simple. That's the way it is now.

So Friday night, just to add some frosting to the cake, I had a friend over for dinner. We had a wonderful time to together, as we often do when we get girlfriend time with each other. But one question she asked me kept haunting me the rest of the night. You see I've been trying to help my daughter and her family find a new place to rent. I've gone out of the way to search, make phone calls, and basically run myself ragged over it. Why, she asked, are you dong all this work? (you probably are asking too, right?) Well, it appears that bad habits over the years have reigned and I do some things like I've always done them, forgetting that my daughter is 24 now, quite responsible, and able to do this on her own! What's the matter with me?! I know - I am a sinner. I have fears, I have a lot of fears. That's the lesson for this week! If I am controlled by my fears and habits, how can I also submit to God? I can't! The result? I will not see what amazing answer God can provide!

I have often thought it interesting that God put Jesus in the home of a carpenter. Jesus learned to build with wood. He's not here physically now but He still builds - He builds His people, layer by layer, step by step, piece by piece; He builds us into a sanctuary where God can dwell! When I look back (and it is crucial to do this at times!) on how God's built my faith, I am in awe. Here's an example.

One time when I was still a pretty young Believer, we had a friend work on our roof. Midway through the project, he got called away and could not come back for a week. My husband was also out of town that week for a few days and would you know - it rained, no - POURED - all week long! The tarp used to cover the unfinished work on the roof had blown off and guess what started to happen? You got it - it started to pour inside too! One strip of ceiling, from one end of the house to the other started leaking. I had several buckets and bowls in two of the bedrooms and some in the stairway too. I was so afraid the whole ceiling would crumble to the floor. The money we were trying to save by doing the roof ourselves was going to cost us more than we'd ever be able to afford to fix. I was so upset!

I sat on the stairway crying my head off and my oldest daughter who about 10 at the time, said something like, "Mom, I think we need to pray that God would move the storm so the roof will not be able to leak anymore." I said something along the lines of, "That's ridiculous! You heard the weather report on TV this morning. This is slow moving storm and won't be gone for another two days!" She reminded me that Jesus moved a storm when he was on a boat with the disciples and he could move this storm too - if we just had faith. She insisted that God wanted us to have the faith to pray this. I told her that if SHE had the faith, she could pray. I'd pray with her but I was not able to ask for this, she'd have to. She did pray, it was a sweet prayer. We got up and put more buckets around the house. About 15 or 20 minutes later, it seemed as though the rain was not coming down as heavy. It seemed as though the clouds were not quite so dark and heavy. And..honest to God, in 30 minutes it stopped raining! I could not believe my own eyes!!! Just for fun, I wanted to see if the weather channel had picked up on this small pocket of the world no longer having a storm that was to last two more days. Even they were amazed at how fast, all of a sudden, "that storm moved out to sea!"

I have countless stories like this! I could write a whole blog or even a book on the many specific things we felt compelled to pray over the years - big things, little things - and God answered them. (I should interject here that God sometimes answer prayer with a "NO!" or a "Wait" but he does always answer). I can't go into more of them now. But I tell you this to make a point. God builds our faith by showing us He's faithful in little things and then a little bigger things, and then even bigger things. I hope you get the idea here. He builds us in strength too - a little here and there and more and more as each new need for strength arises. He does it with perseverance, and so many other things. He builds us to be temples of the Living God, one layer at at time.

I should know by now that if I have faith, and my daughter has faith, even if bad things fall on her or her family - God is in control! He wants to build their faith, the kid's faith, her faith, her husband's faith. Gosh, as He works in their lives, He is still building more of my faith! Maybe when Vinnie was here, we didn't turn to God every single time we should have. We didn't have to. He was there to the rescue. I am not saying he wasn't suppose to fill that role for us - yes, he was our protector. He just did too good a job at it! And I've been doing the same thing since Vinnie was sick - running like a bull to fix it, take over, and take charge. I have prevented either of us from seeing what amazing things God would do in a difficult situation. (The picture below is Vinnie before marriage - a long haired clown!)

But here's the deal - that was then and THIS is NOW. Just as I have to spend time now discovering how God is to be a Husband to me now that Vinnie is gone, so my daughter has to discover in a deeper, more real and consistent way, how God is a Father to her now that Vinnie is gone. He's been building our faith to get us to this point. I can trust he will take care of her, her children, her family. I can trust He will take care of me and will fill every single area of my life once consumed in Vinnie. No need for fear. There is instead a need for faith - a new layer of faith, a layer that is built on all the other layers God's built in me, in us, in times past, because after all - that's just the way it is NOW! It's not Biblically true that God doesn't give us more than we can handle! It seems to me that God often times gives us more than we can handle! But He gives us more when He's proven Himself in the layer before and the layer before that, etc. He builds this so we will see that He can and will use the present (key word here-present, NOW) for HIS glory and our good. It's too easy to think life's all about me/us. It's about Him and He wants to be glorified. He gives us more than we can handle because he's trying to get people like me to stop being bull headed and storm through hard times tough as nails fixing everything and keeping myself and others from being hurt and relying on Him too! He's trying to get us to live in the present, not fear the future or expect life will be like it was yesterday! Each day is a new day with new troubles of it's own. He wants us to face life - just the way it is NOW, with faith, with peace, with trust - in Him!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Solid Living Oak

Here's a picture I almost forgot about - Vinnie playing with two of our grandchildren.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 1:3 which reads, "He [the man who delights and meditates in the law of the LORD] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers"

I love this verse because it is easy to picture a happy, confident tree that stands tall and strong right along the banks of a stream. The rest of the psalm says that this tree has leaves that never wither and it always bears fruit. It's clear after reading this verse that when I am not strong, when I am lacking confidence (not in myself but in God's plan) I am not rooted in Living Water - Jesus!

I remember visiting my sister and her husband's first house. I admired an awesome tree - an oak, I think, right in the middle of the property. It was huge and completely covered in a beautiful vine. I asked her about it and she passed on some interesting information about the tree and the vine that I easily forgot - until now, now that Vinnie is gone. Someone told her that she had to be careful how she removed the vine off the tree. The vine was so deeply rooted to the tree that to simply chop it off, the tree would die. Interestingly enough, if the vine didn't get cut, the tree would die anyway. I find it amazing to realize that if the vine stayed entangled on the tree, the tree would die (and the vine would too eventually). But if the vine was not removed gradually, both would die anyway.

I never thought about that story during the five or six years that have passed since seeing the tree. The picture of this tree popped into my mind from out of the blue one day recently when I was praying for God to show me how to disentangle myself from various things in my life that Vinnie and I took on together but they were just too big to tackle alone. It seems pretty clear now that I've had time to think about this visual picture of a tree and a vine choking each other out, that there are many things that we can allow to strangle us. Some things may have been strangling us for years and we never saw it before, not quite, anyway, and once it is seen, especially if it involves another person or people, it can be very difficult to cut the strangling vine off! The vine might be a dependent adult child, or debt, or a lie that a family has kept a secret for years. It can be anything! I am on the hunt to recognize now, vines that may be trying to snuff me out. Really, it would be easy at this stage of my life to give up on life and wither away. After all, I'd get to be with Vinnie again - a lot sooner! But then there are people I want to remain alive for so I have to keep on living and living well.

In order to live well, I must not only plant my roots near Living Water (remain planted in God's Word) but also be aware of vines (sins and traps of Satan) that are attempting to snuff me out, choke me to death, and make the journey terribly painful in the process. The Bible puts it like this in 1 Peter 5:8 "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." If you've been looking for roaring lions, look out - it could be quiet, pretty little vines taking root in your life that will choke you out instead!

A woman at GriefShare quoted a saying for me one night. I can't remember exactly how it goes but the jest of it goes something like this - if you have an adult dependent on you, you are probably in the way of God. How's that for a powerful, convicting piece of truth?! I have had adults dependent on me in the past and am working on getting one more pealed off me now. It is important if I am to live and go on living. It's important for the other person because they too will die although it may feel like they are dieing while I snip them off me. And it's important that I get out of the way of what God wants to do with their life and mine! I wish I'd seen all this before Vinnie died because it would make it so much easier to move on with my life now. The person I am struggling with would probably have a kinder view of where I am at in this season of my life too - wondering who I am without my Vinnie. They seem clueless that there should be any struggle what so ever in my life - but I didn't see it before. I see it now. And isn't that how God works - in layers? I told you yesterday - layers like onions and onions stink! These hard things in life stink too but they are necessary to living well, living strong, bearing fruit and having meaning in life.

I am not sure sometimes what are all the things I am sad about in this time of my life - missing Vinnie or missing the old way of life, sadness to have to find a new way of life, losing the buddy that helped me think through everything - we thought everything out together. It's a combination of all these things I guess. But just as losing Vinnie is part of the journey God destined for me before I was even born, so is the release from things that keep me in the way of what God wants to do in my life, and stay out of the way of what God wants to do in the lives of those around me - especially those I am close to. It's a constant struggle to be in the right center, the right place with God and his world everyday, but if we are to live, really live, we must persevere to win the race we are asked to run (and win!).

Like the vine on my sister's tree, though, removing the 'stuff' in our lives that choke us, drown us, or weigh us down cannot always been done quickly. There is a measure of patience required to do it in a way that makes us come out healthy and repaired in the end. If you are one to pray for others, pray for me that I will be patient in this season - with my own healing and in relationships that need to get healthier in my life. I pray that I will become a strong, confident fruit bearing tree who draws it's strength from the source of Living Water, with leaves that never wither and without vines to choke me out to drown!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding My True Identity

Now that there are no more phone calls asking about Michael, all the kids have gone back to school and work, friends have returned to their families, I find myself feeling much like I did when Vinnie died. The only difference is, that now that Vinnie's been gone longer and now Michael is gone too, I realize I've had quite a bit of security stored up in these guys and it's making me miss them even move. I had comfort knowing that I could call Michael after Vinnie died, if I really needed help with something so he took the edge off of that part of missing Vinnie (to some extend anyway). Mikey would go out of his way to do almost anything for one of his sisters, and he would have gone out of his way to help me too, now that his dad was gone. In fact, he was suppose to meet me the day after he died. We were going to get all the wood flooring Vinnie bought for the old house and bring it to my new house. He was going to lay the flooring for me (well, eventually - or at least show me how to do it so I could finish it) and I, without thinking about it, I was looking forward to his company, and chatting with his wife Stephanie while we worked on the floor together. I am sad that ths plan will never happen. I know there are people who have said if I need anything, not to hesitate to call. Do you really mean it - anything? I just can't picture people dropping their lives to do something for me. It's not possible. I know folks want to help, but when it comes right down to it, they have lives, sports and dance with their kids, events to attend, meetings to have with teachers, homework to help with, weekends to spend with their families here, out of state, or just a get away with their spouse. Don't forget, I was married too - for 25 years. I am the one that doesn't have "a life" right now. At least, I am realizing I need to make a life, a new one, with friends who don't have to be home for their husbands and children. I need a life that doesn't cost anything either - because there's nothing extra in the budget to take up a hobby or a special monthly something. It's looking pretty bleak right now. (The picture above is Vinnie and me at my daughter Amy's wedding earlier this year, and below is the two of us with Amy and her new husband Mike.)

I am not really feeling sorry for myself. I really am not. I am, however, wondering what my life is supposed to look like. I just am swimming around in dark water. I can't see anything very clearly. I want my life to have some purpose and I can see I've put a lot of stock in being Vinnie's wife and the life we had together, and now it's all changed. I am not sure what my life is supposed to look like now.

I couldn't help but think of Job today. Job (rhythms with the word probe) is a book in the Bible about a man with the same name - Job. Job is a righteous man who is wealthy with a large family and servants. Satan tells God that Job would not be such a righteous man if all his wealth and belongings were taken away (I am paraphrasing her, big time!). God knows that's not true, so when Satan asks, God allows all of Job's family and possessions to be taken away (for a season, but Job, of course, doesn't know that). I was wondering what Job thought about during those days when all of his possessions, servants, and children are taken from him. Surely my losses and grief are nothing compared to losing everything. I wondered if Job wondered what to do with his time, if he felt challenged to manage his time differently, or orchestrate his day differently. The Bible doesn't say. I do know in the end, after also suffering from terrible pain and illness, he confesses to God that it is not his place to question the God of all creation about anything God does. I know the point of the story reminds us that God's purpose in allowing things in our lives goes beyond what we can see or understand. I doubt Job knew about the conversation God had with Satan, for instance - the conversation that started the whole mess for Job. God knows the big picture and we never will while we are here on earth, therefore there is little point in questioning. In Job's life, he has all his wealth and livestock and children and servants all replaced ten fold in the end of the story. I am not sure if God will restore what I've lost but I know that all this has a purpose and my life is going to have purpose again one day. I need to simply wait to see what God has in store for me. I am not good at waiting.

I don't mean to get caught up in the book of Job, although he has always been an encouragement to me, and continues to be during my own tragic time. I am feeling especially sad today (and yesterday). I've learned in GriefShare that grieving happens in layers - kind of like an onion. There are many things we miss about a lost love one, their company, their help, their income, their encouragement, their love, their strength, their talents, their abilities, and the list goes on. As I sit with a mountain of receipts on the table and bank reconciliation that need to be done for August, September, and October, I am again missing another part of Vinnie - the bookkeeping expert. As I look at (and smell) the old carpet in my new house, I miss the handy man. And when I walk on the carpeted bathroom floor, I realize that dozens of friends got tile on their floors and even their counters and showers, but I never will. I am missing another layer, another skin of the onion. And...onions stink! (Here's Vinnie with our youngest grandson.)

Being a widow - it's hard adjusting. It's just hard to think of your life being so different from just a few months ago. I am still Vinnie's wife but without the luxury of having Vinnie here. Being a widow is not only being asked to get used to not having my Vinnie around here any more, but also to depend and rely on God every single day for every single thing. There is no one else to rely on anymore. Every day I must depend on Him and Him alone. That is what we are called to live our lives like in Christ anyway, isn't it? If I'd done a better job of learning this before Vinnie died, I'd probably struggle less with it now! But perhaps just as grieving happens in layers, so does our dependency on God. His grace allows us to understand new layers of our relationship with him in each season of life. That is His grace. He allows us to take one step and one layer at a time.

I know I will be OK, and I will discover what my new life is suppose to look like in time. It helps me to think these things through and to write them down and "listen" to myself. Of course, it helps to keep praying too - praying for daily bread, for protection (I relied on Vinnie for that too!), for joy, for peace, for security, for EVERYTHING! I suppose it is significant that I approach this season of grief at the same time as we begin the winter season soon. The seasons always remind us that our lives go in seasons too and just as this is a darker season in my life right now, life seemingly dies (but it's not really dead) and then comes to life again, fresh, brilliant, with more light, it even smells wonderful. Just as there is winter, there will be spring in my life too. I just have to get comfortable about waiting.

Promises I must cling to:

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Matthew 6:25-34 25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wow...What A Big Family!

Pictures in today's post are more from Vinnie's celebration of life party. So many people loved Vinnie!
Before I begin writing the story God's put on my heart to write tonight, I want to emphasize something...this blog, these stories are NOT about Vinnie, me, or anyone in our little family. In fact, even the post I am about to write, though it may seem like I am writing about people, I am NOT. I am writing about God. That is very important to understand. This is not about me. It is not about me being inspirational or encouraging. It is about God, it's about HIM being inspirational and He wants YOU to be encouraged and reminded that He still wants to work in people's lives. He is the one who gives Hope even in the most difficult situations. This blog is about God and how He can take broken cisterns like Vinnie, me, Michael, and all the rest of our children (and you and yours) and turn them into a new creation in Christ. I know with all confidence, that Vinnie and Michael would be thrilled to know that others can know what accepting the gift of Jesus in their lives has done for them, and those around them. These guys may be in Heaven applauding the ability God's given me to write about Him! Don't miss that! This is about God, not us. If you missed that - please stop right now and read again from the beginning!

I promised my husband before he died, that I would somehow find a way to allow people to continue to be encouraged about God by hearing how God worked in our challenging life together. I made this promise to Vinnie because we both knew and I know, that we aren't special. We've always known that if God was willing to do it for us, He is certainly willing and able to do it for many, many others. It's a world full of people with problems bigger than the size of Texas, and they don't know what to do with them. It is my prayer that this blog reaches and encourages as many people as God wants it to reach. It is after all, His story! I have very deliberately not mentioned our last names, the city I live in or even the name of my church. Those who know me, know many of the stories or some of them already and it helps to piece them together to see a clearer, bigger picture of our lives. But for those who don't know us personally, you don't need to know our full names, etc. It's not about us! I am thankful for modern technology that allows me this media to communicate God's story in our lives to others. For close friends and family this does provide opportunities to reflect and remember sweet times, but please let it also be a time to give praise to God. Look what He's done over the years! It's a miracle! OK. Let me proceed now to tell you about some awesome people - God's people!

I remember Vinnie and I wondering once in awhile if we should visit other churches. After all, we practically grew up in the church where we truly began our journey with God. My guess is that is a natural earthly desire to wonder if there is a benefit to shopping around. I suppose that comes from our society, always thinking that there is bigger, better, and greener on the other side of the fence. But in God's world, there is no fence - God's people are part of one BIG family!

When Vinnie first found out that he had cancer, he would tell me about emails that he received at work from people he'd never met from countries all over the world! That is the Body of Christ! Vinnie and I have been so blessed to be have Brothers and Sisters in Christ who have come along side us in difficult times to help in a multitude of ways over the years. The church family we go to church with and the small groups we've 'done life with' have been amazing! I remember Vinnie saying once, "Well, I guess if anything ever happened to me...[our church] would take good care of you, wouldn't they?" Well, yes, I figured they would because Sisters and Brothers in Christ long to live by the Word of God and see the Word of God made manifest in their lives. In 1 Timothy 5:3 it says, "Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need." I know that the people in our church want to be sure that their widows are taken care if they need to be taken care of. Let me tell you how awesome is the Body of Christ in my life!

When Vinnie had his second surgery which was suppose to be the removal of his bladder and prostate and a reconstruction of an artificial bladder, there were many people praying from home for the surgery to go well and for fast healing. But when we found out that the kidney also had to be removed and that it was not going to be possible to reconstruct the bladder, we called the church. Within one hour, there all kinds of people who dropped everything to come pray and be an encouragement to my family. That week people were sending me gift cards so we would could eat at and stay longer at the hospital. When we did go home, there were families that cooked and delivered hot meals day after day. That is a tradition at our church. Bringing meals to a family is a sign of love and concern. Even when a family has a baby, there are families that bring meals from the day the baby arrives home and it goes on for weeks!

The Bible tells us that we are all individual parts of one big body and that Jesus is the head. (1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.) When Vinnie had pain in his physical body, it effected how well he could function during the day. It is the same with the Body of Christ. If one part of the body is sick, the rest of the Body needs to pitch in to get the weakened part strong again. It is an awesome thing and thanks be to God - it works!

When Vinnie came home from the hospital, I eventually had to go back to work. I only had so much time I could take off. There were people who would come and visit with Vinnie during the day or in the evenings if I had something I had to go do. Occassionally I've had someone volunteer to clean my house. When we learned that Vinnie was going to die from the cancer, we decided to move to an apartment where it would be quieter and there would be less things to take care of. We rented our home to my daughter and her family. The moment I put up a request for help to move, we were overwhelmed by the multitude of people who were ready to help. I was even approached that day by a couple that I'd never met before who heard about our need for help, and they pitched right in. We had meals delivered, we had ladies helping to pack the old place, unpack the new place, clean cabinets, drawers, bathrooms, and people moved furniture all day long. There was enough help to not only move Vinnie and me to the apartment but also to move all my daughter's things in from storage and it all happened in one day! Lunches and dinners were provided for days! Vinnie was on disability then earning 70% of his regular pay and I had stopped working in the last month to take care of him and I didn't get paid during that time. We never made an announcement about our financial needs during that time, but as people prayed about how God might want them to help us, He must have told some families to give us money. I received gift cards to grocery stores, checks in the mail to pay for medical needs, light bills, and whatever we needed. It was amazing!

After Vinnie died, the love and care of the church did not cease for weeks! In fact, on occassion I still will receive a love offering given when someone feels like God prompted them to give. It always seems to be just the right amount to cover something that I wasn't sure how I'd cover it. I am amazed at the generosity of the church, and the sense of Family that overwhelms it's members when there is a true understanding of being One. I am still blown away when I see the Word of God made flesh in the many parts of the Body of Christ. I am blessed to have been on the end of the giver and the end of the receiver and both are a blessing. If you want to know more about this experience of the Body of Christ, or you are curious to know more about what it means to have a PERSONAL relationship with Him, please email me. I'd love to tell you more about it. Maybe my next blog will tell you about how Vinnie and I became Beleivers. God's done amazing things in our family in this regard. Again, they are stories of what God can do - turn prideful hearts of stone into hearts and lives of clay ready to be molded into the people He created us to be! My email is Please feel free to drop me a personal note. I would love nothing more than to be used by God to help you understand how you too may come to know Jesus is a real and personal way, and to allow Him to show you who and what purpose He has created you for.

I am blessed that I have not had to travel any of the difficult things in my life of the last 14 years alone. I've had Vinnie, my family, my church Family, and God and His Word to speak to me and comfort me and take care of me. But it's not because of who I am. It is not even because the people around me are great (at least not on their own). It is about the Giver of Life who pours out his spirit of blessings on his children and shows them how this blessing is to also bless others. I am humbled and in awe that God would adopt me into His amazing Family (Ephesians 1:5 "he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will...") but I thank Him daily that He has!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ready To Get Married...How We Met

No, I am not hoping to get married again! I was just getting your attention with the name of this post! I guess I am taking on one of the traits I learned from Vinnie the joker!

I was having dinner at a friend's house on Vinnie's birthday, Oct 30, just two days before Michael died. Her daughters ate with us and asked me how I met Vinnie. I love telling this story. Even though this blog is meant to tell of my life in the season I was becoming a widow and what God will unfold for my life now that I am one, I also believe it is of interest to others to know how we met. The picture to the left is from our wedding day, June 7, 1983.

Vinnie called me a flower girl because I wore what he considered to be weird clothes. I wore cotton wrap around skirts, eyelet cotton blouses, and sandals. OK. I know what you are thinking...flower girl, right? Well, perhaps a flower girl personality still lingered from the hippie teen age years, but come on, now, we were entering disco days...I was maturing!

Actually, when I turned 18, I left upstate New York to visit an experimental alternative school in Southern Ontario. I ended up living there for two years and discovered I was a pretty good cook. I cooked for the 220 or so students and staff there and taught many troubled young people how to cook. When my visa could no longer be renewed, I was bound for New York again, and became an assistant manager in a summer resort where I worked for 4 years. The last year or two there, I managed the entire kitchen staff, ordering, dishwashers, service staff, and the bakers. I loved it. But as I started getting close to 24, I had a strong urge to have children and start a family. The young man I'd dated for 4 or 5 years was never going to get around to marrying any time soon, so one fall, I decided to see what city life might hold for me.

I moved to Massapequa, Long Island, New York, and rented a house with some friends of mine on a street called, Pirate's Cove. Who wouldn't have wanted to live there?! It was on the bay and really gorgeous. I worked a few months for a friend who owned a successful nut company, but after the holidays, I hit the streets to see if I could find a job in an office. I was afraid that if I pursued a career as a cook, I'd never keep hours that would allow me to be a good mother, so I thought I'd explore my talents in administration.

I went to one particular company, a mortgage serving company, for an interview one day. They were hiring for a clerical assistant. It didn't pay much but I was hoping for fast opportunities that might open up if I could get my foot in the door of the right place. Well, I had no idea what new opportunities would await me a year down the road, so I went for the interview. I was interviewed by an older lady and a handsomely dressed man with a funny accent. His name was Vinnie. I actually thought he was a bit weird but who cares...I only had to work for him eight hours a day, right? Besides, Annette was my real boss. But Vinnie was nice to work for and we even became friends over time. I discovered that his wife had recently left him for a good friend of his who was also married to a relative of his. What a family mess. I felt sad for him. He had two kids and was really torn up about the whole thing. I can't blame him!

I was still pretty involved in the process of getting my ex-boyfriend off my trail. He was driving me a bit nuts - of course, he still didn't want to get married and I was tired of waiting! When it was quiet in the office, we'd talk about our love life dramas and give each other a boost of encouragement. (Imagine that?! We didn't know it then, but we were destined to do that for many years!) I also didn't own a car in those days. Pubic transportation on Long Island transportation was excellent. L.I. was a scary place to drive anyway. But sometimes if it was cold or late when I left work, Vinnie or one of the other co-workers would drive me to the train station. Everyone lived near one!

One week there was a special project going on at work. Everyone was offered the opportunity to work 20 extra hours that week - 4 hours after regular hours each day that week. I needed the extra cash so I asked for someone to commit to give me a ride to the train station every night. Vinnie offered. When we were at the end of the project that week, Friday rolled around, and Vinnie and I got in his car, headed for the LIRR. As we pulled out of the parking lot, he asked me what I was going to do when I got home. I think I told him I would probably eat a sandwich and watch an old movie. He asked me if I liked French food. Did someone tell him that? French food was my all time favorite. I lived in Canada, remember? Some of the best cooks I worked with there were from Quebec. Apparently Vinnie loved French food too and didn't want to eat alone. He was treating to dinner, so why not?

Somewhere in the midst of fresh made Caesar salad and liver pate' I began to realize that Vinnie I had been growing into a bit more than just a friendship. I hadn't noticed, after all, wasn't this the weird dude that interviewed me? When I had gotten hired, I was relieved that at least I'd get to work with Annette! Now I was not a Christian then, but I heard a little voice just the same, and it told me that Vinnie was the man I was meant to marry! (The picture to the right is of Vinnie and me shortly after we were engaged. We loved the smurfs so I created smurf costumes. At this costume party, a monk performed a mock wedding to prepare us for the 'big day' we were planning!)

It took Vinnie a little longer to see it but we got engaged about 9 months after we'd met, and married about 9 months after that. About nine months after that we had Amy!

When Amy was 13 months old, Vinnie was offered a job working for his boss's son in Florida. We walked the beach every day. It was one of the most incredible years of my life. But 1 1/2 years after that we moved back to NY when the new boss lost his business and Vinnie was out of work. Shelly was born just before we moved. Five years after we were married, we bought our first house - a handy man special. Vinnie really hadn't done a lot of handy man work but he was confident that he could figure it out. He was so adventurous and never seemed to fear anything!
Here's a picture of him working on on our first house.

We lived there for five years. That had been the longest I'd lived anywhere since I left home! Vinnie had made it a beautiful home but as the girls were starting to go to school, we started wondering if we really wanted to stay on Long Island. Vinnie worked really far away. One day when it snowed, it took him six hours to get home from work. My childhood desire to move south when I grew up was beginning to rekindle and Vinnie loved the idea of living in a more wholesome area. Five years later, we moved to NC and stayed here until Vinnie went to be with the Lord in our real Home. I consider NC to be the home I will live in until I join Vinnie in Heaven.
Here's are some pictures of Vinnie with the girls at our home in NY.

Now, the last picture on this post is important. It's the evidence of how one man who was always dressed in a three piece suit at worked and creased jeans on the weekends, (yes, creased jeans!) went to becoming not only a handyman in dirty sweats and T-shirts, but became a camping, bear chested poolside laid back southern boy (well, he was from Southern Italy, right?!) I always thought it was so cool!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Deep Sorrow Times Three

I was going to write my next story about my girls, Amy and Shelly tonight, but it was also the night I was thinking about what the small memorial service for Michael will look like tomorrow. Michael's wife, Stephanie, is still in the hospital and cannot get out to do a service for him. His sisters and I feel the need to have a smaller, quieter service for him now to hold us over until she can have the service for him that she wants. It's hard to go to work and school acting as if nothing happened. So I've been listening to music and looking at a multitude of pictures of Michael, Michael and his wedding, and Michael and our family. A friend told me the other day in an email that Micheal's death for our family would be so much harder now because he is like losing Vinnie all over again. Mikey was so much like Vinnie in so many ways! They were always the life of a party. I can picture them making a few souls rolling with laughter in their new home! I'm sad that someone in heaven gets to laugh with them and we won't be for a while. I can't help but think of what our holidays will be like this year without them. (The picture above is Vinnie goofing around with his mother visiting from Italy.)

When Vinnie's father was dieing, he died of a failed liver, he'd been in a coma for a few weeks. His mother was grieving terribly and Vinnie wanted to make her laugh. He set his dad up in bed, put his reading glasses on his nose and the newspaper in his hands. He then yelled for his mother to come saying that Daddy wanted her to come see him! She wasn't laughing then and she may not laugh openly now, but I can't help think that she chuckles when she thinks of that day, especially now as she remembers her late son.

We are family full of tradition. I grew up with traditions and let me tell you - Italians have a million of them! When Vinnie and I got married, we created some of our own. As the kids got older, we shifted and made adjustments to these and as they've gone out on their own, we made some new ones. One thing you could say without question about Vinnie and me - we were always adventurous and flexible. Some people don't like change - not even our kids, but we've always liked change. It mixes things up and adds spice to life, we always thought.

Anyway, we have always had a traditional Thanksgiving at my sister's house. Dinner includes turkey, bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, mashed rutabaga, gravy, rolls and a variety of pies. Sometimes we've added a ham in the mix too. The Christmas feast was always at my house on Christmas day. It became the tradition to serve Chicken Cordon Bleu for that holiday - always made by Vinnie. Everyone loved his Chicken Cordon Bleu.

I started a new tradition last year when each of the kids were either married or engaged. They were having such a hard time deciding who to have holiday meals with - us or their in-laws/future in-laws. I came up with a great idea - Vinnie and I would have Thanksgiving with my sister like we always did while our kids had Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws. Then our kids would gather for our feast on Friday! Pretty cool idea, don't you think?! Missing two men in this mix this year, plus our Christmas chef changes everything. For someone who's always been so open to change, even in traditions, I sure don't seem very open to the changes coming this year. The picture above is of Vinnie, Chris who is finally my son-in-law, and my nephew Gary. The guys loved sitting around by a fire while they waiting for a holiday feast!

As I think about these things tonight and look at pictures of Michael and Vinnie and family photos of us over the past 13 years we've been a family here, I can't help but fall into deep sorrow all over again. My friend was right. It's like losing Vinnie all over again. Grief is so much sadder than breaking up with an old boyfriend (what I've experienced of lost love before I met Vinnie) because it is so final. The final-ness of death of a loved one is creepy. It's just creepy. Other times when a good friend moves away or perhaps a spouse leaves a marriage (I am guessing here because it's not happened to me) there could be hope that the person will be seen again or will come back to the relationship again. With death, it's over - it's completely over, final. It will not happen ever again. In the situation with Mikey, at least for now, it's especially hard because we don't know or understand how he died. We are still waiting to hear the results of the autopsy report. It was also so unexpected. There were no warning signs what so ever!

It's strange to me that I can go all day at work feeling like I've put my life back together, for the most part. Oh, I admit that on occasion, a glance at Vinnie's tiny picture on my desk makes me get teary eyed (yes, at my desk - but only when no one else is around!) And I can hang out with a friend or two and talk about Vinnie and life when we were together and life without him without shedding a tear. But then there are moments, especially now as I look at pictures of him and Mike and the family, and it's like a truck runs over my heart. I've never cried from such a deep pit of sorrow before in my whole life. I am never going to stop being sad. I've heard some older ladies at the church I work at that I will never get over becoming a widow, it will simply 'get softer'. I think it might become more like getting more comfortable with the sorrow, or at least more expectant of it, more used to experiencing it's reach at the depths of the heart. I felt it when my daughter was filled with sorrow for her dead babies. Experiencing her sorrow that night was the first time I'd really felt the wrench of sorrow myself, both for those babies and my daughter's broken heart. I felt it when my husband stopped breathing yet his heart still beat for another minute or so and then stopped and he was gone. And deep sorrow visits my heart again tonight as I remember all the times we were together as a family. I can only find comfort in a simple song I've been playing over and over again tonight, Give Me Jesus. There is nothing or no one that can fill the hole in my heart these days except the One who promises to satisfy. If I complicate my situation, it is just that, when in fact, it's easier to keep it simple. I can only ask for Jesus. Here are some of the promises I am leaning on as I seek comfort, yet again, from deep sorrow for the third time this year.

From Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, I settle on the far side of the sea,10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well....16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be...18b When I awake, I am still with you.

From Jeremiah 29:11-14a 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity.

From Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."