A Lesson on Dirt and Fear

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It’s springtime on our little farm here in Oregon, which means everything is green and bursting with new life. I love this time of year, but it’s also bittersweet. On May 3rd, it will mark 10 years since my mom died. I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of her at this time and I continue to be amazed how I can feel such joy and happiness, while also feeling such sorrow.

Today was the day I decided to start the garden. My husband had tilled and it was ready. But, ready for what? All I saw when I looked at it was a big plot of land, looming back at me. Empty.

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I’ve been eyeing that dirt for the last few days. Intimidated by its vast size and blankness. Instead of seeing it’s potential, I saw and felt fear. Fear of the unknown; fear of failure; fear of all the “what ifs.” It was the same fear I felt after my mom died and when I made the decision to stop drinking. I was filled with fear of the unknown.

As I was making the bed this morning, I began crying as the fear poured out of me. Doubt started taking over. I couldn’t do this. What if I had gotten in over my head with this farm stuff? What if I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” gardener? What if everything I planted in that plot of dirt died? I needed my mom. She was the real gardener. She would know exactly how to turn that brown piece of dirt into a lush garden.

As tears rolled down my face, I walked into the bathroom where my husband was getting ready. One look and he pulled me into his arms. He reminded me that my mom’s here – she’s always here. She’s by my side, quietly watching and teaching me as I walk through this life. And, he reminded me that I can do hard things. I can walk through the fear because I’ve done it before. I did it when I gave birth to our daughter four months after my mom died, not knowing anything about being a mom myself. I did it when I walked into that first recovery meeting, not knowing a single person or what to expect. I continue to do it when I share my story with others, unaware of how they will perceive me or what they will say.

Fear is real and it paralyzes us if we allow it to. But, making a choice to walk through the fear, to push it aside and instead see the possibilities of the new and unknown – that is freedom.

I spent all day in the garden today. Plotting, staking, digging rows and planting seeds one by one, envisioning the new seedlings poking up through the barren land. Tired and sore, I was faithful that the vast emptiness would one day reap a great harvest.

By continuing to walk through these moments of fear, I experience peace, joy, faith in the unknown and the freedom to be my true self, which is a beautiful thing.

Walking Through Fear

 

Life In 6 Songs

I’m excited and honored to be featured over on Christy of Running on Sober’s blog today in her final series of “Life In 6 Songs.” Please click here to read more.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Sadie, who went to be with the angels one year ago today. She was my best friend’s little sister and continues to be missed each and every day. When we look back on our lives, we see people in the background who influenced us and helped to shape us into the people we are today. Sadie was one of those people.

When Nothing Makes Sense

Give Me Faith

I’m sorry if this post seems disorganized and rambling, but I’m feeling a need to purge my thoughts and sometimes they’re not such a tidy, pretty little package (as much as I’d like them to be). It’s like diarrhea of the mind, with thoughts firing back and forth until my head feels like it’s going to explode (sorry for the visual).

My hope is that I can empty it all out and make room for more peaceful, loving and kind thoughts. Thoughts filled with faith and hope, especially during this first Lenten season that I am participating.

What’s on my mind? Grief. The loss of people I love, people who are no longer here; my husband’s upcoming back surgery that puts a desperation and fear into my thoughts that I’ve never experienced before; my own mortality and what that looks like; the recent tragic death of a woman from our church who served on the Pastoral Council with my husband who was shot and killed by her 17-year-old son; the fear when I think about the world that my children are growing up in and the desperation I feel to change it, to do SOMETHING to make it just a little bit better.

My husband called me yesterday afternoon while I was shopping in Portland with my five-year-old son to tell me about, Michelle, the woman who had been killed by her teenage son. Not only did he kill his mother, but he attempted to kill his father who remains in critical condition. As I drove the hour home with my son sitting behind me playing his Leapster, I wondered how such an innocent child could grow up to do something so horrible and inconceivable. Yes, these things happen all the time, but WHY? What happened to that young boy to make him do such a thing? As with so many families and children, everything seemed fine on the outside. Yet, obviously, there was something horribly wrong on the inside.

It’s times like these, I look up and want to scream to God, “Why?!” My husband who just turned 40, who has been the epitome of health his entire life, is having major back surgery in two weeks. I have watched him suffer silently over the past five months, in chronic pain from the shooting pain and numbness that has taken over the right side of his body. A man who has always been afraid to take more than two Advil at a time who is now taking heavy pain meds throughout the day, barely masking the intense pain. My husband who has been a pillar of strength for me throughout our entire marriage who is now the one in need of my strength. His humbleness is beyond anything I could ever hope for myself.

Yes I am worried; yes I am fearful; yes I want to know why. But, I know in my heart of hearts that there’s no answer.

You know, my entire life up until I got sober I was a glass half-empty type person. Ask anyone. I always feared the worse. I always expected the worse. I always admired those glass half-full people. How could they be THAT positive? I know now. I know they had a faith that I never had. A faith that, despite the pain and suffering, it would be okay. It might not turn out how they expected or how they imagined it would, but it would be okay in the end.

I know that family who has just experienced the most horrific tragedy imaginable will continue to suffer greatly. But, I know because of their immense faith in a loving and just God that they will be okay. They will go on and inspire others with their strength and determination.

I know the next two months will be challenging for our family as my husband goes through surgery and recovery. There will be days of immense exhaustion and frustration, but it will be okay. It will be okay because, together, our faith will be stronger than any feelings of desperation and fear that attempt to bring us down.

As I go forward in this Lenten season, I pray that God opens my heart to greater faith, hope, love and kindness.

Let’s all just strive to be kind to each other. I am reminded daily that we never know what someone else is going through. Your words or the way you look at someone could make or break them.

I constantly remind myself of what my sponsor always tells me, “We are all God’s children.”

Peace.

When the One You Love Is Gone

Grief Process

Yesterday afternoon, in between rain showers, I took a walk around our neighborhood. I walked quickly, knowing that I only had a short time before leaving to pick my son up from school. The fresh air felt good, and I let my thoughts drift as I walked and listened to my music.

I thought about some of the things that had been weighing heavy on my heart and how more than anything I wished I could see and talk to my mom. I wanted to hear her soothing voice, telling me everything was going to be okay. I just wanted her.

As I began to walk the steep part of the road close to our home, I found myself gasping for air. Tears started streaming down my face and as I tried to catch my breath, I began crying harder. A couple of cars drove towards me and I did my best to hold it together, walking as fast as I could to get home. Once home, I collapsed onto our entryway bench and sobbed. I wanted my mom more than anything, but she wasn’t there.

I went into the house, knowing I needed to find something. I needed to see her, hear her – something. In my bedroom, I keep a box filled with letters and cards I have received over the years. I hastily opened it, as if I were looking for some lost treasure. I sorted through the cards and letters, opening them up, looking for her distinctive handwriting. And, finally, I found them. Towards the bottom, I found the card she had sent to me when I was in high school and she was away taking care of my grandpa; the card she had given me when I graduated with my master’s degree; all the cards and letters she had written me over the years. And, they all expressed the same thing – how much she loved me, how proud she was of me and the happiness she wished for me.

And, I felt myself breathe. I felt my body relax because this is what I had been looking for. This is what I had needed from her. She wasn’t physically there to give it to me, but she was there in spirit and memory. Her words spoke what she couldn’t physically say to me. And, I knew everything was going to be okay. I knew I was truly loved. And, I knew that she had loved me more in those short 27 years of my life before she died, than most people experience in a lifetime.

I am so grateful for those years.

I don’t share this because I want you to feel sorry for me. Far from it. I share this because this is what grief looks like. No matter how much time has gone by, it sneaks up on you and punches you in the gut when you’re least expecting it. I share this because this is the type of thing I used to drink over. I didn’t want to feel the pain and sadness and loneliness. I didn’t want to feel anything.

But, now, I don’t have to drink. I don’t have to keep shoving my feelings down, deeper and deeper. Because, the truth is, they never go away. Those feelings are always there. Now, I let myself feel. I cry because I’m sad and pissed off that my mom’s not here.

And, then I find ways to feel close to her. Because, she’s always with me; I just have to open myself up and look for her. And, there she is – just waiting to tell me she loves me.

 

 

 

Finding Joy in the Silence

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I grew up in the fog on the coast of California, but nothing compares to the thick, cold fog that has engulfed us over the past few weeks in the Oregon valley where we live. It’s hard to tell whether it’s 7 am or 4 pm, each day rolling into night only to repeat itself the next day. To say it’s depressing is an understatement. It’s why so many of us (despite the cancer warnings) are often tempted to find refuge in a tanning bed. I won’t, but, as I write this, it sounds absolutely amazing.

Today, despite the frigid temperatures and thick, white fog, I decided to bundle up and get some much needed yard work done. I was beginning to feel suffocated inside, surrounded by the stale air and constant buzz of the forced air heater. The air was cold and crisp, and hung low covering the yard like a thick blanket. It reminded me of the English moors that I’ve so often read about in the Secret Garden or Wuthering Heights, eerily enchanting.

My outfit on the other hand, was anything but enchanting.

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As I worked my arms back and forth, cutting down the grasses that had become brown and wilted, I felt a surge of energy pulse through my body. I could feel the blood flowing through my veins, heating my body up and giving me a burst of energy. As I breathed the cold, thick air in and out, I felt my lungs come alive, grateful for the fresh air.

Despite the silence and starkness of the yard, I heard birds chirping nearby, perhaps cheerfully optimistic of the upcoming Spring. As I pulled the remaining growth from the raised garden beds, I found great satisfaction in the flat, emptiness of the beds. Instead of seeing them as sad and empty, I saw the great potential for next season’s crops. I thought of the parallels between those garden beds and my life and an upcoming panel I’ve been asked to be part of where I will share my story of recovery. I saw those empty beds as my life when I made the decision to get sober – sparse and barren, yet so full of potential. I’ve been nervous and apprehensive about sharing my story in a panel-like format, but today I realized the power that a once empty, but now overflowing garden bed could have on one looking in from the outside. To see potential is to have hope.

As I walked through the yard, picking up debris from the recent windstorm, I thought of my mom who I often feel closest to while I’m gardening or doing yard work. I felt her presence all around me and pictured her in her robe and slippers working in her yard as I would so often find her growing up. I imagined her pointing out all the new growth on the camellias or the first glimpses of Spring in the daffodils pushing up through the hard, cold dirt. And, I realized no matter how much time passes, I still miss her just as much now as I did back then.

Yet, regardless of the sadness and longing I felt, I found a deep sense of peace and joy in the silence of the cold, thick fog – and hope in the new signs of life growing up all around me.

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Searching for You

Faithful God

As I sat in the church pew on Christmas morning, I noticed a young woman sitting alone in front of me to my left. I didn’t recognize her and she seemed a bit uncomfortable, maybe even nervous. She followed along with the mass, perhaps at one point in her life being familiar with it. She quietly sang along to the music, yet there was a sadness about her – a loneliness. To her right, sat a young woman and man in their early to mid-30s. I recognized the older woman they were sitting with as I knew she was a regular parishioner. I assumed it was her son and daughter or son and girlfriend. I couldn’t tell. They seemed disconnected, even bored. They went through the motions, but it was obvious they were there out of obligation. Probably in town for the holidays and fulfilling their obligatory “duty” to their mom.

As I observed both the young woman and the “couple” in front of me, I remembered having both those feelings of loneliness and disconnect. Only two years before I had sat in that same church feeling alone, empty and desperate. At the time, I had everything to live for – husband, children, family, friends – yet, inside I was like an empty vessel. I was searching and grasping for everything around me that I thought could fill the emptiness and silence the desperation I felt. I wanted so badly to feel on the inside the way people perceived me from the outside, but in reality I was sinking quietly into the loneliness and emptiness.

It wasn’t until two months later I would realize that what I had been searching for all along was right in front of me. My husband who would stand by me and hold me up when I couldn’t hold myself up, my children who would love me unconditionally and my church that would allow me to explore and question the God I had always been so scared of.

Now, almost two years later, as I sat in that church pew next to my daughter holding her new “Frozen” dolls and my husband holding our sleeping son, I felt the serenity, peace and joy that we often refer to as “The Promises” in recovery. I no longer felt alone, empty or disconnected from my life. I was filled with love, gratitude and gratefulness for a God who could make a broken person like myself whole again.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I will celebrate nine years of marriage – a marriage which could have easily ended two years ago.  In all my years of searching for happiness and contentment elsewhere, I was fortunate enough to find a man who would lay down his life for me, forgive me, love me when I was unlovable and walk with me through the pain, grief, anger and healing that it took to get to where we are now. I know he is a true gift from God. But, like all valuable gifts, I must treasure, protect and respect him and his love for me.

And that’s when I was searching, I’m not searching anymore
And that’s when I was learning about the things worth living for
Before I was open, before I knew I couldn’t live a day
Without you
Without you

Without you in the morning, to love me another day
Without you in the evening, when the colors start to fade
Without you on the plane ride to hold my hand and pray
Without you standing here when you could’ve walked away

Now I’m not searching, I’m not searching anymore
But I’m, I’m still learning ’bout the things worth living for
I am here, I am open, and now I know I couldn’t live a day
Without you
Without you

– From Holly Williams’ song “Without You”

Permission to Feel

A Time to Weep and Laugh

It’s been a while, but I’m still here – sober and living life! Now that the birthdays are over (until December!) and school has started, I find myself easing back into that predictable routine that by the end of summer I so desperately miss. I’m hoping a new routine also means a little more writing time for me. I don’t realize how much I depend on my writing for my own sanity until I’m not doing it anymore!

I heard the above scripture read out loud the other day while driving and it really hit me. Usually, I only hear it spoken out loud when I’m watching Footloose and Kevin Bacon’s character is speaking at the town hall meeting trying to convince the community to reinstate dancing…but that’s a whole different story. Way off topic.

When I heard this scripture the other day, it made me think of my life now – my sober life- and how I navigate the reality of living life on life’s terms. For the most part, life is good. It’s really good. I’m the best version of myself that I’ve ever been, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. And, the struggles are just as important as the happy and joyous parts of my life. The difference now, is that instead of trying to numb or guard myself from those struggles by drinking, I have to move through them.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a really crappy day. I woke up feeling fine, but by mid-morning I found myself losing it. My husband had taken the kids to the gym, and as I stood cleaning the stove, I felt this tremendous sense of grief hit me. Tears started streaming down my face and I thought, “I miss my mom SO much right now.” My mom passed away over seven years ago from pancreatic cancer, but sometimes it feels like yesterday. And, then I found myself in the bedroom cleaning, and once again the grief hit me and before I knew it I was sitting on the floor, leaning up against the bed, sobbing. All at once I felt so much loss. The loss of my mom, the loss of my friend Sadie, the loss of relationships with those I was once close to. It was heavy and suffocating and I all I could do was sit there and cry. I wanted the pain and hurt to go away – oh how I prayed for it to go away – but I knew, despite the heart wrenching pain, I had to move through it.  This was me, living life on life’s terms. It’s not easy, but it’s what I do now. I know it’s what I HAVE to do if I don’t want to go back to that horrible place I came from – the drinking and numbing.

I have FINALLY learned (not always the easy way) to give myself permission to “weep” and to “mourn.” And, part of this is also learning how to be honest with those around me and ask for help. When my husband got home, I told him what had happened and said, “I’m having a really hard day. I’m going to be okay, but I need to work through it.” He knows. He knows I will have hard days where the grief of losing my mom and my friends will hit me out of nowhere. But, he isn’t a mind reader (as much as I would like to assume he is) and he needs me to be open and honest so he can step in and give the kids some extra attention or whatever is helpful in that moment. My husband, my sponsor, my friends – these are my lifelines. I reach out, I ask for help – this is what I have learned in sobriety.

The next day I felt better. I went to church, I talked to God – I fed my soul and I continued to move through the grief and depression I had been feeling the day before. By Monday, I felt better. I now know it’s a process, but I didn’t always “get” it. Before, I would stuff it all in, pack it down, put a smile on my face and pretend it was “okay.” I would try to numb it away with multiple glasses of wine, hoping that “one more” would make it all go away. And, it did for a while – until I woke up the next morning and went through the whole cycle over again.

I laugh a lot now. I laugh with my kids, with my husband, with friends – at myself! I laugh a lot more than I weep or mourn. I even dance now – sober! However, my dancing usually leads to even more laughing – if you know me, you’ll understand. For those that don’t, lets just say I’ve perfected the “white girl” moves!

Thank God for my sobriety, which has taught me to live life on life’s terms. Feel it, deal with it and move on. Easy? Not always. Worth it? Definitely!

Gone Too Soon

Loss

Sadie came into my life when she was eight and I was twelve. Her older sister and I had become close friends with the start of junior high and we quickly became fixtures at each other’s houses, which were blocks away. As the years passed and her sister and I became best of friends, Sadie’s family became my second family and she became the little sister I never had.

From sleepovers, pizza nights and everything in between, Sadie was always there. Being four years younger, there were times she drove us crazy as any typical little sister would. But, more often than not, she was a goofy, adorable little girl who would do anything to make you smile.

Time passed. I went off to college and moved out-of-state, Sadie graduated high school and remained in our hometown. Her sister and I remained best of friends, so while I didn’t see her much, I always kept up to date on her latest adventures.

Over the past few years Sadie’s life had changed dramatically. She had met the love of her life, got engaged, bought a home and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Her dreams were coming true and the future looked promising.

All of that came to a crashing halt last week when I got word that Sadie had suffered a massive stroke after surgery and wasn’t going to make it. A surgery that she was expected to make a full recovery from; a surgery that was supposed to be the answer to ten years of unexplainable symptoms and headaches; a surgery that was supposed to “cure” her. Instead, the next morning I got a phone call saying she was gone. Not gone for a few weeks; not gone for a few days; but gone. Gone forever.

I cried. I cried like I hadn’t cried since my mom died seven years ago. How could this be? This couldn’t be true. “Why?!” I screamed to God. “How could YOU take away this beautiful, young, vibrant woman. How could YOU leave her baby boy without a mother?” There was no answer. There never is.

I wanted to escape the pain and sadness I was feeling. I just wanted it all to go away. I wanted to wake up from this horrible nightmare. In another life, I would’ve found escape in a bottle of wine. I would’ve drank until the numbness took over and I couldn’t feel anymore. But, not now. No, now, I had to feel it all. Somehow, I felt like I owed it to Sadie to feel everything. The sadness, hurt, anger, resentment. Her life was worthy of all these feelings and I needed to feel them.

I’m still in a state of shock. My mind tells me one thing, while my heart tells me another. I know she’s gone from this world, but I’m not ready to fully accept it yet. I hurt terribly for my best friend, her sister. I hurt for her mom and dad. I hurt for her fiancé and baby boy. I hurt for everyone who loved her and had the privilege of being touched by her life.

Sadie grew into a beautiful woman who radiated joy and happiness. But, it’s not Sadie the woman I see when I picture her in my mind. Instead, I see the eight-year-old little girl with the bowl haircut riding in the backseat of her mom’s Oldsmobile, jumping out of the car and waving goodbye as we dropped her off at elementary school. Goodbye sweet girl. Until we meet again.

I will carry Sadie’s memory in my heart forever. Her smile, her laugh, her love of life – I will cherish it always. Her love of children was undeniable. Like my mom, she was one of those rare people who children were drawn to. I often wonder if God needs more people like that in Heaven. If we can’t have them here with us, I like to think that Sadie and my mom are watching over all the little ones who have gone before us.

I will honor Sadie’s memory by living life as she would have – full of joy, gratefulness and happiness. Never taking herself too seriously, I will play more, laugh more and hug my children more often. I will tell her son how much she loved him and how much she was loved by everyone who knew her.

She gave love and received love. And, I will forever be grateful for the love she gave me over the years.

Sometimes We Just Gotta Cry

Grief

Yesterday morning was tough. After my husband left to take the kids to the gym, I found myself on the couch sobbing because of how much I missed my mom. Some days are just like that.

I don’t write about my mom a lot. I don’t know why. Maybe because I hold her memory and my grief over losing her so close. She died of pancreatic cancer over seven years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. It was devastating and heartbreaking. Words can’t express the grief I felt then and continue to feel today. Time has helped in some ways, but in others it feels like just yesterday.

Like alcoholism, I’ve found that grief has triggers. My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and it’s a hard time for me. My mom loved birthdays and she especially loved celebrating mine, as I was her only child. From the time I can remember, she made it the most special day out of the entire year. It was magical. Since her death, it’s not the same. It will never be the same.

Yesterday, was also my daughter’s first slumber party and I yearned to share her excitement and mine with my mom. We used to talk daily, sometimes only for brief moments, but even those were important. She was my very best friend and we were just starting to get to know each other as adults, not just mother and child.

As I sat, crying on the couch, I thought of how much I missed her smile and laughter; the weekend visits; the shopping excursions; the times, as a grown woman, I would still lay my head on her lap while she ran her fingers through my hair. The simple truth is, I just miss having my mom. I miss the joy she would’ve brought to my children’s lives; I miss sharing exciting moments with her; I miss venting to her about life; I miss being able to ask her questions about my childhood, like how old I was when I had my first slumber party. Was I nervous? Scared?

And, sometimes I do get angry with God. I want to stomp my feet and beat my fists and yell, “Why God? Why?! It’s not fair!” And, now, instead of drowning that anger and sadness with alcohol, I let myself feel it – really feel it. I cry, sometimes weeping until my eyes are red and puffy.

And, then, eventually, I feel His calmness come over me. My tears are spent, but I feel a sense of peace because I have released everything. I have released the anger, sadness and fear and, instead, look to fill that space with joy.

Yesterday, I went to our back closet and got our wedding album down. The year before she was diagnosed with cancer, my mom had helped me plan my wedding and was overjoyed when the day finally arrived. It was beautiful and her smile was infectious.

I miss her. That will never change. But, I’m so grateful for the joy and beauty I find in her memory.

Cheers, Mom! I might not be drinking the real thing anymore, but I still celebrate you every day.

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I Didn’t Plan This

Whatever Is My Lot

Last night, as I was walking around our neighborhood, I met a couple and their daughter who recently moved here from New Mexico. I had been wanting to meet them, and was excited about our chance encounter. When I first spotted them from a distance, I noticed they were pushing a wheelchair. For a moment, I thought perhaps it was an elderly parent, but as I got closer I realized it was a young child. In talking with them, I learned their daughter was twelve, but has the mental capacity of a two year old. The mom joked that she had been raising a toddler for ten years and I was relieved by her light heartedness.

As we stood in the middle of the street, talking and getting to know each other, another couple passing by joined us in our conversation. I had met them before and knew that they too had a daughter with special needs who was wheelchair-bound. Standing there, I found myself thinking “What a group.” From the outside, we look like any “typical” group of 30 and 40-something neighbors. Two doctors, a stay-at-home dad, a stay-at-home mom/marathon runner and a stay-at-home mom “with the pretty front yard.” Yet, there we stood, two families with special needs children and one alcoholic stay-at-home mom. Eventually, we said our goodbyes and I continued on my walk around the neighborhood.

Today, as I was reflecting on our neighborhood gathering, I found myself thinking how our lives rarely turn out how we imagine or expect them to be. Oh, believe me, I had the perfect plan for how my life would turn out. I would go to college, get my master’s degree, get married, have two children by the time I was 30 (preferably boy and girl) and live happily ever after. What I forgot to plan for was all the stuff in between and the unexpected.

I never planned for my parents to get divorced or to suffer from anxiety and OCD. I never planned for my mom to die at such an early age; I never planned to almost lose my marriage and family; and I definitely never planned to be an alcoholic stay-at-home mom. I’m not alone. We all live with the unexpected. On the six month anniversary of the Newtown shootings, I think of the families who never expected in a million years that they would lose a loved one to such a tragic event; or the two local families who recently lost their 18 and 19 year old children to car accidents; or the families I spoke to last night who never expected to have special needs children.

The thing that gives me hope and leaves me in awe is despite the unexpected, we continue to live. Despite the pain and suffering, we still wake up each morning and face the day. Instead of asking “Why me?” we ask “Why not me?”

I used to be really pissed at God for how my life turned out. I’ve always been a planner and this was NOT my plan. Eventually, I stopped being angry and started living – what other choice did I have? I truly believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle – maybe we think He does, but He doesn’t. He knows us better than we could ever know ourselves and that gives me peace. We realize this when we think we have lost all strength to go on, yet somehow, someway find the strength to continue.

As I looked around at my neighbors last night, I saw that strength firsthand. Strength in living and doing the unexpected.